John Lui And Boon Chan Recommend

Film picks: The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Southeast Asian Film Festival

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SOUTHEAST ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL

The festival kicks off today, and compelling films to check out include Rekorder (2013, 90 minutes, M18) from the Philippines, an experimental work about a DVD pirate who records an act on his camcorder that forces him to re-examine his place in a society from which he feels alienated. Director Mihhail Red will speak after the screening.

The festival will include a tribute to the cinema of Mindanao, given fresh topicality because of the recent signing of a peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a paramilitary organisation seeking greater autonomy for the southern Philippines.

Festival co-curator Philip Cheah says "films from the area tell you about life during war". He cites the documentary War Is A Tender Thing (2013, 70 minutes, PG13), made by Adjani Arumpac about her parents, one a Christian and another a Muslim. Arumpac will also be speaking after the screening.

The drama Sayang Disayang (2013,70 minutes, PG), written and directed by Sanif Olek making his feature debut, closes the festival.

Where: SAM at 8Q, Moving Image Gallery, level 2 MRT: Bras Basah When: Today- May 4, various times Admission: $10 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg) Info: Go to www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/seaff for the full schedule

John Lui


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THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (M18)

100 minutes

*****

This fabulous jewel box of a film contains so many pleasures, it is hard to know where to begin the unpacking.

A young writer (Jude Law) is recuperating at the decaying Grand Budapest Hotel when he meets its reclusive owner, Mr Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). The old place is home to a motley cast of Eastern European types, there to seek refreshment in severe spa treatments that only a communist could love.

The enigmatic older man tells the writer the story of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), concierge at the hotel in the glory days of 1932, before the war would change Europe, making the hotel and all that it stood for irrelevant in modern society.

Wes Anderson's work (Moonrise Kingdom, 2012; Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009) has of late shown him to be less a director than a set designer with an enlarged brief. But with this film, which also stars Willem Dafoe and Adrien Brody (both above), he gets everything right. It coalesces his strengths (some would say fetishes) into a satisfying and coherent whole not seen since Rushmore (1998) or The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).

He evokes a fin de siecle setting laced with humour and love. When the credits roll, such is the skill with which he has made a fictional time and place so real and complete that it is hard not to shed a tear for its passing.

John Lui


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3.50 (PG13)

106 minutes

This Singapore-Cambodian production about female trafficking in Cambodia offers no easy answers or clear-cut heroes and villains.

Eunice Olsen, the film's lead and one of its producers, says while official corruption plays a part in the trade of girls into a booming sex industry, the film does not demonise the authorities.

She plays a documentary film-maker looking into the case of a girl abducted from her village and forced into the sex trade.

There are several Cambodian characters in the drama, each with his own reasons for being involved in the trade, reflecting the complex morality of the situation.

Where: The Arts House, Screening Room MRT: Raffles Place When: Tomorrow - May 4, various times Admission: $10 from www.bytes.sg Info: There will be a post-screening panel tomorrow & on May 3. Go to www.theartshouse.com.sg

John Lui


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THE ZERO THEOREM (M18)

106 minutes

*** 1/2

It is nominally science fiction but film-maker Terry Gilliam has made such distinctive forays into the genre that his works deserve their own label, say, weird-fi.

In a dystopian world, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz, right, with Melanie Thierry) is a cog in the giant firm that is Mancom Corporation. He is assigned to the maddeningly difficult zero theorem, and as he works from home, he waits for an all-important phone call that would reveal to him the meaning of life.

This is a world in which the gamer geeks of today might rule. Qohen (an intense and oddly compelling Waltz is like a monk in fevered pursuit of the truth) is among the best of them, staring intently at a screen as he fiddles with a joystick and goes through a series of arcane motions which are supposed to serve some obscure purpose.

Every Gilliam film offers glimpses into his singular mind and watching his films can be challenging. But if anyone is closer to getting the cosmic joke that is the universe than Qohen, it would be Gilliam.

Boon Chan

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