The Face of Another (1966, Teshigahara Hiroshi)

Novelists make interesting screenwriters (though maybe not as much any more). When they adapt their own work, however, it might not be the best idea. The adaptation allows them to package their interpretation of themselves, as opposed to actually adapting a work from one medium to the next. The Face of Another, adapted by Abe Kôbô from his own novel, is a good example of how not to adapt a novel into a film. Besides including some decidedly bad visuals–not everything can be visualized for film and work in the context of a film, after all–he also made some really bad pacing decisions. The first hour of the film, about a man whose face is horribly scarred in an accident, drags along. It opens well with a scene between the man and his wife and the marriage scenes do play well in the film and should have been it’s secondary focus. However, most of the first hour is spent with the man (who is in bandages for that first hour, until he gets a life-like mask in the second) and his psychiatrist. The psychiatrist somehow becomes the film’s focus, which doesn’t fit….

What does fit the film is the rather novelistic juxtaposition between the man and a pretty young girl with a radiation burn (from Nagasaki) on her face. She appears in the second half and the film switches focus a few times. While he’s desperately trying to fix his psychical appearance amid people who really don’t care (except his wife), she’s kind and good and trying to help people even though child point and scream. In her scenes, there’s a real sense of the post-war condition. His scenes aren’t just missing that setting, they’re missing any subtext. The psychiatrist’s mad dreams of lost identity are a poor substitute for anything going on with the man below the surface. Even the relationship with the wife, which disappears for a good forty minutes only to come back with some promise, fizzles in the end. The end really fizzles as the film gets visually theatrical and Abe keeps novelistic elements film is incapable of presenting.

The acting is excellent, which makes the film’s faults all the more glaring. If this cast couldn’t iron them out, they must be bad. The scarred girl, Irie Miki, never appeared in any other films. The lead, Nakadai Tatsuya, has an impressive emotional range given the first the bandages, then the mask, which stays static, and the character is too shallow. As the film’s configured, the suffering wife (Kyō Machiko) should have been the protagonist, but obviously she isn’t. Only the psychiatrist, Hira Mikijiro, gives a less than stellar performance in one of the main roles, but since his character changes so much from scene to scene, it’s not really his fault.

When I started Face of Another, I was expecting something great, but as it drug on and on–and particularly when it failed to stay on the good course it found in the second hour–I really wondered whether or not a novelist should be adapting his own work. Especially Abe (though I’ve only read one of his novels), who seems to have a good setup then a poor resolution.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Teshigahara Hiroshi; written by Abe Kôbô, based on his novel; director of photography, Segewa Hiroshi; edited by Shuzui Fusako; music by Takemitsu Toru; production designer, Awazu Kiyoshi; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nakadai Tatsuya (Okuyama), Hira Mikijiro (Doctor), Kishida Kyoko (Nurse), Kyo Machiko (Mrs. Okuyama), Okada Eiji (Director) and Irie Miki (Girl).


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Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984, Michael Radford)

For well over an hour of Nineteen Eighty-Four, nothing much happens. John Hurt edits articles, writes in his journal, does his exercises, talks to people, meets a girl… I suppose the romance should have accelerated Nineteen Eighty-Four’s pace or gotten it moving, but it really didn’t. Instead, the film just continued on its gradual pace. More than any other film I’ve watched on video–not seen projected, but had stop and start control over–Nineteen Eighty-Four just played on, like I was powerless to stop it. While the film is mediocre, Radford’s got some great visuals, Roger Deakins shooting it, and incredible production design, but it never feels like a film. It never feels like a two dimensional experience. For that first hour and twenty minutes, the film is captivating.

Then, instead of being a story about an average guy, it becomes a story of an average guy in trouble. Obviously, this plot development is from the novel, so it’s not fair to gripe about Radford’s adherence to it, but he really didn’t have any excuse to make the first part so lullingly compelling and the conclusion so uninteresting. For the first part, I never thought of another film. In the second–Radford borrows its fades so what choice did I have but remember it–comparisons to THX 1138 started popping up in my mind. There’s a terrible–painful to watch–torture sequence and it actually re-orientates the film. Radford gets his pacing back, something he lost for ten or fifteen minutes. It might be the conclusion’s settings. They’re all inside. Nineteen Eighty-Four worked best when there was some daylight coming in.

I imagine the novel explains a bit more of the setting (from a glance at the Wikipedia article, I can tell it does), but it doesn’t matter in the film. Radford does an excellent job of making understanding what’s going on irrelevant to the film. He gets a lot of help from John Hurt, who’s perfect in the passive role. Hurt’s the reason the film’s so compelling while maintaining such a distance. As the love interest, Suzanna Hamilton is excellent too. Somehow, though, I knew she hadn’t gone on to anything. She was so good she’d either have to have disappeared or be recognizable. The film’s powerhouse performance (and yes, I did think about that adjective before using it) is Richard Burton as the torturer. Burton’s great.

In the end, my reaction to Nineteen Eighty-Four is entirely blasé and I’m sure that reaction isn’t the one I’m supposed to be having….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Radford; screenplay by Radford, based on the novel by George Orwell; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Tom Priestley; music by Dominic Muldowney; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Simon Perry; released by Atlantic Releasing Corporation.

