Thursday, September 29, 2011

Claudes Hands - Homage to Claude Forget (1949 - 2008)

 (photo Patrick Girard)

Claude Forget 30.September 1949 - 17. August 2008

I can not be present this evening.
I couldn´t be present at his funeral celebration.
And I was not there at his very last day on August, 17.
But despite the big geographical distance between Claude and me, I felt always close to him since I got to know him.
As a renown distributor, producer and connisseur of Independent cinema, I owe him most of my knowledge about Quebecian cinema. Through him only, I encountered the work of several young and talented filmmakers who deserve to be discovered abroad.
Claude was one of the very few distributors with whom I could talk about cinema as much more than a business. Despite producing and distributing independent cinema is a hard business to run, Claude had a big passion for cinema as a creative work.
People like me who run a film magazine independent from adverticements, all non private sponsorship and the much more trist reality in what kind of films are released in my country or what kind not have often the reputation as hopeless dreaamers. And here again, Claude had as well a big heart for "this dreamers" - even more - he took them serious like he did his own business, a business which is much more contronted with the taugh reality of cinema surrounded by economic limitations.
I met Claude first by accident at the Festival des films du Monde, 1995, introduced by another dear friend Claude R. Blouin and also by a review I wrote one year ago on the first feature film by François Delisle called RUTH, which was distributed by his former company, the collective Cinéma Libre. I didn´t care much what people in my country thought about my new born love for quebecian cinema, mostly unknown in Europe, sometimes even in frankophone countries.
My biggest reward was that I got to know Claude Forget who gave me not only a deep insight into cinéma quebecoise but as well in the life and history of Quebec.
And I had also the pleasure to get to know him as a person and it is not possible for me to make a difference between Claude as a passionate activist in cinema and him as a person.
At the time, I met him the first times, I was rather dogmatic in what and how cinema should be. For Claude, a film must be at first alive than it can be a good or even a great film. A film can fail but a try of a young filmmaker to express something or even to try was always worth to be listened and watched.

One year later, 1996 I spent almost one week with Claude, in his office and I was a guest in his former appartment at the quarter Saint-Henri.
I realised one thing, Claude couldn´t only accept films in their very different forms. He as well took people he loved like they are and not like he wished they should be.

I remember the year 2002 the only time when I met Claude during the Berlin Filmfestival. One night we had a private party in my appartment with Claude, a colleague from Cinéma Libre, a young french-canadian couple Claude just met by accident in Berlin, and friends of mine: a japanese couple, (both filmcritics) and a filmmaker from Bangladesh. He always told me later how much he enjoyed this "party".
If people meet and if they having together a good time - that was always for Claude the highest thing to be approached.
I remember the evening when my friend from Bangladesh Shahen Dill-Riaz showed his first film for Claude, reading out the english text from the dialogue list for him.
In 2003 I met Claude the last time in person during my last trip to Quebec. We even spent a day in his little cottage in Saint-Juilenne and later there were some meetings in the new office of Cinéma Libre.
More than one year later after the decline of Cinéma Libre, Claude had a new Start at Paralœil in Rimouski. From now on we had to communicate through mail and phone.
I realised a new aspect of Claude, beside all his passion for his work, he had a clear sense for the essential things in life. His unconditional love for people close to him, his daughter, his grandchildren, sisters and his friends were the rewards of his life rather than the ups and downs of dealing with cinema.

Years later, I learned that Claude has cancer. And we talked through e-mail and phone. He seemed to be very optimistic about chances of healing. Or did I just interpret optimism for escaping being confronted how serious his deseasse really was? At the end of his life, when all hope for recovering and healing failed, Claude made another clear decision. The last weeks of his life he wantet to spent near the people closest to him, his sisters and his only daughter.

There is one experience I missed to have shared with Claude:
It was two years ago, during my first voyage to India. In Calcutta I was introduced by friends to the most celebrated football idol of India, Pradip Kumar "P.K. Bannerjee, a gentleman in his early seventies who just recovered from a brainstroke. I didn´t realize in this first moment who this man was, neither why my friends introduced me to this old man. Mr. Bannerjee lay on a double bed, unable to move his right arm. I was to shy to say anything and the only thing I could do was to hold his left hand. I hold his hands for about ten minutes while Mr. Bannerjee was telling me something in a very soft voice. Finally the nurse asked us to leave. I was the first one who left the house and went on the street. I was very moved and couldn´t help may eyes got filled with tears. For this very moment, I felt close to a person, I nither met before nor I ever had heard about.

I recalled this experience at my last try to phone Claude at his last day. His sister told me that he can´t speak and he is going to pass away very soon.
On this very day, August, 17, Claude was around 4000 miles away from me.
But in my imagination I feel like I hold his hand for the last time.

Rüdiger Tomczak 

This text is originally written for the homage to Claude Forget at the Cinematheque Quebecois, Montreal, 13. September and is translated and slightly changed into german for shomingeki, printissue Nr. 21. part of the hommage in shomingeki No. 21 is also a text on ROGER TOUPIN, L´EPICIER VARIÈTÈ by Benoit Pilon

Monday, September 26, 2011

How I stopped worrying and learnt to love the films by Aparna Sen


 " He wrote me from San Francisco: Recently I made a pilgrimage of warching 17 times VERTIGO by Alfred Hitchcock" (from SANS SOLEIL by Chris Marker)

