The Personal History of David Copperfield: From Book to Film

In a previous post I reviewed The Goldfinch, one of two literary adaptations on my list to watch while I was at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September. The Personal History of David Copperfield is the other one, which also had its world premiere at TIFF; it represents a totally different approach to bringing a literary work to the big screen.

If The Goldfinch is an example of a traditional way of adaptation, striving at loyalty to the literary source while overlooking cinematic elements, David Copperfield is a brave venture out wielding post-modern strokes, not that it is changed into a contemporary setting, but that it is adapted with a modern-day zeitgeist. Here’s director Armando Iannucci’s rationale during a TIFF interview: Just as Dickens wrote David Copperfield reflecting life and society of his time, as a filmmaker today, he directs the adaptation through a frame of our time. 

David Copperfield
Dev Patel as David Copperfield. Image Credit: Courtesy of TIFF19

What stands out in such post-modern filmmaking is the ‘colour-blind casting’ of the production. David Copperfield is played by Dev Patel, a young British actor of Indian descent. Known for his breakout role in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Patel has established a popular screen presence with a charisma that whisked him through many subsequent successful features such as the two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011, 2015) and Lion (2016). Other non-white actors taking up main roles include Benedict Wong (Avengers: Endgame, 2019) as Mr. Wickfield, Rosalind Eleazar (Howards End, 2017) as Agnes and Nikki Amuka-Bird (The Children Act, 2017) as Mrs. Steerforth. It is a bold statement Iannucci is making: skin colour is not an issue. These talents are first and foremost, actors.

Iannucci indicated that he’d always have Patel in mind ever since he watched Lion (2016), a true story about an Indian boy separated from his older brother in a Calcutta train station and later sent away for adoption in Australia. Twenty-five years later, after a long search, he finally located and reunited with his mother in an Indian village. Watching Patel in Lion, Iannucci thought, that’s David Copperfield for him. Indeed, Dickens’s character David Copperfield could well be a metaphor for those who had suffered much in childhood and yet against all odds, have survived and grown up to be resilient and compassionate human beings.

The adaptation exudes energy and humour. Iannucci has chosen his cinematic palette with bright colours and sprinkled with comedic sparks. Surely, Dickens’s Copperfield has a sad upbringing, orphaned after his beloved mother dies young, and mistreated by his stepfather Mr. Murdstone and his sister Jane Murdstone, later having had to fend for himself as a child labourer at the ripe age of 12. Yet Dickens’s humour never fades. His light-hearted depiction of Aunt Betsey Trotwood or Mr. Micawber offer some hilarious characterization. Later, David’s brave and arduous escape to seek the shelter of Aunt Betsey turns his life around. The autobiographical fiction could well represent Dickens’s view that, in the midst of misfortunes and human pathos, there still lies a deeper essence, and that’s the joy of life. Iannucci deftly capitalizes this inherent quality in the the author’s writing and adorns his film with humour and jollity.

Here’s a note on Wikipedia on Armando Iannucci that I find interesting: “Born in Glasgow to Italian parents, Iannucci studied at the University of Glasgow followed by the University of Oxford, leaving graduate work on a D.Phil about John Milton to pursue a career in comedy.” I’m sure the story about his academic pursuit and career change entail more than just this one line can say, but that’s enough to give us the background of who’s bringing David Copperfield to the screen now. Iannucci is the creator and writer of the award-winning TV series Veep (2012-2019), the Oscar nominated political satire In the Loop (2009), and the dark comedy The Death of Stalin (2017), for which he won Best Director and Best Writer at BAFTA.

To those wary about the lack of seriousness, the superb cast is poised to deflect such criticisms. Tilda Swinton (Oscar winner Michael Clayton, 2007) as Betsey Trotwood and Hugh Laurie (Golden Globe Best Actor The Night Manager, House) as Mr. Dick are the anchors that complement Patel’s spirited performance. They are pivotal in transferring Dickens’s moral insights onto screen. Aunt Betsey’s kindness towards Mr. Dick, who in today’s term would be one stricken with mental illness, is a lesson in example, influencing David’s mutual friendship with him. The same with David’s support and acceptance of Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family while they are in dire financial distress. If we need a villain, Ben Whishaw’s Uriah Heep is there to show vividly the face of hypocrisy and the consequence of jealousy and deceit.

Such a light handling of the classic novel has its weakness naturally. While the moral lesson of good over evil still stands, David’s growing insights about love, life, and faith which Dickens writes about so eloquently have not been transferred onto screen as successfully. It is unfortunate that the movie does not elaborate on the effects of David’s misplaced adulations of Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard, The Goldfinch, 2019) nor does it focus on his awakening to the fervency Agnes has for him. David’s blindspot and Agnes’s hidden love for him would have made a poignant storyline. Nevertheless, the two eventually do come together, but just as a coda, with Dora (Morfydd Clark, Love & Friendship, 2016) getting the inkling of a mismatch between herself and the emerging writer to gracefully step aside, sparing David the deathbed scene from the book.

Overall, the adaptation is a joy to watch, and one of those films that I’d like to rewatch. It has just been screened at London Film Festival in early October, release dates in North America unknown. The casting might pose an issue for some, but it just may be another object lesson for today.

 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

***

Related Reviews on Ripple Effects:

The Goldfinch

Lion

Love & Friendship

 

Literary Adaptations at TIFF19: The Goldfinch

Two book-to-film adaptations were on my watch list while I was at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this September: Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Goldfinch and the Dickens classic The Personal History of David Copperfield, both had their world premiere at TIFF. The two make such interesting contrasts that it would be good to discuss them together in one post, but that would be a long one. As I covet your attention, I’ll split them into two reviews. 

I listened to the audiobook of The Goldfinch in 2014, a year after the novel was published. My impression was: this one’s written for the screen. There are Dickensian characters and storylines transposed into present day. 13-year-old Theo is visiting a NYC art museum with his mother when she is killed in a bombing. In the aftermath, stunned and traumatized, he follows a mysterious track to an antique shop where the owner Hobie takes him in. There he meets Pippa, a girl he finds affiliation as she’s looking at the same painting with him in the museum when the bomb goes off. Later Pippa moves away and Theo goes to live with a wealthy Park Avenue family, the Barbours, only to have his stable life interrupted by the sudden reappearance of his long-gone, alcoholic father claiming full guardianship and taking him to live in Nevada, where he becomes friends with Boris, another boy lost in the sandy void.

