Tuesday, June 13, 2006

SIFF 2006, part 6

Screenings: June 10

Three Times

I had planned to not see as many films this year because there are significantly fewer films this year playing at SIFF, that will open wide in just a few weeks, I still owe the government some money, and as of early August, work on my half-sleeve will start and the first session will be a long and therefore costly one, so I really need to focus on saving right now.

Well, plans changed when was given a whole bunch of passes by Scarecrow Video. So we got to add some more movies to our festival, without paying for a ton more tickets. So I added a few titles that I would have skipped, since Three Times is already playing in a few theaters around the US. The film caught my attention because Hou Hsiao-hsien is a respected director from Taiwan and I have not yet seen any of his films.

Three Times is composed of three short films focusing on a relationship between two characters portrayed by Shu Qi and Chang Chen. The three films are stylistically very different but share a similar tone and are all three beautiful, and moving films. I was in love with every second of this film. The first segment, A Time for Love was set in a pool hall in 1966. She works there and he has been stationed elsewhere and sends her letters. Much of the film is his attempts to track her when he returns and she has moved to a different pool hall. Very little is spoken, but innocence and tenderness mark the tone of this portion of the film.

The next segment, A Time for Freedom, is much more dialog heavy. But it is a silent film about the relationship between a diplomat and courtesan (?). They discuss Taiwan's future freedom from Japan, his children, and are obviously emotionally intimate. This portion is highlighted with her singing which is ethereal and very moving.

And finally, there is A Time for Youth. Here they seem most vulnerable. It is 2005 and their lives are chaotic, full of choices and we don't really know what choices they will make. These two characters seem destined to be together and we are confident that in 1966, they will be together and love each other. In 1911, their love is established, but they will likely never be together. But in modern times, I cannot see their future as clearly. These characters have wandered into a Wong Kar Wei film and the chaos of modern life may be enough to keep them from the realization of what they could be.

Three Times is a very quiet, understated and very beautiful film about love. I really loved this film. I however was very displeased with the audience. I overheard nothing but apologies and gripes about how bad or boring this film was, which was very discouraging. I still cannot fathom why the whole theater didn't fall in love with this film as I did.

5 of 5

Beowulf and Grendel

Adapting Beowulf and Grendel for the screen is a huge undertaking. First, most of us are very aware of the story and have read the poem in literature classes. But the bigger problem is the question of how to tell this story to a modern audience with modern sensibilities. Today we don't believe in monsters and it is easy to see Beowulf's actions as barbaric and thus, much more difficult to see him as the hero that he should be.

Sturla Gunnarsson handled these inherent problems very gracefully. He put together a very strong and believable cast. And he humanized Grendel and additionally modernized Beowulf, casting Gerard Butler of Phantom of the Opera as the hero. In order to achieve this more modern take of the story, it had to be altered. There was a back-story added and thus a new justification for Grendel's wrath. New characters were added, most noticeably Selma (Sarah Polley), a prostitute witch. And I had very strange, mixed feeling about these changes to the story as I was watching the film.

I guess I was hoping that Sturla Gunnarsson would have just gone with the brutality of the original text. Perhaps to present the story visually as the danes may have in song. Celebrate the nailing of Grendel's arm to the wall and to see the men as justified in their hunt and defeat of the monsters. And while I admired the more human depiction of Grendel, as a primitive man with animalistic drives, I fought it during the film.

But my biggest issue with Beowulf and Grendel was the addition of a female character and the misogyny of doing so. While they were careful to give Selma a voice of wisdom in this rendition of the story, they did debase her with rape and violence that really didn't sit well with this audience member. I know I just stated that I had hoped to see a more primitive story and was a bit disappointed that they modernized it, but the addition of a woman to the story for the purpose to add complexity to Beowulf and Grendel's stories does bother me.

Thus my review is biased. I see a lot of justification for the changes and they worked, but they didn't all sit well with me and thus it is hard for me to judge this film based on the film. There is too much swimming around in my head from the text, the history and what the film says about our lack of respect for female characters today.

3 of 5

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