NYFF Diary Part Three: Mothers, Fathers, and Lovers


Monday, September 28

Mountains May Depart (directed by Jia Zhangke)
It’s truly heartbreaking when you’re enjoying a movie on the level I was enjoying Mountain May Depart, and then the movie completely falls apart in the third act. Jia Zhangke’s latest is an ambitious story divided into three segments that together span 26 years and go from the eve of the new millennium in mainland China to a futuristic vision of Australia in the year 2025. The scope is big, but the stories very intimate, as the movie focuses (mostly) on the relationship between a working class woman (Zhao Tao) and her son.

The truth is I wasn’t merely enjoying the first two segments of Mountains May Depart, I thought they were legitimately great. This was my first Jia Zhangke movie, and the great things I heard about his work quickly turned out to be true. The filmmaking was impeccable (the movie’s title card arrives a good forty minutes into the movie, which may not be integral to the quality of the movie, but is an awesome choice nonetheless). Anyway, this is all to say I was truly heart-broken when the third segment rolled around and what had been a subdued and achingly emotional movie turned into the sappiest of melodramas (and perhaps reframes the movie as a lame commentary on technology?).

What exactly makes the third segment so inferior? I think it’s the fact that the segment is mostly in English, and the director’s mastery of the language is not on the level necessary to make the story work, especially considering this segment is supposed to be the payoff the movie had been building up to. The limitations of the language (especially the dialogue, which is incredibly wonky) end up being too much for the movie to handle, and it all turns very corny very quickly. The very last scene, however, comes back around to being incredibly moving. It is sadly not enough to save the movie as a whole.

Carol (directed by Todd Haynes)
Todd Haynes is a master filmmaker, and I will write more extensively about Carol when it opens wide in November. For now I’ll say that it is, along with The Lobstermy favorite movie of the festival so far (and one of the best movies I’ve seen this year). Ok, I’ll say a couple more things. This is the first time I’ve cried during a sex scene. I’m a Cate Blanchett agnostic but her performance here is undeniably a masterpiece (and she is the perfect casting for the role). The way the movie uses glass surfaces and slow-burning passion is impeccable. Yeah, that’ll have to do for now.

Wednesday, September 30
I watched three movies in a row on Wednesday, which ended up being defined as a day of interesting yet either flawed or confused visions.

The Treasure (directed by Corneliu Porumboiu)
Porumboiu is one of the biggest names of the Romanian New Wave, which is officially ten years old now, so perhaps it’s not *that* new anymore, Anyway, in this deadpan comedy, a Bucharest family man is convinced by his neighbor to rent a metal detector and go looking for a treasure supposedly buried by the neighbor’s great grandfather. Through its mundane and stone-faced sense of humor, the movie becomes a critique of our relationships toward work, labor, government, history, family, and how they all come together to make us feel entitled about what we deserve.

Or at least that’s what I thought the movie was going for up until its final act, in which a surprisingly sunny turn of events truly define this as an all-out comedy. There are ridiculous elements to this happy ending, which still manages to throw out a couple social critiques in its final minutes, but for the most part, it seemed far too optimistic for the movie that came before. It’s entirely possible that I’m missing something evident about this ending’s purpose, but if that’s the case, I don’t even know where to start looking for the truth. I am certainly interested in revisiting The Treasure to confirm these suspicions.

Right Now, Wrong Then (directed by Hong Sang-soo)
A delicate, pleasant, and really funny diptych about a solitary movie director and a young artist meeting and spending a day together in a small Korean town. The idea of the movie is that it presents us the same day twice, and we see how the smallest details -mostly the ones focused on honesty- make the biggest different in determining how the relationship between these two characters will develop.

It is a simple, but rewarding exercise, which I’m sure will reveal and deepen its details with further viewings. Still, this first viewing was colored by one considerable concern on my part: I didn’t like the male protagonist at all, and I don’t know this is the reaction the movie wanted to get out of me. Although the character does have clearly unsympathetic moments, I suspect the movie didn’t mean to stack the cards so heavily against him. It didn’t matter to me, though, I thought the female protagonist deserved way better than him from frame one.

The Measure of a Man (directed by Stéphane Brizé)
The literal translation of this movie’s French title is “The Law of the Market”, which paired up with the official English title, should already tell you a lot about this hyper-realistic drama about a working-class man (Vincent Lindon) trying to stay afloat and support his family through the European recession.

From a filmmaking stand-point, Brizé must be commended for taking everyday moments and mundane locations that are part of everybody’s lives and building a absolutely hellish landscape out of them. He does get a little too on-the-nose towards the film’s last third, when the protagonist gets a job at an *evil* supermarket, and the movie’s very end seems like small potatoes considering what has come before. I find it always hard to make a movie that depicts as much common misery as this one does and not feeling overwrought or unbearable. If The Measure of a Man can be catalogued as a worthy movie, it’s definitely thanks to Lindon, whose sorrowful face turns into the movie’s heart and soul.

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