Prima Donna (當家花旦)
A documentary following the preparations for the 15th anniversary performance by the Snow White Entertaining Troupe (白雪綜藝劇團), an amateur troupe that has established itself as a nonpareil of local drag shows. The four men who are at the center of the show, all have daytime jobs, but when it comes to celebrating 15 years behind the footlights, they take every aspect, from the shade of eyeliner to the choreographing of the light show, with the utmost seriousness. The enduring popularity of this drag show provides unexpected insight into normally conservative Taiwan, and although there is something of the behind the scenes concert movie about it, Prima Donna is much more about being, and expressing, who you are.
The Triangle Land (幸福三角地)
A founding figure of Taiwan New Wave cinema, director-cinematographer Chen Kun-ho (陳坤厚) made several important works including Growing Up (小畢的故事, 1983), His Matrimony (結婚, 1985) and Osmanthus Alley (桂花巷, 1987). His most recent film is a venture in nostalgia for a rural Taiwan that is gradually disappearing, telling the story of a young boy growing up in a dysfunctional family who realizes that he must grow up fast if he is to escape the cycle of acrimony and shame that surrounds him and win the love of a new US-born student at his school. Heavy on sentiment and manipulative in manner, the cast list of young celebrities will still draw audiences.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Beasts of the Southern Wild has elicited words like “wondrous” and “magnificent” from critics, many of whom regard it as one of the best films of 2012. The heroine, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), is destined to be an icon of young adult culture together with the likes of Kaitness Everdeen of Hunger Games and Princess Mirida of Brave. Hushpuppy lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in a small community at the end of the world. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack, temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. Hushpuppy has to be strong to face these dangers as she embarks on a journey to find her mother. The flood of contemporary hot topics, from climate change to the importance of family might prove too much for some, but the film manages to avoid the worst pitfalls of moralizing tales.
Nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 2012 Oscars, Monsieur Lazhar has been sweeping up awards on the art-house festival circuit. The film explores the complex relationship between an Algerian immigrant, who is hired to replace a popular teacher who committed suicide in her classroom, and his students, teasing through the complex and fragile bonds of trust and respect that exist in a classroom. It also looks inward into the title character’s own experience of profound grief. The leading role is taken by Mohamed Fellag, whose performance has won lavish praise from critics for its sensitivity and humor (Fellag is a comedian and himself an exile from Algeria), and the film, written and directed by Philippe Falardeau gains much of its power from not asking specific questions, but rather simply looking at a situation with sympathy and humility.