Claire’s Camera (2017) ☆☆(2/4): Hong Sang-soo’s misfire in Cannes

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Several weeks ago, I belatedly read “Two Weeks in the Midday Sun”, which was written by my late friend/mentor Roger Ebert in 1987. The book was about numerous things he observed and experienced during the two weeks of the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, and I frequently snickered while reading this entertaining book full of funny and interesting anecdotes to be savored and appreciated. (My personal favorite one is about a certain obscure South Korean film called “The Castle of the Rose” (1969), by the way)

Compared to what I vividly remember from “Two Weeks in the Midday Sun”, Hong Sang-soo’s recent work “Claire’s Camera”, which was incidentally shot around the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, is not that funny or interesting, and it is all the more disappointing because it somehow fails to generate sharp moments of humor and insight you can expect from Hong’s film. Although there are a few nice moments during its notably short running time (69 minutes), the movie seriously lacks comic momentum in contrast to many of Hong’s better works, and I often found myself becoming quite impatient as it merely trudged along its thin narrative.

The movie begins with the sudden situation of one of its main characters. Man-hee (Kim Min-hee) is a young woman working in some film production company, and the opening scene of the movie shows her working along with others at the Cannes Film Festival. After her boss Yang-hye (Chang Mi-hee) approaches to her for a small talk, we come to learn that Yang-hye fired Man-hee, and, as Man-hee wonders about what caused her unexpected dismissal, the movie goes back to her conversation with Yang-hye at a nearby cafe. While not giving any simple direct answer, Yang-hye keeps emphasizing that Man-hee is inherently dishonest, and Man-hee only comes to be more baffled and frustrated.

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And then the movie moves onto the scene between Yang-hye and a middle-aged filmmaker named Wan-soo (Jung Jin-young), who comes to Cannes because of the official screening of his latest work at the festival. As we listen to their private conversation, it becomes quite clear to us that Yang-hye has been in a relationship with Wan-soo, and Yang-hye is not so pleased with what happened between Wan-soo and Man-hee not so long ago.

While watching this, some of you will probably be reminded of what recently happened between Hong Sang-soo and his frequent actress Kim Min-hee, but the movie does not reflect or reveal anything personal from Hong while just observing its main characters from the distance. Although there is an expected moment of confrontation between Wan-soo and Man-hee later in the story, it feels rather contrived without any particular comic or dramatic effect, and I also think it is unnecessarily mean and cruel to Man-hee as trying to show how petty and unlikable Wan-soo is.

I forgot to tell you about Claire (Isabelle Huppert), a teacher/poet who occasionally photographs people whom she finds interesting. At one point, she spots Man-hee, and she naturally photographs Man-hee after having a short conversation with her. Not long after that, Claire comes across Wan-soo and Yang-hye at a Chinese restaurant, and, of course, she is amazed by this sheer coincidence when she later shows them several photographs including the ones showing Man-hee.

During her conversation with Wan-soo and Yang-hye, Claire explains a bit about why she is particularly interested in photographing people, but I must say that her words feel vague and superficial as we never see her photographs in the movie. Sure, I look a bit different from how I looked about a few seconds ago, but I am not sure whether there is anything profound about that.

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As I felt more dissatisfaction during my viewing, I naturally tried to find good things in the movie, and there are indeed a few good elements including its solid main cast members, who did as much as they can for filling their respective roles. While Chang Mi-hee and Jung Jin-young are suitably unlikable, Kim Min-hee, who was terrific in Hong’s previous film “On the Beach at Night Alone” (2017), brings some sprit and charm to her character, and Isabelle Huppert, who previously collaborated with Hong in “In Another Country” (2012), acquits herself well despite her thankless role. Whenever Huppert and Kim are together on the screen, the movie becomes a little more interesting, but then it is simply content with merely putting them together on the screen, and that is another major letdown in the film.