Later, fleeing from his abusive father, Theo returns to the antique shop in NYC. Under the mentorship of Hobie he learns the skills of the trade. Years later, by chance and fate, Boris shows up again in his life, pulling him into the underworld of art dealings that eventually leads to a violent end, but that’s where the closure begins. “The Goldfinch” is the painting Theo takes with him after the museum bombing and hides it for himself, for it is a physical reminder of his last memory with his mother. They were looking at it when disaster struck; it was his mother’s favorite painting.

The Goldfinch.jpg
Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort in The Goldfinch. Image Credit: Courtesy of TIFF

That’s the main book story in a nutshell, and it appears that screenwriter Peter Straughan is keen to remain as faithful to the source material as possible. When the task at hand is loyalty to the original 784 page novel, the 149 minute screen time can feel like a laborious effort to create a replica, thus losing its flavour as an art form of a different medium, breathing, living cinema. The characters and major plot points are there, but what’s missing are the emotional depth and sparks of life.

Tartt’s novel has its Dickensian characters, and I can’t help but see parallels between The Goldfinch and The Personal History of David Copperfield. Theo and Davy, Boris and Steerforth, Theo’s father Larry and Davy’s stepfather Mr. Murdstone, Pippa and Agnes. The two features, however, represent two ends of possible choices for film adaptations.

Director John Crowley, who helmed Brooklyn (2015), a beautiful adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel, has a good cast to work with for The Goldfinch. Oakes Fegley (Wonderstruck, 2017) gives us a mature performance as young Theo. Nicole Kidman plays Mrs. Barbour decades apart, two roles that don’t give her much to say. Luke Wilson as Theo’s volatile father Larry and Sarah Paulson as his girlfriend Xandra are the livelier contrasts to other characters. Maybe Crowley focuses too much on the theme of grief that the overtone is sombre throughout. Ansel Elgort as adult Theo may not be a miscast but is boxed in by the only emotion he can express, gloominess. I can’t remember he has flashed a hearty smile once. That goes for other characters as well. The Goldfinch is a story of grief and Crowley has painted the mood in stark realism.

Thanks to the venerable cinematographer Roger Deakins (2018 Oscar winner Blade Runner 2049), we get to see some sunlight and energy in the Nevada desert days of  friendship between young Theo and Boris (Finn Wolfhard, TV Stranger Things). For most of the film, however, the color is a greyish cyan of dolefulness. While the museum bombing scene is dramatic, watching it over and over again––as Theo is drawn into guilt-ridden memory––could diminish the effect. But then, this would be an editing issue. And like Theo, don’t we all want to see the face of his mother, whose death is the cause of the grief, but that only comes for a short moment towards the end.

In an early scene, antique shop owner Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) shows young Theo how to tell a piece of furniture by touch to feel its authenticity. Too smooth has to be fake. Furniture that has weathered years of usage would be rougher and uneven. The character of adult Theo could have been a wiser man, more seasoned and worldly, but he remains static and stiff. The poignancy of fate with its power over one’s life comes late in the film and exerts little effect on the emotional connection with viewers. Unfortunately, Hobie’s antique lesson for young Theo is a metaphor for the adaptation. Other than a visual representation of the major plot of the novel, the film is a reproduction that lacks authenticity and liveliness.

 

~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

 

***

TIFF19 Review: Military Wives delivers a soothing tune

If being called a ‘feel good movie’ would right away make you think of a thoughtless and syrupy offering aiming just to please, Military Wives would shatter that myth. The reason for the ‘feel good’ effect in this case is largely because it is based on inspiring, real-life events. The spouses and partners of a British military base band together for mutual support and socializing when their loved ones are deployed to Afghanistan on a 6-month tour. At first just for coffee and a sip of wine, later they discover the joy of singing together as a choir. The subsequent events lead them to the Festival of Remembrance at Royal Albert Hall, deep friendship, and healing beyond their expectations.

Military Wives
Kristin Scott Thomas in Military Wives. Image Credit: Courtesy of TIFF.

The Military Wives Choir phenomenon had inspired the development of the BBC TV series The Choir. And now its movie version Military Wives has just world premiered at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival. According to their website: There are over 2,000 women with a military connection in 74 choirs based across the UK and in British military bases abroad, including Cyprus, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. As well, other countries’ military wives have followed suit, organizing their own choirs. Those with no prior knowledge of this global movement would find this a fresh and interesting subject to put on screen.

Directed by Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty, 1997) and written by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard, Military Wives touts an effective cast to augment their singing. Kristin Scott Thomas is perfect as Kate, the Chair of the social committee on the fictional Flitcroft military base. As the wife of a Colonel, she comes with certain prescribed authority but her bossy personality denies her genuine friendship. Kate has to work together with the leader of the women’s social group, the casual and congenial Lisa (Sharon Horgan). During a brainstorming session, the idea of a choir comes up, something which neither of them has the expertise, or that the group is particularly well-tuned for the task. But living in an isolated military base, the two leaders have to take up the challenge on their own.

Scott Thomas and Horgan are lively foils playing off each other with spot-on comedic timing, both trying to lead the choir in their own way at the same time. Kate is formal and traditional; Lisa is spontaneous and contemporary. While hymns are Kate’s choice for their repertoire, Lisa has no trouble getting the group to belt out pop songs and spark up camaraderie.

Their story however, is deeper than just the catchy tunes. Kate’s son was killed in a previous deployment. Despite her gung-ho and cheery surface, deep down she is still grappling with her loss, and now her husband has gone off to a war zone yet again. Scott Thomas has no trouble bringing out the complexity of her character.

