In The Mood for Love d. by Wong Kar-wai (2000) - A very anticipated and acclaimed film worldwide due to its uniqueness and demanding cinematography. This couple drama shows its singularity very early in the film, with distinct quick cuts and a lot of filming in the narrow halls of an apartment building in a crowded setting from the 60’s Hong Kong urban life. We follow the two protagonists (Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow) in their daily encounters in and out of the building. Even though their respective spouses are left unseen they are the driving point of the plot. Coming to a sudden realization they are being cheated, Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow develop a platonic relationship, refusing to indulge more unto each other because they don’t want to resemble to the infidelity of their spouses.
The perfect acting from Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung interfered with a combination of slow motion and Nat King Cole elevate this film to the most elegant form. Regrets and tribulations follow our couple through their journey culminating with a confession in the visually stunning Angkor Wat.
The last shot of the film kind of wraps up the essence of what Kar-wai wanted to show us. Visuals, soundtrack, styling, camera are all top notch but unfortunately there isn’t much under this surface. Characters wear thin after a while and I felt there was an overt attempt to Westernize the film. 7/10
The Congress d. by Ari Folman (2014) - The shadow of Waltz With Bashir looms large on Folman’s CV. I want to believe that he had a license to roam due to his previous success and he wanted to roam for real with The Congress. I love “go big or go home” directors and I wasn’t giving this film the benefit of the doubt even when some of the theater personnel warned me about the mundane experience they had watching this 120 minute ride. I immediately run in the difficulties following the credibility of these characters and the strange idea of the plot seems absurd but I wasn’t phased much because I hoped that plot would be irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. I put up with the non-convincing acting from Danny Houston (Jeff) and the thin monologue of Harvey Keitel (Al) who would somehow evoke into Robin Wright, a tough character, a roller-coaster of emotions.
Then things start to get dreamy when she visits the film studio after 20 years. In a utopic animated world where everyone can become everything they want to be through the newest technology, these evil Hollywood-like producers try to convince Robin to also sell her image for this purpose which she reluctantly agrees. There are a lot of other things that follow which make it harder to keep up with the structure of the film so by the end I was totally glad it was over.
In general, I think Folman had a great idea about a film that deals with the growing role entertainment is having in people’s lives, the drug that we are given to avoid the big social inequality, but ultimately he lacked execution and unfortunately the film pleases way more the cause of a trippy on-substance experience than the social critique it intends to. 5/10
Under The Skin d. by Jonathan Glazer (2014) - There could not be a more perfect film to counter The Congress in terms of how you “go big” than this one.
Set up in Scotland, we see this film from the eyes of our lone alien protagonist. The hard accent of Scotts is as much difficult to grasp for the normal audience as it is for the alien woman. She is on there with an assigned mission to hunt men. That’s the only plot premise that follows nearly the entire film.
What’s so impressive about it is the gradual connection the strange creature from outer world develops with its human victims. She meets all kind of men, from the most caring to most violent ones. In the beginning she is intrigued how this human race could be so vulnerable to things like compassion and love. We see a chain of actions starting with a family dog nearly drowned in the sea which eventually ends up with a lot of casualties. All this is too confusing for our alien protagonist. How can such a “developed” civilization be so vulnerable? It’s all too easy for her to do her job here.
But what she fails to recognize in the beginning, is that this is a contagious behavior. There is a beauty in this emotional connection and she slowly is turning into one of theses species. This is affirmed when she meets a disabled man, a cast-out from the society who she eventually lets go thus quitting her role and fleeing to embrace the full human experience, only to be punished by the same consequences she once found dumb.
Glazer does a marvelous job on keeping the whole film in a grey tone, very careful to not go too far with a statement and always trying to keep the balance on what it means to be human, what’s our distinction badge among other uncertainties surrounding us. The grim cinematography and the haunting score only emphasize the point of this being a film seen from the eyes of the outsiders. If there’s a film competition in galaxy every ten years where human race should select only one film to compete with other races, Under The Skin is the entry of this decade. 9/10