Thursday, September 23, 2010

Whispers and Moans - 2009

Director: Herman Yau-Lai Too


This ensemble piece about the Hong Kong sex industry is remarkable at least, for avoiding the standard cliches in almost any film ever to have featured a prostitute.

Most big East Asian cities have an immediately recognizable, neon-lit, reddish light district; girls in ridiculous ball gowns, caked in make up, fake nails and incredibly long eyelashes, stand outside their hostess bars fishing for groups of businessmen to pop in for a drink, and a sing-song. The area in Hong Kong where this is set, has a particularly notorious one, apparently. Girls wander the streets soliciting clients, and the bars, it would appear from this film, are essentially glitzy, eighties decor sex markets. The film, whilst being a little soapy here and there, doesn't shy away from things, and doesn't make excuses for the unusual opinion at its heart.

Whispers and Moans takes one of these bars and, ignoring the customers largely, looks closely at the lives of the workers. Apart from the actual work, the dilemmas are all very familiar. The industry is under threat due to a weakening economy and an influx of cheaper workers, disparagingly referred to as, "main-landers". Two women at the top, separate and suited, who worked long enough at the bottom, are in charge. They are the managers, organizing the liaisons, dealing with customer relations. Like a mirror on a normal office, the girls struggle for recognition and promotion, to work long enough to become a manager or retire. Once their time is served they can head back to their hometowns with honour, eventually finding positions like head teachers. Some hate their jobs, but know there isn't much else, others put on a brave face.

Adapted from a book that was based on interviews with sex-workers, the film rings resoundingly true. One girl, keeping her life a secret from her innocent boyfriend, upon his proposal realizes that at the wedding his guests will be her clients. She cuts him off, throwing her phone into a bin. Tony, a young man also working as a host, frequents the girls bar to take out his pent-up aggression on the girls working there. The girls in turn head to his, getting drunk and screaming at him. It is a vicious cycle and the only time they can unleash. These stories have such a believable feeling that they must be derived from the books revelations.

Instead of looking at all the reasons these girls get into prostitution and showing they could have been something else, something better, Whispers and Moans respects them for their choices. It is utterly remarkable when towards the end, expecting them to decry the horrors of the job, one character has an extended speech about, quote, what a great whore she was, and how much fun being a whore is. This is not to say it makes it seem like a perfect working environment. One character, so happy she is named Happy, is the model professional. She deals with upwards of four customers a day, is revered for her positive attitude and sunny disposition, but when she finds out she might have caught an STD drops the facade and uncovers layers of pain hidden from the offset.One girl succumbs to a drug addiction and is fired from the club. We see her gradual decline, as she slumps further and further down-market, until she is patrolling the street, a bottom-feeder to the nearby glamour.

There are some balancing points to this; the charity worker who tries earnestly to persuade the girls to switch professions, and care for their health. She is largely ignored, but is a constant presence in the film. Though perhaps, as a character, is a bit two dimensional, her inclusion is understandable. Despite her standpoint, however, she doesn't stray from the message of the film, that regardless of the stigma the women are proud workers. The films ask us to share the respect, rather than pity. They do a horrendous job, clearly, but their motivations are never belittled and neither are they. Rather than decrying prostitution we are told to accept it and withhold our judgement. Portrayed without the the standard biases, and narratives of most films on this subject it feels really genuine. It has some moments of melodrama, but on the whole is far more interesting than dozens of other movies on a similar subject.

Focus on Asia Audience Award - True Noon

2010 Audience Award Winner

Nosir Saidov for True Noon

This year's audience award went to Nosir Saidov for his film True Noon. The film, from Tajikistan, is the story of a village divided. As wedding plans are being made for a young couple, Tajikistani soldiers arrive at the village to instigate the new national border. A barbed wire fence is erected and splits the village down the middle. Despite the soldiers threats the families decide to go ahead with the wedding.

The audience award acts as the centre-piece of the festival. It is as festival chairman, Shindo Tsuneo, described an award where the citizens of Fukuoka are the jury. After screenings the audience are given a slip of paper which they fold according to their grading of the film. As audience numbers vary, the highest average score goes on to take the prize.

Nosir Saidov was born in 1966 in Tajikistan. True Noon was his first feature film. It has won awards at film festivals in India, Iran and Russia. Saidov was assistant director on Luna Papa 1999 and The Suit 2003.

There will be another, final, screening of True Noon in the Elgala Hall on Saturday the 25th at 4.00pm for anyone who would like a chance to catch it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tokyo International Film Festival 2010

The 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival runs from - October 10th to October 23rd. The festival will be held in the Roppongi district in central Tokyo. Over a hundred films will be screened over the ten day duration. With the festivals main attraction, the Tokyo Sakura grand prize, star guest appearances, open-air screenings and voice-over screenings, there is plenty to look forward to.

The festival opens with Social Network, about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and amongst other noteable highlights are: Potiche, the new Francois Ozon film, Moss, based on the online Korean comic sensation, The Town, the Boston bank robber film by Ben Affleck, Tron: Legacy, remake of the '80s classic, and Countdown to Zero, an investigation into nuclear arms by the makers of An Inconvenient Truth.Tickets are at the low price of 1000yen in advance and 1200yen on the day. They can be purchased from any Lawson ticket machine. Find out the code to the screening you want, then head to any Lawson conveni, enter the code into the machine, print out a receipt, take it to the till to pay and receive your tickets. Advance booking is recommended.

The Tokyo Sakura grand prize
The Tokyo Sakura grand prize is for 50,000$ and will be decided on the final day、Sunday the 31st of October.

Here are some of the stand-out entries this year.

And Peace on Earth - Matteo Brotugno and Daniele Coluccini

The distant outskirts of Rome witness the birth of three parallel stories destined to be tied together. Marco, ex-prisoner, goes back to dealing cocaine for his old friends Glauco and Mauro. Faustino, Massimo and Federico spend their days doing drugs and irresponsible things. Sonia is a university student but also works in a gambling club. A trivial incident will force the main characters to leave a trail of fire, blood and violence behind them.

