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Where to start? The British Film Institute’s London International Film Festival – running from 10-21 October this year – is such a big event that its programme release is always a little overwhelming. You don’t quite know where to look first, even if you have cinematic preferences. The BFI, in an attempt to revamp the festival (or maybe just for the new festival director Clare Stewart to make her mark), introduced thematic strands this year for the first time, but fortunately you can still browse offerings by country or director. That’s a good thing, especially since the BFI’s website (including its search function) is generally a nightmare (still no hits if you search for Tiger & Bunny, which they are screening on September 23rd).

I have only browsed the list and not looked at every film individually as there is simply too much. I have checked certain countries, but will still keep my eyes and ears open to see if there are any other compelling recommendations from bloggers, critics and festival goers. Meanwhile, here’s a listing for a number of countries, plus a first selection of a few other films that look good to me:

Japan 

The better high school musical: Ai to Makoto.

  • 「夢売るふたり」 (Yume Uru Futari/Dreams for Sale, 2012) – dir. by Nishikawa Miwa. Initially upset by her husband’s one-night stand, a young wife forces her husband to pick up gullible women and con money out of them with fake marriage proposals.
  • 「愛と誠 」(Ai to Makoto/For Love’s Sake, 2012) – dir. by Miike Takashi – I featured this one on Trailer Weekly #30. It’s, briefly put, a Japanese high school musical. I might ending up either loving or hating it (it could just be too way out there and too cheesy, you never know), but it did screen in Cannes (critical endorsement) and it does have Tsumabuki Satoshi in one of the lead roles (eyecandy factor). No, seriously, Tsumabuki has not yet disappointed me with his acting or his film picks, so I’m not going to miss this one. The BFI, by the way, describes it in the following words: “Takashi Miike hits you with an awesome riff on Romeo and Juliet, done as a pop musical stuffed with golden oldies from the 60s – and it feels like a kiss”. Which however begs the question, what sort of kiss? It’s not a dorama but a film, directed by Miike to top it off, so it’s bound to be more than a peck on the cheek. 😉
  • 「ヘルタースケルター」 (Heruta Sukeruta/Helter Skelter, 2012) – dir. by Ninagawa Mika. Adapated from the manga with the same name, Ninagawa’s second feature film is another noisy, splashy one, delving into the intriguing story of a model who is, entirely thanks to numerous surgeries beautiful on the outside but as ugly as it gets on the inside. The story rips into the supermodel and teen idol industry, exposing its worst sides. 
  • 「鍵泥棒のメソッド」 (Kagi Dorobo no Mesotdo/Key of Life, 2012) – dir. by Uchida Kenji. A failed actor steals another man’s identity in the hope that it will offer him a better life but finds himself chased by The Mob instead. “Deliciously funny” the BFI says.
  • 「ライク・サムワン・イン・ラブ」 (Raiku samuwan in rabu/Like Someone in Love, Japan/France, 2012) – directed by Abbas Kiarostami. We have got an Iranian great making a film in Japan. In Cannes, where it screened earlier this year, reactions to the slow-paced story of a young student who works as a call girl were, ummm, mixed (to say it diplomatically) and particularly loud complaints were made about the abrupt ending. I’m still interested.
  • 「その夜の侍」 (Sono Yoru no Samurai/The Samurai that Night, 2012) – dir. by Akahori Masaaki. A man, intent on taking revenge for his wife who was killed in a traffic accident, awaits the fatal driver’s release from jail. A dark and intense psychological drama.
  • 「おおかみこどもの雨と雪」 (Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki/Wolf Children, 2012) – dir. by Hosoda Mamoru. I have mentioned this one a gazillion times on the blog already (see this post) and won’t repeat myself here. My prediction after reading the fineprint   on the Scotland Loves Anime website was right about this showing up on the LIFF programme. Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, the BFI is completely selling it as a film for kids. They did the same with Shinkai Makoto’s 「星を追う子ども」 (Hoshi o Ou Kodomo/Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, Japan, 2011) and, frankly, there were some rather bored younger children in that screening. Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki might work out better, that said, it’s almost two hours long and judging from Hosoda’s past films I would say he’s more suitable for an audience of teenagers and older. I mean, there is no way this film is just going to be fun& entertainment – there will be reflective bits, even more so because the topic of the death of a parent is part of the storyline.

South Korea 

Memories of an awkward teen romance. Awesome poster.

