East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

SFIAAFF '05: Baytong, Sorceress of the New Piano, The People of Angkor


Nonzee Nimibutr's dramedy is about a devout Buddhist who leaves his monastery to care for his niece. The style of humor is old school Adam Sandler (the monk has an erection! Hahaha!), although not even P.T. Anderson had the foolhardiness to kill off a little girl's mom in a terrorist attack. The Betong district in Thailand, which borders Malaysia, has a large Muslim population. When the hero discovers a friend is dating a politically active Muslim, the movie bravely strays into unexplored territory. Unfortunately, it peters out into a Buddhist bromides: love is painful so don't get too attached to people. The Muslim character demonstrates his dedication to their faith, but doesn't get a viewpoint beyond this. Give Nonzee credit for ambition, though.

Rating: 464 MMotB.

Sorceress of the New Piano

Veteran filmmaker Evans Chan has, intermittently over the last decade, documented Margaret Leng Tan's explorations of the pomo piano repertoire, from Henry Cowell's clusters and string plucking, through to her own experiments with toy pianos. Now, my knowledge of contemporary classical music, like my knowledge of every sort of classical music, is spotty. What might end up being the most valuable benefit I got out of this this is an appreciation of John Cage. I previously considered Cage to be a first-rate novelty act, but listening to Tan's excursions on the prepared piano is, well, pleasant. Tan is certainly virtuosic - you have to be to get any feeling out of a toy piano (she even creates dynamics, or more likely the illusion of dynamics.) She gave a short recital at the screening. It's always great to see an Asian eccentric, someone defiantly blazing their own trail. Even if I don't approve of all or many of her musical choices, she's as outstanding an Asian-American role model as I can think of (well there's me, but I don't consider myself an Asian-American.)

Rating: 2,015 MMotB.

The People of Angkor

Rithy Panh films his homeland and goes Iranian - that odd stradling of the boundary between fact and fiction that formalists love so much. They won't go crazy over this because Panh doesn't overcompose his shots (and because it's DV,) but it's gently effective. Even when showing us archeological marvels like the Angkor Temple, Panh isn't trying to knock us out with the beauty of it, instead focusing on the local paddy farmers, who double as construction workers, puzzled that their count of the temple steps doesn't match the number their mothers told them. It's a sound-over-visuals movie: Panh heightens the background noise, turning birds' chirps and carvers' chisels into music. And there's a lot of talking: a kid listening to his elders explain the meanings of the carvings; arguments over the endlessly changing Cambodian flag; the kid being told point blank that the woman whose picture he treasures is dead. The featured men, all unpolished features and weary forbearance, have a dignity that's not just the easy nobility fiction cedes to the poor; this creates a lot of goodwill. Still, I wish there was a broader perspective - the absence of living women seems like an opportunity lost.

Rating: 2,270 MMotB.


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