Saturday, June 12, 2021

Notes on Last Days at Sea, by Venice Atienza, Philippines: 2021-Berlin Filmfestival IV.-Generationkplus

I have seen another world. Sometimes I think it was just my imagination.”

(the young deserter Private Witt in The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malick, 1998)

While watching films it happens from time to time that after just a few minutes, I fall in love with them. It is almost “Love at the first sight”. With Last Days at Sea, it was a bit like last year with Polina Gumiela´s Blue Eyes, my dress is colourful (Generation kplus, 2020). It happened also with Eno naka no boku no mura (Village of Dreams) by Yoichi Higashi 25 years ago at the Berlinale-competition. These films needed just a few shots to transfer me back to the wonders of childhood. Last Days at Sea by Philippine filmmaker Venice Atienza is one of these films and by far more than a documentary.

At the beginning, Attienza´s voice over marks the film already as a memory. Everything we see has already passed by. It is not just about a boy called Reyboy who spends his last days at his native village at the ocean before he has to go to the big city for education. It is as well a film about the friendship between the 12 years old boy and the filmmaker. In the recorded Q&A-conversation between Venice Atienza and Maryanne Redpath, the filmmaker explains how she had to change her attitude from making a film about this boy into making a film with this boy and her bond with him. This seemingly practical decision turned out to be finally the key to the poetry of this film. After Atienzas introduction, the film is not only what we see, it is also a film we literally live with in each shot. Our knowledge that everything has already gone intensifies the film even more. Each moment, even the most ordinary every day action appears as sheer poetry. When Reyboy collect stones or when he cooks, each moment appears as precious. But this childhood idyl is not unbroken. Some fishermen tell about their work. It is difficult, the sea is often overfished and it can be very dangerous. The life of the villagers depends on the sea and what they get from it. When ships are leaving we are afraid that they never return.

There is a small siesta scene which reminds me in the beauty of a likely scene in Renoir´s The River. Everything and everyone reposes for a moment, Reyboy, the other kids, even a dog and a cat. And always like a refrain, there are long shots of the sea and the sky which emphasizes the film frame but at the same time it evokes the eternity beyond the limitation of the frame. These views at the mundane things and sometimes glances to the eternal sky appear to me as a poetic definition of cinema at all. I do not now if I shall call it pure cinema or a dream of cinema.

Once Atienza and the boy lie at night near the ocean for watching the stars. Watching stars is as well looking back to the past but more important it is very close to watching a film on the big screen. It is this strange relationship between scientific curiosity and how we fill images with see with our dreams and our yearning. When we see Reyboy diving in the ocean, mesmerized by the beauty of the world under water, the slight melancholy of the fleetingness is always there.

The necessity of open her up to the boy is as well an invitation for the spectator to follow her example to open ourselves for this miracle of a film. Her very personal commentary (which points out as well the “Caméra Stylo”-character of her film) tells once about a dream she had. Another time she tells about a favorite desert which reminds her in her late grandmother. A sundown with awesome beautiful cloud formations. They fantasize about what they see in these formations but they also talk about their losses, her grandmother or Reyboy´s elder brother who died before he was born. The watching and remembering happens in this film often together. The kind the film opens our eyes and our soul is incredible.

As Reyboy, Atienza and finally we ourselves are always close to the ocean and herewith to the origin of life, the film seems to be very close to the purpose of cinema itself. Last Days at Sea is also a new masterpiece of the sub genre called “Coming of Ages” anywhere between such wonders like Renoir´s The River, Malick´s The Tree of Life, Mulligan´s The Man in the Moon, or the Vietnamese Dang Nhat Minh´s Thuong nho dong que (Nostalgia for the Countryland).

As I have a strange receptivity for the last moments of a film I literally lived in for the time of its length, when the film sings for the last time its refrain, I had quite a hard time to let the film go. as we all know the crisis caused by the pandemic had cinema worldwide in its stranglehold. And Venice Atienza´s work on her film was as well affected. But now, the poets of cinema begin to sing again, and one of their most beautiful new songs is Last Days at Sea by Venice Atienza.

