Archive for June, 2007

Rohmer’s Spring

June 30, 2007
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The stories in Rohmer’s Tales of Four Seasons are not as serious or even as risky as the ones in his Six Moral Tales or Comedies and Proverbs, but that doesn’t make them any less opinionated. These films, judging by the two I’ve seen so far, take place during the seasons of Summer, Spring, Autumn and Winter.The characters here are mundane, and quite ambigious, much like ourselves, which makes our reactions towards them ambivalent. There’s nothing particular to like in them, but nothing to hate either. It’s this peculiar indifference that leads to these films’ equally peculiar cleanliness. There’s a truth, an originality and an understanding in them that I cannot find anywhere else.

A Tale of Springtime is about the confluence of two women – one a teacher of philosophy, a serious, almost platonic woman while the other is a tempestuous teenager set on ridding her father of his latest girlfriend, a student of Philosophy. The contrasting emotions of the two women are harmonious and soon these four principal characters meet (more appropriately collide); and this is when things seem to come apart and fall in place almost simultaneously.

All the characters are in a period of transition in their lives, like juggling apartments, or an impending breakup, or a lost necklace. Hence they aren’t static or rooted, monotonous or dull, but instead deliver a free and unimpeded charm. For a while now, at least one review I’ve read of any Rohmer film contains a reference to Gene Hackman’s (apparently immortal) dialogue in Night Moves“I watched a Rohmer film once; It was like watching paint dry”. While I admit this is witty, it is sad to see people use it as a hinge to justify their dislikes. For me, watching paint dry has never been more captivating.

Detectives

June 29, 2007

I guess the first film I saw that redefined conventional notions of a detective was Ace Venture : Pet Detective. But no one can outplay the existential detectives in I ♥ Huckabees, a film unique in its blend of humor, philosophy, economics and naturalism. It is not as blatantly funny as Dupontel’s Bernie or Ace Ventura; here the humor lies in the film’s surreal handling of its content. Reminds me very much of the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski. The other film I saw was Polanski’s The Seventh Gate, a more serious film that follows the adventures of a “book detective”. The plot of authenticating rare books under mysterious circumstances was simply too good to let go, and Polanski’s masterful suspense kept the film alive, even with minor flaws. Contrary to critical opinion, I felt the end was attuned with the suspense and certainly not delayed or misgiving. Am going to watch Knife in the Water and The Pianist real soon. Oh, and James MacDowell has a ‘quirky’ article on Alternate Takes.

My Night at Maud’s

June 16, 2007

The third of Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales and his first full-length film, My Night at Maud’s is an eclectic blend of religion, mathematics, philosophy and love. But Rohmer isn’t restricted to just these – he also briefly indulges in the architecture of the city, Clermont-Ferrand, which incidentally is the birthplace of Blaise Pascal, whose wager is one of the central arguments of the film. The Pascal wager, which attempts to dialectically affirm faith in God’s existence can also be extended to any system that delivers infinite gain with negligible probability, is the theory propounded by the film.

At Maud’s place, the three main characters engage in discussions about love, desire, beliefs, religion and morality. We learn that the unnamed protagonist is scornful of Pascal, claiming “If Pascal is a representation of Christianity, then I’m an atheist”. He claims his anger is mainly due to the disregard Pascal held for Christianity and towards the end of his years, for Mathematics too. Being a catholic follower himself, his guidelines for a wife are simple – blonde and catholic. Notice the blend of fetichism and religion. And at Maud’s place, by rejecting her, he proves that like marriage is inferior to priesthood, so is carnality to faith.

Maud perceives him as a self-centered man who likes to see things only in black and white; someone who cannot even spend a night with a woman because it might topple his self-righteousness. But he does spend the night at Maud’s – and without forsaking his moral integrity. But by being perhaps over-indulgent in religion, does he forsake spontaneity? In principle he does, but in reality, he finds his woman – blonde and catholic, a student of Biology, in a chance encounter after having lost her trail once before. And his bleak realization towards the end that all of us are flawed – flaws that we have to endure and live together and love, also becomes Rohmer’s own triumph of Man.

