New Currents Section in Busan

in 20th Busan International Film Festival

by Freddy Wong

With only eight films in the New Currents section, the jury’s work this year was relatively easy. However, the first film we saw was a long one, at almost 4 hours. It’s a documentary on Mainland Chinese director Wang Bing by Korean film critic Jung Sung-il, who is famous for long and laborious film reviews. Wang Bing is well known for Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks, a documentary running at nine or so hours. Night and Fog In Zona is not just a making-of documentary; it tries to reveal the secret of Wang’s knack in making outstanding documentaries, the process of which is sometimes risky and very often painful and tedious. Being Chinese from Hong Kong and knowing the present situation in the Mainland, I found the film much more engaging than the other members of the jury. But the film is way too long, and many of the long takes are rather boring.

Another Korean film in this selection was Communication and Lies, a black and white debut film, with a 4:3 aspect ratio, directed by Lee Seung-won. The opening shot is an eight-minute long take, with the main character, a young janitor in a private institute being questioned by another female member of staff for sleeping around with other teachers. The intro does not reveal the face of the cleaning woman and is made with a hand-held camera, and highly dramatic effects. The sexually perverse scenes involving the young woman’s body are reminiscent of Kim Ki-duk’s earlier films such as The Isle. A low budget film with clever scripting and directing, though the film itself might not please everyone. It was awarded by the NETPAC jury, winning over 12 other Korean films.

One film that won almost all our hearts on the FIPRESCI jury is Walnut Tree, a Kazakhstanian film about the everyday lives of people living in a small village, directed by Yerlan Nurmukhambetov. Basically it is a film about a wedding ceremony, and is full of compassion, laughter and humor. Like many places in the world, a wedding ceremony in a small village is neither small nor trivial, but a feast that all villagers come to enjoy. It’s a film that has little dialogue, and is infiltrated with humoristic touches and warm affection. This film was selected the Best Picture by the main jury of New Currents in ae exquo with the Iranian film Immortal.

Immortal, the second feature directed by Hadi Mohaghegh, was awarded the FIPRESCI prize. In the beginning of the film, we see an old man, Ayaz, on a piece of barren land, trying to kill himself with a rifle, stopped just in time by his son. His never-ending suicidal act drives his son crazy, who then decides to leave him behind. The old man has a teenage grandson, Ebrahim, who has no alternative but to take care of his grandfather and to stop him from committing suicide again. We find out, later, bit by bit, why Ayaz wants so desperately to kill himself. The film has a highly realistic and humane approach in depicting a family tragedy that echoes a universal theme through masterful use of film language. Hadi Mohaghegh made this film with Bressonian precision and a simplicity that demonstrates effectively what pure cinema is.

Edited by Tara Judah