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February 2008 Archives

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