Friday, February 13, 2009

PIFF Day 7

"24 City" (China) has generated a little bit of controversy, on the web at least, because it mixes documentary and fictional forms, but in my mind the overall effect was very successful. Its subject is a huge munitions plant that for decades served as the center of life for hundreds of people but is now slated for conversation into high-rise luxury apartments. Taking documentary form, the film features interviews with several retired workers and also some scripted monologues. (Except for one featuring the well-known actress Joan Chen, I'm not sure I could tell which was which, since they all had the ring of truth.) While focusing on specific details of these particular stories, the director ZhangKe Jia manages to convey, without commentary, a profound sense of the big picture--how these individuals, brought from all over China to work in the gigantic factory and devoted to a sense that they were contributing vitally to their country's defense, were in many ways exploited, cogs in the huge machinery of Mao's China. I was quite moved by it. You can still catch it on Sunday afternoon. (8)

"Kisses" (Ireland) was enjoyable, though somewhat less successful. The best thing it has going for it is two very natural performances from its 11-year-old leads, a boy and the girl who lives next door. His house in the Dublin slums is unliveable due to his father's constant violence, and hers is intolerable due to sexual abuse. The two flee on Christmas day, embarking on a quest to find the boy's brother, who ran away two years earlier. Though the romance between them veers toward being age-inappropriate and the "kisses" theme feels tacked on, the film is otherwise at once sobering and often delightful in its exploration of two kids who have managed to hang onto their humanity despite the odds. (6)

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