Friday, September 3, 2010

REVIEW: The White Flower

白 花 (Shiro Hana)

Released: 2010

Edmund Yeo

Zhu DanToru Inamura
Kong Pahurak

Running time: 17 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

“The White Flower” is the third in a loose trilogy of short films by Malaysian-born, Tokyo-based filmmaker Edmund Yeo. The other two entries being “Love Suicides” and “Kingyo” (which I have previously reviewed), they are all adaptations of short stories by the Nobel Prize-winning writer Yasunari Kawabata. While making these films, Yeo took the right approach of applying a highly cinematic quality to them, with extremely successful results. In “Kingyo,” his utilization of the split-screen technique greatly enhanced the portrayal of his characters and elevated the film’s poetic qualities to considerable heights. With “The White Flower,” Yeo pushes the experimental dynamic even further while continuing to keep his focus firmly situated on building character and emotion.

The key device deployed within “The White Flower” is the use of still pictures to tell the story, which is most famously demonstrated in Chris Marker’s 1962 film “La Jetée.” While certainly (and perhaps inevitably) reminiscent of that influential work, Yeo’s film is definitely its own animal, and puts the unique format to good use in exploring its own thematic concerns. The central character is a young Chinese woman (Zhu Dan) with a troubling family history who receives a foreboding letter from her ailing little brother. Afterwards, she contracts tuberculosis and is put under the care of a young Japanese doctor (Toru Inamura). As they spend time with each other, the doctor reveals his inner feelings towards her, which create a conflict between his duty to heal and release her and a tempting desire to keep her close to him at the sanitarium. She is discharged on the same day as a curious Thai filmmaker (Kong Pahurak), who recommends they visit a shrine together to pray for good health. He takes her on his bicycle through Tokyo and shares his personal feelings about art. Soon, an unsettling parallel between him and the doctor emerges. The woman leaves him and, upon learning more news about her brother, makes an important decision regarding her future.

Suitably, the still photography used throughout “The White Flower” is incredibly beautiful, possessing much richness, crisp clarity and great attention to framing and lighting in every shot. In fact, viewers are likely to be doubly grateful for the slideshow-like manner in which the shots progress, as it allows them to better savor each image while seeming to magnify and expand each of the contemplative, intimate moments that comprise the film’s episodic structure. Certain scenes stand out, including a gorgeous sunrise over Tokyo Bay that the doctor and the woman witness on a strange structure, their walks together along the debris-lined shore and through a nearby forest and the sunnier sequences spent with the filmmaker. While most of the shots portray small details in both the characters and their surroundings in still life fashion, others capture their subjects in mid-action, like the woman’s hair as it is disheveled by the wind. In some instances, shots are edited together in such a way that they temporarily animate their subjects. Significantly, the only actual “moving” footage is viewed through the filmmaker’s running camera.

That stylistic feature very much dovetails with the filmmaker’s personal views on filmmaking. He talks to the woman about how he sometimes lives his life like a film, and explains how, by filming first a cat, then her, he is ensuring that they will live forever in his images. Though his company is more comforting than the doctor’s, both men in their respective ways behold the woman as an ideal subject. For the doctor, she fuels his feelings of love; for the filmmaker, she fuels his artistic inspiration. Yet she has her own concerns and history that lie outside of both men, as implied in the segments that bookend the film in which she runs her fingers over a guzheng and thinks about her brother, family and future.

“The White Flower” is another stirring cinematic poem from Edmund Yeo, whose brave creative strategies and gift for marrying them to deep ideas and emotions indicate the touch of a master in the making.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog

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