Day 5 – and I manage to catch G’MOR EVIAN! (=Good morning, everyone!), the new Japanese film starring Kumiko Aso as single-mother and ex-punk-guitarist Aki whose peaceful homelife with daughter Hatsuki (Ayaka Miyoshi) is stirred up by the return of former bandmate Yagu (Yo Oizumi). The adults have a ball, but it’s Hatsuki who finds Yagu and his quirky ways too much to handle.

It’s a simply conceived but brilliantly scripted dramedy, with all key characters lending charm to their roles. Basically a coming-of-age story, where a daughter comes to terms with who her mother has been and is, and who, despite ups and downs, learns to appreciate the love she has in her life. Though sadly bound not to travel much further than Japan, this is a great example of how a simple concept when executed well can be powerful and moving. And it’s fun to see singer-actress-model ANNA TSUCHIYA in a cameo as the flea-market lady.

On to more serious matters with France’s THE OTHER SON (Le Fils de l’Autre). On paper it’s a concept that if not handled well could easily have become a train-wreck on the screen. Thankfully, it’s a well-written engaging drama, touching and thought-provoking with excellent acting from the two protagonists Jules Sitruk (Joseph) and Medhi Dehbi (Yacine) with solid support from those playing the family members, particularly prolific French actress Emmanuelle Devos who plays Joseph’s mother.

Going straight to the heart of the human aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the drama surrounds the young men’s discovery that they were switched at birth, Joseph brought up in Tel Aviv, Yacine brought up on the West Bank. The news comes especially badly to Bilal, Palestinian blood brother to Joseph. When the men visit each other’s homes, the story expands and we gain a closer insight into the dreams and fears of the suitably contrasted families, with Joseph as the dreamer musician and Yacine as the academic who aspires to become a doctor.

It’s a carefully balanced and respectful portrayal of families who are getting on with life under respectively stressful circumstances, and writer-director Lorraine Lévy does a good job of keeping the narrative going while bringing the best out of the actors. The film went on to win the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix and Best Director awards at the festival and is a must-see if you’re interested in the topic at hand.

Who can resist the idea of Julianne Moore as a rock star? Not one to flinch at a challenge, Moore drew inspiration from The Kills’ Alison Mosshart, among other female musicians, for her role as the self-centred Susanna in America’s WHAT MAISIE KNEW.

The casting is spot on in this film based loosely on the Henry James novel of the same title. Much talked about after their Toronto premiere, this was a must-see movie at the festival. Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham provide adequate support to scene-stealing 6-year old actress Onata Aprile as Maisie who is entirely convincing in her role as a delicate soul torn between childhood innocence and life’s harsher realities – pushed and pulled between the adults in her life, and in one heart-rending moment seemingly abandoned by all, the character bitterly suffers the consequences of warring parents.

So much more than a divorce story, the film is a real passion piece for the 2 directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who fought long and hard to get the film made. Succeeding in making Susanna a brutal yet sympathetic character, with carefully placed camera shots lingering on Moore’s pained facial expressions at points, it’s easy to see why they refer to Onata as a “gift” with her natural acting talent that allows us to empathise with her pain and confusion balanced with a suitably playful innocence, which creates the necessary intense chemistry between onscreen mother and daughter.

Nobody seems to like themselves very much in this movie, and no character goes without experiencing conflict and pain, but we are at the end left with a feeling of hope for the future after being granted this vivid snapshot into the lives of people who realise they’re a lot more fortunate than at first thought, and divorce becomes a fact of life rather than a ticking time bomb. You can read more about the film in my interview with the directors HERE >>

American documentary SIDE BY SIDE was a fascinating look into the digital v film aspect of filmmaking, although it would probably have been better served as a documentary mini-series than a feature film to allow more time for the debates to be sufficiently covered. Introducing a whole host of interviewees from David Fincher and Chris Nolan to David Lynch and Martin Scorsese, there are some very entertaining and informative moments, but I noticed a very obvious lack of female perspectives which dilutes accessibility and realism, and I’m not convinced that focusing on hyper-commercial directors and cinematographers is necessarily helpful. Maybe the filmmakers think that not enough women can work cameras and therefore can’t comment, sigh…

It is in any case a valuable contribution to the research of film, for what it is. And Keanu Reeves does a good job of sifting through the vast amounts of data and analyses, keeping us engaged as much as he can do. Given proper backing and better direction, there’s no reason why this couldn’t be expanded into a successful series. It’s certainly educational and a critical of-the-time subject matter for all filmmakers.

Some of the press are indeed found sleeping in the screening (undeniably, this is a perfect film for the sleep-deprived reporter), but one particularly shocking moment comes when several male members of Japanese press laugh out loud when the wonderful Lana Wachowski appears on screen, only to desperately stifle their splutterings after it dawns on them that this is Lana, formerly Larry, of the Wachowski brothers. This revealed to me a LOT in terms of the conservative attitude of mainstream press in Japan towards gender and physical appearance, and from an industry point of view I was surprised they didn’t know who she was on sight – which frustrates me even more, because I love Lana! Are most Japanese film critics working with their heads buried in the sand? Most probably, yes.

So, all in all, a pretty informative but sexist experience. And I’d like to see the project further developed if at all possible before digital takes over completely and the debate becomes a thing of the past.

With such a busy day, I’ve been umming and ahhing about going to see American movie STRUTTER, but boy am I glad I do. The film which is buzzing very quietly at Roppongi Hills soon becomes one of my festival favourites.

Beautifully shot in black and white, with a vintage indie flavour not seen enough these days, STRUTTER tells the story of loser musician Brett whose girlfriend and band dump him. Through various comedy scenarios, we find that he is in fact loved and cared for by some quirky characters, and eventually he finds a peace in his messy life. Although not the most challenging of storylines, its charm is in the snappy dialogue, characterisations and careful camera work that keeps our attention throughout. All the supports do a fantastic job, and real-life musician Flannery Lunsford is well cast in the lead role.

After an intense work day, this film is the perfect breath of fresh air, and is well received by press. Rare for a Japanese screening, the audience are in audible fits of laughter, and it certainly strikes a positive chord with the more ‘otaku’ members of the press. After chatting to actress Sara Ashley (Tessa) and co-director Kurt Voss, I realise that STRUTTER was made with a whole lot of love and passion, which endears me even more to the film. You can read more about this encounter in my interview with Sara and Kurt HERE >>

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