Tag Archives: subtitled

TIFF19: The Sleepwalkers

The Sleepwalkers is about 3 generations of a family spending a holiday at their summer home. The matriarch is contemplating the house, which angers at least one son and pits the siblings against each other. But it is a daughter-in-law, Luisa (Érica Rivas) who has it worst.

Luisa doesn’t want to be there. Unhappy in her marriage, she vents her frustrations to a brother-in-law rather than her husband. There is not enough space in the house for a relationship that’s falling apart. But most of all she’s worried about her daughter, Ana (Ornella D’elía), who is young enough to be getting her first blood, but looks considerably older. She’s already caught the attention of an estranged cousin, Alejo (Rafael Federman), recently resurfaced and apparently without boundaries. Even more concerning, Ana is a sleepwalker like her father. She has recently been discovered sleepwalking nude in her own home, and her mother is understandably concerned about what this may mean in a strange house full of people. But Ana doesn’t take kindly to restrictions, and her moody temperament causes her to lash out at her protective mother, and question just which one of them is truly sleepwalking through her life.

Director Paula Hernández has something to say about the pressure and position of women in the family, but for me it was obscured by camera work that literally made me sick. Almost always, only one main character would be in focus, while everyone else had constant blur. At first it was merely frustrating but after 107 minutes it made me physically uncomfortable – sick. And that’s unfortunate because there were some good bits, some very interesting stuff to be examined, but I felt unable to truly concentrate on it. Perhaps, by taking away my choice in what to look at or concentrate on, Hernández wants to put me in the shoes of a young, stymied woman. But that just makes me feel like she doesn’t trust enough in her script. It left me feeling angry and frustrated and ready to bolt. The two lead female characters keep looking for safe space to unleash, to vent, but I felt denied that myself. I never had the space to orient myself or digest what was happening. I felt like a horse with blinders on.

Luisa and Ana are going through some tense and important times. Their performances are good, restrained, even. Hernández makes their inner turmoil obvious without being obvious. I just wish she could do it without creating so much in me.

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Hit-And-Run Squad

Korea is a machine. Honestly, I can’t help but admire the country’s dedication to arts and culture. Decades ago, the government assessed their economic standing and realized that they were vulnerable. If just one of its leading industries failed, it would take down the whole country with it. So they diversified in a way that few if any countries ever has: they pumped tonnes and tonnes of money into developing culture – music, television, movies, and video games. South Korea has a population of just over 50 million, but chances are you’ve heard of their boy band invasion (BTS!), you’ve played their games (they’ve mostly developed computer gaming, like Overwatch and League of Legends), and you’ve seen some of their cinema’s best (Bong Joon-ho’s The Host or Snowpiercer or Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, for example). And this is despite the fact that most of us don’t speak Korean! American audiences have been notoriously difficult to penetrate with foreign languages. They hate subtitles and expect to be able to sing along to everything on the radio. But that’s changing, perhaps in part due to greater inclusivity and appreciation for other cultures, but mostly because the Korean machine is just so damn irrepressible.

That said, it feels like Korea might be poised to take over the world, and I might worry about that a bit if not for this: if the lung cancer doesn’t get them, the misogyny will. According to actual statistics, only about 40% of Korean men smoke (which is objectively pretty high), but in cinema, it’s nearly 100%. But misogyny is definitely 100%. And here’s the weird thing that I’ve been twisting around in my mind. America has a comparable rate of misogyny, it’s just that over here, we have this pretense that abuse should be closeted. We know it happens. If it happens behind closed doors, we can all look away and pretend otherwise. It’s embarrassing when it goes public because then we have to pretend to care. Not actually care. No nonnononono. The justice system makes that clear: we will not intervene until he kills her. Then we will be angry: boo! We’ll put him in magazines and make movies about him, and if he’s handsome then we’ll REALLY shake our heads. But as long as he keeps it quiet and private, we’ll let that shit happen for years. And even if it becomes public, we’re still often sympathetic, and might even vilify the women, for good measure. Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Josh Brolin, Johnny Depp, Alec Baldwin, Michael Fassbender, and Christian Bale have all been accused of domestic violence, and we’ve seemingly given them a pass. In South Korean movies, however, violence against women is a little more upfront. The men are not afraid to toss around a woman like they might toss around any man in a common barfight, or even beat a subordinate who hasn’t done her job well. It’s a lot of equal opportunity violence, whereas over here, we “pride” ourselves on only hurting our wives and girlfriends and daughters in the privacy of our homes. Is that fucked up or what?

