Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Dispatch From Busan: Highlights (and Lowlights) From 'The Cannes of Asia'

By Michael Nordine | Indiewire October 18, 2012 at 11:25AM

Dispatch From Busan: Highlights (and Lowlights) From 'The Cannes of Asia'
0
"Eat Sleep Die."
"Eat Sleep Die."

Every movie in every non-press venue at the Busan International Film Festival -- which concluded its 2012 edition last week -- has assigned seating. You don't get to choose your own seat. This tends not to matter a great deal, as relatively few screenings sell out and a plurality of viewers completely ignore their seating assignment, but still: a bit odd, no?

I certainly thought so as I settled in for my first movie just hours after landing in South Korea's second-largest city, which has now hosted the self-proclaimed "Cannes of Asia" for 17 years running. In addition to the holdovers from Berlin, Cannes, and Venice for which I was most excited -- Christian Petzold's "Barbara," Abbas Kiarostami's "Like Someone in Love," and "The Fifth Season," to name but a few -- I naturally made an effort to see at least a smattering of regional movies that aren't likely to arrive on U.S. shores anytime soon.

In most cases my choices were based on relatively little information and I wound up disappointed as often than not. (There's a roulette-like excitement to walking into a festival screening with no prior knowledge of the movie you're about to watch, and this is the potential downside.) The two main offenders were "Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time," a watchable-if-generic box-office king in its native Korea whose name is a fairly strong indication of its storyline, and "An End to Killing," a Mongolian/Chinese almost-epic about Genghis Khan that, were it called generic, would be an insult to off-brand cereal and inexpensive medication.

There's a roulette-like excitement to walking into a festival screening with no prior knowledge of the movie you're about to watch, and this is the potential downside.

The most pleasant surprise -- as well as the one which elicited the strongest feeling of actual discovery -- ended up coming from Gabriela Pichler's "Eat Sleep Die," which premiered under-the-radar in Toronto a few months ago. An unfortunately-titled Swedish film telling the Dardenne-like tale of a laid-off factory worker/Muslim immigrant named Raša, the film more than transcends its familiar premise via Nermina Lukač's engrossing performance and a nearly unforgettable final scene. Also of note was "Blancanieves," a silent, black-and-white take on "Snow White." The only shame is that it wasn't released pre-"The Artist": Comparisons between the two are inevitable, and while this is the superior -- not to mention more authentically silent -- film, it's likely to only receive a fraction of the audience.

And what of those festival holdovers? A mixed bag, of course, but one in which the good ("Paradise: Love," "In the Fog") outweighed the bad ("The Last Time I Saw Macao," "Something in the Air"). Matteo Garrone's Grand Prix-winning "Reality" was even better than "Gomorrah," his last Grand Prix-winner; "Lore," which I accidentally watched without subtitles, was visually sumptuous but gave the impression of being otherwise under-realized; Carlos Reygadas' "Post Tenebras Lux" continues to baffle me.

My hopes were highest for Cristian Mungiu's "Beyond the Hills" and, despite a listless midsection, the followup to "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" did turn out to be one of the stronger films I saw in Busan. It isn't without its problems -- the disconnect between the relationship drama at its center and the religious fervor surrounding it is sometimes sillier than it is mystical -- but it's carried along by expert direction and immersive austerity. Best of all, I'm somewhat surprised to say, was Thomas Vinterberg's absorbing, ridiculously well-acted "The Hunt."

The most meta moment, however, had to be watching Hong Sang-soo's "In Another Country." Starring Isabelle Huppert as three different incarnations of a French woman visiting a small Korean village, the film featured close to a dozen seemingly prosaic moments of conversation at which the mostly-Korean audience erupted in laughter. I guess a lot really is lost in translation.

As for non-assigned seating, I attended precisely one press screening: Kim Ki-duk's Golden Lion-winning "Pieta." In truth, I wouldn't have even attended that screening had the two public screenings which preceded it not both sold out -- I was interested in how audiences would react to all the films in Busan, this one in particular.

Kim is often pegged as a misogynist, provocateur, or both; anticipating controversy (and, having only seen a handful of his movies, not possessing a strong opinion on him either way), I wanted to see how many people would walk out. My guess is that a good amount did, but they'd be wrong to: Though enmeshed in ugliness and cruelty for its first hour or so, "Pieta" undergoes a strange transformation in its latter half that sees it redeemed at roughly the same pace as its troubled protagonist. It remains a flawed, problematic picture, but it also provided a thought-provoking start to my final day in its home country.

This article is related to: Busan International Film Festival, Pieta, In Another Country, Beyond The Hills, Eat Sleep Die







Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More