Media Armchair Cinephile

The World and The World

It’s been more than six months since this column was devoted wholly to foreign-language titles, and that’s probably too long. Let’s leave the Truffauts and Fellinis on the shelf for a few weeks, and start with the non-romance languages:

From Hungary and Greece, respectively, come works by two of contemporary world cinema’s most respected auteurs: Werckmeister Harmonies, by Bela Tarr, tells of a circus that arrives in a small town and does little for the mood; Facets’ disc follows last year’s Tarr box set and will be succeeded in April by his Damnation. Theo Angelopoulos’s 1988 Landscape in the Mist (New Yorker) invents its own sort of Greek mythology in a tale of two children who flee home to find their absent father.

The last film made by Ingmar Bergman, the Scenes From A Marriage sequel Saraband, recently arrived on disc from Sony. More bonus features are to be found, predictably, on Criterion’s release of Bergman’s 1960 The Virgin Spring, which pits Christianity against paganism.

From Germany comes Head-On (Strand), which is all about being Turkish. Writer-director Fatih Akin introduces us to a Turkish-German woman willing to marry any Turk-German, even one old enough to be her father. The arrangement she comes to with him — she’ll do all the chores and doesn’t care much about his sex life — isn’t for everyone, but it probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Moving one continent to the East: The biggest recent boon for fans of Asian cinema has been Tartan Video’s “Asia Extreme” series; however limiting the creepy genre requirements may be, at least the company is putting energy into developing audiences outside the martial-arts universe. Tartan offers three recent titles from South Korea: wartime horror riff R-Point, cops-and-baddies title Another Public Enemy, and Address Unknown, by arthouse regular Ki-Duk Kim. From Japan come three films involving cult figure Shinya Tsukamoto: the icky Marebito, in which he stars, and two that he wrote and directed, 2004’s Vital and 1988’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man, which first earned him notice Stateside.

In the same vein is Three Extremes (Lionsgate), a terror triptych directed by three rising stars — Fruit Chan, Miike Takashi, and Old Boy’s Park Chan-Wook. (Lionsgate is releasing a sequel, with episodes by less-famous directors, next month.) Another highly anticipated three-segment film arrived recently, and it’s one-third Asian: The Warner release Eros offers alternate takes on passion by, get this, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Wong Kar Wai.

WKW’s Eros episode stars Gong Li, who’s also in video stores this month with The Story of Qiu Ju (Sony), playing a peasant who goes through bureaucratic hell in an attempt to wring a formal apology out of a government official who has wronged her husband. Qui Ju director Zhang Yimou is best known now for Hero and House of Flying Daggers, and fans of that genre may want to check out two lesser-known new titles: Ziyi Zhang is a kidnapped princess in Sung-Soo Kim’s The Warrior; she also plays a supporting role in Miramax’s Zu Warriors (aka The Legend of Zu), a fantasy by University of Texas-educated Tsui Hark.

Also on the East-meets-West front are two early films by Wayne Wang, who has since gone on to a mainstream Hollywood career: Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart and Chan is Missing (Koch Lorber) both focus on Chinese-Americans who remain very connected to their roots. The scripts bounce between Cantonese and English dialogue. I dare you to watch Chan and tell me how you get from that to directing the Queen Latifah vehicle Last Holiday. Koch Lorber digs into the kitchen sink for a very different title — Save the Green Planet, a Korean free-for-all that involves aliens from Andromeda, circus performers, and the search for a Royal Genetic Code.

After all the aliens, demon spirits, and Zu warriors, let’s wrap up with three solid arthouse titles. The Vietnamese coming-of-age piece Buffalo Boy (First Run Features), was part of a “Global Lens Film Series” established to promote films from developing nations. The other two are among the most-celebrated Asian imports of the last couple of years: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Café Lumière (Wellspring) is a feature-length homage to Yasujiro Ozu in honor of his 100th birthday; Jia Zhangke’s The World (Zeitgeist) focuses on young employees at Beijing’s World Park, a real-life tourist destination that is one part Epcot, seven parts Las Vegas.

By John DeFore


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