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November 17, 2008

L'Arbre mort, 1987

arbre_mort.gifOstensibly framed as a postwar melodrama that loosely evokes Leo McCarey's Love Affair in its story of a shipboard encounter between two emotionally unavailable people, Joseph Morder's L'Arbre mort is also a tone piece that seeks to reconcile the space between love and death, history and memory, documentary and fiction. This duality is suggested in the diffused opening image of Jaime (Philippe Fano) abstractedly looking out into the open waters from the deck of a ship that plays out against an asynchronous, voiceover narration describing his long-awaited return to South America after completing his medical studies in Europe. With little to do on the transatlantic voyage home, Jaime strikes up a conversation with a fellow expatriate named Laura (Marie Serrurier) who has left her husband behind in Paris (played by Morder) to visit her widowed aunt and belatedly mourn the unexpected deaths of her parents during the war. Connected by a sense of ambivalence over their delayed homecoming, Jaime and Laura spend their idle time in each other's company before going their separate ways when the ship reaches its destination. But having returned to his seemingly idyllic, privileged life with his family and his beautiful fiancée, Sofia (Rosette), Jaime begins to grow more aimless and distant, wandering the streets in an attempt to recapture Laura's memory (and who in her desolation has, in turn, begun to search for a former lover who disappeared during the war). Fatefully meeting at a grand ball on the eve of revolution, Jaime and Laura soon find themselves at an intersection once again, torn between grief and rapture, past and present, home and exile.

In its brooding, elliptical tale of loss, separation, and displacement, L'Arbre mort shares kinship with Marguerite Duras's India Song and Jonas Mekas's diary films, where the impossibility of returning home is sublimated in a haunted quest for an elusive object of desire. Similar to Mekas's cinema, Morder's use of silent, Super 8mm film in conjunction with a separate narrative and musical soundtrack creates a disjunction between image and sound (which Duras also incorporates in India Song) that reinforce the distance and impreciseness of human memory. This disjunction is further reflected in Morder's rapid cut framing that reveal Jaime's disorientation and uncertainty over his alienating homecoming (most notably, in his isolated shot during the family reunion and subsequently, standing at a gateway in search for Laura). Ironically, it is in this state of disorientation - a descent into the unknown that is implied in the image of their Orphic journey down a winding staircase - that Laura is figuratively liberated from the realm of the dead: shedding the ghosts of an irretrievable past to emerge in the light of an uncertain, new dawn.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 17, 2008 | | Filed under 2008

November 11, 2008

Quem és tu?, 2001

quem_es_tu.gifSomething of a companion piece to Manoel de Oliveira's No, or the Vain Glory of Command, João Botelho's brooding and atmospheric Quem és tu? similarly explores the intersection of history and myth, empire and subjugation in its exposition on identity, nationhood, fate, and repression. Based on nineteenth century Romanticist author Almeida Garrett's three-act play, Frei Luís de Sousa on Portuguese nobleman turned Dominican monk, Manuel de Sousa Coutinho, the film chronicles three pivotal days in the lives of Manuel (Rui Morrison), his wife Madalena de Vilhena (Suzana Borges), and their consumptive, adolescent daughter Maria Noronha (Patrícia Guerreiro) that would lead to his spiritual conversion. Set in 1599 during Portugal's subjugation to Spain in the aftermath of the disastrous battle of Alcácer-Kebir, an early shot of a shadow crossing over Maria while she sleeps - subsequently revealed to be the apparition of King Sebastian (Bruno Martelo) who had led the ill fated crusade to Alcácer-Kebir - prefigures the theme of imprinted history in its implication of unreconciled ghosts casting a pall over the present. For Maria, the ghosts arrive in the form of hallucinations conjured by the poppies she places on her bed each evening to aid her sleep, embodied by the lost King Sebastian whose birth had represented the empire's illusive aspirations for restoring colonial and spiritual order (and burying its transgressions) after a debilitating settlement campaign in India, the Portuguese Inquisition (and with it, the expulsion and forced conversion of Jews), and a sweeping "new faith" ushered by the Protestant Reformation. But the ghosts of the past are not all figments of a fragile child's haunted imagination. Forced to relinquish their residence to the arriving Castilian governor, Manuel defies authority by burning down the castle, retreating to a house in Almada that Madalena once shared with her first husband, Dom João de Portugal who, years earlier, had accompanied King Sebastian on his doomed crusade and never returned. Now confronted with the memories of her own past transgressions - a harbored attraction to Manuel during her marriage to Dom João, a presumptive rush to claim widowhood in order to marry her lover, a child born under an unconsecrated union - Madalena's anxiety soon grows over her own impending moment of reckoning when the anniversary of King Sebastian's (and Dom João's) disappearance coincides with their arrival to Almada. Similar to Oliveira's No, or the Vain Glory of Command, Botelho reinforces the idea of history as a living continuum - both politically, in King Sebastian's figurative, casted shadow over a weakened, conquered people (note the tracking shot of dead warriors with exposed entrails in Alcácer-Kebir that recalls the image of a fleeing, mortally wounded Angolan insurgent in Oliveira's film), and morally, in the ambiguity of spiritual union and illegitimacy that challenge rigid, religious doctrine. Within this convergence, Maria's willful defiance over her parentage may be seen as a rejection of her physical and moral subjugation, where transcendence lies in the assertion of identity and not in its repressive negation.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 11, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, João Botelho

October 29, 2008

Eros Plus Massacre, 1969

eros_massacre.gifLike Shohei Imamura's A Man Vanishes and Nagisa Oshima's The Man Who Left His Will on Film, Yoshishige Yoshida's dense and self-reflexive Eros Plus Massacre explores the murky, often turbulent intersection between reality and fiction, history and memory, angst and revolution - the implication of what Yoshida prefaces as the viewer's "ambivalent participation" - in the wake of the collapsed left movement. From the early shot of an impassive student, Wada (Daijiro Harada) indiscriminately knocking on the doors of an anonymous love hotel in search of his companion Eiko (Il Riko) (who was seen earlier being propositioned at a train station by a film director) before waiting in an adjacent room for the lovers to consummate their negotiated encounter, Yoshida establishes the complicity and voyeurism implicit in a spectator's passive gaze, Wada's obsession with setting fires serving as a reflection of his impotent rage. Interweaving the aimless adventures of student radicals Eiko and Wada in contemporary Japan with re-enactments of episodes from the lives of assassinated, turn of the century revolutionaries, feminist Noe Ito (Mariko Okada) and her anarchist lover Sakae Osugi (Toshiyuki Hosokawa) shortly after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 (in what would come to be known as the Amakasu Incident), Yoshida's fusion of fictional and non-fictional storylines reflect the illusive and ambiguous nature of truth.

Visually, Yoshida prefigures this sense of illusion in Ito's arrival at the Seito (Blue Stocking) compound, her introduction to staff journalist, Hiraga Haruko illustrated as the inverted image of their reflection on a pond, and crystallizes in the extended sequence of Osugi staggering through the rooms after being stabbed by his other mistress, Itsuko Masaoka (Yûko Kusunoki) in a jealous rage, the collapsing of shoji screens evoking the dismantling of walls in A Man Vanishes. The imbalanced, hazy, false horizon created by Hiraga and Ito's reflection from the footbridge also reinforces the idea of disjunction that is similarly prefigured in the highly stylized, theatrical opening sequence of Ito's daughter (also played by Okada) being interrogated about her faint memories of the past that breaks with the aesthetic formalism of the succeeding images.

Eiko's transformation from propositioned, sexually liberated young woman in one scene to a militant interrogator in another scene also reveals an underlying cultural (and generational) amnesia that has enabled role-playing as a substitute for identity and conviction, an ambiguity that is reflected in a shot of Eiko and Wada projecting a selection of archival, wartime photographs depicting destruction, violence, and genocide in search of images for use in a commercial advertisement (superimposing film on the female body in a figurative animation - and eroticization - of images that is similarly explored in The Man Who Left His Will on Film). In essence, Eiko's burning of film stock, then her stockings as a means of arousing Wada not only implies a metaphoric rejection of the past in its invocation of the "Blue Stocking" feminist movement, but also suggests a paradoxical correlation between liberation and destruction, empowerment and emasculation. Culminating with the Taisho-era actors posing before Eiko and Wada for a cast shot to wrap up production on a film that Wada speculates will be an important historical document, Yoshida reinforces the idea that revolution - like the act of filmmaking - is an artificial construction: the conjuring of an unreconciled (and ultimately doomed) past, forged equally by displaced ideological and sexual impulses.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 29, 2008 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2008

September 21, 2008

Bucharest, Memory Lost, 2008

bucharest_memory.gifLike Boris Lehman's autobiographical essay Looking for my Birthplace, Albert Solé's Bucharest, Memory Lost is a search for identity - the reconstruction of a past that has been lost in the shadows of turbulent history, exile, and parental silence. For Solé, the ambiguity of his nationality as a young boy - his parents having alternately referred to Paris, Budapest, and finally Bucharest as his birthplace - foregrounds a childhood lived in clandestiny as an unwitting participant within the Spanish resistance movement. The son of Jordi Solé Tura, an intellectual and partisan from Cal Pinyonaire who was radicalized by his first-hand experience with the intimidation and forced assimilation of Catalonians by Francoists, and Anny Bruset, the politically committed, French-born daughter of Communist party loyalists who fled Spain after the defeat of the Second Republic in 1939, Solé's childhood would be spent infiltrating porous borders between Eastern and Western Europe using a trail of disposable aliases, disguises, and false documentation in order to broadcast information critical of the repressive Franco regime (often exposing abuses documented from notes smuggled in false bottom canisters passed by political prisoners), as well as organize national strikes from an underground, independent Spanish radio station in Bucharest known as La Pirenaica (intentionally misnamed to give a false impression that the station was located in the Pyrenees). Calling attention to the capture and subsequent execution of Communist party leader, Julián Grimau despite pleas for leniency from the international community, Solé's father, Jordi would emerge as an important figure in the resistance in his role as La Pirenaica newscaster, Josep Oriol, before fleeing Bucharest after the death of Soviet aligned Gheorghiu-Dej and the emergence of the Securitate. Returning in exile to Paris, Solé's family would continue to work in the resistance until an internal rift over policy between those aligned with party leaders, Dolores Ibárruri Gómez (known as "La Pasionaria") and Santiago Carrillo, and the party's leading intellectuals, Jorge Semprún and Fernando Claudín (caused, in part, by their reservations over the party's alignment with the increasingly repressive government of the Soviet Union) would lead to Jordi's expulsion from the party - consequently bringing an end to the family's life in clandestiny - and pave the way for their relocation to Spain, and a renewed struggle for true democracy and representation.

But beyond an intimate account of Jordi Solé's remarkable evolution from impoverished baker's son, to revolutionary, to one of the key architects of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, to distinguished parliamentarian and cultural minister, the film also examines the disjunction between national history and personal memory. Paralleling his own faint memories of childhood with his father's struggle against the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease and his mother's subsequent hospitalization from a cerebral embolism, Solé frames his experience within the broader context of a cultural amnesia, where truth becomes increasingly relegated to the realm of myth, and the history of the resistance has been equally romanticized by revisionists (in one scene, the old site of La Pirenaica, having been converted to a Securitate office after the disbanding of the radio station, is now marketed as a neo-socialism historical site after the fall of Ceaucescu), exploited for political means (most notably, in politicians claiming the distinction as one of the "Fathers of the Constitution" even though only a handful of the convened group actually participated in its drafting), and taken for granted by a post Franco-era generation. Visually, Solé reflects this disjunction by incorporating secondary images into the personal interviews - archival newsreels, family photographs, footage from Alain Resnais's La Guerre est finie (from a script by Semprún), iconic paintings (in particular, Pablo Picasso's Guernica which provided an implicit expression of solidarity among members of the resistance), and graphics from comic book superhero, Captain Thunder (penned by popular comics writer and secret Communist party member, Victór Mora) - that figuratively fill the void of incomplete, fragmented memories. Juxtaposed against a neurologist's diagnosis that Jordi's illness has entered a depersonalization phase where he has difficulty recognizing himself and the stories of his life, Solé reflects on his father's condition as a both a personal and cultural tragedy - a memory gradually being erased by the ravages of time, and within it, the dilution of a nation's collective consciousness.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 21, 2008 | | Filed under 2008

September 13, 2008

No, or the Vain Glory of Command, 1990

no_vainglory.gifInasmuch as Manoel de Oliveira's films convey what Randal Johnson describes as a cinematic hybridity that illustrates the amorphous nature of representation, No, or the Vain Glory of Command also reflects a temporal hybridity, where time is presented as a conflation of seemingly arbitrary, but integrally connected history. Opening to a long take of a large ancient tree shot from a moving camera platform in the African wilderness, the correlation between enduring image and its representation through a constantly shifting point of view also serves as a contemporary metaphor for Portuguese history itself, where its consequences continue to be re-evaluated through the shifting perspective of an increasingly marginalized legacy. Shot in 1990 as a historical fiction on the waning days of Estado Novo and colonialism under the Salazar regime that crystallized with the Revolution of 1974, the film further incorporates a tertiary, non-fictional chronology, as the soldiers sent to Angola to suppress the insurgency and maintain control of the "overseas provinces" (even as the country faces its own domestic crisis resulting from dissatisfaction with the repressive government) revisit the decisive battles and pivotal events that would shape the course of Portuguese history.

