In the first sequence of Asghar Farhadi’s film, Nader and Simin: A Separation, husband and wife Nader and Simin face the camera and address an off-screen person of law with regards to his/her reasons for (not) wanting a divorce. She wants it, he does not. In one continuous take of several minutes, they voice their opinions. The one-shot scene ends but with nothing resolved: neither party budges from his/her position. At the film’s conclusion, the last sequence takes place in the same space, only this time the couple’s daughter Termeh is also present between them. In fact, it is Termeh who now faces the camera to address the off-screen judge and divulge with which parent she has chosen to stay. Her parents have given her the freedom—burden, rather—to decide. Like the first sequence, this concluding one and, with it, the final shot do not resolve the prevailing question.
Author Rowena Santos Aquino
He is a Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese writer, living in exile in Spain, an atheist, a communist, and in his eighties. She is a Castilian journalist, a feminist, a translator, and in her fifties. They are José Saramago (1922-2010) and Pilar del Río, for whom intersecting streets are named in José’s home town of Azinhaga in Portugal. Cinematising this romantic, activist, creative intersection is Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gonçalves’ two-hour documentary film, simply titled José and Pilar, like a simple but precious box of family photographs. Accordingly, José and Pilar is an incredibly up-close and personal film that thankfully does not conform to documentary film standards or expectations. For those who want chronological s/he-grew-up-in details, look elsewhere. What you will get here instead is a sociopolitical romantic comedy-like documentary film about a husband and wife based in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain.
A lifelong amah (domestic servant) for a family in Hong Kong, Ah Tao, suffers a stroke and enters a nursing home. Roger is the son of the family for whom she works and the only one who still lives in Hong Kong. He spends time with her and tends to her needs whenever he can, in between his job as a film producer and business trips. Each one is alone but together they have an incredibly close and honest bond, nearly like that of a mother and son. With this premise, A Simple Life is a quiet, unassuming film whose emotional grip tightens as the film progresses in addressing age, time, and emotional bonds between persons and places. It is thus also about Hong Kong and its own aging community, as well as the Hong Kong film community that filmmaker Ann Hui and her lead veteran actors Deanie Ip as Ah Tao and Andy Lau as Roger constitute a part and know so well.
Midway through 2011, Ann Hui’s latest film A Simple Life quietly began a triumphant run that recently continued as November closed. At the 68th Venice International Film Festival in September, Deanie Ip received the Best Actress award for her role of Ah Tao in A Simple Life. Since its premiere, A Simple Life continues to run the film festival circuit as well as garner more awards for director Hui and co-leads Ip and Andy Lau. Just last month, this worthy triumvirate received the Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Actor awards at the 48th Golden Horse Film Awards in Taiwan. Most recently, A Simple Life won the Grand Prix as well as a cash award and the FICC Jury Award at the 15th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia.
In the beginning of Takeshi “Beat” Kitano’s latest film, Outrage (2010), a line of men dressed in black suits stand stoically next to a row of black-colored cars. They also appear to be part of a funeral procession or in mourning. These men are actually yakuza, patiently waiting for their respective bosses finish a get-together. But the idea of funeral or mourning is not erroneous here.
In just a little over a decade, Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has achieved no mean feat: with the most minimal filmography among his filmmaker colleagues with four feature films, he has made his mark as one of the most exciting, articulate, and multifaceted directors not only of his generation but of contemporary world filmmakers today. His visibility in several film festivals in 2011—Sundance and Cannes as a jury member, and most recently Busan West—attests to the international quality of his standing.
A relentless look at the front line during the Korean War (1950-1953), specifically the battles at the eastern front line of the Aerok Hills between North and South Korean armies, Jang Hun’s latest feature film explores the culture of war and ultimately its intense senselessness through the collective experiences of one South Korean company. The Front Line holds the distinction of being a summer blockbuster hit this year in South Korea that touches upon national history and personal experiences in harrowing circumstances and South Korea’s official submission for the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category. Its immersive foray into the madness of war is both its strength and weakness: mind-numbing in its impact, but commendable.
Strategically coinciding with the American Film Market and AFI Fest this year, the Korean Cultural Center of Los Angeles (KOFFLA) organized a three-day spotlight on contemporary Korean cinema, sponsored by the Korean Film Council (KOFIC). The spotlight consisted of a retrospective of young filmmaker-on-the-rise Jang Hun, who now has three feature films under his belt; two debut feature films, Ordinary Days (2010, Inan) and Re-encounter (2010, Min Yong-geun); and one of Lee Chang-dong’s more recent films, the award-winning Secret Sunshine (2007). In a sense, KOFFLA’s Korean cinema spotlight is a much welcome continuation of AFI Fest’s spotlight on Korean cinema last year and a much-needed Asian cinema sidebar missing in this year’s AFI Fest.
In September 2011, Werner Herzog’s latest film Into the Abyss, about a death row inmate in Texas convicted of triple homicide, had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. In the same month, death row inmate Troy Davis was executed in Georgia. Since the time Davis was convicted and sentenced to death in 1991, a host of organizations and individuals rallied for Davis’ cause, but to no avail.
The anticipation of seeing Shah Rukh Khan as a sleek, blue-eyed sci-fi superhero battling an invincible villain was great. RA.One starts out strong enough to merit such anticipation and attention as a contender in the world of cinema-meets-superheroes-meets-video games, with the much-touted special effects put in the service of the story. Sadly, it loses steam mid-way through to the end when the story becomes secondary to the special effects. In this regard, the invincible villain becomes a watery script, a villain that not even the grand King Khan can wholly overcome. Nevertheless, RA.One is notable in many respects, especially in relation to being yet another example of Bollywood’s technological growth and global ambitions. Now in this regard, the superhero ends up being Bollywood as the tremendous self-sustaining industry and global, transnational presence that it is.