Tuesday, 30 September, 2014

 
Published June 06, 2014
Arts
Eclectic, unexpected cinematic pleasures
The film programme for The OPEN, a pre-event of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, has some true gems. By HELMI YUSOF
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Wide-ranging fare: The strange and wonderful 'Holy Motors' (above), which veers wildly from drama to comedy to gangster flick, is one of the most original offerings at the OPEN

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THE OPEN, a pre-event of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, starts this month and boasts an eclectic film programme of 19 films that range from the excellent to the eye-opening to the downright weird.

For a standard ticket of $45, you can watch any or all of these films, though you have to register for each title on theopen.sifa.sg because of the theatre's limited seating capacity.

Besides the films, you can also catch dozens of performances, talks and exhibitions.

But if time is scarce, BT picks out five of the best:

WEB JUNKIE

74min/Israel-USA/In Mandarin with subtitles

One teen played the Warcraft series of computer games for 300 hours, with occasional naps. Another stayed glued to his computer screen for two months. In the crazy world of computer addicts, however, sleep is not the only thing that's sacrificed. School work, diet and exercise, and, most importantly, relationships with friends and family are completely neglected. Being connected online means near-complete disconnection from reality.

Filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia were interested in the phenomenon of Internet addiction and took their cameras to China where the problem is on the rise. They spent four months inside Internet detox facilities where dozens of young men and women were being treated. Many were forcibly cut off from the Internet and made to spend time with their families and other youngsters instead.

Web Junkie suggests, however, that computer addiction goes beyond the attraction of games and the Web, and that, perhaps, poor family dynamics and China's one-child policy lie at the heart of the problem.

WADJDA

100min/Saudi Arabia/In Arabic with English subtitles

Quite likely to be an audience favourite, Wadjda tells a simple but touching story of the titular girl who dreams of owning a bicycle. But she lives in Saudi Arabia, where girls are discouraged from riding bicycles just as women are not allowed to drive.

Wadjda tries to break away from the constraints placed on girls, even as she watches her mother struggle in vain against the misogyny of their society. When she realises the only way she can buy a bicycle for herself is if she wins the prize money of a Koran-reading competition, Wadjda buckles down for the fight of her young life.

Directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, the country's first and only female feature director, Wadjda won rave reviews when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It went on to earn numerous awards on the international festival circuit.

Ironically, it is the first film to be selected by Saudi Arabia to compete for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar - even though director al-Mansour had to sometimes direct the film from a distance through a walkie-talkie because she could not be seen in public working with her male crew members.

HOLY MOTORS

115min/France/In French with English subtitles

This may be the strangest, most surreal, most indecipherable film you'll see this year. But it will likely appeal to hardcore cinephiles because of the astonishing way it overturns many cinematic conventions to create something quite original, lyrical and cosmic.

Dennis Lavant plays a man who appears ordinary as he bids goodbye to his kids and leaves for work. But when he steps into his chauffeur-driven limo, he puts on a costume and prosthetics. And when he steps out of the limo, he becomes an entirely different character.

From here on, the film veers wildly from being a drama to a sci-fi fantasy to a gangster flick to a musical to a drama again. Is this a study of the actor's craft, a loving tribute to cinematic genres, or a spiritual allegory of reincarnation and past lives?

It's hard to say because the film is in parts comic, in parts tragic, and in parts dull.

Its director Leo Carax was once the darling of avant garde cinema with films like Mauvais Sang (1986) and Lovers On The Bridge (1991), both starring Juliette Binoche. But he stopped making feature films in 1999 - returning only in 2012 with Holy Motors to received cheers and jeers at its Cannes premiere.

For fans of his iconoclastic style of filmmaking, however, Holy Motors is worth the wait.

VERONIQUE DOISNEAU

37min/France/In French with English subtitles

A must-watch for dance fans, Veronique Doisneau is a 37-minute documentary about ballet dancer Veronique Doisneau, who is 42, married with kids, and about to retire from the world of dancing.

Standing on a bare stage of the Paris Opera, she delivers one last performance which details the physical and emotional sacrifices she has made in her career as a dancer.

Blending a monologue with live dancing, she talks about her love of Balanchine and Petipa, and her work with Nureyev and Cunningham.

She also demonstrates moves from different dances, showing how ballet makes excruciating demands on the body and ultimately extracts a high toll.

Understated and poignant, the documentary is directed by choreographer Jerome Bel, who is presenting Disabled Theatre in September at the Singapore International Festival of Arts. The work will features dancers with mental disabilities and is one of the highlights of the festival.

WHAT NOW? REMIND ME

164min/Portugal/In Portuguese with English subtitles

A film that's not for everyone, this emotionally-draining, almost three-hour-long documentary is a film diary of Joaquim Pinto.

Pinto is a well-known sound mixer who once worked with important Portuguese directors such as Raul Ruiz and Joao Cesar Monteiro.

Struck with Hepatitis C and HIV, he takes a road trip from his home in Portugal to a clinic in Spain for a drug trial. Along the way, he shoots himself musing about mortality, and splices these monologues with images of people he loves as well as his long career in film.

The result is a work that's brave and intimate, but also hard to watch.

helmi@sph.com.sg

@HelmiBT

'The OPEN' runs from June 26 to July 12. The films are shown at various times during the period. Check out theopen.sifa.sg for more details. Tickets from Sistic cost $45, allowing you access to all films, performances and talks, though pre-registration is required to ensure a seat