Painted Skin: The Resurrection (轉生術)
Films with the word “resurrection” in their title often suggest a lifeless remake or extension of a franchise. In the case of Painted Skin: The Resurrection this is undoubtedly the case. Gordon Chan’s (陳嘉上) Painted Skin (畫皮) in 2008, was a huge success and this second film tries to get a little more mileage out of the classic story taken from Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (聊齋誌異). Directing duties have been taken over by the hyper-stylish Mongolian-born director Wuershan (烏爾善), who came to prominence with the Golden Horse-winning The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman (刀見笑). Wuershan has created a luscious effects-driven movie. As with the original, the film stars Chen Kun (陳坤) and Zhou Xun (周迅), but they have no chemistry as general and a fox demon intent on benefiting from his star-crossed romance with the disfigured Princess Jin, played by Zhao Wei (趙薇). Visually stunning, but without heart.
Based on a popular novel by Mitsuyo Kakuta with a screenplay by Satoko Okudera, this Japanese psychological drama shows the skill of director Izuru Narushima, who manages to take sensational and melodramatic material and present it in a flat, almost documentary style that heightens rather than blunts the emotions on display. A number of fine performances, particularly from Hiromi Nagasaku, who plays a young woman who steals the young child of her married lover and engages in a long-distance rivalry with the child’s birth mother (played by Yoko Moriguchi) before she is finally tracked down by police and put on trial for kidnap. Told in a complex arrangement of flashbacks, the film also tells the story of the child, Erina, who becomes deeply attached to her kidnapper, who shows her nothing but affection and love during their four years together. Narushima, despite the title, refuses to provide any kind of easy redemption for all the emotional suffering that he depicts.
Based on an account in the novel Crime by attorney/novelist Ferdinand von Schirach, Bliss tells of love on the harsh Berlin streets between two of society’s disenfranchised: Irena (Alba Rohrwacher), an illegal immigrant who has seen her parents killed and has herself been gang raped during ethnic conflicts in Macedonia, and Kalle (Vinzenz Kiefer), a hard-living, but disconcertingly philosophical, German punk who sleeps rough. Director Doris Doerrie mixes harsh realism with moments of cloying sentiment in a manner that can be profoundly irritating, and resorts to heavy-handed use of the soundtrack and stylistic tricks to build up the emotions in a story that would be quite powerful enough without such enhancements.
Director Christophe Honore works from his own screenplay about Madeline, a shopgirl who earns a few extra dollars as a call girl. She meets the man she loves while on the job, gets married, gives birth to a daughter, watches her marriage fall apart, and then sees her daughter making the same sort of mistakes that led her to her current lot. Madeline is played by Ludivine Sagnier as a young girl, and by Catherine Deneuve as a mature woman. Her daughter is played by Chiara Mastroianni, who is a real revelation in this role. There are hints of Pedro Almodovar in Honore’s delight in watching the ways women define themselves; then there are also songs, which can be off-putting if you expected to watch a drama and find yourself floundering in a musical. The quality of the cast makes up for much, but watching Deneuve burst into song produces the same kind of dissonance as Meryl Streep getting lyrical in Mamma Mia!.