I remember it was just an impulse I followed in early 2005 to see some more recent films from India. It was March and I planned my first travel to India in coming November 2006.On the Berlin Film festival I saw Shonali Boses AMU with Konkona Sen Sharma. I did not know that she was the daughter of Aparna Sen, nor anything else about her. But I knew already two films by Aparna Sen, read in the staff info of the AMU-press-kit that she played as well in a film by Aparna Sen and I gave it a try, ordered the English DVD from Amazon (which was quite expensive) and watched it at the day it arrived. That was anything else than love at the first sight, just enough not to hate this film. I even intended to resell it at the Amazon marketplace soon. Means, the film passed by without evoking anything in me. But I saw it a second time - and I don´t know why - with the same result. My sub-conscience still pushed me to give it another try, even though my mind was sure it won´t change a bit. But than came a beautiful Sunday morning, I think it was even Eastern. I stand up early, took a hot bath, made a wonderful breakfast with ham, eggs and Darjeering first flush. And it was a total different film! One little interaction during the bus travel in the film between a mumbling old Muslim gentleman and a Teen girl called Kushboo blew me suddenly away. I found the key to this film, a really entrance. From now on and 11 weeks in a row I saw MR. and MRS. IYER every Sunday morning and the film became better and better and was as well a trip through everything in cinema I love. Even though the outstanding performances of Rahul Bose (as sovereign like Henry Fonda in some films by John Ford) and Konkona Sen Sharma who appeared to me as the reincarnation of the chinese actress Ruan Ling Yu gives one of her most soulful performances - it was Kushboo I had a quite a crush on. And she appears only in some scenes. And Anjan Dutt as an indian Jew sticks with me until the end of my life.After seeing this film around 8 times, I slowly began to understand that it is really a damn good film, First it reminded me in the „group dynamic“ storytelling of John Ford and than again in Ozus incredible justice for his characters. After 10 times I haven´t watched anymore a film but made a journey. My soul wandered inside the characters. Sometimes I was Meenakshi, sometimes Raja but mostly I saw this film from the point of view of the baby Santanam. Later I felt like Cohen, Kushboo, the old Muslim couple, the unhappy Jew Cohen or finally the stressed policeman.

And if I consider the whole case a  bit more precise than this film is already a masterpiece because of the 30 minutes long bus travel. And later I even thought what kind of fest must have been this film for French philosopher Gilles Deleuze who considered a filmmaker like a philosopher.I learned through this film to define my love for cinema and I even understood why I am rather uncomfortable with most of film theory. Beside poetry, storytelling etc, I believe every good film has included (even though encoded) its own theory on cinema.

The first lesson I learned that there is no real objective film criticism. If you find and access into a film or not - it is often a game of luck. And all the knowledge we have probably collected over years or even over decades is worthless and rather a burden than a tool if your mind is always predetermined. When I finally got my access into this film than - of course my modest knowledge about cinema became useful. And MR. AND MRS. IYER became for me a film which I could enjoy, emotionally as intellectually.

One of the basic ideas of my long review in shomingeki No. 18 was the analogy of Meenakshi and Raja and the spectators. Even if the story offers the option of a romance and even the dream of it - Raja and Meenakshi never come together as a couple and finally they have to go apart and all the dreams they probably have of each other are like the dreams films can evoke in us when we leave the film theatre and continue to live our life.

One evidence for me how Aparna Sen uses genre conventions especially from Road Movies (may it be a drama, a comedy or a western) and turns it in the next moment to something very special and unique leads to one of the most sophisticated scenes about storytelling and cinema I ever have seen.Raja and Meenakshi have to pretend to be a married couple because Rajas life is in serious danger. He is Muslim and they are stuck in a HIndu-dominated region. This kind of role play is at first common especially in Road Movies. We have the example IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT by Frank Capra (1934) and as well in Yoji Yamadas THE YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF (1977) But this time the motivation of the role play is a game of life and death. That leads to a scene which is for me a kind of icon of cinematic poetry and cinematic intelligence at the same time. During their trip they spent tea time with some of the teen girls they know from the bus travel. And this girls are eager to hear the story of Meenakshis and Rajas love. First Raja hesitates but than he is spinning a story of love with honeymoons in Kerala under the lights of oil lambs or full moon. The audience and the "couple" know that this story is fake but at the same time we are almost seduced by Rahul Boses/Rajas invented story of a honeymoon which never took place. For a moment Meenakshi is quiet and when Raja asks her if "they needed oil lamps or not) she looks at him like just awakened from a day dream. Just her (Konkona sen Sharmas/Meenakshi glance at him blew me away. Yes there are a lot of examples ho Aparna Sen is mastering here the very very small line between enchantment and cheating the audience in an nearly Ozu-like brilliance:The last part of their voyage by train seems to bring them together. In the gangway he touches her face and we wait for the first kiss. But then a passenger wants to pass the small way, disturbs them and then a hard and sharp cut. We see them in their compartment. It is morning and some hours must have passed by. Not the least advice if they had "continued" last night or not but instead a small hint how different they are. Meenakshi will continue to drip her water in the traditional Hindu-kind without touching with her lips the bottle.Another moment is when Raja leaves the train at a station with a longer halt to buy coffee. Suddenly she fears he has left her. Then he comes back takes the Baby out of her into his arms and sits beside her. She leans her head on his shoulder - and then again a very sharp cut - and we are at the end of the travel at the station in Kolkata. That is  one of the most heartbreaking cuts I ever saw in my whole life.In the year 2005 this film occupied my mind for six months! Okay I found some willing victims whom I could tell about the film and my impressions. To survive I knew I had to write on this film or I had to go nuts.First I made an endless brainstorm version. There was still no clear intention to publish a text on this film because the next issue was already occupied  for Ghataks refugee-trilogy and some other stuff. I don´t know how I managed it, because just the next Berlin Film festival brought me two other crushes with two other films. And while preparing after the film festival the Ritwik Ghatak issue I had to deal as well with my text on MR. AND MRS. IYER and two other texts on films which blew me likely away for the over-next issue which finally came out October 2006 two weeks before my first (of three) India-trips. And if I count Mr, and Mrs. Iyer, I was already 4 times in India.

I am still embarrassed that I recognized in MR. AND MRS: IYER not at the time as the masterpiece that it is but I have to live with this shame. This year another of my most loved films by Aparna Sen THE JAPANESE WIFE had it much easier to conquer my heart. But this is another story.

THE JAPANESE WIFE conquered my heart at least after the second viewing. This time I intended to write on it. Working on the first draft of my reviw on this film was a nightmare, just cramp and lack of inspiration. On the next day something wonderful and accidental happened: Two little 5 years old girls from my neighbourhood wanted to watch on my DVD player SHREK (!) And - what a wonder I wrote like never before and even though I had to go at least 5 times to my DVD player, because the DVD the kids brought was not working very well. I sat in my kitchen in was in my „The-Japanese Wife-World“, the kids enjoyed SHREK. The magic aspect of this day was, I came much closer to „Mashi“ , a widow without a family who creates a kind of invented family for her. When I thought about the two little girls, who could be my daughters (or almost grand daughters) I felt I found a magic door to this film. The version I wrote on this day, survived almost to 90 % in the final published version. I was concentrated on my text and at the same time connected to the world through the little girls (Kids and cats like me and I do not know why). That is one reason I am very fond of the story Aparna Sen often tells, the writing of the scipt of MR. AND MRS. IYER on her daughters computer and in her room.
This day I wrote on THE JAPANESE WIFE was one of the rare beautiful experiences of writing on films. It was like I „lived“ the film for a while.
Another accident happened. In the print version I forgot to put the title of the from the film still (which also hadn´t a very high quality. But than I realized this picture looked like a film still in the vitrines of the old now closed or even deconstructed film theatres of my youth. And like I wrote in the review, it helped to dream myself in all the wonderful film theatres which are not existing anymore. I miss to have seen this wonderful film on the big screen but this lack evoked at the same time an eternal longing, a term which is also one of the keys to this film.