Composed as a series of conversations between drafted history scholar, Lieutenant Cabrita (Luís Miguel Cintra) and members of his brigade, Manuel (Diogo Dória), Salvador (Miguel Guilherme), and Brito (Luís Lucas), and interwoven with re-enactments from watershed events, from the assassination of the great Lusitanian warrior, Viriato (also played by Cintra) that would alter the dynamics of the battle between the Lusitanians and the Romans for the domination of the Iberian peninsula, to the defeat in the Battle of Toro (and subsequent accidental death of Prince Afonso from a horse riding accident that would end the dream of a unified Iberian Empire under one crown, to the disastrous Battle of Alcácer-Kebir that would result in King Sebastian's (Mateus Lorena) disappearance in northern Africa that would setback Portuguese exploration (and consequently, its empire building). It is interesting to note that by juxtaposing history-based fiction with historical non-fiction, Oliveira illustrates the process of mythologization, where history becomes refracted and idealized in times of crisis and upheaval. However, rather than engendering a romanticism for the past glory, Oliveira dismantles the myth of conquest, reframing history as an elusive (and delusive) quest for fleeting victories and unsustainable empires. This mythologization is prefigured in the idiosyncratic inclusion of sea-faring explorers arriving at a Garden of Eden-like paradise populated by nymphs and cherubs, suggesting the intersection between history and myth, and culminates in the symbolic image of King Sebastian emerging from the fog clutching the blade of his sword - a figment of Cabrita's subconscious - that reinforces the human cost of war in the vain pursuit of empires. It is this image of bloodied hands - a symbolism that is also implied in the legend of the Mangled Man who, despite severed hands, continued to hold the kingdom's flag during the Battle of Toro - that is evoked in a physician's dated entry of April 25, 1974 that concludes the film: the implication of the Salazar regime as the end of another failed empire within the sweep of history, bound together by collective sacrifice, inhumanity, delusion, and tragedy.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 13, 2008 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2008

September 5, 2008

Hear My Cry, 1991

hearmycry.gifFilmed during the breakup of the Soviet Union, Hear My Cry captures the essence of Maciej Drygas's articulate and insightful film essays on the rupture between official record and human history, the impossibility of absolute truth, and the malleable nature of collective memory. The theme of revisionist history is prefigured in the film's opening shot, a wordless sequence of uniformed officers taking turns in confiscating documents from a private residence to be destroyed at a makeshift bonfire that had been set in the courtyard. Cutting to an image of a records clerk unlocking a series of doors leading to a remote storage room in order to retrieve what would prove to be woefully incomplete archived reports on the investigation surrounding a middle-aged accountant, Ryszard Siwiec's self-immolation on September 8, 1968 during a harvest festival at Warsaw Stadium - the dossier containing only a related citation for distributing flyers containing "false information" at the public event - the juxtaposition between the labyrinthine odyssey through locked vaults and the retrieval of Siwiec's sanitized files becomes a metaphor for an altered history (implicitly linked by the idea of destruction by fire) that had been suppressed during the Cold War. A subsequent review of church records by a parish priest similarly provides an intentionally ambiguous account of Siwiec's death (albeit for compassionate reasons), listing the cause of death as an accident, perhaps in order to be allowed proper burial in a Catholic cemetery (a sanctification that is also reflected in a priest's description of a Buddhist monk's self-immolation as a spiritual act of self-destruction and creation). In both cases, the incompleteness of information creates secondary - and equally inexact - layers of truth. Protesting against Władysław Gomułka's increasing alignment with the Soviet Union that contributed to the Warsaw Pact's intervention in Czechoslovakia after a series of liberalization reforms, Siwiec had sought to expose the party's betrayal of socialist ideals under Gomułka's leadership and the folly of subjugating a nation.

But beyond a chronicle of Soviet-era whitewashing, Drygas examines the plasticity of memory in the way time deforms and sets - however imperfectly - during moments of crisis and tragedy. This idea is illustrated in the reading of Siwiec's will, as photographs of his wife and children from 1968 are intercut with present-day interviews of the children, now middle-aged, who share memories of their father and comment on the legacy of a heroism that had only been realized in the hindsight of cultural rehabilitation - his death, figuratively suspended in time, even as history has transformed to reframe his protest as an act of patriotic resistance. The refiguration of memory is also reflected in Siwiec's wife, Maria's recollections of their last Easter together, observing a distance and melancholy that may or may not have actually existed (a daughter earlier recalls Siwiec's animation especially when discussing politics with family), and in the accounts of witnesses who remember the incident only within the context of a momentary disruption from the pageantry by a mentally unstable spectator. In this respect, Hear My Cry converges towards Harun Farocki's expositions on the interrelation between cognition and recognition in Images of the World and the Inscription of War, exploring the disjunction between the captured image (seeing) and its registration (memory). Concluding with a slow motion, magnified shot of Siwiec's self-immolation captured by Kronika Filmowa camera operator, Zbigniew Skoczek, the manipulated footage itself becomes a protraction of time and signification of the image - an act of imprinting memory.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 05, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Maciej Drygas

August 31, 2008

The Forsaken Land, 2005

forsaken.gifThe opening sequence of Vimukthi Jayasundara's The Forsaken Land suggests a metaphoric, alien landscape - a land transfigured by the buried scars of a decades-long civil war and the ominous disquiet of a fragile, uncertain peace. A lone militia guard, Anura (Mahendra Perera) patrolling the main road to a remote village, passes his idle hours inspecting the contours of an open field, looking for irregular patches in the topography (perhaps indicating the presence of unmarked, makeshift graves). A disembodied arm juts out from the undulating water, articulated in rigor resembling a prehistoric sea monster surfacing from the lake. The harsh white light from a fluorescent bulb illuminates a dark room, its intensity reflected in the crosscut to a shot of the human eye. A restless woman, Anura's unmarried sister Soma (Kaushalaya Fernando) rises at dawn to bathe using water ported into a barrel in the absence of indoor plumbing, and hears the sound of a tank rolling into a nearby open field to conduct military exercises. In a way, the images capture the desolation of a people existing in a state of suspended animation, harboring the persistent memory of a violent, unreconciled past, and relegated to a life as impotent spectators to the meaningless rituals of everyday life in the isolated village. On the surface, The Forsaken Land suggests Shohei Imamura's Ballad of Narayama in its stark and austere portrait of an inhuman, godless society, where the tainted landscape reflects the nihilism and moral vacuum of disintegrated lives lived in perpetual stasis (as suggested in an episode involving a pregnant villager's apparent suicide by poison ingestion). However, in its abstract naturalism and implicit allusion to the social repercussions of ethnic marginalization, the film also converges towards Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours, where the forest represents a place of menace (the schoolgirl, Batti's [Pumudika Sapurni Peiris] encounter with the night guard, Piyasiri [Hemasiri Liyanage]) and transitory escape (Anura and a soldier's retreat into a trench to smoke). It is within this context of protracted ethnic conflict and disenfranchisement that Piyasiri's recounted children's tale - about an impoverished woman called "Little Bird" who once set out with a cup of rice as dowry to faraway lands in order to find a husband, only to be killed by her prospective husband after a perceived slight and humiliation - may be seen as an allegory for the civil war itself: a marginalized people who has razed its own home in order to assuage its guilt and insecurity, eternally condemned to a karmic cycle of self-inflicted retaliation as victim and transgressor.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 31, 2008 | | Comments (8) | Filed under 2008

August 17, 2008

Four Nights of a Dreamer, 1971

four_nights.gifBased on Fyodor Dostoevsky's short story, White Nights, Robert Bresson's Four Nights of a Dreamer may also be seen as a paradigm for José Luis Guerín's In the City of Sylvia, capturing the romanticism of longing, the voyeurism inherent in an artist's gaze, and the creation of idealized memory. Like the dreamer in Guerín's film, Jacques (Guillaume des Forêts) is a restless artist searching anonymous, city streets in pursuit of an elusive, ideal woman (the dreamer's journey in In the City of Sylvia is similarly chronicled through enumerated nights spent in his hotel room). For Jacques, the quixotic quest would lead him one night to the Pont Neuf, where a despondent Marthe (Isabelle Weingarten) has stepped out onto the ledge to end her life by jumping into the river. Convincing her to climb back just as a patrol car stops to intervene, Jacques takes her hand and walks her home with the promise that he would appear at the same time at the bridge on the following evening. The encounter would mark the first of the dreamer's four nights with the fragile Marthe, bound together by their fateful connection and the melancholy of elusive love - Jacques, in the fleeting pursuit of unattainable women with whom he has fallen in love from a distance (and whose embodied idea becomes the inspiration for his fanciful, tape recorded messages and a series of faceless, work-in-progress portraits scattered in his studio), and Marthe, in the apparent rejection by a lover (Maurice Monnoyer) who did not return to her after studying abroad. Offering to act as an intermediary and deliver a letter to the wayward lover's friends in an attempt to reconcile the couple, Jacques becomes increasingly drawn to Marthe and, in the process, finds his new, unrequited object of desire.

Perhaps the lightest and most idiosyncratic film in Bresson's body of work, Four Nights of a Dreamer nevertheless broaches his recurring themes on the division between the physical and the ephemeral. Within this framework, the film serves as a deconstruction of the romantic myth in all its manifestations and illusions. This idea of artificiality is first explored during Marthe's recounted story of receiving tickets from her then presumptive lover to attend the premiere of a trite potboiler entitled The Bonds of Love that ran the gamut of popular film conventions from extended shoot-outs to the clutching of a beloved's photograph - accompanied by swelling music - in the moments before death. But Jacques coming to Marthe's aid at a bridge is also a familiar scenario - the proverbial rescue of the damsel in distress - a romantic sentiment that is further reinforced by his continued arrangements to meet her on the same bridge as their relationship develops (the bridge itself suggesting a metaphoric point of convergence between these two drifting souls). This sense of contrived romantic destiny is also reflected in Jacques's recorded messages describing his beloved's separation from him for six months that alludes to Persephone's descent into Hades (further elevating the idea of love into the realm of mythology), as well as the musical interludes that seem to coincidentally insert themselves during key moments throughout their brief encounters. In this respect, Bresson reflects on the role of the artist as a creator of images, where the ideal lies in the pursuit of the elusive - in the empty spaces that reveal the essential "gesture which lifts its presence from the object" - the illusion of transcended love.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 17, 2008 | | Comments (6) | Filed under 2008

August 13, 2008

New York Film Festival 2008 Line-up

Just a quick note to say that the main program for the 46th New York Film Festival has been announced, and the slate looks quite strong this year. Along with the usual suspects - Jia Zhangke, Hong Sang-soo, Jerzy Skolimowski, Arnaud Desplechin, Steven Soderbergh, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Olivier Assayas, and Wong Kar-wai - I'm also excited to see Darezhan Omirbaev (wow, two Kazakh films!), Brillante Mendoza, and Kelly Reichardt make the line-up. The NYFF runs from Sept. 26 through Oct. 12.

Opening Night
The Class / Entre les murs
Laurent Cantet, France, 2008; 128m

Clint Eastwood, USA, 2008; 140m

Closing Night
The Wrestler
Darren Aronofsky, USA, 2008; 109m

Lola Montès
Max Ophuls, France/West Germany, 1955; 115m

24 City / Er shi si cheng ji
Jia Zhangke, China/Hong Kong/Japan, 2008; 112m

Antonio Campos, USA, 2008; 122m

Ashes of Time Redux
Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, 2008; 93m

Bullet in the Head / Trio en la cabeza
Jaime Rosales, Spain/France, 2008; 85m

Steven Soderbergh, France/Spain, 2008; 268m

Chouga / Shuga
Darezhan Omirbaev, France/Kazakhstan, 2007; 91m

A Christmas Tale / Un conte de Noël
Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2008; 150m

Four Nights with Anna / Cztery noce z Anna
Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland/France, 2008; 87m

Gomorrah / Gomorra
Matteo Garrone, Italy, 2008; 137m

Mike Leigh, UK, 2008; 118m

The Headless Woman / La mujer sin cabeza
Lucrecia Martel, Argentina/France/Italy/Spain, 2008; 87m

Steve McQueen, UK, 2008; 96m

I'm Going to Explode / Voy a explotar
Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico, 2008; 103m

Let It Rain / Parlez-moi de la pluie
Agnès Jaoui, France, 2008; 110m

Night and Day / Bam guan nat
Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2008; 144m

The Northern Land / A Corte do Norte
João Botelho, Portugal, 2008; 101m

Brillante Mendoza, Philippines/France, 2008; 90m

Summer Hours / L’heure d’eté
Olivier Assayas, France, 2008; 103m

Tokyo Sonata
Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan/Netherlands, 2008; 85m

Tony Manero
Pablo Larrain, Chile/Brazil, 2008; 98m

Sergey Dvortsevoy, Germany/Kazakhstan/Poland/Russia/Switzerland, 2008; 100m

Waltz with Bashir
Ari Folman, Israel/Germany/France, 2008; 90m

Wendy and Lucy
Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2008; 80m

The Windmill Movie
Alexander Olch, USA, 2008; 80m

Posted by acquarello on Aug 13, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Quick Notes

July 31, 2008

Calcutta 71, 1972

calcutta71.gifIn the book The Essential Mystery: The Major Filmmakers of Indian Art Cinema, John W. Hood proposes that the Bengali famine in 1943 was a watershed event that would deeply mark then 20 year old Mrinal Sen and lead to his politicization and involvement with the left-leaning Indian People's Theatre Association. In hindsight, this convergence between personal and cultural history also seems to provide the underlying link between the overarching portrait of contemporary life in 1971 Kolkata with its prevailing images of the Naxalite insurgency, and the three self-contained, period stories presented in the film, each a crystallization of the spirit of the times and a harbinger of things to come. Framed through the perspective of a doomed, anonymous 20 year old militant student whose restless spirit hovers over the city to confront its legacy of poverty, underprivilege, and cruelty, each story exposes society's complicity in the unraveling of a natural crisis into human catastrophe.

