SIFF 2017: Knife in the Clear Water (Wang Zuebo, 2016)

knife-in-the-clear-water-busan

What does it mean to program a film like Knife in the Clear Water in 2017? And lest there be any confusion, Wang Xuebo’s film is not, as the title suggests, a Polanskian exercise in triangulated sexual tension. There aren’t even enough points here to form a triangle; the only relationship of note is between man and cow. I’ll resist the flippant impulse to label the movie itself as bovine, but suffice it to say that if you’ve been to a film festival in the last 30 years, you’ve encountered Wang’s chosen mode: the lumbering, slow, dull art movie, the kind of cinema constructed around underrepresented peasant classes, devoid of incident save the barest whisper of conflict, composed exclusively in long take, and, bonus points, in 4:3.

The film follows a farmer who resists sacrificing his beloved beast of burden in order to fulfill the burial rites initiated by his wife’s death. Shot in China’s harsh mountain region Ningxia, Knife in the Clear Water understands itself to be a hard-eyed glimpse into the lives of the Hui people who call this place their home. At least in terms of texture, the film does manage to capture something: the way that atmosphere, earth, and skin mingle together as if cut from the same ashen cloth suggests the bond shared between the landscape and its inhabitants. On the other hand, I wonder the extent to which any of the filmmaking choices here emerge from lived experience. I cannot presume to know how the Hui community in the film would choose to depict themselves, either collectively or through the peculiar eye of a homegrown artist, and for all I know what’s on display here is that vision, but the fealty with which Knife in the Clear Water adheres to every stylistic cliche of the festival circuit, its total alignment with the demands of the market (and let’s be clear, it is a market), raises some doubts. Hou Hsiao-hsien and co.—inarguably the progenitors of the style—can count many sons and daughters among the filmmakers most favored by programmers worldwide, which must be considered a coup given the initial modesty of their project, and yet by transforming an economic limitation into an aesthetic they bequeathed to a generation of cash-strapped artists a safe, bankable blueprint. The blame for slow cinema’s status as a lazy generic default can’t be laid at their feet or even Wang’s, really. But après Hou, le déluge; year after year the market is flooded.

A film like Knife in the Clear Water exists because filmmakers and festivals lack a vision of the future. Both ran the numbers, looked at what got slotted before, and traded in the danger of artistic risk for the well-worn laws of supply and demand. There’s a reasonable hope that, like any economy, the glut of product might be cut short if we stopped consuming it. But alas: to program Knife in the Clear Water in 2017 means programming it, under a different and presumably less tantalizing title, again and again and again.

Friday May 19 – Thursday May 25

Featured Film:

The Seattle International Film Festival, Part One

SIFF begins its three and a half week odyssey this week and we’ll have full coverage of the festival. Ryan’s got a preview of the festival as a whole up, and I’ve got one for just this first week. We’ll have more reviews to come throughout the week, but as of  now we have ones up for After the StormThe Unknown Girl (both of which we saw at the Vancouver Film Festival last fall), Yourself and Yours (two of them), and Cook Up a Storm. If you’re only going to see one SIFF movie this week, make it Yourself and Yours.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Lowriders (Ricardo de Montreuil) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Your Name. (Makoto Shinkai) Fri-Thurs Our Review Dubbed and Subtitled, Check Listings

Central Cinema:

The Life Aquatic (Wes Anderson, 2004) Fri-Tues
Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Century Federal Way:

Lahoriye (Amberdeep Singh) Fri-Thurs
Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs
Neither Wolf nor Dog (Steven Lewis Simpson) Fri-Thurs
Cezanne and I (Daniele Thompson) Fri-Thurs
The Black Stallion (Carroll Ballard, 1979) Sat Only Our Podcast Free Screening
Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001) Sat Only
Beyond the Years (Im Kwontaek, 2007) Mon Only
SOTA Screening 2017 (Various) Mon Only
Mission Control (David Fairhead) Tues Only
Deconstructing the Beatles: Rubber Soul (Scott Freiman) Weds Only
Vincent van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing (David Bickerstaff) Thurs Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Harold & Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (Daniel Raim) Fri-Thurs
Red May: Red Planets: The Left Turn in Science Fiction Sun Only Panel Discussion
5-25-77 (Patrick Read Johnson) Thurs Only

Landmark Guild 45th:

Your Name. (Makoto Shinkai) Fri-Thurs Our Review Subtitled
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Long Strange Trip (Amir Bar-Lev) Thurs Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Baahubali: The Conclusion (SS Rajamouli) Fri-Thurs Tamil & Telgu, Check Listings Our Review
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs
Half Girlfriend (Mohit Suri) Fri-Thurs
Keshava (Sudheer Varma) Fri-Thurs
The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage
Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Baahubali: The Conclusion (SS Rajamouli) Fri-Thurs Hindi Our Review
Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs
Lowriders (Ricardo de Montreuil) Fri-Thurs
Chuck (Philippe Falardeau) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Burden (Tim Marrinan & Richard Dewey) Fri-Sun
Idaho Transfer (Peter Fonda, 1973) Weds Only
A Stray (Musa Syeed) Thurs Only Free Event
Sarah Jacobson: Queen of the Underground (Sarah Jacobson, 1992-97) Thurs Only

AMC Oak Tree:

Their Finest (Lone Scherfig) Fri-Thurs
Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs
Chuck (Philippe Falardeau) Fri-Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
What a Wonderful Family (Huang Lei) Fri-Thurs
Battle of Memories (Leste Chen) Fri-Thurs
The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Lowriders (Ricardo de Montreuil) Fri-Thurs
Their Finest (Lone Scherfig) Fri-Thurs
Can’t Help Falling in Love (Mae Czarina Cruz-Alviar) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs
Their Finest (Lone Scherfig) Fri-Thurs

