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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

all stories are crime stories

All stories are crime stories, so said Fassbinder once. In his world, or as he saw it, Fassbinder envisages people using emotions not just blackmailing weapons but sometimes as cunning ploys to extort. This extortion is either then used for a material advantage or for emotional gain. The person who gets used isn't always usable but is in a state where he or she is at a disadvantage. Fundamentally, Fassbinder sees these situations as crimes that people commit against each other. We can also see everyday situations precisely as situations where we actually take advantage of people who are in one way or another either dependent on us financially or emotionally or as subservient to our inner desires, whims or fancies. I do not see Fassbinder's claims as extravagant, in that he dramatizes situations to an extent and we see a melodrama and the criminal use, if one is permitted to say, of that melodrama.

Even in non-women films, Fassbinder acutely asks the same relentless question. In his 'women' films like is Petra Von Kant or Lili Marleen, the women are shown to use their emotionality to a certain end. Once a character is perceived as weak, then the other person will go out and eventually destroy him or her. Change this to a more broader social situation, say the role of guest workers in Germany and the same ethos is shown at work. In essence, once a person is pushed against the wall, and there is no way that this person is given any space to maneuver, that in itself constitutes a crime.

In Fox and his Friends, where Fassbinder himself played the leading role, money is clearly a weapon that is used as a fulcrum in an emotional relation. If Fox had no money, which he does acquire after winning a lottery, he would not have gained entry into the upper-bourgeois world he finds himself in. He does not choose the change of class but falls in love with a charming man. However, the charming man uses Fox emotionally and takes him only as an object of love in bed but does not ever forget to remind him of his class differences. Once Fox has been deprived of all his lottery money, he no longer is of any use to said people. His whole emotionality is thus shown as amounting to nothing other than something that can be taken advantage of. If Fox had not fallen in love, he could have charted a different course for himself. However, once he has fallen in love, his emotion is treated farcically by his lover, who has no use for a working class fair ground talking fox.

Fassbinder does not just hint at an emotional difference between the so-called lovers but also, once Fox is destroyed, the lover' dad hints that "in principle, it is the only way of dealing with them". Hence, class differences are also shown as a tool for exploitation but also as a tool necessary for doing so. Love thus serves only as fodder for continuing exploitation, be it Fox or others. Hence, an emotion which we seemingly accept as benign and important actually ends up as distancing us from those who either pretend to or we think we need to love or protect. Love thus ends as a weapon that alienates us from the loved one and becomes an object of mere brandishment. It is thus sharp as a knife and gets waved considerably in our face. It is mostly sharper than a knife and the word is subsequently quite misused.

Fassbinder's treatment is to show its vicarious use, not its total uselessness. In general terms, he was a very romantic man and only a person blind to colour and sentiment would refuse to see how he created movies that are artistic and very politically conscious. In all his important concerns, this usage of people occupies a prominent place and the viewer should never choose to ignore its importance. If a person is strong, then should the person not fall into any kind of emotional state? Is strength hence an ability to ward off all emotions and stay away from all sources that may lead to such anxieties? Fox betrays himself to the extent that he does not think he is being manipulated. Fox does not betray himself because he falls in love.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Love and Anarchy

Lina Wertmuller's movie is a lush poem, a desperate poem, a crazy poem. The first scene, the first opening is the beginning of anarchy, then violence, a wide expanse followed by the burst of love and a boy's question: Mama, what is an anarchist?" The anarchist in question, takes refuge in a whorehouse, itself the abode of a revolutionary sympathiser. The house itself, a magnificent picture of art and image, a virulent cacophony of sounds and thighs and breasts and voices. Sin and holiness, flesh and the unholy, our anarchist unsure and feeble, frightened and tremulous and woe upon woe, in the throes of love now.

An image of lushness and riches, loud and colourful. The violent unhappiness of men who fall in love with prostitutes, an anarchist in love with a prostitute. "Let us make love without staring at each other", he gets advised and later on, as the day dawns, he is not woken up after a night of love making and the intended assassination target, Mussolini, leaves unharmed. The arrest follows and so does his death. The lover is bereft and besides herself and the world looks.