Rüdiger Tomczak
a long text on MR. and Mrs. Iyer is here, and a text on The Japanese Wife is there.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Dark I must not name by Shaan Khattau

Busy life at the station of Bhopal.In a restaurant near the station, Shaan Khattau is recording with the camera the incredible skill of the waiters who have to serve a high number of guests. Some passengers are turning their heads to her, making comments. She is obviously a stranger with her camera.She is still the tourist who shall not see from the deep wound of this city.The old man at the beginning of her film invites her for sightseeing. He seems to be the living chronicle of the city Bhopal. He tells her about the history of this city. And he shows her the sights of Bhopal: the mosques and the monuments. He is kindly with her. We see that he is as well polite with other people, two old friends and a muslim who bans her kind but strictly from filming in a court of a mosque.In a tea shop, the old man tells her the names of his ancestors. She asks him further and further back about his ancestors like in a funny game of asking and responding . We hear her laughter.

It is the only time where we hear her laughing.

For a small reunion of spectators the old man is telling about that very night of the poison gas accident. He, who was not a victim remains a living chronicle. We thought, he says once that we were like in one of Hitlers gas chambers.

The streets of Bhopal by night. Neon light and a big wall advertising Coca Cola. We hear religious singing from a mosque or from one of the rooftops. She senses immediately sublime tracks of sadness between the surface of the city´s domestic business.. She is not a tourist anymore. She comes closer to the hidden memories under the surface of the city.

She walks with her camera through the deserted and desolated chemical factory. This factory of the multinational company Union Carbide is the center of the horror, the starting-point of the terrible disaster of Bhopal. In the night of December, 2, 1984, 40 tons of methyl isocyanat escaped. She is the traveller who risked to reach this centre. The floor is slippery. Her unsteady walk is transformed into the movements of the camera. I imagine that I follow her close. And with each of her steps, I am affraid she could fall.

She is gone with Sunil to the former house of his parents. This young man has lost his whole family. His girlfriend married another man, because he still suffers under the follows of the poisoned gas and he is poor. He drinks a cup of water. He is nervous and irritable. I hear her soft voice from the off. She asks him to show her the whole house. He is shouting at her. He does n´t want to be bothered by her. That is all the bitterness of a man who lost everything and just in this moment even all his hope for his future.

He is alone.

She is beaten too through this strong and unexpected emotion. I almost imagine how she - stiff and shocked probably with shivering knees have felt that emotion. It is a moment in which she is without the help of her ambition, her apparatus and her concept.

She is alone.

And even though she has n´t cut that scene, has confronted herself again and again while editing her film. Sunil who is filmed and she who films are both exposed. It is a scene that hurts me while seeing it.

Razia is a mourning muslim woman whose face is almost completely hidden under a black veil. Razia walks through a parklike landscape of a mosque. She follows her with the camera. Razia does not talk with her but is reciting something for herself. I think she is praying., probably for the dead in her family. She can´t do anything than realizing and watching the mourning muslim- and stay silent.

She walks with the camera through a hospital that seems almost deserted.Eternal long corridors, empty beds on which are signed: MIC, the gas that demanded so much death and injured. Corps of human babies and foetuses are conserved in glass jars.I imagine how she, having a concept in mind while editing her images, has lived again all the real nightmares.

In the colony of widows which looks like an isolated ghetto, she encounters women who have lost everything - like Sunil. One of them says, that god is the only one who is left to her. The women are mourning. They are still sick from the follows of the poisoned gas.Once we see Sunil, who looks moved.

He is silent.

In an apartment of one of these old women I recognized her.She can´t console them in their mourning, can´t help them.

She is silent.

Later, she encounters the anger. Woman are reunited to an association. They are full of anger:against the americans whose chemical factory has destroyed their life,against the indian government, who allowed them to build the factory and who let the victims alone.When their protest movement weakened, politics have left them. There are no elections at the moment.Some of them say that they will fight until death.She is beaten by this power of bitterness, anger and sorrow.She can only react with her camera which is recording something for what she won´t find words. The video camera is her diary of images and sounds.

Children who know about the accident only from telling are playing "gas, gas...". They imitate what they never experienced, because they don´t know how it is to dy. History presses itself on the surface of present.

In the last part of the film she is showing photographs of the dead victims. Under every picture is a number.They seem like an anonymous mass grave. The paper sheets on which the pictures are sticked are already in the process of its decay. I don´t know what she has felt at that very moment.The photographs of the dead seemed to be long and bad conserved, like the officials had them forgotten. They are burnt into my memory like the mourning and the anger of the surviving victims.

The station master tells her that all victims could have been rescued when the alarm ring had been released earlier. The previous station master, he says, tried his best to rescue as much people from the station as possible. Even passengers in the express train which passed accidentally at that very day on December,2, 1984 are among the victims.

The last image presents an express train which passes over. What she may have thought and felt while editing her film - I don´t know.

A train passes - nothing else.Like in a film by Ozu. An image without symbol, without meaning.
And I can´t think about anything else that the train which passed through Bhopal at the night of December 2, 1984 meant for so much passengers the death.

She was looking in her film, during her voyage to Bhopal for an own attitude about what She had experienced.I don´ t know if she has found this attitude.

I am moved by her search.

When her concept, her idea about her film was often in danger to brak down under the power of the real anger and mourning of the people that she has met, she went on continuing..These are the moments which touched me deepest.She has confronted herself - and sometimes even without any protection - with the anger and mourning.Her film is not only telling about what she has seen but also that she has really - and independent from the apparatus of image-making - experienced and felt something.We can recapitulate her experiences.

