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Cannes 2011. Naomi Kawase's "Hanezu"

Updated through 5/23.

"The magnificent and dramatic presence of Nature dwarfs human protagonists wallowing in a banal ménage a trois in Naomi Kawase's visually rhapsodic but overbearingly metaphorical and emotionally wan Hanezu," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. "Again evoking her favorite motifs of pregnancy, death, and heartbreak within the rural environs of Nara (Kawase's hometown and location for all her works), the Japanese director sees no need in varying or transcending her personal blend of documentary and poetic-animist style."

"Amid gorgeous images of the Asuka region of Japan, the nation's birthplace, poetic voiceovers by a man and woman begin the film by recounting the ancient myth of two mountains competing for one another's love," writes Variety's Rob Nelson. "Bringing this tale into present-day, human form is a young couple living together in picturesque Nara prefecture and expecting a child. Pregnant Kayoko (Hako Oshima) dyes scarves red using safflower, while her partner, Tetsuya (Tetsuya Akikawa), tinkers in the garden when not working as a book editor or daydreaming about opening a cafe. But such details emerge only gradually, as Kawase spends the pic's first half-hour focusing nearly as much attention on shots of insects, mountains and the sun's reflection on water."

"Plot points that would be major in most other films are here dealt with so reticently that one could blink and miss them," writes Lee Marshall for Screen. "[W]hen Kayoko tells Takumi she’s pregnant, presumably with his child, he mumbles something incoherent and she cycles away on her bike with a cursory 'See you!'. Nature, for Kawase, seems more expressive than people: streams and forests, mountains and the weight and presence of the past (given flesh in the form of the military father who comes back from the dead to visit his son, the chief archaeologist on the Asuka site) infuse and in the end overshadow the three lives shown here. Shot on handheld digital, with a wistfully melancholic string soundtrack, this is one of those films that washes quite pleasantly over one’s head. But in the end, it feels like an in-between project for the prolific Kawase."

"Hanezu is based on a novel by Masako Bando — maybe there is some kind of sturdy narrative there that Kawase just hasn't drawn out successfully," supposes Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek.

"The title means a certain shade of red, which is featured in the movie's design, set off by the lush greenery of the landscape," notes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It is a gentle, beautiful-looking film."

"It's easy to go with the mystical flow of Hanezu, even if not always to understand fully its references to Japanese history, poetry and myth," finds Time Out London's Dave Calhoun.

"Kawase represents a curious case for Cannes," finds the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "This is her fourth appearance in the main competition (she won the runner-up prize in 2007 for The Mourning Forest), and the festival's seemingly open invitation defies comprehension, except that the festival has always had its favorites, even if they're the favorite of no one else. In the hallways afterward, stories of restorative slumbers were shared, while someone renamed the film, The Shrub of Life. Which is to say Malick's movie continues to loom over most of what we see here. It's set an interesting and probably necessarily high bar for what other directors should strive to do. Kawase's flat-soda rapture and pulseless tragedy is as earnest as the Malick movie. He just gets much closer to transcendence than she does."


Grades are averaging just over 6.5 out of 10 at Micropsia.

Update, 5/21: "I had almost the same experience with Hanezu that I had with Kawase's 2007 The Mourning Forest," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "After 10 minutes, I wasn't sure I would make it through the whole thing; after 15, I never wanted it to end. For me and at least a few other Cannes viewers, Kawase's hypnotic blend of nature photography, romantic triangle, Japanese mythology and family archaeology arrived as a crucial psychic respite amid the Twitterific overcaffeinated gossip and vulgar glamour of this festival. In fact, Kawase's presence here… comes close to vindicating festival head Thierry Frémaux's programming vision. Kawase isn't especially well known in Japan, yet seems far too specifically Japanese to travel well. Yet taken on its own terms Hanezu is every bit as ambitious as Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, and tackles most of the same themes: memory, family, loss, mortality, the ephemeral nature of love and the enduring power of nature."

Update, 5/23: Glenn Heath Jr at the House Next Door: "Every shot is defined as a symbol of contrast: a bird locked in a cage vs birds that nest freely, or a man who shops at a grocery store vs a man who grows his own food. Kawase's film might seem meek on the surface, all tender glances and rainy landscapes, but her insistence to hammer the viewer over the head with blunt parallels renders her stunning sense of natural wonder completely moot."

Cannes 2011. Index: Reviews, interviews, coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

Sounds a bit like Silent Light…

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