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2010


October 17, 2010

The Strange Case of Angelica, 2010

Angelica.gifThe retrospective screening of Manoel de Oliveira's Acto da Primavera alongside his latest film, The Strange Case of Angelica provided a great opportunity to see the evolution - or rather, reconstitution - of his cinema from documentary to narrative fiction. Indeed, by evoking images from his first film, Douro, Faina Fluvial in Isaac's (Ricardo Trepa) desire to photograph the workers who still manually farm the valley, de Oliveira validates his continued preoccupation with film as a tensile medium for documentation, translation, and creation (the "in between-ness" described in the notes on Acto da Primavera). In hindsight, Isaac's fascination with their dying way of life proves to be an underlying symptom for his own dislocation and estrangement. Hired by a prominent family to take photographs of their daughter Angelica on the eve of her death, Isaac soon becomes haunted by her, leading him further into a state of suspension between reality and image, the physical and spiritual, life and death. Framed within this seemingly banal tale of obsession and longing, The Strange Case of Angelica, nevertheless, provides de Oliveira with a broad canvas to explore his recurring themes of doomed love, the relationship between image and reproduction, and cultural extinction.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 17, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, New York Film Festival

Acto da Primavera, 1963

acto.gifIn Le Quattro volte, Michelangelo Frammartino uses the staging of the Passion Play by the local villagers to bridge the ancient and the modern. This dialectic also provides the connective tissue in the Views from the Avant-Garde program, Station to Station, capturing the ancient tale as it unfolds in the streets of New York City (Jeanne Liotta's Crosswalk) and the Portuguese countryside (Fern Silva's Servants of Mercy), and culminating in the restored print screening of Manoel de Oliveira's sublime early work, Acto da Primavera. Filmed in the ancient village of Curalha in Northern Portugal (the film was released a year before Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew) where the local residents have been staging this rite of spring since the 16th century, Acto da Primavera straddles the bounds between documentary and fiction, action and performance. Bookending the film with episodes that reinforce the contemporaneity of events against which the play is staged (a reading of a newspaper early in the film that comes full circle with the concluding images of modern warfare), de Oliveira explores the notion of "in between-ness" - from the quaint village that seems anachronistic in its competing landscape of medieval architecture and electrical power lines, to the idea of film as a literal and figurative medium and conjurer of images, to the hybridization of reality when it consciously plays out before a camera.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 17, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, New York Film Festival


October 16, 2010

Le Quattro volte, 2010

quattro_volte.gifThe idea of permeable boundaries between life and death, reality and fiction also captures the spirit of Michelangelo Frammartino's distilled, yet richly textured fresco, Le Quattro Volte. Composed of four seasonal portraits that collectively present the cycle of life in the ancient village of Calabria, the film is something of a hybrid between Raymond Depardon's Profils paysans documentaries on the dying culture of rural farmers and Otar Iosseliani's pastoral comedies. By shifting narrative focus in each episode - an aging shepherd who cures his ailments with a nightly dose of holy dust obtained from the charwoman of the village church, a kid who sets out on his first graze and is separated from the herd, a tree that is cut down to be used as a maypole for the town festival, the construction of a coal-fired kiln to produce charcoal - Frammartino gives equal weight between the organic and inorganic to convey a sense of cosmic, eternal interconnectedness.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 16, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, New York Film Festival

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 2010

boonmee.gifLike Mija in Lee Chang-dong's Poetry, the eponymous, ailing protagonist of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is similarly haunted by memory and mortality. Retiring to a secluded country estate to live out his final days in the company of concerned family and friends (as well as a devoted Laotian illegal immigrant [Sakda Kaewbuadee] who administers his dialysis), Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) is soon visited by ghosts from his past - his late wife, Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk) who had died decades earlier, and son, Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong) who had disappeared as a university student (alluding to the communist movement of the 1970s), and has now emerged from the jungle as a transmogrified monkey-man. Expounding on the themes of reincarnation, parallel lives, and eternal recursion explored in Syndromes and a Century, Apichatpong gorgeously conflates past and present, history, and subconscious into an indelible stream of consciousness, where the troublesome geopolitics of porous national borders serve as a mundane, yet poetic metaphor for the interpenetrating modes of reality that haunt our human struggle for legacy and meaning.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 16, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, New York Film Festival

Poetry, 2010

poetry.gifWhile Lee Chang-dong's Poetry has invited comparison to Bong Joon-ho's Mother in its tale of morality, filial devotion, and culpability in the absence of memory, its theme of capturing the ephemeral beauty in the quotidian and transforming it into something eternal suggests a closer association with Hirokazu Kore-eda's After Life. And like After Life, the film is stitched together by mundane interactions and memories both real and constructed (in this case, as told by students in Mija's (Yun Janghee) class struggling to find a source of inspiration for their poetry writing assignment). By interweaving fractured moments of grace and (implied) brutality, youth and old age, innocence and death (the opening image is of children playing in the river who subsequently discover a body floating in the river), Lee creates an understated metaphor, not only for the idea of preserving the poetry in everyday life, but also for the indomitable heroine's struggle to find beauty - and legacy - in the face of brutal reality.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 16, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, New York Film Festival


September 10, 2010

Suspended Lives, Revenant Images. On Harun Farocki's Film Respite by Sylvie Lindeperg

Note: Suspended Lives, Revenant Images. On Harun Farocki's Film Respite was first published in Trafic, no. 70/2009 and is reprinted in Harun Farocki | Against What? Against Whom? edited by Antje Ehmann and Kodwo Eshun.

respite.gifHarun Farocki's Respite is something of a ghost film, revisiting his exposition on the intersection between productivity and violence (as captured by the unseen reconnaissance photographs of Auschwitz) in Images of the World and the Inscription of War, and dissecting the nature of image production and its role in inscribing - and intrinsically, codifying - history. It is an attempt to connect the visible and the invisible that is also suggested in Sylvie Lindeperg's essay, Suspended Lives, Revenant Images. On Harun Farocki's Film Respite. To this end, Lindeperg describes Farocki's use of found footage and archival photographs as an "exhumation", suggesting the dual nature of these companion films (Respite consists of footage from the Westerbork transit camp) as a critique of history and filmmaking, both converging on the implication of images. Moreover, since the Westerbork footage exists as a set of unedited rushes rather than a completed work, Lindeperg reinforces this analogy by referring to Farocki's deconstruction in Respite as the figurative reassembly of a "phantom film".

