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Fukuoka 2001: Love enslaves Fukuoka
FUKUOKA on the island of Kyushu in Japan, stands closest to mainland Asia, and this is where one sees the continent's culture at its strongest, perhaps at its best. Fukuoka takes this tie seriously as it organises every year an Asian month, part of which is a movie festival.
Aptly titled "Focus-on-Asia Fukuoka International Film Festival" it has been able to achieve not just a unique Asian flavour, but a certain respect that the Indian International Film Festival has not been able to, despite being much older than its Japanese counterpart.
A small event with just about 30-odd movies, the Fukuoka festival(held every September) is far more intimate than most others of its ilk. If there is a session with the director and actors concerned after every screening, the cinematic event's dinners and receptions are wonderfully personal. After all, who could have thought that at one of these hosted by the Festival Director-General, Tadao Sato, the young Vietnamese star and once a ballerina, trained in Russia, My Duyen, would take to the floor to give a Spanish Flamenco number.
Encouraged, the Iranian actor, Hossein Abedini, walked up to her to give the assembled audience minutes of exhilarating duet. The evening had much singing and dancing to offer as the directors and actors or actresses iced the sumptuous meal with sheer entertainment, reflecting in no small measure the power and punch of their cinema.
Asia's celluloid fare has this rare ability to move you with images of haunting beauty that come laced with acid and arsenic, in a sense. Take the opening work itself by Iranian Majid Majidi, "Baran", which screening hours after the great American tragedy could not have driven the message more accurately.
"Baran" explores the pain and torture of a simple community - the Afghans - pushed out of their homeland by the Taliban's tyranny. Majidi takes a look at one such group living in Iran (there are three million Afghan refugees there, according to unofficial estimates) that is forced to fight with the locals for crumbs of bread.
And in this dark and depressing scenario, Majidi weaves a love story between a very young Afghan girl and an Iranian boy. If their unspoken love narrated through fast-cutting images is unbelievably refreshing, the auteur's sense of humour catapults the frames into a dizzying orbit. Admittedly, there were a few patches of turbulence but they were a minor distraction in an otherwise gripping piece.
Love seemed to be very much in the air at Fukuoka this autumn. Le Hoang's "The Golden Key" takes us to the North Vietnam of 1972, the fag end of American adventurism there, when a youth about to step into battle gear decides to marry his sweetheart, a nurse by profession. With just a day and night to go before he leaves, the couple find themselves in the most trying of situations. Finally as they come together - after a day of air raids and strange happenings - in an army barrack converted into a bridal chamber by an understanding regiment, the new dawn breaks, and it is time to part. Le Hoang could not have brought the horrors of war and separation more painfully through a bitter-sweet romance.
Japan's "Hush" is also a love tale, but between two men. Ryosuke Hashiguchi's attempt at portraying homosexuality is perhaps second only to Tomas Alea's "Strawberries and Chocolate" (from Cuba), also on the same subject. Hashiguchi handles his camera (and theme) with remarkable restraint to capture a tender relationship between two men, who befriend a woman. When she wants to have babies by each one of them, the gay friends' initial despair and distrust melt into a fascinating bond of affection for her. Creating an entirely novel setting, Hashiguchi in a string of captivating medium shots - which seems to keep the lens at a respectable distance from the relationships - freezes highly sensitive emotions into a neat movie of love, not lust.
Taiwan's "Fleeing by Night" also tackles homosexuality, but in another era and in the confines of a theatre company in the Beijing of 1930s. Hsu Li-kong's effort is geared more towards describing the history of the stage at that time, rather than taking a more satisfying look at relationships, though his attempts at colouring his narrative with a kind of sexual love frowned upon then make a marginal impact on the viewer as they do on the characters.
But love does not always help people to bond. It has the power to destroy and damage: we saw that in "Bichunmoo" where Korea's Kim Young-jun traces the bloody history of the Yuan dynasty devastated by the affections of a young man for a rival army general's daughter. A poor copy of Ang Lee's latest martial arts tamasha "Bichunmoo" pictures the class struggle among three races living in China under the Mongols, and the poor victims - as is always the case - of this strife are the boy and the girl whose feelings are crushed under the might of the sword.
Or, it could be under the pressures of modern materialism. The Philippines' director, Rory B. Quintos, shows in her film, "Child" the pain of a mother who returns home after years of gruelling baby sitting in Hong Kong to find her own children totally alienated from her. The daughter is fiercely antagonistic towards her mother, holding the older woman responsible in a way for the father's death. Highly melodramatic, "Child" leads to a predictable end, but it does highlight the growing problem of the country's overseas workers.
Taiwan's "The Cabbie" by Chang Hwa-kun and Chen Yi-wen provides relief with its humourous study of a driver who falls in love with a woman cop. He gives her no roses, but opportunities to give him tickets for traffic violations. His style of wooing which he hopes would conquer her does that all right, but not before the policewoman confronts him on the road with a few bashes. "If you have something to tell me, then say it by words, not by jumping signals and speeding", she implores in a scene that changes the course of the cabbie's journey.
At another time in another city, yet another journey gets disrupted. A courier boy finds his life in ruins in China's "Beijing Bicycle" (by Wang Xiaoshuai) when his cycle is stolen by a school-going teenager. Banned in China, probably because it has undertones of class conflict (here between the courier and the schoolboy) and gangsterism, this movie is a strong indictment of a society that is learning to work under compelling conditions. Though essentially "Beijing Bicycle" purports to describe the story of a theft, one cannot miss the director's subtle hints at a community (of particularly youngsters) that is coming to terms with social inequalities and the tension they cause in men.
Although China made a strong protest to the Fukuoka Film Festival, the objection was brushed aside in a city that firmly believes that art should not be chained to narrow partisan dictates. Cinema, thus, had a splendid run.
(This story appeared in The Hindu dated October 14 2001)