Rüdiger Tomczak


Sat, 19.6. 17.30 Neue Bühne Hasenheide

Friday, June 11, 2021

Notes on Jong Chak Yeok (Short Vacation) by Kwon Min-pyo and Seo Hansol, Korea: 2020-Berlin Filmfestival 2021 III.-Generationkplus

This is a film more from the experimental corner of the Generation-section. The narrative style is rather dealing with the outcomes of situations. But as no film is really completely plotless, the film nevertheless offers options of stories or at least fragments of them. Most of its time, the film celebrates a refreshing playfulness. Even some non events appear almost poetic. The film begins to move from a certain initiation point. A photography club of a middle school invites students to participate in a photo competition, the subject is “the end of the World”.

Before four 14 years old girls begin their journey on the search for images for this rather intangible subject, we see a film screening in this school. They screen John Ford´s Stagecoach, a film which is famous for its reestablishment of the Western-genre but it is probably more important – a model for a certain kind of this hybrid genre we call Road Movie.

As as hard as it is for now to define what Jong Chak Yeok is about, it has certainly Road Movie-elements. As it is hard for the girls to look for images according the the subject “end of the world”. They begin to travel with subways and local train to its final destinations. While they are philosophizing about what to imagine as “the end of the world”, they begin with things they know from their every day life. In the subways or local trains, the girls sit mostly side by side. One of them dozes off and the window shows the landscape passing by. While the girls sitting side by side flattens the image, the view out of the window above them suggests depth. The film has a seldom almost musical rhythm between movement and static between the illusion of depth and the emphasis of the natural flatness of the cinematic image. The film´s flow is often stopped to a still image and sometimes as sudden as an emergency brake. Even though the camera moves very seldom, the images are sometimes full of movement (last but not least by these vivid girls).

Finally the girls arrive a kind of no man´s land. Abandoned buildings and a retirement home where the dwellers are not visible. As we are still asking ourselves where the film is going, we are lost with the girls. The four girls are unable to find the way back or even to the nearest bus, or subway station. They have to spend the night in one of these abandoned buildings. It is dark and now the last battery of their smart phones has died.

The mood, or better the changes of moods in this film depends mostly on pure cinematic elements: light and darkness or it depends on things which happen uninfluenced by people like rain, sunshine day and night. The building where the girls have to spend the night is dark, their and our imagination is activated. It is almost a classical situation from the many films and novels taking place in a post apocalyptic world. The tone of their conversation becomes more serious. The girls still in transition between childhood and growing up talk about their grandmothers and soon their conversation is about aging and finally death.

With this film it is a bit like with particle physics: The seeming lack of stories changes into a strange charging of fragments of stories out of the seemingly emptiness. As the film appears at the beginning as light as a summer breeze it leads to a quite astonishing film experience. In another kind than the exuberant masterpiece of the obvious cinephile Alexandre Rockwell Sweet Thing (Generation 2020) but with the same love for cinema, Jong Chak Yeok is a wonderful introduction to the mysteries of cinema. In all its playfulness, its seemingly lightness, the film is in its formal strategies one of the bravest films I saw this year in this section which jumps often so wonderfully among the different potentials of cinema.

Rüdiger Tomczak


Mon, 14.6, 17.30 Neue Bühne Hasenheide

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Notes on Una Escuela en Cerro Hueso (A School in Cerro Hueso) by Betania Cappato, Argentina: 2021-Berlin Filmfestival II.-Generationkplus


The first thing which came to my mind when I saw this film was a memory in an almost forgotten masterpiece from Japanese cinema Shiinomi gakuen (The Shinomi School, 1955) by Hiroshi Shimizu. It is about parents who are founding a school exclusively for their children suffering under polio. One of the main reasons was to protect their children against discrimination. Betania Cappato´s film Una Escuela en Cerro Hueso is inspired by her own family story, the Autism spectrum disorder of her little brother.

In her film, the couple, Julia and Antonio (both are biologists) tried several times without any success to find a school for their autistic daughter Ema. Finally they find a special school in the countryside where teacher and parents have to work very close together. Around the school, parents, teacher and children form something like a community like in Shimizu´s film. But as the school in Shimizu´s film seems almost a paradise-like refugium for outsiders (Shimizu loved children and filming in open air locations), the school in Cerro Hueso is still affected by the problems of our contemporary world. The natural environment is endangered. The species extinction caused by the global warming and other ecological problems. The community has as well to take care for their economical surviving and if possible economic independence. They need access to fresh water and finally a garden for growing their own vegetable. The radio news tells often about ecological disasters which finally affects the food chain. This paradise is obviously threatened. The film is as well about the hard work which is necessary for preserving this protected zone.

