Friday

With No Further Ado


Our Single of the Year, or Why Beyonce's Li'l Sister Is Now Officially, Unequivocally a Big Fucking Deal.

Tangentially, search for "Solange" on Wikipedia, and you'll get an interesting, unexpected mini-lesson in early medieval history:

Solange (died 10 May, c. 880) was a Frankish shepherdess and a locally-venerated Christian saint, whose cult is restricted to Sainte Solange, Cher. Saint Solange was the patron of the traditional Province of Berry, of which Cher is a part.

Disambiguate as necessary.

Sunday

VIFF: Best of the Fest


TOP "TEN" FILMS
01. Beyond the Hills (Mungiu)
02. Barbara (Petzold)
03. The Walker (Tsai) / La Belle Epoque (Hou) [tie]
04. Postcards from the Zoo (Edwin)
05. If It's Not Now, Then When? (Lee)
06. Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami) / Riko (Yumiba) [tie]
07. A Mere Life (Park)
08. A Werewolf Boy (Jo) / East Meets West (Lau) [tie]
09. Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong) / Mother (Ruetaivanichkul) [tie]
10. The Love Songs of Tiedan (Hao)

A DOZEN PERFORMANCES
*Min-sik Choi - Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time
*Cristina Flutur - Beyond the Hills
*Nina Hoss - Barbara
*Danny Huston - Two Jacks
*Mads Mikkelsen - The Hunt
*Karen Mok - East Meets West
*Lee Kang-sheng - The Walker
*Francis Ng - My Way
*Emmanuelle Riva - Amour
*Cosmina Stratan - Beyond the Hills
*Jean-Louis Trintingnant - Amour
*Yang Shuting - All Apologies
VIFF, Part 3: Heavens to Betsy


Last but not least:

Amour / Beyond the Hills / If It's Not Now, Then When? Three of the festival's most interesting offerings, grouped together here because, in their areas of overlap and contrast, they serve to highlight the strange, subjective experience that is watching films, reacting to films, and then trying to make some sort of coherent, critical sense of one's reaction once has the dust has settled. Through most of its runtime, Michael Haneke's Palm d'Or-winner is great. From the indelible opening sequence on, we get a portrait of dying, and of the day-to-dray struggle of caring for a dying loved one, that borders on the revelatory. Representations of death are, of course, ubiquitous in the visual culture of our time: bodies exploding from bombs and mines, shot and stabbed and tortured to death in alarmingly creative ways, mauled and sometimes fed on by various real and fantastic creatures. Most of these modes of death, while disturbing (or not, given their constant presence in the things that we watch), also feel comfortably removed from our own experience. With the partial exception of those who serve or live in a war zone, few of us will die in such spectacular, lurid ways. Amour is marked by a kind of straightforward, prosaic realism that is radically mundane. While one may try and perhaps succeed in detecting layers of metaphorical meaning (a la Cache or The White Ribbon), I would argue that every scene in Haneke's latest, up to its final act, is best read on an absolutely literal level; to superimpose the symbolic over what's on screen is to reduce or cheapen or qualify the sympathetic, yet unsentimental, matter-of-factness of Amour's narrative. The manner in which Anne finally dies over-particularizes what had, to that point in the film, been a seamless balance between the dramatically specific and the universal. What's more dubious than the death scene itself, though, is the poetic, symbolically loaded coda that Haneke subsequently appends, an awkward tonal shift. If we assume this closing sequence is a fantasy of sorts (as opposed to something more metaphysical), the intentions behind it are admirable--the notion of preserving in memory the "better-times" version of the deceased loved one; the couple exiting the film's almost-sole set, their apartment, into the wider world wherein they seemed happily active before Anne's sudden health problems. But what came before these dreamy scenes is more admirable than this late stab at transcendence; however inherently un-poetic, Haneke should've played his narrative to its logical end-point.

