Monday, February 20, 2012

Notes on THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY by Clint Eastwood Berlin Filmfestival XI.

(Foto, Berliner Filmfestspiele)

(Hommage Meryl Streep)
Clint Eastwood was 65, Meryl Streep 45. We can be sure that there must have been some people in the industry who thought Eastwood is ready for retirement and at all - a love story between a man in his mid sixties and a woman of 45 must be a commercial disaster. Finally the film was both, a big success and artistic one if not Clint Eastwood´s finest film at all.
On one side a film in the best tradition of American cinematic story telling, on the other hand as engrossed and beautiful like for example Keisuke Kinoshita´s masterpiece SHE WAS LIKE A WILD CRYSANTHEMUM. Further a film where its characters are in a process of permanent development. At the beginning the children of the dead Francesca reading her diary and at the beginning they are disturbed how her records reveals her love life, a 3 days long affair with a photographer. They are digging in Francesca  room and at the beginning the children already in their early forties seem like invaders in the intimate world of Francesca. The second level are flashbacks. One of the miracles is how the 45 years old Streep can perform both, an middle aged frustrated house wife, immigrated once from Italy turns into a blooming loving girl like she tries to live for a last time the youth she never really had. How Eastwood plants his characters in a very concrete landscape, how he reveals an American small town with its coziness but as well with its mean gossip, how the production design reveals such a strong feeling for presence and absence of the characters, and last but not least Eastwood´s and Streep´s wonderful performances - everything in this film seems on the right place. It is a summer film and at the same time it is a film about a last summer of love. There is also an analogy between Francesca´s grown up children who learn about their mother´s long hidden feelings and desires and the audience. A good film always tells about experiences.
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, made by a director, mostly known as an actor in and a director for action packed films, made a kind of an American shomingeki film.
And like typical for a shomingeki film, in this love story between man and wife there is total justice between the desires and feelings of both. As well rather a Japanese than an American sensibility, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY was my access to Clint Eastwood as a director.  How he managed to develop from an almost less than mediocre actor into one of the last great story tellers of American cinema will remains a secret for me.

Notes on the Berlin Filmfestival X.

(Parabeton - Pier Luigi and Roman Concrete by Heinz Emigholz.)

In just a few days, the last Berlinale will be forgotten, the environment around Potsdamer Platz will be again nothing more than a shopping and business center. I am fine with this. But there are films which should´t be forgotten, the Cambodian films and Davy Chou´s wonderful documentary on the tragedy of Cambodian Cinema, GOLDEN SLUMBER, Toshi Fujiwara´s NO MAN`S ZONE, Yang Yonghi´s brand new masterpiece KAZOKU NO KUNI. Another discovering for me  (I never saw one single film by him before) was Heinz Emigholz´s PARABETON - PIER LUIGI AND ROMAN CONCRETE from his series "Architecture as Autobiography". Only the heaven knows why I avoided the films by Heinz Emigholz in the last years. I regret it now. But then, I ignored for a long time Terrence Malick (until I realized that his THE THIN RED LINE was probably the greatest film which ever won the Golden bear in Berlin in 62 years). The cinematic access of Emigholz to the buildings he films is an invitation. Invitations you can accept or refuse. My intuition told me this time to accept and it was a wise and rewarding decision.
Last but not least So Yong Kim´s FOR ELLEN, a kind of Road Movie, on the surface a male story between Ford´s THE SEARCHERS or Wim Wender´s PARIS TEXAS, finally a ballade on a frozen relationship between a 6 years old girl and her father who is a stranger to her.
Except just a few films, I focused this year on the Forum-Section especially after the bad experiences I made in the last year with Competition or Panorama. Anyway if you are not focused you are lost in this festival which becomes every year more difficult to overlook.
The Berlin Film festival as a whole complex especially since Dieter Kosslick overtook it from Moritz de Hadeln (a man with a far deeper knowledge in world cinema than Kosslick)  is a blown up more event-orientated thing. The Forum, even now more integrated than before and even more compact in its number of selected films, seems still to be the best section for me. The irony is that Christoph Terhechte remained as the last leader of a section who really has knowledge in world cinema at all. And as long as I can find such a film like Yang´s KAZOKU NO KUNI (it became a tradition to watch a film by Yang Yonghi 3 times at every Forum´s edition where it is programmed). With her soulful films in my mind, I can bear anything  -or better - I am able to ignore this ugly Potsdamer Platz with its false glamour and its embodiment of a repressive neoliberal order which has already infected the whole world.

The film theaters in Berlin are dying in a dramatic speed. The competition, the Berlinale Special takes place in absolutely inadequate buildings, halls for musical and theatre, since one of the most beautiful film theatre "Zoo-Palast" is in the process of reconstruction, the film festival has a big lack of film theaters. Around 8 years ago, the "Royal", a cinema with one of the biggest screens of the the world (around 400 square metros around 3 times as big than the screen at the Berlinale-Palast)) and with around 900 seats was demolished, it could have been one of the finest festival film theatre at all. The "Gloria" still reconstructed and restored in the late 1980s, is demolished long time ago. For Berlin is the lack of these two masterpieces of cinema architecture quite a disaster.

There was a time when I thought a festival is a place where a film which has few chances to get its audience can get a lot of attention, means a place of discovering. I am sure it was once true and it may still be true in some single cases but in Berlin probably only at the Forum with films by Toshi Fujiwara, Yang Yonghi, So Yong Kim and such spectacular discoverings like the mini retrospective on Cambodia.

Don´t ask me who has won the Golden or Silver Bears. I have already forgotten. The only Award which was given and which means something to me is the Award of the Conféderation Internationale des Cinémas D'Art et Essai (C.I.C.A.E) for KAZOKU NO KUNI.