Since he makes his first feature film “The Day a Pig Fell into the Well” (1996), Hong Sang-soo has been as diligent as Woody Allen during next 22 years, and watching his latest work has been akin to an annual event for me and many other South Korean audiences. While I did not love his earlier films such as “Woman on the Beach” (2006) and “Night and Day” (2008), I became accustomed to his own human comedy as admiring “Like You Know It All” (2009), “Hahaha” (2010) and “Oki’s Movie” (2010), and I appreciated his storytelling experiments in “In Another Country”, “Our Sunhi” (2013), “Hill of Freedom” (2014), and “Right Now, Wrong Then” (2015).

Although “Claire’s Camera” is a misfire on the whole, we will get another work from Hong sooner or later, and he will probably bounce back from what may be the lowest point in his long, productive career. As a matter of fact, his new film “Grass” (2018) was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival early in this year, and I and other South Korean audiences will soon see whether he is back in his element or not.

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The Trip to Spain (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): Six days in Spain – with Coogan and Brydon

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“The Trip to Spain” is as fun and amusing as I expected, and that is fine with me. Like two previous films “The Trip” (2011) and “The Trip to Italy” (2014), the movie constantly draws lots of small laughs from the humorous interactions between its two funny and engaging leading performers, and it surely helps that these entertaining moments are accompanied with numerous lovely sights of beautiful locations and tasty restaurant dishes.

Like two previous films, the movie begins with Steve Coogan calling his friend/colleague Rob Brydon. They are going to have a trip together in Spain for restaurant review article, and their travel schedule is pretty much same as before. As they did in “The Trip” and “The Trip to Italy”, they are going to travel around here and there during six days for dropping by several good restaurants, and they both expect that it will be another nice excursion for them.

After Coogan comes to Brydon’s residence for picking him up, they soon get on a ferry ship to Spain, and then they arrive in their first destination on the next day. As they begin to enjoy the dishes of a restaurant located there, they begin to hurl verbal jabs to each other as usual, and I was impressed again by how effortless Coogan and Brydon are in their fluid and dynamic interactions on the screen. I really have no idea on how much they actually improvised on the set or how much they really projected themselves into the movie, but I can say at least that they are indubitably talented and interesting people to watch, and I can easily imagine them doing something equivalent to “My Dinner with Andre” (1981) for hours.

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Their conversations are mostly lightweight compared to that long philosophical conversation in “My Dinner with Andre”, but Coogan and Brydon know how to amuse and entertain us, and I chuckled as watching them trying voice imitation as they did in the two previous films. While the first moment of voice imitation in the film instantly took me back to when they try to imitate Michael Caine’s voice in “The Trip”, they also try to imitate the voices of several other famous figures throughout the film, and my personal favorite moment is when Brydon relentlessly imitates Roger Moore’s voice to the amusement of everybody on the table except Coogan.

Meanwhile, the mood gradually becomes more serious as time goes by. Although frequently boasting of his considerable success with Oscar-nominated film “Philomena” (2013), Coogan feels insecure as his next project, which seems to be another Oscar season movie just like “Philomena”, is not greenlit yet without much progress, and it also looks like he is no longer ‘up-and-coming’ at present. While he has accepted that, as reflected by one brief amusing scene set in La Mancha, he is akin to Sancho Panza whenever he is with Coogan, Brydon later gets a call from Coogan’s former agent, and it looks like he may get career boost he has always wished.

In the meantime, they continue to go around here and there, and we look around several wonderful historical places along with them. I particularly enjoyed the interior of an old church which also owns a very early copy of Shakespeare plays, and that leads to another funny moment between Coogan and Brydon. When they come to Grenada, we see a number of old architectures which clearly show their cultural significance, and we are accordingly served with a conversation revolving around the history of Granada.

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And, of course, we frequently watch how restaurant dishes are prepared and then served to our two heroes. For instance, I enjoyed watching small fishes grilled for being served as appetizer at the first restaurant they drop by, and I also observed with curiosity how several different seafood dishes are prepared one by one at the second restaurant. The overall result is not exactly a food porn, but these and other food scenes in the movie function as nice accessories to Coogan and Brydon’s conversations, and they surely made me hungry to some degrees.

