Three Knock-Out Films

in 38th Moscow International Film Festival

by Anna Geréb

I start with the best, the one which received our award: the film from South Korea’s Kim Jongkwan, titled the Worst Woman (Choe-Ag-Ui Yeo-Ja). It is a modern city tale. The basic idea is very good: a young beautiful actress determined to find success attends three rendezvous with three different guys in order to form three different characters, using all her talent in the project. The spectator can decide which the worst character is. This three-character play works well for some time, although our actress mixes up the different roles more and more. In the end we arrive at an outstandingly directed classic comedy situation when all the three guys appear at the same time.

The story provides a great opportunity to explore various personalities via a playful but also serious interpretation. It also depicts the peaceful integration of two once hostile cultures: those of Japan and Korea. The two cultures are similar and at the same time different. The Japanese guy and the Korean girl cannot speak a common language; however, they are getting closer to each other.

Worst Women conveys the contradictions of life, those times when we cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality. The artistically photographed, very real human reactions are embedded in a poetic tale seasoned with humor, one in which we can travel through generations. We can find ourselves in dreams, desires and memories. (Incidentally, the director explained during a press conference that the film was inspired by Georgiy Daneliya’s I Step Through Moscow [Ya shagayu po Moskve]).

Philippines director Ralston Jover’s Haze (Hamog) immediately reminds us of a Nikolai Ekk’s 1931 Russian classic Road to Life (Putyovka v Zhizny). There are street kids here, or abandoned children, all left to fend for themselves and at the mercy of the adults. (The Filipino phrase “batang hamog” refers to the morning haze covering the kids sleeping under the open sky.)* The first part of Haze is extremely strong, with the children forming gangs, trying to get food by pilfering. They are punished for this: one of them disappears, the other is killed by a car. A Muslim girl is taken in by a Christian family, thinking that she will make a good maid.

Jover eventually ramps up the drama, and cannot stem his theatrical instincts: social drama turns into a theatrical horror when the husband, tiring of his wife, induces the young girl to kill his wife. She winds up killing everybody, including her benefactor.

This break in style is a pity since – as per the director’s statement – Haze is meant to be a sort of documentary surveying the tragedy of criminalized street kids, using hand-held cameras and deliberately distasteful matte colours, gradually losing strength and credibility. However, the professional child actors are outstanding. The now 15-year-old Therese Malvar truly earned the award of best actress in the role of the killer girl.

37, the first feature made in US by the very talented Danish directress Puk Grasten, also starts well. We can look into the peaceful but hectic lives of three families – one black, one Jewish, and one “ordinary American” family all living in the same house in New York. It turns out that they are different, but one thing is common to all of them: they all completely spoil their children with their aggressive, insensitive and ruthless attitude.

In the background there lingers the shadow of a 1964 lust-murder, which pushes against the realistic tone while suggesting expressionist parallels with life situations. There is a hint of Hitchcock here in the small, grim episodes that render the movie a good scholarly case study in horror. In the end it is not interesting to learn who killed the prostitute-mother, and the impact of the originally imagined social drama was lost since nobody goes to help the woman.

It was a wise decision for the festival’s main jury to give Puk Grasten the “Silver George” award for best director. Especially since this is her first work. She learned her lessons very well.


Edited by José Teodoro