This is the first Wertmuller movie that I have seen and its energy, its humour and its frantic lushness is a sight to behold. The acting, particularly by Giancarlo Giannini and Melato as his aide is simply wonderful. The whole cast has a manic edge to them and the springboard for activity is shown in all its vibrancy. Their is humour here and it is not without its comic edge but it clearly shows how a common man can be used in any political setup by any political party an then abandoned. It does not help if the protagonist, if he can be called that, falls in love. love is itself an anarchic activity and two anarchies are two too many. A wonderful movie.

Friday, November 19, 2010

true love is without conditions

true love is without conditions you always said,
night or day, before dawn or at dusk,
the lover's wrist or the lover's waist
must be equal music.
we must kill ourselves before this word is lipped,
we must whip ourselves before love is lived,
we must be ready to die at this altar you always said,
love is not for everyone.
love tears us rips us rends bare our nerves you said,
the knocks it gives the heartbeats heartaches are sweet
you always said. it is murder it is an injustice,
love is night it is darkness it is day.
the traces it leaves its marks are dark you always said,
they are inside look no more,
the moth that kills itself the flame its madness
is love, look no more.
and the emptiness at night restless hope you always said,
is love. the long list of complaints, the long nights
the long days every injustice pales before its
merciless hooves, you said.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yasuzo Masumura

It has been noted in influential film circles that the cinema of Yasuzo Masumura is the cinema of fanatics. It can imply that one can become a Masumura fanatic or that one can only watch his movies fanatically or that it is of fanatics.. Of the Japanese film masters of iconic status, Masumura should not linger far behind. Fame, that fickle thing relies on many factors. But I am sure Masumura would not mind that. The corpus of his work is luminous. It is my intention to write down a few misplaced thoughts about his work in general and about two movies in particular.

It can be said that Masumura's cinema is a cinema of subversion. By that I do not mean that his movies touch on the usual social alienation theme or social wars that have blotted all post-war and post-colonial societies in general. By that I think I mean the methods of cinematic portrayal, the very acts of catching on screen, with the lasting thuds of big hammers, the essence of characterization, characters that remain with us after art house cinema doors are shut at night or those that remain with us to torture us. I may say without any ounce of exaggerated prolixity that the character of the nurse Nishi, played by Wakao Ayako, the sublimely beautiful, the stunningly beautiful Ayako, in Red Angel, has begun to affect me since these last few days. I mean, I am affected by her discomfiture, I am tortured that she is much tortured.

We claim sometimes that we like imagery in cinema, for instance the Tarkovskian image or the despotic imagery of Herzog but surely, it doesn't mean anything without a story? Masumura says: "Some believe more in the image, others believe in the story. Personally I believe in the story. Because images aren’t absolute, one can’t express everything with them." The stretching of a story, for after all a story is a story, it is in the uncomfortable distance of that stretching that Masumura starts in discomforting the viewer. Personally I like imagery much, but would prefer Pasolini to Tarkovsky any day. There are stories behind the images aren't there? Nature is always malignant. Rain falls and makes us wet, nearly always, except certain rains that never fall.

Red Angel

is set against the back drop of the Sino-Japanese war. Nishi, played by Wakao, is a young nurse who is raped by soldiers one night, and later she leaves for a field hospital where she falls in love with Okabe, a doctor, who is disillusioned with war in general. He saves many lives and yet also cripples many by life saving amputations. On returning to her base, Nishi decides in favour of giving sexual comfort to a double amputee, for that soldier no longer feels like a man. Nishi takes him out, invites him for a steam bath and tells him that he can do anything to her. Next morning, the soldier leaps to his death. Back with Okabe, Nishi declares her love for him and he discloses his morphine addiction. She wants him to make her into a woman and he declares that he is no longer a man. Cholera breaks out and the two withdraw into Okabe's room. Nishi ties him up refusing to inject him with morphine and later, man again, the two must burn together. Out on the front together, the Japanese camp is attacked by the enemy, the Japanese are routed with Nishi as the only remaining survivor. She finds Okabe in the rubble and falls on his chest.