The last film I saw was SUZAKI PARADAISU AKASHINGO (Suzaki Paradise: Red Light) by Yuzo Kawashima, from a mini retrospective of the Forum dedicated to this director. Another good tradition of the Forum in the last 9 years, and a reminder of the extreme richness of the two Golden periods of Japanese cinema, 1930s and the 1950s. 


Kazoku no kuni by Yang Yonghi

No Man´s Land by Toshi Fujiwara

12 Sisters by Ly bun Yim

Kashi by Kim Joon Hyung

For Ellen by So Yong Kim

Peov Chouk Sor by Tea Lim Koun

Le Sommeil D´Or by Chou Davy

Once again on Kazoku no Kuni by Yang Yonghi

The Bridges of Madison County by Clint Eastwood

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Once again Yang Yonghi´s KAZOKU NO KUNI Berlin Filmfest IX.


"Do you allow the song to sing you or do you try to sing the song" (Greil Marcus on Van Morrison´s "Madame George" in "When that rough god goes riding"

As I watched  KAZOKU NO KUNI the third time yesterday evening   - this time with pen and paper -  I was thinking again what makes the films by Yang Yonghi so special. It is relatively easy for me to express why I feel so connected with these films, why I identify so much with her films. But I am occupied at the same time with these feelings the films evoke in me as with the thoughts about cinema they evoke in me also.
Let´s call KAZOKU NO KUNI Yang Yonghi´s "project Q", her first attempt to work with fictional-elements.
When I was younger - and obviously more dogmatic - I really believed there are something like holy laws of film making. Ozu (whom I still love and adore), Bresson or Straub/Huillet were a kind of manifest and documentaries were not allowed to be far away from Peter Nestler (whom I considered long time as the Holy Grail of documentary film). With Ritwik Ghatak, Shaan Khattau, Marilu Mallet and recently Terrence Malick I learned there are no sacred laws of cinema, every one (Ozu included) re-invents for him/herself cinema.

Some people  who have read my text on SONA; THE OTHER MYSELF mind have felt  estranged by this strange comparison between Yang and Malick. While seeing DEAR PYONGYANG I thought of the first films made by the Lumiére Brothers and now while seeing KAZOKU NO KUNI, I felt the reservoir of thousand of possibilities to make (archived in the history of cinema) films are still fresh  possibilities  for Yang. Let´s face it - it the majority of filmmakers today , including some very talented are quite unable to deal with the enormous options of the nearly 120 years old history of films. There is nearly nothing which wasn´ t already told, nearly no technique which wasn´t  used. While too much (masters like Hou Hsiao Hsien, Abbas Kiarostami included) are too much worried about repeating themselves or things which were already done in cinema, films like the ones by Yang Yonghi are extremely refreshing unprejudiced, authentic until the bones and beyond. In KAZOKU NO KUNI, there is a kind of minimalistic approach with long shots filmed with handhold camera. Even more: As Yang is (even though mostly invisible) the main character in her first two documentaries and even physical present like Chaplin in almost all his films, KAZOKU NO KUNI is a completely new approach for her. Not only that the "mise en scene" replaces here the montage, but also her working with actors/actresses. Most of them are even non-Koreans. It is also important hat KAZOKU NO KUNI is her first film where her camera work is replaced by a director of photography.

I still remember the first press screening of SONA, 2 years ago which I attended with one of my contributors. He found "that film nice" but doubted if she (Yang) will ever be able to go beyond her family story) I said if she will make until the rest of her life films like DEAR PYONGYANG or SONA, I will be fine with it.  As a matter of fact these "little home movies" reveal more inspiration, imagination than a lot of Brecht -, and Bresson educated filmmakers who  don´t even dare to dream of such an inspiration. As microscopic her view seems in its context of Korean history into the micro cosmos of the Yang family, her films are not less exciting than Hou Hsiao hsiens Taiwan trilogy or Ghataks refugee-trilogy. 

The minimalistic approach of KAZOKU NO KUNI seems to me almost a necessary reaction on her extremely moving, heartbreaking and stirring SONA, THE OTHER MYSELF. SONA… ended with a photograph (Yang and her very sick father ( a picture as moving like the Aria "Have mercy, oh Lord) from Johann Sebastian Bach´s St. Mathews Passion)  and a daring flashback (after her father and brother passed away) to a happy moment with her family in Pyongyang. If DEAR PYONGYANG was the daring experiment, an approach of "camera stylo", SONA (often misunderstood as a sequel of DEAR P…) was the final poetic achievement of her "song about Herself". To continue in this form of an essay-like, explicit autobiographical form was impossible at least for a while. Not, that I ever can imagine to be bored by Yang Yonghi, But  for her sake. her surviving mentally and probably physically, the step to KAZOKU NO KUNI in this case to replace her own body with an avatar in form of actress Sakura Ando was a compelling necessity.The same with replacing her own camara work through a director of photography (her camera work was in her first two films more or less like an invisble protagonist.
I am sure Ritwik Ghatak this "Super Nova" of Indian cinema  didn´t die with 50 only because of alcoholism and TB sheets, but also about his lack of ability to deal with the enormous power of his passion and his trauma, especially after his finest film SUBARNAREKHA.  There are many other examples where famous directors reached the limit of what they can bear mentally and physically.

Only on the surface the emotions in KAZOKU NO KUNI are reserved,  - even oppressed sometimes. They find their expression in pure physical actions. After Rie has expressed her anger and hate against the "watchman" from Northern Korea, who controls every step of her brother in Japan, she walks several circuits, like a depressed and disturbed animal prisoned in a zoo. When the characters have to fight with their anger, despair and at the same time with the necessity to control themselves, they are close to blast. The brother´s confrontation with his ignorant father who has sent him to North Korea,  he tremors and shivers his heart out. The characters in Yang´s first feature films are close to the characters in Ghatak´s trilogy, they bump their heads against a wall and when they realize there is a wall, they bump again and again. This wall is perceptible in KAZOKU NO KUNI like a gravitation field. The emotions between the characters: Father-daughter, brother father, the tenderness between sister and brother, brother and his lover, the brother and his homosexual schoolmate in this ordinary and concrete family story have in such moments the power of cosmic processes. You feel the heat of mental furnaces under the surface of the characters, a heat which can burn us, the filmmaker and me at the same time.         
It belongs together, my very personal passion and even obsession for the films by Yang Yonghi, especially this subject "family" but as well the fact these films (three different but equally powerful works) remind me in the matter we all are existing of atoms produced in a gigantic star before its blast.