The film has two different currents which complement each other. The first one is a sober, nearly documentary narrated one. We see teachers and parents often at their meetings or the work of Antonio and Julia as biologists often carrying samples into their lab. They discuss why a vegetable garden is necessary or how they install a pipe between the nearby river and their place. A forthcoming music festival must be prepared. The need for solidarity among the community members is for now a very factual thing. The film itself becomes an alternative draft to the world like it is.The second current is an explicit poetic one. Here hope tries to resist the harsh reality. But most striking this other current reveals a lot of tenderness. I can hardly remember much films where so much caresses are exchanged like in this one. Ema is often hugged and kissed by her parents and the parents nonverbal communications with each other is full of tenderness. There is a wonderful moment when Ema and her mother pet a horse. In this moment it seems that love and tenderness is the only answer to a world which goes apart. Even the other children try with tender patience to integrate the silent Ema into their activities. In this counter draft of the world the film seems to turn always towards the right and good things.

The film is sad and blissful at the same time. Traces of happiness are here the results of hard work and solidarity. A horse is recognized pregnant. The world is not yet doomed.

There is nothing more capable for drawing an alternative draft against the world like it is and like it should be than cinema. Like in Shimizu´s masterpiece from 1955, Cappato´s film is in itself something like a protected zone and it is a personal film with a very unique vision of what cinema can be.

At all, Betania Cappato´s Una escuela en Cerro Hueso is one of the right films for the summer screenings of this Berlinale-edition. To see this film in Cinemascope on the big screen is something we can look forward to after the terrible 14 months we went through.

Rüdiger Tomczak


Fri, 11.6, 17.30, Neue Bühne Hasenheide

Sam, 19.6, 21.30, Freiluftkino Rehberge

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Notes on Fighter, by Jéro Yun, Korea: 2020-Berlin Filmfestival 2021-I.-Generation14plus


All around I see gilded lives,

but mine is tarnished.

All around I hear words of Jade,

but mine are luckless.

Why I was born under a bad star?

(song from Haonan, Haonu (Good Men, Good Women by Hou Hsiao Hsien)

The film is mostly about every day events. Scene after scene it seems Jun celebrates an unexcitedly realism which is probably only possible in Eastasian cinema. As the film´s mise en scène seems to have all time in the world, the protagonist, Jina, a young woman who escaped from North Korea, has no time at all. She just arrives in Seoul after some months of social adjustment training. Her father is while escaping from North Korea stuck in China and it needs money to pass him through China. Her mother has abandoned her when she was 12 and lives here in Seoul with a new husband and another daughter. From the beginning, Jina appears as an alien lost soul in this strange new world. The world around her has its own rhythm, she herself is still on the search for her own rhythm of life.

Her alienation, her uprooting from her family and the country she has lived in is present in the first encounter with her mother after many years. She hardly recognizes her daughter. In the face of the young actress Lim Seong-mi, a lot of emotions are palpable. Her complex emotions are never described in words but remain nameless with a silent impact. Once we see sunshine on her beautiful but grim and sad face. One almost wishes to see her smile. In her indescribable intensity of her facial expressions, she almost reminds me in the young girl played by Sidney Flanigan in Eliza Hittman´s masterpiece Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

For a good part of the film, Jina is unable to fit in this new society or in finding new friends. Later when she joins later a box club for earning more money there is a young assistant and an alcohol addicted coach who feel some compassion for her. The coach himself appears like a lost soul himself. Like I mentioned, the film cultivates a sober realism with very few dramatic moments, but these rough nameless emotions perceptible in the face of the actress creates a strange intensity which rises more as the film proceeds its quiet and sober narration. Sometimes, the film retreats itself into basic cinematic moments, observations and the exchange of glances. The film I will remember afterwards, seems to be much more emotional than the one I have seen just now. Things we do not see might lead later in our imagination a life of its own. The film does not produce emotion, it arises them from the relationship between the film´s soberness and its unfortunate protagonist.

