Tuesday, July 26, 2011

MIFF session 3: End of Animal

A young woman is taking a cab form her flat in Seoul to her mother's house. She repeats in a whisper what would be mantra were it not a description of a preparation of pork. She is talking to her unborn baby. The cheery cab driver stops to pick up another fare on the lonely country road they have come to.The stranger quickly reveals a wealth of knowledge about the driver and the woman and then starts talking about a cataclysm that is about to take place within minutes. It does. A massive flash of light. The woman awakes in the back of the cab alone in the desolate landscape. A note from the driver explains that the car has broken down and he has gone to the rest area for help. She is to stay put and wait for his return.

As that is as good as seeing a sticker on a shop door saying "back in five minutes" she embarks on her own trek to the rest area. From this point she meets a small number of characters mostly unrelated to each other. Each encounter leaves her a little worse off until she is hobbling through the desolate landscape persistently failing to get to the rest area even when she has a map to follow. Weird animal voices rise, bellowing from the distance. The stranger from the opening scene occasionally contacts her through the sole electrical device that still works. He gives her survival advice that is not always timely in a manner that is both enigmatic and throwaway. Theft, bullying, attempted rape and a series of further interpersonal atrocities later, our pregnant heroine finally arrives at the troubling reason for everything she has been through which I shall not reveal.

Shot mostly in determinedly distressed video, a sickly amber tint dries every character into constant discomfort, the film uses its scant resources in a way with confidence rather than apology. A few hi-def sequences surprise with their clarity but also reassure by their control. At first the restlessness seems like a lack of overall direction but a little patience later, once it's clear that this is how this story will be told, like it or not, this film is here in front of you, resist it at your peril. We are in the hands of a filmmaker who knows what he wants to say and what he needs to say it AND NO MORE. This is a debut feature!

This extraordinary film is why I go to MIFF on a mini pass every year: the chance to see something
fresh and powerful and individual. 10/10 on all three counts. I'm loath to call this film post-apocalyptic as its purposes are more complex than that usually suggests. I initially compared this to The Quiet Earth, Geoff Murphy's extraordinary 80s entry but that's because this one is so difficult to compare that any point of similarity suggests itself as a relief. But I think End of Animal is happy enough to be out on its limb and stay there. Even if the rest of the sessions are middling to poor (unlikely with two Sion Sono films to come) I will consider this MIFF a hit because of this one film.

I this has been released, I'm hunting down my own copy.

PS -- I saw this with a hangover so I was constantly hydrating myself. By the time I got to the session my bladder started sending some very urgent pages which made me seriously check the exits and plan on a quick dash. I kept watching while scheming but within 20 minutes I was so aborbed by the film that the urgency subsided and I forgot all about it. The only more gruelling hold-in was another MIFF title from a ew years back: Inland Empire.

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