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There are connections we make in this lifetime that we expect to be ephemeral, especially in a new city, but sometimes these connections end up being the most meaningful relationship to us. For Jun in Comrades, Almost a Love Story, street smart Qiao is that connection. As she teaches Xiao Jun in Hong Kong city life, they both edge closer to being lovers and Hongkongers, but not quite enough to receive the title. And as fate separates them and fate (and Teresa Teng) brings them together, Comrades, Almost a Love Story crafts quite a memorable romance that stems from a shared dream of finally moving up in the world.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Kwan, Baat Leung-Gam, Christopher Doyle, Crystal Suen Ah-Lei, Eric Tsang, Irene Tsu, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho, Kristy Yang, Leon Lai, Maggie Cheung

Director: Peter Chan

As time goes by, the youth doesn’t recognize how connected they are to previous tragedies, more so when it comes to war. Some even say that they have no part in it. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s later years have been preoccupied in countering this idea. Casting Blossoms to the Sky is the first of Obayashi’s anti-war trilogy, with the film inviting its audience to follow a journalist rediscovering the city of Nagaoka after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. There’s a certain dreamlike approach to the way the various war stories are weaved together, with vibrant frames, simple CGI, and prominent green screen that grants some distance between the audience and the actual wartime reality, but it’s no less potent as Reiko interviews those that remember the scars of the past, and the rituals, practices, and art they’ve taken up in response. Casting Blossoms is a depressing story about war and disaster, one that is a tough one to watch. But it never forgets the humanity, the kindness and love that allowed Japan to recover, the very qualities we must protect and remember in ourselves.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, War

Actor: Akira Emoto, Bengal, Chōei Takahashi, Hirona Yamazaki, Hiroshi Inuzuka, Kanae Katsuno, Koji Ishikawa, Mansaku Ikeuchi, Masahiro Takashima, Masao Kusakari, Masayuki Yui, Mayuu Kusakari, Minami Inomata, Misako Renbutsu, Naoyuki Morita, Natsuki Harada, Saki Terashima, Seina Suzuki, Shiho Fujimura, Shirô Namiki, Sumiko Fuji, Takahito Hosoyamada, Takashi Sasano, Takehiro Murata, Takuro Atsuki, Tomoko Hoshino, Tōru Shinagawa, Toshie Negishi, Toshinori Omi, Toshio Kakei, Tsurutaro Kataoka, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Yuto Kobayashi

Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi

The end of the world, of course, forces people to contemplate one’s life purpose, the choices they made, and the opportunities they chose over others. Andrei Tarkovsky examines this idea in The Sacrifice– juxtaposing a hypothetical third World War with main character Alexander’s choices, the choices that led him to a successful acting career, but also led him to regret that he hasn’t done more to take action, until the deal he made with a cross between the Christian God and pagan sacrifice. The ideas are philosophically heavy, marked with Tarkovsky’s dreamlike imagery, long takes, and slow pacing, but it feels much more personal considering the sacrifice he made in leaving his family to create his last two films abroad. The Sacrifice is a masterful meditation on life itself, a deeply moving anti-war film that was a decent send-off of one of the greatest filmmakers ever to have existed.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allan Edwall, Erland Josephson, Guðrún Gísladóttir, Helena Brodin, Jan-Olof Strandberg, Jane Friedmann, Susan Fleetwood, Sven Wollter, Tintin Anderzon, Tommy Kjellqvist, Valérie Mairesse

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

To plenty of countries around the globe, democracy has become so ubiquitous that we forget it’s relatively new, at least relative to the rest of human history. Bhutan is one of the last countries that became a democracy, and writer-director Pawo Choyning Dorji chose to depict a slice of how they made the shift in The Monk and the Gun. As Tashi sets out to obtain two weapons for his mentor, and Ron seeks a specific antique gun, Dorji presents slice-of-life moments of the beautiful Bhutan countryside, intercut with the subtle ways tradition still persists amidst modernity, and the funny ways change can clash with culture. It’s no wonder The Monk and the Gun was chosen as the Bhutanese entry for the Best International Feature at the 96th Academy Awards.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Choeying Jatsho, Deki Lhamo, Pema Zangmo Sherpa, Tandin Sonam, Tandin Wangchuk

