ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES — The Asian World Film Festival took place this past week October 25 – November 2. The festival commenced with the opening night screening of “Ayla: The Daughter of War.” Asia Media International was honored to be able to cover the event and share reviews of our favorite and most memorable films.
Ayla: The Daughter of War
Turkey – Official Oscar Submission for Best Foreign Language Film
The Asian World Film Festival started the week of movies off with a tearjerker. They were so confident about it that they even provided a napkin on every seat, many desperately needing it. “Ayla: The Daughter of War” is set during the Korean War and violent battle scenes are only relieved by intimate moments between Suleyman, a Turkish soldier, and the orphaned Korean girl he protects and names Ayla. The film is based on a true story about how Suleyman finds Ayla and cares for her. Before they could even pass the language barrier, they become inseparable and develop a father-daughter relationship. Ayla becomes a source of joy for the Turkish troops who, like Suleyman, find it too difficult to let her go.
But all good things come to an end, and the napkins go through more abuse. Suleyman and Ayla are forcibly separated at the end of the war; Ayla goes to a school for orphans and Suleyman goes back to Turkey, unable to see her again until 2010. The Turkish director, Can Ulkay, decided to make the film after watching the documentary showing Ayla and Suleyman’s reunion. It’s a story that doesn’t get much attention in the West, where the war is often seen through the lens of America’s continued involvement in the Korean peninsula. This movie goes deeper to explore the lives of different groups of people involved in the conflict. The film also exemplifies AWFF’s commitment to diversity, showing two people from opposite ends of the continent developing a bond that transcends any notion of culture, language and borders. The real Ayla attended the screening and mentioned that the memory of that bond kept her hope of seeing her father alive again. This movie shows the immense depth of that bond.
Sri Lanka is a small country that has seen a lot of social and political upheaval. In addition, the dominance of Indian films in the region puts Sri Lankan cinema in a minor position, but that does not stop the country from producing a film that punches way above its weight. Sri Lankan Director Sanjeewa Pushpakumara took his country’s history and made a remarkable film in his hometown. “Burning Birds” is set in 1989, and begins with a paramilitary group executing a suspected insurgent. The insurgent’s wife, Kusum, is left in their shack and has to take care of her mother-in-law and eight children. Without a husband in a war-torn country, Kusum has to find work in a brutal patriarchal world that doesn’t let her forget how easily she can be used.
Kusum is introduced working at a quarry, hurling rocks onto the bed of a truck. That was her easiest gig. All her other means of making money leave her with men keen to abuse her and later, when she can’t find anything else, becomes a prostitute. “Burning Birds” has some uncomfortable scenes, but they demonstrate the reality that some woman tragically face to provide for their kids.
The camera work is astounding and clearly shows the distressing expressions actress Anoma Janadari carries after each nasty encounter her character faces. The most extraordinary moment is when the camera focuses on Kusum’s face when she gets her revenge on the man who betrayed her husband. The scene is as cathartic for the viewers as it is for Kusum– and in it, she finally gains some power and control over her own life. It’s a heartbreaking film in so many ways and wonderfully crafted.
China – Golden Globe Submission for Best Foreign Language Film
“Nirvana” is not about dreams, even though it almost seems like it. It’s about a middle-aged man who dreamed of being a rock star when he was younger, played in a big band and then watched it all end. Fang, the main character, works as a proxy driver, mostly transporting drunk men both at night and during the day, while caring for his mother who has dementia. He’s played by Chinese musician Qin Yong who provides the character’s musical talent and makes an impressive acting debut. Fang’s rock and roll dreams were dashed when his father died and instead looks to open a restaurant, making his mother’s final years peaceful, and starting a new life with his girlfriend. There is no dream, not even when one of the drunks he has to drive home turns out to be an old band mate who became a host for a musical talent show, and Fang becomes a competitor on that show when his other plans fall through.
Xie Xiao-dong is a veteran producer and screenwriter in China and directs for the first time with “Nirvana.” His point is that everything gets bogged down by routine. People get lost in their daily lives, and dreams take less priority. Fang’s old band mate isn’t living his dream, nor is the show’s neurotic producer. They settled into their jobs and are looking to maintain their income. Fang is trying to make ends meet, while money and misfortune end up bringing Fang to the competition, not the dream.
Fang learns to open up to a part of himself that he though didn’t matter anymore. When he’s on the stage wailing on guitar, he’s not pursuing his dream, he’s being true to himself. Xie Xiao-dong made a movie about a regular guy and people trying to make a living, a perfect film for the Hollywood scene. The film comes with all the comedy and drama that makes life poignant. “Nirvana” does not need dreams, all it asks is for people to be themselves, a lesson that no one is too old to learn.