Friday, December 31, 2010

your dream tramples through the woods

In the shape of a boar
your dream tramples through the woods on
on the edges of evening.

Glittering white
like the ice from which it erupted
are its razors.

It rakes up a bitter nut
from under the leaves
that its shadows tore from the trees,
a nut
black as the heart that your foot kicked along
when you walked here yourself.

It gores the nut
and fills the thicket with grunting fate,
then strikes off down towards the coast,
there where the sea
holds its darkest of feasts
on the crags:

a fruit like its own
will delight the festive eye
that has wept such stones.

P. Celan, translated by J. Neugroschel

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why does Oharu faint?

Oharu faints thrice in The life of Oharu, and on all occasions, wakes up feeling kinder and more forgiving. In an influential essay on this movie by Robert Cohen called "Why Does Oharu Faint? Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu and Patriarchal Discourse", Cohen says that Oharu's spiritual transcendence is gained after "she abandons her gender identity and sexuality", and in a sense, her victory is only pyrrhic. However, personally, I find that it goes against the standard narrative that Mizoguchi employs throughout the movie, but on the whole, I agree with what Cohen says. I think what Cohen says about abandoning her identity and sexuality is far more interesting and appealing than any spiritual excuse that could account for how Oharu has become a saintly character and her fainting spell at the beginning and in the end is more a physical and psychological surrendur to the awful life that she has lead till then.

Oharu has the kind of life that is brutal in systematically making a nonentity out of her; from a courtesan to being loved, from a woman abused to a degree of safety as a wedded woman and then eventual fall from position and grace when she is sold as a prostitute, Oharu goes through the umpteenth time what is basically a rotten life for her. There is resistance from Oharu but in that world, it can only be token. As a concubine to give the Lord Matsudaira his heir and later as a prostitute, Oharu fulfils a certain destiny that women have had to bear in all ages and in all cultures. Oharu walks a languid walk in the beginning of this movie and sitting in a temple, she visualizes her former true lover. Oharu can only fall into reverie, for only by re-living can she actualize a world that is permanently lost.

The rest of Oharu's life is a progressive narration of one injustice after another, but only through her reveries and flashbacks can Oharu gain a certain spiritual meaning. I however, do not subscribe to any notion of spiritual largess gained through physical or emotional suffering. Oharu's sufferings are neither mild nor subtle; Oharu carries on in spite of all the sufferings that she must suffer. That Oharu's experiences can be described through expressions like transcendence makes a mockery out of all her experiences.

All of Oharu's sufferings can be seen against a background of social, cultural and political realities of her times and in essence they can also be used as justifications of her sufferings. Oharu is a mother and yet not considered so, she wanted to marry for love and saw her lover beheaded and the only place that can salvage whatever is left untouched inside her is a Buddhist temple. It is in the symbolic realm of a religious sanctuary that all Oharu has lost comes back to her. All other places, be it a street or her parent's house, be it a monastery or a field have only reduced her to a person to be used or mocked at.

Oharu's fainting spells must be seen as an unknown impulse within her to resolve the conflicts that she cannot resolve practically. When she meets her lover, she faints as she is frightened of his advances and in that fainting spell, there is an element of hysteria, I think. In purely psychological terms, this behaviour, whilst hysterical, is still unknown to the actor and can have diverse causes from which it arises.

Taking again from Cohen, a de-sexualization and loss of gender will ultimately allow Oharu to devictimize herself and come to terms with her state. By mixing a certain eclectic mysticism with her subjectivity, Oharu can gain that recognition that has eluded her all her life.
From a purely Foucauldian perspective, Oharu has become what Oharu has subjectivized within herself, for her to be Oharu, she must have the life of Oharu. Or, for Oharu to gain a certain transcendence, a certain experience must precede it. That religious imagery is used to give her a semblance of person- hood is a significant step towards her restoration as a person, for without any exaggeration, any nostalgia for those past times is purely a delusional pastime, for essence, person-hood did not exist during Oharu's times.

Since Mizoguchi is considered as a feminist, and since his treatment of such themes is regarded as sympathetic, it is only with a certain brutality that he can show how earnest we must become to prevent such misery to unfold to another Oharu. However, in so-called modern times, women in wars and in times of so-called peace have been used as objects; in relative peaceful times women have been used as objects within the war zones of domestic lives. Hence, from a perspective that essentially combines peaceful doctrines with Buddhist meditation overtures, Oharu can gain through a rejection of her personal memories and later through a complete disavowal of her gender and sexuality a peaceful 'transcendence' that she could not find in her earlier life, when she was a woman.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Jean-Pierre Melville's Melancholic Killer

Sometimes style alone matters and from that perspective, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai is the king of style. Melville creates a gangster who while outwardly only wearing one hat carries many philosophies inside or may be nothing. A tribute to and inspiration from gangster noir, and a source of inspiration to movies since then, Le Samourai is stylish and slick, and is able to create persona and mystery though that may not be what the samurai himself wants. In keeping with mystery and style, Melville's minimalism is bleak, grey-white and sparse, from the first frame where blue smoke and a bull-finch in a cage making it's relentless melancholy noise to later and in places elsewhere, Le Samourai walks in the style and manner of an artist trained to be devoted to his unique art alone. In that sense, Delon's Jef Costello with his American name is one whose philosophy flourishes in the moments where his eye and white gloved hand aim to kill, for killing is high art.

In essence, sometimes what draws audiences to flicks like The Godfather is not murder but a certain style that gangsters have, and in all truth, Melville's assassin has credibility because he seldom talks and we don't know him much when the movie ends. Add to American inspired gangster flick the seeming outer kernel of a Japanese samurai and as the credits roll, Melville announces the code and way of the Bushido, which is the director's fiction. All such narratives about gangsters must ultimately be fictional and emotive and also romantic but here, Melville creates a unique melancholy assassin, whose spartan room but stylish clothes reveal a melancholic silence. He is trained to kill in many ways and in one scene, a woman notices him as he sits in a stolen car, noticing the stealthy glance, but returning it with looks that kill. The credibility of this movie lies entirely in de-romanticising the killer and in keeping melodrama away from him, and his credibility is kept in place because of our distance from him or rather his studied distance from us. His extreme aesthetic silence and his fantastic good looks are props that help in this almost bleak existential melancholy, for the contract killer too has a philosophy, which he will carry out, regardless of anything.

Le Samourai is a wonderfully stylish movie and Alain Delon plays an assassin whose silence and single-mindedness betray nothing except that bleak melancholy of his very bleak room. There is little of the true samurai about him in the way of a true philosophy and in that sense the title can be misleading. However, in dealing with his last contract he shows that he is indeed a samurai, for he does a seppuke. The soundtrack is magnificent and mouth wateringly sexy. Melville had adopted his favourite American writer's name. Delon gives the role that aura which few could have done.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Le Collectionneuse

I somehow prefer the French title to the English Collector but any way, Le collectionneuse is another of the Contes Moraux of Rohmer's. I must admit that watching these movies has been a privilege and in many ways, I have remembered my own hypocrisy and self deception. I wish Rohmer had made many more moral tales. This movie intrigued me as much as it attracted me for here, the male characters are far more smug than in the other tales. The main character Adrien is on holiday at a friend's house in a 17th century villa in St Tropez. Sharing it with him is another friend called Daniel. Adrien is a middle man in the art collection business, he wants to set up his own gallery. Adrien is handsome and has a girl friend who refuses his invitation to go with him. Daniel is a painter and the two get along very well. We have all the ingredients of a Rohmer tale here, summer vacations, picturesque surroundings and the protagonists tendency to philosophize.

Adrien, as narrator, makes it very clear that he prefers inactivity to work and that his life is his work. He finds a perfect foil in Daniel in that the two don't even think of disturbing each other. Daniel seems to be the thinking type while Adrien is the thinking as well as the talking type. Daniel considers thinking as work too but Adrien prefers to read so that he doesn't think. Daniel however considers even reading to be work. Into this lazy world arises a disturbance in the firm of the attractive Haydee, a young woman who is also a friend of the villa owners. Haydee arouses Adrien's curiosity more than Daniel's, but for both of them, she seems a challenge. Haydee challenges them indirectly in that she seems to be with a new boy every day, who either pick her or drop off at the villa. The two men actually call her a slut, for it is clear that she challenges them sexually. Adrien wants Daniel to sleep with her but Daniel will have none of it. Adrien thinks that Haydee is going down the ladder as he sees her with a new boy every night though Haydee sees it as part of her search for something.

