Ebbing Innocence in Theo Angelopoulos’ ‘Landscape in the Mist’

(Previously did this piece for Cafe Dissensus Everyday)

RB1

For better or for worse, this era foreshadows an explosion of images in future. A painting, a photograph, a movie hardly stirs our sense of wonder anymore; they have become as common a thing in our life as a saucepan in the kitchen. Still, questions of beauty, truth and goodness will prevail as long as we remain humans and, if needed, it’ll be through images that they will be carried forth. Image imitates what is out there, albeit through different perspectives; but again, what is out there is just a manifestation of some inner spirit, according to some philosophical thinking. In his book What is Art?, Tolstoy quotes Hegel: “…the beauty of nature is merely a reflection of the beauty proper to the spirit: the beautiful has only spiritual content. But the spiritual must manifest itself in a sensuous form.” This is what some images aspire to do: a sensual manifestation of the spiritual, like those in Theo Angelopoulos’ movie,Landscape in the Mist (1988).

At first glance, this movie is a search of two children for their father, who, according to their mother, stays in Germany. Their journey takes them across many places in contemporary Greece. Now and then they are accompanied by strangers; otherwise, they set forth alone, relying solely on a faith that they have a father.

As the opening credits end, in an obscure scene at night, we hear the brother and sister in a conversation off-screen:

“Sleep,” says the sister, who is elder among the two.

“When are we going to leave?” asks the brother.

“Just sleep.”

“Won’t you tell me our story? Another time?”

But the sister begins: “In the beginning there was Chaos and then the light was made and the light was separated from the darkness and the earth from the sea and then the rivers, the lakes and the mountains were formed and then the flowers, and the trees, the animals, the birds.”

“Mum’s here!” The girl warns. They hear sounds of approaching footsteps.

“You’ll never end this story; we are always interrupted,” the boy grumbles.

This story, in all its probability, is the story modernity strains to hide from us. The allusion is to something more consequential than a mere biblical reference to the Genesis, for the director, Theo Angelopoulos, almost certainly aims to illustrate through the movie how humanity, disillusioned, aspires to go back to where it began: to its roots. The father remains absent throughout the film. In fact, according to one relative of the children, Continue reading “Ebbing Innocence in Theo Angelopoulos’ ‘Landscape in the Mist’”

The never-ending search for ‘home’ in Wong Kar-Wai’s movies

(Previously did this piece for Cafe Dissensus Everyday)

RB Ashes of Time

Each movie of Wong Kar-Wai reminds me of what Jean-Luc Godard once said during an interview with Youssef Ishaghpour: “…cinema is much more the image of the century in all its aspects than some little novel; it’s the century’s metaphor.” True enough!  Despite their pessimism and sad endings, Kar-Wai’s movies always bud out as sanguine metaphors to this age.

Wong Kar-Wai’s feature films are prolific visualization of temporality of feelings and of life in general. Hence, he has rightly earned himself the title of ‘auteur of time’. He is a Chinese director from Hong Kong, who began his career in film-making with his directorial debut, As Tears Go By,in 1988. Since then Kar-Wai’s experiences and observations of the degenerating culture in postcolonial Hong Kong have made their implicit presence in all of his movies. When Kar-Wai moved with his parents from Shanghai to Hong Kong in 1963, Hong Kong was already weighed down by three cultures: the Chinese, British and Japanese. Sandwiched between their cultures and their military claim over Hong Kong as their territory, the natives of Hong Kong underwent no better treatment than that of homeless refugees in their own land and elsewhere, if and when they managed to escape.

As it appears, there are so many Hong Kongs in the world today. In the delusion of liquefying national boundaries for a progress towards transnationalism, time has more often than not replicated itself. While transnationalism is the dictate of the present world order, people who follow this dictate beyond the virtual space are normally treated as migrants and refugees. What a paradox that when the word ‘home’ strikes home, it leaves only an apparition of things lost or never gained: stability, security, memories and, above all, love. Ever so subtly, with a diligent play of colours, facial expressions and moving monologues, Kar-Wai brings home the anguish of homelessness with acute finesse, thereby kindling unwonted emotions even in those of us, who wallow in the feeling of having a home.