Anyway, to the movie. Hit and Run Squad will be a little difficult to summarize, but here’s my lame attempt. Officer Eun Shi-Yeon (Hyo-jin Kong) is investigating government corruption – particularly a case in which a very successful Formula 1 driver, Jung (Jung-suk Jo), is paying off the police commissioner. Tricky. But that investigation gets botched and Officer Eun gets demoted to the hit-and-run squad, where she’s teamed with Seo Min-Jae (Jun-yeol Ryu), an unambitious, spacey looking dude who just happens to be the Sherlock Holmes of hit and runs. And the hit and run squad just happens to also be looking at Jung for an ‘accident’ possibly involving one of his cars.

One thing is abundantly clear: Jung is a very bad dude. But he’s also nearly untouchable. But Eun is persistent and Seo is motivated in his own way; it also turns out that he’s got an interesting past that might start to bleed into the present, with both positive and negative repercussions.

Hit-And-Run Squad is a police procedural, but Korean dramas tend to have it all: comedy, romance, melodrama, highs and lows. South Korea’s primary television export tends to be their soap operas, and a lot of their films feel touched by a telenovela. At one point, this movie was scored overdramatically by a jazzy saxophone accompanied by insistent snapping, and it felt very much Too Much, but you have to look past these foibles in Korean cinema, because it’s not quite how we like to do things here, but if we kept ourselves in the tiny box of American cinema, we’d never have any fun.

The cinematography is pretty great, the car chases feel urgent and dangerous, and it’s fun to see them take place literally anywhere but Atlanta once in a while. The acting was quite good too, or at least the actors were adept at working with what they’re given. While it’s nice to see a female lead, and Officer Eun is undoubtedly the film’s lead and the audience placeholder, she’s the least compelling character, having been given no back story and very little development. She’s overshadowed not just by Jung and Seo, but by a couple of even lesser male protagonists as well. There’s a trio of important women in the film but they’re extremely one-dimensional and depressingly primitively drawn.

Of course, if you’re here for hot cars and top speeds, you likely won’t care that a female officer is reprimanded at work by blows to the head until she bleeds, and that her ability to bleed is one of the few things we know about her. Heck, you might even be into jazzy sax, in which case, more power to you.

The Guilty

How many times in your life have you called 911? I hope the answer is none, but for some of you it will be higher than that, and chances are, it wasn’t exactly a happy occasion. Even if you’re calling on behalf of a stranger, you must believe that it’s an emergency situation, and those tend to be adrenaline-filled and on the harrowing side. I call 911 on a very regular basis, and I’m always grateful for the patient expediency of the person on the other end. Mining someone’s abject panic for important, potentially life-saving information, is not an easy thing to do. Distilling that information into its most salient components while managing someone’s fear and distress takes precision and control. Dispatchers will sound cool and confident on the phone, but that doesn’t mean their job isn’t getting to them. They assist people through the darkest of circumstances. They experience vicarious trauma. The Guilty is one of their stories.

Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is working what seems like a normal shift when he gets a call from what seems like a wrong number. A woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage) is calling, pretending to be on with her young daughter. Because of his training, Asger manages to ask the right questions in the right way. Iben is making this phone call in front of her abductor, and trying to do it stealthily.

Asger gets more and more attached to the case as he speaks to Iben, to her abductor, to her daughter Mathilde who is not even 7 but home alone covered in someone else’s blood after having seen her mother be dragged violently away. He goes beyond the bounds of his position in order to fulfill a promise to Mathilde to get her mother home safely.

How do you think you’d stack up as a 911 dispatcher? They test for inductive (using specific observations to make broader generalizations) and deductive (using the info you’ve collected to come to a logical conclusion) reasoning, plus memory recall and the ability to read maps and a good old fashioned psych evaluation. And then there’s just necessarily personality quirks like the ability to be still in the face of chaos.

