A Tale of Love and Darkness
Starring in several Amos Gitai films, actress Natalie Portman proves that she's interested in some of the same knotty polemics that define many of his films, especially when it comes to the violence and rhetoric about Israel's foundation and its inhabitants struggle for peace both physical and emotional. Co-starring here, Portman directed and wrote the film based on Amos Oz's memoir of the same name. Decidedly splintered into two halves and filtered through the eyes of young Amos (Amir Tessler), the first part comes off as profound and episodic, such as when the film equates childlessness with losing memory and the many tales-within-the-tale spewed by Portman to Amos that feel like motherly fairy tales with an assured dark spin. The second half becomes more didactic and straightforward, detailing the family's life around the 1947 founding of the Jewish state and the ensuing violence between Arabs and Jews. Compounding the external strife, Portman's mother descends into her own hellish state, withering away before our eyes and giving "A Tale of Love and Darkness" its grim decor. Portman's direction is strong and all the performances are measured, yet the film feels as if it's trying to assemble too many ideas into its compact 97 minute running time.
First Jia Zhangke did it in "Mountains May Depart". And now Gan Bi- in his perplexing but undeniably original feature debut- has staggered the opening credit title until approximately 30 minutes into the film. If nothing else, it's a shock to the system. Drawing from the melancholic tempo of 1990's Hou Hsiao Hsien, "Kaili Blues" also takes its time in introducing any identifiable narrative until the latter half of his effort when a country doctor (Yongzhong Chen) decides to mount a trip to find his dislocated nephew. Following the trip (and its many longeurs and character tangents) in a remarkably staged 40 minute single tracking shot that sweeps and pans and snakes its way up and down a mountain, through a hilltop village and behind several various people as they carry on their own lives, its the real reason to see "Kaili Blues". Knowing such a technical marvel was in store and constantly waiting for it, perhaps, reduced its ultimate impact on me, but "Kaili Blues" is just mysterious and audacious enough for its other merits to seek this one out.
No amount of terror, suspended thrills or contrived/cutesy backstory (ohh that precocious little sister) can make me root for three dumb kids who break into someone's house to rob them. Nevermind that the old man has a young girl tied up in the basement either. Fede Alvarez's much lauded micro-horror failed to connect with me on any level, proving that true modern horror is only done right when one cares about the people involved.