SXSW 2018: ‘Blaze’ is a terrific portrait of the artist as a poetic screw-up

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Let the word go forth from this time and place: Ethan Hawke, director of the excellent Blaze Foley biopic “Blaze,” is apparently extremely good at getting stunning performances out of non-actors.

Ben Dickey, a 40-year-old musician from Arkansas, already has been feted at Sundance for his performance as Foley in “Blaze,” but nothing quite prepares you for seeing it on the big screen. It’s a tour de force of oversized charm and verve, a living ballad of song-writer-as-ramblin’-man (and almost compulsive screw-up).

Gauzy without being cloyingly mythic, Hawke lets us know Foley’s tragic end right up front — he died in 1989 at the edge of 40, shot during an altercation over his friend’s disability check, a death that might have been too strange and pointless and heroic and sad to even make for a good song.

After we meet Foley, in full Duct Tape Messiah mode, screwing around the studio with friend and running buddy Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton, equally excellent in a completely different tone than Dickey), we flash back over a decade (we think) and see Foley as a younger man doing construction work in a theater.

RELATED: Going out in the Blaze of glory at tribute concert

He meets Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat, earthy and vibrant), a young aspiring actress in … Arkansas, we think. (It is Rosen’s memoir upon which the film is based.)

Soon they are inseparable and living in a treehouse/cabin thing in the Georgia woods (right?). He is working on songs and dispensing almost Zen koans about life and art, she is acting and keeping a sort of vague house — they are Southern, post-hippie bohos of the first rank. Dickey and Shawkat do a phenomenal job embodying a relationship that neither of them really ever got over, such was its perfection.

We flash forward and back over the years as Hawke loosely braids a few plot threads.  We see Townes and  Zee (Josh Hamilton) conducting a myth-building radio interview about Blaze. We see Foley as a near-constantly drunken troubadour, small band in tow, cutting a live album at the Austin Outhouse that he cannot help but interrupt by getting into a fight.

We see Blaze and Sybil meet her parents (it seems entirely possible Sybil is the first Jew Blaze ever encountered; during the hang with her folks, the only one he can think of is Zero Mostel). We see them head to Austin, then Chicago, wherein their relationship reaches a point of untenability. Then Blaze heads back to Austin (right?) and the legend builds.

We see the start of the fight where Blaze died. We see his pals try to convey his epic character to a barely interested radio host. We see record execs try to make Blaze a star. We see him die (but, cannily, not shot). We see him missed by those who loved him.

Again, Dickey is luminescent throughout. He is almost never not on-screen and it’s the sort of part that gives veteran actors the shakes. But Dickey gives Foley a bearish charm, self-medicated instability and a swaggering desperation.

If the film has one constant frustration, it is that, in the possible service of timelessness and tonal ramble, Hawke is really vague about when and where things take place. Unless you know Foley well — and most don’t — you have to head to Google to know that his career ran from at most, around 1977 to his death in 1989. A few dates popping up on the screen would not have lessened the mood, Ethan.

But then, this is not a soup-to-nuts biopic. It’s an ode to the artist-as-emotional-outlaw, with all the good, bad and ugly that implies.  At one point, Foley tells his then-wife Sybil that he wants to be a legend rather than a star.  Bullseye.

Grade: B+

MORE SXSW: See all our coverage

May the Fourth Be With You! Here is what’s going on in Austin to celebrate Star Wars Day

For a few years now, hardcore “Star Wars” have celebrated May 4 as Star Wars Day. It’s a pretty easy pun on “May the Force be with you,” even if “Star Wars” aka “Star Wars: A New Hope” actually debuted May 25, 1977.

RELATED: “The Force Awakens” is a winner

How are Austinites celebrating?

Well, members of the 501st (the living, breathing cosplaying Stormtroopers) may very well be stopping by Dragon’s Lair in the morning and the LEGO store at Barton Creek Mall that afternoon.

Dozens of fans dressed as Rey face off against a tiny Kylo Ren for a group photo at Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, FL, on April 16, 2017. Alyssa Vidales/American-Statesman

RELATED: The Force is with “Rogue One”

The sci-fi film festival Other Worlds Austin is throwing their 3rd Annual Star Wars Day event over at the 4th Tap Brewing Co-operative (10615 Metric Blvd.) from 7 to 11 p.m. May 4. This free event features Star Wars fan films, a costume contest, a Wookiee mating call contest and a new beer called  “The Fist of the Empire.”

