Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Look and Postcard at the 2012 HK International Film Festival

 In case anyone wondered, I book my HKIFF tickets
in advance and get them sent to me by snail mail :)

The Look (Germany-France, 2011)
- From the Galas programme
- Angelina Maccarone, director
- Starring Charlotte Rampling

More than two decades ago now, I found myself waiting in a queue behind a tall and strikingly poised lady at a counter of a branch of Habitat.  Having recently viewed Paris by Night and also seen Charlotte Rampling perform in David Hare's The Secret Rapture at the National Theatre, I easily recognized the actress even though she identified herself as "Mrs. Jarre" when picking up the package that was there waiting for her. (Rampling was then married to composer-musician Jean-Michel Jarre.)         

Although I can easily identify her to this day and admire those of her works that I've viewed, I actually haven't checked out all that many of Charlotte Rampling's films nor know that much about her (beyond such basics as her having been a model as well as an actress, and being the rare Englishwoman who can speak French like a native Frenchwoman).  So I welcomed the opportunity to find out more the actress -- and presumably also the human being that she is -- that came by way of The Look, a documentary by German filmmaker Angelina Maccarone that is a biographical study of Charlotte Rampling.

Eschewing a chronological structure and instead favoring "chapters" with themes like "age", "demons" and "beauty", The Look is not a conventional biographical film structurally and in other ways.  Relying a lot on conversations that Rampling has with the director (who's never seen in the film but whose voice it is we presumably hear from behind the camera asking the actress questions and prompting her to elaborate on certain points) and others who also appear in the film (including photographer Peter Lindbergh, Rampling's actor-director son Barnaby Southcombe and artist-photographer Juergen Teller), it often feels like what gets revealed is very much at Rampling's discretion -- even while also feeling quite a bit more revealing than one might expect, given such circumstances.

The Look also makes good use of salient clips from a number of Rampling's films.  I have to admit to not having viewed any of the works that the clips were selected from -- though it's also true that I've heard of a few of them (most notably The Verdict -- which I didn't realized she had appeared in... -- and Georgy Girl). At the same time, it's also true enough that I came away from viewing this documentary feeling that I wanted to check out some of these (other) films -- less so the nightmarish looking The Night Porter and more so the comedic Max, Mon Amour -- that well illustrate how unconventional this fascinating actress' choices of work often has been. 

Judging from the questions asked by audience members after the screening (at which Angelina Maccarone -- but, alas, not Charlotte Rampling -- was present), I was somewhere in the middle in terms of what viewers knew about the actress going into a viewing of this documentary.  It also was my impression that The Look works better the more you already know about the actress -- or, at least, her considerable body of work. 

At the same time though, I wasn't so lost that I lost interest in the film -- never mind its subject.  Indeed, I actually did find the film as well as its subject to be fascinating -- not least because I found myself wondering which among my favorite ethnic Chinese actress would ever deign to reveal as much of herself in a documentary.  (My guess: probably only Maggie Cheung Man Yuk -- who, maybe not coincidentally, also was once married to a Frenchman! ;b) 

My rating for the film: 7.5

Postcard (Japan, 2011) 
- From the Master Class programme
- Kaneto Shindo, director
- Starring Etsushi Toyokawa, Shinobu Otake, Naomasa Musaka, Akira Emoto and Mitsuko Baisho

Kaneto Shindo celebrated his 99th birthday last year.  At one year short of a century, he wasn't content to just relax but, instead, set about making an anti-war film that went on to win the Tokyo International Film Festival's Special Jury Prize.  

Set during the Second World War -- at a stage when it was becoming apparent that Japan was not faring well -- and its aftermath, Postcard tells the story of a man (played by Etsushi Toyokawa) who the fates allowed to live even while condemning 94 of his comrades in arms.  It's a story that strongly resonates with the director -- because, as he divulged at a press conference for the film, it's one that's based on his own personal experience.