Starring John Hurt (Winston Smith), Richard Burton (O’Brien), Suzanna Hamilton (Julia), Cyril Cusack (Charrington), Gregor Fisher (Parsons), James Walker (Syme), Andrew Wilde (Tillotson) and David Trevena (Tillotson’s Friend).


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The Foul King (2000, Kim Ji-woon)

The Foul King is supposed to be a comedy, but I only laughed once, about an hour in. It’s not about South Korea’s leading stand-up comedian (which I thought it was). It’s about a wrestler who cheats (and gets fouls for that cheating). The film’s structured not around a traditional sports movie, instead it’s about a bank teller who finds himself in the wrestling ring. Except we don’t really know he finds himself, because the film’s storytelling is so distant, it’s hard to care about him.

The first hour of the film is spent abusing the narrator–he’s got a boss who beats him, he gets beat up by thugs, his father can’t stand him, his only friend avoids him, he’s no good at his job–all the time building toward his wrestling success. The wrestling success may or may not get there in the end, it’s not clear. From what I can tell, the audience is supposed to be laughing, not particularly caring about the characters or the film’s content. Song Kang-ho is a big Korean star, but his performance is adequate at best. There are no good or bad performances in Foul King, actually. The film doesn’t care about having good or bad performances, it cares about surveying its “story.” If it weren’t for the measured film editing–shots last twenty seconds or so–Foul King would run about thirty-five minutes. There’s an entire subplot involving the boss trying to corrupt the friend, which may or may not be an attempt at juxtaposition, but it’s so poorly handled–it’s a strain to figure out what’s going on–it fails miserably.

I just realized I’ve never seen Song in a good film, in fact, he’s in about thirty percent of the bad Korean films I’ve seen. I wonder if there’s a connection. At least the final wrestling match moves, as the rest of the film doesn’t.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kim Ji-woon; director of photography, Hong Kyung-pyo; edited by Goh Im-pyo; music by UhUhBoo Project; produced by Oh Jung-wan and Lee Mi-yeon; released by bom Film.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Dae-ho), Jang Jin-young (Jang Min-young), Kim Su-ro (Yu Bee-ho) and Shin Goo (Dae-ho’s father).


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I Capture the Castle (2003, Tim Fywell)

Do the British have an unending supply of novels about wise-beyond-their-years young women (unjustly poor or ordinary, of course) who have slightly dim older sisters who can’t see love in front of their eyes while all the time these younger women suffer for their sisters’ happiness? It certainly seems so.

I Capture the Castle, the film, plays like a combination of Cold Comfort Farm and Pride & Prejudice. It’s an incredibly long film, filled with two and three minute scenes set days or weeks apart, and chock-full of bad performances. The lead, Romola Garai, is excellent–though her performance isn’t enough to recommend the film, as it’s saddled with terrible diary-writing narration (filling the diary seems to be the present action of the film, but it’s decided on later and the film never takes advantage of that reasonable structure). Bill Nighy, as Garai’s father, a troubled novelist, is great. Nighy’s often great in outlandish roles, but Castle is the best work from him I’ve seen, he’s fantastic. Also good–surprisingly, as I haven’t seen him in anything for ten years–is Henry Thomas. Well, I suppose I saw him more recently in some of Cloak & Dagger, before I turned it off.

The rest of the cast is not good. Oh, except the precocious little brother. I queued the film for Rose Byrne, who plays the dull older sister. Given the rest of the cast, she’s not so bad, but she’s not any good in Castle. Tara Fitzgerald is bad. Sinéad Cusack is bad. Marc Blucas–as Thomas’ brother–is so bad he’s laughable. Even if these actors–Byrne aside–weren’t so bad, Castle probably wouldn’t be any better. It’s so shallowly written. Ah, forgot another one–almost Superman Henry Cavill is bad too. Anyway, the writing (I assume from the source novel) gives the characters no depth and gives the audience little to identify with except the occasional humor and the dreadfulness of being a wise-beyond-her-years English young woman who’s sacrificing her happiness for her older sister’s. Her dim older sister’s.

The director lensed the film in 2.35:1, which tends to require a lot of talent when the subject matter is people. He hasn’t got the talent (from his filmography, it looks like he’s done mostly TV movies and Castle was his only chance for glorious Panavision), but the English country-side scenery is pretty. At best, Castle (along with Dirty Dancing 2) will be an odd citation in Garai’s someday excellent filmography. At worst, it’ll be Bill Nighy’s best performance.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Fywell; written by Heidi Thomas, based on the novel by Dodie Smith; director of photography, Richard Greatrex; edited by Roy Sharman; music by Dario Marianelli; production designer, John-Paul Kelly; produced by David Parfitt; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Henry Thomas (Simon), Marc Blucas (Neil), Rose Byrne (Rose), Romola Garai (Cassandra), Bill Nighy (Mortmain), Tara Fitzgerald (Topaz), Henry Cavill (Stephen), Sinéad Cusack (Mrs. Cotton) and Joe Sowerbutts (Thomas).


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