Lily Sometimes (Directors’ Fortnight), While this comes a bit too close to The Other Sister territory to be more than a guilty pleasure, Berthaud’s style and direction, as well as the lovely Diane Kruger, are just as potent as in their previous meet-up in Frankie. Two sisters, whose mother dies in the opening scene, struggle to get by, mainly because Lily, the obnoxiously compulsive younger sister, seems borderline mentally unstable. While Lily scurries through the wild in skimpy gowns with frazzled hair, having orgies with random boys in the woods, her uptight, married sister, Clara, chases her around, trying to maintain her behavior while pleasing her even more humorless beau. The film’s best scene shows Clara getting fed up with Lily and nearly offing her; the outcome of this is just as much a relief as it is a disappointment. Not to fear, though, Lily shows big sis the ways of the wild, forging a promiscuous liberation that is as feel-good as it is repugnant and contrived. Strange that this won the sidebar.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Competition), ended up being (just about) what I’ve been waiting all week for. First things first, this was not as immediately satisfying as Syndromes and a Century, and in the first half I was finding myself getting frequently annoyed that Weerasethakul was doing things which were alarmingly predictable coming from him (illness, ghosts, folklore, cheesy Thai pop songs). Not that any of it is any less enrapturing than in his previous films, but the familiarity was a bit of a let-down, and almost enough to make me uneasy. But, this is also, notably, the first time I’ve gone into a Weerasethakul film with the kind of astronomical expectations that are always impossible to satiate. I saw Tropical Malady before Syndromes, and while I was certainly, by that time, a fan of the former film, there was still an unknown as to what he was capable of, allowing the latter film to blow my mind without any foreshadowing of what was coming. By the end of Uncle Boonmee, though, this was more or less put to rest.
Boonmee further develops what seems like it will always and forever be Weerasethakul’s primary theme in his oeuvre: reincarnation; not just in the Buddhist and spiritual sense, but also in cinematic and political ones. His previous films have had bifurcated structures that emphasize a repetition/evolution/deviation in the roles and scenarios which reflect and distort one half from the other. Often, though, this aspect of uncanny repetition is also exhibited from film to film, not just limited to the two halves of a single film. One of the accompanying shorts in the ‘Primitive’ project, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, makes this almost explicit, when the wandering camera settles on a water buffalo right next to the tree from the climatic scene of Tropical Malady, in which nature and ideas are reincarnated in a completely different context. Another illustration of cinematic reincarnation is seen when the same actors appear from one film to the next – Sakda Kaewbuadee playing the young soldier and tiger in Tropical Malady, then a monk in Syndromes, now a monk again in Boonmee – evoking similar mannerisms and character traits from past films (lives). The same applies to Jenjira Pongpas, who first appeared in Blissfully Yours before reappearing in Syndromes and now Boonmee, carrying her limp from film to film. Of course, her limp and Pongpas’ monasticism (as well as his military service from Malady) borrow from their real lives (or, at least, their current lives) in which these scenarios are actualities. Reincarnation, actually, is perhaps the most apt metaphor for the phenomenon of role-changing in which actors engage.
Also notable here is that politics have come further into the fore than in the past. I got less of a visceral jolt from Boonmee than its two predecessors, but certain moments and themes – the monologues of cultural extinction, ‘beasts’ in captivity, and news-watching gone sci-fi – clearly relevant to the present political climate of Bangkok (and, unfortunately, many other places) left a lingering eeriness and mystery that Weerasethakul has become an expert at suspending. Leaving ample room to mix and match character/animal/insect relations, as well as timelines, Uncle Boonmee is a singular cinematic puzzle.
Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs) (Un Certain Regard), Speaking of cinematic puzzles, not a soul in Cannes knows what the hell Kerrigan was thinking of with this baffling project. Reading like an aborted biopic on Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick that was assembled anyway, the film combines aimless scenes of Géraldine Pailhas walking, scene rehearsals, on and off-set drama with Kerrigan himself, allusions to a pregnancy, and pretty cool footage of Pailhas trying to imitate Slick’s singing voice for the film (or whatever it is). As would be expected from something like this, there is an iciness in the air that makes the filmmaking process look like a dive into hell (not far removed from the tone of INLAND EMPIRE). I like the stream-of-consciousness of it all, but if I’m going to look at a dissection of the working process and interior ramblings of a filmmaker, I would hope for a better subject than Lodge Kerrigan.
The Tiger Factory (Directors’ Fortnight), I’m less inclined to post much of anything on this film because for about twenty minutes in the middle of the screening the English subtitles went out of sync by about a minute (this was at the official premiere, and the producer had to leap out of his chair to get the projectionists to fix the problem), but this happened over an hour into this dire, miserable mess; the only film that I contemplated walking out on. The film is about a girl, who makes a living jerking off pigs and shooting the cum into mama pigs, who is pregnant herself. She has her baby, which is immediately pronounced dead and carried away. A whole lot of ‘not much’ happens before a late twist gives the film a hint of purpose, but it was a serious case of too little, too late.
Ha Ha Ha (Un Certain Regard), I’ve only seen four of Hong’s films now, but I totally ‘ha ha ha’ed at this one more than any of the others. My lack of exposure to the filmmaker is probably fortunate, based on the claims that his films are all basically remakes of the previous ones, because everything felt very fresh for me. Apart from being just a really sharp rom-com, the film is structured around an intriguing set-up (two friends meet up after not seeing each other for a while and talk about their girl troubles) that gives the film some tension (the audience quickly learns, through the fact that we get images to accompany the conversation, that the two friends’ girl troubles, unbeknown to them, involve the same girl). Though this scenario doesn’t lead to the anticipated epiphany that one would expect, the film has so many turns and developments (probably too many, actually) that I wasn’t left feeling like anything was missing. Not much to say to say more than it’s a really well-observed relationship study with hilarious, often dense characters.
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