58th BFI London Film Festival: The World of Kanako Review

•October 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Why is everyone so obsessed with Kanako? Where she is. Why she is. How she is. What she is. Kanako. Kanako. Ka-na-ko.

Perhaps it’s fitting then, that The World of Kanako is all about its eponymous character but also never about her. Instead it’s the world she creates through her actions that is everything to and in this film – light from a collapsed star, ever drawing people further and further down. Everyone’s Alice in this never-ending rabbit hole, and director Tetsuya Nakashima’s invited the audience along for the ride.

Kanako’s basic premise of a father’s search for his missing daughter sounds simple in a way that belies the intensity and nightmarish quality of the actual film. With imagery and a vividness reminiscent of Tarantino, the film’s 118 minutes hurtle along with such incredible speed that the audience barely has time to blink, let alone contemplate the plethora of questions and questionable ethics brought on by each scene. Compounded with a disjointed, non-linear, multiple perspective narrative, the film is a heady experience, especially in the few scenes where it departs from its grim and gory status quo to a shift into beautiful animation or acid fuelled party-scapes.

The above aside, The World of Kanako is not a film for the faint hearted. The film’s initial release in Japan had several audience members leaving the theatre due to discomfort, and it’s obvious from the get go why this is the case. Graphic murder and torture scenes are merely frosting compared to the violent outbursts, physical and sexual, that make up most of Fujishima’s actions and behaviour, and therefore almost the entirety of the film. I, myself, found the film to be an uneasy experience, and there were more than one or two moments where I felt uncomfortable and slightly ill. I do believe, however, that The World of Kanako was an intriguing and immersive experience.

Nakashima’s use of short sharp editing and different aspects of Japanese life and culture were paramount in keeping the audience engaged, but more importantly, in maintaining their suspension of disbelief. This, of course, was important simply because the level of gore and violence became gratuitous to the point that Fujishima’s (and, for that matter, anyone he came in contact with’s) continued survival, especially during the final stand-off, seemed implausible, if not downright impossible. It is to Kōji Yakusho’s credit that Fujishima never felt caricatured, and that his performance was reigned in enough to lend credibility to such an over the top role. All in all, the film provided a cohesive experience with every element adding to the atmosphere and narrative while also working so well individually that the sound alone, for example, was enough to put me on edge.

The World of Kanako was an unexpectedly intense thrill ride that is very likely to achieve cult status if it hasn’t already, exulting as it does in its nastiness and the director’s dream of subverting the “rogue cop” genre.  It should be noted, though, that beyond the extreme audio and vivid visuals, the film does leave its audiences thinking. Even if it’s only about what their kids are doing tonight.

Written by Roxy Simons.

Edited by Manoshi Quayes.

58th BFI London Film Festival: A Hard Day Review

•October 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

a hard day poster

A Hard Day is an action- packed movie by Kim Seong- hun, which puts protagonist detective Go Geon- soo (Lee Sun-Kyun) in a tricky situation from the very first scene. Forced to skip his mother’s funeral he rushes to attend an important matter at the police station. Unfortunately, before reaching the destination, he is involved in a hit and run accident. Furthermore, he struggles with a divorce and corruption accusations. The more Geon- soo tries to cover his tracks, the deeper he is digging his own grave. From this point onwards the film tension grows minute by minute. When asked about creating the tension in the film, the director had this to say: “There needs to be an explanation before throwing the protagonist into a certain situation. If an explanation is weak, then the movie loses its’ credibility in a snap. My rule when writing the screenplay was to make every scene believable to the audience and to make it fun at the same time. Putting a sign in every scene and linking it to the following story was a painful but fun procedure.” With great conviction I can say that the humour and tension was excellently balanced.

While Geon- soo strays with his daily routine we stumble across the antagonist, a corrupted police officer, Park Chang Min (Cho Jin- woong), whose malicious way of living slowly destroys the detective’s, already disrupted life. These two strong minded men overpower the big screen from the start to the very end of the film. I have to admit I watched it with bated breath. It has been a really long time since I’ve enjoyed an action film. Apart from a great storyline, the director Kim Seung- hun drew on the amazing acting talent of the cast including, well established Lee Sun-kyun. His portrayal of the detective kept me on the edge of my seat. Without a doubt it was an energetic and fearless performance, which definitely increased the value of the film. Lee Sun- kyun has been an active actor since 2001 and also started his career in musical theatre. After a few years of acting in small films, he finally got his break in 2009 when he appeared in Paju, a film by Park Chan-ok, for which he received a Best Actor award from the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival. Followed by critical acclaim for mystery thriller Helpless and romantic comedy All About My Wife, both in 2012. He is also a regular in Hong Sang- soo’s films.

