Muddied by VHS static, David and Nathan Zellner's (Kid-Thing, Goliath) Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter opens with the same epigram as Fargo (1997): "THIS IS A TRUE STORY." Of course, in the same spirit as Fargo, this declaration is clearly facetious. Kumiko isn't based on events that actually happened, but very loosely derived from the urban legend of Takako Konishi, a Japanese woman who police believed had died in the North Dakota snow while searching for Fargo's buried suitcase, which thought was real (she didn't, she actually committed suicide - a short documentary about Konishi was made for Channel 4 called This is a True Story, you can watch it here)*. However, also like Fargo, Kumiko really is a true story - just not in the conventional sense.

You see, there's a common belief that 'true' and 'real' are interchangeable in cinema, but I've never really bought into that. Cinema doesn't need to represent an objective reality, doesn't have to follow in Realist traditions, doesn't require a basis in real events or overtly political themes in order to ring true. Frankly, that's a load of bullshit (although maddeningly common in the world of academia which I currently inhabit). No, in my mind, the only criterion for truth in the cinema is emotion. Does the film in question, whether an unassuming genre picture or stuffy classic, actually make you feel something deeply? Does it speak to your soul and make you seem more alive in some way? Does it enthral you? Depress you? Horrify you? Cause you to laugh? Cry? If so, it's a truthful film. Your reaction has got to come from something, right? It's an appeal to the emotions that, for whatever reason, feels right to you. Of course, the operative word here is 'you' - emotion is obviously an incredibly personal thing that's influenced by a multitude of factors, so whether a film actually resonates or not is a subjective matter. We all have our own truths.

This, in a sense, is what Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is about: the deep emotional connections we forge with art that people will say are absurd and try and deny us because they're not 'real', but are still irrevocably ours even if they do drive us to the point of mania. It's about the conflict between fact and fiction, and how they are forever entwined. See, the titular Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a hopelessly sad office assistant in Tokyo, is obsessed with Fargo. After discovering a busted old VHS copy buried in the sand, she spends much of her free time watching it. Or, rather, scanning through it and dissecting the scene in which Steve Buscemi's character buries a suitcase full of money in an anonymous stretch of land. Why? Well, like a Spanish Conquistador she plans to unearth this treasure - it's her destiny. It's a whacky sounding premise to be sure, and you may think her unbearably crazy for thinking that the suitcase was ever there, but do not mistake this as being some twee, happy-clappy, wishy-washy Sundance road-movie. No, this is a peculiar movie, but also one dripping with pathos.

I mean, when Kumiko's reality consists of people ignoring her, belittling her, and judging her worth by her lack of husband and children, her retreat into fantasy makes total sense. It's predicated on an intense feeling of alienation that we can all relate to. But I suppose it's more than a than a simple retreat: Kumiko exists in a state of complete solitude that's beautifully represented by Sean Porter's placid cinematography, which, especially in the first half, marginalises her in the frame and confines her within the inflexible geometry of the mise-en-scene. The camera is rarely given any freedom, either tightly focusing on Kikuchi or moving rigidly. This, above anything, articulates why powerful emotional connections such as Kimiko's with Fargo are forged: when the world disregards her and seems so static and bleak, the light of the TV seems otherworldly in her dank little apartment, like the only vital thing in existence. Fargo gives her the one thing that her reality denies her: something to aspire to, a purpose. Whether it's real or not is entirely beside the point.

But her situation doesn't miraculously change when she's eventually compelled to leave for Minnesota. Her surroundings may be different, but Kikuchi's face alone speaks a thousand words: her wonderful, mostly silent performance conveys an incredibly intense passion and deep, deep melancholy that does not suddenly change. Kumiko forever lives an internal life: in Tokyo she shuts down when confronted with the prospect of human interaction, and in Minnesota any chance of communication is scuppered by the language barrier and culture clash. Kumiko is just as isolated, even if people do actually notice her in small-town America because of her Otherness. Whether Kumiko is displaying symptoms of a mental illness or is an eccentric that has fallen between the cracks of a regimented culture in which everything knows its place is somewhat ambiguous. But it doesn't really matter - the film isn't trying to address that.

What's more important is recognising the dichotomy between reality and fantasy and that the fantastic, in its manifold guises, can speak to the soul in ways that what purports to be real cannot. Kumiko's quixotic quest, her boundless obsession compelled by monotony, however absurd it seems, is something we've all experienced to various extents. While this makes her single-minded journey for some semblance of emotional fulfilment kind of beautiful to watch, that there has to be such a mission at all is profoundly tragic - especially when reality repeatedly bites at her. This is a true story, after all, and it ended up being the most emotionally resonant, strange, devastating and funny experiences I had at Sundance London - my favourite film of the bunch. Hopefully it gets some decent distribution in the UK, because I sincerely believe that this is a film that everybody should see, even if it won't appeal to all tastes.

The second film of the day, Alex Gibney's Finding Fela, is also concerned with truth, but in a different way. It's a documentary about Afrobeat pioneer and Nigerian political activist Fela Kuti that attempts to create the most extensive portrait of the man one can imagine in a two hour film. It wants to be the most accurate account of his life -- helped by the interviews with Kuti's family, friends and academics -- which is a problematic goal to say the least. See, Fela Kuti was an incredibly complicated guy, the film makes a big point of that, but its attempts at comprehensiveness leave for an unfocused film. On one level, this is because there's just too much to fit in, and it becomes frustrating as some aspects of his life are brushed over very quickly - his relationship with his kids, for example. More important, however, is that Finding Fela is miserably conventional in terms of form.

Gibney tediously complies talking head interviews, archival footage and structures them around the development/performance of the recent Broadway production Fela! which sounds like an interesting angle, but it never feels particularly engaging. It's rather languid. Kuti was a rhythmically complex musician and an audacious man in spite of his flaws and political oppression, but the filmmaking imprisons him. Something rhythmically complex and formally bold would have been a far better fit for the man and a more active viewing experience. It would have come alive. What we're left with feels like a history lesson more than a cinematic experience, and while his life was interesting and I left the film knowing more than I did, it's not the concise investigation of Kuti 'the man' and Kuti 'the symbol' it really ought to be. It'll play well on BBC4, though.

*This is not a spoiler, by the way.