MIFF 2009 reviews – Love Exposure (2008), The Sky Crawlers (2008), Tears for Sale (2008)

Reviews of film screening during the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, Sion Sono, 2008) ✭✭✭✭✩
The Sky Crawlers (Sukai kurora, Mamoru Oshii, 2008) ✭✭✭
Tears for Sale (Carlston za Ognjenku, Uros Stojanovic, 2008) ✭✭✩

Love Exposure
Love ExposureSion Sono’s (Suicide Club) latest film, Love Exposure, almost runs for four hours and at first resembles a melodramatic soap opera. However, once the main character Yu goes to train with a group of professional perverts in order to learn the skill of taking up-skirt panty shots, you realise that Sono is once again going to take you on one hell of a genre defying ride. Yu becomes a pervert in order to develop a worthy set of sins to confess to his father, a priest who has fallen from grace. But soon Yu becomes involved in a love triangle with a girl recruiting for a cult and a girl who hates all men except Kurt Cobain and Jesus Christ. Love Exposure is a delirious exploration of Christianity, family, cults, sin, forgiveness, lust, perversions (especially the supposed Japanese obsession with schoolgirls and panties) and gender – or put simply: religion and sex. Its weird, comic tone is frequently over-the-top, often funny and always inventive. Moments of excess are partly satirical, partly outrageous comedy and partly self-referential as Sono frequently draws attention to the fact that the film is shot somewhat crudely on digital videotape. This is cinema at its most daring, outrageous and defiant, and it needs to be seen to be believed.

The Sky Crawlers
Heavily indebted to George Orwell’s “War is Peace” concept from 1984, The Sky Crawlers is set in a highly anachronistic alternative history where private corporations wage ‘war’ on each other for commercial entertainment. The fighter pilots are ‘Kildren’ who remain adolescents forever (or until they are shot down). Whether working in animation (the Ghost in the Shell films) or live action (Avalon), Japanese director Mamoru Oshii likes exploring the themes of memory, reality and identity. His films are a philosophical mixture of stillness and bursts of spectacular action. The contrasts that Oshii uses in The Sky Crawlers are his most pronounced yet. The old World War II style planes and other pieces of technology are created with some of the most realistic 3D animation created to date while the characters are drawn in incredibly simple and almost ugly 2D animation. This juxtaposition is clearly a deliberate visual statement about what constitutes as reality in this Brave New World but it is nevertheless jarring. The brief dog-fight scenes between the pilots are incredible but they are few and far between. Most scenes in The Sky Crawlers consist of minimalist dialogue, long pauses and characters blankly starring at each other. Even for an Oshii film, The Sky Crawlers feels slow and despite its worthiness it doesn’t contain the same degree of depth of his previous films.

Tears For Sale
The special-effects-filled Magical Realist Serbian film Tears for Sale is visually a blend of the cinematic styles of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Emir Kusturica. Narratively it initially seems to follow Kusturica’s approach of exploring history and politics with a very dark sense of humour. The scenario of a village that is only inhabited by women certainly follows the absurdist tradition of using excessive black humour to respond to something horrific – in this case the fact that two thirds of the Serbian male population died during World War I. The women have become professional grievers and are paid for their mourning expertise. The only other source of income for the village is a mine-filled vineyard that nobody ever leaves alive. Unfortunately Tears for Sale very quickly gets lost in its own indulgences and seems to function simply in order to present yet another display of dazzling visual effect. All meaning and character development gets thrown out the window and as the film progresses the behaviour of the characters becomes increasingly inexplicable and implausible. The later stages of the film also expect us to start empathising with characters that we have no reason to empathise with and the heavy use of slow motion and gushy music does not do the trick. Tears for Sale looks incredible but it is empty spectacle that never engages with its subject matter or with the audience.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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