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Alongside Lee Sun- kyuk’s character, there is Cho Jin- woong. Jin- woong is best known for his roles as Sejong’s loyal bodyguard Moo- hyul in Deep Roasted Tree, and as the mobster Kim Pan- ho in Nameless Gangster. Yet again he took on a cruel and spiteful role of the unscrupulous police officer, whose involvement and devotion to wickedness and crime was exceptionally assorted into the script. Cho Jin- woong’s acting was faultless. He was the ideal actor for this role. Having said that I wouldn’t mind seeing Choi Min- sik in the role of the diabolical policeman. The chemistry between Jin-Woong and Seung-Hun was immense. They were unquestionably well paired by the director. I am not surprised that the Critics at the Cannes Film Festival raved over Korean cop thriller A Hard Day:Very precise, refreshing and stimulate the new senses”.

Variety magazine beautifully commented on the film editing “Kim Chang-Ju’s precise; gimmick-free pacing enables the plot twists and shifts in character behaviour to feel natural and credible.” I couldn’t have agreed more. Editing was stainless along with a haunting score by Mok Young-Jin which truly reflected the protagonists’ moods. I will definitely watch A Hard Day again when it’s released in cinemas.

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Cho Jin-woong and Lee Sun-kyun

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Jackie Tatham

58th BFI London Film Festival: Silvered Water, Syria Self Portrait Review

•October 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

silvered water poster

“This is the film made of 1001 images shot by 1001 Syrian men and women and I”- Ossama Mohammed

Silvered Water, Syria Self Portrait is a film by a Syrian filmmaker Ossama Mohammed, who is now living in Paris as a political refugee with his wife, and a Kurdish activist, Simav Bedirxan, who shot her short videos during the siege in Homs. It has been over 3 years since the Syrian Uprising began with nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Every day dozens of amateur recordings appear on various social media sites including, the most popular channel, YouTube. Silvered Water, Syria Self Portrait was created by using that footage. After two years of filming and editing the stories, it became a unique, moving and unforgettable documentary.

In was in December of 2011 when Ossama received a message on Facebook from a young woman in Syria. Her name was Simav, and she asked him a simple question: “What would you do if your camera was in Homs? What would you film?” With that question in mind their remarkable collaboration began. Ossama started to edit a vast amount of footage from YouTube. The recordings contained a bloody pacification of demonstrations, bombing of cities and images of victims- wounded and dead. Hams, Damascus and Dar’a, just to name few, were the most affected cities in Syria. People marched hundreds of kilometres in protest against the regime. Destroyed by greed and hunger for power, the Syrian government began carnage. Tens of thousands of protesters, students, liberal activists and human rights advocates were imprisoned and there were reports of widespread torture and terror in state prisons. In the first half, Mohammed uses odd and disturbing, out of mobile phone footage. How he acquired it, is anyone’s guess, since one often repeated shot of a badly beaten teenage boy stripped to his underwear and forced to kiss a soldier’s boot before being raped could only have been filmed by the army itself.

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Simav came to a decision to become the director’s eyes on the ground. Influenced by him, she decided to write and document her daily activities in the conflict zone. Through her eyes we experienced fear, determination and unprecedented pain of locals who tried to live their lives in the destroyed city of Homs. She particularly concentrates on the small children she teaches for a while and reflects on their future. Her strength, bravery and stubbornness is praiseworthy. After watching shots of disfigured animals and dead children, men being shot on screen, teenagers tortured in prison and streets flowing with blood, it’s hard to feel anything but outrage against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his murderous army. What was this documentary made for? I do believe it had one purpose only; to raise the world’s awareness of what is really happening in Syria right now.

Along with the flawless editing, amazingly modern use of natural sounds and Noma Omran’s music, Silvered Water, Syria Self Portrait is a shattering 90 minute documentary which will make you think that “there is no limit on what cinema can do in the face of the war”. It’s certainly a must see film.

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Jackie Tatham

58th BFI London Film Festival: Hill of Freedom Review

•October 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

For a film that was selected for the laugh category at this year’s BFI London Film Festival, the least you’d expect is Hill of Freedom to be funny. Instead Hong Sang-soo’s film is poorly paced with little acting or directorial merit to speak of.

The film follows Mori, a Japanese man searching for his lost love, Kwon, in Seoul, and the interesting people he meets along his journey. While this may sound good on paper, it is Hong Sang-soo’s delivery that leads to its downfall. Mori’s escapades in Hill of Freedom are not shown in chronological order as they are supposed to reflect the order in which Kwon reads the letters he sent her during his time in Seoul. This means that the subjects of his conversation are unclear to the audience for most of the film, making it very confusing to watch.

