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dGenerate Directors Applauded by David Bordwell

Observations on Film Art” is a blog run by prominent film scholars David Bordwell (author of numerous books including Poetics of Cinema, The Way Hollywood Tells It, and Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema) and Kristin Thompson. In Bordwell’s recent review of the Vancouver International Film Festival (October 1-16), humorously entitled “Wantons and Wontons,” dGenerate director Liu Jiayin’s new film Oxhide II won his high compliment.

Naming the film “the most exciting Asian film I saw at VIFF,” Bordwell considers the 132-minute film about a family making dumplings as “a demonstration of how a simple form, patiently pursued, can yield unpredictable rewards.” This sequel to Oxhide further explores the themes of family dynamics and economic hardship, and Liu displays her mastery in handling the tension between a quasi-documentary aspect and self-conscious artistry even better. As Bordwell notes: “[A]lthough everything looks spontaneous, it was all completely staged – written out in detail, rehearsed over months, reworked in test footage, and eventually played out in ‘real time.'” #gallery-1 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 33%; } #gallery-1 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-1 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

He especially praised the film’s rigorous artistic innovation. Liu employed a construction-paper mask to create the CinemaScope format within HD video to emphasize hands, arms, and the table where the “wonton cookery” (in Bordwell’s phrase) takes place, with characters’ heads often chopped off. While most filmmakers use the wide frame for expansive spectacle, Liu remarks, “I wanted to see less.” Moreover, Bordwell observes:

Liu has filmed the table from a strictly patterned arc of camera positions, dividing the space into 45-degree segments. These unfold in a clockwise sequence around the table. What could seem an arbitrary structural gimmick is justified by the fact that each setup proves ideally suited to each stage of the process.

The review concludes, “Oxhide II is unpretentiously inventive, quietly virtuosic.” In its blending of “domestic life with the rigor of Structural Film,” the film proves itself a “no-budget, low-key masterpiece.”

In another article on the VIFF, “Revenge of the ROW,” Bordwell also speaks favorably of Sun Spots, by Yang Heng, director of Betelnut. He considers the film an exercise in what he calls “Asian minimalism” as perfected by the Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, and Chinese director Jia Zhangke. Bordwell praises Yang’s film for its ravishing landscape, (“worthy of a James Benning film,” he says, its unpredictable compositions that oblige us to notice every detail in the visual field, and especially Yang’s successful exploitation of “one powerful advantage of HD video: razor-sharp depth of field,” which allows him to “integrate distant hills and streams into action.” He concludes that “[O]ne has to respect Yang’s single-minded commitment to making an anecdotal plot into something austere and sensuous.”


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