According to the news release, “4th Tap will also be renaming their Zephyr served in the taproom to ‘The Iron Knight’ to represent the Light Side of the Force. A third taproom offering will be a ‘black and tan’ with The Fist of the Empire served over The Iron Knight. This special beer will be called ‘The Voss Mystic,’ as it represents the blended or balanced.” Got all that?



C-Boy’s Heart & Soul (2008 S. Congress Ave) is hosting its Second Annual May The 4th Be With Y’all Star Wars celebration from 5 p.m. to midnight.  Kids will be welcome (with parent or guardian) from 5 to 8 p.m.; it will be 21 and older only from 8 p.m. to midnight. The celebration will benefit  Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas. Look for the Baffles to perform surf rock versions of “Star Wars” music, local pin-up belly dancer Michelle Manx performs her Oola dance, Saber Guild-Jakku Temple will put on a light saber display, and Fan Force Austin will host a Star Wars trivia game. There will be nail art by Nails Y’all and sweet treats by PMS Bakery.

Beer lovers aren’t being left out, either. Friends & Allies Brewing is launching a new beer on the heels of its grand opening in East Austin: Protocol Droid, a Belgian golden ale with hibiscus and yerba mate. The sassy brew debuts at Banger’s, at 79 Rainey Street, Thursday evening with a Friends & Allies tap takeover that will have four of their other beers on draft. Come in wearing your “Star Wars” costume.

RELATED: The “Star Wars” universe is expanding

The dress Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in the medal ceremony scene in Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope on display at the Prop Store Ltd. booth at Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, FL on April 13-16, 2017. Alyssa Vidales/American-Statesman

Over at the Windsor Park Branch of the Austin Public Library (5833 Westminster Drive) look for a kid-oriented Revenge of the Fifth celebration from 6 to 8:30 p.m. May 5 complete with a costume show, trivia contest, games, prizes, photo booth, button and bookmark crafts and snacks.

 

Texas ties run strong in these SXSW films

Pierce Brosnan stars in “The Son.” Contributed

Some were shot here. Some come from filmmakers who live here. And one is set in the Austin music scene (though our critic begs to differ). These are some of the movies with ties to Texas that screened at South by Southwest.

“The Son”: Based on the 2013 novel by Austin’s Philipp Meyer, shot in Central Texas, set in Texas — this TV series, coming to AMC on April 8, could only get more “Texas” if you threw in a cameo from Willie Nelson riding on Bevo while eating some Blue Bell. Pierce Brosnan plays the family patriarch; critic Charles Ealy says “he’s an archetype, of course, but what a complex character, whom Brosnan fully captures in the first two episodes of the new season.”

REVIEW: Get ready: ‘The Son’ might be the next great Texas TV series

“Song to Song”: SXSW’s opening night movie, from Austin director Terrence Malick, is “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas, music scene.” But according to our critic Joe Gross, it “is a movie about Austin the way “Star Wars” is about Tunisia — it was shot there, but in terms of the flavor of the place, it might as well have been a matte painting.”

REVIEW: The gorgeous ‘Song to Song’ has little to do with music or Austin

“Disgraced”: This Showtime documentary is about the 2003 murder of college basketball player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson and the accusations that followed against Baylor University and head coach Dave Bliss.

REVIEW: ‘Disgraced’ will leave you disgusted with Dave Bliss and Baylor University

“The Honor Farm”: This is Austin director Karen Skloss’ first narrative feature, “a story that subverts every aspect of the horror genre, not in a satirical way but in a sweet and very mushroom-trippy way.”

REVIEW: ‘Honor Farm’ delightfully subverts horror genre at SXSW

“Infinity Baby”: Austin-based filmmaker Bob Byington has created what critic Matt Shiverdecker calls “a gleefully sardonic comedy sharply observed in black-and-white across our fair city.” It stars Kieran Culkan, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Martin Starr and Noël Wells.

REVIEW: ‘Infinity Baby’ mines futuristic concept for sharply observed laughs

“Walking Out”: This feature from brothers Alex and Andrew Smith (one a current Austinite, the other a former) tells “an intense story of survival against the odds, an unexpectedly emotional journey” and stars Matt Bomer and Josh Wiggins.

