Time travel with me to yesterday
(and be back tonight for txtcritic's SAG liveblogging!)
So I did actually make it to Utah. Picked up press badge -- they apologized that my lanyard was pink. I promise you, festival volunteers, I'm not offended. Although I prefer the term 'lavender' -- and collapsed in hotel room for an hour. Went to first movie which, as it turned out, was a major slap-in-face perspective wise: it's tough to think about how much complaining I did about my 19 hour trip to get to a film festival in a resort town in the face of the world's largest hellish annual migration to places far less glamorous.
Last Train Home
Every year in China, millions upon millions of migrant workers travel out of the cities en masse for the Chinese New Year. It's the only time they see their families in the country all year. A more traditional documentary might have opened with a ton of onscreen text or talking head facts to tell you about this chaotic commuting phenomenon. Instead the film opens with evocative images of the migration, instantly engaging this Westerner's curiosity with only the slimmest factual details in text form, the rest you fill in from the drama you're watching. After the stunning opening, the film backtracks to watch a husband and wife working in the city and struggling to get tickets for this annual journey. Once we've settled in with the chatty worried mother and the quiet dad with unconcealed sadness all around his eyes, we travel with them to the bittersweet family reunion. It quickly sours. Their teenage daughter resents their annual lecture-heavy visits "stay in school, don't become like us" since she feels she barely knows them and they didn't raise her, their young son, who seems to have a bright sense of humor, might soon feel the same way since they harp on his grades continually. The family argues and everyone makes vague future promises everyone else knows they won't keep. And just when we're settling into the family drama, we're back in the city, the family separated again with the parents working their hands to the bone to provide cheap clothing to Westerners.
The subject is so rich that it could have easily prompted a multiple character examination or a lengthy complex fact-oriented talking head style docs. There's no 'talking heads' as it were, and even when the family members speak for the benefit of the camera, they'll rarely look at it... all of which makes this an intimate fly-on-the-wall experience. It's so hands off observational that it feels thisclose to being a dramatic narrative feature. For the most part this aesthetic is a strength but its not without its drawbacks. There's one breaking of the fourth wall moment that I'm not sure works -- despite taking place within the film's most gripping heartbreaking scene, since it makes you realize how much of the family story you might be missing since people know they're being filmed and all stories can be manipulated in the editing.
It's a heartbreaker but it's not without levity. We occasionally hear brief conversations among other migrant workers about their jobs, about the "fat" Westerners they know they're working for (the waist sizes on the jeans they make alarm them), about the Beijing Olympics (One man in a bar proclaims that the United States shouldn't win that many medals because they only have like 3 million citizens. Um...) and more of this would have been welcome since there's a lot of context and information that's only inferred but that we come closer to understanding in these tangential moments. This film was directed by a Canadian filmmaker and in addition to being quite a documentarian he also has one of the coolest names ever "Lixin Fan". A-
In other migration news... more important news apparently, he said sarcastically, considering the percentage of tweeting about it, Kristen Stewart arrived in Utah today. Didn't her mother tell her to dress warmly? This won't do.
I'm trying to find a way to love the Bella because I'm desperate to see The Runaways but the paparazzi (and Kristen) never help me in this goal. Does any super famous person today seem more bored by their fame? Note to Kristen: If you're bored with it, why shouldn't we be? The celebrity/civilian relationship is tricky and sacred and requires abstract reciprocation. When you enjoy it, we enjoy it. That's how it works, generally speaking. There are several ways to play the non-enjoyment of it and still delight fans but boredom is the trickiest one to get away with. That one usually only works if you're bored by it because of your principled devotion/obsession/commitment to something else.
But back to the movies.
Because I was exhausted after my 19 hour trip, I met Katey briefly for a cocktail party (turns out its hard to maneuver through crowded industry events when half the people are wearing huge winter coats. Who knew?), and then took in only one more film before sleep hit. Actually while sleep hit.
Lim Woo-seong's Korean debut feature was just weird enough to be thoroughly engaging despite the nodding off I was doing. [I can't say how well paced it was. It felt 7 hours long but I was struggling with heavy lids. not the movie's fault!] Vegetarians will definitely take issue with the movie for the simple reductive fact that the title character is gaunt and unhealthy and her diet is never separable from her mental illness: which, its immediately clear, is considerable.Why this isn't clear to her family members at the outset of the film is hard to gauge. Maybe they're all crazy, too?
All of the characters make questionable choices, but especially her violent domineering father and her brother-in-law who takes over the latter half of the movie with a new art project involving nude floral body art. Naturally, he wants his sister-in-law for the job.
Indeed, there's enough disturbing behavior in Vegetarian to power three films. At times it feels like the premise has done just that, with a psychological thriller, erotic liaison drama and family portrait all vying for control of the film and none of them really winning the war. Chea Min-Seo's performance in the lead role is brave. For whole scenes this haunted woman will seem barely there (an audience unfriendly choice given that she has to carry the film) but then flickers of truly vivid emotion: pain, alarm, sadness, arousal will flash across her face. Which is basically how the movie plays too: haunted and remote, with suddenly intriguing moments to seize your interest. B-
P.S. Given that two of the last three films I've seen from Korea have given actresses incredible roles (and that doesn't even include this year's failed Oscar submission "Mother", pictured right, which I haven't yet seen), I'm wondering if Korea is an unexplored cinematic landscape for my actressexuality? Are any of you well versed in Korean cinema. Are there more actressy riches awaiting me? Or is this all coincidental?