Cinema Seattle. Presenter of the Seattle International Film Festival

May 2002 - Volume 10, Issue 2

Spring’s Fruit

 

by Kathleen Fennessy

Each year SIFF selects four directors from around the world who have, within the span of a decade or a handful of films, established themselves as potential cinematic masters. This series celebrates outstanding talents whose films reveal an original vision or point of view and a grasp of craft that sets them apart from the preponderance of filmmakers, clearly establishing them as artists of a high order. These are directors with the ability to break into the mainstream of American filmgoers' consciousness in the near future. Past honorees have included Tom Tykwer (The Princess and the Warrior, Run Lola Run), François Ozon (Under the Sand, 8 Femmes), and Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People).

Here is a look at the four Emerging Masters directors selected for this year’s SIFF. Each director will be featured on a different weekend of the festival.

Park Chan-wook

First out of the gate is Park Chan-wook, dubbed a "giant in the Korean movie world" by The Korea Times. Mr. Chan-wook is the young director of powerful political thriller, Joint Security Area (Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok, SIFF 01), which became the biggest box office hit in South Korea within mere weeks of its release. JSA was also a local Seattle favorite, where it won the New Director's Showcase Special Jury Award and was a Runner-up for the Golden Space Needle Audience Award for Best Film. Although some have compared it to Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (high praise indeed), the twisty, masterfully shot (in Super 35mm) drama reminded this viewer more of John Frankenheimer's iconic The Manchurian Candidate—but with a sense of humor.

Mr. Chan-wook was born in Seoul and graduated from Sogang University with a degree in philosophy. He is also a film critic and has been directing since the early 1990s (The Moon is…the Sun's Dream, Trio), but JSA was the first of his films to gain worldwide exposure. As The Korea Times notes, "His works have always been about socially neglected people, such as the three heroes in Saminjo (Trio): a struggling saxophone player playing gigs in cheap nightclubs, an uneducated tough guy and a single mother." Even before the release of JSA, Chan-wook was working on the script for his latest release, riveting crime drama Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, which, like JSA, was shot in widescreen and, like Trio, concerns a group of "socially neglected people" and the ways in which their lives intersect. Sympathy reunites Chan-wook with top Korean actors Song Kang-ho (Shiri, SIFF 00, The Foul King, SIFF 01) and Shin Ha-kyun. He has cited the hard-boiled fiction of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, and Ernest Hemingway for its inspiration.

Julio Medem

Like Mr. Chan-wook, Spain's Julio Medem didn’t start out in film (not formally, at any rate), but as a medical student at Basque Country University. While there, however, he wrote about film for a San Sebastian newspaper. Mr. Medem bridged the gap—some would say gulf—between film criticism and filmmaking by teaching himself cinematography using his father’s Super 8 camera and shooting a series of inventive shorts in the 1980s before releasing his full-length debut, Vacas (Cows, SIFF 92), in 1991. He was off to an auspicious start. The Basque-set historical fantasia won an award for Best New Director at the 1993 Goyas (the Spanish Academy Awards). From his short films to his most recent feature, Medem has continued to evince a bottomless fascination with fate, romance, and the fine line dividing reality from illusion. He has become known—and renowned—for the sensuality, lyricism, and sophistication of his imagery, inspiring comparisons to such stylistic brothers-in-arms as Gabriel Garcia Marquez (100 Years of Solitude), Carlos Saura (Carmen), Raoul Ruíz (Time Regained), Luis Buñuel (That Obscure Object of Desire), and David Lynch (Mulholland Drive) with, perhaps, a little Emir Kusturica (Underground) thrown into the mix. Empire has described him as a director of "daring intelligence, stylish invention and visual dynamism." As he noted to The New York Times’ Leslie Camhi in 1999, his approach towards each film is largely visual and intuitive: "When I'm working, if I come up with something that has a very clear and concrete meaning, I almost always put it aside."

Mr. Medem has long been a favorite of SIFF audiences, who have been able to enjoy every one of his films thus far—although The Red Squirrel (La ardilla roja, SIFF 94), which was supposed to be part of 1993’s slate, was, unfortunately, delayed until the following year (many would probably agree, however, that it was worth the wait). His other films include Tierra (Earth, SIFF 97), nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, The Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Los amantes del circulo polar, SIFF 99), nominated for a Golden Lion at the 1998 Venice Film Festival (and Best Screenplay at the 1999 Goyas), and, his most recent, Sex and Lucia (Lucía y el sexo), nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Director at the 2002 Goyas.

