Archive for August, 2008

Airwaves

August 22, 2008

The Iceland Airwaves is scheduled for 15-19 October of this year. And as usual, it’s held at Reykjavik, the northern-most capital in the world. The Airwaves plays host to independent artists from all fathomable genres, performing in the hottest clubs of this icy capital over a period of five days. I’ve not heard of even one of the bands in the partial lineup that was recently announced.

But, as much as I want to catch a plane and fly over there (the festival’s prices are ridiculously low), I’m upto my neck with research and courses. I’m just hoping things take a turn for the milder sometime soon enough.

From the festival page:

“It’s 4 a.m. You’ve been to five cool clubs, seen ten great bands, made 15 new friends and fallen in love 20 times. You’re tired. You’re wired. You’re ready to find a bed. You’re ready to find the after-party. You can’t believe you’re here. You’re already making plans to come back next year. And guess what? It’s still Day One.”

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New French Extremity #2

August 20, 2008

Talking about the kiss, the beautiful kiss that begins Trouble Every Day, the kiss a precursor to the animalistic bites, fleshy excesses of the body, and visceral ebbing of blood that follows later, Denis says:

“That’s not where it was in the screenplay – that kiss – it was elsewhere, during a nocturnal ramble by Vincent Gallo, which incidentally wasn’t filmed. But I still wanted to shoot the kiss because the kiss is the film. In the screenplay, the first scene is the scene in the plane. Stuart of the Tindersticks wanted to write a song, but not for the beginning of the film. And when I heard his song, I said to him: “Stuart, I think it should be at the beginning, you can’t put it in after.” And so we can’t begin with the plane, everything has to be pushed back for Stuart’s song.

In fact, I think Stuart channelled everything into the song: he had not seen the rushes, but he had read the screenplay, he had come to London to see Beau Travail (2000), at the time of a retrospective of my films…I think he had understood that I was ready for a lot of things. And he brought me this song. Stuart is an English man with a lot more humour than I have, but he has a rapport with the body, with flesh, with desire which is very close to mine.”

[edit: incidentally, the song is available online.]

Le voyage du ballon rouge

August 11, 2008

Frequently hailed as one of the greatest living filmmakers, this is Hou Hsiao Hsien’s first film outside of China/Taiwan. Hou dedicated the film to Lamorisse, whose Le ballon rouge inspired this material. At once, it is easy to spot the brilliance in his filmmaking, as the camera tracks the titular red balloon gliding across the streets of Paris, cowering behind tree-branches and deftly maneuvering the train station. The balloon is of course symbolic: here representing childhood and an age of innocence, indifference and freedom, such as that of little Simon. Simon’s mother, Suzanne (Binoche) on the other hand is a busybody, constantly occupied with work and sparing little time for her son who is tended to by a timid babysitter Song.

Hou is extremely observant, both of his environment and of his characters. And to me, that’s also where his film fails. The film observes, but never probes. It never questions the characters, never expresses them, maybe even expose them. Understandably, with the boy Simon, it is quite difficult to formally develop the character (although Vlacil did it in a shorter time with The white dove) and Hou tracks the child across his routines of playing pinball, learning the piano or playing video games on his playstation. But Suzanne just turns out to be a bundle of mess – constantly being irritated by her neighbours, possibly feeling distanced from her other adolescent child, and desperately missing her husband now in Canada. She uses her teenage daughter as a pretext for kicking out her neighbours, and struggles to communicate with Simon, who incidentally feels quite at ease with his babysitter and half-sister.

What I liked most about this film was its use of space. Hou juxtaposes the insides of the tiny Paris apartment with wide-angle shots of the balloon floating above Paris. This mimics the dichotomy of the film’s themes: pure unrestrained freedom as opposed to a state of conformity and disorder. Even with the crummy apartment, Hou is careful enough to work within the limits. Observe how the film slowly “reveals” Suzanne’s apartment. For the first half-hour or so, all we see is the tiny dining table and the kitchen, and then we get a brief glimpse of Suzanne’s attic bedroom. Then the shabby living room with books sprawled across the floor, a TV and Simon’s playstation. Suddenly, the piano is moved into a corner we never knew existed. And then, the eternally meek and distant Song shows us Simon’s bedroom attic opposite Suzanne’s.

Hou’s conservative approach to filming spaces is surely what defines this film. But it shouldn’t have been so. If only he had expressed his characters more.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

August 4, 2008

Rest in peace, my friend, after showing us what real torture was like under the Soviet Union.