Bonjour Tristesse (1958)

6 12 2008

Well, I really wanted to like this, but I just couldn’t. Sure, the photograph is nice and it is equally enjoyable to see Jean Seberg on screen for an extended amount of time, but unfortunately, this movie is a complete mess. I can’t say I hated it, because well, I really enjoyed it but only on an unintentional level. It is filled with some of the most stilted dialogue I’ve ever heard, and it is all delivered by performers that operate on completely different wavelengths. Seberg’s untrained charm is absent when she’s lined up next to Deborah Kerr, who I hate to say, is overwhelmingly terrible.

It starts out rather promising with little to no dialogue and wonderful black and white(ish) cinematography, but once Seberg’s voiceover starts, it is all downhill. The single most frustrating thing about this film is that it could have so easily been transformed into a masterpiece. The scene with Seberg looking into the camera with an obvious feeling of discontent would have been great, if we didn’t have an oddly upbeat voiceover from her explaining everything that happened. Had a Preminger just made the black and white sections (which only add up to about five minutes total) into a whole film than it would have been so much better. Instead, we get a candy-colored melodrama that is so fake and melodramatic that I have to assume that this film’s fans are viewing it through a subversive lens.

I think it is a bit ironic how this film so clearly wants to sell itself as a character study, when it is really just a completely Hollywood-approved story-driven type of drama. This is ironic because it comes from a time period where directors like Budd Boetticher, Anthony Mann, and Nicholas Ray were making “genre” films that were profoundly moving character-driven masterpieces. It only made my hate for this film even more as it seemed like it was superficially more “highbrow” than those films, which it clearly isn’t. Preminger, to his credit, does have an eye for very nice visuals, but shooting in the French Riveira certainly doesn’t hurt.

Early on I thought it seemed a bit like an Antonioni film without any subtelty, which is true but it’s also a bit like an Antonioni film without any bit of interest in what the characters are actually feeling, beyond the very obvious image created by the film’s title. To make it all worse, there’s this completely laughable and  unneccessary thing about how Seberg’s character thinks three and seven are lucky numbers. A dumb touch that is suppose to hold together the film’s final “twist” or whatever. It’ll make me a target of much criticism, but this is a failure. A really enjoyable one, but still, barely respectable.

After This Our Exile (2006)

6 12 2008

A problematic comeback for Patrick Tam, but also a beautifully photographed one. All the dramatic faults, of which there are many, can be overlooked simply by the overwhelming sense of visual power contributed by Mark Lee Ping Bing’s amazing photography. It’s not exactly a surprise, considering everything I’ve seen from him looks equally great, but I still wasn’t expecting it to look nearly as great as it does. It’s not a powerful yet subtle drama that Bing is familiar for photographing (with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, usually) but at the very least, it does give plenty of time for the characters to become much more than just exaggerated emotional pawns.

Actually, the story starts out as though it is being a far too simple, far too violent sort of melodrama. The best part about these earlier sequences is that they are wonderfully edited. Taking both elements into account, the first fifteen minutes or so do seem a little like a Hong Kong version of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, Magnolia, in particular. Thankfully, it starts to calm down from there, but it does give the impression of being a bit too “emotionally eventful” so to speak. Thankfully, the performances save this from falling into PTA’s far too tragic type of vision, and put the film right up with the best “slower” modern Asian dramas.

Aaron Kwok, in particular, deserves a lot credit. His role is by far the one that calls for the most emoting. Even though he is far from being likable, he does seem believable in his own slightly pathetic way. Sure he beats his wife and son on occasion, but he always seems to lapse into a self-loathing mode. At first, his constant whining becomes a little grating, but I think he deserves a lot of credit for making his character seem very believable. He is the anti-thesis of the ideal father, but even then, he does sort of care for his son. Of course, he does so in a very bizarre and unhealthy way.

Kelly Lin has a small(er) part but she might deliver the best performance of the bunch. She essentially does the exact same thing as in Boarding Gate, but her character is just given much more time and space to be explored and fleshed out. The short, Roeg-esque affair she has with Kwok’s character represents the height of the film’s powers. It is gorgeously shot (like the rest of the film) with rapid-fire editing (hence the Roeg reference) and features the two best performers of the whole cast. Such sequences are what make this film so great, even though it does have a few narrative-related mishaps.