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On "Possible Changes" and "Dandelion":
Bodies of Water
By Charles Leary

"Dandelion" (Mark Milgard)
Possible Changes.
"Possible Changes"
(Min Byung-kook)

Bodies of water have often, in the cinema, been a force of both birth and destruction. In Fritz Lang's Metropolis and the second installment of Dr. Mabuse, the water breaks through a barrier, born in one interior while drowning another. In Dario Argento's Inferno, a woman discovers fear in a bookstore's secret underwater chamber, while in Hideo Nakata's Dark Water, leaks in a decaying apartment block embody both the most childlike and the most terrifying impulse.

All of these films have been associated with horror (Lang's only in the German Expressionist sense of the macabre), while Min Byung-kook's urban mid-life crisis tale Possible Changes (Ganeunghan byunhwadle, South Korea 2004) and Mark Milgard's rural coming-of-age story Dandelion (USA 2004), two FIPRESCI nominated films, are surely not part of that genre. But important sequences of both films might fit in the tradition of cinema's imagination of water as both a body and a space, an amorphous space where one loses one's center of gravity — especially if one falls into that body. And they both offer glimpses of what one finds in the aforementioned films, the sudden image of violence, which can fulfill cinema's ultimate power: to shock the senses.

Both films also feature men living a lie who are angry at the world. In Possible Changes, lab researcher Jong-Kyu insecurely claims to his unrequited love — well, unrequited that is until a passionate fling in a love hotel — that he is married. After her concern over the state of her real marriage strengthens her later rejection of him, his gestures of normalcy turn to shouting at every corner. In Dandelion, we are first introduced to the father of Mason, the teenage main character, as he erupts at every annoyance, especially the ramblings of his shell-shocked brother, reminiscent of the frustration between Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell in Paris, Texas. I feel more comfortable recounting more narrative details of Possible Changes because there is not much of a narrative to speak of — not always of course cause for immediate dismissal, but it cannot compare to the visceral experience of Dandelion, which, while no means like our usual expectation of a thriller, is suspenseful.

Possible Changes takes place in middle-class Seoul and a pastoral suburban university town, with an excursion to coastal cliffs. Dandelion takes place in rural Idaho, and, writing here at the Viennale that only a few years back hosted the program, "The Last Great American Picture Show: New Hollywood in the 1970s," one of the greatest appeals of Milgard's film is its image of America that we rarely see these days in American cinema, but can remind one of those films like Two-Lane Blacktop, Easy Rider, and other American films of the 1970s that showed small towns, transients, and real teenagers.

In the few times I've been to Europe and Asia in the past four years, I always encounter other liberal-leaning Americans apologizing for being American. I don't think I'm under any obligation to apologize for a person and policy I oppose, yet living in the world of color-coded terror alerts and FOX News fear-mongering does often make escaping across the Pacific or the Atlantic waters a relief much appreciated. Dandelion though is a film that shows an America I can be homesick for.

Charles Leary
© FIPRESCI, Viennale, 2004



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