While Kate has to deal with personal loss, Lisa has to raise a rebellious teenaged daughter at the brink of endangering herself. Clashes between Kate and Lisa are inevitable. But instead of telling a mundane, formulaic story, Military Wives succeeds in eliciting genuine emotions and poignancy. These words from a young wife well express their precarious daily life: “every time the phone rings and the doorbell goes, I feel sick.” So, when one of them does meet such a tragic fate, the story gets especially real and poignant.

The ‘feel good’ element is how the women deal with their own personal issue and accept each others’ foibles to work together in harmony, reaping mutual support and deep friendship. The motto of the Military Wives Choir is ‘Stronger Together’. The movie brings out this credo movingly.

 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

***

 

Read my other TIFF19 Reviews:

Coming Home Again directed by Wayne Wang

Interview with director Wayne Wang

Parasite directed by Bong Joon-ho

A Girl Missing directed by Kôji Fukada

 

Toronto International Film Festival 2019

In the coming weeks, I’ll be in Toronto covering the 44th TIFF taking place Sept. 5 – 15. TIFF is my annual destination away from the Pond, my chance to immerse in the celebration of film arts, world premieres of new works, festivities on King Street, and be swept up by the excitement of crowds catching a glimpse of the talents and filmmakers converging there.

For those inclined towards numbers, here are some figures: TIFF19 will screen 333 titles in total, including 245 features, 86 shorts, and 6 series, selected from 6,866 international and 1,059 Canadian submissions. There will be 133 World and 71 North American Premieres. 84 countries are represented with 36% of titles directed, co-directed, or created by women.

It’s a major task to organize one’s own viewing schedule. Films that I want to watch have time conflicts. After several days of juggling and regretful eliminating, I’ve finalized my list, more or less.

The following are some of the feature films on my To-Watch List (All images courtesy of TIFF):

A Girl MissingA Girl Missing directed by Koji Fukada (Japan) North American Premiere. Fukada’s previous film, Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Jury Prize winner Harmonium (2016) grabbed me as a concoction of Hitchcockian suspense and poignant family drama. Excited to see his newest work at TIFF.

A Hidden Life (1)A Hidden Life directed by Terrence Malick (USA, Germany) Canadian Premiere. Based on the true story of Austrian farmer and conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to join the German army in WWII. I expect this newest Malick film to be another soul-stirring work.

The AuditionThe Audition directed by Ina Weisse (Germany, France) World Premiere. Women play major roles in this production as director, screenwriter and cinematographer. But the main attraction for me is actor Nina Hoss, whose riveting performance won her high acclaims in the German films Phoenix (2014) and Barbara (2012).

Coming Home AgainComing Home Again dir. by Wayne Wang (USA/Korea) World Premiere. Wang brought Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club to mainstream cinema in 1993, telling generational stories of Chinese-Americans. His newest is based on a personal essay by acclaimed writer Chang-rae Lee about a son coming home to his ailing mother. 

David CopperfieldThe Personal History of David Copperfield dir. by Armando Iannucci (UK) World Premiere. As a book-to-movie enthusiast, I won’t miss this one. What more, the cast looks impressive, and postmodern. Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire (2008) fame will play Davy, Tilda Swinton as Betsey, Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick, and Ben Whishaw the villain Uriah Heep. Turning a 800+ page classic into a two-hour movie is as daunting as Davy’s life journey. But I reserve my judgement.

THE GOLDFINCHThe Goldfinch dir. by John Crowley (USA) World Premiere. The adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is helmed by the same director as Brooklyn (2015), with adapted screenplay by Wolf Hall and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy scribe Peter Straughan. Looks like a top-notch collaboration.

Hope GapHope Gap directed by William Nicholson (UK) World Premiere. This is Nicholson’s second directorial feature which he also wrote. His other screenplays include Les Misérables (2012) and Gladiator (2000) among many others. But what draw my attention are the duo who play a couple at the brink of a marriage breakdown, Bill Nighy
and Annette Bening.

Parasite (1)Parasite directed by Bong Joon-ho (S. Korea) Canadian Premiere. This year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes. From the description, it echoes Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, last year’s Cannes winner. But Bong’s audacious and creative styling could make this a fresh approach to the subject of social inequality. Lee Chang-dong’s Burning (2018) also comes to mind.

Varda by Agnes (1)Varda by Agnès directed by Agnès Varda (France) Canadian Premiere. After watching the late French New Wave auteur Agnès Varda’s documentary Faces Places (2017), I’d been looking for this, her last work. Excited to know there will be a special event at TIFF 19 with the screening of Varda by Agnès plus a bonus post-film discussion by a panel of filmmakers.

***

For the full lineup, schedule, and tickets go to tiff.net

My reviews of the above plus other TIFF titles will be published on the websites Asian American Press, Vague Visages, and here at Ripple Effects.

 

‘Roma’ and the Power of Childhood Memories

This awards season, a black-and-white film stands out. Many have noted its cinematography and director Alfonso Cuarón’s versatility, from his multiple Oscar-winning space drifting Gravity (2013) and adaptation of P. D. James’s dystopian thriller Children of Men (2006) to the current Roma, a semi-autobiographical work. Surely I agree to all these, but it’s the personal resonance that the film evokes that makes it so memorable for me.

ROMA.jpg
Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

I first saw Roma at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in September. The large screen effects are enfolding. Cinematography is thoughtful and the state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos sound mixing–especially the climatic ocean scene towards the end of the film–was totally engulfing, as if I was alone in the raging sea, despite sitting in a fully packed theatre.

Watching it again this time on my laptop streaming from Netflix is another experience. The intimacy and allowance for repeat viewing and listening to specific dialogues (re-reading the subtitles) are the obvious benefits. Especially with our local theatres not screening the film, the streaming service has a definite role to play in bringing the worthy feature to more viewers. Certainly if Roma plays in your local theatre, do watch it on the big screen as the production was meant to be seen.

What’s most moving is the director’s gentle rendering of his maid and nanny Cleo (first-time performance by Yalitza Aparicio) in his childhood home in Roma, an upper-middle class neighbourhood in Mexico during the years 1970-71. Cuarón juxtaposes Cleo’s personal ordeal with the political backdrop of the time, and weaving an unassuming life of a maid with episodes of an earthquake, a fire and a threatening ocean climatic scene. Other than these, the everyday work of a maid are deceptively mundane, for underlying are the emotive elements of human relationships.

