Against The Hype

movies, criticism and their pleasures

SIFF 2011: Pina Astounds, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is Documentary 101

September 19, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

Drop everything and come to Shaw Lido tonight (Sept 19, Mon, 9.30pm) to see Pina, which I saw two days ago and can’t wait to see again. Here’s why:

It’s a vision of the future of 3D cinema. Even more than James Cameron’s Avatar before it, Pina makes a single-handed, multi-bodied case for what 3D cinema should look like if it is to take pride in being a legitimate art form. The elaborate planning needed to capture famed choreographer Pina Bausch’s dances—ingenious with space, and filmed nonstop before live audiences—even implies that 3D might be the key to restoring lost staging practices and less hyperactive editing styles to the movies. (Ironic that this newfangled “gimmick” should offer itself as a potential messiah to all the ever-lamenting Hollywood classicists.)

It’s the hulking Citizen Kane of dance retrospectives. As if its groundbreaking use of deep cinematic space wasn’t enough of a clue, Pina stakes its claim to being the Citizen Kane of dance retrospectives by revealing Bausch to us through the legacies and people she left behind, in ways that defy easy summary. Instead of filming regular talking heads, Wenders layers the testimonies of the dancers of Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal over clips of their faces. More than one reminisces about Bausch’s penetrating gaze, which read them more clearly than they could give voice to, so it’s almost like Wenders is trying to exhume Bausch’s very gaze.

It was almost never made. The attention that Pina accords to the Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers grows even more poignant when you learn that Wenders cancelled plans to make the film after Bausch died unexpectedly, just a few days before filming was initially slated to begin. It was at the behest of these dancers (and Bausch’s fans worldwide) that Wenders decided to press on. “Dance, dance, or we are lost,” cries the movie’s subtitle as the credits end, and I can’t think of a more fitting rallying cry for these people who, through Bausch’s influence and choreography, ask to be found.

Just as Pina feels infused with the spirit of all the dancers that surrounded its making, Cave of Forgotten Dreams has the head and heart of the people that accompanied its making: academics. It isn’t a knock to say that this documentary about the Chauvet Caves, which hold the earliest cave paintings known to man, feels much like the movie an archaeologist or art historian or anthropologist would have made.

I daresay director Werner Herzog is a little bit of all those respectable professions, and he defers even more to the small group of actual professors in his midst who, like his filmmaking team, have been allowed a rare visit to study the caves under limited time and conditions (no touching, no straying from the narrow central walkway, etc). Yet Herzog’s own specific penchant for spelunking for people’s stories and dreams shines through (an archaeologist he interviews turns out to have been a unicycle-and-juggling circus man), even if his inimitable deadpan sometimes makes his meditations on the subject more portentous than his documentary-101 approach otherwise affords.

SIFF 2011: SISTIC Ticket-buying Troubles

September 02, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Announcements

I just bought tickets to eight of the 11 shows that I’m planning to watch at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival! A heads-up to other buyers:

Potentially unavailable tickets
For some reason, Jang Hun’s Secret Reunion, François Ozon’s Potiche and Heiward Mak’s beside(s,) happiness are not available for booking through SISTIC at the moment. I’m not sure what’s going on here, and what other showings might also be unavailable, but this unpredictability makes ticket-buying rather inconvenient.

Misleading “bundle discount” [REDACTED: See comment below]
On the SIFF Ticketing page, it mentions a bundle discount in which you can “purchase 10 tickets in a single receipt to enjoy a 10% discount”. But according to the SISTIC ticketing agent from whom I bought my tickets, this only applies if you’re buying 10 tickets to the same screening. This would make the wording on that discount far too misleading, unless I’ve been misinformed. (It made no difference to me, since I’m still a student, but it would certainly be an annoyance to others.)

SIFF 2011: What I’m Missing at the Singapore International Film Festival (Before Flying Off)

August 29, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Announcements

Now that I’ve given you an overview of what I’m watching at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival, here’s a list of movies I wish I didn’t have to miss out on, even though I’d still be here in Singapore.

Treat this as an alternate set of recommended movies if the ones I’m watching don’t take your fancy! I’d go to these myself, except I can’t possibly be in two places at once.


A Night with Boo Junfeng
Lido 7 – 16 September, 9.30pm
Why I want to watch this: Boo Junfeng is one of Singapore’s most promising young filmmakers, with a knack for the familial drama of unsaid things (and pensive semi-autobiographical leading men). I’ve only seen three of his films (Katong Fugue, Keluar Baris, and his only feature film Sandcastle), so I’d have loved to have seen his handpicked selection of five of his own short films.
Why I’m missing this: It overlaps with Yu Li’s Buddha Mountain, which was nominated for Best Film, Best Director and Best Performance at the Silver Screen Awards—a tripartite I can hardly bear to miss out on, especially since Junfeng’s rising status promises a DVD anthology or festival tribute of his short films sooner or later.

