This year promises to be a thrilling one in the world of foreign films, if only we could watch them
Published: February 3, 2011
Headshot : (Pen-ek Ratanaruang – Thailand) Since his dazzling 2003 breakthrough film, Last Life in the Universe, things have been much tougher for Ratanaruang. He looks to return to the prominence that has eluded him in Nymph, Ploy and Invisible Waves with this story of a hitman who is shot in the head and wakes up to find that he now sees the world upside down.
The Housemaid : (Im Sang-soo – South Korea) Jeon Do-yeon stars in this very loose adaptation of Kim Ki-young’s 1960 film of the same name (now streaming for free on mubi.com), about a live-in maid caught up in a scandalous affair with the rich and powerful man of the house (Lee Jung-Jae). The original was daring for its time (especially in such a repressed place as 1960s South Korea), but Im’s update comes with no such caveats. This darkly shocking, sinfully sexy drama is a return to form for Im, whose last film, 2006’s The Old Garden betrayed the promise and talent shown in The President’s Last Bang and A Good Lawyer’s Wife.
Kinyarwanda : (Alrick Brown – Rwanda) Despite its aforementioned award, this film, about the Imams and mosques that sheltered Tutsis (and other non-combatants, including Hutus who refused to kill) during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, mixed reviews suggest it will need all the ground-level support it can find.
Melancholia : (Lars von Trier – Denmark) It’s hard to know what to expect from von Trier after the traumatic (cinematically and culturally) events of Antichrist. Charlotte Gainsbourg survived that film, and now returns as one of a pair of sisters (the other being Kirsten Dunst), but a synopsis would miss the point, which is this: Danish cinema is exciting again!
Norwegian Wood : (Tran Ahn Hung – Vietnam/Japan) There are a lot of nerves surrounding this film, the first feature adaptation of a Haruki Murakami novel. His short story, “Tony Takitani,” has been adapted before, and exceptionally by Jun Ichikawa, but this is another beast, to be sure. It’s very likely that no matter how good Hung’s film is, it will not satisfy fans of the novel. Still, Hung is a quality director and star Rinko Kikuchi seems to fit the bill for Naoko, the novel’s delicate love interest.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives : (Apichatpong Weerasethakul – Thailand) Weerasethakul’s slow and serene meditations have become art-house favorites around the world but have never managed to cross over into the American mainstream (or any mainstream, for that matter). That history seems unlikely to change with this film about the last days of a Buddhist man named Boonmee who, yes, spends the time with his family (even dead relatives) recalling his past lives and having out-of-body experiences. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year and, depending on who you listen to, is either impenetrable to non-Buddhists or a brilliant, diary-like exploration of humanity by others.
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