Monthly Archives: November, 2020

VIFF 2020 Review: Father (OTAC)

The Serbian film Father is about a Serbian father (played by Goran Bodgan) who will fight to get his children back.

The Serbian film Father is not one of the more featured films of the Festival. However it is a unique film that’s worth seeing.

The film begins with a woman taking her two children to a construction plant. Her name is Biljana and she has a gasoline tank in her hand. She shouts out that she threatens to burn herself and her children unless she receives her husband’s overdue wages. The men there try to stop her, but she sets herself ablaze. The men are able to put her out in time and take her to the hospital.

Word not only gets to her husband Nikola. Word has also gotten to the child and family services in his region. The leader, Vasiljevic, is very suspicious of what type of father Nikola is and conducts people to investigate both the children and the house. Those who investigate the children ‘notice’ some flaws in them. Those who investigate the house point out how lacking it is in modern functions or how out of date it is.

Vasiljevic has made it clear that if Nikola modernizes the house, he could have his children back. This is frustrating enough as he has had no income for two years and he is constantly seeing his wife as she’s in the hospital. He does everything he can in the period of a few days, but Vasiljevic is still disapproving. His children are in foster care indefinitely and he’s not allowed to even see them. Before Nikola leaves, he is told by one man about how corrupt Vasiljevic is and how he has close associates of his in every village. Vasiljevic takes the children and puts them in the foster care of friends of his and skimming government money for this. Nikola’s made aware what Vasiljevic did is a common thing he does.

Although it’s difficult, especially as he wants to be by the hospital bedside of his wife, Nikola decides to make a 300 km trip to Belgrade and meet with social services to get his children back. Nikola has a friend with a computer draft him with a letter to the minister, pack fruit and stale bread, and set out on foot to Belgrade.

The trip is long and Nikola witnesses poverty and barren wasteland as he walks on. He comes across buildings that have decayed over time. He comes across stores that have been abandoned. He witnesses the best of people and the worst of people along the way. Some help him out while some steal or fight with him. He also develops a temporary friendship with a dog he met at an abandoned gas station he slept at. He also gets some help from truck drivers and ‘good samaritans’ who drive him.

When he arrives in Belgrade, he is brought to the very government office he needs to visit. He tries to meet with the minister, but is told he can only meet with him tomorrow. He has nowhere to sleep or to eat and leaves himself to sleep outside right by the entrance. As he is sitting out, a media team notices him and his story and will interview him for an evening news story. One person who saw the news and saw his story drives over to see him and gives him food.

The next day, he meets face to face with the minister. He heard his plea, he learned his story from the news. The minister tells him of the guidelines he will direct in order for Nikola to get his children back. A man drives him back to his town and to his home. However Nikola comes across an uncooperative Vasiljevic. Vasiljevic tries to act like Belgrade has no control over him and even demeans him of the story in the news. However Nikola has had enough. He demands to see his children, if not have them returned to him.

His wish is granted and he hugs his daughter with no problem, but the son is embarrassed of him. Nikola pleads to him, but the son finally hears his word. As the children are led away Nikola, tries to stop them from hurting his children, and is able to hug his son, as he looks onto the foster family with mistrusting eyes. Nikola returns to his house, only to learn everything is stolen by the neighbors. He goes over, gets everything, and has everything ready for the start of his goal.

It’s a story that has a lot to say. I’ve never lived in Serbia so I don’t know what the laws are in terms of family. However this does have a lot to tell about corruption in Serbia the filmmaker knows about. Interestingly the corruption of the social services does seem to resemble how the US government has been like under the Trump administration. We see it as a case of an honest man being messed around by a dishonest system. Even how Vasiljevic tries to act like Belgrade has no control over him and he can do what he wants does remind us of Trump as well; a leader’s false sense of invincibility and how they think they can abuse power all they want.

