The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola, 2017)

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Respectability, at least in the conventional cultural sense, is a slightly odd fit when discussing the idiosyncratic oeuvre of Sofia Coppola. After her breakthrough works, The Virgin Suicides and the Oscar-winning Lost in Translation, Coppola has increasingly moved along her own particular path, making films about well-off disillusioned youth in such disparate locales as 18th-century France (Marie Antoinette), modern Hollywood (Somewhere, The Bling Ring), and the Upper East Side (A Very Murray Christmas). In light of these works, The Beguiled may seem like a departure for the well-acclaimed auteur, who added a Best Director prize at Cannes this year to her not-inconsiderable collection. But the film is very much hers, albeit in a much different vein than before.

For starters, it is a remake, in this case of the 1971 film by the same name directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page, which itself was based off the novel by Thomas P. Cullinan. The fertile premise, which Coppola’s version follows faithfully, is set during the latter half of the Civil War and involves a wounded Union soldier (John, played by Colin Farrell) who is found and taken care of by a Christian all-girls school in Virginia. Slowly, he begins to forge connections, some of which involve lust, with practically every remaining occupant of the school, including teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), student Alicia (Elle Fanning), and headmistress/matriarch Martha (Nicole Kidman).

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Friday June 30 – Thursday July 6

Featured Film:

Hong Kong Cinema at the SIFF Uptown

SIFF’s got some cool stuff this week, with 35mm prints of Reservoir Dogs and Jaws (and Jaws 3D too, I guess) and DA Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop, but it would be off-brand for me to select anything but their Hong Kong miniseries as our Featured Film for this week. SIFF’s selected three newish films and two oldish classics to mark the 20th anniversary of the Handover: Infernal Affairs and Shaolin Soccer were two of the biggest hits of the immediate post-Handover period, a time of steep decline in Hong Kong cinema, and they’re playing them on 35mm (I can’t confirm which cut of Shaolin Soccer they’re playing, but they’re advertising it as in Cantonese so hopefully it isn’t the terrible Miramax cut). Less essential are the new films in the series. We have reviews up for all three of them: Cook Up a StormWeeds on Fire and Mad World.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Men in Black (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1997) Fri-Sun, Weds
An American Tail (Don Bluth, 1986) Fri-Sun, Weds

Century Federal Way:

Great Sardaar (Ranjeet Bal) Fri-Thurs
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

The Exception (David Leveaux) Fri-Thurs
Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
The Hero (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
Buster’s Mal Heart (Sarah Adina Smith) Sat Only
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Greg Palast & David Ambrose) Weds Only Free Screening

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Happy New Year (Pannaga Bharana) Fri-Thurs
Tubelight (Kabir Khan) Fri-Thurs
DJ Duvvada Jagannadham (Harish Shankar) Fri-Thurs
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Tubelight (Kabir Khan) Fri-Thurs

AMC Oak Tree:

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Pacific Place:

Reset (Chang) Fri-Thurs
The Hero (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
Tubelight (Kabir Khan) Fri-Thurs
Can We Still Be Friends? (Prime Cruz) Fri-Thurs
The Hero (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

The Hero (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Moka (Frédéric Mermoud) Fri-Sun

SIFF Uptown:

I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Band Aid (Zoe Lister-Jones) Fri-Thurs
The Exception (David Leveaux) Fri-Thurs
The Hero (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
Monterey Pop (DA Pennebaker, 1968) Fri, Sun-Thurs Our Review
Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992) Fri-Thurs 35mm
Weeds on Fire (Stevefat) Fri Only Our Review
Cook Up a Storm (Raymond Yip) Sat Only Our Review
Shaolin Soccer (Stephen Chow, 2001) Sat Only 35mm
Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau & Alan Mak, 2002) Sat Only 35mm
Jaws/Jaws 3D (Steven Spielberg, 1975/Joe Alves, 1983) Thurs Only 35mm

Varsity Theatre:

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

The Beguiled (Sophia Coppola) Our Review
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (James Gunn) Our Review
Alien Covenant (Ridley Scott) Our Review

