Apologies for the lack of updates. My lateness seems to have jumped from the real world into cyberspace. Ideally, I would have liked to have had this post up two nights ago. Things happen.
Saturday saw a film I’d been anticipating for quite some time, and one that arrived with a great deal of hype due to its popularity through the festival circuit this year. Love Exposure (Sion Sono, Japan, 2009), the four-hour-Japansese-indie-cult-sensation has been making waves with its hilarious depiction of teenage love, religious oppression and panty-snapping perversity. You heard that last one right.
Teenage Yu has a priest father who derives some level of enjoyment from scolding his son over the sins he has committed. Eager to give his father something to get angry about, Yu goes out of his way to achieve the greatest sins humanly possible. Before long, he and his friends have joined an exclusive club that teaches the art of taking upskirt photos. This scenario makes for a handful of scenes in which Yu and co take to the streets and begin flinging their cameras here, there and everywhere in search for the perfect, most perverse panty shot. It isn’t long before Yu’s exploits lead him to Yoko, a man-hating young girl who becomes his ‘love at first sight’, setting off a chain of events that become increasingly more bizarre as we work through the four hour duration.
The hot talking point with this film is whether the length is indeed justified. During an intermission placed halfway through, I decided that the first part didn’t seem long at all, and while very little was actually achieved for the main story in these first two hours – which mainly consisted of exposition – the film did a capable job of introducing and setting up the main motivations behind each character, taking us through an adolescent journey that hits all the key points: relationships with parents, primal lust, seeing that person for very the first time, etc.
Things took a turn for the OTT in the final two hours – although not necessarily in a bad way – as the mysterious, omnipotent Zero Church makes its presence felt and turns Yu’s world upside down. What happens at this point isn’t detrimental to the themes of the film, but unlike the first two hours, these events don’t comfortably fit the prescribed length. We’re entering endgame, with the threat bigger than ever, and so the pace of the film gets inreasingly faster. More and more is thrown at the wall, expecting to stick. It was at the turn of the third hour that I really started to feel the length. The first half of the film had taken a long time to tell not an awful lot, and yet somehow the second half felt like it was taking little time to tell an too much, thanks to the frenetic pace and ever-changing circumstances. If it was 3 hours instead of 4, Love Exposure may have had stood a chance at being a little more cohesive. As it stands, its length isn’t justified to the same extent as some of those other lengthy masterworks (Satantango, Andrei Rublev) that take you in and make you forget time itself temporarily.
Love Exposure is however deliriously inventive, and contains many delights and truths that could tempt you into taking the plunge, maybe more than once. Despite the length, the many themes have an air of reality about them, channeled through an absurd world that cotinually places demands on our suspension of disbelief, whilst at the same time placing emphasis on recognizable thoughts and feelings. The popularity is deserved, and the future looks promising as far as a sustained cult following is concerned; leave your reservations about runtime at the door and see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
From epics to quickies: the 60-minute Stingray Sam (Cory McAbee, USA, 2009) is a miniature space western chronicling the escapades of the title character and his accomplice Quasar Kid as they traverse the galaxy with the aim to rescue a small girl held captive on a strange planet. Unashamedly daft, this feature is separated into six 10-minute chunks and keeps its audience occupied with musical numbers, cartoons and colourful history lessons fleshing out the expansive universe which McAbee has created for such a short feature. There’s even some underlying concern underneath the narrative; although the setting is physically removed from our planet, the anxieties of the Western world are still expressed with the archetypcal cowboy protagonists fighting their way through privatised prison systems and genetic research facilities.
The 60 minutes spent with this film were undeniably silly, but what was equally entertaining was the 30-minute talk with director Cory McAbee following the screening. He explained the motivation behind separating the feature into six parts (each with their own title and credit sequences), that people are now tending to watch their films online and in the case of YouTube sometimes in several parts. Discussing his work on the film, but primarily focussing on the changing business models regarding cinema, McAbee explained that this film was not only showing at festivals, but is also immediately available to purchase on DVD and most importantly the official website, in a number of digital formats, including iPod resolution. This is one filmmaker that’s clearly thinking about the future, contemplating the number of ways people can access his work in a way that is most convenient to them. Judging from the audience response to his presence and the film itself, there’s an undeniable cult following and widespread appreciation for the man’s work, and one can only hope he gets the funding he needs to continue work on his dream project, Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest. It’s all in the name of silly fun, after all.
Just when I thought I was out of Romania, they pull me back in. Carmen Meets Borat (Mercedes Stalenhoef, UK, 2009) takes us to the Romanian village of Glod (which translates in English to ‘Mud’ – unlucky), where we witness what I’m sure many would be interested to see: the reactions of the villagers to their depiction in Borat as rapists and prostitutes. Angered and upset, the villagers turn on the documentary filmmakers capturing events, refusing to trust anybody else holding a camera in their village. Luckily for them, a few lawyers show up and promise to help them exact revenge on Sacha Baron Cohen.
This documentary style is fused with a narrative strand that details the daily life of Carmen, a 17-year old Romanian girl. Carmen is concerned about the pressure to marry, and the her father’s insistence that she wed a young man named Cristi. Events unfold in a touching way, and when each person is shown to be overcome by their emotions, we realize we are finally being treated to a real glimpse of the human beings that were paraded around so wrongly in Borat. The film also exists as an insight into Romanian culture – as was its original aim before the filmmakers of Borat rolled into town – and we hear some interesting things of note, such as one man’s admittance that life was substantially better under Ceausecu’s regime, something Tales of the Golden Age would not have you believe.
When select Romanian villagers are flown to London (after initially being promised a flight to LA to disrupt Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Oscar party’) and are sent into the headquarters of 20th Century Fox armed with their legal documents and little knowledge of the English language or where they are, one feels that the lawyers ferrying them about are as much untrustworthy and useless as the suits from Fox who originally brought shame to the village. Unearthing the truth behind the lies of Cohen’s film, Carmen Meets Borat is a poignant examination of the true culture and the warm human beings that inhabit this underprivileged village in Romania, their hopes and dreams, whilst at the same time managing to exist as a damning indictment of plastic Hollywood. My faith in humanity: still missing.