Rahil Patel

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Category Archives for: Film Reviews

河流

06 February 2014 by Rahil

I watched 河流 (The River) in a still funky mood, unable to respond to external stimuli, isolated from the world.

The more films of Tsai Ming-Liang I watch, the more I feel similar to him. Or is it, because my current state of depression that I feel similar to the feelings his films express?

Like Tsai’s other films, it contains common themes: extreme isolation, water leaks, a slow, contemplative pace, and even similar characters. After watching a few of his films, one starts to believe that the main character is based on him, and perhaps the family is based off his own. Maybe his films are the extremes of his family.

When I started traveling, I had fascination with what people do, especially craftsmen that could be seen on the first level of buildings, or on streets of Asia. Similarly, I feel Tsai has this fascination as the processes of a chiropractor, acupuncture, prayers, and other traditional ceremonies are shown. He also has an eye for unseen places: a traditional bathhouse, a temple, old apartments, a river. Tsai sees the world as a traveler, a foreigner, and therefore it is interesting, because everything feels new. As Jenova Chen states in one of the three ways games could effect adults as they do children, the film “intellectually, whereby the work reveals a new perspective about the world that you have not seen before.”

A random note: Media is always shown on the side in his films. It seems he feels media is not real. It shouldn’t affect the lives of people so much.

Kang’s character is selfish, independent, yet needs help, nurture. When near his father he doesn’t feel hungry. He’s not experiencing life during these times. He needs be on his own.

The film is overwhelmingly bleak. Although there are very tension-ridden scenes, I didn’t feel as much drama here as his first two films because of the bleakness. Still there are very strong scenes.

After a male Oedipus Rex plot twist, there’s an image of his father, black and blue hues with a speck of white light in his eyes that haunts far after, which segues into the main character going into the light, unwittingly.

The strongest scene for me was the mother’s reaction after seeing her son in the hospital. She leans in an elevator, pressing the close button and random floors, unable to make her next move. Actually, the scene sums the film. All of the characters suffer like neck pain from extreme isolation, a lack of nurture, and love. Out of desperation, they look for nurture in wrong places, unable to move on, stuck, in an elevator.

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幫幫我愛神

01 February 2014 by Rahil

I coincidentally watched 幫幫我愛神 (Help me, Eros) directed by 李康生 (Lee Kang Sheng) and produced by long-time collaborator 蔡明亮 (Tsai Ming Liang) during a depression.

Similar to Tsai Ming Liang’s films, it’s minimalist, containing four characters, all of whom suffer from city isolation.

Compared to Tsai Ming Liang’s early films (Rebels of the Neon God and Vive L’Amour), Help me, Eros has more fantastic elements. It contains at least one dream, and the sex scene is quite dreamy too. The eccentric costumes of betel nut girls, the neon lights of the stand, the upscale apartments, all add to the fantastic atmosphere.

Yet, it is nearly all naturally shot in some random city in Taiwan. The blend of contemporary realism and fantasy forms a dark reality. The call center and stock market provide a good view of underrepresented occupations at the time. Betel nut beauties are real too [I live in Taiwan]. Technology is included, with the use of instant messaging, even more specifically a situation where the profile picture is used, and even the Asian-necessary selfie. Another great example of the blend: brand printed logos (think Gucci) are shot across the bodies of the characters during a threesome.

The isolation here is possibly even more extreme, perhaps at the sacrifice of realism, than Tsai’s early films. A tub full of eels, an ostrich omelette, fucking three girls simultaneously, marijuana plants, millions of dollars wasted, a carp being scraped alive, an ostrich fetus. Gluttony of extremely isolated people in Taiwan. Something that probably has never been shown before.

Yet, despite the extremes, the characters feel real. Betel nut beauties derived from a marketing campaign in a farming area in Taiwan. At one point the Betel nut girl goes back to farm, crying, missing a moment she had, only to come back and proceed to sell Betel nuts. The chubby character Cupcake is fat because her boyfriend is in the army, and later found dead by poison. The main character is a trope, but even I’ve experienced a few people like him in my life: rich and lonely.

The film plays fine throughout at a familiar pace. I didn’t have to take a break.

