October 31, 2005

Cornell Cinema

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This week Cornell Cinema is presenting two foreign films that are nothing less than interesting. However, the fact that these two films were made in other countries is about all that they have in common. Still, both these very original flicks have the ability to be crowd pleasing and are worth checking out in the upcoming week.

The World (2004)

This is an ambitious movie from Chinese director Jia Zhangike. Don’t let the somewhat ambiguous title discourage you, The World is actually a very focused and well-narrated film. It mainly follows the goings-on of the employees at the World Park in Beijing. World Park is a sort of Chinese version of Epcot as it features scaled-down models of various world landmarks ranging from the New York skyline to the park’s centerpiece – an Eiffel Tower a third the size of the original that visitors can take an elevator to the top of.

Of the many employees that work at the park, the film focuses on a dancer and performer, Tao and her security-head boyfriend, Taisheng. As the couple navigates the waters of their relationship we are introduced to their family members and coworkers, each of which represents a different aspect of life in present-day China.

Almost all the workers are from the country and are following the national trend by seeking jobs in rapidly developing Beijing. Part of the film’s brilliance can be found in its ability to intertwine the various subplots of each of the characters. Each character’s story is told with care and detail preventing us from becoming bogged-down in the extensive plot of the film.

However the great irony of the film is the fact that all the employees working in and around the World Park are unable to actually visit the actual monuments that they are so a accustomed to due to the strict rules against travel set by their government.

Fans of patient, effective camerawork like that of Martin Scorsese will appreciate the equally talented style of Zhangike. His skilful direction and narrative are even infused with scenes of animation that aid the plot of the movie.

9 Songs (2004)

This very original and provocative film by talented director Michael Winterbottom highlights a bare and stunning exploration into sex, drugs, more sex, rock and roll, even more sex and some interesting facts about Antarctica followed by a little more sex. This sensual film was shot with minimal crew and an incredibly low budget to achieve its realistic mood.

9 Songs is almost like a photograph of a passionate relationship between a British Antarctic scientist Matt (Kieran O’Brien) and his American lover Lisa (Margo Stilley). There is no backstory or emotional buildup to what we see on screen; we get no background on the lovers, but instead we are abruptly introduced to their sexual experiences that are occasionally interrupted by their visits to concerts. However, through the skill of Winterbottom, we actually are able to see the relationship develop through the sexual activity of the two partners.

The dialogue appears mostly improvised and is mainly unimportant which shifts the focus of the film’s communication solely on the physical activity. Even the information on Antarctica, which seems totally out of place at first, offers some metaphorical hints on the relationship. The film pretty much has no plot, which makes the final blossoming of passion of the relationship at the end of the movie even more effective.

While 9 Songs is quite interesting, I have to warn you it is by all means, a no-holds-barred look on a couple’s sex life. The running time of 69 minutes is more than just a coincidence, and it is probably not the best choice for a “first date” film (then again, who am I to judge?). Still, I guarantee you 9 Songs is a truly unique exploration of cinema.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Film Editor