VIFF 2021 Review: Spaghetti Code Love (スパゲティコード ラブ)

Thirteen different young people in Tokyo. Thirteen different dreams, desires and heartache make for the story of Spaghetti Code Love.

I’ve seen films that have involved multiple story lines strung together. The Japanese film Spaghetti Code Love is a film that takes the genre to new heights.

The story begins as a brief introduction of the thirteen characters just after a woman tends to a young boy screaming hysterically in a Tokyo arcade. We have a young couple hurting about life, a street singer who sings self-composed songs about down feelings, a photographer from another city who is looking for his big break, a model from a privileged family he’s about to photograph but has a prima donna attitude, a social media influencer he’s interested in who is coming to Tokyo to meet with him and pursue her dream of stardom, a call girl seeking her own success, a lonely man who lives daily in capsule apartments unsure of his ambitions, a delivery man on a bicycle hoping to achieve enough money to meet with his girlfriend, a housewife who wants to be the perfect wife to her husband even though she works part-time at a restaurant, a young woman in an apartment seeking post-breakup advice from an online fortune-teller and her next-suite neighbor who deals with her own breakup by eating jars of peanut butter. In the middle of it all is a high school student given a written assignment where he’s to plan out what to do with his life even up to his 60’s and 70’s.

All of them go after their goals or live life as they routinely do. The photographer sets up his set, but the model is disgusted with it and labels it ‘amateurish’ out loud. The boy fills in his assignment, but erases his writing when he gets a new idea. The delivery man has a target goal of 1000 total deliveries before quitting and reuniting. The couple decide on a suicide, but undecided how. The two young women continue on with their post-breakup habit, but never really meet. They just think whatever judgmental thought of the other. The housewife is thinking of quitting her waitress job at the restaurant to be with her husband after dealing with a rude customer. The call girl is heartbroken by the way she’s treated. The singer is affected by a laugh at a song from a passer-by.

Then all of a sudden, and simultaneously, something sudden happens to all 13 that causes them to say ‘shit!’ The deliveryman misses his target at his intended time at 999. The housewife doesn’t have the chicken ready for her dinner. The peanut-butter girl accidentally spills all her empty jars of peanut butter down the apartment stairs. The model finds out her outburst went viral on social media. The high school boy accidentally tears his sheet upon erasing a response. And the woman trying to settle the screaming boy can’t do it after such a long period of time.

Then all of them either come across something life-changing or heartbreaking during the night. The two apartment neighbors finally meet and talk. They learn about each other. The social media star finally meets with the photographer and has sex. He is disinterested in a relationship, but she makes him face the fact of the job he’s to do. However she can’t return back to her home city because returning after trying to make it big in Tokyo is regarded as failure. The housewife learns her ‘husband’ is actually a married man with a wife and children in another city and plan to move back this night. The suicidal couple contemplate jumping off a roof, but the girlfriend is undecided. The singer decides to quit as a musician. The model is confronted by her agency and is faced by an angry agent at a face-to-face meeting. The peanut butter girl is at a grocery store stocking up on more peanut butter, but changes her mind. The delivery man does achieve delivery 1000 after a long wait and he’s in tears after his accomplishment.

At the end of it all the next day, things change for all when they see a ray of hope. The two neighbors start up a friendship and drop their habits of online fortune telling and peanut butter eating. The woman who hoped to be a housewife tells her heartbreak to a cab driver and he responds in a caring way. The photographer decides he does love the social media star after all and they become a pair. The suicidal couple decide not to jump after all. The bratty model decides to quit and pursue her dream of interior design. The singer changes her mind about quitting and gets back to playing. The woman does succeed in stopping the screaming boy from screaming. The delivery boy finally quits and meets with his girlfriend. And the high school boy writes on his assignment in big letters ‘No Plan’ and heads back home on his skateboard.

For those that don’t know, the term ‘spaghetti code’ is based on a computer term for a source code that’s unstructured and difficult to maintain. You can say at the start this film is a spaghetti code. Up until I saw this film, the film with the most plots strung into one story that connects has to be 1999’s Magnolia. I remember it well. Many different stories, few times people intersect with each other, but they’re connected somehow. This is one of those complex stories. Thirteen characters in total! You will first feel confused at the beginning. You’ll wonder who’s the lead character? What’s this to be about? Will this story make sense? Over time the characters do connect despite few intersecting. We get the first sign of it right in the middle when all thirteen have a sudden incident where they all say ‘shit.’ Then we see them all as they go through something that hurts them or sets them back. Then in the end, many see a brighter road ahead or a resolution, while some get their comeuppance. You could rightfully say this film does the impossible!

