Unexpected Endings

Amid grumblings that the festival's new regime neglects women directors and isn't looking hard enough for African and Middle Eastern films, there are few complaints about the continued strong selection of Asian entries, which include the latest by Tsai Ming-liang (The Wayward Cloud, see next week's review) and Hou Hsiao-hsien (Three Times) as well as the first Asian opening-night movie in some time. But unlike that glossy Hong Kong musical, Perhaps Love (see below), the outstanding pictures this year tackle serious issues of Asian history and sexual politics with unpredictably supple approaches.

Take the dour subject of Japan's past militarism. Master filmmakers pick at it like a painful scab, but in interesting ways. Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw is veteran director Wakamatsu Koji's road movie based on the case of a teenager who bludgeoned his mother to death and rode north on his bicycle for 16 days until his arrest. Wakamatsu's lifelong rage against Japanese war responsibility finds an intermittently compelling vehicle in the boy's journey, as he struggles like a pilgrim toward an unknown redemption, meeting victims of Japanese atrocities along the way. And in a great performance at once prissy and poignant, Issei Ogata (Tony Takitani) plays Emperor Hirohito in Alexander Sokurov's The Sun, as Hirohito contemplates stepping down from his divine status in a confrontation with the earthbound Douglas MacArthur.

Modern life and sexual politics in urban China also fall under the cinematic scalpel in the haunting Perpetual Motion, in which four accomplished women snack on hens' feet and critique French, Japanese, and American men's sexuality while the hostess lies in wait to expose her husband's mistress among them.

HIV/AIDS receives a fresh treatment in Looking for Madonna, a Papuan Indonesian debut mentored by Indonesian director Garin Nugroho (Of Love and Eggs). Catholic teen Joseph is HIV-positive and grieving for his girlfriend, who revealed her positive status to her family and was burned alive for it. Understandably loath to out himself to anybody but his bawdy buddy Minus, Joseph returns to his village in the jungle, where his priest grandfather chants to a drum, and a woman named Madonna, also HIV-positive, services the aloe-wood lumbermen. Despite its indifferent acting and Minus' semi-comprehensible (but vaguely hilarious) anecdotes, Madonna gives the AIDS melodrama a new perspective, mainly because of its unusual setting. AIDS is also no match against the love of a naive farmer for an abused cafe prostitute in Korean director Park Jin-pyo's beguiling You Are My Sunshine, based on a true story with an unexpected ending. — Frako Loden

The Wayward Cloud: Sunday, April 23, 9:30 p.m., Castro; Tuesday, April 25, 10:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 26, 3:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Friday, April 28, 9:15 p.m., Pacific Film Archive

Three Times: Thursday, April 27, 8:30 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Saturday, April 29, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Perhaps Love: Thursday, April 20, 7 p.m., Castro

Cycling Chronicles: Thursday, April 27, 8:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, May 2, 6 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Sun: Thursday, April 27, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 29, 3:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 3, 7 p.m., Pacific Film Archive

Perpetual Motion: Saturday, April 22, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 24, 9:25 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Wednesday, April 26, 3:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, May 1, 9:30 p.m., Aquarius

Looking for Madonna: Tuesday, April 25, 7:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 29, 12:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki

You Are My Sunshine: Sunday, April 23, 8:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 26, 2:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

 
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