The Boston Independent Film Festival, Day 4

I'd been anxiously awaiting Andrea Arnold's new film of Wuthering Heights (above) ever since first hearing about it last year, when most of the buzz seemed to center on Arnold's decision to cast black actors (James Howson and Solomon Glave) as the brooding, tormented Heathcliff.  (While purists might argue that this is taking too much liberty with the source material, Brontë's Heathcliff is already racialized as black within the novel's sign system even if he's ostensibly white.)  So I was eager to check it out yesterday at the Boston Independent Film Festival, where it screened to a large but somewhat unresponsive crowd (I was seated behind a group of young women who, judging from their reactions throughout the film, were clearly expecting to see a more conventional Classics Illustrated version).  It's a slightly overlong film and Arnold's use of handheld camerawork verges on excess at times, but it's a much-welcome antidote to the stately, mannered, bloodless adaptations of literary classics (ex. last year's Jane Eyre).  Arnold captures the emotional brutality of the novel's plot as well as the punishing cruelty of the Yorkshire moors where it takes place; this is not a lavishly designed costume drama but a stark, intimate rendering of a tale about crude, violent people living on the edge of civilization.  The first half is best, as Arnold's camera employs a kind of rough lyricism in following young Heathcliff and his adopted sister/would-be lover Cathy running wild through the mist and mud.

I was less impressed with Hirokazu Kore-eda's I Wish, which screened earlier that afternoon at the Brattle.  Set in modern-day Japan, it follows a pair of young brothers: Osaku, who lives with their mother and grandparents, and Ryu, who lives in a distant city with their father, a struggling rock musician.  Along with several school friends, the two boys conspire to meet up and make a pilgrimage to see Japan's new high-speed "bullet" train, which they hope will grant them various wishes.  The film has a lovely benign quality, but it's marred by too much preciosity--too many cute/quirky kids, too many smiling elderly people in the background, too much cloying pop music on the soundtrack.  It's a film for people who like their world cinema to be "nice": i.e., affirming, non-threatening, and ultimately banal. 

I finished the day out with Guy Maddin's visually dazzling Keyhole, a kind of phantasmagoric gangster-movie version of The Odyssey in which Jason Patric plays a crime boss named Ulysses trying to navigate the rooms of his own haunted house in order to find his wife, played by Isabella Rossellini.  It's better at being atmospheric and suggestive than sensical or conventionally entertaining, as is the case with most of Maddin's work, which is often frustrating but compelling to look at.  Like the films of David Lynch, to which Maddin's bear some resemblance, Keyhole is less successful at telling a story than at immersing us in a beautifully rendered dream-world.    

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