Happy Together

in 13rd Pusan International Film Festival

by Dubravka Lakic

Among the 14 films shown in the competitive “New Currents” section of the 13th Pusan Film Festival, as many as seven deserved quite high grades, for which selectors Kim Ji-Seok and Lee Sang-Yong should truly be congratulated. Thank to these selectors’ choices one gains the impression that the young Asian film is fresher, more politically engaged and livelier than ever and, as such, increasingly “dangerous” for its European and American competition.                  

Among all those seen, the film Jalainur directed by Ye Zhao, could be singled out for its overall quality. It is a lyrical film reflecting the deep feeling of sadness over all the values that are disappearing in changing times. In the most subtle manner, through a story about the relationship between an old engine-driver and his young assistant, who constantly, like an idle son, keeps following him wherever he goes, Zhao speaks about the once large pit coal mine Jalainur which is about to be closed down, the position of the working class that will be left without jobs and thousands of wagons that will soon be transporting nothing, neither people nor ore. A strong and deeply emotional film about the deep pain caused by parting, the violent Chinese wilderness and cold sky. The most powerful storyteller in this cinematic, poetical-realistic film is the camera (cinematographer Yi Zhang). Instead of the taciturn film protagonists, the camera speaks about every change of feelings and moods.              

The melancholic Thai melodrama A Moment in June, by screenwriter and director O. Nathapon, can, in short, be described as a miraculous mixture of the films In the Mood for Love (Fa yeung nin wa) and Happy Together (Chun gwong cha sit) by Wong Kar-Wai, but with the story being set in Bangkok. A warm film, it is beautifully composed, shot in subdued colors, with sophisticated acting and the sounds of the classical cello. Nathapon’s film has an elegant rhythm and through the structure of triptychs, points to the poetic confrontation of the world of lovers and the philosophy of love. There is an impressive intertwining of the film and the theatrical scene, with four characters whose identity is a real mystery until to the very finale when one realizes that they are not only mutually linked, but also represent the alter ego of one another.          

The minimalist Iranian film A Light in the Fog by Panahbarkhoda Rezaee, is also captivating by its poetic nature and direct evocation of Mother and Son (Mat i syn) by Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov, but with this subtle Iranian story referring to a father-daughter relationship. The film focuses on the everyday life of village girl Rana who lives with her elderly father in a secluded foggy mountainous areas waiting in vain for the man she loves to return from the war. The Iranian village constantly wrapped in fog symbolizes Rana’s simple life, while the gas lamp whose light is the only thing that can be seen in the fog, is the symbol of her hope and the guidepost to her lost love…            

Also intriguing is the South Korean film Land of Scarecrows by Roh Gyeong-tae (awarded by the official jury), in which the director wonders how one can fit into the contemporary world if you are a women who wants to be a man, or a man who does not know which nation he belongs to. With its cinematic nature, the topic of one’s search for an identity, a national, gender and sexual identity, as well as the pollution of nature and human souls, this film will quite certainly find its way to festivals in the upcoming season.  

Among the films that lived quite happily together in the quality competitive “New Currents” section, one should also mention Masahide Ichii’s Naked of Defenses (Japan), Jin Yang’s Er Dong (China), and even Sabit Kurmanbekov’s and Kanymbek Kassymbekov’s light comedy Turmoil (Kazakhstan). Do pay attention to them if you happen to come across them somewhere…