Archive for the ‘film’ Category
This was Chris Marker:
This was also Chris Marker:
He went by many names. Sometimes Chris, other times Sandor Krasna, Michel Krasna, Mister Kha. But to me, he was the filmmaker par excellence. La Jetee was the first time I felt the power of film, its ability to completely bowl you over and knock the wind out of your lungs. In that one hidden moment in La Jetee, where the nameless lady is sleeping and the still frames come faster and faster, dissolving one into the other. And then, for a second, the still images become fluid, she opens her eyes and blinks. Like the face that marks the protagonist of La Jetee, this literal ‘awakening’ marked me. I watched the birth of cinema and it was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. In that one fleeting moment, I saw cinema’s possibility. I saw time and I saw memory, interwoven and interlocking, inseperable from each other. I used to think that cinema tried to capture time but then, I understood that it actually gives birth to time, it allows it to exist, it brings time forth, “pure time” to go by Deleuze.
Then, with Sans Soleil, Marker cemented his place in my mind. The effortless evocative energy of this essay film is unlike anything I have ever encountered since. This lady with the sultry voice reads letters out loud that sound like poetry. Each time I watch Sans Soleil, and I have watched it many many times, I find myself taking different paths: sometimes it is the images, other times the words. It is like getting lost in a maze where every twist and every turn is an invitation to thought.
Then, on to more films. So many more. So many stories of Marker, from his unabashed support of the seminal Battle of Chile to his documentation of the old masters Tarkovsky and Kurosawa. Marker’s was a boundless curiosity, one that went everywhere at once. Unlike filmmakers who are afraid of technology, Marker seized every new piece of technology that came into his hands. He was on Second Life, on Youtube, on Flickr. He travelled the world over, fascinated with Japan and in his last days, posted heartwrenching drawings and thoughts from Korea.
He was a fascinating man, a brilliant thinker, an artist of the highest calibre and a ceaseless soul, always wandering, always seeking. Chris Marker, you will be greatly missed. Maybe not by many, for few know of the man you were, but for us, for the few whose lives you touched and molded through your films, photos, blogs, pictures, art installations, CDs and as Guillame, it is a gaping hole you leave behind. Though you spoke so eloquently of time and memory, of forgetting and Vertigo, you have now yourself become memory, outside and inside of time, lost in the spiral.
Here it is. Finally, my first film. I feel good about it. It’s still amateurish, rough and lots of improvements can be made for sure. But for what it is, this is, and will forever be, my first short film:
I’m taking a class this semester called Script to Screen with Rona Mark. Through a series of exercises, we’ve been learning the basics of handling a camera, writing a script and making a complete film. Our exercises are short two-minute pieces centered around the late Columbia film professor Stefan Sharff’s book on filmmaking.
In the past few months I’ve discovered just how hard it is to translate something from a perfect idea into a medium that is at once, limiting and freeing. Its like learning to speak all over again.
Three (not-so-very-good) shorts:
Summer 2010 Film Series
Number 2: Cure (Kyua, dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 110 mins, 1997, Japanese)
Number 3: Suicide Club (Jisatsu Sakuru, dir. Sion Sino, 99 mins, 2002, Japanese)
The Japanese seems to have a way of saying a whole lot without actually saying much. Take the haiku, for example, a few words, a casual observation, but coded within the simplicity is a complexity of texture, dissonance, and emotion. Or take the films of Yasujiro Ozu, arguably one of the greatest Japanese filmmakers, where a couple’s casual, simple dinner of green tea over rice suggests a great understanding between them. Maybe this obsession with not saying much comes from Zen Buddhism, where cryptic aphorisms and anecdotes confer great knowledge upon those who take the time to ponder them.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure and Sion Sino’s Suicide Club are successors of that very tradition. Both films disguise themselves as straightforward and typical mysteries that both hinge on a “hook” to draw the viewer in. In Cure, there have been a spate of random killings, where the victim is slashes across the neck in an “X” pattern. The perpetrator is always found nearby, and is always different. Although the culprits confess to the murder, they are unable to explain adequately their motives for the brutal, bizarre murders. Sino’s Suicide Club has a similar strange premise: gangs of schoolchildren, a lot of them girls, take to committing mass suicide. In the opening scene, close to 50 schoolgirls hold hands and leap in front of a speeding bullet train, seemingly for no apparent reason. What follows is an investigation into this phenomenon as more and more teenagers take to committing mass suicide.