There is a moment when Jina cries secretly in the training hall, retreated in a dark corner of this building. While she is half hidden and appears as a weeping shadow, the coach encourages her to cry for feeling better afterwards. The whole weight of “drama” in this seemingly sober film is tricky. It remains often hidden and abstract. But from time to time these often hidden emotions unfold an unexpected fierceness like unforeseen seismic shocks if one just try to recall single moments of this film.

After one boxing match, Jina has some slight injuries in her face despite of her protection suit. They are superficial and probably harmless. But strangely this superficial injury unfolds as an image of a deeply wounded soul. It might be as well the essence of this film which always deals with the surface of the material things and people but for moments it is exactly this patient observation and the lack of imposed emotions which turns out to be the film´s compassion.

The Asian cinema has taught us that simplicity can be be one of the highest and most sophisticated cinematic art. The film Fighter by Jéro Yun might even has a slight tendency to cinematic minimalism. But finally turns out to be a heartbreaking film experience. The echo the film has left in me will stay for quite a while.

Rüdiger Tomczak


10. June, 21.30 Freiluftkino Rehberge

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Notes on Bela, by Prantik Basu, India: 2021

Even though I saw Prantik Basu´s new documentary Bela as a press screener, my first thought was how wonderful this film would look on the big screen.
One reason for this thought was a simple but in retrospect very strong visual impression which enfolds almost cinema in general: The film´s point of view is mostly down to earth but from time to time the film is gazing towards the sky.
The film is about indigenous communities in the east of West Bengal. At first it offers first an insight into a specific rural culture. But this “Down to earth” does not exclude the thing we call poetry. In his wonderful short film Rang Mahal, Basu confronted the materiality of natural and men-made landscapes with a recited indigenous genesis. That reminded me in films like Malick´s Voyage of Time- Life´s Journey but also in Marguerite Duras´ Les Maines Negatives (The negative Hands), because it distinguishes the world like it is and how people interpret it through religion, mythology or poetry.

In Bela, there is no voice over commentary. At first the film looks at the every day work routine of this community: the home work of women, the collecting of fire wood or the grinding of grain. But there is also the preparation for some special events, a Cchau-festival (a tribal folk dance) and the Diwali festival. We see Cchau-dancer at their rehearsals. Even the struggle to preserve an old traditional culture appears as hard work. Later the Cchau dancer will be dressed up and masked like mythic figures or animals for their performance.
Women are grinding grain. Their work is tiring and dusty. The mill is a primitive apparatus entirely powered by muscles. This moment might be only a fragment of this tribal way of life but the rhythm of this monotonous work which is necessary for surviving offers an idea of this life.
Women pick up fire wood in the forest. Big trucks are transporting wood for industrial purposes. The daily work routine revealed in this film has nothing euphemistic. These women are mostly grumpy, stressed and not at all happy with their daily work. They might be absorbed by the world they live in but they are not necessarily satisfied with it.

As I mentioned Prantik Basu´s fine eye in distinguishing natural and cultural landscapes, in Bela he also distinguishes the two elements of cinema, it´s precise image-making apparatus which enables to record images of the world like it is but also the moment when these seemingly sober recorded images become something else - a poetic interpretation of the world. The incorruptible persistent gaze itself becomes the artistic approach.

Basu works mostly with the light sources these indigenous people have at their disposal. Especially in the interiors of these traditional houses, our eyes have to adapt this dim light where some things is visible but others are hidden in the shadow. For the eyes of a city dweller it is first of all challenging, because our eyes are mostly spoiled by the light pollution in the big cities.
When Ford, Kubrick or Malick for example tried to approach a distant epochs with the disclaiming of conventional studio lightning, Basu or in another kind the Taiwanese Hou hsiao Hsien tried to approach an authentic lightning for traditional interiors. Basu approaches here a traditional way of life with an authentic lightning. It is not only another evidence that Bela is not made for a TV channel but also a brave and sophisticated esthetic approach for a documentary.

