“I’m Gonna Explode”
An unhappy girl and a troubled boy meet in detention in their high school in a suburb of Mexico City, and before you can shout “Holy Nouvelle Vague, Batman!” they’re running away on a dreamy days-long adventure together, having found their perfect co-conspirator. Their parents don’t take this well, but their on-the-lam offspring haven’t actually gone further than the roof of the boy’s house, where they sunbathe with the radio on, divest themselves of their virginity, curl up to movies in a tent, and sneak food and booze from downstairs when everyone’s out. The lad’s father is a former activist turned right-wing politician, but the film’s rebellion is more of the usual teenage variety, a swooningly enjoyable series of episodes set to a languid soundtrack of Bright Eyes and Zoot Woman that convey a thorough sense of all-consuming and self-centered pubescent angst. It’s a shame that it has to end, and in fact it seems to reach half a dozen conclusions before its final, unsatisfying one.
“Night and Day”
While not a major departure for Hong Sang-soo, “Night and Day” is more male-focused than the other films of his I’ve seen, which may be why I like it less — he’s so unforgiving in his portrayals of Korean men that this portrait of a middle-aged painter who flees for Paris after getting caught smoking pot feels a lot like spending two and a half hours in the company of someone unendingly unpleasant if amusingly pathetic. Camped out in a guest house crowded with travelers half his age, Sung-nam weeps on the phone to his wife at night and spends his days trying to sleep with an art student, and his contact with anyone who’s not a Korean expat doesn’t reach much beyond an awkward conversation at the airport when he first arrives. He runs into a former lover on the street and fails to see her deep loneliness, and meets a North Korean exchange student at a party and minor, hilarious freakout, to the embarrassment of his hosts. But while Sung-nam’s troubled state of affairs lead him to contemplate religion and having children, a coda set back in Korea, centered around a dream sequence, indicates that in the comfort of his own environment, Sung-nam hasn’t moved forward at all.
“A Christmas Tale”
Arnaud Desplechin’s film about a family gathering for the holidays has been picked up by our sister company IFC Films, so I’ll abstain from anything beyond this: It’s one of best of the year, and scenes (Mathieu Amalric taking a sodden curbside faceplant; Emmanuelle Devos clenching her fists in glee at the approach of a train that whites out the screen) have wormed their way inextricably and apparently permanently into my brain.
“The Headless Woman”
Cheating — I haven’t actually seen Lucrecia Martel’s film since Cannes, where it was roundly booed at the press screening, but I’ve been longing to. The narrative in “The Headless Woman” is so submerged it’s almost subliminal — after seeing it I was caught up in conversation after conversation as to what it was actually about, which would be the class gulf and an internal view of few days spent in shock. It is, in its quiet way, audaciously daring, and I like it a lot in retrospect, though the chances of someone picking it up seem regrettably slim.
Ex-sailor Asa lives with his sister and her family on a Kazakhstan steppe, helping them raise sheep and dreaming of a yurt of his own. Unfortunately, his hard-ass brother-in-law won’t give Asa his promised starter set until he gets married, and Asa’s attempt to woo what seems to be the only girl in the area, the titular Tulpan, with stories of ocean-related danger, aren’t working out. Sergei Dvortsevoy’s film is a look at a wind-whipped, nomadic, livestock-based lifestyle that’s assailably exotic, but it’s not, despite two sheep births, as anthropological in nature as many of the films from unusual corners of the world that round the festival circuit can be. Asa’s just as clueless about sheepherding as the average audience member, and his dream of having both a flock and 900 channels of satellite cable is neither grounded nor shared by anyone else he encounters — everyone else would rather head to the city or leave Kazakhstan entirely. “Tulpan” may have plenty of spectacular shots of Mars-like countrysides, and others in which the chaos of children and puppies and camels wander into and out of a wide shot like the most miraculous choreography, but mostly it’s a small story of family and of bending your dreams to fit with what you actually have.
This dysfunctional family drama, billed as a change of pace for Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a director still best known for his J-horror work, engages a variety of Japanese societal ills head-on: A Tokyo patriarch finds his job outsourced and joins other loitering suit-wearing former salarymen too ashamed to admit their joblessness to their loved ones; his wife cleans and cooks and smiles and feels unfulfilled; his older son, frustrated with a lack of prospects and what he perceives as national inaction, enlists in the U.S. Army and goes to Iraq; his younger son is sullen and uncommunicative until he finds an outlet in the piano. Save the strange and naÃ¯ve military storyline, these plots are nothing that haven’t already been seen in dozens of other films and TV dramas from Japan. J-horror may be well into its afterlife, but the indirect social critiques of “Pulse” and “Bright Future” are far more resonant than anything in this subdued and stale offering.
For all of our coverage of the 2008 New York Film Festival, click here.
[Photos: “I’m Gonna Explode,” Canana Films, 2008; “Tulpan,” Match Factory, 2008]