Brighton Rock - Rowan Joffe

Brighton, 1964. Organized crime has moved into this sleepy English seaside town. Ambitious young gangster Pinkie Brown is determined to stop other gangs taking over his patch, but when he kills a rival, vital evidence falls into the innocent hands of a young waitress, Rose. Pinkie seduces Rose to stop her talking, but her employer, Ida, takes an infuriatingly close interest in the case. A year before the abolition of the death penalty, can Pinkie trust Rose not to betray him and can Rose trust Pinkie not to make her his next victim?

Beautiful Boy - Shawn Ku

Beautiful Boy centers around a couple in a faltering marriage who discover that their 18-year-old son has committed a mass shooting at his university before taking his own life. Following this unimaginable tragedy, they have only themselves to turn to as they deal with their grief, avoid the relentless media scrutiny and struggle with their own culpability, while holding onto the hope that someday they may experience happiness again.

Primary! / Primaria! - Ivan Noel

In this celebration of children's creativity, Primary! follows the lives of students and their teachers in a peculiar yet somewhat recognizable primary school. When Jose Maria―more apt to give a lecture on Fine Arts at university than a primary classroom―fills a post as art teacher, chaos seems to be on the verge of unleashing itself. However, the path that his infinitely imaginative little students take him through proves there is more than a little he can learn from them, and a new life to discover…


Tickets are at the low price of 1000yen in advance and 1200yen on the day. They can be purchased from any Lawson ticket machine. Find out the code to the screening you want, then head to any Lawson conveni, enter the code into the machine, print out a receipt, take it to the till to pay and receive your tickets. Advance booking is recommended.

Warwick Thornton - Interview

"As indigenous people we need more doctors, and more lawyers, and more teachers, and more surgeons, and more truck drivers and more librarians and more politicians. All of that, but we need more storytellers"

Warwick Thornton, director of Samson and Delilah, talks to Film In Japan, about: his labour of love, Australia and the problems facing it.

FIJ-What's going on in Australian cinema at the moment?

- Commercial stuff, comedies, that's all we will have; and that's not really a representation of Australia, of what Australia is about, let alone for the rest of the world to see, for us to see.

FIJ-I haven't seen that many Australian films recently, I saw The Proposition awhile ago, and Jindabyne, which is on a similar topic.

WT - Yeah, Jindabyne, and he did Lantana before, a great film. There's that sort of vigour in Australian cinema, but then there's that smaller kitchen sink drama, and that's the way I see it. I see it as cultural maintenance,a big shield against all this... The Americans make great films but they also make an awful load of shit, and we get all the shit and that's the irony of it. The funny thing is that for every American film you see, there are another 1000 that made it to DVD, and just made it to DVD, they didn't see a cinema...They do make a lot of crap.

FIJ - Did you go to the Sundance festival with Samson and Delilah?

WT - I've been to Sundance with my short films. I never went with Samson and Delilah. There's all that sort of exclusivity there, and in places like Cannes.

FIJ - You won at Cannes though, right? Congratulations.

WT - Yeah, It's very much, you make a film and you sort of gamble. What film festival you think it's going to get into and all that kind of stuff.

FIJ - Could you give us a brief description of what Samson and Delilah is all about, for anyone that doesn't know. You must have had that question a 1000 times now.

WT - Yeah, but it changes as you get older, you know. You fall in love with your film, and then you see it so many times you absolutely detest it. Later in your life, you fall in love with it again, and it's been three years now.

Samson and Delilah is a teenage love story about two kids growing up in central Australia. and that's about it. It's a really dark and depressing little film. But it was important to make that kind of film, you know.

FIJ-I was watching it and, I was sitting there and, I didn't sense the real big moments coming, and they really took me by shock. I knew it wasn't going to be flowers and rainbows everywhere but, it really hit me.

WT -Just when you think you can't go any further into the depths, you fall down a well.

FIJ-But, like you said at the beginning, it's a dark film but there is that light at the end of the tunnel.

WT -Yeah and you know, that was important that light at the end of the tunnel. I needed that. When I was writing it I needed it, you know what I mean? This thing was heading straight towards Romeo and Juliet, just an absolute tragedy, a teenage love story tragedy, and I said, "No, no, I don't want to go there." That's not what these two kids were about. There struggle is better than that.

FIJ- I was glad you said that actually, because I was dreading having this horrible ending. It was nice the way it did end, especially going back to the home country and stuff like that, that was cool.

WT -Yeah, yeah getting back there was important.

FIJ-The actors were non-professionals right? I thought they were amazing, Gonzo and the grandmother as well.

WT -Well Gonzo was my brother actually. He's an alcoholic so I wrote the part for him. He always wanted to be in a film, so I thought I'll write a part which matches your persona and character perfectly. That's my brother in real-life. And the same with the nana, her name is Mitjili Gibson, we didn't choose her for it; I wrote that part for her. I'd done some documentaries with her out in the middle of the bush. She walked out of the bush in something like 1962, with children on her hips, never seen a white person before. Didn't even know what a car or plane was, or electricity. Just walked straight out of the bush. So she is a pretty amazing woman.

And Rowan and Marissa [Samson and Delilah], I'd met lots of kids like that, but I didn't actually write the film for those two. We went on a big casting journey to find them. The producer of the film looks after Mitjili and she is actually Marissa's grandmother. It was a short journey but we had to go a really round about way to get there. It's almost like the girl next door. I'd travelled the world looking for the perfect person and she was there all along.

FIJ-I thought the grandma has just got this amazing face, looks like a hundred years worth of stories in it.

WT -It's interesting, people who really freak about her are always Russians animators, you know "Oh my god she's incredible!", who think she's got this brilliant face, and want me to send them copies and for her to pose and stuff. Turn her into a grandma comic book star you know.

FIJ-One of the things I wanted to ask you about was the music, the song choices. In particular that opening one. What was the idea behind that?

WT -Because there's not a lot of dialogue I had to be careful about the music. So every song in the film was actually written in the script. It wasn't one of those, "here's how much money we've got left." So they are all written in, so when he's sniffing petrol, the song is sunshiny day, when he's sitting in the grey. Getting these juxtapositions. I tried to find great cowboy songs and country and western songs.

FIJ-The soundtrack was really top notch. The other one I want to talk about was the one where, Delilah, you can see her sort of starting to fall in love with Samson. The dancing scene where he's got his music and she's got hers and they blend together. What was the idea of that?

WT - I mean you can see instantly, and it was easily written when he falls in love with her, when the spark happens. She gives him some food you know so it was like...


