Film Scouts Diaries

2001 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries

by Henri Béhar

Wednesday, July 11 - In her traditional Korean attire, Bongja's graceful and dignified leading actress Suh Gap Sook looks like a million dollars walking on water, a miniature version of Michelle Yeoh meets Maggie Smith. In Bongja (international premiere, in competition), director Park Chui Soo turns her into The Snake Pit's Olivia de Havilland meets The Lost Weekend's Ray Milland. A lonely middle-aged (?!) woman working in a small restaurant where she specializes in bimgap (some sort of maki rolls), Bongja has such a drinking problem that she is fired. Returning home, she finds a strange girl sleeping in her bed. With no explanation whatsoever, the mysterious squatter settles in the apartment, and soon enough overhauls Bongja's life, as the two women share more and more their feelings and secret aspirations, sexual, violent, perhaps murderous… Of course, the two women are probably two facets of the same personality but I'll spare you the Freudian crap. Not exactly a pleasant movie - the shrillness of the dialogue goes way beyond the acceptable level of decibels - but quite a performance…

Karen Sachnazarov's Poison or the World History of Poisoning (international premiere, in competition) promises more than it delivers. As the Russian director previously did in Full Moon (Best Director here in 1998), he takes one storyline and combines it with anecdotal incidents that give the entire film an episodic feel. In this particular instance, an actor named Oleg, whose wife was lured away by his neighbor meets a retired old gentleman who suggests that the best revenge might be poisoning the adulteress. To emphasize his point, he calls upon History's most famous poisonings, from Socrates (self-inflicted) to the Borgias, from ancient Persia to ancient Greece. Wouldn't that bring him the same kind of immortality - the definitive dream of every actor? The film hops from today into whatever time dimension the script requires. Unfortunately, Poison lacks the flamboyantly kitsch ingenuity of Italian ''toga'' films of the 50s (Legions of Cleopatra, anyone?) or the deliberate (though sometimes unwitting) camp of early Cecil B. DeMille where, say, a peplummed-out Claudette Colbert leaving a Roman orgy would turn to her hostess and say: ''Lovely party, Calpurnia''.

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