I feel confidence for her film.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Friday, September 23, 2011

The New World - A pure masterpiece

The New World, USA: 2005, Terrence Malick (Berlin Filmfestival 2006, Out of competition)

I am writing on this film which was the most memorable cinema experience of the Berlin Film festival 2006.

The film shows what Northern America once was, an eternal wide nearly pure and eternal beautiful land. The film is going to show how soon it will change when it is discovered and acquired by the strangers, the Englishmen. Wit the first tree that falls and with the first native who are called here "Naturals) who will be killed, the changing begins. The English who come from a landscape which is mostly formed and changed by men do not understand this wild and beautiful landscape and they understand even less its habitants who live in harmony with this land formed by nature.

"Come spirit, help us sing the song of our land", we hear Pocahontas, daughter of an indian king praying on a river landscape at the beginning of the film. This prayer is the initial point of the film. Terrence Malick, an American can´t tell the story of this people and he never pretend in no part of the film to do so. But what he tries is to create himself an access over imagination manifested in this dream of an America in an Era far away back in time with a culture which exists today only marginal.

The Virginia of the 17th Century is reconstructed by Malick with all the cinematic technics available in the 21. Century. On the other hand he relinquished in a lot of technical tools which the contemporary cinema is used today like artificial light or computer-animated visual effects. What is told in this film is the legendary, deficient recorded love story between the Englishman Smith and Pocahontas. The film is partly reconstructed and partly an interpretation.

How men are moving in rooms or in the open landscape in places they know or in places strange to them gives an idea of the richness of this film. When the English step first time on this new discovered country where nature is nearly untouched or how Pocahontas and a member of her tribe discover for the first time the man made landscape of english cities brings this film exactly to the point. English like Natives are confused by places unknown to them and their orientation is irritated. Through a unique sense for space, Malick is able to transport us back into the past. This realized idea is one of so many miracles offered by this film.

The few war scenes between English and Natives are films with handheld camera. They confuse the audiences orientation. We are in the middle of an event but in a scary and disturbing way. Every movement brings insecurity. Fear and the ugly work of killing is all what we see. We are used to appreciate even the worst slaughter in films like LORD OF THE RING or TROY as an spectacle. The short scenes of violence in Malicks film are likely like in Kubricks BARRY LYNDON sudden interventions of terror in a film of a slow and meditative pace. And this scenes of violence are as well a foreseeing of the violence which will dominate in a bigger dimension the whole continent.

As the film begins with a prayer of Pocahontas even the images of landscapes appear to me as visual prayers: Landscapes, water, plants or birds which do not refer to the plot obviously seem to show at the same time nature unmoved by human actions. At the same time it is an evocation o of a paradise -like landscape like in Kurosawas DERSU UZALA. The images of them are upsetting because of our knowledge about their loss.

Where reconstruction through fragmentary historic sources is limited, Malick begins literally to dream in images. He can not know what Pocahontas has thought or felt. He is able to make images of her - or like it seems to me he dreams her out from the depth of time into his images. With the coincidental discovery of Q´Orianka who was hardly 15 years old at the time of the film was shot he got unexpected help from the reality. The unadorned face of the protagonist, which makes visible the inner changes of the protagonist is at least as impressing like the face of Renée Falconetti in Dreyers LA PASSION DE JEANNE D´ARC. The characteristics like intelligence or gentleness, described by the journals of Smith found here their evidentiary embodiment. The way she moves and especially the movement of her glances, her all-seeing eyes seem to be in a strange competition with the impressing handheld camera which finally though their technical perfection appears as a machine which is reproducing something. Pocahontas is not only seen (by the English and the point of view of the camera) but she is reacting immediately and appears from the first second of her appearance as a realized and a realizing person. The image, Malick made from Pocahaontas is impressing because her presence is always more than an image.

The use of the Adagio from Mozart's piano concert No. 23 as the "love-theme" of Pocahontas and Smith seems to be at the first sight an anachronism. This music with an almost singing piano a close relative to Mozart's Da Ponte-operas seems to be made for this film. It is known that Mozart (especially in his operas) was able to transform all possible human emotions into music. And here as well the use of Mozarts music is an interpretation. The strange combination of eloquent lightness and deep melancholy interconnects with Malicks Pocahontas-interpretation. The music is used 4 times, the first and second time in unadulterated moments of happiness and the last time at the last meeting between Pocahontas and Smith where this happiness is only a memory. But even at the first moments of happiness the music is as already an idea of a skepticism. We will remember these moments and Mozart's music when Pocahontas is banished by her tribe, uprooted and when she almost breaks mentally because of this unhappy love to Smith. When she dies at the end of the film as very young woman, we won´t hear the music of Mozart.

There is much more to say about this film. Among others there are the voice overs, monologues of single persons or the mostly very quite, almost whispered spoken dialogues which seem to be spoken in the zone between sleep and Awareness. That is also part of the dreamlike character of the film.

THE NEW WORLD is also an elegy on the american dream, the dream of the first, mostly impoverished settlers from Europe about the new world, the soon beginning nightmare of the genocide against the aborigines - but as well the Conquerors dreams of the expanding most powerful countries and the aggressive exploitation of the newly discovered continent.

In LA VIE SUR TERRE by Mauritanian Abderrahmane Sissako there is a Malick-like voice over-comment which says that not the encounter between Africa and Europe in itself was a tragedy but the time this encounter took place.. This is an attitude which I can imagine as well from THE NEW WORLD:

There are rumors that Malick at least for a DVD edition will release a three hour long version of this film. Until then and if the rumors become true I will be satisfied with the 135 minutes long version.