A couple of nice essays on the film can be found at Criterion and Senses of Cinema. Also an article on the cinematographer Nestor Almendros, who, the article mentions, made seven films with Rohmer and nine with Truffaut, and also shot Malick’s Days of Heaven, a film I now desperately want to see.

Un couer en hiver

June 13, 2007

In Claude Sautet’s Un couer en hiver, Daniel Autiel plays Stephane, an ambiguously secure man with insecure boundaries who puts himself out to a beautiful violinist Camille played by Emmanuelle Beart, calmly yet surely seducing her into a trap. Now why exactly he does this is a mystery – maybe just to prove to himself that he’s still capable of attracting love even though he cannot attain it, or maybe as he superfluously admits, because of jealously towards his boss; but that seems too naive, jealously too underwhelming a feeling for this man to possess and his insecurity lies not in his job, but in his life. The passionate travails of Camille lie in complete contrast with the bitter coldness shown by Stephane. Camille, frustrated by a friend’s dependence on her, struggles to break free, and I think deep down, she finds Stephane as a replacement for this friend; he’s the only one she can now relate to emotionally and that deepens the intrinsic friendship which finally turns into a fruitless love. Ultimately, Sautet, unlike someone like Rohmer, is careful in not revealing or dissecting too much of his characters, especially Stephane, instead casting a veil that appropriately blurs their deepest and truest emotions and tendencies.

Blackboards

June 3, 2007

As a group of men trudge along a mountainous path holding blackboards across their back, a helicopter’s distant rumble makes them cautious and they instinctively hide using the same blackboards as cover. This opening sequence from Samira Makhmalbaf’s Blackboards depicts the utilitarian value of these blackboards, a theme that runs through the entire film. The boards are used more for survival than education – they serve as a camouflage, a platform to carry an old man, a leg cast, a divide while performing marriage (and divorce) and even as a dowry.

The themes present in Blackboards are quite contradictory to what we experience in this world. Teachers scout villages in search of anyone who can be educated, in exchange for food. But no one, from small children smuggling goods to old men and women crossing the Iran-Iraq border are interested in learning. This contrasting view of two journeys by different generations ably comments on the extensive lack of education and even constricting social impositions that prevent them.

Education, usually restricted at the sink now finds itself struggling at the source itself – teachers rely on their occupation for survival, but also because they are passionate about it. The concept of dowry is contradictory, the source and the sink again being interchanged. It is now the man serving the dowry to the more independent woman; the dowry finally realised when they divorce in an act that is microbial in execution, similar to their marriage. These experimental views of the film, of substances both tangible and intangible, culminate in another contrast – the end of a journey as both a success and a failure.

Wim Wenders

June 1, 2007

Inside closed eyes, close your eyes again. Then even the stones come alive. – Wings of Desire

In the accompanying documentary to Wings of Desire, called The Angels Among us, Wim Wenders explains early on that the actual translation of the German title Der Himmel uber Berlin is The Sky over Berlin. The initial shots of this German city are enough to confirm the veracity of this title as the camera looms over the city and its myriad people, all in different stages of life. Wings of Desire is an almost mythical, definitely metaphorical experiment told with a stream of consciousness narration. The comfortable ease with which it binds this technique with the realistic atmosphere just takes my breath away every time I think about this film. A mind boggling amount of information is available in a single dedicated POV issue here. Also mind numbing is the richness of the film’s credits: The DP Henri Alekan (who’s worked on many of Amos Gitai’s films), first assistant director Claire Denis, assistant cameraman Agnes Godard (who later worked with Claire Denis), the Austrian writer Peter Handke, and of course Wenders himself. Also watched the equally fabulous and visceral Paris, Texas. The colors of these two films are so contrasting – Wings of Desire shot in hues of grey for the most part while Paris, Texas stands out in shades of yellow, red and green. It also seems that Wenders is never confined to interiors, and is always finding a way to break free to either the countryside or the urban landscape. I had an indescribable feeling of joy and respect when watching the two films. Such beautiful and poignant cinema.