Asger is a flawed hero and not necessarily the best at his job. But he cares about this woman. Tonight, his job goes from hard to nearly impossible. It’s disturbing. The movie will break your heart in a million ways. But if you think it’s hard to watch, imagine how hard it is to live, to take these calls for 12 hours or even 24 hours at a time, day after day, weekends and holidays. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, and Asger is pure proof of the toll this job can take.

Jakob Cedergren is excellent, as he must be, acting almost exclusively against voices over the phone. Through the arc of one telephone call, he experiences a major shift, and almost every high and low on the human spectrum. Director Gustav Moller keeps things very simple and straight-forward, allowing the story’s natural tension to take centre stage.

Virus Tropical

Virus Tropical is a black and white animated film celebrating the coming of age of a young Colombian-Ecuadorian girl in a close-knit family.

Paola’s conception is near-miraculous; her mother had her tubes tied and her pregnancy was initially diagnosed as a tropical virus of some sort. Nine months later, a third daughter was added to the family. Paola’s oldest sister is adoring and the middle sister is instantly jealous, having been so firmly bumped out of the baby position. Paola’s father is a former Catholic priest with many of the religious tendencies still intact, and her mother is a domino-reading fortune teller favoured by the president. It’s a mystical-sounding childhood that in fact turns out to be quite ordinary.

Paola is a kid like any other, struggling to be accepted by her peer group, finding her place among her sisters, rebelling against her parents. The film, based on Paola Gaviria’s (aka Power Paola’s) graphic novel of the same name, belongs in the bosom of the family, and rarely looks out toward larger social or cultural contexts. But even the mundane events are recounted with such attention to detail that they’re fully absorbing, the story rich and brimming with life.

The black and white line drawings are surprisingly effective, and director Santiago Caicedo has a knack for drawing in the eye with relatively simple art. The story itself is rather episodic, and the transitions between them aren’t always smooth, but I was pleasantly surprised by how watchable it felt, and how connected I felt to Paola and her family of strong-willed women. The film doesn’t aspire to make larger connections so you’ll have to be content with diary-style recounting rather than introspection; Virus Tropical is pleasant and interesting, but it isn’t particularly deep.

Let The Sunshine In

Juliette Binoche is extraordinary, really. Behind those gorgeous, liquid brown eyes, there’s a bit of a mystery. There’s a natural sensuality to her, but under the direction of Claire Denis, that turns into a raw eroticism, and Denis knows just how to turn that up.

Isabelle has many lovers but no loves. And maybe she’d like one, a true love, a forever love, but the truth is, she can barely manage the one night stands. She’s exceptionally MV5BNWJhY2UwOTEtMjMzYi00MjBkLWEwNDgtY2QzYmVkNzllNDQzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk1Njg5NTA@._V1_bad at choosing men. They’re all unavailable. Her best effort is a married man who’s bad in bed AND rude to waiters. Nothing going for him! He’s not even cute! And he’ll never be hers. So why then is she so hurt when he continues to never leave his wife, as promised? Why does she cry over men who don’t deserve it? She’s a beautiful woman, a tender, open artist. Everyone is entitled to one bad boyfriend. But a string of them starts to look like a pattern, and you’re the one picking the wallpaper. So what the hell is wrong with Isabelle?

She cries at night, every night. She’s miserable. She’s suspicious of men. She moves too quickly and is even quicker to anger. She’s ricocheting between men, wracking up a score, but she never wins the prize. As much as I can dislike Isabelle, Binoche gives her a vulnerability that is hard to hate entirely. She tries too hard, she wants it too much. She’s so desperate she goes to see a psychic (Gerard Depardieu) for advice. And she’s the type who wants so badly to believe him. Her tears guide him into saying exactly what she wants to hear. We all have that friend who just keeps screwing up her love life – we can see it coming a mile away, so why can’t she, an otherwise intelligent woman? Isabelle is that woman and Claire Denis knows her intimately.

 

Tomorrow is Another Day

Mrs. Wong (Teresa Mo) is too exhausted to care that her husband is having an affair. She tolerates it in order to keep her family together, especially important since her 20 year old son Kwong (Man-Lung Ling) has autism, and developmental disabilities, that require stability and a lot of care. But one day the young mistress (they’re always young) stops by the house and agitates Kwong. After a terrible fight, Mr. Wong (Ray Lui) leaves. He leaves them. Now the burden of caring for her disabled son falls to Mrs. Wong entirely, and with his father gone, he’s acting out more than ever. If she was tired before, she’s beyond tired now. There’s almost nothing in Mrs. Wong’s life that’s just for her – her only indulgence during these dark days is to plot revenge scenarios against the dreaded mistress.

