CIFF 36 carried away balloons
I was finally able to catch my first (and only) bit of Asian cinema during this 36th Cleveland International Film Festival. And I must say that I'm sitting pretty at a 100% satisfaction rate. In fact, Buddha Mountain was some of my favorite Asian cinema from the festival in recent years.
Simplistic in its story-telling, this film seethes with strongly-built, vivacious characters and gorgeous visuals. It walks an eloquently tense tightrope of beauty in the midst of pain. The sincere melancholy, which Asian cinema uses silence to encapsulate so well, is apparent throughout the film. At the same time, it is thoroughly balanced with the quiet light-heartedness that you might expect to see in recent slacker dramadies of American cinema.
Three teenagers - Nan Feng, Ding Bo and Fei Zao - move into the shared apartment of Madam Cheng, a seemingly bitter, judgmental and slightly off-base middle aged woman. As their lives and personalities and apparent differences clash, you begin to see the common threads of inner turmoil that course through each of them. Through the sometimes volatile, sometimes serene landscapes of the city and countryside, each of the quartet trudge through their personal sloughs.
The teenagers play pranks on Cheng and steal from her, exacerbating all of their situations. But they soon realize that her bitterness stems from the deep-rooted pain of loss and unforgiveness. Soon after, the four begin bonding over their collective brokenness. They join together to help a Buddhist monk rebuild his temple dedicated to the goddess of compassion. This beautifully symbolic iteration exemplifies healing power created when people take time to understand one another and empathize with each other where they cannot sympathize.
In addition to the brilliant character sketches, this film turned the camera-work and scenery into personalities all their own. Shot beautifully, everything from the countryside to the curbside exudes a living quality that soundlessly cradles the characters as their lives unfold. These shots consistently reinforce the importance of these quartet by creating a dialog between setting and character reminiscent of the film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.
This is a film that will leave you thinking and guessing the way allegorical things must. It is a great piece of modern cinema and one you should definitely catch!