Pusan Film Festival
coverage by Jason Mestinsek


Don't Pass Up the PIFF

Throngs of slack-jawed, wide-eyed movie aficionado's flocked south last week for the fourth annual PIFF (that's Pusan International Film Festival), crowding Nampodong and spilling over into JaGalChi Market. Unfortunately, no one in my little group purchased any advance tickets (I could claim ignorance, being a first time PIFFer). At best, we expected to see only the most dismal offerings of the festival, perhaps Sri Lankan remakes of "Flipper". However, I was pleasantly surprised. An army of yellow-clad, smiling student volunteers enclosed us and made certain we knew exactly what to do, and where to go. Tickets we readily available for most of the films, and the theatres were spacious and clean.

The films themselves catered to a wide range of tastes, and offered a broad sampling of world cinema. My personal favorite was seen at the outdoor theatre near Haeundae Beach. It was a little inconvenient to get out there, but well worth it. We curled up under our blankets in front of the monstrous screen, and were treated to an offering from the French animator Michel Ocelot. "Kirikou et la Sorciere" was a hilarious and though-provoking look into the lives of an African tribe under the domination of an evil sorceress. The animation was purely fascinating, though the very accurately rendered anatomy of the natives was a bit of a shock at first (it's a FRENCH movie).

Another gem was "The Ratcatcher"; a disturbing little film set in Glasgow during the 1970's, directed by Lynne Ramsay. The brutal lives and dismal prospects of these Scottish ghetto families are driven home mercilessly. However, there's ray of hope from the simple, confused morality of the main character, and his erratic relatives.

Happily, there were plenty of other distractions in Pusan to keep you going between flicks. Yongdusan Park is always a fun place. The view of the docks from Yongdusan Tower is truly breathtaking, and feeding and/or terrorizing the many pigeons in the main square is good sport for young and old alike. Nampodong is full of the ubiquitous hofs and clubs for those who want to get skulled and endlessly debate confusing plotlines and hidden meanings. The organizers even had the foresight to set up some lovely little outdoor cafes, with cold beer and snacks. It was almost European. Even the crazy man who stole a piece of my pork cutlet right off of my plate couldn't spoil the mood.

The biggest problem with this kind of festival is you just don't have enough time (or capacity in your tear ducts) to watch all the films you'd like to. Fortunately, you can see a lot of the movies in Seoul, during the weeks after the PIFF wraps up. You may be thinking "If that's the case, why bother going?". Well, Pusan is a charming city, with it's own unique style of chaos, quite different from the chaos in Seoul. And traveling is fun. So get a breath of fresh air, book your tickets in advance, don't forget a warm blanket, and definitely check out next year's PIFF.


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