Category Archives: Reviews

The Big Continent: Asian Cinema Challenge

terrorizes

from Edward Yang’s The Terrorizers (1989)

June 17, 2018

Last night, in the middle of my critical literature reviewing and catalog organizing for my thesis on Lav Diaz, I chanced upon a good film challenge in Letterboxd. It’s called The Big Continent: Asian Cinema Challenge. It requires one to watch one Asian film of a particular category (see categories below) per week. Each category corresponds to a list of films in Letterboxd.

I figure this Asian Cinema Challenge would be a great way  to generate more content for this blog and, given ample time and resources, this would encourage me to write more reviews for VCinema, provided that I will not review a film already listed in VCinema’s database.

Below is the list of categories per week and my selected films for viewing and/or review. I will start with Week 1 this week and will possibly jump to other categories, depending on the availability of the films.

Wish me luck!

 

A Note on ‘Film Challenges’ and the New Kind of Cinephilia

Film challenges are a form of cinephile’s game that usually forces one to watch films grouped in categories (by nation, by geography, by obscurity). It has an allotted time to finish (usually hosted in per annual basis) and requires the participant to log his progress . In online film websites like MUBI and Letterboxd, film challenges are usually staged to promote a certain genre or politics of films. The ones I appreciate are film challenges that champion underappreciated non-canonical films, especially films from the peripheries of the world. Have you seen a film from Bangladesh, or Bhutan, or Kazakhstan? Do you know auteurs from Saudi Arabia and Lebanon? from Colombia and Chile? from Finland and Iceland?

These film challenges are rallying for a new kind of inclusive cinephilia that does not focus entirely on filmic canons established by institutions. In an egalitarian sense, this new kind of cinephilia wants to circle the globe several times in search of the new: new alliances, new archives, new unknowns, new underdogs, new  forms and styles, regardless of nationality or spoken language. We might as well call it as exploratory cinephilia, a cinephilia driven by a continual sense of exploration, which can only happen in the digital era in which there seems to be a kind of geographical collapse in digitized commodities like films. File copies of films can be easily accessed in online digital archives. Peer-to-peer access has allowed fellow cinephiles to transfer file copies of films (usually ripped from DVD and BluRay copies) from one area of the globe to another with ease. The only factor would be internet accessibility. In today’s cinephilia, the space of the internet has constituted its global village, its space of existence. It has totally atomized and reterritorialized cinephilia in the privacy of one’s home. Spectatorship has indeed changed its face since the dawn of the internet. Digital exploratory cinephilia has continuously grew in the past decade in film sites like MUBI, Letterboxd and even in Facebook and has become, in itself, a captured audience to a new form of screen capitalism in the guise of Netflix, Hulu, MUBI, IFlix that offers a new experience of cinema in the small screens of LED TVs, laptops, and smartphones.

The problem is no one has problematized this form of digital capitalism yet. The political economy of such a screen culture has yet to be written as it involves a foray into digital humanities which is a very young discipline in the academe.

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Literature Review 1.0: Authorship in Cinema

June 2, 2018

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from JLG’s Histoire(s) Du Cinema

One of the major theories in cinema that underpins my research on Lav Diaz is the theory of authorship. It is impossible to think systematically of Lav Diaz and his metaphysics without acknowledging the role of practices of authorship that predominantly crafted his subjectivity. Hence, in relation to what I presented last May 26, 2018 during the Marx @ 200 Conference titled Marx contra Deleuze: Towards a Materialist Constitution of the Cinematic Sign, the importance of reactivating the debate on the validity of auteurism concerns the following arguments:

  • Auteurism as a form of aesthetic concealment that masks the industrial nature of cinema
  • Auteurism as suspect to the ideological agenda of the film industry
  • Auteur as a cultural capital

I will be reviewing and summarizing a set of books and essays that explore the relationship of authorship and film. To start with, I will be reviewing a set of essays from the book Authorship and Film (Routledge, New York and London, 2003) edited by David Gestner & Janet Staiger.

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Gerstner, D. A. (2003). The Practices of Authorship. In D. A. Gerstner & J. Staiger (Eds.), Authorship and Film (pp. 3–25). New York and London: Routledge.