WT -Yeah, bang! Really is that simple isn't it? Whereas her it was much harder to write. So we thought let's do it as a musical piece. All she needs is a spark, just a spark that she might be interested. It's not like that high school Hannah Montana, where you just fall completely head over heels...It's, "Well there might be something okay there and I'll keep an eye on it" you know what I mean? And that's that music sequence where he's got his shirt off and he's dancing.

FIJ-Especially the way you mixed the songs together so they became almost one song. That really worked.

WT -Yeah, He's this crazy rock and roll, and trying to annoy the shit out of everybody and her, that's her idea of love. The music is by this lady called Dana Gabriella, who's an incredible Mexican country and western singer. I had no idea what she was singing about, but you could feel the love and, well, that's kind of perfect. That's how we, as an audience will probably be, about these two kids in this strange community speaking a language we don't know. But, if we heard that song we'd kind of feel it. So I thought that's the perfect way, looking for songs that work in that kind of way, just through the feelings they give.

FIJ-Without the words...

WT -Yeah, exactly. you know it's Mexican right? Unless you're Mexican, or you can speak Spanish you have no idea what they're talking about...

FIJ-So, the lack of dialogue, but there's not a lack of communication, was that a key point for you?

WT - Yeah, yeah, absolutely. In Aboriginal community there's a whole hidden language to do with movement, lips, it's almost like body language.


Pointing with your lips, that means that way, you don't actually have to lift your arm...

FIJ-Energy efficient

WT -Laughs - Yeah exactly. And using that kind of stuff is, when you're thirteen years of age, you are throwing rocks at girls. You're not walking up and having these huge monologues, that's the Hollywood version. The Hollywood version is the kid'll walk up, "I like your eyes" kind of thing and he'd do this paragraph that is so perfectly poignant, and you know it's written by a forty year old guy who's gone through three marriages, four kids and is reflecting on all the shit he should have said to his first wife. Yyou can just see it, and it's coming out of this thirteen year old's mouth. And you just go, this is so wrong, this is not life, this is not real. Which is great if you're making Barbie, but it's no good if you are making Samson and Delilah. So, these kids, when you're that age you're super shy, you can't talk to the girl, all you want to do is get noticed and for her to notice you, so what do you do? You throw rocks at her. So that's reality based.

FIJ-The two kids, they're just so natural, even though it was their first film I never felt that they were aware of the camera on them.

WT -I kind of tried to break up that whole line of: here's the crew and you act on that side of the line and the crew will stay on this side of the line. That's why there's actually a lot of crew in the film, you know, opening doors or in cafes, all over the place. I kind of tried to break that line and just turn it,a sort of, sideshow. you don't know the difference between crew or acting, blend it all together. So if the camera turns around the crew could be there drinking coffee, keep turning around and you're in the scene again. And for the kids, they haven't acted before, so it made it a much easier place for them to act. It was just kind of like, everyone around them was in the film. There wasn't that,you stand over there and get really shy and we stand over and will film you.

FIJ-It's set in Central Australia, what kind of place is it, for someone with little knowledge of it?

WT -It's probably one of the most beautiful deserts in the world. It's full of angels and it's full of demons. It desperately tries to balance itself, with indigenous issues and tourism. It tries to hide the problems we have as an indigenous people, hide it behind rocks.

FIJ-You know saying that I've seen those adverts in England. The Australian tourist ones which puts everyone together smiling, and some kangaroos, too.

WT -Yeah, I know and we're just seriously starting, indigenous people, well I can't talk for everyone, I just talk for myself; just getting so pissed off, with seeing that we are portrayed to the world as one happy bunch of black folks. With tourism, we're going for the next World Cup, get all the black fellas, in a community in the desert doing taps on a soccer ball. And enough's enough. you've really neglected us, you've really...

We've got an intervention happening at the moment, they've taken away all our rights, all that sort of stuff, Australia is up in court with the UN...And they've still got us happily kicking footballs and dancing. I'm kind of sick of it and I'm kind of at a point now with Australia, this has gone on for too long. I reckon all of us black folks should pull out of any commercial, you know, [it's] our ideas, our motifs they use to sell Australia to the world. It's just become a joke, how badly you treat us, but they way you drag us out everytime to tap dance under the stars to get tourists, or to say how happy this country is, and it's a bit sickening.

We've got a new government and we're all really looking forward to this government, we think it's going to be a really good government, I do anyway, and they just seriously need to pull there finger out and stop using us as these props to make Australia look pretty, because it isn't pretty at the moment. Not where I come from anyway.

FIJ-The film looked at the problem of petrol sniffing, what other challenges are facing Aboriginal communities.

WT - It's a hard one you know because their is a gap. Aboriginal people die twenty years earlier, these kind of simple things: education, we don't have enough schools, the schools in the towns are very hard. I mean you got these little Aboriginal kids and Australia can be a very racist place they don't want to go to school. Can be that simple. So it's ingrained and it's been going on for way too long.

And the irony is that, petrol sniffing is one of the ones that is starting to clean itself up. Somebody really smart decided to get rid of all the lead based petrols in central Australia and use this new petrol where if you sniff it you just get a headache. That fucking simple. It's fantastic it's happened but it should have happen. Long term neglect, long term problems.

And a lot of them the government can't fix. Aboriginal people, we have to fix them ourselves. It's an ingrained cultural problem that we have to sort out ourselves. There's a lot of that.

FIJ - The film gives the idea of the Aboriginal village and the big city as being completely separate and disconnected, is that how it is?

WT - Yeah it is, and you can see the divide in a sense. A divide through neglect, where state and central government isn't investing in the communities and dumping it all into the towns, because that's where the power is and that's where the voters are. These smaller communities, which might have twenty to fifty people, they just completely neglect.

FIJ - Is that a common trajectory what happens in Samson and Delilah, young kids heading off into the big city and getting in trouble?

WT - Yeah, and it's everywhere. Kids in China, all the people in the country moving to the cities, huge migration. That's natural for any teenager. They want something bigger and better than the boredom and the neglect. So they go to the city either for a new life and a job, or to party, all those classic things. Catch a train to wherever and rock on. Then go home with your tail between your legs, to mum and dad. That's kind of classic teenage stuff.