There is still much more to say about this film, a film you can access from different sides and obviously a Korean especially one who lives in Japan will have a different perspective. Once could write a long text on the presence of human bodies in this film, how Yang uses the space like the narrow apartment rooms or the outside locations. One can think about how she works here with time. In KAZOKU NO KUNI there is no jumping back in time forwards and backwards, but small moments where you see the protagonist´s lived or not lived past shines through the present images. One small but subtle moment is when Sonho walks to his parent´t s house. He walks like in a dream, because he hasn´t seen this environment for 25 years. The camera is often moved, sometimes slow and subtle sometimes moved with the characters running or hasting. Nothing is stable, everything is in movement.
One can think about how Yang forces here the dialogue and the silence and so on. And you never will be finished or tired to see the film again.
When I was much younger and in a kind very dogmatic I thought that identification and reflection are opposites, like Illusion and reality.  You can reflect about the Korean history in Yang Yonghi´s films but I doubt it  this possible without having felt it first through the intensity of her films. 

If you remember the long introduction from DEAR PYONGYANG about the "North Koreans" living in Japan, "returning" to their homeland. she gives a brief historical overview.
First gesture:" This is the story of my people, my history." (specified in Koreans living in Japan) than as she describes how thousands of families, parents and little girls take farewell from their brothers "returning" to the "homeland" - Some of them with tears in their eyes. "One of this girls was me". Than the gesture is:  "This film is about me as a part of my people and their history." 

There is scene of a class reunion with Sonha and his friends he hasn´t seen for 25 years. In one moment (it is forbidden to Sonha to sing Japanese songs) one of his friends take the guitar and sing a very nostalgic love , Sonha loved once. First he is silent than he sings along, the others stop singing. We never know what he is thinking, feeling, but the song as a memory in the lost love of his youth  gives us a small idea.  Yang Yonghi does not only reinvent her own cinema, she also wins back a lot of the beauty and glory cinema has lost.  On the other hand - how Yang Yonghi deals with all the problems and questions about making a documentary or a fictive film seems to me on the highest level I can imagine. All her three films doesn´t seem to have a volitional form. She has found a suitable aesthetic form for all her films by her incredible instict. There are films  like KAZOKU NO KUNI which stay with me forever until my very last breath. 
Ritwik Ghatak once said: "Before art shall be beautiful it must be true." I think there is no better description for the authenticity of the films by Yang Yonghi.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Le Sommeil d´Or (Golden Slumber) by Chou Davy, Cambodia/France: 2011 Berlin Filmfestival VIII.

 (Dy Saveth, one of the stars of Cambodian cinema)
(International Forum)

How do we remember films we have seen once, films we made, have performed in or have worked for as a technician or even just as an extra  - which are not anymore in existence? Films which will die with the last person who still remembers them.
Imagine, like in the case of Cambodia you have lost people close to you, killed by the Red Khmer. You don´t even know where their corps are buried.
Late Serge Daney the french film critic said about the Cambodian genocide in comparison to the german Holocaust that there are almost no images, no documents left about it in Cambodia. Only the skulls are the grim witnesses of the worst chapter in Cambodian history.
GOLDEN SLUMBER is a kind of Chou Davy´s pendant to Patricio Guzman´s  NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT. In both films there is an analogy between the search for the truth (in Guzman´s films we see geologists, archaeologists astronomers and the women who are looking for the physical remains of their loved ones, killed by the butchers of the Pinochet dictator). In Chou´s film we have the film people who try to reconstruct the still young and short period of Cambodian cinema from 1960 to 1975. Almost all films are destroyed by the Red Khmer who let them decay, most of people who worked for these films are killed in the death camps or in very few lucky cases they escaped to Europe or Northern America.
Dy Saveth, an actress and one of the few surviving legendary persons of Cambodian cinema has a collection of photographs. Memories in films which are deleted from the public memory forever like most of the people who worked for these films. Sometimes you only hear people talking on films they still can remember and about the film theaters where they watched them. Sometimes one of the most famous survivors among the directors, Ly Bun Yim sings a song from a lost film or he recapitulates a scene of his last film made in Cambodia before the Red Khmer were established as the political power, a film which was never screened. Ly Bun Yim is something like the Cambodian Ray Harryhausen, a master of special effects.
When Chou researches in Cambodia for film theaters, he does´nt find more than an archaeologist in the ruins from the ancient Greece or Rome. Some of the big film theaters are restaurants, Karaoke bars or emergency accommodation for the poorest. Some old people still remember the films. The only thing Davy Chou can do is to record these memories. In such moments GOLDEN SLUMBER reminds me in the end of Truffaut´s FAHRENHEIT 451, where people try to save the forbidden and burnt books in their memory. But human memory will die with the human body. But GOLDEN SLUMBER is as hard as it is to believe a documentary about a still relatively young chapter of the history of the 20. Century
Can´ help thinking of Dura´s heart breaking  text from her film LES MAINS NEGATIVES, this imagined dialogue between a human being from a cave 30000 years ago and a person of the present. . Through this tiny traces which are left from the Golden Age of Cambodian Cinema there are always the even tinier traces of identities who disappeared without any trace. We know the number of around 1.7 million people killed by the Red Khmer and we know that any famous or less famous technician, actor, actress or director who wasn´t able to escape was killed too. In some of them people still remember, others are deleted from the public memory of history.
It is told in this film that film theaters especially in the early 1970s were full packed. Most of the people who shed tears, their laughter, their dreams, all their emotions evoked by these films are lost, the lovers who watched these films together turned into nameless human remains, skulls bones and ashes.
Can´t get rid of these thoughts and I never will.
When I watched 12 SISTERS or PEOV CHOUK SOR I feel the traces the ghosts of these people. It is uncanny.
This thoughts shining through this films actually made for entertainment - are very hard to bear.
There are retrospectives which help us to discover unknown films from unknown countries. The lost history of Cambodian cinema which exists only  in a handful of films, photographs, songs and memories of some people can never be re discovered in its full glory. 
At the end a few excerpts of the few survived film prints are projected on a wall of bricks which remained from one of these film theaters.
We can hardly recognize anything. We hear the bad preserved sounds of theses excerpts. Some of the images are not reflected from the red bricks but swallowed. What we see are phantoms and ghosts.
These are uncanny images and they are close to my feelings during watching the films.