Still, Coogan and Brydon are the center of the movie, and their enjoyable comic performance here in the movie reminds me again of how dependable they have been during recent years. Although he did not impress me much when he appeared “Around the World in 80 Days” (2004), Coogan has given a number of commendable comic performances since that point, and he and Brydon were simply priceless as the comic duo of “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” (2006), an overlooked comic gem which did a nearly impossible job of adapting Laurence Sterne’s amusingly infamous classic novel “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman”. After “The Trip” and “The Trip to Italy”, they are certainly accustomed a lot to their respective roles, but they keep digging something new and fresh from their usual shticks, and that is, I dare to say, a lot more enjoyable than those repetitive Hollywood blockbuster sequels out there.

Overall, “The Trip to Italy” is more or less than what we saw from its two previous films, but Coogan, Brydon, and their director Michael Winterbottom, who previously collaborated with his two actors in not only “The Trip” and “The Trip to Italy” but also “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”, did their job well again, and I am willing to see whatever will come next from them. Considering how its rather long epilogue scene ends, there may be another installment, so now I wonder: will they try South Korea someday?

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Ethel & Ernest (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): The life story of one ordinary couple

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British animation feature film “Ethel & Ernest” is about one ordinary couple who lived together for more than 40 years. Based on Raymond Briggs’ acclaimed graphic novel which was based on the life story of his parents in real life, the film works as a heartfelt drama filled with many small lovely moments to cherish, and it is particularly poignant when its two main characters later come to the eventual end point of their long marital relationship.

After its prologue scene showing Briggs reflecting on his parents, the movie proceeds to a part describing how his parents Ernest (voiced by Jim Broadbent) and Ethel (voiced by Brenda Blethyn) became familiar to each other in London, 1928. Whenever he goes to his workplace, Ernest usually passes by an upper-class residence where Ethel has worked as a maid, and they get fond of each other although they have merely recognized each other without formal introduction. In the end, Ernest makes an active forward step toward to Ethel on one day, and, without any hesitation, she agrees to have an evening movie date with him.

Shortly after Ethel quits her job, Ernest marries her, and they subsequently move together to a house located in a suburban area outside London. Although the house does not look exactly nice, it is better than their former residences at least, and they are ready to make their new place happier and cozier. She begins to take care of the house as your average housewife, and he works as a milkman in their neighborhood while occasionally fixing things for his dear wife.

Of course, they hope to have children someday, but it turns out to be not so easy for them. Even after two years, Ethel shows no sign of pregnancy, and she becomes worried as she is approaching to 40. Eventually, she gets pregnant, and she gives birth to her son several months later, but their doctor tells Ernest that she cannot have a child anymore due to her age.

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Anyway, Ethel and Ernest are happy to see their son growing up day by day, but, as often reflected by what he reads from newspaper or they hear from radio, the gloom of the World War II is approaching to them and many other people in Britain and Europe step by step. Things quickly become quite serious when the war eventually begins in 1939, and Ethel and Ernest have to send their son away to a rural area for his safety.

As they and others prepare for the war and then try to endure it, the film often gives us some serious moments as required while not wholly losing its sense of humor. It is sometimes amusing to see their several safety measures including a makeshift shelter and gas masks, but we are also reminded that it was indeed a dangerous and fearful time for everyone in Britain. While working as a volunteer fireman, Ernest goes through some devastating experiences, and Ethel is always someone he can lean on.

As the situation becomes more hopeful a few years later, they go to see their son, and they are later permitted to spend some time with him. There is still considerable danger as reflected by when Ernest and his son luckily avoid a sudden threat crashing down from the sky, but everyone becomes more optimistic than before, and the war eventually ends in 1945.

The rest of the story focuses on how Ethel and Ernest’s life goes through rapid social changes after the war. While Ethel continues to do housework as usual, Ernest begins to drive a vehicle for his milk delivery, and they soon come to have not only their own car but also a TV. They sometimes disagree with each other on political matters, but it is just the mild, affectionate bicker between them, and they feel happy together as before.

