The Day PIFF Died

5 Oct

The Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) lost its cineaste’s novelty in April, when BUDi and my affections. BUDi, or the Busan Universiade for Digital Content, is for the short film format what PIFF is for the long form, the conventional (dare I say, classic 120-minute format). Like the LP, I fear PIFF is at a disadvantage in the age of attention deficit disorder and IPODs. So, I started slow this 12th iteration of the venerable autumn convocation for camera-empowered artists in all phases of self-expression, from pic snappers to the silent news crews, the flash-resistant stars and their directors, and finally to the producers and scriptwriters dreaming of the limelight. I picked a selection composed of four short segments, ,  by four different Taiwanese (or is that the Chinese Taipei contingent?) directors.

I have to say, though, that another charm of BUDi was its amateur-ish facade. Perhaps, it was the venue, Kyungsung University, and all those college volunteers running around. Maybe the short film format was reminiscent of a college final. Or, perhaps, it was the fact that admission was free of charge. Free gifts don’t hurt, either, like last years winning films on one CD (I dare PIFF to do that!). Honestly, it took a lot of conviction to convince my wife to spend money for more than one film at PIFF (let alone eight!), when she watched over 20 for free at BUDi. I’m trusting a good deal of my credits for the rest of my married life on this 12th PIFF.

So, too, it was disappointing to have to run through a hollowed-out building in the midst of renovation to get to the movie theater perched atop Daeyoung CGV. With all the money I’m spending for a two-hour film, I might at least have a chance for some free browsing, instead of floors full of hammers, drills, and frantic investors scrambling to fill their stalls before morning. Get it! I’m nostalgic for the days of parking my lazy butt in one theater to watch ten films.

Part of a retrospective featuring Edward Yang, In Our Time (1982) recalls the stages of life, from childhood to adulthood. Each segment reveals flashes of a tell, a directorial gamble. There’s the brief flirtation with dream sequences in the opening ode to a frustrating childhood with the parents from hell; unabashed earnestness in Yang’s second segment featuring a girl becoming a woman; slapstick featuring a comic hero in the third; and, finally, in the fourth, a naked man running through Taipei at rush hour displaying his commitment to his wife and ignoring all else. My wife said it was all too “funny”, which goes to show the film is not realistic in the deadpan sense. It’s transcendent.

Once in a while, I realized I was not watching Kansas, or Korea. There were brief moments when universalistic themes took a back seat to cultural incomprehension. Because of the first two segments, I almost believed mornings in Taiwan start with schoolchildren walking out of their homes like convicts head for execution. Chopstick etiquette intruded upon saliva-inducing displays of food, and I am glad Koreans use spoons so much. At some points I thought I was watching Koreans speaking in Chinese, but then there was a schoolboy’s military uniform, to disorient me.

So much compacted material in four brief vignettes. Again, I ask, why should I sit through two hours of a single story? Stay tuned, and see if I can!

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