Images of the World and the Inscription of War underlines the troubling proximity between acts of conservation and acts of destruction, the relationship between the violence of war and the technologies of recording and reconnaissance, the instability of meaning at work in the image ...[The film] therefore forcefully underlines the necessary "collusion of image and text in the writing of history." The knowledge constituted by eyewitness accounts permits us to decode elements hidden in the image, to recognize what was inscribed there, but neither interpreted nor even seen at the time it was recorded. The conjunction of seeing and knowing thus allows us to recover the unthought of the photograph at the moment of its making. This reading appears as the product of an encounter between historical knowledge, the regime of memory, the symbolic and social demands that condition the exhumation of photographs, the questions addressed to them, the ways of decoding them.

In introducing this parallel image of a ghost film that can be reconfigured to reveal malleable layers of reality and meaning, Lindeperg broaches on the idea of filmmaking as archaeology and an act of conjuring. However, rather than a treatise on the ambiguity of truth and fiction in the vein of José Luis Guerín's Tren de sombras, Lindeperg illustrates the intrinsic paradox of the wartime footage intended to capture (and preserve for history) the way of life of a people who were targeted for extermination:

Fritz Hippler recalls the instructions given to him by Goebbels while filming in Lodz in 1940: 'Film everything you see: the life and the crowds in the streets; the commerce and trade, the rituals in the synagogue, crime, none of this should be forgotten. It has to be captured in its original state.'

...These remarks attributed to Goebbels reveal, above all, the conjunction between the act of archiving and disappearance that prefigures the tragic encounter between putting-in-an-image and putting-to-death. From 1942, in fact, filming was continued and increased in the Polish ghettos. The Nazis filmed those that they were going to kill, documenting them because they were going to kill them.

It is this dichotomy that underscores the idea of cinema and image-making as the process of preservation and destruction, where memory is formed by the sequencing of images, each one supplanted by the next.

In Images of the World and the Inscription of War, Farocki juxtaposes photographs from diverse sources in order to decode the traces of the event inscribed in the pictures while simultaneously taking the measure of what is not immediately represented. In Respite, however, he starts with a single source in order to evoke memory-images. The sequences of Westerbork thus become palimpsest images, which summon to the surface other image-strata, which recall the memory and history of cinema. Accordingly, the black intertitle cards play the role of crystallizers of memory and facilitators of vision, while simultaneously providing a space for absent images.

In this respect, Respite not only proposes to refigure history, but also to resurrect the dead through reconstituted images, to form a more durable image-memory in their absence.

There is another meaning of the title Respite that refers to the notion of latency, to the passing and the work of time, the time that mirrors the forgotten scenes of life in the camp and that extends to the present. In this sense, the force of Farocki's film depends on the contextualization of these shots within the mechanisms of propaganda as well as the confidence he places in their autonomous power. Detached from the intentions of the film, the luminous faces of the persecuted appear before us as revenant images. This spectral effect allows an emotion to surge forth that assures the posthumous victory of these captive men, women and children placed in front of the camera at the whim of their jailor, since time can foil the designs of the conquerors, and the image, as Chris Marker observed, has the power to transform the dead into something eternal.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 10, 2010 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2010, Film Related Reading


July 21, 2010

Nelson Pereira dos Santos by Darlene J. Sadlier

dossantos_sadlier.gifWith Nelson Pereira dos Santos's body of work deeply rooted in an aesthetic as well as political and social consciousness, it is not surprising that Darlene J. Sadlier analyzes the trajectory of dos Santos's cinema through a similar paradigmatic approach of integrating film form with historical context. Brought up in a middle-class, cinephile household in a rapidly modernizing (and consequently, culturally vibrant) postwar São Paolo, dos Santos's involvement with the left movement in the 1940s was incited more by humanism - particularly, with respect to the socioeconomic disparity and underdevelopment of the sertão (northeast) region - than opposition to the authoritarian government of Getúlio Vargas. Despite working towards a law degree, dos Santos had spent his academic career pursuing filmmaking, traveling to Paris to embark on a makeshift film studies crash course (after a failed attempt to enroll at the renowned IDHEC [Institut des hautes études cinématographiques]), and taking on documentary projects commissioned by the Communist party. It was during these lean years working in cash-strapped productions that dos Santos, now living with his young family in a Rio suburb near the city's largest favela, conceived the idea for Rio, 100 Degrees - a film that confronted the unvarnished reality of life in the slums that, until then, had remained below the periphery of social discourse on everyday life in the city (even as the favela maintained a visible presence atop a hill):

In contrast to the aerial shots of the tourist sites, the camera takes a position low to the ground to photograph the favela from the base of the hill to the top. This angle enables dos Santos to give audiences a better sense of the size and steepness of the hill as well as the closeness and poverty of the wooden shacks, which lack even running water. We see a boy walking up the hill with a can of water on his head and several others making their way down narrow paths and onto the paved streets filled with marketplaces, cafés, and palm trees. These few shots make clear that the favela is quite close to the city; but life in the metropole is so much richer that it seems like another planet.

In the essay, Rio, Zona Norte, Mandacaru Vermelho, Boca de Ouro, and the beginning of the Cinema Novo Movement, Sadlier examines dos Santos's early, transitional films that, while entirely different in their scope (and levels of critical and commercial success), reveal recurring themes and methodologies that would resurface throughout his body of work: race and indigenous identity versus assimilated Western culture (Rio, Zona Norte), landlessness and migrant workers (Mandacaru Vermelho), and a translational approach to literary adaptation (Boca de Ouro). Also, by locating these films within the chronology of Cinema Novo, Sadlier makes a salient point on dos Santos's precedence with respect to the birth of the movement, correcting the common misconception that aligns his cinema squarely with the emergence of Glauber Rocha, Leon Hirszman, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Carlos Diegues, and Arnold Jabor under the rubric of Cinema Novo.

Sadlier expounds on Dos Santos's translational approach to adapting literature in her detailed analysis of Vidas secas. Based on the novel by Brazilian author Graciliano Ramos (whose autobiographical novel, Memories of Prison, would later be adapted by dos Santos in 1984), dos Santos not only took advantage of the novel's cyclical structure to rearrange the self-contained stories for dramatic effect, but also dispensed with much of the characters' philosophical inner monologues in order to retain a more visceral connection with the nature of poverty.

Between and within sections, characters' thoughts and moods often undergo swift, radical changes, revealing their curiosity about language and undermining certain stereotypical notions about "primitives" derived from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature. In fact, Ramos's novel is as much or more concerned with the "human and contradictory" language and consciousness of the retirante (peasant migrant) as it is with the brutal landowning system of the Northeast.

...Dos Santos's film dramatizes this scene in its entirety [an episode in which the oldest son struggles with his mother's explanation of the concept of inferno], but it somewhat downplays the boy's curiosity about the words and his desire to understand what he does not know, giving greater emphasis to the ironic relationship between the word 'hell' and the boy's immediate surroundings.

