An unadventurous re-tread of current art-house trends, distinguished by some fitfully nice cinematography.
You could easily write a long list of all the cloying clichés of contemporary festival movies, and quite a lot of them would probably be in Slum-Polis. These include, but are not limited to: an un-ironical embracement of crappy pop songs; a montage in which the main characters laugh and shoot fireworks, a self-consciously artificial lighting scheme which often bathes the action in large pools of primary colours; woozy, shallow-focus handheld cinematography; a half-hearted employment of genre clichés; a tendency to switch incongruously between extreme violence and treacly sentimentality; an engagement with the corrupt nature of patriarchy and late period capitalism sketched in such broad terms it registers as nearly parodic; the list goes on.
It’s refreshing to see any film that deviates from the conventional patterns of continuity editing and framing that still dominates most of Hollywood and TV, but there isn’t a genuinely surprising line of dialogue, cut, music cue, or piece of negative space.
Set in the year 2041, Slum-Polis tells the story of a small, isolated slum that has recently been ravaged by an earthquake. Poverty is rampart and most of the population live in fear of gangs and narcotic kingpins. Joe, our stoic, sensitive sort of hero, dreams of escaping to the city, but is held back by the fact that the currency used in Slum-Polis is more or less worthless in Yen. His life takes a turn when he meets the young prostitute Anna, who too dreams of moving to the city so she can put on an exhibition of her paintings. They bond through their shared dreaminess and longing, and, when Joe learns of the abuse Anna is suffering from her step-father, they become embroiled in a drug running scheme to secure them a definitive out. Unfortunately, like pretty much every “one final heist” to ever appear in a movie, this doesn’t go the way he’d hoped.
After an obscure, strobe-lit gunfight sequence in a nightclub, the first portion of the film is fairly ambling, alternating between the relatively tranquil dilapidated garbage heaps where the characters pursue their artistic interests, and bustling, sleazy clubs, where the violence goes down, and they’re regularly harassed and insulted by passers-by. This push-pull between elegance and depravity neatly sets the tone of the film to follow. It’s a branch of filmmaking that seeks to recreate the sensation of naivety and unquestioning earnestness of our youthful movie-watching experiences while simultaneously sustaining a deliberate, detached atmosphere of airlessness which nevertheless asserts the film’s sense of superiority to these emotions. The tone is disingenuously naïf and awesome, filled with speeches about the importance of friendship, the value of art as escapism and finding one’s purpose in life, that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Nickelodeon sitcom.
As the film goes on, it moves further into genre territory, as the wronged drug kingpin sets about hunting down and disposing of everybody involved with the hit, though – intentionally – not to such a rigorous extent that anything in the plot registers as actual tension or excitement – and I don’t mean it does this in an interesting way. The movie greatly eschews traditional plot mechanics, yet the characters are too generic and thinly drawn for it to pack much punch as a character piece. Slum-Polis works best when it simply indulges in nicely textured cinematic longueurs, but even then the simple prettiness of each frame takes precedent over how form is used to express emotion or theme. Everything on screen seems pre-determined to fit a pre-determined one-note logic of rough cinematic beauty.
Slum-Polis (2015), directed by Ken Ninomiya, is being shown as part of the 2015 Raindance Film Festival. Further information about the film and screening times can be found here.