Rüdiger Tomczak (translation from german in shomingeki No. 18, October 2006)

NOTES on the extended version of Terrence Malicks THE NEW WORLD (translated from shomingeki No. 21, Summer 2009)

In October 2008 the 172 minutes long extended version of THE NEW WORLD, edited by Malick is released on DVD. Unfortunately this extended version of the film which was partly filmed in 65 Millimeter won´t get a theatrical release. I already loves the 135-minutes long version (the film was once edited from its first 150 minutes-version to 135 minutes) and there is nothing  have to regret in my very enthusiastic critic from shomingeki No. 18.The advantages of the long version are evident in fine details. It is less plot-oriented than the shorter version and like expected the voice-over monologues established by Malick since THE THIN RED LINE are more frequented. But more striking is the fact that Pocahontas is more in the center of the film and she is even more clear as the feeling but also reflecting individual. Except the last chapter which takes place in England (where only very few scenes are added)the 40 more minutes are often in small moments divided in the film. It makes not much sense to describe all the single moments of the added scenes. More important is the new impression. The relation between Pocahontas and the use of Mozart's piano concerts seems to be much clearer. Q´orianka Kilchers performance wins in Nuances. How Kilcher (just 14 when the film was made) lets her character Pocahontas maturating and  even aging seems to be almost uncanny and it will remain one of the secrets of this extraordinary rich  film. Even though the advantage of the long version is a matter of nuances - there is a small scene which appears at the first moment understated but at the second view it is probably the heart of the film. It is a dialogue between Pocahontas/Rebecca and her uncle from her former tribe. He is ordered by the native king to join the travel to England for "counting the white man" and for looking for the god "they talked so much about". In an english garden, Pocahontas/Rebecca tells him "that she made a lot of mistakes which brought her into this strange new world". The answer of her uncle is very laconic. He says that "there is nothing to do about because the white are as numerous like the grass.". She says "that she hopes that her people  will forgive her one day."(From the context of the film we learnt that Pocahontas was banished by her tribe and that she purposeless caused the victory of the English against her tribe. "Her heart", she continues "has dies several time with her people". She considers herself still as her fathers daughter. Her uncle leaves without answering her farewell greeting. And suddenly the smile in her face has vanished and replaced by a melancholic expression. This small scene is so unspectacular and subtle like a moment in a film by Yasujiro Ozu but as well as precise. The tragic of the Pocahontas-character comes exactly to the point. Pocahontas/Rebecca dies again one of her "many deaths". This is the most moving moment of the film.

THE NEW WORLD appears to me (at least in this long version) as one of the last miracles in contemporary cinema. The film  once was knocked down by a stupid film public. Among the only 4 films of his filmography (film No. 5 is in the process of post production) THE NEW WORLD is Terrence Malicks most beautiful film.

Rüdiger Tomczak

A text on THE TREE OF LIFE in my blog.

In my texts on Yang Yonghis documentaries, I also mentioned Malicks masterpiece from 1999, The Thin Red Line in the last parts of the chapter on SONA, THE OTHER MYSELF.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Remembering Kei Kumai - on Kei Kumai and his forgotten masterpiece FUKAI KAWA

Kei Kumai (1. Juni 1930 - 23. May 2007)

by Rüdiger Tomczak

I remember the first interview I had with Kei Kumai. It was 1992 during the Berlin Filmfestival. It was also the begin of a friendship with a japanese film director. Whenever I made an interview with him he spent a lot of time for that ignoring the hectic atmosphere of a big filmfestival.

I have to think of the first film I saw by Kumai. It was Umi To Dokuyaku (The Sea and the Poison, 1987) during the Berlin Filmfestival 1987, a film about a war criminal trial in Japan after World War 2. I have seen all his film from up to this one, the earlier films are still for me to discover. The films by Kumai which impressed me most were his three adaptions from novels by Japanese writer Shusako Endo. Beside The Sea and the Poison there were Fukai Kawa (Deep River, 1995) and Ai Suru (To Love, 1997). Especially Fukai Kawa which I have seen during the Worldfilmfestival 1995 did n´t get out of my mind. The film takes place mostly in India in the holy city Benares and is a mosaic of different human fates. which are crossing each other. It is one of the japanese films in the 90s which remind me in its richness in the great time of Japanese cinema of the 30s and 50s.

I remember another interview I had with Kumai in the year 1995 during the Worldfilmfestival of Montreal with Korean Mi Jeong-Lee. During this interview Kumai told us that he had to work as an adolescent wit Korean Forced laborers at an airport where Kamikaze pilots were starting. As an adolescent he witnessed discrimination of non-japanese during that time. Kumai was too young for being responsible for the japanese terror but too sensitive to be able to forget the dark chapter of Japanese civilization. But he was old enough to get an idea about the dark sides of human beings during the war.

I remember my last encounter with Kei Kumai again during the Berlin Filmfestival this time in the year 2001. And again he was accompanied by his wife Akiko. 2001 he was awarded with the Golden Berlinale Camera for his Life Achievement. remember that he hugged me very strong. That touched me because it is a rare sign of sympathy for a Japanese man of his generation.

End of May 2007 my friend Claude R. Blouin informed me that he read in internet about the death of Kei Kumai. Kei Kumai passed away on May 23 2007 after a stroke. The first thing which came into my mind was the fact that I owe him indirectly some of my longtime friendships. Valerie Dhiver, a french woman I met first after a market screening of SEN NO RIKYU (The Death of the tea master Rikyu, 1989) during the Berlin Filmfestival 1990. Half a year later, Valerie worked for the production company of Kumais next film Shikibu Monogatari. During the Montreal Worldfilmfestival she met Claude R. Blouin and gave me his address one year later.
Another friendship with the Vietnam born Canadian Florence MC Nguyen began 1995 through a common enthusiasm for Kei Kumais film Fukai Kawa. Thinking about these three friends which I had never met without Kei Kumai is mixed in my memories with this mosaic of human relationships in Fukai Kawa.

I don´t know if it is a consolation that Kumais films are still alive.
I never wrote before an obituary about a director who meant something to me as a person. Always when a person precious to me passes away things come up to my mind I wanted to tell him.
These are the most helpless moments.
Kei Kumai has passed away and the shock of this cognition is just the begin and the mourning has just begun.

(from shomingeki No. 19, summer 2007)

From my Japan Diary, November 2009  (shomingeki No. 22, May 2010)
From the memory in my mythic image of Japan (Ozu) to a memory in a person I really met in life several times, the director Kei Kumai who passed away in May, 27, 2007.
I visited his widow Akiko Kumai in Mitaka, a suburb of Tokyo, who invited me for tea. Kei Kumai is buried in the place of his birth Nagano (two hours by train from Tokyo). In the living room of the Kumais there was a small memorial corner for Kei: a big portrait and the three awards most precious to him:
There was the Silver Bear he won 1987 in Berlin for Umi To Dokuyaku, the Silver Lion he won for Sen no Rikyu 1989 in Venice and the Golden Berlinale Camera he won 2001 for his life achievement. There was also a small place for incense. That was an unforgettable moment. I did n´t had the nerve to take any photographs.
After the tea I smoked a cigarette how I would have done it with Kei Kumai. I exchanged with Akiko Kumai some experience we made in India where Kei Kumai made his most beautiful film Fukai Kawa. He was invited to an indian filmfestival with his film. I remember my obituary from 2007 about him. Actually I just really took farewell on this very day, November 18, 2009.

