SFIFF 2010 Reviews: Air Doll / Lebanon

Founded in 1957, the San Francisco International Film Festival is the longest-running film festival in the Americas. Held each spring for two weeks, the International is an extraordinary showcase of cinematic discovery and innovation in the country’s most beautiful city, featuring some 150 films and live events with more than 100 filmmakers in attendance and nearly two dozen awards presented for cinematic excellence. The Festival attracts an annual audience of more than 80,000. The San Francisco International Film Festival runs through May 6th.

We’ll be presenting capsule reviews for some of the movies currently playing while others will receive the standard review treatment.

Air Doll
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Country: Japan

The setting is modern day Tokyo, but the magic at work here is pure fairy tale as an inflatable sex doll comes to life one morning and sets out to discover her new life. She has an air nozzle in her stomach and is in constant danger of puncture, but she finds both the highs and lows of being human far outweigh the risk. Her daily life includes meeting new people, getting a job, and even finding her maker. Among the many wonders is the realization that many of Tokyo’s citizens are living lives just as sheltered and isolated as she once was. Loneliness is a trait that affects plastic and human alike.

Part love story, part Pinocchio re-imagining, and part exploration of what exactly it means to be human, Air Doll is a beautiful and touching look at a life we all take for granted. Bae Doo-na (The Host) breathes such amazing life into the title character that that pun almost wrote itself. Her eyes are simultaneously hopeful, excited, and fearful, and the childish wonder is evident in her every expression and gesture. The film’s pacing has a dream-like flow to it which is the nice way of saying it drags at times, but the end result is still an emotional fable worth watching.

Lebanon
Director: Samuel Moaz
Country: Israel

Lebanon follows an Israeli tank crew as they roll through a town on a mission during the 1982 invasion of the titular country, but like a dry land version of Das Boot the entire affair is presented from inside their moving, metal box. We see what they see. We hear what they hear. Explosions, screams, and a constant rumble are the soundtrack that accompanies their journey, and as the heat and tensions rise inside the tank we can almost feel the sweat dripping down our own necks. A new and nervous gunner named Shmulik has joined the crew, and as the mission proceeds and the men inside the tank are forced to rely on a faceless radio voice for instructions the tension between them and their orders ignites.

The main focus of Lebanon is the inanity of war and the confusion of battle, and while that message succeeds at coming across several of the supporting bits of the film that should add to it just don’t don’t work as well. The POV out of the tank via the driver or gunner is inconsistent with the turret noise effect that accompanies its every movement (except when it doesn’t). The range filter effect works beautifully though with a smooth zoom replaced by clunky jumps to the next resolution. Acting is fine, but we’re given very little to work with on most of the characters aside from Shmulik. The others are more caricature than character, all meant to drive the point home that people making these important decisions are incapable of seeing the whole picture.

Check out the official site for the San Francisco International Film Festival for complete a schedule of showings and other special events. Click here to read more coverage of SFIFF.