At Leeds International Film Festival

I went to Leeds last Saturday for the 28th Leeds International Film Festival (#LIFF28). Not for long though, just a day trip from Manchester to Leeds. Here are my quick thoughts on a few films that I watched.

Before I go into talking about the films though, there is something I would like to rant about: FILMS SCREENINGS THAT OCCUR DURING FILM FESTIVALS NEED TO START ON TIME BECAUSE PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO RUN FROM ONE CINEMA TO ANOTHER!!!

Journey to the West (Tsai Ming Liang, 2013)

The latest addition to Tsai’s slow cinema, this film consists of 14 shots and lasts 56 minutes. Throughout, Tsai’s regular collaborator Lee Kang-sheng dresses up as a monk and walks through the streets of Marseilles at a snail pace. I have already seen this monk walked the streets of Hong Kong (Walker, 2012), and Malaysia (Letters from the South, 2013). As the monk walks through the streets, the audience is invited to, like the monk, meditate on his environs and the people that inhabit them. Both Walker and Letters from the South are short films that require the viewers’ patience, yet never testing it too far. Here, in Journey to the West takes on the challenge with an extended 56 minutes of walking. Describing the shots will be unhelpful and unnecessary (considering the film is only made up of 14 shots) but one thing should be noted: I was never bored by it. In fact, many times, I forgot that the monk actually in the shot and instead became more enthralled by the passers-by that occupy the frame. The film is also knowingly funny as the audience is constantly invited to look for the monk in the shot. The monk, dressed in his red robe, becomes Wally.

Paris of the North (Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson, 2014)

This is the latest feature from the Icelandic director who brought us Either Way (2011), which David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche (20113) is based on [If you haven’t watched Prince Avalanche, you have to now. It’s wickedly funny]. Unlike Sigurdsson’s previous film, Paris of the North treads less on the comedy but more on the drama. The protagonist of the film, Hugi, is a recovering alcoholic and has escaped from Reykjavik to a small Icelandic village to deal with his breakup. Hugi’s father, Veigar, however, decides to pay Hugi a visit. Chaos ensues as both Hugi and Veigar are forced to reconsider their relationship.

Throughout the film, characters often breaking into philosophical musings and asides. Yet it strangely works. I was so drawn into the world that the “expositions” – which usually make me cringe – seem like something the characters would say in a normal conversation. The film is also very funny. In one sequence quite early in the film, for instance, Hugi sits through an AA meeting with two other alcoholics. The convenor of the meeting gets Hugi to introduce himself and declares that they would go anti-clockwise this time round to spice things up slightly. In another instance, a group of ladies exercise in the pool whist Veigar floats along in a pair of garishly kitsch flora trunks. The humour can’t get any drier.

Symbol (Hitoshi Matsumoto, 2009)

Directed and starring Hitoshi Matsumoto, Symbol is a master class in absurdist comedy. The film has two plots running alongside each other. The first concerns a wrestler (Escargot man) as he prepares for the toughest match of his career. The second follows a man (Matsumoto) who finds himself trapped in an empty white room surrounded by many protruding cherubs’ penises.

Whilst there are moments where Matsumoto can be accused of over-acting – and, in fact, there are many of such moments – the film is nonetheless rip-roaringly funny. The situation in both plots become increasingly absurd and culminates in a third act that no one could have imagined. Considering Matsumoto’s cult status, it is quite surprisingly that the film was received rather poorly in Japan.

This is a bizarre picture that requires the audience to just go with it. If you do, you won’t be disappointed.

DISCLAIMER: These are not really reviews, or fully formed thoughts (as you would have realised from the abrupt ends to the paragraph). I do apologise because it’s been quite a week since I saw the films, and have crammed many other movies into my brain during the in-between, so my memories are vague. I have also been quite busy (i.e. managing my time terribly) so have only managed to write half-paragraphs. I promise a better entry the next time round.


About maohui

MaoHui Deng is currently a PhD student at the University of Manchester. His research is interested in the ways in which films about dementia can help further and/or complicate our understanding of time in cinema, gerontology and the wider society. His research interests include time and temporality; the representation of age on screen; childhood and cinema; memory; and the films of Federico Fellini. He is the postgraduate rep for the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies. He wants to become a lecturer, hopefully. You can contact Mao at You can follow him on Twitter at @dengmaohui.
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