REVIEW: Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival, Short Films

Short stories, done through any medium, have always felt the most challenging and striking to me. Reading Neil Gaiman in high school English really sealed that feeling for me, especially the story collection Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions. There’s a good amount of slack inside a full-length text that simply doesn’t exist for short story tellers, and in losing that there is a whole lot of additional meaning, interpretable and explicit, that invites itself in. Maybe that’s why I think and write and feel only in vignettes.

So let’s not waste any more time: here’s what I thought:

Tumble, style-wise, did not meet my expectations. True, the colors were moody and there was an interesting rabbit motif hanging around (symbolic of timidity, hiding away, uncertainty in oneself, I think), but it was weirdly repetitive even while having a small running time. The lack of explanations for how Adam’s guardian angel becomes visible to others and solves the problems Adam shares with his mother (they fight to the very end, and nothing is resolved) had the potential to be open-ended mysteries for the audience to consider, but they just feel too much like actual plot holes.

Marcel was no doubt my favorite; I will always, always be a sucker for a soft and quiet romance. The frank tone of the film’s setup reminded me of my favorite movie, Amelie. The idea of a stark change like that happening (going from virtual invisibility to becoming a member of society) as a result of a chance event has so much magic in it. I was also a fan of the division of warm and cool colors/lighting throughout the movie; the glow of little changes. The ending was a point of disagreement between my friend and I, though–for whatever reason I assumed the last line implied she had jumped from the balcony while he slept, but my friend argued that Marcel was only expressing his happiness that the two were together in the same apartment. The ability to have two wildly different interpretations like that makes the movie all the more powerful. 

View to the Wall had a physical pull to it, like I was being closed into a clearly-defined, small space, drawn into Larysa and Borys’ new home.

While I describe that like affection, I was cold throughout. Being artists, the characters were appropriately expressive, the actors who played them able to communicate minute, complicated emotional shifts very well. So much of the hopefulness of starting a family and starting anew as immigrants felt quite tragically earnest. Making a life for yourself is such a fragile thing.

Ricochets was more austere than I thought it would be, or maybe had hoped. The relationship between the brothers was not as thoughtful as it could have been, made a little too dichotomous. Still, it spoke quite clearly to how easily the state of the world can dissolve closeness.

While these movies are no longer available to stream on the Michigan Theater site, be sure to check back periodically for more–the Michigan and State Theaters have been hard at work providing opportunities to see movies while their capacity for in-person viewing remains altered. Keep up to date at https://www.michtheater.org/blog/

PREVIEW: Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival, Short Films

Movie Night Clipart

This weekend is Ann Arbor’s 27th annual Polish Film Festival! If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly searching for ways to put off doing actual assignments or anything remotely productive. Lucky for you, here’s another opportunity to do just that!

I’m a big fan of foreign film; it seems that many countries are far more in tune with the creativity is takes to make a truly weird, mind-bending movie (I have a lot of French and Thai favorites in that category). It’s interesting to note the differences in styles of acting and plot progression as well.

There are a few different sections of the film festival, so if you have the time, I’d encourage you to check out all of them. But I’ll just be watching the short films section; I have a whole list of other things I’m using to avoid work this weekend. On the menu are four 2019 movies, all dramas with some interesting spice, from political tension to a supernatural entity.

The short films are free to stream Friday, November 6 at 7pm through Saturday at 7pm, via https://www.michtheater.org/aapff2020/

 

REVIEW: German Film Series: “Transit”

As soon as the credits roll I hightailed it out of the viewing room. I can’t stand the cold so I ran all the way home, and the scene was so terrible. There’s the harsh yellow of the streetlights reflecting all along the ice on the road, which is shining wetly like a giant tongue. I look back to check for headlights before I dash across the street to my block, and the wind takes the liberty of yanking through my hair so it flies in my face and mixes with the sickly lights.

So this might be my new favorite movie.

Georg’s expression at the last few frames was terrible. Forget Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile, this guy creates a symphony with his painfully hopeful eyes and the gentle set of his lips, scarred from a childhood cleft palate surgery, only adding to the confused ambiance he creates. Throughout the film he occupies a character with infinite, though guarded, softness, while maintaining a fairly traditional father-figure posture. He is not completely any one thing, but I recognized a fragility in him I hoped wouldn’t prove to be dangerous for him. 

