Saturday, August 5, 2017

João Pedro Rodrigues' "The Ornithologist" & Koji Fukada's "Harmonium" at Northwest Film Forum: Aug 2 - 6 & Aug 23 - 24

Returning after it's screening in the Seattle International Film Festival, João Pedro Rodrigues newest stood as a highlight of the festival, evoking the best of classic surrealism in the vein of Luis Buñuel and contemporaries like Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The protagonist's journey through this "Portuguese Filmmaker’s Erotic Phantasmagorias" that is, "The Ornithologist" forces him into intimacy with a pervasive incoherence, the unconscious and the metaphysical. "Cast Adrift on a Surreal Journey", the titular ornithologist finds his quest to document the avian populations of a mountainous jungle region in northern Portugal confounded by a series of events that waylay his progress. Swept away by dangerous rapids while traversing the course of the film's central river, he finds himself the captor of two lesbian religious pilgrims. Stripping his body of clothes and roping him to a tree, their recreation of the martyrdom of San Sebastian marks just the beginnings of his troubles. These encounters repeatedly heighten the gulf between man and beast, by turns more alienating in it's description of the mysterious ways in which man and nature communicate across the gulf of understanding. Couched in an overpowering sense of serenity, a tone that prevails amid a proliferation of bewildering Christian and pagan allusions, his journey comes to echo that of the Portugal-born Anthony of Padua. Eventually these metaphysical scenarios develop into an inescapable setting, entrapping the film's "Super-Ornithologist: João Pedro Rodrigues’ Birdman", in a darkly troubling metamorphosis.

Nearly two decades have elapsed since the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s. The directors who led this wave; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike, are still among the industry's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Concurrently, a new generation of filmmakers from Japan are starting to make themselves heard. This year saw the domestic release of Shunji Iwai's disorienting urban drama, "A Bride for Rip Van Winkle", Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour domestic tranquility stunner, "Happy Hour", rising indie animation figure, Makoto Shinkai obliterating the box-office competition with “Your Name", and Koji Fukada taking home the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes for “Harmonium”. In many regards, this "New Wave of Japanese Filmmakers Matches the Old", yet "Fukada’s Filmmaking is a Breath of Fresh Air", in part due to the groundwork laid down by fellow producers, festival programmers and film distributors with the 2012 establishment of the Independent Cinema Guild. It's in this funding and distribution market that Fukada has been able to produce his darkly pessimistic take on the concerns that comprise modern Japanese life. As is the case with earlier films in the director's filmography, "Harmonium" pivots on the arrival of an unexpected guest who is curiously welcomed and given a job in the home and workshop of his former friend. Stoic yet seductive, the guest ingratiates himself with the household's apprehensive wife and their pre-adolescent daughter. It is not long before it becomes clear that, "In ‘Harmonium,’ a Family has Let the Wrong One In", and in a dramatic turn of events their lives are revealed to have held secrets that are irreconcilable with the home and marriage they deceptively once led.