By: Juan Barquin
There’s always something so surprising about the way joy finds a way into our lives even in the darkest of times. There is no doubt in my mind that two of the films I’ve seen in the latter half of my time as an MFCC juror for the Miami International Film Festival have stood out more than the rest. It’s because of the way they showcase such a thing that I was left so pleasantly surprised by them.
In Chile, we witness the filming of a commercial full of smiling people. Whether they’re dancing, picnicking, or even horse-riding, they’re there to say one thing: “Chile, la alegría ya viene.” Seamlessly jumping in and out of archival footage of the real NO and SI campaigns in Chile, Pablo Larraín crafts a hell of a film.
Dropping us right into Chile during the Pinochet era, No is a stunning little period piece that’s already been appropriately nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Larraín and cinematographer Sergio Armstrong’s choice to shoot with the U-Matic alone adds a pure eighties feel to it that goes a long way with presenting the narrative in an interesting manner.
There’s a clear darkness in No, being placed in the Pinochet era, but the way that Gael Garcia Bernal plays the unlikely leader of the NO committee is wonderful. The balance between hope and terror shows in his performance, and it’s accompanied by Alfredo Castro’s powerful work as his opposition.
In China, a man is ready to commit suicide. Filled with regret and silent as a snowflake in the night, he stands on a train track as it approaches, only to be left unharmed for standing on the wrong track. It’s this sort of humor that seeps into the dark beauty of Zhang Yuan’s Beijing Flickers.
The world of Beijing Flickers is far from a joyful one though, as one of the characters even says, “Where there is no light, darkness could be a lamp.” The melodrama is clear at times, but it’s a minor flaw, and the way Zhang Yuan shoots the film is gorgeous enough to make you forgive that. In both its dark and tender moments, there’s a sleek visual look that’s as aesthetically pleasing as it gets.
The way he handles almost all of the stories and characters is just as impressive. A mute suicidal man, a drag queen with a knack for poetry, a jilted doorman, and a beautiful singer don’t seem like the sort of people you’d typically find together. Yet somehow, this misfit bunch fit perfectly together into the puzzle that is Zhang Yuan’s exploration of life.