In both Cure and Suicide Club, the initial premise is eventually abandoned. In Cure, a strange man named Mamiya appears to be the link between all the murders. Mamiya is an enigmatic young man, seemingly without memory and identity, and he always asks his victims, “Who are you?” “Tell me about you.” The culprit is no mystery, the detective and protagonist, encounters him early and the film progresses from there on as a battle of wills between the two. Mamiya is found out to be a master hypnotist while the detective is seemingly invulnerable to the hypnotism. As the police psychiatrist says, even under hypnotism, no one can be made to do what they would normally not do in real life. So the question then becomes, are we all killers? These ‘normal’ people commit acts of brutal slaughter and yet, after the event, they seem to think that it needed to be done, that it was even natural. Mamiya’s power lies not just in his skill at hypnotism, but the blank slate that he presents himself as. A man without a past, without a history, he is connected to no one and nothing. In conversation, he has nothing to offer, only everything to take. His easy questions force his victims to consider themselves against this blank slate, who really are they? What defines their existence? Although we never really find out, why or how Mamiya exactly convinces them to commit murder, the question becomes unimportant. Kurosawa’s direction, and masterful editing, brings together a mechanised, indifferent world with that of the individual. The film, then, acts as a comment on Japanese society, and on our own globalised society too. There is no more room for the individual, everything is generic, everything is mass-marketed, even identity. To figure out who you are, something as drastic, as brutal as murder is needed to dislodge one from the banality of what society has become. Through the incongruency of image and sound, Kurosawa creates a world where everything is at odds, everything seems out of balance and strange. Mamiya merely facilitates the transformation, he doesn’t seem to bring it about, for no one can be forced to do anything, even under hypnotism. There is no violence to Mamiya, he appears harmless and free-floating, an enigma of a man. The film leaves us with the troubling hypothesis that in a society like ours, where individual identity is subsumed by the collective, it is not difficult to understand the lengths that people will go to in order to rediscover, for themselves, who they really are.
As Suicide Club progresses, the plot becomes increasingly murkier. More and more levels are added, to the point of distraction. Suicide Club is not as polished as Cure, it is rough and often loses its point. But the central theme, that of dislocation, makes itself felt as well. There is a strange boy who often calls the detectives, a boy with a cough that becomes more and more irritating as he talks. This is probably deliberate, the director wishes for us to feel irritation. It is meant to dislodge us, just like the boy is dislodging teenagers from their own lives. He too asks a question, “Are you connected to yourself?” To the detectives he poses this question, “I know you are connected to your family, to your children, to your wife, but are you connected to yourself?” Once again, the question becomes one of identity. While Cure seems to blame society, in Suicide Club, it is pop culture and television that seems to be at fault. There are many subplots that don’t serve much purpose, except distraction, but the theme of connection is threaded into each of them. The detectives find a long roll of skin at the scene of the suicides, the roll composed of squares of skin from different people, most of them the ones who just died. In death, this is their connection to each other. Even as they leap off buildings and in front of trains, the teenagers hold hands, it is an act of a group, not an individual. In this way, Suicide Club is often at odds with Cure. While Cure desires an individual, Suicide Club wishes for a group identity, a connection to each other that is often lost in the mindless drone of the television and the mass-marketed media.
Both films end on inconclusive notes, there is no neat wrapping up of the plot. There are plot holes, loops and subplots that are wholly abandoned, more in the case of Suicide Club than Cure. While Cure might be a technically and philosophically superior film, Suicide Club holds its own, despite often being dismissed as mindless gore-fest. I am certain that these films will make much more sense to a Japanese, for they seem to tackle very distinctly Japanese topics. It would be a sin to compare these films to the work of Ozu, for Ozu is in a class of his own, and there will never be another like Ozu, but in terms to Japan-ness, they appear similar.
In these times of self-effacement, identity becomes a more and more elusive thing. Our identity is often dictated, through society, through television. This is who you are. This is what you are. Introspection is no longer available to the mass of people, as they hurry from job to job, from house to house, car to car, furniture to furniture. In this era of mass consumption, there is barely any time to wonder who one is. The question has become moot. No one cares. No one cares because it is easy to pick and choose. The internet provides a convenient facade, anyone can become anyone else, a man can pretend to be a woman, a woman can pretend to be a little boy, there is no limit. And in case we are too lazy to even pick and choose on the internet, there is always the television. Buy a Mac and you gain membership into an exclusive club of Apple users. Wear skinny jeans and you are a hipster. Wear this and you become that, wear that and you become this. Identity comes in packages now. It is more and more difficult to figure out who you really are. Who’s to say who is really who.