Adrien wants Daniel to sleep with Haydee and one day it does happen. Adrien then thinks that it happened because he had tested her and that they both did it because they wanted to test him. Everything that happens must involve Adrien even if remotely. Adrien later sets up Haydee with Sam, the art collector. Daniel dumps Haydee which Adrien observes with satisfaction and then approaches her to give her support which she rejects. Adrien wants in the end to sleep with Haydee which Haydee would not mind but Adrien believes that it is Haydee who wants that. Later, on their way to the villa, after Haydee has accidentally broken Sam's costly vase, they run into her friends who invite her to another town. Adrien waits in his car but because he is blocking traffic, he has to make way for another irate driver. In that incidence, he leaves Haydee behind. He thinks he has left her behind but he uses that as a factor of his will.

Of all the male characters in the moral tales, Adrien is not only the most handsome but the most smug. He attacks bourgeois life but he is a bourgeois himself. He knows he is good looking and thinks he can have the girl he wants and not who wants him. He is interested in making money but pretends he is interested in doing nothing. He prefers the company of others but believes he likes his own company. He uses others to test his own limits believing it is fair to do so. He is articulate and intelligent and has a beautiful smile. Some of his witticisms are brilliant like : "What I don't want is to think my own way. I want to be led". He is well read but pretends he is not. He has an anthropologist's approach towards people; he tells Haydee that he would not stroke a woman's legs if her nose was ugly. He knows he is a dandy but he is the philosophising dandy. His self absorbed attitude is attractive though he is extremely selfish too. He attributes to willpower what should be attributed to chance. On the whole, he is willing to surrender to Haydee in the end but he does not know that he had already done so.

Daniel is the most withdrawn of the three. He prefers solitude and self awareness. He is not as articulate on a daily basis as Adrien but he is articulate spasmodically. He tends to speak when he wants to under a certain pressure. At one point he says : "People who are always thinking don't exist." Daniel is not willing to be an in Haydee's collection but eventually he ends up being just that. He shocks people merely for the value of shocking them. He is interesting in so far as he let's himself be. He is funny at times. He knows the games Adrien is playing but he couldn't care less. He prefers to be 'on a high' with himself. In the end, he is as self deceptive as Adrien. And as disappointing.

Haydee is not as articulate as other women of the moral tales. When she is introduced, she is walking along the sea shore, clad in a bikini. She lets her looks do the talking. She is pretty but not beautiful. Her smile is worth a million dollars though. She tends to reply insults with silence. She is seemingly dumb but she never let's you know what she is thinking about. She is impulsive and has no loyalties to any one apparently. She is disturbed underneath the promiscuity and she disturbs others randomly. She is quiet and well mannered but capricious and mysterious. Overall, she is not as wordly wise as the other two. She is an observer and soaks much and gives little. She is not the usual Rohmer talking woman.

Le Collectionneuse is a wonderful movie in many ways. It catches the sexy bohemian attitude of the main characters in an unforced unassuming manner. The way the villa is transformed by the attitudes of the three people and the sometimes visible tension between them is caught with subtle effect. The morning and siesta scenes are beautifully filmed and the conversations on the veranda or on the beach have the feel of 'real time' chats. One particular scene when Haydee and her 'boyfriend' have breakfast with Adrien and Daniel has impossible comic elements and charming wit and repartee. Here Adrien, on being asked what he does for work replies that he is an eye specialist, with such dead pan sincerity that the other two burst into laughter later, when Adrien tells Haydee's friend, who is wearing Polaroid sunglasses that polarization is already extrapolation. He advises him to wear Daniel magenta glasses which he, Adrien has prescribed. Basically Adrien and Daniel play the goat. One scene between Adrien and the art collector Sam, with Haydee observing them in silence turns vicious after Sam labels Adrien as a school child on vacation.

Waiting to unite with one woman while falling for the second one till you meet the first one is as much as basically happens here as in other morality tales but to sum it up like that is the way of a novice. Much more happens during the absence of the 'loved' one and the presence of the 'temptress'. I do not know if Rohmer has any sympathy for the male type though his female type emerges better.The performances by the three actors are convincing with only Patrick Bachau being a professional. I have read that Rohmer has been described as a conservative moralist because of his conclusions but that will be the aim of another post to consider. The camera work of Nestor Almendros in all of the morality tales is as important as the directorial role. The casual ordinariness of the images adds to the verbal grandeur of the dialogues.The colour schemes in this movie are refreshingly subtle, like water colour paintings done by an artist on drugs. Overall, Le Collectionneuse is a sexy movie that I will see again, and after that, again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Things I didn't know I loved

I didn't know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my
heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop
and takes off for uncharted countries I didn't know I loved
rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting
by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette
one alone could kill me
is it because I'm half dead from thinking about someone back in Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue

the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn't know I loved sparks
I didn't know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return

from Nazim Hikmet's "Things I didn't know I Loved"

Monday, December 20, 2010

let us say those words again

let us say those words again
some words that may touch us again
words that may make a poem
or a song
words that may dissolve into the iris of your eyes
and stay warm there
some words that remind us of days and nights gone by
words that may lead to other words may be new words
some words that may touch us again
words that may make a poem
or a song
words that fly from the tips of your fingers
and live on your lips
some words that may lead to new stories new threads
of new songs on lips on finger tips
let us say those words again
some words that have a name and a date
words that may touch us again
words that we could mount on our lips and keep
warm in our eyes
let us say those words again

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Ugetsu or Tales Of The Pale And Silvery Moon After The Rain is generally regarded as a ghost story and as a chronicle of war and the subsequent sufferings faced especially by women, but in the lines below, I will aim to describe it primarily as a love story. In three separate scenes, I will try to describe the intense and incomparable love between the main characters. This is not a plot description by any means.

The Lake Biwa Scene

It is no exaggeration to say that this scene has no rival in cinema. What we see first is a boat floating dreamily on a lake, towards us, and a lake shrouded in mist, the mist shrouded in wan and silvery moon light. A woman stands at the rear end, oaring this boat, and singing a song that arises seemingly from the depths of this lake. We see the boat glide on this most dreamy of lakes, as we recognise the men and woman huddled on it, as if tranced, held in the sway of the mist and moon light, tied to this boat by this most unearthly song, reminding them, if they can hear it, of the transience of all things. The boat and the lake may not exist at all, it seems we are in a trance, the remote viewer. Now, we see the boat from the rear end as it floats dreamily and as another boat emerges, as if out of the depths of this lake, out of this swooning mist, this moon light covered sensual mist.

Later, at dawn, when Miyagi looks at her husband in the departing boat, from the edges of this now real lake, Oh, Miyagi, you wanted to go with him, the desperation on her face, the camera cutting back and forth from the boat to Miyagi and back, that is the first intense depiction of love in this movie. The moon is in love with the lake, the mist with the lake, the boat with the water, and mortal men and women must do what they must do.

Lady Wasaka Dances

Lady Wasaka and Genjuro are in love. Genjuro holds a cup of Sake in his hands as Wasaka rises and, her face painted white, she drifts in front of him, she slides and writhes, she sings a song for her lover. This is no ordinary love for in her hands, haven't his pots attained perfection? "Your pots are saddened by my touch", she says, yes, this is no ordinary love, as Lady Wasaka dances and sings a song, the sound of which comes from another world. It sounds other worldly because this emotion is not of this world, she has suffered to attain Genjuro, now he is her's, as she dances a mournful dance, as she sings, "The finest silk, Of choicest hue, May change and fade away, As would my life, Beloved one, If thou shoulds't prove untrue." Love must necessarily seek suffering, sacrifice leads ultimately to the final gates of love opening like Wasaka's arms, as she holds her beloved.

