Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2017)

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The latest film from one of the most interesting directors in the world right now is playing at the Grand Illusion for week starting this Friday. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, director of such key Japanese horror films as Pulse and Cure, as well as award-winning dramas like Tokyo Sonatawas last seen here at SIFF in 2016 with Creepy, though his Daguerrotype was also released on VOD last fall. The new one is a science-fiction film about an alien invasion, and while its conclusion veers dangerously close to sappy, the path it takes to get there is anything but.

The aliens’ scout team consists of three “people” who take over the bodies of a trio of Japanese people: a teenage girl, a young man and an older married man. Before the invasion can begin, they have to learn everything they can about the people of Earth, but language gets in the way so the aliens have figured out a way to steal “conceptions”, the preverbal ideas which are the Platonic forms of things like “family”, “work”, “ownership”, etc, directly out of human’s heads. This has the unfortunate side-effect of completely removing the concept from the victim, leaving them forever without any conception of self or otherness or what have you.

In theory this amount to a kind of philosophical state of nature experiment, wherein you remove these basic ideas from our understanding of the world to see how we behave and what kind of society we’d build. The aliens have no understanding of these concepts until they take them, and we can see their behavior change when they learn what family is, for example, which ultimately contributes to their downfall. They enlist two “guides” along their way: the married man’s wife, who honestly likes him a lot better once he’s possessed by a malevolent creature from beyond the stars, and a tabloid journalist from a weekly news magazine, who agrees to help the aliens in hopes of staying alive long enough to thwart their plans, though his run-ins with the government forces pursuing the same goal and reexamination of his own life see him wavering in his loyalty to humanity.

Kurosawa’s direction is crisp and fluid, with snaking long takes, eerily upbeat music and unexpected cuts giving everything a comic, off-kilter vibe that meshes nicely with the film’s not quite satirical, not quiet earnest message. There’s even a healthy dose of violence and mayhem to keep things moving. A genuinely weird, light, and funny movie, a perfect tonic after all the dreary self-importance of recent Hollywood science-fiction.

Daguerrotype (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2016)

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Halloween may have passed but it’s always a good time to watch a creepy movie by a great director, and that exactly what Daguerrotype, by Kiyoshi Kurosawa is. The artiest of the filmmakers to emerge in the J-Horror boom of the late 90s, or at least the one most likely to win awards at Cannes, Kurosawa’s formal precision and methodical rhythms have earned him comparisons to the usual suspects (Kubrick, Tarkovsky), and films like Cure and Pulse are indeed a far cry from the free-wheeling genre hysterics of Takashi Miike and Sion Sono. This isn’t his latest film (that would be Before We Vanish, which premiered this year, at Cannes), but rather the one that premiered last year, at Cannes, around the same time his other 2016 film, Creepy, was playing here at SIFF. It’s not getting a local release here in Seattle, but will be available on-demand starting on November 7.

Daguerrotype finds the director working in France, in French and with an all European cast (the French title, Le secret de la chambre noir gives a much better sense of the film’s eerie vibe). Tahar Rahim plays a young man who gets a job assisting a photographer (Dardennes regular Olivier Gourmet) at his suburban mansion (or “old house with some land”). The photographer uses 19th century equipment and techniques to create life-sized and disturbingly like-like photographs of his daughter (Constance Rousseau), which require dressing her in old dresses and locking her into place using a terrifying brace so that she can remain totally immobilized for the inordinately long exposure times the daguerrotype process requires (they start at an hour and get longer as the film goes along). He previously used the process on his wife, now deceased and possibly haunting the house. The young man falls in love with the daughter, who wants to be a gardener, and so a real estate scam begins. The movie is essentially a film noir, except instead of Lana Turner seducing a working class guy into murdering her husband, it’s a ghost (or two) doing the seducing. Call it “The Ghost-man Always Rings Twice”.

But, like any film noir or horror film, to reduce it to its plot is to highlight its essential absurdity. Daguerrotype is far more mysterious an object than that, a black hole of a movie that sucks you in with the gravity of its deliberate movements, then revels in the terror that is the absence of explanation. Possible interpretations of the facts of the film abound (perhaps too many), but mostly it seems to come down to an act of revenge against the impulse to freeze things in time place, to stop the gradual process of change, both men ultimately driven by an obsolete patriarchal desire to lock women down, as wives, daughters, lovers, subjects. The entropic destruction of the father is inverted in the panicked scheming of the worker, both leading to their inevitable and not especially surprising doom. But perhaps most upsetting is that there’s no satisfaction to be found in this revenge, no cathartic joy at the destruction of an immoral system. The ghosts seem to be just as scared as we are.

SIFF 2016 Preview Week Three and Beyond

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The Seattle International Film Festival races into it’s third week (has it really only been fifteen days? With only a mere ten to go?) and here we have some titles you won’t want to miss. We’ll link to our reviews of the titles listed here as we write them, as we’ve been doing with our Week One and Week Two Previews. We previewed the festival back on Frances Farmer Show #6 and discussed it at its midway point on Frances Farmer #7. We’ll have a complete wrap-up of the SIFF just as soon as it ends.

Continue reading “SIFF 2016 Preview Week Three and Beyond”