Over the next few weeks, world-renowned auteurs from Chinese-speaking regions will congregate at this year’s Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival (台北金馬影展), which opens today, to celebrate a special occasion. They include Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) and Ang Lee (李安); Ann Hui (許鞍華) and Johnnie To (杜琪峰) of Hong Kong and Lou Ye (婁燁) from China.
“The Golden Horse Awards (金馬獎) [the festival’s much-older sister event] is celebrating its fiftieth birthday, and we wanted to do something special. We invited these masters to celebrate the big birthday with us by showing their works and discussing their art directly with audiences,” says Emma Chen (陳曉珮), the festival’s program director.
The filmmakers were asked to pick one film from their oeuvre. A one-hour talk will be held following the screening of each film. Among them, Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮) will present Stray Dogs (郊遊), his latest feature-length work which uses the director’s signature minimalist style and his longtime muse Lee Kang-sheng (李康生) to weave together a non-narrative tale revolving around a homeless family.
From China, celebrated director Jia Zhangke (賈樟柯) examines the social and political upheavals in China through the stories of four characters in A Touch of Sin (天注定), his new Cannes-winning film.
Established in 1979, the Golden Horse has long become the country’s foremost cinema showcase. An extensive lineup of more than 170 features, documentary, animation, short and experimental films will be shown this year, and are divided into 16 categories. Under the helm of Chen, who became program director this year after working at the festival for nearly a decade, this year’s festival focuses more on up-and-coming filmmakers and films that aren’t afraid to challenge audiences.
“The mission of the [festival] used to be introducing local audiences to big-name directors. But that period has long passed. Now we can see almost anything in Taiwan. Consequently, I think the festival needs to place more focus on new directors and films that are different and unique,” she says.
New talents, different viewpoints
Harmony Lessons, for example, is 29-year-old Kazakh writer-director Emir Baigazin’s debut feature which was selected for the top-tier Berlinale’s official competition this year. Set in a desolate village on the wild steppes of Kazakhstan, the darkly poetic film centers on Aslan, a 13-year-old boy who enjoys pursuing bizarre scientific hobbies such as electrifying cockroaches and, in the face of bullying at school, turns dangerously violent.
Credited as the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, Wadjda is the debut feature of Haifaa al-Mansour, reportedly the first Saudi female director. It offers viewers a glimpse into what women face in an oppressive regime through an engaging story of an 11-year-old Saudi girl determined to own a bicycle even though riding bikes is deemed improper for girls in the patriarchal country.
Among the works that challenge conventions and push limits in terms of form and/or content, Of Good Report, a dark thriller from South Africa about a high school teacher’s lustful obsession with a 16-year-old female student,
Of Good Report, a South African movie that challenges both conventions and cinematic form, created considerable buzz when it was selected to open the Durban International Film Festival in July. The dark thriller tells the story of a high school teacher’s lustful obsession with a 16-year-old female student. However, instead of the movie, Durban festivalgoers were greeted with an on-screen message informing them that the film was banned because the country’s censor deemed it child pornography.
Chosen as the Netherlands’ entry to the Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film Award, Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman ventures into unsettling territory with an allegory about punishing the upper middle class. Meanwhile, Chinese director Wang Bing (王兵) returns with Till Madness Do Us Apart (瘋愛), his nearly four-hour-long study of the dwellers in a mental institute sealed off from the outside world.
Directors in focus
But probably no one is as extreme as legendary cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, one of the three directors highlighted at this year’s Golden Horse. Noted for cult masterpieces El Topo (1970), The Holy Mountain (1973) and Santa Sangre (1989), Jodorowsky’s filmic world feels and looks like an acid trip stuffed with eccentrics, violent and surreal images, religious provocation and mysticism.
The retrospective program also includes the director’s first film Fando y Lis, an avant-garde adaptation of Spanish writer Fernando Arrabal’s surrealist play of the same title, and The Dance of Reality, the octogenarian Chilean filmmaker’s first feature in 23 years and an ode to his upbringing that is nothing short of bizarre and grotesque.
Brontis Jodorowsky, the director’s son and the lead actor in The Dance of Reality, will attend the festival to introduce local audiences to the senior Jodorowsky’s provocative cinema.
The festival also brings attention to two up-and-coming auteurs, Abdellatif Kechiche and Asghar Farhadi, and shows their oeuvres in their entirety. Kechiche has recently become a household name on the international film circuit with Blue is the Warmest Color, a story of lesbian love and the winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes. In The Secret of the Grain, the Tunisian-French director turns his lens to paint the rough life of a Tunisian immigrant family in a French port city on the Mediterranean coast.
From Oscar-winning A Separation to his latest work The Past, Iranian director Farhadi’s films often revolve around the motif of family to bring out the conflicts between individuals and society, the personal and the collective.
Chen points out that as the Golden Horse Awards is the most established film honoring Chinese-language cinema, the festival also tends to highlight movies made in Chinese-speaking regions, which take up one third of the entire lineup this year. Highlights include In the Dark, a supernatural thriller by Venice-winning director Yeo Joon-han from Malaysia, and Taiwanese genre filmmaker Lien Yi-chi’s (連奕琦) police comedy Sweet Alibis (甜蜜殺機).
Apart from film screenings, there is also an exhibition featuring rarely-shown costumes, artifacts and manuscripts used in Chinese-language classics. Items on display include the cheongsam worn by Maggie Cheung (張曼玉) in Center Stage (阮玲玉), an opium snuff bottle used by Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s (梁朝偉) character in Flowers of Shanghai (海上花) and the original manuscripts from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (臥虎藏龍) and Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (賽德克巴萊). The exhibition runs from Nov. 16 to Dec. 8 at the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park (松山文創園區).