The 300km trip to Belgrade is a telling story. Nikola sees poverty all around him. We see Belgrade as a city that’s been working to modernize itself, but the film makes it appear like the rural lands have been neglected or overlooked and people like Nikola caught in the middle. One notable scene is that scene of Nikola seeing a group of villagers, just as impoverished as him, engaging in a folk dance and holding a Serbian flag. It looks like it’s sending a message how people in even the poorest of areas seem to still have the sense of Serbian pride. They may hate the government or the system, but they love Serbia. Even that scene of Nikola being driven by a man with many Orthodox religious artifacts sends a message of the Serbian people.

SPOILER WARNING: Do Not Read This Paragraph If You Don’t Want To Know The Ending. The ending scene is also very key. Right after Nikola is done seeing his children for that brief reuniting, a woman who works for Vasiljevic is willing to give him some associates who could help. I think that sends a message that even people who work for the system are forced in their job to do things they don’t want to do, but have to because it’s their job. That ending scene where Nikola learns his house has been robbed by the villagers, but retrieves all his belongings by going to all the houses and taking them without a single one resisting also sends a message that his struggle is their struggle too. That scene at the end where he is sitting at the dinner table with no food, but the plates for all four set up, also sends a message of his next goal of bringing back his whole family and he will stop at nothing to achieve it. Just like he did on that trip to Belgrade.

This film is another great work for Srdan Golubovic. He first achieved international renown in 2001 with his 2001 film Apsolutnih sto. Two of his films, 2007’s The Trap and 2013’s Circles, were Serbia’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This film which he directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Srdjan Koljevic and Ognjen Svilicic is a good work as it tells a story of a man and also sends a message too. It comes across as a story telling of the Serbia Belgrade forgot over time while at the same time telling of a father’s love and his willingness to do what it takes to get his family back. The acting of the main protagonist Goran Bodgan is excellent. Most North Americans will notice the Bosnian actor as Yuri Gulka from the Fargo series. Bodgan does an excellent job of speaking volumes of his character and his story without saying a lot. The supporting actors, both young and old, also did a very good job in the roles they had. The cinematography of Aleksandar Ilic is also excellent and is all critical to the storytelling.

Father has had a good run in the film festival circuit. It won Best International Narrative at the Calgary Film Festival and was a Best Film nominee at the FEST International Film Festival and the Minsk Film Festival. It was also a nominee for Best Balkan Film at the Sofia Film Festival.

Father is a film with the common motif of a long trip and people met along the way. Nevertheless it is a good story that has a lot to tell about Serbia, and even mirror the world as a whole.

VIFF 2020 Review: Undine

Paula Beer plays a Modern-day undine in Christian Petzold’s latest film Undine.

Undine was the first live-action foreign-language film I saw at the VIFF. It’s a very unique story.

The film begins with a man names Johannes breaking up with his girlfriend. She is distraught and even says she’ll have to kill him. Her name is Undine Wibeau. Undine tries to go about her daily life as she works as a historian at the Berlin City Museum. There she shows people a model of the city and tells of the history of Berlin. Undine has a unique ability to focus in on places and areas. She has an area of the Spree River in focus.

At a remote area of the Spree River, a man named Christoph works in the water to weld or to search out treasures found in the ocean floor. That is his profession. Undine returns to the cafe where she and Johannes used to drink at. That’s where she meets Christoph for the first time. The conversation gets friendly, but an accident happens. The accident causes them to bump into the cafe’s fish tank, causing it to break and spill all over. Both Undine and Christoph fall to the floor in love. However the owner is furious and bans the two from the cafe forever.

Over time the relationship between Christoph and Undine grows. They even move in together. One time during his job, Christoph offers to show Undine what he’s seen. Undine goes down, but without the scuba gear and she later floats off. He senses something peculiar about her. His sense of peculiarity grows right during his job he comes across a sunken ship with the name Undine on it.

Even though the relationship between Undine and Christoph grows, Undine still can’t help but think of Johannes. It strikes her as she goes about her job but when she looks at a part in the module that resembles the location of the cafe, she gets the sense that Johannes is there. Even while she’s walking romantically with Christoph in a park, she noticed Johannes with his new girlfriend. She turns her head, but returns back to Christoph. However Christoph sensed something. It wasn’t just the turn of the head but the the change of her heartbeat. It infuriates him, but Undine confesses the truth. That it was her ex.