The complex relationships between nature and culture, a traditional tribal way of life and traces of a rising industry, between the work for surviving and the cultural events as the collective memory of indigenous culture – even the relationships between the genders are revealed entirely through this very persistent cinematic observation. The world unfolds image by image and the use of this image-making apparatus is often decent, sometimes even invisible.
The art of Prantik Basu seems to be rather in resisting to force the images. Paradoxically, Bela looks like great cinematic art just because of his imperturbable confidence in his images. Despite or even because of Basu´s seemingly formal restraint, the whole film seems to abound with fragmented stories, moods, thoughts and feelings.

Near the end there is the Cchau-festival and the Diwali celebration. And the film which I almost would like to call minimalistic with a certain formal strictness - seems now to explode into myriads of lights, colors and movements.
Women paint white ornaments on the ground with colour made from rice flour. We see firework, oil lamps and even electric lights in many colours. The film almost becomes a festival itself and its psychedelic beauty reminds me as well in films like Renoir´s The River. But even here it looks like art originates directly in front of the camera from the world itself. The ornaments might be washed away by the next rain, oil lamps, fireworks and even the electric lights will expire soon but it is like burnt in the artificial memory of this film like it is burnt in my own biological memory.

The film Bela offers a lot of options. One can reflect a lot about what the film reveals, one can reflect a lot about documentary as an art form. Films were often dealing with vanishing worlds and vanishing cultures. It is quite a bitter pill that film itself is endangered like never before in its history of crisis. Not only for that reason, Bela is a kind of gift which gives a glimpse about the richness and diversity of the past of cinema but also hope for cinematic wonders yet to come.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Bela had its world premiere at the Visions du Reel, International Filmfestival in Nyon /Switzerland.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Notes on Finally Bhalobasha, by Anjan Dutt, India: 2019

The tears I never shared have become a song somehow
The song I never sung has became popular now.”
(from the song Chhiley Bondhu, lyrics Anjan Dutt))

As a child - even though it was strictly forbidden - I loved to stroll in and around old abandoned and almost declined houses - but also on construction places where new houses were built. The ruins promised traces of stories about people gone long ago, the construction places promised stories to come and especially here began everything with sand, concrete and bricks, the first rooms appeared and finally people moved in with all their stories
I often dream films as buildings, dwellings, especially since my passion for Ozu decades ago and recently with some films by Aparna Sen or Anjan Dutt. Among so much other things, Anjan Dutts Dutta Vs Dutta was as well a portrait of a house divided in rooms like the film offered different stories about different family members.

Finally Bhalobasha, one of Dutts more recent films begins almost like a cinematic construction place. The three (at the first sight seemingly unconnected) stories are separated by titles and shutters and they appear in two cycles and a short finale. They grow together gradually and before we are aware of it, we begin already to “dwell” in it. Sometimes it feels like we see rushes of three different films.
The first one, “Insomnia” is about a young man called Bibek, “Bobby” who is hired by a mobster who often abuses his young wife Malavika violently. The second one “Arthritis”, is about an aging ex military officer who brings a young woman to his home who collapsed in front of his car and the third one “HIV positive” is about the relationship about a young man who is going to die of Aids and his male nurse (a wannabe boxer and a former rickshaw driver).

As a film is always built and edited, sometimes the art of cinema offers as well an idea about this kind of work which is needed to for all the moods, thoughts and feelings which the film will evoke in us – or that what mean to “dwell” for a temporary time in a film.

I have seen Finally Bhalobasha last year at my friends place in the USA for the first time (where it was streamed at Amazon) but was very much distracted by my fascination for his previous masterpiece Aami Ashbo Phirey. This year I rediscovered it for myself. It was the time of a worldwide lockdown which brought the 125 years old history of cinema to a halt.

As each of the three segments include a song, it was especially the song Chhiley Bondhu (for the segment “HIV positive”) which gave me a new access to this film, like a hidden door in a building which I have missed before. This mesmerizing song (composed by Neel Dutt, lyrics by Anjan Dutt) stands for the wonderful work of Neel Dutt for most of the films by Anjan Dutt but among others as well for some recent films by Aparna Sen. But its appearance in this film is as well a key to the hidden magic in the films by Anjan Dutt.

