Cai Shangjun’s People Mountain People Sea and Laurent Achard’s Last Screening are two different films with unsettling takes of violent behavior that were official selections of the 55th annual San Francisco International Film Festival.
People Mountain People Sea (2011)
After failing to make money in a larger town, Lao Tie (Chen Jianbin) returns to his small village to discover that his brother has been murdered for the small amount of money he carried and his motorbike. The police identify the murderer, but cannot locate him. So Lao Tie begins a journey through Southwestern China, through the insolvency of families packed into small tenement rooms to the squalor working conditions of a mining community, in search of vengeance.
This is the second film from director Cai Shangjun, who began his career writing screenplays with director Zhang Yang. With scintillating cinematography and very little dialogue, Shangjun relies on visual cues to craft a narrative. This style can cause an inattentive moviegoer to ask, “What the hell just happened?” As sparse as many of the details are in this film, though, even a focused concentration, one may be left slightly perplexed after only a single viewing.
Last Screening (2011)
A cue mark tells a projectionist to switch to a new reel. Similarly, the news that Empire Cinema, a single screen theater, is closing abruptly triggers its projectionist into a murderous spree. Sylvain (Pascal Cervo) is dedicated worker with a passion for movies. This obsession, along with the cause of his sudden homicidal rage, is rooted in childhood memories that come back to him in flashbacks between his fits of knife wielding slashings.
There are numerous references to other films. The movie posters hung around the theater – La Captive, Last Days, Playtime, and more – signal the changing of time and the ending of this cinemahouse. The characters test Sylvain’s trivial knowledge and share their favorite musical songs. The plot is full of obvious references to the pair of masterful 1960 psychological thrillers, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. But the film still feels it is lacking something to make it more than a curious pastiche. It is a decent movie from a great premise.