Heartbroken, Undine goes to the cafe where Johannes is. Despite the owner being infuriated by Undine’s presence, she meets with Johannes and says he wants her back. The next day, an emergency happens at Christoph’s job site. The oxygen has been cut from his scuba outfit and he’s removed from the river unconscious. Undine is distraught to learn the news. She goes over to the hospital to see Christoph, but there’s a woman by his bedside. Christoph is unconscious and comatose. The woman tells Undine he’s brain-dead and she unleashes her anger on her. Undine leaves, going to Johannes’ place later that night. Johannes is in the pool while his girlfriend goes in the house to get a drink. Undine enters the pool. While Johannes is happy to see her, Undine drowns him. The then leaves and walks into the Spree River naked.

Two years pass. Christoph is alive and well. He recovered from his coma. The woman from the hospital, Monika, is his girlfriend and they are expecting their first child together. However Christoph is sensing something back to the Spree River. He returns one night alone, and there he sees her: Undine. She is alive and well and she belongs in the water. It becomes clear who is truly in Christoph’s heart.

One thing about this film is that it gets into the myth of the undine. For those who don’t know, the undine is a lot like the mermaid most us are familiar with. However the mermaid is just one of the images of the undine. The mythical undine is a lot darker than the mermaid who wants to please the man she meets. In fact one aspect of the undine is if the man is unfaithful to her, he is doomed to die.

What this film does is try to get to the common image of the undine in both its positive qualities and its negative qualities too. In a sense, the film is more of a reminder of the undine myth. The film also tries to set the myth of the undine in the modern world. In modern-day Berlin to be exact. Undine Wibeau is the undine in the modern world who lives along the humans, but gets to the true sense of who she is when she’s in the water.

One unique thing about the film is how they use Berlin as part of the telling of the story. Undine works as a historian with an urban development team. She knows a lot of Berlin’s history form centuries back to the days of division with the Berlin was to the present and its developments. The history also provides clues to Undine’s own past and own identity. One would be surprised how a story of an undine in modern Berlin would come to be.

This is another good film by Christian Petzold. Petzold has become one of Germany’s most heralded directors in recent years with films like Barbara, Jerichow and Phoenix. Here he delivers another good film. It’s very well-done, but it does have its flaws. The energy level does seem to get lost somewhere near the end. Nevertheless it is mostly well-written and well-acted. Paula Beer is also excellent as the mythical Undine. Her role may have lacked dimension, but she was very good in capturing the mythical figure of the undine well. The two leading men, Franz Rogowski and Jacob Matschenz, were good in their roles, but I felt their roles were underdeveloped. Hans Fromm did an excellent job with delivering the cinematography for the film.

Undine has done quite well on the film festival circuit. At the Berlin Film Festival in won the FIPRESI Prize and was nominated for the Golden Bear for Best Film. Beer herself won the Silver Bear Prize at that Festival for Best Actress. It’s also been a nominee for Best Film at the Denver Film Festival, Beijing Film Festival, Seville European Film Festival and a Best Narrative nominee at the Montclair Film Festival.

Undine is a good attempt at telling a modern-day story of the undine myth. It doesn’t keep the energy or the vibe consistent throughout the film, but it is picturesque and has a good sense of the characters.

VIFF 2020 Review: Beauty Water (성형수)

Beauty Water is a Korean animated film about an attempt to become beautiful gone wrong.

It’s interesting that the first foreign-language film I see at the VIFF is an animated film. The Korean film Beauty Water is definitely something else.

The film begins in a production studio for a television network. It starts with a conversation between the actors and actresses and conflict arises. In the background is Yaeji, the make-up artist. She’s overweight and has average looks. She doesn’t get involved in any arguments. She’s just there listening in. The actors and actresses then come to her when they get their make-up done. Even if the prima donna actress berates her looks, she carries on as if nothing is happening. After work, she goes home to live with her parents. The parents have always been there for Yaeji from her days pursuing ballet as a child to her present career.