In Culture and Cannibalism: Como era gostoso o meu francês, Sadlier frames How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman within the context of cultural extermination as a result of the military government's attempts to bring "civilization" to the indigenous people as part of its national development campaign. By drawing on colonial history, the cannibalism serves as an allegory for the consumption of one culture by another - a phenomenon that speaks directly to Brazilian society's continued emulation of European culture long after the country's independence. (Note: The equation of cannibalism with cultural consumption also appears in Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's Macunaíma).

Sadlier further proposes an intriguing corollary that by filming from the perspective of the indigenous tribe, dos Santos is recreating a historical record that had been erased from "official" history through a process of what critic Raymond Williams describes as "selective tradition" in which culture is redefined by the prevailing attitudes of contemporary society (and that, by nature, reinforces these biases and aspirations).

Viewed in these terms, dos Santos's film is less interested in distorting a canonical text than in revealing what that text omits. Its documentary-like or "anthropological" style directly participates in an effort of reinterpretation by providing the viewer with a simulation of what has been lost, not just in time but also through the selective cultural process. Dos Santos's solidarity with the Tupinambá can therefore be described as an ideological position in powerful contrast with the interests and values of the dominant class in Brazil, which has always identified with Europeans, especially the French.

The collapse of populism in the 1960s also coincided with dos Santos's divergence from a purely leftist agenda towards a more humanist cinema, a transition that is reflected in the fabular dimension to Ogum's Amulet:

Although dos Santos had long been aware of religious practices in the favela, his approach in his earliest films was strictly Marxist, focusing on social class and race while implicitly dismissing religion as an opiate of the masses. O amuleto de Ogum makes clear not only the centrality of religion in the lives of the poor but also the ways in which umbanda reinforces class solidarity and gives a kind of power to individuals who are caught in a violent and corrupt world.

Stadlier also illustrates this ideological shift in her analysis of Memories of Prison and Cinema of Tears. In Memories of Prison, dos Santos creates early ambiguity on the identity of the author and main character, Graciliano Ramos, by placing him in the milieu of the general prison population, in essence, democratizing the attribution of "hero" to all the prisoners. In Cinema of Tears, dos Santos's Latin American contribution to the BFI's Century of Cinema project (on filmmaker searching for a lost film that connects him to a tragic episode from his past), he embraces the escapism of popular studio-produced films and their ability to connect with the audience.

The actor's search through the archive is also, of course, a fictional device that allows dos Santos to show brief clips, most of them in pristine condition, of wonderfully evocative black-and-white films of the studio era. By this means he pays tribute to a generation of directors, cinematographers, and stars who became internationally famous largely because of their work in melodramas. Although the content of these films had little to do with the social reality of the moviegoing public, the Mexican melodramas were among the highest-quality films made in Latin America. In effect, dos Santos who began his career as a neorealist and a symbol of the Latin American New Wave, takes a revisionary approach to a genre that, like the chanchada [musical comedies], was often criticized by the Left because of its association with Hollywood.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 21, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, Film Related Reading


June 27, 2010

Short Notes from The Calm After the Storm: Making Sense of Lebanon's Civil War

ready_wear.gifReady To Wear Imm Ali (Dima El-Horr) is a delightful, understated comedy that like Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention and Randa Chahal Sabag's The Kite, finds brittle humor in the absurdities of everyday life under a protracted occupation. Ostensibly chronicling an enterprising woman's efforts to launch a fashion boutique in a bucolic farming village and her malfunctioning neon sign, the film effectively conveys the climate of secrecy and distrust as ordinary people struggle to find some semblance of independence and self-determination in the face of uncertainty, transforming her confusion into a potent commentary on empowerment and solidarity.

While Falling from Earth (Chadi Zeneddine) suggests affinity with the films of Theo Angelopoulos in its intersection of personal and national history, the film finds greater kinship with Hector Faver's Memory of Water in its interweaving elements of documentary, fiction, and imagination. As in Faver's film, Falling from Earth is equally poetic and frustratingly heavy-handed in its elliptical and allusive tale of an aging, disconnected exile who parses through the rubble of his tormented past in an attempt to come to terms with his mortality and legacy.

zaatari_border.gifOf the three short video works in the Akram Zaatari program, All Is Well at the Border proves to be the strongest entry, reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin's Ici et ailleurs in its tale of two cities and the alienating, fragile peace of a status quo struggle for power and control. By presenting modern-day Lebanon as a collage of scarred streets, demolition, and reconstruction accompanied by the testimonies of former political prisoners during the occupation, Zaatari creates a potent allegory for the Palestinian conflict and a haunting survey of war's subtle, yet indelible imprint on physical and human landscapes.

The second offering in the Zaatari program, Red Chewing Gum is more experimental and abstract in its execution than the quasi-documentary, All Is Well at the Border, a spoken word rendering of two estranged childhood friends and the memory of an encounter with a chewing gum peddler. Punctuated by the repeated refrain, "no sugar left" as the peddler discards his used gum into a cardboard box, the film serves as a metaphor for the fracture and irreparable damage of the Lebanese civil war.

The least effective entry in the Zaatari program is Crazy for You, a survey of the mating ritual told from the perspective of working class men in modern day Lebanon. Colorful and forthright in its stories of romantic conquests, Zaatari treads a culturally taboo-breaking, if banal road in examining the country's decidedly mixed message towards modernity and socially progressive attitudes - a dichotomy that Zaatari wryly reinforces in a bawdy drinking song of machismo strength - one that can withstand the weight of a collapsing wall - shot against the rubble of a dilapidated house.

imprudent.gifPart autobiography and part refiguration of turbulent history, Randa Chahal Sabag's Our Imprudent Wars, like Albert Solé's Bucharest, Memory Lost, is a clear-eyed and probing assessment of the personal toll of a family's lifelong activism and resistance. Born to intellectual, globe-trotting parents, Sabag would bear witness to the tumult resulting from her family's commitment to social engagement - first, in her parents' militant, left-leaning politics, then subsequently, in her older siblings' involvement with the militia during the Lebanese civil war. Struggling to reconstruct her family's ambiguous and ever-shifting circumstances during the war, Sabag presents an incisive analogy to the murky politics, inflexible ideology, and dubious alliances that led the protracted civil war itself.