Director: Pawo Choyning Dorji

, 2019

To those unfamiliar with Filipino folklore, some of the scenes in Rain (2019) might feel kooky, with horse heads and giant eggs and the personification of a typhoon popping up occasionally in between Maya’s quest for love. Even fans of Filipino romantic dramas and love teams might be taken aback by the last third of the film, which doesn’t take the usual route in the genre. But these eccentric choices work to characterize Maya as someone who loves being in love, as someone who grew up on mythology and fantasy to cope with the difficulties of life, as someone who nevertheless keeps that belief despite the terribleness of the mundane, the mismanaged inconveniences that pile up, and, of course, the multiple heartbreaks that she faces. It may be strange and unexpected, but Ulan is just one of the most unique Filipino romances ever created.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Aj Muhlach, Andrea Del Rosario, Angeli Bayani, Carlo Aquino, Josef Elizalde, Jourdanne Castillo, Kylie Verzosa, Leo Martinez, Marco Gumabao, Nadine Lustre, Perla Bautista, William Martinez

Director: Irene Villamor

When it comes to work, most apply to a job, take a 9-5 role for some decades, and then retire once enough funds have been acquired, the body gives out, or they reach the statutory age in their respective countries. This path isn’t as straightforward for the artist. La Belle Noiseuse is a portrait of an artist in his later years, only making a return due to an unexpected muse. It is quite lengthy, almost four hours, so it may feel like a daunting task for casual film viewers, as much as it is for the painter, but the way Rivette dedicates the time to the etching, the turn of the page, the brush of the paint upon the paper feels so calming, with the artist and their muse at their most natural. It’s easy to deduce the inevitable connection that forms, but La Belle Noiseuse is much more interested in the creative process, rather than the romantic drama, more interested in exploring the way art endeavors to capture the soul, even when the muse continues to remain elusive.

Genre: Drama

Actor: David Bursztein, Emmanuelle Béart, Jane Birkin, Marianne Denicourt, Michel Piccoli

Director: Jacques Rivette

In this film-within-a-film, we and a fictional version of actress Maggie Cheung are brought through the disorienting experience of French filmmaking. The film’s washed-up director wants to remake the classic silent film Les Vampires to revive his career. But as with all plans, everything inevitably goes wrong. On top of depicting the regular chaos of a movie set, this film presents the anxieties of the modern-day French film industry—about how it may be past its prime, and how it can still compete on a global level. And through the steady, inscrutable face of Maggie Cheung, we remember the creative collaborations we've had ourselves—the energetic passion, the behind-the-scenes power dynamics, and the pure chaos of the process.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alex Descas, Antoine Basler, Arsinée Khanjian, Balthazar Clémenti, Bernard Nissile, Bulle Ogier, Dominique Faysse, Estelle Larrivaz, François-Renaud Labarthe, Françoise Clavel, Françoise Guglielmi, Guy-Patrick Sainderichin, Jacques Fieschi, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Laurent Jacquet, Lou Castel, Maggie Cheung, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Nathalie Boutefeu, Nathalie Richard, Nicolas Giraudi, Olivier Torres, Philippe Landoulsi, Pierre Amzallag, Smaïl Mekki, Valerie Guy

Director: Olivier Assayas

Rating: Not Rated

While being known for co-writing the Dogme 95 manifesto, Lars von Trier’s first film after breaks his rules with built sets and music added in post. Still, Breaking the Waves has plenty of von Trier’s thematic preoccupations, challenging the notions between faithfulness and sexuality by positing a married couple who cannot indulge in marital pleasure, due to being paralyzed. While the premise leads to explicit scenes, it’s more harrowing than sexy, really. It’s terribly heartbreaking as Bess does all she can for her marriage, first by praying for her husband’s return, and then following his perverse wish, partly from guilt, but partly from pleasure, even when it goes contrary to her repressive church and community. Breaking the Waves may not be an easy watch, but regardless of what you personally feel about the morality of Bess’ actions, von Trier will nevertheless bring you to empathy.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Rawlins, David Bateson, Dorte Rømer, Emily Watson, Finlay Welsh, Gavin Mitchell, Jean-Marc Barr, John Wark, Jonathan Hackett, Katrin Cartlidge, Mikkel Gaup, Phil McCall, Robert Robertson, Roef Ragas, Sandra Voe, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: R