Authorship and Film

In his introductory essay titled The Practices of Authorship, David A. Gerstner sets the direction for this important book collection of essays. He puts out several valid questions in relation to authorship. I shall enumerate them:

  • What possibilities exist for the cultural producer (adapting Walter Benjamin’s concept of author-as-producer) to intervene or to resist the larger institutional framework?
  • Is it critically true to say that when a director “offends against the tricks of the trade,” he or she is simply affirming the “validity of the system”?
  • In what ways might the filmmaker-as-film author challenge rather than submit to the ideological saturation of Hollywood production?
  • Is the film author merely an ideological tool or a corporatized, homogeneous culture?
  • What critical purpose might the function of the author serve in critical theory against, on the one hand, theories that support a culture of containment or, on the other hand, the bourgeois enterprise that reifies the author position?

Gerstner’s essay as well as the book interrogates various positionalities of film studies and film practice in relation to the author or authorsip. He begins by dispensing the idea that the author is not exclusive to cinema studies alone, but the discourse ‘has evolved for centuries and can be traced from the arts’ relationship to the sacral through our contemporary period of late capitalism’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 4). Gerstner (2003) points out that capitalism has created the ‘illusion of artist and masterpiece’ (p. 5) due to the alliance of art and the market. Gerstner also draws the complicity of the development of film theory and criticism with artist-and-masterpiece theories. The main agenda for consecrating the film-as-author in the early days of the film studies was to raise the level of cinema as an artform equivalent to painting, music and theater.

Parts of the Book

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from Histoire(s) Du Cinema

 

Gerstner and Staiger divide the book into four parts. The first part is the introductory essays of Gerstner and Staiger mapping the terrain of authorship and film. The second part, comprising of three essays, is the about the ‘ongoing fascination of the auteur in film studies’. Essays on the second part look into the idea of Dana Polan called Auteur Desire and its relation to the countless studies on cinema that directly addressed the filmmaker as the sole author of the film even though film is a collaborative form of authorship. The third part of the book, comprising of six essays, looks into the poststructuralist idea of the author in which film authorship is related to how ‘a text is consumed, appropriated and reproduced given the complicated relationships of production, reception, and spectatorship’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 5). It looks into the complex relationship of the reader/consumer as the author of the text (see Barthe’s concept death of the author). The fourth part concerns the concept of authorship in the intersectional field of cultural studies deploying strands of political and ideological import repositing the author in a new light.

 

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Theories of Authorship in Cinema Studies

image-w1280

Antoine Doinel

In the next sections of the introductory essay of Gerstner, he dispensed a narrative of the transformation of the concept of the author during the twentieth century. Gerstner (2003) posited that auteur theory in cinema ‘is rooted in the theatrics of a political gesture’ (p. 6) during the postwar cinema in France. From here, we enumerate the theories of authorship that emerged after World War II. The format will be as follows concept name, the proponent, the particular essay or book where the concept is formalized and constituted, the basic elements of the concept, and, if possible, the differences with other concepts and criticisms of the main concept by other thinkers/theorists/academics.

1. La Camera Stylo

Alexander AstrucImage result for Alexandre Astruc
“The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Camera Stylo” (1948)

  • Directly translates as the camera-as-pen
  • Crafted by Astruc to criticizes the current model (or a certain
  • tendency) of French cinema to overuse literary adaptation in the production of their films
  • Highlights cinema as a “means of expression just as all the other arts have been before it”
  • Indicates the director’s ability to translate his obsessions and ideas in film
  • Argues that cinema, like other arts, is a creative medium of its own with discrete creative ways

2. La Politiques des Auteurs

Francois TruffautImage result for françois truffaut
‘A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema’ (1953)

  • Also criticizes certain tendency of postwar French Cinema that favors literary adaptation than to craft their own stories
  • Truffaut called filmmakers to ‘strip away their literary sensibilities’, or the bondage with the literary word (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7)
  • Insists filmmakers to develop their films from scenario (script) to mise-en-scene (production design)
  • Asserts ‘the cinematic is expressed by the visual (mise-en-scene) not the literary word’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7)

Criticisms:

Jim Hillier

Truffaut’s auteur theory is ‘an essentially romantic conception of art and the artist’, as if ‘art transcended history’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7).

