'Beautiful 2015': Filmart Review
Moshen Makhmalbaf and Tsai Ming-Liang headline HKIFF’s fourth pan-Asian anthology
Four more Asian filmmakers are brought together for the latest entry into the Hong Kong Film Festival’s now annual Beautiful omnibus. Since the first series of shorts designed to explore the broad concept of “beauty” in 2012—which has included contributions from Korea's Kim Tae-yong, China's Gu Changwei, Japan's Kurosawa Kiyoshi and Hong Kong director Ann Hui—the project has managed to maintain its filmmaking pedigree, but it might be time to reconsider the subject. That doesn’t mean a basic concept can’t work time and again, but Beautiful 2015 demonstrates, if nothing else, a change of pace might inject some fresh energy into the increasingly repetitive films. The talent involved will ensure the film a place on the festival circuit until next year but there’s not much of a market beyond that, especially when it feels so familiar.
In Moshen Makhmalbaf’s “The Tenant,” a young Iranian man Amir (Amirali Khosrojerdi) is waiting for asylum in London and facing eviction from the room he’s renting. Amir is desperately trying to gather his rent, and so takes a job working as a guide for the blind. The day he’s supposed to take Margarida and Alessio to see the Queen’s parade on the Thames goes wrong on every level, in large part because Amir experiences seizures at the sound of helicopters. Makhmalbaf tends to swing from intimate reflections on subjugation and trauma (Kandahar) to more heavy-handed, broad allegory (The Dictator) but here he leans more toward the former. His frequently evocative visuals are dropped in favor or more urgent, hand held camera work and more personal moments that explore the notion of "seeing" regardless of circumstances.
“No No Sleep” sees Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang revisiting Lee Kang Sheng’s walking monk (first seen strolling Hong Kong in Beautiful 2012 and later in Marseille), this time in Tokyo. But rather than spend all his time on the city streets, Tsai eventually transplants the anonymous monk to a Japanese onsen (a public bathhouse), where he’s joined by an equally anonymous Japanese man (Ando Masanobu, Petal Dance) in the tub, the sauna and trying to get some sleep in a capsule room. The success of “Sleep” relies on how significant viewers found the achingly slow-stepping monk the first time, and Tsai may be aware the experiment is getting stale if the inclusion of six other shots over the film’s 30-minute run time are any indication (a random businessman's side eye says it all). The director’s signature static camera and juxtaposition of stillness against the frantic surroundings of the urban milieu are in full force, but the themes from “Walker” have been buried beneath what is progressively simply pretension.
If Makhmalbaf, Tsai and their entries are the stars, then Yim Ho and Huang Jianxin are the more workmanlike filler. In “Three Days After My Death,” irritated urbanite Lanyi (Gigi Wong) is struck by a car and lands in hospital, where she’s visited by an angel (Shaopin Tsui) during a brief trip to the other side. He convinces her life is worth living. Rounding out the series is “Insomniac Diary,” arguably the most linear of the four, which unfolds in upscale, ultra-modern Beijing. At its core it’s a chaste romance between two sleep disorder sufferers. Liang (Shawn Dou) is unable to sleep at all, whereas unnervingly deep sleep can strike Zhou (Tong Liya) at any time.
Yim (A West Lake Moment) and Huang keep the proceedings visually and thematically traditional: Yim’s soft-focus family drama revolves around familial reconciliation and Huang flirts with Korean weepie levels of romantic tragedy between star-crossed lovers. Without a standout (like Lu Yue’s 2013 quasi-animated “1 Dimension”) at either end of the spectrum Beautiful 2015 ultimately reveals itself as an exercise in diminishing returns.
Production company: HKIFF, Makhmalbaf Film House, Homegreen Films, Reflecting Image, Zifan
Cast: Amirali Khosrojerdi, Margarida Correira, Alessio Bergamo, Lee Kang-sheng, Ando Masanobu, Gigi Wong, Tong Liya, Gigi Wong, Shaopin Tsui, Shawn Dou, Tong Liya
Director: Moshen Makhmalbaf, Tsai Ming-liang, Yim Ho, Huang Jianxin
Screenwriter: Marziyeh Meshkiny, Moshen Makhmalbaf, Yim Ho, Wong Chin Yan
Producer: Maysam Makhmalbaf, Chen Yi-Hsuen
Executive producer: Sonic Yau, Zheng Dong
Director of photography: Maysam Makhmalbaf, Liao Pen-Jung, Jack Lam, Zhao Xiaoshi
Production designer: Hana Makhmalbaf, Sheena Tang
Costume designer: Wang Chia-Hui
Editor: Marziyeh Meshkiny, Lei Jen-Ching, Stanley Tsang
Music: Linq Yim
World sales: HKIFF
No rating, 121 minutes