The militancy of ordinary people during the civil war and occupation of southern Lebanon also provides the framework for Sabag's Souha Randa, a fascinating portrait of (then) recently liberated radicalized student turned communist revolutionary, Souha Bechara who, at the age of 21, was arrested after her failed assassination of provisional officer, General Antoine Lahad. Following Bechara as she readjusts to her former life - albeit this time, as a national hero - in a newly liberated southern Lebanon, the film interweaves historical footage with Souha's emotional visit to Khiam prison where she once languished and was repeatedly tortured. With the prison now transformed into a teaching museum commemorating the struggle, the contrasting images of Khiam (made all the more visceral by Bechara's account of her ordeal) creates an insightful juxtaposition - facilitating a constructive dialogue to a new generation in its acknowledgement of turbulent history and celebration of renewal.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 27, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, Lebanese Cinema


April 17, 2010

Last Train Home, 2009

last_train.gifFrom the seemingly mundane (if logistically nightmarish) objective of documenting the annual mass exodus of migrant workers from industrial cities as they return home to their rural villages in time for the Chinese New Year, Lixin Fan poignantly captures the dissolution of family in the face of globalism, poverty, and disenfranchisement in Last Train Home. Shot from the perspective of factory workers Changhua and Sugin Zhang over the course of three years as they travel for their only trip home to Guangzhou in the Sichuan province for the year, the film understatedly reveals the toll that their absence has taken on the children they have left behind. For their adolescent son, the separation has led to a need for affirmation, trying to win his parents' approval by repeatedly rehashing his accomplishments in school (feeding off their constant nagging on the importance of a good education). For Qin, their strong willed teenaged daughter, her grandparents - now only her grandmother - are her true parents and are entitled to her deference, rejecting their attempts at discipline and authority. With Qin eager to assert her independence and leave the village to try her hand at factory work, the Zhangs' relatively benign drama of getting home each New Year holiday becomes a potent commentary on the broader cultural significance of rapid industrialization on traditional values of family, caring for elders, and providing a better life for the next generation. Rather than auguring the promise of a new year, the holiday becomes a paradoxical signpost for what has been irreparably lost in the pursuit of progress and economic relief. As Fan poetically remarks during the Q&A on the parents' enduring sacrifices and hardship for their family, "they burn their candles out so that their children's light could shine brightly."

Posted by acquarello on Apr 17, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, New Directors/New Films


April 11, 2010

I Am Love, 2009

I_am_love.gifWith its baroque interiors and saturated compositions, Luca Guadagnino's sprawling I Am Love recalls the melodramas of Luchino Visconti in its lush and operatic, if oddly clinical and overwrought treatise on passion, identity, and destiny. And like Visconti's The Leopard, a majestic dinner party also foretells the end of a way of life: the retirement of Milanese textile magnate, Edoardo Recchi (Gabriele Ferzetti) and his decision to cede the reins of the family business to his son, Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) as well as Tancredi's oldest son, Edo (Flavio Parenti). With her husband and son now immersed in the day-to-day operations of the company and her only daughter, Betta (Alba Rohrwacher) studying abroad, Tancredi's Russian-born wife, Emma (Tilda Swinton) is confronted with the isolation and boredom of her increasingly empty, well-appointed household (in one episode, Emma tries to engage her attendant, Ida [Maria Paiato] in a conversation, but is respectfully cut short, mindful of their class difference). Embarking on an extended holiday through the Italian countryside en route to Betta's photography exhibition, Emma's senses are soon re-awakened by the change of scenery, and with it, a newfound liberation and resurfaced identity away from the Recchi clan. Guadagnino deploys an arsenal of familiar, allusive, piecemeal plots in lieu of a tightly woven narrative to convey Emma's rekindled passion and reconnection to her past (including the use of an intrusive, swollen musical soundtrack): the equation of food with the senses (Alfonso Arau's Like Water for Chocolate), the coupling in the wilderness as a reflection of essential human desire (Bruno Dumont's The Life of Jesus), the tragedy of discovery and rejection (Louis Malle's Damage). Rather than a modern day take on the classical melodrama by interweaving storytelling and evocative imagery, I Am Love proves to be as fragile and diffused as the façade of its hermetic, carefully constructed beautiful world.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 11, 2010 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2010, New Directors/New Films


April 10, 2010

Dogtooth, 2009

dogtooth.gifIn Yorgos Lanthimos's previous film, Kinetta, an amateur film crew converges at a resort hotel in the off season to reenact accident and crime scenes, blurring the bounds between reality and staging in their obsessive attention to detail and complete immersion in their inscrutable project. In a sense, Dogtooth proves to be an extension of these themes of isolation, psychological ambiguity, and constructed reality. Each day, after their father (Christos Stergioglou) drives away from the gates of their secluded house in the suburbs, the older daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia), younger daughter (Anna Kalaitzidou), and son (Hristos Passalis) follow a strict regimen of tape-recorded (creative) vocabulary lessons (one that oddly assigns new definitions to everyday words), prescribed meals, and physical activities under the watchful eye of their mother (Michelle Valley). As in Kinetta, their motives remain unclear, and only the performance of the absurd ritual betrays their anxiety and longing. During the Q&A for the film, Lanthimos indicated that his initial idea was a science fiction in which families were being outlawed, and the lengths that people would go to in order to keep their own family intact. Intriguingly, the temporally indeterminate setting - represented by rotary dial telephones, cassette recorders, and VCRs - not only alludes to the film's conceptual origin, but also reinforces the children's hermetic existence that, like the obsolete household gadgets, is equally carefully preserving and repressively stunting.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 10, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, New Directors/New Films


April 5, 2010

Sound and Fury, 1988

soundandfury.gifWhile the highly stylized, oneiric sequences in Sound and Fury portend Jean-Claude Brisseau's preoccupation with erotic imagery, his visceral, unsentimental portrait of childhood alienation nevertheless aligns closer to the naturalism of Ken Loach's Kes and Jean Eustache's Mes petites amoureuses than the surrealism of his later films. Indeed, Bruno's (Vincent Gasperitsch) initiation into his new life in the suburbs proves to be as mythological as the shrouded women that occupy his waking dreams, greeted by a real-life trial by fire as he runs a gauntlet of burning doormats that have been set ablaze by his reckless neighbor, Jean-Roger (François Négret). Arriving at an empty apartment with a bird in tow following the death of his guardian, Bruno's aimlessness is further compounded by his mother's frequent absences from home (communicating with him only through assorted notes that she leaves behind), a sense of isolation that further draws him to Bruno and his equally dysfunctional, yet fiercely devoted family. Another surrogate also surfaces in Bruno's life. Struggling to keep up with his grade level, Bruno's idealistic teacher (Fabienne Babe) offers to tutor him after school and becomes a neutralizing influence to Jean-Roger's increasingly destructive antics. But when Jean-Roger's household is upended by the news of his older brother's (Thierry Helene) decision to move out, Bruno once again finds himself caught up in the entropy of his friend's unraveling life, torn between a need to belong and to be loved. By relegating his now familiar (and arguably indulgent) images of ecstatic angels into the periphery, Sound and Fury is perhaps Brisseau's most accessible and honest film, retaining the intriguing, provocative nature of his body of work without the distraction of overripe sexuality that has diluted his later films (most notably Secret Things and Exterminating Angels).