Cleo is an essential member of the household, cleaning, cooking, serving, and taking care of the four children and their parents. She’s the one who puts the younger ones to bed and wakes them up in the morning. From the nuanced, naturalistic framing and some deeply affective moments, Roma is an ode to those who care for children not just out of duty but genuine love.

The reciprocal sentiments from the children, mom Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and grandma Teresa (Verónica García) make the glue that hold the family together at a critical time when the father (Fernando Grediaga) disappears, supposedly on an academic trip to Quebec but coincidentally is seen on the street with another woman. Here the role played by Cleo, a maid, is delicate and precarious. “No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone,” wife Sofia says to Cleo one night returning home by herself half drunk. Cleo shares her pain.

The film belongs to Yalitza Aparicio who plays Cleo with unadorned naturalness. Before this first time acting, she was a preschool teacher. This could well explain her instinctive fondness for the children under her care in the film. Cleo has her personal sad experience with a young man with a different agenda, and it is the family and the children that rekindle her zeal after a personal tragedy, a remarkable exchange of mutual support and kindness.

As the cinematographer himself, Cuarón’s planning of shots is meticulous and masterful. The camera captivates from the opening credits. We see the close-up frame of what looks like clay tiles of the ground, yes, they are, as water is splashed on them and sounds of sweeping and cleaning are heard. As the story unfolds we learn that it is Cleo cleaning dog wastes in the family porch. But don’t lose sight of this seemingly mundane scene. Once water is splashed on the flat, dirty tiles they reflect an open sky above with an airplane flying across from afar. That is the exact ending shot of the film. From waste-filled clay tiles on the ground to the open sky, water is the agent of reflection, a cleansing element, and towards the end, water marks a confirming love and new zest for life.

Last week, I made a long distance phone call to the maid and nanny of my family when I was growing up in Hong Kong. She is 97 years old now and living on her own, still goes to the market to buy fresh ingredients to cook for herself. I was able to chat with her and send well wishes. Childhood memories are powerful markers of identity and experiences; thanks to Roma for evoking such while one is unaware, as it works magic in creating new imagery to sustain them.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

***

‘Free Solo’ Documents More than a Historic Climb up El Capitan

NG-FreeSolo-KeyArt-Postcard.98c47f91 (2)
Credit: National Geographic

Free Solo was showcased in the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in September and won TIFF’s People’s Choice Awards in Documentary. It is currently showing in selective cities.

In the movie listing of our local theatres, Free Solo appears right after First Man, a Gala feature at TIFF18 that is now released widely. Other than the alphabetical coincidence, their being listed together is most apt, for the parallels are significant. Both involved the audacity of single-minded, death-defying courage, and yes, maybe a self-driven obsession.

The scale of the two endeavours massively differ. While First Man dramatizes astronaut Neil Armstrong’s (played by Ryan Gosling) attempt to place human’s first step on the moon, a mission propelled by the leading edge of science and technology of the time, Free Solo documents professional rock climber Alex Honnold scaling the 3,000 feet vertical wall of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park using the lowest tech available: his bare hands and feet, solo and free from ropes and safety gears.

Both Armstrong and Honnolds knew clearly the risks involved. Director Damien Chazelle of First Man spends substantial screen time on the human cost of the space missions and the lives lost, while Honnolds was well aware of professional climbers before him falling to their death. Both men however had to focus on the task at hand and cast the risk factors aside. Worrying and negative thinking would only impede the mission in front of them. Such matters are better left to their significant others, Armstrong’s wife and sons, and Honnold’s girlfriend.

For one man to rise to a death-defying challenge, his loved ones boldly bear the emotional costs. The equation looks to be a zero-sum game.

Free Solo 1 (1)
Alex Honnold pondering El Capitan. Credit: National Geographic

Kudos to the filmmakers of both features then, for bringing the issue to the forefront. The overarching parallel of First Man and Free Solo looks to be the emotional toll on a hero’s  significant others. One conflicting sentiment that is so intensely displayed by actor Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife Janet is realizing that, to her husband, the mission appears to be more important than the family. In Free Solo, Honnold’s girlfriend Sanni had shed silent tears and borne the reality that she had to step aside and not be an obstacle blocking Honnold’s ambition. Getting her boyfriend to move from living in a van to a house, and gently warming him up to a meaningful relationship could be her mountain to scale.

Husband-and-wife directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi captivate audience with their stunning cinematography in chronicling star rock climber Honnolds’ career and his rise to the peak (so far). What’s thought-provoking is their focus not just on the physical but the psyche of those involved, and especially girlfriend Sanni’s emotional toll and those of close friends in the climbing community such as Tommy Caldwell, who has given up free solos now that he’s put his wife and children into the equation.

Free Solo 8 (3)
Free solo, the climb. Credit: National Geographic

But this is after all a documentary of bravery. Casting aside sentiments, doubts and softening vibes, it’s pure determination, courage, athleticism and obsession that drove Honnold to a free solo climb up El Capitan. Tim McGraw’s new song “Gravity” written with Lori McKenna for the film points out the other side of the equation, one must conquer fear to reach one’s goal when it’s so close; to Honnold, it’s worth the risks. “Gravity is a fragile thing / All of the work that you left in your roads / All of the dreams and that all / Now you can finally see them / They meet you at your destination / Now that you have made it so far.” (listen to the song)

Director Jimmy Chin‘s camera team consisted of all professional rock climbers/photographers. They situated themselves on the vertical granite wall in strategic locations to capture Honnold’s ascent. Remote cameras were also set up to minimize distractions. They knew dead silence and the least commotion were crucial for their work; a single pebble falling off could break Honnold’s concentration. For the free solo climber, one small misstep would bring certain death. So this was no spectacle for millions to watch on live TV like the lunar landing. That would only add more pressure. This is just one man’s audacious will to fulfill a lifelong dream.