Like in most filmy by Dutt, the characters are too much involved in their life in the Here and Now for being able to explain themselves. But between their every day routine, their patterns and habits there are often moments which reveal a deep sadness about the loss of dreams and about the inability to have lead the life they dreamt of.

In “Insomnia”, the first narrative segment with a tendency to the gangster film genre, Bibek tries desperately to make up with his girlfriend. He tries to phone her often but a real communication does not take place. Out of pity wife of his boss he plans with Malavika and a friend to stage a ransom extortion. They stage the abduction of the unhappy gangster bride Malavika to free her from her violent husband.

Arthritis” the second segment has more a tendency to Ozu´s famous “home dramas”. Dinesh the former military officer and the young woman Ahiri the trumpet player of a Folk Jazz band suggest at the first side a kind of romance between an aging man and a much younger woman. But soon it turns into a melancholic dialogue between the different times of a human life. Dinesh lost his wife during the birth of his only son (about whom he does not like to talk very much). His wife must have been in the age of Ahiri when she died. Piece by piece the film changes our perception. Is “Insomnia” still close to the gangster genre, “Arthritis” moves anywhere between Proust and Ozu between the Here and Now and memories as part of human consciousness. I had to think about the simple newspaper article which inspired Ozu to his very last film Sanma no Aji: Aging widower feels reminded in his late wife by a bar hostess.
Behind the Here and Now, the film reveals as well these “beings of time” according to Proust of which a human life is built. Like I mentioned, in this seemingly clearly arranged “cinematic building” other hidden doors are opened.

The cinematic landscape offered by the third segment “HIV positive” is again another possibility of cinema. It takes place in Darjeeling, a region which always had a special meaning for Anjan Dutt. Joey, he dying young man who wanted to be an actor cites without pause dialogues from films to override his fear of death which irritates his male nurse. At the beginning they seem stuck together. They quarrel in the middle the wild beauty of Darjeeling´s mountain landscape like in the middle of the cinematic glory, the dying man is dreaming of. At the same time their mortality and frailty contrasts with the mighty old landscape.
The notion of death is always present. Close before the young man´s death they make an excursion to the environment of Darjeeling. They visit the boarding school the young man once visited (if I am not mistaken it is the same boarding school Anjan Dutt or his Alter Ego Ronno in Dutta Vs Dutta attended once). The moment is a strange moving celebration of fragments of happiness (imagined or really lived) contrasted with the certainty of death and it belongs to the most heartbreaking moments in Anjan Dutt´s work. The song Chhiley Bondhu appears as an advanced requiem.
Neel Dutt sings:
Are you my friend from long long time ago?
The friend who shared my happiness my woe?
If we meet again in some other world
Will you love me like you did once before?”

As the three segments begin to connect more and more with each other one is astonished again how much a film can tell about life (and how much one can learn about cinema) in less than 2 hours film. The short finale lets the single segments dissolve all into one after “Insomnia” ends with a harsh tragedy, “Arthritis” with a journey and “HIV positive” with death. All three paths lead to Darjeeling and the cinemascope images gain landscape images of often mythic quality.

Like in Satyajit Ray´s legendary masterpiece Kanchanjangha, the landscape is divided in paths and viaducts build by men and made for men and which are at the same time the borderlines between civilization and nature.Dinesh´s confession that he failed as a father takes place in front of this landscape. Finally Bibek and his girlfriend are meeting again. But soon they turn their backs to us and with them we can only look into the infinite landscape into the infinite sky. The landscape , the fictive narration and the frame of the cinemascope image are melting into an impressing cinematic landscape close to the relationship between people and landscape in some films by John Ford. In Anjan Dutt´s films there is place for the failed, the mourning, for the ones who lost their dreams and the ones who still believe in their dreams, the ones who lost the strength to hope and the ones who are still able to hope and dream.
In this sense, Finally Bhalobasha is also a love letter to cinema.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Monday, May 18, 2020

Notes on Robibaar (On a Sunday), by Atanu Ghosh, India: 2019

"We know that behind every image revealed there is another image more faithful to reality, and in the back of that image there is another, and yet another behind the last one, and so on, up to the true image of that absolute, mysterious reality that no one will ever see. "

(Michelangelo Antonioni)