I am not concerned with any indictment of war in Red Angel. Frankly, these things are boring. This world is past any sense of justice. What must concern us now is only how individuals can behave during wars and in periods of inactive bloodshed. Consider the war crimes in Iraq, consider the photographic portrayal of imagery from Iraq, then consider individual responsibility again. The world that Masumura chooses to show us is a sado-masochistic world at times. Once Nishi is raped and she decides to get on with things, after she discloses it to her head nurse who reminds her about a war, everything is upside down. Later, her assent to sexually serve a soldier who cannot touch his manhood, and Okabe's refusal to consider amputees as men, shows the almost militarist regimes in their minds. The scenes in Okabe's chambers are wonderfully claustrophobic, the imagery is essentialist, dark and despairing. Pour me a drink Nishi, pour me more, says Okabe.

One of the lasting images of this movie is the erotic grandeur of Wakao Ayako, as steam pours forth from the bath that she has invited the amputee soldier in. This is grand cinema at its grandest best. You feel her pain but more than that, you feel the soldier's pain too. There is a painful whip in Masumura'a hands, as he whips the viewer. All militarist societies have people that carry whips, and all societies are essentially totalitarian. This is erotic solitude and Wakao seethes and burns. The steam rises, do anything you want says Nishi, everything is thus lost. And later, with Okabe, a genuine bond develops but one wonders how genuine it is. Outside the shells fall and inside Nishi, one sacrifice after another.

Masumura's Ayako Wakao is a strong character and in general, his women are very strong. However, even though his women have a streak of individualism, a streak to reach to some end, they are basically exploited women. Women are no more than commodities he shows. War or peace, Masumura shows how everything gets inverted in the name of ideology. Even an ordinary oppositive view can be subverted by different conditions that are chosen by people over one another. Masumura says:"I don't try to portray women. It's just that women are the more human. Men only live for women, all their lives they carry their burden the way a horse pulls his carriage, and then they die of a heart attack. Only by focusing on women can we express humanity. I don't choose women so I can talk about women. I'm not a specialist of women's issues like Mizoguchi is."

Nishi and Okabe withdraw into the dark enclosed solitude of his chamber, surrounded by gunfire and falling shells. Next to morphine and Okabe's impotency, seethes the raging torrent of Nishi's beauty. The interior, so sparse and so war like in its essentialism, whimpers as the two rage against each other and in a way, against the war itself. I should have met you in Tokyo in earlier times, pines Okabe, I love you. Love or passion, in the hermetic solitude of Okabe's chamber, Masumura triumphs in depicting the sadistic tortures of hell and the impotent loneliness of people.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

distant like dreams

Deep and dense,
like a deep dense forest in one of my forgotten dreams,
your voice calls me in a language that
I do not know.
I struggle to understand what you mean as
our lips and our fingers and our eyes meet.
Fever is sweet.
I try to recall that moment of love
but I remember nothing now.
Love never lingers for long, nor passion.
I often think how your voice used to sound, your stress on certain words,
but everything is vague.
I remember your colours often but everything is slippery like life itself.
What forgiveness now if I cannot remember clearly how your
eyes would colour at the threat of my touch?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Virgin Spring

Bergman's Virgin Spring is based on a medieval legend and has spawned a few successful movies itself. Whilst the story essentially details the struggle between good and evil, the master stroke lies in actually hemming in the viewer and obscuring his or her judgment. Objectively looking at what we see is essentially hard here. The movie makes you fill with rage, you want to do something yourself. Is there a clear distinction between pure good and pure evil and do such things exist? Can one be completely good or completely evil? Such are the thoughts it forces on us, such is the essence.

A remote forest setting, a household filled with ascetic Christian folk, a very Christian household. Tore, played by the magnificent Max Von Sydow lives with his wife and daughter Karin. Karin is very young and is shown as the very picture of radiant innocence. In fact, she is innocence itself, and the other occupant is her step-sister who is pregnant out of wedlock, bitter and shamed, she is an outcast within the house but not to Tore and Karin. Karin must go to the nearby church and offer candles and must leave on horseback. She decides to takes ingri with her. The landscape, wild but pure and yet a shot of a crow, hark back to myth and legend and a forboding of things to come? Ingeri worships the Norse deity Odin and whilst preparing food for the day, sandwiches a big frog into a loaf of bread, unaware to Karin. Ingeri is bitter, we can understand, alreday the lines are drawn between Karin and her, Karin the beautiful, the radiant and innocent and ingri the sullied, the sullen.

