Sunday, June 04, 2006

SIFF diary 2006, part 2

Dear Pyongyang

Documentaries are often low on our priorities and tend
to only catch our attention in the case of the film being particularly
innovative, on a favorite subject matter, or the film has attracted a
lot of critical acclaim. But recently, I have been watching a lot of Japanese film and attempting to learn about the culture so it seemed logical to take in some Japanese films at SIFF, including this Japanese documentary about Koreans living in Japan.

Dear Pyongyang did take a little to get into. Too much of the beginning
required reading a tremendous amount of text about the history of Korea, the
differences between North and South Korea, and Japan's place in this
history. This background was much needed for those of us with little more
than a sketchy understanding of the history of Korea.

Dear Pyongyang follows and attempts to make sense of the lives and views
held by the filmmaker's father, specifically his undying loyalty to North
Korea. This is contrasted sharply by their comfortable lives in Japan
compared to the struggling existence of relatives that appear in some ways
to be captives of North Korea, dependent upon their more affluent Japanese
family members for comfort, but sometimes survival.

But Dear Pyongyang is not a heavily political documentary, but more of a
personal exploration attempting to understand her family's values and devotion to a nation where they never lived (her parents homeland was actually in South Korea), but supported politically and sent their sons to live. While I didn't always admire this film, it is a particularly fascinating exploration of the lives of ethnic Koreans living in Japan.


Adam's Apples

Dr. Kolberg: Adam, this makes no sense at all. I am a man of science, I believe in numbers and charts. Goddamnit, I wanna go some place, where people die when they are sick, and don't sit in the yard eating cowboy toast when they have been shot through the head.

Adam (Ulrich Thomsen), a neo-nazi, is released from prison into the custody of a small parish for community service. The parish is run by Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen) who is charged with assigning Adam his service and is blindly good natured, seeming to not notice or believe that evil is inherent in anything and certain not in Adam or the other men staying at the parish after serving their prison terms. Adam watches with confusion as Ivan ignores evidence of Gunnar's return to alcoholism, the piles of money that Khalid somehow acquires and even Adam's white supremacist beliefs go unnoticed while Ivan concerns himself with the care of the parrish apple tree.

The result is the darkest and funniest black comedy I have seen. After a cherished apple tree is put in Adam's protection, ravens swarm the tree, maggots infest, and storms threaten the tree. This film is packed with religious symbolism, shocking situations and outrageous humor. This is certainly not a film for all tastes, but I haven't laughed so hard in ages.

And now, I need to rent a lot more films that were written and or directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, because this one was amazing.

5 of 5

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