Review: Still The Water

Little else in this year’s Cannes has the lyrical power of this film’s final sequences

Film Title: Still the Water

Director: Naomi Kawase

Starring: Makiko Watanabe, Hideo Sakaki, Jun Murakami, Miyuki Matsuda

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 110 min

Wed, May 21, 2014, 18:17

   

Still the Water **** Directed by Naomi Kawase. Starring Makiko Watanabe, Hideo Sakaki, Jun Murakami, Miyuki Matsuda, Tetta Sugimoto. 110 min, in competition If, like this reviewer, you reach for the revolver upon hearing the word “spiritual”, you could be forgiven for approaching the latest film from Naomi Kawase with some caution. There is a degree of mystical baloney in this puzzle picture set on a beautiful island in the southern reaches of the Japanese archipelago. A young woman drifts toward death with improbable equanimity while taking solace from the branches of a towering tree. Folk songs are bellowed in their troubling entirety. On two equally baffling occasions we watch as an unfortunate goat is slaughtered.

For all that, Still the Water proves a bewitching, sideswiping experience. Little else in this year’s Cannes has had the lyrical power of the final sequences, in which two of the main characters sink beneath the water and commune with the coral. Anyone who is able to tolerate the musings of Terrence Malick’s more recent work has nothing to fear here.

Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga), an amusing, independent teenager, is falling in love with a grumpy teenage neighbour, Kaito (Nijiro Murakami). Both have issues with their parents. Kyoko’s mother is gravely ill and Kaito’s dad, a tattooist, has flown the coop for Tokyo. Various tensions are released when a body washes up on the beach. Kaito travels to visit dad. The kids chat with an elderly eccentric.

The talented and charming juvenile actors work through the domestic tragedies with great confidence, but what really makes the film soar are the overpowering visual flourishes and simmering soundscapes. There is a sense that nature is ever looming at the shoulder, eager to annihilate and absorb. Seas swell. Palm trees arc beneath the wind. Goats fear for their lives.

Kawase has rather oversold her own film by calling it a masterpiece. “This is the first time that I have said this about a film,” she commented. “There is nothing I want more than the Palme d’Or.” She will probably have to wait a few more years for that. But Still the Water remains a bewitching experience.