Hong Sang-soo’s film became increasingly tedious as the film progressed, this was due, in particular, to the disjointed and repetitive script. The film attempts to explore the limits of translation, as Mori can only speak English with those around him, but it does not do this as well as other films examining the same issue, such as Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. The conversations that Mori has with the supporting characters are dull and trivial, and in fact do very little to compare the different cultures or move the story forward.

Moreover, Hong Sang-soo’s use of one camera angle per scene and, I would argue, his overuse of zoom made it feel like a low budget film. Despite these issues, I did feel that the soundtrack was well made, even if it was scarcely relied upon in the film. Coming from an acclaimed director like Hong Sang-soo, I was expecting Hill of Freedom to be an enjoyable visual experience. Instead, I left the cinema feeling disappointed and curious as to why this film was shortlisted for several film festivals.

Written by Roxy Simons.

Edited by Manoshi Quayes.

22nd Raindance Film Festival: Panic Review

•October 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Desperation can make people do crazy things – and there’s no greater demonstration of that than Sean Spencer’s Panic. With London as its backdrop, Panic is a study in urban isolation, desperation, and London’s ghost community through music journalist Andrew Deeley’s subjective lens. Influences from Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window are immediately obvious, reminiscent in Deeley observing a girl through his window and being drawn in when a violent confrontation leads to her disappearance. Deeley must then overcome debilitating panic attacks in order to find Kem and save her from her dire situation. What follows is an emotional and intense thriller that touches on key issues in the seedy underbelly of criminal England.

Filmed over 13 days, Spencer’s film maintains a raw intensity that revolves almost solely around Deeley’s psyche. While there are few principle characters in Panic, it is of little consequence to the audience because these individuals have more than enough variety and strength in personalities to guarantee them a place of prominence in comparison to their other, more mainstream, counterparts. Panic is a film driven by the powerful performances of its lead actors, especially David Gyasi and Pippa Nixon. Gyasi’s performance in Panic is near faultless, lending Deeley a subtle vulnerability and stubborn determination to see events through to the end. Having admired his work ever since he was in White Heat, his portrayal of Deeley merely re-establishes my conviction in his talent. It is almost over-generous then, that we also get Pippa Nixon’s Michelle/Amy as the intriguing and resolute character that Deeley needs like a rock for support through his ordeal.

What I liked the most about Panic was its exposition on the ghost community and the issue of human and sex trafficking. These problems are not widely discussed in the media and to have Panic examine them through Deeley’s frantic search made the film relevant and intriguing. I do feel, however, that the film only touched upon the problems that are faced by trafficked individuals every day, and although the film’s purpose was to expose the issue through Deeley’s reductive view (i.e. he only cared about saving Kem), I would have liked to have seen more development on the topic.

Incorporating elements from various neo-noir classics, Spencer has made a film that is engaging and powerful. While the plot could be criticised for being too straightforward (given its use of the knight-in-shining-armour trope), I did think that the film was wonderfully executed by Sean Spencer and cinematographer Carl Burke. The crisp visual imagery and effective narration shown in the film make it an arresting watch, and Christopher Nicholas Bang’s striking score is the perfect accompaniment to the character’s struggles (both within and out) to reach his goal. Compounded together, Panic is an engaging semi-detective thriller that explores the lengths one will go to relieve another of their desperate situation.

Written by Roxy Simons.

Edited by Manoshi Quayes.

22nd Raindance Film Festival: The Word Review

•October 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

obietnica poster

It is hard not to think that The Word, by Polish director Anna Kazejak, is a film of missed opportunities. Unfortunately, it is hard to think of it as a good film.

The Word tells the story of high school couple Lila (Eliza Rycembel) – a quiet, straight-A student- and Janek (Mateusz Wieclawek) – member of a school rock band, and adored by many. Following his “betrayal” of their relationship, Janek, who is madly in love with Lila, promises to do anything to make her happy again, a promise the broken-hearted Lila soon takes up in the most ominous way possible. “You have 24 hours to get rid of her” she says. Without thinking, he follows Lila’s sinister suggestion. How far will a person go to regain lost trust and love?

At this point I got slightly impatient with the film. The truth is that we don’t know much about the situation behind the break up. The film suggests that there was a kiss and then a fight where Lila knocked out Janek’s tooth, but only those watching patiently would have noticed this. For those concentrating less on The Word, the events surrounding the young people’s relationship might seem completely lacking in causation. Furthermore, the audience is completely cut off from Janek’s perspective of events because of the focus on Lila and her world. I could say a lot about her: she is cold and intelligent but, conversely, also a lost soul seeking acceptance and love. One of the factors contributing to her behaviour, I believe, was certainly her father (Andrzej Chyra) who lived in Denmark and barely ever saw Lila.

