Tuesday, July 10, 2007

July 10th Log

1937, Ma-Xu Weibang, China
1st Viewing, DVD

Cinema Epoch has been distributing rare Chinese classics to DVD. It has been a pleasure to view these otherwise rarely seen films (including silent classics by Sun Yu, as well as the 1948 masterpiece Spring in a Small Town). 1930s cinema was a rich period for Chinese cinema, producing many great films so it is very fortunate that Cinema Epoch is giving Western audiences opportunities to view these films. I would not put Song at Midnight in the class of some of the other Cinema Epoch releases, but there are certainly fine qualities to the film. For starters the production of the film is beautiful. The quality of the DVD image was very dark and not the greatest quality, so much I’m sure much of the experience was dismissed slightly. However what you can see is the extensive detail and highly stylized set and costume designs. The story is a loose retelling of Phantom of the Opera and itself spawned a sequel and a 1995 remake by Hong Kong filmmaker Ronny Yu. The performances are a bit overly melodramatic but fine. Ma-Xu Weibang does have an eye for memorable images even outside showing “the phantom” character (the final shot of the film is beautifully transcendent- a pan back of the couple embracing on a mountain top over the ocean. The story is very familiar today, even for Western audiences, but overall I was entertained by this film, mostly because of the impressive production.

2005, Ali Selim, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Sweet Land is a beautiful film that tells its story effectively through mood and tone. The story is simple and above it is a story of love. First time feature filmmaker Ali Selim echoes the mavericks of the 1970s in the way he tells the story. It is quiet and unconventional and unforceful in its emotions and messages. The performances carry the emotion and the visuals and sounds set the tone. Much in the way Terrence Malick does, Sweet Land treats nature and setting as an equal to the characters, and as the title suggest it is the landscape or home that binds the story together. The film is told as a flashback within a flashback and ultimatly it is the story of two different people that are brought together and who eventually grow to love each other. Selim does not give use any passionate scenes of love, and in fact the two do not even touch each other until 90 minutes into the film. Instead we grow with the characters are their relationship with each other and their “sweet land”. Terrific performances by the entire cast, but especially Elizabeth Reaser and Tim Guinee in the leads. Capped off by a beautiful final shot over the end credits, Sweet Land is heartfelt film.


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