PIFF Day 5: Zero

As the PIFF festival winds its way into the final lap, I’m thinking about the things I missed. There were seminars I had every intention of attending but simply could not find the time. But mostly I’m thinking about the films I wanted to see but couldn’t, partly through scheduling but mostly through sell-outs. Sorum only had one screening. But I believe this is because it was a last minute addition to commemorate the death of actress Jang Jin Young. Then there’s surrealist Taiwanese film Face (sold out every time), Air Doll from Japan (one scheduling conflict, one sell-out), and I Come With The Rain starring Josh Hartnett (no surprise, also sold out every time). Then there are Korean films In My End Is My Beginning and Paju (both always sold out). The one I really want to see is Paju. It has one more showing on Thursday, so I’m holding out hope that I can see it. If not, Air Doll is there as well. Fingers are crossed.

Last night I saw one movie, another Polish joint called Zero (dir. Pawell Borowski). It’s up for the festival’s Flash Forward award. The director was supposed to speak before the movie, but got caught up in traffic (and the lift — jeesus, the PIFF organizers have to do something about the crazy busy, slow-ass elevator problems). He arrived, out of breath, and simply said something to the effect of “this movie is not for everyone, but I hope you like it.”

Whereas many arty films are constructed nonlinearally. This one is the exact opposite. It is completely linear, in that the whole thing happens in a forward progression of character interaction. A character does something, meets with another character and that new character then moves on to the next stage of the story. On an on we go, twisting through 24 different characters (according to the trailer above). In a sense, that means there are 24 stories, but there are really about a half dozen core events going on. While the progression may be linear, the story does circle back on itself, so we’re able to revisit the central characters in new situations with new aspects layered onto their stories.

Yes, this is a blatant construct, and you could even call it a gimmick. But it works very well, almost too well. Ten or 15 minutes into the film, we’re well aware that we’re being subjected to this construct, and for the rest of the film you’re wondering what the director’s next move is going to be. It’s a little distracting, and at 2 hours, it gets somewhat tiring after a while. The best scenes are those when you don’t think about the trick. These are the moments when the director slowed things down and we got to witness the actors and their characters breathe a little. The acting is outstanding throughout. It’s a credit to their talent and the director’s that the movie is able to bring to life so many genuine, human characters. When we get a new interaction, we don’t feel like we’re getting introduced to another new story (that would be too tiring) but instead we feel like we’ve come across someone in the midst of a story in progress. I was impressed by how I never felt abandoned or lost. There are so many characters, but I could remember each one because each was so distinct and so well-defined.

This is not a perfect movie. The stories themselves are not nearly as inventive as the sequencing device. And again, even the device gets distracting after a while, mostly because the movie is too long to sustain it. But it’s a fun ride, and it ends right where it should, and in doing so offers a subtle, self-reflexive twist on everything you’ve just seen. Do I feel manipulated? Sure, but it’s cinema, that’s what it’s for.

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