At AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center's Silverdocs festival, I saw three documentaries that were very interesting and memorable. While I haven't had time to post in-depth reviews, I can now write down what I remember about them.
The Invention of Dr. Nakamats: This film follows a Japanese inventor with over 3,000 patents (compared, he says, to Thomas Edison's approximately 1,000), and his quest for immortality. This quest is both figurative (he places his name on the front of his house and places in his house, and during his 80th birthday celebration, is quite upset with the hosting hotel that will not change the name of the ballroom to be named after him) and literal (he invented a method of monitoring what he eats in order to, he says, determine what foods will add the most longevity to his life). Dr. Nakamats is portrayed as a lovable, though somewhat egotistical, eccentric, and he is an engaging character. While the overall tone of the film is lighthearted, there are some touching emotional moments where Dr. Nakamats talks about his late mother. He says he still talks to her, and this is one of the ways he gains inspiration for his inventions. He recalls that his first invention, a kitchen appliance, was designed when he was 14 to help his mother prepare dinner. One of the reasons he invents, he says, is out of "love."
Camera, Camera: While a bit slow-moving, this film is, as revealed in a post-screening discussion with the director, writer/interviewer and producer, about tourists and what the pictures they take say about them. It is, as one viewer said in a question she asked, "almost an anti-documentary," a film about the art and practice of documenting. The film is set in Laos, and the country as it is seen through the eyes of Western tourists. Some came for an adventure, some came, as one British man says, for an "escape." There are some arresting images in the film, such as a tourist couple being interviewed while a Lao woman walks right into the shot and hangs her laundry, with both parties oblivious to each other, and a line of Lao men in traditional dress (while it's not directly stated, they looked to be monks or other religious figures) walking down the street with a row of tourists taking their picture, recalling the lines of paparazzi on the streets of Los Angeles. The film was preceded by a short, Between Dreams, where passengers on a sleeper train in Siberia recall their most memorable dreams, the interviews intercut with sleeping passengers.
Marwencol: Mark, a 38-year-old man who suffered severe head trauma and, as a result, amnesia, no longer able to afford therapy, he creates a WWII-era village out of dolls and props. Still plagued by demons from the beating from four young men that caused his injury, he sinks deeper into his imaginary world, the stories of Marwencol, the name he gives to his made-up Belgian village, become more involved, and more violent. Mark names the dolls in his village after himself and people he knows, and his own alter ego is captured by Nazis and tortured, as if he is reliving his own attack. Along the tour of his imaginary world, Mark reveals more about himself and his pre-amnesia self. An alcoholic in, as he calls it, his "first life," he no longer drinks, since, he says, he can't remember alcohol, and therefore doesn't miss it. This film made me think like few I have seen. I started thinking about the nature of identity, starting over, the imaginary vs the real, and how trauma affects us all in different ways. This film was preceded by a short, They Are Giants, about a man who has designed an eight feet by four feet library with hundreds of miniature books bound in leather and mahogany shelves.
Aside from Silverdocs, AFI offers other excellent film series, such as the annual Korean film festival, showcasing the latest films from South Korea, a country that is currently producing some of the most interesting movies in the world. The film I saw in this year's series, Thirst, is a vampire story from the director of Old Boy, Chan-wook Park. While not quite as gory as Old Boy, Thirst is equally unsettling. A priest, having volunteered for a medical experiment, is injected with a vampiric germ and briefly dies, then comes back to life, making him a legend in his hometown. But the adoring town does not know his secret, that he is now a vampire with a thirst for blood. Through the family of one of his followers, he meets a woman who will become his partner in his new life after death. While this woman's murderous inclinations don't come to light until after the priest turns her, the director gives early inclinations that she is not someone to be trusted. In one scene, while her husband is dying of cancer, she looks bored and annoyed by her mother-in-law's grief. The sex scenes between her and the vampire priest are some of the most uncomfortably erotic I have seen, sexy and disturbing all at the same time. The scene where the priest turns his new lover into a vampire is also compelling, starting out with him wanting to kill her, then, overcome with remorse, hurriedly tries to save her by giving her his infected blood. The one major flaw is a climax that drags, in contrast to the rest of the well-paced film, and though it's a generally satisfying ending, the long scenes dilute the intended punch of the end.