Chin knows exactly the risks and what it takes to look fear in the face and not flinch, being an acclaimed mountaineer and photographer/filmmaker himself. When only 23, he had organized and led an expedition to Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains, and the rest is climbing history. Chin had since conquered numerous mountain tops as well as captured dangerous shots published in National Geographic and lauded worldwide. His award winning film Meru (2015) co-directed with wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi documented his three-men expedition to Meru Peak in the Himalayas, a peak more difficult than Everest which he’d reached several times. In 2016, he climbed Everest again and skied down its vertical surface.

Free Solo Director Duo
Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. Credit: National Geographic

Chin had known Honnold for about a decade and had gone on climbing expeditions together. Both knew each other well before committing to a documentary of the free solo up El Capitan, a National Geographic production.

The story doesn’t end here, at least I hope. Cut to  director/mountaineer/photographer/filmmaker Jimmy Chin.

Born in Minnesota and grew up in a Chinese immigrant family, Chin learned hard work and humility from his librarian parents. To shatter the stereotype of a Chinese boy growing up in America, Chin’s story is exemplary. Surely he excelled in academics, read voraciously, and yes, played the violin and practiced martial arts, but Chin distinguished himself by wearing courage on his sleeve and manifested great strength and athleticism through his climbing expeditions. When as a young college grad, he shifted his devotion to mountaineering and adventure, a passion his parents did not embrace, all of them would not have imagined what a second generation Chinese immigrant boy born in Minnesota could have grown up to be.

Now, a documentary on Jimmy Chin, anyone?

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

***

All photos in this post courtesy of National Geographic
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/films/free-solo/

Source articles:

How Jimmy Chin Filmed Alex Honnold’s Death-Defying Free Solo

Photographer Jimmy Chin on Mastering the Art of Chill

Jimmy Chin: Why climbing Meru Peak is tougher than Everest

 

 

‘Burning’: From Short Story to Big Screen

Burning is based on the short story “Barn Burning” by the popular Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, the translated English version first published in the November issue of The New Yorker in 1992. Acclaimed Korean director Lee Chang-dong has fleshed out the minimalist narrative of Murakami’s story and created an extended ending, turning Burning from mere rumination into a dramatic suspense thriller, shedding traces of a myriad of literary allusions. That is the appeal of the works by the Korean novelist-turned-filmmaker.

Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and a nominee for the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, Burning had its North American premiere on September 9 at the Toronto International Film Festival. As well, South Korea has announced that Burning will be its official entry to the Best Foreign Language Film race at the 91st Oscars in 2019. The acclaimed film will be released in November in selective cities.

More than fifty years before Murakami’s short piece appeared in The New Yorker, back in 1939, a short story of the same name, “Barn Burning”, was published in Harper’s Magazine. Its author was William Faulkner. It was a dramatic story of class discrepancy in the American South, the chasm between the rich and the poor and the hateful revenge of a tenant farmer burning down the properties of his land owner. Interesting to note that Murakami made no mention of Faulkner in his story, which can be seen as a modern-day version of the American author’s work.

Director Lee’s adaptation shares similar meaning-imbued elements as his last feature Poetry from eight years ago. While his previous work is a character study of a grandmother trying to seek out a way to renew her life, in Burning, Lee focuses on the young, specifically, the millennials, and contrasting the social chasm between the rich and the poor with two characters.

burning_01
Yoo Ah-in as Jongsu in ‘Burning’. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) graduated from university majoring in creative writing. At present he is doing menial jobs as a living while trying to write a novel. On a delivery one day he comes across an old schoolmate, Haemi—impressive performance by newcomer Jun Jong-seo—working as a raffle promoter on the street. She recognizes Jongsu as according to her, they used to live in the same community when they were children. That brief encounter sparks off a precarious relationship between the two.

Due to some legal entanglement of his father’s, Jongsu has to leave the city to return to his father’s impoverished farm to look after it. He sleeps in a run-down shack, drives a rusty truck and clears the waste of the only cow left. At the same time, Haemi is going on a trip to Africa, and has asked Jongsu to go to her small apartment to feed her cat while she is away. This he gladly obliges.

But when Haemi returns after some time, she brings with her another man, Ben (Steven Yeun of the TV series ‘The Walking Dead’), a third person to the intimate relationship Jongsu had wanted to establish with Haemi.  Ben is more than just a disruptor but an enigma. He lives in a high-end apartment, dresses stylishly, drives a Porsche and exudes sophisticated tastes. He does not hold a job nor seem to mind Jongsu’s presence, but invites him home and brings him into his circle of friends. “The Gatsby in Korea” as Jongsu figures him, Ben is a man with a mysterious past and unsearchable intention.

burning_steven-yeun_1 (1).jpg
Steven Yeun as Ben, ‘The Gatsby in Korea’.

Things become more intriguing and uncomfortable when one night, Ben confides in Jongsu that he burns greenhouses for his own pleasure. He would scout out his target and set fire to it while watching from afar. The next one he has in mind actually is quite close to where Jongsu is staying, near his father’s farm. Here we see Murakami’s interesting flip of Faulkner’s story. Instead of a hateful man from a lower economic class driven by jealousy and bitterness to commit arson, we have the resourceful rich burning down greenhouses, but for what reason?

Unlike Murakami, Lee alludes to Faulkner, but also takes up Murakami’s suggestion that it is not only poverty or revenge that drives one to commit incendiary acts, but ennui, self-indulgence, or mere emptiness can also prod one towards inexplicable behaviour.

Steven Yeun, the Korean-American actor known for the TV series “The Walking Dead”, takes up his first major role in a Korean film. Yeun’s portrayal of an amoral, metrosexual may well be a modern-day parallel of Camus’s L’Etranger, The Stranger.  His often expressionless, but not unpleasant, face could well have conveyed the inner psyche of a rootless and purposeless existence.

One time at a social gathering, Haemi imitates the African ‘hunger dance’ in front of Ben and his friends. First, she acts with small, silent gestures showing the ‘little hunger’ of the literal, physical pang then changing to the ‘great hunger’ with her arms reaching upward and swaying to signify the empty soul reaching out in search of fulfilment. Watching her, Ben’s response is a yawn and a slight smile when Jongsu catches his bored reaction. Then a quick cut to a loud, electrifying night club scene with Haemi dancing wildly in a smoky, hazy atmosphere. Lee’s cinematic storytelling is stark and to the point.