Wasaka's eyes and her white face, her silken finery and her burning passion are not able to hide her fear that Genjuro, her only lover will one day leave her and that she will be all alone, with these pots and cups. Genjuro too loves her with the world weary love of men who are doomed to love immortal love, men whose eyes have seen eyes, whose faces have seen faces but this too is new for Genjuro, this awakening of the senses, this tragic numbing of the soul, this hypnotic movement of the limbs, Sake and mirth, Wasaka and love. This love is however immortal but Genjuro does not know that.

Genjuro returns

Miyagi waits in their tired hut for Genjuro. Love will pardon all, even greed. Have this stew, you are cold and tired, Miyagi says. Gone is her agitation and in its place is languid melancholy, had not their previous meeting raced against an hour glass, but this is new and you have returned home now, Miyagi knows. She looks at her lover with the known certainty of certainties, she alone knows that she must go, leave soon, perhaps forever, lover look at me, I will be gone soon, but she does not say that aloud. She has waited so long for him and he has travelled so long for her. Later, asleep, he dreams a dreamless sleep, safe sleep in the safety of being near the person who matters, and she has left him but so it seems. I will always be with you, Miyagi says and we hear. Genjuro hears that too. Near his pots and pans and outside his hut, he has erected a shrine for her.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Night at Maud's

"There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain".

Rohmer's My night at Maud's is the third of his 'Contes Moraux' and as for as the talking style philosophizing goes, this is the best of the three I have seen so far. Jean-Louis is an engineer who has returned from overseas and is shown attending mass, a few days before Christmas. There, he spots a young blonde woman and on his way back, tells us that she will be his wife in the future. A chance encounter later sees Jean-Louis reunited with an old friend Vidal and the two soon start talking about chance and probability. Vidal reveals he is a Marxist while Jean-Louis confirms he is a Catholic. The two start discussing chance and Pascal's wager. Later still, Vidal invites Jean-Louis for dinner at his friend's Maud's place. Maud is divorcing and as Vidal declares, it will stop the two of them sleeping together out of boredom. Jean-Louis accepts.

Maud is a charming and exquisitely sensual, exquisitely attractive woman, who is disarmingly frank and brutally challenging to some of Jean-Louis's opinions, as the night moves on. Jean-Louis confirms that he follows a strict catholic moral code and that he would want his future wife to be a catholic and blonde, though the latter could be compromised. However, he also does admit that he has occasionally not been able to follow catholic morality. He lies about not knowing who the supposed blonde is he though he has only seen her. He declares that re-reading Pascal has done nothing for him for he finds Pascal's wager as not in the catholic spirit. When Maud asks him if he has morally compromised himself, he admits that he has but only when he has been single and not in a relationship. Soon they discover a snow storm has hit the town. Vidal decides to leave, leaving Jean-Louis behind, who accepts Maud's invitation to spend the night at her house, in her spare bed room.

Maud invites Jean-Louis to sleep next to him, atop the covers of her couch bed, which he rejects initially, settling on a sofa chair. But soon afterwards he gets up and settles next to Maud atop the covers. Previously Maud has declared that she sleeps naked during the night and true to her word, she does. Jean-Louis, however, stands by his moral code and doesn't give in to any temptation. Later in the morning, he feels a stirring of desire for Maud and on her responding, he stops himself. After that, he tries again but is rejected by Maud as she declares that "she likes men who know what they want." Jean-Louis later departs and becomes a good friend of Maud's and the two meet again. Their discussions continue to focus on their futures, especially if the two could be suitable for each other.Maud also tells Jean-Louis how her own marriage ended because of her husband's affair with a young blonde. Jean-Louis meets his blonde girl again by chance and declares his affection for her, asking her "do i have a chance to get to know you?" She is unhappy because of her own terminated love affair but seems quite receptive to Jean-Louis.

It is interesting to note that Jean-Louis is clearly attracted to Maud who also likes him. However, he accepts to spend the night with Maud while Maud only invites him to; he could have rejected that. Jean-Louis also adheres to his rigid moral stands but does cave in completely when he lies next to Maud. It is she who on rebuffing him, sends him to his usual catholic norms. Maud is not playing with him but testing him when Maud invites Jean-Louis to sleep next to him, which he rejects initially but accepts soon afterwards. Jean-Louis, in my opinion, could have left with Vidal and not stayed with Maud. After all, if the roads were treacherous for Jean-Louis, they were so for Vidal too. Jean-Louis actually believes in his standards, in his catholic values but does not think that he can be happy with Maud. However, on another meeting with her, he declares that only she can make him happy and that he feels happy only in her presence.

Maud is unhappy with her present situation but is not attracted to Jean-Louis' religious convictions. She openly tells him that he cannot convert her. While openly saying that she would be happy to marry him, she also thinks that it could possibly overwhelm Jean-Louis, who reminds her of a boy-scout figure.

It is interesting to see that once again, the main protagonist is either self- assured or self- absorbed. By putting temptation in his way, Rohmer is actually continuing a narrative of temptation being put in the way of someone who could be potentially tempted. In a sense, the temptress seems to be blamed more for tempting than the tempted. I am not sure if it is the product of a certain religious sensibility that has set the tone for such narratives down the ages or whether the female sex is sen as natural tempter. In that sense, the temptation or moral dilemma facing Jean-Louis is more concrete, in that he is lying next to Maud who is naked and perhaps willing; contrast this with Claire's Knee where the temptation is still inside the mind at a more nascent stage. From that point, I think the morality discussions are more subtle and psychological in Claire's Knee than here. Hence I preferred Claire's Knee to Maud, metaphorically speaking, though I would like to be in Maud's company.

There is perhaps a standard depiction of a femme fatale here in Maud in contrast to the blonde woman Jean-Louis finds in the church. It is difficult in a Pascalian sense for Jean-Louis to marry Maud because she is Maud; Maud is not ethereal and a believer as the blonde is. Maud is wise and wordly and fast, while the blonde is vulnerable looking and appears innocent. Maud is treated in a standard moral attitude and in that sense, I could only sense a male morality towards her. I do not know if all male morality is also a standard religious morality after all. When Jean-Louis discovers that his blonde wife is the same woman with whom Maud's husband had an affair, he declares to his wife that they are square, for the day he met her, he was with Maud. He does not tell his wife that he did not sleep with Maud but creates a situation where he actually lies to his wife, who responds that they should never talk about things past now.

Personally I found Jean-Louis as a hypocritical male agent, who has an idealized notion of womanhood and marriage, seeing things through a Catholic prism but actually doing the opposite. His wife must be Catholic and blonde, but he does not mind sleeping next to Maud, who has dark hair. While Maud is intelligent and understands Pascal more than Jean-Louis perhaps, Jean-Louis wants to settle with his blonde wife who appears that she may not understand Pascal. The last scene of the movie has Jean-Louis and his wife meet Maud on a beach by chance. Maud and Jean-Louis stop to have a chat, and Maud seems unsurprised that the blonde woman is his wife. He makes a reference to the evening they had spent together five years ago but Maud reminds him of the fact that it was a night.

Maud has remarried she tells him, but the marriage is not working out as she says that she has no luck with men. Maud then leaves as she walks away with Jean-Louis striding towards his wife and child. That is such a melancholic and bitter moment, it is actually a source of discomfiture for a sensitive person. Maud had liked Jean-Louis but he is not morally strong enough to be with her, I think she is intelligent enough to realize that. Jean-Louis had also liked Maud but he is shackled by his resolves; by not sleeping with Maud, he has won a wife but lost much more.

Regarding the setting, by now, we know that talk and philosophizing is the tone of Rohmer territory. This is black and white and winter, hence no summer grass or sunshine or placid lakes. The snow and the frost on the roads is captured beautifully. The camera focuses for minutes together on the speaking face, gathering all the inflections and nuances.. Francoise Fabian as Maud is lush with a burning sensuality. She is however able to transform into playful innocence ( as if sensuality is not innocent, too much Rohmer talk) in a moment's passing. Jean-Louis Trintignant draws the viewer in and he reveals himself very slowly. I was not however attracted to his persona as I was to Jerome in Claire's Knee. That speaks volumes about his performance which is brilliant. This movie has become one of my favourites and is nothing less than a masterpiece.

It is interesting to note that Pascal was born in Clermont, where the movie was shot.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Claire's Knee

"There are things you hear and things you see, and the rest is supposition.”

