By Roger Costa
THE WOMAN WHO RAN ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
There’s a big chance you will keep a smile on your face throughout the entire session of Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo’s latest rom-com. Especially if you are familiar with his work, and finds pleasure in the way he approaches human relationships. An admirable observer who investigates the uneasiness of love in the artistic, urbane universe, with a unique and sensitive style that demonstrates his personal, affecting ability to explore human connections, Sangsoo scores another delightful gem with this ambiguous tale about the complexities and effects of a long term relationship.
Winner of the Best Director Award at Berlin, the film follows a young woman as she interacts with three different friends in three different spots of Seoul, edited through the sense of peace provided by an enormous mountain in the middle of the city. The occasion seems ordinary at first, until she reveals she hasn’t been away from her husband in five years; that means there’s sometime of her own to reflect on things, on time passing. She claims they have never been separated from each other, and love is the reason- “people in love should stick together”, she says. But through her words she might be saying something else, and questions start to rise as she engages in intimate conversations with her girlfriends, who are constantly interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a male character. As she listens carefully to each friends’ accomplishments, dilemmas and romantic experiences, she is actually analyzing her own condition and emotional state, revealed through her mysterious short vacation, filled with savory meat, alcohol and truthful feminine insights on animal activism, urban development, dating troubles, architecture, fashion, nature and the responsibilities of commitment.
Anchored by the always luminous Kim Minhee, muse and real-life partner of the director, in a deeply melancholic and enigmatic performance, Sangsoo composes remarkably delicate images that speak much more than their words, creating a philosophical atmosphere of its own. Besides the ladies’ perspectives, our heroine is moved by the habit of observing other interactions through technological devices, which Sangsoo composes with humble efficiency and precise social commentary. The use of cameras zoom in to highlight emotional balance is another attribute of the film, an elegant and smart combination of humor and mystery. And in one scene, a “robber cat” literally steals the scene as it waits for a meal and chills outside, while neighbors complain about their presence. The use of zoom in, close-up is sensational and naturally enchanting. The sense of familiarity and loyalty is predominant in the narrative, as it depicts the fundamentals of friendship. By the end of the journey, when our heroine seeks relief at a cozy screening room, and has an unexpected encounter, she will have to face forgotten memories, and might find herself, her new self.
(Cinema Guild. 7/9. Film At Lincoln Center.)
DELPHINE’S PRAYERS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Filmed entirely inside the protagonist’s apartment in Brussels, this immersive documentary is a haunting, shocking and utterly moving one-woman show, where an African woman living (and working as a prostitute) abroad speaks up about all injustices she had endured throughout the years. Abandoned by her parents, cursed by her community, abused and raped, she makes remarkable statements on her condition, the path that took her there, her relationship with identity, faith, sexuality and morality, with incredible honesty and commitment to her words. Cameroon-born, Belgium-based director Rosine Mbakam crafts a powerful female character study while presenting (through Delphine’s revelations) relevant differences and conflicts between Africans and Europeans.
(Icarus Films. 7/9. MoMA’s Virtual Cinema.)
Spanning decades in the lives of three cousins who grew up apart and had life changing experiences in the Maori community in New Zealand, this delicate and heart-breaking drama is an ambitious and masterly crafted triple coming of age story. Addressing prejudice and social challenges over women and Indigenous people, directors Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith brilliantly explore relevant themes of acceptance and resilience through the multiple stories that unfold like beautiful poems. We follow the drama of Mata, who is sent to an orphanage and becomes mentally traumatized; Makareta who flees an arranged marriage, and the determined Missy who sacrifices everything to lead his people and community. Each women’s perspective and reaction to the tragic events involving them are depicted with highly convincing dramatic skills, supported by an irresistibly affecting ensemble cast. Marvelously shot and triumphant, it is a crowd-pleasing activism-infused modern adventure, one to be enjoyed among family.
(Array Releasing. 7/9. Angelika Film Center NYC and 7/22 on NetFlix.)
Impressively crafted and extremely efficient, this modest Tunisian-export horror is certainly as terrifying and satisfying as any big budget Hollywood production. Mysterious and utterly gore, director Abdelhamid Bouchnak’s first feature film proves him to be a strong cinematic voice with his smart combination of adventure, drama and cannibalism horror. The film follows three journalist students assigned for a risky task: interviewing a murderous mad woman who bites everyone near her. After a traumatic encounter with the out-of-this-world woman in a highly secured mental facility, they decide searching the crime area, driving deep into the woods, where they end up meeting up a secretive community who might have some strange eating habits. Provocative, frightening and convincing, Bouchnak extracts perfect chemistry from the trio of youngsters, as well as horrifying personifications from the small village’s inhabitants. A hot, bloody and authentic dish for horror fans.
(Dekanalog. 7/9. In Theaters and On Demand.)
Some movies are destined to be in our minds for a long lasting time. That’s the case of Shahad Ameen’s visually arresting, enigmatic and subtly erotic feminist saga, which was Saudi Arabia’s entry for this year’s Oscars Best International Film. Awarded at Venice Film Festival and a sensation at SXSW, the film follows the struggling adventures of a girl who defies her sea-based community’s male-predominant to prove she can develop multiple fishing skills and revert the curse that haunts them. Mysteriously and enchantingly shot in B&W, Ameen demonstrates enormous sense of visual and place, composing images that won’t let you look away: a mixture of suspense, mysticism, magic realism and lyricism, all revolving around the relationship between the half mermaid girl, the fishing men, the unexpected creatures from the sea, and the water itself. All set to a gorgeous, enlightening landscape. Addressing the female quest for acceptance and survival amidst a sacrificial tradition, it is a hauntingly effective fable and a promising directorial debut. Don’t miss this incredible experience on the big screen.
(Variance Films. 7/9. IFC Center.)