Monterey Pop (DA Pennebaker, 1968)

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Ruthlessly cut down to only 80 minutes of a three day festival, DA Pennebaker’s seminal concert film captures in celluloid the moment in 1967 when a whole generation was about to lose its mind, but with a killer soundtrack. As the festival sits in the transition between festivals of the past and the rapidly approaching future (it was the first major rock festival, modeled after various Jazz and Folk fests), so the film has one foot in the past and one in the future. In the rhythm of cutting between performers and audience, interstitial shots of people (with an especial focus on beautiful women, with whom this camera crew seem particularly obsessed) and the festival environment, it’s essentially Jazz on a Summer’s Day, the 1960 concert film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. But at times it breaks into something far stranger, as in the cameraman who stares directly into a light during Otis Redding’s set, the silhouette of the star only occasionally breaking up the blinding whiteness, or in the particularly cruel cut from Canned Heat’s blistering “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” to Simon & Garfunkel’s simple syrup “The 59th Street Bridge Song”. It’s a culture on the edge, one which would reach it’s apotheosis in Woodstock and begin its rapid decline just a few months later with Gimme Shelter (whose co-director, Albert Maysles, served as a camera operator on Monterey Pop).

Most of the bands get only a single track in the film, and some big names are cut out entirely (including, famously, the Grateful Dead, who objected to the commercialism of the project). It’s a particular shame that we only get to see the incandescent finale of Jimi Hendrix’s brilliant set (you see watch most of it, his introduction to American audiences, in Pennebaker’s 1986 film Jimi Plays Monterey). Pennebaker’s decision to devote almost a quarter of the film’s runtime to Ravi Shankar is some kind of perverse genius. But with apologies to Hendrix and Shankar, the MVP of the film is Janis Joplin, without a doubt. Her performance of “Ball and Chain” is the reason we have music.

Weeds on Fire (Stevefat, 2016)

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One of the three new films playing at SIFF this weekend as part of their miniseries commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, along with Mad World and Cook Up a StormWeeds on Fire was one of the surprise hits of 2016 in Hong Kong. The based on true events story follows the founding of the Shatin Martins baseball team, and plays as a more or less conventional, and conventionally uplifting sports story, albeit with a harder edge to its story of high school youth than we see here in America. Think of it as A League of Their Own, but for the kids from Dangerous Encounters – First Kind (the English title is consciously recalling such rebellious Ringo Lam films as City on Fire and School on Fire, the film’s Chinese title means “Half a Step”, which is more generically sports-centric.)

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Mad World (Wong Chun, 2016)

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For more than a hundred years, all of the world, what is taken to be serious cinema has been defined more often than not by content. Films for grown-ups are supposed to be sober examinations of the social and political issues of the day. These are the movies that win awards. They almost never last, because as society mutates through time, the films remain frozen into irrelevance. Of the social problem films that maintain their greatness, it is almost always because of their secondary characteristics: the craft of directors, actors, writers and others elevate films like The Best Years of Our Lives, I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, On the Waterfront or Bigger than Life beyond the prisons of their own importance. But most fall by the wayside, only unearthed by future generations of box-checkers attempting to watch all the past award winners (for why else would anyone watch Gentleman’s Agreement today?) This dynamic is starkly present in histories of Hong Kong cinema, long haunted by the fact that what the colony/SAR has always been good at are genre films (musicals, martial arts and gangster films, low-brow comedies) featuring an embarrassing lack of social relevance. The narrative around the Hong Kong New Wave has largely been one of selling out: a group of young directors emerge tackling vital issues of the day then become corrupted by mainstream cinema into making impersonal works of goofy entertainment. Going back to the post-war 1950s, when musicals and kung fu serials were incubating a vast array of talent that would dominate the industry for the next 30 years, the films of import were considered to be the social problem films, especially a subgenre of family films revolving around relations between fathers and sons. A look at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, given for more than 50 years to the best in Chinese language film reveals that only a handful of non-war action films have picked up the top prize, the first (as far as I can tell) being Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