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In case of their son, Ethel and Ernest surely expect a lot from him, but then they are surprised and disappointed when their son announces to his parents that he is going to an art school instead of more supposedly prestigious schools like Oxford and Cambridge, and that is just the beginning of the generation gap between him and his parents. When he introduces his parents to his girlfriend who is going to be his wife, the mood is pretty awkward to say the least, but Ethel and Ernest accept what their son is going to do with his life – including his understandable decision for not having a child with his wife.

Meanwhile, Ethel and Ernest feel more of their aging status. As they are about to enter the 1970s, Ethel becomes more weakened than before, and then there comes a heartbreaking moment when her mind turns out to be not as keen as before. Wisely avoiding any sappy sentimentality, the movie calmly and quietly handles the following scenes, and that is why it is touching to see a number of photographs shown during the end credits.

“Ethel & Ernest” is directed by Roger Mainwood, who also adapted Briggs’ graphic novel for the film. This is his first animation feature film, and he did a competent job of vividly presenting Briggs’ story and characters. Like any good cell animation film, the film is distinctive in terms of mood and details, and Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn are also fine in their respective voice performances. Although its achievement is rather modest, this is a charming crowd pleaser nonetheless, and it is certainly a better alternative to those run-of-the-mill blockbuster digital animation films.

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Burning (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A slow-burning thriller from Lee Chang Dong

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South Korean film “Burning”, which was recently shown at the Cannes Film Festival and is also currently being shown here in South Korea, is a slow but steady thriller drama which constantly baffles us throughout its 148-minute running time. Although it is often difficult for me to become emotionally involved in its drama for several reasons I will later talk about, I admire its skillful handling of mood and story at least, and I think it is another interesting work from one of the best filmmakers in South Korea.

The story of the movie mainly revolves around Jong-soo (Yoo Ah-in), a young man who wants to be a writer someday but has been so far stuck in menial low-wage jobs. During the opening long-take scene, the camera patiently follows him as he is delivering some goods to a shop, and then he is recognized in front of the shop by Hae-mi (Jun Jong-seo), a plucky young woman who was his old hometown friend. Although he did not recognize her well at first because of her minor plastic surgery, they soon come to have a private talk together, and then she takes him to her small one-room residence, where they eventually have a sex as the sunshine reflected from outside briefly brightens her residence a bit.

Now you may wonder like I did during my viewing: what exactly did Hae-mi see from Jong-soo? While the movie does not explain much, she later tells him that she needs someone to take care of her cat while she is traveling in Africa for a while, and Jong-soo, who is clearly smitten with her, agrees to do that, but then he does not see any particular sign of her cat except its litter box under her bed when he comes to her residence not long after she leaves for Africa. Did she actually lie to him? If so, why the hell did she do that?

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Anyway, Jong-soo has the other matter to deal with besides that. His father, who has raised cows in his rural village which is not so far from North Korea, was recently sent to a trial on the charge of beating some local official, and that means Jong-soo must take care of whatever is remained in his father failing farming business. As Jong-soo looks around the shabby and messy interior of his old home, the movie succinctly conveys to us some information on his father’s life. and there is a small but crucial moment when Jong-soo later comes inside a storage and then finds a number of sharp objects, which feel as disturbing as the loud sound of propaganda broadcast from North Korea or a mysterious phone call which frequently annoys Jonh-soo.

Meanwhile, Hae-mi comes back from Africa, but she is not alone. During her trip, she happened to encounter a handsome guy named Ben (Steven Yeun), and she eagerly introduces him to Jong-soo, who does not particularly welcome this stranger much but comes to spend more time with him and Hae-mi because, well, that is what she wants.