next screenings: Delphy February 17, 16.30, Cinemaxx 4, February 18, 19.30

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Notes on PEOV CHOUK SOR by Tea Lim Koun, Cambodia: 1967-Berlin Filmfestival VII.

(International Forum)

What a beautiful strange and heartbreaking little jewel: It is a fantasy film like 12 SISTERS  where its imagination is lent from the rich realm of Cambodian mythology, mixed with slapstick elements and social melodrama, If the 16mm print (which was screened yesterday) gives and idea how this film would have look in a full restored 35 mm-print, I imagine one of the most beautiful color films right on the level of Jean Renoir´s THE RIVER or Powell & Pressburger´s THE RED SHOES.
Beside all the fairy tale like spectacle, it is at first a drama about the hard life of poor peasants and a love story between a peasant and an immortal angel  (called a daughter of heaven) who lives for a limited time as a human being on Earth. It seems like cinema not from another country but from another planet, more engrossed from me and my time than the "objective" 45 years of its existence. It might seem strange to me and my limited western condition - this mixture of extremely funny and burlesque and on the other hand extremely heartbreaking dramatic scenes. But I don´t now how and why - it works wonderfully.
I remember a nice little text by German filmmaker Christian Petzold on the DVD Cover of a speical edition of Richard Fleischer´s 20000LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1958) where he talks about cinema as a view into a world which has gone or which is already lost. This feeling I really had while seeing two films from the Golden Age of Cambodian cinema. Like I mentioned in my text on 12 SISTERS, it is hard to push away the terrible thought that all people you see in this film, all technicians and a big part of the audience who loved this film at the time of its theatrical release are dead, unless they had the luck to escape Cambodia. Cinema as a view into a lost world has considering the Cambodian films a new and bitter meaning.
This period of Cambodian can never be discovered in its full glory. The three films shown in Berlin and probably (I hope so) other films which might have survive won´t be more than a telescopic glance to a star which has gone long time before we see it.
It is a privilege to have seen such films as PEOV CHOUK SOR.
I feel a bit like Ingrid Bergman in Roberto Rosselini´s masterpiece VOYAGE TO ITALY when she faces the  in lava forever preserved corps of two lovers.

Notes on FOR ELLEN, by So Yong Kim, USA: 2012 Berlin Filmfestival VI.

(International Forum)

Sometimes, a film needs only a few magic moments to be saved as unforgettable in your memory. FOR ELLEN, a film by Korean-American filmmaker So Yong Kim is rather structured in situations than in a plot. Job Taylor is a rock musician. He is divorced and the little girl he has with his ex- wife is almost a stranger to him. We see him often alone, in his car or in his apartment trying to find inspirations for the new album of his band. Nothing works really good for him, the relationship (we get an idea during his phone calls) with a co-musician seems difficult  and his new girlfriend appears very seldom.In the first half of the film we learn mostly about Joby Taylor, struggling with legal inconvenience about his divorce, drunken in a bar or alone in his car. All is framed by a winter landscape, filmed in Cinemascope.  Sometimes we are very close to the few characters of this film, sometimes men, if in cars or not are lost in this eternal snow covered world.
Joby is a lost soul, unable for a change and unable to break with his old pattern. In some moments he seems to  be a post modern version of John Ford´s Ethan Edwards from THE SEARCHERS, a person no one really need. The only persons who probably needs him is his girlfriend who finally will be abandoned by him. While his ex-wife refuses to allow meetings between him and his six years old daughter, he meets his lawyer who is hardly able to help him. Finally he gets the permission to spent some hours with his daughter. This encounter I would like to call the heart of the film. Both are reclusive, the father like the daughter. The first dialogues between them is monosyllabic about toys, ice cream or ponies interrupted with moments of silence. I a restaurant we their profile, she on the left, he on the right side in the frame. When they are silent you almost hear them think. You can feel the efforts it takes for them just to move their lips to form in words what they feel. Later when they ask each other questions, the girl suddenly paused with a sad expression on its face. Finally she asked the most essential question, why he never cared for her in all these years. It is a moment hard to describe, because we hear "the grass growing" like a German expression says. You see the emotions on their faces before their expression in words and you also see the difference between an emotion and its verbalization.
There is a last brief meeting between Joby and Ellen outside of the legal agreement with his ex wife. He comes through the window in her room, she plays for him on an electronic piano Beethoven´s "For Elise". He is close to tears and disappears. The film does n´t tell anymore what will become of the relationship between Joby and Ellen ("I can´t call you father." I love these scenes because it gives a small idea about the life neither daughter nor father have really lived, because they are strangers to each other. The film does n´t tell a story, it offers possibilities for a story. And there is an analogy to life as an universe of possibilities: some are lived others remain un-lived forever.

last screening Cinestar 8, 17. February, 22.00

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Notes on Kashi (Choked) (Choked), by Kim Joon hyun, Republik Korea: 2011 , Berlin Filmfestival V.