As I stated in a previous post on Rohmer's movie style, talking and chatting are the essence of his 'thought' evocation, for essentially, Rohmer's world is where thinking begins and actions stop. Actions may still exist but they stem from thoughts, after thinking. In Claire's knee, as in his other movies, the main characters are away from their usual habitat and for various reasons on vacation. This time,, it is near the Swiss border on a picturesque lake. Jerome runs into possibly an old flame called Aurora, who is lodged with a family, as she is trying to finish a novel. Jerome is a career diplomat and has come there to sell his villa. So far, so good. Jerome is the kind of character that I immediately warmed to, for vague reasons really, not because he is fully bearded but perhaps because he seemed to have a lot of time on his hands, and appeared relaxed. Jerome informs Aurora, whom he has last seen in Bucharest that he is getting married to a woman called Lucinde.

Aurora introduces Jerome to a young girl called Laura, who is the daughter of her landlady. Later, Aurora, herself not unattractive, informs Jerome that Laura may be in love with him. Jerome finds that amusing but at Aurora's insistence, decides to play a game so that Aurora can use what happens as material for her novel. He laughingly assumes the role of a guinea pig for her, as he claims. Laura clearly seems enamoured of Jerome and it is clear that she is looking for father figure, as she herself declares. On a hiking trip alone with Jerome, Jerome kisses her but Laura stops him, saying that she wants more than friendship. Later, Jerome claims he will not play the guinea pig for Aurora. Soon after, Claire, Laura's half- sister arrives and to his own dismay, Jerome falls for her. Claire is young like Laura and whilst picking pears on a ladder, Jerome seems to get attracted by her knee. Soon afterwards, Jerome declares to Aurora that usually possession leads to desire for him but in this case, desire is asking for possession.
Initially Jerome, in his numerous chats with Aurora and Laura declares that he has found in his fiancee Lucinde, the woman with whom he is never bored. While he might still be attracted to other women, it is only with Lucinde that he feels fulfilled. But in his first meeting with Aurora, he declares "Why would I tie myself to one woman if I were interested in others?”, though later on he is clear that Lucinde is really made for him. During a chat with Laura, he shows her Lucinde's photo and admits that she is not his type physically but immediately says that “Though I don’t really have a type. Looks don’t matter to me. It’s the character alone that counts". However later, he declares his passion for Claire, who is long legged and pretty. He admits that Claire is not his type. In Laura he finds a girl who challenges his opinions, especially about character and in Aurora, he finds a kindly ear.

In his desire for Claire's knee, he makes it clear that were she to throw herself at his feet, he would disregard her but that only in possessing her knee would he feel that he had liberated himself from exploring this desire. Much earlier Jerome declares that life is too short to notice adolescent yearnings but he does notice Laura's yearnings acutely. Jerome tells Aurora that any woman can be approached through either a caress on the neck or arm or a kiss on the cheek but in Claire's case, it is her knee. When he does finally get his opportunity, he fondles and strokes her knee and Claire lets him do it. It is an intriguing scene, not only for the two of them but for the viewer too, and one wonders where Jerome will stop or how Claire will react.

Claire's knee is a magnificent movie and in this vacation spot, the main characters meet, have tea, walk, are on a boat, inside a house, indoors and outdoors, talking and walking, chatting and getting angry at each other, compromising and philosophizing. In essence, one or two Rohmer characters in all his movies are the philosophizing type. They are not philosophers but the talking type, those who talk about things when they are actually talking about themselves, who give examples of things when they are actually speaking from their own experiences. That they contradict themselves from time to time is evident but more importantly, they seem to at least outwardly arrive at some outer conclusion.

Jerome is a brilliant example of the talking type. Sitting or standing, dressed casually and hatted, Jerome is the quintessence of the moralizing type. He never ceases to give an opinion or reflect from his past experiences. He always or usually has something to say or advise. He advises Laura to study in Paris or Lyon and advises Claire to keep away from loutish boys. He knows he is always away from making a mistake but admits that it is possible to do so. He never seems to be in a rush or hurry. He is generally polite and very lazy in his demeanour. Jerome is also a bit of a hypocrite and seems to justify his own lapses. He never admits that he is completely wrong and always justifies his weakness or some behaviour with a theory. His explanation of his desire for Claire's knee is nothing short of a psychological formulation but actually quite misleading.

The other characters are brilliantly portrayed by all the actors including Laura, who is simply scintillating. She is the Rohmer woman par excellence, very wise and maturing with experience, while Aurora is already worldly and wise. The locales are as in other Rohmer movies, sun and shade and naturalness are important ingredients. The moody analysis of desire and its undercurrents are discussed against a background of summer grass and pear trees and motor boat cruises on placid lakes. I think Claire's Knee is such a subtle and important movie that I must see it many times before I can actually appreciate the intense psychological implications that are more hidden than visible.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pauline at the Beach

''Love burns. I want to burn with love."

Eric Rohmer is generally regarded as one of the important names of the French new wave of the sixties. His style makes him quite unique and it has been likened to a novelistic approach towards film making. Rohmer himself declared that he was more interested in thoughts than actions. This is evident right from the beginning of Pauline at the Beach where Pauline, entrusted to her older mature cousin Marion, soon after lodging at their summer seaside bungalow start talking about 'love'. The characters soon start setting the agenda for discussion, for a chat, much like as it happens in ordinary day to day situations. In this as in other Rohmer movies, it is thoughts that instigate words as shown but also the ability to create a space wherein words and thoughts can be shared. In other words, much of Rohmer territory is on the beaches as in here or about people on holidays or on vacations, where they get a chance to talk.

Another feature of his movies is the essentially naturalistic setting. By that one would infer the ordinariness of the scenes shown. The shots are much of those we see naturally in ordinary situations, on the beach, on the streets, inside a house and so on. There is in essence an ordinary routine appearance to what we see which enhances the background tone of talking that seems to be the primary aim. The shots of people casually walking on the streets and stopping and chatting at a normal place is wonderfully shown in Rohmer's movies. The ordinary chatting scenes do not make the movie more realistic immediately but actually enhance the sense of talking. I can see myself as having been part of endless discussions with various people on topics as diverse as faith and life and love and so on. What strikes one in this movie however is the 'return' to a previous established routine, after episodes or episodes have unraveled. In that sense, the opening and closing of the gates at the beginning and the end of this movie signify that very clearly.

Pauline at the Beach is one of Rohmer's six moral tales movies, and the themes are not connected.

Pauline is young, in fact very young and Marion is older and she thinks she has a better understanding about matters that relate to love. As she declares, she wants to burn in love, with love. She is looking for an instinctual extinction in passion and also believes that that will ultimately lead her to finding the right person. She rejects the advances of an old flame Pierre but succumbs quickly to Henri a stranger that Pierre introduces her to. Marion encourages Pierre to think about Pauline who is already enamoured of a boy of her age. Henri likes every woman he sets his eyes on, he has no fixed abode, he is a traveller and never locks his house for there is nothing to steal from. Pierre wants something permanent with Marion who wants a recognition of her spirit in Henri who desires both Pauline and Marion physically.

Pauline's instincts ultimately are more superior to Marion's and as summer moves on, Pauline becomes more mature. In fact, she never gossips about anyone in their absence in contrast to the the older more mature people around her. Everyone is in an enclosed circle of sorts and in this combination of circles and triangles, feelings and emotions grow and subside. What they think of as love is as passing as the summer, and as summer passes so does their love. Pauline wants to know a person before she falls in love though she does admit that she had developed something for a stranger she had seen just once, in passing, without them talking to each other. Pauline is not subject to waves of burning but waves of restrained emotion and as her maturity grows, she seems more aware of what others believe about and don't.

What Pierre does not understand is why Marion does not love him but Henri even though Henri is not good for her? Pierre believes that Marion is blind not to see how good a person he is and yet Pierre strangely continues to love Marion even though she rejects him for Henri. Pierre does not think Marion's behaviour is logical and yet Pierre himself does not behave logically. In essence, Pierre thinks that in love, one should make logical choices but he is not making a logical choice himself after having seen Marion's illogical behaviour.

