Archive for May, 2007

Von Trier

May 28, 2007

A couple of nice articles on the more radical and leftist Positif magazine (as compared to its rival Cahiers) can be found here and here. Also, while watching La Strada, I was struck by how much Masina’s character looked like Bess in Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves. Rosenbaum’s article on Breaking the Waves confirms that Fellini’s character was indeed one of the influences (along with Dreyer’s The passion of Joan of Arc). In his book Trier on Von Trier, the Danish director mentions Dreyer and Fellini among his favorites, and expresses fascination for the Italian out-of-sync style sound dubbing (although I personally hate it). He also admits he was fond of Fellini when he was younger, but that the Italian director is someone that one abandons with age. Quite interesting.

Machuca

May 27, 2007

Socialism may be good for Chile, but not for us”, remarks Gonzalo’s father in Andres Wood’s Machuca, a film that starkly polarizes its foreground and background themes, the former being a coming of age in the lives of three individuals while the latter is the political turmoil of Chile in the years leading upto the 1973 coup against President Allende and his socialist government. The coup itself is not given much importance in the film; all we see are Pinochet’s four planes that are on the way to bombard the La Moneda. There are also snippets of interviews that Gonzalo watches on TV about the suicide of Allende using the gun gifted by Fidel Castro.

Gonzalo, hailing from a comfortable bourgeoisie family feels suffocated and claustrophobic around his family, and his feelings of confusion, irritation and anger towards his mother’s extra-marital affair with an older man further accentuate his yearning for emancipation. His participation in protests both for and against Allende are not because of any political idealogies; he doesn’t know yet what seperates him and Machuca in this society, only that something does. His friendship with Machuca and Silvana is a silent revolt against his mother and unknown to him, a revolt against his bourgeoisie life. It’s hard to call Machuca an impartial film, but it tries to be one.

The tumults of Gonzalo’s family are equally rivaled by Machuca’s family – both undesirable and problematic and serve as synecdoches of unstable societies. In one particular sequence, a mass of dead pigs are burned in St. Patrick’s school, where Gonzalo and Machuca study. The pigs, donated by a wealthy parent were meant for a farm that the students were harnessing, but one by one, they all start to die. “Such things happen”, says Father McEnroe when confronted by the parent. The intention was good, the outcome was not. The scene is reminiscent of Chile’s condition, which suffered under President Allende’s office.

Machuca evokes a tenderness towards the socialist government, and the final sequences of the film are shrewd and manipulative to accomplish that sensitivity. In a way, the manipulation can probably be justified since the cause is well-intentioned, but that strips the film off its impartial flavor. The title itself seems a little controversial as the focus is on Gonzalo and his cultivation of maturity and awareness of the Chile around him. But ultimately Machuca accomplishes that perfect blend of innocence and politics set in a world where neither can co-exist.

Fellini’s misunderstood Zampano

May 24, 2007

In La Strada, frequently thought to be the pivot in Fellini’s shift from Italian neo-realism to a more autobiographical, sardonic and lyrical mode of film making, Fellini’s focus is unambiguously the epicentric and towering Zampano, a nomad and humble artiste, as he calls himself. Traveling across the country in his caravan, his most famous act is to break a chain in two simply by expanding his lungs. His aide during these acts is the cherubic and mildly talented Gelsomina, aspiring to be an artiste herself. The other significant character in La Strada is ‘The Fool’, a latent, quirky and flamboyant character. La Strada is not a love story – there’s no strong depiction of love in any of the characters, and the film never alludes to any, except for the maternal love felt by Gelsomina’s mother during the early sequences of the film.

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What exactly then are the feelings that exist between these characters? Let’s take the case of Gelsomina and the Fool. Even from the initial moments when she sees him performing the balancing act, there is a sense of admiration in her face. There is no infatuation here, simply an admiration for the art and the artiste. His superior skills as compared to Zampano attracts Gelsomina to the Fool, and her aspiration is to be like him, not with him. She once accuses the Fool of unjustly jailing Zampano, though it was the Fool who had started the fight. There is clearly no love from the Fool’s part either, his moments with Gelsomina are fleeting and nothing more than the humorous insignificance he gives them. “But I don’t intend to take a girl on, I don’t need one”, he exclaims to Gelsomina.

