Best of AFI

AFI FEST 2008 already feels long past, but allow me the opportunity to plug a few more of the films that landed, briefly, in Los Angeles. Other than the five titles that I mentioned previously, all of which proved stellar, here’s another notable quintet:

Achilles and the Tortoise

Pyrotechnic polymath Takeshi Kitano concludes his “artistic suicide” trilogy with the delectably unpredictable Achilles and the Tortoise. Starting out as a somewhat routine, albeit faux, biopic of a budding painter, it soon veers into a nearly structural procession of exceedingly random experiments involving copious paint and various media (walls, bodies, cars, boxing gloves) that are met with consistent commercial failure and even a few deaths. This mordant cri de coeur has the writer/director himself playing the fraught artist in his later years… and every phosphorescently cockeyed canvas is a Kitano original.

Playing the intersection of art and life in a completely different key, Olivier Assayas’ Summer Hours follows a globalized French family as it loses a matriarch but inherits a Musée d’Orsay-worthy collection of decorative objects. Assayas, who like Kitano crafts seriously mercurial narratives, considers the film his most Taiwanese effort. And if you had a chance to catch Edward Yang’s towering A Brighter Summer Day at the museum a few weeks back, you’ll likely see reflections of Si’r’s flashlight in Assayas’ bubbly antique vase, to cite but a most immediate echo.

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Tokyo Sonata

A different treatise on family dissolution, the masterful Tokyo Sonata from Japanese genre bastion Kyoshi Kurosawa is a nominal melodrama of untethered salarymen, caged housewives, drifting children, and even a dash of Iraq war weariness. Far less schematic and not nearly as stale as that description, the film is confident and precise in its lyricism.

La Rabia

Ensconced on a landlocked stretch of terrain that seems less pampas and more penal colony, Albertina Carri’s La Rabia is almost unbearably intense. Animals of various sizes get slaughtered off and, most often, onscreen while sexual trysts are filmed with the cold alarmism of Akerman and staged with the brutal clarity of Cronenberg. The splattery intervals of watercolor expressionism are the closest thing to a respite from all the blood, screams, and red-bereted macho-monstrosities.

Lighter notes are dappled on Michael Almereyda’s wanderlustful Paradise. This perennially unclassifiable filmmaker of vampire nocturnes, urban Hamlet, and Eggleston doc provides neither itinerary nor assignment, just an elliptical, nomadic collage that glimpses flashes of teeming life. Much like Terrence Malick’s Captain Smith, included here, we’re left perplexed and enraptured by this extant new world.

Bernardo Rondeau

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