The director’s rendering of passion and the human psyche is enhanced by Hong Kyung-pyo’s mesmerizing cinematography and the engaging score by Mowg and other incidental music, presenting sequences that are at times dreamlike, and at times, sadly realistic. In a stirring scene, Haemi dances again, this time against the setting sun out in Jongsu’s farm, her silhouette captivating her two audience, subtle rivals, one genuine, the other, unsearchable.

The plot thickens towards the last section when Jongsu tries to connect with Haemi after some time but finds her missing. Her apartment has been vacated, her phone disconnected. The next time he sees Ben, Ben is with another woman and admitted no knowledge of Haemi’s whereabouts. The disappearance of Haemi ignites Jongsu’s suspicion and drives the tension towards an explosive denouement which Lee adds to Murakami’s short story. It is an ending that is a surprise and yet also natural in context. Lee brilliantly brings his viewers full circle back to Faulkner with his layered storytelling.

Just like his previous works Poetry (2010) and Secret Sunshine (2007), Lee has shown once again that he is not only a masterful director but an astute observer of human psyche and behaviour.

***

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

 

Note: My review above was originally published in Asian American Press on Sept. 12, 2018. I thank AAPress for permission to repost here.

***

Update Nov. 16: “Burning” just nominated for Best International Film (South Korea) at the Film Independent Spirit Awards.

A Star is Born and the Dilemma of Success

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga walked the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this September for the North American premiere of their movie “A Star is Born”, a Gala presentation at TIFF. Now the movie reaches the general public as it is released in theatres worldwide.

A_STAR_IS_BORN
Bradley Cooper as Jack and Lady Gaga as Ally in “A Star is Born”. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

This is a bold and spectacular debut for both of them, Cooper as first time director, and the superstar singer her first leading movie role. The two manifest great chemistry on screen, casual and heartfelt. Cooper plays a famous singer Jackson Maine discovering the sensational voice and talent of a struggling singer/songwriter, restaurant worker Ally, a stripped-down, no (or minimal?) make-up Lady Gaga. It’s also a sad story as one star rises just as fast as the other falls like a meteor, self-destruct by alcoholism.

The love story begins with Maine searches for a drink after a performance one night as he has emptied the bottle in his car. His driver roams the streets for any bar that’s still open. They find one and Maine stumbles in just in time to hear Ally begin her gig. The song that she performs hooks and wows him. It’s “La Vie en Rose“, the iconic number by the legendary French singer Edith Piaf. That’s the inciting incident of the movie.

After the song he goes backstage, needing no introduction; he is Jackson Maine. He sits beside her and watches her take off her make-up, then with her permission, helps her peel off the Edith Piaf thin-lined eye brow. It’s just pasted on, not real. But what’s authentic is her voice, which Jack already knows, and he’ll soon discover, her heart as well.

That night, the two sit in the parking lot outside a grocery mart and chat into the night. Why doesn’t she write songs and sing her own work? People like her songs alright, but not her looks, she tells him. She’s self-conscious about her nose. He traces her facial features tenderly with his finger and tells her she’s beautiful. When his driver drops her off, as she’s walking up to her front door, he calls out from the car window: “Hey”. She looks back, he says: “I just wanted to take another look at you.” This line will later become the ominous turn into a heartbreaking end.

It’s Cooper’s directorial debut, and from this feature, we can see he’s a meticulous, sensitive and conscientious helmer. He catches and releases the right amount of tension and emotion with expert timing. His love lines are nuanced, casual yet touching. His singing is seasoned, a bit raspy and therefore quite moving. A Star is Born is remarkable achievement considering he’s the director, co-writer, actor, singer, and co-songwriter, with Lady Gaga and Lukas Nelson (son of Willie) of the 17 original songs in the production.

Kudos to Lady Gaga, other than a mesmerizing voice, her acting looks to be another talent that’s authentic; indeed, a star is born with this movie debut. But maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. She’s been a bold and versatile performer for a long while. It’s the unplugged looks and demeanour in the movie that’s a pleasant surprise. In reality, she’s already a supernova, so where will this further catapult her career? How will movie success affect other aspects of her life?

In the film, the change of Ally from a plain-looking, struggling artist to a performing star with dyed hair, showy costumes and vibrant dance steps stir Jack to remind her to go deep into her soul. Nothing’s perfect. Success comes with a price. Ally handles it relatively well. What is authentic? Surely not the appearance, the stage persona. At least, she still knows her heart. It looks like Jack has a harder time dealing with Ally’s success than the crumbling of his own. That still may be the easier part when compared to conquering the demon of alcoholism.

The very story of A Star is Born is itself a cautionary tale. Interestingly, Hollywood loves this story. The Cooper and Gaga version is the fourth time the tale is told. The very first A Star is Born back in 1937, its screenplay by Dorothy Parker, was based on a 1932 movie What Price Hollywood? directed by George Cukor. Imagine someone back in 1932 was already mulling on this question.

Cukor later directed Judy Garland and James Mason in the 1954 remake. Fast forward to 1976, Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson starred in another version, this time Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunn co-wrote the screenplay, turning the limelight to the musical stage from the movie industry. The 2018 Cooper-Gaga reprise gives credit to Didion and Dunn’s script.

In a perfect world, artistic success can find an ideal integration and balance with popularism and consumerism, while addictions are absent, superficiality and shallowness all but banished. A perfect scenario, but not in the real world. In the real world, we have stories, some repeated and same old but in different versions. No matter how many times they’ve been told, we still embrace them. All because they are real.

***

TIFF-launched foreign language films shooting for Oscars 2019

Watching foreign language films could be an acquired taste for some, not unlike eating sushi. Once you’ve gotten over the seemingly counter-intuitive idea of eating fish raw and allow the soft texture to melt in your mouth, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the cold freshness and welcome the brain-stirring sting of the wasabi, as well, appreciate the sweet taste when lightly dipped in soya sauce, balanced by the blandness of the vinegared rice morsel. A delightful exploration.