Everyone’s Gotta Start Somewhere: The Singapore Edition (90 min)
Sinema – 17 September, 3.30pm
Includes: A Family Portrait (dir. Boo Junfeng, 2004), Dick Marlow (dir. Wesley Leon Aroozoo, 1995), Paradise (dir. Liao Jiekai, 2005), Nadim (dir. Loo Zihan, 2005), Tak Giu (dir. Jacen Tan, 2004), The Nightmare and the Wedding (dir. Wee Li Lin).
Why I want to watch this: Argh. The debut short films of all these now-established directors among the Singapore filmmaking community: what a thing to miss!
Why I’m missing this: I might not mind dropping Werner Herzog’s 3D cave-painting documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams for this, but I wouldn’t miss Wim Wenders’ far more acclaimed 3D modern-dance documentary Pina for the world. Sadly, I can’t possibly teleport right from the end of this short film screening to the Lido theatre where Pina will immediately begin, so I’d just have to forego this one.

Floating Lives (dir. Nguyen Phan Quang Binh, 2010, Vietnam, NC16, 113 min)
The Arts House – 18 September, 1.30pm
Why I want to watch this: It’s been nominated for Best Director and Best Cinematography at the Silver Screen Awards.
Why I’m missing this: I’d have to rush down to the Arts House from the Lido theatre after a screening of Jang Hun’s Secret Reunion, only to somehow teleport back to the Lido afterwards for Jeon Kyu-Hwan’s Animal Town. On a day when I already have three screenings scheduled? Forget it.

Nosferatu (dir. F.W. Murnau, 1922, Germany, PG, 94 min)
LASALLE – 21 September, 7.30pm
Why I want to watch this: Murnau is one of the genius directors of the silent movie era, and Nosferatu is perhaps his most acclaimed work after his glorious and humane Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, the last great silent masterpiece. Plus, vampires! People like those, right?
Why I’m missing this: Another issue caused less by direct scheduling clashes than the inexplicable distances between the festival’s various screening venues. I wouldn’t relish racing down from LASALLE to the Lido for my next screening, Park Jung-bum’s The Journals of Musan. I’d expect, thankfully, that Nosferatu will still be screened in rep theatres for many years to come, and readily available on DVD.

On Tour (dir. Mathieu Amalric, 2010, France, TBC, 111 min)
The Arts House – 22 September, 9pm
Why I want to watch this: GlenH kindly recommended this movie as “pretty genial (although ultimately melancholic), loosely structured and surprisingly well-directed film with Amalric front and centre (upgrade to a must see if you’re at all a fan of the guy).” I’m not familiar with Amalric beyond his unmemorable villain in Quantum of Solace, but Glen’s recommendation (and the movie’s Cannes 2010 Best Director prize) really seals the deal…
Why I’m missing this: … except that I can’t get from Sinema, where I’m seeing an anthology of Singapore short films, to the Arts House in just ten minutes. Local short films are notoriously hard to watch apart from festival screenings such as these, so I’ll take my chances coming across the Cannes award-winner at some other time and place.

SIFF 2011: What I’m Watching at the Singapore International Film Festival

August 28, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Announcements

It’s easy to keep mum on a blog called Against the Hype. When you only hunt down movies that critics you trust have been raving about, it’s hard to go off consensus. When you otherwise discover movies you have no strong frame of reference to discuss, as I have been doing for the past year in arthouses around Chicago, it’s presumptuous to mouth off without first wondering what kinds of viewing practices you’re failing to adopt to charitably appreciate them.

But I’m breaking my long silence, because this is the first year I’m looking forward to the Singapore International Film Festival after having been broken-in to the arthouse realm, and the line-up is mouthwatering. Kudos to the festival programmers!

Below the jump, you’ll find the current list of movies to which I intend to buy tickets, once the box office has opened on Sept 2. I’ve basically picked each movie for at least one of three reasons:

  1. It’s been nominated for Best Director at the festival’s Silver Screen Awards competition, an endorsement I trust handily more than Best Film;
  2. It hails from South Korea, whose country’s auteurial output I’ve been unjustifiably enamoured with ever since watching Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry and (more importantly) Bong Joon-ho’s Mother last year; or
  3. It’s been directed or acted in by filmmakers that I’m intrigued to know more about, namely Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders in their 3D documentary showdown, as well as French acting goddess Catherine Deneuve.

So please:

  1. Check out the SIFF schedule yourself and think about which movies you’d like to watch. I’m already getting a 10% discount for buying tickets to this many movies, so if you’d like to hop on, let me know before this Friday.
  2. Let me know if there are any movies I’m not seeing that you think I should! Sadly, there are some juicy choices that I’ll have to miss, either because I can’t be in two places at once, or because I’ll be flying back to Chicago for my sophomore year in the wee hours of Sept 23.
  3. Stay tuned. I’ll have more to say about the SIFF, now that I’ve essentially defibrillated this blog…


SIFF 2010: The Short Film Finalists

April 23, 2010 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

I had the pleasure of chatting with two Singaporean filmmakers, Jeremy Sing and Leon Cheo, about the local short film finalists at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival over at SINdie, the local indie film blog headed by Jeremy where I also write. The films were screened in one sitting at the Sinema Old School theatre, which can be reached by climbing a flight of over 140 steps from the nearest train station—much like being a prospective disciple to a kung fu master.

I’ve never enjoyed a more promising slate of local short films, which speaks as much to my relative inexperience in this area as it does to the state of our indie film “industry” and the diverse quality of this year’s crop of finalists. You can find my distilled reviews of each film under the jump, or better, read them in context: Part 1 and Part 2 of our conversation.