The Fool himself is a bit vicious, visible in his verbal admonishes of Gelsomina, calling her ugly and face “more like an artichoke than a woman”. But the verbosity of his verbal taunts is markedly weaker than the physical abuses of Zampano. While this relationship between Gelsomina and the Fool may be regarded as inconsequential, the one that exists between her and Zampano is more complex. Gelsomina is visibly attracted to Zampano from the start, as is evident when she first wakes up next to him in the caravan. His neglect, indifference and frequent outbursts scare her away, but still there is an inkling of love, only that it never materializes.

2Zampano’s former relationship with her sister Rosa makes him safe and reliable, and this is why she trusts him instinctively. Further, there are feelings of sympathy, superiority and even a mild arrogance over Zampano, as she thinks that perhaps he’s fond of her or maybe he actually needs her. “Poor him” and “Who else but me could put up with him?” are her thoughts as she realizes this. These are the thoughts that prompt her to utter the words “Now I would even marry you”, said not with love but with an altruistic sympathy and understanding towards a man incapable of love.

Which leads us to the misunderstood caravan-hugging Zampano. Contained and limited within his brutal carapace, his mannerisms are often determined and shaped by the people around him. Irritated by Gelsomina and outraged at the Fool, Zampano surprisingly displays a meek regard and affection for those around him, feelings that are cunningly attenuated by Fellini for more brusque characteristics.

He is more or less indifferent towards Gelsomina, needing her definitely, but more importantly not hinging on her. She enlivens his act, makes it more vivid and accessible to the public and his possessiveness in this case may be more monetary than carnal. Zampano’s physical torments are frequently over-emphasized and told out of context. He only beats Gelsomina twice and both times the blows register as faint – the first time he uses a twig when Gelsomina doesn’t play the drums properly (clearly irritated since he teaches her thrice and she messes up every time), and the second time he beats her with his hands because she ran off. His beatings both times are not justified, but at least understandable because of his contrast with the emotionally fragile Gelsomina. His needs for her are mainly carnal and monetary, he never even fancies her, possibly because of how she looks – short stature, hair cut short and loose-fitting clothes, conveying more of a boyish charm than any conventional notions of a woman.

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He is not proud or egotistic and readily makes a fool of himself by deliberately mispronouncing “rifle” as “rilfe”, even having Gelsomina correct him in public, all for a comedy act. His well-intentioned feelings roughly include:

Generosity – Evident in the opening sequences of the film when he gives Gelsomina’s mother 10,000 lire (which the Fool later remarks “As much as that?” signifying that the cost was high). He also gives the family some extra money for salami, cheese and wine, calling himself “a generous sort”.

Thoughtfulness and Humility – Two incidents help establish this notion; His conversation with the widow during the marriage vignette, briefly enquiring about her eating posture and thoughts of remarrying and his manner of talk with the nuns later, when requesting to stay over for the night. He asks Gelsomina then to play for one of them and offers to cut wood for another, saying “I’ll do it. It’s not a job for you Sister”. Later he also thanks them as a humble artiste for the night’s stay.

Compassion, Guilt and Remorse – These are more prominent in the later parts of the film when Gelsomina becomes neurotic. He repeatedly offers to take her back home after seeing her pitiful condition. He sleeps outside the caravan for days, allowing Gelsomina some precious solitude after that fateful incident with the Fool. He leaves behind a blanket and his trumpet when they finally split up. Even after he kills Fool, he admits he never intended to and it was just a couple of blows, for which no one should be expected to spend their lifetime in jail. The final scene of the film confirms this remorse as he weeps bitterly at the beach for his cruel fate, looking up at the stars hoping for redemption.

eXistenZ

May 22, 2007

An old BFI article on one of the few Cronenberg films I’ve seen. Particularly interesting is that Cronenberg interacted with Salman Rushdie while developing the idea for eXistenZ. I’d not thought of the film as existentialist (despite the blatant title), but the director explains it’s one of the themes:

“I’m talking about the existentialists, i.e. the game players, versus the realists. The deforming of reality is a criticism that has been levelled against all art, even religious icons, which has to do with man being made in God’s image, so you can’t make images of either. Art is a scary thing to a lot of people because it shakes your understanding of reality, or shapes it in ways that are socially unacceptable. As a card-carrying existentialist I think all reality is virtual. It’s all invented. It’s collaborative, so you need friends to help you create a reality. But it’s not about what is real and what isn’t.”