Film festivals are the best venues for one to have a taste of these international, cinematic delicacies. And as usual, the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this September was a launching pad for films from all over the world, several were subsequently announced as their country’s official entry to the upcoming Oscars Best Foreign Language Film race.

shoplifters_06

“Shoplifters”, this year’s Palme d’Or winner and Japan’s official entry to the
91st Oscar Best Foreign Language Film race.  Photo courtesy of TIFF

The following is the list of TIFF selections that made it to represent their country at the 91st Oscars. Posted also are their premiere status at TIFF. Some of these I’d seen at the Festival and since reviewed (just click on the links). More reviews are forthcoming. The Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

**

El Angel, Argentina, dir. by Luis Ortega, North American (NA) Premiere

Hidden Man, China, dir. by Jiang Wen, International Premiere

Birds of Passage, Columbia, dir. by Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra, Canadian (CA) Premiere

Sergio and Sergei, Cuba, dir. by Ernesto Daranas, NA Premiere

Winter Flies, Czech Republic, dir. by Olmo Omerzu, International Premiere

Never Look Away, Germany, dir. by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, NA Premiere

Sunset, Hungary, dir. by László Nemes, NA Premiere

The Cakemaker, Israel, dir. by Ofir Raul Graizer

Dogman, Italy, dir. by Matteo Garrone, CA Premiere

Shoplifters, Japan, dir. by Hirokazu Kore-eda, CA Premiere

Capernaum, Lebanon, dir. by Nadine Labaki, NA Premiere

Roma, Mexico, dir. by Alfonso Cuarón, CA Premiere (Review forthcoming)

Cold War, Poland, dir. by Pawel Pawlikowski, (Review forthcoming)

Burning, South Korea, dir. by Lee Chang-dong, NA Premiere

Border, Sweden, dir. by Ali Abbasi, NA Premiere

The Wild Pear Tree, Turkey, dir. by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Review forthcoming)

**

The 91st Academy Awards ceremony will take place Sunday, February 24, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Hotel Mumbai’ captures both terror and resilience in the tragic attack

On November 26, 2008, the City of Mumbai, India, was under siege by terrorists in a co-ordinated shooting and bombing attack that lasted four days. For long hours until security forces arrived from outside of the City, twelve sites in Mumbai were attacked and civilians were gunned down defenceless or taken hostage.

An Australian production, Hotel Mumbai had its world premiere at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2018. Director Anthony Maras in this his debut feature captures the horrific attack ten years ago with a pace that is intense and sweeping, leaving viewers breathless as they watch terror unfold on screen, acts after acts of senseless violence. But don’t let this drive you away.

The setting of the thriller Hotel Mumbai is the luxury heritage Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, or the Taj, where many foreign, renowned personalities had frequented. It was one of the twelve targets of the terror attacks, for obvious reason. Gunmen armed with AK-47 assault rifle and hand grenades took foreigners hostage at the five-star hotel and shot point-blank many others. In the aftermath, 31 in the hotel were killed, almost half were staff refusing to escape but stayed to defend and assist the trapped hotel guests.

Hotel_Mumbai_0HERO (1)
Dev Patel as Arjun in “Hotel Mumbai”. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

The storylines following several guests in the hotel are particularly gripping, like Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) hiding in a closet caring for a baby who wouldn’t stop crying as the baby’s parents David (Armie Hammer) and Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) are trapped somewhere else in the hotel, trying to get to their infant son.

Dev Patel plays staff server Arjun. The turban he wears makes one of the guests fearful. A crisis situation could tip either way, as an opportunity for understanding and the breakdown of barrier, or an incendiary fuse leading to deeper hatred and animosity. In a volatile situation as the hotel is besieged, complications could be deadly. But Arjun exudes ample dignity and generosity. That turban will later become a symbol of selfless grace.

The consoling breathers and the meaningful elements in the film then were these acts of kindness and courage. Maras captures the human foibles in the face of dangers, as well the strength of the hotel staff in protecting their guests. Their sacrificial, heroic acts render the film not merely a record of atrocity, but a gratifying chronicle of resilience and bravery.

The bullet-riddled and fire damaged five-star hotel was fully reopened after only twenty-one months. A special commemoration was held and a monument set up to honor those who died.

 

TIFF Hotel Mumbai Press Conference (1)
“Hotel Mumbai” Press Conference at TIFF. From left: Director Anthony Maras, actors Dev Patel, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs, and Armie Hammer (back). Photo by Diana Cheng

There was a good representation of main cast members at the press conference of the film, moderated by Richard Crouse of CTV. Present were director Anthony Maras and actors Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Jason Isaacs, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, and Anupam Kher. They all commended the hotel staff for their extraordinary courage, some they had met in person who were survivors of the attack.

Upon talking with hotel staff and understanding the actual events, the actors were impressed that small acts of kindness were the essence of resistance. There were staff who had escaped but went back to save hotel guests. Some in the kitchen would put cookie sheet inside their clothes as shield to protect themselves in order to cover guests as they escape. One particular poignant observation they all felt was the breakdown of barriers as both staff and guests were all victims of the horrific act of violence. All racial and financial barriers came down in the face of crisis.

The cast also stressed the point that the perpetrators were all misguided and brainwashed young men. Nine of the ten gunmen were killed. But the mastermind, called “the Bull” in the film—who was in constant contact, directing the attackers throughout by means of their cell phones—was never caught.