In his movie, Days of Being Wild (1990), we see the male protagonist Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) wasting away his life because he could never regain his trust in the world once broken by his Filipino mother, who abandoned him at his birth. Similar is the case with the protagonist of his movie, 2046 (2004), where, having lost the only chance of seizing a home for himself, Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) moves from one country to another in search of something that doesn’t change. In the movie, In the Mood for Love (2000), Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) find comfort in each other, when they discover that their spouses are having an affair. However, pained from being jilted and, further, accursed by a heavy conscience for proceeding towards an extra-marital affair themselves, they decide to part. Chungking Express (1994) and Fallen Angels (1995) are Kar-Wai’s attempts at sketching the precincts of Hong-Kong noir, showcasing the utter anarchy of a rootless culture affecting relationships irremediably. Happy Together (1997) is a beautiful saga of gay love, where Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung) migrate to Argentina from Hong-Kong to revive their passionate relation. Ho Po-wing chooses to remain a hedonist and, as a result, they fail to restore faith in their love. Two of Kar-Wai’s feature films – Ashes of Time (1994) and The Grandfather (2013) – are martial arts drama movies. Besides the aforementioned movies, Kar-Wai also directed a few short films and an English picture, My Blueberry Nights.

RB Happy Together

A Scene from Happy Together

RB Fallen Angels

A Scene from Fallen Angels

Although In the Mood for Love is considered a cult movie and is canonical to modern cinema, for me Ashes of Time is Kar-Wai’s masterpiece. The movie not only is at its best Continue reading “The never-ending search for ‘home’ in Wong Kar-Wai’s movies”

Enchanting Disenchantment in ‘The Band’s Visit’

(previously did this piece for Cafe Dissensus Everyday)

Band's Visit's moments 3

And I dream of a different soul
Dressed in other clothes:
Burning as it runs
From timidity to hope,
Spirituous and shadowless
Like fire it travels the earth,
Leaves lilac behind on the table
To be remembered by. (“Eurydice”, Arseny Tarkovsky)

With his directorial debut, The Band’s Visit (2007), Eran Kolirin must have entered the world of cinema with a similar ambition, foraging a spirit Arseny Tarkovsky so lovingly illustrates. It is this same valiant and free spirit in many a body that has given us history. In a measure though, history has, ironically, become history now; so has this spirit. As Max Weber, an eminent German thinker, once alluded that in the age of rationalization and bureaucratic dominance, we’ll be trapped in an ‘iron cage’, where future would be irreversibly an extension of the present times. However, as we watch Kolirin’s movie, Max Weber’s despairing ‘iron cage’ goes into a tailspin from the pages of his manuscripts and we suddenly find it in The Band’s Visit: we revolve in a circle of conflicted feelings.

In the movie, an Egyptian police band accidentally gets strayed in a remote place called, Bet Hatikva, in Israel. The leader, an elderly man, upholds many virtues, which he finds lacking in the younger generation. He accuses a younger member of being irresponsible and misleading them. Transport from Bet Hatikva is scanty; besides, there is a shortage of hotels for them to spend the night and catch a bus in the morning. Disappointed that they might not be able to perform the concert for which they were invited by the Arab Culture Centre in Petah Tikva in Israel, he feels rather helpless. On being offered accommodation and food for the night by a few local people, he accepts it. While they spend the night exchanging thoughts, stories and music, all the lives involved are affected in some way or the other. The film ends with a beautiful piece of music as we watch the band performing their concert at the Arab Culture Centre.

In the post-war period, yearnings for a liberalized world produced a ‘libertine culture’ in many parts of the world, a substitute for ‘no-culture-at-all’. Kolirin’s characters are found ensnared in such a place, what Papi (one of the local characters) calls: ‘jahanam’ (meaning: hell). All we can hear is the fierce desert wind blowing across the empty roads and see some concrete buildings staring blankly at the strangers. Kolirin’s intention is obvious: he wishes to give us a glimpse of Israel, of people in flesh and blood we often overlook. For outsiders, Israel is a pandemonium of conflict and confusion. In contrast, Bet Hatikva is silence personified; an anguished insufferable silence, as Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) prefers to call it, “dead”. People such as Dina, Itzik, and Papi are the victims of this uprootedness and silence.