Posted by acquarello on Apr 05, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, New Directors/New Films


April 4, 2010

Victor... Before It's Too Late, 1998

victor.gifIn Sandrine Veysset's Victor... Before It's Too Late, social observation and whimsicality oddly - but seamlessly - converge into a bracing exploration of family, connection, and healing. From the opening sequence of an anxious Victor (Jérémy Chaix) staring out at mobile airplanes with both wistfulness and fear that segues into a shot of him running away in the dark of night after a seemingly surreal act of violence, Veyssett creates something of a eccentric realist fable. Rescued by carnival attendant Mick (Mathieu Lané) who promptly deposits him at the door of a prostitute, Triche (Lydia Andrei), Victor soon finds a kindred spirit in the troubled young woman, bound together by a mutual history of parental abuse and sublimated dysfunction. Veysett ingeniously captures the ambiguity between reality and imagination to reflect Victor's confusion and uncertainty over the adult world around him (a sense of dread that is also reinforced by him wearing a red coat that evokes images of Red Riding Hood traversing the forest), striking a delicate balance between gritty realism and fractured fairytale that, like Mick's traveling carnival, offers respite in its fleeting moments of mundane grace.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 04, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, New Directors/New Films


March 7, 2010

Morphia, 2008

morphia.gifAdapted from Mikhail Bulgakov's collection of autofictional stories, A Country Doctor's Notebook, Aleksei Balabanov's Morphia is an unvarnished portrait of rural Russia at the cusp of the Bolshevik Revolution. Told from the perspective of an idealistic young doctor, Polyakov (Leonid Bichevin), Morphia retains the humor and texturality of Bulgakov's prose to underscore Polyakov's difficult and overwhelming adjustment to the isolation of life in the country where he has moved to serve as the region's only physician. Still uncertain over his medical skills (often running back from the clinic to his nearby study in order to review textbooks on the medical procedures that he is about to perform) and struggling to cope with the backwardness of the community that often endanger his patients (in one episode, the parents of a girl suffering from acute asphyxia refuse to consent to an emergency tracheotomy, arguing that such a procedure would cause certain death), Polyakov finds unexpected respite in a morphine injection that had been administered by head nurse, Anna Nicolaevna (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) to treat an allergic reaction. However, as the demands of his job continue to mount, Polyakov's dependence soon turns into full-blown addiction, leading him to increasingly desperate and reckless acts when a war-driven medical rationing threatens to cut off his supply. By emphasizing the intersection of personal and national history, Balabanov not only captures the social conditions that enabled the revolution, but also establishes Polyakov's obsession and paranoia within the context of his seemingly more altruistic efforts to educate the rural community, not unlike the agitprop trains that toured the countryside to spread the gospel of the revolution (note that Polyakov is first seen arriving by train). In essence, by correlating Polyakov's self-destruction with his idealism, Morphia also serves as a pointed allegory for the dysfunction that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union - a tragicomic denouement to a noble social experiment that, like the film's flawed, well-intentioned hero, had lost its way.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 07, 2010 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects

Air Doll, 2009

airdoll.gifDuring a poignant encounter in Hirokazu Kore-eda's idiosyncratic, yet droll and resonant contemporary fable, Air Doll, a reclusive doll maker, Sonoda (Jô Odagiri) tells a troubled inflatable doll turned video store clerk, Nozomi (Du-na Bae) that the main difference between her and a human being is biodegradability. In a way, Sonoda's simplified differentiation between burnable and nonburnable trash captures the essence of Air Doll as well, exploring not only socially reductive gender roles, but also the meaning of being human in a culture of technology, mass production, and consumption that substitutes connection for instant gratification. At its most basic is Nozomi's role as a sexual surrogate for her owner, Hideo (Itsuji Itao) who, despite naming her after a former girlfriend, prefers to avoid the emotional entanglements of a real-life relationship. Another is her misdirected attempt at goodwill towards an insecure receptionist that alludes to the problems of aging in a youth-obsessed society, having been increasingly marginalized at work, replaced by her younger coworker. Another is her friendship with an elderly man who relies on a portable breathing apparatus for survival, recasting the notion of the human body as a network of biological functions within the modern reality of artificial life support systems. Another surrogacy emerges in the brooding Junichi's (Arata) fetishistic attraction towards her, implied in his continued obsession (and perhaps guilt) over a lost love. It is this recurring convergence of organic and synthetic, structure and plasticity throughout the film that is also reflected in the bookending image of a young woman awakening to find beauty in the mundane, a transitory affirmation of humanity in the face of obsolescence and disposability.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 07, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects


March 6, 2010

Land of Madness, 2009

land_madness.gifIn its idiosyncratic, tongue-in-cheek mixture of documentary, self-confessional, and deconstruction, Land of Madness is a droll and refreshing throwback to Luc Moullet's early essay films like Anatomy of a Relationship and Origins of a Meal. Returning to his bucolic, ancestral hometown in the Southern Alps, Moullet embarks on a whimsical, homegrown investigation of the region's disproportionally high rate of mental illness. Proposing that this geographical hotbed forms a pentagonal "land of madness" - one that, for some unknown reason, has an inactive center that, like the eye of a hurricane, defies the phenomenon - Moullet suggests some suspect pathologies, perhaps mutations caused by a Chernobyl-styled irradiation, or behavioral adaptation to a medical affliction, such as a prevalence of goiter that would have invariably led to a culture of "slowness". Moullet then expounds on his theory by presenting a string of bizarre crimes that have occurred over the past century at the vertex towns - some motivated by passion, theft, or revenge, others remaining unsolved mysteries. As in his earlier essays, Moullet concludes with an intersection of personal experience and social observation that recontextualizes the basis of the argument and leads to further debate (with his wife, Antonietta Pizzorno) - in this case, a harbored family grief over a relative who had committed a senseless murder.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 06, 2010 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects


