Saturday 1 July 2023

Bifan: Be afraid

My first impression of Korea was in driving rain and low clouds during the drive from the airport to Bucheon, which is about halfway between Incheon Airport and Seoul. The rain continued all day and into the night, but couldn't dampen the spirits at the opening ceremony for the 27th Bifan: Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival. As a member of the international competition jury, I walked the long red carpet with my fellow jurors, Korean actress Kim Sunyoung, Japanese filmmaker Kazuya Konaka, Korean filmmaker Lee Wonsuk and Canadian writer-producer Kier-La Janice. The ceremony was also attended by Ari Aster, whose Beau Is Afraid is the opening film, and Korean star Choi Min Sik, who is honoured with a special section within the festival. Other impressions over the first two days centre mainly around the excellent array of food options and the heavy humidity that makes breathing a bit of a chore outdoors. I'd already seen the opening film, so I went to the epic party instead, and then the first four films we have watched couldn't be more eclectic...

Beau Is Afraid
dir-scr Ari Aster; with Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone 23/US ***.
Another indulgent auteur project, this epic odyssey feels both deeply personal and in desperate need of an independent editor. Genius filmmaker Ari Aster definitely knows how to push the audience's buttons, and his rambling, over-the-top movie is packed with moments that are hilarious, terrifying, riotously outrageous and darkly emotive. It's also infused with almost Lynchian surrealism, defiantly refusing to bring its fiercely clever segments into a coherent whole ... FULL REVIEW >

Sorcery [Brujería]
dir Christopher Murray; with Valentina Véliz Caileo, Daniel Antivilo 23/Chile ****
With its gloomy skies and hazy cinematography, this Chilean drama has a powerful intensity that runs through a darkly mystical clash between cultures and religions. Based on a true story, it's grippingly directed by Christopher Murray and played in an often unnervingly understated style. So it goes far beneath the skin to provoke us with insistent ideas about colonialism and nature.

Tiger Stripes
dir-scr Amanda Nell Eu; with Zafreen Zairizal, Deena Ezral 23/Malaysia ****
There's an engaging animalistic tilt to this adolescent body horror from Malaysia, as a young girl taps into her feral nature. Writer-director Amanda Nell Eu maintains a blackly comical undercurrent even as things get very freaky indeed, exploring big themes through lenses of culture, gender and religion. And Zafreen Zairizal shines in a complex and physically demanding central role.

Restore Point [Bod Obnovy]
dir Robert Hloz; with Andrea Mohylova, Matej Hadek 23/Czechia 1h51 ***
Slick and packed with audience-pleasing gimmicks, this Czech thriller has an intriguing sci-fi premise that raises all kinds of big moral questions. So even if the script feels somewhat undercooked, it's still a fun ride as a police procedural potboiler. Director Robert Holz creates a bold vibe with prowling cinematography, high-tech gadgetry and a twisty narrative. The key is to ignore the plot holes and just enjoy it.

dir-scr Batdelger Byambasuren; with Nomin-Erdene Ariunbyamba, Bat-Erin Munkhbat 23/Mongolia ***
An amusingly bonkers tone sets this Mongolian mental hospital horror apart, lacing its sinister premise with elements of a slapstick heist as well as pointed social commentary. And while the narrative is rather jarringly awkward, writer-director Batdelger Byambasuren keeps things interesting with whizzy visual elements and solid themes that add weight to the melodramatics.

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