Friday, November 5, 2010

Lola - 2009

Director - Brilliante Mendoza


Two elderly ladies lives are tragically entwined as they try to keep their families together in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Lola, means grandma in Philippine, and this story of two towering, old matriachs is a moving, documentary-like film. Set to the harsh, impoverished backdrop of Manila, the film begins with Lola Sepa desperately struggling to find her grandson on the mean streets. Her grandson has been murdered by Lola Carpin's grandson, who has been sucked into a criminal underworld. One lady desperately seeks the money needed to afford the funeral costs, the other is trying to pay for bail.

The film serves as social commentary. It's shot in that shaky, handheld digital, and as we follow the ladies around on their quest it all does feel vividly real. It attacks the circumstances that created this situation not the young man in jail. Sepa, soaked in rain, goes to her grandson's boss to ask for help, insurance. Her son, who has worked diligently, does not qualify. Her treatment is appalling, her son's death is clearly of no concern and she is briskly palmed off. Carpin seeks help from relatives living on a duck farm, she comes back penniless, but with a case of eggs. Beyond the direct references to these problems the film threads them into its milieu; gameshows, where the aim is to free yourself of debt, the background presence of those generic loan adverts

Interestingly, though a court case is central to the film, Mendoza focuses on behind the scenes dealings between Sepa and Carpin. Carpin breaks down initial resistance to attempt to sort the case privately, finding an acceptable sum for a settlement. Economic need has essentially castrated a legal system, and this bargaining bears far more relevance than the judge or jury. It is shocking in one instance, this is a murder case being settled by the accused paying for the funeral costs essentially, but the underlying need for Carpin to protect her boy, caught up in a storm of bad circumstance is immediately understandable.

At the core of this film are the two noble grandmothers, like ultra-magnets, pulling their families together. Slightly voyeuristic perhaps, but a clear picture of modern-day Manila is established, with its precarious fault-lines carefully highlighted.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

2010 Tokyo Film Festival Awards - Nir Bergman

Sakura Grand Prize - Intimate Grammar

Director - Nir Bergman

The Israeli director is something of a TIFF veteran. He won the Grand Prix prize in 2002 for his film Broken Wings, the story of a family in turmoil after a bereavement . This time round he wins the center piece, for Intimate Grammar.

Intimate Grammar is set in Israel in the '60s, a traumatized post-war society that is in a state of aggressive reaction. For adolescent Aharon, this is not something he can become a part of, and so he, literally, stops growing up. An allegorical tale on the division between childhood and adulthood.

Bergman, a product of the Sam Spiegel Film School, is a major figure in Israeli television, manager of the Israeli channel 10 drama department. In the west he is known for his position as a writer on HBO's In Treatment. His film Broken Wings, along with its Tokyo success was also recognized at the Berlin, Palm Springs and Jerusalem festivals. This year he also directed a segment of the documentary, Sharon Amrani: Remember his Name, a tribute to fellow Israeli and Sam Spiegel graduate Amrani who tragically drowned in 2000.

Social Network - 2010 Opening Film at the Tokyo Film Festival

Director - David Fincher


The inner machinations behind the origins of facebook, and the eventual, "lawyering up" make for an excellent film.

When most of us get dumped, we stare longingly out the window, try to sleep with someone else (anyone else), beg, desperately, for the dumper to realize what an enormous mistake they have made, or verbally attack them to anyone who will listen. Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, chooses the latter, doing so on his online blog, but doesn't not stop there. He makes, a comparison based attractiveness competition of his female fellows created by hacking into the university network. It crashes the Harvard server with its popularity he is summoned before the university admin board to be put in his place. Before proceedings have even begun, he argues that he should be thanked for illuminating potential security problems. It is clear from the off what kind of person Zuckerberg is.

