BIFF Day 1

CIMG2801I arrived in Busan for the film festival earlier than I usually do. Delta has stopped direct flights from Narita to Busan, and their daily round trip arrived at Gimhae Airport in the evening. I booked on Busan Air, which I didn’t even know about until I did a random web search for cheap flights to Busan. I got a round trip for only ¥25,000, including tax and fuel surcharge. It left on time and we even got a meal and coffee. The flight arrived at 4 p.m., which gave me plenty of time to get to my hotel and then to the opening ceremony, which I usually miss.

I was more interested in the opening film, but that wasn’t the case with the majority of people at the Busan Cinema Center, a huge outdoor space with a kind of floating roof above it in the middle of Centum City, a retail and commercial district on the edge of the Haeundae resort area. There is plenty of room around the BCC for rubber neckers to watch the goings-on, and with each big Korean star on the red carpet there was a high-pitched effusion that seemed to come from everywhere. Though some of the names were familiar to me, everyone was so gussied up it was difficult to tell one person from another, especially the women. Odagiri Jo made something of a spectacle of himself, sporting a huge bushy afro topped by little hat. It reminded me of that line from “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.”

The movie, “Vara: A Blessing,” was better than I expected, though there were a lot of distractions in the open air venue, what with people moving about in the aisles. It’s a Bhutanese movie, directed by Khyentse Norbu, an actual Buddhist priest, though it seems to take place in India. It’s also a markedly international production, and the English dialogue was sometimes a distraction since it seemed written by someone who watches a lot of Western TV. The story is about a young dancer who is pursued by two young men in her village–the rich but shy landlord and a low-born outcast who has a talent for sculpture. The latter talks the dancer into modeling for him while the former pines for her from afar, and after a scandal erupts involving these three the resolution is not what I expected, which is saying something since the movie’s plot is melodramatic in a soap operatic kind of way. The actors try too hard and the spiritual elements are overwhelmed by the practical ones. It should be more contemplative.

At the opening party afterwards some people were talking about the movie, specifically why this one was chosen as the opener. It’s hard to say. BIFF hasn’t had the chance to premiere a really major Asian film in years, losing out to the big Western festivals, so the consensus is that the programmers want to draw attention to how much attention they are paying to cinema from smaller countries. But “Vara” was pretty lightweight, and while it got the attention it deserved here, I don’t think it will get much anywhere else.

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