Saturday, October 9, 2010

VIFF: Day 7

Rumination (2009)
Xu Ruotao

Visually artist Xu Ruotao give the Cultural Revolution the full symbolic treatment in this experimental and counterintuitive film. At times feeling like a performance art piece and at times falling apart due to spare production values, Rumination is a refreshing new take on a popular subject in mainland Chinese film. The action follows the aimless wanderings of a small rural regiment of the Red Guard between 1966-76. They do a lot of nothing as they randomly persecute individuals and explore the dilapidated buildings that adorn the barren landscape. The film's segments are notated by year intertitles that go chronologically. The visuals, however, depict occurrences in the opposite order. In other words, the opening, titled 1966, clearly represents the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, and the ending, titled 1976, represents Mao's resurgence of power in 1966. In the middle Xu uses archive footage for 1971, a turning point in the Cultural Revolution due to Lin Biao's criminalization and death. The film feels very free form, but with closer examination, Rumination is filled with specificity. Xu Ruotao never underestimates the audience's understanding of Chinese history and ability to interpret its often vague allegories, and, as a result, much of the film remains elusive. As a painter, Xu is given to greater leaps of faith than is characteristic in filmmaking. Xu was on hand after the screening and the first thing he did was apologise for not knowing how to make a film, an admiral recognition even if it is just half modesty. He also said he had no idea why he flipped the timeline in such an unconventional way, making it even more interesting. In many ways, I think Rumination's odd chronology speaks to the way time and political movements cycle. Rumination was included in the selection for the Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema and was rightfully awarded a special mention.

End of Animal (2010)
Jo Sung-hee
South Korea

Although seeing so many movies lumped together makes things a little muddled and it becomes hard to make bold statements without a little time and perspective, I'm going to do it anyway: Jo Sung-hee's End of Animal is one of the most unique South Korean films I have seen in some time and may well be the most sublimely unique in the Festival. End of Animal is a loosely spiritual film portraying an ambiguous apocalypse that comes suddenly without cinematic trappings or warning. Soon-young is pregnant and traveling via taxi from Seoul to her mother's house north of the city. The driver picks up a young man headed in the same direction who has the uncanny ability to know everything about both the driver and Soon-young, including what they are thinking. I'll stop there. Most of this film is about experiencing the unexpected under pretenses that don't necessarily match the subject matter. Jo Sung-hee winds this story up tighter than a drum, sending waves of dread, anticipation and frustration through a captive audience. End of Animal leaves you with far more questions and mysteries than answers and conclusions, and dares to be wildly allegorical. The director was in attendance, and was faced with an audience that I don't think knew how to process this film. Other than admitting to religious inspirations, Jo shed few clues about this enigmatic film. Reminiscent of Moon Seung-wook's abstract Nabi from 2001, End of Animal is an unbelievable debut film.

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