  • 인류멸망보고서 (Inlyumyeolmangbogoseo/Doomsday Book, 2012) – dir. by Kim Jee-Woon and Yim Pil-Sung. A three-part sci-fi film, with a shared focus on the theme of the apocalypse.
  • 물고기 (Mulgogi/A Fish, 2011) – dir. by Park Hong-Min. In this mystery thriller made by a graduate student a professor seeks his missing wife, who has become a shaman. Lauded as a harbinger of the next Korean wave, Mulgogi is, despite its shoestring budget and other limitations, “skilfully plotted, designed and cast and delivers more frissons-per-minute than most Hollywood neo-noirs” (BFI).
  • 화차 (Hwacha/Helpless, 2012) – dir. by Byun Young-Joo – Hwacha is another mystery thriller, this time adapted from the novel Burning Train to Korea by the Japanese author Miyuki Miyabe.
  • 다른 나라에서 (Dareun Narayeso/In Another Country, 2012) dir. by Hong Sang-Soo. Perhaps the most prominent South Korean film on list and yet another one that premiered in Cannes. It’s actually three stories in one film, in which the same actors (Isabelle Huppert and Yu Junsang) appear in similar or identical roles. Huppert plays three different French women, who all so happen to be called Anne. Each takes a trip to the beach resort Mohang. There, Yu Junsang is the lifeguard on duty that charms them.
  • 범죄와의 전쟁: 나쁜놈들 전성시대 (Bumchoiwaui Junjaeng: Nabbeunnomdeul Jeonsungshidae/Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time) – dir. by Yun Jong-Bin. We enter the world of crime and corruption as we follow a customs officer’s rise to the top while he makes big money through not-so-legal means until he has a falling out with his thieving partner.
  • 로맨스 조 (Romaenseu Jo/Romance Joe, 2012) dir. by Lee Kwang-Kuk. Apparently this film is “phenomenally accomplished” (BFI) – quite some praise to heap on a debut feature, even if the filmmaker is a disciple of Hong Sang-soo. The story is a bit complicated, but a film director, who has lost his inspiration, ends up in some backwater town where he is told the story of the suicidal Romance Joe, evoking his own memories of childhood and first love. Further unpredictable twists and turns in the tale follow, leaving viewers “laughing and blissfully bewildered” (BFI).
  • Beautiful 2012 (2012) – See Hong Kong below.

Taiwan 

  • 10加10 (Shi jia shi/10 + 10, 2011) – Twenty shorts from Taiwan’s top directors that celebrate the uniqueness of island of Formosa and its people. Contributions come from Hou Hsiao-Hsien (who masterminded the project), Chen Yu-Hsun, Chang Tso-Chi and Chung Mong-Hong, among others.

Hong Kong 

  • Beautiful 2012 – Changwei Gu (“Long Tou”), Ming-liang Tsai (“Walker”), Kim Tae-Yong (“You Are More Than Beautiful”), Ann Hui (“My Way”). Commissioned by the Hong Kong Film Festival, this quartet of shorts by one Korean (Kim Tae-yong) and three Chinese/Hong Kong directors (Ann Hui, Gu Changwei, Tsai Ming-Liang) covers topics from male-to-female sex change to the beauty of the city of Hong Kong. Love the fact that each short is in a different language: Putonghua, Mandarin, Korean and Cantonese.

China 

Facing the future, encountering the past: Memories Look at Me.

  • 记忆望着我 (Ji yi wang zhe wo/Memories Look at Me, 2012) – dir. by Song Fang. With one of the producers being Producer Jia Zhangke, I’m already extremely interested. It’s a debut feature by Song Fang, an actress turned director, who also takes on the lead role here (she also wrote the script and co-produced). In some cases such multi-tasking means people stretch themselves too far, but Song Fang’s quasi-autobiographical docu-drama of a woman who returns to her family to face, for the first time really, the reality of ageing and death, won Best First Feature Prize at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. Slow-paced and with a minimalistic style – all scenes minus one are filmed indoors, in the family apartment. It’s not a film for everyone but gives “glimpses of profound humanism” (Variety).
  • Beautiful 2012 – See Hong Kong above.

Films Featured in Past Trailer Weeklies

De jueves a domingo: Fast-forward drive into adulthood.

There are a few films on the programme that I previously featured in Trailer Weeklies. I’m pleased to see these, and hopefully will be able to go watch at least a few.

