Wednesday, May 4, 2011

SFIFF54 Day 14: Let The Wind Carry Me

The 54nd San Francisco International Film Festival is in its penultimate day, ending tomorrow, May 5th. Each day during the festival I've been posting a recommendation and capsule review of a film in the festival.

Let The Wind Carry Me (TAIWAN: Chiang Hsiu-chiung & Kwan Pun-leung, 2010)

playing: at 3:45 PM at the Kabuki, with no further screenings during the festival.
distribution: no U.S. distribution is currently planned.

A documentary portrait of the cinematographer behind the lens of nearly all the famous films of great Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien? Sign me up. The film begins with a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of The Electric Princess House, Hou's 3-minute contribution to the 2007 omnibus Chacun Son Cinéma, which has still never played theatrically here on Frisco Bay (though the DVD is available to rent at Le Video). Getting a glimpse of any part of Hou's process is priceless for a fan like me, and we are also treated to peeks at on-set footage from the filming of Hou masterpieces like Flowers of Shanghai and Flight of the Red Balloon.

But I get ahead of myself. this is not a film about Hou, but a tribute to Mark Lee Ping-bin, a slightly bohemian-looking cinematographer who, in addition to working with Hou, has also shot films for dozens of other auteurs from across Asia and Europe. I'd seen a surprisingly high percentage of them, most often at previous SFIFF editions, and got enough pleasure out of realizing, "oh, Lee shot that film as well?" from the clips excerpted in this documentary, that I'll leave a listing out of this review, but link to his imdb page for a full recounting. The image quality of these clips has been taken to task by a few reviewers, inlcuding Michael Hawley. For my part, watching on 35mm, the only clips that seemed particularly degraded were those from Flowers of Shanghai. I appreciated that in the clips, when dialogue is spoken, it's left unsubtitled, alllowing English readers fewer distractions from Lee's compositions. The impression one gets from watching Let The Wind Carry Me is that Lee will accept any job that he feels will allow him to continue to elevate the art of cinematography; we viewers may rarely appreciate that many of the greatest contributions to cinema as an artform come from the kind of devotion to craft and work that involves a good deal of personal sacrifice.

The arc of Lee's relationship to his mother is the film's main illustration of this; though he lives and usually works abroad, while she has remained in Taipei, he makes efforts to visit her whenever he can, and to credit her in his acceptance speeches for awards he receives around the globe. I was surprised to verge on tearing up at one particularly emotional reunion moment between mother and son. Others may find the moments we're taken away from Lee's artistic process to be extraneous, but I found the tension between the subject's crossed desires to be a dutiful son as well as a prolific filmmaker to save the film from becoming a pure hagiography; it veers close enough as it is. It also seems to fumble around for a dramatically satisfying ending. Indeed, Let The Wind Carry Us is not a masterpiece. But it's a film about masterpieces, that helps enrich the relationships we can have with them.

At the screening I attended, one of the film's two co-directors, Kwan Pun-leung, was on hand to answer questions from the audience. During the q-and-a, it was announced that Mark Lee Ping-bin himself is expected to join Kwan for the post-screening q-and-a this afternoon!

SFIFF54 Day 14
Another option: Detroit Wild City (FRANCE/USA: Florent Tillon, 2010) Local archivist Rick Prelinger did an excellent job interviewing Serge Bromberg before last Sunday's Mel Novikoff Award screening, but he also wrote a piece for SFMOMA Open Space blog on Detroit, and has an interesting take on French director Florent Tillon's documentary on the unique city. Tonight's Berkeley screening is the last for this film in the festival.

Non-SFIFF-option for today: Strangers On A Train and They Live By Night at the Castro, a double-bill in memory of Farley Granger, who died just over a month ago. These are certainly two of his greatest film roles; no wonder when you work with Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. The pair screened as part of Noir City five years ago, and I was lucky to be able to attend. Granger appeared in person at the event; a blogger's recap has been preserved here.


  1. All are good.Some old movies plus some new ones.Great.

  2. I'm glad you liked it.