REVIEW: ‘Walking Out’ is a bold and unexpectedly emotional tale of survival

“La Barracuda”: This thriller from Austin-based directors Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund is about half-sisters who meet for the first time, and how that affects the extended family; it features lots of Texas music and some tracks live at the Saxon Pub.

REVIEW: Familial deception is at the heart of Austin-based film ‘La Barracuda’

 

RELATED

SXSW: The gorgeous ‘Song to Song’ has little to do with music or Austin

http://players.brightcove.net/1418563061/S15Aq3t8_default/index.html?videoId=5355819236001

 

If beloved Austinite Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song,” which opened South by Southwest on Friday, is a meditation on the shallow, flash-over-substance, Los Angeles-ization of Austin, then it is a bullseye.

If it is a troll of contemporary Austin, if the idea is to mock a city overrun with poseurs-come-lately who dream of being artists without, you know, ever working at their craft, then “Song to Song” is one of the meanest movies ever lensed.

If it is a movie about gorgeous people wandering around hilariously empty Austin landscapes, photographed perfectly, touching each other, looking meaningfully at each other, then, sure.  And, hey: Nothing wrong with that.

And yet.

PHOTOS: “Song to Song” red carpet at SXSW

“Song to Song,” starring Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Rooney Mara, is, according to the blurb on the SXSW website, “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas, music scene.”

This is essentially correct. “Song to Song” is a love story. It is in Austin, (though the city is never named). There are shots of bands playing and guitars being strummed. OK so far.

Here is the rest of the description: “two entangled couples — struggling songwriters Faye and BV, and music mogul Cook and the waitress whom he ensnares — chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal.”

This is where problems start.

It is a movie about the real world of popular music the way “Star Wars” is a samurai flick or a Western — a thematic and visual influence, perhaps, but that’s about it.

And it is a movie about Austin the way “Star Wars” is about Tunisia — it was shot there, but in terms of the flavor of the place, it might as well have been a matte painting.

Gosling is BV, one of these alleged songwriters. Songwriting is an activity we see him engage in, somewhat vaguely, once.

WHERE THE PARTY IS: Check out this interactive SXSW party guide

The rest of the time, we see him wander around town, wander around Fun Fun Fun, hang out backstage with the Chili Peppers, looking a lot more like an actor than a musician.

He becomes involved with Faye (Mara), who works on her music even less than BV.  Faye’s father has a strong Texas accent, implying that Mara is a native, which scans about as well as Audrey Hepburn playing a rodeo clown.

We see Faye playing guitar on stage at Fun Fun Fun, but we have no other context for what she does or whom she does it with — she, too, looks like an actor holding a guitar.

No wonder these two are struggling. They might as well be plumbers or lawyers or farmers for all of the songwriting they do.

Cook (Fassbender, who plays toxic masculinity better than anyone right now) is the sleazy record producer, which is definitely a type we have never seen before. He doesn’t ever seem to do any producing, outside of supervising (vaguely yelling at?) a string section in one scene and sort of admonishing BV in another. (There is no reason you, gentle reader, should remember “Laurel Canyon,” the 2002 bomb starring Frances McDormand as a record producer, but trust me, she was light-years more credible as someone who worked in pop music than Cook.)

Cook has a gorgeous house in Austin, one he says he’s lived in for “about two weeks,” which seems right on the money if, again, this is about terrible people who come to Austin seeking an authenticity they cannot name.

But Cook shouldn’t get too comfortable because he doesn’t really seem to know about the financial side of the music business either.

“I know you do the live music thing,” Cook says to BV, which is a series of words no record producer in history has ever actually said in that order to a songwriter/performer. “We should make a record together,” Cook says. “Don’t you want to make some money?”

Cook, I don’t know if you have been paying attention to the music business for the past 15 or so years, but making a record is an awfully hard way to make some money of late.

Anyway, Faye is sleeping with Cook, because of course she is. (This bit seems particularly disingenuous given the fiercely independent, OG punk rock icon Patti Smith’s lovely cameo.)

BV and Faye break up after BV finds out she has been sleeping with Cook. BV takes up with the older Amanda (Cate Blanchett). BV’s mother does not approve.

BV is also the sort who runs into an ex and asks, “What didn’t I know?” The ex responds, “How to feel.” I don’t know, lady; feeling seems to be the only thing these people do all day.

