I am a little late to the party with this one, given the festival ran well over a month ago. The reason for this is I have been busy expanding this column into a wider project for Patreon — you can subscribe here for exclusive writing, videos, and commentary. Not least because the films I saw were so great. The pandemic has thrown up many challenges in regards to theatrical releases this year. Early on one of the major signals that shit was about to get really serious for film theatres came through the cancellation of Cannes. Since then organisers all over the world have been pretty quick footed in finding unique and innovative solutions to the problem of keeping festivals going during lockdowns, with many opting for the virtual route. Chat portals and forums were also set up so festival goers could also interact in real time with each other; while the films themselves were screened via a digital platform. With so little time between other work I tried to get the most out of the World Cinema selection — in which Fantasia particularly excels year after year — simply because, and this is especially true when it comes to Asian films, these are the titles that are oftentimes slow to get English friendly releases on home video. I kicked off my viewing with Vertigo — no, not that one — a South Korean romantic drama directed by Gye-Soo Jeon. The film stars Woo-hee Chun as Seo-Yeong, a timid contractor who is having an affair with her boss at the firm where she is hoping to get a permanent position as a designer. We learn Seo-Young has recently moved to the city and has nobody locally to support her — escaping the clutches of an alcoholic mother back home, who constantly calls to complain about her husband or ask for money. And the rest of the time she is a quiet conscientious worker who arrives at work hours before anyone else, and is always the last to leave. The film comments on various social issues, including urban loneliness fuelled by lack of community, and the contractor economy, as well as the deeper problems of workplace harassment and sexual assault. It does so without shoving these themes down your throat. The film is quiet, a perfect antidote to the crash-bang-whallop found in action blockbusters that seem to dominate theatres in the West. Kyoko Itsuki Otaki is a model who has built a platform as an Instagram influencer. When she encounters a mute man, Kai Hideki Nagai , after she falls out of a tree taking a selfie, no less and injures herself, she starts to question the entire direction of her life. But, there is more to it. As the couple become more intimate, Kyoko begins to wonder whether her online presence is real or meaningful. While Kai is able to work out his issues, which have kept him trapped in a silent prison for years, unable to get close to anyone. The film explores one of my favorite topical discussions at the moment — which is probably why I found it so absorbing — the question: is social media doing us more harm than good? The film also looks at the issue of body dysmorphia caused by the rise of technology that allows people to present perfect looking versions of themselves online; as well as the question of how that then impacts on self-esteem. But as with all marketing, this was found to be a complete misnomer and the film does nothing of the kind. Yet, the film does so without making Dazai completely unsympathetic, instead revealing the pressures he felt, and his inability to get his drinking and womanising under control. I really hope people will see beyond that and check this one out when they get the opportunity. Savage State is a slow brooding piece, which I found somewhat frustrating on first watch. Certain strands of the story feel unfinished. However, it is a film that started to build in my mind after I had finished. I was particularly struck by the score and sense of atmosphere. So, while I am not completely sure if I loved it or not, it has left me with some food for thought and a wish to return to it again. The story follows a group of largely female French settlers who are anxious to get back to Europe amidst the American Civil War. They take on a guide who appears to have some beef with a crazed female cowboy and her entourage — hence the western themes. And everytime someone speaks you can feel the weight of their passive aggression; even under the most benign table chit chat, which is honestly hilarious at times. Like Pinter, just on acid, with maybe vampires.
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