At the beginning the law officer Sayani has a heavy nightmare. She wakes up on a Sunday morning. For now she does what we usually do if no work and no schedule are forcing us: she phones with relatives or friends. In a coffeeshop she meets by accident her former lover Asimabha from whom she separated 15 years ago. The film opens with a situation, this unexpected meeting with her former boyfriend. Out of this situation, the film´s narration develops from this and what it evokes in the protagonists. The film offers hints about their past rather than revealing it. And especially these hints give an idea about the complexity of a human life which is not built of one story but a network of numberless stories. Half voluntary and half reluctant, Sayani follows her former lover on a strange sunday journey through places which had once a meaning for both of them but as well through their past. Cinema can always reveal two things at the same time, a journey to concrete datable places but at the same time it can give hints about the inner life of its protagonists.

At the beginning Sayani/Jaya Ahsan and Asimabha/Prosenjit Chatterjee occur to me as actors who never have met before and who just began to work together like on a first rehearsal for a film. The hints about her past as a couple remain fragmental. It is rather our imagination which is animated than our little knowledge about their story.
The places, buildings, streets they walk through are real places and its presence seems totally independent from the films subtle fiction or its narrative strategies. Strangely I remembered (despite the film´s soberness) Alain Resnais´ L´Année dernière à Marienbad. But contrary to Resnais´ film which takes place in surreal designed sets while Robibaar takes literally place in the streets of contemporary Kolkata. The fiction and the real environment exists equally side by side. As the environment´s presence looks at the first sight like in a documentary, the things and places are suddenly loaded up with meaning only the two protagonists can fully understand, no memories but hints to memories: an old Sitar, a locker, a box and a key. They suddenly evoke for a moment traces of pain, lostness. When we are still seeing this places and streets of modern Kolkata, the protagonists dive from time to time into their own past, their memories invisible for us. Suddenly Asimabha is humming a melody unknown to us but related to his past with Sayani.

The hints given to us by Atanu Ghosh are not not enough to reveal the complete story of this couple but they create a strange fascinating suspense.
The film evokes questions rather than answers. Was Asimabha a fraudster involved in crimes? Or did Sayani really had an abortion and the child was from him? The old Sitar or the collection of love letters at all seem like keys to their story and we feel a bit like the reporter in Orson Welles´ Citizen Kane who is trying to find the meaning of Kane´s last word “Rosebud”.

Many scenes of this film take places on highways seen from the front shield of a car. Streets and highways are some of the most anonymous places one can imagine in a film. It is only the film´s fiction which avoids the protagonists totally disappearance into this world they are originated from.

The wonderful jazz music, this unique utopian coexistence of individual freedom and collective musical achievement seems sometimes corresponding with a more lively past this former couple once had with each other, in other moments it seems rather like an engrossing part of the soundtrack.
Two other stories are indicated: a boy from the streets who is a brilliant flute player with whom Asimabha spends some time (like with a son he never had and probably will never have) and a strange mobster-like chracter who keeps his wife like a prisoner. They appear as connections to Asimabha´s life and disappear again in anonymity.
Sayani is always ready to finish this accidental sunday journey. It seems like her intellect has already completed this chapter of her life but her heart is still magnetized by this unhealthy relationship.

There is one scene which tells very precisely about this longing for closeness and the insight of alienation from the person she once loved. It is the only intimate scene in this film towards the end. They hug and kiss but suddenly Sayani frees herself and says: “And now, rape?” Very fast, their bodies separate from each other. The last echo of their relationship trails off and this moment appears as the death of a relationship.

As many emotions in Robibaar seem to be suppressed, the emotional impact of a finished love story remains offscreen. The experience of this film is split into two different films, the one we just saw and the other which will be re-edited in our memory and filled with the emotions which the real film did not show but evoked.
Like Atanu Ghosh´s previous film Mayurakshi, Robibaar is as well a very sober film anywhere between the urban landscapes and lost souls in the films by Michelangelo Antonioni or Edward Yang in its evocation of alienation and lostness in our modern civilization.
But sometimes it is especially the lack of drama and staged emotions which lets a films appear in retrospect as a deeply sad experiences. And sometimes it is an echo of a film which leaves us with a bitter aftertaste of lostness and alienation which remains unforgettable.

Rüdiger Tomczak