The first installment, 1933, based on Manik Bandyopadhyay's The Right to Suicide, underscores the everyday realities of life in the flood-prone city, where life remains in a state of transience, caught in a perpetual cycle of construction and destruction, transformation and decay. Capturing an impoverished family's futile attempts to weather the monsoon rains from their dilapidated home, as the head of the family (Satya Bannerjee) increasingly shows his frustration and helplessness by lashing out at his adolescent daughter and a stray dog, 1933 illustrates the inhumanity imposed by an entrenched caste system that continues to reinforce arbitrary power structures even within the inescapable reality of impotence and destitution, a corrosive cycle that perpetuates a sense of entitlement (that, in turn, leads to complacency in its illusion of expected privilege) and oppression of the weak.

Adapted from Prabodh Sanyal's The Disgraced, the second episode, 1943 examines the wide-reaching toll of the famine, from an early montage of desperate villagers converging in the already overcrowded city to beg for food, to a day in the life portrait within the relative comfort of a middle class family, where a young widow, Shobhona (Madhabi Mukherjee) struggles to support her mother and younger siblings. Relocating to Kolkata after giving up custody of her son (having moved into an apartment building under murky arrangements with the owner), the family is compelled to face their degraded circumstances when a cousin, on his way to a new civil service job in Delhi, pays an unexpected visit. Contrasting fond memories of their idyllic lives in the village against the austerity of their new life in Kolkata, Sen reinforces the idea of the famine as a juncture of paradise lost, a complete rupture from the past. Moreover, in confronting the mother's instigations to solicit money from her neighbor (by sending her teenaged daughter to run errands for him), and her son (by goading him to exploit his employment at a tea shop), Sen parallels the family's decline in status with their moral prostitution (a theme that also surfaces in Satyajit Ray's Distant Thunder, where the erosion of social class is created by the commonality of despair.

The intersection between (artificially created) class disparity and food shortage also provides the framework for 1953 in its tale of two cities - one, propelled by urban development and agricultural reforms stemming from Jawaharlal Nehru's five-year plan, the other, relegated to the sidelines of economic transformation. Based on Samaresh Basu's The Smuggler, the film challenges the notion of national unity that the consolidation of the railways symbolizes in its segregation of passengers between the working class and the poor, uneducated backwards classes who stow away on trains to panhandle, or smuggle food through the porous borders of (then) East Pakistan for sale in the drought affected villages. Devolving into a symbolic class war between the privileged passengers (as embodied by a health conscious traveler who epitomizes the Darwinian capitalist model: survival of the fittest) and the young, impoverished smugglers, Sen alludes to the perils of complacency and displaced retaliation (a theme that also recalls the father's impotent rage in 1933) that also underlies the anonymous stranger's social indictment. Revisiting the transgressions of the past, the disembodied stranger becomes the nation's figurative collective consciousness, confronting society's tendency to reconstitute human suffering as distant histories removed from everyday reality. Culminating with the portrait of contemporary Kolkata in which a politician (Ajitesh Bannerjee) hypocritically expresses his concern during a lavish dinner party over the flood of refugees arriving into the city from Bangladesh as a result of the war for independence, the image of famine victims repurposed as wall art encapsulates the aestheticization of tragedy as abstract spectacle, and humanity's moral imperative to reclaim art from its bastardized role as status symbol to its ideological origins as an instrument of social revolution.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 31, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Mrinal Sen

July 17, 2008

The Little White Girl Had to Bow Her Head for Emperor Hirohito, 2003

little_white.gifBased on author, choreographer, activist, and filmmaker Lydia Chagoll's autobiography A Childhood in the Japanese Camps and historical essay Hirohito: Emperor of Japan, The Little White Girl Had to Bow Her Head for Emperor Hirohito is a lucid and impassioned examination of the postwar geopolitics that have led to the cultural amnesia and historical whitewashing (enabled by western governments) of Hirohito's role in the commission of atrocities during Japan's expansionist campaign that culminated in the tragedy of the Pacific War. The daughter of an outspoken, anti-fascist journalist of Jewish ancestry, Chagoll fled her adopted home of Belgium with her family as a young girl in 1940 during the Nazi invasion, making their way south through the continent as refugees seeking asylum before being deported by South Africa - because of their Dutch-issued passports - to the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) in 1942. Detained and interrogated by authorities upon arrival to Batavia (now Jakarta) in an attempt to root out agitators seeking to undermine colonial authority, their belated freedom in the increasingly volatile region would prove to be short lived when Japan expanded their military campaign and began occupying the islands. Separated from their father and imprisoned in a series of progressively worsening conditions and inhumane treatment at concentration camps over the course of the next three years, Chagoll's family would face even further humiliation when, at the end of the Pacific War, Indonesia declared its independence and Europeans were forced to remain in the camps for their own safety, still guarded by the same Japanese soldiers now tasked by General Douglas MacArthur to protect them as they await their delayed repatriation. Returning to Europe only to discover that their relatives had been killed at Auschwitz and Sobibor, the family's harrowing ordeal in Java would be supplanted by their own guilt of survival and an immediate need to rebuild their interrupted lives, leading to a shared silence of history that would continue for decades until Frans Buyens convinced Chagoll to write about her experience as a means of exorcising her haunted past.

Structured as a talking head news panel with Chagoll, moderator Anne Blanpain, and actress and friend, Michèle Simonet reading passages from Chagoll's memoir (the author, still reluctant to talk about her personal experience in the camps), the stark, brightly lit, minimalist sound stage reinforces the autobiographical and editorial dual nature of the film, serving as a platform for Chagoll's recounted trauma that alludes to the austere circumstances of her captivity (where prisoners suffered from malnutrition and systematic abuse), and the idea that tragedy is inherently unfilmable (a theme that also finds kinship with Alain Resnais's Night and Fog). Placing their discussions within the context of Chagoll's public protests, first, during Emperor Hirohito's state visit with King Baudouin in 1971, and subsequently, in the royal couple's decision to attend his funeral in a sovereign capacity in 1989, Buyens and Chagoll frame Hirohito's transformation from untried war criminal to venerated dignitary (presumably duped by a military clique into embracing expansionist policies) as the result of politically expedient revisionism, where the act of waging war (even a cold one) "has become so banal that it has given killers human faces." In essence, Japan's wartime amnesia is symptomatic of an absence of closure, a U.S.-orchestrated wholesale absolution designed to preserve the country's hierarchical structure as a means of ensuring national stability and, consequently, a strategic foothold against an expanding communist threat. It is a negation of history that continues to shape the murky contours of contemporary Japanese society, most notably, in (then) Prime Minister Yasujiro Nakasone and his cabinet's official visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, a socially ingrained evasion of moral accountability and reckoning that once again comes full circle to its origins in Hirohito's impunity from past transgressions that Chagoll challenges with the question: "Who is a war criminal: the one who kills, the one who gives the order to kill, the one in whose name the killing is done?"

Posted by acquarello on Jul 17, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Frans Buyens & Lydia Chagoll

July 10, 2008

Tren de sombras, 1997

tren_sombras.gifOstensibly framed as a restoration of a degraded found film recovered some 70 years after the sudden and unexplained death of its creator, a Parisian attorney and amateur filmmaker named Gérard Fleury at a lake in the village of Le Thuit in Normandy, Tren de sombras (Train of Shadows) is a dense, sensual, and richly textured exposition of José Luis Guerín's recurring preoccupations: the nature and subjectivity of the image-gaze, the permeable borders between truth and fiction, the role of architecture (and landscape) as palimpsest of hidden histories. By placing the discovery of Fleury's last shot footage of his home and family within the context of the ambiguity surrounding the circumstances of his death after a seemingly innocuous scouting trip early one morning to find suitable lighting conditions to incorporate into his home movie, the found film becomes both a curious artifact of the early days of cinema in its informally staged performances that suggest the whimsical, created illusions of Georges Méliès (in a performance of dancing ties and magic tricks), and also a non-fiction, historical record that can be deconstructed, reconstituted, and re-analyzed to glean further information into the real-life mystery.

The dual nature of film is similarly suggested in the multilayered transitional shot between Fleury's footage from 1930 and modern day Le Thuit - the image of a caretaker sweeping leaves at a sidewalk corner overlooking a cemetery as schoolchildren cross at the intersection, a folding billboard advertising a cinémathèque program featuring pioneering filmmakers propped against a lamppost on the edge of the frame - visually repeating interchangeable themes of decay (fallen leaves, graveyard, film nitrate) and renewal (children, film revival, the act of sweeping). Interweaving depopulated, still-life compositions that alternately show ethereal images (casted shadows, lake mist, clouds, rays of light poking through occlusions, reflections on mirrors and windows) and physical objects (landscape, architecture, framed photographs, clocks, period furniture, camera equipment), Guerín further expounds on the idea of film as a medium of materiality and immateriality, where filmmaking itself becomes an act of creation (in capturing images that do not physically exist), destruction (in the chemical degradation of the medium), and transformation (in the projection of material into light). Moreover, by introducing sequences that overtly demonstrate the image manipulation of Fleury's unfinished film (with the apparent motive of finding hidden clues to the mysterious death) - splicing damaged footage, matching cuts that illustrate parallel gestures and expressions, freeze frames and zooms that provide detailed observation - Guerín not only reflects on filmmaking as a godlike process of suspension and reanimation, but also on the inherent responsibilities (and limitations) that it enables in creating permutations of the story, where truth is arbitrarily defined by editing, and the idea of closure to a story is negated by the competing idea that the same film can be rewound, reconfigured, and re-edited into a plurality of equally valid, alternate endings. It is this open-endedness that is reflected in the film's long take, closing shot of a dead-end street intersection in Fleury (a recurring aesthetic that also surfaces in Guerín's En Construcción and In the City of Sylvia), where people momentarily pass into and out of frame - each passerby representing another open story, each passage, a corridor leading to new, alternate angles of perspective and (re)discovery.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 10, 2008 | | Comments (5) | Filed under 2008, José Luis Guerín

July 2, 2008

Less Dead Than the Others, 1992

less_dead.gifComposed as a fiction film based on Buyens's autobiographical novel, re-enacted with the intimacy of a documentary, but framed from the observational distance of an essay, Frans Buyens and Lydia Chagoll's Less Dead Than the Others resists facile categorization - alternating between poignant crystallization of living memory in the aftermath of his younger brother's accidental death and his parents' struggle with terminal illness, and an impassioned polemic on a person's right to die with dignity. This idea of inhabited contradiction is established in the opening sequence, crosscutting between the somber procession of mourners lined up for a casket viewing (presumably, of Buyens's mother) and the animated, candid shots of his mother (Dora van der Groen) pulling together an important occasion outfit from her wardrobe (which she is shown wearing later in the film while packing for her hospital admission) and performing calisthenics in the kitchen. In hindsight, the juxtaposition of these contradictory images - life and death, stasis and activity, reality and dramatization - reflects his mother and father Jozef's (Senne Rouffaer) daily routine following the death of his brother, Armand (Koen De Bouw) from severe burns, having worn a gorilla suit for a costume ball that was accidentally set on fire by a pair of half-drunken revelers throwing lit matches at a crowd (and who, rather than help douse the flames, instead went to get a last drink before leaving).

For his parents, Armand's death also relegates the present to a constantly rewinding past, where the ritual of grief metamorphoses into a mythology of the dead (a sentiment that is also implied in his mother's observation that Armand, like Jesus, died at the age of 33): re-reading newspaper obituary clippings that described the funeral (which his mother was too inconsolable to attend), revisiting commemorations given in his brother's honor by friends and colleagues, looking through old photographs of family vacations and happier times, re-evaluating decisions made throughout their lives that aligned to meet his tragic fate. Languishing in a hospital for ten days before dying alone at night - the less familiar, off-shift nurses failing to realize that his repeated calls for "François" were for his brother - the experience would also mark his parents in another way, as they faced their own mortality.

Confined to a hospice after being diagnosed with incurable cancer, his once physically fit father - an avid dancer and tireless labor activist - would endure the emotional roller coaster of several false alarms over his imminent passing, isolated from his family, slowly wasting away, but resigned to a lingering death by an exceptionally strong heart. The specter of Armand's unanswered calls for his brother also hovers over Jozef's death, in Buyens's admission that he ignored his father's pleas to help him end his life. Alternating between antiseptic images of his ailing father confined to his hospital bed, and color-saturated shots of him dancing and casually dispensing advice from his favorite chair, the stark juxtaposition not only illustrates the disconnection between Jozef's mind and body towards the end, but also reinforces the image of his coexistence between life and death, both as a grieving parent who never recovered from his son's death, and as a patient struggling with terminal illness. In contrast, the image of his mother's subsequent return home after an unproductive extended hospital stay is warm and bathed in light. Reconciled with her fate, the stillness of her death seems paradoxically ecstatic - a peaceful deliverance from a body wracked with constant pain. In a way, by passing unnoticed between life and death, she liberates her son from the guilt of survival that had once consumed them and, in sharing the intimacy of her final moments, enables his own lonely transition to a life without her: "I don't know when she died. I didn't see it. I didn't feel it. I didn't hear it. Her life passed into mine. She is less dead than the others."

Posted by acquarello on Jul 02, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Frans Buyens & Lydia Chagoll

June 18, 2008

The Way South, 1980-81

verslesud.gifThe coronation of Queen Beatrix on the eve of May Day in 1980 provides a salient point of departure for Johan van der Keuken's The Way South, a cultural interrogation into the intertwined sociopolitical landscape of immigration, dislocation, underprivilege, and class division. Continuing on the prevailing theme of economic disparity between the continental north and south (in such essay films as Diary, The White Castle, and the The New Ice Age), van der Keuken encounters his first destination within a short distance from his home in Amsterdam, where a unused office building on Kinker Street has been converted to a communal squat by activists (who see their action as a pragmatic solution to the affordable housing shortage by making use of existing real estate that would otherwise remain unoccupied). Facing an imminent siege by riot police to force their eviction, the squatters discuss the logistics of their staged resistance, from rounding up volunteers for round the clock sentry duty to guard the main entrance, to installing reinforcing screens in order to thwart a surprise intrusion from unsecured windows. Intercutting a shot of the activists protesting in the street with footage of a public rally celebrating the country's liberation in 1945, van der Keuken presents the activists' defiant expression of freedom within the irony of self-imprisonment that reveals their idealistic act of resistance.