Cook, a flagrant womanizer, takes up with and marries Rhonda (Natalie Portman), a woman who says she has to waitress because she couldn’t find work as a teacher (!). In fact, another character in the film says she can’t find work as a teacher either — so she is a prostitute. There seems to be a bumper crop of teachers in Malick’s Austin.

Then again, given that every Austin location outside of the music festivals is so devoid of people that it looks like a neutron bomb hit it, maybe there aren’t enough children to sustain a mess of teachers. Our heroes spend most of the time wandering around a comically underpopulated Austin, voice-overs letting us know their thoughts, bits of dialogue advancing what little plot there is.

Standing on the balcony of (an otherwise completely empty) Mohawk, BV accuses Cook is stealing the copyrights to BV’s songs.  To which a viewer must ask, “What songs?” There is zero evidence on screen that these folks write anything, ever.

Indeed, it is to Malick’s credit that “Song to Song,” stunning-looking and meditative as it is, made me think about the very limitations of film as a medium. “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” some wisenheimer once said, and I’ve always thought this was nonsense, not the least of which because I would love to see a dance about architecture.

But watching “Song to Song” made me wonder about Walter Pater’s maxim: “All art aspires to the condition of music.” Which is to say all other art falls far, far behind; all other art is only ever playing catch-up to what makes music, music. So one wonders about the extent to which any medium can capture music’s power, its resonance, the obsessive centrality it can take in one’s life. No form seems up to it: Novels about music are mostly awful; we know TV struggles (witness “Vinyl” and even “Empire,” which once did a decent job but is more about crime than studio time).

No wonder music documentaries are so popular, are so their own category. At least in music docs, there is an acknowledgment that they will only get so far at capturing the real-life felt experience of the concert, the studio, the rehearsal room, the men and women at a piano or with guitars or a computer, trying the find the proverbial bottled-lightning. There’s none of that in “Song to Song.”

But if you love looking at Fassbender and Gosling, Mara and Portman, empty clubs and houses and the Long Center and slow-motion moshing without what anyone is moshing to, then go for it.

Just don’t expect music.

 

Dana Holgorsen is a good sport about Matthew McConaughey’s hair in ‘Gold’

As a longtime fan of people who take their jobs seriously but do not take themselves seriously, I am now officially in the tank for Dana Holgorsen.

In an interview published in the American-Statesman, Austin spirit animal Matthew McConaughey noted that he looked to the West Virginia head coach for his character Kenny Wells’ hair in “Gold,” which opens Friday.

636206386471967975-gold-3-lgAs our sister site Hook ‘Em pointed out, Holgorsen can get a little animated during games (and has had choice words for the Longhorns in the past).

Word got around Wednesday about Matthew and his hair. This was Holgorsen’s exceptionally classy response:

Holgorsen fans (and WVU) quickly went to work.

To wit, here is the poster for “Gold”:

c3ewhyow8aeayrj

Which was followed by West Virginia fan Brian W. making this:

c3gq3v8xuaatk3n

Well done, everybody.

Matthew McConaughey looked to the Big 12 for his hair in ‘Gold’

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Bryce Dallas Howard and Matthew McConaughey in “Gold.” Contributed

Sure, Matthew McConaughey reportedly put on more than 40 pounds to get into character as Kenny Wells, the somewhat sketchy fellow at the heart of “Gold.” He hit the cheeseburgers, and he hit them hard.

But what really jumps out at you is his hair, a comb-over with that sort of half-halo thing about the back that some men get. It is … not the most flattering look. It is extremely unexpected to see on a movie star.

So where did this look come from? The UT Longhorns superfan told the Statesman in an interview:

“I haven’t told anyone else this. I went to the hair lady, said, ‘It’s this guy’s hair,’ and handed her a picture of Dana Holgorsen,” McConaughey said, laughing uproariously.

Dana Holgorsen. Contributed by WVU
Dana Holgorsen. Contributed by WVU

Holgorsen, for those not versed in the ins and outs of college football, is the current head coach at West Virginia. He did time in various offensive coordinator gigs at Oklahoma State, Houston and Texas Tech.

“Gold” opens in Austin theaters Jan. 27.

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW: Matthew McConaughey talks about his dad, poor shooting conditions and why Wells is his favorite character he’s ever played.