Henri seems a fairly remote and diabolical man as he would not mind sleeping with anyone and yet his theories about love seem better than Pierre's. He rejects Marion's burning in love hypothesis and says that an initial spark must be the spring board for future passion. He rejects Marion as being the symbol of perfection and finds her perfection oppressive. He rejects Marion because she falls too easily for him and as he puts it, “she gave me no time to desire her.”

Throughout the movie, we see all the characters doing the opposite of what they say and sometimes saying things for effect. It is difficult for instance to say someone doesn't mean a thing when they utter things about love or life and so on. It does not mean however that we are lying. Perhaps it means that that is what we believe at that given instant or that one can say things under the oppressive beauty of some one or under the beautiful spell of someone just seen. I have great sympathy for nearly everyone shown in this movie and am much in love with Rohmer's unique vision of being unobtrusive and at a distance from his characters. There is almost a casual approach towards film making that seems to be the case here and yet in essence there is a rawness and an intensity that lies at the heart of things.

Pauline at the Beach seems like a very unassuming movie. However, to assume that would be a mistake. It is a relentless deconstruction of many things, observed with humanity and humour.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Lovers

I find tales of bourgeoisie women in their mid lives facing boredom in their marriages boring to say the least. They happen usually to be trapped in their 'loveless' marriages and chance encounters with strangers or husband's friends lead to occasional emotional and often sexual release. Then they suddenly realize that it either sinful to do so or against prevailing norms and values and this behaviour is sometimes generously described as a revolt against masculine repression or some other fanciful psychological devices are used to explain such misdemeanour. It is fair enough at times to accept that maybe their lives are boring or loveless but often most lives are. But where Louis Malle's The Lovers struck me as more interesting though less realistic is the actual revolt of this attractive woman in a loveless marriage who defies 'logical' behaviour and proceeds to leave her child, husband, clothes, jewellery and all that such life amounts to behind and actually flee with her 'lover' in his car from her house to something which she does not know what.

On the road with her love, chance having brought them together, she has misgivings and sheds a few tears but she defies all her initial doubts and leaves. She has spent, initially unplanned but later with resolute intensity, a night with her new lover and seems to have discovered 'love' and meaning. Now, I am all for love at first sight, even second sight, but to actually flee after the first night seemed very brave to me. But perhaps that is what she was craving for, this sense of danger that first sight attraction brings, this sense of adventure that 'instinctual' love brings, ennui and 'repression' having thwarted all emotions perhaps. On the surface she doesn't seem repressed, she enjoys material comforts, is fashionably dressed, enjoys the style of polo playing upper middle-class, sports the latest hair style in Paris and has friends who enjoy the same rush. I thought her husband seemed stern but sensible, he understood the bourgeois demands that his wife was putting on herself and yet something eludes us, something perhaps that Malle hides.

Unless the story is a parable, the crises that we see must not however make me cynical to say that the wife has no right to feel bored; even bourgeoisie wives have intellectual and emotional needs! But what I liked most about the movie is the end, for the wife and her new lover actually do flee for something which I do not know. Will this adventure end and will she miss the trappings of her usual comfort? What about the young daughter she has left behind?
Jeanne Moreau plays the wife and is ravishingly attractive and almost ethereal in her beauty. Her grace, her charms and her erotic attractions have something of the watery about in this movie and in spite of her adultery, she appears a picture of 'innocence'. The camera work is subtle, with alternate focus on shade and light and the house scenes are very effective in showing the interior locales of such an existence.

This movie is clearly an aesthetic success and an important sample of the French new wave.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ashes and Diamonds

I fell in love with Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds while watching it and am still under its spell. I had not seen any Wajda movie before. It is the kind of movie that fills the viewer with awe at a film maker's craft, a kind of movie that stays with the viewer. Even though the movie portrays what has been shown in numerous ways in numerous movies, namely the dilemma of idealism against the realities of life, the harsh choices that a harsh life inevitably presents people with, yet it does so in a manner so artistic and so restrained that it leaves one sad and breathless, enlightened and yet wary, filled with the after echoes of false dawns. It leaves one with ashes and no diamonds.

The movie begins with breathtaking speed and surprise. Maciek and Andrezj are lying on the grass on a seemingly benign day in an um-named Polish town and we find that they are lying in wait, waiting to assassinate a communist party official immediately after the second war has ended. The scene ends with frantic violence, with Maciek gunning down one fleeing man in front of a chapel, the man's back covered with flames. Later on, in the main hotel in town, they discover that they have gunned down the wrong people by mistake and that the surviving official is at the same hotel for the night. Maciek, younger than Andrzej and idealistic, is naturally miserable at what has happened. However, the two men who are right wing soldiers are ordered to aim at their target again. The action that follows details a 24 hour period at the hotel, during which Maciek falls in love with a beautiful barmaid, Krystyna at the hotel bar. Maciek seems torn between what he truly wants and what he desires or what he thinks he idealizes.

There is a scene between Maciek and Andrzej near the bar where Maciek is trying to capture the bar girl's attention. In a scene that I personally find ravishing and unforgettable, a scene that I must have watched endlessly, he sets a few vodka glasses on fire. The symbolism of lost youth and waning idealism may be there but for me, it is such a beautiful scene, so romantically enacted that it takes the breath away. Krystyna senses that Maciek cannot commit to her and later on during the night, they visit an old chapel outside the hotel. The innocent men that Maciek has killed earlier lie there but outside is a statue of Christ hanging upside down. Afterwards, Maciek departs from Krystyna and goes in search of Szczuka, the communist party official. He guns him down near the hotel and Ssczuka falls in his arms. Maciek however decides not to join Andrzej on their way back to Warsaw but runs into a patrol of Polish army soldiers who run after him and gun him down on a rubbish dump.

Maciek is played by Zbiegniew Cybulski and I have learnt that he died tragically in a train accident. His performance is one of the great highlights of this movie. In essence, his performance is unforgettable. Cybulski was compared to James Dean once and in his leather jacket and tinted glasses, he looks menacingly debonair. He is restless and charming, torn between the ideology that makes him a killer and the trappings of a young man who desires love and life. He is afraid to admit to Andrzej that he may have fallen in love with Krystyna. In essence, in those few hours in the bar and in his room and outside, his agitated romanticism and his sullen attitude balance his freshness and his innocent manner. He is the prince amongst killers, he is a romantic anarchist, he is lover and assassin, revolutionary and doomed.

Wajda's cinematic techniques, as I am beginning to familiarize myself with, are considered baroque and beautiful. The scenes are shot in a naturalistic manner, and there is much emphasis on light and shade. The bar scenes are magnificent and the burning vodka one I have mentioned earlier. Krystyna is restrainedly beautiful, Maciek is quietly confident that she will accept his invitation to join him in his room. She knows she has no future with him but in her own way is hopeful and spends a night with him. He dies in a rubbish dump, the symbolism here is evident, Wajda shows the inherent stakes that pit one force against another in the name of country and ideology and patriotism, which to Maciek or any other sane observer in any age must strike as hollow and futile in comparison with the idealism of youth, which he burns and the gift of life which he has snatched from others. Outside the chapel with Krystyna, krystyna unearths for Maciek the feelings that he is not supposed to have or the love that he must not voice. Later on and since then, everything is ashes.

Below, the burning vodka scene that I found in Polish. I have fallen in love with it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Tristana is a wonderful movie, in that the imagery and surreality of Bunuel's world gushes forth in each image. Tristana is another 'woman' movie in which Bunuel portrays a young woman's fall into poverty, sexual and emotional exploitation, her rebellion, revenge and eventual rehabilitation after many travails and losses. Shot in Spain and in the environs of a walled and picturesque setting, the movie tells the tale of how young Tristana is exploited by her elderly guardian, at first as a protector and then for his sexual needs. The guardian has lapsed into relative poverty and is forced to sell his antique possessions but clings to his old world ways with tremendous determination. He is clearly not a parvenu nor a really lecherous person but is steeped in the world, a world that uses women as part of a sanctioned order

When Tristana goes out into the world and falls in love with Horacio, a young painter, her benefactor cannot accept that. Tristana flees with her lover but eventually returns as she is unwell, with a dangerous infection in her leg, which is eventually amputated. However, for this she must stay with her benefactor, Don Lope, who confesses his real love for her, which Tristana refuses to accept. They get married eventually but she snubs him, and later, at night, when he wants to consummate the wedlock, she refuses and reminds him of his age. Later still, Don Lope is unwell and asks Tristana to fetch a doctor which she pretends to do. In the meanwhile, Don Lope dies.

