By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Beyond journalism, the Times’ disavowal of Knight‘s words is another symptom of a political climate that keeps getting spookier. We already lived in a world in which the Super Bowl broadcast -- complete with zooming jets and Marines guarding a magic trick by Penn and Teller -- could serve as the militaristic prequel to Bush’s State of the Union address. Now, our art critics have been put on a state of alert.
It has long been an article of faith that Sundance is the home of independent filmmaking. Indeed, during its televised awards show last Saturday night, the festival never stopped praising itself for precisely this virtue, reaching its peak when Tilda Swinton (rather charmingly, I thought) took a swipe at Late Capitalism.
To find the true independent spirit these days, you might do better to look to South Korea, one of the handful of countries that, as Jack Valenti would unhappily tell you, uses quotas to protect its homegrown cinema from being overrun by Hollywood “product” (to borrow the unseemly term Redford used the other night on the Sundance Channel). The Koreans are famously nationalistic -- they even have their own tiny version of Disneyland, Lotte World -- and they take as much pride in their own culture as do the French. As I discovered when I attended the Pusan Film Festival a couple of years ago, the country is creating one of the most exciting movie cultures anywhere -- everything from pop blockbusters like the action-picture Shiri to the graceful art films of the aging master Im Kwon-Taek.
Of course, American audiences -- even here in L.A. with our huge Korean-American population -- have yet to catch on to this South Korean boom, with such rising stars as the uncommonly gifted Hong Sang-Soo. So it comes as little surprise that virtually no one here has ever heard of one of its finest writer-directors, Lee Chang-Dong, a novelist-turned-filmmaker whose work straddles the multiplex and the art house in his home country. His latest film, Oasis, won five separate prizes at the Venice Film Festival (somehow, it wasn‘t at Sundance) and is the South Korean entry for the Best-Foreign-Film Oscar.
In a just world, the movie would certainly be one of the five nominees, but I fear Academy voters may find its subject matter too tough: It tells the story of the love affair between a feckless ex-con and a young woman with cerebral palsy who spends virtually the entire film having spastic convulsions, even during a startling, genuinely passionate sex scene. I know the premise sounds like the kind of phony pairing that artists often cook up, but Lee avoids the pitfalls of nastiness or easy sentimentality. Even as he evokes the lovers’ dreamy romanticism amid all their adversity (in this, his directing recalls Hollywood legend Frank Borzage), he creates a wider sense of life that‘s novelistic in its richness. Oasis is at once a moving love story, a sharp social comedy and a fierce political commentary on how Korean society cruelly represses outsiders. It’s also a triumph of artistic indirection: Not a single scene plays out the way you expect it to. This is the kind of film that gives humanism back its good name, and it speaks volumes about so-called independence that many minor Sundance pictures will get picked up, while Lee‘s internationally acclaimed film has found no American distributor.
Speaking of which, the screening I attended was held at CAA, and the place was eerily deserted -- apparently, all the hustling young agents were on the slopes in Park City. Certainly, none bothered to watch Lee’s film. In fact, if you‘re ever trying to hide from an agent, there’s no safer place on the planet than the CAA screening room when they‘re showing a really good foreign movie.