Daily | Cannes 2014 | Naomi Kawase’s STILL THE WATER

Still the Water

‘Still the Water’

“If ‘masterpiece’ is a word that critics should use with extreme caution,” begins Guy Lodge at In Contention, “the same should probably go for the filmmakers under scrutiny. Naomi Kawase, the Japanese auteur arguably revered more by Cannes programmers than by anyone else, became a target of derision last week when she announced in an interview that her new film Still the Water is her ‘masterpiece,’ and that her eyes are firmly fixed on the Palme d’Or. Defenders pointed out the possessive qualifier she attached to the word: declaring a film one’s own best work is different from branding it one for the ages. Either way, however, it was something probably best left unsaid—and with the turgidly precious Still the Water now out in the open, it’s harder still to believe.”

“Enigmatic, exotic, erotic: three adjectives commonly bandied about in discussion about Naomi Kawase’s films,” writes Clarence Tsui in the Hollywood Reporter. “Not for her latest outing, though. Sure, Still the Water has its moments of mystery (a corpse floating in the sea at night), portrayals of traditional rituals (from dancing to the throat-slitting of goats) and sex, but all is rendered less beguiling for the simplistic (and sometimes even artless) ways they are rendered onscreen. Combined with its sprawling narrative and insubstantial characters, the movie seems some distance from the creative heights Kawase attained with tightly regimented yet deeply engaging films like Suzaku (1997), Shara (2003) and The Mourning Forest (2007).”

For the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, Still the Water “displays a mystic spirituality and… a profound belief in the therapeutic and redemptive power of nature to soothe our worldly pain. As one character says: ‘You have to keep a humble attitude to nature; it’s pointless to resist it.’ In the unending unity of nature, we can gain a perspective on the limited nature of our individual bodies. Kawase’s film is sometimes beautiful and moving but I couldn’t help occasionally finding it a little contrived and self-conscious.”

Barbara Scharres at “Still the Water has waves worthy of a Hokusai woodblock print, an eerie full moon, a first kiss and the first inkling of love, all in an unhurried slice-of-life narrative that also evokes the ancient nature-connected rites of the populace on an outlying Japanese island. An awareness of death as a necessary part of life grows painfully for teen sweethearts Kaito and Kyoko… Kyoko’s mother, an island shaman, is terminal with a lingering illness but attempts to give her daughter the perspective that will quell her fears about death. Like many of the film’s most important messages, this is not a dramatic high point but is woven into the ongoing flow of natural life.”

Still the Water is an easier film to watch than some of Kawase’s previous work, visually striking in her first collaboration with Kore-eda’s regular cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki,” writes Fionnuala Halligan for Screen Daily. “However, the coming of age of two teenagers in love isn’t exactly fresh cinematic territory, even in remote tropical locales, and some of its symbolism could be dismissed as obvious—a 500-year-old Banyan tree, for example, seems to exist primarily to be uprooted.”

Updates, 5/21: “Cannes’ love for this director is tough to fathom,” finds Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve, “as her films are always shapeless and ponderous, relying far too heavily on landscapes—like Malick minus the poetry, or with bad poetry substituted.”

“This is the first of the Japanese director’s films I’ve ever seen,” admits the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd. “And if the new one is any indication of what her work is normally like, I can see why many of my peers roll their eyes every time her name is announced by chief programmer Thierry Fremaux.”

“Translated from the Japanese, the title is The Second Window, which is better than what the festival’s going with,” notes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “It gets at Kawase’s themes of rebirth and alternative choices. There really is a worldview here in the pretty, protracted death scene, the typhoon sequence, and the sex that often looks like CPR. She’s talking about the release of life and its reclamation and rechanneling. Or something.”

“Kawase embraces nature worship and pompous philosophizing in her indulgently mannerist style,” writes Maggie Lee for Variety.

But at CineVue, John Bleasdale gives Still the Water four out of five stars, calling it “a fluid, dreamlike tone poem of mothers and fathers, death and continuance.” And at Indiewire, Nikola Grozdanovic gives it a B+, find that Kawase’s “lyrical and personal style of cinema adds another treat to an already fantastic slate.”

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