PIFF Report: Empty Chair

I actually saw two movies yesterday — A Faint Trembling Of The Landscape and Empty Chair. I’m mostly going to write about the latter because it totally blew me away.

A Faint Trembling… is a French film about musings on space, time, physics, and the universe. It takes place in what appears to be a rural town with everyday characters who occasionally interact with one another. There’s a lot of heavy ideas floating around, but the story arc is fairly static.

It had some really funny moments, but what was strange is that no one in the theater laughed. Me and my friend were sitting there covering our mouths, afraid to laugh out loud, because everyone else just sat there. I think the humor, maybe through translation problems, was totally lost on the Korean crowd. Afterward we saw the producer of the film sitting by a computer. We went up to talk to him. “That was supposed to be funny, right?” I asked. “Yes!” he said. He seemed surprised by the reaction and told us that the response at Cannes was much more vocal.

OK, so, Empty Chair. Where do I begin? This Iranian movie was just flat-out incredible. It’s a perfect example of why I love cinema. Let me first say that you shouldn’t click on that link I posted up there. It gives away too much. The story is… well, I don’t want to say. You just have to see it and make up your own mind as to what the story is. But it ends so perfectly, with such a beautiful revelation and, I should add, such a nice sound.

The sound, in fact, is phenomenal throughout. The filmmakers really pushed the edges of how powerful sound can be narratively when you stop thinking of images and start thinking about building layers in a story. The odd camera angles were similarly inspired and the editing was intense. It felt like the cuts came about a dozen frames before they should have, which kept things unsettled and forced you to accept the quick changes in perception. And the acting from beginning to end was pitch perfect. There were times when these characters felt so real — partly because of the structure but mostly because of the performances — that it sometimes felt like a documentary.

There’s an obvious nod to Fellini (whose name is even mentioned in a bit about a movie rental toward the end). You think you’re in a normal world and then everything gets progressively surreal. The colors change, the atmosphere changes, and you get some really absurd character behavior and interaction. It never gets into Lynch type territory, however, where you feel totally lost (i.e. Inland Empire). Things may be strange, but you pretty much know where you are.

Well, sort of. I’m still processing it all and I want to see it again. Anyway, absolutely brilliant. PIFF is its world premiere, so it was nice to get to see it first. I hope it finds an audience because it deserves it.

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