Sunday, November 8, 2009

WFFBKK '09: Capsule reviews part 1

At Stake -- Four segments in this documentary deal with problems faced by women in Indonesia, mainly stemming from taboos having to do with gynecology and the "purity" of women. The wide-ranging, frank discussion also gets into sexuality. The subjects include Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong, an examination of the traditional practice of female circumcision (it's been outlawed in Indonesia, but still persists in the villages), what happens when an unmarried woman has a yeast infection and a look at a woman who spends her days doing the hard labor of breaking rocks into gravel and works nights having sex in a cemetery for a dollar a pop. (4/5)

Billo, Il Grand Dakhaar -- A Senegalese tailor illegally migrates to Rome, where he hopes to make it big in the fashion industry. He struggles at first, living in a car in a junkyard and selling pirated CDs, but eventually (probably too quickly and unrealistically easily) falls in with a group of sympathetic Italians (including a gay couple, both named Paolo) and other Senegalese migrants. But he is leading a double life -- back home, his mother has been preparing for his wedding, leading to a clash of cultures for this African Muslim man in a white Catholic world. The situation could have easily been made wacky and played strictly for laughs, but the proceedings are kept natural and the humor is mostly dry so it's a light comedy-drama. It also helps that there's a charismatic cast and beautiful cinematography. (3/5)

Diamonds -- A 25-minute documentary strings along the drama as women from the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia, all from different backgrounds -- a former bar girl, a recovering addict and faithful wives from varying economic classes -- share their stories of how they found out they have HIV and how they are coping with it by being leaders in the cause for the rights of women living with HIV. Mikael Enlund directs as author and HIV/AIDS activist Susan Paxton interviews the women and follows them in their daily lives. It's produced for the Bangkok-based Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. Here's a trailer. (4/5)

Green Rocking Chair -- This lively 60-minute documentary is packed with everything -- music, dance, martial arts, drama and animation. Most of all, it's a patriotic, joy-filled celebration of all things Filipino and indigenous culture, as director Roxlee and company search for Baybayin or Alibata, the writing system before Spanish colonization in 1521. The ancient script comes alive in Roxlee's animated sequences. The documentary culminates in the christening of Baby Baybayin, a child that represents a rebirth of the language. He is wrapped in the Filipino flag before he even leaves the womb -- mother paints the Filipino tri-color flag on her belly. There is then a celebration of drumming, flute playing, traditional martial arts and dancing, with many familiar faces taking part in the party, among them actor Ronnie Lazaro and director Lav Diaz. (5/5)

Lost Nation -- Coming after the jungle-based thrillers of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thai independent filmmaker Zart Tancharoen also heads into the woods for his feature debut. This experimental documentary-style drama is about a guy named Chart who goes missing deep in the forest. Presumed dead, the video camera then focuses on Chart's friends and family and their recollections about him. Chart's mother is grief stricken and goads the father into doing something. They eventually hold a funeral. His friends remember Chart in their own way -- by hanging out, drinking, smoking, playing cards and telling off-color stories at Chart's expense. An aunt prays for Chart's spirit to help her win the lottery. Where is Chart? Is he still alive? These are unanswered questions. Also, there's the open interpretation of the meaning of the film as it relates to Thailand. Chart=Nation. It's a highly personal film for Zart, made with his parents and close friends in the Thai Indie circle, among them filmmaker "Poon" Thunska Pansittivorakul, who's among the people hanging out and cracking jokes. In a Q&A session that followed the screening, Zart explained it was a cathartic project, as two people close to him had just died, so the feelings of loss were still very real. (4/5)

Karaoke -- Singing karaoke is meant to be fun, something people do for a night of drinking and camaraderie. But to me, there's perhaps nothing more depressing and lonely than the act of singing off-key, shaky lyrics over a cheesy instrumental track while watching a music video of idealized love and beauty. In this debut feature by Malaysian filmmaker and video artist Chris Chong, a young guy named Betik (Zahiril Adzim) returns to his home village and intends to help out in the family's karaoke bar. But his widowed mother (Mislina Mustaffa) doesn't really want him around. The reasons behind her feelings slowly emerge. Betik strikes up a friendship with a young local lass. Or maybe not. The girl and the conversations they have seem to be the stuff of dreams, like a karaoke video -- too beautiful and too idealized to be real, and thus empty promises. Which embraces the literal meaning of karaoke from the Japanese -- "empty orchestra". The old saying you can never go home again comes to mind, as Betik yearns to reconnect with his old childhood haunts but finds they are all gone. In their place are acres and acres of palm-oil trees and a processing plant that is full of noise, smoke and machinery. But then Betik probably never had a real connection to the place anyway, which is what I found so damn depressing. But I'm glad I finally saw Karaoke. Cinematography by Charin Pengpanich gives the location character, especially in an awesome crane shot that rises above the trees. Also notable are the original songs by screenwriter Shanon Shah -- Karaoke is another great musical movie out of Malaysia. (5/5)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please, no questions or comments about where to download movies or subtitle files.

Please read the FAQ about Thai films on DVD before asking about where to find a Thai movie on DVD with English subtitles.

Make your comments pertinent to the post you are commenting on. For off-topic comments, general observations or news tips, consider sending an e-mail to me at wisekwai [ a t ] g m a i l [d o t ] c o m.

All comments are moderated. Spam comments will be deleted.