봄여름가을겨울그리고봄/Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

[Screenshot]Spring, Summer… is a surprisingly thematically rich film. I caught the last 20 or so minutes of it on TV at one point, but otherwise didn’t know overmuch about it, and I’d missed out on everything that led up to those 20 minutes, which considerably diminished my appreciation. It is chock-full of symbolism, most of it at just the right level: with symbolism there’s always a danger of either aiming too high and seeming pretentious, or too low and seeming patronizing. For the most part, the symbols in this film occupy a comfortable middle ground (although the Spring flashbacks near the end of the Winter segment were perhaps unnecessary).

It’s visually lush too, which makes the long, slow panoramas a visual treat. It doesn’t fall into any of the usual “scenery porn” traps of assuming the visual spectacle is sufficient in its own right, but always gives us something to chew on in front of the scenery, even if the action is languid. Many of the thematic elements are exhibited through nature, so the serene naturalism of the setting is really quite appropriate. One setting idiosyncrasy I noted was bound up with the themes and symbols I’ve already mentioned: a strong emphasis seemed to be placed on boundaries and passages, but, oddly, the passageways existed outside of the contexts in which a passageway makes sense. The monastary had interior doors but not interior walls. I was actually halfway convinced this was a cinematic/theatrical convention akin to the minimalistic sets of Our Town and Dogville, since everyone used the doors when traversing areas — except for a single instance, during the apprentice’s nocturnal creeping in the Summer segment. Likewise, the wilderness in which the monastary is situated is accessed by a gate, with doors that close, and, as with the interior doors of the monastary, they’re used compulsively, and seem to represent an explicit separation between the scenes of action. This is among the many stylizations which is simultaneously easy to appreciate and difficult to fully comprehend/

So, as I’ve gone on about, this film is pretty deep with symbols and themes. Boundaries, and, as the title suggests, cycles, but also a surprisingly un-Buddhist theme: penance. Over and over again, the apprentice undergoes ritual absolution. Parts of this, morally, feel more like elements of director Kim’s Christianity than the Buddhism he’s attempting to channel. But that’s a quibble. I certainly don’t expect it to necessarily recapitulate a single belief system slavishly, although many of the overarching messages, particularly the dangers of desire, are consistent with what I know of Buddhism.

There’s a lot to like here. It’s visually stunning, in service of considerably more than just being pretty. Plotwise it’s a bit light, but there’s a lot going on onscreen that’s not, technically speaking, plot. Not much in the way of complaints though. Its languor touches on the overdone once or twice, but not enough to be a deal-breaker. The role of women in the story is somewhat unfortunately objectivized — and a bit chilling, if one reads the Autumn segment as involving the same woman as Summer (which is implied strongly, but not stated outright).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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Tarka the Otter

[Screenshot]Sometimes I add things to my queue on a whim. In this case, it was Peter Ustinov’s narration and the fact that it was an award-winning film that sold me. I guess, somewhere in my head, I had the conception that it was animated, which it is not. Instead, it’s a live-action adaptation of what is a more-or-less realistic story about a wild otter. The overall effect is akin to a nature documentary sandwiched between two plot points. And it dates from the late 70s, so the technology is not exactly what I expect from my documentaries today. So for the roughly 75 minutes between “a vicious dog kills Tarka’s father” and “Tarka himself faces off against the same dog” we have a lot of video, much of it underwater, of Tarka swimming from place to place, mating (OK, courting and playing: it’s a family film, so no actual onscreen mating), and feeding. I’m afraid that all in all it is not terribly dramatic or cinematic, and I’m bewildered by its apparent belovedness: I guess if you really like otters you’ll really like this film. I like otters, but after I watch them frolic for 10 minutes or so at the zoo I’m done, y’know?

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

La Marche de l’empereur

[Screenshot]The March of the Penguins re-invigorated the fairly sleepy nature documentary market; Planet Earth solidified it. I can’t really evaluate a documentary on the same merits as I ordinarily do for feature films, but the shooting and editing were intelligently done, capturing representative elements of the penguin’s journey, and the video alone is excellent es both entertainment and education. The soundtrack, of course, is an interesting story, since it is in this regard that the Americna release differs rather extraordinarily from the French release, which apparently had a different score, and dialogue given to the penguins (no, really). Surprisingly, the French audio track wasn’t on the DVD, which might have been a rights issue. I wish I could have heard it (with subtitles, of course) to compare. As for the audio on the version I actually heard: the score was excellent, and Morgan Freeman has an excellent narrative voice. The script perhaps overanthropomorphized the penguin’s behavior, but that’s a common flaw in nature documentaries, since you want the behavior to actually have some significance to the viewers. I’m sure it committed a far less egregious version of this offense than the original with its penguin-dialogue.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.