World cinema: trans-global film-watching

Introducing our brand new column, where we highlight some of the most interesting trans-global cinema we've encountered...

Take a look in any music or video store, listings magazine, and most film-related media, and the term ‘world cinema’ is pretty much ubiquitous. I’ve used it myself for years and, in fact, took several courses entitled ‘world cinema’. It’s a convenient and easy term, and one which I will, no doubt, use again.

But as the title of this column shows, it is an aim of mine to show that this term is somewhat outdated and outmoded, despite the ease of use it has.

By, hopefully, discussing films which don’t receive the wide exposure of more Hollywood mainstream fare, I can demonstrate that the term trans-global (or even local cinema) is not only more apt and less Anglo-centric but, indeed, far more descriptive of the increasingly globally connected world we live in. Never before have so many people had access to so many films from different cultures and countries, and when the multiplexes will often have screenings of them, then it is, indeed, something to cheer.

To that end, enjoy or decry the films I’ll discuss, but be pleased that we have the option to explore and discover them, or re-visit and cherish them, and not be forced to have Hollywood or nothing.

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Upcoming Releases

Here’s where, in the coming weeks, I’ll talk about a few films to get excited about over the next few months. I’ll try and recommend a couple of interesting ones each week to check out (although I’ve just got one this week). They may end up being rubbish, though, so don’t blame me. They just happen to look interesting from where I’m sitting…

Wild Grass

The latest from veteran French new-wave filmmaker Alain Resnais (perhaps most famous for his seminal Hiroshima Mon Amour, an incredible work well worth checking out), this film tells the tale of a lost wallet, and the romantic entanglements that its return leads to.

The element of chance looks like it plays a major part in this film, and how the ordinary can swiftly be turned extraordinary by circumstances. For those who are after something old-fashioned yet charmingly quirky.

Released 18th June Nationwide (UK)

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Trans-global cinema has a history even longer than that of Hollywood cinema. Despite where the current power may lie, cinema is actually very much a European invention, both technologically, intellectually, and formally.

Added to that is the oft-quoted fact that Bollywood is the largest producer of film and it is clear that there is a wealth of cinematic gems to discover. I won’t be doing a chronological voyage through film history, but instead using this part as my personal soapbox to give coverage to films that are close to my heart, or weird and interesting enough to seek out. I’ll go both broad and niche, and if anyone has any recommendations, please let me know and I’ll include them too!

Chungking Express (directed by Wong Kar Wai, 1994)

So, I’m starting with a film most people with even a passing interest in trans-global cinema will most likely have seen. If you haven’t, I envy you. If you have, go watch it again.

To me, this is the film that opened up a whole new world of cinema and what it could represent, and how stories could be told. Before this, I had only really had a diet of Hollywood and the occasional British breakthrough hit. Afterwards, I devoured cinema from other cultures at a prodigious rate, and gave up my ideas of a law degree in order to study film instead. It may not be my favourite film of Wong Kar Wai’s anymore, but it remains a powerful emblem of the power of cinema for me.

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Telling the two separate yet interconnected tales of lovelorn policemen in Hong Kong, Chungking Express is, on the surface, visual poetry for the MTV generation.

By using jump cuts, step-printing and what I can only describe as kinetic slow-motion, the viewer is taken into the labyrinth of Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui district and the lives of these two men.

It really does play as an electric jolt of a movie, shocking the unprepared into paying attention. Through use of contemporary pop music and riffing on Hong Kong action themes (the frenetic opening sequence through Chungking Mansions is a delightful example of this), a melodramatic love story unfurls.

He Zhiwu has been dumped by his girlfriend and gives himself thirty days to win her back, in the process encountering and falling for a woman on the wrong side of the law.

Cop 663, meanwhile, is shaken out of his routine by the departure of his girlfriend, and soon finds things increasingly changed by the intervention of shop girl Faye. The stories are neatly divided between each half of the film, with crossovers throughout (if you know where to look), and was responsible for letting me realise that film could be told non-linearly, and not have a definitive end.

I think the phrase that best sums up the experience is ‘it’s not where you’re going, it’s how you get there’.

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Not only did it open up this entire new way of viewing film, but Chungking Express continued to offer rewards as I grew older and (hopefully) more knowledgeable about film theory. Without realising it at the time, it redefined and clarified concepts of time and space and notions of transitory cultures and identities for me.

It also has an entire layer of hidden political sub-text surrounding the issue of Hong Kong and the then impending handover to China. I remain convinced that, despite his seeming ambivalence and focus instead on aesthetics, Wong Kar Wai is one of the most political filmmakers of recent times, and even with an almost fluffy throw-away piece like Chungking Express, which was filmed and made while he worked on Ashes Of Time, the fact there is a recurring motif of expiry (see the pineapple tins) and time running out is evidence pointing to this fact. It is, indeed, a film which rewards on repeat viewings.

Anyway, that’s your lot for this week. I hope you enjoyed reading, and I’ll see you next time!