SIFF 2013: Week Three, Part Two

Thursday, June 6

The last press screenings of the festival were Test, Invader, and Last Flight to Abuja.  Of more interest was the photo taken with the Fools in Theater 1, wearing our Hawaiian shirts (since this was also the last Aloha Thursday of the festival), and the amount of gratitude we received from the press screening attendees, who had been instructed all week to show their appreciation to us on Thursday.  We gave it back to them by applauding as they came out of the last press screening and yelling, “Thank you, guys!” from behind the counter.  Press screenings are definitely the way to go if you’re going to work the festival.

Tonight was a double-header at Pacific Place: the Taiwanese period-costume piece Ripples of Desire and the brutal South Korean film Fatal.  The former film was unique for three reasons: it is the first period drama from Taiwan in fifteen years, this showing marked its North American premiere, and it was introduced by one of the sponsors of the film, rather than by a SIFF staffer (who introduced him).  The sponsor was the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Seattle, and the person who introduced the film was its Director-General, Chin Hsing (who also goes by the name Andy Chin).

Unfortunately, fifteen years was too short of a wait.  Not that Ripples of Desire is a bad film, but it’s not a particularly good one.  The film follows two sisters who entertain as courtesans, until one of them discovers that she has leprosy, and then takes pains to hide it from the matron.  Like in most cases, the problem is with the story (the how, not the why).  I may be too far removed from the film to go into specifics, but I remember nothing particularly memorable about the film, except that it looked pretty (and even then, the cinematography wasn’t stunning).  I also felt that its characters were too archetypal, rather than living, breathing human beings.  Luckily, the film is less than two hours in length, but it felt longer.

Fatal is everything that Ripples of Desire is not.  Its main character is male, it is very low-budget (the director shot it for $3,000 in 10 days), it takes place in the present, and — until its climax — it is a better film.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.  It’s North American Premiere took place during press screenings, making this screening only the third one on the continent. (Warning: STRONG SPOILERS AHEAD, since any discussion of the film must involve discussing its ending.)

The film starts with a gang rape of a girl (who we don’t see) by a group of 18-year-old boys.  We’re not sure if the last boy participates in the rape or not.  He is seen going into the room, but not what happens afterwards.  Of all the boys, only he feels that what they are doing is wrong.

His name is Sung-gong (Nam Yeon-woo), and he grows up to feel overwhelming guilt over what happened.  Ten years after the rape, he ends up joining a church, where he finally feels some sense of peace.  He soon discovers, however, that the victim of that attack attends the same church.  Her name is Jang-mi (Yang Jo-a), and while she doesn’t recognize Sung-gong, he recognizes her.

The first half of the film deals with their becoming friends, as Sung-gong even quits his job so as to work at the coffee shop where Jang-mi works.  From this first half, we can tell that Jang-mi is still scarred by her encounter (she shrivels up when walking past a group of Korean boys, who Sung-gong then “saves” her from).  We also can tell that Sung-gong is a bit simple, which helps explain his transformation in the last half of the film.  Unable to ask for forgiveness from Jang-mi, and worried that she will find out that he was one of the boys involved, we are treated to various fantasy sequences of his, including his former classmates asking for his forgiveness for their crime, and Jang-mi telling him that she knows who he is, but doesn’t care.

The climax occurs when the church members go on a retreat and are asked to reveal their deepest sin.  Even as Sung-gong is hesitant to talk about the rape and how that has affected his behavior toward Jang-mi, Jang-mi talks about the event and how she wanted to die afterwards, and how she wished death on her attackers.  This spurs Sung-gong into action, and it’s where the film turns into a Charles Bronson movie.

The more I’ve thought about Fatal, the more I wonder if my objections are justified.  Based on who Sung-gong is, we can expect nothing but a primal emotional reaction to Jang-mi’s outburst.  Plus, he is not innocent, himself.  After he confronts the ringleader of that band of boys, a flashback reveals that he, too, participated in the rape.  This is why, once he has killed all of the people responsible for the rape, he must kill himself.  Even sadder, Jang-mi never suspects what he did, for while we hear the report on her TV of the horrible murders that he committed, she does not connect them to her gentle friend, who has gone missing.  Therefore, while I would’ve preferred a more complex reaction to Jang-mi’s outburst that revenge, as that solution seems too simple, perhaps Sung-gong was incapable of such a reaction, though it would have made the climax of the film as nuanced as the rest of the movie.