Marie is by contrast mostly flat, though her wishy-washy approach to everything still makes her a wild card. She is a ghost, pale and able to see through people. She reacts to conversation quietly, choosing subtlety over big outward expression, and in this way, she haunts.

Director Christian Petzold has made me the exact right kind of unsettled with Transit. There is so much casualness in this: a complete disregard for metaphors in the weather, the sun out even in times of keen distress; traumatic events regarded with little ceremony. Strangely it’s the smallest things that are amplified. Right off the sound seems wrong: the tiny tapping of a glass on a table rings out, a door sliding shut is like a jail cell clanging. All throughout I don’t quite understand what I’m feeling, unable to cry though I can sense sadness here.

The way Petzold plays with time works so well with the confusion of identities throughout the movie–cars and clothing and language are modern, but there are typewriters present, and historical architecture. Members of the Navy in Crackerjack-esque uniforms dine with our Georg in the local pizza shop; air travel is not mentioned, only by ship. The sleepy brightness of the seaside seems infinitely ancient in its sun-bleached scenery. Nazis are occupying countries all throughout Europe, but The traveling itself is another element, coming upon a new place full of strangers, trying to reach another, more obscure land across the ocean. It all collects together to blur any useful divide between the real and imagined.

Going back and forth to the hotel room and port and consulate did seem repetitive, without any discernible reasoning. Already there is a considerable amount of confusion present, so the redundancy of the dashings does nothing for the film’s emotional success. It only creates repeating, nearly identical cycles that do not move the plot forward.

Cycles are, however, the most important part of the movie, and may say something about the message Petzold was trying to convey. After Marie disappears back into the city at the end (as she does so well), Georg is left eternally waiting for her in the pizza shop, mournfully gazing out to meet the eyes again of the woman he had immediately fallen in love with. It seems she is free now, like he used to be, and he is stuck wandering looking for his lost love, the very sickness that had plagued her.

It’s interesting to drag a historical event out of its place comfortably in the past and out into the open modern era. It makes us nervous to consider whether political and military atrocities will really stay away from the present, or if we’re still capable of unbelievable things even after we have advanced as a society. Maybe they take different forms, but it is foolish to think we are any less evil than before, and thus we cannot pretend we live safely apart from those terrors.

REVIEW: CSEAS Film Screening–Thai Movie Night. How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) / ‘พี่ชาย My Hero’

I used to pride myself in my cold-heartedness while watching emotional movies. While others wept over Les Mis I did not shed a single tear, and in this astonished both my peers and myself. 

These days, this old pride is abandoned totally. Now I use how much I cry as a measure of how good the movie is. So, by the Sorrow Scale, How To Win At Checkers (Every Time) was fabulous. The purity of the brothers’ relationship is tragic in the face of government corruption and rapidly-moving sadnesses. Despite how inevitable the turning of events were, I’d still catch myself hoping along with the characters. 

The bond between Oat and Ek is realistic–not too sitcom-family well-behaved, but teasing and jeering and ultimately loving. It informs the questionable decisions Ek can make concerning his kid brother, like letting him come to the club with him. They both need another, less alien parental figure than their aunt, after the death of their parents, especially Oat. Ek is not a perfect father figure, which is quite the accurate representation, as he is so young himself, and could use someone guiding him as well.

Small things held significance in this film, working with subtlety that enhanced its themes of injustice, which is similarly slyly hidden to all those not looking for it. Take the draft lottery scene; while the crowd was singing the national anthem, Jai and Junior are one of the few pointedly not participating. It’s unclear whether they do so as they contemplate their part in the bribing, or the fact that the government accepts bribes to escape the draft at all. Perhaps they feel less connected to their country as a result. But hasn’t Ek earned the right to antipatriotism? He is stuck in the nerve-frying situation of facing possible death and leaving his young brother behind. Still he sings the song of the country that has none of his interests in mind. 

 

The color palettes are similarly subtle, simple combinations of muted earth and jewel tones that drag at the feeling of bleakness the later parts of the movie hold. Even the Cafe Lovely has a limited scheme, a little monochromatic neon against dark grays and browns in its rooms. Upstairs, that sinister place, is even flatter, an apartment building hallway of beige. In such environments I can feel the barrenness of the situation, in contrast with the joyous times of childhood. We see here that evil works in a lurking way, striking without ceremony. 

