The Supremacy of Asian Cinema

in 6th International Film Festival Bratislava

by Slobodan Arandjelovic

The 6th International Film Festival in Bratislava (December 3-11 2004) offered nine side-bar programmes besides the International Competition of First and Second Feature Films. In Competition were 19 films from United Kingdom, Austria, Taiwan, Iran, Hungary, Peru, Afghanistan, Germany, Slovakia, China, Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Slovenia, Thailand, South Korea and Poland. Side-bar programmes consisted of European Film, Off the Mainstream, Shorts, Icelandic Film, Free Zone: Youth without Limits, Premieres, New Slovak Films, Special Events and Film and Music II.

Seven films in Competition were from Asia, at the Festival 20 altogether. Although several were made in cooperation with some European countries, they were unmistakably Asian in all aspects of filmmaking. From the choice of subjects to visual flair and Asian esthetics. The best among Asian films were, by far, Earth and Ashes (Khakestar-o-khak, Afghanistan, France, 2004) directed by Atiq Rahimi, Story Undone (Dastaneh nataman, Iran, Singapore, Ireland, 2004) directed by Hassan Yekpatanah, and Rewind (Videoreul boneun namja, South Korea, 2003) directed by Kim Hak-soon.

Earth and Ashes deals with the ever so present problem of persons in peril from war operations. An original script gave ideal opportunity to the director Rahimi to tackle the sensitive subject of desolation, destruction and desperation that is in evidence although the war is out of focus. Brilliant acting of non-professionals, fluent and extremely functional camerawork alongside esoteric ethnic music and precise editing helped the film to be among the best at the Festival.

Story Undone deals with Iranian emigrants undertaking a dangerous journey out of the country followed by a television crew reporting on the subject. The powerful political drama has occasional bitter humor, a strong sense of time and place, and an original approach to the subject of illegal immigrants.

Rewind, in the best possible way, is reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “alienation trilogy” from the early ’60s. Based on the novel of the same name by Lim Young-Tae, the film deals with the loneliness of a middle aged intellectual caught in a web of complex imagination. Saddled with the melancholy and monotony of everyday life, the main character finds salvation through anonymous poetic love letters. Fundamental issues of ordinary people, such as relationships and separation, are tackled with delicate sophistication and great inventiveness.

Among other Asian films there were Sayew (Thailand, 2003) directed by Kiat Songsanan and Khongdey Jaturanarasami (a modern story of painful, intense and capricious troubles of an adolescent girl that is well done as a metaphor of Thailand’s hesitant steps towards freedom of expression and democracy), The Missing (Taiwan, 2003) directed by Lee Kang-sheng (about destroyed relationships in families and about enclosed worlds resulting in non-communication and loss of traditional family ties), Butterfly (Hong Kong, 2004) directed by Yan Yan Mak (an intense story of a young school teacher who is finally ready to accept the consequences of a lonely life and restless emotions), and Passages (China, 2004) directed by Yang Chao (a road movie dealing with desperate attempts of a young student couple to improve their lives in a Chinese province with a disastrous results).

All the films mentioned prove that Asian cinema is as vital and original as ever, that Asian directors have lost none of their zest and that they have kept a high quality of production and strong emotional impact.

Slobodan Arandjelovic