 

***

 

Diversity Wins at TIFF 2018

It’s a wrap for the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival as the awards were handed out on Sunday, September 16, 2018, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Theatre 1. The top prize, the Grolsch People’s Choice Award went to Green Book, a world premiere at TIFF18. Directed by Peter Farrelly, the comedy-drama stars Mahershala Ali as classical pianist Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as a working-class Italian-American bouncer getting the job to drive Ali on the road in the American South during the 1960’s. Ali won an Oscar for his role in Moonlight (2016), Mortensen is a two-time Oscar nominee. Looks like the film has just got a huge boost with this win and will travel far in the upcoming Awards Season.

greenbook
Viggo Mortsensen driving Mahershala Ali in “Green Book”. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

If Beale Street Could Talk, a world premiere at TIFF18 and director Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight (2016) was the People’s Choice Award First Runner-Up. Based on the novel by James Baldwin, the film tells the love story of a young African American woman trying to prove her imprisoned lover’s innocence. In the TIFF webpage, the film is described as a ‘gorgeous tone poem on love and justice.’

ifbealestreetcouldtalk_01
KiKi Layne and Stephan James in “If Beale Street Could Talk”. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (my review) came third in the People’s Choice Award. A Canadian Premiere at TIFF18, it is an artistic rendering of a young maid’s experience in a middle-class home in Mexico City during the 1970’s. Of note is the black-and-white film is regarded as a semi-autobiographical account of Mexican director Cuarón, the first Hispanic and Mexican to win the Academy Awards for Best Director with his sci-fi work Gravity (2013).

ROMA.jpg
Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma”. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

The high-profile contenders First Man directed by Damien Chazelle with Ryan Gosling as astronaut Neil Armstrong, and Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star is Born did not place.

TIFF’s People’s Choice Award winner is often regarded as a predictor of the next Oscar Best Picture. Past winners that went on to capture the Oscar include Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and 12 Years A Slave.

Capturing the People’s Choice Documentary Award is Free Solo, International premiere at TIFF18, directed by E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Chinese-American mountaineer/photographer Jimmy Chin. The duo chronicled the renowned rock climber Alex Honnold’s scaling free solo — without safety ropes — up the 3,000-foot cliff of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park.

People’s Choice Award from the Midnight Madness program went to the The Man Who Feels No Pain, World Premiere at TIFF18, directed by Vasan Bala, one of the young, new wave filmmakers in India. This is a cinematic fusion throwing in Hong Kong martial arts comedy Stephen Chow styling, the agility of Jacky Chan, the Bollywood sensation, the American Superhero momentum, and the inspiration of Buster Keaton. Fits right in the Midnight Madness program of introducing new works by a new generation of filmmakers.

Platform Prize went to Cities of Last Things, directed by Ho Wi Ding. This world premiere at TIFF18 is a collaboration of filmmakers from Taiwan, China, USA, and France. From TIFF’s webpage, “a seamless blending of genres, from sci-fi to noir to romance, the Malaysian-born Ho commandingly employs cinematic language as a tool to discuss the root of our collective sadness, which is perhaps the very thing that makes us human.”

NETPAC Award for the world premiere of international and Asian film went to The Third Wife from female writer-director Ash Mayfair of Vietnam. A film about a 14-year-old girl’s struggles after she becomes the third wife of a wealthy landowner, set in 19th century rural Vietnam.

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Takes an International Film Festival to Remind Us

It takes an International Film Festival to remind us that we live in a world with many countries and myriad of cultures, languages and experiences beyond our own. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) opens a window looking out towards such a diverse human kaleidoscope. (All photos in this post are by Diana Cheng, Sept. 2018)

TIFF on Festival Street

What better time than now for us to press on to connect and share when it seems the progress we had made in recent decades had been dismantled in no time. What better means than through the visceral medium of film art in exposing views, eliciting empathy, and inspiring minds. Films could well be the best avenue to reach out and understand, as well, to be understood.

TIFF is the largest public film festival in the world. Its top prize is judged by the audience. Named the Grolsch People’s Choice Award, the annual winner is often a predictor of the next Oscar Best Picture. Some past winners include Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, 12 Years A Slave.

Glamour aside, the variety of its film selections are examples of diversity and opened doors to places and issues that are foreign to many in the Western world. But then again, finding the gem of universality may just be the serendipitous reward.

This year, the number of films in TIFF’s various programs comes to about 342, representing 83 countries, from Algeria to Kazakhstan to Vietnam, just to go down the alphabetical list. These official selections are chosen from a total of 7,926 submissions, 6,846 from around the world, 1080 from Canada domestically. Among these three hundred some titles, over 80 languages are used. After watching half a dozen of the international entries, reading subtitles at the bottom and watching the whole screen at the same time will become a skill you’ll be happy to have acquired.

Share Her Journey

Further, the Share Her Journey Rally on Saturday, September 8, lends a voice to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, pressing for respect and equality for women on both sides of the camera. Attended by hundreds and led by actress Geena Davis among other distinguished guests, the Rally represents a united front to shatter the glass ceiling in the film industry. This year at TIFF, 35% of films are by women filmmakers, a statistic that TIFF is aiming at improving.

During the first few days kicking off the Festival, King Street West was closed for a few blocks for pedestrians to enjoy the fun, food, and free samplings. Here are some sights on Festival Street.

Fusion food is the best sign of diversity. Check these menus out:

Food Truck Menu where East meets West

Fusion

Or, be transported to Paris just for a dream trip:

On Festival Street

and stop for a latté and croissant at Bistro Air France, if you don’t mind waiting:

Bistro Air France

To many, the fun part of TIFF is waiting. Many wait for hours to get just one glimpse of their favourite stars to arrive at a red carpet, there are several in different venues in downtown Toronto:

Star Gazing

Here’s another one, also waiting for their faves:

Still Waiting

**

(All photos in this post are by Diana Cheng, Sept. 2018)

In the days ahead, my list of film reviews on both Asian American Press and Ripple Effects will include (director’s name after title):

Burning, Lee Chang-dong, S. Korea, N. American Premiere
Capernaum, Nadine Nabaki, Lebanon, N. American Premiere
Hotel Mumbai, Anthony Maras, Australia, World Premiere
Kursk, Thomas Vinterberg, Belgium, Luxembourg, World Premiere
Maya, Mia Hansen-Løve, France, World Premiere
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón, Medico, Canadian Premiere
Shoplifters, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, Canadian Premiere
Shadow, Zhang Yimou, China, N. American Premiere
The Wild Pear Tree, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey, France, Germany, Bulgaria, North American Premiere
Wildlife, Paul Dano, U.S.A., Canadian Premiere

Just to name a few. More reviews coming up. Check out the details of the programs from tiff.net

 

***