One day the producers of an advertising show think Yaeji is perfect for an advertising campaign. It’s to do about a cooking gadget. In that advertisement, they will show Yaeji eating. She agrees, but she is completely embarrassed when she later learns of all the mocking internet memes on social media. Embarrassed to tears with her body, she decides to fix things for her. She saw an ad for a product called Beauty Water. You wash your face in the water for 20 minutes and you peel away the old skin for a new beautiful face. But it’s not simply peeling away the skin. It’s peeling away the thick excessive flesh.

Yaeji orders a bottle and uses it on her face. The result leaves Yaeji happy that she’s now beautiful, but it’s not enough. She wants enough Beauty Water to change her whole body. She begs to her parents for financial assistance, but would be the equivalent of four months of their income. Yaeji begs to them, believing she’ll be nothing without that Water. They agree and the bottles of Beauty Water come in time to change her whole body.

The end result is both a face and a body of a beauty perfect to get noticed by television producers and the rich and famous. She rushes out and buys expensive stylish clothes from Seoul’s Gangnam District. She attends a party for the rich and famous over in Gangnam. She wins the notice of a production company of Jihoon. She also wins the attraction of a certain handsome man she noticed at the party.

However she is insecure. She’s afraid the effects of the Beauty Water won’t last. She also still has images of her past self she wants to forget, but reappear out of nowhere. With the money she made in her new modelling career, she’s able to afford more Water and soaks in a bath of it. Unfortunately, the phone dies before the alarm is to go off at the 20-minute mark and the Water goes deeper into her flesh leaving her almost depleted. She begs to her parents for them to give her some of their flesh. They agree by bathing in the water and giving their removed flesh to Yaeji.

Despite her new flesh, Yaeji’s body looks hideous. Nevertheless she still plans to meet up with the man she met. She tries to hide the effects from the man while she’s over at his place. She even goes to a woman who helps her return the form of her body, or at least make it human-like. However when she returns back to his place, she makes a shocking discovery. She sees identifications of other women. Did they also use the water? Did he kill them? She tries to escape him, but it’s of no avail. She learns the awful truth of him. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say she’s still alive in a way you won’t expect.

This film is a film that’s a good example of the common style of Korean animation. Most of you may already familiar with the style of anime from Japan and a lot of the grim and even bizarre stories and images it showcases. Korean animation is also similar in its way of showcasing bizarre and grotesque imagery and bizarre storylines. This film is good in showcasing the bizarre style of Korean animation that could just rival anime. However it’s not just for shock and gore. It has a story to say.

The main message of the story is to show the nations obsession with beauty and youth and how it’s actually quite damaging. If you’ve noticed in the last twenty years, South Korea has emerged in the world’s eyes with its entertainment industry being seen as a force to be reckoned with. We already have K-pop phenomenons like BTS, 2ne1 and BigBang. All of them are young with picture-perfect looks, clothes and bodies. The television and film industry in South Korea is also obsessed with youthful beauty.

You can tell director Cho Kyung-hun has something to say about this film. South Korean society in recent decades as it has worked to become a world power has become a nation that values beauty, wealth and prestige. There’s a lot of plastic surgery young women in South Korea undergo. There’s also news of many women in South Korea having eating disorders. This film has even been advertised with a tagline: “In a society as obsessed with physical appearance as modern South Korea, ugliness is a fate worse than death.” I think that’s the point Cho is trying to make. He’s trying to show how damaging the obsession with physical beauty is in Korea, but doing it with the bizarre style that is Korean animation. Very rarely is there a film that tries to both freak you out and get you thinking.

The story itself is creative. It aims to get one thinking while at the same time aiming for the thrills and shocks. Already the first shock is near the beginning when you see this Beauty Water make one not simply peel off skin but flesh! That’s what the Water does and that’s why Yaeji uses it on her whole body, even though it’s intended for just the face. It’s hard to notice a flaw in the story. I admit I don’t understand Asian animation styles. There are times I wonder if it did get the message across or did it rely too much on the shock imagery.

Beauty Water does more than just show an animation style that’s common in Korea. It also has a message to tell about beauty and how a society values it almost dangerously. It conveys the message in a very bizarre style.