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Tsai Ming Liang (#110 of 10)

BAFICI 2014 Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

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BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History
BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Film seems to channel the sheer variety of the Internet, where it seems all movies from all eras are available. During 10 days, all sorts of films are made available at several venues within the Argentine capital, from horror flicks to forgotten commercial failures, classic studio productions, modern art-house fare, and experimental cinema. BAFICI seems to pride itself on its eclectic selection, and its broad pickings allow audience members to trace surprising connections between movies that might appear to have nothing else in common outside their shared inclusion in a festival. A sort of creative viewership is encouraged, as one comes to realize that an American rock fable, a miserablist Taiwanese drama, a visual poem with vampires, and an epic about social and political traumas in the Philippines have plenty in common.

Walter Hill’s unsung Streets of Fire and Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs have probably never been mentioned in the same sentence. Seen back to back, they reveal strikingly similar qualities, as both might or might not be science-fiction films. Streets of Fire is set in a fantasy land, which mixes costumes and vehicles from the 1950s with the urban squalor of the 1980s. When a motorcycle gang, led by fresh-faced Willem Dafoe, kidnaps a local pop singer (Diane Lane), it’s up to the gruff masculine hero played by Michael Paré to save the day. There are references to an unnamed war and the city appears to be in a state of crisis (its police force is sorely understaffed and justice is meted out by civilians). The characters are so conventional that they recede into the background as they follow archetypal signposts, and because their exploits are so predictable, the environment absorbs our attention instead. Diners and theaters from the American Graffiti years have decayed underneath rubble and trash. In an abandoned factory, the motorcycle gang has established a decadent bar where naked dancers strike aggressive poses, using their sexuality as a weapon. Having been recently and luminously restored, Streets of Fire plays differently today than it did back in 1984. What was originally a blend between the present and the past is now the combination of two different pasts, which together suggest a kind of future.

Viennale 2013 Stray Dogs, La Última Pelicula, The Fifth Gospel of Kaspar Hauser, Sto Lyko, & More

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Viennale 2013: Stray Dogs, Joys of Cádiz, La Última Pelicula, The Fifth Gospel of Kaspar Hauser, Sto Lyko, From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf, & More
Viennale 2013: Stray Dogs, Joys of Cádiz, La Última Pelicula, The Fifth Gospel of Kaspar Hauser, Sto Lyko, From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf, & More

As a kind of “festival of festivals,” the Viennale is one of the most esteemed fixtures in the world-cinema circuit. Positioned at the back end of October, the festival is able to showcase the strongest titles that have previously premiered elsewhere. Two such titles spotlighted during its 51st edition rank among the year’s finest films: Albert Serra’s Story of My Death, which I’d seen three times in four days at Locarno in August, and Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs, an altogether different kind of epic that was also shot on digital. Telling the simple tale of a Taiwanese family’s spiral into homelessness and despair, the film manages to be emotionally and intellectually engaging despite and because of its characters’ teasingly suggestive backstory. It boasts one arresting image after another, its unusual camera angles showing people trudging through some of the most strikingly disorienting architectural or other spaces since The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and it’s boosted mightily by Lee Kang-sheng’s central performance. As a father of two who makes his living by standing at a crossroads every day holding an advertisement, Lee is an intense ball of simmering hurt.

São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Remembering Leon Cakoff, The Kid with a Bike, & A Trip to the Moon

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Remembering Leon Cakoff, <em>The Kid with a Bike</em>, & <em>A Trip to the Moon</em>
São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Remembering Leon Cakoff, <em>The Kid with a Bike</em>, & <em>A Trip to the Moon</em>

If you searched for English-language news of Leon Cakoff’s death two Fridays ago at the age of 63 due to complications after a melanoma diagnosis soon after it happened, you would have found only a translated press release. By the time two notices appeared the following Monday—one on MUBI, one on this site—the release was what they leaned on. The lack of writing seemed strange considering who he was.

You may ask, “Who was he?” For starters, he was Manoel de Oliveira’s recent co-producer, and the producer of anthology films featuring segments by directors such as Atom Egoyan, Amos Gitai, Tsai Ming-liang, and Wim Wenders. He was a partner in UniBanco Arteplex, a large Brazilian art-house theater chain. He was, as critic Amir Labaki put it, the only major Brazilian film personality “to write, edit books, produce, direct, act, distribute, and exhibit movies.” Above all, he was the founder of the São Paulo International Film Festival (Mostra), the most recent annual edition of which began this past Thursday, less than a week after his death.

You might not have heard of the festival. That’s not because it’s new: The Mostra is entering its 35th year. It’s the largest festival in Brazil, and one of the largest in Latin America. This year’s edition alone features around 300 titles.

Film Comment Selects 2010: A Brighter Summer Day

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Film Comment Selects 2010: <em>A Brighter Summer Day</em>
Film Comment Selects 2010: <em>A Brighter Summer Day</em>

Unlike the work of his peers and countrymen Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang, assessing the output of the late Taiwanese director Edward Yang presents some considerable problems. Whereas after earlier issues of unavailability, the films of Hou (at least from 1993’s The Puppetmaster on) and Tsai are now a Netflix click away, Yang’s oeuvre remains damned by inaccessibility, his 2000 masterpiece Yi Yi—recently confirming its place in the canon by appearing at or near the top of many best-of-the-decade lists—proving the sole exception. Still, Yang, along with Hou, is widely considered to be the key player of the Taiwanese New Wave that emerged in the early ’80s, when lessening of government restrictions allowed for the establishment of a new artistically viable cinema. Not surprisingly, given Taiwan’s fraught recent history, which saw the island exchange a foreign occupation (Japan) for an oppressive nationalist government, the films of the new directors were concerned largely with exploring the country’s knotty past as well as the present-day displacements that resulted. While Hou’s films focused largely on historical subjects (most significantly in his late-’80s/early-’90s trilogy of City of Sadness, The Puppetmaster, and Good Men, Good Women), Yang devoted his work to tracing the contemporary consequences of those disruptions. (The younger Tsai, who began making films in the late ’80s, is concerned exclusively with the present, which, in his films, seems ever more cut off from any understanding of the past.)