BIFF-2013-logo The rain seems to finally be easing up, which means dashes between cinemas are marred more by sweat than precipitation. My day today was spent entirely at GoMA, though, which—in contrast with the Palace Barracks—is well air-conditioned (some would say too much, but I’ll take that over Barracks 2’s swampy heat any day). Consequently, my films today ranged from simple to epic but always artistic.

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Cutie and the Boxer

Today I finally realised how many documentaries I’m seeing, which makes writing about these films a tiny bit more difficult. Documentaries are hard films to review because the ideas and concepts that underpin them are more nebulous and fluid (with a narrative film you can drop “good screenplay, nice cinematography, this performance was good” and be done with it; we’re all guilty of doing that).

Cutie and the Boxer exists at the opposite end of the spectrum to the other documentary I saw today. Short and sweet at 82 minutes, it gives backstory for and looks at the present day life of artist Ushio Shinohara (the Boxer) and his wife Noriko (Cutie). A star on the art scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s, these days Ushio struggles to sell works and, as a result, make a living.

Unfortunately, the most impressive moment is the title sequence where Ushio does one of his famous boxing paintings—slugging paint onto a canvas from right to left with eyes closed—in one unbroken shot. The title pops up at the end like the ding of a typewriter, and you’re immediately intrigued.

But there really isn’t enough to say here. Noriko has begun drawing a comic based on her marriage, basing Cutie on herself and Bullie on Ushio. There’s some love lost between them but her devotion to him is sweet. Part of the problem is that Ushio doesn’t really seem to openly acknowledge the troubled past, preferring to ignore it. He also says some unpleasant things about Noriko and her art behind her back. He’s charming, but just repellent enough to give you pause.

It has some interesting things to say about the currency of an artist’s life, but Cutie and the Boxer is a trifle at best. If you want real insight into the lives of great artists, check out the phenomenal Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present or Beauty is Embarrassing instead.

[rating=2] and a half

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Like Father, Like Son

This simplistic tale of one rich and one poor family coming to terms with the discovery that their young sons were switched at birth is graceful enough but underplayed to the point of stiffness. It seems like director Hirozaku Kore-eda was trying to avoid lapsing into manipulative sentimentality but instead went the opposite way.

It doesn’t help that the main character Ryota, a successful architect, is essentially a stereotype of the workaholic, barely-there father. In fact, few of the characters develop beyond barely-there sketches, with perhaps the exceptions of Ryota’s wife Midori, and Yudai, the father of the other family.

Perhaps I’m just burnt out on bad dad narratives—at least this wasn’t as baldly uninteresting as two-thirds of The Place Beyond the Pines—but the choppy way the story unfurls combined with rudimentary characterisation made the emotional beats feel forced. Even so, it’s often charming and funny with some solid performances, but ultimately too restrained to feel real.

[rating=2] and a half

Laurence Barber - follow Laurence on Twitter at @bortlb.