Quick Reviews: 'A Sun', 'Beanpole' | Chung Mong-Hong, Kantemir Balagov, Drama
Hidden deep down in algorithms, you can nowadays even find Oscar submissions from around the world and it’s rather amazing how it’s up to few brave souls, who dare to scour those streaming services, to spread the word about them. Hailing from Taiwan, director-DoP Chung Mong-hong’s A Sun (陽光普照 in Chinese), also written by him with Chang Yao-sheng, is the prime example of that as it managed to go under the radar despite winning all sorts of awards in its home country, screening at TIFF as well as being chosen to represent the country in this year’s Academy Award race. Slowly building notoriety might be even more difficult due to lengthy runtime of two and half hours but the sweet payoff is very much worth the investment, plus gorgeous framing of the camera smooths out some bumps along the way.
The metaphor behind the ’’sun’’ reveals itself later on in the movie but otherwise it takes a look inside a family of four which gets tangled with local crime action; younger son Ho (Wu Chien-ho) gets sent to juvenile detention while his girlfriend Yu (Apple Wu) has become pregnant, Ho’s mom Qin (Samantha Ko) keeps this as a secret before older son Hao (Greg Hsu) tells Ho about it and their father Wen (Chen Yi-wen) practically disowns Ho while focusing more on Hao. All of this is basically just a setup because later everyone goes on their own journey as the family dynamic is breaking down. This is also when you might be waiting for the film to accelerate since it does expand very slowly, however the way that Chung photographs the family’s rupture is breathtaking at times, notably when we follow Hao’s personal journey in the beginning.
Even looking back at the movie, you still can’t help but think if it could’ve blossomed into much more with a different structure. There is a lot of potential that is left untapped because the weird switches detach you from characters, mainly Ho and Qin, in crucial moments. Some of that trickles down to the editing too because the transitions are therefore messy and seemingly unorganised. A Sun starts to shine when we really dive into Wen, much thanks to Chen who masterfully controls every scene with another actor. A later scene between Wen and Ho at a corner shop is a great example because Chen says a million words just between his lines and hits every emotional beat that is needed.
The last hour of the film is thankfully astonishing because all of the threads could have easily been turned into plastic sentiments about acceptance and sacrifices. Instead everything comes together during one final rainy night, explaining more could possibly spoil it so you just got to take my word for it.
Smileys: Ending, Chen Yi-wen, cinematography
Frowneys: Structure, editing
Radish? More like ra-dish with a hand in it.
Living up to sometimes unfairly composed preconceived notions about Russian art, more precisely Russian filmography, Beanpole (Дылда in Russian) is not an easy recommendation by any means due to bleakness that it revels in. Set in the aftermath of World War II in Leningrad, director and co-writer Kantemir Balagov takes a look at two friends, Iya who's nicknamed ''Beanpole'' (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), who are both suffering on their own with PTSD and trauma. The bleakness wasn't mentioned in vain, you see.
In the beginning, Iya is looking after a young boy named Pashka (Timofey Glazkov) who is then revealed to be Masha's son after she returns from the army. Iya suffers from episodes which are referred to as ''freezing'' and she is also infatuated with Masha who on the other hand is seeking stability of sorts, whether that comes from pregnancy or dating a wealthy young man. After setting all of these storylines in place, Beanpole itself becomes a bit too infatuated with style, ignoring substance at times.
Style is what the movie indeed has, plenty in fact, as scrupulously designed sets, costumes and locations indicate, mostly being brushed with the main colour palette of reds and greens on top of clinical whites. Everything feels coordinated and prepared with a detailed eye so the immersion of the time period would take over, along with theory behind the colours which would highlight love and naturalism during dreary times in Soviet Russia. Focusing on two colours also reflect on the two main characters and actors portraying them. Perelygina is the stand out of the two as she really carries the film's emotional impact on her shoulders, whether that is the cold denial of a tragedy in the beginning or when revealing some of Masha's secrets.
As the contrasting colour in the wheel, Miroshnichenko unfortunately becomes the casualty of Balagov's over-directing after the beginning. Much of the dialogue serves its purpose at first but the second half is purely a ghost of that as the director insists on using pauses and stares as answers to questions. Perelygina stumbles a few times because of this too but when it comes to Miroshnichenko, it is just constant agony to get things moving. Balagov opts to use Iya's episodes too many times which is baffling because during the third time it simply looks like an amateurish attempt to show some emotional resonance from Iya.
The second half drags because of the combination of these things. Dialogue is terribly unrealistic during conversations, nudity becomes unnecessary as it looks to just fill empty spaces and all the intimacy took me out of the story because all I could think was ''I hope this film had a great intimacy coordinator''. That's not supposed to be your thought process when watching a film about two specific people, it also makes the implied romance feel shallow.
Smileys: Set decoration, Vasilisa Perelygina
Frowneys: Directing, dialogue, Viktoria Miroshnichenko
How are you supposed to make a funny notion for an ending of your review about a film as bleak as this? I won't even try.