Festival de ‘Usual Suspects’: Kinatay (2009) de Brillante Mendoza

June 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

I concur with Quentin Tarantino’s impression of Brillante Mendoza’s eighth feature film and second Cannes entry, Kinatay, as expressed by the American filmmaker in this bit of collegial correspondence scribbled in red ink on hotel stationery during the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Tarantino applauds Mendoza’s dedication to the experiential perspective of the film’s lead character, Peping; praises the under-exposed, grainy depiction of horror that characterises the latter two-thirds of the film, and the relative anti-drama of the whole affair. That Tarantino, king of immaculately aestheticised violence, would praise a peer for practically being his antithesis is indeed of interest, but his appreciation of Mendoza’s approach was nonetheless shared by that year’s Cannes Jury, who awarded the Filipino filmmaker the Prix de la mise-en-scene for Best Director. At the risk of defending a picture that I don’t particularly care for, I must say that I do not necessarily contest their decision. Kinatay displays a certain clarity of purpose, a quality which few similarly grim and confronting pictures can consistently claim to have achieved with any degree of success. Whether Mendoza’s artistic purpose in turn serves a broader cultural or political purpose is where the debate might rapidly become a losing battle for those in the ‘pro’ camp. Inspired by the actual experiences of a young police academy recruit, Kinatay follows a newly-wed trainee whose part-time dealings with a crew of dirty cops ostensibly turns into a full-time contract when he is made a witness and peripheral accomplice to the belly-turning murder of a prostitute called Madonna. Beginning with Peping’s very low-key, good-natured daytime wedding, the first ‘act’ of the film ends with a fade-out of the setting sun after which his nightmare commences. It’s an obvious visual pun, as if to imply that the sun is also setting on Peping’s moral and spiritual freedom. Roger Ebert famously declared Kinatay to be the worst film ever selected to compete for the Palme d’Or, a claim which smacks of hyperbole despite my reservations about the movie. The late (and largely great) critic accused Mendoza of ideological bludgeoning, but could not quite articulate – in this piece – what this ‘Idea’ was and is. Frankly, neither can I. As a cautionary tale warning of the immense gravitational pull of crime on those in its orbit, Kinatay had me quietly promising myself that I would never associate with any individuals who exude even one percent of the malice and soul-blunted disregard for life exhibited by the on-screen killers. Without a doubt, such individuals live and breathe in their unfortunate communities, and similar crimes have in fact plagued Mendoza’s turf, let alone the wider world. But is a film like Kinatay what it takes to galvanise public awareness of and outrage at law enforcers who not only fail to uphold safety but who in fact actively propagate social degeneration? Who amongst us is not all too aware that violence and barbarism exists, and that death can arrive with shocking suddenness, even for those who dance with it on a daily basis to the point of feeling somewhat immune? Perhaps Kinatay is simply the result of a filmmaker translating a captivating story to screen in a manner which seemed – to him – most appropriate. If anything, Mendoza’s picture is at least an unapologetic alternative to the glut of cinema that seeks to extract entertainment from the gutters of human behaviour; a cinema at the centre of which sits the likes of…my beloved Basic Instinct?

 

 

 

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Festival de ‘Usual Suspects’: The Forest for the Trees (2003) de Maren Ade

June 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

Melanie Pröschle instantly rockets to the top of my personal pantheon of cinema’s tragic lonely folk (voluntary or involuntary), right up there with Travis Bickle and several Mike Leigh characters. Brought to life – a very sad and sobering life – by a powerhouse Eva Löbau, Melanie is a somewhat innocent, recently graduated teacher who moves from a small German town to the larger city of Karlsruhe where her new career is off to a positively craggy start. Doe-eyed and with a barely concealed desire for affection bordering on neediness, Melanie is the kind of protagonist whose vulnerability can easily inspire viewer sympathy while making her utterly irritating to her fellow characters. From the throng of students from whom she fails to wrangle respect to her quietly mocking colleagues to the neighbour whom she stalks and then befriends, Melanie’s is a tragedy told via the language of lo-fi comedy. By this I mean that The Forest for the Trees looks and feels like a product of the Dogme 95 movement that was developed (and then promptly abandoned) by the likes of Lars von Trier. Accordingly, the image is low-key and reminiscent of late 90s digital video, handheld and unruly, utilising source lighting and physically intimate with Melanie and her surroundings. All music and sound exists within Melanie’s world. It’s all too real in a way that prevents the comic nature of Melanie’s misfortunes from losing their inherent sting. However socially inept/handicapped Melanie might be, she is in a globally relatable position: In a new city without any contacts and with a job that flogs the soul, desperate to be loved and appreciated, only, her desperation consumes and compromises her, clouding her judgement and vision in a way that recalls the film’s title. The only difference between Melanie and someone like Travis is that she does not descend into abject psychosis; that she retains a modicum of insight which only deepens the pain and the tragedy and helplessness of her situation. Now, this was German filmmaker Maren Ade’s first feature; her thesis film, in fact. The Forest for the Trees garnered some attention and awards, for example at Sundance, but it wasn’t until Ade’s brilliant tragicomedy Everyone Else (2009) that the cinema world marveled en mass at her ability to depict the delicate balance that exists in any relationship, that which sees a kiss transition into a bite and vice versa. Well, The Forest for the Trees is clear evidence that Everyone Else was borne of some artistic pedigree and that Ade’s future projects should be of deep interest to anyone with some part of their finger on the pulse of contemporary cinema.

* It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the fact that the 69th Festival de Cannes concluded a fortnight ago and that Maren Ade’s entry Toni Erdmann was a sweeping critical darling whose failure to nab a major award was widely bemoaned. But, prize or not, the apparent brilliance of Ade’s third feature is gratifying confirmation of the fact that she is now a major voice on the international circuit, and perhaps a major force in the shift towards a more egalitarian film landscape, at least from a gender standpoint.

 

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