JWR Articles: Film/DVD - The Great Buddha | Disobedience (Directors: Hsin-yao Huang, Sebastián Lelio) - December 4, 2018

The Great Buddha | Disobedience

4.5 4.5

Two films that resonate

A pair for films that dig deep into the human experience.

The Great Buddha
Hsin-yao Huang
102 minutes, Four and one half stars

“Peace and safety”

It’s not often that political and social satire can sleep together in the same cinematic bed, but Huang has found the magic jelly to make his many points with humour, truth and voice. (The latter, is literally achieved with the filmmaker’s salient comments about all that comes before us.)

With characters such as Belly Bottom (Bamboo Chu-Sheng Chen naïve, even in death), Pickle (nerd-with-conscience, Cres Chuang) and Sugar Apple (a fanciful performance from Shao-Huai Chang), along with Na-Dou Lin‘s inventive take on store peeper Apple, the lower classes are well represented.

Their uppers (notably insatiable boss Kevin—Leon Dai readily er, up, for the womanizing factory owner, greasily abetted by long-term councillor—Yi-wen Chen savouring every butt cheek he pinches) have no qualms about killing odd, inconvenient truths and dismissing any proper investigation.

Thank goodness this just happens in Taiwan!

The actual Buddha (a metaphor of the highest order and quite possibly a crypt), marvellously fills in the religious, “piety” blanks that have confounded generations of honest “god-fearing” people around the globe.

What fun that only the dashboard cam sequences and a decidedly “lavender” motorbike, put any colour on the screen.

A viewing is ardently recommended.


Sebastián Lelo
72 minutes, Three and one half stars

The price of freedom

Despite having a decidedly “done that, been there” feel to the narrative (estranged, only daughter New Yorker, comes back to Europe to bury her dad…she is almost entirely not welcome), Lelo’s tale of forbidden love hits a few true notes even as the narrative arc is easily predicted.

It’s really a ménage à trois: Rachel Weisz playing the grieving, alienating daughter, Ronit (the photographer by trade deeply regretting never taking a snap of her rabbinical dad); heir apparent (in the religious sense), Dovid Kuperman (a mostly gritty, at times uneven performance from Alessandro Nivola) whose wife, Esti (a wonderfully nuanced rendering by Rachel McAdams is the best of the leads) uses her one-time lover’s need to say goodbye to her father as the best way of rekindling their love that—especially in the Jewish hierarchy—dare not speak its name.

All too predictably, the pair are found out, re-ostracized (why did Ronit vanish to NYC from Europe?), re-consummated and then—no spoilers, but many will guess.

Perhaps the finest moment of the lot comes as Dovid accepts the notion that people should be allowed to choose what to do with their lives. And if the film had ended there, it might have had Oscar a-buzz.

Sadly, it needed three subsequent endings (more and more predictable) to finally fade to black, leaving thinking viewers feeling cheated and newcomers saying, “What a great finish.” JWR

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