From the first black and white moments of Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s The Assassin, we know we are shadow puppets in the hands of a master director who will make magic to transport us somewhere with which we are unfamiliar. A few others have done these supernatural Tang Dynasty trips gorgeously before – Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s, $45 million The Curse of the Yellow Flower come to mind – but more sumptuously than this may be impossible.
Film snobs dwell in the realm of the subtitle, yet during the press preview, I harbored high hopes for an early exit from Miami International Film Festival’s GEMS at Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater knowing that Lung Yai Thai Tapas had just opened a satay’s throw from the Tower. A bit more gratuitous ninja action might have sent me to the doors more quickly, but alas, there was more brilliance than blood, and those fragrant kaffir lime leaves had to wait.
GEMS is just another notch in MIFF’s belt and more respect for Miami Dade College’s role, not only as a fixture in the local Arts scene, but as a principal. Along with the larger MIFF and ever-evolving, what should we do with MIFFecito, GEMS provides another opportunity for the 33-year-old Miami International Film Festival to, in the long view, acquire deeper cine-cred alongside Sundance, Cannes, and those whose inclination toward celebrity and film fame may seem insurmountable.
Well of course it is, but again, it isn’t. The purpose of these festivals are manifold; many players with multiple intentions are involved. Bottom line? We, the people who cherish great films, are the winners.
Hou’s money scene, one of many – a stunning clash among birch trees – rivals the airborne bamboo scenes in Crouching Tiger. Among the ABC Carpet and Home shopping crowd, the interior décor reveals that antique $50K dresser and stone basin that Far-Eastern dreamers’ salivate over. Hairdressers with visions of careers in big studio Hollywood will be mesmerized by cuts and twists beyond anything Kiehl’s has to offer. Angry fearful folks will see that before ISIL and Marie Antoinette, Chinese royalty also respected beheadings. Such splendor as The Assassin offers is not easily followed, so because the press was generously offered a little lunch bag, I thought I would watch a few minutes of the Amazonian Embrace of the Serpent, and escape when the drama lulled. It didn’t.
This split-story of two white explorers a generation apart seeking a rare, sacred cure-all but dependent upon first, a young, charismatic curandera named Karamakate, then later a tragic, angry, despondent Karamakate, also tenders extraordinary cinematography. Here, however, the unadorned Amazon needs no interior set decoration.
Two hours later, despite its majesty devolving into Jonestown and Heart of Darkness territory as it inevitably must, Colombian director Ciro Guerra has woven breathtaking beauty into a profound moral tale.
These are but two of the GEMS which will be offered by Miami International Film Festival at MDC’s Tower from October 22-25.