Kei Kumai participated 6 times at the Berlin Filmfestival and his films won two times a Silver Bear and he got once a special prize for his life achievement. The Berlin Filmfestival after his dead did ´t even mention him and there was not the slightest try to honor him with a special homage. He was a big part of the Berlinale history but this festival have already forgotten him.
It is unforgivable.

 Fukai Kawa (Deep River), by Kei Kumai, Japan: 1995

  (provisorily translation from German, shomingeki No. 1, November 1995)

to Florence M.C Nguyen

The old buildings of the sacred city Benares and the titles as a foreseeing about the things, the film will tell about. These buildings, once constructed by human hands are beginning to decay into its elements.

A total shot of narrow country roads on which a bus full of Japanese tourist is driving. The landscape, the animals, which are very close to the streets and the bus. Like the camera, the bus is realizing parts of the world, like the objective, it offers only a fragment of the world. Before the story can begin, the camera searches in the bus the faces of the characters. At first, the voice-over from the Japanese Mitsuko Naruse. But than, the camera stops unexpectedly in front of an old mans face. With a few shots, this film moves from common to concrete parts of a film story. Just in the first shots, we realize this film will deal with several persons, who exist independant from each other, but whose stories can be connected with each other.

The first flashback, which turns from an observant perspective into a subjective one. The story of the widower Isobe: Scenes in a hospitals x-ray laboratory, in which we see pictures of the deadly sick wife of Isobe. At her bed, tenderly conversations between the aging couple, which seem at the same time helpless and moving. Than a view from the room out of the window to a tree, which sheets are moving softly in the wind. Strangely off-side from the story, an imagine of the things which are being.

Boiling water in a clapping tea kettle on an oven which wakes up him at night. Later, his wife tells him, that she dreamt exactly what has happen to him at night. The sequence, which deals about a supernatural situation is at the same time of analytic severity, obviously divided in shots. At his wives bed, she tells him about her believe in reincarnation. A cut - and we see Isobe with relatives and friends at the funeral. Later, when everybody has gone, a shot of the empty corridor shows the loneliness of the widow. All this gives already an idea about the fascination of Japanese cinema in its tension between the illusion of a fictive world and the disillusion through the transparence of the cinematographic movement as a sequel of shots, which appear sometimes like a still.

In the second flashback, Mitsuko is introduced, a young woman in her thirties. Mitsuko in a pink-colored T-shirt among other students. They are mocking themselves about the shy Christian student Otsu. Few moments later, they are sitting in a quite noble bar. They make bad jokes with Otsu, who hardly can bear alcohol. In the background, two musicians play music on a harp and a flute. Outside of the action, but as present as the involved persons. This, one of the most beautiful scenes of the film is a concrete reference to a cinema tradition, which preferred to count on loveable composed pictures instead of illusions.

For a short period, Otsu and Mitsuko become a couple. Later she rejects him and becomes for herself the most lonely character in the film. Lyon, a few years later: Mitsuko, now married with a rich businessman (in red clothes and different styled hair), phones from a hotel room with Otsu, who studies theology in France. A walk among walls, which look like an antique amphitheater, she in a blue jacket, he in a black priests rope. A traveling shot follows them discretely. The blue of Mitsukos jacket and the monotone movement are evoking a strange coldness and alienation. At their farewell, they depart in different directions. For moments, an universe of distance seems to be between them. Emptiness, loneliness, farewell to the unexpected. In the Lyon-chapter, there are appearing fragments of accidental sacred music, like short ideas of deliverance. The search for the person we love most may be the search for god.

  (written on a train Montréal-Québec, September, 5, 95) 

The bus drives through the night. The framing plot could transits into the main plot. The story of Mitsuko in India could begin. But the camera stops on the face of the old Kiguchi, a war veteran, who is recalling a friend, who died recently. This friend (played by Toshiro Mifune with the charismatic but now thinly face) has saved his live during wartime. His friends wife told Kiguchi, that his friend saved his live through eating the flesh of another came rad. Since that, he is tortured by painful feelings of guiltiness. A flashback into a flashback, black and white and silent. An almost starved soldier commits suicide with a grenade. A hard cut to a flower (colored) and the sound of the explosion we don't see. Instead of a speculative effect, Kumai reduces the movement to a picture. Sometimes it seems that FUKAI KAWA reminds us, that cinema is consisting of pictures and the cinematographic illusion is nothing else than a phenomenon of the machine and the human eye. The first half of the film is over, the bus reaches the sacred city Benares. An ocean of lights, people in the streets. Three persons on the search for spiritual truth or just for themselves, a tourist couple on the search for pictures with their camera. The imagine of the goddess Chamunda in the temple. Two indian musicians playing in the bus. In that frame, they have the same presence like the musicians from the beginning of the film. In one scene, Mitsuko is talking with the travel guide in a hotel bar. In the background, we see the bar keeper working with his drinks.

The reunion of Mitsuko and Otsu: Otsu, now in shabby clothes, but seemingly mentally more stable. Mitsuko (now with a short haircut) is divorced. The story of Mitsuko and Otsu could begin from new and is almost finished now. The widow sees his death wife during the river landscape at night. A double lightning, obviously as an effect of the cinematographic apparatus, which will soon be asked by the pure presence of the things. Mitsuko dressed in a blue sari, bathing in the Ganga. Kiguchi praying in the temple for the death friends soul. Sequences which are composing themselves to a ceremony, which is at the same time one of the religion and one of cinema.

  (written on a train Québec-Montréal, September, 8, 1995)

A tourist tries to take pictures from a hindu funeral ceremony. While the enraged hindus follow him, Otsu tries to get the photo camera for avoiding a massacre. The fall Otsus from steep stone stairs: A detail shot of his foot, which losses its stability. The movement, is slowed by slow motion followed by the sound of the fall, which we don't see any more, but which goes more under the skin than every speculative effect.