(International Forum)

First of all, it is a film about partition. But a partition which has nothing to do with the geographical and political partition of Korea but the partition of a society, the partition of men and women, mother and children or between lovers. There are only remains of humanity and love. The film takes place in winter but the cold of the weather is nothing against the cold in these relationships.
It is one of these films you can´t imagine nothing but as an eternal winter and there is no difference between this winter as a physical cold and the winter as an allegory of a civilization on its way to its freezing death.
The film is shot in Cinemascope on digital material.
KASHI reminds me in Edward Yang´s TAIPEI STORY, a kind of films where the long shots have an explicit analytical character. None of these characters are really sympathetic, but after some time we will be able to feel at least understanding for them.
There is a mother who disappears and leaves her son and daughter behind. She is indebted to several people, including friends. There is a young woman who is divorced and who tries desperately to see her little daughter who is now raised by her ex-husband´s new wife.
Sometimes, the characters are close to a gesture of tenderness or love, but fail, this gesture freeze before they really start.
Cars, apartments, shabby back yards, offices, shabby restaurants - all these are hints that this cold social world is made by men.
The scope format gives this film often the touch of an end time vision. As the world is dominated by money, this money appears in this film only in negative form: borrowed money, or money as a result of illegal business. And there is strange analogy to the extreme emotional deficits of the characters. They even stopped dreaming of a better world. They are dying emotionally, painfully and slow piece by piece. Capitalism finally made zombies out of men.
If light is one of the basic elements of cinema, some films are telling nevertheless in a grim way about the death of the light.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Notes on 12 Sisters by Ly Bun Yim, Cambodia: 1968 Berlin Filmfestival IV.

Puthisen Neang Kongrey

(International Forum, special screening - Films from Cambodia.

First of all, it was a very funny film, a mixture of fantasy (probably lent from the realm of cambodian myths and fairy tales), Harryhausen-like special effects, slapstick, action, horror, romance etc. The soundtrack includes not only music which we can connect with southeast Asia, but as well excerpts from Bernhard Herrman´s composition for Hitchcock´s VERTIGO or PSYCHO. Further it is also a costume film.
You talking skulls, cannibal women, flying horses, magic oranges.
Sometimes the film refers to splatter movies. At the end the film which mixes so much different forms of cinema it turns even into a tragedy.
Obviously made for an audience in Cambodia and Southeast Asia (the only available print which was screened was in Thai-language!)
In a way we know the childhood of cinema began in amusement parks end of 19th, beginning of the 20th. Century.
To enjoy this film takes a bit of imagination. I tried my best to imagine not to sit at the cinema "Arsenal", but to sit in an cambodian cinema in the 1960s.
It sometimes works. But sometimes I just watched at the colorful decors , the fairy tale -like atmosphere. Than it is less different than the sunday afternoon films I grew up with. Like I mentioned, Ray Harryhausen was one of the first names which came into my mind, films which were in my childhood real miracles for me. Shall I try to see this films from a film historical point of view or shall I just capitulate against this charming, hilarious strange and beautiful creature from Mother cinema?

The  morning after this remarkable screening,  I had an uncanny thought. I know the director is still alive, he was present at the screening. But about what we know about Cambodia, it could be that all the actors and actresses I saw in this film are probably killed by Red Khmer unless they escaped like the director Ly Bun Yim. Even most of the films made before the Red Khmer regime were destroyed. How many actors, actresses, technicians, costume or production designer and directors were killed by these bastards, I don´t know.

Again there is a choice, to watch this film in the naivety, I used to have when I was young or shall I watch it from a historical distance. Than of course - I will stumble over the Cambodian tragedy. A bit more than 40 years old this film has something of an antique vase or a ruin which gives hardly more than a vague idea of its time. These 40 years seem to be in context to cambodian time, severely centuries.
Sometimes cinema is as fantastic and magic like a time machine.

It was only one screening, February 13, 21.30 at the "Arsenal"
infos from the Forum programm for that film: here

Monday, February 13, 2012

Notes on No Man´ s Zone by Toshi Fujiwara-Berlin Filmfestival III.

Japan/France: 2012
(International Forum)

The first term which came into my min when I saw this film yesterday was "beauty", a term no one actually connects with the disaster of Fukushima. But this beauty is a lost dream. While we see at the beginning in long camera movements the destruction caused by the Tsunami, we see later natural landscapes or landscapes cultivated by men.
The radioactivity which contaminated the plants, the flowers, the trees and which is a deadly danger for animals and men remains invisible.
No speculative, sensational archive material is used in this film, The "sensations" are the wonderful old people Fujiwara met on his wandering through this "zone". Yes this "zone" or this stalking through it by the filmmaker can remind you in Tarkowskij´s STALKER. But the film works on different levels. There are these old people, farmers, part time farmers or former farmers which were hardly mentioned in the medias. The medias were busy with their doomsday porn sensationalism provoking rather paranoia even in far away countries than compassion or solidarity.
The film distinguishes between natural disasters and man-made disasters like the the destruction of the nuclear power plant and the politicians or the medias which lack any trace of sensibilty. There is also an analogy to the filmmaking, evident in two kinds of over voice. The one is from Fujiswara talking to the people and the other is a reflective sometimes even poetic text spoken by Armenian-canadian actress Arsinée Khanjian. About using Khanjian for the more reflective over voice, Fujiwara mentioned in the Q & A session the "refugee-aspect, referring to the people who have to leave their homes behind and who don´t know when or if they ever will be able to return. As Khanjian is a refugee, she is also present in my mind for her role as an exiled writer from an unnamed latin-american country in 2 RUE DE LA  MÈMOIRE by Chilean filmmaker Marilu Mallet.