Teresa Mo, Ray Lui, and Man-Lung Ling make for a very attractive family; you’d hardly MV5BY2U2OTQ2ODQtNjQzMC00YTdiLWJiZTYtOWQ3MGI1OTE3NTJjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_believe from the outside all the difficulties they face. But Mo and Lui are good at communicating a marriage strained by years of putting someone else’s needs above their own, of never having the time to honour their coupledom. We know that this is not Mr. Wong’s first dalliance, and we see the toll it’s taken on their marriage.

Ling’s portrayal of special needs is perhaps not the best we’ve seen on screen, but it’s Kwong’s relationship with his mother that is the most essential of the film. He’s normally cheerful and energetic; he skips along, vocalizing sounds more than words. But his meltdowns are ferocious. A full-grown man, when he starts self-harming, Mrs. Wong really can’t cope on her own. By showing us the enormity of her caregiver’s role, director Chan Tai-lee (the guy who wrote Ip Man) highlights a dearth of resources, of respite. Mrs. Wong shoulders it all, without complaint, facing down discrimination like that’s to be expected. All of her anger and resentment are saved for the mistress (a one-note, selfie-taking villain); murder fantasies are her only escape.

Her social life’s only balm is a group of housewives with whom she sews and sings karaoke. But these are the same women who will uncover her plot. And then what? You’ll have to watch to the end to find out.

Ramen Shop

Masato is a young man working in his father’s successful ramen shop in Japan. Though it’s just been the two of them since Masato’s mother died, their relationship is strained. Masato thinks the only way to get his father’s attention is to be a steaming bowl of noodles. After work, Masato’s father disappears to drink alone; at home, they’re like two ships passing in the night. But then one day his father dies, as all fathers must, and Masato is alone in the world.

Curious about his mother, Masato (Takumi Saitoh) reads the old diaries she’d left behind and for the first time discovers the inter-racial courtship between his father, who was Japanese, and his mother, who was Chinese, and understands the source of the rift between his mother and his grandmother that prevented them from reuniting even as his mother lay dying.

Masato decides to travel to Singapore where he’s introduced not just to long-lost family members but secret family recipes as well, and through food, culture.

Ramen Shop is slow to start. I didn’t feel emotionally invested until about half-way through, but once the delicious, 10 hour pork rib soup starts to simmer, so did my heart. MV5BYmM0NjkxZWItOTI4MC00ZWZkLTk3ZTItZTBjNGYyZWYxMjA5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_The cast is endearing, and I love how director Eric Khoo blends together race as if it’s fusion cooking. The Japanese and Chinese people have had an uneasy past and you can see that Masato has a hard time reconciling the two parts of himself. However, grief is a powerful motivator, and when he understands how his father honoured his mother’s memory by incorporating her culture into his cooking, Masato is inspired to do the same.
Since Masato and his uncle and cousins speak different languages, they communicate primarily in their shared third language, English. His grandmother, however, does not speak English. Masato speaks to her on a more elemental level: food. He cooks for her and hopes his dish will prove not just love, but the link that’s been missing between them all these years. This detail felt so familiar to me. It may not always be ramen, but almost all families across many cultures have some dish they call their own, a dish that tastes like home.

For me, it’s my grandma’s molasses cookies. She’s been gone 15 years but one of my most treasured items is a recipe for them in her own hand. I make them for my niece and nephews who never met her but still enjoy the same treat I did growing up, and I know her love is in each bite. My other grandma, who I call Nanny, stood by my side in her kitchen and taught me how to make her apple pie when I was a girl. Today pie crust comes out of my hands instinctually. I don’t need to make Nanny’s apple pie because we’re lucky to still have her with us (though we did lose the apple trees in her backyard). She assures us that her chest freezer is well enough stocked that we’ll have apple pies well after she’s gone. I’m pretty sure she means that to be comforting. What’s the recipe in your family?