Van der Keuken captures a similar image of imposed occupation at a nearby church, where a group of Moroccan migrant workers have assembled to seek refuge while awaiting their deportation, having lost their jobs as a result of stricter guidelines governing immigrant labor (one that also levies the restrictive requirement of having continuous employment under a single employer as a means of providing a loophole to deny access to social services). Spending a final night at the church before their expulsion, the immigrants sleep in communal beds under panels depicting the Stations of the Cross, implicitly linking the sorrow, isolation, and sacrifice that also mark their uncertain plight.

The problem of assimilation is also implied in the profile of Goutte d'or in Paris, the oldest immigrant community in Europe, where the idea of impermanence and transition embodied in the names of boarding houses such as Hotel du Progrés collides with the reality of a fourth and fifth generation ethnic African population continuing to reside within the same community (a social immobility that is also reinforced in the portrait of a construction worker and his wife who, despite having lived in France for over 45 years, are still considered immigrants). Focusing on the everyday routine of Ali, a disabled former car factory worker who has been taking clerical correspondence courses in order to find a new way to make a living after his accident, van der Keuken reveals the intrinsic racism that continues to exist behind the ideal of social inclusion, where a constant police presence can be seen from his apartment window, and he is compelled to carry his disability and residency papers at all times in case of "random" identity checks.

The myth of post-colonial integration revealed by the experiences of Goutte d'or's residents also resurfaces in Rome, where an octogenarian widow, Nonna Rosa - the daughter of an Italian father and Eritrean mother - talks about her transient life between Eritrea, her homeland, and Italy, her country of citizenship. Displaced by fascism, racism, British territorial expulsion, apartheid, decolonization, and finally, Ethiopia's annexation of Eritrea in 1962, Nonna Rosa's life has been marked by perpetual exile, struggling to bridge the two cultures of her identity only to belong to neither.

In the village of Calabria in Locri, a Catholic priest, Father Natale, exposes a different kind of institutionalized oppression, defying the thinly veiled threats of a mafia don who lords over the small town with the silent complicity of the local church. Establishing a clothing factory cooperative to provide jobs for the poor (and stave off the lure of organized crime), Father Natale sees a correlation between the church's increasing inability to attract young men into the priesthood and its perceived culture of corruption. Concluding the chapter with a montage of gravestones from villagers who were killed by the mafia, van der Keuken wryly reinforces the macabre connection between the church and organized crime through the mutual commerce of death, and the tragic dignity of ennobled resistance.

The moral cost of the illusive pursuit of wealth is similarly reflected during the observance of the Feast of Sacrifice in Cairo, where a family's financial ability to provide sacrificial food itself becomes a status symbol. Offering alms to the poor - who are often found living inside family vaults (connected the parallel image of the Kinker Street squatters) - in exchange for prayers for the souls of lost loved ones, van der Keuken illustrates the conflation of economy and spirituality in the meaning of sacrifice. Framed against the television broadcast of an imam preaching against the perils of following "desires" that is ironically being shown simultaneously over multiple televisions at a shop window display, the imam's call for solidarity paradoxically reflects the self-inflicted fragmentation of society as well (a man-made division that is also symbolized by a prefiguring shot of pedestrians cutting through un-reinforced sidewalk barricades in lieu of crossing at street corners). Concluding with an incisive, tongue-in-cheek montage of a manually operated waterwheel (that evokes a recurring image of Sisyphean ritual), peanut farmers (harvesting to the radio broadcast news of the U.S. presidential race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan), brick loaders (a metaphor for Cairo's economic transformation literally being carried on the backs of workers), and repeated shots of graffiti that alternately read "No Future" and "Carry On", van der Keuken's expressed desire to touch reality also suggests a quixotic quest to transcend the bounds between the figurative north and south, to dismantle the artificial notions of privilege and exclusion, and consequently, find the root of our common humanity.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 18, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Johan van der Keuken

June 12, 2008

H story, 2001

Hstory.gifInasmuch as Alain Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour examines the impossibility of translation in articulating the weight of tragedy, Nobuhiro Suwa's H story also aligns with Arnaud Desplechin's Playing 'In the Company of Men' in illustrating the inherent limitations of adapting source material to convey the essential story. The ambiguity of language is foretold in the film's silent, establishing shot of Suwa and lead actress Béatrice Dalle discussing the staging of a hotel room scene - an image capturing the (apparent) mutual understanding between actress and director that is subverted with the introduction of sound, revealing the voice of an off-screen translator mediating their conversation and the presence of a second actor, Hiroaki Umano, waiting for direction nearby. Structured as a day in the life chronicle of the filmmaking process as Suwa and cinematographer Caroline Champetier attempt to shoot a faithful adaptation of Marguerite Duras's screenplay in a way that consciously rejects the facile restaging of sequences from Resnais's iconic postwar film, H story is also a layered reflection of a younger generation's sense of incomplete and disconnected history. This estrangement is captured during a conversation between Hiroshima native Suwa and writer Machida Kuo who is visiting the city to research the life of a hibakusha artist for possible inclusion as a character in his latest novel. For both Suwa and Machida, the bombing represents a distant, intangible history, dislocated from a geographic and moral sense of place.

Interweaving episodes of the difficult film shoot with Dalle's increasing sense of disconnection in the unfamiliar city, the language barrier is shown not only as a symptom of transplantation and distance, but also as a byproduct of its construction, a problem of textuality that is reflected in her continued struggle with the unnatural patois of Duras's precisely crafted, poetic screenplay. In a sense, Dalle's gravitation towards singular images of the bombing rather than large-scale panoramas during a recounted trip to a war museum alludes to her difficulties with the script, where the attention to the form of the language supersedes the content - a rift between reality and its representation. This rupture is also mirrored in Dalle's restlessness during a trip to a Hiroshima bombing memorial-themed art museum with Machida, where personal expressions of tragedy have been sublimated (or more appropriately, buried) within the public exhibition of commissioned works. Moreover, with the idea of transforming untranslatable tragedy into free-form sculptures and pop art, Suwa revisits an earlier theme in an episode between Dalle and Umano at a riverbank where the two pass the time during make-up by sharing an anecdote about the nearby river as the site where the bombing victims, suffering from thirst and the heat, had once sought relief by drinking the water that had been poisoned by nuclear fallout. Framed within the context of the tragedy-inspired art objects at the museum, the incongruity of their casual conversation serves as an incisive interrogation of society's tendency towards the aesthetization of horror, where suffering is lost in the abstraction of the spectacle.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 12, 2008 | | Filed under 2008

June 5, 2008

State of Weightlessness, 1994

state_weightlessness.gifFilmed after the dismantling of the Soviet Union at a time when the U.S. space station project (then called Freedom) that had been championed by Ronald Reagan was similarly facing its own crisis of survival after a series of deep budget cuts (partly in response to shifting political considerations and administrations), Maciej Drygas's The State of Weightlessness is a clear-eyed, thoughtful, and articulate survey of the human cost of the Cold War-fueled space race, and the moral vacuum left in the wake of geopolitical upheaval. Incisively opening to the recorded audio transmission between an unseen cosmonaut (perhaps aboard the Mir space station) and ground control as he positions the microphone near areas around his heart in an attempt to amplify his heartbeat for the remote listener, the cosmonaut's long distance health checkup also becomes a metaphor for Drygas's examination on the current state of a people's disoriented collective consciousness as Russia dramatically transformed from communist state to federal republic. Framed as a candid discussion on the exhilaration, difficulties, adaptations, and dangers inherent in manned spaceflight (and in particular, the long duration mission tours of duty necessitated by the launching of the Salyut, then Mir space stations) with a diverse cross-section of participants from the Soviet space program - cosmonauts, scientists, physicians, surviving family members, and medical experiment participants - the film also reveals the moral consequences inherent in the politically motivated pursuit of technology.

In one interview, flight engineer Georgi Grechko (the first person to conduct a spacewalk outside an orbiter) reflects on his adventurous spirit colliding with the realization of his own mortality following a near-death experience during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere - an incident that invokes the specter of Soviet hero, Vladimir Komarov, whose death from a failed parachute deployment during landing would come to symbolize the human toll exacted in the noble (and politically mandated) pursuit of space exploration. A similar spectacle is forged in the aftermath of the Soyuz 11 crew's ill-fated homecoming - the elation over the first successful mission to the Salyut space station upended by the discovery of the crew's accidental exposure to the vacuum of space during undocking and separation. In each case, the propaganda value of a hero's welcome would be transfigured into an equally potent rallying cry for perseverance and solidarity with the national space program, capitalizing on a public outpouring of grief and sympathy. In another interview, Mir cosmonaut Aleksandr Laveykin expresses his disagreement with pioneering rocket scientist, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's comment that human destiny lies beyond Earth's gravity, remarking that humanity will always harbor an inviolable emotional connection with the idea of home and will always strive to return, a sentiment that is similarly expressed by veteran cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov (who has logged more than 670 days in space during two Mir missions) who describes his own thoughts during landing as those disconnected from fundamental questions of life and death (and history), and instead, were filled with the idea of savoring the simple gestures of being human - a glass of wine, a cigarette, his wife's embrace.

However, the toll of spaceflight is not only relegated to the memories of increasingly forgotten, conquering heroes, but also in the damaged lives of many anonymous, medical experiment participants like Yevgeni Kiriushin who was subjected to a research study that simulated the effects of long-duration weightlessness. Recounting bouts of depression, alcoholism, broken marriages, and other manifestations of psychological damage that continue to plague fellow research participants long after the end of the clinical studies, and punctuated by a visit to a colleague who sustained irreversible neurological damage, Kiriushin's testimony is a sobering reminder of the murky ethics, institutional cruelty, and callous indifference that underpins the myopic, zealous pursuit of these milestone achievements. Returning to images of a deserted, post-communist Baikonur Cosmodrome as a cosmonaut - unable to return home - listens to his wife's comments on the turbulent changes sweeping the country (and reassurance over his enviable distance from the sociopolitical maelstrom), the stark contrast reflects the moral question posed by all human endeavor - where conscience is a surrogate force of gravity - suspended between heaven and earth, humanity and history.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 05, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Maciej Drygas

May 26, 2008

Flowing, 1956

flowing.gifAdapted from the novel by postwar author Aya Koda (the daughter of Meiji-era novelist Koda Rohan) and filmed in the same year as the banning of prostitution in Japan, Mikio Naruse's Flowing is something of a corollary to Kenji Mizoguchi's Street of Shame, a complex and richly textured panorama capturing a transforming way of life within a community of women whose increasingly uncertain livelihood depended on the patronage of men. This idea of place as transitional station is suggested in the establishing shots of a river, then a pedestrian bridge that is subsequently reinforced in the intersecting image of disgruntled junior geisha, Namie leaving her place of employment, the Tsuta House in Tokyo's geisha district (for what would turn out to be a permanent departure), as a middle-aged widow, Rika (Kinuyo Tanaka) arrives at the same location to apply for the job as a housemaid - the sense of a changing, but steady dynamic created by their coincidental role reversal as resident and outsider. Despite running a highly respected establishment, owner and senior geisha Otsuta (Isuzu Yamada) is facing hard times, having fallen into debt to her older sister, Otoyo (Natsuko Kahara), a money lender who took on the mortgage of the house in order to settle the debt of Otsuta's wayward lover. With fewer and fewer geishas under her management (including a fellow middle-aged geisha and neighbor, Someka (Haruko Sugimura) who has turned to her to arrange bookings), her daughter Katsuyo (Hideko Takamine) choosing not to follow in her mother's footstep in favor of finding employment outside of the industry, her younger sister Yoneko (Chieko Nakakita) moving back home with her daughter Fujiko after being spurned by her lover (Daisuke Katô), Namie's boorish uncle (Seiji Miyaguchi) threatening to sully the house's reputation when she refuses to pay him Namie's disputed back wages, and Otoya increasingly interfering in her affairs by arranging meetings with prospective clients without her consent, Otoyo is forced to turn to her former colleague, now a society matron, Mizuno, for assistance in restructuring the business that would allow Tsuta House to continue its operation (and perhaps, leave a legacy for young Fujiko) - an alliance that would also have wide-reaching consequences for the household. Similar to Late Chrysanthemums, transactions serve as a surrogate for the women's emotional interdependency: Mizuno's brokered financial assistance from Otsuta's former patron; the medical expense money offered by Yoneko's former lover when Fujiko falls ill; Someka's dispute over earnings that surfaces after separating from her younger lover. Like the assorted treats that Rika buys on a whim for her surrogate family, the enduring parting image of Otsuta and Someka's shamisen performance before their respectful apprentices - and the entire household - becomes a delicate savoring of the present, a bittersweet taste of transitory bliss.

Posted by acquarello on May 26, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Mikio Naruse

May 24, 2008

Rising Tide, 2004

rising_tide.gifIn a way, Robert Todd's Rising Tide represents a continuation on the themes of obsolescence and disposability that runs through Our Former Glory and In Loving Memory, a reverent, quietly observed collage on the changing face of manual labor that, like Johan van der Keuken's Springtime: Three Portraits, captures a way of life that is slowly becoming extinct in the face of technology, globalism, and mass production. Filmed around the increasingly gentrified city of Rye in suburban Westchester, New York (home of historic Rye Playland amusement park), the three-part, mixed composition structure of the film becomes, itself, a reflection of the area's transformation. The first part is a portrait of aging master watchmaker, Konrad Brzezinski and his wife Ursula who, 55 years earlier, opened the Rye Clock and Jewel repair shop. Graduating from black and white to color, silence to sound, that visually suggests the evolution of film as a metaphor for the technological revolution that now renders these artisanal, cottage industries obsolete, the fragmented montage of assorted gear works, mechanisms, fasteners, stamped metals, and watch faces are presented against the steady rhythm of ticking and chiming clocks, paralleling the motion of the time pieces with the rotation of Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds along the boardwalk - a constant reminder of progression and displacement as a marking of time.

