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  • Day 7: Hidden Romances

Film

Day 7: Hidden Romances

Two love stories that dare not speak their name from this year's Berlinale Panorama section.

Ben Yuen in Suk Suk
Photo courtesy of © New Voice Film Productions

On the seventh day of the Berlinale, we shine on a light on two secret love affairs from this year’s Panorama section. With their familial obligations seemingly complete, both movie’s characters yearn to push their lives beyond the bounds of betrothal – but at what cost?

Suk Suk

Pak (Tai Bo), a 70-year-old taxi driver who refuses to retire, leads a double life. When away from his grouchy but well-intentioned wife (Patra Au), Pak cruises the men’s toilets in Hong Kong. Happening upon Hoi (Ben Yuen), a 65-year-old retired father in a park, a clandestine romance blooms with a cautious series of invitations. Both tethered to their families for different reasons, the two dignified men try to contemplate a future together without hurting the ones that they love.

Suk Suk is a sublime portrait of two elderly gay men in Hong Kong discovering true love at the end of their ‘dutiful’ lives. Tenderly hued in caution and concern about how their families might react, director Ray Yeung reveals both the cultural and societal pressures that holds both men back from full-blown commitment. Where Pak is surrounded by an ardent family and yet married to a wife from whom his passion has passed, Hoi’s born-again Christian son continually chides him in the right way to bring up a family, hinting that he failed him as a father.

Similar to other closeted gay romances where the main characters dare not reveal their ardour (i.e. God’s Own Country and Brokeback Mountain), Suk Suk shows how Pak and Hoi’s lives could be together. Beautifully pulling on other nuanced strands like retirement, gay rights and faith as-opposed-to religion, this is a true gem that delivers both on candour and compassion in equal measure.

With excellent performances from Tai Bo as the initially indifferent cruiser Pak, and Ben Yuen as the more soulfully romantic Hoi – and not forgetting the tear-jerking Patra Au as Pak’s wife – Suk Suk is the other great Asian piece of cinema that can comfortably sit next to The Farewell

Sensitive, uplifting and inspiring, this is one fine romance you don’t want to miss out on.

Marija Skaričić in Mare
Phorto courtesy of © Okofilm Productions

Mare

Bored housewife to a Dubrovnic airport guard (Goran Navojec) and mother to their children, Mare (Marija Skaricic) feels that her life is parked at more than the edge of the neighbouring runway. As each plane escapes from view, Mare’s weddedness to her current life seems to go with them, that is until a new arrival moves in next door…

Tied to her role as housewife and mother, Mare is a story of thwarted escape and desperate ambition. Trampled over by her oafish husband Djuro as played by Goran Navojec, actress Marija Skaricic from 2006’s Fraulein pulls a genuinely engaging performance out of director Andrea Staka’s script. That said, whilst Mare is a very handsomely shot and well-acted tale of marital deception, this kitchen-sink drama is badly starved of believable motivation. Easily beguiled by a one-off encounter with Mateusz Kosciukiewicz’s Piotr, their chance liaison becomes an unbelievable sexual encounter at the behest of a script, more than established by motive. So, skipping over that unbelievable, emotional speed-bump (as similarly seen in the clunky mechanics of Lady Macbeth), Mare places deceit firmly on the dinner table. That said, all of the following scenes, whilst predictable, have an engaging inevitability to them. 

Nevertheless, when Mare’s ending comes, it comes out of nowhere, as do its end credits. Choosing not to linger on its thought-provoking conclusion, Mare becomes a film that elopes with more than several scenes missing. Shorn of either the budget necessary or some fuller pages of script, this is one earth-bound drama could have flown further had it been afforded another twenty minutes of air time. 

Sadly though, much like Mare’s life, some things just aren’t meant to be.