Beyond the Hills, meanwhile, achieves something like transcendence, yet makes a final, provocative point of settling for less. Cristian Mungiu's masterpiece is a film of subtly shifting perspectives, and of divergent, wholly incompatible conversations ostensibly about the same thing. Where we can detect discursive overlaps among the spheres of religion, medicine/psychology, and law in the film (the rituals of penance and suspected possession, diagnosis and treatment, trauma and hysteria, and legal inquisition are rooted in some common epistemological assumptions), its characters are hopelessly at odds in communicating across constitutive lines of belief and perception, particularly the skeptical, secular-minded Alina and her hosts at an Orthodox monastery, including her childhood friend, now a nun. For most viewers, Alina will serve as the audience-surrogate; that is, until the year's most viscerally intense (yet painterly) movie moment: a sea of black-robed bodies struggling frantically to restrain the hysterical (possessed?) non-nun against a stark backdrop of pre-industrial night. We do not necessarily discern this movement in perspective when it occurs; only later is it clear that we have entered the subjective space of belief, a space in which transcendence is not only perceived to be possible, but is the only acceptable resolution. It's a ghost story on par with Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light, with similarly potent echoes of Dreyer's Ordet--which is why, when Mungiu yanks us back to Earth, it's a particularly rough, and powerful, crash landing.

Among these three films, James Lee's If It's Now, Then When? ventures furthest afield in its concluding moments. Yet where the parting scenes in Amour struck me as incongruous with the film's established tone, those in If It's Not Now recolor but do not feel fundamentally out of step with what had preceded them. It's not so much a twist ending in a "gotcha!" sense. The film's shocking final events are actually foreshadowed earlier on, but it never crossed my mind that they were really going to go there or...there. Following what feels like a strong example of the meditation-on-lethargy/ennui/interpersonal-disconnectedness strain of art cinema with a doubly provocative gut-punch (graphic violence + subversive sex), Lee's film is the closest thing in contemporary East Asian cinema to Catherine Breillat's now-classic Fat Girl. And, if nothing else, it's the perfect, jarring antidote to festivalitis, that blur of fineness-but-sameness that tends to set in by the twentieth or so screening.

East Meets West I don't personally feel qualified to place or properly evaluate Jeff Lau's film because, on the one hand, I've never seen anything quite like it, yet on the other, it's apparently representative of a sub-genre (the Hong Kong romantic fantasy) that Lau apparently helped to invent and popularize back in the '90's. Suffice it to say, then, that I enjoyed every minute of this deliciously bizarre, eye and ear-popping entertainment. The musical selections were especially terrific, including but not limited to the Turtles' "Happy Together," Pachelbel's "Canon in D Major," and Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra," with an irreverent nod to Kubrick.

Rose Wojciech Smarzowski's period drama's is entirely competent and sometimes quite moving, by virtue of the uniformly fine acting, but it's more edifying in illuminating a moment in history, likely little-known outside of Poland, than it is compelling as a piece of cinema. There's a (seemingly) fourth wall-breaking moment right in the opening shot, set during the bloody Warsaw Uprising, but what follows from there is--not to sound glib--a pretty routine filmic narrative of wartime tragedy. Still, if the form and style of Smarzowski's film provide little that separates it from other, similar films, the details of ethnic construction in the creation of the nation are productively specific and supremely unsettling.

Wagner's Dream A number of the most fascinating films at this year's festival, and in recent cinema more generally, muddy the distinctions between "fiction" and "documentary" filmmaking, calling into serious question whether these even remain useful categories, at this point. This is not one of those films. It's a standard-issue behind-the-scenes making-of doc, following a decidedly unconventional production of Wagner's Ring Cycle at the Met in New York. The ambition and technical difficulty involved in this theatrical project provide the drama and keep things interesting every step of the way. Some of the filmed sequences from the operas are astonishing by default, making Wagner's Dream the next-best thing to attending in person at the Met. But the doc's by-the-numbers form feels all the more bland compared to the innovation and audacity of the opera productions. And while the blurb in the festival program alluded to the controversial history of Wagner's most famous work, the historical entanglements of the Ring Cycle are brushed aside entirely on screen. The point here is, of course, the technical wizardry behind and on stage, but the ambiguous implications of endeavoring to produce the most spectacular, hypnotic possible incarnation of Wagner's operas deserve to be teased out and considered.

When the Bough Breaks The richest, most fully-realized "characters" in film this year appear in this documentary about a family living on the impoverished margins of Beijing, at odds over the educational costs and prospects of their children. It's absolutely compelling, as compulsively watchable throughout its 150-minute run-time as the not dissimilar Hoop Dreams. Filmmaker Ji Dan shatters any oversimplified preconceptions about poverty in China being limited mainly to its rural interior, with residents of the coastal cities basking in the fruits of the economic boom, while at the same time, raising questions about the value and purpose of higher education that are by no means exclusive to the Chinese context. The only problem with this otherwise superb film is that the documentarian never situates herself within her narrative, instead opting for a fly-on-the-wall approach that actually feels distracting; only once in the included footage is it explicitly acknowledged by the subjects that they are on camera, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment. Following this family's day-to-day lives for what must have been a great many hours, what was the director's personal investment in what she was filming? What was her relationship like with her subjects? Was there any sort of financial arrangement made beforehand? If not, did Ji Dan ever feel tempted to help her subjects out as she watched them struggle, perhaps resisting this impulse so as not to compromise her hard-hitting narrative, while inevitably influencing in its course in myriad ways, despite the film's objective stance? These are not peripheral concerns, and yet they remain ever on the periphery, beyond the margins of the frame.