Still, for some reason, perhaps it was the fantastic elements, or the lack of dramatic elements, or even my own state of depression, the climax of the film didn’t have a profound effect on me as Tsai’s earlier films have. The characters are there, but I cared less for them. Perhaps it is because the characters are older, already transformed and fallen into their occupations. In Tsai’s earlier films, the characters are younger, the arcade street kid in Rebels… and a masturbating teen in Vive L’Amour are relatable. Help Me, Eros felt more like an observance of underserved people in extreme states. There is little transformation of the characters. Actually, now that I think about it, there is none. All of the positive actions failed; Nothing changes. All of the characters continue on their initial path, deceived by hope during loneliness.

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Distance

17 January 2014 by Rahil

Prologue:
I didn’t know about the event it’s based on, just as I didn’t know about the event Nobody Knows was based on.

Body:
Distance by Hirokazu Koreeda is powerful because the psychology of the characters feel real, and it questions the differences between perpetrators and non-perpetrators.

The film starts with a sci-fi plot. A cult-titled group of people poisoned Tokyo waters, which kills and injures many. Gladly, it’s not a sci-fi flick either.

It quickly jumps to real characters shown in their natural settings, a glimpse of each character’s lives. Each character with a different personality and time in life.

They meet in pairs. Then, altogether, they embark their journey, and it feels like a travel film, one of a group of friends who haven’t met for quite some time. A hand-held camera follows the action, by car and by foot. As they meet each other, we (the audience) also meet them, understand them, and feel for them.

Once the car is gone, a sense of horror emerges. Gladly, it’s not a horror flick. Although, the rest of the film remains haunting.

After mourning the group’s car gets stolen and they meet with one of the remaining cult members and sleep at the cult’s hideout. It becomes night. The camera gives a beautiful dark hue. The character’s emotions are mirrored by their dark images, splotches of black across their face.

Flashbacks of their cult counterparts string more bits of story, before and after they joined the cult. Before, they are shown in a mystic atmosphere, appearing quite normal. After, quite crazy when in contact with normal society.

Flashback interviews of each relative at a previous time, probably real interviews of each actor as Koreeda conducted for After Life and previous documentary works, adds even more realism and character.

As with watching any of Koreeda’s films, one deeply contemplates. The film’s lack of action and consistent display of characters asks for contemplation. About the character’s lives (the family’s relatives), their cult siblings, and how the average person can be swayed into doing something wrong without feeling one is doing something wrong. The difference between good and bad is a state of psychology.

As the relatives sit in the living room or around a fire, and contemplate about their siblings, god, and life, one can imagine them as a cult. How are the different from their siblings? If they stay in that room for a long period of time, would they begin to develop certain values different from the norms of society? How do societies develop? If any group of people is stuck in a room, what are the chances of the outcome being wrong?

Instead of directly showing motives, who, what, or why something wrong happens, we take a moment to conjecture how something wrong forms, and in doing so, it provides a more truthful answer.

Epilogue:
It’s been 1 year and 3 months since I left the States. This film strikes the first moment I’ve spent hours afterwards in wonder.

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Vive L’Amour

12 January 2014 by Rahil

I watched Vive L’Amour (愛情萬歲; Live Love) at a coincidental time. Just a few weeks ago, I was extremely social. I had class, friends within the locality, always eating with people, not spending more than an hour without talking to someone. Now, I’m in a large house, staying up late to take on personal endeavors, with no social life. The sudden change in social life caused bed-ridden depression instantly, but I eventually adapted to live alone, again.

In Vive L’Amour, there are only three characters. Nothing else. We just watch them, without distractions — sound and dialog. It feels as if so much time is going by in their lives without doing anything. Sometimes I felt as if I’m not doing anything. Yet, it is enthralling to watch, think, and feel. Although, admittedly, I took breaks to handle the extremely slow pace, I never fast forwarded.

The setting is naturalistic. One character sells coffins, another illegally sells clothes, and the last is a real estate agent. The rest of the world feels bleak. The bland side of Taiwan: ugly condos and cars. It’s how I feel whenever I think about the Xinyi district in Taipei.

The actions characters take are novel [to me], adding to realism. bowling a watermelon, stealing keys to an apartment and then sleeping in it. Other scenes are relatable. The younger male character (acted by Lee Kang Sheng) takes actions not uncommon during puberty: masturbating and wearing girl’s clothes.

