38th Sitges Film Festival. 09/10/05 – 18/10/05
Back in it’s original October slot the 38th festival had the added bonus of fantåstic weather to add to another Fantåstic line up of films. Also included this year were tributes to the 30th anniversary of JAWS, the work of Jim Henson, and festival favourite Johnnie To. Hollywood also graced the festival with the appearance of Jodie Foster to receive a Grand Honorary award and Quentin Tarantino in his role as producer promoting Eli Roth’s HOSTEL.
After a successful campaign the previous year we stuck to a winning formula. A fair amount of IMDB research had been undertaken once the festival’s programme was known and the hotel Subur would again serve as base camp to tackle our short list of must-see films.
Having bowed down before OLD BOY the previous year we were now hungry for all things Korean (except Kimchi), especially Park Chan-wook’s third installment in the vengeance trillogy, SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE. The synopsis for A BITTERSWEET LIFE also had us giddy with anticipation and neither film disappointed. As part of the Johnnie To tribute we had also decided to take in his latest film ELECTION and his 1999 film THE MISSION.
Since viewing OLD BOY I had gone on to watch SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE and was now looking forward to the culmination of the trilogy. I’m unashamedly a fan of style as much as substance and SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE had all the style I’d hoped for and more. I’d like to say that the ambiguity of the vengeance subject matter, and who we should be feeling the sympathy for was something I wrestled with during the film, but the truth is I was just happy to let Park Chan-wook weave his visual mastery, satisfied that this, for me at least, was a big part of the Sitges going experience. The trilogy and Park himself will no doubt be judged by many an observant and perhaps critical eye in the years to come. When you stand apart from the rest as Park does, that’s to be expected.
While standing out there Park would no doubt be pleased to see his fellow country man Kim Ji-woon join him at his side. With A BITTERSWEET LIFE Kim too showed a mastery of the visual and, as writer, provided the substance to match the style. Humorous and touching elements of the film were believably punctuated with crunching violence and the film’s closing moments give rise to alternative interpretations of the protagonist’s actions up to that moment.
As with BREAKING NEWS I found some parts of Johnnie To’s ELECTION genius. The visual aspect of his filmaking is at times stunning and his film’s scores lift scenes and emotions that extra notch. ELECTION had a more realistic feel in it’s portrayal of Triad culture and, although there were graphic scenes of violence, characters were also allowed to follow natural sequences without cinematic distraction. Perhaps a week locked in a dark room with the complete Johnnie To back catalogue would enlighten me further as I have a nagging doubt I’m missing out on one of my generations greats.
HARD CANDY was, for us, another of those films that we love Sitges for. Armed with nothing more than the synopsis and some internet gossip we set our expectations to zero and allowed our curiosity-meter to register a small reading. The film’s subject matter and it’s portrayal here will no doubt whip up a mini Internet storm but I have to admit that this aspect of the film barely registered with me during the screening (this was Sitges after all). I was instead transfixed by the performances of Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson. Both were newcomers to me and, while it’s great to stumble upon one new talent, it was amazing to get two actors working so well together, with a seemingly straight forward premise, while carrying the entire film between them. A big nod of course has to go to David Slade for making the step from music video to feature with such aplomb. His handling of the actors and his ability to show and tell without showing/telling gave the scenes far more impact.
One last mention has to go to HAZE. Bonkers! (but in a good way)
A bittersweet life (Dir. Kim Ji-woon)
Room (Dir. Kyle Henry)
Haze (Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto)
Eli, eli, lema sabachtani (Dir. Shinji Aoyama)
The exorcism of emily rose (Dir. Scott Derickson)
Lemming (Dir. Dominik Moll)
Reconstruccion (Dir. Christoffer Boe)
The wild blue yonder (Dir. Werner Herzog)
Hard candy (Dir. David Slade)
The mission (Dir. Johnnie To)
Election (Dir. Johnnie To)
Sympathy for lady vengance (Dir. Park Chan-wook)
For details of all 38th edition film entries and awards go to: