Investigating the indie film
When one randomly picks independent films at a video store, they can expect to view events such as a virgin birth, an affectionate criminal and a host of other surprises.
Somersault portrays the story of an emotionally disturbed 15-year-old named Heidi (Abbie Cornish) who totters dangerously between adolescence and adulthood. Early in the film, she makes an ill-advised move toward her mother’s boyfriend. Once this is discovered, she runs away to a remote ski town. There, Heidi begins a new life and falls hard for Joe (Sam Worthington), a rich landowner’s son with no clear direction in life. Both troubled, they begin a complex sexual relationship – one that means the world to Heidi, but hardly as much to Joe.
Heidi can only be described as a paradox – she leads a self-destructive lifestyle, yet is gentle and vulnerable. As Heidi takes the viewer on her journey, one can’t help but search for what’s behind her eyes – what has made her so different, so unlike other girls her age. Viewers will be drawn in by its vibrancy and a tenderness that is difficult to ignore.
For a cold-hearted criminal, stealing a woman’s car is reason to celebrate. But when that criminal discovers a month-old baby cooing in the backseat, the victorious feeling rapidly withers, and a quest for redemption begins. Such is the story of Tsotsi, a film about desperation and hope in the most miserable circumstances.
Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) spends his days mugging people as casually as one would exchange handshakes. Discovering the infant evokes a remarkable transformation within Tsotsi, from a hard thug to the baby’s protective guardian.
The film is set on the edges of Johannesburg, South Africa, a poverty-stricken environment where Tsotsi once roamed with other runaway children. The characters are excellently portrayed, from the criminal himself to the infant’s mother, who is bound to a wheelchair after being shot by Tsotsi.
Though it’s the main focus, the film isn’t all drama – a bit of comedy manages to peek out here and there. For example, Tsotsi creates a makeshift diaper out of newspaper and tries to quiet the baby with his horrifically erratic dance moves.
Initial paradigms of Tsotsi will shift to more empathetic ones as he goes on this powerful journey and he is revealed to be a broken individual with a horrific past.
Sexual intercourse is no longer necessary in order to become pregnant. Neither is artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization. Just ask Magdalena (Emily Rios), the main character in QuinceaÃ±era, who finds herself with child even though she is technically a virgin.
The film is about 14-year-old Magdalena’s transition from worrying about her impending quinceaÃ±era – a traditional celebration marking the passage to womanhood for Latinas – to the more pressing matter of her mysterious pregnancy. She seeks refuge at her elderly uncle’s house, where her cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) – who has been cast out by his family for being gay – also lives. The three become a family of outsiders, relying on one another for support and encouragement.
The young girl’s pregnancy isn’t the only plot element being stirred, however. The property that Magdalena’s uncle has lived on for 28 years is purchased by Gary (David W. Ross) and James (Jason L. Wood), an affluent gay couple. Gary and James welcome Carlos, and the trio soon becomes the couple’s plaything.
The film is set in Echo Park, a rapidly gentrifying barrio of Los Angeles, which adds to its aesthetic. The only bone to pick is that the film’s focus can be uncertain at times – but aside from that, it is a gem.
Sometimes, it’s hard to sit through one film. But to sit through three films in one is a true test of one’s patience, almost to the point that one may be ready to snap by the end of the cinematic experience.
Three Times, a three-part film from Taiwanese director and co-writer Hou Hsiao-Hsien, is about the quest for love in different eras. The movie is beautifully filmed, with slow camera shots that linger and intricate details that are tastefully displayed. All three segments star two of Asia’s most attractive actors, Shu Qi and Chang Chen, who play the lovebirds.
The first installment, titled “The Times for Love,” is set in 1966. Chen, a young man enlisted in the army, falls for May, a young woman who works as a billiards hall hostess. Chen leaves for the army and keeps in touch with her through letters. When he returns from his service, he discovers that May has relocated and he sets off in search of her. This installment, about 40 minutes long, is the most likable, though the first scene draws on for about half that time. In essence, this story is about love and the perseverance to find it.
The second installment, “The Times of Liberty,” goes back to 1911 and is set in a brothel during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. This is by far the longest and most boring tale. Though the pace of this installment resembles the movement of molasses, it is beautiful due to the fact that it is shot as silent cinema, something nearly absent from today’s films.
Three Times’ last installment, “The Times for Youth,” is set in 2005. The story follows four young adults as they struggle through their dysfunctional relationships. Sex and text messages seem to be the only fibers between them.
All three segments are done in completely different moods, making it impossible to like each one equally. Though they’re all vastly different, gentleness prevails throughout all three. There’s much to rave about in the film, but its progression is slow enough to lose its focus.