FIJ - You were just talking about the boredom, that band in the film playing the same riff, over and over again. Is that what were supposed to get from that this repetition and boredom?

WT - Yeah, yeah exactly. This sort of Groundhog Day-esque feel and it is that sort of draining repetition, boredom. But you have to feel some apathy for the band. They're practising to get out, that's there bus out of town. They want to become a rock band or a skanky reggae band.

FIJ - They sounded cool but...

WT - Yeah, enough's enough! Right at his window.

FIJ - Are there any other films on Aboriginal issues you can recommend?

WT - Hmm...What is there? For the love and the power of it? Australia. Another really good Aboriginal film but people don't realise it is, Avatar. Very fucking Pocahontas, but...

FIJ - Wow. Didn't expect you to say those two.

WT - There's others as well, Brand New Day a musical, which is kind of interesting. There's a new one out in a year called, Here I am, not going to say like Taxi Driver but, a hardcore chick flick.

FIJ - You were saying earlier that you see Samson and Delilah as an allegory for dependence on oil. Having spoken to you now, I think I know the answer to this question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Do you feel a certain responsibility as a film-maker to tackle big issues and affect your audiences way of thinking?

WT - For sure, for sure. I was huffing and puffing, and growling and kicking the shit out of Hollywood and all that kind of stuff. But, you learn their skills and their way of storytelling and you grab that, and you'll be able to hide some of the most important issues in your life into a film. Millions of people will come and see them, and not even know that you're trying to tell them something. I think a lot of people went away from Avatar not even realising there is another level to it.

You find your niche too, as indigenous people we need more doctors, and more lawyers, and more teachers, and more surgeons, and more truck drivers and more librarians and more politicians. All of that, but we need more storytellers, and I think I've found my little journey in life, as an Aboriginal person, and that is, to tell our stories. Try and tell them truthfully and that's incredibly important. Pretty much every Aboriginal person in Australia saw the film, either empowered or appalled that's their personal opinion, but I opened that door to my own people to go and see a story about them. You can come away from it with your own opinion, did you like it or not, but at least there is an outlet. Just trying to tell stories is really important.

FIJ - I asked you earlier about the white Australian audiences to Samson and Delilah. How about with the Aboriginal community?

WT - Obviously, I don't know everyone's opinions but the good 90 percent was just overall thrilled and absolutely loved it, a pride...The one I was mostly worried about
: we had a free screening in Alice Springs, three and a half thousand rocked up, Aboriginal people. This huge football field, giant screen and just filled it up with anyone who wanted to see it. We had buses come from all the communities and everybody absolutely loved it.

FIJ - Was that the crowning achievement of the whole thing?

WT - Yeah, Is this going to be a lynching? or....Just keep the car running.


That was the most important thing, that people loved it. People were coming up to me and telling me: that's my story, that's my grandfather's story, that's my son's story. And that was our story, and that was were it all started. It was great, that was the first screening we had and I could move on and talk to people like you, with a little more confidence that my people weren't hunting me down.

That's the other thing too, if everyone did jack up in Alice Springs. You're not blindfolded in this town, you know everything that is going on. Here it is.

FIJ - As an Australian filmmaker do you feel part of a group or a movement or has making an Aboriginal film seperated you from that?

WT - It has, and it hasn't. Good storytelling, is good storytelling and I don't care where you're from. I get blown away by good films from anywhere in the world. Whether, they're indiginous or not. I loved Avatar, I can go beyond that. I know people who say that it should have been made by an indiginous person. Well, no, shit, the reason it is such a great film is because the reason it is such a fantastic film is because it was made by a great mind. I never had that wall or line in the sand about what's what. I kind of like that. I think other people should make films about indiginous people, just as I should be allowed to make films about them.

It's open territory. I'm doing my research to make sure I don't offend anyone, and any person making a film should do the same.

FIJ - One last question, what's your next project?

WT - I've got a period film, a sort of thriller. It's interesting. I don't want to explain to much, it's a good idea. I haven't written it very well though. I'm on the third draft, but there's still a lot of loose ends, a completed film though. I'm actually writing it in the hotel room now. When you've got a week in a hotel, I have kids, it's work time. It's a bit of a sort of Days of Heaven, set in an orphonage with Aboriginal kids and monks.

FIJ - Well, I'll let you get back to it. Really enjoyed the film. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Samson and Delilah - 2009

Exclusive Film in Japan Interview with the Director.

Director - Warwick Thornton


Hard hitting love story of two Aboriginal teenagers living in the Central Australian Outback.

Samson and Delilah
is a tough film that doesn't pull its punches. At times gut-wrenchingly difficult to watch, it pulls you deeper and deeper down, only offering faint glimmers of hope. As the Australian bid for the world cup kicks into gear, it shows an alternate side to the image being beamed to the world.

Samson lives in an Aboriginal community in the desert, detached and run-down. He is bored, frustrated and aimless. Delilah is caring for her sick grandmother. Samson decides that Delilah is the one for him, throwing stones at her to get attention and traipsing around after her like a lost dog, five steps behind. He forces his way into her heart, quickly dependent on her. She eventually warms to him and begrudgingly submits to the spark. Things take a turn for the worse though, Samson has pissed everyone off to the point where he is not safe, and Delilah is blamed for the death of her grandmother. They run away and head towards the nearest town, sleeping under a bridge and struggling to survive.

The main characters barely speak a word to each other throughout the film . This is partially explained by Samson's addiction to petrol-sniffing, which severely effects hearing. It's absence though, doesn't equate to a lack of communication between the two, and the film never feels quiet. The pair express themselves more than adequately through hand gestures, their eyes and body language. It is handled and acted in such a way that we are only ever faintly aware of it. Both Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson, Samson and Delilah, are non-professional actors and bring a innocence that sets the film up perfectly. Marissa, radiates warmth throughout the film. Despite only being 15 when filming, she has a maturity far beyond her years. Gonzo, played by Thornton's brother is another excellent performance. Singing and stumbling, he steals the show whenever he comes on screen.