Postcard also tells the story of a woman (portrayed by Shinobu Otake) that the man was asked by one of his comrades (essayed by Noamasa Musaka) to go and see, should the comrade not survive the mission he had been assigned to by way of the drawing of lots by their superior officers. Somehow, the man delays doing as his ill-fated comrade requested -- and by the time he goes to her home, she already has been twice (rather than "just" once) widowed, and also seen the demise of her impoverished in-laws with whom she lived in a rustic rural abode (that lacked piped water, electricity and many other practical amenities).

Although it was the man who had been made to serve in the military (albeit, it seemed, pretty much entirely as a cleaner than a fighter), it is the woman who looks to have had the harder life. Relied upon by her sickly father-in-law and fragile mother-in-law to labor in the fields as well as keep house and generally manage the household in the absence of their two sons (both of whom get conscripted with much fanfare and consequent tragedy), she manages to bear the burden admirably well for the most part.  Clearly though, the burdens and the tragedies she experiences clearly can't help but take their toll.

A friend who I attended the HKIFF screening of Postcard with found the woman's bouts of loud wailing and over-emotional behavior off-putting. I, on the other hand, found them understandable -- even while admittedly not what one usually expects to see in a drama about Japanese people. The infusion of some absurd(ist) moments into a film whose subjects are definitely not to be laughed at also might be disconcerting for some.  

For my part, however, I felt that these elements helped emphasize what I think is Kaneto Shindo's message: that life can be absurd as well as tragic -- and still will go on, even under terrible, trying circumstances.  And as it goes on, even the most ill-fated actually may find redemption, a second chance for happiness and many other kinds of good that in one's darkest days, one will have real difficulty believing can come along... and sometimes just right around the corner too.

My rating for this film: 8


peppylady (Dora) said...

I've never been to a film festival but more and more I keep thinking I should check one out.

Coffee is on.

YTSL said...

Hi peppylady --

If you like movies -- and unconventional ones that don't have much chance of getting a general commercial release -- then film festivals are indeed the way to go... ;b

eliza bennet said...

Films festivals are great not just for being able to watch a lot of films but also you get to meet others who like cinema as much as you do and discuss films.

I'm so happy to read your blog since I do like to read your reviews (even though they are not full reviews, no complaints!)

YTSL said...

Hi again "eliza bennet" --

I agree about film festivals being great in terms of being social as well as film viewing occasions/events. Still, I wish there were more friends attending this year's HKIFF...

As for my reviews: migod, they aren't long enough for you as is?! ;O

ewaffle said...

"The Look" hasn't been released on DVD in the US yet--I hope to see it as soon as it is available.

"The Night Porter" is known more for the stills of Charlotte Rampling in a Nazi officer's hat, topless but with braces covering her breasts, than for the film itself, which is the way it should be since it is a prurient bit of Nazi kitsch although both Rampling and (especially) Dirk Bogard give terrific performances.

She had a small but pivotal part in "The Verdict"--evil but it was hard (at least for me) to hate her character.

She was just about perfect in "Swimming Pool", a psychological thriller that co-starred the lubricious Ludivine Sagnier, who saved the producers a lot of money in the costume department.

I have long felt that "Charlotte Rampling" is an excellent name for an elegant English/international actress--oddly enough it is the name she was born with.

ewaffle said...

Sorry for the extra comment but I forgot to include this in the one above. There are a number of English and American actresses who are as comfortable in French as in English: Kirsten Scott Thomas is one. Jodie Foster and Molly Ringwald both made movies in France and in undubbed French.

Each of them lived (or in the case of Thomas, still live) in France.

YTSL said...

Hi ewaffle --

No worries re your making two sets of comments. Appreciate them both.

I saw Kristin Scott Thomas last year in "Love Crime" with Ludivine Sagnier -- she had the kind of role there that suited her being comfortable speaking both French and English. A few years back, saw "A Very Long Engagement" and was taken aback to find Jodie Foster in that French movie playing a Frenchwoman. It was interesting to hear the director's commentary for the film and learn that Foster had attended a French-language prep school. :)