There are the interviews which give  lot of space to the people which are interviewed and which get or better keep their own independence from the intentions of the filmmaker. Some moments, especially these often extremely long and extremely beautiful camera movements have the quality of a nearly musical composition. We see natural landscapes and landscapes cultivated by farmers. As the films distinguishes the things and the beings it shows it is distinguished in its formal approaches - it demands first of all to have an attitude. The german word for attitude, "Einstellung" has a double meaning, it means as well a technical-aesthetical as an ethical one.

A good film is always like a journey. We get not always the confirmation of that we were expecting to experience. Sometimes we are even "disappointed" but we get insights in things we never knew before - and more important we are activated to re-define our attitude (Einstellung) to the world around us the people we meet included.
In the case of NO MAN`S LAND we learn about things Fujiwara wanted us to see but as well things we experience with Fujiwara.

It is a film about destruction, grieve, mourning about the loss of home. But it is also at the same time a film which celebrates the good old fashioned "solidarity" or compassion for people we have known before only as anonym numbers. The many green trees we see in this film might be contaminated for a long time. But they are still alive.
We don´t know what will become of the old people in this film - the ones who return only to their homes to clean up, feed the animals or repair their houses or the ones who are already disrooted and who are already evacuated. As absurd it seems that most of the people will be able to return in their contaminated homes, we sympathize with their hope.

Sometimes we hear the over voice comment spoken by Arsinée Khanjian, sometimes Fujiwara talking with the people, music and sound. But in intervals we see only images without any sound, in total silence.
In this film there is a time to speak and a time for silence. Fujiwara has the courage to answer sometimes with this total silence to the strange and perverse images the mass medias planted in our brain about the disaster of Fukushima. And silence- we all know can be a kind of resistance.

next screenings at the Berlin Filmfestival: Cinestar, February 14, 22.00, Cubix 7; February 16, 14.30 and Cinestar 8, February 18, 16.30.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Notes on Our Homeland by Yang Yonghi (International Forum /Berlin Filmfest 2012 II.

for Thérese Gonzalez, Florence MC Nguyen, Shaheen Dill-Riaz and my sister Barbara Lürenbaum

"I am burning, everything is burning, the whole universe is burning." (Ritwik Ghatak, 1925 - 1976)

There are films and filmmakers you discover - if by luck, accident or as a result of your search for them. But there are also films which discover you - more: they hit you in the middle of your heart and there is nothing you can do about. Their "content" can be alien to you like for example the story of a Korean family living in Japan, the partition of Korea or  even the probably very asian tension between individuality and parental love like in the films by Yang Yonghi.

OUR HOMELAND is the third film and the first narrative one by Yang Yonghi. Her first two films were documentaries, essays and explicit autobiographical films about her family and herself but they are also  microscopic views on the history of the partition of Korea which is evident in the most intimate space of one family among many who live in Japan.

Like Ozu once said, there is no grammar of film, each good film establishes its own grammar. It doesn´t mind if you are North, - or South Korean, Asian, American or European like me. You can be from the most engrossed corner of this planet, the films by Yang Yonghi hit with you with a natural power unless you are blind for this power and the beauty of these films.
Do we have forgotten that Chaplin was as popular in Japan or India like he was in America or or Europe. Or have we forgotten the the greatest french director Jean Renoir found his roots neither in France nor in the USA during his emigration but i faraway India during making his masterpiece THE RIVER?

French writer and filmmaker Marguerite Duras once wrote about Chaplin that he was able to perform the masses. In a kind Yang Yonghi even though rooted in a very concrete historical and cultural context approached a very similar universality. She forces us to ask ourselves where we come from. She doesn´t just PERFORM for us her story or her "Songs about Herself". She SHARES her story, if in the most daring and experimental home movie ever made DEAR PYONGYANG, in this strange heartbreaking docudrama SONA, THE OTHER MYSELF (now renamed to GOODBYE PYONGYANG) or in her first fiction film KAZOKU NO KUNI (Our Homeland.
If you have seen her first two films you immediately recognize in the dialogues some documented sentences from her documentaries. The separation of Yang Yonghi´s family is a cemented fact.
History has stolen the family in OUR HOMELAND 25 years and 25 years of life time they will never get back. It is as lost like stellar matter swallowed by a black hole.
The sister, the parents, the uncle, the class mates or the lover who missed the brother, son, nephew, friend or lover for 25 years  - all have to deal with lost time. There remains this hole of life time. The true magic of OUR HOMELAND lies in the paradox. We know as all the characters of the films are aware of -  that the time the family and the lovers are missing  is lost forever. But in some images there is an echo, an idea of a longing for a life, no one has been able to live.
It can be sensed in the incredible beautiful scene of a reunion with the brother, who returns after 25 years to Japan (for medical treatment with a special permission by the authorities in North Korea) with his school mates and his former love.  An old love song is a bittersweet reflex of a romance which is buried under the weight of 25 years. A last meeting with the brother and the love of his youth. Both are married to different partners. The separation will be final. They walk through an idyllic landscape. For a fleeting moment we realize in all its power the happiness which really never took place. The film celebrates this moments as long as possible.
There are things in this film you can describe and things you can´t. There are lapses of silence in this film between the dialogues. When the pain has no words, the bodies of these excellent actors are cramping themselves, they are beginning to dither. It often seems they are close to blast.

As we know cinema is a result of the mechanism of a camera and its ability to betray the human eye, the films by Yang Yonghi remind us rather in a human body and a soul than in this technical phenomenon of the moving image. It seems we learn rather to trust this strong and also vulnerable body and soul than the cold perfection of the cinematic device. As she said in an interview from 2007, "when she began to film her family, she began to consider the camera not as a machine which records but as a part of her body".

