Friday, January 8, 2010

European Union Film Festival 2009

Flags. European flags, for what it's worth.
"Ed. For lack of a better picture."

I've been to five Japanese film festivals before, but this one is my first. That's not really surprising as it's the first time they're having it here, but there has been a French Film Festival in the past, which I missed. As you can see from the title, this is yet another late post- I've got quite a large backlog to clear. Both memory and diary are a little sketchy, so this might be a wee bit difficult.
Drove to the mall sometime around 9am. Aimed to park outside, on a derelict plot of land, but found a sign saying 'Parking...per entry', and a smug looking cad parked on a plastic chair next to a silver 4WD, reading a paper. What right did he have to set himself up there? It's reserved land. Unless the government is so desperate for money that they're willing to part with it. Or turn a blind eye and collect more income tax. Whatever. I made a big U-turn into the mall. Oh, hold on. Diary dearest says that I couldn’t park there because there was a city council truck there, and some men doing work- cutting branches or something. The land-jacker came a few weeks later.

I arrived at the cinema sometime before 10am- 9.30, I think. Surprisingly, there was already a long queue- don't these people sleep in on Saturdays? Sheesh. The wait was horrible, as the counters only opened at 10. Even then, they took forever to get ready- there was only one queue for some time, and one counter. Irritated and bored, I attempted to devise mathematical formulae to determine whether the queue would move faster if it was split into several queues, served by separate counters, and how such changes would impact my chances of getting the tickets I wanted. I came to the inevitable conclusion that no matter what they did, it wouldn’t matter because everyone before me already knew what tickets they wanted, and extra counters wouldn’t change their decisions one bit. Becoming rather paranoid, I settled with imagining myself as the protagonist of the game Prototype, stealthily ‘consuming’ everyone in front of me. Ah well.

I managed to get all the tickets I needed- 6 for the first movie, four for the second, and two for the third. First to arrive were Bob (her nickname- I can’t remember why we call her that, but it probably has something to do with a children’s cartoon) and her sister- they jumped me while I was flipping through magazines in a bookstore. Second to arrive was dad and sis- I went to meet them for lunch. Had some problems with that, though- the restaurant we were supposed to go to, Yoshinoya, this Japanese restaurant that specialises in Gyudon. Googling yielded an interesting result- it seems that three of their branches (out of 3, I think) have closed down. We settled for takeaway at Carrefour- cold pasta. Which turned out to be bad. Which I only realised after finishing off half of it. We managed to get a refund, though- although that wouldn’t have helped much if I’d suddenly keeled over and died from food-poisoning.

We headed up to the cinema, where I sent the two of them in, and waited for Bob and her sis, who were in turn waiting for a friend. A hurried introduction session- I still can’t remember her name- and we rushed into the theatre hall, for the first movie of the day: Kirschblüten – Hanami, from Germany.
Kirschblüten – Hanami

-a synopsis of the film stolen from somewhere:
Only Trudi knows that her husband Rudi is suffering from a terminal illness. It is up to her to tell him or not. The doctor suggests that they do something together, perhaps something they were long planning to do. Trudi decides not to tell her husband about the gravity of his illness and to follow the doctor's advice. She convinces Rudi to visit their children and grandchildren in Berlin.

But once they arrive, they realize that their children are so busy with their own lives that they have no time for them. Then, suddenly, Trudi dies. Rudi is devastated and has no idea what to do next. From his daughter's girlfriend he learns that Trudi's love for him had led her to forego the life that she had wanted to live. He begins to see her with new eyes and vows to make up for her lost life.

And so he embarks on his last journey – to Tokyo, in the midst of the cherry blossom festival, a celebration of beauty, impermanence, and new beginnings...

All in all, this one was quite a nice movie, although I did feel that the second half of the movie, the ‘Japan segment’ was a little too long. On the other hand, you could say that since Rudi’s journey only begins in Tokyo, it is only right that the ‘Germany segment’ is shorter. All a matter of perspective. And what was mine, you ask? My primary motion for seeing this movie was so as to see Japan from the eyes of a German- a wrinkly old German, but a German nonetheless… oh alright, I’m lying! I just like the country and I wanted to see it again, heh.

