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We split our time between movie-going, eating and shopping, this year. The shopping gods did not favor us at all, though; we should have seen more movies instead. Here's what we did see:  

Friday, 9:30am [1]
Hainan Ji Fan (Rice Rhapsody)  

Sweet enough, if you don't object from the beginning to a mother being inconsolably distraught at the thought that the third of her three sons might also be gay, and obliviously attempting to force-feed him to a loopy French exchange student to cultivate his heterosexuality.  

I love seeing other places in movies, but I don't have a much better idea of
Singapore after this movie than I did before. The people speak more English than I realized, and apparently airport security is relaxed enough that you can have bike races even after checking in for your flight. Everybody's mind seems thoroughly blown by the wildly innovative idea of Hainan Duck Rice, despite having grown up on the traditional staple of Hainan Chicken Rice, and I have no idea whether these two concepts really are radically different to a Singapore rice-eater, or I was supposed to understand the exaggeration of a subtle distinction as allegorical irony.  

Shot and assembled cleanly and professionally, but without any particular individual style.  

Friday, 5pm [2]
Sex hopp och kärlek (Sex, Hope and Love)  

The host of a Swedish TV dating show goes back to his small hometown for a funeral and semi-wittingly perturbs it. The town, not the funeral. Actually, come to think of it, they never showed the funeral, did they?  

B and I both find Swedish domesticity familiar and appealing somehow, which is distantly explicable on genetic grounds, but not really based on anything more tangible. The characters in this revolving romantic farce are encouragingly normal and confused and real, and even when they freak out it seems fairly reasonable.  

Saturday, 9:30am [3]

A well-intentioned Berlin lab-tech brings home an illegal Algerian cleaning woman after inadvertently almost betraying her to the police. Her boyfriend isn't entirely supportive, and her father has an unnerving habit of standing outside their apartment door whenever they open it. It's not clear whether he's standing there all the time, or if it's opening the door that causes him to appear. Naturally the cleaning woman is beautiful, and eventually they figure out that she isn't mute, she just speaks something called "French".  

Good acting, and pretty well done for a debut film, but a first half spent building up interesting complexities collapses regrettably into a second half in which the most predictable surprises mostly happen, and none of what might have been puzzle pieces turn out to be part of any puzzles.  

Still, after taking Spanish courses in Boston, and then traveling to Japan and Bali, and then being in bilingual Montreal, it was interesting to see a movie in which believable real life moved so fluidly between languages. The couple are German, but she talks with her father in something Slavic and unsubtitled, they speak to the Algerian in a melange of German and French and English, and the Algerian is actually trying to get to Sweden.  

Saturday, 7:00pm [4]
Stiilipidu (Shop of Dreams)  

After a TV studio is abruptly shut down, three women from the wardrobe and makeup department take the costumes and start a rental shop.  

Estonians are gorgeous. And costumes are cool. Another sweet Scandinavian movie, and a rather sunnier one than most of the others we've seen, but maybe not as coherent as it might have been, and more over-plotted than it needed to be.  

And as it became clear that our movie-going rationale was virtual tourism, we definitely wanted to see more of Tallinn. But the American version would have had them being miraculously successful and popularly ubiquitous in a way that would have told you lots about movie America and nothing about real cities. Better brief glimpses of a real place than fake insight into irrelevant facades.  

Sunday, 9:30am [5]
Shonen to Hoshi to Jitensha (Satoru - Fourteen)  

Great pre-film intro, with director Fukuhara Susumu providing historio-cultural background about Christianity in Amakusa and the expectations around Japanese boys turning 14, his interpreter translating his long and detailed remarks into English, and a hopelessly overwhelmed festival worker trying gamely to render the English into wildly paraphrased and/or baldly inaccurate French.  

The film itself, sadly, was god-awful, like an after-school special as a stern warning to potential soundtrack assemblers of the nauseating effects of pounding every tiny emotional point into a mushy and indigestible pulp. Yeep. A mildly disgruntled fourteen-year-old takes to following a lumbering Polynesian clown around, and they meet some other issue-brandishing kids and their dopey and patronizing adult minders. Easily the worst thing we saw.  

Sunday, 9:30pm [6]
Krama mig! (Love and Happiness)  

A good finale, though, with what we both thought was the best movie of the six. Mostly just small-town life in Sweden: a girl, her father and stepmother and brother and sister, her best friend, some boys, the factory, the movie theater, learning to drive, driving around in circles, wondering what it's like somewhere else, a stranger coming to visit (with his dog), eventually going to find out. The family is a bit dopey, but not pathetic or psychotic. The boys are all dense, but none of them are pathological. The friends are simple, but not corrupt. The town is small and poor, but neither shuttered nor squalid. The girl is naive, but not self-destructive. It sounds mild, but was quite pleasant.  

Food notes  

- Cheese bagels: still one of the world's great things, even if they aren't what any reasonable person would expect from the words "cheese" and "bagel".  

- Underground food-court Lebanese chicken: better than American mall food, but not likely to be mistaken for restaurant-grade.  

- Zenya: serviceable sushi, but "sake toro" turned out to be cooked, and the gomaae was beyond "chilled" to "frozen into chunks".  

- Frites Alors!: whee! As close to the Belgian frites experience as I've come outside of Brussels.  

- Soupebol: the blandest pho-shaped thing we've ever encountered.  

- Eggspectation: cheerfully abundant brunch, after which I felt kind of yolk-logged for about five hours.  

- Fonduementale: a gluttonous farewell-dinner in fine style. I think the Japanese have worked out the meat part more effectively with shabu-shabu, but they don't serve caribou and wild boar, and they unwisely omit the cheese and chocolate courses.
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