66. The translator, Lee Don-ku, and Arianne share a lighthearted moment outside the theater
Lee Don-ku’s translator, director Lee Don-ku, and SIFF Film Center Education Coordinator Arianne Garden Vazquez in front of a poster for Lee Don-ku’s film

Arianne led the Q & A with director Lee Don-ku, who spoke through a translator (I do wish translators would be given credit for their invaluable contributions on SIFF’s website — maybe their names are included in the press releases?).  While it was shot for $3,000 in ten days (and is Lee’s first film), it took him six months to write.  He only had one camera, one microphone for audio, and a small staff to shoot the film, casting his acting colleague friends in all the roles.  He originally came up with the idea for the film when a rape occurred in South Korea in which the accused was given a light sentence.  To get the look of the film, he watched many other films.  Also, he never thought about making the story happy.  He has another film coming out in October, in which he said the whole family will die.  Not sure if he was saying that tongue-in-cheek or not.

Friday, June 7

I saw two screeners this afternoon: Horses of God and Short Stories.  Horses of God is the better film of the two, and one of the best films of the festival.  It follows three boys, two of whom are brothers, who grow up near Casablanca, Morocco.  To tell you more of the story might ruin it for you, but it reminded me of another great film about young boys growing up in a crime-filled neighborhood: the great City of God.  It had its U.S. Premiere at the festival, so let’s hope it is shown in other markets across the U.S.  A marvelous film from director Nabil Ayouch.

Short Stories is a bizarre film made up of five different stories, taken from a collection of short stories which is rejected at the beginning of the film.  The most memorable of the stories are the first, which involves an event planner who plans a wedding for a couple, then their divorce, and finally their deaths; the fourth, which involves a woman who is called upon to find lost children, quoting lines of Pushkin as she searches for them, but spontaneously combusts when the lost girl in question burns a book by Pushkin to stay warm; and the fifth story, which involves a romance between an older man and a younger woman, who see each other in traffic and begin a torrid romance, eventually undone by the woman’s lack of knowledge of Russia’s past.  This includes a scene in which the man uses his hand and fingers to bring her to orgasm in his car, while she answers questions about Russia’s political history.  She is about to go down on him, when her incorrect answer to a question makes him lose interest.  Not a scene you soon forget.  A decent film, but not as great as the hype surrounding it had led me to believe.  It received its North American premiere at SIFF, and is director Mikhail Segal’s first major film.  You can see the whole thing here (with English subtitles):

Dan Doody, director Kieran Darcy-Smith, actress Felicity Price

Since the Lillian Gish vehicle The Wind was on its way to selling out, I decided to see the Australian thriller Wish You Were Here at the Egyptian Theatre.  Dan Doody introduced the film with the help of its director, Kieran Darcy-Smith, and his wife (and actress in the film) Felicity Price.  A film that went on a bit too long before its payoff, it deals with two couples: Alice and Dave Flannery (Felicity Price, Joel Edgerton), and Steph McKinney and Jeremy King (Teresa Palmer, Antony Starr).  Jeremy is Steph’s boyfriend, and Steph is Alice’s sister.  On vacation in Thailand, Jeremy goes missing.  While the Feds are interested in possible drug connections that Jeremy may have had, Dave seems to know more about Jeremy’s disappearance than he lets on.  A decent film, but the suspense could have been ratcheted up more, as there wasn’t always enough drama present to justify a full-length movie on the subject, even if the true subject of the film is relationships (which came up during the Q & A).

After the film was over, Darcy-Smith and Price answered questions from Doody and the audience.  Among the highlights:

  • Inspired by a true story, Price came up with the idea for the film and brought it to her husband’s attention.  In the true story, one of their friends went with his/her partner to Thailand with another couple.  Like in the movie, the man from the other couple disappeared.
  • They made the film because they wanted to explore the life of younger parents — people who are juggling young kids while still wanting to go out and party.
  • It took four years to write the script.  Price had two children in the process.
  • The tenth draft was the one that was shot.  In the original draft, the audience never found out what happened to Jeremy.
  • The film was shot over a period of three weeks in Sydney (with breaks for Christmas), ten days in Cambodia, and then back to Sydney for the rest of the shoot.
  • While it premiered in Cannes in 2012, its opening was held off until Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby opened.

Saturday, June 8

I took the day off from movies today, which allowed me to attend a friend’s birthday party.  I also went to the Industry Party at the W Hotel with one of my friends (who later would accompany me to the Closing Night Gala).  Unfortunately, the appetizers ran out early, and most of the people there were there to schmooze and talk business, though I did have a nice conversation with one of the people who worked on SIFF’s new website.  Plus, there was no dancing.  How can you call it a party when there’s no dancing?!

