The Road Home (Wo de fu qin mu qin) [2000] • China

A simple story carved from Chinese culture. Traditions and history are on display here as much as the inner and outer lives of the characters. The visual embellishments are mostly restrained but you can see them waiting, wanting to burst out. This is Zhang Ziyi's feature film debut and she is lovely to behold, dressed in her fuschia red coat against the sprawling rural landscapes, flapping her arms like a child when she runs, but she has an oddly shaped head. I found this feature of hers a little weird, kept wondering where the back of her head ran off to. All said and done, a minor distraction in what is another touching and very human tale from director Zhang Yimou befrore he went all wuxia on us. I love the way the love is grounded, given foundation, in the schoolhouse the father helped build and his legacy helped rebuild. Sad though, that the mother remained illiterate.


Close to Eden (Urga) Territory of Love [1991] France, Soviet Union

If you've ever wanted to visit the steppes of Mongolia but were afraid to ask, this film will take you there. The gorgeous landscapes almost pale in comparison to the beauty of the sheperding family of five--plus grandma--who live there in a yurt. Life is simple and slowly paced, but different. Imagine watching a five year old boy help his dad kill and gut a lamb for dinner and finding it moving and gentle rather than creepy and gross. The husband is pure country but the wife is from the city so she knows about things like television and birth control. In Mongolia families are allowed to have three children, not just one as in mainland China. The man enjoys intimate activities with his beautiful wife but she is concerned about having another child. The film detours a bit when the husband goes to the nearest town to buy a television and some contraceptives. I would have been happier if the film had remained a simple portrait of family life on the Mongolia steppes rather than presenting a story about the onslaught of civilization represented by a Russian highway builder whose truck breaks down near the family's home. But that story is part and parcel of the family's portrait today. A drunken Russian brings some harsh to their mellow and the film drifts out of focus ... but I guess that's the point.

An urga is a lasso of sorts attached to a very long stick and is used to capture animals. It is also stuck into the ground as a signal that someone is engaging in amorous relations and they don't want to be disturbed. The final shot shows a smokestack instead of an urga rising from the horizon.


A West Lake Moment (Yuan yang hu die) [2004] • China

This is a ONE STAR film without Zhou Xun. She is a joy to watch even with a co-star (Kun Chen) who is frighteningly bad here. He doesn't act as much as mug his way through the film like his appearance is a gift. The direction is silly at times with meaningless repetitive jump cuts and other random shenanigans. The script is immature and, frankly, stupid. The story sets up a charming and beautiful woman with an adorable best (male) friend (Yim Linq) who desires her and is good to her but she won't reciprocate because he's a few years younger than she is and she's got the hots for some pig of a selfish man (Chen). That's what his character is supposed to be, though, I'm not just dumping on the guy. This film not only resolves with the woman and the jerk getting together--without redeeming the jerkball at all--it also kills off the good guy! This is one gross male fantasy. Whoever wrote this movie is not someone I would like to meet.

The cinematography is beautiful at times and the location of the tea house is somewhere I'd like to sit and have tea but it's difficult to get behind such a disrespectful script.


Antichrist [2009] • Denmark, Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Poland

I didn't get, or like, the ending, but I don't know what else could have been done. I also don't know if the ending was supposed to be the natural, or predisposed, outcome of all the symbolism and allegory that lead up to it—which I couldn't completely process either. The film appears to have a vision, as if it's following a story that's already been told. It's gorgeously composed and photographed but it evaded my full comprehension. There's grief with rational and emotional responses to it. There's nature, green and essential, history, symbolically surreal animals, and genital mutilation which is poignant to the story, but yikes! The film is never boring, it's beautiful to look at, Charlotte Gainsbourg is magnificent, but it's a little hard to endure. I imagine this was Lars von Trier's goal and he made it loose enough for those so inclined to spend time decoding it. I'm not so inclined but it's one of the best movies I've seen this year.