The film identifies some of the tensions between the two neighbouring communities . A white Australian who runs the local shop in the community is ripping off the grandma and the daughter for the Aboriginal art they produce. He gives them 200 dollars a piece, but later in the film Delilah walks past a fashionable indigenous art gallery where the pricing is 20,000 dollars. It is an uncomfortable scene when, desperate for some money, she walks in bloodied and scarred carrying her painting, and the curator barely looking up from his glowing apple laptop, just to say, "not interested". Delilah is reduced to silently parading around her painting, a commodity. Whenever they are in the town there is a cloud of suspicion cast over them by the locals, and a disinterest in the back story as to why they have ended up there. They are outsiders in their own country, not welcome and not wanted.

Thornton looks inward as well. Delilah, who has been diligently caring for her grandmother, is battered by the elder ladies in the village as a focal point of their grief. It is horrifying to see a girl who was has been so kind and giving, being treated in such an utterly undeserving way. Samson's petrol addiction is for the main part of the film largely ignored or tolerated by those around him. He drifts around in a silent cloud, slowly rotting his brain. He is a lost cause to the community, it is only Delilah and her grandma that give him a chance.

Music is used expertly. At the start, we awake with Samson, in his dingy dark, hazy bedroom. He reaches around for a cut in half plastic bottle of petrol and takes a big hit. The irony of the country and western crooning of Sunshiny Day makes its point. Later as Samson dances to his wild rock music in the moonlight, Delilah sits in her car listening to a Mexican love song. The two characters, and their music, though polar oppositely different mix into each other and create something new, and Delilah's interest is sparked. It is a hypnotic scene.The village band, set up constantly, right outside Samson's window play the same riff, diligently practicing everyday but symbolic of the rut the community is in. In a film where dialogue is minimal these moments carry added significance.

As agonizing as it is at times, the film has a purity beneath the surface. It thankfully offers some level of redemption for those involved. A simple story of love, doused with painful reality, and a story for a community that has struggled to be heard. A hard journey to make but a rewarding one.

10 to 11 - 11'e 10 kala - 2009

Director - Pelin Esmet


This Turkish film is interesting, if slightly slow, but buoyed by a great performance from its lead, a fanatical collector.

Against the background of a constantly changing landscape, symbolised by ever-present construction, this is the story of a great collector. Mithat, collects everything from rare encyclopedias of obscure history, to girly pin-up newspapers.He is a man who is desperately trying to anchor himself in the past, refusing to accept that new equates to better. His apartment is ceiling high with newspapers, he requires two of the same everyday. There is so much stuff, navigation is achieved through towers of junk lined pathways. His neighbours fear the collection is too heavy for the buildings structure to bear, to which Mithat freely quotes the city's legal limitations. Even seemingly unimportant bottles are part of the collection, as his unwitting nephew finds out when he callously pours himself a drink.

He is based on and played by the director Pelin Esmet's uncle, and is a great character. It is easy to understand why Esmet decided to base a film on him; incredibly stubborn, and absolutely resolute on his right to behave as he likes, no matter how much his neighbours, and the city council complain and gang up on him.

The janitor of Mithat's apartment, Ali, begins to help the old man with his collection. He does his errands, and is his proxy in the various battles with his neighbours. The neighbours are all desperate to have their apartment building refurbished and upgraded, as all surrounding buildings are, and constantly badger Mithat, and Ali to persuade him, to agree to up sticks for a renovation. Ali, sees his chance to move up the social ladder. Like Mithat, Ali is marginalized, from those around him, though in his case economically. He lives in the grotty building basement, an intercom call away from the demanding residents, and unable to spend time with his family. He begins to see in the vast collection, an opportunity to start saving up enough money to find a better job and be able to be with his family again. His is a strange part, despite his deceitfulness it is hard not to sympathize with him.

Mithat has clearly lived an interesting life. Some conversations he has recorded from his youth, which we become privy to, show he has travelled well and was not always quite so eccentric. To those around him though, apart from Ali and a middle-aged waitress at a cafe, he is an irritating, oddity; staunchly determined to stand in their way at every step. Their gaze is permanently rooted forwards, towards new swimming pools, gymnasiums, and the rising of their property prices.

The film could have been a little tighter. Like the stately Mithat himself, it refuses to rush itself, though at times the pace could have done with a bit of acceleration. But, maybe that is the point as his story is a fairly damning indictment of the speedy modernization of society around him, in which everything is in a state of flux and the past requires continuous upgrading. Mithat stares wistfully out of the window at the cranes and builders busying themselves around him, perhaps resentfully aware that these breaking tides will eventually wash his masterpiece, and the past, away.

Dooman River - 2010

Director - Zhang Lu


A sombre mesmerizing film about prejudice, division and suspicion. Its message is universal.

This window onto a small, isolated, windswept village of Koreans on the Dooman River in China, across from the North Korean border, is a fascinating film. It opens with a long still shot of the frozen river. This icy divide dominates the screen and dominates the film too, the harsh barrier between two countries.

Set in the depth of bitter winter, the story focuses, though not exclusively, on a young Korean boy, Chang-Ho, and his mute sister, Soon-Hee. As the cold of winter sets in, an increasing stream of defectors try to escape from North Korea over the river. They arrive terror stricken, haggard and desperate. At first the visitors are helped by the villagers, one has even been smuggling them in his truck. As a Korean enclave in China, the characters speak Korean, the signs are Korean, and the collective sympathy lies with the North Koreans as opposed to the Chinese solidiers trying to find them.

Chang-Ho sparks a friendship with a young North Korean boy, who has been coming across the border with a group of children in search of food for his sick sister. They cough and splutter whenever on screen, sick and malnourished. In one awful moment on their return to North Korea, one of their gang keels over dead, the boys investigate and upon realisation shrug their shoulders and keep moving. The film is punctuated by one horrific moment of violence, which triggers a downhill spiral. It is the catalyst, with the increase in theft of food, that replaces a desire to help with a festering suspicion. The fear is infectious and before long it has contaminated the village. One villager remarks, "If a man is starving he will not think twice to sell his parents." The villagers begin to turn on each other and the North Koreans in increasingly more brutal ways.

From the start the village's problems are barely beneath the surface; men standing in the street drinking, a lack of opportunities and a lack of food. These problems and the link to the growing xenophobia are emphasised by Lu. Yet , it is the childrens mirroring of the behaviour that begins to be displayed by the adults that is the key. We see the ingraining of prejudices that will become the status quo for these children in their adulthood. An old woman who keeps setting off on her own stumbling across the river, sometimes being brought back by the North Korean police, is the only link to the past for the village. "When I was young there used to be a bridge here, I crossed it holding my mother's hand many times" she says. Lu makes the deduction, if prejudices are allowed to develop to such a level, people begin to forget there was ever anything else.

