I think what I admire most about Ice Poison—a deeply sad film about labor, poverty, death, and desperation—is that it was not made for my edification. I can follow the basic story, of course, and identify many of the social issues at play, but director/writer Midi Z. has no interest in explaining the cultural, political, historical, and geographical nuances that make his characters and his story feel so tangible, so subtle, and so real. His trademark use of long takes from static cameras make it clear that the audience is being asked to witness, not necessarily to understand, and that he is more interested in documenting his characters than in educating his film festival–going audience. A film that tried to explicate all the factors that make up life, love, and business for characters who live in the liminal spaces of the working poor in Burma, China, Taiwan, and Malaysia would be doomed to failure whatever its intentions. Midi Z. refuses to judge his characters, even when they make what seem to be the worst possible decisions, and he refuses to allow his audience to believe that we can see the bigger picture, that we know something the characters don't. A call to action would be reductive and insulting. Midi Z. doesn't want "us" to fix, or even to understand, the situation he's placing before us; he does, though, think we should have to, or at least have the opportunity to, confront it, take it in, and deal with it on whatever terms we can or will.
[This was written as a contribution to a Facebook page called 52 Movies in 52 Weeks, the goal of which is to see and, time allowing, write about 52 films you haven't seen before. I have cross-posted this entry on that page.]