January 28, 2007

Park City Dispatch. 8.

Brian Darr on Never Forever, Driving With My Wife's Lover and The Legacy.

The Legacy / Never Forever / Driving With My Wife's Lover

As with any large film festival I've attended, Sundance screens far more programs than it's feasible for one person to see (take concurrent festivals like Slamdance, Tromadance, etc., into account and the task is even more impossible). In order to cope with the overabundance of choices, I've come up with a decision-making principle: when it comes to independent American dramatic features (as opposed to documentary features), I figure that the good ones are likely to get picked up by a distributor, or at least another film festival, and I'll have another opportunity to see them back home. I don't really need to see the bad ones.

Never Forever As a result, I've so far only seen one American dramatic feature, Gina Kim's Never Forever, which I was curious about regardless of quality because of outstanding Korean director Lee Chang-dong's involvement as a producer. The film stars Vera Farmiga as a society wife who decides that the way to save her marriage to her impotent Korean-American husband (David McInnis) is to hire an illegal immigrant (Ha Jung-woo) for stud. I'm glad I did see it as, paradoxically, the film has enough problems that it doesn't seem like a slam-dunk for distribution. These problems include: a hopelessly predictable narrative, a rather muddled socio-political outlook (best not to think about it, but it's hard not to when most of the film's twists and turns are visible a reel or more away), and a very weak corner of this sexual triangle: McInnis, a pretty face saddled with a poorly-constructed plot device of a character to play. A score by Michael Nyman and an ambiguous coda are not enough to authentically deepen the film.

I haven't adopted the same principle around the dramatic World Cinema entries as I have with the American indies. I recognize that the system for distributing smaller subtitled films in this country has all but collapsed, to the point where it makes sense for Dave Kehr to call certain films "too good" to play in American arthouses. And with international sales agents asking most festivals and other non-profits to cover unprecedentedly large fees to screen their films, I try to take the opportunities when I'm presented with them.

Driving With My Wife's Lover One opportunity I decided not to let slip by was a chance to see Kim Tai-sik's first feature, Driving With My Wife's Lover, at the Egyptian Theatre. This South Korean loser comedy's love "quadrilateral," in which a Kangwon Province stamp-maker (Park Kwang-jun) attempts to revenge his cuckolding by a cab-driving womanizer (Jung Bo-seog), may not be fundamentally any more original than the triangle in Never Forever. But because the plot loosely hangs on a road movie frame, that is, loosely enough to allow for plenty of unexpected curves along the way, mostly coming in the form of highly symbolic and/or bizarre visual incongruities, the atmosphere remains fresh and engaging. Park is simultaneously unappealing and oddly compelling as the cock-blocked husband who hires the cabbie to drive him the long route homeward through tunnels and past fertility shrines. Although he rehearses how he'd like to confront the driver about the affair he's having with his wife (Kim Sung-mi), he's incapable of actually doing it directly, which spins the narrative in another interesting direction. Unfortunately, the final sequence undercuts the Aristotelian unity of the rest of the film, and for little apparent purpose other than to provide an excuse to use a shot of the taxicab driving under snowfall, clad in its elaborately quilted car cover. It's a beautiful shot, but I wish the credits had rolled before it.

The Legacy I also, on little more than a whim and an open time slot, wait-listed for another road movie that ended up winning a Special Jury Prize from the World Cinema Dramatic Competition Jury: The Legacy [site]. Comparing notes with fellow wait-listers, I got the impression I was in the distinct minority in having missed director Géla Babluani's previous Sundance prizewinner, 13 Tzameti. He co-directed The Legacy with his father, Temur Babluani. The film drops three idealistic French faces (Sylvie Testud, Stanislas Merhar and Olga Legrand) onto the remotest of rural routes through the mountainous terrain of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Their need to experience their journey through the lens of their video cameras borders on the pathological, but more dangerous is their desire to meddle in a longstanding vendetta in which the life of an old man (Leo Gaparidze) is about to be offered up as sacrificial olive branch. Inevitably the foreigners' involvement upsets the chances for country justice to be served, in a scene that is tensely staged and intensely metaphorical.

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Posted by dwhudson at January 28, 2007 9:53 AM


So NEVER FOREVER is a never, huh? Bogus, since Gina Kim's debut INVISIBLE LIGHT is one of my favorite films of all-time. I'll still see it when it comes around SF, but w/ trepidation now.

Interesting personal note about Kim Tai-shik's DRIVING WITH MY WIFE'S LOVER, after watching it in Busan, I found myself noticing those huge red stamps outside stamp shops along the street. I'd never noticd them before I saw that film.

Posted by: Adam Hartzell at January 28, 2007 12:53 PM

Always wonderful to read your articulate responses, Brian. Thanks for reporting back.

Posted by: Michael Guillen at January 28, 2007 2:13 PM

I'm in love with Vera Farmiga. I hope she gets another great -- as well as meaty -- role in the near future.

Posted by: Ryland at January 29, 2007 10:37 AM

Yeah, I for one definitely found it more Never than Forever, but opinions vary. See here for links to very positive reactions from Annie Fribee and Anthony Kaufman, as well as other opinions.

I'm still hoping to see Invisible Light one of these days.

Posted by: Brian at January 29, 2007 11:39 AM