October 08, 2005

Ox Hide / Keane

Reviewed by Martin Tsai at the 24th Vancouver International Film Festival

Winner of this year’s Dragons & Tigers award at the VIFF, Liu Jiayin’s perplexing debut Ox Hide is more intriguing than satisfying. Starring the director herself and her parents Jia Huifen and Liu Zaiping and shot entirely in their family home, its anyone’s guess as to whether the film is drama or documentary. After abandoning the mother and daughter’s prosperous sales scheme using year-round discounts to entice stingy consumers to loosen the purse strings, the father stubbornly drags his leather bags business to the brink of bankruptcy for the sake of his dignity and pride. The director has admitted that Ox Hide is autobiographical, but its minimalist fixed long takes and artless claustrophobic Scope compositions are decidedly stylistic. While the film’s meta-realist approach is refreshing, its various scenes come off as episodic, tedious and ultimately trivial.

Similarly verité and episodic, Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane achieves the polar opposite effect with an unfazed and engrossing portrait of a mentally unstable man (Damien Lewis of Band of Brothers) frantically searching for his lost daughter in the bowels of Manhattan. As with Clean, Shaven and Claire Dolan, Kerrigan’s detailed and subjective depictions of mental illness and fringe existence never cease to fascinate. (During the post-screening Q&A, the director offered that he has spent more than a decade researching the subject of mental health and also joked about befriending local junkies.) But Keane achieves more immediacy than Clean, Shaven or even David Cronenberg’s Spider by entirely omitting the auditory and visual hallucinations. Between psychotic attacks, the protagonist is wholly identifiable for having to endure every parent’s worst nightmare. The disturbing climax here is frighteningly all too human.

© Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.