Tristana is a subdued movie as for as colours are concerned but is shot in the usual 'unreal' Bunuel manner. Played by Catherine Deneuve, Tristana is sadly beautiful and beautifully sad and her expressions, her mannerisms and her body language convey the anguish of exploited women down the ages. Fernando Rey, one of my favourite actors, plays Don Lope with his customary nonchalance and regal ease and later with a certain degree of solemn acceptance of his deeds. Don Lope is quite an interesting character who reveals that all his life he has refused to work for money and denounces any merit in such a thing for why should he work so that others get rich? In his demeanour, his manners and his behaviour, there is no sign of debauchery but that in reality is the sign of such a gentleman, who carries on his activities without sensitivity or insight.

The household of Don Lope has interesting characters too, and his housekeeper's very young son, who is uninterested in any kind of meaningful activity, is clearly bewitched by Tristana. In a scene where Tristana asserts her freedom, she bares her bosom to this young chap, in an act that she sees as her reassertion of those rights that had not been available to her before. The calm manner in which male hypocrisy sanctions her subdued existence, and the way the two men, one out of love and the other out of his own selfish ends continue to set the tone of her life is shown in sharp relief against a backdrop of the hieracrhical nature of such dominant modes of intercourse. Towards the end, Tristana is determined when she refuses to save her 'husband', who, now rich again after having inherited his estate, passes it on to her. Tristana is now rich and one hopes will find some solace with Horacio, though that is not shown.

Bunuel shows a lot of his characteristic fetishistic shots, especially the leg shots and the prosthesis for Tristana's leg, which in one shot is adorned, lying on her bed with her inner garments. Then there are the dream sequences, which are so unnervingly extravagant with imagination. Deneuve plays her role with ease and grace, the aloof beauty, the melancholic young woman but the main performance is still Fernando Rey's, Bunuel's lead actor in all his later movies, who in spite of not exciting the viewer's sympathies, carries on with a melancholic gesture of accepting not only his material fall but also his emotional fall from grace. Rey was a consummate actor, a great actor and one never gets the feeling that he actually acts but as of someone who has naturally inherited that role. Tristana the movie shows Bunuel attacking the bourgeoisie values and concepts that he brilliantly attacked all his life and in showing with beauty and skill, the unending crime of accepting hypocrisy, be it social or religious.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thursday, December 09, 2010

the unexpected

the night was wondrous but not wonderful, for amazement and surprise are elements of discovery, and the unexpected discovery is a haunting piece of music; were it for that night to have worn different colours, colours that one expects certain moods to wear, then surprise would have been replaced by gesture and pose. But this was night on tips and toes, this was fur coat and scarf, it was bright lips and brown, it was frost and fog. Had one known, one could have quoted favourite lines from favourite writers, come prepared with steel and silk, music and book, mask and wit. Had one known, one would have invented name and face, learned beforehand to walk with grace on ice and snow, sought advise from friend and seer; had one known, one could have learned not to fail one self, to look calm when the heart was all agitation.

But the unexpected happened. You came with the force of attacking marauders, with the impatient force of merciless armies, with the unexpected disquieting force of unavoidable power. Your finger tips tore the night air to shreds, your bright lips burnt the frost with a blazing flame, the havoc your presence created was unknown to you, you were one calm presence amongst fluttering hearts. Your words made ripples that still linger with me, your smile was seldom effusive but when you spoke, your words fell on the frost like clear diamonds. When you left, the space behind you ached with the lushness of invincible surmise. You took with you our disjointed words and our stunned surprise.

Monday, December 06, 2010

When my Lover will come

When my lover will come and I will hear her feet,
I will tear that hour from the fabric of unreliable time
and hang the musk of that hour like a flag
and stitch it to the bloodied walls of my memory.

When my lover will come and I will hear her feet,
I will slave my heart beats to the drowsy sound of her anklets
as she will step on my spreading desire,
drowning that hour with the spreading mist of her scent.

When my lover will come and I will hear her feet,
I will read out all the words that I know to her,
and throw away all the blank papers I own as
she will write her name on each moment of that captive time.

When my lover will come and I will hear her feet,
I will hide all the awkward din of my awkward heart
as I will touch each strand of her long brown hair
and tie her hair and myself in knots.

Friday, December 03, 2010

That Obscure Object of Desire

All Bunuel movies are seductive, at least I find them so. Towards the end of his career, Bunuel only made beautiful movies. Not only are they charming and seductively so, but if a particular shot is frozen, they appear before the eyes as wonderful tapestries, as sensual images that are surreal, lush with colour. Even in typical bourgeoisie activities like having dinner, the images are extremely winning. That Obscure Object of Desire, a movie that one can watch endlessly, is certainly experimental for the object of desire is played by two actors, and the same character portrayed by two actors is certainly quite novel. When Mathieu meets Conchita by chance, a woman who lives with her mother and is actually poor, he develops an obsession for her, and in actual matter wants to sleep with her. All his advances, while not entirely unwelcome are rebuffed by her. He befriends her, buys her gifts, even goes to her apartment and loans money to her mother and sends a marriage proposal. She, very cleverly never actually declares any hatred for him but always keeps him hanging, so to say. This leads to him intimidating her and blackmailing her but she always promises consummation tomorrow which actually never comes. Against this is a background activity by a terrorist group that act in violent activities which though unconnected to this couple play a hilariously delicate part in the end.

She makes him buy a villa for her and then refuses him entry to her house and then engages in sexual activity with another friend under his very nose so to say. Mathieu narrates his story to his fellow travellers in the train from Seville to Paris and with his usual dead pan countenance, effectuates a response from them which borders in believing him. In all of his escapades where Mathieu tries to humiliate Conchita, he expects a natural response from his audience to say that all along, it was him who was being humiliated. In response to a fellow traveller after unloading a bucket of water on Conchita, Mathieu tells them that it is definitely better than actually killing her. Though his determination and her resistance seem endless, the drama ends with both walking together, she is some state of resistance and then an explosion. We are not really sure what happens to them.

Bunuel's later movies ( they have the best film titles also of all times) have small episodes connected in a loose and yet enchanting manner and yet they never seem disjointed. The movie opens with Mathieu throwing a bucket of water on Conchita. He is on the train to Paris and his fellow travellers include a woman, her daughter, an elderly gentleman and a psychologist,who is a dwarf. The milieu is cosy and tailor-made for a tale. All his actions, some of them smug and abhorrent are hilarious. Contrast this with the The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where a group of bourgeoisie men and women never actually manage to sit and have dinner for the very precise moment is interrupted by one event after another. In one incident, one of the couples whilst waiting for their guests, decide to make love in their garden for fear of being loud and in another they are interrupted by an army contingent who decide to hold army exercises. The couples are typically upper middle class and quite frivolous in what ever they do. Each scene works on it's own as a vignette, and a quirky episode is followed by a surreal dream followed by reality followed by some bizarre event or another.

In both movies, Bunuel attempts to show the hypocrisy of middle class values and manners and customs. In That Obscure Object of Desire, Conchita is actually treated like an object that Mathieu desires to sleep with and ignore her desires; it is almost that he is buying her, for his advances have nothing solemn about them. In The Discreet Charm, after each episode ends in a fiasco, the bourgeoisie group are shown walking on a highway as if without aim.
Common to both movies is Fernando Rey, who was once described as the last of the continentals. I would hate to imagine any one else play those roles. He has an air of disinterested smugness about him, as if being good and being bad are both boring things to do. His acting does not seem as acting like all for he seems naturally inclined towards such a performance. He is a natural charmer and portraying an upper class gent seems to be his born right. Angela Molina is certainly svelte and charming, almost seductively sexy while Carole Bouquet is disinterestedly casual about her own charms. The interiors, the decor, and the outdoors are magnificently beautiful. One can sometimes describe them as melancholic but on the whole, all of Bunuel's images are sexily lush, as if the beauty in itself is delicately surreal.