As clearly shown from his posh apartment and expensive sports car, Ben is a very affluent guy, but he is usually vague about the source of his considerable wealth. While feeling more of the class gap between him and Ben, Jong-soo becomes more suspicious of Ben when Ben reveals his rather morbid side to Jong-soo during their personal conversation, but Hae-mi does not seem to sense anything particularly wrong from Ben, and she continues to enjoy her free-spirit status, as reflected by a nervously beautiful twilight scene where she dances to music in front of her two guys while incidentally being half-naked.

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And then something strange happens as the story enters its second half. I will not go into details here, but I can tell you instead that Jong-soo gets himself slowly mired in a dark territory of obsession and confusion as struggling to reach for whatever is hidden from him, and director Lee Chang-dong, who also adapted Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning” along with Oh Jung-mi, did a deft job of slowly dialing up the level of tension beneath the screen. Despite its long running time, the movie seldom lags in its stable narrative pacing, and its technical aspects are superb to say the least. Cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, who previously worked in “Snowpiercer” (2013), “Sea Fog” (2014), and “The Wailing” (2016), effectively establishes the moody but realistic atmosphere around the main characters in the film via his impeccable utilization of lights and shadows, and that unnerving mood is further accentuated by Mowg’s ambiguous score on the soundtrack.

While appreciating its strong points including the good acting from its three lead performers, I was also bothered by a number of weak points of the movie. For instance, its depiction of female characters besides Hae-mi is one-dimensional at best and misogynistic at worst, and Hae-mi remains to be more or less than your average dream girl beyond reach. Pushing its symbols and metaphors a little too blatantly at times (my personal favorite scene of unintentional hilarity is the one where an act of masturbation is juxtaposed with the wide shot of, what do you know, a tower), the movie is also hampered by several stilted dialogue scenes, and the finale feels rather muddled instead of dramatically impactful. In addition, it is not very comfortable for me and some other South Korean audiences to watch Yoo Ah-in, who has impertinently revealed himself as a deplorable misogynist jerk in public, or Steven Yeun, who was recently criticized for his insincere public apology on a serious mistake involved with a Japanese flag.

Considering that it received lots of praises at the Cannes Film Festival, I guess “Burning” will probably not be empty-handed tomorrow, but it looks like a minor work compared to Lee Chang-dong’s previous works such as “Secret Sunshine” (2007) and “Poetry” (2010), which I chose as the best South Korean film of 2010. The movie is surely an engaging work, but it did not affect me as powerfully as these two films, and I was only reminded that there have been heaps of South Korean films about angry, disaffected young men. Sure, this is a well-made one, but, seriously, do South Korean audiences need to be served with another familiar male narrative?

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Deadpool 2 (2018) ☆☆(2/4): Cynical, irreverent, and tiresome as before

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Whether you will like “Deadpool 2” or not depends on how much fun you had with “Deadpool” (2016). Unlike many others, I did not enjoy “Deadpool” much while also quite annoyed by its increasingly obnoxious self-conscious attitude, so I became annoyed again during my viewing of “Deadpool 2”, which is as cynical, irreverent, and tiresome as its predecessor while not bringing anything particularly new or surprising to its genre. Although I must admit that I chuckled during its few inspired comic moments, I also got tired and numbed as the movie constantly and distractingly threw its self-conscious wink at me throughout its running time, and it only came to leave a rather disagreeable impression on me in the end.

The movie opens with Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) becoming quite morose and then attempting suicide for a clichéd reason I will not reveal here. Of course, he cannot possibly die because, as many of you remember from the previous film, he is nearly indestructible thank to his acquainted superpower, and the movie gleefully decorates this moment with a mock main title sequence, which is clearly a cheap send-up of the main title sequences of James Bond movies but has a little touch of class thanks to Céline Dion’s deadpan singing on the soundtrack.

Anyway, Wade soon recovers after brought to the headquarters of the X-men by a big metallic mutant named Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapičić). Although he is not so interested in joining the group, Wade soon gets himself involved in an emergent circumstance along with Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), and that eventually leads him to the encounter with Nathan Summers/Cable (Josh Brolin), who, as clearly shown from his very first scene, comes from the future and is going to kill a certain mutant character in the story for a personal reason which you can easily guess within a minute if you have ever watched “The Terminator” (1984) and “Looper” (2012).

