In a week overloaded with releases for children, the small three-feature festival at SPOT titled Children and the World Film Festival might easily get overlooked given both its size and also the rather peculiar selection of its lineup.
This would be a pity if it means missing out on Phoebe in Wonderland, which is packaged together with Small Voices (2008), a documentary that follows the lives of post-Khmer Rouge Cambodian children struggling to survive on the aid of the Cambodian Children’s Fund, and 8, a portmanteau movie with segments by eight directors (including heavy hitters such
as Jane Campion, Gus van Sant and Wim Wenders) to address aspects of the G8 Millennium Development Goals.
The latter two films both have clearly defined political agendas that are obvious from the moment the projector starts to roll. Phoebe in Wonderland is a mainstream feature film, which might be described as drama or quirky comedy, but it also deals specifically with an “issue,” Tourette’s syndrome, which is the reason it has been included in a program with a social agenda.
In the case of Phoebe in Wonderland, this somewhat over-developed concern with social relevance mars what is otherwise a delightful and thought-provoking little film that provides sensitive portraits of parents learning about living with children, and children learning to live with each other.
Phoebe is a little girl with a highly developed fantasy life and some issues with self-control. She is played by Elle Fanning, Dakota Fanning’s younger sister, who gives the role considerable depth with a mix of assurance and vulnerability. Phoebe is a lovely child, but one not without rough edges.
It is these rough edges that make life so hard for her intensely caring parents. Felicity Huffman puts in a super performance
as the committed, informed yet at times clueless mother, caught
in the clutches of the almost schizophrenic demands of
The tensions between discipline and creativity, freedom and willfulness, are well portrayed, both from a child’s and an adult’s point of view.
Phoebe’s problems are partially resolved when she throws herself into the school play, Alice in Wonderland, which is being produced by the school’s drama teacher, Miss Dodger (Patricia Clarkson), an adult who is sensitive to the needs of children but is not beyond being misled by them either. The stage play, and the assumption of various Wonderland characters by parents, teachers and of course the attending psychologist who is brought in to treat Phoebe (who appears occasionally as Humpty Dumpty), provide an absurdist gloss on the action.
Fanning holds things together in a demanding role, revealing the emotional turmoil of childhood without hogging the action and serving as a sounding board for a variety of adult responses to her behavior. Another child actor who does a star turn is Ian Colletti, who plays Jamie, the boy who wants to play the Queen of Hearts. The gay issue is touched on lightly, with just enough to simply say that we must be who we are.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers do not seem confident enough to avoid labeling Phoebe’s condition, which emerges as Tourette’s syndrome. The subtle dance of ideas that the film raised at the beginning grinds to a standstill, which is a thoroughly unsatisfactory way of tying off the story. It’s almost as if three-quarters of the way through making the film, the director thought he might not have got his point across, and suddenly had to reach for the loud-hailer.
NOTE: Ten percent of ticket revenue from Phoebe in Wonderland will be donated to the Taiwan Tourette Family Association. Phoebe in Wonderland is part of a mini film festival screening at SPOT — Taipei Film House (台北光點), 18 Zhongshan N Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市中山北路二段18號). The festival includes Small Voices and 8. Schedule times can be found at www.spot.org.tw.
PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND
FELICITY HUFFMAN (HILLARY LICHTEN), ELLE FANNING (PHOEBE LICHTEN), PATRICIA CLARKSON (MISS DODGER), BILL PULLMAN (PETER LICHTEN), BAILEE MADISON (OLIVIA LICHTEN), CAMPBELL SCOTT (PRINCIPAL DAVIS), IAN COLLETTI (JAMIE)
Until this summer, when the idea of hiking the length of the island first occurred to me, I didn’t even know that Cijin (旗津) had been a peninsula until 1967. That’s when diggers and dredgers severed Cijin from Taiwan’s “mainland,” because the authorities wished to create a southern entrance to Kaohsiung’s fast expanding port. The island is just under 9km long, but a bit of research quickly convinced me that a south-to-north trek wasn’t a good idea. The southern third of Cijin is dominated by container-lifting cranes, warehouses and other facilities off-limits to the public. Dunhe Street (敦和街) forms the boundary between
As if the climbs and views and snacks and companions of cycling in Taiwan aren’t sufficient, the GPS-generation of route-planners are now using apps such as Strava and Endomondo to create works of art as they ride. One such is nicknamed the Dove Road of Sijhih (汐鴿路), a 25km ride that follows the riverside bike path from the Nangang-Neihu Bridge (南湖橋) to New Taipei City’s Sijhih District (汐止), climbs around 400m up the Sijhih-Shiding Road (汐碇路), before dropping back down past Academia Sinica to generate a very dove-like pattern. Originally called Kippanas by indigenous Ketagalan people and transliterated into Hoklo (more commonly
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a way urban households can obtain healthy produce, while helping to build a more sustainable farming sector in Taiwan. King Hsin-i’s (金欣儀) transformation from advertising copywriter to social entrepreneur began in 2008, when she visited a rice farmer who practiced pesticide-free agriculture. “He explained that we have to leave space for other species. At the same time, I realized that while big companies have budgets to spread their messages, farmers have few chances to tell the public about their beautiful concepts,” she recalls. Inspired, she quit her job and traveled throughout rural Taiwan for a year. King went
If ever there was a reason to be inside on Mid-Autumn Festival, even for just an hour or so, while still celebrating the natural world, Cheng Tsung-lung (鄭宗龍) has provided one with his first full-length work for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) as artistic director, Sounding Light (定光). Judging by the excerpt performed for the press last week, Cheng shows he can be just as minimalistic as his mentor, troupe founder Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), while still forging his own unique path. Just as he did with last year’s Lunar Halo (毛月亮), his final work as director of Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2), Cheng