March 2, 2010

Kinatay, 2009

kinatay.gifThe opening sequence of Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay provides an intriguing foil in its organic, intersecting stories that mirror the chaos of the city, as a young working class couple (and new parents) Cecille (Mercedes Cabral) and Peping (Coco Martin) make their way to city hall to get married and, along the way, encounter a news crew reporting on a potential suicide jumper. With a year left to his police academy training, Peping is eager to make a good impression on his superior officers, even helping out in their daily routine of intimidating street vendors to extort money. However, when an officer recruits him for an unspecified operation involving an exotic dancer, Peping is soon initiated into a darker world of drug dealing, prostitution, and violence, and is forced to confront his complicity in the systematic corruption. Similar to Mendoza's previous film Serbis, Kinatay provides an illuminating, if truncated regional panorama of a contemporary Filipino city - in this case, the industrial city of Mandaluyong. Interweaving cultural landscape and moral ambiguity, the film finds kinship with Orso Miret's Le Silence in its well-intentioned, but ultimately impotent social critique. Indeed, by abruptly shifting from the organic approach of the opening sequence to a distilled, linear (if not myopic) perspective that dominates the rest of the film (except for a tire changing scene near the conclusion), Mendoza oddly supplants his fascinating and detailed cultural observation with a far more conventional psychological portrait of guilt, and in the process, creates a sense of indirection not unlike the dilemma faced by his indecisive protagonist.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 02, 2010 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects

Persecution, 2009

persecution.gifThe themes explored in Patrice Chéreau's probing, tightly constructed Persecution are prefigured in the film’s disorienting (and quintessentially Chéreau) opening sequence. Scanning from one anonymous commuter to another, a panhandler makes her way through a crowded train before someone makes inopportune eye contact, and she responds by slapping her face. The episode intrigues a bystander, Daniel (Romain Duris) and impulsively follows the shaken victim to the nearest exit, eager to uncover the non-verbal cues that had been exchanged in the moments before the heated encounter. In hindsight, this convergence of fixation, contact, rejection, and violence also consumes Daniel in his personal life. Hopping from one construction site to another working as a home remodeling contractor (which serves as his temporary residence as well), Daniel is searching for some permanence and constancy in his relationship with his distant, jet-setting girlfriend, Sonia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), but their interaction is often reduced to voice messages and chance meetings with mutual friends. Ironically, ever searching for ways to hold his Sonia’s attention, Daniel has only succeeded in capturing the interest of a lonely, middle-aged man (Jean-Hugues Anglade) who has begun to stalk him at his latest job site. Stitching together pieces of a seemingly rootless and unremarkable life as itinerant worker, nursing home volunteer, and insecure lover, Chéreau creates a lucid and provocative exposition on the ephemeral - and searing - nature of the search for human connection.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 02, 2010 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects


February 25, 2010

Applause, 2009

applause.gifFrom the first images of Applause, Martin Zandvliet seeks to capture a rawness and immediacy in his complex, if familiar portrait of a recovering alcoholic. Shot in grainy, desaturated medium and close-ups with a handheld camera, a middle-aged woman (Paprika Steen), seemingly under the influence, makes a candid assessment of her relationship with her husband. A reference to their Anglicized names, George and Martha, presents an initial disconnect, and subsequent confrontations with her unseen husband recontextualizes her drunken tirade as scenes from Edward Albee's play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The interconnection - and dissociation - between reality and drama also provides the framework for the respected actress, Thea's volatile personality. Unable to maintain a relationship since her divorce from Christian (Michael Falch), and having relinquished custody of her children to him after an alcohol-fueled act of negligence, Thea is eager to turn over a new leaf. But soon, the delineation between real-life and performance collapses for her, measuring her struggle to reconnect within the emotional arcs of a staged drama, and in the process, drifts even further away from finding some semblance of a normal life that continues to elude her. In its grittiness and intimacy, Applause recalls the spirit of John Cassavetes's cinema, most notably, Opening Night and A Woman Under the Influence. However, it is also this association that ultimately undermines the film's potency by framing its provocative character study of self-destruction and recovery in a generic looseleaf of conventional tropes and allusive homages.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 25, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects


February 24, 2010

Perfect Life, 2008

perfect_life.gifComposed as parallel narratives on the status of women in the capitalist-fueled, rapidly expanding economy of contemporary China - one, a fictional account of Li Yueying (Yao Qianyu), a working class young woman and her search for a better life; the other, a documentary on Jenny, a middle-class housewife and mother undergoing a divorce - Emily Tang's A Perfect Life follows in the vein of Wang Bing and Jia Zhangke in presenting a cultural portrait of the "other" China. Estranged from her parents, disconnected from her coddled, slacker brother, and drifting from one low paying job to another as she chases after job opportunities, Yueying's story is, in a way, a metaphor for China itself in her rootlessness, ambition, and facility for constant reinvention (During the course of the film, Li appears as an aspiring performer, prosthetic factory worker, hotel maid, flight attendant impostor, bride, shopkeeper, and lover). Similarly, Jenny's story embodies the insecurity and disempowerment that comes with profound cultural transformation. Compelled to re-enter the workplace after her increasingly messy divorce, her gradual slide into poverty is implied in her constant job hunting and in the milieu of her interviews that shift from a comfortable Hong Kong apartment to a rented dormitory bunk bed near a dance hall. By capturing a seemingly mundane encounter between the two women at Yueying's shop (Tang ingeniously keeps Yueying out of frame until Jenny leaves the store to maintain the narrative distinction), Tang insightfully reflects on their interconnected destinies - a dissolution of the bounds between reality and fiction that culminates in the image of Yueying posing with her wedding picture, figuratively rejecting and reinforcing her created image.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 24, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects


February 22, 2010

Nucingen House, 2008

nucingen.gifStructured as a tale within a tale, Raoul Ruiz's fractured, defiantly illogical Nucingen House returns to the territory of On Top of the Whale and its otherworldly, tongue in cheek sense of foreboding in its hermetic construction of polyglot characters, suspended time, and inescapable limbo. Unfolding as a reconstructed memory told by an American gambler, Will James (Jean-Marc Barr) upon overhearing a nearby dinner conversation discussing - rather imprecisely - a third hand account of the strange events that James and his fragile wife, Anne Marie (Elsa Zylberstein) had encountered years earlier during their stay at a remote estate called Nucingen House, the film incorporates familiar Ruizian elements of mnemonic devices, dark humor, and repetition in its loopy tale of haunting and possession. Having arrived at Patagonia to claim property that he had won in a bet and facilitate Anne Marie's recuperation, the unwitting couple is soon introduced to the household's idiosyncratic rules (one that relegates certain languages and religion to peripheral areas of the house) and equally eccentric family - an insomniac housemaid (Miriam Heard) who seems to exist in a perpetual state of waking dream, an indifferent patriarch (Laurent Malet) who refuses to leave but cannot pay rent, a young man who seems constantly pressed for time (Thomas Durand), a flirtatious young woman (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) who continues to mourn the loss of her best friend, Léonore (Audrey Marnay), and a perennial houseguest [and family physician (Luis Mora)] prone to taking cat naps at the dinner table. Ever straddling the line between highbrow and camp, Nucingen House ultimately suffers from a broader schism, where atmosphere is counteracted by the starkness of video, and any cultural allegory on modern day Chile is tempered by a reinforcing self-awareness of its construction.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 22, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects

Accident, 2009

accident.gifPart caper film and part psychological thriller, Soi Cheang's Accident is an early highlight in this year's Film Comment Selects program. Opening to the gruesome image of a fatal car accident scene, the film immediately recalibrates the viewer's expectation over the notion of accident in another seemingly random traffic-related episode as an impatient driver, blocked by a woman in a disabled vehicle (Michelle Ye), tries to navigate around a narrow street. A fishmonger (Suet Lam) swerves past and splashes the car, occluding the driver's view. An advertising banner collapses. An old street peddler (Shui-Fan Fung) looks on and absentmindedly discards his cigarette holder along with his spent cigarette. Before the series of events is over, the driver would lie mortally wounded on a street corner waiting for an ambulance that arrives too late. And curiously, an onlooker (Louis Koo) subsequently retrieves the discarded cigarette holder from the street. Their actions prove to be interrelated, pieces of an elaborately planned assassination of a local triad boss by a band of contract killers led by a ringleader, Ho Kwok-fai - known as "The Brain" - who, in his grief and meticulous attention to detail, is convinced that his wife's death, too, had been orchestrated. Staging one accident after another, the group has become a surrogate family to the still haunted Ho, a bond that is strained when the team plots the death of a wheelchair-bound shopkeeper. Evoking Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation and Claude Chabrol's L'Enfer in its themes of obsession and paranoia, Accident is a taut, clever, and engaging film that, like its haunted antihero, finds art in coincidence and intrigue in the mundane.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 22, 2010 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2010, Film Comment Selects


February 15, 2010

Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary by Abé Mark Nornes

ogawa_nornes.gifBy examining the evolution of postwar Japanese documentaries - and in particular, the singular output of the Ogawa Pro film collective under the leadership of the charismatic, if autocratic and impractical filmmaker Ogawa Shinsuke - Abé Mark Nornes's book, Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary aligns closer to a socio-ethnographic study of the rise and fall of the Japanese New Left movement from some of its most visible participants than a critical biography on the inner workings of the independent, politically engaged film collective and its polarizing leader. Indeed, Nornes suggests this pliability in the introduction, disentangling Ogawa's self-cultivated mythology as hardscrabble peasant, student activist, and university dropout from his actual biography as upper middle-class Tokyo native and college graduate with a degree in economics. Born in 1936 (rather than 1935 as he had claimed, perhaps as a way of appearing more senior than his colleagues), Ogawa's early exposure to documentary filmmaking was in the form of educational films disseminated by the Civil Information and Education section of the Occupation as a means of promoting western democracy in postwar Japan. Struggling to pursue his craft during the waning days of the studio system, and under the constant threat of a red purge, Ogawa left the PR film studio, Iwanami Productions and, with the instigation of several student activists who had been participants in his documentary Sea of Youth - Correspondence Course Students that explored the challenges and stigmas associated with distance learning, formed Ogawa Productions as a means of promoting action through information.

It is interesting to note that Nornes creates a distinction between the genesis of Ogawa Pro and that of his Iwanami contemporary, Tsuchimoto Noriaki's independent film production studio (Tsuchimoto had shot the highly influential series of films on Minamata and the long-term effects of industrial pollution on its residents), citing Tsuchimoto's seminal role in the formation of Zengakuren at Waseda University in 1948 as a prelude to his career in activist filmmaking, suggesting that Ogawa's career trajectory was as equally influenced by cultural and political synchronicity as it was by a desire to exert creative independence.

This confluence is perhaps best exemplified by the Sanrizuka series that documented the local farmers' protracted (and ultimately, failed) struggle against the construction of the Narita Airport. Far from facile attributions of tradition versus modernity, Nornes incisively places their struggle within the broader context of hegemony, nationhood, and cultural identity (the need for a second airport near Tokyo was essentially created by the US military as part of enforcing the ANPO security treaty, and their struggle became emblematic of the broader resistance to the treaty itself and its implication of the Vietnam War, attracting student activists to their cause). Having lived in the village and learning their way of life over the course of several years, Ogawa not only eschews the myth of objectivity in shooting a documentary, but also redefines the concept of embededness as a means of engaging with the subject. By differentiating between the converging factions at Sanrizuka, Nornes proposes that series' final installment, Sanrizuka: Heta Village is also its most potent and well-realized film specifically because it transcends political immediacy, dissolving the notion of otherness to create a cultural portrait that is both tactile and ephemeral:

Heta Village represents a climax to the Sanrizuka Series and a keystone to Ogawa's career because the director finally perfected the documentary aesthetic he had been searching for. Before this, he conducted his search - his practical experiments with all their theoretical implications - while necessarily tending to the practical and on-the-ground politics of the struggle. Only by staying with his taisho [subject] for so many years, by following their struggle and living with them as neighbors, did Ogawa reach a point where he could shuttle the spectacle and details of the political struggle to offscreen spaces without committing an unforgivable ethical compromise. Those years of living and filmmaking enabled the collective to see beyond the urgent contingencies of the confrontation with power and reach for a more profound understanding of the conflict that continued in the fields of Sanrizuka and the jails of Narita. As filmmakers, they built this new understanding into their cinema. Sanrizuka: Heta Village is ultimately about - and literally embodies - the diverse ways of being human.

Ogawa's ability to disengage from the political dimension of "activist" filmmaking is also reflected in his decision (spurred in part by personal anxieties) to relocate Ogawa Pro from Sanrizuka to Magino, a remote village on the brink of extinction where the remaining members retreated to a life of farming rice and silkworms and compiling almanacs - a move that, as Nornes argues, exposes an underlying dichotomy in the regressive social attitudes within the organization that contributed to the attrition (especially with respect to the women's roles, often remaining uncredited in the films and being relegated to performing housework in the commune):

In retrospect, it would appear that the critiques of the Old Left were an honest attempt to renovate the relationship between art and politics but without substantially rethinking social politics. Indeed, looking at the way Ogawa Pro actually functioned, it was obviously an autarchy. For all the rhetoric about collective production, there was a crystal clear hierarchy with Ogawa in the unquestioned seat of power. The structure was relatively faint during the Sanrizuka Series, but after 1975 and the move to Magino, the isolation amplified the hierarchical roles. Those who could not keep up with the debate were swiftly purged. This structure may also be seen as an analog of the nation-state itself. The authoritarianism that all these factors point to may have left Japanese critical theory and documentary filmmaking of the early 1970s an inflexible discourse incapable of meeting the challenges of a social world undergoing massive change.