Andre Bazin

  • ‘Genius-artist is no simple matter and should not and must not be hastily determined’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 7)
  • Truffaut and company’s polemic on the auteur ‘slid suspiciously into ‘an aesthetic personality cult’

3. Hollywood Studio Auteurs

Andrew Sarris
‘The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968’ (1968)
‘Towards a Theory of Film History’

  • Argued that directors (from 1929 to 1968) working in the American studio system can be auteurs too!
  • Uses the criteria (1) technical competence, (2) presence of distinct visual style, (3) emergence of ‘interior meaning’ to identify auteurs from metteurs-en-sceneAndrewSarris2
  • Provided possibility for Hollywood to constitute a creative agency amidst its industrial nature
  • Advocates critics to discern directors’ personal signature styles, scrutinize mise-en-scene and avoid Hollywood clichés

Criticisms

David Gerstner

‘Sarris’ methodology slipped dangerously into overly subjective analysis.’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 8)

V.F. Perkins

Ultimate unity of film as a coherent vision is a dubious proposition because distance between conception and delivery is great.

Pauline Kael
“Circles and Squares” (1963)

  • auteur theory is an attempt by adult males to justify staying inside the small range of experience of their boyhood and adolescence
  • refusal to exercise taste and judgment in the area of study
  • Sarris is a bad critic, lacks rigor, and undisciplined
  • Sarris’ three circles of auteur theory (outer circle: technical competence; middle circle: distinguishable personality of the director; inner circle: mise-en-scene) has conflicting implications, formulaic rigidity, reduces all films to a privileged status of art.
  • Criticism is an art, not a science.
  • Auteur theory can nevertheless be a dangerous theory because it offer nothing but commercial goals to the young artists who may be trying to do something in film.

4. Structuralist Auteur Theory

Peter Wollen Image result for “Signs and Meanings in Cinema”
“Signs and Meanings in Cinema” (1972)

  • Auteur theory not limited to acclaiming director as author of the film
  • Requires an operation of decipherment and analysis to determine whether or not a director is the author of the film using structuralist methods (see Claude Levi-Strauss’s methods)
  • “Structuralist criticism cannot rest at the perception of resemblances or repetitions (redundancies, in fact), but must also comprehend a system of differences and oppositions.” (Wollen, 1998, p. 60)
  • Stylistic expressions is equivalent to music’s notion of artist’ interpretation: though many are involved in the constitution of the film, the transformation of the artwork

5. Alternatives to Romantic Auteur Theory

Ed Buscombe
“Ideas of Authorship” (1973)

  • ‘Squeeze out auteur from his position of prominence and transform the notion of him which remain’
  • Alternative to romantic auteur theory
  • Examines the effect of cinema in society
  • Consider the effect of society on cinema (operation of ideology, economics, and technology)
  • Study the effects of films on other films
  • Offers a culturally political critique

6. Ideological/Political Readings of Auteur

Writers of Cahiers du CinemaImage result for cahiers du cinema 1971
“Cinema/Ideology/Criticism” (1971)
“John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln” (1971)

  • Highlights questions of ideology, spectatorship, and modes of cultural production
  • Auteur status filtered through Marxist lens
  • Considers some of auteurs’ as ideological critiques of class and social structure

7. Expanded Readings of Ideological Auteurs

Stephen Heath
Comment on ‘The Idea of Authorship’’ (1973)

  • Emphasis on authorship per se to a textual, ideological, and theoretical analysis of the subject/spectator in relationship to text

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Theories of Authorship in Critical Theory

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French philosopher Michel Foucault

Theories of authorship are also problematized in the field of critical theory. For Gerstner, ‘critical distance allowed pure critical objectivity and a shield from contamination of “emotions”’ (Gerstner, 2003, p. 11) In this way, one can critically interrogate authorship in relation to critiques of agency and intention.

