Daily Archives: March 23, 2011

BIFF 2011 #7: Seesaw (Japan 2010)

Makoto and Shinji kiss during their party.

There are many confident independent young women in Japanese fictions from manga to anime and from novels to film and television. Unfortunately we don’t get to see them very often in dramas on UK screens – only in horror or other extreme genres. Seesaw offers a contemporary young couple with a primary focus on Makoto (Murakami Maki). But it is only likely to get festival screenings as its short length (70 mins) will deter distributors. Still, there will be another chance to see it in Bradford next Sunday (27 March) at Cineworld.

Makoto has been living for two years with Shinji a former actor now in some kind of office job. Shinji is played by the writer/director Kanyama Keihiro. The narrative begins with a party given by Makoto and Shinji on behalf of their friends Keiko and Takumi who are about to marry. Shinji would like to consider marriage but Makoto is happy with the status quo of living together. Their relationship is balanced – just like the seesaw on which they sit in a nearby playground. She is happy in her freelance teaching of Japanese to foreigners and sees no reason to change – except that she begins to get morning sickness and worries that she might be pregnant. One day, Shinji jumps off the seesaw to say hello to a stray dog. The narrative then takes an unexpected turn (although it was signalled in the credit sequence). I won’t spoil the narrative twist, suffice to say that the tone changes and Murakami gets the chance to dominate the screen.

The film was shot on Mini-DV and blown up to CinemaScope so the resultant image is soft and the colours pale. Japanese apartments are small and the rather cramped location is handled well in the format. However, it does seem that the emphasis is on the performances rather than the milieu. I would have liked more time with the two young women together. In the one extended scene (choosing a wedding dress for Keiko) I was reminded of Take Care of My Cat (South Korea 2001) with its five young female college-leavers and their subsequent lives. But perhaps 70 minutes is long enough for a calling card piece and I hope the festival exposure helps all those involved.

BIFF 2011 #6: An American Journey (France/US 2009)

 

This image from the documentary shows a photo from 1955 of Robert Frank selecting negatives to crop direct from the roll – bypassing the need to make a contact sheet.

This documentary showed as the second half of a double bill with Disfarmer: A Portrait of America. You can see the logic of putting the two films together (both dealing with American photography from the 1950s) but I felt sorry for the French director Philippe Séclier who was present at the screening and briefly answered questions afterwards. It wasn’t that his film was ‘bad’, only that it rather suffered in comparison.

 

‘An American Journey’ refers to the period which the Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank spent on a Guggenheim foundation sponsored tour of the US in 1955. At the end of the tour Frank was obliged to publish something and he put together a collection of 83 images in the form of a book titled The Americans – first published in France in 1958 and then in the US in 1959 – by which time Frank had met Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The latter wrote some text for the book and helped popularise work which initially was not well received. French journalist Séclier (who in his introduction denied being a filmmaker as such) decided to visit some of the locations of the original photographs which he did over several years, interviewing some of the subjects and other photographers influenced by Frank as well as visiting archives and printers. During this period the original book was being re-printed in Germany and a major Frank exhibition was mounted in China.

Presumably Séclier didn’t have the budget to make the kind of documentary produced by Martin Lavut on Mike Disfarmer. It looks as if the footage of travels through America were sometimes shot on his phone, so indistinct are the low-res images. The interviews are more carefully shot, but the photographs themselves don’t get the same ‘big screen’ treatment as those in Disfarmer. According to the official website, the film was shot on ‘DVCAM’ and Séclier suggests that he tried to emulate Frank in using “only available light and no tripod”.

Overall, I did find the material in the documentary interesting, especially having seen Howl recently (in which Ginsberg’s photographs of the period appear). But while I enjoyed the content, I found the style of presentation was not as engaging as it might have been.

BIFF 2011 #5: Hollywood on the Tiber (Italy 2009)

Audrey Hepburn crosses a Rome street in Hollywood on the Tiber.

This documentary screening was a bit of a stinker, wasting some useful and interesting material. Produced by Cinecitta Studios, using only archive material, it purports to tell the story of the years from the late 1940s to the early 1970s in which Rome’s studio (alongside other Italian locations such as Venice) became the biggest international film centre attracting Hollywood ‘runaway’ productions as well as international and domestic Italian films.

The first section of the film briefly promises some kind of analysis but this is soon abandoned and replaced by a stream of film clips featuring well-known stars (and attendant paparazzi) at the airport on arrival, attending premieres and flying out again. This is diverting for a few minutes but then becomes tedious unless the audience can find some kind of game to play with the star-spotting. Even the attempted argument is rendered unintelligible by an over-excited commentary translated into subtitles that change far too quickly to keep pace. There are also several awful music tracks. I did read a review before the screening which warned of the film’s faults but I thought I’d chance it. I wish I hadn’t. However, if you are a star-spotter you may have fun.