What one doesn't mind at times is the apparent simplicity of the stories but if you actually think, all these episodic vignettes have an underlying psychological claim for complexity. In both movies, Bunuel is wonderfully subversive and hard hitting for there are so many episodes wherein he actually leaves no institution without attacking it. Be it the Church or social
customs or bourgeoisie values and mores like marriage, Bunuel actually gnaws at the very essence of the hypocrisy that covers their outer shells. The dream sequences are actually dangerous territories for there, Bunuel charts waters that few have attempted to do before or after him. The claims for a psychological approach may not be entirely unfounded. If one considers the situations where Mathieu finds himself in with Conchita, the very idea seems surreal.

Bunuel actually pursues his usual search for exploring towards a particular end; here the object of exploration is desire. The imagery around which this is built is seemingly disarming because it seems frivolous at times but in actual manner is quite sinister. While Conchita seems to like Mathieu, she will not allow him to use her; he must win her affection. To do that, he must begin to like her and then love her, which is certainly difficult for Mathieu. It is difficult because the thinking that forms the background of his stable state is based on a patronising attitude towards such things - be it class distinctions, affection or women. And since Mathieu desires Conchita, and Conchita is certainly desirable, Bunuel plays with the psychological states of his characters and with those of his viewers. After all, if one thinks of desire, then where does it stop? Perhaps desire for a wrong thing is a wrong desire, but in one's inner mind so to say, these wrong desires are constantly pushed under the cover of lawful desires.

I must mention again with what I began.....that whatever we see or witness in a Bunuel movie is seductively beautiful. Hence, even in images that we might normally find repelling, in other places, in Bunuel world, they become erotic. Conchita played by Molina is very erotic, even a hand gesture from her can set ships launching. When both Mathieu and Conchita seemingly go up in flames, the scene appears beautiful, as if two people have not died but momentarily taken refuge in sexy flames. It is possible to be a slave to Bunuel's images ones entire life, to see from the prism of those images the ugliness of our own and surrounding images. That his imagery is described as surreal is a testimony to the beauty that he created. That he also dictates a political and moral end to his images is the highest degree of success for any artist.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Unasked Question

After you came out of your disputatious mood and settled down to a certain degree of repose, leaning your back against the window, quite unconsciously, more out of habit than anything else, you let loose your long brown hair and it fell on your shoulders, some strands shading your face, you started to roll some strands on your fingers, as your gaze settled on a spot on the floor and a calmness settled in your entire pose. After a while, as if by degrees but unhurriedly, you smiled, as if some thought or thoughts had lead to that smile, as if remembering something had lead to an inner knot being unraveled, and you smiled again, and your smile, that was my tremor.

You continued to linger in your reverie and I did not want to disturb you and then as if finally some indecision had been finally resolved, you looked at me and your face was so beautiful. But somehow, as if by magic, your earlier uncertainty had been replaced by a mellow sort of look in your eyes, as if you were repenting at not having made some resolve earlier and were thinking of doing something with the force of the autumnal winds that we could hear behind shut windows. And then quite suddenly, you declared that walking on cold rainy autumn nights is very romantic, and that only romantic people can indulge in such pursuits, you added, and that one must walk without aim on such nights, past all kinds of shops and business establishments, on all named and unnamed roads, familiar and unfamiliar streets, under lights and in shade, and that this way one gets to see what is under the skin of people.

Your hair was still on your shoulders and down your back too but now, you suddenly gathered it in your hands, more by habit than by any resolve I thought, and then gathered all the other unruly strands too, and cupped your hands and made a ball of your hair on the back of your head, like a resting snake. We must learn to walk at night in these crisp autumn nights you said, having gotten up by now, and you turned and opened the window that opens on the street, bringing in the noise of the city and the smell of falling rain. Walking at night is not the same as walking during the day, you said as you turned to look at me again, your fingers wet by the wet window sill, and it is also important to know who to walk with, you declared, getting ready to leave. I nodded in agreement but all that time I had been thinking of that earlier smile, that moment that had lead to that smile, and yet in spite of all my will, I could not ask you what had made you smile, that one question hung on my lips then.

In that frame of mind, I had thought that you were thinking of something or someone, and that an earlier uncertainty had resolved in favour of that thing or person, and that you had decided to become benevolent and giving; that some pattern on the floor had resolved it for you, that the talk of walking was merely an interruption you had invented to straighten your thoughts, that talking of autumn and winds and walking on cold autumn streets had lead you to resolve something that had been troubling you, that weather and its vagaries were never the sort of thing that you had allowed to affect yourself with, that my silence and my diffidence in themselves were the tools you could use to chisel at the hazy ends of your thoughts, that my silence and the rain were merely friends that helped you and gave you a helping hand. And in spite of all that and in spite of everything, that one unasked question hung on my lips then as it does now, the unasked question.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Giants and Toys

In Yasuzo Masumura's Giants and Toys, the central female character is actually not quite so central. Her predicament is that she belongs to a working class environment, her father is actually in the shadow of her mother who is in the shadow of her daughter who is in the shadow of anonymous poverty. Chance brings her in contact with an ambitious businessman, whose fledgling company sales bring him about to think of an audacious idea to defeat his nearest rivals: use an ordinary Tokyo girl's face for an advert in selling their company's goods. The idea is not to use a model but to use an ordinary looking girl, so that the buying public can identify with her. The buying public are brainless he thinks, they are morons he believes, they go with the diktat of the market. Since consumerism is God, and consumers from various sections of society are devourers of goods, sticking them up with such a girl to identify will help improve sales. The sales improve, the girl is transformed from anonymity to a haute-bourgeois, but the plan does not work to script. Something must be done again.

The transformation of a simple Tokyo girl's entire outlook is as central here as is the mindless consumerism being critiqued for at no point are the company bosses even prepared to show any sympathy for this girl whose love interest in a young man working for the company is genuine and yet who does not realize that his interest is merely to cajole her into accepting this modelling scene. His ambition is to impress his boss; he is clearly interested in another woman who is working for his rival company. In this madcap scenario, everything is morally impaled; the man and his girl and the girl and her boss and the boss and his boss are all interested in using our young naive model into thinking that their main interest is to help her. What she fails to realize is that she is herself becoming what they don't want her to be: strong minded and independent, some one who can make her own decisions. So, when the moment of truth comes, she refuses to accept appearing in their new ad campaign, even after using her love interest, for by now, she has fallen in love with a young man from another company who has now become her manager.

The end is extremely farcical. The boss collapses and coughs up blood because he cannot cope with the strain and his morally upright young understudy, initially defiant of his morally compromised stance, actually puts on a space suit as an ad gimmick as he walks stone faced through a busy Tokyo street, almost like an ordinary street peddler, showing off his company wares, egged on by his old girl friend to actually smile. Our model has faded into anonymity, she is in the hands of her manager, who has already started her exploitation and will continue to exploit her. Giants and Toys is a satire and very well made. The colour scheme is surreal, almost lush with colours. The acting is good but it doesn't demand greatness. The crime stories that I wrote in connection with Fassbinder's work is at full play here. The savagery of modern consumerism, the complete disregard for any human or moral value is shown in all its naked brutality. The mindless competition and its fallout in exploiting young people and public alike is depicted in its shameless hypocrisy, exemplified very well by the official photographer who has no regard for employers of any kind nor for the models used.

The use of women as no more than mere objects is supplanted by the crudeness of the whole system that thrives on such images. The distinction that Masumura would like to drive between a traditional and so -called modern society is very clear here. Every one wants to make a fast buck , as they say. Eventually the poor model too becomes lethal and abjectly inept in choosing her boy friend who is also a savage parasite. Everything has turned upside down. This is a bad bad world and Masumura, even in a frivolous manner is extremely dangerous as he shows the total breakdown of any values. Every one is in the dark. And nothing has changed since this world began. And nothing will. This movie is quite forward of its times and stylistically terrific.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I miss you

This song could perhaps end all songs.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bela Tarr: some thoughts

for Roxana, who is a mind reader

Perhaps an Eastern European or specifically a Hungarian Post-apocalypse will look exactly as Bela Tarr shows us in his movies. Deserted villages and towns, empty vacant roads, tired and muddy during the day and then forbidding and forlorn at night. The street lights don't light anything except a sinister emptiness, a forbidding solitude. Or may be the apocalypse has struck and left the remaining few survivors, who seem guilt ridden and as empty and vacant as the streets. The houses they inhabit are dark and cold, one can feel the damp rise and the outer mist and fog somehow exudes inside not just the bricks and wood but the nerves and bones of the remaining few. The only places that show signs of life are the public houses, where a hedonistic and rampant kind of drinking goes on. It is a kind of senselessness of the body or bodies, wherein the people alive or seemingly so are living without any visible remnants of outwardly volition.

