Sunday, June 19, 2005

SIFF diary, part 10

A World Without Thieves

Wang Li (Rene Liu) announces that she is done with living a life a crime and as she prays at a shrine after stating her intention to stop stealing while her partner and husband (Andy Lao) deftly picks the pockets of the other worshipers. After meeting the naive “Dumbo”, Wang Li vows to protect him and his belongings as they are descended upon by a train full of con-artists. The pick-pocket duels, which are stylistically similar to close contact martial arts fights, alone make this film worth checking out.

4

If topless crones who make anatomically correct dolls from bread chewies, large quantities of raw meat and graphic close ups of eating set to a soundtrack of dogs yelping and whimpering is what you want in a film, 4 delivers in abundance. 4 was funny, startling, and very engaging for the first 30 minutes when three characters weave tall tales about their lives in a bar that includes a story about a government cloning program that has resulted in villages of 4s, or cloned quadruplets, but upon leaving the bar, the film descends into a long, laborious journey that I expect is likely symbolic, but is only tedious, disgusting, and down right boring. It was only made worse by horrible cinematography (hello, shot after shot of bringing objects into sharp focus isn’t exactly revolutionary or even interesting). And I am shocked that SIFF gave an award to the director of this film and that someone at the Seattle PI actually recommended this film, although this is just another example of how totally misguided the PI SIFF coverage has been.

In My Father’s Den

In My Father's Den is a wonderfully complex and satisfying psychological thriller and among the best films I attended at the SIFF. Paul Prior (Matthew MacFadyen) is a scarred war photographer that has returned to the small New Zealand town of his youth for his father's funeral. One day he discovers a girl in his father's den, a room filled with hundreds of books that was a shared secret between Paul and his father. After chasing her off, she pushes her way into Paul's life so when she disappears, the town scrutinizes Paul, treating him as an outsider. As the mystery unfolds, this very successful thriller explores the rich territory of family relationships, small town life and ambition, and most of all the echos wrongs committed in the past coloring current relationships.

This has been a theme of a few films that I attended during the festival: the impact of the past on the present. In this film, the truth about past events and relationships are only slowly revealed. First the film develops the characters and their current situations while slowly revealing their past relationships and the deeply buried family secrets. The result is a very satisfying thriller that always keeps the viewer on their toes by never revealing enough to really grasp the essence of In My Father's Den until the last frames. This really was a captivating and emotionally satisfying first feature.

Frozen

It has been two years since Kath's sister has vanished. Kath (Shirley Henderson) is unable to accept her sister's disappearance and seeks her own answers in a surveillance tape made around the time Annie disappeared. I had high hopes for Frozen as the stills looked so strikingly chilly and had secretly hoped for a tale of isolation and loneliness. Those aspects were there, but Frozen seemed to lack any cohesive message. It began to unfold as a mystery, then as a character study of the lost, remaining sister, and then almost takes a supernatural turn and in the end, I was never certain what was happening or why.

While Shirley Henderson gave a captivating performance, I found Frozen to be a cold and frustrating experience, it was just a touch too distant and impersonal, a bit too rigid in tone, and very vague in message. It was an interesting film and I enjoyed the tension that this mysterious setting provided, but there was no pay off, so I was disappointed.

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