Saturday, December 10, 2011

DIFF 8 – Day 2 Roundup

9th December 2011 (Day #2)

In a bizarre coincidence, three of the four movies I watched today were from Japan. The fourth was an Iranian movie. While none of these were gems that I can highly recommend, each had some wondrous qualities to ensure this wasn’t less than an average film festival day. But average it was.

A Letter to Momo (Momo E No Tegami)
Hiroyuki Okiura | Japan | 2011
120 min

Clearly inspired by the imaginative visuals of Studio Gibli, A Letter to Momo is a beautifully drawn tale of a little girl who is coming to terms with the loss of her father. Relocated to an island town with her mother, the girl starts seeing three spirits that accompany her for a few days. Although the movie's animation is fantastic, it loses out on content. The story is a string of episodic fragments that amount to little. Unnecessary sequences and forced inanity limits the wonderful animation. The movie could do with a shorter running time and better characters for the spirits. A Letter to Momo remains a pale comparison to Miyazaki's wondrous imagination.

Goodbye (Be Omid E Didar)
Mohammad Rasoulof | Iran | 2011
104 min

A ponderous movie that tests your patience to the brink. Goodbye is about a woman who is trying to get her papers in order to leave Iran. The director does a tremendous job in how he captures the plight of the woman, and the details that go into making the tale as realistic as possible. It is even shot very well - some scenes (many of them just a single take) leave you staring in amazement at how well they are done, especially the angle of choice for some of the shots. Yet, even for its short 104 minutes runtime, the director takes his time, using a deliberate pace that makes the movie seem much longer. The narrative is also fragmented, leaving you to piece the details together. This may have worked in favor of the movie, if only the director reined in his formal ponderous approach.

Amir Naderi | Japan | 2011
132 min

Cut is a movie that takes the director's love for cinema as a jumping point (the protagonist is a struggling film-maker) and eventually leads to a countdown of his favorite 100 movies. Now while this may be exciting for cinephiles (those last 15 minutes are not about the movie, it is simply that list of 100 movies) and will act as a good discussion point during and after the movie, the movie itself does little once the second act starts. The plot is simple enough: Shiju is an aspiring film-maker. After his brother is killed for not paying his debts, the mob boss sets him a deadline to pay back, or lose his life. He chooses to become a human punching bag for the gang members in exchange for money, but he will have to take a lot of punches to repay the debt. The scenario is set up within the first hour of the movie, and then stretches it with repetitious scenes of Shiju being punched day after day. The director ensures the movie has the audience’s full attention due to all the references to classic and great cinema, but that does not make Cut a good movie. In fact, it draws attention to the fact that within the movie’s parameters (taking out the reference to real-world cinema greats), Cut has precious little to offer.

Shinya Tsukamoto | Japan | 2011
91 min

Showing as part of DIFF’s Midnight Mayhem program, Kotoko is a psychological horror movie about one delusional young mother. The movie spans a few years during which Kotoko, the woman, suffers various paranoid episodes that put her, her child’s and her lover’s lives at risk. Told from the prospective of Kotoko, the movie blurs the lines of imagination and reality, as is want of such movies. While most of the movie’s horror elements work (psychological, as well as gore), the movie falters because of its haphazard narrative. Details are left out, and some guess-work is required to explain some situations. It also features extended scenes of singing, owing to the fact that the lead actress is a popular singer-composer. This may please fans of the actress, but it does not help the movie. Yet, for the part of the movie that does work, i.e. horror, the short running time makes it an effortless watch.

Day 3 will be a marathon, with five movies lined up within a twelve-hour period. Meanwhile, do not expect me to review any more Japanese movies for some time!

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