'Mestari Cheng', the film of the Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki, which opened last night at the local cinematheque the Nordic film festival, is one of those films for which as a spectator you cannot refrain from feeling sympathy and emotion despite your instincts and knowledge of movie fan, a film that makes the most of the melodrama's tools, demonstrating what can be reached within this genre but also what are its limitations if the director falls too rigorously into the pattern and adds nothing personal. The central theme of the festival that started is the migration, immigration, emigration, with their hardships and suffering but also with the cultural and human opportunities opened by the people's movement and the meetings of the cultures. 'Mestari Cheng' ('Chef Cheng') fits in well with itstheme and is likely to be loved by many viewers.
There is a second main theme in the film - that of culinary art as a means of meeting people and bringing cultures together. This is not an original theme either, but it is the one that manages to attract best the attention and arise emotion. Food as a feeling and as a philosophy, as a communication medium and as a universal cure for the health of the body but especially of the soul. The story of the chef from Shanhai that fate brings to a hamlet in northern Finland, far removed from the world but miraculous as a natural landscape and rich in human landscape could happen anytime and anywhere on our planet today. The reasons that bring the man along with his eight-year-old boy to a country that is from many points of view on the opposite poles of China are different from those of economic migrants, and the connection between him and the local woman is more than the meeting of two lonelinesses marked by personal traumas from each one's past.
The film manages to create a believable world on screen, with characters we seem to know although they belong to cultures that are so different and different from ours. The merit belongs in particular to the excellent team of actors. The two actors cast in the lead roles, Pak Hon Chu and Anna-Maija Tuokko, develop interesting and complex characters, and the 'chemistry' between them is visible and transmitted to the public. Some of the supporting characters are also well-shaped appearances. And yet, beyond a certain moment (and that moment was quite early during the projection) I had a sense of repetition, of deja vu, of predictability, of tourist-cultural propaganda. I think the problem is the too rich a collection of stereotypes and common places about the relationships between men and women, about Chinese and Finns, about emigrants and locals opening their hearts to and for the visitors, about the relationships between overworked fathers and their children who miss their presence in their lives, about loneliness, mourning, tolerance and intolerance. The film has good chances to be very successful in China, but it has something to offer to viewers in other parts of the world. It's hard not to be impressed by the acting and the natural emotions caused by the intrigue, this I propose to those who will see the film, not even try to resist them. The final sensation was, to me at least, similar to that of hearing famous music in kitch versions of the like of Clayderman or André Rieu. But there are, I know, many, many, many Clayderman and Rieu fans in the world.
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