1. Author-Function

Michel Foucault
‘What is the Author?’ (1975)

  • Constructed, secured and upheld by bourgeois sensibilities of art
  • Circulated as important operative of bourgeois ideology
  • Characteristic of the mode of existence, circulation, and functioning of certain discourses in society
  • Marx and Freud are founders of discursivity – they established an endless possibility of discourse

2. Author-Creator

Mikhail BakhtinImage result for Dialogic imagination mikhail bakhtin
‘Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel’ (1981)

  • Different from the author as a human being
  • Not dead, but speaking, signifying in the work of art
  • In mutual interaction between the world represented in the work and the world outside the work
  • Has a dialogical character in relation to the work of art
  • Has a Presence that exist tangentially
  • Built on the idea the chronotopes of the author and the listener or reader as seated in intimate relationship with the work of art
  • Reader – active participant and producer of meaning (dialogical)
  • Reconception of the author in the multilayered dimension associated with the phenomenological experience of the work of art

3. Author as Producer

Walter Benjamin
‘The Author as Producer’ (1934)Image result for walter benjamin

  • Author’s productive activity and his or her demand to think, to reflect on his position in the process of production is the key to break the illusion of ideology in the reader’s mind, transforming the reader into producers themselves
  • Author as straddled between revolutionary activity and false consciousness (bourgeois ideology)
  • Author uses bourgeois apparatus of production to assimilate astonishing quantities of revolutionary themes in order for its readers to undergo functional transformation
  • Functional transformation is when the readers become producers and collaborators of the author
  • Similar to Brechtian conscious intervention in bourgeois theatrical narrative by counteracting the illusion of the audience

4. Reader as Author or Producer

Roland Barthes
Image result for the death of the author roland barthes

‘The Death of the Author’ (1968)
‘From Work to Text’ (1971)

    • Readerly act of consumption is production
    • Reader’s active role displaces the bourgeois privilege of the author
    • Text is eternally written here and now

Text yields ‘multiple writings’, resist foreclosed interpretation

  • Reader-as-producer makes meanings to secure it for the here-and-now

5. Author as Exploited Cultural Laborer

Pierre Bourdieu
‘The Production of Belief: Contribution to an Economy of Symbolic Goods’ (1986)

  • Ideology of creation conceals the exploitation of the labor of the author by cultural businessmen
  • Author is the first and last source of the value of work (as value is exchange by cultural capital by putting the work on the market)

6. Author Position

Michel de CerteauImage result for ‘Practice of Everyday Life
‘Practice of Everyday Life’ (1984)
‘Heterologies: Discourse on the Other’ (1986)

  • author position is the nominal center where the fictional unity of the work is produced
  • Symbiotic relationship between producer and work and text create dynamics between producer and consumer

7. Spectatorial Corporeality

Gilles Deleuze
‘Cinema 2: The Time-Image’ (1986)

  • Astruc’s camera-stylo is not a metaphor
  • Machine of the cinematic apparatus intermingles with the corporeality of the spectator

8. Unknowability of Author’s Intention

Jacques DerridaImage result for jacques derrida
‘Signature Event Context’ (1971)

  • The truth of intention is unknowable because meaning is context bound and context is boundless
  • Derrida: the category of intention will not disappear, it has its place, but from this place it will no longer be able to govern the entire scene and the entire system of utterances

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Theories on Authorship as Politics of Representation

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Theories on authorship also concerns the role of the laboring body of the author. What governs the cultural production of the text are parameters and limitations of this laboring bodies and their power relations with the means of production of the text. Here are some theories that explores the intentionality of the author in relation to his body.

1. Western Orientalizing Authors

Image result for orientalism edward said

Edward Said
‘Orientalism’ (1979)

  • Occidental texts create authority by Orientalizing non-occidental phenomenon
  • Occidental text establishes the canons of taste and value

2. The Colonized Author

Abdul R. JanMohamedImage result for Abdul R. JanMohamed
‘The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature’ (1985)

  • An author who is inextricably enmeshed in the matrix of imperialist commodification
  • Can also be inducted to fulfill the author-function of the colonialist writer
  • In profound symbiotic relationship with imperialist practices
  • Impossible to determine which form of commodification takes precedence (colonized author or the colonialist author)

3. Author as Social or Political Representation

J. Ronald Green
‘The Cinema of Oscar Micheux’ (2001)

Pearl Bowser & Louise Pence
‘Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films, and His Audiences’ (2000)

Jane Gaines
‘Fire and Desire: Mixed-Raced Movies in the Silent Era’ (2001)

