Monday, 30 April 2007

Sandra Dupuy reviews her ten favourite films, part 1

Black Cat White Cat
Germany/Bosnia and Herzegovina 1998
Director: Emir Kusturica
Screenwriter: Emir Kusturica, Gordan Mihic
Runtime: 127min
Certificate: 15
DVD Distributor: Artificial Eye

Emir Kusturica’s cinema is larger than life. In Black Cat White Cat, his inventiveness takes a comical turn for the better. Each shot bursts with life in its quirky details and surrealistic associations: in the midst of all the mayhem, a pig quietly chews on an abandoned Traban wreck. The depth of focus allows us to witness many small events taking place within the same frame, which gives the whole film a sense of wild freedom.

Black Cat White Cat is an explosive mix of farce, romance, and crime, which still leaves me exhilarated every time I watch it. It is peopled with strange looking characters verging on the grotesque. Each one is unforgettable, from Grga, my favourite- an old gypsy crook who flashes a gold toothed smile and quickly assesses his peers behind extravagant gold glasses- to the buxom Black Obelisk, a singer who can also pull nail from planks with her bottom while effortlessly performing opera tunes.

Black Cat White Cat displays an exuberance reminiscent of Fellini or Almodovar’s world. But it also has a distinctive voice, carried by its brisk and colourful gypsy music punctuated with parodic techno tunes such as “Pit Bull Terrier”, a war chant for Dadan, the mean and stupid local gangster.

What I love about Black Cat White Cat is its excess and extremes: purest emotions such as Zare’s love for Ida, and his intense grief for his grandfather, go side by side with scatological farce, such as Dadan’s punishment. Black Cat White Cat is a poetic celebration of life’s complexity, and a beautiful tribute to the gypsy soul.

Chunking Express
Hong Kong 1994
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Screenwriter: Wong Kar Wai
Runtime: 98 min
Certificate: 12
DVD Distributor: Artificial Eye

At first sight, I did not particularly enjoy this film. I did not really understand the characters’ motivations. But Chungking Express gradually grew on me, because it was unlike anything I had seen before. It changed my perspective on narrative, characterization, and visual beauty.

The film’s fragmented storyline and loose ends epitomize the concept of change, in a multi-faceted and cosmopolitan Hong-Kong; a place of political mutation. In portraying Hong-Kong’s cultural and political diversity, Wong Kar-Wai constructs and reveals its own identity, in a continuous story of which Chungking Express is only a chapter. Change is also included in the tension between past and present; a furtive past of the fleeting moment, a mythical past that never happened, and a present charged with memory, nostalgia, melancholy. Together it infuses the poignant sense that objects, people, and relationships don’t last.

The characters’ voiceovers, a Wong Kar-Wai trademark technique, emphasise the sense of alienation and loneliness felt by the characters, and reiterate their status as outsiders. Music is a prominent element as well, creating a romantic and disenchanted atmosphere. The musical repetition of a specific tune articulates what can’t be said in a dialogue. It’s also an identification tool for some characters: The Mamas and The Papas’ “California Dreamin’”, continuously played in the second part of the film, indicates Faye’s presence within a scene.

Chungking Express is a piece of pure cinematic urban poetry. The visuals are constantly manipulated: Wong uses various modes of remote-control technology, fast-forwarding, pausing, or slowing down characters, isolating them in a urban landscape going at a different pace. The protagonists evolve in a visual kaleidoscope of brightly drenched tones, struggling to find identity and clarity in a dynamic social world.
Read Part 2 tomorrow

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