The geometry of desire is elegantly drawn in “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”, a melancholy, moving and unpretentious film. In three segments, men and women surround themselves, talk and talk again. As they exchange glances, confessions, and accusations, their cascading words become either bridges or walls. Throughout these effusive rounds, they yearn for meaning, for former lovers, for a lost intimacy, for an escape.
“Fortune and Fantasy” is one of the latest talkathons from Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, one of the most intriguing filmmakers of the past decade. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s no surprise. The US foreign language film market has always been brutal, even before the pandemic, and its work has received little theatrical release in the United States. But it’s a household name on the festival circuit, and this film and its stunning “Drive My Car” were on the main list at the recent New York Film Festival. (“Fortune” won a major award in Berlin this year.)
If Hamaguchi were another generic French filmmaker, or if he made bloody genre films or was just more obvious, he might attract more interest from distributors. Although maybe not: the length of some of his work probably presents an obstacle. While “Fortune and Fantasy” lasts two hours, “Drive My Car” lasts three and “Happy Hour”, an epic of minimalism, lasts more than five. Even more difficult, arguably, are its narrative choices and sober visuals, which do not conform to the current model of American independent cinema with its dramatic problems, moral education and enough pictorial beauty for the emotional bloodshed to take hold. unrolls smoothly.
Hamaguchi’s realism is as constructed as that of any Sundance selection, but what sets his work apart is his attention to ambiguity and everyday moments, and his general avoidance of dramatic or melodramatic inflections. Things are happening, terrible and heartbreaking things, but not necessarily on screen. Instead, most of what you see has the flavor, rhythm, and texture of everyday life, which makes his artistic choices all the more intriguing and at times almost mysterious. You are absorbed, but you may be wondering why. (Hamaguchi cites John Cassavetes as a strong influence; the imprint of the French New Wave and South Korean director Hong Sangsoo is also evident.)