There is nothing less cinephile than naphthalene nostalgia. When we begin to yearn for movies of bygone eras (or to consume series like there was no tomorrow), we should have the courage to recognise that it is not our problem, for cinema, neither for better nor worse, is following its course. However, the impressive line-up of Eastern grand masters that we have for this edition, including Nobuhiro Suwa, Hong Sang-soo, Naomi Kawase and Tsai Ming-liang, takes our minds back to that delightful time when we discovered them all thanks to BAFF, that Asian film festival that for so many people behind D’A, starting with its director, Carlos Ríos, was the predecessor of the current event.
This is even more the case when the films presented by the aforesaid directors engage with their pasts and, just as importantly, without detracting from them: in True Mothers, Naomi Kawase has stripped herself of mushy sentimentality to deal with a topic, adoption, that has always been at the heart of her work, while Nobuhiro Suwa returns to his native Hiroshima, as in H Story (2001), this time to visit the ruins left by the radioactive tsunami in his fascinating El teléfono del viento. While 20 years ago we took to our seats like ghosts to witness the death of cinema in Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003), Tsai Ming-liang has managed to continue mesmerising us with his morose tableaux vivants in the extraordinary Days, which follows on similar lines to the radical Stray Dogs (2013), but using the canvas of the screen as an unforgettable massage of the senses.
Hong Sang-soo is also true to himself, and to his beloved Kim Min-hee, in The Woman Who Ran, his 24th movie if my calculations are right, in which there is also a hint of greater refinery in the image and feminisation of the plot. And we also have the crepuscular Under the Open Sky, by a director who I must confess I did not know, Miwa Nishikawa, and which settles scores with the past by telling us the story of a former yakuza (the historic Kôji Yakusho) trying to fit back into society after 16 years behind bars. The past always ends up enrapturing us, that’s inevitable, but we must continue projecting ourselves into the future. Even in such a cursed year for the industry, there have still been some great films. Let’s enjoy them while we still have time.
— Philipp Engel