BUSAN, South Korea — The miscellaneous category in the BIFF ticket catalogue is certainly World Cinema, a grab bag in which one finds the works of legends like Lars von Trier listed next to young unknowns from the ends of the earth. For the viewer who likes to take chances, the kind of person who doesn't like to know the flavor filling in a piece of chocolate before taking a bite, this is the perfect opportunity to enter a theater with zero expectations.
I took such a chance on Behold the Lamb (2011), the debut film by John McIlduff. It's a road movie in which Joe's girlfriend Liz and Joe's father Eddie drive around Northern Ireland, an odd arrangement since Joe remains largely absent from the plot. The film seems to want to be a dark comedy, the kind of adventure in which a character can die tragically in one scene and then become a sort of prop in the next. Think of the chase scene in Raising Arizona (1987) when Nicholas Cage robs a convenience store for some Huggies for the baby he just stole.
Actually, Behold the Lamb lacks the acting and timing to pull off the laughs, but it makes up for it in the perpetual forward motion of its plot. Just take the opening scene for example. We see the inside of a car. The windows are frosted over. Damn, it looks cold. Liz sits up. Joe asks her to feed the dog. Okay, now we go outside to feed the dog but find the dog is dead. Frozen in the night, in fact. Now what to do with the dead dog? Throw it in the lake. What to tell Joe? The dog ran off. And so on and so on, each scene giving you one more piece to carry as far as the next scene. Liz finds a gun in Eddie's bag? Gun shows up later in the bathroom. Eddie starts shaking uncontrollably in the middle of the street? Guess what? He has epilepsy! Though most of the scenes are not funny, the revelations they contain are interesting enough to carry the film.
The film's symbols, however, threaten to ruin everything. The title of the film comes from John 1:29, "Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!" The Lamb of God here is Jesus, who sacrificed himself and took away all of our sins. In the movie, Liz and Eddie have a lot of sins. Liz is a junkie who has ruined at least one person's life. Eddie is a horrible father. It just so happens that they are given a lamb during a drug deal. They carry the lamb around while it bleats and drinks milk from a baby’s bottle. The lamb becomes their pet. Pretty soon it becomes obvious that the entire ending of the film rests on the fate of this lamb. In the meantime, the symbolism of the bloody lamb punches the viewer right between the eyes. Will the lamb be sacrificed? Will the sins of Liz and Eddie be absolved thereby? How heavy would you like your symbols to be? Unbearably heavy? Christ's cross heavy?
Showtimes Behold the Lamb
|564||MegaBox Haeundae 2||Oct 7 13:00|
|624||MegaBox Haeundae 1||Oct 9 10:00|
Scabbard Samurai (Japan)
Scabbard Samurai (2011) is the story of Kanjuro Nomi, a samurai who gave up his sword after losing his wife to an epidemic. When we meet Nomi, his grief and denial have already turned him into a pathetic coward who runs at the first sign of danger. Nomi's young daughter Tae follows her father and treats his wounds when he is beaten, stabbed, and shot by the other caricature samurai who populate the film.
The plot really gets going when Nomi is arrested for deserting his clan. His punishment: perform thirty comedic feats in order to make a young prince smile. The prince, you see, lost his mother to the same epidemic that claimed Nomi's wife. If Nomi cannot make the sorrowful prince smile, then he must perform seppuku, or suicide by disembowelment. For most of the film we watch Nomi's thirty feats.
Nomi dances with a face painted on his belly, shoots himself out of a cannon, plays a flute with his nose, and lifts a pile of rocks with his nostrils. He does all of this with a hilarious air of stoic determination. Physically, he is a goofy man, for certain: wrinkly, saggy, bird-chested, chicken-legged. He has an under-bite and a single incisor with which he eats corn one row at a time, as if plowing a field. But he never laughs at himself during his performances, and the combined deadpan expressions of Nomi, Tae, and the prince make his pathetic attempts at comedy both charming and funny. At the end of each performance, an attendant announces, "You must commit seppuku!" This final punch line is often the best laugh of the scene.
The role of Kanjuro Nomi was played by Takaaki Nomi. It's no coincidence that the actor shares a name with his character, as Takaaki Nomi is not really an actor at all. This is his first role in a movie. Takaaki, who visited with the audience after the screening of his film, claims that the director never gave him a script. Every morning, the director simply told Takaaki what feat he was to perform that day. Takaaki didn't know when the cameras were rolling. He had the impression that the project would end up as a DVD, if anything. He was largely left in the dark in order that he would not appear to be self-conscious, and the technique really worked. His performance seems so real, so human. After the screening, one viewer asked Takaaki how it is possible he was not discovered sooner. Takaaki just grinned and bowed awkwardly, looking every bit like the scabbard samurai wearing a suit. To greet the crowd, he mangled a few lines of Korean written on a card. Later the chord dropped right out of his microphone while he tried to answer a question from the audience. It was bizarre, like the movie had suddenly morphed into a live performance. It makes me wonder what Takaaki did during his audition to get the part. Does he walk around all day running into doors and spilling glasses of water and then grinning? This is the power of casting.
Be warned that if you fall in love with Nomi then you are vulnerable to the sentimental yet shockingly beautiful message at the end of the film. You have been warned.
Showtimes for Samurai Scabbard
|498||Lotte Cinema Centum City 4||Oct 12 10:00|
|131||Busan Cinema Center Cinema 2||Oct 13 20:30|
|394||Lotte Cinema Centum City 10||Oct 8 13:00|
For more of Michael's take on movies check out his site: gotomovieville.com