Monday, October 15, 2012

Shoaib Mansoor Interview

The Fukuoka Film Festival Audience Award Winner – BOL [speak up] Audience Award for the 23rd Focus on Asia Film Festival was announced last night and the recipient was BOL [speak Up]. Shoaib Mansoor’s 159 minute epic is based on the last testament of a woman awaiting the death penalty. It tackles some weighty social issues and the director was on hand for (an all-to-brief) post-award ceremony press conference to talk a little about the how’s and why’s.

Fukuoka Film Festival Audience Award Winner – BOL [speak up]

How do you feel after winning the Audience Award?

Well I’m very excited. You can well imagine the excitement of somebody who has only made two films in his life. And both films came here to Fukuoka and won awards. It’s a very rare achievement so I’m very happy. I’m very thankful to the people of Fukuoka who like my work. Hopefully I’ll be coming here again.

What was the message that you wanted to express through this film?

As I said I wasn’t very excited about this film because I don’t make films to win awards or to win critical praise. My main purpose is to improve my society through my films. I want to educate my people. There are so many things that they are doing wrong and as a result they are suffering. So my main purpose in making films is to educate people. That is why sometimes in my films there are a lot of explanations, answers to questions and to problems. I don’t just raise questions. I think it is the duty of the filmmaker who is making such films to offer answers to people. Just raising questions is not enough. It could be enough in countries where people are very aware and educated. But in countries like mine where people are not very educated it’s essential to educate them. Not raise questions but to show them a way. They may not agree right now but in times to come, maybe the next generation may find these answers appropriate.

How was your experience of working in television? Did you take on similar projects to your films?

When I was working in television I was mainly aiming at entertainment. I did music, I did shows, I did comedy, plays and drama also. My main goal was to entertain people. It was after leaving television that I realized that life was going away and that the lives of my people weren’t changing really. I had to play a role really. Unfortunately the Pakistani film industry had gone down a lot. So another purpose of my going into films was to revive the film industry in Pakistan. The second most important thing to consider is that I feel television is a very consumable commodity. It just vanishes very quickly. Film has a larger impact and a longer life. So I selected films to extend my message to people.

You ask that your face not be shown in any media if possible. Could you explain your decision for this?

Actually the reason is not for any fear of being recognized. I have a much bigger message for the youth of my country. I want them to realize the importance of work over fame. I want to tell them that despite avoiding fame and being behind the scenes you can contribute through your work and to the betterment of society. So the message to younger people is to concentrate on your work rather than showing their faces and getting famous.

What part of your film would you like audiences to pay attention to most?

All of it.  Actually as I said this film is not for an international audience. I made it for Pakistanis. It is my people who are doing those wrongs [expressed in the film] that I want them to correct. So it’s good also that outside Pakistan, in Japan and in the countries that BOL was released people have appreciated it, understood it and tried to feel the pain that Pakistani women are going through. Mainly the film concentrates on the conflict that is taking place between two classes. One class in Pakistan has already undergone change and the other class is resisting that change and is trying to keep their society backward. This conflict is really the subject of the film. The father, who is the main figure in the film, represents the fundamentalist class, the class that is regressive, that wants to keep the society backward. While the elder daughter is representing the class who wants to go ahead, to progress, to get education, to be able to work and not to be restricted to their homes. This is the subject of the film.

 Interview by Kenjo McCurtain

Mr. Tree – Han Jie – 2011

The 18:15 showing of Mr.Tree in the largest screen of Hakata City’s T-joy cinema was decidedly empty in comparison to the previous day’s screening of the spellbindingly brilliant About Elly (Asghar Farhadi). Punters came in their droves leaving nary an unoccupied seat in sight while the Chinese contender for this year’s Audience Award was attended by barely a quarter of the numbers. Could this have been just a case of bad timing? Perhaps it was a damning insight in to the quality that was to come? Or was it a reflection of public sentiment in the wake of sticky political tensions between host nation and that of the product?  Awards for best film and best director at Shanghai’s Film Festival and a producing credit for Jia  Zhangke belie the amateurish assembly of ideas that director Han Jie crams into his sophomore effort.

Mr . Tree is an offbeat, absurdist drama with just a touch of Kaurismaki about it. Set in a snowy, decaying town in rural China we follow Shu, a clownish, chain-smoking mechanic - and also a bit of a drunkard - whose ineptitude leads him to losing his job in an accident that nearly blinds him. Once his Mr . Tree is an offbeat, absurdist drama with just a touch of Kaurismaki about it. Set in a snowy, decaying town in rural China we follow Shu, a clownish, chain-smoking mechanic - and also a bit of a drunkard - whose ineptitude leads him to losing his job in an accident that nearly blinds him. Once his sight returns, he visits the capital of the province of Jilin with his friends and encounters the pretty, deaf-mute Xiao Mei whom he plans to marry. From this point, Shu suffers a series of letdowns. At first, he leaves his town for the city to work for his friend as a cleaner, but after seeing his friend’s marriage deteriorate he decides to return home. On the day of his wedding, he experiences vivid hallucinations of his deceased brother that shake him so much that the ceremony turns into a disaster. And just as a mining project in his village starts to uproot the homes of his friends and family, Shu’s mind drifts from reality to fantasy and his bright personality begins to fade.

Playing Shu is Wang Baoqiang, a well-known character actor in mainland China. He is the best thing in the film – largely thanks to being the only well-written character in the picture - and he takes on his role with convincing virtuosity. He is at once lovable and repugnant, and always unpredictable. His moments with Xioa Mei are sweet and innocent, vaguely recalling Chaplin in their forced silences. Xiao Mei has to write to communicate and their exchanges are directed with a deft touch, albeit without much humor. The bit-part players do not profit from the same pen, with some ending up becoming jarring obstacles. An ill-judged scene in which a friend and his wife have it out over a girl’s text message feels like a needless and empty foray into domestic politics but is given as foreground action nonetheless. 

More could have been made of the more charming elements of the plot – the awkward budding romance between the two leads, the would-be fish-out-of-water situation that occurs when Shu turns from bum to impromptu seer. But Jie plays it out all too seriously belying his protagonist’s playful, childlike quality and making the all-important sociological concerns of the film a harder sell. The film shows signs of wanting to be several things at once: a romantic comedy, a surrealist character study, a socialist drama, but succeeds in none, while failing to engage on a narrative level. Moreover, the final act ends up flitting in between reality and delusion so often you end up wondering if anything was real at all.

The deterioration of the village and the sense of impending takeover are played out well. And Jie’s intentions in exploring the extraordinarily rapid urbanization of China are clearly well-meaning. But in its puzzling plotting and what one can only assume as a deliberately uneven tone, Mr. Tree is rather hard to analyze, and even harder to love. A film that is so irreverent and uninterested in the cause of its viewer it becomes immune to criticism. In this sense, it finds itself in the same kind of oblique self-containment as a David Lynch movie.  But unlike the latter, Mr Tree holds no real aesthetic merit nor succeeds as an “experience” (perhaps with the exception of the experience of sheer befuddlement). By the end, it’s clear that Jie isn’t interested in encouraging our response, emotional or otherwise, instead he takes the liberty of short-cutting through the story and leaves us somewhat cold. 

Written by Kenjo McCurtain