Friends: The Japanese film "Bashing," one of 21 in Competition for the Palm d'Or, the festival's ultimate prize, opens most promisingly with a young woman speeding into the camera on a mountain bike down a quiet urban side street. She swings past the camera and in the next cut swiftly dismounts, puts down her kickstand and rushes up two flights of stairs to her apartment.
If she had locked her bike, I would have felt in safe hands with a director telling things as they are, but rarely in cinema does anyone lock their bike. It takes time and breaks the rhythm. They are motion pictures, after all, and directors like motion, thus their inclusion of bike riding and wind shield wipers and passing trains and such. Time wasn't an issue in this film, as it had a tidy running time of 82 minutes. But, this director somewhat acquits himself, as we frequently see this 25-year old woman riding about her small seaside city to her job, to shop and to relax and never does she lock her bike, nor does she seem to need to. Maybe locking one's bike, even overnight outside one's apartment, is unnecessary where she lives. It added to my eagerness to bicycle Japan, but not the way this young woman was treated by the people in her city. She is a recently released hostage from some unnamed Middle Eastern country where she had been doing volunteer work. Rather than being celebrated for her idealism and her ordeal, she is ostracized and tormented, thus the title "Bashing." Her father too is ostracized, forced to resign from his job, turning him suicidal. The film is based on a true story.
This was one of a trio of Asian films all with minimal dialogue and also minimal appeal to any but film festival audiences and the most ardent of cinephiles--art films that would test the patience of most. The others were "Be With Me," a Singaporean film that opened the Director's Fortnight and the South Korean film, "The Bow," the 12th film by cult director Ki-Duk Kim, he of "The Isle" and "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring."
"Be With Me" was a tedious and disjointed portrayal of various lonely and love-seeking souls
interspersed with arty shots of skyscrapers and kitchen ware and other scenes fit for a painter's
brush. Much of the dialogue is text messages sent via e-mail or phone or typed out on an old-fashioned typewriter with off-center keys.
Ki-Duk Kim films range from the audacious to the tender. "The Bow" had a little of each. It is the story of a 60-year old fisherman who has lived on a boat for years with a girl he rescued when she was six years old and is about to turn 17, when he intends to marry her. All of a sudden she starts having feelings for the various clients who come to their boat to fish. The 60-year old puts a halt to all their advances by firing arrows near them. He also tells fortunes by firing three arrows past the young woman into a target as she goes back and forth on a swing. Ki-Duk Kim's admirers won't be disappointed by his latest imaginative concoction.
I started my day off with an 8:30 a.m. screening of last night's Opening Night film "Lemming." Expectations were high for it, since it stars Laurent Lucas and is directed by Dominick Moll, who last teamed up in the much acclaimed "With a Friend Like Harry." It also stars Charlotte Rampling, who never disappoints. It is slick and full of snappy dialogue, electronic gadgetry and surprising twists. It is a rare Opening Night film that is also in Competition. London bookies peg it as the favorite to win the Palm d'Or. Its first hour is exhilarating film-making, enough to leave me feeling satisfied, though many regret its detour into the surreal.
I also saw "Kilometer 0", a Kurdish-Iraqi film, before I began my slide into Asian minimalism. This film dwelt on the hatred between Kurds and Arabs. A Kurdish soldier is stuck with an Arab driver for a several day trip returning a corpse in a casket to its family. It is lashed to the top of their car and draped with an Iraqi flag. It is quite an image, and even more so when they become a parade of several dozen such vehicles through the desert. This Competition film won't win any awards, but at least it gave a picture of life in Iraq.
My day was highlighted when I encountered Helen, Chicago's Film Festival programmer, after the ten p.m. screening of "The Bow," which she also liked. She missed Cannes last year, as she was six months pregnant. She's back this year with nine month old Zoe and her husband, who is accompanying her for the first time. He has child-care duties while Helen searches for films for Chicago.
Several market films I'll miss today and their one-sentence description in "Screen" magazine: "Like Chef, Like God"--A man constantly changes jobs and discovers a talent for cooking..."The Big Empty"--A bittersweet tale of Alice, her vagina and the infinite nature of the tundra..."The American"--A French man believes he was born in the wrong country and decides to become an American.