With Pieta, can we still have faith in Kim Ki-duk ?

Having being very busy for a few days, I took time to see Kim Ki-duk’s 김기덕 Pieta, despite my desire to discover the Golden Lion of Venice Film Festival and long awaited new Kim Ki Duk’s fiction after two experimental works I really enjoyed, Amen 아멘 and Arirang 아리랑. There was a great risk to be disappointed, of course. And I am unfortunately. There are reasons to like this new Kim Ki-duk’s film, but too many reasons to be angry against it, especially right from the first minutes.

The first sequence is dreadful. Could be somewhere in an amateur Z horror movie that you catch by mistake in a Fantastic Film Festival. Then Kim Ki-duk wants to prove he’s back, so he’s showing off a best-of of what is supposed to be his trademark. Filthy people, poor victims, women raped, brutal violence, a main character looking like an angel (like 빈집 3-Iron) behaving like an asshole (like in Bad Guy 나쁜 남자). Filmed in a poor numeric quality and a quite random editing.

Some shots are beautiful, but some are so pitiful

Some shots are beautiful, but some are so pitiful. Ok, it’s a poor film made in a rush. Does it excuses so many out of focus shots? Later, you see a big numeric bug in a frame, but Kim Ki-duk kept the shot despite that. This kind of technical flaws can be excused in any film. Take Arirang. Filmed in an even poorer quality, we didn’t mind. Take Breathless 똥파리, another very low budget film with a similar character at first (a guy beating those who don’t pay their debts). Did we care about the over shaky camera ? No, because we followed the actor.

In Pieta, the main problem all along is that we start to care about the form because we never dig into the main character. Something is wrong with that handsome boy dressed like a rock star (nice stoned washed leather jacket, man), behaving like a serial killer towards nice people, showing no emotions. A friend just said that the actor is bad. That’s true, but an actor acts what is told to act, and here, the character has nothing deep to act.

And we’re getting tired of bad actors in Kim Ki-duk’s movies, after eighteenth films, at this level (we’re speaking about a Golden Lion in Venice, remember?). We thought that the deep thoughts about acting he expressed in Arirang (the hilarious “cup of coffee lifting” shot) would bring Kim Ki-duk to be more accurate in his choice and direction of main actors. But no, in Pieta, the best actors are side parts and amateurs : especially these ajumas with thousand of years engraved in their skin and thousands of desperate days in their eyes.

The music, from Z horror to TV drama

Apart from this poor guy trying to carry the film on his weak shoulder, there is his supposed “mother”. She’s better even if most of the time more over the top than deep in emotions. But in any case, Kim Ki-duk may ruins some of her appearance with a dreadful filming (light, shots, poor of her…) and a topping of music, supposedly to enhance her dramatic skills. And then comes another recurrent problem of Kim Ki-duk’s films : the music.

The big failure of the opening sequence is partly because of the music, like a computer generated “sample horror music” you can download in Freesounds.com. Then for the mother, here comes the Sunday night TV drama score, tear-jacker manipulation. Finally, because we’ve got a film titled Pieta, comes a religious tune, not bad, but basic and strangely under mixed, as if it was not even totally assumed. You can always judge a director for his music tastes. A Park Chan-wook’s film can be bad, but never totally lost, you’ll always have a score to notice.

Another recurrent problem in Kim Ki-duk’s films, the dialogues, is a little better than usual. But still, there is this heavy hand which puts a message behind every word. And you need a hell of an actor (missing here) to say “is it here where I come from” when the guy has his hand in the vagina of his mother. This sequence made an American critic ran away from the theater. He thought that a film with such a moment cannot be redeemed, cannot recover from such a low point.

We can understand how far he and some critics have hated this film and published these very harsh reviews. Another French critic named also the director with a very nasty “Kim Ki puke” (Kim that puke). But the film is not aimed to be nice, so it can only trigger harsh reaction. It’s important for Korean people to know that some western people cannot bare Kim Ki Duk’s movies, and not only women or some who doesn’t know other Korean films.

What can be saved…

I don’t personally think that Pieta is that much all wrong. The film obviously tries to demonstrate something against capitalism, with a story worth to be told, and typical of a guy like Kim Ki-duk, who such a complex love and hate relationship towards money. Some shots, such as most of the ones in the mechanic shops area, or the last one (the trail of blood under the truck) are what we expect from a director like Kim Ki-duk : some powerful allegories,  He is also the only one in Korea to film like that the bums, the salt of the earth as he was doing in his first film, Crocodile. The tiny mechanic shops are seen as a modern hell, a guetto, he is showing a part of Seoul we never saw on screen. We also keep long in mind this moment when a little boy who wants to defend his father with a pen.

Pieta could have been a sum of Kim Ki-duk’s works with a bit of new hope. It’s just a remembrance of what he used to be good at. It’s really not new that a film festival prizes the wrong film. It’s obviously a career that was praised here.But how this career will go on ? Will Kim Ki-duk recognize that, such as Hong Sang-soo, he is making films too quickly, in a too lazy way, being too sure that everybody will dig in it after all. Now Kim Ki-duk can stop running for recognition and prizes. He should go back to some deep thinking about filmmaking.

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