On their way, a one -eyed man, perhaps a Norse priest and Ingeri wants her to put a spell on three traveling men. Ingri wants a kind of revenge it seems and escapes whilst Karin has left on her own. Soon Karin is stopped by three herdsmen, one of them a very young boy, and in her naive innocence, allows herself to be coaxed in sharing her lunch with them. their designs are evil, why cannot she see that? The viewer squirms, karin is still smiling. and then they brutally rape her and kill her, watched by Karin, a small rock in her hand, crying and suffering and yet paralyzed into inaction. The herdsmen leave Karin, after stripping her of her beautiful dress and take refuge in her own home, where after supplication and dinner, they settle for the night. One of them, in the early hours of the morn, offers to sell Karin's dress to the mother. The mother? A scene of brutal simplicity and then Tore, informed and tortured, decides to take revenge. He kills all three and then suffers more. Later when he discovers Karin's body and lifts her head, a spring gushes out. He vows to build a church there, to redeem them all.

What interests me most after watching this drama is not the story per se but the ingredients besides it. Bergman succeeds in altering the objective perspective. You end up as a partisan. Karin has been sullied and revenge must be swift. But are we right in talking about revenge? Should there be a thing called revenge? What does it achieve? Is it possible to be at peace with one self without and with revenge? There is no doubt about Karin's innocence but is she all pure as opposed to Ingri who too is innocent but impure? What is purity and then what is virginity? Who sets the dominant tone for such matters? And yet a normal emotion of rage and fury will follow such an atrocity. Herein, Bergman shows us this household of pious Christian folk, the wife burning herself with candles, such is her penance. And then, she wants revenge too, as does Tore.

Doesn't he tear down a birch and lash himself with it and ask Ingri to get him a butcher's knife? The most interesting aspects again are the usual Bergman characters, landscape being one. The ominous nature of his settings in general and in this drama in particular add to the sinister events being played. To say that nature alone is pure and indifferent is an extreme view too. In the hands of nature, we are but flies, as flies to wanton boys. The lack of dialogue when Tore kills the men and boy adds to the heightened severity of those scenes. It is as id all primeval urges had gushed and stopped there. The suffering of Tore and his wife is all too evident and the lack of words dulls our objectivity.

I do not personally know how one can behave in such circumstances or how one should. The rule of law is a modern invention, a familiar construct. Justice is as evanescent as those Nordic clouds and as slippery as the tomes of law. Morality or Christian values or any other values cannot actually dissipate the violent anguish of Tore or his wife nor bring back the innocence of Karin or her youth. I do not wish to know what her innocence is and whether she is pure and I cannot say how purely evil those herdsmen were. I cannot safely say that the Norse deity Odin has no powers. All I can suffer with and see is Tore as he tears down the birch, as he lashes himself with its branches, as he cries and suffers and as Karin struts on her horse. All I can think of is Ingeri in her silent suffering. There seme to be no answers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

35 shots of rum

A poem speaks to us with words and the words convey images and feelings. The moving image is a poem already. In the clip below, from 35 Rhum, Denis achieves a lot without words. What we see is a poem in the eyes and the poetry of the body. Dance opens chains and ties a few more. The ethno-urban tone of the setting is clear. The movie is an adaptation of Ozu's Late Spring. What you see below is a poem. Words are quite un-necessary subsequently.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hour of the Wolf

The Bergman world exists here in all it's hermetic essence, an island, a couple and wind swept shores. Johan, an artist, a painter, has vanished, his wife looks at the camera and speaks to us, after we hear the noises of film making, the directors voice too. Johan has vanished but Alma will continue to stay on the island, why has Johan vanished, she does not understand. Told from her perspective and his dagbok, Hour of the Wolf traces Johan's descent into paranoia and madness. He sees figures and hears people talk to him and follow him. It is a descent into a psychotic world, which his wife begins to share with him at times. Often he is chased by people, talks to them. Are these visitations real? And then a visit from a man who supposedly owns the island and an invitation for dinner at his castle. The Gothic ingredients are thus complete. But not before that a visit from a past lover, Veronica Vogler. She will be at the castle too, he is told.

