VC Filmfest 2006
Though movies from across the Asian continent are highlighted in this year’s VC Fest (a.k.a. the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival), the geographical star is Vietnam. Films set in that country, or that deal with the ongoing fallout from the Vietnam War, open and close the festival, while Vietnamese themes and characters crop up in a slew of others. The festival’s opening-night film, Journey From the Fall, tells how one family survived the fall of Saigon. Director Ham Tran flashes forward and back across a 10-year timeline, dropping in on chaotic war scenes, prison labor camps and anguished moments in the family home, while charting life in what one character dubs “a communist opera.” Though there’s little new insight offered in this war tale, the telling is exquisite, marked by effectively jarring editing and images that are almost too gorgeous in their sepia tones and artsy grittiness. Ringo Le’s Saigon Love Story uses the Bollywood musical to filter generational conflict, class struggle and other growing pains of modern Vietnam. Young lovers Tam (a scam artist/struggling singer who goes through countless costume changes) and Danh (an only child who’s the pawn of his unhappy mother’s social-climbing ambitions) make their way through a star-crossed affair filled with musical numbers and wisecracking secondary characters. But the film lacks directorial fizz, and the breakneck storytelling that should be giddy falls flat more often than not. More satisfying is Filipino director Auraeus Solito’s quietly radical The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, about a flamboyantly effeminate 12-year-old boy who cooks and cleans and serves as general homemaker for his family of smalltime crooks. Things become complicated when Maxi develops a crush on the movie-star handsome new cop on the block. Solito’s neorealist style and uneven pacing sometimes short-circuit the fabulousness of Maxi, but this is a lovely film in which the baby-homo protagonist is fiercely loved and accepted for who he is by a brood that defines machismo. And as Maximo, Nathan Lopez, armed with a diva’s slinky catwalk and determination, is fantastic. (Directors Guild of America and other venues; thru May 11. www.vconline.org)
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