69. Industry Party at the W 70

Sunday, June 9

On the final day of the festival, my schedule of movies kept changing.  Eventually, I decided to see only one film, in order to conserve my energy for the Closing Night Gala and the Super Secret Staff Party.

That film was an archival print (35 mm!  Woohoo!) of Saul Bass’s only film as a director: Phase IV.  It deals with ants who, due to an astrological event, suddenly begin to evolve.  Two scientists (Michael Murphy, Nigel Davenport) go out to the desert to study these ants, who attack a family who lives nearby.  The only survivor of that family, Kendra Eldridge (Lynne Frederick), is rescued by the scientists, but then the ants begin to target them.

The film was introduced by Sean Guthrie (and since I can’t find out any other information on him, I hope I spelled his name right), who talked about the restoration and the original ending, which was never seen in theaters.  That ending was found last summer (Bass’s family donated over 2700 items to the Academy when he died in 1996), and Paramount had the original color elements in their archives.  So, the original movie was shown on film, then there was a short break while the projectors were changed, and then the original ending was shown on DCP.  This gave me the best chance possible to compare film and DCP.  My conclusion is that the film actually looked a little cleaner than the DCP ending, but –when done well — there’s no reason why DCP can’t look as good as film.  And the original ending plays like a famous Saul Bass movie title (very 2001, in that regard).  While the ending that Paramount forced on Bass may make more sense, his original ending is the most Saul Bass thing about the movie, and is more poetic.

The Closing Night Gala was at the MOHAI this year, which opened December of last year in its current location on Lake Union (before that, it was located in Montlake).  It was a beautiful day, if a bit chilly, as these shots show:

72. In front of the MOHAI
In front of the MOHAI
75. Lake Union
Lake Union
76. The footbridge
The footbridge

78. The MOHAI 77. A gaggle of geeseI went with one of my friends and met others there.  We got there early, so we just wandered around before sitting and waiting for other people to show up.  It also meant that we had first dibs on food.

The building itself is gorgeous, and I found the exhibits (which were open, so long as you didn’t bring food or drink in the galleries) to be much more fascinating than I thought they would be.  I’m definitely coming back here for a First Thursday event.

82 79. Closing Night Gala There are two things I’d like to share about the Closing Night Ceremony.  First of all, the DJ was bad.  He seemed to be more interested in how cool his playlist was than in the fact that no one wanted to dance to it.  Only when he played Michael Jackson or other pop songs (mainly from the movie Twenty Feet From Stardom) did large numbers of people get on the dance floor.  Contrast that with the Opening Night DJ, who really got the crowd in a dancing mood.

The second thing I’d like to share was one of the sweetest episodes I’ve encountered at the festival.  One of the women who was dancing to most of the songs had her shoes off for much of that time.  I’m not sure if she was even old enough to drink, but she was having a lot of fun dancing with her friends, and even pulled my friend over to dance with her.  At the end of the night, I saw her and told her she was a good dancer.  She looked at me for a second, and then raised her fingers to her lips and made the sign for “thank you.”  Only then did I realize that she was deaf.  And here’s my point: it didn’t matter.  In that setting, she was just a person having fun at a party.

After the Closing Night Gala, it was once again time to go to the Super Secret Staff Party.  Never again will I take off my badge at that party, for when I went to collect it at the end of the night, along with my other things, I found that it was gone. I then went to the Super Super Secret Staff After Party, which ended up being not as exciting, and which I left soon after arriving (and got a ride home, too).

As for the mystery of my badge?  Well, that wasn’t fully revealed until a week later.  I sent out an email about it as soon as I got home, and I had a response by Tuesday that someone had found it on the street.  Normally that night is when the Kickball Game is played between Ops and Artistic, but I decided not to go, and the person who had it said she probably wouldn’t be there, anyway.

Fast forward to Industry Night on Monday the 17th (not to be confused with the Industry Party).  We at SIFF were saying goodbye to one of our coworkers, when someone I hadn’t met before came in and told me the story of my badge.  Apparently, she had been having such a good time at the Staff Party that she had worn my badge by mistake.  When she realized it wasn’t hers, she took it off and threw it in the street.  Later, when reading my email, she went back to where she had tossed it, and it was still there!  Since I had made a big fuss about also losing my Kyle MacLachlan ticket with it, she gave both of them back to me, in a frame:

85. My festival badge -- found and framedA fitting epilogue, if there ever was one, to another great Seattle International Film Festival.

Next week: SIFF 2013 wrap-up!