Dragonfly Eyes (2017)

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Watched a very haunting film at the Singapore International Film Festival last night, and need to get it out in words.

Dragonfly Eyes is the directorial debut of acclaimed Chinese artist Xu Bing. It’s hard to classify the film into any genre, but I would say it is definitely avant-garde (for its groundbreaking techniques), and falls into the categories of mystery/thriller.

The most striking thing about this film is that it is made completely with raw footage from surveillance cameras, web cams and live streams on the Internet – evidently a postmodernist film that immediately makes one think of issues such as the Big Brother of George Orwell’s 1984, the dearth of privacy in today’s age, and the footprint we leave online in the absurd, ever-present world of the Internet.

The story was assembled after sifting through 10,000 hours of footage they had collected, and reducing it to 81 minutes of random arbitrary scenes ranging from an accidental drowning, a plane crash, to prayers in a temple. The story is pieced together with the help of voiceovers of the main characters. According to the editor Matthieu Laclau, there was no fixed script and the story was improvised along the way depending on the type of footage that they got.

Storyline:

Qing Ting, a young woman, leaves the Buddhist temple on the hills for the city, where she finds a job as a worker in a cow factory and meets agricultural technician Ke Fan. Ke Fan falls in love with her to an obsessive extent, and goes too far when he assaults a rich lady who bullies Qing Ting, and ends up in jail. When he is released, he finds out that Qing Ting has changed her identity and undergone plastic surgery, and is now Xiao Xiao, a popular online celebrity on live stream. He desperately wants to see her again and attempts to track her down.

 

Click READ MORE below if you’re interested in analysis of the film from the perspective of cinema studies.

 

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Twinsters (2015)

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Watched this documentary film tonight, and I can say it is the most heartwarming and touching, yet light-hearted documentary I’ve ever seen.

Twinsters is a real-life story about a pair of twins, Samantha Futerman and Anaïs Bordier, born in Korea but separated at birth and adopted by different families in America and France respectively.

Anaïs was then a fashion design student living in London, and Samantha an American actress. They didn’t know of each other’s existence until a friend of Anaïs showed her a YouTube video featuring Samantha. What ensued was probably the most mind-blowing revelation that changed both of their lives.

I’ve always been intrigued and curious about the inseparable and profound bond between twins that transcends that of ordinary siblings of different ages. Anaïs described how she grew up with her adopted parents as an only child, and always felt as if something was missing, as though she was always waiting for something to happen and would be really sad if it didn’t – although she hadn’t known what yet.

This sounds like how couples sometimes describe finding their soul mate – it is like finding a missing half of one’s soul. But maybe having the blood ties of kinship makes the experience of this connection even stronger, and dearer.

The film was actually crowd-funded on Kickstarter, and it’s heartening to see how the film, with its maddening amount of raw footage (I can only imagine the editing process), turned out. It feels really honest and vulnerable and emotional, and the fact that the twins discovering each other’s existence was made possible by social media makes everything – from the hand-held footage and live updates of their film/relationship progress online – even more powerful.

If I had watched this film two years ago when they made it, or possibly followed their story even earlier, it would have felt so powerful – a homage to how social media and technology, despite its many shortcomings, have literally transformed and uplifted lives.

The film also touches briefly on the idea of nature vs nurture, whether our lives and personalities are determined more by biology or the environment we are brought up in. This is even more relevant when it comes to twins, especially Samantha and Anaïs, who were brought up in two different environments and not given the chance to grow up together.

The thought of being separated from the twin at birth seems so poignant, yet Anaïs says, she wouldn’t change a thing about how things turned out and unfolded. It was also particularly touching how she described feeling lonely and alone all her life, and then not only does she find her twin, she is embraced by her twin’s family.

Samantha also encourages her to step out of her fear of facing the past, for while Samantha was fortunate to grow up in a open-minded and nurturing environment with two brothers, Anaïs was an only child and faced prejudice about being adopted and looking nothing like her parents.

Both embark on a meaningful trip back to their home country, South Korea, and reunite with their respective foster mothers who cared for them after their birth mother left them at birth, until they were adopted. They attend a conference with other South Korean adoptees feel, for the first time, that they are part of something so much larger.

This film, above all else, is a celebration of love in all its forms. As Anaïs says, she realised that out there in the world, even in the past before she knew it and now, she is loved and embraced by so many people. I guess no matter how tough life can be, there is always love. And there will always be love.

Twinsters is available here on YouTube, I highly encourage everyone who reads this to watch it, if you’re not tempted to already. Even or especially if you are feeling sad, their crazy amazing story and love will definitely bring some light and warmth into your heart.

Cinema & consciousness

In the science fiction anime film Paprika (2006) by Satoshi Kon, Paprika is Doctor Chiba’s alter-ego which she uses to treat her psychiatric patients by entering their dreams. They are polar opposites in personality. This alter-ego is a symbol of Chiba’s subconscious.

