The Mourning Forest **
Directed by Naomi Kawase
There are several arguments that one could present that would end up making "The Mourning Forest"-my third film at the Toronto Film Festival-be justified as a good movie. But in then end-despite the beautiful way that director Naomi Kawase makes this forest turn out to be-I found myself emotional null from the action, and extremely distant from the interactions between the two main characters-Machiko a young woman played by Machiko Ono, and Wakako, and older gentlemen played by Makiko Watanabe.
The film is about Machiko, who is a nurse type person in a home for people that are emotionally distraught over the deaths of loved ones. It turns out that she is probably a nurse because of the death of her young son, something that still haunts the father who continues to blame her for it. She has the maternal instinct, which is why she begins to take Wakako under her arm. The two of them eventually end up in a forest, where Wakako continues to lead her in an upward direction-to what, nobody knows but himself. And even though she tries to get him to turn around, he continues to go forward, basking in the lovely sunlight and the streams and rivers. Because Wakako does love nature. He does way out of his way for a giant watermelon, which he eats with much pleasure. When he trips into a river, he devours the water that he has fallen in. But onward they go. . .
The best part about the film is the imagery. From the very first shot I knew that that would be a strong highlight. About ninety percent of the film takes place in this wood area, and ninety percent of the movie is pretty to look at. The trees, the sunshine, the flowing rivers. It makes you fall in love with nature. However Kawase moves the camera as if she were Paul Greengrass. The camera is in a constant state of motion, and when we follow the two of them down the path, we know what it feels like because the cameraman is actually probably having a hard time getting down the path. My stomach began to turn watching this, and I actually wrote this review in a cafe because i needed to get some food in my stomach.
While I understand the subtext that the film offers-her maternal nature, her constant want to not fail again when it comes to taking care of somebody in need, and his mindset that is so much like a child that its scary. Or is he like a child? Well, in a way. He is so innocent and in love with the Earth. He does not seem to worry about the bigger problems like she does. All of this is understood, but I could never find myself emotionally invested in the characters or what they do and what they say. It was hard to imagine a film this beautiful to watch could be so dull of emotion. And it tries-the final scene where the two of them dig a hole really does try. It tries deeply. And its hard to tell if the rest of the audience found themselves emotionally involved, because when the credits began to role several of them walked out right away. I was one of them. I was also feeling sick.
"The Mourning Forest" is a cinematographers dream, but that is where the appeal really ends. It's not that its a bad film-and I'm sure that there are people out there that may be inspired by it, or even just get more out of it than I did. But I am not one of them, and this movie will be forgotten very shortly.