The ‘German segment’ didn’t show much of the countryside, which I’m sure is beautiful- they did treat us to a brief shot of a German castle by a lake- the Neuschwanstein, perhaps- I can’t be sure. Instead, it focused more on the city- cold, grey, and grim, like any other modern metropolis. As for the ‘Japan segment’, we were shown repeated panoramic shots of the vast city- all steel and concrete, buildings for miles and miles, stretching into the horizon. Bob’s friend found it rather scary, I think. Such sneaky camerawork, these people- deliberately obscuring the fact that Tokyo is littered with numerous parks, many of which might actually be considered to be miniature forest reserves- all to emphasize the puniness of one old man in an alien world. It certainly worked- I think half the audience must have felt as lost as old Rudi.

The film is rated PG13- in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have let my sister in for this one. She’s 15, but what the heck- it was rather awkward to watch Rudi flip through his adult son’s ero-manga, get a ‘soap land’ massage from two nude prostitutes- one of whom had horrible teeth- with family in tow. To be fair, they did make an impromptu attempt at censorship- it was quite hilarious, really, as all they did was hold up a board in front of the projector, holding it up whenever they saw a sign of nipples, pubic hair, a girl kissing another girl, or… expletives. Well actually, the subtitles for the expletives. Even better, they couldn’t seem to tell when it was alright for them to lower the board. Here’s what probably went through their (the ‘censors’) minds at the time: “nude girls bathing old man”-“censor that”-“are they done yet? I don’t understand a word they’re saying”-peeks-black patch between legs-“crap put it back up put it back up”-“maybe now?” Pure comedy. Censorship? Hah! Titillation, more like.

Back to the film- my favourite character from the movie is a young girl by the name of Yuu, prime material for a tried and tested joke:
“My name is Trudi. What is yours?”
“Me?  I am Yuu.”
“You are me?”

Not verbatim, but you get the picture. Anyway, Rudi befriended Yuu as he wandered aimlessly in one of Tokyo's parks, ignored by his son, who was too busy to take time off from work to take care of him. When he first met her, she was dressed up in a kimono, face painted white, dancing Butoh with a telephone. He ends up taking lessons from her, and thus getting a better idea of the art and world his wife loved that he shunned. Yuu speaks with this charming lisp- I don't think many others noticed it, though, attributing it only to her Engrish, when in fact her Japanese itself is nearly as odd- but strangely charming. Come to think of it, she looks a little like Cookie here... On a side note, I think I like Butoh. It seems that I've been doing it now and then too, without realizing it- if only because in my occasional state of detached narcissism I enjoyed the way in which I slowly moved my body, haha.

Dad and sis left for home, and so did Bob's friend, after Hanami. If you hobby happens to be number-crunching you're probably wondering 'but wouldn't you have an extra ticket?' Right you are. At least until it's owner showed up as we exited the theater, a classmate whom I've named as the 'Communist Party of Zimbabwe', after his initials. We managed a brief discussion of the movie, as well as confirming who shed the most tears. I confessed to sniffing a little;) The next movie: from the land of Ikea and meatballs, Underbar och älskad av alla (Wonderful and loved by all).

-a synopsis of the film stolen from somewhere:
There is something about Isabella Ekelöf’s life that isn’t right. By this time she should be a super successful film star with a fantastic boyfriend. It’s as if her real life, the life she’s really meant to live, just never gets started. When her big chance to make a change finally shows up she grabs it without a second thought. That’s when things really start getting bad.

I don't really have that much to say about this one. Well, that's what I'm saying right now, but I might deviate a little from what I just proclaimed as I mash this out. Who knows. Anyway, Underbar is basically a Swedish romcom- a romantic comedy.

Isabella is this 30-something bachelorette, who dreams of being a film star- to the point of faking her CV. "So? Everyone does it in the industry!" she says when her friend objects. "You'll pay for this," her friend tells her, and she certainly did, as the silly girl wrote down 'professional gymnast'. She soon got a role as Viola in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night- not because of her unproven acting skills, but because of her looks- apparently, she somewhat resembled the actor playing Sebastian, Viola's twin brother; and her alleged gymnastic skills- the director wanted to be 'unconventional' and planned on adding in 'action scenes'.

