Highlights from 39th HKIFF FIPRESCI Prize

in 30th Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Joyce Yang

At the 39th Hong Kong International Film Festival, the FIPRESCI Prize selection included 12 films, most of which were feature debuts but demonstrated insights from different cultural perspectives and of social issues.

The Chinese film market has been growing drastically over the years. As David Hancock (director of film and cinema at consultancy IHS Technology) says, China is opening 10 new cinema screens every day, so almost any film has a shot at being the biggest ever. Thirty-year-old Chinese director, Xin Yukun, has explored a balance between indie aesthetics and genre tropes. His feature debut, The Coffin in the Mountain, has received compliments from around the world for its narrative skill and ability to reveal cultural issues. Coffin, as a symbol of death, tells a story about village people, portraying Chinese people’s spiritual level, which is directionless, empty and full of black humor. Despite its obvious shortcomings, The Coffin is definitely a pleasure to watch, opting for the scrambled-timeline approach in presenting the story. Also, it is obviously a big step forward for Chinese cinema in exploring different genres. The Coffin in the Mountain will be on screening in mainland China in May, 2015.

In Sworn Virgin, director Laura Bispuri has demonstrated a solemn, sensitive study of transgender reversal. Based on Elvira Dones’ Albanian novel of the same name, the film follows Hana, an Albanian mountain girl who rejects the gender strictures of her oppressive mountain community by accepting the mantle of a “sworn virgin”. Bispuri effectively cast Alba Rohrwacher as Hana, a rural woman who embarks upon an uncertain path to reclaim her original identity, after living as a man for 14 years. The audience don’t jump to strong judgment on problematically ingrained sexism, because the perspective of the filmmaker is more anthropological than political.

Borderless is the first feature of director Amir Hossein Asgari. He has worked on more than 50 movies and series and has directed two short films. His filmmaking skill has been proved thanks to the audience’s reception at the HKIFF screening. Almost full attendance and most of the audience stayed behind for a Q & A session even though it was midnight.  As an Iranian film, Borderless upholds the merits of an Iranian film tradition. It is an anti-war flick narrating the story of a boy who goes fishing at the zero point border and has turned the land into a place of tranquility for himself. The main actors are children, which reveals the conflicts between nations, countries, genders and different cultures, as well as the absurdity behind the war. In the first 30 minutes of the film, there is no dialogue at all. Two young actors, especially the leading figure of a young boy, captured the audience’s feeling aptly.

From the 12 films, the jury was impressed by the originality of K’s mise-en-scene and approach to filmmaking. K was an adaptation of Kafka’s “The Castle”, set in Mongolia. It has changed time, space, nationality and language, however, it delivered the theme and spirit of the original text well. K is produced by Jia Zhangke. According to the co-director Darhad Erdenibulag, before this film officially debuted in Berlin 2015, it has been edited as shorter, taking Jia Zhangke’s advice, in a bid to keep the focus of the romantic storyline clearer. It is a precious collaboration between a Mongolian director with a background in oil painting and documentary photography and a Welsh filmmaker living in Mongolia for many years. We can see the jumble of different period indicators, including telegrams, a dark orange rotary telephone and so on. Credit should go to French cinematographer and editor Matthieu Laclau; it is shot with available light and with an insightful use of Mongolian music, expressing the absurdity of the human condition caught in a liminal space between dreams and wakefulness.

Edited by Tara Judah