Matthew McConaughey chills at Highball, hosts ‘Gold’ screening at Drafthouse

Matthew McConaughey and Edgar Ramirez star in "Gold." Contributed by The Weinstein Company
Matthew McConaughey and Edgar Ramirez star in “Gold.” Contributed by The Weinstein Company

He didn’t say “Alright, alright, alright.” He didn’t thump his chest, either with his fist or his Oscar (which was really too bad).

But Austin spirit animal Matthew McConaughey mingled at an invite-only cocktail party at the Highball on Thursday before introducing his new film “Gold,” his inspired-by-true-events film about a 1980s precious metals prospector named Kenny Wells who, with a geologist partner, heads to Indonesia to make his proverbial fortune.

Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League introduced McConaughey by big-upping not “Dazed and Confused,” the traditional starting place for talking about McConaughey, but by discussing his “intense screen presence” in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” (except for the robotic leg; nobody liked that leg).

RELATED: Matthew McConaughey, coach Tom Herman and Chancellor McRaven walk into a bar…

McConaughey introduced “Gold,” a project he had been developing for five or six years before getting director Stephen Gaghan to sign on, by telling a great story about his dad. When McConaughey was 17 years old, he and his dad went out to get “stocking stuffers” for the holiday season.

He and his dad head off to a parking lot, at which McConaughey Senior introduced his son to a man named Chicago John, who had a variety of items in the back of a van (“microwaves, hair dryers”). McConaughey said his father purchased an item from this gentleman. McConaughey couldn’t see what it was, but it was the sort of thing for which one peels off stacks of bills and one wraps in a bunch of paper towels.

“I don’t know if I’ve got a ferret or what,” McConaughey said. He and Matthew get back in their car, the item stuffed in the glove box. Said McConaughey Senior to son: “See if it’s still in there.”

McConaughey unwraps it. It’s a watch. “‘That’s a $22,000 titanium Rolex I just bought for $3,000,’ Dad said.

RELATED: Professor Matthew McConaughey talks about teaching at UT on ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’

“Now, that watch was probably not worth $500,” McConaughey said, “but my dad loved a shady deal,” the sort that captures the spirit of Kenny Wells, whom McConaughey said is his favorite character he has ever played.

The extremely enjoyable “Gold” opens Jan. 27. Look for a review of the movie before that date.

RELATED: Matthew McConaughey talks UT, ‘Dazed and Confused’ and post-Oscar roles in Esquire cover story

‘Arrival’ is the year’s best sci-fi film, bar none

"Arrival"
“Arrival”

Let’s get one thing clear: It takes nothing away from “Arrival” — as powerful as it is — to note that director Denis Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer were working with extraordinary raw material.

“Arrival,” which screened Sept. 21 as part of Fantastic Fest and will open wide in November, is based on “Story of Your Life” by the amazing Ted Chiang. It is perhaps the single best sci-fi novella of the past 25 years.

(Chiang, it should be noted, releases no wine before its time — of his 15 *total* short stories, novelettes and novellas, seven have won a total of 14 awards; dude’s batting average is insane).

Now, that said, “Story of Your Life” is a deeply internal work, and it is a tiny miracle that Villeneuve and Heisserer figured out a way to translate this tale to film in the first place, let alone make it so touching and smart.

It’s a movie about the day the world metaphorically shifted on its axis, but it is mostly the story of one woman.  Like the very best science fiction, “Arrival” is hopeful and a bit implausible and slightly corny and mind-bending and a little bit sad. It fills a where-do-we-go-from-here shaped hole in the heart and manages to be a canny look at the nature of grief and time at the same time.

We first see Lousie Banks (Amy Adams, as good as she gets without having a scene-chewy part) mourning the loss of her daughter, whom we see, in a montage, from her joyful birth to too-early death. Then, we see the aliens arrive — 12 smooth, black ovals, hovering over various points on the globe.

Banks, a brilliant linguist, is brought in by the military (represented by Forest Whitaker) and the CIA (represented by Michael Stuhlbarg) to attempt to communicate with the aliens — massive, seven-legged creatures that humans come to call “heptapods.” Their speech is impenetrable but, working with physicist Ian Donnelley (Jeremy Renner), Banks starts communicating with the heptapods, whose written language may or may not be the key to their presence on Earth.

