Thursday, April 18, 2013

Invisible Waves (2006)

WHO: Pen-ek Ratanaruang directed, Tadanobu Asano starring, and Christopher Doyle in the cinematographer role.

WHAT: After the unexpected international success of Last Life in the Universe Pen-ek re-teamed with  his aforementioned collaborators from that film and, armed with financing from pre-sold distribution deals in many territories where Last Life had audiences anxious for more, made an art film on a larger canvas than he'd ever tried before. Shooting in Hong Kong, Macao, Bangkok and post-tsumani Phuket ("not the Phuket for tourists we're familiar with. It's more like the weird corners of Phuket we've fished out to the screen") not to mention an eerily empty cruise ship, and utilizing a pan-Asian cast including Korean, Thai, Hong Kong and Filipino actors as well as its Japanese star, Invisible Waves is by far Pen-ek's most elaborately international production.

But when the film was premiered at the Berlin film festival in 2006, reviews were mixed at best. Theatrical distribution in the US was first postponed, and finally (at least in San Francisco) foregone entirely. All of Pen-ek's prior features had screened somewhere locally, if only at a film festival, but Invisible Waves to this day has never played in a Frisco Bay cinema. I eventually succumbed to watching a DVD rented from Le Video and found the film to be a charming and fascinating admixture of film noir with the calm, dreamlike atmosphere of Last Life in the Universe, with a dose of Tati-esque humor thrown in for good measure (I believe Tati's Trafic is the most appropriate predecessor to cite). I suspect the generally poor critical reception for the film might be traced to the broken-English that dominates communication between characters, even more than in Last Life. This was an intentional strategy on the director's part; he was even quoted as casting his performers for their poor English skills. But I can see why some reviewers, especially those with ideas about 'great performances' still steeped in the theatrical tradition, might find it off-putting. Anyway, I'm excited to finally get a chance to see it on the big screen.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at 7:30 PM at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

WHY: There are only two films remaining in the YBCA's Pen-ek retrospective, Invisible Waves and the one that got me interested in Thailand's cinema when I was living in that country in 1999-2000: 6ixtynin9. What else is on the docket for Frisco Bay fans of the cinema of ASEAN countries? As far as I'm aware the only other Thai moving image work screening publicly locally in the near future is Apichatpong Weerasethakul's video installation Emerald, which continues for just a few more days at the Berkeley Art Museum

That museum's conjoined institution the Pacific Film Archive is bringing Dutch Indonesian documentarian Leonard Retel Helmrich to Berkeley this weekend for screenings of his trilogy Eye of the Day, Shape of the Moon and Position Among the Stars. Indonesia is also the setting for one of two South-East Asian oriented documentaries in the San Francisco International Film Festival's Asian line-up: The Act of Killing, which comes endorsed by Werner Herzog and a slew of critics who saw it in Toronto, Berlin and other festivals. The other is the Cambodian/local co-production A River Changes Course. Both are scheduled to screen in San Francisco and Berkeley, the latter with director Kalyanee Mam present at some or all of her screenings. 

The San Francisco Global Vietnamese Film Festival comes to the Roxie on the last weekend of April, and includes a screening of Norwegian Wood, the latest by that country's most prominent auteur export Tran Anh Hung. And not to leave out arguably the most vibrant cinematic production scene in the region, the Philippines, the YBCA has just announced a sequel to last year's successful New Filipino Cinema festival for the first weekend in June; plenty of time to prepare and practice learning your Himala from your Hirana 

HOW: Invisible Waves screens from a 35mm print.

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