While taking lessons in gymnastics from a pro, she also finds the time to fall in love with famous actor... Micke, I think, despite her best friend warning her that Micke is a well-known playboy. It was actually quite hard to tell whether he was really interested in her, or just keeping her as a plaything- always a good thing, of course, as it wouldn't have been fun knowing his motives  from the very beginning.

Suffice to say that everything fell apart- she discovered that dearest Micke was cheating on her with someone else from the production theme; her grandmother died while she was in Vienna holidaying with Micke- sometime after she'd used it as an excuse to get out of practicing the acrobatic moves for the play; she was forced out of the play when her deceit was unveiled. Isabella has no choice but to get on with life- back to her old life, but not before making up with her best friend, with whom she had a argument when the fame went to her head; and taking revenge on Micke by emptying his apartment and locking him inside on the day of his premiere at the city's leading theater. She could actually face a criminal charge for that, but I don't think Micke would want this to go to court (and the tabloids), heh.
Not much breathing time between the second movie and the third either, but I did manage to get a photo with the two girls before they left- no they didn't stay for the third. Good for them, actually, as will be explained further down. I was lucky, really, since the camera had been acting up and frequently refused to allow me to take a single photo- it had to be sent to the manufacturer for repairs. Now for the third and final movie of the day, Am Ende kommen Touristen (And along came Tourists), again, from Germany.
Am Ende kommen Touristen

-a synopsis of the film stolen from somewhere:
Sven, who has been selected to do his civil service abroad, finds himself in Oświęcim in Poland where the Auschwitz concentration camp was.

He needs to take care of an unpleasant and unfriendly old man, Stanisław Krzemińskí, a former Auschwitz inmate who refuses to leave the camp. Stanislaw feverishly repairs thousands of suitcases that were left behind by Jews at the concentration camp.

Gradually, as Sven’s understanding of the camp deepens, he becomes fond of the proud, courageous Krzemińskí. As days go by, Sven falls in love with Ania, a Polish girl, discovers more about Auschwitz, and learns to understand his role in preserving the memory of this place that has become a center of the local tourist industry.

A tad grim, this one. 'Social commentary' might be a better description than 'movie', to tell the truth. The synopsis above doesn't mention it, but Sven is a German- and in Poland, especially near the concentration camps, there remains, to some extent, some antagonism towards the Germans, although quite surprisingly, more so amongst the youth then the older generation who were actually incarcerated there.

Although their relationship starts on a sour note, Sven and Krzemińskí eventually come to terms with each other- typical of movies where two people are forced to remain in each others' company. The 'romance' mentioned above isn't the focal part of the movie either- it's like giving a child candy as a bribe to make the kid eat his veggies- the brief romance was used to reduce the seriousness of the movie.

Time passes, and Sven notices a few things that everyone else seems to be ignoring- the hypocrisy of the whole arrangement, whereby large German companies pour in money for developing the area; send their executives over to officiate the opening of plants, memorials, etc. for some publicity; using the camp survivors as showpieces; the insensitivity of visitors to the camp, and so on. Near the end of the film, Sven snaps and decides to leave Oświęcim, but upon helping some tourists find their way, reluctantly realizes that he just can't abandon the place with his assigned time there yet to come to an end.

That's that. The sky was dark as I left the mall- it was just before nine, I think. I had a shocker when paying for the parking- RM8. Bloody murder. Then again, taking public transport would have been suicide.


  1. Hanami was a really big hit with the chicks over here when it came out in 2008.
    I didnt really know much about the story until you mentioned it.I must admit that it kinda sounds interesting and I guess Ill give this movie a chance!

    So you watched the movie to see some parts of Germany?
    I didnt know that you were that interested in my the moment I cant really think of any good movies that showcase Germany but if some come to mind Ill tell you about them.

    I havent heard about the second movie from germany but it sound interesting on its own aswell.We have a really difficult relationship with our past and the people that were involved in it.Its sadly a fact that many people use our history to pressure us into things and if we dont give in theyll resort to calling us Nazis and stuff *sigh*

  2. @Blow: 'Big hit with the chicks'? Haha, I'm surprised that you didn't accompany some of them to it;)

    Yup, to see Germany alright- the lucky country where Japanese musicians like to perform, and original Japanese manga is common on the street. I'm burning with envy, lol.

    It's sad that people still insist on bringing up the past, especially when the people today aren't those who were responsible for it. They're just being opportunistic and manipulative:(