The aspect of a foreign film festival is to provide a perspective of what is both possible and perceivable throughout the world. Within the essence of the 4th iteration of the International Film Festival & Awards Macao (aka IFFAM), the idea is as much about the human experience and its psychological impact as it is about the final result. The films, in their own way, reflect that.
JoJo Rabbit The opening night film while an interesting diatribe in the States is an angled approach for Far Eastern audiences who can be primarily removed in many aspects of Western culture. The story inherently is one of tolerance but the tone is just a little bit off from satire. It believes it is funnier than it is which is to its detriment. If it was played a little more extreme (“Top Secret”  despite its over the top tongue-in-cheek quality understood this much better) it would have much greater impact. The balance of the love story has possibility but never quite makes its connection. Waititi plays Hitler with an aloofness that is not altogether wrong but, at certain points where he could have made some metaphorical points that didn’t necessarily align with history, he misses the mark. The audience would have gone with him on the journey undeniably but it is a lost opportunity. Some of the greatest heart of film comes not from the lead JoJo but from his best friend [Yorki played by Archie Yates] who gets the inevitably of it all right. It is only through him and, in a very specific way, Sam Rockwell as a commander who both has a secret to keep but a brazen nihilistic feeling of his own existence that makes it work. They seem to get it. Granted Rockwell did “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” and he still hit that exactly right. At one point when Rockwell jumps out with his gun and winks at the camera during a battle scene, you get a sense of what the film could be. Scarlett Johansson tries but she should have been allowed to play the comedy much more broadly where she mostly sticks to a certain angle. She has a gift for it and that smile when she shows it belies the kind of heart that is sometimes missing from her roles since many of her characters are in misery.
Buoyancy Misery is a continuing structure in many of the Far East films integrated here. “Buoyancy” knows what it is: a tale of primality through and through. Hope in the lead character is an overrated commodity. The story follows a boy in Cambodia who believes he is made for bigger things. But his naiavte ends up placing him on a Thai fishing ship basically as identured labor where he needs to survive in learning by example. The example unfortunately is undeniably brutal. One scene involving what is akin to drawn and quartered with boats shows the incessant darkness of the story. But in true form, the weak must become strong and lose a sense of right and wrong to exist in the gray.
Wisdom Tooth The aspect of a better life is sometimes wasted on the eyes of the beholder. Just getting by versus seeing how the better half lives can sometimes be a curse. A sister works at a hotel and is kept happy by the smaller things in a corner of China. Her brother, or the man she believes is her brother, cares for her and life continues in a sense of suspended animation. There are aspects of the underworld and corruption in play but it is portrayed simply in many ways a part of the fabric of life. The lead actress is replete in her details recording things she hears including that which might be against her own best interests. The interests dovetail which is a bit off kilter but undeniably conflictive. Her brother finally makes a connection with a romantic love bathed in a secret and yet the relationship doesn’t play with a sense of protection but jealousy. It is an interesting dynamic but yet played to an awkward level bouyed by a sense of loneliness which creates an interesting dichitomy of drama. The kind of pain she feels (in the scene shown in the photo above) is akin to a wisdom tooth. so close and yet so far away, something that can’t be removed except with excessive pain.
I’m Livin It Like “Wisdom Tooth” before it, the closing night film is replete with people suffering through their own ego but also their inherent situation. Aaron Kwok always tends to show an interest in people on the slight fringe of society who are a result of the circumstances. The title is a reflection of the 24-hour McDonalds-type establishment ability per se to act as a haven or oasis for homeless people, at least in Hong Kong. Kwok plays Bowen who used to be a financial maven until he was convicted of embezzlement. The film doesn’t really expand on the psychological reasoning of his character’s fall from grace but rather his incessant need to redeem himself while doing really nothing to improve his situation. Everyone in the film seemingly has a hang up which continually holds them back yet the story is one of perservance even as every character seems to fall further down the rabbit hole against their own best interests. Ultimately the movie does pull at the heartstrings in concert with the viewer’s own best instincts. The fact is that the people try so hard and they have talent but life seemingly just is stacked against them. Times are tough and the film doesn’t bely that point but it has resolutes itself with a sense of integrity even in the face of certain tragedy.
By Tim Wassberg