The castle dinner hosted by the rich family is a great favourite of mine. With the camera panning in arc like swishes, Johan drinks and suffers, Alma sees him drink and suffer, and later, he defends the creed of the true artist. Back home, Johan tries to kill Alma and Alma flees. Johan is at the castle again where he tries making love to Veronica's corpse, who wakes up and breaks into hysterical laughter. Johan is then attacked by the castle occupants, and in true horror style, nibbled at. Alma later on faces the camera and wonders if she could have done more. Johan runs away from the castle, and vanishes on the way. Alma helps construct the events leading to Johan' disintegration.

The movie, I have read has autobiographical tones. Bergman and Liv Ullman who stars as Alma were in a long relationship. The relation was tense and Bergman had his moments of alienation from his partner. The movie restores some of his artistic concerns on to the screen. How faithful can an artist be to others whilst being faithful to his creed? The person living close to another person starts taking on the characteristics of the loved one, is a constant refrain in this movie. Alma asks that question many times. What should be sacrificed for the artist and what is the nature of this sacrifice? We wonder as Alma does. Alma starts seeing a 216 year old woman who later on says she is in her seventies. Does Alma completely begin to identify with her husbands' inner life? She starts reading his diary and to what extent does she allow herself to be swayed on to his beliefs? I s that a voluntary act and how voluntary is it? Does Alma have much choice?IT is clear that some events from Johans' past haunt and trouble him. He sees himself in a homoerotic situation with a young boy whom he dashes against the rocks too. All seems elusive.

One of the most erotic and abiding images in this movie personally for me is when Johan, sitting on his own trying to paint feels a presence. From the left side of the screen we see a figure approach. Then we see legs, a feminine figure and as she gets closer, we see feet, as they approach and she sits down near Johan, and then bares her breast to him. It is Veronica Vogler, played by the hauntingly beautiful Ingrid Thulin. There are some beautiful scenes on this windswept island and the castle scenes are enacted with a lot of Hollywood panache and perhaps a parody of the genre. Max Von Sydow plays the tormented artist. I saw him recently in a Di Caprio movie and thought he still is magnificent. Ullman plays the wife and tormented soul par excellence as usual. She bares lets you on to her though there are moments of understanding. Her seductive charms seemed to be lost on Johan who was lost in a different world.

Hour of the Wolf is a movie that has the usual Bergman characteristics and characters. It may also be very close to him personally as his expression of his own troubles as an artist. It is beautifully filmed and demands more than passing attention.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mamma Roma

Mamma Roma opens with an image or rather with a painting or the subversion of a painting. Christ's last supper and here Mamma Roma herself, loud and ebullient, inviting pigs to her ex- pimp's wedding feast. Pasolini begins with aggression and a distance from the first scene, and from a distance, the shot of a long wide table. Mamma Roma punning and singing, and we are suddenly privy to her world, this ex-prostitute, who wants to take her son Ettore to the outskirts of Rome, to bring him up as an untainted young man, away from the taint of her ex-profession. Near Rome, the recurrent theme, the ruins, the empty fields, the collections of garbage and rubbish, cathedral domes, long serene and clear shot of a clear sky and Mamma Roma, nameless, Mamma Roma to every one, to her son too, unknowing of her mother's profession of the past. The new scene finds Ettore hanging with bums as his mother opens a stall and sells vegetables now. Her ambition is to graduate to the petit -bourgeois, she attends the church, her eyes are on the daughters of respectable bourgeoisie families, she does what mothers do.

Watching Mamma Roma is nothing short of a drug, an addiction. The two shots of Mamma Roma walking towards us, long sequences, in the dark, the night, delivering two monologues, one crisp and bitingly sarcastic, the other mellow and melancholic, behind her the lights of Rome, nothing visible except darkness and as she walks, she looks at the camera, directly at us, joined by other citizens of the night, who walk and who she leaves behind, the sinuous walk, the serpentine ease, the following gaze, Mamma Roma dares to shock. In the second of these shots, Mamma Roma says that she has an awful ache in her stomach, like I ate my heart out. Ettore has become what she didn't want him to, a common thief, a bum. She tries to lure him away from Bruna, a girl he gives gifts to, who has slept with all Rome. Ettore driving with his mother on his new bike, with his mother clasping his waist tight, I remember this image too, the defiance of her eyes, her language.