The second part captures the ruminations of second-generation shoemaker, Tony Ioveno who has watched his fortunes rise and fall along a series of rented storefronts within the community as inexpensive, mass-produced shoes and sneakers become the staple of everyday wear. Juxtaposing shots of Ioveno at work replacing the heels and soles of shoes as he explains the circumstances that have compelled to accept a profit-sharing arrangement as a sub-store to a dry cleaning service after his original shop was burned down in a suspicious fire, Todd illustrates the ramifications of short-sighted consumerism, where a disposable economy driven by novelty and affordability has supplanted the intangible ideals of workmanship and durability.

In the third part, service station owner and Corvette restorer, Joe Lamberti places his struggle to remain financially afloat within the context of the town's rapidly transforming economic landscape, as generations-owned buildings and family businesses continue to fold, replaced by corporate chain stores capable of bankrolling increasingly prohibitive rental and operating costs. Commenting on the changing face of automotive repair that has created a highly competitive market for computer savvy mechanics capable of troubleshooting the complex electronics systems of modern day automobiles, Lamberti's observation echoes the sentiment of Brzezinski and Ioveno, a sense that craftsmanship has become outmoded and irrelevant in the conduct of day to day business in their struggle for survival, where profitability lies in impersonal, high volume transactions, indistinguishability, and planned obsolescence.

Posted by acquarello on May 24, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Robert Todd

May 14, 2008

Japanese Girls at the Harbor, 1933

japanese_harbor.gifMy first impressions of Hiroshi Shimizu's films during the Shochiku At 100 New York Film Festival sidebar were the agility of his camera movements that favorably compared to Kenji Mizoguchi's tensile dolly shots, and a lightness of touch in the development of the narrative that, like Yasujiro Ozu's cinema, converges towards gravitas without being abrupt or contrived. In hindsight, these early observations would also hold true for Shimizu's Japanese Girls at the Harbor, a film that, like his early masterpiece, Ornamental Hairpin, is propelled by a moment of carelessness that would have far reaching consequences for its characters. Set in Yokohama, Shimizu illustrates the ebb and flow of life in the port town through the opening montage - an establishing shot of an international passenger ship docked on the harbor that cuts to a pair of high school students, Sunako (Michiko Oikawa) and Dora (Yukiko Inoue), who stop by an overlook every afternoon on their way home from school to watch ships go by, daydreaming of exotic destinations as they wait for their life to begin, even as they resign to the mundanity of their own probable futures. "Watching ships make me feel sad. Maybe I belong here", remarks Sunako. But Sunako's destiny would lie elsewhere, away from her devoted childhood friend, as she vies for the affection of a fickle-hearted neighborhood boy, Henry (Ureo Egawa), who has fallen under the spell of a worldly temptress, Yoko Sheridan (Ranko Sawa). Driven to despair after losing Henry to her rival, Sunako's metaphoric fall from grace begins, not coincidentally, at a church - an impulsive act that would lead to her self-imposed exile. Drifting from Nagasaki to Kobe in the company of a penniless artist, Miura (Tatsuo Saito), Sunako seems destined to lead a disreputable life away from home until a fellow prostitute, Masumi (Yumeko Aizome) convinces her to make a new start in her hometown, and soon faces the ghosts of her unreconciled past. Shimizu visually reinforces the idea of resurrected ghosts by using dissolves to indicate ellipses (of exiting characters) during the latter half of the film, first in the image of the brothel patron, Harada (Yasuo Nanjo) who leaves when Sunako gives her undivided attention to Henry, then subsequently, Henry, who is chased away by Miura when he accompanies Sunako to the door of her apartment. The convergence between past and present is also reflected in the recurring, stationary shot progression - both as close-up and zoom out - that punctuates Sunako and Yoko's fateful encounters, reinforcing both the tension in their confrontation as well as their parallel destinies (a connection that is also suggested in a linear tracking shot of the two women looking out the windows of their apartments). Concluding with Ozu-like, pillow shots of mooring and discarded portraits in the harbor, the tranquil images reflect Sunako's newfound liberation and transformation, a moral redemption enabled by sacrifice, compassion, humility, and self-forgiveness.

Posted by acquarello on May 14, 2008 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2008, Hiroshi Shimizu

Katatsumori, 1994

katatsumori.gifWhile shadows and empty spaces pervade Naomi Kawase's search for her absent father in Embracing, the images in Katatsumori are tactile and suffused in light - a stark contrast that conveys Kawase's deep affection towards her 80 year old maternal great aunt and adoptive mother, Uno. In hindsight, the implied coldness of the film's preface - a shot of a letter written by Kawase's biological mother expressing birthday greetings, a reminder to be a dutiful daughter to her father at a time of crisis, and a token gift of spending money for the occasion - serves as a foil for the reverence and tenderness that would subsequently define Kawase's animated gaze. Indeed, in its collage of fragmentary snapshots of everyday life, chance conversations, and moments of levity, Katatsumori is the converse of the terse birthday note from mother to daughter that opens the film - a love letter from child to parent (whom Kawase calls "grandma") expressed through mundane images and quotidian observation. As in Embracing, Uno is often framed within the context of her garden, linking her love of gardening with her broader role in Kawase's life as kindred spirits, provider, and protector: a figurative connection between nature and nurture that is underscored in her playful request for Uno's next pea harvest (preserved from the previous year's crop) as her present, noting the coincidental convergence of her upcoming 25th birthday and the maturation of the planted seeds in the spring. Visually, Kawase illustrates their intimacy through repeated, often extreme close-ups of her great aunt, recording the idiosyncratic gestures and contours of Uno's face with the curiosity and fascination for a shared personal history: an implied connectedness (and continuity) that culminates in a shot of Kawase filming Uno while she picks peas from a garden following Uno's pensive recording over their evolving relationship. Moreover, Kawase introduces the idea of imprint as a reflection of personal legacy, initially, in a shot of Uno scrawling her name and age on a piece of clapboard, then subsequently, in the condensation of Kawase's handprint pressed against the window as she listens to a recorded message in her great aunt's absence. Juxtaposed against a shot of the pair playfully engaging in a naming game, the assignment of names represents Kawase's own journey towards her identity as well, where the arbitrariness of fate is reinforced by an act of mutual validation.

Posted by acquarello on May 14, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Naomi Kawase

May 4, 2008

Embracing, 1992

embracing.gifNaomi Kawase's Embracing is both an evocation of, and disjunction from, Jonas Mekas's diaristic memory films, a journey in search of a lost past through the empty spaces and resigned silence of an unreconciled - and incomplete - present. This sense of absence and longing is revealed in the film's opening sequence: the sight of a traditional Japanese domestic setting (and reinforced by a shot montage of meal preparation), prefaced by a lighted sign for a restaurant called "Bar Happiness", that is juxtaposed against an audio recording of Kawase's unseen maternal relative who expresses her resistance at Naomi's intention to search for her biological father who had abandoned the family, briefly alluding to Naomi's separation from her mother following her parents' divorce and adoption by her great uncle and aunt, Kaneishi and Uno Kawase. By framing her well-intentioned aunt's argument for the integrity of the extended family support system that has nurtured Naomi throughout her entire life (and the potential fissures that may unwittingly be introduced into that fragile network by dredging up the past) through the image association (and dissociation) of happiness, home, and absence, Kawase metaphorically illustrates her essential disconnection with a lost, untold history. Incorporating alternating images of nature - flowers in bloom, insects in the field, and verdant landscapes - with contemporary images of her adoptive mother as the two look for information on her father's identity through family archives and photo albums, Kawase introduces the idea of nature as an eternal, but mutable representation of human cycles. This intersection is further reinforced in a picture of Kawase's biological parents, Kiyonobu Yamashiro and Emiko Takeda as a young couple that cuts to a shot of a flower in bright sunlight, that is subsequently contrasted to the image of a similar row of flowers against the darkness of forming rain clouds as her great aunt remembers the unpleasantness of her parents' break-up. Moreover, using high contrast to frame an episode featuring a little girl playing with a tadpole in a puddle of water, Kawase not only illustrates this symbiotic relationship between nature and human history, but also conveys the sense of rupture intrinsic in the idyllic image - the apparent absence of the child's mother. Revisiting her biological father's life by tracing his residential registration records over the past twenty years, Kawase places corresponding photographs from her own childhood, initially, as a figurative bridge between past and present within a depopulated landscape, then subsequently, as a reflection of the physical and emotional separation between father and daughter (a distance that is also symbolized by the recurring images of shadows against the landscape). Restless, curious, and impulsive in its fractured images, Embracing becomes an integral representation of Kawase's own search for identity: told, not through loosely interrelated pieces of an obscured personal history, but in the unarticulated silence of a brief, but transformative connection with the living present.

Posted by acquarello on May 04, 2008 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2008, Naomi Kawase

2008 NY Human Rights Watch International Film Festival Line-up


The 2008 New York Human Rights Watch International Film Festival has now been posted, and unlike previous years, this year's selection is a combination of premiering films as well as highlights from previous HRWIFF selections such as Anthony Giacchino's The Camden 28, Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez's La Sierra, Rithy Pahn's S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, and Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam's Dreaming Lhasa. Also, 2007 New York Film Festival Selection, Carmen Castillo's Calle Santa Fe is featured in the program.

Two films that I'm looking forward to this year are Maria Ramos's Behave and Senain Kheshgi and Geeta V. Patel's Project Kashmir. Ramos previously appeared in the HRWIFF program in 2005 with Justice, a sobering look at the Brazilian justice system in the style of Frederick Wiseman and Raymond Depardon. Kheshgi and Patel's film was featured as a work-in-progress screening at last year's festival, an insightful look at the Kashmir conflict from the disparate perspective of Southeast Asian-Americans, Muslim Kheshgi and Hindu Patel, whose lifelong friendship is gradually strained by their immersion into the heart of the regional conflict.

Posted by acquarello on May 04, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Quick Notes

March 25, 2008

Springtime: Three Portraits, 1976

springtime.gifA muted, yet provocative composition on the changing face of the labor movement - or more appropriately, its immobility - in Western Europe in the 1970s, Johan van der Keuken's Springtime: Three Portraits articulates the struggle of the working class under the protracted climate of an austere, stagnant global economy (stemming in part from the OPEC oil crisis) and industrial recession through first person testimonies and quotidian observations of society's increasingly fragile and economically vulnerable middle class. This sense of work time as stasis is prefigured in the opening shot of an impressive wall clock in the suburban home of unemployed garment factory foreman, Joop Uchtman in Den Helder who, despite his productive working relationship with the factory seamstresses under his supervision, was laid off during company downsizing, as local industries sought to shrink their higher waged domestic workforce in favor of overseas outsourcing as a means of reducing operational costs and retaining global competitiveness. Threading through Uchtman's alternately expressed pride at his work (and implied humiliation at having to become dependent on the state and his wife) and anxiety over the repercussions of his inability to find a new job on his young family, with his all too familiar daily routine of reporting to the labor office in person to confirm that he has not secured a job and is eligible to receive unemployment benefits, and seeking advice from a friend on the merits - and illusion - of enrolling in state-sponsored vocational retraining, the recurring image of the clock becomes, not only a metaphor for the bureaucratic rituals of his vain search to find a job, but also reminder of his expiring state-assisted benefits, the dream of a comfortable middle class life being slowly swept away with the swinging of the pendulum.

In Frankfurt, the intersection between past and present, history and memory is embodied in the establishing shot of social activist and former teacher, Doris Schwert listening to a reel tape recording of her father's wartime testimony as a partisan rebel and political prisoner who fought against the Fascists in Germany and Spain in the 1930s and 40s. Instilled with her father's socialist ideals of solidarity and worker empowerment, Schwert's student radicalism and subsequent political engagement as a young teacher had drawn increasing concern from school administrators and West German officials who saw her ties to the communist party as tantamount to an act of ideological sabotage in the waging of the Cold War. Contrasting the images of protest graffiti demanding the reinstatement of the blacklisted, left-leaning teachers at her former school with recruitment posters tacked near empty classrooms that paradoxically tout equal opportunity to job seekers even with such insidious former affiliations as the Nazi party and wartime service in the SS, van der Keuken presents the idea of work time as historical recursion, where lessons from the past are whitewashed and reinvented to conform to the sociopolitical and economic expediencies of an amnesic present, a sobering reality that is punctuated by the chapter's concluding, intercutting shot of a confectionery store window display that is lined with premium chocolate Easter baskets and archival footage of a postwar Frankfurt street in ruins, the metaphoric resurrection of a national soul, fueled not by moral enlightenment, but exploitation and consumerism.

