Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Five Under 50

A look at five of the most accomplished filmmakers under 50 years of age.

1. Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The constant comparisons to Antonioni may grow tiresome, but the similarities between the two filmmakers are readily apparent. Re-casting the Italian's trademark ennui in contemporary Turkey, Ceylan's films feature characters who have little connection with each other and even less to say. The lead character in his pointedly titled 2002 film Distant (Uzak), like Sandro in L'Avventura, is an artist who has given up his ideals for commercial projects. When a distant relative comes to stay with him, their nearly wordless interactions take place almost entirely in front of the television set. But dwelling on comparisons doesn't do justice to Ceylan, a wonderfully original filmmaker. Gifted with a strong eye for composition, Ceylan often frames his characters against natural landscapes and uses the cycles of the seasons to structure his works and underscore the changing relationships among his characters. He also excels at inserting delightfully offhand elements into his films, such as the car alarm that Yusuf sets off in Distant or the nut that falls on the floor precipitating a sexual encounter in his masterpiece Climates (Iklimler). That film sets a fractured romance against three different natural settings, a sultry beach, a rainy fall scene, and a snowstorm. As the snowflakes fall on Bahar in the film's final moments, mirroring her tears, Ceylan's gift for fitting the image to the situation has become unmistakable.

2. Bruno Dumont
Keeping the tradition of edgy French filmmaking alive, Bruno Dumont has made a major impact on world cinema in the ten years since his screen debut. Known for mixing brutal violence, often presented in a matter-of-fact manner, with scenes depicting the banality of life in the provinces, Dumont has a rare ability to provoke the viewer both emotionally and intellectually. His famed aesthetic comprised of static shots, location shooting, the use of non-professional actors and an unwillingness to introduce outside technical elements such as music, add a rare immediacy to his work. He debuted his fourth film Flandres in March and it is one of the year's best to date. His previous work includes The Life of Jesus, a portrait of small town youth, L'Humanite, a character study in the form of a police procedural, and Twentynine palms, a road picture whose sense of impending dread, sustained brilliantly for almost two hours, gives way to two scenes of genuine horror.

3. Todd Solondz
No filmmaker walks the line between laughter and disgust so well as Todd Solondz. The American director's trademark is the treatment of taboo subjects in comic situations. Rape, incest, pedophilia, racism, fundamentalist groups, abortion are all fit subjects for humor, albeit a very dark humor resulting in very uncomfortable laughter. His razor sharp screenplays, assured direction, and willingness to offend mark him as one of the most exciting directors working today. His treatment of taboo subjects may seem flippant or in bad taste, but it represents a genuine desire on the director's part to grapple with the most horrifying elements in contemporary society. His masterpiece is 1998's multi character drama Happiness, which remains, along with Blue Velvet, the definitive entry in the suburban dysfunction sub-genre, an effort which puts such facile melodramas as American Beauty to shame.

4. Tsai Ming-Liang
Along with Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Edward Yang, Tsai has helped position the Taiwanese film industry at the forefront of world cinema. His alienated characters, frozen in static long shots, grope their way through his apocalyptic world, searching desperately for human connections, often through sex, but rarely finding it. The formal beauty of his films is matched by the totality of his vision. This vision is granted continuity throughout his body of work by the casting of the same actors, the repetition of the same themes, and the element of water which plays an increasingly important role in his work. His eighth film I Don't Want to Sleep Alone opens this May and is the first to take place in the director's native Malaysia. Among his best works are 1997's The River, in which Lee Kang-Shang comes down with a mysterious illness after exposure to the polluted Tansui River, and 2003's Goodbye, Dragon Inn, which details the closing night of a once glorious movie theater.

5. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
One of the most impressive young directors working today (he is just 36), the Thai filmmaker alternates feature films with experimental video projects. His fourth feature film, Syndromes and a Century, which opened today in New York, is, like his previous film, 2004's Tropical Malady, a two part work. In each case, the second part recasts and completes elements from the first, while ignoring others altogether or introducing entirely new threads. Tropical Malady begins as a wonderfully understated love story between two young men, culminating in their eventual separation. For the second part, Weerasethakul draws on a Thai legend and recasts the two leads as a mythical tiger-like creature and a hunter who must track him down. In the more recent film, the two parts concern the doctors and patients at two different hospitals in two different time periods. The characters in the first part all have their counterparts in the second and are played by the same actors, a correspondence suggested by the film's discussion of reincarnation. But the correspondences are by no means exact and the film refuses to force any conclusions. It is also looser in structure than its predecessor with more random elements introduced and left unresolved, which gives the work a rich, multilayered texture. A fascinating and beautiful picture, Syndromes and a Century is the latest achievement from one of the world's best filmmakers.

1 comment:

PVLGO said...

I was wrong; this is an interesting post.