VIFF 2010 capsule reviews: Barney's Version, Hahaha (Day 1)

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Barney's Version (Lewis, 2010) Canada.

Barney, a TV big wig sporting a caustic sense of humour and an insensitive persona, found the love of his life at the wedding to his second wife. It was not his wife to be (delightfully played by Minnie Driver); it was a guest in attendance, the radiant Miriam in blue (Rosamund Pike). What followed was a love story in the tradition of rom com's 'the one' mythology, with Paul Giamatti playing the role of the homely, cynical man wooing the sophisticated princess. The new romantic leading man in recent rom coms has only his unyielding love to offer and very few other qualities of note, but he would always end up inexplicably winning the love of some beautiful, complex leading lady. Barney's Version was created with the same conceit, framed from the perspective of an awestruck, self-sabotaging man. One never got the sense that Barney was in any way an equivalent or an equal partner to Miriam. His son even went so far as to state that Barney did not deserve Miriam in his life, a position the film never succeeded in dismissing, despite the attempt at trumping up his never-say-die love for Miriam. The cast members filled their roles in good spirit, but the film offered very little depth, originality or chemistry between the leads. Overly sentimental, and ultimately forgettable, Barney really did not need this version to be told.

Hahaha (Hong, 2010) Korea. 2010 Cannes winner - Prix Un Certain Regard (for "original and different" works)

Aspiring film director Moon-kyung and his friend, film critic Joong-sik, met up shortly before Moon-kyung left for Canada. They swapped stories of their recent trip to the seaside town of Tong-yeong over drinks. Along the way, despite their initial insistence on only skimping the pleasant surface of life, the two friends inadvertently ventured beyond the safety of their wading pool, providing us with a more complete picture of what happened to them over the summer. The two interweaving stories, told from Joong-sik's and Moon-kyung's perspective, were arranged in alternating sections, with each character taking turn stringing their interconnected experience together. The film gently made a case for our life story being a series of overlapping narratives. The meeting itself was presented in a series of freeze frames, as though the audience was rummaging through a photo book. Hong's honest but tolerant view of his characters' growth process made it possible for us to empathize with their struggle, however seemingly minute. The film offered an interesting peek at the Korean youth culture and its romantic aspirations, simultaneously poking fun at its naiveté and respecting its raison d'être. As a romantic comedy, it was as awkward, light-hearted and funny as their summer romance - certainly a welcomed fresh take on a genre overridden with cliché and conventions.

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