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Journal Notes: 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000


12-01-00: Frankenstein and The Spirit of the Beehive. The children's science lesson involves attaching vital organs to an anatomic model named Don Jose: first, the heart, the lungs, the stomach. Then, Ana is instructed to attach the eyes. From the film's perspective, it is a natural transition for the children, who having recently watched Frankenstein, are learning the empirical elements that constitute a physical being. Yet Ana is drawn to the unseen, incomprehensible "spirit" of the Frankenstein monster - the compassionate, misunderstood entity that is, nevertheless, capable of great destruction. What draws her to this invisible enigma? Are her actions driven by a misdirected curiosity for the exploration of the unknown, or a misguided attempt to find companionship in a world of suffocating isolation? Or, more disturbingly, does she find kinship with the materialized celluloid creation - another being whose existence transects illusion and reality - a fabricated world, not unlike her own?

08-22-00: Anthropomorphism and Bresson's films. In Mouchette, there is a recurring image of a captured animal violently struggling for freedom, slowly resigning to its inevitable fate. Similarly, Mouchette is trapped in the cruelty and isolation of her oppressive environment. In a sense, her visit to the fair and friendship with Arsene are also "struggles", unarticulated cries for connection and compassion, a final attempt to find humanity and purpose before resigning to the hopelessness of her situation. In Au Hasard Balthazar, Marie's desperate, misguided life is paralleled through the donkey, Balthazar. As Balthazar's ownership changes hands, his utility and purpose evolve from children's pet, to farm animal, to transportation, to circus attraction. Through the course of the film, we see Marie's emotional involvement - her figurative "possession" - also transfer: from Jacques, to Gerard, and finally to the merchant. In the process, her life experience evolves from the innocence of young love, to infatuation, to betrayal, and eventually, to dishonor and humiliation. But in using animals to reflect the lives of the protagonists, does Bresson necessarily show the anthropomorphism of animals? Do the animals begin to exhibit human qualities? Or rather, are the lives of the protagonists reduced to a similar fate as the animals in the innate cruelty of their environment? Are we, in essence, victims of a common, universal oppression?

08-11-00: Julio Medem and cinematic patterns. In Tierra, peripheral events prove to be a microcosm of an overall design to the film's narrative - a reflection of the convoluted workings of the mind of an apparent madman. Like the fragmented protagonist, Angel, the film, itself, is a puzzle. Dissecting the isolated images that compose the film only reveals further manifestations of the same fractal phenomenon - the same puzzle. In Lovers of the Arctic Circle, the destinies of two people are connected by a metaphoric "circle" of fate, coincidence, and chance - an astrophysical "sphere of influence" that will invariably draw one to the other - a navigational compass that will figuratively (and literally) point to the true north of the human soul. In creating these cinematic patterns, Medem creates a bridge between the two cerebral hemispheres: the cerebral and the sensual, the analytical and the artistic, the logical and the creative. But can such a peaceful coexistence truly occur within the soul? Is one passion necessarily sacrificed in the pursuit of the other? From personal experience, it still proves to be a struggle.

7-19-00: The Ballad of Narayama. Shohei Imamura's eviscerating tale of life in mythical, ancient Japan, The Ballad of Narayama, is a paradox: a beautiful tale of filial duty and human dignity, and a deeply disturbing portrait of an inhumane, primitive existence. At the heart of the story is the nurturing, vibrant Orin (Sumiko Sakamoto) who is nearly 70 years old. Tradition dictates that she be taken to Mount Narayama to await her death. In such a cruel environment, it is almost preferable to die. Yet, Orin approaches her inevitable death with remarkable courage and inner peace. But why does Imamura intercut such beautiful images with disturbing acts of nature? Is it merely to provide a sharp contrast to the integrity of the condemned woman? The austerity of life is already evident in the brutality of the climate and the scarcity of food. Is the violence, then, a streak of nihilism or misanthropy? If one is to derive beauty from such a noble death, is it necessary to portray the ugliness of living?

6-1-00: Life of Mizoguchi. The death of Kenji Mizoguchi's mother culminated in irrevocably fracturing his family, as his father resorted to selling his older sister to a geisha house. It is an event which clearly haunted Mizoguchi all his life, and it is painfully evident in the emotional austerity of Life of Oharu. It is an atypical film for Mizoguchi, sparing the catharsis of vindication to portray a middle aged Oharu, still repeatedly rejected and humiliated, despite her interminable courage and dignity. Mizoguchi considered Life of Oharu to be his masterpiece, and measured by personal significance, its relevance is clear. Through Oharu, Mizoguchi could transfer his innate hopes for his own sister's perseverance - her interminable will to survive - a projected idealization that, somehow, her life contained some semblance of joy, despite the austere life of servitude imposed upon her.

5-17-00: The Mathematics of Composition. My early exposure to international cinema had always been marked by grand, indelible images: the open sunflower field of Vittorio de Sica's I Girasoli (Sunflower); the humiliating crowing of Professor Rath in The Blue Angel; the oddly decorated rooms of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. In many ways, these films are hyperbolic, capturing a polarized image of how the world seems in the eyes of these characters. It is the art of enhancement, the addition, to the composition. Auteurs like Godard, Fassbinder, and post 8 1/2 films of Fellini thrive on this artistic freedom. In contrast, directors like Bergman, Ozu, Mizoguchi, and Dreyer seem to compose in reverse: starting with a full palette, then distilling the images to its elemental form, subtracting visual "decoration" without extracting underlying meaning. Which approach to film making is correct? Or, is the more appropriate question, can one art form have relevance without the existence of the other?

4-28-00: Life as art: Cinema Paradjanov. In Enigma Variations, Elgar attempts to capture individual character through the haunting leitmotif of classical music. In The Color of Pomegranates, Paradjanov uses a series of images and selected verses to portray Sayat Nova's life. But can the essence of a person be defined by art? After all, art, by definition, is a personal interpretation of the subject - a distillation or embellishment of reality - tempered by ideology and experience. Therefore, without the framework of factual biography, is it possible to understand the person represented by the image? Is history relevant in empathizing with a person's despair?

4-25-00: Kieslowski's recurring peripheral characters. In The Double Life of Veronique, it is the old woman carrying a sack, who turns up both in Warsaw and in Paris. Her appearance seems to reflect the doppelganger theme of the film. In Three Colors, it is the woman going to the recycling depository, which serves as a subtle reference to the cyclical nature of the trilogy. In Decalogue, the recurrent character is the enigmatic man on the campfire in Decalogue I, reappearing as a hospital employee in Decalogue II, a boatman in Decalogue IV, and a returning traveler in Decalogue VI. Who is he, and what does he represent? Does he reflect God's "interaction" with humanity - an omniscient, unobtrusive witness to the commission of sin?

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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