Summer 2010 Film Series
Number 1: The Beaches of Agnes (dir. Agnes Varda, 110 mins, 2009, French)
Rating: 5 out of 5.
While watching your latest film, The Beaches of Agnes, I felt a strange sensation. This was an inexplicable mixture of sadness and joy, both together. I felt uplifted, as if borne on wings, and at the same time, a gnawing melancholy. You begin the film by walking on a beach, straight towards us (and the camera) and you say you are just “a little old lady, pleasantly plump.” The ease with which you say it makes it clear that you believe it, that that is just what you are. No one will say any different, but I’m sure, others will add more to that statement: artist, filmmaker, photographer. You might be plump, and you might be little, but there is very little to show that you are old. Even on your 80th birthday (as we see in the film), you are just as sprightly and active as I assume you were back in the 1950s when you were making your first films. But first, the joy.
There is something strangely beautiful in just watching you walk backwards across the beach, taking us with you on your long and varied career, from photographing Fidel in Cuba to winning the Golden Lion at Venice for your film Vagabond, it is all there. But this film is not just a retrospective, it is not an autobiography either. It is a portrait, lovingly and painstakingly created, not just by yourself, but by everyone around you. From your children to your husband, the filmmaker Jacques Demy, who was such an essential part of your life, as we see in this film. You have inspired my love for reflections, from the very first moment I saw Cleo from 5 to 7 and your use of mirrors, I knew I wanted to do something similar. And you use multiple mirrors in this new film. There is one scene that sticks in my memory, where you are looking at a picture of yourself as a child, and the picture is in a frame on the beach and as you reach out and pluck the photograph and behind it is a mirror, and you are reflected in it. I couldn’t think of a better analogy for aging.
But that is just one memorable scene. There are so many others. Like that scene where you sail alone down the Seine, or the one where you shoot the same fishermen you shot close to 50 years ago in La Pointe-Courte, only they were children then, and you show them their film, on a projector balanced on a cart and wheeled through the nighttime streets of La Pointe Courte. I doubt you knew then that you were almost inventing the French New Wave, years before your friend Jean-Luc Godard would shock the world with Breathless. Its been a long and wonderful journey since then. On to Cleo from 5 to 7, a wonderfully vivid mediation on time to Vagabond, a revelatory portrait of a woman to The Gleaners and I, where you celebrate the lives of these men and women who survive on the waste of an affluent society, some do it by choice, others by necessity, but you don’t privilege one over the other, for after all, you are a gleaner yourself, and this film, The Beaches of Agnes, is a gleaning of your own works.
Along with your friends Godard, Alain Resnais, Chris Marker (who appearance in the film is one to be celebrated), you gave us films that the New Wave did not dare to. Godard too, despite being the frontrunner of the New Wave, I would like to think, belongs in your haloed presence. Jacques Demy, your late husband, was a part of that New Wave and although, personally, I prefer your films to his, he must’ve had a great influence on your life and work. Even now, when you talk about him on camera, there are tears in your eyes and it chokes me up. And now on to the sadness.
Chris Marker’s regular stand-in, Guillame-en-Egypte, and Varda
It isn’t just Demy who has passed on. When you talk about your friends and the people you idolised and worked with, there is a sadness that I cannot finger. It is the sadness of passing, and it is a passing that is irreversible. As your memories unfold, we cannot help but see how far you’ve come, and although you never acknowledge it, there is a passing that is nearing for you too. For we must all die, and I don’t think this dying scares you in the least, not as much as Demy’s death must have. There is no inkling that this is your final film and I don’t expect it to be. It is simply an artist who has come to terms with her life and her work and realised the necessity to remember. For this film is not a biography, like I said earlier, it is an outpouring of memory, of people, places, and all that has touched you. “If you open people, you’ll find landscapes. If you open me up, you’ll find beaches,” you say bashfully, unconsciously as if you were uttering a banality but the poignancy of your words are not lost on me.