As Nornes further argues, Ogawa's increasing preoccupation with the daily rituals in the farming village (perhaps exacerbated by Magino's isolation) serves as a broader reflection of his disconnection from film as a vehicle for social change towards film as an art form, a paradigm that would supplant activist cinema as the preferred mode of expression by a new generation of filmmakers such as Naomi Kawase. In this sense, the Magino series not only reflected Ogawa's exhaustion from political engagement, but was also a symptom of the collapsing movement itself:

Ogawa Pro was not isolated from the changes that were transforming Japanese documentary from a collective spirit to a private film. And neither were the farming communities isolated from the urban filmmaking centers. Indeed, these sweeping changes in Japanese society deeply affected the filmmaking of Ogawa Pro's Magino period.

...This was, after all, precisely the time of Japan's bubble economy and farmers were quite well off (especially in contrast to the hard case poverty of Ogawa Pro). Farmers were enjoying a measure of prosperity, a participation in the fruits of modernity to a degree never experienced in the past. The Magino Village they portrayed on film was primarily one of Ogawa's own prodigious imagination. The film was widely criticized for this, especially in the hinterlands. The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches was made at the end of an era; it is a film that could never be made today. As Iizuka Toshio points out, the people that really loved the film were - like Ogawa himself - lovers of the cinema, not the village.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 15, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, Film Related Reading


January 18, 2010

Alain Resnais (French Film Directors) by Emma Wilson

In Alain Resnais, author Emma Wilson presents an incisive and comprehensive analysis of Resnais's recurring themes of memory, plasticity, construction, and fragmentation. By placing contemporary history within the broader context of capturing internal states and subjective reality, Wilson proposes a means of reconciling Resnais's more experimental, overtly political postwar films (through the 1960s) with his later, more hermetic and theatrical aesthetic, where the collective trauma and projected desire of his early films pave the way for the nostalgia and lyricality of his post Stavinsky work:

Resnais is fascinated by mental or subjective images, the virtual reality which makes up individual consciousness and is itself composed of both what we have known and what we have imagined. This interest in the finest workings of the mind - in the mind itself as an internal cinema where images both virtual and real coexist - calls for an extraordinary reshaping of cinema and rethinking of the capacity of film to show us reality as it is imagined, as well as lived.

Beginning with an analysis of Resnais's short film documentaries from 1948 to 1958 - which range from such seemingly diverse subjects as artist profile (Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin) art (Guernica), culture (Les Statues meurent aussi), the Holocaust (Nuit et brouillard), the national library system (Toute la mémoire du monde), and polystyrene manufacturing (Le Chant du Styrène) - Wilson argues that the documentaries are integrally connected by the idea of (re)animation. In Guernica, the fragmentation of the painting reflects the inadequacy of representing collective trauma that foreshadows Hiroshima mon amour. In Nuit et brouillard, the juxtaposition of photographic stills with film footage creates ambiguity between life and death that, in turn, evokes the tragedy of the concentration camps. In Les Statues meurent aussi, the film is less a survey of African art than a reflection on cultural phantoms that have been lost in the face of colonialism and commercialization.

The death of statues is illustrated also in the opening images of the film where we see statues from western art, fragmented, the title seeming to refer to a Proustian sense of the friability of even hard matter, through time. In both motifs in the film, statues are rendered peculiarly animate (in particular, in Resnais’s moving shots which circle the material objects). Resnais introduces this uncanny theme of hesitation between life and death, flesh and stone, which will recur in his films as he shows ash-covered figures in Hiroshima, statues and shadows at Marienbad. In Les Statues meurent aussi, this material concern shadows the more trenchant awareness of the loss and embalming of a living civilization.

Moreover, in highlighting the symbiotic relationship between the living and inanimate in Hiroshima mon amour, Wilson introduces the idea of dislocating trauma from a specific, personal (and cultural) level towards a more amorphous, collective consciousness that runs through Resnais's films, a theme that is also captured in her analysis of Toute la mémoire du monde :

In Toute la mémoire du monde, Resnais propagates a notion of collective memory, of a ‘mémoire universelle’. He shows, obliquely how the shots of his own films are always already familiar, part of this cultural melting-pot or memory bank. His films will recall torture scenes in Goya, the bodily horror of passages in Kafka. His will be a collaged art, glimpsed first by a wider public as he edits together Van Gogh, pursued in the editing of Guernica and Nuit et brouillard. Resnais's response to the traumas of the twentieth-century history is particular: he recognizes the fear of forgetting, the blow dealt to memory, yet retains and refuses to relinquish the resonances of art, literature and popular culture, the fabric from which cultural memory is continually re-shaped.

resnais_wilson.gifIn the chapter on Hiroshima mon amour, Wilson insightfully argues that the dislocation is manifested in Resnais's films through cities that are as equally identifiable through images of iconic sites as they are interchangeable in their representations of urban spaces. In Hiroshima mon amour, the A-bomb dome is juxtaposed against the city's rebuilt commercial district, creating parallel strands of time that mirror the protagonist's unreconciled personal and collective memories of Nevers and Hiroshima.

Similarly, Boulogne and Algeria are also integrally connected in Muriel ou le temps d'un retour through suppressed personal and collective trauma, an intrinsic violence that Wilson proposes is revealed through Resnais's jarring editing and soundtrack that reinforce the atrocity of the Algerian War through the film's idiosyncratic aesthetic of "visual mutilation".

In her essay on L’Année dernière à Marienbad, Wilson provides an insightful analysis on the implication of Resnais's creative disagreement with screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet over his decision not to film the climactic rape sequence and instead, culminate the scene with a repeating shot of A opening her arms to X. While on the surface, the substitution radically transforms A's station from victim to liberated woman, Wilson argues that the action is ambiguous and unsettling, implying a dark psychology more in-line with folie à deux than feminist icon:

For me, there is no liberation in L’Année dernière à Marienbad, thought here may be an act of transgression, and movement into the unknown. What is radical about the film is not the liberation of A, about which I am doubtful, but its gradual intimation that she, like the heroine of Hiroshima mon amour may seek a love which devours and deforms her, that she may be an actor and not an object in the relation that is generation by the dialogue between lovers. This is disturbing to X, disrupting his authorship, letting him be fantasized as rapist by his lover. Yet it is also, surely, disturbing to A - and to the viewers - who see her participation in a fantasy by which she is destroyed.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 18, 2010 | | Filed under 2010, Film Related Reading