Though I’m not writing for a paying media outlet this year, I was still hoping to “attend” a few press conferences. There aren’t that many except for the Opening and Closing films and the features in the Gala Section. Last month, the press office asked me if I was interested in participating and I said, yes, but yesterday I learned that they were only making the PCs available to Korean journalists because not enough foreign reporters expressed interest, which makes sense since the Opening/Closing/Gala films are not available on the online press screening platform. My guess is that it’s because it’s something of a pain to provide English interpreting for Zoom conferences—I know because I had a lot of trouble with the English channel for the BIFF announcement PC in September—but the two PCs I wanted to see were for Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Wife of a Spy, so I didn’t need English interpreting, but apparently once these decisions are made they’re difficult to reverse. Interestingly, I was invited to the PC for the American movie Minari, which is about a Korean family moving to a farm in Arkansas, probably because most of it would be in English anyway, but while they did send me the email invitation ten minutes before the PC was to start this afternoon, they forgot to attach the link, and by the time they realized this and sent me the link the PC was over.
Well, more time to watch movies. However, based on the first one I chose, Everyday Is a Lullaby, from Indonesia, I’m getting the feeling that every Asian filmmaker in the last year has binged on Charlie Kaufman. Directed by Putrama Tuta, Everyday is one of those films about films, with a debauched screenwriter protagonist desperate to get out of his successful rut writing ghost stories. From the outside, Rektra (Anjasmara Prasetya) seems to have it made: fame, money, a gorgeous actress girlfriend. But he’s seriously depressed, and though his only three activities are writing, sex, and smoking weed, he partakes of the last two only to provide “inspiration” for the first. Needless to say, it doesn’t really get him anywhere, and it doesn’t really get the viewer anywhere, either. The narrative weaves in and out of rambling conversations and expressionistic tableaux with no fixed destination. In one early scene, a hard-assed producer who refuses to take on Rektra’s new “indie crap” illustrates the limitations of artistic wankery by pointing to the cheap quality of the sets she’s building for yet another horror movie. “This is Indonesia,” she points out. Unfortunately, from that point on you can’t help but notice that every scene seems to take place on a cheap set, and while this aspect gives the film a dreamlike quality, it also draws attention to Tuta’s unsubstantial theme and desperation to make an impression, manifested by car crashes and an odd interlude featuring a glory hole.
By this point I was desperate for a movie about something real, and turned to the Cambodian-French co-production Coalesce, directed by Parisian Jesse Miceli. Coalesce is the kind of Asian indie that BIFF has always championed: socially relevant, shot on a shoestring, and realistic. All the actors are local amateurs and look it, but the real star of the film is the urbanization of Phnom Penh, which, as is often the case in Southeast Asia, seems to be moving ahead faster than its people can handle. The story has three threads, each pulled by a young man. Songsa is a reticent rural teen who is sent to the city to sell clothes out of a neighbor’s jitney and ends up overwhelmed by the pace and depravity of it all. Thy, who has just turned 20, gets a job in a gay bar as a dancer-cum-hustler for foreign men and is saving his money for a motorcycle. Married Phearum drives an off-grid taxi in order to feed his extended family and buy land for an auto sales business someday. As the title suggests, these three storylines will merge in some way, but Miceli isn’t obsessed with the process. He’s more interested in the milieu and some well-observed incidentals, including a backroom abortion, a foreign element, both Chinese and Western, that sees Cambodia as a chicken ready to pluck, and a casual native attitude toward violence that is shocking, but mainly in retrospect. Best of all, it really does feel up-to-the-minute.