The dramatic tension caused by the characters being close, yet anonymous, is great to experience. The climax is unbreathably tense and thrilling. The final scene ends it well, with a long shot of an desolate park, then the female character quietly uncontrollably cries, finally physically displaying the real emotion beneath all of the characters: extreme loneliness.

I felt that Tsai Ming-Liang [the director] figured out what worked in Rebels of the Neon God, and stripped everything else, which wasn’t much, out. The audience now focuses only on the action, often of just one character. It’s rather surprising to think how great a minimal film can be, and how few resources is required to make one. It’s a success.

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Cidade dos Homens

11 January 2014 by Rahil

I found the film from a stand in India. I bought it for a few rupees, along with a bunch of old Indian music. The cheap paper cover indicated that it was the TV series, with an episode listing on the back. I continued watching, unsure of whether it was a TV series or film, learning the truth half way.

Watching Cidade dos Homens (City of Men), which is based off of the TV series, which itself is a spin-of of Cidade de Deus (City of God), which I really liked when I saw it in high school, felt like a prolonged TV episode, as many TV show turned films do.

Perhaps I’ve been really high on life and barely appreciating even high art because I was not engaged in the film at all. It has a gritty setting: gangs, guns, local people ‘n all, but the dramedy elements just consistently destroyed the realism. In one instance, One of the main characters has sex on duty, and it trades scenes with his friend also having sex, funky brazilian music plays, it segues on to the next scene; It felt like a sitcom. It’s light-hearted. Yet, people have guns, people die, and I can’t feel for them because these elements distract me from the events that occur.

I thought about something Tsai Ming-Liang said: Films are not real. People shouldn’t have to get so engaged with a film. It’s only a screen. It’s weird that people go festivals, then go into theater rooms, just to watch something on the screen.

In another thought, I felt that there was a truth in feeling of the film. People in Rio de Janerio do have guns, yet people have to live on, and joy is part of life. During my second time in India, I’d walk down the street, past slums, still thinking about people suffering, but a bit less than the first time, focusing on something insignificant, like purchasing a bottle of Thums Up (an Indian brand of cola). People adapt. It’s only crazy from a foreigner’s point of view.

I started fast forwarding half way through; I can’t withstand TV shows. I’d watch the first few second of a scene and understand the rest, and continue watching with this method. At some points I’d peer into the setting, the favelas, wishing I could walk the streets, talk to people, and really understand life there. I felt that there was so much film in the setting that could have been made with just a few of the people. Closer to the people. With less dialog, less narrative. Maybe I just want to physically be there and not watch a film.

The film ended rather quick at an hour and a half, as much of it was fast forwarded. Maybe I’ve become an asshole critic who is unable to enjoy action films. Still, it’s only an action film.

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Aguirre, the Wrath of God

05 January 2014 by Rahil

I watched this during a depression, which turns out to be a very good time for watching movies, as I can easily focus on it. I watched it because the Wikipedia page of Edward Yang claims it rekindled his passion for film. He probably saw it in the late 70s.

Immediately, I was engrossed. The valleyside of mountains of Peru (or so it is told), people marching steeply down clouds, the contrast of spanish soldiers dressed for dinner and raw tribal people, a lack of reason why everything is spoken in German, modern music (timeless, even for 2014) that set the feel of a modern, non-sensical, anxiety-ridden epic.

I just watch in wonder, allowing the pagan theme to meander along with the river. The plot and decisions made by characters are nonsensical. It’s the feeling provoked by the realism of the setting: a forest which reminds me of my time flowing down the Mekong in Laos, The Deer Hunter, and obviously Apocalypse Now; tribal people and local animals are shown often. Also the stark realism of decisions that may have occurred in the past due to the lack of intelligence: placing the black man in front during battle because Indians might be scared of him, and later using similar reasoning to keep the horse, which when finally abandoned eerily stares back at the camera with a blue and white mask.

Action is rarely shown, and when it is, it’s quick, without drama. People die, but it doesn’t matter, nothing matters in this world. There’s just a feel of constant impending doom, like a shitty H.P. Lovecraft book.

There’s this random colorful crew of Spanish soldiers with two princesses, a monk, a silly man made emperor, a black man, a tribal man, a tribal prince all on a raft on a river in the netherworld, and the only thing the characters (and the viewer) can do is watch Aguirre advance them further into their doom.

Although nothing matters in the film, the film is somehow entirely enthralling.