Pasolini's A violent life, that I read last year, has similar characters, bums and thieves and prostitutes and pimps, the hangers on, the ruins outside Rome, the fights, the scrapes the dispossession, the marginalized. Mamma Roma wants a piece of that respectability, for her son, for herself. However, Carmine, her ex-pimp returns, he threatens, she must walk the streets again, the highway as Mamma Roma describes it, otherwise he will disclose it to Ettore. The long second monologue shot follows this piece of blackmail, a battered sad Mamma Roma this time, very morose, very bitter. Then Ettore gets caught stealing a radio, gets locked and tortured in a police cell, strapped, almost crucified. Here Pasolini subverts the crucifixion image, the shot is a horizontal one, Ettore cries for mercy, Mamma he cries, save me. Later Mamma Roma, eating bread dipped in milk, looking at the threatening suburban landscape outside, cries for her son, he was innocent she claims, why him?

Ettore's body language is very striking. He sleep -walks through the movie, he seems lazy, very disinterested, not caring at all. There is a lethargy in his body, a lack of motivation in his movements, it translates in how he moves, how he walks. Later he has a bright fever, he is almost besides himself, and later still, he seems restored to himself but suffering as he is strapped now, tortured, bruised, he dies. With Ettore too, Mamma Roma tangos, as she teaches him to, echoes of an Oedipal type, clasping to his waist later on, we are never told who his father is, how he was raised, as she claims Ettore, he must get out of this useless way of his, learn a trade, after all she would get on the cross for her.

Anna Magnani's performance in this movie can be described as a tour de force, a mesmerizing performance, a piece of acting that confirms the power of cinema, a powerhouse character that she fills with the oddities of her laugh, the black messy hair, the humour, the loud voice, her songs, her sorrow her ambition, her desires her contradictions. Magnani's performance in Mamma Roma is one of the most powerful in all cinema and can only be described with adjectival prolixity. The mind numbs when she walks, little black bags under her eyes, Mamma Roma of the suburbs, of the streets, of dark nights and calm mornings, of the vegetable stall, of figs and artichokes and cunning little schemes, the donna of the streets, the mother, the balancing trapeze artist.

It is all to easy to say this is a movie of social protest. What sets this movie apart from such movies is Pasolini's superior art, for in one blow, he delivers everything. It is perhaps fair to say that he is a Marxist and Catholic in one given moment, a skeptic and mystic combined. His images are those that he revers and subverts. Pasolini combines herein his manifold genius of a philosopher and politician, the writer and camera aesthete and above all, Pasolini the poet, Pasolini the dangerous poet. Mamma Roma looks outside from the window of Ettore's prison cell, restrained by the fruit sellers and other bums, as she tries to throw herself out of the window. The last shot, the most dangerous, the most powerful, the most subversive, Rome at a distance, the emptiness between the two, the dome of a cathedral, the indifferent haze of the day, the loneliness of Mamma Roma, the futility of her ambitions.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Nights of Cabiria

Cabiria has been a prostitute for as long as she remembers. Once she remembers, she had long black hair, it fell to her shoulders, she would go out with her madre, life was different then, she was young. Who can she trust now? She was nearly drowned by her pimp and her money was stolen not long ago, this is her life, exploited by all, pimp or no pimp. It takes a hypnotist to unravel her life, her desires, talk about her madre, her long black hair falling to her shoulders. And now this man, this new man, what does he want? He appears well meaning, brown skinned with black hair, she is afraid but what the hell, Cabiria must try again. As Cabiria walks alone, in the end, desolate and heart broken, robbed off all her money, the new lover just another fraud, another disappointment, she looks at the camera, image of broken hopes and dreams, and some steel too. The smile says it all. The last scene is worth millions.

Fellini's Nights of Cabiria is pre-fantasy Fellini, extremely brutal in his treatment of the themes that were his concern around that time of his film making. The script was co-authored by Pasolini and has some extremely memorable lines, some very memorable scenes. I like Cabiria in the rain, I like Cabiria walking and running, with Chaplin like energy. I adore the last scene. I can watch it endlessly. The last scene is a poem. The performance by Giulietta Masina is phenomenal. She owns the character. She reminds me of Anna Mignani from Mamma Roma, in the certitude of her performance. She exemplifies that performance, that character. She is filled with solitude, she is a solitary person. Her smile hides her solitude, her loneliness. She has always been betrayed, she must live in Rome or thereabouts. Not for her is a family life, a country home, a husband, children. No, Cabiria must live to fulfill that destiny, the fierce solitude of that life.