There is a scene where you are dancing on the beach with your family, your children and grandchildren. All of them in white while you are alone in black. It is a wonderful image, you surrounded by all those you love and who love you, dancing as if you hadn’t a care in the world. This celebration is your celebration and a celebration of you. And it is not just your children and grandchildren who celebrate with you, but all of us, when we watch this scene, we cannot help but celebrate you. If the film had ended here, I would’ve been happy, but you take us further, to your own surprise 80th birthday party. It is finally the end, and you sit alone in a room, facing the camera and you say, so simply, “While I live, I remember.” It is a haunting beautiful end to a wonderful beautiful film. While you live, you remember and even when you don’t, we will. There will be no forgetting, while we live, we shall remember.
For Roger Ebert’s review of The Beaches of Agnes, go here: link.
There is currently an Agnes Varda retrospective on The Auteurs. There are many rare and unavailable films (courtesy Criterion, I’m sure). Go here: link.
Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina guest star in a short film-within-a-film in Cleo from 5 to 7:
L’Eclisse (Eclipse, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)
with Monica Vitti and Alain Delon
L’Eclisse changed the way I watch movies.
Vittoria (Monica Vitti, Antonioni’s wife and muse) is a young girl, in her early twenties, who works as a translator. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Vittoria just as she is breaking up with an older man. The scene is quiet and there are numerous objects throughout the room: the fan, the abstract paintings, the empty picture frame. The focus is not so much on words and dialogue or even plot or narration, instead, Antonioni uses images as their own stories. As the film progresses, Vittoria is drawn into another relationship with a young investor, Piero (Alain Delon). Piero is the complete opposite to Vittoria. While she is quietly contemplative, always studying something, always off in a distant place, Piero is rooted in the here and now. He likes cars, women and making money. From the very moment that they meet, we know that they won’t work out. Antonioni places hints throughout the film, like here:
This is one of Vittoria and Alain’s first meeting and in the very way the scene is shot, the two are divided in half by a massive stone column, separating them.
At the end, after Vittoria and Alain’s numerous meetings and romantic getaways, they promise to meet at an intersection, their favoured spot, and leave. The film ends with a seven-minute long montage of shots, of that same intersection and of places where the two previously visited and walked. There are other people but no sign of Vittoria and Alain. We are left with a sense of foreboding and we understand that the two never showed up to their meeting. We don’t know why, only that they did.
L’eclisse isn’t a film about a relationship and it isn’t particularly about Vittoria and Alain. After all, these are two intelligent, young, attractive people. Their relationship falling apart is no big deal, they’ll eventually move on and find other people. Their story is not what is important here. What Antonioni is trying to impress upon us, through Vittoria and through his images, is the disquieting alienation that the modern world can have on normal people. Antonioni sets the film in the very modern EUR district, where buildings like this strange mushroom-shaped water tower abound:
Antonioni is driven by theme and composition rather than plot or dialogue. In fact, there is very little of plot or dialogue in Eclipse, the focus instead is on the themes of the abstraction of feelings and emotions, the material world versus the intensely personal one and the gradual way in which material reality swallows up anything personal. In part, this theme is what is echoed so wonderfully through the last seven minutes. As Vittoria and Piero plan to meet the crossroads of the Eur, we are instead treated to multiple shots (not a long take as someone above me suggested) of ordinary things happening, only with an ominous undertone. There is silence, and there is emptiness, like in an eclipse, we feel something missing. Vittoria and Piero are missing and their love, like the water flowing out the barrel where Vittoria’s stick of wood and Piero’s matchbox float, is leaving them. This loss of love is referred to in another clever oblique way, that of the man who turns off the sprinkler that is spraying water everywhere. I understood this as a symbolic turning off of their feelings for each other.
Eclipse needs to be understood as a film that doesn’t give in to conventions. Besides the flimsy plot and the spare dialogue, Antonioni switches to an almost documentarian eye when shooting the Rome Stock Exchange and again, when shooting the scenes out of the plane’s window. But again, Antonioni doesn’t stick to these either. His shots are fragmented and he seems to delight in synecdoches. The openings shots to the film establish nothing. There is no establishing shot, no diagetic zero, simply a shot of an elbow that we only understand to be an elbow when the camera pans to the right. We are treated to various shots from different sides of the apartment but never given a feel of what the apartment exactly is like. There are numerous shots later in the film where Antonioni uses a high angle, the head or the shoulders outlined against the sky or trees or foliage. These shots have an unsettling effect. They serve to isolate the characters from their comfortable backgrounds because in a way, Eclipse is a film about contrasts and discomfort. The earliest hint of this comes in the credits where the popular upbeat swing song fades out in the middle to an atonal, disruptive sound/music. Antonioni is challenging the viewers even at this earliest moment, before the film has even begun, that this film is a film about discomfort.