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Copie conforme

30 December 2013 by Rahil

After feeling a bit woozy watching great modern films by Asian directors Kim Ki Duk, Tsai Ming Liang, and Hou Xiao Xian, I was quite glad to watch Copie conforme (Certified Copy). A film with a normal thrill curve. A guilty pleasure. Perhaps the best of it’s kind.

The film is flawless. Like the director’s last film A Separation (edit: This is wrong. That film turns out to be by Asghar Farhadi, another amazing Iranian director. The films are so similar! I assumed.), it focuses on a relationship in a single day. Again, very screenplay-heavy, the camera keeping the couple in the shot, shot naturally requiring less cinematography and more acting. The film plays like a ride with seemingly extremely few cuts; It’s straightforward. It feels as if there’s nothing to analyze.

But I’ll try, a little.

The screenplay requires the actors to be top-notch to endure long takes, maintain realism, and especially to keep the film entirely ambiguous.

The film feels quite universal, containing very familiar characters and events. I consider myself schizoid with characteristics very close to the male: I’m cold, use rationality over emotions, and have narrow interests. Not all males are as cold as me or the male in the film, but I bet many people can identify with many of either one of the character’s characteristics. Moreover, I bet people know someone very much like the two characters shown.

Certainly there are some slightly unbelievable things such as the symbolism of art in the film and the strangers met giving advice, one to the male, one to the female, making the screenplay perfect for what occurs in a single day, just as A Separation did. However, it didn’t bother me. I was enthralled.

I only wish Karaistami continues to show me a day in the life of a relationship, or any person.

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Journey to Yarsa

30 December 2013 by Rahil

Journey to Yarsa is a simple documentary that bares little difference from a traveller’s video. It follows a family in Nepal to pick Yarsagumba, a prized fungus.

Perhaps the viewing experience was affected by my current meh mood, but I felt no emotions toward the film. It was a weird experience. Clearly there was some struggle going on. Maybe it was the happiness of Nepalese people, and my real experience with them that voided the film of any feeling of struggle.

Or, more likely the case, it was the constant voice over dialogue that took my attention away from the video, not allowing me to think, to observe, to create thoughts myself. I always lose attention whenever a documentary because it doesn’t ask the audience to think. I don’t need people talking in front of the screen.

The previous film I had watched, Certified Copy, was enthralling to me the entire length. It also was straightforward with constant dialogue (by the characters), but there was somehow a lot more to observe. I find it odd that I always find narratives far more interesting than documentaries. Documentaries are real. Perhaps because film is not real (I’m not physically interacting with it), it doesn’t affect my pathos. Perhaps it’s the control of emotions of narratives. The power of the art itself. That’s what affects me. This film is lacking it.

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Dancing Zoo

23 November 2011 by Rahil

I caught the North American premiere of Dancing Zoo which was screened for free by the Korean Cultural Service of New York.

The film is almost too similar Once. Much of the narrative is sung or told through soft spoken conversation. It’s immediately known that the level of realism, maturity, and quality is not at on par with Once, but it still has all the charm.

In Dancing Zoo, two very young musicians fall in love, discover the impossibility of working (and assumed living) with each other, but are thankful for the experience.

The film does appear to be cheesy at times, but I felt some of it was natural as the leads were two young Koreans. I’d guess around college age but I could be wrong as Koreans do appear young. Their age and their actions caused a little conflict in my believability. Two college age Asians wondering about, playing music, living in their own apartments, living the artist way of life. Hmm, maybe they were older than I thought.

I also felt the film was somewhat natural because it depicted some characteristics that Koreans have. In the perspective of an American, the film can appear as an inauthentic, cutesy, dreamy, romantic story. Although that’s somewhat true, I felt that a real Korean relationship may certainly be just as cutesy, dreamy, and romantic. The characters’ gestures of greetings and farewells are sweet and shy. The notion of having sex after a date does not exist; Perhaps that’s an American notion emblazoned by Hollywood. The characters’ use little dialogue in communication. Well, that’s not specifically an Asian trait, that’s universal, but it felt right.

So although the film is flawed, having bad screenplay at times, disjointed at other times, and unbelievably cutesy (everyone laughed at the early romantic montage), it still retains some authenticity in the way a real, young Korean relationship could be, as I don’t know for certain and can’t compare. It even retains an atmosphere of realism throughout the film’s narrative. The characters make emotional and rational decisions, falling victim to love, learning from experience, and maturing from it.

