West North West tells the story of three women: a bar tender, her model lover, and a foreign (Iranian) art student. The film aims to communicate something about the way the characters feel, perhaps coming from or living in cultures that oppress same-sex attraction and relationships. The bar tender and the Iranian woman both seem lonely, depressed, homesick, sad. Long silences, long shots focusing on their inexpressive (or single-expression) faces aim, perhaps, to tell the viewer something. Yet, it is unclear what that something might be.
During most of the film, we spent thinking "use your words, honey, come on." It felt like mind-talking to a 3-year-old who was sulking about something, oh, but what?!? There were hints, of course, and one could interpret them however one wanted, which is great, but most scenes took "understatement" to a new level, that is, they were more in the "nothing-stated" realm. The two main actresses had one or two facial expressions, which made every scene a guessing game. Is she happy? Unhappy? About to cry? Aroused? Is that a smile or a frown?
Luckily, there are two characters, the model (Ai) and her mother, who actually spoke, like in full sentences, and who expressed their feelings and thoughts, so the scenes these characters were in felt explosive in terms of information and emotion. The theater crowd reacted to these characters, not only because they were severe and often unpleasant, but also because on could understand their thoughts and feeling better.
From the beginning, many things were unclear. Perhaps this was on purpose, but it didn't seem to serve any premise or character goal or story arc. The art student kept taking a history class and rarely did any art or painting on screen. Why she went over to the bar tenders house, why she stayed over, why she brought her bird and left it there, why the bar tender later returned the bird, why why why why why... Many things just didn't make sense or didn't seem to serve a purpose or further the story in any meaningful way. Why, in the middle of an emotional conversation, did the bar tender just leave the Iranian woman and go to the bathroom, loosened her hair, and cut, next unrelated scene?!
Sexuality and sexual identity is certainly a big part of the film. We get the feeling that the bar tender is confused (she falls in love with women, but she is not a lesbian, which seemed to be portrayed as a contradiction in the film, yet could certainly be not contradictory, if only she had the words to truly express herself!). We get the feeling that the Iranian woman is the one who is not confused, yet becomes confused towards the end, perhaps falling in love with the bar tender and not being able to consolidate this with her belief system (yet none of this is verbalized or even emotionally developed that well, unless you count crying and sitting in silence as emotional development). In the end, there is some sort of role reversal, where the bar tender is clearer on what she wants and the Iranian woman is left confused and unsatisfied. The only person who is NOT confused is Ai: she knows what she wants, she fights for what she wants, she gets nasty for what she wants, she is unwavering.
As for sexuality, the sex scenes do the mandatory hand clasp which leads to tangled sleeping feet, and beyond that are sterile and unexciting.
Oh, and it is OK not to translate some conversation in another language, but whole scenes without any translation is a bit much (phone calls in Persian were entirely untranslated).
All in all, I am glad I saw this film. If nothing, I got a feeling for what passes as queer cinema in Japan these days. Sadly, West North West was a weak example of queer cinema or cinema of any kind.
West North West
West North West
Kei works at a cocktail bar, while Ai works as a model. Fearing she'll be ostracized by society, Kei chooses not to admit her sexual orientation to anyone, and, as a result, she becomes distressed and lonely. One day, Kei gets close to Naima, an Iranian student studying art in Japan. Ai quickly becomes jealous of them and their budding relationship. Kei gradually becomes pessimistic as she thinks about a future with Ai, and Ai worries that she will lose Kei. In the meantime, Naima is having a hard time understanding what Kei wants despite growing closer to her. All three of them are embarrassed and insecure but eventually they begin to share their emotions.
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