The bawdy and almost senseless drinking exudes nothing except a paralysis of mind and senses, a numbing of the very souls of these numb people. Since there is no one on the streets, there are a few in these public houses. There are some performers too. This is so in the long dance sequence in Satantango. That dance sequence typifies this emotional and moral malaise. A different kind of routine follows in Werkmeister Harmonies. Here, the drunks perform, and such is the physical affliction, they do so inspite of themselves. The collaboration of Tarr and krasznahorkai should not be overlooked. As in Harmonies and later on in Satantango, the novelist Krasznohorkai achieves a depiction of an inner restlessness that is embodied in the behaviour of the bodies concerned: In his War & War and in The Melancholy of Resistance, it is existential concerns that are the main theme of his novels. It is as if everything is broken and cannot be fixed. Seen from the Post- Soviet perspective, it is as though the long communist or dictatorial regimes have left the populace devoid of what they might have possessed. Krasznohorkai has exploited that anguish in his novels without giving them the music that one wants to hear again and again. Or in other words, any comparison with Kafka is fallacious for Kafka's world is essentially religious.

Existential despair can perhaps arise out of a crisis of thought or else after a collapse of previously held cognitions. It cannot suddenly substitute for all other ills. If communist states deprived their citizens of certain essential freedoms, it is because ideas about citizenship were not allowed to thrive. However, for any kind of alternate ideologies to flourish, which also allow certain people to become spiritual, a certain space for discourse is essential. It is perhaps that space that can be exploited in various art forms. Personally, I find depiction of existential crises in fiction or in cinema quite boring. This alienation business seems thoroughly middle class. Get on with life seems a better option rather than depict neurotic females like Antonioni did. This alienation bogey has now been overplayed long enough. It implies a very cunning hypocrisy as I see it. The place where Tarr succeeds is actually in depicting the alienation of the entire landscape from man completely. His places are always cold. The weather in Werkmeister is a character too as in Satantango. Such a device is perhaps used as a personifying element. The frozen nature of the night, the lack of electricity, the scarcity of drinking water, here and in other locations are thus used to reflect a kind of spiritual tristresse. It thus seems, after observing this world, that, existential despair is an occupation of the middle classes. The working classes can only act as a back drop on this essentially middle class business of angst.

Compare this to the bleak landscapes of Antonioni which are stylish, almost like paintings and his women, who are quite good looking and depressed. The stylish city scapes reflect a growing post war distaste of modern amenities. No cause for the sadness of Antonioni's women is obvious. It seems as if the very material advances that have made their lives easy are depressing them. In La avventura, as soon as one main character disappears, her friend, the central female character, never flinches whilst being kissed by friends fiancé. That depression induced by technological advances can be balanced by promiscuous sexual acts seems acceptable to Antonioni's neurotic creations. In Tarr however, it is as if the entire community of people have surrendered after witnessing an event of enormous magnitude. Here, bawdy sexuality is the norm rather than an exception.

It is entirely possible that Tarr shows us a moral fibre that totalitarian rule has produced or that energy sapping state of the soul that only allows a certain movement of the limbs and permits nothing other than hedonism. However, to situate Tarr only in a totalitarian space or Hungarian space will be an injustice to his work. In essence, his movies depict a state of men and women in slumber, in lassitude. That such states of mind can exist is his concern. He is also concerned with the lack of any positive or life affirming stance on the part of these souls or that they lack souls entirely? Tarr thus depicts, if symbolically the state of men and women who have taken a back seat and are thus virtually waiting for a messiah. In Satantango, this clearly seemed to me to be the case and in the first moment of Harmonies, the main character is defintely giving a demonstration. Too much is written nowadays about the effect of politics and social policies on modern conditions of our lives but unless the change comes from within, there can be no fruit in waiting for some one to come and effect a change.

Tarr is a supreme artist. His work demonstrates the effect of moral ineptitude. The bawdiness and the ugliness he shows is not something he relishes but something that he finds revolting to say the least. However, he is also a realist and in his portrayals, he shows very artistically the damaged fabric of our times. Inevitably, this will lead to existential interpretations of his work, especially because of his collaborations with Krasznohorkai. One would like to see these movies outside of a specific landscape and linger and think that essentially all human experiences are similar.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the loneliness of the long distance runner

In its current manifestation, British cinema, with only very rare exceptions, has become prey to the kind of thing that is labeled as political correctness. This sort of enforced attitude does not allow the creation of any genuine piece of criticism nor does it allow those conditions to thrive that allow vigorous critiques of state or cultural trends. Once a particular attitude is considered more useful, from a point of view of non-confrontation, then whether it is literature or cinema, genuine works of art will never arise. This is in contrast to times in Britain, in the early and late sixties, where at least in cinema, certain movies were made that allowed the expression of certain points of view, be it those of people who were marginalized because of class or other less conspicuous distinctions. Since art without any political tones is merely a pose, it is only in true works of art that political manifestations can become evident.One of these movies is based on a play by Alan Sillitoe and is called The loneliness of the long distance runner.

The movie was very popular I understand in the sixties and surrounds the times at a reformatory of 'an angry young man', Colin, who gets sent there following theft at a bakery. At the Borstal, the man in charge realizes that the young man has potential as an athlete and assigns him the task of winning a long distance cross country run against the local public school boys. Hence, the confrontation is quite obvious, the outcast against the establishment boys and the movie makes no bones about it. Colin whilst practising his runs, lapses into reveries and thus previous events are told in a flashback. From a poor background with a dead father and a working class mother with other siblings, c lapses into petty crime and theft. His attitude is typical of a young man who sees no future in a society where the workers, like his dad used to be, have no future of actually realizing their true potential. The rebellion against established mores and against enforced class distinctions is very obvious to the troubled young man.

"You play ball with us and we will play ball with you" is the first warning shot that the Borstal boys hear. Colin past allegiances , to his family and friends, his girl friend filter through his mind and yet, in a very menacing but vague manner, his acts of petty crime are tokens of resistance against a system that perpetuates class distinctions. This is shown strikingly in a scene when he and a friend lower the volume of a newly acquired television and mimic and laugh at the posh accent on the television. When Colin finally participates in the race, he leaves his nearest 'posh' opponent a mile behind but decides not to cross the finishing line. He chooses to wait as a spectator and even makes way as his opponent wins the race, much to the stunned dismay of the Borstal school authorities, who are in a way, wounded and bemused. Colin's act of defiance seems to him a signal manner not only to react against the establishment inside and outside the reformatory, but also to show an alliance with his fellow detainees, who fear that he may have turned to the 'other side'.

The performance of Tom Courtenay as Colin is a master class in restraint and quiet menace. The bleak country side shown, the English town of the sixties, in the Midlands, the working class set up of his family and the general aura that surrounds the characters is extremely authentic. This movie does what a thousand other books and movies will usually fail to achieve. The established order that Colin fights against may have changed as the country has changed in the last few decades but the interior structures of power are still virtually untouched. The movie ends with Colin shunned by the Borstal authorities but he is at least content in reverting to what he sees as his real self, which is an affirmation of his acts of resistance against authority but inevitably, his lapse into loneliness, which such acts can and usually lead to. At one point Colin rages and says: "Do you know what I'd do if I had the whip hand? I'd get all the coppers, governors, posh whores, penpushers, army officers and members of parliament and I'd stick them up against this wall and let them have it 'cause that's what they'd like to do to blokes like us."

The loneliness of Colin is not merely a romantic one but extremely real, situated as it is in his 'times' but also outside that of a pure 'time' or place. In that space, in the realization of that resistance, his loneliness is worth the price he pays.