Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or an instant-streaming service. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
A Touch of Sin (2013)
Imagine a society of a disenchanted working-class, companies that skirt the law or outright break it, and an upper-class who treats those lower classes as if they are pawns in some grand game of their own design. Sound familiar? If China is the first country you thought of, then you are correct.
This new film from Chinese director Jia Zhang-Ke (Still Life, 24 City) tells four sequential stories set in modern day China. While the stories are not related in the film, they are related by the film; in other words, all four chapters riff on the same central theme: how business conglomerates are replacing the Communist Party as the true rulers of China. While the politics in the film are not overt, they burn through every chapter.
That the film is a bloody mess tells part of the story. A recent epidemic of violence in China swims invisibly under the radar due to the tight central control of the state media. But sometimes, news leaks out. Jia takes his four stories directly from Chinese society: the first tells of a villager’s outrage (and subsequent rage) with local profiteering and corruption; the second deals with a loner/killer; the third focuses on a young woman in an adulterous affair who snaps one day at her sex-sauna job; and the final chapter tells the story of a young factory worker driven to suicide. It is all very dark (gray is the predominant color in the cinematography), gory, and ultimately a bleak view of modern-day China.
This is expertly directed, acted, and filmed cinema. The Chinese have been producing some of the world’s best (and most beautiful) films since the late 80s, and this film is no exception. It was a hit at Cannes and it should certainly be an Oscar contender. It is worth a trip to the big screen to see a master filmmaker at work, to see modern-day China play out in front of you, and to understand a bit more about the world, without a filter.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Old Boy, Drive, or any Tarantino film. Starts January 3rd at the Sie Film Center.
Europa Report (2013)
This recent film from Ecuadoran director Sebastián Cordero (Cronicas, Rage) marks yet another strong entry in what was one of the best years for Science Fiction Cinema in a long time. Along with other films such as Upstream Color, Oblivion, and Gravity, the genre included both big-budget blockbusters as well as smaller, more thoughtful pictures. Europa Report falls into the latter category.
The premise: a privately-funded, manned space probe is sent to the Jupiter moon Europa to search for life in an ocean underneath the ice sheet. Europa has become a sort of Holy Grail for Sci-Fi, with reality giving us a possibility that the cinema can then explore. The science is there, as Dr. Ka-Chun Yu of DMNS notes: orbiting NASA satellites have found an ice sheet covering a liquid ocean underneath. Because of the strong pull of Jupiter’s gravity, the planet’s elasticity (causing a heating effect) may create conditions necessary for life. This is where Sci-Fi cinema enters.
The film is structured as a found-footage narrative, with the bulk of the visuals coming from the ship’s on-board cameras. The direction is very good, the acting is excellent, and the cinematography and editing speak to the film’s larger themes of claustrophobia, communication, and how little we really know about the universe (and each other!). The film takes its science seriously, and the actors are credible as scientists. Nobody impulsively pulls off their helmet in the middle of a foreign planet.
You will like this film if you enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity, and Moon. Available on Netflix instant cue and at the Sam Gary Library. This film, along with all other films I’ve reviewed, can be found at the Sam Gary Library. Look for the Indie Prof display at the end of the DVD racks.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.