Ssitkim: Talking to the Dead (Soon-mi Yoo)
My favorite entry from the festival so far, Korean filmmaker Soon-mi Yoo visits Vietnam to examine the suppressed history of the South Korean military’s involvement in the annihilation of a rural village during the Vietnam War (due in part to President Park Chung Hee’s efforts to win political and economic favors from President Lyndon B. Johnson) and to invoke the traditional custom of commemorating the lives of those who died unhappy deaths (which is defined by custom as any death away from home, through particularly spiritually unresolved for those who died through violent and tragic means). Meeting with the handful of survivors in the village, many of whom still bear the physical and psychological scars from the military campaign, and embarking in a series of rituals that become a symbolic expression for national and personal atonement and reconciliation (the artist makes an incisive comment on how Vietnam is now united while Korea continues to be divided), Yoo’s thoughtful and sincere video essay serves as both historical documentary and personal journal on the process of closure and spiritual transcendence. Invoking favorable comparisons with seminal film essayist Chris Marker, Ssitkim: Talking to the Dead is an evocative, contemplative, and intelligently conceived stream of consciousness essay on history and the continuity of human memory.
Travis (Kelly Reichardt)
It seems incomprehensible that the same filmmaker who created the respectably humorous feature film, River of Grass would create this tedious, unsubstantive, nonsensical short film that shows a blurred, subtly modulating abstract, chromatographic spectrum composition unfolding against the grating, endless voice loop of what appears to be fragments of a woman’s response to the delivery of bad news (perhaps the war casualty of a loved one): “Oh my God, oh my God…You have to swear to me, swear to me that nothing will happen, I have to truly, truly believe that…We went in there under the assumption that that was what it was…Oh my God…” (Yes, it repeated enough times that I managed to retain the information without even trying.) Far from being experimental filmmaking, this dispensable entry is pointless visual noise.
Buildings and Grounds: The Angst Archive (Ken Kobland)
Composed of five visually distinctive chapters, each representing either a visual or metaphoric landscape and visually connected by the fleeting images of a passing train, Kobland’s spare and contemplative framing recalls the desolate framing of Chantal Akerman and the industrial landscapes of Michelangelo Antonioni (although the filmmaker’s takes are considerably shorter, usually within 4-10 seconds). The first chapter juxtaposes images of lonely, urban spaces against narrative passages from Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story that reflect on the transience of human existence. The second chapter juxtaposes images of an oil refinery against narrative passages of Federico Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits that allude to humanity’s responsibility to the environment and to the world that they inhabit. Another chapter juxtaposes the images of the desert (perhaps in the southwestern United States near the Mexican border) against passages from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror that evokes a sentiment of illusory, untenable images and mirages. Kobland’s evocative use of “borrowed passages” and serene, contemplative framing of landscape creates an immersive and thoughtful exposition on the essence of human existence.
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