The films pace is glacial and it works excellently. It doesn't rush the unfolding events, allowing your opinion to develop over the course of the film. The camera work is often stationary, framing what comes on screen but not interfering. There is no soundtrack at all, the only music is sung by the characters. At night the silence is occasionally interrupted by the shouting of soldiers and gunfire. Lu, argues that music in film is a, "distraction", with the clarity achieved here it, in this instance it is hard to disagree with him.

In one very specific moment, however, the camera does participate more actively. As a sickening act of violence unfolds off screen the camera moves into close up on the television broadcast that triggered it. It is North Korean propaganda, a military march and Kim Jong Il being paraded around a village, the voice on screen telling us how much, "our father loves you and would do anything for you". The villagers transition from saviours to persecutors is portrayed as part of a larger equation, only here is the finger of blame is pointed. Even the Chinese soldiers though merciless and unforgiving throughout are humanized slightly at the end when they play football with the young boys.

It is a brilliant comment on the nature of prejudice and fear. A stunning film that has a loud and clear message. Despite its setting, its themes are applicable universally. It investigates and illuminates the causal factors of fear and paranoia in a society, withholding judgement on those involved. It is a film that deserves a wide audience.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Forbidden Door - Q and A session

Here is a transcript of the Q and A session after the screening of The Forbidden Door on the 18th of September 2010, at the Solaria Plaza cinema as part of the FOCUS on Asia film festival.

Joko Anwar - Director - JK
Sheila Timothy - Producer - ST
Fachri Albar - Actor - FA
Marsha Timothy - Actress - MT

JA - Well, I'm sure everyone is very clear on what was going on [in the film].

Q - Two questions ones a small question, in Herosase what is the number on the door? And...the second one, at the end with the axe and the door it was a bit like The Shining; what movies influenced you when you were making this?

JA - Oh, Okay there are a number of clues throughout the film, on the billboards, numbers on the door and things on the Chinese fortune cookies. Err...Actually if you put everything together the number is actually one of the key to the story, what the movie is all about and also the logos on the television, is a very popular logo about something that is going on in this age. I guess, me as a filmmaker should not reveal the secrets about the films as I want you guys to have the experience to think about it and what the story is all about.

But er...My biggest influence in making all my movies is, my favourite director Paul Thomas Anderson he did Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, from the old times Hitchcock, from Japan Kinji Fukusaku, he did Battle Royale and Legend of the Samurai, and David Kronenberg also and some, I guess I'm pretty much influenced by exploitation flicks.

Everybody face looks happy


Q - I really want to comment first on this movie on two things. One, it reveals the societal problem of child abuse and two, it also reveals what is really going on in the real marital home. I have one simple question. When this man, I'm not saying you because you only acted,when you were killing it looked so real, how did you act at the place. You showed it as if it was real.

FA - Thank you for that question. How did I do it? To be honest I wasn't acting at that time I really killed those people...thank you.


JA - Yes...He did.

Q - The violence is very real, how did you direct as a film-maker?

JA - I like watching violent films and I think watching violence on the screen is fun. Violence in real life is bad, I think if people are allowed to see more violence on screen there will be less violence in reality.

Q - Is it okay to ask in Japanese? 2 questions. The first one is, there is the priest at the end in the church and does he symbolise something in the future, or somebodies hope or some special intention of the film-maker. And the second one it is a very complex movie, what motivated you to participate in this film.

JA - As I said previously I like watching films that leave me leaving the cinema having things to think about. I admire films like Twelve Monkeys, by Terry Gilliam. I like Terry Gilliam's films and also some films that when they end there are still things in your mind that you are still questioning about the film, without feeling cheated. And I think that if everything is put together, all the clues and all the hints throughout the films, if you think about again, everything from the very beginning - "This can't be explained........Oh!!! Yes it can!" But I think the story is very clear and very simple. Is it reality or only in the mid of the protagonist? I think me, if I watch a film and the film-maker explains to me what is going on in the film, it really spoils the fun of having watched the film.

And what motivated me to do the film? I'm a film buff since I was 5 years old and in movies you can have an experience we can't have in our day to day lives. That's why there is always an element of fantasy in all my films. Whether it is drama, or comedy, there is always some fantasy that can take you somewhere you haven't imagined before.

Actually maybe I was asked to write the script by another producer, then I finished the script and gave it to the producer and the producer said, "Oh this is too violent this is so sick" and then I met this lady...

(gestures to producer)

We had the same kind of vision and the kind of films we wanted to do. We wanted to make films that break all the boundaries in Indonesia, because most films in Indonesia are religious films and nationalistic films. We believe that films have to be able to free peoples minds in order to do that the films have to be able to break through all the boundaries.

The motivation?...Um, because she said yes.


ST - The reason for me is simple because when Joko gave me the script I fell in love with it right away and said yes.

Q - Is this a rare type of film in Indonesia?

ST - Yes, this is the first psychological thriller in Indonesia, produced and made in Indonesia.

Q - I liked the scene in which the protagonist kills the people at the table, it was really cool. I have a small question. There is a poster saying, art is resistance after what you said is it in relation to the situation in Indonesia?

JA - Thank you, that is a very good question. Like I said before there are so many things we want to say with this film. Even the smallest things, like the posters, the billboards, we tried to give a message with those things. That particular poster is one of the things, that yes, we intentionally put in the film to show that we need to do something different in Indonesian film, because all the time we have been recycling the same things over and over again and I think there needs to be a new fresh kind of film to make people want to go to the cinema again.

And there are more and more, in Indonesia, religious groups that force what they believe into other people, often with violence. I think if we can create more art in our country it will help curb that trend, that current trend. I think if Indonesia is more into art and artistic things, art can be a very powerful weapon to fight against narrow-mindedness, that's why we wanted to do a film that breaks all the boundaries that opens peoples minds and makes them asks questions. When you leave a film with no questions your brain is not being exercised and I love to be exercised by films that I watch and this is something I hope is there in this film.