Landmark Seven Gables:

A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Podcast

SIFF Film Center:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

AMC Southcenter:

Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs
Chuck (Philippe Falardeau) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977) Sun & Weds Only

SIFF Uptown:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Varsity Theatre:

Fight for Space (Paul J. Hildebrandt) Fri-Thurs
Tracktown (Alexi Pappas & Jeremy Teicher) Fri-Thurs
Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

Alien Covenant (Ridley Scott) Our Review
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (James Gunn) Our Review
The Lost City of Z (James Gray) Our Review
The Fate of the Furious 
(F. Gary Gray) Our Review

2017 SIFF Preview

siff17

The time has come once again for the month-long extravaganza across this city known as the Seattle International Film Festival. This is my second time attending but the first covering it as a member of the press, and while I can’t say that there is an overflowing multitude of films I am absolutely dying to see, there are enough curiosities to satisfy.

As a means of organization, I will be listing out many of the most notable titles roughly by order of interest. It should be noted that my views (based solely on a fairly light perusal of the film guide) on what are the most noteworthy films may diverge wildly from yours, and should thus be take with a grain of salt – The Big Sick, tonight’s opening gala film, isn’t on this list for instance. But otherwise, on to the films.

Almost certainly the most noteworthy and delightful inclusion is one of the latest works from the South Korean auteur and master filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, entitled Yourself and Yours. His wholly idiosyncratic and hilarious style, filmed in long takes with obtrusive zooms and bountiful amounts of soju, typifies some of the best and most intelligent films of world cinema. Equally noteworthy is his quick working method: since Yourself and Yours premiered last year at the Toronto Film Festival he has completed three films, including two that are set to debut at Cannes in the next few days. It should be noted that this particular incarnation of Hong’s pet obsession, the fraught relationship between men and women, has been reported to be more abtruse than much of his previous work, so a prior immersion in his work is recommended, something like his great film last year Right Now, Wrong Then.

Nocturama is the latest film by French director Bertrand Bonello, who has garnered much praise for his meticulous, hypnotic brand of direction. This film in particular has been received with a great deal of controversy, as it deals with a terrorist attack perpetuated by a group of teenagers, who spend the second half of the film hiding out in a mazelike shopping mall in the heart of Paris. Also very noteworthy are João Pedro Rodrigues’ The Ornithologist, a Portugese jungle exploration into the erotic and the spiritual, A Ghost Story, David Lowery’s tale of semi-supernatural romance starring returning collaborators Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, and Person to Person, a New York multiple-storyline “network film” starring, among many, Michael Cera, Abbi Jacobson, and Phillip Baker Hall.

On the repertory side of things, the most noteworthy inclusion is Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry. The film for which the late director, perhaps the greatest of all modern artists, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, it attracted strongly divided critical responses and has emerged as one of his most definitive works, an immensely contemplative work on suicide and the human condition that takes place, as with many of Kiarostami’s works, mostly over a series of car rides. Other intriguing repertory titles include The Marseille Trilogy, a series of films about a love triangle written and conceived by Marcel Pagnol, Maurice, a gay Merchant-Ivory romance, and Love and Duty, a silent drama starring Chinese film icon Ruan Lingyu.

There are, of course, other notable films showing during the next month, and here are just a few more.

  • After the Storm, the latest film by Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda
  • By the Time It Gets Dark, a Thai film that plays with notions of reality and cinema
  • Columbus, the debut film of noted video essayist kogonada
  • The Unknown Girl, the new Dardennes Brothers movie
  • Beach Rats, an exploration of sexuality on the beaches of Brooklyn
  • Bad Black, an explosive, crazed no-budged action film from Wakaliwood in Uganda
  • Afterimage, the final film by Polish direct Andrzej Wajda
  • I, Daniel Blake, the second Palme d’Or winning film by Ken Loach
  • Manifesto, a series of monologues performed by Cate Blanchett in 13 different roles
  • Wind River, the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, script writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water
  • Searchers, a Canadian Inuit film based partly on the legendary John Ford movie

This list forms a good portion of the truly noteworthy and worthwhile works showing at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, but it is naturally incomplete. The rest is up to the viewer.

Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, 2017)

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Alien: Covenant, like the many offerings of that benevolent hydra known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, depends to no small extent on the foreknowledge of its filmic predecessors, both directed by Ridley Scott: the landmark sci-fi horror touchstoneAlien, of course, but more obviously the unjustly maligned Prometheus from 2012. Fittingly, it borrows strands of DNA (as it were) liberally from both, melding the basic structure of both with the grimy, generally no-frills mode of the former and the sense of wonder and existential doubt of the latter. The result is something slightly uncanny, as initially shocking as the notably CGI aliens (a far cry from the hulking suit of the original film), but thrilling and hard-hitting all the same.

What sets Alien: Covenant apart from its forbears is its method for unleashing hell. Functionally speaking, it takes a two-pronged approach, conveniently divided into two halves. The first concerns the various crew members of the Covenant, a deep-space colony mission diverted by a mysterious transmission issuing from a heretofore unknown planet that seems completely suitable for life, including acting captain Christopher (Billy Crudup), second-in-command Daniels (Katherine Waterston), chief pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), and android Walter (Michael Fassbender). The second picks up neatly after various survivors of the initial alien attack are assisted by David (Fassbender again), the android figure from Prometheus who has been dwelling on the hostile planet for ten years.

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