Funny Games

May 18, 2007

This is an austere, unabashed composition, scornful of the audience’s emotional needs and fulfillments. This is a parody of countless number of thrillers and horror films. This is cruel, unforgiving and misanthropic. This is brooding, self-conscious and breaks the “fourth wall”. Characteristically, this hints, but barely, at the influence of heavy metal and death metal music in the actions of the film’s teenage criminals. This debases convention and questions dogmas. This both applauds the unconventional viewer and shoves him away. This is Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.

Im Juli

May 18, 2007

Fatih Akin’s Im Juli (In July) is an obeying stereotypical searching-for-love on a road trip film, with the journey happening from Hamburg to Istanbul. Obeying the unspoken law of the genre, the drive begins innocently enough until the anticipated string of calamities and bad luck begin, but everything works out alright at the end with our hero finding his love, only that it’s not the girl he went in search for but the one he started out with. Sadly enough, even this transition of love is handled clumsily and there appears to be no palpable emotions or tension between the actors playing Daniel and Juli. The stitched script obviously needed some rescuing at many places as can be observed by the numerous coincidences that are needed to eventually bring the lovers together. Im Juli is a naive, presumptuous, unoriginal work that finally renders a disappointing and underwhelming experience.

One hundred years of solitude

May 18, 2007

Just finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One hundred years of solitude. Frequently thought to be one of the best illustrations of “magical realism” writing, the book’s self-indulgence actually makes it quite easy to read. I’d expected it to be a little more philosophizing or didactic, so it was a bit disappointing that the book does not comment as much as it dictates. Still, that’s just a minor quibble. Marquez’s writing is self-referential, forging connections to itself both forwards and backwards in time – the former expressing clairvoyance while the latter is more nostalgic, both central themes of the book. I’ve also picked up my next book – The Tin Drum from another magical realist, Gunter Grass.

The Red and the White

May 15, 2007

Miklos Jansco’s The Red and the White, depicting the Russian civil war is a sorrowful and detached look at war. It does not empathize or criticize, it merely observes – the shift and balance of power, civilian torture, sympathy and patriotism. It records the battles, with an almost sorrowful face, from far off, but not being either judgmental or sarcastic. It leaves the rationale, the criticism or the defense to us, the viewers, who’re subjected to watching these senseless battles, feeling remorseless and at times disgusted. The mise-en-scene is so beautiful and moving that a sense of flight is experienced through the movements of the soldiers and cavalry. Not as aggressive as Godard’s Les Carabiniers or Pontecorvo’s The battle of Algiers, still its conservative approach makes an indelible impact.

Humaines Ressources

May 15, 2007

Laurent Cantet’s Humaines Ressources (Human Resources) is centered on the 35-hour week that was imposed on French factories, with Franck coming back to his hometown to work at a factory in which his father has been for thirty years, and recently his sister too. His job as a summer intern is to analyze the prerequisites and the impact of the 35-hour week rule. The union is adamant and relentless and Franck narrates a case they handled in college where a questionnaire was handed out to the employees and it was revealed that the union’s demands were political and not pragmatic and hence were not in sync with the demands of the employees. It then allowed the management to enforce the bill more smoothly.

Still in college and an idealist, Franck faces the harsh realities of the factory as his plan is misused. Social and moral conflicts are emboldened when he becomes the bridging gap between the management and the employees. It allows him to visualize the demarcations between societal classes and he realizes that this gap can never be bridged; he cannot satisfy both his friends and subordinates at the same time, and soon he becomes ashamed of his father for having made sacrifices to make Franck reach that upper class he now despises. The film is a collision of the personal and the social, worlds which should ideally be mutually exclusive – kept apart to minimize abrasion.

Translations

May 15, 2007

This is a nice article on the Guardian that covers the translation aspect of novels. The author also coins a term – “generalizations”, for all those adages and aphorisms that we encounter in some works. One of my favorite ones is also mentioned here – “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”, from Anna Karenina. Like the author mentions, “Not to read in translation – unimaginable, almost unforgivable”. Isn’t that why we watch foreign films with subtitles, not understanding a word of what’s spoken, the warmth or bitterness of the voice lost into the 26 characters that we constantly read on the screen? It’s for the love of the art and can be for nothing less.