New Directors/New Films: Part Three
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A strange thing is occurring among the 26 films premiering soon at the New Directors/New Films series curated by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art, supported by HBO Films. The five most memorable pictures for this moviegoer out of 14 seen so far are all related to water. It's a puzzling phenomenon. Your critic drinks tap water, doesn't water-ski and has never taken an ocean voyage. Water is water. But not to the directors of "Water lilies," (the Parisian coming-of-age swim team drama), "Jellyfish" (the Israeli dramatic satire set around a seaside hotel in Tel Aviv), "Wonderful Town" (the brooding melodrama filmed in a Thailand community nearly obliterated by the 2004 Tsunami), or "Trouble the Water" (the astonishing documentary of Hurricane Katrina's effect on a New Orleans family that filmed the worst of it with a $20 camcorder). Now comes the fifth real winner, and it, too, offers an entirely new and different take on water, this time as a healing and even providential element of nature.
"Megane" (Glasses). The plane landing on the little island off southern Japan carries two women-- one aged, worn and traditionally dressed, the other young, more formal and in dressy tourist wear. The younger woman makes her way to a pleasant residence a stone's throw from the ocean that takes guests and is solely run by an agreeable middle-age islander who does the cooking. The younger woman is awakened each morning by the older woman, who leads morning exercises for school kids on the beach, runs a shaved-ice stand in the sands, and helps prepare meals at the inn. In the afternoons the innkeeper fishes from a pier or quietly strums a mandolin. Late afternoons, the older woman joins him at seaside to watch the sun go down. They call this "twilighting." There's no one else around and nothing to do, and initially the young woman (as well as the viewer) fidgets with boredom. All of this is set up with a studied leisure by the writer/director Naoko Ogigami, who has made three successful pictures and who we dearly hope will reward our patience.
That starts to happen when the young woman's work is disclosed and she tells why she's chosen this remote place to vacation. It's a quick reveal you'll need to discover for yourself, and it's the movie's tipping point both for her and for us. Slowly she develops a taste for island cooking (which looks exquisite), shaved ice, morning exercises and, finally, twilighting with her host. She wears glasses and near the end loses them, but in a sweet coda scene they're found and in a second, even sweeter coda, we see they've been returned. The pleasures of "Megane" are framed by the ever-present proximity, light and sound of the ocean, which infuses a transporting aura to the innkeeper's observation that "I watch my days pass here."
Whether you give yourself to Ogigami's film depends in part on your mood walking in--what sort of day and week you're having, where you vacation or would like to vacation, how much of a tolerance (or desire) you have for twilighting in front of a limitless horizon of blue ocean. "Megane's" residential inn with its homestyle kitchen where guests eat with the owner may not be the end-destination choice for Madison Avenue warriors who hit the ground running at dawn, or for Madison Avenue veterans who've been-there-done-that in the world's most exotic vacation climes. It's a different world. A different mindset. A different take on water from the four preceding New Directors/New Films with water environments. But this may be the one you'll take to your heart and even to your travel agent.