Sundance Time Again, Pt. 6: Other Views

It’s now the final day of my visit to Park City, and you know what? I never got up to Main Street to check out anything at the Slamdance Film Festival. Aww, hell, it’s probably just as well — with the flurries of cold weather (especially on my first night here), I figured, you know what? I wouldn’t want to deal with it anyways. So here I am, screening final films that caught my fancy. I don’t catch other films that are catching “buzz” elsewhere in town. FILLY BROWN? THE SURROGATE? 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK? Nope, never made time. COMPLIANCE? V/H/S? Hmmm…no, had other fish to fry. Looking back, I think I take in a diverse enough selection of films that I actually want to see. And in the larger scheme of things, I’d like to think my moviegoing selections here were worth my while.

Take, for instance, Tusi Tamasese’s THE ORATOR, the first-ever film from Samoa to be submitted for an Oscar for Foreign Language feature (a point of clarification: the film was New Zealand’s official Academy Award submission, as the director is based in Aukland). Since its international debut last September at the Venice Film Festival, the film has won plaudits for director Tamasese as well as for its incisive story of a proud man forced to stand up for himself and his family in the wake of tragedy. For me, what I liked so much about THE ORATOR is its careful calibration of drama and pulp storytelling: Saili, a taro farmer and “little person” (the program description for a midget, not mine) lives with his wife Vaaiga and stepdaughter Litia apart from the larger village and community, and eventually finds his family plantation threatened and worse, his father’s chiefly status denied him. Vaaiga, herself an outcast from the village, refuses her brother’s entreaties to return to the village to restore the family honor. Then suddenly, tragedy strikes…

The themes of struggle and family honor is well-essayed in THE ORATOR without descending into melodrama. This, I think, is due in no small part to the performances of the cast of largely non-actors under the guidance of director Tamasese’s hand. It’s little wonder that the film has won as much acclaim as it has. That it exposes the lives and experiences of Pacific Islanders on its own terms makes it a powerful viewing experience, indeed essential viewing for anyone unacquainted with communities from the Pacific.

Earlier, I had a chance to screen Kobayashi Keiichi’s ABOUT THE PINK SKY, an award-winning selection from the 2011 Tokyo International Film Festival. The film, in all its monochrome glory, could best be described as dystopian, if I can use that term: set twenty-five years in the future but looking for all the world as it it is set in the present day, ABOUT THE PINK SKY observes the actions of Izumi, a hard-headed high schooler who one day finds a wallet stuff with ¥300,000 (almost $4,000) belonging to a wealthy high school boy. Instead of returning it, Izumi lends some of the money to a buddy with financial problems, and finds herself in a bind when her classmates force her to return the wallet, albeit several thousand yen lighter. Drained of color and devoid of annoying genre elements as a music soundtrack, the film instead is a sharply-drawn picture of tomorrow’s youth today — a serene, dreamy and utterly different kind of coming-of-age story that richly deserved its Tokyo International Film Fest award for Best Picture in that fest’s “Japanese Eyes” section. Other reviewers have apparently not been so kind in its appraisal of the film — for instance, The Hollywood Reporter dismissed it as too meandering and insubstantial — but for me, I found myself richly rewarded for the experience. FILLY BROWN? COMPLIANCE? Really???

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