The film's also commenting on the fact there are more and more people in Indonesia they are just following the custom of going to school, get married and have kids. Most people don't know why they have kids, they just have kids because that's what we do in society. They don't have plans and so they don't have good lives for the kids and this only leads to misery. The kids when they grow up they live without the love of their parents and they grow up to be sad people. This is one of the biggest commentaries of this film, why do people have kids?

ST - I would like to add that one of the reasons I wanted to produce this movie is because the film is also about anti-child abuse. The rate is getting higher and higher and as a mother I would like to say that violence only creates violence so we have to stop child abuse.

Q - Someone said that the violence was very cool, but for me I cannot share this opinion. I was very shocked, and my shock will continue for one week. In the film the forbidden door, we share the pain by opening the door and there were various meanings. Do you want the audience to open the door or not?

JA - I would say, open the door. Some people live in a comfort zone but if you want to live free you have to challenge yourself and open the door.

That is so deep.


The Forbidden Door - Pintu Terlarang 2009

Director's Q and A session available here

Director - Joko Anwar


A weird and wonderful puzzle of a psychological thriller.

This pioneer film, the subject of religious protest and attempted censorship in its homeland, is apparently the first psychological thriller to come out of Indonesia, ever. It is definitely a film that, regardless of context, as soon as it finishes you feel the urge to watch it again to figure out just what exactly is going on.

Gambir is a successful sculptor, specializing in pregnant women, with a beautiful girlfriend and a giant house. But, all is not quite right in paradise. Gambir is unhappy with his life, and arguing with his girlfriend, who has kept a huge secret. There is a locked door she has kept hidden from him in their house. She begs him not to enter, "there are some things you can't show anyone." He has also started receiving anonymous messages, all that is written, "help me". These messages come thick and fast, and his perfect life begins to unravel. He follows the trail to a mysterious building, Herosase, where he discovers their origin; a boy being severely abused by his parents. Gambir becomes obsessed and on his mission to rescue the boy finds that those close to him have all been keeping their own secrets.

Fachri Albar, playing Gambir, is excellent in the lead role. His fall from genius it boy, to paranoid wreck is believable and engaging. He draws your attention and is a strong screen presence, charismatic but with a vulnerability. Taylda, Marsha Timothy is superb as well. An ominous man at an abortion clinic warns Gambir that your wife is your enemy and Timothy gets this just right, creating a lingering mistrust that boils over as the film reaches its conclusion. As they stand hugging in front of the forbidden door of the title, you can see the unease on Gambir's face and you know that things are not going to end well for the two of them.

The film looks great and has a real style, and a real creepiness to it. The sculpting room where Gambir works, looks like Dr Frankenstein's laboratory if he was a midwife. It's shadowy and sinister, with pregnant statues with their stomachs sawed off lying around. Just outside are white picket fences, a perfect green lawn and velvet red roses. The contrast works well and illustrates the difference between what we project to the outside world and what we hide on the inside. The hidden camera scenes of domestic violence are unnerving, forcing us to participate in the twisted voyeurism of the Herosase. It makes for uncomfortable viewing and forces you to absorb what is being shown to you.

Joko Anwar lists among his favourite directors, David Kronenberg and Kinji Fukusaku and you can certainly see this in the finale. There is some Kubrick in there as well, you feel sure that Gambir is going to scream, "here's Johnny" axe in hand. The violence is handled with aplomb and relish. Anwar in introducing the film said that, "what you see is love splashed up on the screen", that may be, but there's a lot else splashed up there as well. It is undeniably graphic and shocking but with a playfulness. The tranquil, easy-listening music jars perfectly with the b-movie carnage, leaving you not sure whether to laugh or shut your eyes. Whatever influences there may or may not be, the film has a fresh, dream/nightmare-like originality.

As the credits roll you are left with plenty of questions, attempting to come up with the answers. The film leaves subtle clues and hints throughout for us to try and work things out, hotel doors and fortune cookies amongst them. At its heart The Forbidden Door is a Rubix cube of a film, something we are supposed to take our time with, ponder over and piece together. An intelligent, challenging and unusual film.

Exclusive English coverage of the Q and A session that followed the film will be up shortly.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Dreamer - Sang Pemimpi 2009

Director - Riri Riza


This Indonesian film about growing up and the bonds of friendship and family has an admirable innocence that helps to hide some of its flaws.

The sequel to last year's Rainbow Troop and based on a series of ultra-popular Indonesian novels, The Dreamer is a charming film. A little sprawling maybe, but the honesty at its heart is endearing. The story of overcoming adversity and fighting for your dreams, whilst not ground-breaking is affecting, moving and relatable.

The story begins in Bogor in 1999. The main character, our narrator, Ikal is a dejected looking economics major working as a post officer. He explains how things were supposed to be different and how his friend who he was supposed to get through this with has abandoned him. Despite the fact this is a sequel, it is a story that exists in its own right, allowing the audience to hit the ground running. We are taken in flashback to the key moment in Ikal's childhood, when he meets his best friend Arai. Arai's parents have died and he is living by himself in the middle of nowhere. He is adopted by Ikal's family and the boys quickly become best friends. From the off, their yin and yang dynamic is clear and drives the relationship for the rest of the film. The trio are joined by the unnaturally obsessed with horses, Jimbron. The film follows them through two periods of their childhood, first as young boys and then aspiring high-school students, following their dreams, ambitions and the bumps in the road along the way.

The film looks beautiful and paints Belitung, the rural location where it is set, vividly. The camerawork is high standard the whole way through. A nice shot on a golf course has a man teeing off in the foreground for the camera to focus into the background where we see our three main characters wearing those conical rice paddie hats to avoid being hit by the golf balls they are collecting. The school, the fish packing centre and the dock are all great locations and Riza uses them well. Through the boys attempts to save money we are taken through the entire village as they do odd jobs here and there; it is a fascinating window into the culture. By the end of the film you feel as acquainted with the village as you do with its inhabitants.

The characters in the film are all well rounded, with their own arcs and sub-plots. The relationship between the teachers at the school is handled well and develops believably. The idealistic young teacher that gets the kids to recite their favourite inspirational quotes and the stern school master, constantly complaining about the state of youth these days, as you would imagine in a film like this they begin to understand each other. It is thanks to the actors that this manages to be convincing. Though this depth comes at a cost and the plot threads draw away from what should be the real focus of the film, the boys and their journey. It is painfully evident that it is an adaptation of a book, you can almost hear the film creaking at the seams as Riza tries to cram it all in.