  • O Som ao Redor (Neighbouring Sounds, Brazil, 2012)  – dir. by Kleber Mendonça Filho. A portrait of a neighbourhood in modern-day Brazil. See Trailer Weekly #40.
  •  Amour (Austria/France/Germany, 2012)   – dir. by Michael Haneke. Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner on an octogenarian couple coming to terms with ageing and death that lies ahead. See Trailer Weekly #33.
  • De jueves a domingo (Thursday Till Sunday, Chile, 2012)  – dir. by Dominga Sotomayor. A long distance car journey from Santiago to a remote vacation spot transports 10-year old Lucia into adulthood as she begins to see what her younger brother still doesn’t notice: the tension and strains between her parents in the front seats, much in contrast to the childish play in the back. See Trailer Weekly #39.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild (USA, 2012)  – dir. by Benh Zeitlin. The imaginative charm of the story of 6-year old Hushpuppy, who lives in an impoverished community in the southern delta, won over critics at Sundance and as well as in Cannes, where it won Grand Jury Prize and the Camera d’Or. Probably one of those films that will book out quickly. See Trailer Weekly #32.
  •  L’enfant d’en haut (Sister, Switzerland, 2012)  – dir. by Ursula Meier. A 12-year old and his older sister survive by stealing from wealthy tourists in a luxury ski resort. Meier’s film won a special award at the Berlinale. See Trailer Weekly #40.
  •  Kauwboy (The Netherlands, 2012)  – dir. by Boudejwijn Koole. A neglected 10-year old adopts a kauwboy (a jackdaw) as a pet, but must keep this secret from his aloholic father. See Trailer Weekly #47.

New Discoveries

La demora: Lost in despair.

Some fabulous offerings from Latin America. If I don’t manage to see them at this event, I hope the Latin American Film Festival screens some of these in November!

  • 3 (Uruguay/Argentina/Germany/Chile, 2012) – dir. by Pablo Stoll. The story of a dysfunctional family: teenage Ana, who is about to be thrown out from school, her mother Graciela, who is taking care a terminally ill aunt and has no time for her daughter and Rodolfo, Ana’s father, who has long since divorced Graciela and remarried, but is trying to sneak his way back into the family.
  • La demora (The Delay, Uruguay/Mexico/France, 2012) – dir. by Rodrigo Plá. María, a single mother, struggles to hold things together as she has to care for her dementia-suffering father and three children all by herself. Slowly, but surely, her despair begins to escalate. Quote from the festival catalogue: “[A] profoundly moving film about vulnerable individuals pushed into difficult decisions”.
  • La Sirga (Colombia/France/Mexico, 2012) – dir. by William Vega. Alicia, 19, has lost her family in a village conflict and tracks down her uncle, who lives in a remote place in the Andes. A reclusive and peculiar man, he eventually permits her to stay. Life in this place with strange people is however not easy for Alicia to adjust to, Vega offering “an intense, elliptical drama that develops in a wildly evocative setting, a daring and rewarding film that is as nuanced as it is enthralling” (BFI). Me like!

And What’s Not There…

…because that’s always worth noting also.

Some countries feel under-represented to me. One film (in fact, a compilation of shorts) for Taiwan? What about  消失打看 (Honey Pupu/Honey Pupu, Taiwan, 2011)? Or 饮食男女2 (Eat Drink Man Woman II / Joyful Reunion, Taiwan, 2012)? The latter might not have screened anywhere yet (I’m not too sure), but I have been waiting for Honey Pupu for quite a while and it seems it will come down to watching a DVD purchased via yesasia.com or cdjapan.com one day. Offerings for Hong Kong and China are also rather sparse and although Beautiful 2012 looks promising with contributions from Ann Hui and Kim Tae-yong, it’s disappointing that there is nothing else on the programme. I was also still holding out for 「レンタネコ」 (Rentaneko/Rent-a-Neko, Japan, 2012), but I guess the fact that it screened at a number of film festivals internationally (including at least one in the UK, if I remember correctly) since last year hasn’t helped its case. Sadly, I can’t quite see which other festival might pick it up in the future and we may have to hope for a DVD release. No「るろうに剣心」 (Rurōnikenshin/Rurouni Kenshin, Japan, 2012) either, but then I wasn’t really expecting this: it’s neither arthouse nor big-name enough (internationally speaking), plus it seems that release outside of Japan (including at festivals) and distribution rights (theatrical & DVD) are just now in the process of being negotiated. I also wanted a few more Korean films, but fortunately the Korean Film Festival might still give us some of those in October. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I need to sit down and decide what to watch. I will be skipping films like Amour, for it is bound to pop up at the ICA or some other arthouse cinema at some point and will surely also get a DVD release. Never-get-a-chance-to-see-otherwise films are on the top of the list instead, plus some that I have been excited about for months (Ookami no Kodomo Ame to Yuki of course).

Yes, wolves climb trees. Well, half-wolf, half-human children do at least.