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As Wade and other crucial characters in the story bounce from one narrative point to another, the screenplay by Ryan Reynolds and his co-writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick relentlessly fires numerous jokes and gags at us. Besides lots of jokes on “Logan” (2017) and many other recent superhero movies, there are also the ones inspired by “Yentl” (1983) and “Frozen” (2013), and I must confess that I was amused a lot when I heard Jerry Goldsmith’s certain Oscar-nominated score being played during one wacky scene involved with Wade’s very awkward physical condition.

However, many of these jokes are unfortunately undercut by the constant self-conscious attitude of the movie. Frequently trying too hard in its irreverent comic approach, the movie ultimately cheapens whatever is being at stake for Wade and other characters, and it eventually resorts to a big, mindless CGI climax as it knowingly admits to us.

At least, director David Leitch, who co-directed “John Wick” (2014) and then made “Atomic Blonde” (2017), is a good action movie director, and “Deadpool 2” has a couple of well-made action sequences. In case of the one unfolded in a prison for criminal mutants, its physical action moments are as brutal, gritty, and dynamic as you can expect from Leitch, and I appreciate how he makes sure that we are always well aware of what is going on even during its most chaotic moments. In case of a vehicle chase sequence later in the movie, I was amused to some degrees by how a character played by Zazie Beetz manages to be lucky at every dangerous moment of hers, and I did snicker as watching Wade’s very unorthodox driving method at one point.

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As he previously did in “Deadpool”, Ryan Reynolds demonstrates considerable comic intensity here in this film. Even while I was annoyed again and again by his character’s grating personality, I appreciated nonetheless how much Reynolds is willing to go for more gags and jokes, and I wish that he will do something better like “The Voices” (2014), an overlooked comedy film about a serial killer who often cannot help himself while just trying to be nice and endearing to others around him.

The supporting performers surrounding Reynolds acquit themselves well on the whole. While Brianna Hilderbrand, Stefan Kapičić, Leslie Uggams, T.J. Miller, Karan Soni, and Morena Baccarin fill their respective roles as before without many things to do, Zazie Beetz brings some spunky spirit to her character, and Josh Brolin, who recently played a big villain role in “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018), did a good job of imbuing his character with enough gravitas as required. In case of Julian Dennison, a young New Zealand actor who drew my attention for the first time via his hilarious performance in “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (2016), he shows again here that he is indeed an interesting actor to watch, and, considering his undeniable screen presence, I certainly hope for better things in his promising movie career.

Overall, “Deadpool 2” is occasionally amusing, but it is not so funny in my trivial opinion, and I give it two stars for being not particularly better than its predecessor. I understand how subversive it wants to be with its supposedly irreverent anti-superhero, but it is just content with merely being silly and violent, and it does not do anything really fresh or subversive at all. You may laugh more than me, but its laughs are pretty shallow ones, and my displeasure only increases as I think of it more.

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The Wound (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A queer drama film from South Africa

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South African film “The Wound”, which was selected as South Africa’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in last year, is exceptional in many aspects. While intriguing us a lot with its vivid anthropological observation of a tribal initiation ritual in South Africa, the movie also examines the closeted sexuality of its three main characters who are respectively struggling with what it means to be a man, and we come to brace ourselves as sensing what can possibly result from the increasingly unstable dynamics among them.

After the opening scene showing a waterfall in some rural area of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, the movie promptly introduces us to Xolani (Nakhane Touré), a closeted gay man who has lived alone while working as a menial factory worker in Queenstown. After his another mundane workday is over, he soon goes to his rural hometown area outside the city, and he is going to work as one of the mentors for the adolescent boys who will soon go through ‘Ulwaluko’, the traditional initiation ritual of his Xhosa tribe.