Their is a welcome lightness of touch running through the film that stops the story becoming weighted down. One moment that draws a smile is the three boys watching the lone ranger fantasizing their ideal roles, Arai is in Lone Ranger get up, Ikal in as Wild West Indian and the camera slowly moves over to Jimbol who has been replaced with a live horse. The film is littered with these moments, winking film posters and any scene with the wandering band in it, fitting the atmosphere perfectly. The musical maestro that Arai becomes enthralled with is an amusing character, and one of the few areas of the film that could have done with some more screen time.

The Dreamer is a good but flawed film. The narrative flashback structure doesn't quite work. and distracts. The ending with the boys grown up and stumbling into each other in the big city feels a little unnecessary. This could have been implied and carried even more weight. The climatic moment to the narrative, and the most moving part should have been a full stop, but the film carries on for a further twenty minutes, diminishing the impact of what is a heart-warming story. At some points you wonder just what the zenith of the story actually is, as potential ending point after ending point are passed.

The film's saving grace is the heart of gold at its centre. It is a powerful story and impossible to dislike. Having not read the book, (it is only available in Indonesian) it feels harsh to judge a film on its success as an adaptation but it is clearly not accuracy that is the problem, it is knowing what to leave in and what to cut out. In taking a good book and making it into a cohesive and fluid movie you have to make difficult choices and The Dreamer avoids them. Unfortunately, even with all its charm it is let down by this. Ultimately though, despite these problems it still manages to be a compelling and utterly moving film.

FOCUS on Asia - Opening Ceremony

The festival opening ceremony was held in the enormous main hall of the Fukuoka Convention Centre in Marine Messe. The entire auditorium was full to the rafters. The festival is obviously a fairly big draw.

The ceremony began after a bilingual introduction in Japanese and English, by calling all the attending cast and crew of the films being shown. It was a nice touch. They were introduced one by one and got to give an awkward little wave and a nod. They were shepherded off to their seats and , after a little more introduction, Hiroshi Yoshida, the mayor of Fukuoka City took to the stage. He made a speech about how he was proud to have all of these film-makers in Fukuoka and how this demonstrates what a great city Fukuoka is. He also hammered home what seems to be the company line from the press pack that, the festival is all about exchanging cultures. It's a nice sentiment and very Japanese.

After this we were shown a twentieth anniversary video of the festival's history. It was pretty low budget but it was nice to get some perspective on the event. It's clearly growing in size on a yearly basis. The video detailed a little about the impressive Fukuoka film library, a collection of prints of rare and classic movies accessible to all Fukuoka citizens.

A bit more talk from the two announcers and the director of the festival, Hariki Yasuhiro came on for his speech. He was by far the most interesting part of ceremony and talks passionately and at length about the development of the festival and its aims. He explains that it his desire that the festival act as a meeting point for film-makers and their audience. He implores us, "to look closely into the eyes of each other". He argues that films are more than just merchandise and commodity. Particularly with world cinema we are being presented with the opportunity to experience another culture, Yasuhiro argues. He finishes by asking, "When we watch movies we are asked questions by the creators, how well do we understand them?" An interesting speech and a good mood setter for the start of the festival.

Finally, it is time for the films to start. The opening film is the Indonesian The Dreamer / Sang Pemimpi by Riri Riza. He arrives on stage to introduce the film. He comes across as a nice guy, very humble. He says how proud he is to be involved with the festival and explains how he first found out about it in his first year at film school and made it his goal to be selected. Admittedly, he doesn't say much of interest with relation to tonight's film, but has a certain charisma. This is his fourth film here and the sequel to last years film The Rainbow Troops / Drupadi 2008. After he is done his producer comes on stage, Mira Lesmana. She asks everyone in the crowd to wave so she can take a picture for twitter. They get a big round of applause as their film starts.

Review for The Dreamer will be up shortly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

FOCUS ON ASIA - Fukuoka International Film Festival

FOCUS ON ASIA 17 - 26 September, 2010

In its twentieth year the Focus On Asia film festival rolls into Fukuoka again this weekend. With films from all over Asia the line-up this year looks pretty good. The tickets are at the reasonable price of 1000yen (advance), so it's the perfect opportunity to check out some interesting, unusual films and enjoy the buzz of the festival, all within walking distance from Tenjin. Films in the running for the audience award are scheduled for the beginning of the festival. There is also a look back at some celebrated Japanese cinema, including Cannes 2007 Grands Prix winner The Mourning Forest / Mogari no Mori.

We will be there bringing you reports, reviews and interviews. Starting on the 17th with the opening ceremony and Dreamer 2009, the festival's opening film.


Samson and Delilah - 2009 - Australia Director - Warwick Thornton

The multiple award winning story of fifteen year old Aoboriginee, Samson and his grandmother's carer, Delilah. The pair lead a peaceful, isolated existence but when tragedy strikes, they turn their backs on their hometown and set off on the road. They find things aren't as easy as they expect in the city, but at least they are in love.

Winner of Best First Feature at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and seven Australian Film Insititute awards.

Autumn Adagio / Fuwaku no Adaajyo - 2009 - Japan Director - Tsuki Inoue

The only Japanese film selected this year is the story of a god loving nun who upon reaching middle age meets three men and begins asking questions about herself and her life.

Twenty / Bist - 2009 - Iran Director - Abdolreza Kahani

Visiting a psychiatrist and feeling the pressure of his failing reception hall the stressed owner decides to pack it all in. Realising the effect it will have on the workers and their families he reconsiders, but is it too late?

Mundane History / Jao Nok Krajok - 2009 - Thaliand Director - Anocha Suwichakompong

A spiritual journey to recovery for a paralyzed boy in rehabilitation and his nurse. A moving, uplifting, dream-like film.

Seven Days In Heaven / Fuo Ho Qi Ri - 2009 - Taiwan Director - Wang Yulin & Essay Lui

After her father's sudden death a business woman living in the big city of Taipei returns to her countryside hometown for the funeral. Unused to the rural way of life she looks down her nose at what she left behind.

The award ceremony is at 6.00pm on Wednesday 22nd of September at Elgala Hall in Tenjin. Tickets are only available in advance.