Monday, 15 August 2016

REVIEW - SWEET BEAN (KAWASE NAOMI)


Patient, sensitive, indeed pandering work by Kawase Naomi in Sweet Bean, no grand accomplishment but at least a good one. This most identifiable of auteurs stymies her artistic impulses here, trying hard to convince that she's not trying at all. In fact, the product is a film whose understated signatures betray all that effort in their general inconsequentiality - other filmmakers, more comfortable in such a register, are capable of transforming this characteristic and creating something that feels truly consequential. Next to those idiosyncratic flourishes that Kawase seemingly can't resist, what a flat and unflattering film this can appear. Yet in pursuit of a new approach (albeit one greatly informed by the old approaches of other artists), Kawase turns out a work of surprising worth. She emphasizes her eternal insistence on the necessity of a healthy symbiosis between humanity and the earth, here transposing it into a measured, respectful observation of an elderly woman's process of making an, the sweet red bean paste from which the film derives its title. This process of creation is ever a captivating one to behold in cinema, particularly when afforded this level of reverence. And in defining her characters through what they do, pointedly rejecting the temptation of calibrating identity through who a person supposedly is, that reverence extends further, now from the viewer, thus eliciting a genuine emotional response as Sweet Bean develops in mildly unexpected fashion. In the end, Kawase has handled this shift in tone rather excellently, though not without the mishaps one ought to anticipate when taking creative risks.