« February 2010 | Main | April 2010 »

March 2010 Archives


March 7, 2010

Morphia, 2008

morphia.gifAdapted from Mikhail Bulgakov's collection of autofictional stories, A Country Doctor's Notebook, Aleksei Balabanov's Morphia is an unvarnished portrait of rural Russia at the cusp of the Bolshevik Revolution. Told from the perspective of an idealistic young doctor, Polyakov (Leonid Bichevin), Morphia retains the humor and texturality of Bulgakov's prose to underscore Polyakov's difficult and overwhelming adjustment to the isolation of life in the country where he has moved to serve as the region's only physician. Still uncertain over his medical skills (often running back from the clinic to his nearby study in order to review textbooks on the medical procedures that he is about to perform) and struggling to cope with the backwardness of the community that often endanger his patients (in one episode, the parents of a girl suffering from acute asphyxia refuse to consent to an emergency tracheotomy, arguing that such a procedure would cause certain death), Polyakov finds unexpected respite in a morphine injection that had been administered by head nurse, Anna Nicolaevna (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) to treat an allergic reaction. However, as the demands of his job continue to mount, Polyakov's dependence soon turns into full-blown addiction, leading him to increasingly desperate and reckless acts when a war-driven medical rationing threatens to cut off his supply. By emphasizing the intersection of personal and national history, Balabanov not only captures the social conditions that enabled the revolution, but also establishes Polyakov's obsession and paranoia within the context of his seemingly more altruistic efforts to educate the rural community, not unlike the agitprop trains that toured the countryside to spread the gospel of the revolution (note that Polyakov is first seen arriving by train). In essence, by correlating Polyakov's self-destruction with his idealism, Morphia also serves as a pointed allegory for the dysfunction that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union - a tragicomic denouement to a noble social experiment that, like the film's flawed, well-intentioned hero, had lost its way.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 07, 2010 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects

Air Doll, 2009

airdoll.gifDuring a poignant encounter in Hirokazu Kore-eda's idiosyncratic, yet droll and resonant contemporary fable, Air Doll, a reclusive doll maker, Sonoda (Jô Odagiri) tells a troubled inflatable doll turned video store clerk, Nozomi (Du-na Bae) that the main difference between her and a human being is biodegradability. In a way, Sonoda's simplified differentiation between burnable and nonburnable trash captures the essence of Air Doll as well, exploring not only socially reductive gender roles, but also the meaning of being human in a culture of technology, mass production, and consumption that substitutes connection for instant gratification. At its most basic is Nozomi's role as a sexual surrogate for her owner, Hideo (Itsuji Itao) who, despite naming her after a former girlfriend, prefers to avoid the emotional entanglements of a real-life relationship. Another is her misdirected attempt at goodwill towards an insecure receptionist that alludes to the problems of aging in a youth-obsessed society, having been increasingly marginalized at work, replaced by her younger coworker. Another is her friendship with an elderly man who relies on a portable breathing apparatus for survival, recasting the notion of the human body as a network of biological functions within the modern reality of artificial life support systems. Another surrogacy emerges in the brooding Junichi's (Arata) fetishistic attraction towards her, implied in his continued obsession (and perhaps guilt) over a lost love. It is this recurring convergence of organic and synthetic, structure and plasticity throughout the film that is also reflected in the bookending image of a young woman awakening to find beauty in the mundane, a transitory affirmation of humanity in the face of obsolescence and disposability.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 07, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects


March 6, 2010

Land of Madness, 2009

land_madness.gifIn its idiosyncratic, tongue-in-cheek mixture of documentary, self-confessional, and deconstruction, Land of Madness is a droll and refreshing throwback to Luc Moullet's early essay films like Anatomy of a Relationship and Origins of a Meal. Returning to his bucolic, ancestral hometown in the Southern Alps, Moullet embarks on a whimsical, homegrown investigation of the region's disproportionally high rate of mental illness. Proposing that this geographical hotbed forms a pentagonal "land of madness" - one that, for some unknown reason, has an inactive center that, like the eye of a hurricane, defies the phenomenon - Moullet suggests some suspect pathologies, perhaps mutations caused by a Chernobyl-styled irradiation, or behavioral adaptation to a medical affliction, such as a prevalence of goiter that would have invariably led to a culture of "slowness". Moullet then expounds on his theory by presenting a string of bizarre crimes that have occurred over the past century at the vertex towns - some motivated by passion, theft, or revenge, others remaining unsolved mysteries. As in his earlier essays, Moullet concludes with an intersection of personal experience and social observation that recontextualizes the basis of the argument and leads to further debate (with his wife, Antonietta Pizzorno) - in this case, a harbored family grief over a relative who had committed a senseless murder.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 06, 2010 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects


March 2, 2010

Kinatay, 2009

kinatay.gifThe opening sequence of Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay provides an intriguing foil in its organic, intersecting stories that mirror the chaos of the city, as a young working class couple (and new parents) Cecille (Mercedes Cabral) and Peping (Coco Martin) make their way to city hall to get married and, along the way, encounter a news crew reporting on a potential suicide jumper. With a year left to his police academy training, Peping is eager to make a good impression on his superior officers, even helping out in their daily routine of intimidating street vendors to extort money. However, when an officer recruits him for an unspecified operation involving an exotic dancer, Peping is soon initiated into a darker world of drug dealing, prostitution, and violence, and is forced to confront his complicity in the systematic corruption. Similar to Mendoza's previous film Serbis, Kinatay provides an illuminating, if truncated regional panorama of a contemporary Filipino city - in this case, the industrial city of Mandaluyong. Interweaving cultural landscape and moral ambiguity, the film finds kinship with Orso Miret's Le Silence in its well-intentioned, but ultimately impotent social critique. Indeed, by abruptly shifting from the organic approach of the opening sequence to a distilled, linear (if not myopic) perspective that dominates the rest of the film (except for a tire changing scene near the conclusion), Mendoza oddly supplants his fascinating and detailed cultural observation with a far more conventional psychological portrait of guilt, and in the process, creates a sense of indirection not unlike the dilemma faced by his indecisive protagonist.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 02, 2010 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects

Persecution, 2009

persecution.gifThe themes explored in Patrice Chéreau's probing, tightly constructed Persecution are prefigured in the film’s disorienting (and quintessentially Chéreau) opening sequence. Scanning from one anonymous commuter to another, a panhandler makes her way through a crowded train before someone makes inopportune eye contact, and she responds by slapping her face. The episode intrigues a bystander, Daniel (Romain Duris) and impulsively follows the shaken victim to the nearest exit, eager to uncover the non-verbal cues that had been exchanged in the moments before the heated encounter. In hindsight, this convergence of fixation, contact, rejection, and violence also consumes Daniel in his personal life. Hopping from one construction site to another working as a home remodeling contractor (which serves as his temporary residence as well), Daniel is searching for some permanence and constancy in his relationship with his distant, jet-setting girlfriend, Sonia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), but their interaction is often reduced to voice messages and chance meetings with mutual friends. Ironically, ever searching for ways to hold his Sonia’s attention, Daniel has only succeeded in capturing the interest of a lonely, middle-aged man (Jean-Hugues Anglade) who has begun to stalk him at his latest job site. Stitching together pieces of a seemingly rootless and unremarkable life as itinerant worker, nursing home volunteer, and insecure lover, Chéreau creates a lucid and provocative exposition on the ephemeral - and searing - nature of the search for human connection.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 02, 2010 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects