The uneven cadavre exquis and one meditative genre shifter: Letters from the South and Soul.

Letters from the South (Burial Clothes) 2013

After day 1 that was, in reality, much more of a day 0 in what concerns cinematic experience I started my way through EIFF 14 with Letters from the South, a collection of shorts stitched together in a somehow inconsistent way. The chinese diaspora is what connects the six films, all concerning the relationship between between China and Chinese emigrants in its neighbour countries of the south (Thailand, Burma, Singapore and Malaysia) but another theme seems to be hovering over almost all of them, the gap between generations or simply the radical shift of values and references between older and younger generations. And if this one is a theme quasi inextricable from several asian cinematographies, in some of the Letters from the South it is connected with the main issue of diaspora in a very natural and meaningful way.

From all of them there is a striking one. One that takes you by surprise, grows suddenly before your eyes just to flee rapidly leaving its echo behind. The third film of the bunch is called Burial Clothes and is directed by Midi Z (who also directed two more films included in the festival’s program: Ice Poison, a feature in the competition, and The Palace on the Sea in the Shorts strand). It is a delicate and brilliantly constructed film that is able, in not those many shots, to convey a sense of personal history entwined with the ancestral history of regions and the pure emotions of familial relations, longing and separation. A girl with some golden make up in her cheeks, gets a ride from an indistinct town to her poor and rural family house where her grandfather is waiting to die. She is coming from China bringing him his burial clothes, which are now just rags. With a fantastic performance from the main actress, the sense of capturing a unique moment and a perfect structure, the film manage to build a solid micro universe and evoke what is elliptic but implicit, the past and future story of the character(s).

Letters from the South (Now Now Now) 2013

Besides Burial Clothes the only other worth seeing film in the group is Now Now Now directed by Aditya Assarat (Wonderful Town) which captures, in a pop – somehow Sofia Coppola’s dreamy teen-moments-(don’t)-last-forever – way, the melancholic state of a Thai teenage girl facing the memories of herself and her older Chinese cousin (back then an introverted kid, now a successful and very social artist) who came to visit her. It’s a film about identity in relation to the other, either person or nation, and even though the main actress is not always very convincing and the style is sometimes a bit too unimaginative, we get close to her feelings and its subjacent questions and further; to the past and present of generations in the two countries. From personal to global history a glimpse of a film

All the others are either quite schematic and obvious in the ideas they want to convey – underlining them so much (either through style or narrative) that they don’t even expand besides it – or totally out of place. Tsai Ming-liang’s Walking on Water, even though connecting China (Taiwan really) and Malaysia, belongs to an enormously different universe, one that has been constructed and keeps on being, in a series of his films. I will write about it later, putting it close to its next of kin.

Soul (2013)

My second and last film on the second day was the Taiwanese feature Soul, directed by Chung Mong-hong and a much more intriguing film than one could expect based just on first impressions or peripheral data. It is a piece on void and identity, trauma and redemption, that also plays on genre expectation with some lynchian hints. A-Chuan, a young man living in Taipei, has sudden and worrying changes in his behaviour and is sent home to his paternal rural house after fainting in the restaurant where he works. From then he goes to an actual identity shift – or soul replacement if you wish – leading to dramatic and violent events. Even though sometimes uneven and with some forced narrative options (e.g. A-Chuan’s father reaction to the first crime) Soul is quite well capable of maintaining suspense and contemplation (in both religious and aesthetics sense of the word) at once suffering just from some distracting mannerisms in what concerns style but treating dialectics between natural world and human nature in a very fruitful way.

Generation gap and alienation in Asian cultures made my day.



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