The film shows thirteen individuals with hopes and dreams. Some are simple like being a good loving housewife or making enough money to be able to see his girlfriend. Some are dark, like the couple’s desire to commit suicide. And then there are some that are basic, like the two apartment neighbors who just simply long to just be happy again after their break-up. It shows how each of them with their dreams hit a sudden bad incident that causes friction in their ambition. It also shows how for many, things don’t turn out as they want it, or they all learn a hard lesson. Then it ends with either a radical decision they make or a ray of hope sending the message that it will all work out in the end. I believe that was the point of the story. To send the message that things may look difficult, but it’s not the end of it all. Things can and do work out.

The film isn’t just about being a young adult with dreams and ambitions and then things changing or falling apart. It’s also about how other people see others. There are scenes of some intersecting for a split second and thinking one thing about a person, but their mental words show another side of them. Like the singer who comes across as depressing, but it’s just her inspiration. Also the peanut butter girl thinking one thing about her neighbor at first, unaware of her own post-breakup bad habit. Even the bratty model who comes across as arrogant, but has this believe that achieving mammoth success is completely about looks and popularity, and it affects her self-esteem.

This story is also about it happening in the city of Tokyo. For many of the young adults, they came to Tokyo to pursue their dreams. For some of the young ones, Tokyo is where they’ve lived their daily life. Life in a big city like Tokyo is fast and tough and can be frustrating. However for a lot of them, Tokyo is seen as the place to make it. As one put it, once they arrive in Tokyo, they can’t head back home. If they arrive back to their home city after attempting to pursue their dreams in Tokyo, they are regarded as a failure. You can understand the pressures for a lot of them. I think that’s the overall message of the film. That just because your dreams don’t go as planned, it doesn’t mean total failure and it’s all over.

This film is an accomplishment not just for the genre of multi-plot stories, but also for director Takeshi Maruyama. Maruyama’s previous accomplishments include music videos, commercials and documentaries. This is his first feature-length film and he does it as if he’s very well-experienced in film directing. The film is also an accomplishment for scriptwriter Naomi Hiruta. Hiruta is well-experienced in writing for a TV mini-series, a teleplay, and two other feature-length films. She creates a complex screenplay and successfully makes it work from start to finish. You think when you first see the beginning it won’t work out, but it does in the end! Excellent work from the many actors involved in this film. Even long after the film is over, you will be left questioning who is the main protagonist in the film? Or is there even one? I’ve decided the main protagonist to be the high school boy. He has an assignment where he has to plan his life while the others that are either young adults or teens close to the adult ages showcase their dreams and plans. I just have a sense he’s the one whom they all revolve around.

Spaghetti Code Love is not just a film with multiple plots revolving around characters. It’s a film that will will surprise you not just of the multiple stories in the film, but how they’re successfully strung together and with a message that unites all the plots. It’s an achievement of a film and entertaining to watch at the same time.

Movie Review: Of Gods And Men

The French/Arabic-language film Of Gods And Men doesn’t have the type of subject matter that would normally bring in a large crowd. The film is about Cicstercian Monks living in a small village in Algeria facing threats from fundamentalist terrorist groups. Nevertheless those lucky enough to see it will love it for what it is.

This film is based on an incident that happened in 1996. Seven French monks from the Algerian village of Tibhirine were found decapitated. The film focuses on the days just before they were killed. They were a group of eight monks who lived in a monastery in Tibhirine. They devoted their lives to monk rituals of gardening, distributing medical help to locals and religious devotions. They were present at the village during times of celebration and they conversed with the villagers regularly. They all did this during a time of the Algerian Civil War. Religious extremists were committing acts of brutality amongst foreigners and their own people. The pressure was felt by the monks. Christian, the leader and resident religious scholar, tells authorities they will not go. However this is hotly debated with the other monks as some fear for their own safety. Christian then gives the men time to decide whether to leave or not. News gets grimmer by the moment. They even face potential threats of their own. Authorities of the Algerian government request they leave for their lives. The villagers however convince them of how vital they are to the community. In the end, as one brother pays a visit to the monastery, they all vote to stay. Late in the night, seven of the nine are found, captured and taken away. Those would be their last minutes known to be alive.

The film has many great qualities. Its best technical quality was the cinematography as it added to the film in showcasing the landscape in its best splendor. The film was well-directed and well-written by French director Xavier Beauvois. The script he co-wrote with Etienne Comar was excellent and very no-nonsense as it cut at the heart of the monks and the village they served. As important as it was to show the events that happened leading up to the times, the script’s biggest focus was on the monks and their lives. It was more about people than events. Even the scene of the last dinner with the music of Swan Lake in the background was done with the focus on the men. 