The near wordless Amsterdam closing chapter chronicles a day in the work life of metal worker, Jan Van Haagen, from his early morning suburban commute on his bicycle, to the bellowing of a factory horn that signals the official start of the work day (a sound akin to an air raid signal that also recalls the image of wartime Europe introduced in the Frankfurt chapter), to the union-synchronized meal break, to a passing anecdote of a senior co-worker's health problems that led to an early death after refusing to use an exhaust hood during welding operations (in favor of the company's earlier policy of instituting milk breaks as a means of bolstering employee health after working with hazardous materials), to the closing of the workshop in the afternoon. As in the Den Helder chapter, the clock becomes a recurring motif, marking through the workers' prescribed labor and break schedule with the monotonous ritual of fabrication and assembly. Framed against the image of a constantly turning exhaust vent on the facing wall of the building, the juxtaposition between the factory clock and the exhaust fan illustrates the idea of work time as a cultivated environment for social as well as technological progress, a humanization of industrial production.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 25, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Johan van der Keuken

March 17, 2008

The Power of Emotion, 1983

power_emotion.gifA subtly interconnecting mosaic of staged vignettes, non-fiction footage, archival prints, and found film excerpts, Alexander Kluge's The Power of Emotion is an organic, densely layered meditation on the intangible (and often irrational) essential mechanism of human emotion. At the core of Kluge's exposition is the interrelation between two disparate observations: 1) that objects, in their materiality, are the opposite of emotion; and 2) that emotions, by nature, search for a happy ending. The illogical nature of emotion is wryly illustrated in a chapter entitled The Shot in which a woman, Frau Bärlamm (Hannelore Hoger) testifying at an inquest over the apparent shooting of her husband, trivializes the gravity of her actions as an unmotivated compulsion, thereby frustrating the judges' attempts to find some psychologically motivated, extenuating circumstance that could help thread together the gaping holes in her story and resolve the case. Similarly, the disconnection between logic and emotion ironically plays out in In Her Final Hour..., when the victim, still harboring wounds from a badly ended love affair, refuses to condemn her attacker and unintentional rescuer following her opportunistic violation in the midst of suicide attempt, arguing that the emotional damage she suffered from her lover's rejection inured her from the trauma of the subsequent attack.

Motifs repeat in unexpected, yet coherent ways. The traditional construction of operatic tragedy inherent in Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto and Aida causes Kluge to observe, "In all operas dealing with redemption, a woman is sacrificed in Act V". The tragic irrationality of human despair during a high-rise building fire evokes the confusion of languages (and consequently, the confusion of emotions) created by the Tower of Babel, and is subsequently revisited in the chapter, The Opera House Fire, where a fireman, fascinated since childhood by a stage prop, sneaks into the burning building to catch a glimpse of its contents, the Holy Grail embodying the elusive quest. A woman's (Hannelore Hoger) eccentric, Chaplinesque appearance during an undefined interview is similarly reflected in a prostitute, Betty's (Suzanne von Borsody) excessive makeup, each suggesting the commerce of created desire. A tradesman's detailed explanation on proper bolting technique (itself, a crude visual metaphor to a woman's expressed wish to be handled by her husband as if he were a "repairman") resurfaces in the unusual weapon used during a robbery, representing both an object of fetish and an entwined fate that binds Betty and Schleich - the professional burglar who buys her freedom - to each other.

In the chapter The Power Plant of Emotions, Kluge expounds on the early images of music as the crystallization of grief (in the actual footage of a memorial service attended by Helmut Kohl), examining the role of opera in nineteenth century society as a medium for harnessing emotion: a projected scale reduced to the level of the personal (most notably, in the tragedy of the century old war between the Egyptians and the Ethiopians that is distilled to the triangular conflict of Aida). Juxtaposed against the construction of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London as a showcase for the Great Exhibition of 1851 that will display a collection of valuable, cutting edge products from around the world, the correlation between the opera house and the Victorian-era Crystal Palace reflects their intrinsic connection between the physical and the ethereal within the mindset of colonial (and Industrial Revolution) era contemporary society - a corrupted convergence of dissimilar ideals that is embodied in the opera singer's alchemic quest for eternal life in Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Case. In essence, the opera house and Crystal Palace have evolved into figurative temples that, like the Tower of Babel, reach towards the false idols of manufactured desire. Framed against the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace and short circuit fire of the opera house, their destruction becomes a metaphor for the redemption of emotion - disconnected from the material pursuit - a dismantling of the fifth act.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 17, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Alexander Kluge

March 8, 2008

2008 NY African Film Festival Line-up


The program for the 15th annual New York African Film Festival has been announced, and the opening night selection is the latest film from venerable independent filmmaker Charles Burnett entitled Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation, a biography of Namibia's first president and South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) leader, Sam Nujoma. The program runs from April 9-15 at the Walter Reade Theater, and continues through May at the French Institute Alliance Française and BAMcinématek.

Film Society of Lincoln Center (Walter Reade Theater)

Africa Paradis (Sylvestre Amoussou, 2007) screening with 1961 UK archival footage, Sierra Leone Independence - Africa Paradis seems to be following in the same vein as Pierre Yameogo's Me and My White Pal (featured in the 2005 NYAFF) on the plight of illegal immigrants, from the upended perspective of Europeans as illegal immigrants in Africa.
Fri Apr 11: 7:30 p.m.; Tue Apr 15: 7:45 p.m.

Shoot the Messenger (Ngozi Onwurah, 2006)
Thu Apr 10: 7:45 p.m.; Sat Apr 12: 9:30 p.m.

Ezra (Newton I. Aduaka, 2007) - A fiction film on a young man coming to terms with his experience as a child soldier during the protracted civil war in the Sierra Leone.
Wed Apr 9: 5:15 p.m.

Goodbye Mothers (Mohamed Ismail, 2007) - An examination of the peaceful coexistence between Muslim and Jews during the "Black Years of Emigration" in 1960s Morocco.
Sat Apr 12: 1:15 p.m.; Tues Apr 15: 5:30 p.m.

Juju Factory (Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda, 2006) - A film that explores the unreconciled history of Belgium's colonial past through the exoticization of contemporary Africa.
Thu Apr 10: 10:00 p.m.

Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation (Charles Burnett, 2007)
Wed Apr 9: 7:30 p.m.

Brothers in Arms (Jack Lewis, 2007) - A portrait of South African activist, Ronald Herboldt, who became the only African to participate in the Cuban Revolution.
Sat Apr 12: 7:30 p.m.; Tue Apr 15: 9:30 p.m.

Black Business (Osvalde Lewat-Hallade, 2007) - Known for her human rights-themed documentaries, Lewat-Hallade's film focuses on Cameroonian families who are still searching for information on their missing loved ones who disappeared during a government campaign in the 1990s.
Thu Apr 10: 5:45 p.m.; Tue Apr 15: 3:30 p.m.

Iron Ladies of Liberia (Daniel Junge and Siatta Scott Johnson, 2007) - A chronicle of the first elected female president in Africa, Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's first year in office following a fourteen year civil war.
Thu Apr 10: 1:15 p.m.

Cuba: An African Odyssey (Jihan El Tahir, 2006-2007)
Sun Apr 13: 9:30 p.m.

The African Slave Trades: Across the Indian Ocean (Diane Seligsohn and Richard Rein, 2007-2008)
Sat Apr 12: 5:30 p.m.; Sun Apr 13: 1:30 p.m.

Meteni: The Lost One (Wondessen Deresse, 2002) screening with Awaiting for Men (Katy Lena Ndiaye, Belgium, 2007)
Sat Apr 12: 3:30 p.m.; Tue Apr 15: 1:30 p.m.

Baa Baa Black Girl (Gül Büyükbeşe Muyan, 2007) screening with Bushman’s Secret (Rehad Desai, 2006) - Muyan's film is an examination of the legacy of slavery in Muslim countries from the perspective of descendant Afro-Turks who continue to face discrimination and social stigma decades after the abolition of slavery in the Middle East.
Wed Apr 9: 1:30 p.m.; Sun Apr 13: 3:30 p.m.

Fantôme Afrique (Isaac Julien, 2005) screening with This is My Africa (Zina Saro-Wiwa, 2008)
Fri Apr 11: 5:45 p.m.; Sun Apr 13: 7:45 p.m.

Meokgo and the Stick Fighter (Teboho Malatshi, 2006) screening with Bunny Chow (John Barker, 2006) - Malatshi's New Crowed Hope entry, Meokgo and the Stick Fighter was featured in the 2007 NYAFF Young Rebels shorts program, a sensual, gorgeously shot tone piece where imagination, humanity, and desire intersect in the austere grace of an eternal, unforgiving landscape.

Russian archival footage: Independently Guinea, The President of Guinea in the USSR, and Hello Guinea
Wed Apr 9: 3:45 p.m.; Sun Apr 13: 5:45 p.m.

French Institute Alliance Française

Buud Yam (Gaston J-M Kabore, 1997)
Tue May 6: 12:30 p.m.; 7:00 p.m.

Sarraounia (Med Hondo, 1986)
Tue May 6: 4:00 p.m.; 9:00 p.m.

Muna Moto (Jean-Pierre Dikongue-Pipa, 1974)
Tue May 13: 12:30 p.m.; 7:00 p.m.

Ali Zaoua (Nabil Ayouch, 2000)
Tue May 13: 4:00 p.m.; 9:00 p.m.

Barra (Souleymane Cisse, 1978)
Tue May 20: 12:30 p.m.; 7:00 p.m.

Drum (Zola Maseko, 2004)
Tue May 20: 4:00 p.m.; 9:00 p.m.

Homage to Ousmane Sembène - A tribute to the late filmmaker that includes a screening of Mamadou Niange's work in progress film, In Memory of Ousmane Sembène, Sembène's first film, Borom Sarret, and a panel conversation.
Tue May 27: 7:00 p.m.

Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAMcinématek)

African Shorts Program with Mama Put (Seke Somolu, 2006), Meokgo and the Stick Fighter (Teboho Malatshi, 2006) and Menged (Daniel Taye Workou, 2006)
Fri May 23: 6:50 p.m.; 9:15 p.m.

Les Saignantes (Jean-Pierre Bekolo, 2005)
Sat May 24: 6:50 p.m., 9:15 p.m.

Juju Factory (Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda, 2006)
Sun May 25: 2:00 p.m.; 6:50 p.m.

Growing Stronger (Tsitsi Dangarembga, 2005) screening with A Love During the War (Osvalde Lewat-Hallade, 2005) - Dangarembga's Growing Stronger was one of my favorites from last year's NYAFF (screened in the Women of Zimbabwe shorts program), a profile of two African women from opposite ends of the social spectrum living with HIV: a working class woman, Pamela Kanjenzana and former model and AIDS activist, Tendayi Westerhof.
Mon May 26: 6:50 p.m.; 9:15 p.m.

Clouds Over Conakry (Cheick F. Camara, 2007) - This was the opening film for the 2007 NYAFF, a nuanced look at how tradition and modernity often tenuously coexist in contemporary African society.
Sun May 25: 4:30 p.m.; 9:15 p.m.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 08, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Quick Notes

February 11, 2008

Lost, Lost, Lost, 1976

lost.gifIn Reel 2 of Lost, Lost, Lost, the first volume of Jonas Mekas's diary film, Diaries, Notes, and Sketches, Mekas's commentary of his early life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as an immigrant and refugee drifting from factory to factory, accepting a series of temporary jobs as an assembly worker is presented against a typewritten letter that poses the instability of his employment history within the broader question of his true character: "Is it in my nature, or did the war do that to me? [A]m I a born D.P. (Displaced Person) or did war make me into a D.P.?" For Mekas, the rootlessness and transience not only expresses an immigrant's homesickness caused by his physical separation from his native country and family (for reasons that are broached in Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania), but also a melancholy in realizing the impossibility of returning home again. A collage film in six reels shot between 1949 and 1963, of which the earliest footage was taken from a Bolex camera that Jonas and his brother Adolfas had purchased on loan a week after arriving to the United States under the immigration status of "Displaced Person" from Lithuania, Mekas's hesitant, measured commentary reveals a harbored sense of dislocation and estrangement that finds community in a shared, unarticulated longing and resignation to an innocence - and paradise - lost.

Not surprisingly, Mekas's earliest sequences are located within the (hollow) semblances of home itself, from portraits of fellow displaced persons who gather in silence at neighborhood parks and summer retreats in Stonybrook, Long Island, their wounded gazes betraying a despair over a distant homeland, to participating in cultural festivals that only serve to emphasize their dislocation, insularity, and quaint incongruity from cosmopolitan, modern-day New York City, to religious rites of passage that celebrate the continuity of family and ethnic traditions. In Reels 3 and 4, the refuge of sameness, commiseration, and impotent nostalgia that pervades the first two reels gives way to inspiration, liberation, and activism, evolving from the interiorization of grief (a loneliness that is reflected in Mekas's descriptions of his many long walks during his earliest days in New York) to the exteriorization of social commitment and action. Geographically, Mekas marks this transition through the brothers' relocation from Brooklyn to Manhattan, auspiciously on 13th Street in Greenwich Village, which also serves as an introduction to the creative community of artists such as poet Allen Ginsberg and filmmaker Ken Jacobs, and involvement in the nuclear disarmament campaign and the peace movement. Chronologically, this synthesis of creativity and politicization is reflected in the production of Mekas's experimental feature, Guns of the Trees (a time that also marks the filming of Adolfas's own feature, Hallelujah the Hills), as well as his assumed role as social documentarian, chronicling the zeitgeist of protest and unrest. In Reels 5 and 6, the development of Mekas's confidence as a filmmaker and integration into the New York art scene is reflected not only in his day-to-day experimentation (in particular, a playful, wandering camera self-portrait that suggests an embryonic version of Frans Zwartjes's Living) but in his equally comical attempts to be admitted to (or more appropriately, crash) the Robert Flaherty Seminar. In essence, Mekas's transformation becomes tied to his relationship with the creation (and resolution) of fixed images: first, in its frozen (and implicitly idealized) memories of a lost homeland, then subsequently, in the apparatus of capturing transience and passage within his own elusive (and often tangential) journey home. This idea of human experience coming, not to full circle, but to non-intersecting, collinear points within a spiral continuum is poetically encapsulated in the footage of Mekas filming his friends at a Long Island beach where, years earlier, he had visited with people from the Lithuanian expatriate community. Replacing black and white with color film, displaced persons with artists, Mekas captures the integral image of the artist as perpetual observer, outsider, and exile.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 11, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Jonas Mekas

February 5, 2008

2008 Rendez-vous with French Cinema Line-up


The line-up for the 2008 Rendez-vous with French Cinema has been announced and this year's selection looks very promising. I'm especially thrilled to see Nicolas Klotz's La Question Humaine, a film that re-teams Klotz with author Elisabeth Perceval (which incidentally, dovetails nicely with Klotz and Perceval's appearance at MoMA later in the evening for La Blessure). I'm also greatly looking forward to Noémie Lvovsky's Let's Dance (her earlier film Les Sentiments was a highlight of the 2004 Rendez-vous program), Christophe Honoré's Love Songs, and Cédric Klapisch's Paris, as well as the directorial debut of one of my favorite actresses, Sandrine Bonnaire with Her Name Is Sabine.