While Banks holds off the U.S.’s military, the rest of the world (by which I mean the Chinese and Russians, mostly) is starting to freak out at this stuff. Paranoia soon takes over, and suddenly nobody is sharing information with anyone else. The question hangs in the air like one of the alien ships: Do the heptapods mean to do us harm, or are they here for another reason?

Adams gives a tight, measured performance, while Villeneuve,  cinematographer Bradford Young, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and editor Joe Walker dole out information and color it in knowing ways, building to third act revelations that make for profoundly moving film-making, the sort that demands that you watch it again from the beginning.

 

 

“Oldboy” director Park Chan-wook explores crime, sensuality and colonial Korea with “The Handmaiden”

South Korean director Park Chan-wook at the Fantastic Fest film festival at the Alamo Drafthouse-South Lamar in Austin, Tx, on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. The filmmaker was on hand to introduce his new movie “The Handmaiden.” ALYSSA VIDALES/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
South Korean director Park Chan-wook at the Fantastic Fest film festival at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar on Sept. 22. The filmmaker was on hand to introduce his new movie “The Handmaiden.” ALYSSA VIDALES/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Park Chan-wook paces around the small karaoke room at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Given the savagery of the South Korean filmmaker’s increasingly legendary “Oldboy,” one of the gnarliest tales of revenge ever lensed, you’d perhaps think he was pacing “like a caged tiger” or “a man imprisoned” or some such nonsense.

Nope. Just a bad back.

Park, whose “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” Tim League himself has said was a direct influence on starting Fantastic Fest, is in town for the festival with his new film, “The Handmaiden,”  which is based loosely on Welsh author Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel “Fingersmith.” Park and his frequent writing partner Chung Seo-kyung move the story from Victorian England to Japanese-occupied Korea in 1930s.

And yes, some small spoilers follow.

“The Handmaiden” follows a pickpocket named Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) who is ordered by the con man leader of her crew, Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), to get herself hired as a servant to the wealthy heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) so Fujiwara can ingratiate himself with Hideko and steal her wealth.

Instead, Sook-hee and Hideko fall in love. And things get complicated. Extremely, plot-twisty complicated. Three-chapters-from-three-different-perspectives complicated.

Park says he changed the setting for very specific narrative reasons. “It is a story about these two women falling in love,” Park says. “The first hurdle in their relationship is class. The second: the fact that they are deceiving each other. Thirdly, the fact that they are of the same sex. These are the three elements getting in the way of their love.”

In moving the story to Japanese-occupied Korea, Park was able to add a few more elements.

“They are now of different nationalities, two different nations that are opposed to each other, and they have to overcome this animosity as well,” Park says. “I added on top of that the age difference between the two characters. There is more of a gap between the two in the movie than in the novel. In Asian cultures, age difference adds a bit of hierarchy. All of these are hindrances for these characters to achieve love as equals.”

Park adds that the topic of Japanese-occupied Korea is still a delicate one: “Because it’s a touchy subject,” he says, “it’s not properly dealt with in mainstream cinema.”

Then again, it also allowed for Park to introduce the character of Uncle Kouzuki, a Korean collector of rare erotica who is posing as Japanese. Kouzuki lives in a bizarre home (literally one half is a European mansion, the other half is a traditional Japanese house) and is a key figure in the complicated narrative

“Kouzuki is basically a Japanese sympathizer, and his presence is felt throughout the film,” Park says. “Even in the scenes he is not there, because he has designed this house with those philosophies. He is worshiping the Japanese and Western culture filtered by the Japanese that has made it into Korea.”

Explicit but never pornographic, the sexiest scene might be the least conventionally hot, when Sook-hee files down her mistresses tooth while the latter takes a bath.

Park says this was a key scene for him deciding to make the movie. “They were clothed in the book, but I could imagine the sound of the thimble (used to file the tooth) and I could imagine the characters in such proximity that they could hear each other’s breaths and heartbeats,” Park says. “I wanted to see this scene in a film.

“It is such a sensual moment and I wanted to amplify it a bit by moving it to the bath with the steam and the flowers all around. These two women are shy, they will avert their gaze from each other. But it is a scene about that moment when you are taken by somebody. Your heart is beating because you have fallen head over heels for somebody so quickly. It is a moment of emotional tremor.”

“The Handmaiden” will be in theaters in October.