 The biggest strength of the movie is definitely the acting. Of all performances, the two that stood out were that of Christian the leader and Luc the doctor. Lambert Wilson’s performance of Christian was excellent and the most intense. Often he said more in his scenes of silence than he did with his spoken parts. Michael Lonsdale’s performance of Luc the Doctor was the best supporting performance. There wasn’t a hint of phoniness in it.

As for the monks as a whole, the most remarkable thing about the film is its ability to give three-dimensional portrayal of monk characters. The film not only showed them in their prayer life but also showed the devotion during their prayers. The film showed them in their occupations and how important they were to the village. The film showed their convictions and their beliefs. The film showed the bond between the men. Above all, it was alll done in a three-dimensional manner. This is very rare for a film to accomplish that feat. Even back during the days of the Hays Code–where one of the rules was that religious figures were to be depicted in a positive manner–religious figures were still two-dimensional at the most. Even the negative depictions of religious figures that came once the Hays Code was dropped in the 60’s as ‘censorship’ or ‘restrictive of creativity’–were also two dimensional and often too stockish. This film has to be the most realistic and inside-out portrayal of religious characters, in both character and their vocation, that I’ve ever seen on the big screen. Even 1997’s The Apostle doesn’t compare as Robert Duvall’s portrayal of a minister had more focus on his passion and personal demons than on his vocation.

Also vital is the ending of the film. It is not known who exactly killed the monks. An Islamic extremist group has claimed responsibility but recent documents from the French secret service claim that the Algerian army carried it out as a mistake during the rescue attempt. The film doesn’t pick one group at fault as the monks are captured in the dead of night with the darkness hiding their identity.

There may be some nervous in seeing this film, feeling it might try to ‘convert’ them to Catholicism. For the record, director Xavier Beauvois has not directed a religious film in the past. One thing we should note is that while the monks lived at the monastery, there’s no scene of them trying to convert any of the villagers from Islam. In fact Brother Christian was as knowledgeable about the Koran as he was about the Bible. When religion extremists threatened to shoot the brothers in one instance, Brother Christian quoted a passage from the Koran which caused the leader to drop his gun and order his followers to leave. I believe Beauvois wanted to show that for the monks, the faith was mightier than the sword. Also in the script was a scene where the monks talk about the difference between the Islamics and ‘Islamists’. This is good for a time when religion faces a lot of flack from religious dissenters. I believe that may have been another point from Beauvois that it’s important for one to recognize the believers from the ‘beliefists’.

This film has won a lot of accolades. It won the Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. The Grand Prix is second to the Palme d’Or as the most prestigious award at the Festival. Other nominations and awards have followed such as wins at France’s Cesar Awards, nominations at the European Film Awards, nominated for Best Film Not In The English Language at Britain’s BAFTA awards and was France’s official entry for the 2010 Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film was well received by critics here in North America and has a 91% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Although this is a movie that makes for excellent viewing for Catholic communities, it’s not completely 100% ‘safe’ for everyone. There is a few profanities utters, including one by a monk. There are also some scenes of violence. The most violence is the scene of soldiers being cut at the throat by the extremists. Most of the violence is only seen through news footage.

For writers and directors with religious values, this film offers a ray of hope for those who want to break into film making. It shows that a film showcasing religious values can not only be shown on the big screen but also be written and produced well. That has long been the dilemma ever since the Hays Code has been lifted. This was best summed up in a quote by Catholic scriptwriter/acting school director Barbara Nicolosi-Harrington: 

I realized coming (to Hollywood) that it’s not so much Hollywood is persecuting the Church as much as it was the Church was committing suicide in Hollywood. Big difference. So I basically wrote an article about it saying that Hollywood isn’t anti-Christian as so much as it’s anti-bad art, and we’re just giving it schlock.

She states a major hurdle here as all too often a lot of Christian writers have written a lot of scrpits viewed by Hollywood as sub-standard in skill while the more liberal writers seem to know how to write for the screen. It’s a hugely difficult task to write a film of positive values or strong faith for the general audience without crossing the line of being schmaltzy or manipulative. Of Gods And Men shows that it can be done and it’s just a matter of learning how to do things right.

If you’re fortunate enough to have it come to your city, I highly recommend you see Of Gods And Men. Even if you don’t buy the Catholic faith or want a movie with preachy religious themes, it’s a film worth watching. It’s as much about people and their devotion to their beliefs as it is about an incident that happened. Even with the tragic ending, it tells a lot about the human spirit that will stay with the viewer once they leave the theatre.