Constance Penley
‘Introduction: The Lady Doesn’t Vanish: Feminism and Film Theory’ (1988)

  • Author as instigator and actualizer
  • Someone who not only designs the work but orchestrates its reception
  • Auteur studies remain vital to the politics of representation
  • Biography of the author overlaps with the body of work
  • Personal experience of the author is valid, grants author and spectator/reader a cultural space where they can convene
  • Resist liberal posture of nonrace in celebratory announcement that ‘we’re all the same’
  • A caution against hasty dismissal of authority of the author for the sake of critique of power relations

4. Feminist Critique of the Author-Function

Lauren Rabinowitz
‘Points of Resistance: Women, Power and Politics in the New York Avant-Garde Cinema 1943-71’ (1991)

  • Author-function is important in understanding cultural underpinnings and enunciation of any specifically female discourse

5. Queer Authorship

Judith Butler Image result for epistemology of the closet
‘Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity’ (1990)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
‘Epistemology of the Closet’ (1990)

  • Critiques essentialist presumptions about gender
  • Figuring the role of the author within its reshaping by feminists and gay and lesbian scholars

6. Biographeme

Douglas CrimpImage result for fassbinder
‘Fassbinder, Franz, Fox, Elvira, Armin and All the Others’ (1993)

  • Privileges the “I” of the text as both reader and writer
  • Reader and writer are indissoluble figures who are not much distinct and separate as much as sensual inventions of one another
  • Intermingling of reader and writer in the text
  • Abolishes individuality while animating the pleasures
  • Similar to Bakhtin’s Author-creator and Bathes’ reader-as-author

7. Entanglement of Bodies of the Author and Reader with the Text

Michael Moon
‘Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Corporeality in Leaves of Grass’ (1991)

  • Latches on queer theory
  • Author’s body can be successfully projected through, partially transformed into, his printed text
  • Author’s readers can engage in contact with the actual physical presence of the author

8. Authorial Suicide

Kaja SilvermanImage result for kaja silverman jlg
‘The Author as Receiver’ (2001)

  • Performative of the text in which the filmmaker erases himself as a bodily presence
  • A determination of author’s suicide within the work grants author a franchise on the claims for textual authority.
  • Death of Himself as the Author

 

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There are many theories of authorship in film. However, Diaz deploys a type of authorship that goes beyond its relation with a politics of representation. His politiques des auteurs may have intersected other expanded fields of inquiries. It is my goal to relate his auteurship to his own brand of cine-metaphysics.

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People Power Bombshell: A Diary of Vietnam Rose (Philippines, 2016) [Aperture 2018]

Reposted from VCinema

In Philippine Cinema, rarely do we see a film as ambitious as People Power Bombshell: A Diary of Vietnam Rose in terms of experimentation. Like many of John Torres’ works, it demands a lot from the audience. Unlike Lav Diaz’s long films, we are not enamoured in watching sustained long hours of contemplative ennui. Torres demands from us full the attention to the illogical, to the obscure, to images that no longer bear any grandstanding within contemporary film practice today. To put it simply, People Power Bombshell is Torres’ attempts on exhumation and reanimation of remains, of things lost and found: human remains, image remains, cultural remains… What resulted from Torres’ experimental reanimation of the dead – the dead Celso Ad Castillo and his multiplicities – are zombified images, or images that are already dead but resurrected through the material effects of digital conversion.

Aside from harbouring zombified images, People Power Bombshell is also populated by images that bear no proper address. For example, a shot snapped 1 hour and 13 minutes into the film shows a group of armed civilians holding the Vietnamese flag. This shot arguably does not belong to the film, yet it comes from there, from its interstice, possessing its own materiality as a moment of the film, as a slice of its filmic time, an intruder. And yet, in relation to the whole, one grapples at its relevance, its narrative importance, for most of these images fall of the grid.

People Power Bombshell: A Diary of Vietnam Rose is filled with these non-images, images that resist to be understood in relation to the whole. It derives its visual power from the tactility of in-betweenness, of being in a state of geographical and temporal suspension. Torres’ images are shifters, interfacers, intertistial, in-betweens, always caught between two opposing forces and seemingly forcing two disjunct worlds into one.

