Five Flavours 2013 Review: HOMOSTRATUS, A Surreal Meditation On Contemporary Life

Patryk Czekaj, Contributing Writer
Homostratus, the latest experimental piece from Vietnamese director Siu Pham, went a long and turbulent way from its production phase through to its world premiere here at Five Flavours Film Festival 2013 in Warsaw. 

Due to some misunderstandings with the distributors, an official release is not at all probable as of now and the film's future seems up in the air. Considering all that chaos surrounding this picture, it's been an even bigger privilege to be able to attend its only planned screening in recent history.

Homostratus amazes and confounds in turns. At first, the film presents itself as a seemingly accidental montage of puzzling chapters that don't really fit the bigger image but separately aspire to reflect on the ambiguity of existence. As the storyline progresses, it becomes fairly clear that the main idea revolves around the extremely fast evolutionary process that the whole world undergoes roughly every second, depicting how it shapes a single life in the technologically advanced era. By presenting a story of the so-called everyman, here in the form of an aging citizen of Saigon, it only proves that each morning might be just the beginning of another wild adventure in any overcrowded and rich metropolis.

The protagonist's life is turned upside down on a seemingly uneventful day when an unknown man pays him a visit with a rather unusual job offer. Though unenthusiastic from the start, he changes his mind when he hears about the unexpectedly generous salary. The character's ridiculous task from now on is to control the streets, look for suspicious behavior and place a big X on sheets of paper if something happens, while a camera placed on the rubber cup above by the mysterious employer controls all of his actions.

Just a couple of hours later his wife comes to the house and forces him to take care of their rebellious teenage son. Every cloud's got a silver lining, it seems, when the father decides to shift work-related responsibility onto the son in order to spend time knitting. But when the highly anticipated payday comes, his superior obliges the man to come out and reveal his deeply hidden sexual secret, changing everything completely once again.

Though the father is the main character here it's crucial to mention the role of the son, as he is actually more or less the key to understanding the premise of the picture. With time he comes across as a lazy, irresponsible, easygoing, yet passionate and talented beat boxing aficionado without any real prospects for the future. While he's a rather bleak character, his transformation is undeniably a most shocking one. Ultimately, that final shot, in which the boy is a main star, speaks more than a thousand words and is as surprising as one can only hope. I won't reveal any details but this final scene, which indicates that it's never too late to amount to anything, shows how unpredictable a single life can sometimes be.

The main narrative is consistently interrupted by inexplicable images that not necessarily correspond to the story but give the film a pleasantly inviting, often hilariously surrealistic touch. The opening sequence shows a crippled man breakdancing on a piece of cardboard near the river, then there's a point of view shot from the perspective of a person rowing a boat with his own legs to an unknown destination. Is he disabled as well? That's only one of the questions left without an answer.

Adding up to the overall creative aspect of the film is how the creators enriched its form with repeated, expressive electronic beats that fill the screen every time viewers follow the amateur camera as passersby. That inspiring journey within a concrete jungle takes us all the way through the lively and noisy city and gives a glimpse of the citizens' consumptive lifestyle, which for an outsider might look like a constant mix of taking pictures and riding scooters.

Homostratus plays with the viewer's imagination without giving any straightforward explanations to many of its images. Given the fact that the feature has neither a beginning nor an ending it's undoubtedly hard to grasp the whole sense of that obscure and sarcastic yet intriguing and accessible poem. However, when put into context, it still manages to tell a valuable story that refers to our modern world's often distressing craziness. 

It doesn't judge, it just meditates on the state of the contemporary society, and though the picture appears all the more confusing every time a random, indefinable and emblematic sequence appears on screen, Homostratus' pleasantly touching and especially artistic visage remains intact. It would be a real shame to let this film fall into oblivion.

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