I don´t know really what is happening with me when I see the films by Yang Yonghi. I knew I am confronted with a piece of history from another country, another culture. But I am still under schlock how deep these films are moving me.
In  DEAR PYONGYANG I felt like seeing my mother the second time dying.
In SONA, THE OTHER MYSELF (now: Goodbye Pyongyang), I realized a strange love and affection to my own family I buried for a long time in my heart.
In OUR HOMELAND, Yang Yonghi´s "Search for the lost time"  seems to be at the same time a poet, a chronicler of her own story but also a scientist who re-constructs a situation she experienced for approaching a better understanding of her own story. We witness both, her growing of her understanding of her story while making this film as our growing of understanding while seeing this film.
In his "Search for the lost Time", Marcel Proust wrote: " We don´t  approach happiness but we get an awareness about the reasons which avoid us to be."
If I was´nt clear enough to express why my heart is burning from the films by Yang Yonghi there is nothing I can do about it. I made a strange journey with these films and the only thing I know, they brought me back home via the way around Japan and North Korea.

text on DEAR PYONGYANG by Yang Yonghi are here.

part two of the text on this film can be found here

Next screenings at the Berlin Filmfestival: February 14, Cinemaxx 4, 21.45, February 17, Cubix 9, 20.00. Theatrical release in Japan will be August 2012 and only the heaven knows when it will be available on DVD or through theatrical releases in other countries.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Berlin Film Festival I. - my overview

My personal schedule for the Berlin Film festival is ready. As I have very few or almost no interest in the Berlinale competition, my main section is always the International Forum.
Some films will surprise me, some will disappoint me. In the last 18 years were neither a film by my beloved Hou Hsiao Hsien, very few by Yoichi Higashi or late Kei Kumai were screened here, my expectations cooled off. In the last 8 years only there directors let my heart beat. 2006 it was Terrence Malick with THE NEW WORLD, the film which definitely made an unconditional admirer of his films, Yoji Yamada and Yang Yonghi /her two documentaries DEAR PYONGYANG and GOODBYE PYONGYANG aka SONA, THE OTHER MYSELF, 2006 and 2010). I was prepared for Terrence Malick, but not for the magic of Yang Yonghi´s films which are still hard to describe for me. Her new film KAZOKU NO KUNI (Our Homeland) will have its world premiere this Saturday, February 13.
To follow a self invented tradition, I will try to see the new film by Yang Yonghi at least three times.
Further three cambodian films at the Forum from before the terror regime of the Red Khmer, some of the few films which are not destroyed, one in 35, one in 16 and the third only available on DVD. There will be as well a documentary about the almost lost film heritage of Cambodia called THE GOLDEN SLUMBER by Davy Chou.
Another great tradition of the Forum is also to screen retrospectives of forgotten Japanese masters, mostly overtaken from the small but wonderful little TokyoFilmex festival from Japan and this year three films by Yuzo Kawashima.
Another film of which I expect a lot is NO MAN`S Zone, by Toshi Fujiwara, one of three films dealing with after effects of the Fukushima disaster March 2011.
10+10 is film compilation of more than 20 short films by different directors including one of the finest asian directors, Taiwanese Hou Hsiao Hsien who got silent for about 5 years and who is one of several directors I discovered through the International Forum and who dominated with an impressing serie of masterpieces the 1980s and 1990s in world cinema.

Last but not least after 9 years the first vietnamese film shown at the Berlin Film festival, LOST IN PARADISE by Vu  Ngoc Dang at the Panorama Section.

More about it later

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Agantuk (The Stranger) by Satyajit Ray, India: 1991

this text is dedicated to the memory of my friend Claude Forget  30.September 1949 - 17. August 2008)

Agantuk is the last film by Satyajit Ray. I have seen this film first time at the World film Festival in Montreal in 1992 a few months after Ray passed away. Despite Rays world reputation his last three films were received very controversial. His second last film "The Tree and its Branches" provoked a public discussion between Ray and the film critic Chidananda Dasgupta as it is documented in the book " Ray on Ray by Pradip Biswas.

Like most of Rays last films, Agantuk has as well the reputation to be non-cinematic. On the surface it is a very dialogue-oriented film. As his Rajadyakha wrote in his essay "Beyond Orientation" (Sight and Sound, August 1992, reprinted in the catalogue for the Vienna Film festival 1999) that Ray in his later films mediated more and more informations with the sound and that the "images only illustrate " what is told by the dialogue." I can´t agree with that - especially not in this simplification.

Agantuk takes place mostly in private rooms. A decent moved camera seems to act totally independent  from that the characters are talking about. Sometimes it stays on a face another time it divagates to accessories of a bengali household. As important dialogue is in this film - it is not the dominating element.The more often I see this film the more I discover small gestures and especially the almost musical pointed pauses between the dialogues. Gestures and facial expressions  emphasize sometimes what the persons are talking about but another times they seem opposite to the dialogue.
We are introduced to the characters of the film like we are introduced to a bengali middle class family. The first scene takes place in the outer room, a kind of parlor, the link between public and private space where guests are received and from where you can go to the private rooms.
Subindhra Bose, his wife Anila and their small boy Satyaki are surprised by a letter addressed to Anila. It comes from a person called Manmohan Mitra who is Anilas uncle and  only living relative but her child hood memory in him is very blurred. In Anilas childhood there were circulating wonderful stories about her uncle who has aft his family and home town at a young age to travel around the world. . He announces his visit to the family Bose.

Subindhra is skeptical, because he thinks this uncle could be as well an imposter intending to get his hands on Anilas inheritance. Probably he might feel rather disturbed in his petty bourgouis quietude. Anila expresses slight reservations against her uncle but her face reflects already affection for this humorous and intelligent man. The heart of the boy Mitra has already won unconditionally. Very early the film offers three possibilities to look at this strange uncle: the skepticism of  Subhindra, this pending between longing (the uncle is a kind of childhood myth for her) and affection of Anila and finally the unprejudiced attitude of the boy. This is a film where we just learn to know the characters piece by piece. Before the film begins to go through the first of its many transformations it is at first a subtle comedy between doubt and affection.

