Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2018: "14 Apples" and "Grass"

Michael Hayward

At any film festival, where you're seeing many films in a short period of time, there will be hits and misses; or, as one the volunteers put in when explaining VIFF's balloting system for the Super Channel People's Choice Award: there will be films that you'll rate 5 out of 5, and other films which "didn't work for you," which you'll rate 1. Here are brief reviews of two of my 1s.

14 Apples is one of those festival films that you soon regret having selected; if I could have slipped out of the theatre without disturbing those around me, I would have.

On paper, the premise sounded promising: a man is advised by a fortune teller to enter a monastery and eat an apple each day for 14 days as a cure for his insomnia. It could have made an amusing 30 minute film—and there may be such a film buried in there somewhere—but at 84 minutes, 14 Apples is about an hour longer than I had patience for.

There were two main problems with 14 Apples:

(1) The director, Midi Z, seems to feel the need to include every second of footage that he'd shot. The result is a film larded with sequences that go on and on and on and on and... you get the idea. In one such sequence we watch six young women from the village fetching water for the monks. We watch as they fill their containers at the river, we watch them lift the containers onto their heads, and then we watch them walk in single file from the river to the monastery, to empty their containers into a cistern. It's quite a long walk, and Midi Z insists that audiences witness every. single. step. of the way.

(2) The central character in 14 Apples is so unsympathetic that you regret having given him 84 minutes of your life. He is arrogant, ungrateful, and evidently feels himself to be better than everyone he meets. Some with these failings would benefit from 14 days in a Buddhist monastery, would seize this opportunity to practice humility and compassion. Not our apple-eater, who (spoiler alert) ends his 14 days as a "monk" cured of his insomnia, but with even less chance of a favourable reincarnation than he'd had upon entering.

Grass is a new film from Korean director Hong Sangsoo, which purports to tell the story of a young woman who likes to "sit in a coffee shop with her laptop, all the while writing down the interactions of its patrons." As someone who also enjoys sitting in cafés with my laptop, I thought I'd enjoy Grass, and was looking forward to familiarizing myself with Sangsoo's "oeuvre," which the VIFF program guide described as "one of the greatest in contemporary cinema." I was wrong: I did not enjoy Grass at all, and would characterize it as one of those rare short films that feels interminable despite its brevity (which I suppose is an accomplishment of sorts).

Filmed in black and white, Grass feels like a student film, from someone still learning their craft. The narrative (such as it is) is made up of brief episodes: two people sitting across a café table from each other, discussing an event in their lives. These are the episodes on which our heroine eavesdrops, and transcribes into her laptop.

The main cinematic problem with Grass is that each of these episodes is shot in the same way: there is a two-shot from the side, followed by a sequence of closeups, again from the side, with the camera focusing first on one side of the conversation, alternating with the other. Eventually the camera pans over to our eavesdropper, showing her contemplating and summing up the conversation she has just overheard. Again: there could be a decent 30 minute film buried in there somewhere; if only Hong Sangsoo had had the discipline to extricate it.



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