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Regrettably, I also felt like the director had to force the audience to focus on Lila and Janek’s so-called love story. She didn’t bother to show us what was really happening in their relationship, and the lack of chemistry or anything engaging about their affair made believing in their relationship far from effortless. Moreover, the high school students from The Word were deprived of interests, personality and rational thinking –turning out so boring that after 20 minutes I would have rather gone out for coffee than watch the movie. Then we have the separate issue of Lila’s mother (Magdalena Poplawska), a self-satisfied bourgeois woman that rarely leaves her villa or maintains any contact with the outside world. Unaware of Lila’s problems, she lives a happy life with her young lover (Dawid Ogrodnik) until the unthinkable happens. I personally found Dawid Ogrodnik’s character to be the most likable one on screen as it turned out that he was the only person who really cared about Lila’s fate; he was more responsible than the girl’s biological father. I can safely admit that Dawid’s portrayal of the ‘step dad’ was perhaps the most interesting part of the film. However, I do have to compliment the director on choosing a great acting talent: Eliza Rycembel. As Anna Kazejak said, it took her 7 months to find the right actress for Lila and with good reason – Eliza’s performance was superb and her portrayal of Lila was natural and convincing.

Kazejak has an interesting visual sensitivity that efficiently operates with the film’s language. The only problem is that nothing significant came out of it. Although she promised to pay special attention to the way people communicate in the film, it is this particular communication that becomes the biggest issue of The Word. The underdeveloped dialogue (specifically pointed out by Polish Film Critics at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival) such as the primitive conversation between the teenagers, parents, and their children, left me wondering “Is this all Anna Kazejak is capable of?” I sincerely felt sorry for the protagonist, who crawled from one scene to another in search for something- what that is? We still don’t know. This leads me to the disappointing ending that shows that Kazejak ran out of ideas on what to say about Lila’s emotional and mental state, even despite everything that happened in such a short period of time.

I really wished that The Word was a good film. Having said that, the production can still, somehow, defend itself. At the end of the day it addresses issues important to modern youth – its emotional degeneration, the loss of innocence, and relationship between parents and children. I do believe Eliza has a great acting career ahead of her. I just hope that Anna Kazejak comes back with a better project next time. For now she remains an inspiring filmmaker with talent that’s hidden somewhere behind the camera.

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Roxy Simons

( We do apologize but there is no English subtitles available)

22nd Raindance Film Festival: The Horses of Fukushima

•October 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

horses of fukushima

On March 11th 2011 a powerful earthquake struck Japan. As a result, a giant tsunami devastated the North-East coast, where over 18,000 people lost their lives. Sadly the seismic sea wave caused horrific damage to the Fukushima nuclear reactor as well. In May 2011, it was confirmed that a serious leak was detected in one of the reactors. Due to the leakage, over 51,000 residents were evacuated within a 20 km radiance, including over 400 locals from Minami-soma. Despite the fact that a large number of people escaped, there were many animals left behind.

The Horses of Fukushima tells the story of the abandoned animals and their owners. Yoju Matsubayashi’s film is a one of a kind documentary that examines the lives of several horses that survived the earthquake and radiation. The film mainly focuses on its protagonist Mirror’s Quest, a former racing horse that was trapped in a stable during the earthquake. He was lucky to escape the butcher’s knife because his radioactive meat couldn’t be sold. He is looked after by a horse breeder, Tokue Hosokawa, who risks his life to care for the animals. Due to government restrictions, Hosokawa isn’t allowed to sell the horses for meat, and for that reason he decides to use the strongest ones for the Soma Nomaoi Festival in Minami-soma to celebrate the horse’s great contribution to society. In the documentary we witness Mirror’s Quest’s healing process. At first we observe his suffering and trauma after being found by farmers. His eyes served as a symbol of anger and misery with respect to humans. Eventually, Mirror’s Quest and the rest of the horses recovered and the animals are slowly prepared for the festival by going through physical tests.

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After the disaster, Minami-soma was virtually a deserted town, however, after more than a year the town’s streets came alive with the race participants; wearing richly decorated helmets, carrying traditional swords and dressed in Samurai armour. They all raced proudly in support of one of the oldest traditions in Japan. The Horses of Fukushima not only tackles the suffering of the animals but also points out their uncertain future amid bureaucracy, lies and inefficiency.

Yoju Matsubayashi’s film was interesting, and yet slightly uncomfortable to watch. Unfortunately, the director refused to take a moral stand on what was really happening to the horses. How can you celebrate the Soma Nomaoi when it leads to death of hundreds of horses afterwards? With great regret I read that over 100,000 horses are processed for meat every year in Japan. It is hard to comprehend as I have always thought that a horse was man’s best friend, how can one eat it? Nevertheless Matsubayashi’s documentary is worth watching in order to see the horses’ beauty and their determination to survive after the 2011 disaster.

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Written by Maggie Gogler.

Edited by Roxy Simons.