Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit viff.org and follow VIFF on Twitter at @viffest.
Dir. Nam Keun-hak
In this short South Korean film, a labour worker is shown repairing an old roof. A concrete physical attachment, the roof is restorable, unlike his father’s illness, presumably Alzheimer’s. The worker expresses grief and sorrow each time he receives phone call from his father, always first asking if he’s has lunch yet—he never remembers their conversation. After falling through the roof, an adorable cat follows him, trying to get his attention, trying to lead him to a crying baby and a presumably dead mother inside the house. Upon finally hearing the child’s wails, he rushes to help, but is seen only providing fodder for the fire. Strangely, he does not attend to the mother or the baby, but rather heads back to the roof. He receives one final call from his father, to which he wishes him, for the first time, Happy New Year. The worker then sits and absorbs the magnificent view from the roof. An ambiguous, deeply contemplative, and evocative short.
Dir. Mike Leigh
An elegant evocation of Victorian lifestyle, and an intimate portrait of the late 19th century artist, J.M.W Turner, Mr. Turner hits all the right notes to be safe Oscar fodder and nothing more. Brilliantly portrayed by Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner is an arrogant but genius artist who is consistently berated by an audience whose impressionable perception of him changes as his style evolves.
Conveying the life of a tortured artist, Mr. Turner focuses on a meaningful subject. However, the manner in which the film is shot, conventionally and without style, undermines the film’s significance. Though the film boasts a number of insightful dialogues which are exceptionally well written, the formal manner in which these scenes are captured is tawdry and repetitive.
The story of Turner’s degeneration and familial life is shot overly melodramatically, though it is redeemed to a certain extent by Spall’s precise acting and sincerity of spirit. Throughout the film, beautiful paintings and shots of the landscapes which inspired the paintings provide relief and visual pleasure, but ultimately the film has little more to offer than professionalism.
Hill of Freedom
Dir. Hong Sang-soo
In Sang-soo Hong’s latest whimsical tale of romance, a Japanese man searches for an old love. The film begins with her receiving a letter from him. She drops the envelope, an messes up the order of the pages. The non-linear, almost cut and paste narrative follows in a manner to resemble how the pages were picked up—arbitrarily. It further illustrates the films constant theme of time and impermanence, attested by the fact that Mori always carries a book, perhaps the writings of Bergson, about time.
Awkward conversations between non-actors supports the film’s ongoing themes of incommunicability and communication barriers between different cultures and languages. With each character forced to speak in their second language, English, only the most direct of words may be stated; it is too difficult in fact to speak sarcastically or playfully, so only simple truths are stated. Their interactions, as a result, are highly comedic, and though exceptionally light in tone the film boasts a great deal of subtle philosophical insights beneath the surface.
Utilizing a multitude of zooms, the film diagnoses space, such as foreground and background, without resorting to cuts. This technique is unique to Sangsoo, and appreciable as an instance of auteurism, but it is also rather awkward. Zooms in general are considered a lesser quality cinematographic technique; they look artificial . In this case however, it befit’s the film’s temperament and Sang-soo’s consistent command over film language is not to be undercut by a rudimentary technique, as it is certainly not used in vain. Ultimately, while Hill of Freedom is both narratively and formally simple, the film is deeply earnest and manages to create a highly affable atmosphere for its quotidian happenings.