In Antonioni’s shots, we find a thematic link that brings together form and content. Many simply dismiss Antonioni and L’eclisse as simply a director of ‘style’ films and a ‘stylistic’ film and to those who love the film, as being victims of the so-called aesthetic of ‘style over substance.’ I disagree wholeheartedly. In fact, style is substance and vice versa. L’eclisse doesn’t seem to be lacking in either. Style is evident in the strange angles, the long takes, the abrupt cutting, the use of ellipses, synecdoches, the 180 degree rule transgressions, the digressive takes and shots, etc etc. I could argue for substance based simply on these stylistic choices but for those inclined otherwise, substances comes from the junction of style and content. The film is about Vittoria’s alienation from the world, her gradual separation from personal intimacies and contacts. It is her giving in to the sublime, the contemplative. Often, we find Vittoria intensely studying some movement, whether it is the rustling of foliage or the movement of a stick of wood in a barrel. Her way of seeing the world is in clear aesthetic terms. Piero who comes from an ordered numbered world (that of accounting), doesn’t understand Vittoria. He doesn’t see what Vittoria sees. And what Vittoria sees is alluded to in the opening where she reaches into an empty picture frame and moves objects through them, arranging them in a style suitable to her. When Vittoria’s alienation reaches its zenith, we are at the end of the film, where Vittoria herself is absent. In a way, she has disappeared and what has taken her, and Piero’s place, are the ordinary banal objects that were always there: the trees, the crossroads, the buses, the ordinary people milling around, the buildings. In effect, Vittoria has disappeared. Her alienation from the material world is complete.
1. Hotel Chevalier (written and directed by Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson is an auteur in the old-fashioned French meaning of the word. He writes, directs and oversees every nuance of the film. His sets are meticulously crafted, each piece personally chosen and perfectly placed. A few characteristics of Wes Anderson films: sweeping colour schemes, at least one scene with slo-mo, quirky and highly addictive soundtracks, Jason Schwartzman, the Wilson brothers, Bill Murray, the font Futura Bold among many others. His films are like distinctive worlds, each one a seperate reality, wholly populated by flawed and ultimately loveable characters. My favourite Anderson film has to be The Royal Tenenbaums, a film so perfectly made, with just the right doses of pathos and humor. (Although Rushmore isn’t far behind.) Hotel Chevalier is kind of a prologue to the Darjeeling Limited, with Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman in the eponymous hotel. On kind of a side note, I love Natalie Portman, especially with her short hair. I have developed a massive celebrity crush on her, ever since V for Vendetta. In Hotel Chevalier, she’s nude, a lot.
Watch it on Google Video or Youtube. Or get it here. Hotel Chevalier.
2. Me La Debes (written and directed by Carlos Cuaron)
I love the Cuaron brothers, Alfonso and Carlos. Ever since Y Tu Mama Tambien, I have to come to adore these two, with their flair for cinematography, their raunchy scripts and their all-too human characters. Y Tu Mama Tambien is my all-time favourite film. Not just for pushing the boundaries of sexual abandon but for the subtle ways in which it deals with the deeper issues here, of growing up, of angst, of the political dissonance in a country, and ultimately, of death. Y Tu Mama is all about freedom, of letting go of your preconceived notions and of giving yourself to the moment. Living simply because you are alive. Y Tu Mama Tambien is a celebration of all things human and I love it so much. Written by Carlos and Alfonso, directed by Alfonso. Me La Debes (You Owe Me One) is a short along the lines of Y Tu Mama. Its a fun romp and pushes the same buttons that Y Tu did but on a slightly smaller scope. A family of three, father, mother and daughter, seem normal on the outside but like everyone else, they have lives that may shock and surprise you. Hilarious, clever and oh so smart, Me La Debes is one of my favourite shorts.
Watch it here: Me La Debes.
PS – Carlos and Alfonso have a new film out soon called Rudo Y Cursi, which I cannot wait for. It reunites the duo from Y Tu Mama Tambien, Gael Garcia Bernal (who I also adore) and Diego Luna. Watch the trailer here.Wes Anderson has a stop-motion animation due out soon too. Based on the Roald Dahl book, the Fantastic Mr Fox looks amazing and has a stellar cast including Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Meryl Streep, George Clooney and get this, Bill Murray as a badger. Watch the trailer here.
I cannot wait for both of these films.