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Film Festival Day 1, 25/07/2014

I cut it very fine indeed this morning, running across the road to the Embassy and sliding into my seat seconds before the lights went down. That’s not the fault of Wellington’s public transport; it’s just because I underestimated how long it takes to do the dishes. We should really get around to getting a dishwasher…

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The Lunchbox was billed as a comedy, as I recall, which is… um… not exactly true. I mean, it certainly had funny moments, and I enjoyed it a lot, but the tone as a whole was more… wistful? Hopeful? In many ways, it was people who think that they’re trapped in situations, finding hope by communicating to other people.

The eponymous lunchbox is part of an enormous network that transports the hot meals that wives and small restaurants cook every day to the appropriate worker, via scooter, train and trolley, which hardly ever delivers the wrong meal to the wrong person… but, as a number of the characters say, “Sometimes the wrong train can take you to the right station.” The main characters, quite by accident, are given someone to hear them when they need it; and that makes them better, braver people. And it finished in the right place.

It was a good film, with excellent actors, and I might watch it again if it was on television; but I don’t think I will get it out of the video store just so that C can watch it.

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It certainly wasn’t a deliberate plan on my part for my first couple of movies to have strong themes about older men who are valued at work, but haven’t quite found their place. I don’t think it’s an especially resonant theme for me — I’m annoyingly comfortable with my life, and am unlikely to feel the need to sneak away from my job to meet an idol. Actually, I don’t really like the idea of meeting famous people – what are you going to get out of it, beyond making someone you theoretically like vaguely uncomfortable? Actually, that’s also my attitude to meeting the good looking… or people in general, more or less.

But that’s at least part of the plot of Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed — the older main character, an English teacher who uses the Beatles lyrics for lessons, is driving to ask John Lennon (filming How I Won The War nearby) to include lyrics in the liner notes, as well as wanting to just talk to him for a bit. While on the road, he picks up a girl who is escaping the home for pregnant teens, and a boy who runs away, ostensibly because he doesn’t want to cut his hair, but more because he’s reacting to a controlling father.

Unlike the first movie, where the world seemed largely benign-to-indifferent to the protagonists, Franco’s Spain is, if not hostile, grumpily spiteful — lots of slapping, ear pulling, and instances of the strong bullying the weak. But although there’s plenty of darkness, and it’s sprinkled with hopes you know are likely to be dashed some time in the limbo of after-the-movie, there are also glimpses of freedoms, and it was basically a hopeful film.

Again, I liked it, would probably watch it again, but wouldn’t seek it out.

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Okay, now that I have seen Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, maybe the theme that I’ve actually got is, “Being a woman often sucks.” The wife in The Lunchbox, the pregnant teen in Living is Easy With Eyes Closed, and now the main character Kumiko, all have their lives constrained by the choices those around them make for them..

Kumiko is an Office Lady, and 29. There’s a cruel Japanese term, “christmas cake”, which refers to women over a certain (ridiculously young) age — I will let TVTropes explain it. In the movie, this manifests as her mother constantly harassing her on the phone to either get a boyfriend or move home, and her boss basically telling her to quit so he can hire someone younger and prettier. But she’s convinced that she has discovered a way out – the money buried at the end of the movie Fargo.

The film is very good at communicating how disorienting the world is for Kumiko – she is often the only thing in focus, and the soundtrack grows overwhelming and dissonant. And she is brave, though often in ways that are self-destructive; and people are helpful, even when it would have probably been better for her in the end if they hadn’t.

This was not a hopeful film, and it was quite slow. I liked it, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again.

* * *

Considerably more upbeat is We Are The Best, about a couple of tweens who decide to start a band, more on a whim than anything… and then befriend a lonely girl who can actually play, so that she can teach them. It is a period film, and they are passionate about punk in a world that’s more interested in disco or the New Romantics. In fact, “passionate” is what they’re all about — why are their teachers making them play basketball when there are starving people in Africa? And obviously, their parents are terrible embarrassments, even though their friends think they’re pretty cool.

I’ve never been a teenage girl, and I’m sure that a lot of their antics would be a lot less endearing if I had to clean up after them. But the self-confidence and loyalty is plenty endearing, and It was nice to go to an upbeat film. (Though if they had the same attitudes and were in their early twenties, on the other hand, they’d be insufferable.) I’m tempted to watch it with C, just to get her take on it.

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Finally, Why Don’t You Play In Hell was fun, but it felt like it didn’t cohere — like there were two different ideas for a film competing.

I would have happily watched a film where a film crew willing to die recruits a street punk and transforms him into an action star, then have the street punk be disillusioned by their lack of success, and then have him face a crisis, get the band back together, and have some sort of huge fight scene where they resolve the crisis.

I would also have enjoyed a film where a Yakuza boss decides to honour his wife’s sacrifice and support his daughter’s desire to be an action film start by filming his assault on a rival gang.

The two plotlines together… well, they work okay, but I just feel like they would have worked better separately.

That said, there’s plenty to like in the film, if you like this sort of film. It certainly doesn’t take itself seriously, and there’s plenty of blood and body parts scattered around. There’s some film meta-humour, including the yakuza crews, and a budgeting discussion between the Yakuza boss and the ostensible “director”, and I liked that the “queen of the hand-held shots” (one of the film crew) wasn’t sexed up.

But… I can’t help but feel that it would have been better if the film just focused on one storyline.

So, all in all — fun, but could have been better.

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