Wednesday

VIFF: Other Films, Other Commentators


I'll have a third cluster of capsules up by the end of the week, if not sooner. In the meantime, here's a sampling of what some other reviewers covering the fest have had to say:

Teresa Nieman on Sleepless Night; I am So Sorry; Nameless Gangster; Two Jacks; Starlet; The Capsule (etc.).

Adam Cook on Tabu; White Night; Cock; 10+10; In Another Country; Three Sisters; (etc.).

David Bordwell on Lou Harrison: A World of Music; Soundbreaker;; The Charm of Others; The Kumamoto Dormitory; Emperor Visits the Hell; Beautiful 2012; People's Park; (etc.).

Kristin Thompson on The Last Friday; A Respectable Family; Una Noche; Two Little Boys; and Journal de France.

Sean Axmaker on Helpless; Romance Joe; A Werewolf Boy; Nameless Gangster; and A Mere Life.

Saturday

VIFF, Part 2: Strange Relationships


Round 2.

Barbara Following Beats Being Dead, the clear stand-out from last year's three-parter, Dreileben, Christian Petzold's latest is another expert balancing act between detailed, psychologically rich character study and tense, plot-driven dramatic thriller--modes of storytelling that should not be mutually exclusive, but rarely co-exist or merge as satisfyingly as they do here. Similarly, the narrative--centering on an East German doctor, c. 1980, forcibly relocated from Berlin to a GDR provincial town where she secretly schemes to flee to the West--highlights a number of ostensibly distinct categorical pairs: the mental (the interpretative, sleuth-like component of diagnosing and treating patients; sharp analysis of painting and literature; carefully devising a plan for escape while under constant surveillance) and the physical (exhaustion from over-work; a scraped heel from walking and biking around in uncomfortable shoes; wind whipping violently at the heroine's face at the most inopportune of moments); the ideal (the evocative, transporting potential of the literary narrative; of music; of photographs of jewelry, including engagement rings, in a catalogue; of flickers of romantic feeling) and the material (a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, translated into German, plucked from a charity bin; a freshly tuned piano or a hotel room radio; a small print of a Rembrandt painting tacked to the wall of a make-shift hospital lab); the (physical, material reality of) the East and the (evocative idea of) the West. [Yikes, that was a long sentence, even by my standards.] Petzold situates the action of his narrative--that is, the things his characters do, or don't do, or possess the agency to do given their circumstances--in the space between these conceptual poles, the space of everyday experience. Barbara's climax and its denouement powerfully problematize the neat separation (itself a key term, discussed, tellingly, early on in the film) of these concepts, while confirming that, whatever else he's up to, Petzold has crafted one of cinema's most profound reflections upon the nature and exceptional aspect of the medical profession. This is a marvelous movie, superlative on just about every possible level.

The Last Time I Saw Macao This fiction-doc hybrid (part memoir-travelogue, part would-be noir) co-directed by João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata boasts a number of captivating moments--above all, making me want to visit Macao--but, as an ungainly whole, it's not my cup of tea. The fictional narrative never really gels. It's intriguing in theory, but in execution, it falls flat and just feels superfluous. The intertextual allusions, from von Sternberg to Chris Marker, register as smugly clever, signifying as little more than coy winks to the film-smart. (For non-hardcore cinephiles, the film would probably be borderline unintelligible--which is a problem, in my book.) Finally, from shots of Chinese tourists scurrying about the city's core to sardonic voice-over commentary on Cantonese TV programs to an anecdote about a dog being abducted and cooked, I couldn't help but detect a kind of low-grade Sinophobia at work here. Now, I should note that others with whom I've discussed The Last Time I Saw Macao argued passionately against this reading; in my view, the film evinces an ambivalence for Portuguese colonialism that at times flirts with nostalgia and a certain vague contempt for Chinese culture. Either way, it's not a good movie.