Among the initiates assigned to Xolani and other mentors, there is a boy named Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), who is the son of one of Xolani’s close relatives. Before the ritual is officially started, Kwanda’s father, who is apparently an affluent urban guy, has a private talk with Xolani. It is clear that the guy decided to thrust his son into the ritual because his son is ‘too soft’ and needs to be, well, manlier, and Xolani assures his relative that he will do as much as he can for making a man out of Kwanda.

The ritual is subsequently begun with the swift circumcision process on the initiates, and that will probably make some of you cringe even though the movie does not graphically depict this process. One by one, the initiates get their genitalia cut by the prepared sharp blade of a hired doctor, and they all have to shout “I’m a man!” as trying to endure the resulting pain. To be frank with you, this moment took me back to my circumcision experience in 1989, and it surely reminded me that what I had to endure at that time was pretty mild and safe in comparison.

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While their genital wound is naturally healed during next several days, Kwanda and other initiates are required to do several things in the mountain under the guidance of their mentors, but this urban boy does not get along well with other initiates, most of whom are from rural areas in contrast to him. Because he does not look that tough enough, he often becomes a target of ridicules, but he is not someone who is easily daunted by that, and he sometimes shows his rebellious side. At one point, every other initiate makes a proud speech on family in front of elders and mentors, but Kwanda defiantly refuses to do the same, and that certainly causes a disagreeable moment for everyone else except Xolani, who feels some sympathy toward Kwanda because he already sensed Kwanda’s homosexuality from the beginning.

However, the object of Xolani’s desire is Vija (Bongile Mantsai), another mentor in the group who looks like your average alpha male but then turns out to be Xolani’s old lover. Although he is a family guy with wife and three kids at present, Vija does not hesitate at all whenever he gets a chance to be alone with Xolani, and we come to gather that the ritual has been sort of Brokeback Mountain for them.

While Xolani feels good to be with Vija again, it is apparent that he has also been dissatisfied with how his relationship with Vija has been going nowhere. Because homosexuality is an unspeakable taboo in their world, they have accepted their closeted status for years, but Xolani wants to go a little further in their relationship, and that later leads to an emotionally tense moment between them.

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In case of Kwanda, it does not take much time for him to realize what is going on between Xolani and Vija, and their secret and hypocrisy further fuel his rebellious spirit. Ironically, he comes to be quite sure of himself after being pushed to a bloody deed by Vija later in the story, and he accordingly becomes determined to reveal his true self openly to others.

As its main characters continue to pull or push each other, the movie slowly dials up the level of tension while steadily sticking to its realism. Occasionally providing several beautiful wide shots, cinematographer Paul Ozgur vividly captures small details and nuances to observe, and we gradually get ourselves immersed in the world inhabited by the characters in the movie. The three main performers in the film are all convincing in their respective roles; while Nakhane Touré, a well-known South African artist who has been quite open about his homosexuality unlike his character, is effective in his phlegmatic appearance which often speaks volumes, Bongile Mantsai complements Touré well with swaggering machismo, and Niza Jay Ncoyini holds his own place well between his two co-stars.

“The Wound” is the first feature film by director/co-writer John Trengove, who made several short films and TV drama series before making this debut of his. While the screenplay written by him and his co-writers Thando Mgqolozana and Malusi Bengu are a bit too blatant at times, he did a competent job of handling sensitive subjects with enough respect and consideration, and the result is another recent notable queer film which deserves to be mentioned along with “Call Me by Your Name” (2017), “God’s Own Country” (2017) and “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (2017). This is a tough stuff indeed, but it is an interesting and thought-provoking drama about sexuality and masculinity, and you will not forget easily what it presents to you.

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Lean on Pete (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A boy and the horse

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“Lean on Pete” surprised me with its considerable sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Here is a simple but heartfelt character drama which simply goes its own way as wisely avoiding clichés and conventions, and I was both entertained and touched by how it slowly but steadily builds up its narrative momentum as tenderly depicting its adolescent hero’s emotional journey.

