V’07 : pt6 (last part) : Hotel Very Welcome, The Rebirth, Paranoid Park, etc

HOTEL VERY WELCOME [5+/10]               
Adventures and misadventures of European tourists in Asia. Film jumps between various sets of characters in their 20s and 30s, whose paths may or may not intersect by the end. Takes situations more familiar from drama/thrillers (The Beach, Gone) and uses them to make some fairly obvious points about foolishness/insensitivity of affluent young western tourists (without anything like the bonkers elan of current bigger-budget US equivalent, The Darjeeling Limited). Decent hit-rate of gags (a pair of bickering, sensation-hungry British blokes are especially good value), but overall a little too formless and casual to really sustain interest or linger long in the memory. Eva Lobau from The Forest For the Trees, pops up another mousily-repressed plain-jane, socially-awkward role: she's fine, but her presence in this kind of part stirs memories of her previous film which emphatically aren't to Hotel Very Welcome's advantage.   

THE OTHER [5/10]               
Torpid, supposedly "existential" Argentinian drama about a fortyish urbanite who endures a mid-life crisis and wanders around a sleepy provincial town, working his way through various adopted identities (distant, opportunistic echoes of The Passenger here?) and the affections of various local women. This kind of stuff has been done too often before – picture feels like a remix of another film of similar genre from same country from 2003, Strange (better known under its Spanish-language title, Extrano), which starred the same Kevin-Spacey-lookalike actor, Julio Chavez, in the leading role (and he's not on top form here by any means). Intermittently snags our attention – but only intermittently: of all the characters we're introduced to, the least interesting is the one who forms the focus of the narrative and is seldom off-screen from start to finish. No surprise to learn that writer-director is considerably more youthful than his grizzled, life-battered protagionist: picture feels very much like a young man's hazy concept of middle age (plot begins with an eye-test which reveals he now needs glasses.) Still waters which, on closer inspection, run somewhat shallow.

THE REBIRTH [5/10]               
From the director of Bashing, and the tone is strikingly similar: "warped Japanese society" is examined in a bleak, depopulated suburban/industrial setting. Here the focus is on two individuals united – a man and a woman, both in their forties – by their personal connection to a tragic incident Tokyo (and brought together in a distant location some time after, by the capriciousness of coincidence and fate). Grief, guilt, repressed emotion: minimal dialogue, much repetition of quotidian ritual. Themes are unspoken until the end credits, set to an incongruously raucous ballad (penned and performed by the writer-director, who also plays the male lead, giving himself plenty of closeups in the process) which spells them out in bald, strident terms. Slow, poised, deliberate, Dardennesish style intrigues, then alienates, then ultimately grates: that closing song reveals the existence of passions hidden so far beneath these glum surfaces that not even their broadest outlines are discernible.

BEHAVE [5?/10]          
I'm afraid I didn't last long with this docu/fiction hybrid which examines the juvenile penal system of Rio de Janeiro. An early warning-sign: a title card informing us that, because Brazilian law forbids the identification of young offenders, their parts in the re-enactments of actual cases will be taken by other favela residents of similar ages and backgrounds. This serves makes all that follows feel like an elaborate form of amateur-dramatics, with the adult participants (including an extremely garrulous young magistrate) "playing" versions of themselves. Intentions seemingly honourable – monotonous excution makes it all seem rather pointless. Audiences would be better off seeking out Jose Padilha's Bus 174 (2002) a relatively "straight" documentary which touches on similar subject-matter.

HULANG BALYAN NG BUHI, OR THE WOVEN STORIES OF THE OTHER [4?/10]            
Muddy-looking, digitally-shot, thematically-fuzzy examination of the plight of rural Filipinos. The nation, we're told, has been historically blighted by three main ills: imperialism, bureaucratic capitalism, and feudalism. The solution to this may lie in the activities of roving Marxist guerillas; in a return to the 'old ways' represented by a community's witch-like "high priestess"; or in something else entirely. The film is a collage of elements which may or may not be intended to cohere, some documentary-realistic, some dreamily hallucinatory: figures are tracked across inhospitable landscapes - hills, swamps, forests – with a similarly variable pacing that too often slows down into a sapping slog. Pseudo-poetic speechifying punctuates the fragmentary narrative: "The stories of the heart cannot be told with justice" Long songs dominate the soundtrack – but, since only spoken dialogue is subtitled, their meaning remains opaque, and they function solely in terms of mood. Trouble is, the film's emphasis is on pressing problems and drastic solutions: this kind of elliptical, stylised, enigmatic obfuscation feels like am artsy, opportunistic cop-out. Torpid, tepid, heavy going – for very little evident reward.

PARANOID PARK  [1/10]               
Gus Van Sant's is current cinema's most haphazardly unpredictable career: and perhaps it was inevitable that one day (and only a couple of years after his masterpiece Elephant) he'd hit the kind of rock-bottom nadir which Paranoid Park – a modish "skateboard-noir" about a blank-faced teenager (Gabe Nevins) who semi-accidentally causes the death of a security guard, then mopes around Portland like a baggy-panted descendant of Camus's Meursault – represents. But it's still depressing to see such an extreme example of cinematic mauvaise foi, as Van Sant revisits – and in the process mindlessly trashes – various key moments in his own filmography. What was, first time around, emotionally resonant, sometimes even beautiful, now comes across as a noxiously sour self-travesty. His use of the late Elliot Smith's haunting track 'Angeles' - such a powerful element of Good Will Hunting - to accompany Paranoid Park's woefully limp, clever-clever 'climax' is especially unbearable. It's a mystifying experience: rather like realising that your favourite band's greatest-hits compilation is, somehow, by far their worst LP.

Neil Young
18th November, 2007

Hotel Very Welcome : [5/10] : Sonja HEISS : Austria 2007 : Germany 2007 : 90m : seen 25th Oct, Kunstlerhaus      
The Other : [5/10] : El otro : Ariel ROTTER : Argentina 2007 : 83m : seen 24th Oct, Metro cinema
The Rebirth : [5/10] : Ai no yokan : KOBAYASHI Masahiro : Japan 2007 : 102m : seen 27th Oct, Kunstlerhaus
Behave : [5?/10] : Juizo : Maria RAMOS : Brazil 2007 : 90m : seen 26th Oct, Metro cinema (walkout after 35m)
Huling balyan ng buhi.. or the Woven Stories of the Other : [4?/10] : Huling balyan ng buhi, o Ang sinalirap nga asoy nila : Sherad Anthony SANCHEZ : Philippines 2006 : 97m : seen 25th Oct, Stadtkino (walkout after 60m)
Paranoid Park : [1/10] : Gus VAN SANT : US 2007 : 85m : seen 23rd Oct, Gartenbaukino

(all complimentary press-delegate tickets, except Paranoid Park – paid  ‚¬7.50)

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