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Archive for September 25th, 2008

by Sam Juliano

     A resourceful and committed young Chinese filmaker named Ying Liang has successfully transmitted to the film-going world what it is to live in China today and how its Westernized capitalistic society (which seemingly coexists with the communist underpinnings) is a ruthless testament to the grave price in values that must be forfeited to sustain it. 

It is astonishing that the 100 minute film cost only $5,000 to produce, although with non-professional actors and the use of family members, as well as a video camera, there was no real overhead to speak of.  It is furthermore rather remarkable that such a comparatively primitive mode of expression could yield such a trenchant view of a country in cultural transition and turmoil, but the stark urgency of his pale compositions which capture life unfolding, lend this picture an authenticity rarely achieved even when striven for.

  A 17 year old boy named Xu Yun (the actual name of the young amateur playing the role) is given the lamentable news that his Sichuan Province village is being razed for a government industrial project.  This occurrence is projected here as one that is typical in modern-day China, causing the displacement and relocation of millions, a concern most magnificent conveyed in the recent documentary Up The Yangtze.  In view of this sudden upheaval, the youth decides to embark upon a journey to the city of Zigong to find the father that abandoned his family six years ago, armed with an unspecific address and a pair of geese he carries in a basket on his back. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     One of the great masterpieces of world cinema has been showcased for several weeks at the IFC in Manhattan in a sparkling restored print.  Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1943 sound film Day of Wrath, which appeared more than ten years after his Vampyr, is a restrained chamber drama that examines guilt, sin and retribution in Denmark in the seventeenth century, when witch hunts were all the rage.

The ominous opening scenes unfold with startling power when an old woman named Herlofs Marthe (Anne Svierkier) is first seen handing some herbs to another person in a darkened kitchen room, and then is observed fleeing after the tolling of bells, signifying that the Puritan hierarchy have now identified their latest “conquest” and are hot in pursuit.  The nefarious nature of summary judgement in regards to the vivacious Herlofs Marthe is evident by establishing that nothing she has done (or not done) is in any way harmful or contrary to religious doctrine.  Her “dabbling” in remedies, which is enough to incur condemnation and eventual execution on a burning pyre illustrate a cloistered society ruled by fear, suspicion and an inflexible and fanatical religious doctrine.  Before the austere and mesmerizing drama plays out, it is clear that in this society the closest of relationships would be betrayed if there is even a slight hint of aberrant behavior.  At the time of its release many believed Dreyer was being implicitly clear in his own condemnation of Nazi Germany, which overran his home country of Denmark, and forged a society that rounded up those who resisted, enacting swift justice based on unfounded evidence, and encouraged family members to spy on each other.  Dreyer, in an interview conducted in 1964 after the debut of his final film Gertrud, and three years before his death at age 79, stated that any parallel between the narrative content of his film and the Nazis was strictly coincidental.  Still, it’s somewhat of a miracle the film was even made at all in that oppressive time.

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