With elaborate sets, musical numbers, and an ensemble cast, Aachar and Co doesn’t feel like a regular budget-bound debut feature. In fact, director Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, who also stars as Suma, pulls off this family drama with a whimsical yet period-accurate, Wes Anderson-esque style. This style keeps the film’s nostalgic and lighthearted tone, even as the siblings’ journeys, most especially that of Suma, go into darker times. As the family cycles through each of their weddings and funerals, Aachar and Co comments on the societal changes that shifted the lives of Indian women in the 1960s. The resulting film is just as bittersweet and nostalgic as the mango preserves the family makes.

Genre: Comedy, Family, Music

Actor: Anirudh Acharya, Harshil Koushik, Mandara Battalahalli, Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, Sudha Belawadi

Director: Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy

Break-ups aren’t the easiest thing to overcome, but how we deal with them usually doesn’t get as ludicrous as the events Pepa goes through in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The film makes said nervous breakdown chaotic– it includes spiked gazpacho, a frantic call to the police, and being held at gunpoint– but as Pepa and the women around her try to put off each fire, at least one of them literally, writer-director Pedro Almodóvar ensures sympathy for them, with Pepa's snappy dialogue cutting through the lies of a smooth-talking womanizer refusing to face them. And it’s all paired with a suitably dramatic score, meticulous staging, and exaggerated, colorful frames mostly occurring in the wreck of a fabulously styled penthouse.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Agustín Almodóvar, Ana Leza, Ángel de Andrés López, Antonio Banderas, Carmen Maura, Chus Lampreave, Eduardo Calvo, Fernando Guillen, Francisca Caballero, Gabriel Latorre, Guillermo Montesinos, Imanol Uribe, Joaquín Climent, José Antonio Navarro, José Marco, Juan Lombardero, Julieta Serrano, Kiti Manver, Loles León, Lupe Barrado, María Barranco, Rossy de Palma, Yayo Calvo

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rating: R

Regardless of where, when, and why war came to be, war inevitably makes children grow up faster than they ought to. Turtles Can Fly depicts one such boy, a thirteen year old refugee nicknamed Kak Satellite whose limited English and resourcefulness transformed him into a leader for the rest of the children as they scrounged for scraps, sweep for landmines, and set up satellites for news. It’s a harrowing experience. Writer-director Bahman Ghobadi depicts it in a grounded, real way, with the Kurdish cast directly re-enacting the same horrors that they’ve gone through the year before, and the same practical nonchalance that they cling to for survival. Regardless of how viewers feel about the Iraq invasion, or other wars with refugee crises, Turtles Can Fly simply asks viewers to see their faces.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abdol Rahman Karim, Avaz Latif, Emre Tetikel, Hiresh Feysal Rahman, Saddam Hossein Feysal, Soran Ebrahim

Director: Bahman Ghobadi

Taking 23 years until its completion, The Tragedy of Man is quite possibly the most ambitious film ever made, not just in its animation, but also in its scope. It’s quite fitting, as an adaptation of the classic Hungarian play, as Imre Madách’s story sets out to question not just the individual’s purpose, but the purpose of humanity as a whole, with writer-director Marcell Jankovics giving life to the play through the historical art styles of past civilizations that shifted today’s Western world, as well as adding what has happened after the play’s publication in 1861. While the film’s length can be daunting, being the Western animated feature in the world, the dialectic hits at the heart of this absurd existence, informed by the cynicism formed after Hungary’s fall of communism in 1989. The Tragedy of Man isn’t an easy film to watch, considering the themes, but it’s an interesting vision of humanity, illustrated in such an interesting way.

Genre: Animation, Drama, History

Actor: Ágnes Bertalan, Mátyás Usztics, Piroska Molnár, Tamás Széles, Tibor Szilágyi

Director: Marcell Jankovics