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MIFF ’11 Reviews: ‘The Day He Arrives,’ ‘Sleeping Sickness’ & ‘HERE’

MIFF '11 Reviews: 'The Day He Arrives,' 'Sleeping Sickness' & 'HERE'

More reviews from the recent Melbourne International Film Festival.

It could be argued that South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo makes the same film over and over again (filmmaker protagonists and their twisted romances and relationships explored through drinking sessions and awkward social encounters), but what sets each of his films apart are the refreshing nuances of each story and character. His latest effort, “The Day He Arrives,” is certainly no exception to the rule but within those very boundaries, Hong brings to the table equally unconventional and naturalistic characters that captivates audiences all over again.

This particular feature follows a has-been filmmaker, Seong-jun, who returns to Seoul from his countryside escape and catches up with old and new friends through a series of social encounters, many of which take place at a bar called Novel. The plot doesn’t even really extend beyond that simple logline much, but Hong transcends the repetition with an odd sense of déjà vu (a theme also explored in his other film at MIFF, “Oki’s Movie“) that brings fresh perspective to each scene, revealing a new layer to existing characters. Black and white photography of Seoul’s winter provides a gorgeous backdrop for Hong’s subtle, entertaining work which will be reveled more so by existing fans of the director. [B]

In a similar vein to Claire DenisIsabelle Huppert-led “White Material,” Ulrich Koehler‘s “Sleeping Sickness” follows the exploits of Westerners and their fish-out-of-water experiences in tumultuous African countries. On this particular occasion, we are immersed into the world of two doctors — the middle-aged and married Dr. Velten and the young, ambitious Dr. Nzilla — both of whom are inspired by the chance to make a difference by staying or moving halfway across the world.

Told through two intersecting but split narratives, the philosophical deterioration of Velten as he mentors Nzilla in the second story dictates the tone and casts a dark shadow on Nzilla’s quest three years after Velten decides to remain in Cameroon while his family returns back to their native Germany. Moody and atmospheric with captivating performances by the two leads, Pierre Bokma and Jean-Christophe Folly, a poetic ending leaves a lasting impression on audiences, a notion no doubt applauded in the film’s Best Director Silver Bear win at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. [B+]

Director Braden King described himself as a man with a background predominantly in photography and music rather than film. So it should come as no surprise then that in teaming with an Australian travel writer, Dani Valent, the duo have developed what ultimately plays out like a love letter to photography and travel. “HERE” stars Playlist favourite Ben Foster as Will Shepherd, a cartographer temporarily residing in Armenia for work who crosses path with a dreamy, native photographer Gadarine (Lubna Azabal).

An ambitious, avant-garde take on the romance and road film genre, the narrative is intercut with mesmerizing fleeting sequences of light and color with philosophical monologues and a deeply immersive score. There’s little connection between these sequences and the narrative itself, however, with a lack of focus personified by the shallow romance between Shepherd and Gadarine — no matter how warm or beautifully shot it is. The film, in fact, doubles as a touring art installation which probably says it all. [C]

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