Thus begin a conversation between the Egyptian and Israeli culture; the old and the new generation; and between what is beyond history and culture: humans, silence and music. The old is wary of the new, the cultured of the cultureless. What can they, however, do when they are thrown together by providence? It is a treat to watch Tewfiq Zakaria (Sasson Gabai) and his expressions! As an elderly man and the leader of the band, no one would have better suited this role. He literally makes us cringe as he cringes, hesitate as he hesitates, grin as he grins. In the beginning, in Tewfiq’s stance, we see a fear of annihilation; a fear of being rendered purposeless by the changes he encounters. He fervidly holds on to what he believes: order, discipline, rules, dignity and faith, midst a younger generation that loves flirtation and chaos. He is convinced that traditional music has magic. Why do police need to play music? Tewfiq says: “This is like asking why a man needs a soul?” Yet, by the end of his one night platonic rendezvous with Dina, he has, somehow, learnt to understand the new: the rootless and the lonely, and not fight them anymore.

A rich culture is but only a product of being humane; so where the ‘human’ thrives, culture is not lost. In the characters’ want to help each other, to guide each other and to make intimate confessions in front of the other, despite the inconveniences of a foreign language both the parties have to use, we see what is beyond culture that still holds people together. On the other hand, in the restlessness, regrets, and in their blank and bored looks, we also see what the uprootedness have inflicted on the soul: tons of loneliness.

Kolirin doesn’t experiment much with shots, mostly close-ups with two shots and long shots, but there are few shots where he freezes the action for a couple of seconds without really closing on a freeze frame, imitating a freeze frame in a live theatre. These few scenes almost feel like the neutral seconds in Arabic music, as we wait for the melody to resume. Music is taken as the antithesis to the dead silence and in Tewfiq’s gestural definition of music we listen to a silence which is alive, in us and around us.

There is music in Khaled’s (Saleh Bakri) Arabic verses, as Papi listens to him in awe; there’s music in the crib toy, which inspires Simon to complete his overture for a concert. To Tewfiq, this music is found while fishing, in the waves of the ocean, in the distant rumbling of the children on the beach and in the sound of the bait falling in water. While going through this particular scene, I was reminded of yet another beautiful movie: Michael Radford’s Il Postino. What Radford does throughout his movie, Kolirin does it in one shot! After all, poetry is poetry; be it expressed as a sonnet or a haiku.

When it comes to humour, there’s a lot of it but not forced; it comes forth automatically in the wonderful method acting of the actors. Similarly, without any effort the movie also flummoxes our easy notion of the prosaic, when we hear poetry in the words and actions of the members of a police band, who supposedly should be strict and dull. Between enchantment and disenchantment, we realize, yet again, the power of music; how it can enchant even a disenchanted moment.

Not that this film is one of the best in world cinema. It has its share of the downbeat moments, especially with sound editing. Despite Kolirin’s intention to leave the real sounds as they are at some parts, the sounds act as a distraction, being incongruous with the moment presented to us. But one may want to ignore this little fallacy on the face of the constant and pleasant surprises it offers its viewers.

Between 2007 and 2015, Kolirin is known to have directed only one movie, apart from The Band’s Visit. But with a film like The Band’s Visit, even if he had made just one, he would have succeeded in giving us the spirit which leaves lilac behind on the table to be remembered by. Kolirin received the critical acclamation he should have for this wonderful work of art, which was reviewed across the world.

The Band’s Visit, nevertheless, deserves more than few awards and accolades. It is worthy of staying in the minds and hearts of those who genuinely wish to understand the vagaries of time.

To the Wonder: Love that loves us

The cinema is a magnificent and perilous weapon when wielded by a free spirit. It is the best instrument to express the world of dreams, of emotions, of instinct.

–    Luis Bunuel

Terrence Malick in ‘To the Wonder’ does just that: like waves, his shots take us along for a ride through a rhythmically surging and plunging depth of our instincts, emotions and dreams. There is a Marina, a Neil, a Jane, and a Father Quintana among us; in us and we look into our lives, as the camera moves across lots of vast and free space, sunlight and nature: grace. We are in a dream.

Each of them tries to reach out to the Divine at some or the other point of life but only to be pulled down to earth. As Marina muses- “My God, what a cruel war; I find two women inside me. One full of love for you; the other pulls me down towards the earth.” This monologue is immediately followed by a shot of calm and still water and then by one of crashing waves, creating an ideal metaphorical environment for the spectators mind. “In the broken marriage we see the pattern of the world”- the movie treats this biblical prophecy fairly enough. The irony in one of the shot Continue reading “To the Wonder: Love that loves us”

Pornographia: where vulgarities and sorrows merge

 

A beautiful movie: thoroughly touching. But why ‘Pornographia’?

