Friday, October 22, 2010

LFF: Female Empowerment

Still from PuzzleA spate of films has focussed on the put-upon woman, the wife or mother who is taken for granted, the servile worker or the discarded woman. Interesting.

Among these is the Argentine drama, Puzzle, in which Maria spends her 50th birthday party picking up after her nearest and dearest. It is only the next morning that she gets around to opening her presents, among them a jigsaw puzzle that catches her attention, with its image of Nefertiti. Perhaps seeking a bit of the queen's power, she immerses herself in the world of puzzles, eventually hooking up with (in multiple senses) another puzzle aficionado. Beautifully shot in rich sepia tones and with a subtle performance by Maria Onetto as Maria, this is a quiet film to savour.

Not so the knockabout French farce, Copacabana, featuring Isabelle Huppert as a boho out-of-work mother beset with an ungrateful snob of a daughter (Huppert's daughter Lolita Chammah) and seeking to make amends by taking work in unlovely Ostend flogging timeshares. The mother-daughter relationship is fraught with perils and Huppert is clearly enjoying throwing herself into various undignified scenarios that mortify her priggish offspring.

Sawako Decides is an odd film, ostensibly a comedy but for the first two-thirds a rather grim depiction of the life of a Japanese slacker, Sawako, who leaves an unfulfilling life in big-city Tokyo to move back to her small village to salvage the family clam-packing business. In tow are her unbelievably dull boyfriend and his semi-mute daughter. The early scenes of Sawako behaving much as a doormat are rather excruciating and one waits and waits for the promised "female empowerment" of the press notes. But.... two scenes very late on are worth the wait. One, in which Sawako rewrites the company song for the female workers to sing, is a moment of cinematic genius and should be excerpted as a music video. The other, the denouement, features much scenery chewing and unorthodox distribution of human remains. Grotesque humour, female rivalry and a rather twee central performance from Hikari Mitsushima make this a tough but rewarding journey.

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