A thriller with a friendship at its core, a touching story about the struggle to fit in, and a remastered 70s camp drama are just a few of the unique offerings at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival.
(This dispatch is part of our 2022 Fantasia Film Festival coverage.)
The Fantasia Film Festival returns for another year of international genre excellence. For my first dispatch, I’m thrilled to present three films that offer human, queer, and tantalizing twists on classic film structure. Each, in their way, brings something unique to what would be an otherwise mundane story that elevates them into something captivating and worth sharing.
First is Park Dae-min’s Special Delivery. Set in South Korea, lit by fluorescent lights shining a green hue, what at first appears to be a subdued riff on the Fast and the Furious franchise or Baby Driver, becomes a heartfelt journey that never lets off the breaks. Eun-ha (Park So-dam, Parasite) is an illicit messenger known for her take no bullshit approach and exceptional skills behind the wheel. Though she’s never had a job she couldn’t handle, a chance encounter with mobsters leads her deeper into the Korean Underworld than she’s ever been before.
But she’s not alone. She’s responsible for a young boy named Seo-won (Jung Hyeon-jun), who’s even more caught in the crosshairs than her. The two form a firm and trusting friendship that gracefully complicates and engenders this typical story of precious cargo. Eun-ha takes on a big sister role that is precious and endearing to see her navigate while driving and fighting like a consummate badass. Special Delivery is more of a human journey than a joy ride because, in the end, the relationship and humanity found inside the car take precedence over anything that happens outside.
Park Dae-min has written and directed a richly elegant driving thriller. Like the driving, the camerawork is masterfully steady, even when sidewinding through the city streets. It constantly shows off a keen sense of preparedness and choreography. Yet, unlike its American comparatives, Special Delivery remains small, never exploding to blockbuster heights. These aren’t souped-up wonders on wheels. Eun-ha drives unflashy Volvos and BMWs. Special Delivery feels like a proletarian drama about working people in exploitative conditions with just enough action to deliver something, well, special.
Equally human and aquatic is Shuichi Okita’s The Fish Tale. Supported by a youthful score by Pascals, this endlessly charming fish-out-of-water-story follows Meebo, an ichthyologist who’s been in love with fish and the sea since they were little. Like fish, Meebo is of indiscernible gender but swims easily with all schools of life because of their innately infectious sense of wonder.
But being queer with an idiosyncratic and all-consuming interest means Meebo has trouble entirely fitting in. They’re always an outsider, more of a curiosity than someone “useful” to society. But during the whole two-and-a-half-hour runtime, we never get bored watching them try to fit in.
Because The Fish Tale swims the lengths of Meebo’s childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, we’re fortunate to see the many cyclical tides of life come and go through their life. Old friends return, sometimes in new forms, but always with the same appreciation for Meebo’s love and understanding.
Meebo, as a character, requires near constant exuberance, which actress Non can control like the moon controls the tides. There are depths to the emotions Meebo displays, but they can quickly shore up when Meebo’s hurt or unsure. This gives Non’s performance a remarkable dynamic that ebbs and flows with an unpolluted fluidity that’s tear-inducing to watch.
Director Shuichi Okita and co-writer Shiro Maeda have written a profoundly queer film that thinks from the water. Like the ocean, it flows without a necessary destination. It embraces a wide variety of life and encourages us to keep swimming, even if it seems like we’re going against the current.
One of the best things about the Fantasia Film Festival is its dedication to screening restorations of under-seen films. This year has no shortage of excellent cleanups, but one of the most exciting is Severin Film’s release of Identikit, aka The Driver’s Seat. This underappreciated entry in the late career of Elizabeth Taylor is a reminder of how captivating, alluring, and downright smokin’ La Taylor was when she was supposedly “past her prime.”
Identikit sees Taylor arrive in Rome as a mysterious woman called only Lise. As we follow her strange quest to find “the one she’s been waiting for,” we jump forward to police interrogations to determine her identity and motive. As she wanders through the city, seemingly aimless, transiently meeting strangers, we sense that there’s something not quite right about Lise’s intentions. It’s an evolving puzzle of a film that builds towards its shocking and gasping conclusion.
Giuseppe Patroni Griffi knows precisely how to use Taylor, the camera remaining steady on her face so those iconic violet eyes and helmet of hair can tell us everything we need to know. But unlike many of her other directors, Griffi encourages a healthy and mature sexuality from her. Elizabeth Taylor seems to expose herself in new and bold ways. Not only does she strip down to almost nothing physically, but she must emotionally as well.
Identikit is your standard seventies hysteria thriller with its employment of sexual assault as a non-consequential plot device and deeply psychosexual ideology. Still, it’s made expressly more human and vibrant by Elizabeth Taylor’s performance and the visual storytelling employed.
That’s why the film is so perfect for a restoration. Griffi’s storytelling gets more Jungian as our time with Lise winds to a close. Symbols and icons begin to appear, so do themes and collective anxieties. Severin’s brilliant efforts let us see these with a new crispness. Whether it’s stain-resistant and technicolor fabrics, ornate metallurgy, or smokey blue eyeshadow, it shows off how wonderfully textured Identikit is in a way that truly enhances the storytelling and the enigmatic legend at its center.