The story is never about facebook itself, it is about the connections of the handful of people behind it, rather than five hundred million on it, and the deposition they wind up in. All flawed in their own ways, they interact fascinatingly. The story gravitates around the deposition, and we find out about the history that led them to this moment in flashback. This system, though nothing groundbreaking, Fincher even went so far as to say he had made his Rashomon, is dealt with marvellously. The flashbacks are poignantly linked to the revelations, developing and filling out our understanding, and indeed our judgement. Despite this device however, the control is resoundingly still with the audience, as we are implored to come up with our own deductions beyond the facts and figures we have of this mess. This is made all the more interesting that the events are all within historical throwing distance, and surely makes this something of a unique work, in that this bickering is still continuing.

Every character in the film fits perfectly. Eisenberg, as Zuckerberg, has a cupboard of similar characters in his back catalogue. He arrived with The Squid and the Whale 2005, the awkward, intellectual, misfit child under the strains of his parents divorce. He steadily added to that with films like Adventureland 2009, Zombieland 2010, in which he was far more at the helms. His persona, an edgy, fast-talking, nerdy Robert Downey Jr., is recognizable from the off, but the accusations of him trotting out the same old shtick are utterly misguided. He revels in this performance, a role that allows him to use all that nervous energy to perfection. He is brutally sharp and it works perfectly with Sorkin's snappy dialogue. In one scene a lawyer, attempting to emphasize a point, clarifies a sum, " so you put in twelve thousand dollars, and then an extra four thousand dollars, making sixteen thousand in all." Zuckerberg, intently stares at his calculator, looks up, " Yeah, I got the same." You sometimes sympathize with him, and sometimes loathe him, often in the same scene.

His hang ups and insecurities fundamentally effect all of the other characters, and are what draws them to this final conclusion. With Eduardo, co-founder (sort of), he holds a, sometimes barely concealed, jealousy at his greater social success that pushes their relationship towards breakdown. The two Winklevoss brothers, whose original idea is clearly the spark that ignites Zuckerberg's grand plan, are moneyed and successful and part of a world that he so desperately wants to be a part of. At the disposition Zuckerberg struggles to hide his contempt for them, incapable of creating something like this on their own, "If you guys were the inventors of facebook, you'd have invented facebook." He treats them like imbecilic parasites, despite the fact they might just have a point. They themselves are a strong presence in the film, the so-called inner circle, and it is enjoyable watching Zuckerberg infuriate them. At a regatta, after it has dawned on them that facebook has blown up big time, a well-to do Brit is introduced to them, who says his daughter at the LSE has her own facebook account. You can almost see the vanes popping in their skulls.

Most interestingly though, is Justin Timberlake's turn as Sean Parker, Napster creator. Broke and needing something to get him back in the game. He is smooth, egotistical and powerfully manipulative. It is a remarkable, convincing performance from Timberlake, which is something I wouldn't have predicted myself saying ten years ago. He is distrusted by Eduardo, but childishly entrancing to Zuckerberg. Eduardo is lost to why Zuckerberg listens to him so intently and it is a catalyst in the following turmoil. Eduardo claimed that all Parker ever brought to Facebook was removing the the from the title. This may be the only quantifiable evidence, but what Parker brings with his C-list celebrity and accompanying charm, is ambition. It is clear that as well intentioned as Eduardo is, he is essentially the weakest link. Eduardo frets over the initial, respectively small scale investment. He wants an immediate return, requiring facebook to become profitable immediately. Zuckerberg believes, and Parker agrees, that what facebook has now is more important than profitability, it is cool. When Eduardo's money isn't relevant anymore neither is he. Parker, unlikable and slippery, is looking at a picture far bigger than anything Eduardo can begin to conceive.

Sorkin argued that even for those who have never updated a status, or had a drunken photo splashed over the internet, the film is just as accessible and it is true. In no detrimental way, the comparisons to Citizen Kane are perhaps slightly off-base. It's scope was never meant to be that vast. The final moment jars a bit, but it is a small blot on an otherwise superb character study on a man who has had, and is having, a huge effect on the world. It exposes the crippling insecurities at the heart of his prodigious, epoch changing idea. The site changed the way people interact socially in a short few years, yet it was built by someone with a complete lack of social skills. Though, to paraphrase, Zuckerberg isn't an asshole but he is good at trying to be one.