Roman de gare, Claude Lelouch, 2007 (Opening Night)
WRT: Fri Feb 29: 6:30 pm and 9:00 pm
IFC: Sat Mar 1: 7:00pm

Ain’t Scared / Regarde-moi, Audrey Estrougo, 2007
WRT: Sun Mar 2: 3:30; Wed Mar 5: 1:30pm
IFC: Tue Mar 4: 9:30pm

All Is Forgiven / Tout est pardonné, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2007
WRT: Fri Mar 7: 8:45pm; Sat Mar 8: 4:00pm
IFC: Thu Mar 6: 9:30pm

Fear(s) of the Dark / Peur(s) du noir, Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti & Richard McGuire, 2008
WRT: Sat Mar 8: 9:00pm; Sun Mar 9: 1:30pm
IFC: Sat Mar 1: 9:30pm

The Feelings Factory / La Fabrique des sentiments, Jean-Marc Moutout, 2008
WRT: Tue Mar 4: 8:45pm; Wed Mar 5: 4:00pm; Sun Mar 9: 6:15pm
IFC: Sun Mar 2: 8:45pm

The Grocer’s Son / Le Fils de l’épicier, Eric Guirado, 2007
WRT: Wed Mar 5: 6:30pm; Thu Mar 6: 3:15pm; Fri Mar 7: 6:30pm
IFC: Tue Mar 4: 7:00pm

Heartbeat Detector / La Question humaine, Nicolas Klotz, 2007
WRT: Fri Feb 29: 3:30pm; Sun Mar 2: 8:45pm
IFC: Sat Mar 1: 3:45pm

Her Name Is Sabine / Elle s’appelle Sabine, Sandrine Bonnaire, 2007
WRT: Sat Mar 1: 1:30pm; Wed Mar 5: 8:45pm
IFC: Sun Mar 2: 3:30pm

Let’s Dance! / Fait que ça danse!, Noémie Lvovsky, 2007
WRT: Fri Feb 29: 1:00pm; Sat Mar 1: 9:15pm
IFC: Sun Mar 2: 1:00pm

Love Songs / Les Chansons d’amour, Christophe Honoré, 2007
Sun Mar 2: 1:00pm; Tue Mar 4: 1:00pm and 6:15pm
IFC: Mon Mar 3: 7:30pm

Paris, Cédric Klapisch, 2008
WRT: Sat Mar 1: 6:15pm; Tue Mar 4: 3:15pm
IFC: Sun Mar 2: 5:45pm

A Secret / Un secret, Claude Miller, 2007
WRT: Sat Mar 1: 3:45pm; Sun Mar 2: 6:00pm
IFC: Fri Feb 29: 7:30pm

Shall We Kiss? / Un baiser s’il vous plaît, Emmanuel Mouret, 2007
WRT: Fri Mar 7: 4:00pm; Sat Mar 8: 1:30pm; Sun Mar 9: 8:45pm
IFC: Thu Mar 6: 7:00pm

Those Who Remain / Ceux qui restent, Anne Le Ny, 2007
WRT: Thu Mar 6: 1:00pm; Sat Mar 8: 6:30pm; Sun Mar 9: 3:45pm
IFC: Sat Mar 1: 1:45pm

Trivial / La Disparue de Deauville, Sophie Marceau, 2007
WRT: Thu Mar 6: 8:15pm; Fri Mar 7: 1:30pm
IFC: Wed Mar 5: 7:30pm

Posted by acquarello on Feb 05, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Quick Notes

February 3, 2008

Kharij (The Case Is Closed), 1982

kharij.gifThe second film in Mrinal Sen's thematically connected "absence trilogy" (along with Ek Din Pratidin and Ek Din Achanak) that examine the implications of a person's unexpected disappearance from a middle-class household on the family's moral consciousness, Kharij expounds on the trilogy's clinical and uncompromising social critique of entrenched, dysfunctional bourgeois values and materialistic privilege that have led to indifference, discrimination, insularity, and exploitation. This prevailing attitude of entitlement and commodification is foretold in the film's opening sequence: a conversation between an unseen couple from the back of a taxicab as the man offers to buy anything the woman desires after their marriage - a new apartment, car, wardrobe, or television set - only to be coddled with a declaration that all she needs in life to be happy is to be with him. The scene then cuts to the insightful image of the same man, Anjan (Anjan Dutt) a few years later, shaving in front of a mirror as he poses a nearly identical question to his wife, Mamata (Mamata Shankar) with the idea of using some of their disposable income from their successful careers to make their domestic lives easier. On a whim, Mamata proposes that they take in a houseboy who can help break coals for the stove, run errands, and be an attendant and playmate to their young son Pupai (Indranil Moitra) - a pragmatic request that, as Anjan subsequently rationalizes, would not only cost them little in terms of wages, but also in expenses, since he will invariably eat less than an adult house servant. Enlisting the aid of a neighbor's servant, Ganesh, the couple visits the home of a widowed father named Haran, who because of recent famine in their rural village, is forced to send his son Palan away to work in order to provide income for the family and ensure that he will, at least, have enough to eat. However, when Palan succumbs to carbon monoxide poisoning one December morning after having sought refuge from the cold weather in the relative warmth of an unventilated kitchen, and the police are called into the apartment building in order to investigate the circumstances surrounding the boy's death from apparently unnatural causes, Anjan and Mamata are forced to confront their own culpability in the senseless tragedy, even as they attempt to preserve their dignity, bristle at the inconvenience that Palan's death has caused them, and attempt to defuse a potential scandal in the face of prying eyes and opportunists in the neighborhood.

As in Ek Din Pratidin, the atmosphere of tension and menace in Kharij serves as a framework for subverted expectation. Structurally, Sen establishes this pervasive sense of uncertainty from the beginning of the film, in the unseen lovers' conversation that plays out against the image of the back of the taxi driver's head - a prefiguring metaphor for what would prove to be an exposition into the couple's subconscious that is also suggested in the image of Anjan in the mirror (in essence, his self-reflection), and is reinforced in the couple's repeated, amplified calls to wake Palan and subsequently, in the neighbors' attempt to break through the kitchen door when the boy fails to respond. Similarly, the protracted police inquest also reflects this anxiety by raising the specter of possible charges being brought as a result of the couple's negligence (and which, in turn, Anjan is quick to divert the blame on his landlord by seizing on a police officer's observation that a ventilator had not been installed in the kitchen), as well as the insinuation by a group of bystanders into the couple's home after surrounding Anjan on the street under the ruse of asking what happened. But beyond facile illustrations of deflected responsibility among inconsiderate employers and frugal landlords, Sen also exposes an endemic culture of collective accountability, where exploitation of the poor and the weak are rationalized not only by economic necessity, but also socially enabled by an impotent intellectualism that reinforces the status quo - an implied complicity that is articulated in a passing conversation between two university educated men who see the tragedy as a moral imperative and propose conducting a seminar on the subject of child labor as a means of taking up the cause. Moreover, by chronicling Anjan's desperate attempts to save face with the help of his influential neighbor (Bimal Chakraborty) by making accommodations for Palan's father to stay for the night (a courtesy that the couple never extended to his son, who slept behind the open stairwell, along with the landlords' houseboy, Hari (Dehapratim Das Gupta)), commenting to his consulting lawyer (Charuprakash Ghosh) that Palan was treated like a member of the family (a claim that the lawyer immediately refutes by citing his deplorable sleeping conditions, and Anjan's accusatory posture in his reference to Palan's earlier bout of illness as the boy having previously caused "trouble"), and attending Palan's funeral rites (albeit to verify that the mourners do not publicly denounce him in his absence), Sen illustrates a pattern of self-interest and denial that intrinsically reveals Anjan's struggle to confront his own guilt - an internal conflict that manifests itself in irrational fears that never materialize. It is the persistence of inerasable guilt that is evoked in the jarring soundtrack that accompanies Anjan's final encounter with Palan's father on the staircase leading to their apartment after performing their purification ritual, an invocation of unreconciled ghosts that reside, not in the realm between life and death, but in the recesses of a haunted conscience.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 03, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Mrinal Sen

January 27, 2008

O Sangue, 1989

osangue.gifPerhaps the most overtly Bressonian of Pedro Costa's body of work (albeit suffused with the brooding shadows of a Jacques Tourneur film), Costa's first feature, O Sangue, nevertheless bears the characteristic imprint of what would prove to be his familiar preoccupations: absent parents, surrogate families, unreconciled ghosts, the trauma and violence of displacement, the ache (and isolation) of longing. The thematic convergence is insightfully revealed in an episode that occurs near the end of the film, when the older brother Vicente (Pedro Hestnes), having been held captive by his father's nefarious associates on New Year's Eve in a half-baked attempt to collect his father's unpaid debt from him, awakens in the darkness of an unfamiliar apartment to the sight of a restless silhouette on the balcony - the shadow cast by his father's mistress (Isabel de Castro) that has been made spectral and incandescent by the transient glow of exploding fireworks and the sweep of wind against translucent curtains (a sense of otherworldliness that also reinforces a captor's earlier idea of conducting a séance in order to contact Vincente's missing father). Costa establishes this sinister atmosphere of sudden, erupted violence in the film's opening sequence: the prefiguring sound of a slammed door and scurrying feet that subsequently reveals a frontal shot of Vicente on a muddy road as he is suddenly slapped by his wayward father while intentionally blocking his path, trying to prevent him for leaving by imploring him to show consideration towards his younger brother Nino (Nuno Ferreira) who has been left home alone in the middle of night in pursuit of him. Cutting to the image of Vicente riding his scooter through the empty streets at twilight, and subsequently, the schoolteacher, Clara's (Inês de Medeiros) realization that a student, Rosa (Sara Breia) has run away from school with Nino, the image of dislocation and fugue also becomes a resurfacing idea, a reflection of the characters' own desire to reinvent and transform in the aftermath of loss that is reflected in Nino's impulsive attempt to rearrange the furniture, and his subsequent request to similarly dress Vicente in his clothing while accompanying him to school after their father's disappearance (a longing for change that is also implied in Clara's selection of a new haircut for Nino). However, when Vicente and Nino's skeptical uncle (Luís Miguel Cintra) pays a visit and finds the brothers home alone on Christmas Eve with Clara, his heavy-handed, if well-intentioned decision to take Nino away from home and form a new family with his fragile son Pedro (Miguel Fernandes) would lead the brothers into their own journeys of self-discovery in their isolated quest to return to their broken home.

It is interesting to note that in illustrating the brothers' (as well as Clara's) subverted attempts at escapism (and figurative erasure) - the persistence of a haunted past (an apparent allusion to Tourneur) that is ingeniously reinforced in the discovery of a body on the lake near the fairgrounds where Vicente and Clara go on a date - Costa introduces the idea of an irrepressible, hidden history that continues to haunt present-day consciousness. Costa expounds on this theme of place as the eternal witness to a deracinated history in evoking Cape Verde's tragic legacy (as leprosarium and slave port) in the moral contamination of the forgotten residents in Casa de Lava, as well as the concentration camps of Tarrafal (in Tarrafal and The Rabbit Hunters) that perpetuate a sense of moribund captivity to a contaminated, dying land. Similarly, the contrast between the abandoned, rural family home and the sterile, anonymous apartment buildings where the brothers are held against their will in O Sangue may be seen as a prefiguration of the Fonthainas diaspora itself, from the transitory sanctuary embodied by dilapidated, condemned spaces (In Vanda's Room), to the soullessness of uprooted communities represented by impersonal, high density, public housing (Colossal Youth). In this respect, Vicente and Nino's instinctual struggle to escape also represents a moral captivity to a traumatic history, an elusive homecoming that paradoxically embodies both liberation and surrender to the will of fate.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 27, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Pedro Costa

January 21, 2008

Umut, 1970

umut.gifPart social realism in its searing depiction of the plight of the underprivileged against the transforming economy of an increasingly modernized Turkey, and part poetic essentialism in its psychological portrait of a desperate man succumbing to the mania of a delusive, blind faith, Yilmaz Güney and Serif Gören's Umut (Hope) captures the precarious atmosphere of a nation at a political and economic crossroads. The cultural climate of transformation and renewal is prefigured in the film's opening montage - an impromptu city symphony created by the early morning rituals of road washing trucks, sidewalk sweepers, street vendors, billboard gazers (not coincidentally, all advertising banking institutions), and waiting taxicabs that play out against a dozing Cabbar (Yilmaz Güney), an uneducated cart driver waiting in the wings of a station for commuters to arrive at the terminal. Immediately, the passengers' selected mode of transportation reveals an intrinsically bifurcated society, as people wearing modern, Western attire make their way towards a row of idling taxis, while people dressed in traditional clothing invariably board horse-drawn carriages lining the front of the station...that is, all except for Cabbar's shabby and woefully old-fashioned cart. Already leading a hardscrabble existence as the family's sole provider - one that includes five children whose financial demands for school expenses and playful whims are often weighed against the more fundamental needs of having enough food to eat and proper health care for an elderly parent - and plagued by compounding debts that have accumulated in the course of establishing (and maintaining) his out of fashion livelihood, his situation takes a further turn for the worse when a roadside accident delivers a tragic, final blow to his already struggling enterprise. Left without a means of earning a living, Cabbar follows the advice of his unemployed friend, Hasan (Tuncel Kurtiz) and seeks guidance from Hüseyin Hodja (Osman Alyanak), a mystical imam and village faith healer who would soon lead him away from his family in search of an elusive, ever-shifting panacea amidst the desolation and rubble of a parched, forgotten land.