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But I may be overstating this. The Hong Kong Film Awards, dating back to 1982, have been much more liberal in their tastes, and last year, confronted with the choice between Trivisa, a serio-comic crime saga from the Milkyway Image studio and Mad World, a Very Important Movie by first-time director Wong Chun about a father and his son and mental illness, they chose the gangsters. Mad World  kicks off a miniseries of Hong Kong films at SIFF this weekend, marking the anniversary of the 1997 Handover of the colony to Mainland China with a trio of new films and a pair of classics. Shawn Yue (an actor and former model last seen here a couple of months ago in Love Off the Cuff) plays a young man suffering from Bipolar Disorder who gets released after a year in a hospital into the custody of his father, an aging truck driver played by Eric Tsang. As Yue attempts to reenter society (and unadvisedly goes off his medication) flashbacks recount the events leading up to his breakdown: he quit his job to care for his elderly mother (Elaine Jin), who appears to have been afflicted with some form of dementia. This strains his relationship with his fiancée and ultimately leads to the mother’s accidental death, for which Yue is charged with manslaughter but found not guilty. The present tense structure of the film follows Yue in a number of attempts to recreate his former life, all of which fail miserably (a former coworker and friend flounders under a financial crisis, his fiancée ambushes him with recrimination at a prayer meeting, a friendship with the boy next door is undermined by the prejudice and gossip of his neighbors). It’s enough to drive anyone nuts.

Wong’s film argues that it isn’t so much that there’s anything wrong with Yue, chemically or psychologically, but rather that given the social, material and familial conditions of contemporary society (along with perhaps a genetic inheritance from his mother), depression is not only reasonable, but inevitable. His former friends are materialistic and self-obsessed (and extremely rude at weddings). Everyone he meets makes fun of him for being crazy, there’s even a video of him having a breakdown in a convenience store that goes viral, because apparently everyone in Hong Kong is a monster. His father lives in the tiniest of apartments, an 8×6 room with bunkbed, a TV and a fold-up able, sharing a kitchen and bathroom with half a dozen neighbors. A cramped corner for forgotten people barely serving. With rigid, confining compositions and a sickly melancholic piano score, the film is an unrelenting lecture about the pathology of modern life, illustrated by a melodramatic slideshow demonstrating its devastating effects on a matinée idol.

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However, Eric Tsang, one of the key figures in Hong Kong cinema for the past 40 years, where he has served as director (Aces Go Places), writer (Tsui Hark’s All the Wrong Clues (for the Right Solution), producer (Drunken Master II, Golden Chicken, After this Our Exile) and actor both comic (as part of Sammo Hung’s Lucky Stars crew) and dramatic (as Maggie Cheung’s husband in Comrades, Almost a Love Story), brings a lived-in reality to the film that compensates for much of its contrivance. Where Yue plays depression as blankness and tears and Jin pushes dementia over the top, Tsang keeps things simple. A good-natured, under-educated man, his attempts to do what’s best for his son are heartbreakingly inadequate (at one point saying what seems exactly the opposite of how one should talk to someone with a mental illness: “Stop being negative. It’s all in your head. Think of something more cheerful. Can’t you be normal?”) At the Hong Kong Film Awards, Tsang won the Best Supporting Actor for his work, while Jin won Supporting Actress and Wong Best New Director. I suspect that, years from now, Tsang’s performance will be the only reason to watch this movie. And it might even be worth it.

Friday June 23 – Thursday June 29

Featured Film:

After the Storm at the SIFF Uptown

Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s latest, hot off a run at SIFF, opens this week at the Uptown. It’s another of Kore-eda’s quiet examinations of family life, with a run-down father attempting to win back his ex-wife, connect with his son, cope with his mom and sister’s disapproval and avoid writing his second novel while working as a private detective to fuel his gambling addiction. Hiroshi Abe is excellent as the dad, as is Koreeda regular Kirin Kiki as the mother. We reviewed it at VIFF last fall.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) Fri-Weds
Drop Dead Fred (Ate de Jong, 1991) Fri-Weds

SIFF Egyptian:

The Exception (David Leveaux) Fri-Thurs

Century Federal Way:

DJ Duvvada Jagannadham (Harish Shankar) Fri-Thurs
My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) Sun & Mon Only Dubbed Sun, Subtitled Mon
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

The Exception (David Leveaux) Fri-Thurs
Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta) Fri-Thurs
Zardoz (John Boorman, 1974) Sat Only
Truman (Cesc Gay) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta) Fri-Thurs
Tubelight (Kabir Khan) Fri-Thurs
DJ Duvvada Jagannadham (Harish Shankar) Fri-Thurs
My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) Sun & Mon Only Dubbed Sun, Subtitled Mon
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Tubelight (Kabir Khan) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

I’m Not Fascinating: The Movie! (Danny Plotnick, 1996) Fri Only Drummer in Attendance
Icaros: A Vision (Leonor Caraballo & Matteo Norzi) Fri-Sun Only
On the Banks of the Tigris: The Hidden Story of Iraqi Music (Marsha Emerman, 2015) Sat & Sun Only
YIPS Fest 2017 Sun Only

AMC Oak Tree:

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta) Fri-Thurs
Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
The Hero (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta) Fri-Thurs
Tubelight (Kabir Khan) Fri-Thurs
Can We Still Be Friends? (Prime Cruz) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta) Fri-Thurs
Dean (Demetri Martin) Fri-Thurs
The Hero (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Manifesto (Julian Rosefeldt, 2015) Fri-Sun Our Review

Regal Thornton Place:

My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) Sun & Mon Only Dubbed Sun, Subtitled Mon

SIFF Uptown:

After the Storm (Koreeda Hirokazu) Fri-Thurs Our Review
The Wedding Plan (Rama Burshtein) Fri-Thurs
Dean (Demetri Martin) Fri-Thurs
The Hero (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
Mad World (Wong Chun) Thurs Only

Varsity Theatre:

Letters from Baghdad (Sabine Krayenbühl & Zeva Oelbaum) Fri-Sun
Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
Ripped (Brad Epstein) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Alien Covenant (Ridley Scott) Our Review
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (James Gunn) Our Review

But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit, 1999)

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Equal parts love story, social satire, and broad teen sex comedy, But I’m a Cheerleader has had an enthusiastic following among the LGBTQ+ set (and others) for almost two decades. It’s easy to see why: the actors are full of sweetly winning charm, the satire (of “reparative therapy” camps) is pointed and richly earned, and the story arc is mercifully non-tragic—a rarity for the longest time in queer cinema. For those of us who came of age with mopey, lugubrious lesbian love stories like Desert Hearts (1985), Claire of the Moon (1992), and High Art (1998), it’s impossible to overstate what a blast of fresh air this film was when it first arrived in theaters. (Even today, in fact, a quick Google search of “lesbian movies” gets you hits like “Why are all lesbian movies sad?” and “17 Awesome Lesbian Movies Where No One Dies at the End.”) As we revisit But I’m a Cheerleader well into the new millennium, the film feels every bit as fresh, funny, fun, and necessary as it did when it first came out.

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The Frances Farmer Show #13: SIFF 2017 Part Two

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The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival has come to an end and Sean, Evan and Ryan get together to talk about what they saw, what they liked and didn’t like among the festival’s archival presentations and new releases. Film discussed include: The Dumb Girl of Portici, Taste of Cherry, Love and Duty, Brainstorm, A Ghost Story, Nocturama, Columbus, Godspeed, Gook and Mr. Long.

You can listen to the show by downloading it directly, or by subscribing on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice.