Jacques Audiard

France's Jacques Audiard was, essentially, born into the world of film, as his father is screenwriter/director, Michel Audiard, a favorite screenwriter of French great, Jean Gabin (Audiard père passed away in 1985.) Audiard fils got his start as an editor, playwright, and screenwriter before turning to directing with 1994's acclaimed See How They Fall (Regarde les hommes tomber), which won the Best New Director of a Feature Film Award at the 1995 Césars (the French Academy Awards). The intense noir received precious little exposure in the U.S. despite the participation of Jean-Louis Trintignant (A Man and a Woman, The Conformist) and actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz (Amélie). Like Audiard, Kassovitz is a second-generation cineaste—his father is screenwriter/director Peter Kassovitz. It was, in fact, the uncanny resemblance between Trintignant and the elder Kassovitz that led Audiard to again cast the veteran actor in his darkly comic 1996 follow-up, A Self-Made Hero (Un héros très discret, SIFF 97). Kassovitz, who had recently released La haine (1995), his own well-received directorial debut, had already been cast in the film (as self-made Resistance hero, Albert Dehousse); Trintignant was added as the same character several decades hence. A Self-Made Hero went on to win the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

With his latest film, Read My Lips (Sur mes lèvres), Audiard takes a more direct, less stylized approach than that of A Self-Made Hero. The kinetic psychological thriller is marked by impressive performances from Vincent Cassel (Kassovitz' La haine and The Crimson Rivers, SIFF 01) and Emmanuelle Devos (La Sentinelle, SIFF 93) and concerns the unconventional—and potentially deadly—relationship that develops between an insecure, hearing impaired secretary and an aggressive, recently paroled ex-con. It resulted in another local success for Audiard, winning awards at the 2002 Césars for Best Writing, Best Editing, and Best Actress (Devos). Audiard was also nominated for Best Director and Cassel for Best Actor. Read My Lips looks set to increase Audiard's steadily growing—and richly deserved—international reputation.

Miike Takashi

Last, but certainly not least, is Japan's Miike Takashi, who got his start by assisting legendary director, Shohei Imamura (The Eel, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge), in the 1980s. Since then, the tireless Mr. Takashi has directed countless made-for-video and TV productions, honing his considerable chops all the way. Since the mid-1990s, he has increasingly been at the helm of theatrical features, such as The City of Lost Souls (Hyôryuu-gai), Dead or Alive (Hanzaisha)—which features what must surely be one of the most infamous opening sequences of all time—and Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya 1), amongst others. The word "prolific" almost always accompanies mention of his name, along with other such colorful words and phrases as "graphic," "hallucinatory," "jaw-dropping," and (my personal favorite) "flamboyantly weird." But don't be fooled by that first word. As Sight & Sound's Tony Rayns (one of his early champions) has noted, Takashi is prolific in the way that Rainer Werner Fassbinder was prolific (if closer in spirit to Joseph H. Lewis), "almost all of them [his films] are interesting and some of them phenomenal."

But the best way to describe Takashi is probably the simplest: anything goes. There's literally nothing he won't try. As such, he's been compared to everyone from Seijun Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter), Takeshi Kitano (Fireworks), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), and, yes, even the "Godfather of Gore" himself, Herschell Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast). His themes include those found in Japanese thrillers from Suzuki's cult classics of the 1960s to today: the yakuza, drug trade, etc., but a surprising number of his films are more than just hyped-up action fare, since he also takes the time to deal with discrimination against foreigners (both non-Asians and non-Japanese Asians) and other more "serious" topics. And as for versatile, well, The Happiness of the Katakuris (Katakuri-ke no kôfuku), just happens to be a musical comedy—not one likely to be mistaken for The Sound of Music anytime soon, however (despite the mountain family similarity).

To date, Takashi's most significant cinematic achievement must surely be the artful, if extremely disturbing, Audition (Odishon, SIFF 00), which won the FIPRESCI Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival, "For its narrative freedom, technical mastery of genre and the inventivity [sic] of an important new and prolific director." (That word again!) It's the film that put Takashi over the top, as it were, with raves in The New York Times and other major publications. He couldn't have been more pleased. As he exclaimed to BBC Online's David Wood in 2001, "This [Western success] is something I am very excited by. I like to work hard and to work fast, refining my skills, but to have a film receive such a good response worldwide goes beyond my wildest dreams."

And, with that, here's to more wild dreams, weird nightmares, and other delights from this year's Emerging Masters: Park Chan-wook, Julio Medem, Jacques Audiard, and Takashi Miike!

Kathleen Fennessy writes about music and film for Amazon.com and The All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com). She has also contributed to Microsoft’s Cinemania, Film.com, and The Anchorage Times, among other publications. She has been a SIFF volunteer since 1994.

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