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“Have you ever thought you were a part of me, instead?”

When Paprika says that to Chiba, it is a sign of the subconscious mind expressing its repressed emotions and desires and gaining control over the rational self. and in the larger world of the film, of dreams and reality merging.

The world of dreams is portrayed as dangerous because it is a place of great instability and chaos. Nothing is certain, even the most rational and cool-headed of people are destabilised.

Who knows? Maybe we are all part of our subconscious – instead of the other way round – falsely thinking that our conscious minds are agents of free will. Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis left a great impact on psychology.

The amazing thing is how film and cinema could be linked so closely to the study of the human mind – this connection fascinated me endlessly when I was learning about film theories in college.

Which is why films like Paprika were made. Or maybe even the Matrix series.

Paprika: Where cinema and dreams meet

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Watched the classic Japanese animation film Paprika yesterday at The Projector. I’m using this image here because I realise most of the movie posters look kind of creepy – and the whole movie kind of is that bizarre.

There are so many dimensions and messages in this film, but perhaps as someone with academic background in film studies, I was able to read it on a more critical level. Themes found in this film: blurring of lines between dreams and reality, the allusion of movies to dreams and movie-watching to dreaming, the subconscious mind, trauma.

I actually watched this for the second time and understood it slightly better, but couldn’t say completely. It is that kind of film that demands re-watching, but it’s also easy for audiences to feel frustrated and simply give up on understanding what’s going. But to me, that was the whole point of it. The first time I watched it I was questioning the logic and concerned with plot developments – who’s the mastermind, is this scene dream or reality etc. But watching it again helped me appreciate the film more on the meta levels.

As the film progresses, the lines between dreams and reality get even more blurred, and we as the audience feel increasingly confused and disoriented. But that submission – the relinquishing of control on reality and knowledge is important to truly understand, ironically, the film’s true message.

Just as we slowly fall asleep and descend into the deeper layers of sleep and dreaming, watching this film and seeing it morph into increasingly bizarre and surrealistic imagery, is like the act of dreaming itself. In fact, we leave the theatre feeling as though the whole movie had occurred in our dreams. But why not? If there was a way to project our dreams into images, isn’t this how they would look like?

Also, there is the recurring motif of alluding movies to dream. Because the inspector character abandoned his friend halfway through making their film, and his friend passed away shortly after, he keeps having recurring nightmares of himself killing his friend in a hallway. When he finally manages to overcome his guilt and trauma, the movie ends with him buying a movie ticket at the cinema, finally overcoming his long-time aversion to films and the cinema too.

That closing scene is also impactful because this movie essentially ends with a character going to watch a movie, as though bringing us back to the start, like an endless loop on repeat. Again, isn’t that what a dream feels like? We never know where it starts or ends do we?

There is another scene where the inspector (although his story is kind of a subplot but I find myself very fascinated and even convinced that there is a deeper message – if not why would the movie close with him?) takes on various personas – Tarzan with his lover, a detective wresting with a criminal, a superhero killing the villain

This too, is another allusion of cinema to dreams, because when we watch films, we identify with characters or stories that we aspire to. In a way, enjoying idealised versions of ourselves on screen is an expression of our subconscious mind, one of the reasons, it can be argued, why Hollywood movies are so popular, with happy endings after a conflict, and a beautiful cast.

On so many levels, isn’t watching a film like dreaming? And when we all share the same screen together in the darkened movie theatre, aren’t we all sharing a collective dream?

I’ll leave this fascinating image here, the scene where dreams and reality, dreams and movies converge.

Paprika

Paprika is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever watched, although it is animation, but perhaps also because it is animation – for the medium allows so many limitations and boundaries of live-action movies to be broken.

Speaking of boundaries…

Filmography

  • Thelma & Louise, Ridley Scott
  • Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry
  • Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola
  • Boyhood, Richard Linklater
  • Blue is the Warmest Colour, Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan
  • Moonlight, Barry Jenkins
  • Playtime, Jacques Tati

Asian

  • Eat Drink Man Woman, Ang Lee
  • Taipei Story, Edward Yang
  • Together Apart, K. Rajagopal
  • Twinsters, Samantha Futerman & Ryan Miyamoto
  • Like Father, Like Son, Hirokazu Kore-eda
  • I wish (Kiseki), Hirokazu Kore-eda

Iranian films

  • About Elly, Asghar Farhadi
  • Taste of Cherry, Abbas Kiarostami
  • Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami
  • Ten, Abbas Kiarostami
  • Close-up, Abbas Kiarostami (rewatch)
  • The Apple, Samira Makhmalbaf
  • The Song of Sparrows, Majid Majidi

Animation

  • Your Name, Makoto Shinkai
  • L’illustioniste, Sylvain Chomet