And although I have mostly positive views on Checkers, there were several instances of triteness that shocked me. Worst of all was the very ending, where an adult Oat rides out into the sunset, which turns to white as he gets to the horizon. I wanted to gag at this foolishly, blindly at-peace, going into the light ending. To me, it ruined much of the unique qualities the movie did contain. Instead of Ek’s painfully unceremonious killing, I was thinking about how much this reminded me of The Ghost Whisperer. At that point, I seriously considered labeling this a feel-good movie instead of the deeper drama it tries to be. I wondered how it could be nominated for an Oscar when they couldn’t think of a less superficial way of ending it.

But what matters most is one’s overall feeling walking out of the movie. At that time I was still crying, so by my measure of choice, it was still a powerful film.

This is director Josh Kim’s first full length film. He has also made several other short films to check out: Draft Day, The Postcard, and The Police Box. This was the last Thai Movie Night of the semester, but they will be starting up again at the beginning of the year.

PREVIEW: CSEAS Film Screening–Thai Movie Night. How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) / ‘พี่ชาย My Hero’

As we come up on our long-yearned for Thanksgiving break, it can be hard to stay focused without occasionally giving our minds some time to rest. People are simply not meant to exist as machines that continuously churn.

Grease your gears with another great selection of film in CSEAS’s Thai Movie Night series. This time it is the intriguingly-titled How To Win At Checkers (Every Time). It tells the story of a recently orphaned young boy as his older brother and new caretaker must submit to the country’s draft lottery. The troubling  uncertainty and personal growth of the brothers raises questions about the justice of the structure of society.

The movie will be presented at 7pm on Thursday, November 21 in 1500 North Quad (the Video Viewing Room in the Language Resource Center). There is no charge for admission.

REVIEW: International Studies Horror Film Fest

Another year of the annual International Studies Horror Film Fest has come and gone, and with it went my hope that they would show actual horror movies.

Don’t get me wrong; the selections were wonderfully artistic and variable in tone and theme and texture. All three featured original plots and unsettling undertones. They each force a bit of creepiness into one’s idea of the world, while remaining quite beautiful. However, I would have appreciated at least one fully, overtly gruesome movie in the program. The gore was almost nonexistent in all of the films, limited to a few scenes of graphicness apiece. I found myself groaning over the romantic subplots and long periods of calm while trying to focus on the main stories and character dynamics. On Halloween, I need fear to rule. This can be done in complex, story-rich, writerly ways; the artistry of a film need not be sacrificed. Thus, even if the fest’s planners intended to get together a group of intellectually stimulating movies, they could have done so while giving the audience a little more of a scare.

Face was basically CSI or Criminal Minds in all it accomplished horror-wise. The whole movie seems cast in shadows, plagued by an uninspired soundtrack and TV-drama style acting. But the pace of the film was perfect, a slow reveal of a shocking truth whose slime does something venomous to the psyche of the audience.

The Lure was an entire musical, and certainly the only movie of its kind, however impossible to define that may be. The heavy glamour of the strip club pairs so well with the mythology surrounding mermaids, and the girls’ dead stares were a perfect balance for all the life in their musical numbers. The unwholesomeness of the young girls participating in this business combines with the sexual power of mermaids in lore to create an uneasy feeling for the audience, similar to the trickery sailors face in all the stories. But even with the violence and the complex uneasiness, this movie is far closer to a comedy than a horror film.

Dogtooth seemed like something I should have enjoyed, given that its creator is the same man behind The Lobster (a movie which, after watching, made me feel so unmoored that I literally held onto street signs as I walked to the bus stop, certain I’d blow away with the wind). It bears obvious similarities in how the cast is directed to act (basically emotionless, flat) and the minimalism of the indoor environments. But it falls short of creating the same level of effect for me that Lanthimos had in his later film. I think he realizes later in his career that there is a limit to the lack of expression he can write into his actors and the barrenness of the landscape before it becomes too offputting for the audience to focus on the story. In short, I got bored, and the beauty of the expertly done lighting and the carefully constructed garden space did little to change that. Some emotional music would have gone a long way.

Truly, these movies have tons of artistic value to consider and appreciate. In another sort of film festival, they would be great additions (and indeed, they have been inputs of such festivals as Cannes and Sundance), but I still hold that they are unwise selections for a true horror fest. I hope that next year, they have more time in the gallery to show an extra movie that a Halloween lover would appreciate.