The day of departure: Japanese are waiting for the bus in the hotel lobby. In one shot we see on the left side the tourist couple. On the table, their is the film, which provoked Otsus accident ( and later his death). On the right side sits Mitsuko. She waits for news from the hospital. Her face is almost emotionless. Shots, which hardly inform about the persons mental situation. But in my imagination, they are getting a likely intensity like the famous strawberry cake-sequence in THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS.

Mitsuko and a Hindu, who recites a prayer, both driving in a boat on the river. Celebratory, he is putting the death Otsu´s ashes into the Ganga. Like the Zen-student Honkakubo at the end of SEN NO RIKYU, Mitsuko stays with empty hands. She has let go everything, but won something like believe. At the end, a small decorated candlelight is driving on the river at twilight time, moving far and faraway from the boat. The story is finished. The film story, created by humans hand dies and is given over to the elements. The deserted Ganga. My interpretation of that subject about love that finds only fulfillment in the death would be pessimistic. But the cinematographic spirituality of the Japanese Kei Kumai tells a very different story. The films end is like a giving back of men and things, which were lent for the film story. FUKAI KAWA connects traditions of Japanese realism and the reflections about its limits, references to classical Japanese cinema with its admiration for every single shot as a sovereign emancipated picture in the film, and the presentation of what the film narration is consist of. In FUKAI KAWA, Kei Kumais most beautiful film since SEN NO RIKYU (1989), we can make a lot of experiences about cinema and film making.

 Rüdiger Tomczak

 This film was shown 1995 at the Montreal Worldfilmfestival. Unfortunately, I haven't seen this film again since that time. I pray for a release on DVD with English subtitles.

see also a text on Kumai´s HIKARIGOKE.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Letter to F - on Good Men, Good Women by Hou Hsiao Hsien

Taiwan/Japan: 1995

by Rüdiger Tomczak
(provisorily translation from German, shomingeki No. 2, June 1996)

 Dear F,

Today, I have to tell You about an extraordinary film which could see by chance. You probably remember my disappointment, that I couldn't see this film last year in Montréal.

During the titles, we hear a song, which is sung by a group of men and women. In the first picture (in black and white), this group is walking through a landscape. “So why don't we sing”. It seems that they want to encourage each other with that song. Eternal slow, they are coming to the direction of the camera, pass it and leave the frame at the right side.

An apartment, in which two telephone beeps are listened. In the left part of the picture, an almost invisible person, that was woken up by the sounds, moves and gets up. It is the actress Liang Ching. Strangely, Video recorder and television are switched on. We recognize on the monitor a sequence from Banshun, one of the most beautiful films of Yasujiro Ozu. She takes off the paper from her tax machine machine. Someone must have stolen her diary and had faxed her some sides of it. An intimate diary side, three years after her boyfriend Ah-Wei was shot down in a bar: L and I screwed without a rubber. L was knocked down by my frenzy. It felt like it was with Ah-Wei. There is someone who has entrance to a strange story with the help of a machine with that past can be made to present. She sings a song which comes suddenly in her mind and disappears behind a wall of glass-mosaic-stones into the bathroom. She leaves the visible room and walks as well into another time, while we are still listening the song, which she sings in the present: Without You, I don't know how I am to live.

There, she is sleeping with her lover in front of a mirror. I am feeling like an invader, who watches from a hidden place an intimate scene, without being seen. For this one moment, I see myself as the unknown diary-thieve who goes into Liang Chings story.

Liang Ching during rehearsals for her role in the film Good Men, Good Women: she will play the role of Chiang Bi-Yu, who followed her lover Chung Hao-Tung to the mainland for joining the resistance against the Japanese occupators at world war II. Then, at the first view confusing, a deco loured sequence. Chiang Bi-Yu informs her father that she will follow her lover to the mainland. This shot is quite and almost as inevitable like the films of Ozu. Beside present and past, there is also the imagination of Liang Ching who works out her role and begins more and more to identify herself with it. It seems that this film consists of the coordination of three possible ones. Later we see in a total view a small group walking through the landscape. We can hear a melancholic music. From the distance, these people seem so fragile like this sequence seems faraway. It is almost unbearable. For seconds, the view distracts; the camera moves through the tops of trees. The group is received by other resistance-members. Faces almost in reverse-light and interiors as lighted like a human eye would realize them without the electric film light. Like the reduced light in The Puppetmaster could have to do with the fragility of memories, the deco loured sequences here could have to do with the one of the human imagination.

Haonan Haonu is permanent changing between this levels, which vary from each other and correspondent with them as well. In her apartment, she is always devoured by the uncanny power of her story. Episodes from her time with Ah-Wei, which are only fragments of her story, like sides of a diary, put out of the context. Once, they are dancing, another time she disturbs him while he wants to piss. There is often a cold blue over these memories. They seem to be in a strange kind like prisoners in Liang Chings memories.

Liang Chings off-voice leads again over to a black and white sequence. Here are the new arrived people interrogated with mistrust by the other resistance-fighters. A translator has to go between Taiwanese and mainlanders, because of their different languages. In this long, hardly lighted sequences, the problems of communication is felt. Like in A City Of Sadness, there is a chaos of communication. Hou insists on that authenticity of the variations of languages and as well on the time which is needed for the communication. Like in A City Of Sadness, language appears in variations. The one will provoke confusions, another one tries to bring something in order like the off-commentaries of Liang Ching.

Liang Ching tells about the real Chiang Bi-yu, whom she visited in the hospital. Her diary-recitations and the music seem like fragile transitions between the different time, and reality-levels and add as well a new aspect. That may have (after all reactions I heard about) bother some critics. But when we just begin to think about the much facets from which a life is built, I can't imagine a clearer film.

In a very long shot, Liang Ching and Ah-Wei are talking about the possibility of having a child. She is preparing her make-up, while we see them again from the perspective of a voyeur. We feel the same dis convenience like in the first flashback.

Bare trees. Women in nurse uniforms wash for the whole camp of the resistance-fighters. A pregnant woman who is in labours, is winding in pain. The music and the lack of colors emphasize the differences from the other parts of the film, from the present and the flashbacks. Lyrical sequences, which seem strangely out of time and in the spiritual near of Ozu. Every person, every gesture, every landscape, every tree is sacred.

