China l 2010 l 128min
Director FENG Xiaogang
Aftershock follows one family’s emotional devastation which is a result of the very real 1976 Tangshan earthquake that killed nearly 300,000 people. The family is divided in the ensuing chaos, personified in a visual effects sequence that left my viewing audience completely breathless. I have a new found respect for the power of such an earthquake, and I think it’s safe to say that my ignorance of its effects have been completely erased. The father is killed while attempting to reach his son and daughter, and the mother is left alive in the aftermath to pull her children from the wreckage. She is put to a heartbreaking decision, choose one child to save, because lifting the massive concrete block off of both is impossible, but raising one side will save the life of the child of her choice, crushing the other in the process.
This moment is the catalyst for a story that follows this family for three decades and two generations after the earthquake. They continue on with their lives, picking up the pieces to the best of their ability, and effectively displaying the scars that remain. The film is a sight to behold, evoking cinematography that pops right off of the screen from the very first frame. Everything from the production design, sound editing, score, and performances is top notch. Director Feng Xiaogang makes very little compromises in showing how these characters evolve beyond their unfathomable grief, giving life to each and every scene, and every spoken word. His ability to tiptoe around conventional melodrama and make a film that feels like a very earnest look at this tragedy is exquisite. There are a few minor missteps along the way, such as a few moments where the actors could have reeled in their performances a bit, and one randomly inserted foreign guy who absolutely did not need to be there at all (he’s simply there to marry one of the Chinese women, and he’s 16 years older than her, and his line delivery is painful, and he’s just plain creepy).
My minor nitpicks aside, Aftershock is my favorite film so far at this year’s Pusan International Film Festival. It is a near-masterpiece that sheds light on a tragedy that has been felt for generations, and the victims of this event are not only those who died, but those who continue on with their lives in the wake of their sorrow and grief.
Philippines l 2010 l 85min
Directed by Kim Homer Cabagio GARCIA
We see a sister-in-law who is bedridden with an unknown ailment, and charges her two sons, one a drunk and the other emotionally unstable, with her care. In one particularly effective scene, we see the drunken son take his aggressions out on the other, only to see a psychotic burst of emotional rage from the mentally defective younger brother. The eldest brother is brutally murdered, and the family is left to deal with incarceration of their nephew, who is now seemingly split in personality. Only a fraction of the cast seems up to the task of conveying to us the emotions at hand, and the performances that do fall flat are so bad that they belong in a daytime soap opera. It’s frustrating to see a director’s true vision being held back by obvious budgetary constraints and a baffling disregard for steady-cam shots. If Blood Ties had not one, but several coats of polish, it might have managed to impress audiences with its poignant insights into this unstable family.