Nights of Cabiria is a great movie and some scenes are poems in themselves. Truly a memorable film, Nights of Cabiria is relentlessly melancholic, a very sad movie about a desperately unhappy person.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Tokyo Monogatari

At first everything seems all right. An elderly couple visit their grown up children in Tokyo and nothing appears to be amiss. Then Ozu Yasujiro shows us what looks like a wound. With a knife, he starts scraping the edges of this seemingly benign looking wound and then, relentlessly, he plunges this knife into this festering festering wound. The elderly couple are welcome at their son's house but he has no time for them. Neither does her daughter. They visit one child first and then the other and the only person who takes time out for them is their dead son's widow. The couple are soon booked to visit a spa, which proves a lonely and trying time for them. They return to find their daughter as unwelcoming and as busy as before. The children are considerate but too busy. In the end the couple return home and the ailing mother dies. The children come late but leave soon afterwards as their busy lives command them. And so life moves on.

The most striking things are not that the children are busy but that the couple are resigned to see their hopes dashed. In this resignation is a mix of hope and longing, mixed as both are from events in a distant past, when their children where young, when their children were theirs. Ozu is never benign in his portrayal of this theme. Far from it, when the elderly couple cannot sleep at the spa because of all the revelry going on there, both husband and wife lie fanning themselves, looking resolutely at the ceiling, the husband in his patient fury, the wife in her impotent resignation. He gets up in defiance of something and the next mesmirizing scene, both facing a silent sea is an indelible image in all cinema. It has not just rage written all over it but conveys the futility of all life, all relationships, all hopes and all expectations. the elderly man, played by Chieko Higashiyama is a portrait of stolid acceptance of the couple's circumstances. Children and parents drift apart he reminds his young unmarried daughter, he knows no other way to describe it.

Ozu's use of ellipsis is most marked in his narrative structure, for the journey to Tokyo or from Tokyo to the cheap spa town are never shown. The low shots, famously called the tatami shots are extremely uncomfortable to the viewer, for not only do they convey stillness, they also convey a total lack of resolution. There are no panning shots or at least I didn't notice many. The poetry of everything conveyed is evident but the most important bits are left unsaid, the silent gesture, the unsaid word, the unwhispered hope, matched in technique by the lighting, the shots, the movement-less camera. The last scene to me, in which a boat lies loose on the sea and what we can describe as the roar of a train seemed to me nothing less than angry hissing. " Life is a disappointment", says the old man.

It is usual in film circles to debate which is the greatest movie ever. Tokyo Story as it is also known as, has consistently been voted in the list of all the top ten movies ever made. I find that personally pointless. I remember having read recently that watching Japanese cinema can be dangerous. I find that an apt description in many ways. I always remember Fassbinder when I watch Ozu, though the styles are so different. Fassbinder once wrote that all stories are crime stories. The children here are self-absorbed, they are not cruel, at least not on the surface. I find that the crimes in the family set-up are committed everywhere and by everyone, what Fassbinder describes as the fascism of relationships. The dangerousness of this cinema, its so-called menace is a reflection of our own moral compromise. This must also seen against the break up of the family structure and the transition from agrarian to so-called Western ways of life. The elements of post-war Japan figure in a very noticeable way in Ozu's movies.

Ozu has no intention of removing the knife he has driven in the wound, either in this movie or elsewhere. It is upto the viewer to either acknowledge that wound or to live with that knife.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Late Autumn

Ozu Yasujiro's Late Autumn continues the central theme of traditional values and family life which is a characteristic feature of Ozu's oeuvre. Made just before An Autumn Afternoon, it would be silly to use cliched formulas to describe this film, however, sometimes one resorts to over used cliches and one has no choice. In my very considered opinion, this movie is an intense masterpiece. It begins and ends with a colour schematic which represents Ozu's subdued depiction of plot and characterization. The interior is green-grey and aquamarine, it is autumn, again the tones are dulled, the signal trees, leafy autumn, the aftermath of mourning, the colour of melancholy, the so-called minimalist interiors, the economy of expression, the discipline of emotion, the subdued pain.

