Mini Reviews (August 2004)
Since Otar Left..., Zhou Yu's Train
Since Otar Left... (August 5/04)
It doesn't come as much of a surprise to learn that Since Otar Left... marks the fiction debut of acclaimed documentarian Julie Bertucelli, as there's a distinct air of realism to this story. The film revolves around three generations of women - matriarch Eka (Esther Gorintin), her daughter Marina (Nino Khomasuridze), and her daughter Ada (Dinara Drukarova) - living in the same apartment, where Eka spends most of her time thinking about her son Otar. It's clear that the old woman prefers Otar to Marina, and she makes no effort to hide that fact. But when Otar dies in Paris, Marina and Ada decide to keep the death a secret - knowing full well that the information would devastate Eka. Since Otar Left... is deliberately paced but always interesting; Bertucelli does a fantastic job of establishing these three characters along with the world they inhabit. In terms of the film's performances, each of the actresses is very effective in their roles - with Gorintin (who was 85 when she made her film debut!) the obvious standout. She's able to say so much using just her facial expressions, something that's particularly true in the film's final act.
Zhou Yu's Train (August 12/04)
Zhou Yu's Train stars Gong Li as the titular Zhou Yu, an artisan who visits her lover twice a week by train. Their relationship seems stable enough, but things start to change after Zhou Yu meets an outgoing veterinarian (Sun Hong Lei). Director Sun Zhou clearly has a lot of talent, imbuing the film with an epic sensibility, but this story just isn't terribly interesting. Though the performances are all fine - Gong Li is particularly good - the convoluted storyline makes it impossible to form an emotional bond with any of the characters. As a result, the movie isn't involving in the slightest; things happen and we're left shrugging our shoulders. The film's screenplay (written by Sun Zhou, Bei Cun, and Zhang Mei) plays around with our perception of time to poor effect, while the casting of Gong Li in a dual role is confusing and unnecessary (we don't find out her true identity until the final few minutes of the movie). It's the film's look that keeps things interesting, as Sun Zhou (along with cinematographer Wang Yu) packs each scene with arresting visuals and swooping camerawork. Here's hoping his next project matches his sense of style with a decent storyline.