Charlie Plummer, who recently played J. Paul Getty’s kidnapped grandson in “All the Money in the World” (2017) and is not related to another Plummer appearing in that movie, plays Charley Thompson, a meek 15-year-old boy who recently moved to Portland, Oregon along with his single father Ray (Travis Fimmel). While their new house is still in disarray, Ray is frequently absent due to whatever he does outside, but Charley does not mind that much because he knows that his father cares about him much despite his flaws, and he often spends his ongoing summer days on doing exercise outside as hoping to play football in his new high school during the next semester.

On one day, Charley comes across a middle-aged guy named Del (Steve Buscemi), who has a trouble with his truck while taking two of his racehorses to a nearby stable. After Charley helps him fix his truck, Del offers him a job, and Charley instantly accepts the offer because that means extra money for him and his father.

While working for Del day by day, Charley gradually learns how to handle horses, and then he finds himself particularly attached to one of the horses in Del’s possession. It is an aging racehorse named Lean on Pete, and how Charley gets closer to this horse bit by bit is one of nice subtle touches in the movie. Although there is not any ‘big’ moment between the horse and Charley, the movie subtly conveys to us Charley’s growing affection toward the horse through small moments such as when he gently looks at it for a while, and we come to sense that it becomes another important thing in his lonely life besides his father.

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Of course, there soon comes a harsh moment of reality through Del, who may understand well Charley’s emotional attachment to Lean on Pete but is also a hardened businessman who is always ready to do whatever he should do for making ends meet. When one of his horses becomes useless at one point, Del does not hesitate at all to send it to Mexico for a heartless reason, and we guess that it is probably one of many unsavory things he has done for keeping his diminishing business afloat. As Del’s frequent jockey, Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny) knows that too well, and she phlegmatically reminds Charley that he should not get emotionally involved too much with the horses under his care.

Meanwhile, the situation becomes more complicated for Charley due to a sudden narrative turn I will not reveal here. All I can tell you is that 1) Lean on Pete becomes more important for Charley after this happening and 2) that prompts Charley to make a rather unwise impromptu decision on Lean on Pete shortly after what turns out to be its last race.

Even after that plot turn, the movie sticks to its leisurely narrative pacing, and the adapted screenplay by director Andrew Haigh, which is based on Willy Vlautin’s novel of the same name, gives a series of nice human moments while never resorting to cheap sentimentality. I like a part involved with Charley’s accidental encounter with two guys living alone in a remote ranch, and I appreciate the following small moment between Charley and a female character who wearily reveals to him her despair and resignation. Even when it is around its expected arrival point, the movie continues to take its time as before, and that is the main reason why its last scene is emotionally resonant.

As shown from his previous works “Weekend” (2011) and “45 Years” (2015), Haigh is a good filmmaker who has shown considerable strength in intimate character drama, and that aspect of his is evident in “Lean on Pete”. He and his cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck effectively establish realistic mood and background for his story and characters, and we are instantly immersed into our young hero’s situation. As the story later rolls into a wider territory, Jønck vividly captures wide, beautiful landscapes on his camera, and that further enhances the quiet but palpable emotional intensity during the second half of the story.

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The movie demands a lot from Plummer especially during its second half, and he is quite good in his nuanced low-key performance which received the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice International Film Festival in last year. Considering what he demonstrated in this film and “All the Money in the World”, Plummer is surely an interesting new actor to watch, and I hope that he will soon move onto bigger things to come.

Haigh assembles several notable performers around Plummer. While Travis Fimmel, who previously drew my attention via his small role in “Maggie’s Plan” (2015), brings considerable humanity to his flawed character, Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny show us again why they are two of the most dependable performers in American independent movie industry, and Steven Zhan, who has shown more of his serious side during recent years, is also effective in his supporting role.

On the whole, “Lean on Pete” is another commendable work from Haigh, who drew my attention with the sensitive gay romance of “Weekend” and then struck me hard with the sobering marital drama of “45 Years”. With the significant achievement in “Lean on Pete”, he confirms again that he is one of the prominent British filmmakers during this decade, and I think I can have some expectation whenever his new work comes out.

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