I think this is one Ozu movie which, on second viewing recently, I found with pervading sadness even in its lighter moments, and lighter moments it has. Akiko and her young daughter are shown together with her dead husband's friends at a funeral ceremony. The friend's recollect the times whn they knew Akiko as a salesperson at a chemists when they were all young, and how they all pretended to be ill to go and see her. All their efforts are unrequited and now, years later, they plan, at first frivolously and later with some seriousness Ayako's and even Akiko's marriages. Akiko, the mother, stays unknowing of all these plans and behaves in a dignified manner when Ayako wrongly assumes that her mother is planning to get married too. The bond between the friends and their Friend's widow is affectionate and strong and nowhere does it lapse into silly sentimentality or any profuse excess of emotions. Akiko finally decides to continue to live as a widow, in this autumn of her relational life even though she is quite young. Yuriko, Ayako's friend, leads a spirited defense of Ayako's position after her daughter blames her mother but it all ends in restoring what seems to be an appropriate end.

Ozu's treatment of this theme shows the women as very independent and strong willed and the backdrop of the traditional versus the modern is cleraly an important part of his concerns. The performances are heart warming, especially Setsuki Hara's as Akiko, who was central to many Ozu movies. I particularly enjoyed Okada Mariko's Yuriko as a very charming portrayal of this very effervescent young woman, who takes on the three well meaning and scheming men. The scene when they all have sushi at her mother's restaurant is brilliant in its complex simplicity. Well, that is Ozu, extremely complex, seemingly, disarmingly telling us tales about family and values and life and love and yet, like Early Spring, which this movie is so close to, surrounding the sensitive viewer, even in his or her casual voyeurism, with a life that most strikingly shows the sadness, the ennui, the melancholy of cycles which life is composed of, which we live. All of Ozu's trademark technicalities are in evidence here, including the ellipses, the elides in the story. I thought, the movie is a magnificent example of sensitivity towards one self and others. The sets and the street scenes are lavish in their economy, their delicacy. Late Autumn is a movie that grows on you, that needs multiple viewings.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Late Foucault

In an excellent appraisal of Foucault's lecture series at the College de France , Michael Hardt writes about the later books in this series, some of which are yet to appear in English. The two books in question, The Government of Self and Others and The Courage of Truth are the subject of Hardts' review in the NLR. Since the middle of this year, I have been reading the lecture series and have so far read most of Psychiatric Power, Society must be defended, Security, Territory, Population and am currently reading The Government of Self and Others.

Contrary to his early style which many including myself find inaccessible, Foucault's style towards the later phase of his life is perhaps simpler and easier to understand. Foucault draws upon inexhaustible sources of erudition and much of what we read among contemporary philosophers is influenced by Foucault. Foucault elaborates upon his concept of Biopolitics, further written about and commented upon by Agamben later on. The style of these lectures is brilliant, direct and though not interspersed with questions, it takes account perhaps of those questions which the great philosopher might have anticipated. Foucault speaks like the master and his inexhaustible knowledge seemingly has all the answers.

In The Government of Self and Others, Foucault elaborates on the doctrine of Parresia or truth-telling and helps us differentiate it from mere performative utterances. Parresia must come at a price, he reminds us, sometimes one has to pay with one's life. From Plato confronting Dionysius with Parresia to modern technologies of the self, this brilliant book seems to be as prescient as any of his other works. The brilliance in reading Foucault consists of his drawing examples from ancient and medieval times and showing how relevant they are to current times. We may, with our own ways, reflect and draw upon the world around us in the light of what Foucault wrote and make it easier for ourselves to understand or make some sense of what we think is happening to us or the world as such.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Brise marine

The flesh is sad......and I've read every book.
O to get away. Birds look
as though they are drunk for unknown spray and skies.
No ancient gardens mirrored in the eyes,
nothing can hold this heart steeped in the sea.....
not my lamp's desolate luminosity
nor the blank paper guarded by it's white
nor the young wife feeding her child, O night!
I'm off! You steamer with your swaying helm,
raise anchor for some more exotic realm!
Ennui, crushed down by cruel hopes, still relies
on handkerchief's definitive goodbyes!
Is this the kind of squall- inviting mast
the storm winds buckle above shipwrecks cast mast, no islets flourishing?......
Still, my soul, listen to the sailors sing!

Mallarme, Translated by E.H & A.M Blackmore