Somehow all of this is conveyed in a film which is in song seventy percent of the time. The music never hindered my viewing. It consisted of the expected simple acoustic songwriting music and sometimes indie electronic music. I actually remember disliking Once at many parts because the same old guitar chords repeated for every song. This didn’t happen here. The music never became annoying. It fit, complementing the slow paced dreamy film.

For me the pros outweighed the cons during my viewing and I was able to dream along with the characters in the movie, forgetting it’s flaws. I wondered if Koreans are characteristically quiet and well-natured. I wondered if romance is worth the time. Slow paced films allow me to wonder. I’m glad to have experienced such a unique, independent film coming from Korea. The only Korean films I’ve seen were by already acclaimed directors Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho. I can only hope for a new wave of this kind from all parts of Asia. Or perhaps great little films exist worldwide and I just lucked out by catching the premiere of this one at a tiny theater in Chinatown.

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Film Socialisme

19 October 2011 by Rahil

During my post film internet browsing, I stumbled upon Roger Ebert’s journal, which reminded me that I have a blog!

Review/mind dump time!

Today I saw Film Socialsime by Jean-Luc Godard at the lovely Pratt Institute (via Pratt Film Society). I have not seen Godard film before, and all I knew beforehand was that the film was broken into three parts and is likely unconventional.

It turned out to be completely unconventional. No narrative and no helping the audience consume any of the content being displayed.

I think it’s better to just explain my personal experience.

During the first movement, I constantly tried to find the meaning of each scene and of the entire film, like any good film viewer. I was able to see artistically why some shots and scenes were taken. Yes, a cruise is for the bourgeoisie, which contrasts the histories of the ports of call. Maybe further insulting the upper class by showing how easily they are amused by kittens. Why spend money on a cruise if kittens would suffice? The grainy cell phone shot at the discotheque was pretty cool. Maybe there was even a statement against the high modern popular filmmaking production value, as it seems there was little care for that.

It felt as if an artsy amateur filmmaker went on a cruise, filmed as much as he/she could, picked out which scenes had some sort of artistic meaning, then combined them. Oh, and throw in a broken narrative that mentions large political problems (wars, AIDS) and condense it further into decrepit subtitles. I can imagine this playing at video_dumbo at the DUMBO arts festival (an event that showcases extremely experimental film) at midnight. And no one would care.

But this is Godard! And that is the only difference between this film and the other hundreds playing at arts festivals.

I stopped paying attention near the beginning of the second movement. I consider myself patient and appreciative, but this hit my limit. It’s a film that cannot be consumed regularly. It’s more of something to discuss, maybe interpret other’s experience or reactions. Which is cool, but I still feel does not work. If I were a critic, I’d give it a 0. Maybe he should have written an essay instead of making a film.

While I was not paying attention to the film, I wondered about why the film failed (I still would not like to credit this film for making me think!). I think he was trying to push the medium into different ways, but it didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? Well, a film has to be somewhat cohesive to form…well something! You can’t just throw nothing together and let the audience interpret what happened. Well, I think I have seen that in some other art form. Anyhow, I personally feel a film should have some cohesiveness (oh no! I’m stating what a film SHOULD have, that’s limiting creativity man!). Or how about, a film should have a point. I guess this film’s point was to be unconventional. Whatever.

I wonder if Jean-Luc Godard has a personality that seeks for something new every time. So he began with the now categorized “new-wave” films, which is a little unconventional, but still consumable by 5% of the population. Then, as he got older, he became less and less satisfied with current films, which urged him to be even more unconventional, more experimental. So unconventional that his latest film, Film Socialisme, was completely incoherent! Hah, seems like a sound theory to me!

Welp, I think that’s enough. I hope this post was as incoherent as the film was!

Edit:

I had another thought about Film Socialisme and Blow’s approach to game design on the way back from Pratt.

Although Film Socialisme makes a bad film, obviously not meant for entertainment, it’s not bad as a standalone art. Instead of offering an experience through narrative, the experience is based on the audience’s reaction.

Similarly, Blow’s approach to game design and Rod Humble’s The Marriage, doesn’t tell the player what to do, it’s up to the player to learn, think, and make their own experience.

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