Like Someone in Love I did not care for Certified Copy. I know plenty of people did, and that's fine, but for me it just didn't work. It felt schematic and over-conceptualized, Kiarostami seemed out of his groove in Tuscany, Juliette Binoche's movie star aura was a nagging source of distraction, and when the film reached its provocative conclusion, my gut reaction was, "so what?" I am happy to report that I have no such reservations following Kiarostami's second foray outside Iran. Like Someone in Love is genuinely mysterious in its lucanae, where Certified Copy felt like a stunt. The new film is "unfinished" in the productive, engaging sense that Kiarostami has advocated as a challenge on paper and masterfully demonstrated on screen throughout his career. Kiarostami smartly enlisted Takeshi Kitano's DP, Katsumi Yanagijima, for his Tokyo project, and the resulting collaboration looks a million bucks, while never not feeling like a Kiarostami movie, with all of the director's unmistakable visual (and aural) motifs harmoniously in the mix. I can't wait to see it again.

The Love Songs of Tiedan Hao Jie's film centers on the art of er ren tai, a lovely and delightfully bawdy form of folk-singing for two performers that was, for a time, banned during the Cultural Revolution, yet survives to the present in China's Northwest. Hao pulls off a nifty trick here, which never plays as gimmicky: He does not simply tell a story about er ren tai singers or feature examples of their music in the film, but rather structures his odd, unpredictable, at times touching romantic narrative in a manner that closely mirrors the salient characteristics of the er ren tai form. In so doing, he implicitly argues that, as the primary mode of entertainment and storytelling in this culture, er ren tai functioned as the major interpretative lens through which people understood and performed their everyday lives. This may continue to be true, if to a lesser extent, a point suggested by the film's Platform-esque final act, wherein new, outside elements begin to creep in on the er ren tai troupe and their audience.

A Mere Life Programmer extraordinaire Tony Rayns compared this one to Bela Tarr in the festival program. It's an apt comparison, especially with regard to the second half of Park Sanghun's radically bifurcated film. The first half plays like a fine, if somewhat run-of-the-mill, kitchen-sink domestic drama. Then one night, the desperately exasperated protagonist, Park, decides to kill himself, his wife, and their young son. The catch is that the following morning, with the lifeless bodies of Park's family members occupying the foreground, Park stirs from sleep and stands up in the rear of this unnervingly long-sustained shot. What follows is as overwhelmingly, unrelentingly bleak as film storytelling gets. But at the same time, it's also strangely beautiful, haunting in its heightened, hazily abstracted perception of a world that we, via this doomed man, should not be seeing. The world of the film should have been switched off when it was switched off for Park's wife and child, and yet, despite everything, we remain in this grim, subjective space because he cannot quite let go--of what exactly? The taste of cherries? In addition to Tarr, there are discernible echoes of Kiarostami's masterpiece, but instead of Louis Armstrong, we get Kim Doo Soo, my new favorite Korean folk singer.

Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time Overlong and heavily indebted to superior rise-and-fall outlaw flicks like GoodFellas and Carlos, this one's still worth catching for Min-sik Choi's scenery-chewing star turn as a crooked low-level bureaucrat cum full-on daebu (which the opening text informs us is the Korean term for godfather and, come to think of it, would've made for a cooler title). It's a fun ride for the first hour or so, then begins to sag a bit as it moves into the perfunctory "fall" half of the generic equation, though Choi himself never lets up for a moment.

Riko This one, directed, produced, written, and edited by and starring the very young and very talented Aya Yumiba, would make for a fascinating double-bill alongside Like Someone in Love, a late-career detour to Japan by a septuagenarian master. Both films center on an obliquely conceived relationship between a young woman and a significantly older man, largely eschewing odd-couple yucks and May-November romantic cliches. As in Kiarostami's film, we're left to fill in the blanks in Riko, to interact with the spare narrative, to reconcile what Yumiba gives us with what she purposefully, fruitfully withholds. In a film composed entirely of precise and quietly exquisite wide shots, the pair of close-ups, of each lead performer, in the film's final scene is key, as the director herself acknowledged in the post-screening Q&A. Where these two emotionally distant characters, and their peculiar relationship, are going remains decidedly uncertain. What is clearly suggested is that they are coming, slowly but surely, out of their shells--not at all a negligible point. Also, modestly, pretty great, a half-hour short entitled Permanent Land, dealing with the personal affects of involuntary relocation, screened before Riko. Directed by Nakae Kazuhito, the film evokes classical Japanese cinema in its mannered economy and its inter-generational familial themes, while engaging thoughtfully with Japan's here and now.

