Wednesday, June 04, 2008

[Italian Film Festival Opening Night] La Stella Che Non C'è / The Missing Star

Who Goes There?

This evening marks the 20th anniversary of the Italian Film Festival in Singapore, which in the last 5 years, have been an annual event. Gracing the occasion of course is the Italian Ambassador to Singapore, as well as Mr Kenneth Tan, the chairman of the Singapore Film Society, who quipped that this was the first time that he had addressed an audience at the Grand Cathay stage (for the uninitiated, he was the MD of another major competing cinema chain Golden Village). It's quite amazing to see, of all the various film festivals organized in Singapore that I've attended thus far, that it was a sell-out crowd at the Grand Cathay (which could seat more than 600) for the opening night, and I guess this speaks volumes of the quality of the programming, as well as the large Italian community we have based here as well.

The opening film for this year's festival is an Italian-Singapore co-production shot predominantly in China. Being the first of such a collaboration, if the intent of such festivals is for a cultural exchange, then this movie is apt in many ways. As already mentioned, it's a joint production, but upping the ante was to set it not in any grounds belonging to the collaborators, thus providing a sort of challenge outside the comfort zone in telling a story that can transcend cultural and location barriers.

Based upon the novel The Dismissal by Ermanno Rea, in essence the story's about the slow friendship that develops between an Italian maintenance technician Vincenzo Buonavolonta (Sergio Castellitto, who can be seen as the villainous King in Prince Caspian, and was the lead in Bella Martha) and a Chinese translator Liu Hua (Ling Tai). They set off actually on the wrong foot, with the former chastising the latter for her inaccurate, and slow translations of what he wanted to tell a Chinese delegate who had bought equipment that is faulty. Vincenzo wants to do the right thing, which is rare in these days, and that is to tell the prospective buyers upfront the faults as well as the intricacies that their purchase would bring, and given that he's disturbed by the fact that the deal still went ahead, he takes time off to craft a component that would set things right.

But that also means to travel to China in search of the elusive machine, which proves to be well hidden, and seemingly having vanished without a trace. With the initial reluctant help of Liu Hua, they set off in this treasure hunt from city to city, which brings us to lesser seen sights of China, away from the Beijings and the Shanghais, to cities like Wuhan, with industrial like backdrops such as steel mills and nuclear plants with their smoke stacks dotting the scenery. The mighty Yangtze River also makes an appearance. Along the way, the usual trappings of such travelogue styled movies come into play, such as the learning of culture, ideals, food, and basically, the understanding that the world is without strangers, if only one makes an effort to try and connect. While hints of some romance between the two leads are suggested, it rarely made itself to be a moot point, until perhaps late in the movie (hey, opposites attract, no?)

Besides the major industrial plants and factories, We get to see various cottage industry, like seamstresses working in sweat shop like environments, and I believe Cotton too, along with noodle making. As a film, it provided me the travelling opportunity without leaving my seat to observe, and credit to it for not passing judgement from a moral high ground on exploitation and the likes. And kudos too for the movie to engage in dialogue based on the characters' native tongues, rather than (and I shall not name names here) some other movie / cross-cultural collaborations where dialogue is forced-dubbed and came off unnatural, and truly irksome. Some might deem the supporting characters to be too kind too, always opening their arms and doors to a foreigner, but I would like to imagine that maybe in the more rural areas, people in general tend to be more sincere, friendly and basically not get caught up in the rat race to trample on others, or be trampled upon.

If there's a message to take away from the movie, besides the fact that I mentioned that the world is without strangers, is a reminder to myself that some of the stuff I deem important, may not be so to others. Importance is something one places upon something else, and its basis really depends on how we define the boundaries we set. So given our finite lifetime, I think I should lighten up a bit more, live and let live, and sometimes bask in the illusion that ignorance could be bliss.

Oh, and to brush up on my smattering of Italian so that I could do a greeting properly. Ciao!

The Italian Film Festival runs from today until 15 June, and you can click here for more details! The Missing Star will screen again at The Picturehouse on Sunday 8 June at 9.30pm.

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