Monday, June 15, 2009

Turtles can Fly

Turtles Can Fly is one of the two Iranian films I've seen with the other one being Ten by Abbas Kiarostami. Both of these films, I watched in my film studies class. TCF is a particularly touching story that you expect to read about on paper or watch on the news, but such stories never made it out of the Middle East until now. The characters and storyline of the film are the two elements that grabbed my attention. While I also enjoyed the filming style and soundtrack, those are somewhat secondary in TCF at least during my viewing.

The protagonist is called by the name Satellite because of his expertise in anything technological and in installing satellite dishes to receive international news. He is a charismatic orphan who leads a whole gang of orphans because of his knowledge and slightly older age. Although the film takes place on the eve of a war, Satellite is able to have control of nearly all orphans and keep order during chaos. One of the orphans that Satellite have difficulty leading is Henkov, who is a new arrival at the refugee camp along with his sister, Agrin, and a little boy.

Many things in the film are disturbing and left me disheartened. It was disturbing to see Henkov is missing an arm at such a young age and the little boy, who Henkov takes cares of, is blind and has obvious physical signs of his condition. A boy who is the second command to Satellite is a missing leg but runs as if he had two. Agrin, a pretty girl who Satellite falls in love with, has gone through emotional and physical sufferings. The orphans' main occupation is not to study but to clear out minefields without any protection. This explains why many of the orphans are missing limbs.

With all these tragic circumstances, you never see the orphans complain about their lives. They are eager to help Satellite clear the minefields to earn some money, and they play on unusual playground settings without much worries. It is difficult to watch, but the optimism that the orphans have somewhat cheered me up. Furthermore, the film has a number of memorable funny moments--one such moment is when Satellite predicts the weather based on a U.S. news report that has nothing to do with the weather.

Throughout the film, TCF is beautiful and touching. I think the unusual title suggests hope and that the impossible is possible as demonstrated by the optimism of the orphans despite their impoverished lives and their abilities to work, play, and live even with numerous obstacles that they currently experience.

My Blueberry Nights

My Blueberry Nights is the last film of my Wong Kar Wai marathon, at least for right now. After watching Happy Together, Chungking Express, Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love, and 2046, MBN is a great ending point to the seemingly endless marathon. MBN is a refreshing and energized film that's quite different from the other Wong's films in terms of the aesthetics. The beautiful photographic qualities of each scene is signature of Wong, but the neon and bright colors of this film is new and provide a new brust of life to Wong's filmography. The cafe that Jeremy, played by Jude Law, owns is tainted with a cold, depressing blue reminiscent of Picasso's Blue Period pieces. The bar that Elizabeth, Norah Jones' role, works at in Memphis is colored mainly by red lights reminiscent of a photo dark room or the Red Light District. This is where alcohol drowns sorrow and where the drama happens between Arnie, played by David Strathairn, and Sue Lynne, played by Rachael Weisz.

Throughout the film, I wanted to learn more about the characters. We never get to see how their relationships started and ended and we never truly get a peek into their private lives. Everything takes place in the cafe, bar, casino, or some other public space. Wong further added to this mystery by filming through windows that have writings over them. This technique, which I really liked, sets our perceptive as outsiders. Another technique used in the film that I thought that added quirkiness to the film were th
e periodic chapter cards that documents how many days it has been since the Jeremy and Elizabeth met and how far Elizabeth has traveled from NY.

Natalie Portman also has a great role in MBN as Leslie, a gambler who teaches Elizabeth some new things about life. I think, because of Leslie, Elizabeth was able to grow stronger during her road trip. With these eclectic mix of five actors and actresses, it was a nice surprise to see the great chemistry that existed. It was a bit strange, but I think the mix worked well.

Needless to say, the soundtrack of the film is fantastic. Yumeij's Theme which is also used in ITMFL can also be heard in MBN but in a jazzy/blues version. Norah Jones' My Story really should be included in her next album. The most memorable song is perhaps Cat Power's The Greatest which is repeated several times throughout the film and used in the trailer above.

While most critics agree that the film is not so good, but I personally really like it. I thought it was refreshing to watch a Wong film that is young, light, and somewhat happy. At times, as always with Wong films, the film felt like a medicine that you have to take because the pace is slow and dragged out.
But every frame is so beautiful and luscious as if they belong in museums as both still and moving images. If there were a coffee table book of MBN stills, I would absolutely buy it.