Pornography is not always vulgar but the first impression of the word usually brings to our mind of something that is vulgar. Conversely, the first impression of movie ‘Pornografia’ is bound to throw us into confusion: it doesn’t consist of anything that even remotely resembles our common understanding of pornography and yet in a warped sense it exhibits what is more vulgar than the most obscene pornography.

Pornographia is about the loss or rather, death of innocence during the World War II. While such a subject have been approached by many directors at different periods of time and from different angles, what sets apart Jan Jakub Kolski is the way he enters into minds of the characters in wartime Poland: effortlessly and expeditiously, without any loud graphic reference to the horrendous violence going on around the world during the time of the world war. There was still a more abysmal violence crippling the minds of people.  Beyond nations there were the ‘people’. Of course the credit goes to a large extent to the acting of the protagonist: Frederik ( Krzysztof Majchrzak ) and to the author of the book, on whose story the screenplay is based: Witold Gombrowicz. Nonetheless, a movie is a baby of the director.

Fear, rage and helplessness, winds up in a refuge in mockery, play and indifference. The youth balefully gets spent. While some people lose their conscience to their fear, like Hippolit (Krzysztof Globisz) , some escape their fear by Continue reading “Pornographia: where vulgarities and sorrows merge”

Forrest Gump: Who’s Stupid?

Forrest Gump is not a novelty anymore, as it had been during its time. The 1990s were pretty much new to advanced film editing techniques and hence a film like Forrest Gump could win over the audience. Such a movie is likely to go unnoticed today. It faced its share of criticisms during its time, so I think I’ll loosen up a bit on that front.

The movie is not compelling enough to persuade me into watching it for a second time, but it is, despite all its fallacies, a touching one.

Can’t really comprehend what Zemeckis wanted to convey with a three decade long historical backdrop in the film, but to me, he certainly succeeded in questioning the very foundations of ‘heroism’ (albeit conjectural deficiencies)  and also in putting forth the then prevalent state of affairs in the United States of America. Lieutenant Dan’s wheelchair with its label says it all: ‘America- Our Kind of Place’. An excellent shot I would say. The frame of the shot is directed in a manner that the intention of the director comes clear to the audience. USA- a cripples’ refuge (with all the hopelessness we feel in the Vietnam War, Hippie Culture, and prevalence of AIDs) and yet, it’s also a place where cripples learn to get recognition. They fit in, in some or the other way. There are ample of toys, to play with, while they wait for death to arrive.

The only thing in the movie that made a difference for me; that affected me overwhelmingly is the stupidity of Forrest Gump. Tom Hank’s definitely deserves the credit that he has been given for his acting in this film. Yes, he Continue reading “Forrest Gump: Who’s Stupid?”

Highway (2014): Journeying…

{also a very brief review on Queen (2014), for a comparison}

 

 Jugni rukh peepal da hoi

Jis nu pooje ta har koi

Jisdi phasal kise na boyi

Ghar bhi rakh na sake koi 

[The firefly (here, fiery woman) has an air of the peepal,

which is worshiped by everyone

which is planted by no one

Nor can one nurture it at home] 

Nor can one nurture it at home: this particular sentence, for me, arrests the essence of the movie. Highway reminds me of Agnes Varda’s most acclaimed and often misinterpreted movie: Sans toit ni loi (literal trans. ‘without a roof or rule’; internationally known as ‘Vagabond’). Most cinephiles, who are acquainted with both the movies would question- how? How indeed? Well, as a woman, what I see in both the films is a lost woman searching for the twin; yet neither expects the search to complete nor wishes for a final destination. In the former, the woman is aided by destiny in the guise of a kidnaper and in the latter the woman is aided by destiny in the guise of her belief in complete freedom. Judgements and conclusions are not important; the journey is. The highway is important, because when all is gone, the highway stays.

It is perhaps, first in the history of mainstream Bollywood movies, that a film has been able to portray a woman without entailing the story with a strong feminist ethos. Imtiaz Ali’s story-telling is, indeed, commendable, as is his direction! Highway is the story of every conscious woman, for a woman who is awake cannot be nurtured (read cultured) at home; for a woman who feels the nature inside her bonding with the nature outside her is on the verge of ‘becoming’. This woman is free. Veera (played by Alia Bhatt) is the representation of this woman. Veera’s obsession Continue reading “Highway (2014): Journeying…”