Film

TIFF Critic’s Picks: Films from countries famed for unrest and oppression

by Kaori Shoji

According to TIFF’s visual programming director Yoshihiko Yatabe, the semiofficial theme for this year’s festival is “People on the Edge.” They may be pursued, stuck in a rut, in dire trouble or just plain confused, but their stories are some of the most compelling at this years festival. These films are coming out of countries that aren’t known for their thriving film industries — places such as Colombia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and the Philippines. The global economy has spawned some interesting byproducts and these examples of budding film scenes in countries famed for unrest and repression are among the festival’s happy surprises.

1. Los Hongos

Directed by Colombia’s Oscar Ruiz Navia, this offers a window on an area of Colombia’s urban youth culture that has not been infiltrated by drugs and violence, as two boys — a skateboarder and graffiti artist — decide to take part in a guerrilla-painting event. The whole film is tinged with a warm American-indie kind of feeling, the type of vibe that calls for a cup of artisanal coffee.

2. Nabat

Azerbaijan director Elchin Musaoglu’s newest film is about the life and times of Nabat (Fatemeh Motamed-Arya), a woman whose life is defined by distant gunfire and endless manual labor as she cares for a sick husband. Though set in the present day, Nabat may as well be living in the 19th century, and each frame has the hushed, tranquil modesty of a Jean-Francois Millet painting.

3. River of Exploding Durians

Despite its rather comical title this is a serious, poignant story, directed by Malaysia’s Edmund Yeo. Inspired by real-life events, it shows two high school lovers plagued by family interference while the adults in their community battle to preserve their traditional lifestyles and land, which are under threat due to the development of a rare earth extraction plant. Fast-paced with quirky visuals.

4. Test (Originally released as Ispytanie)

Prepare yourself for 95 minutes of breathtaking visuals and the sound of the whistling wind, punctuated only by gunshots, engines and lightning. On the surface, this dialogue-free film by Russian director Alexander Kott is a menage-a-trois tale between a beautiful girl and two suitors. The deeper message, however, packs a political punch and is loaded with insight about modern life.

5. Ruined Heart! Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore

Director Khavn De La Cruz of the Philippines is clearly a lover of Asian cinema, particularly film noir from Hong Kong and Japan. Starring Tadanobu Asano as a lonely hit man, with cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Asia’s resident lens artisan) doing his thing, the whole package is a shrine to blood, sex and Asian gangsters.

We have six Tokyo International Film Festival tote bags to give away to readers. Enter for a chance to win at http://jtimes.jp/film before Oct. 30.