In a way, Umut may be seen as an adumbration of Djibril Diop Mambéty's Le Franc in its cautionary tale of an insoluble debt that has metastasized into a vicious circle of delusion and gullibility, and the parasitic dependency created by institutionalized, arbitrary, windfall mechanisms that systematize poverty and disenfranchisement. This moral passivity (and consequently, victimization) is introduced in the establishing images of Cabbar: initially, through an incisive shot that frames a wash truck approaching his cart as he sleeps in the foreground, figuratively washing him away, in his oblivion, from the streets in the automated sweep of modernization; then subsequently, from his repeated requests to check his lottery ticket at a newsstand against the day's winning numbers, unable to read the posted numbers on the newspaper himself. At each instance, Cabbar's daily ritual is presented against undermining acts of intervention that render his apparent self-reliance an illusion. Visually, Güney and Gören reflect this rupture between perception and reality through the jarring juxtaposition of interstitial, highly formalized, chiaroscuro landscape shots (often resembling cutout animation) against rough hewn, neorealistic images of struggle and despair. Moreover, Cabbar's decision to follow Hodja's visions also represents a conscious, if unwitting, disempowerment in lieu of direct action and sociopolitical engagement: a rejection that is also suggested in his recusal from a planned cart driver strike, citing the confiscation of his vehicle. In essence, Cabbar's relegation of destiny into the hands of impotent fate reveals an underlying social schism - a division that is implied in the foreshadowing shot between modernity and tradition at the station - that, in turn, exposes the folly of inaction. Concluding with the image of a blindfolded Cabbar aimlessly turning in circles to divine his fortune, Umut illustrates that despair lies, not in the absence of hope, but in its hollow, inert persistence.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 21, 2008 | | Filed under 2008

January 18, 2008

2008 Film Comment Selects Program Line-up


The 2008 Film Comment Selects program has just been announced. Highlights include the opening night screening of Jacques Rivette's latest film, The Duchess of Langeais, a late night screening of George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, the retrospective screenings of Philippe Garrel's J’entends plus la guitare and Trent Harris's Rubin and Ed, a spotlight on Richard Fleischer, and a sampling of Damon Packard's unclassifiable cinema. The closing night will feature Alex Cox's Walker and Searchers 2.0.

George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero)
Thu Feb 14: 10:30pm

The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette)
Fri Feb 15: 6:00pm

The Banishment (Andrei Zvyagintsev)
Mon Feb 18: 6:00pm; Wed Feb 20: 3:00pm; Mon Feb 25: 2:00pm

Before I Forget (Jacques Nolot)
Sun Feb 17: 6:45pm; Thu Feb 21: 3:15pm

Boarding Gate (Olivier Assayas)
Fri Feb 15: 9:45pm

Chop Shop (Ramin Bahrani)
Mon Feb 18: 9:00pm

Container (Lukas Moodysson)
Tue Feb 26: 2:15pm and 9:15pm

Dark Matter (Chen Shi-zheng)
Wed Feb 27: 8:15pm; Thu Feb 28: 1:00pm

Dust (Hartmut Bitomsky)
Wed Feb 20: 6:15pm

The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin)
Sat Feb 23: 4:30pm

Ex Drummer (Koen Mortier)
Sat Feb 16: 10:00pm; Tue Feb 19: 3:30pm

Flash Point (Wilson Yip)
Sun Feb 17: 9:00pm; Tue Feb 19: 1:30pm; Fri Feb 22: 4:00pm

Frontière(s) (Xavier Gens)
Fri Feb 22: 9:00pm; Wed Feb 27: 2:15pm

Import Export (Ulrich Seidl)
Sun Feb 17: 1:30pm; Wed Feb 20: 8:15pm

Inside (Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo)
Sun Feb 24: 9:00pm; Tue Feb 26: 4:00pm; Wed Feb 27: 6:30pm

Joy Division (Grant Gee)
Sat Feb 16: 7:30pm; Wed Feb 27: 4:30pm

Schindler’s Houses (Heinz Emigholz)
Sun Feb 24: 3:45pm

Wolfsbergen (Nanouk Leopold)
Sat Feb 16: 5:30pm; Mon Feb 18: 4:00pm; Wed Feb 20: 1:00pm

A Wonderful World (Luis Estrada)
Sun Feb 17: 4:15pm; Mon Feb 18: 1:30pm; Fri Feb 22: 1:30pm

J’entends plus la guitare (Philippe Garrel)
Mon Feb. 25: 8:30pm

Rubin and Ed (Trent Harris)
Sat Feb 23: 7:00pm

Mandingo (Richard Fleischer)
Sat Feb 23: 2:00pm

10 Rillington Place (Richard Fleischer)
Thu Feb 21: 1:00pm; Sun Feb 24: 1:30pm

Reflections of Evil (Damon Packard)
Fri Feb 22: 6:15pm

Damon Packard’s Greatest Hits (Damon Packard)
Sun Feb 24: 6:00pm

Walker (Alex Cox)
Thu Feb 28: 6:30pm

Searchers 2.0 (Alex Cox)
Thu Feb 28: 8:30pm

Posted by acquarello on Jan 18, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Quick Notes

January 15, 2008

Screening Alert: Nicolas Klotz's La Blessure at MoMA

blessure_moma.gifThis is a quick note that Nicolas Klotz's La Blessure will be screening at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC as part of the Pierre Chevalier program, The Age of Chevalier. This was my favorite film from 2005, and is one that I continue think about, especially in light of incidents like the Amsterdam airport fire and the civil suit of a deported asylum seeker in 2005. I can't recommend it highly enough. Filmmaker Nicolas Klotz and screenwriter (and author) Elisabeth Perceval will introduce the film.

Screening on February 29, 2008 at 8:15 p.m at MoMA Titus 1.

P.S. Here's the link to the French trailer for the film that Harry Tuttle alerted me to. (Thanks again, HT!)

Posted by acquarello on Jan 15, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Quick Notes

January 13, 2008

Voyage to Nowhere, 1986

voyage_nowhere.gif"One should remember", reflects a somber, elderly Carlos Galván (José Sacristán) at the beginning of Voyage to Nowhere as he listens to an old recording by popular folk musicians, the Trío Calaveras. Commenting on the melancholic lyrics of denial and abandonment of a shared history in the aftermath of lost love, Carlos, too, seems to betray traces of his own uncertain memory in his tentative identification of the song's title. Alternating between past and present, Carlos recounts his former career as a comedian in the family's road theater variety show in 1950s Spain, a difficult, but beloved vocation that even briefly held the possibility of becoming a family tradition when Carlos's estranged teenaged son, Carlito (Gabino Diego) unexpectedly arrives to stay with him for an extended visit, much to the consternation of Carlos's lover and fellow performer, Juanita (Laura del Sol). But Carlito's introduction into the life of itinerant actors would prove to be far removed from the workings of divine providence. Showing little interest in the flamboyant costumes and spectacle of variety theater (calling their exaggerated performance "ridiculous") in favor of the austerity of neorealism that infused the New Spanish Cinema of the 1950s, Carlito also proves to be unsuited for a career as a stage actor with his awkward poise, poor memorization skills, and self-consciousness over his Galician accent. Faced with an uncertain future of continued government censorship, non-committal, short-term contracts, and last minute cancelled engagements (including one unwittingly sparked by Carlito's flirtation with an impresario's daughter), the troupe's manager, Maldonado (Juan Diego) convinces the actors to follow the advice of an erstwhile rival turned successful filmmaker Solís (Simón Andreu) and capitalize on a film crew's forthcoming location shooting in the village to solicit work as extras in order to make ends meet. However, when family patriarch and veteran stage actor, Don Arturo (Fernando Fernán Gómez) is fired from the set after repeatedly delivering his lines with the conscious theatricality and emotive gestures all too familiar in his old-fashioned craft, the troupe is forced to confront its own continued viability in a livelihood that is quickly becoming a cultural relic in the reality of ever-dwindling audiences, separation, and insolvency.

An elegant prelude and illuminating companion piece to Carlos Saura's ¡Ay Carmela!, Fernando Fernán Gómez's Voyage to Nowhere chronicles the turning fortunes and endemic poverty that had befallen the itinerant, road theater performers during Franco-era Spain, resulting from both strictly enforced censorship within the regime's repressive agenda of instilling a selective national culture, and an out of favor, traditional form of entertainment against the popularity of a vital cinema. Weaving truth and fiction, memory and imagination, personal history and anecdotal transposition, Carlos's rambling memoirs reflect a nation's sense of disorientation and irreconcilable history under the shadow of the Franco regime as the country emerged from its isolation after years of political turmoil from the Civil War and the Second World War with a revisionist - and institutionally imposed - cultural identity. In a sense, the obsolescence of the road theater in the wake of popular, internationally influenced cinema is not only a supplanting of the artisanal with the technological, but also captures the public's sentiment of dislocation and penchant for escapism that, in turn, reflects a broader symptom for the country's social polarization and class stratification engendered by repressive policies of the ruling elite (an inhuman disparity that is also captured in Mario Camus's The Holy Innocents). It is within this incongruent image between the mundane and the exotic, fame and obscurity, that Carlos's imagined screen encounter with the iconic Marilyn Monroe becomes, not the fanciful delusion of an aging, forgotten actor, but the liberation of haunted memory in the equilibrium of time.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 13, 2008 | | Filed under 2008

January 6, 2008

The Adversary, 1972

adversary.gifWhile not as overtly political as contemporary filmmaker Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray's early 1970s films similarly capture the volatile climate of geopolitical unrest, profound social transformation, and domestic crisis stemming from the introduction of Naxalism into an increasingly radicalized Calcutta student movement. In a way, The Adversary represents this fomenting cultural revolution in its bracing idealism and cruel desperation. The film prefigures this atmosphere of destabilization and turbulence in its disorienting opening sequence: a high contrast, monochromatic negative image that follows a group of pall bearers making their way through the hallway and down the stairs of an apartment building, as a newly widowed woman, her face made unrecognizable by the transposition of black and white, laments her uncertain fate in the aftermath of her husband's death. Rapidly tracking towards a lone, seemingly luminescent figure made even more ethereal by the wafting of smoke, the image then reverses to reveal a somber Siddhartha (Dhritiman Chatterjee), the widow's son, standing near the edge of a smoldering funeral pyre. Siddartha's figurative embodiment of the commutation between darkness and light, life and death, individual and doppelgänger becomes a reflection of Calcutta's - and more broadly, the country's - bifurcated, postcolonial society as well.

This intersecting crisis of personal and national identity is initially suggested in Siddartha's encounter with an apprehensive job applicant at a crowded botanical survey recruiting office who frets over the likelihood of the interview being conducted entirely in English. Not surprisingly, the surreal opening sequence would prove to be a harbinger for Siddartha's unusual interview as well - a disjointed, three panel inquisition that would run the gamut from knowledge of civic history (in a question that exposes the country's at times reactionary sentiment towards British rule), to curricular proficiency, to existential purpose. But despite having answered their questions handily, Siddartha finds his hopes for a position within the company extinguished by the panel's reaction to his response over his expressed opinion on the most significant world event within the decade. Responding with the Vietnam War over the far less controversial advent of the moon landing, Siddartha proposes that the continued resistance of everyday Vietnamese people intrinsically reveals humanity's ennobled resilience and capacity for great struggle against insurmountable odds. However, rather than a comment celebrating the indomitability of the human spirit, the panel interprets his response as an indication of Marxist tendencies and a sympathetic approbation of the left movement, and curtly dismisses him from the interview. Spending his days in fruitless pursuit of dwindling job prospects, Siddartha witnesses first-hand the toll of poverty, radicalism, and cultural imperialism on a city in a state of perpetual flux: a matinee newsreel hailing the country's seemingly unreaching economic development under Indira Gandhi as the theater is thrown into chaos by the sound of a detonated terrorist bomb; his unemployed university friends' unapologetic theft of a charity collection can; the rampancy of Western tourism that reveals the country's ingrained, subordinate international status as a result of its colonized history; his sister's increasingly liberated (and consequently, publicly scandalous) behavior since becoming the family's sole breadwinner.

Based on the novel by Bengali author Sunil Gangopadhyay (who also wrote Days and Nights in the Forest), The Adversary is the second film in Ray's loosely defined Calcutta trilogy that portrayed the experiences of university-educated young men as they seek to establish their professional lives in the midst of social upheaval. From the introductory, dual image of Siddartha, Ray illustrates an upended society that has lost its identity and soul in the face of extremism and economic polarization. Visually, this dehumanization is revealed in the film's opening sequence, where the stark and otherworldly images reflect the often grotesque nature of the country's postcolonial transformation, as the country's emulation of Western paradigms as a means towards modernization and progress has led to an alienating and deeply divided culture of outmoded traditions and exploitive enterprise. Moreover, this image of a rended society is also reflected in the recurrence of fractured families throughout the film, from the death of Siddartha's father, to the rumored affair between Siddartha's sister and her married employer, to his friend's disclosed relationship with a common law wife, and finally, to his former classmate, Keya's (Jayshree Roy) strained relationship with her father following his decision to remarry his mistress after her mother's death. Concluding with a freeze frame of Siddartha on the balcony of a rural hotel in Balurghat, his journey from his beloved city is also a sentimental estrangement, a self-imposed exile from the entropy and dissonance of the city towards the reassuring, familiar cadence of a patient, eternal land.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 06, 2008 | | Comments (12) | Filed under 2008