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JDIFF '11 Review Roundup: 'Poetry,' 'Everything Will Be Fine,' 'My Words, My Lies - My Love'

by Jessica Kiang
March 8, 2011 12:20 AM
3 Comments
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The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, aka JDIFF, first inaugurated in 2003, wrapped its packed 11-day run on Sunday 27th Feb. Our "man" (read: "woman") on the ground, was in attendance - here are some short reviews of just a few of the many films screened.

"Poetry" (Shi)
A deserving Best Screenplay winner at the Cannes Film Festival, Lee Chang-Dong’s “Poetry” is a masterclass in weaving together weighty themes so that the overall effect is effortless, light as gossamer - but shot through with insight, compassion and humanity. The first half hour feels slow, but the gentleness of the pace belies the film’s intelligence; nothing, but nothing happens without consequence to the story further along. And in its last third the film really sings, with all the strands of this one woman’s life -- comic, tragic or mundane -- coming together in a heartrending climax that is at once truthful and unexpected.

The story is cued up as follows: Grandmother Mija (the beautiful Yun Jeong-hie) lives in a small apartment with her teenage grandson, and makes ends meet by acting as a part-time maid/nurse to an elderly stroke victim. She joins a poetry class. When the suicide of a local schoolgirl comes to light, and her grandson is discovered to have been involved, Mija’s life starts to unravel -- with not only her moral conscience troubling her and financial pressures mounting, she is also starting to become confused in her mind and to forget words, just as she is trying to write a poem for her class.

If it sounds melodramatic, it really isn’t -- while it’s hardly possible to overstate the number of themes woven through this fascinating film, you also cannot oversell the grace and wisdom with which they are treated. It is long, it is stately and, as you would imagine with a Korean film about death, beauty, loneliness and the pursuit of artistic inspiration, it’s not for everyone. But those willing to give themselves over to it are in for a rewarding and beautiful experience that stays with you long after those final stanzas fade. To say nothing of what has to be the most achingly devastating badminton scene in a film, ever. [A]

"Everything Will Be Fine" (Alles Wird Gut)
(This review contains spoilers, but then again, so does the first 15 minutes of the film.)

In order to really work, any film that hinges on the “is this really happening or is it all in his head” device needs to make either reading of the plot plausible, right up until a certain point near the end where the truth is unveiled. But the chief problem with “Everything Will Be Fine,” the latest film from Danish writer/director Christoffer Boe is that it fails to walk that tightrope, and the answer is telegraphed right from the beginning - so for the majority of the film’s running time, we’re watching a man’s hallucination, which is only slightly more interesting than hearing about somebody else’s dream.

More worryingly, in a move that comes off as exploitative rather than provocative, the film tries to borrow topical interest by using photos of the torture of captives by the military as one of its chief maguffins. As with other potentially interesting themes, such as religious fundamentalism and the price of artistic obsession, this area is relegated to the status of plot device and left largely unexplored.

As time goes on, even the director seems to lose faith in the paranoid conspiracy elements of his plot. With the long-foreseen “revelation” that most of what we’ve been watching has been the product of a disturbed imagination, the film morphs into an attempt at a character study -- but with all the plot twists and supposedly enigmatic narrative tricks, characterization has been overlooked so it’s hard to really care about the protagonist.

On the plus side, it showcases a handful of performances that rise above the material and much of it looks beautiful in a chilly Scandinavian way, but this stylish veneer can’t conceal the emptiness in its heart. [C]

"My Words. My Lies - My Love" (Lila, Lila)
In this film festival there were roughly three types of film you could expect: the genuinely provocative, boundary-pushing “edgy” movies that will never get another release due to their niche appeal; the already-successful indie projects that arrive with a pedigree having been talked up at other festivals; and finally, there are the movies that, simply by virtue of being in a different language, are deemed appropriate festival fare, no matter how mainstream their sensibility.

The German-language “My Words, My Lies - My Love” from director Alain Gsponer belongs firmly in the third category -- even while watching it you can recast it in your head as a Hollywood romcom without anything getting lost in translation (this writer landed on maybe Paul Rudd and Drew Barrymore for the leads).

Which is to say, it’s an enjoyable, attractively played genre film that mostly succeeds in its modest ambitions. The story goes: David Kern (Daniel Brühl), a waiter with no discernible ambition or talent but an unrequited crush on literary student Marie (Hannah Herzsprung), finds a manuscript in a stuck drawer, and passes it off as his own, becoming an overnight literary sensation. He gets the girl and everything’s rosy till the volatile Jacky (Henry Hübchen, or in my mental Hollywood remake Jack Nicholson/Al Pacino) turns up claiming to be the real author and blackmails his way into David’s life. There are some surprising elements, including the relationship between David and Jacky becoming something more touching and paradoxical than the topline might suggest, but mostly things proceed as you might expect, with Brühl’s likeability, and Herzsprung’s winsomeness in an underwritten role, really carrying the whole endeavour.

It’s gentle and light as a bubble, but a perfectly amiable way to spend 104 minutes. Just one thing: Hollywood, when you inevitably remake this, please -- no Adam Sandler. [B]

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3 Comments

  • Jo | August 11, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    Yup, Amy. I saw that preview in the theaters last night and was taken aback. The Words looks like a drama-thriller though. I, for one, found Lila, Lila quite nice. There aren't many German romcoms that actually land on their feet and Lila, Lila surely did. As someone who teaches about Nazism and Racism through modern German film, I really enjoyed the lighter fare that Lila, Lila offered. Can't say that I would be tempted in the least to go see The Words.

  • Amy | August 1, 2012 2:21 AMReply

    Looks like Lila, Lila came to Hollywood in the drama-thriller form of "The Words". You called it, and no Adam Sandler.

  • Christopher Bell | March 8, 2011 5:43 AMReply

    I love me some Daniel Bruhl. Not enough to see something like that, but he's pretty great and should be in more projects.

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