One of the noticeable interstices in Torres’ film is the violence shift between two media. People Power Bombshell is a film that combines celluloid film (the unfinished film of Celso Ad Castillo titled A Diary of Vietnam Rose) and digital film (a recreated digital film made by Torres himself). In an attempt to bridge the two media, Torres aesthetically copies the rough celluloid scratches of Celso Ad Castillo’s unfinished film applying it as a stylistic layer to his digital shots. On the other hand, he maintains, in its poor state, the celluloid look of A Diary of Vietnam Rose to blend the visuality of the two media. The result is an abstruse flow of cinematic time in the film.

The redubbing of sound in the film also contributes in stitching the two media. Torres is infamous for his experimentation on sound and subtitling. In Torres’ earlier work Refrains Happen Revolutions in a Song (2010), we are led to believe that the subtitles deployed in the film are direct translations of the actual sound. However, Torres revealed afterwards that the subtitles were entirely made-up based what he apparently heard. In a similar fashion, People Power Bombshell is redubbed anew, without any reference to the old material. In redubbing the major scenes from the original film, Torres was able to create a new layer of auditory narrative, forcing the audience to compensate for the incongruous image-sound relation.

This complex film practice rallies towards abandoning pre-established narratological boundaries. Since the original film was shot in the 1980s, the obsolescence of celluloid medium prevents Torres to reshoot the film in its original form. There is also a conflict in the cast, crew and location of the original film. A three-decade gap between its production and Torres’ attempt to resurrect it from the dead would impossibly render some of its cast and crew to aged. Some have left the country, while some cast like Celso Ad Castillo, with a titular character in the film, have died. The location used in the film has also changed.

In some ways, this gives us a hint of another interstice present in the film – the interstice of time. The film achieves its rigour of creation and invention by reaffirming incommensurable flow of time itself. Torres’ principle of exhumation is therefore hemmed in the destruction of the ‘old’ in lieu of the ‘new.’

In People Power Bombshell, cinematic time approaches an enigmatic resolve, neither linear nor circular, with no beginning or end. Time is inexhaustibly caught in the interstice of the interval of its images. The film captivates its audience first with a new form of visuality, then leads its audience to linger in an enigmatic trap of being thrown in the middle of a waterspout with indiscernible dimension, offering no possibility of ejection or escape.

Although it is its most distinctive aesthetic feature, the stained and damaged look of the film is not reassuring. A layer of suspicion and pretension haunts Torres’ method while it attempts to question the very idea of anchoring or grounding. Much like the films of Stan Brakhage, People Power Bombshell refuses to be seen as a film. It refuses to be anchored on a conventionally logical grounding of what a film is, as it heaves, shifts and thugs the eyes while ornamentalizing what it supposed to show. The ornament and its shadow cast a dire external look of the film. As much as one can hate the film for its lack of transparency and clarity, for its ornamentation and pretension, this is the visual purpose of the film – to let images perform an archaic dance of light.

The ambiguity caused by splintering and fragmentation of the film’s images leads us to believe that the film lacks its sense of discernment for authenticity and clarity. For Torres, clarity and authenticity are the film’s last resort for wholeness. For him, collisions are more important.

Torres, in an attempt to remove the barrier between analog and digital, actuates a triple destruction of conventional filmmaking. First, he destroys the hierarchy of the celluloid and digital through his act of refusal to recreate the celluloid parts as celluloid. Second, he destroys the hierarchy of time by building upon the old narrative using new pathways and direction. And third, he denaturalizes the authorial command of film by disarming Celso Ad Castillo’s aesthetic control of the film. Through this triple destruction, the film’s intended meaning undergoes dynamic shifts.

This brings us to the question of wholeness. In making an effort to emulate the tactility of in-betweeness, Torres corrupts the metaphysical concept of wholeness. He announces, through his film, that cinema is incapable of coming to terms with a whole. What Torres introduces is the dialectical opposite of the Whole: the fragment – neither whole nor complete, always announcing itself in the film as the site of becoming-new.

People Power Bombshell: A Diary of Vietnam Rose is showing as part of the Aperture: Asia & Pacific Film Festival which is touring across the UK during spring/summer 2018. See the festival website for more details and screening dates.

 

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