Friday June 16 – Thursday June 22

Featured Film:

Funeral Parade of Roses at the Northwest Film Forum

In addition to a program of eight of his short films (playing Sunday only) the Northwest Film Forum this weekend presents the restoration of the late Toshio Matsumoto’s 1969 Japanese New Wave classic Funeral Parade of Roses, which I haven’t seen, but which they describe as a “shattering, kaleidoscopic masterpiece . . . one of the most subversive and intoxicating films of the late 1960s: a headlong dive into a dazzling, unseen Tokyo night-world of drag queen bars and fabulous divas, fueled by booze, drugs, fuzz guitars, performance art and black mascara.” Sold.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
Dean (Demetri Martin) Fri-Thurs
Warriors of the Dawn (Jeong Yoon-cheol) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

The House on Coco Road (Damani Baker) Thurs Only

Central Cinema:

But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit, 2000) Fri-Mon
Ma vie en rose (Alain Berliner, 1997) Fri-Mon

SIFF Egyptian:

Collide-O-Scope Best of the Worst World Tour Kick-Off Party Weds Only

Century Federal Way:

Warriors of the Dawn (Jeong Yoon-cheol) Fri-Thurs
Resident Evil: Vendetta (Takanori Tsujimoto) Thurs Only
El Dorado (Howard Hawks, 1967) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach) Fri-Thurs
Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
Water Horse (Jay Russell, 2007) Fri-Thurs
Logan’s Run (Michael Anderson, 1976) Sat Only Our Podcast
Semi-Iconic: The Ballad of Dick Rossetti (Isaac Olsen) Sun & Tues Only
Nise: The Heart of Madness (Roberto Berliner) Tues Only
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (William Dieterle, 1939) Weds Only
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Greg Palast & David Ambrose) Thurs Only Free Screening

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (Maria Schrader) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta) Fri-Thurs
Resident Evil: Vendetta (Takanori Tsujimoto) Thurs Only
El Dorado (Howard Hawks, 1967) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Didi’s Dreams (Kevin Tsai) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Funeral Parade of Roses (Toshio Matsumoto, 1969) Fri-Sun Only
The Short Films of Toshio Matsumoto Sun Only
Last Men in Aleppo (Feras Fayyad) Weds & Thurs Only
Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock (Josh Fox, James Spione & Myron Dewey) Sun Only
Moving History Strikes Back: Battling the Magnetic Media Crisis Thurs Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
Hindi Medium (Saket Chaudhary) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Dean (Demetri Martin) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Deconstructung the Beatles: Rubber Soul (Scott Freiman) Fri-Sun

SIFF Uptown:

Dean (Demetri Martin) Fri-Thurs
The Wedding Plan (Rama Burshtein) Fri-Thurs
Best of SIFF 2017 (Various) Fri-Thurs
Roosevelt Film Club’s Summer Screening Weds Only

Varsity Theatre:

Letters from Baghdad (Sabine Krayenbühl & Zeva Oelbaum) Fri-Sun

In Wide Release:

Alien Covenant (Ridley Scott) Our Review
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (James Gunn) Our Review

Between Work: A Conversation on Claire’s Camera and The Day After

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Evan Morgan: The sun’s out, palm trees are in sight, and we’ve temporarily traded in soju for sancerre. Hong Sang-soo is en vacance again. I don’t know about you Sean, but I’m always happy to see Hong in the literally and figuratively breezy mode that he takes up in Claire’s Camera. The seasons have long played a central role in the Hong project, though it seems that the tonal vacillation between his summer and winter films grows with each passing year. Hong’s sense of humor lilts along during the warmer months, and though it never goes entirely dormant in wintertime, it cools and takes on a serrated edge, like cracked ice. Claire’s Camera, in keeping with this seasonal dichotomy, might be his most amiable movie yet, defined as it is by Isabelle Huppert’s warm naiveté and the dabs of sunflower yellow provided her summer frock. Huppert’s flightiness bleeds into the plotting too, which moves with a nonchalance that borders on amateurishness. I mean that as a compliment. It strikes me that Hong’s acceptance into the upper echelon of the art cinema world (the film unfolds during Cannes, after all) occurred simultaneously with his loosened production methods, and though the competition gatekeepers prefer the more somber Seoul films, the animating spirit of later Hong owes much to the laidback atmosphere of friends who vacation together and decide, ‘what the hell let’s make a movie.’ It’s not for nothing that this most amateur of Hong films is set against the backdrop of the world’s premier film festival.

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