Two Jacks This year's festival has featured a wealth of show-stealing performances, particularly by leading males. Here, Danny Huston, relishing the role of a boundlessly egotistical old-school movie director (with obvious shades of Huston's father) just returned from Africa to early '90's Los Angeles, follows Min-sik Choi and Mads Mikkelsen in substantially outshining their vehicular films. Like Nameless Gangster, the opening half of Two Jacks is a lot more enjoyable than the latter portion, in this case, because the magnetic Huston is all but absent, with the story jumping ahead to present-day L.A. and focusing on his filmmaker son, the other Jack of the title. This is apparently inspired by a Tolstoy story, which I haven't read. Having done so might have contributed to my appreciation of Bernard Rose's film--but it almost certainly wouldn't have made me miss Huston any less after he exits the frame.

A Werewolf Boy One of my four year-old son's favorite movies is The Iron Giant, which I've probably seen no fewer than two dozen times in the past year. When he gets a little older, and can read subtitles and handle mildly scary imagery, I look forward to showing him Sunghee Jo's film, which is as sweet and humane as Brad Bird's animated gem. Spielberg came to mind, too. There's a moment near the end of A Werewolf Boy that is perfect and unapologetically sentimental in much the same way as A.I.'s classic final scene. Getting there is a total pleasure.

Wednesday

VIFF, Part 1: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream


First batch of fest blurbs, more on the way soon.

All Apologies Emily Tang's follow-up to Perfect Life, my favorite film from VIFF '08, is something of a let-down. Though well-acted, with Yang Shuting a particular stand-out, and touching at times, this is ultimately a fairly middle-of-the-road slice of social realism. It also plays like a humorless riff on the main premise from Li Yu's more interesting, if problematic, Lost in Beijing. That film's sharp satirical notes and its willingness to veer toward the absurd served to mitigate against the schematic quality of its narrative. All Apologies somehow feels rather limp and yet, at the same time, contrived and overly plotty. Apparently, this was a director-for-hire gig for the talented Tang, and it, frankly, plays that way.

Beautiful 2012 This collection of four shorts commissioned by the Hong Kong Film Festival ranges from the muddled to the sublime. Gu Changwei's Long Tou is the sole dud of the bunch, a half-baked effort at experimentation, ostensibly "political" and "poetic" but basically just dull. Kim Tae Young's You Are More Than Beautiful, meanwhile, is thoroughly charming, and Ann Hui's My Way is better yet. Hui's film, within its brief runtime, fashions sympathetic, multi-dimensional characters and some remarkably affecting moments. The relationship between the transgendered protagonist (an excellent Francis Ng) and his ex-wife is tender and painful, wistful and finally quite poignant. That said, Tsai Ming-liang and (who else?) Lee Kang-sheng totally steal the show--and so far, for me, the fest. The Walker is Tsai at his most audacious, rigorous, and slyly funny. Really, this--a red-robed monk walking extremely slowly through Hong Kong and...yeah, that's basically it--might have been a YouTube viral video, a goofy provocation worth watching once for shits and giggles. Instead, Tsai has crafted a brilliant filmic litmus test: what do your eyes focus on in this increasingly busy series of static shots, our meditative hero or the myriad distractions that surround him? He is implicitly asking, more urgently than ever, what the place of such contemplative, single-minded spirituality is in this hyper-modern world, while also possibly poking fun at the curious paradox whereby formalist masters of slow (including but, of course, not limited to Tsai himself) are oft-said by their critical admirers to capture the "cadence" and "pulse" of everyday urban life in east Asia.

The Capsule Another shorts compendium, this one a triptych: From Sergio Oksman's A Story of the Modlins, we find out far more than one would ever expect to learn about an extra in Rosemary's Baby and his eccentric family; odd enough to remain interesting through twenty six minutes, but the stylistic seams are all too apparent and a tad irksome. João Pedro Rodrigues' Morning of Saint Anthony's Day follows some zombie-ish youths as they stagger home from a night of hard partying, alternately texting and puking; Gus Van Sant's teenage wastelands seem to be a significant point of reference, as does John Landis's "Thriller" video. Finally, Athina Rachel Tsangari's The Capsule is, by turns, silly and genuinely creepy, its highlight a Lynchian group rendition of America's "A Horse With No Name" that recalls the "Locomotion" scene in Inland Empire. Though arguably over-slick, Tsangari's film is, at the very least, memorable for its luminous, languorous textures, which feel like some kind of stylish nightmare.

