Two Visual Triumphs Seeking Distribution: "The River" and "Shadow"
Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 7:41PM
NATHANIEL R in Asian cinema, Chao Deng, Cinematography, Emir Baigazin, Kazakshtan, Production Design, Shadow, The River, Zhang Yimou, foreign films

Since we're already deep into NYFF - thanks to Murtada and Jason for this excellent reviews (I'll join them shortly) --  I must accept that all the full reviews I had planned for things without release dates I saw at TIFF just aren't going to happen. But several films we caught are hitting theaters soon so they will get reviews: A Star is Born (10/5), Beautiful Boy (10/12), Border (10/26), and Boy Erased (11/2). In the meantime here are the final two TIFF films I must pinpoint because they don't have distribution yet but they totally deserve it.

I'm calling this one 'camp without color,' because we always think of "camp" as something innately colorful, don't we? Director Zhang Yimou (House of the Flying Daggers) gifts for visual spectacle remain undimmed and this time he organizes his mise en scene around the duality of the yin yang symbols as well as inkwash paintings...

He directs the action to maximize the feminine versus masculine. The effect is striking, silly, hypnotic, and nuts though I wish they hadn't monkeyed around with the cinematography in post production to desaturate the sky, because that draws attention away from the careful colorless palettes of the costumes and production design. Just about the only color in the film is the faces of the actors. Speaking of: they're hamming it up. Well, half of them are. Chao Deng is excellent on both sides of the yinyang of acting in the the doubled leading role as a decrepit former war hero (broad scenery-chewing supporting work) and a nobody who is impersonating him (a minimalist stoic-hero star turn). If, in the end, Shadow is more of a Curse of the Golden Flowers (style for style's sake) than a Hero (style as substance) that's okay, too. Shadow's style is its own reward. The movie is lots of fun and filled with gripping action and delicious eye candy, yum yum. May this get a swift release so we can gawk at it again and discuss in detail.

The River 
A beautifully effective art film from Emir Baigazan (Harmony Lessons) of Kazakstan is about five brothers raised strictly by their cold mostly absent father. We watch the brothers work in various formations on household and yard chores in the parched empty monochromatic landscape and what little time they have to themselves they spend swimming at the local river. Even that they do in militaristic geometric forms, paired off or tripled. That's about it for what happens! But the movie is surprisingly moving with its dreamscape human formations and idylls and tiny hierarchal power plays, particularly in the way we watch the brothers go from being nearly indistinguishable from each other -- always moving as a collective -- to individualized once the modern world intrudes via a briefly visiting cousin from the city and his tablet. I saw this film at the end of TIFF and I thought a contemplative art film without much dialogue wasn't going to do it for me whilst exhausted, but I was very wrong. Being surprised at the movies is a special kind of bliss.

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