Our Little Sister (2015)
Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose
Review By Greg Klymkiw
When three sisters attend the funeral of their long-estranged father, they meet his daughter from a second marriage, the little sister they never met. They welcome her with open arms and she leaves her father's third wife, a step mother, to live with them. For the first time in her life, she feels what it means to have family you can love and count on.
As far as I'm concerned, director Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life, Nobody Knows, Still Walking, Like Father Like Son) has no equals in contemporary Japanese Cinema. He seems to be the one true and genuine successor to the legacy of Yasujiro (Tokyo Story) Ozu, the master of the groundbreaking tatami shots, long takes, figures moving in and out of frame, a stately pace allowing for deep contemplation of the dramas unfolding, a deep sense of humanity, a love for the properties of melodrama and an unflagging commitment to examining the intricacies of family. To a certain extent, the aforementioned Ozu grocery list of unbeatable properties seems not dissimilar to the work of Kore-eda.
Kore=eda, however, differs on two fronts. He downplays sentiment almost to the extent of eschewing it completely, but then, when you least expect it, he's not afraid of using melodrama sparingly as a legitimate storytelling tool (usually with a wallop to the solar plexus). Secondly, though Kore-eda is also primarily interested in the dynamics of family, he adds his own special thematic element, dealing heartbreakingly with the theme and dramatic action of abandonment.
Our Little Sister has got "abandonment" almost literally spilling out of its ears and he allows us to be privy to three, then four sisters filling various voids in their hearts with their love for each other. At times, his new film feels like nothing much is really happening, but "it" most certainly is - in tiny, delicate and subtle ways. He allows us time to luxuriate in each sister's unique qualities and how they play off of each other.
He slowly builds to a handful of scenes during the final stretch of the picture that inspire overwhelming emotions in the hearts of its audiences. I bawled like a baby and still can't shake or forget its uplifts which are never machine-tooled, but burst forth naturally from within his film's very big heart.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4-Stars
Our Little Sister plays in the TIFF Masters program during TIFF 2015. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.
Dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Starring: Gunes Sensoy, Dogba Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu,
Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan, Ayberk Pekcan, Nihal Koldas
Review By Greg Klymkiw
The events depicted in Mustang are so horrific and harrowing, it's sometimes more unbearable to experience an equal number of actions which are infused with fun, love, kindness, pleasurable abandon and humour since they're such powerful juxtapositions to the tragedy of the situation presented.
In a small Turkish coastal town on the Black Sea, a repressed, deeply traditional busybody neighbour spies five orphan sisters having fun on the last day of school. Their innocent actions are deemed obscene. Their grandmother and stern uncle hit the roof and what should have been a glorious summer vacation for the girls turns into a living nightmare.
They're immediately locked in the house, stripped of all items which could be considered immoral, informed that their education has come to an end and thrown into a rigorous indoctrination to be loyal, subservient wives. Parades of potential suitors are brought in to inspect their "wares" and the goal is to have all the girls, ranging in age from 12 to 16, to be married off by the end of summer.
The youngest sister proves to be the craftiest and most rebellious. When she masterminds a brief escape for the girls to watch a soccer match, the happiness is short lived when they're eventually caught in the act by their guardians.
At this point, all bets are off. The home is then transformed into a literal prison replete with iron bars on all the windows, extra locks, barbed wire atop the walls surrounding the house and an intensified chaperoned courting/match-making process. In addition to the threat of physical and even sexual abuse, the girls are treated like so much chattel instead of as individuals with minds of their own.
The first two-thirds of Mustang is so superbly directed and acted, it's a shame the screenplay takes a fairly conventional turn in its final act. What transpires comes close to negating the power of the rest of the film.
Though some will find the denouement inspiring in all the right ways, it ultimately contradicts the reality of these girls' lives and offers up hope where none, in reality, would ever exist. During one of the final set-pieces, first-time feature filmmaker Ergüven directs the proceedings with the urgent, nerve-jangling skill of a master. The suspense is virtually unbearable, but it's almost rendered moot when the yellow-brick-road to happiness rears its ugly head.
Of course we want the girls to escape, but deep down we know a happy end to their short lives of freedom must surely be an impossibility. When these tables turn, it's not so much a cause for celebration, but a lament for honesty.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars
Mustang is a TIFF 2015 Special Presentation. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.