Bleak Night, directed by Yoon Sung Hyun
(In Korean, with English subtitles)
Teenager Ki-tae seems to be something of a bully, mercilessly teasing and taunting his friends, but he is a tormented soul himself, even as he torments those around him. He tries to hide his own haunting demons, but occasionally they show through, as when he reveals his longing for his now-deceased mother. When he commits suicide, his bereaved father (first his wife and now his son!) searches for clues as to why this tragedy has happened. Sometimes it might be best to let the dead rest, but some comfort might await Ki-tae’s father if the truth comes out.
11 Flowers, directed by Wang Xiaoshuai
(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)
The Cultural Revolution is just coming to an end in China, and while eleven-year-old Wang may be oblivious to the previous years’ upheaval, he is keenly aware of his own child’s world. His friends, his school, his adventures and misadventures in his town all inform his daily life. His father and mother struggle to feed and clothe him and his little sister, so when Wang loses a precious new shirt, it feels more like a great tragedy. Everyday life twists into something else though, when Wang discovers that it is a murderer who has stolen his shirt, to staunch a bullet wound no less. How will he ever explain this one to his mother? Both serious and comedic, 11 Flowers will give the viewer more of a taste of an ordinary child’s life in China.
The Gatekeepers, directed by Dror Moreh
(In Hebrew, with English subtitles)
Six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israel Security Agency, speak out on terrorism, how to fight it and how not to fight it, giving a retrospective view of their work and analyzing how Shin Bet’s actions and counteractions have impacted Israel as a nation. Their conclusions are not hopeful. What could have lapsed into a documentary of talking heads instead emerges as compelling drama, as these six cool, level-headed, seasoned warriors for and defenders of a nation speak out on the utter futility of efforts taken and the hopelessness of results garnered. Actual footage of terrorist and counterterroist actions is sometimes breathtaking in this raw and informative documentary.
The Giants, directed by Bouli Lanners
(In French, with English subtitles)
Young teen brothers Zak and Seth are learning the hard way how to survive on their own in the French countryside. Their mother has abandoned them, and although they have a roof over their heads, that will make no difference in their situation if they also have neither food nor money. When they meet up with the slightly more resourceful Danny, another castoff child, they seem at first to fare a little better. Then Zak and Seth fall prey to Danny’s older brother’s employer, a ruthless drug dealer, who more or less escorts them out of their house, when he wants to use it for his drug dealing. Homeless, the two brothers and Danny feel at once a kind of freedom and oppression. With some genuinely comic moments, this tale is ultimately one about kids learning to survive in a hard and bitter world.
No, directed by Pablo Larraín
(In Spanish, with English subtitles)
In October of 1988, something remarkable happened in Chile. After fifteen years in power, the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet offered the people of Chile a referendum on his rule. A yes vote would grant him eight more years as president. A no vote would mean new elections and new hope for the nation. But in the years Pinochet ruled, he also brought a degree of financial stability to the turbulent nation, and despite the brutality of his rule, the citizens of Chile were starting to slide into a degree of hesitation to alter matters. When a center-left coalition formed to push for a no vote, they needed something different to urge people to oust the dictator. This is the story, somewhat fictionalized, of how that urging came about. It focuses on René, an ad man, who is detached from politics but gets drawn into the campaign, even if he himself will shy away from any political confrontation. And the campaign he conjures up is unique. Instead of trying to appeal to people’s moral principles – look how bad it was under Pinochet; look at how he tortured and murdered the opposition – the campaign will offer the people of Chile a cheerful, happy alternative. While the yes-vote side will emphasize the new prosperity and stability, the no-vote side will pull in the younger voters with an emphasis on sunshine and dancing and jingles that run through a citizen’s head. The whole project is a gamble, but it has to be embraced for any kind of success. Those viewers who are familiar with this historical event know of that success, but just how it happened is lesser known. No shows us how such a victory can be grasped.
Off White Lies, directed by Maya Kenig
(In Hebrew, with English subtitles)
Libby is a thoroughly American teen, who is sent to Israel by her mother to stay with her father for a period of time. Whether this is a sort of vacation or the outcome of a custody agreement or what isn’t revealed to the viewer; all Libby seems to know is that she has to stay as a matter of convenience to her mother. Unfortunately, Shaul, Libby’s father, is pretty much a likeable ne’er-do-well, jobless and homeless, a sometimes inventor of gadgets but not terribly successful. Then he comes upon a scheme: why not pose as refugees from the Second Lebanon War? This is 2006, after all, and the war is in full swing. So Libby and Shaul find a new home, where they can remain as long as they do not reveal their real situation to their host family. That works for a while, until Shaul seduces the wife of the family and Libby rebels against the deception and subterfuge. But the happy-go-lucky Shaul may resourcefully climb out of his woes yet. We’ll see…
The Pool, directed by Chris Smith
(In Hindi, with English subtitles)
Venkatesh is a young hotel janitor, who also sells plastic shopping bags on the street for extra income, along with his one true friend, Jhangir, an orphan. He doesn’t ask for much in life, just a successful day of bag sales and a quiet gaze at a beautiful swimming pool in a garden that he can see if he climbs a tree and peers through the foliage. What he does long for is a swim in that pool. Then in the garden, he also sees a young woman and an older man, the owners of the house, garden, and pool. Eventually, Venkatesh finds a way to work in the garden as a kind of caretaker, and while doing so, he draws to him the friendship and confidence of both the young woman, the daughter in this little family, and the older man, the father. While Venkatesh is truly living on the edge of complete poverty, and while the father and daughter are much wealthier, they reveal a deeper sorrow from their past that Venkatesh just may be able to assuage in his cheerful, earnest manner. Director Chris Smith is a director of various genres and styles, making mostly English-language movies, some of which HCPL owns, including Collapse.
A young Israeli officer interrogates a soldier to get to the bottom of an incident of unnecessary violence towards an Arab family. Gradually, she discovers that the commanding officer of that unit was responsible for the brutalization of the Arabs, but her questions and the answers that emerge bring disturbing consequences, perhaps more than she ever expected when she began the investigation. The film occurs in a small interrogation room, giving the film a claustophobic feel, which tightens the drama and ratchets up the tension as the interrogations reach greater depths of truth.
Tai Chi Hero, directed by Stephen Fung
(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)
This sequel to Tai Chi Zero (reviewed in our March 2013 newsletter ) brings us once again into the world of steampunk kung fu, as Yang Lu Chan struggles to learn the proper way of tai chi fighting. The charming Chen Yu Niang, daughter of the town’s leader, has the task of instilling technique and discipline in the somewhat clumsy and seemingly dimwitted Yang. But there is room for growth here, and it just may be that by this planned-trilogy’s end, Yang and Chen will have a more interesting relationship than student/master. But first things first. When a government official sets his eyes on the village as a possible railroad passage, he and his British counterpart will stop at little to get what they want. It will be up to the villagers as well as Chen’s brother, an inventive wizard, to set things right. Lots of action, creative inventions, and a bit of comedy as well will bring amusement and thrills to kung fu action film fans.