I'm swamped today as I continue to get ready for my final days in my current job, so I haven't had time to write any of the several posts I've intended over the past couple days. However, I went to the first night of the Walter Reade Theater's "Film Comment Selects" series, which is dedicated to films that have yet to receive distribution in the US. Usually, many of the films still don't have deals by the time they screen. That is not the case with the two movies I saw last night: Oldboy (which won the Grand Prix for director Park Chan-wook at Cannes last summer) and Clean (from director Olivier Assayas and staring Maggie Cheung).
Hopefully I'll find time to address both films in more detail later. In brief, I was slightly disappointed by Clean,. I'm no Assayas expert, but I've seen several of his films, and this one is by far the most conventional story, especially with its reasonably happy ending. It's the anti-Demonlover in many ways, although the two films share the quality of having incredibly abrupt endings that in their own ways aren't that satisfying. It's worth seeing, if only for the phenomenal Cheung (who won an acting prize at Cannes last summer for this performance), but it didn't blow me away. Palm Pictures will release Clean later this year.
On the other hand, Oldboy blew me the eff away! If Filmbrain has ever been right about a movie (as opposed to his feelings about Mr. Gallo), it's this one. Wow wow wow! A revenge tale with many twists and turns (I actually figured out the big one before the end, but doing so didn't lessen the impact to me), Oldboy is most definitely not for the feint of heart. It isn't as graphically violent as I had been led to believe, but there are at least three specific scenes that are very hard to watch and a bit gorey. I didn't find the last shot of the movie to be "so haunting, so disturbing, that it most certainly deserves a place in the 'greatest closing shots' pantheon," as Filmbrain did, but that's not a criticism of the film as much as my refraining from hyperbole. The last shot has its own dramatic power; it just didn't knock me out of my seat, nor did it need to.
I actually saw Oldboy as being like the evil twin to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- told as a dark revenge tale. There are issues of love and memory and loss just like in Eternal Sunshine. Don't get me wrong – these are completely different movies, and if you're an Eternal Sunshine fan, I only suggest you see Oldboy if you can handle a bit of blood. But there are parallel themes and even events which, when the credits started rolling, made me think of Michel Gondry's brilliant film. The film's are also similar in one other respect: Park's visual style and storytelling techniques are not the norm – he brings a fundamental understanding of the craft of filmmaking and even some possible allusions to earlier influences to this work.
Indie distributor Tartan USA will give Oldboy a limited release sometime in March or April which means if you're in New York, LA or several other major cities, you'll be able to see it. Otherwise, I'm sure the future DVD will be well worth the rental. And although I will caution again that there are a few scenes here that not everyone will want to see, this is the kind of fresh and exciting filmmaking that should not be missed.
Hopefully, both of these films are representative of the quality of this year's "Film Comment Selects" lineup. I know I'll be trying to check-out more in order to see for myself.