Liang Ching sits with her brother in law and another man in a restaurant. They are talking about business and the anonymous phone calls, which bother Liang Ching, while we hear pop music from the loudspeakers. From time to time, somebody stands up for having a phone call in the depth of the picture with a handy. Later about the end of this extremely long sequence, we hear the song: All around I see gilded lives. This song drives her back into the past. Once she was a junky. There, Ah-Wei chains her for bringing her away from drugs. He feeds her, she spit him into his face. He had betray her once with another woman. When she is crying in his arms, she seems helpless like a child. She, who is permanent commenting the film from the off, seems as the storyteller as well as a person whose story is told. That reminds me in the imagine I have from Hou Hsiao Hsien, like I saw him in Edward Yangs film Taipei Story. He, that seems to me, can put his whole life and experiences to let become it poetry. But the transparence of his personality means as evident like that of a child.

Landscapes watched from a driving train or car. The voice of Liang Ching recites a sad part of her diary. Here, she tells from an awakening after a drunken night, like she awaked nude and threw out. She is a lost soul, wandering about between the times, her story, her present and the imagined time of her interpretation of Chiang Bi-yu.

Hou Hsiao hsien, he is like Ozu a Prometheus of the cinema, who suffers with and for his creatures. There is the feeling that every tear in this film could one of him and with every death in this film, a part of him dies with him.

There is Liang Ching with some men in a music-bar. A gigantic machine with light effects let appear her in different colors. She sits drunken in a corner, sometimes disappearing in this chaos of light, colors and shadow. She stands up, staggers, falls, staggers to the stage, where Music is played. She takes the microphone and sings: 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? While she is absorbed by her performance, she is suddenly dancing with the death Ah-Wei. An Intoxication of alcohol, music and light which unifies for a moment past and present. A shot - Ah-Wei falls. The camera moves back in this ocean of reflecting lights. The time is suspended. Only space is existing. Later, she sits again in her apartment. She carries herself hardly into the bathroom, disappears behind a wall of glass mosaic-stones and throw out. We don't see her any more, but we can feel the pain of an identity, who is tortured by her own history. The driven away find its way through the body. Memories like sudden attacks of pain.

This film does not help to forget the world, it reflects it painfully. You know, for my side, the fax machine, the mobiles and the light machines in the bars of this film have something demonic. The machines, we created (including the cinematograph), through what we believe to overcome time and space are turning against us. A fax machine bores in the sense of the word in the story of Liang Ching. I almost believe that it has more influence in the course of her memories, than she herself. Is it possible to love the cinema and mistrust it at the same time, because of the ambivalent possibilities of its apparatus? I remember the almost utopia moments in The Puppetmaster, when the old puppetmaster looks direct into the camera and tells. There he has a presence which is stronger than the cinematograph. In Good Men, Good Women, the persons have to defend their presence against the disappearance in the anonymity of history and against the uncanny time machine cinema.

Chiang Bi-yu and Chung Hao-tung return to Taiwan after the war. They will be imprisoned by the national government, because of their marxistic opinion. At night, soldiers take two women in their houses for arresting. In the half darkness, an irritated child stays in the weak light of a lamp. Later, we see the corridor of the prison. Two men almost carry the brutal beaten Chung Hao-tung. Behind a grill of a compartment door, there are women looking at the corridor. A soldier comes, spell a name of one of these women. She takes a silent farewell from the others. Brutal and noisy the prison door is shut again. The interior is just visible through the grille. Later, there are more women, sent to the judge. One, who stays in the compartment, presses her face against the grille. In one of this compartments somebody begins to sing. One after one, more women and men sing along. The empty corridor in its eternal depth. Somewhere in these catacombs, there will be tortured and killed. That does not need to be shown. We can feel it.

Here, I had to think again of You, about Your history, the one of Your family and the land in which You were born and where You spent the first years of Your live. Today, nobody talks about that any more. It is now history. But it is still alive in Your memories.

Liang Ching is fighting with her sister, because of a seemingly affair between Liang Chian and her brother in law. They are beating each other on a tennis field. Later in a discotheque, they are dancing together with another friend. Close cling ed like children in an inferno of light and color-effects. Later, in Liang Chings apartment, the telephone rings again. She talks and nobody answers. Her monologue becomes to an imagined dialogue with the death Ah-Wei. She begs him to come back. The time is again suspended for a moment. She sings with tears in her voice: 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?

While we still hear her song, the film transits again into a black and white sequence. A man hangs a list of executed persons on a wall. Then, a boy informs a family, that the name of Chung Hao-tung was on this list. From the official information to the intimate sphere of a family in which history comes in with violence: the deathbed where Liang Ching is kneeing beside. We hear the voice over recited farewell-letter of Chung Hao-tung. The picture becomes colored. The face of Chiang Bi-yu during the death celebration: like in a silent film, we hear the musical Leitmotiv (now sung by a male voice) which sounds like a death complaint. That is not any more just the story of Chiang Bi-yu and Chung Hao-tung. It is at first a performance. The face of Chiang Bi-yu/Liang Ching is absorbed by in this performance of an performance. The expression of sadness in her seemingly aged face. I think, I saw something incredible. For this moment, the stories of Chiang Bi-yu and Liang Ching are fusing in the face of Annie Shizukah Inoh to an almost uncanny expression of sadness. That is as intensive and touching like the aria Have mercy oh Lord in Johann Sebastian Bachs St. Matthews Passion.

At the end, again the singing women and men walking through the landscape. This time, the picture is coloured. From the off tells Liang Ching/Annie Shizukah Inoh that the real Chiang Bi-yu has died before the end of the film teams work. Now we hear again the song, until they have lest the frame on the right side. Fade out. White signs on black background. Dedicated to Mr. Chung Hao-tung and Mrs. Chiang Bi-yu and all the political victims of the 1950s. Like at the end of A City Of Sadness and The Puppetmaster, a closing ceremony like a monument. It seems together with the music like a requiem. Everything is mortal, every life of touching fragility.

I dream about seeing this, one of the most touching film, I have ever seen, one day with You together. Let us then talk about films, about the “good men, good women” in our stories or what they could have to do with each other. I have told the whole time about this film but at the same time I thought only of You.
 Je t´embrasse