For the first time in BIFF’s eighteen-year history, a foreign film will be screened for the opening ceremony. Bhutanese lama and filmmaker Khyentse Norbu’s third feature film, Vara: A Blessing will open the festival on October 3. Both the selection of the opening film and the fact that all 4,000 tickets sold out in just 43 seconds tell indicate the increasing importance of foreign films at BIFF. Here are five foreign film picks for BIFF 2013, based on hype and reviews, awards, and general buzz. For more on the 18th BIFF, including how the films are organized, tickets, and venues, be sure to check out my previous article, “Bring on BIFF!”
1. Vara: A Blessing, directed by Khyentse Norbu, Bhutan, 2013.
Running time: 96 min. Opening Film.
Based on the short story, “Rakta Aar Kanna” by Sunil Gangopadhyay, Vara: A Blessing tells the tale of two lovers through the traditional dance of Bharatanatyam. Set in a small village in India, a young woman named Lila falls in love with Shyam, a young man from a lower caste. As they grow close, Lila begins to believe that Shyam is the Hindu god Krishna, a god to whom she and her mother Devadasi have dedicated their lives. When her romantic relationship is discovered by the village chief Subha, Lila decides to sacrifice her happiness for her mother and for Shyam. Vara: A Blessing uses dance to transcend social class, truth, and beauty, one gorgeous frame at a time.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by the Coen brothers, USA/France, 2013.
Winner of the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix. Running time: 105 min. World Cinema section.
One of BIFF’s most highly-anticipated foreign films, Inside Llewyn Davis follows a singer-songwriter and his misadventures in New York City, 1961. Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) struggles against both the obstacles of big city life and those of his own making. In hopes of auditioning for music mogul Bud Grossman, Llewyn journeys from NYC’s artsy Greenwich Village to Chicago and back again. Directed by the Academy Award-winning Coen Brothers, the drama Inside Llewyn Davis offers up the sights and sounds of another era for a modern audience with musical performances by Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake. John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund also star.
3. The Unforgiven, directed by Lee Sang-il, Japan, 2013.
Running Time: 135 min. Gala Presentation section.
Another eagerly-awaited film, Lee Sang-il’s Unforgiven is a reimagining of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning western of the same name. Unlike Eastwood’s version, hero Jubei (Ken Watanabe, Inception) is not a gun-slinging journeyman in the Wild West but a retired samurai making his way as a farmer in Meiji-period, Japan. Audiences are buzzing: can the film stand alone or will it simply be written off as another remake? Dark themes of honour, revenge, and defeat against an endless cycle of violence make the film all the more alluring.
4. Adèle: Chapters 1 & 2 (or Blue is the Warmest Color), directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, France, 2013.
Winner of the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or. Running time: 179 min. World Cinema section.
Praised by critics yet surrounded by accusations of unfair working conditions and criticized for its graphic sexual content, Adèle: Chapters 1 & 2 has captured the attention of audiences around the world after its explosive debut at the Cannes Film Festival. The film follows 15-year-old Adèle (newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos) as she becomes involved in a complicated, decade-long love affair with blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux), a confident art student from a nearby college. Pushed to their limits by director Kechiche, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are praised for their extraordinary performances in this touching and intense film about love, coming-of-age, and self-discovery.
5. Bends, directed by Flora Lau, Hong Kong, 2013.
Running time: 95 min. A Window on Asian Cinema section.
Director Flora Lau’s debut feature explores the tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China by investigating the intertwining and troubled lives of an affluent Hong Kong housewife, Mrs. Li (Carina Lau) and her chauffeur Fai (Chen Kun) from Shenzen in mainland China. Mrs. Li’s husband’s disappearance and subsequent bankruptcy turn her life upside-down while Fai struggles to get his pregnant wife into Hong Kong for the impending birth of their child. The frustrations of the two characters perfectly mirror the disconnect between Hong Kong and mainland China, acted out with vigour by the two of China’s best performers.
The Busan International Film Festival opens Thursday, October 3 and continues until Saturday, October 12. Tickets and further information can be found at the BIFF website.