By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“By the Time It Gets Dark”
No throughline. No reliable story. A crucial exchange done over, early and late in the running, with totally different actors and sets. Plotlines which start out strong and peter out. Seemingly random footage scattered throughout, especially towards the end.
If any of that bothers you, skip “By the Time It Gets Dark,” Anocha Suwichakornpong’s second feature. But I’m imploring you, don’t skip it. Few films motor further down that path “beyond narrative,” as Roger Ebert wrote about “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Few films insist on their own terms so insistently.
But Suwichakornpong has as much of a right to create her own language on-screen.
Unlike “2001,” this picture stays earthbound, another exercise in the venturesome, often nonlinear style of Thai filmmaking pioneered by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Much of it concerns the 1976 Thammasat University massacre and government troops opening fire on student protestors. Parts of this were recreated with the sinister implication that actors playing soldiers can become as cruel as actual soldiers — all a matter of encouraged, unsupervised power. But the massacre itself is only referred to in words. Which prove enough.
A street peddler with a transparent soap-bubble gun in the shape of a fish, drifts through. He pulls his trigger and bubbles spill in unruly clouds out the plastic fish mouth. The film seems “2001” cosmic for such moments, but keep track of that young woman wandering through every situation. She’s always cleaning up somebody else’s mess. Some rich mess-maker. Kubrick, or for that matter Weerasethakul, never tipped such a hat to the working hands of the world.
May 29 – SIFF Cinema Uptown, 7:30 p.m.
June 1 – Pacific Place, 9:30 p.m.
Korean director Shin Dong-il plays with shadows — not physical shadows so much, although he’s got a solid sense for shifting light within a defined space — but inner shadows, storm clouds passing over seemingly-normal personalities. He starts “Come, Together” with a small family. The father swiftly loses his middle-management job, although with a slyness peculiar to this upcoming director, we never learn exactly what he was supposed to be doing before he’s no longer doing it. He suffers the same humiliation and emasculation we’d expect in the West. But from his understandable emotions, strange and violent tendrils start to sprout.
The wife works selling credit cards to people who do not want them. This job requires her to smile all the time no matter what she’s feeling, and to lie a lot. When she’s caught in lies and improper procedure, she either admits all or denies all and keeps on doing what she’s doing. Only a sociopath could keep this up. She tries, but she’s no sociopath.
And the teenage daughter needs to go to college, to get away from her parents and everything else. Her admission hangs by a thread — nothing comes easy in Korean society. Eventually she plots to improve her chances. If you think you see a happy ending at the end of this one, think twice. Storm clouds, they eventually roll back over.
May 30 – Shoreline Community College, 8:45 p.m.
June 3 – SIFF Cinema Uptown, 9 p.m.
June 4 – SIFF Cinema Uptown, 11 a.m.
“After the Storm”
Hirokazu Koreeda likes to examine families, or to be more precise, x-ray families. He can’t derive any great insight from having skeletons walk through his movies, of course, so he invites us to be patient, to stay with his characters until we understand their inner life. It helps that he can get to the inner life quickly, deftly, and artfully. This latest from him concerns, if we read the SIFF literature, a bad father who gets a second chance with his young son when a typhoon traps them together. Well, with all due respect and love to SIFF and SIFF literature, this one’s mostly about the Dad. He’s a bad Dad. Of course, that is part and parcel with being a bad human being. Not horrible, not vengeful, not bloodthirsty. Just lazy, with an offhand knack for avoiding hard work. He was a promising writer. Now he’s a private detective in training, a job which consists of, mostly, sitting in parked cars waiting for your marks to make mistakes.
“After the Storm” moves slowly but meticulously. Since the main character’s halfway likeable, the audience gets reeled in, which is how Koreeda gets us to ponder our own hard questions. Do we take advantage of family? Do we settle for less than our best? Have we looked long and hard at how our dreams will not come true, how we probably aren’t as smart/funny/sexy/dynamic as we fancy ourselves? He won’t win friends that way. He may influence people.
May 19 – SIFF Cinema Uptown, 7 p.m.
May 20 – SIFF Cinema Egyptian, 4 p.m.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.