The geometry of desire is portrayed elegantly in “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” an awe-inspiring, moving, outwardly immaculate film. In three volumes, men and women surround each other, talking and talking about something else. As they exchange glances, confessions and accusations, their broad words become either a bridge or a wall. During these tumultuous times, they crave meaning, ex-lovers, lost intimacy, an escape.
“Fortune and Fantasy” is one of the latest talkathons from Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, one of the more interesting filmmakers to have emerged in the last decade. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s no surprise. Even before the pandemic, the US market for foreign-language cinema has always been brutal, and his work has received little theatrical distribution in the United States. But he’s a well-known name on the festival circuit, and both this film and his spectacular “Drive My Car” were on the main slate at the recent New York Film Festival. (“Fortune” won a major award at this year’s Berlin.)
If Hamaguchi was a more typical French filmmaker, or if he had made or was more explicit in the gore-scattered genre, he might have attracted more distributor interest. Although probably not: the length of some of his works presents a handicap. While “Fortune and Fantasy” lasts two hours, “Drive My Car” is three, and “Happy Hour”, an epic of minimalism, runs more than five. More challenging still, perhaps, are their narrative choices and understated visuals, which conform to the current template for American indie cinema with enough graphical beauty to smoothly reduce its dramatic problems, moral direction, and emotional bloodshed. are not.
Hamaguchi’s realism is as constructed as 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 inflection. Things happen, terrifying, heartbreaking things, though not necessarily onscreen. Instead, much of what you see has the flavor, rhythm, and texture of Quodian life, which makes his artistic choices all the more interesting and sometimes almost mystical. You’re engrossed, but you may wonder why. (Hamaguchi cites John Cassavetes as a strong influence; the impression of French New Wave and South Korean director Hong Sangsu is also evident.)