The Hunt It's no surprise that Mads Mikkelsen took Cannes' best actor prize for his turn as a kind and competent kindergarten teacher accused of a terrible crime. He's not just playing against type--he is doing so superbly, making one forget, within his first moments on screen, that this is the same guy who played, say, One Eye in Valhalla Rising. Here he's Lucas, a mild-mannered "good guy" suffering through a process of overnight ostracization as familiar as it is brutal. If Thomas Vinterberg's film feels manipulative in turning the screws on its mild-mannered protagonist (a la Bess in Breaking the Waves or, really, most Von Trier heroines), it's following the inexorable mechanics of a social script that we all know well. My gripe is more with the unambiguity of Lucas's innocence. Some degree of uncertainty might have made for a more challenging viewing experience and, I have to admit, I couldn't help but wonder how many people are actually accused of sexually assaulting children without the charge having any kernel of truth to it. That's not a rhetorical question, I really don't know; but this aspect of The Hunt does, to my mind, reduce the complexity of Vinterberg's narrative. Likewise, the film's religious undertones, including a possible Christmas "miracle," suggest Lucas as a modern-day analogue to the suffering saint, yet register as ultimately under-realized, or perhaps over-calculated to lend the story an extra layer of gravitas. Still, as a Shirley Jackson-type take on small-town mob mentality, the film is plenty potent, and, at any rate, it would be worth seeing for Mikkelsen alone.

Mekong Hotel As pleasurable as it is enigmatic, Apichatpong's latest is situated in a mode somewhere between his masterworks (Blissfully Yours, Tropical Malady, Uncle Boonmee) and his oddball, one-off short-shorts, like last year's M Hotel. After mulling it over for a few days, I'm not sure that I'm any more able to make heads or tails of it, and yet its relaxed, fluid cadence and jarring juxtapositions only improve with memory; a weird, lovely afternoon daydream that comes neither apart nor more coherently together upon reflection.

Mother This experimental effort from Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul, a young Thai filmmaker who goes by the nickname "Billy," was screened in conjunction with Mekong Hotel. It's an appropriate pairing, as I would not be altogether surprised to see "Billy," already a skillful blender of fictional and documentary footage, mature into the next "Joe." In the meantime, Mother, which centers on the director's own family and specifically his mom's serious health problems, plays something like a Thai take on Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation, but with the sense of trauma at its core more muted and poeticized. In switching between a variety of formal strategies, Ruetaivanichkul may well be trying to find his bearings as a neophyte filmmaker. But this alternation between approaches also seems to suggest his frustrated yet deeply sympathetic desire to understand and perhaps help his troubled mother. The film's closing note of text is among the most off-handedly moving moments on film this year, as the director concludes simply, "This is what I can do."

Postcards from the Zoo Indonesian auteur Edwin's film is the most indelible and mercurial feature I've encountered thus far at this year's festival. There are echoes here of Apichatpong--who seems to be exerting as pervasive an influence on Southeast Asian cinemas as Jia Zhang-ke exerts upon up-and-coming filmmakers on the Chinese mainland--but Edwin's film is, by turns, more whimsical and more grimly realistic than the Thai master's work. Every time you think you can pin it down by way of convenient points of comparison, Postcards zigs or zags in some wholly unexpected direction. Its narrative rhythms are not just those of dreams in a general sense, but of someone's dreams (Edwin's? the beguiling heroine, Lana's?), thus making for a legitimately singular viewing experience.

10+10 It's no coincidence that Hou Hsiao-hsien's La Belle Epoque is sequenced as the final short among the twenty commissioned for the 100th anniversary of Taiwan's Nationalist calendar; its position is honorary and also an acknowledgment of the foregone conclusion that Hou's contribution would be the collection's unrivaled MVP. La Belle Epoque represents in miniature all of the attributes that make Hou one of our two or three greatest active filmmakers: elegant compositions that never feel forced; the expressive, evocative use of light and color; performances that suggest complex inner lives and individual histories through just a few stray details and mannerisms; a merging of the personal and the political, the memorial and the historical, that eschews rigid dichotomies. In his brief reflection upon the inter-generational links within one Taiwanese family, Hou also offers the most graceful variation on one of 10+10's prevailing concerns: the stories that we must tell in order to forge points of continuity, as opposed to distance and differentiation, between the past and the present. The other nineteen entries vary widely in quality and substance, from the forgettable to the bizarre to the solidly accomplished, though the gap between Hou and everyone else is decidedly precipitous.