Pradip Biswas called Agantuk in his book "Ray on Ray an autobiographical film. Further is written there that Ray suggested to Utpal Dutt the actor who played Manmohan Mitra that he shall act as his (rays) speaking tube. Several times Manmohan Mitra will sing verses, once reciting the many names of Krishnas, than "who gives life". I can clearly identify Rays baritone which replaces in this moments Dutts voice and where Ray als acts as a sound engineer. With Manmohan Mitra, Ray creates a strange character which is fictive and on the other hand an "alter Ego" od Satyajit Ray. During my travels to India, Pradip Biswas (a friend of the Ray family) has told me that Ray had the dialogues written for Utpal Dutt densed out of own dialogues. As I trust this source I feel confirmed in the remarkable and disturbing scene of the "cross examination" in the last Third of the film. Subhindra will invite a friend, the lawyer Sengupta who (knows about imposters" and who will find out about the "true identity of the uncle" in a cross-examination. This scene will have the the density of an extreme almost absurd drama and at the same time the authenticity of a real dispution. That will look like someone is dreaming about a real experienced disputation where real persons like the lawyer Dasgupta get a demonic-irreal tendency.

The evening before the Boses invite a friend, a  curious comedian. This is a humorous scene because Rabi Ghosh more known for funny roles in films by Satyajit Ray seems to play himself. This first "cross examination is a little sketch emphasizing the humorous aspect of Ray which is confronted with the later earnest Cross examination.
In the later serious cross examination it is no accident that the lawyer Dasgupta is played by Dhrittiman Chatterjee, an actor who was often seen in fathomless roles in films by Ray.
Actually this cross examination begins quite harmless. They have tea and it begins with polite conversation. As Sengupta begins to asking his first questions to Manmohan in this case about his opinion about religion, they have to interrupt their conversation. Anila will perform a song by Tagore and play on an indian string instrument. And just like that - the scene which just began will be interrupted and another scene will be interwoven.
Anila sings:

"Who is playing the veena
in a sweet tune?
It brings about new life in me.
Who is playing the veena
in a sweet tune?
All the dreams have come true
in the dawn.
Breaking all the barriers
of time and age.
Who is playing the veena
in a sweet tune?
It has awoken everyone
from the sleep and brought
nature to its full bloom.
I remember all that I forgot.
It´s made sweet memories come back.
Who is playing the veena?
All those pains that
the heart gets out of miseries.
How do I face them all?
I don´t know.
My emotions in this world come alive.
My life also shivers thinking of those miseries.
Who is playing the veena
in a sweet tune?

(based on the english subtitles of the Indian DVD)

This is for my side one of the most beautiful scenes from a film by Satyajit Ray. While Anila sings, the camera sometimes leaves her and slides to accesoirs, and decors, art works and wall carpets. Even though it is Anilas on that the film is focussing now, she seems to be isolated from the other persons in this room and rather a living part its decoration. She who is neither participating in the mens talk nor to included by them seems only have this song by Tagore for telling about herself or demonstrating her presence. She sits on a kind of divan bed quite distant from the table where the men are sitting. Her spatial distance is adequately to the engrossing character of this scene in relation to the films narrative. This scene which has just interrupt another one seems to have its own gravitation field. The film becomes in this very moment a scene where a woman sings a song and this moment will evoke emotions which won´t be commented or verbalized in any other dialogue of this film.

Manmohan Mitra mentions that this song reminds him in his late sister (Anilas mother). And now the film spins further the interrupted scene. The conversation is still on the level of a polite interview. Sengupta interrogates Manmohan about his opinions about the institution of marriage, religion and the technical progress and later about his motivations for and experiences during his travels around the globe. Mitras answers might be really like a compendium of Rays world outlook (assumed you have a good knowledge about Rays work). "Your questions don´t bring you closer to the truth" says Manmohan ironical and compared Senguptas questions with the peeling of the different skins of an onion. More and more the conversation turns into a cross talk. When Manmohan is asked by Sengupta what he thinks about cannibalism, he answers with a hint to weapons for mass destruction. When Sengupta mentions the sexual generosity of jungle tribes, Manmohan reacts with a taunting praise of the matrimony as a holy institution. Sengupta who has underrated the eloquence of Manmohan stands up like preparing a pledoyer in a courts room. "Sit down. You are raspy. I will overtake from here." The disputation leads to Manmohans passionate speech: "Why you don´t see that I am not a savage? Rabindranath (Tagore), Freud, Marx, Shakespeare - they are all in my blood. If I were a savage I wouldn´t need them. I regret that I am not a savage, but what can I do?" Finally it will be Sengupta who disputes Manmohans place in this house. "Either you tell who you are or clear off."
Then after all the cross talking an uncanny quiescence dominates in  this roo. Before Sengupta is leaving the house, Subindhra complains about his rudeness. Later, when Subhindra wants to apologize to Manmohan, he just raises his hand to demand silence. We see Manmohan from his back sitting strangely attached in his chair. This gesture ends this scene like it was a sign of the director.

At the next morning, Manmohan has gone with his whole package, the keys are on the table. The family begins to look for him because even the skeptic Subindhra has taken now the uncle to his heart. First they visit the notary of the family because as the last living child of his family Manmohan has inherited a grand sum of money which he never touched for decades. They find him later in a jungle village of the Khols (one tribe of the native indians). A bit separated from the action which is going on in this village he sits on a mat. They persuade him to go back to the Boses but only after he has seen a tribal dance performance. He also tells that he has to do some business in the city next day. By the way, he mentions that the Khols were in the 19th century the first who rebelled against the british occupations. Now they (representatives of the modern urban India) in a village of the oldest civilization of India.
The dance begins: Men are playing on flutes and drums, women are dancing holding each other. They move back and forwards. We see again Anila who watches this performance with an engrossed glance and claps her hands. Subindhra encourages her to join the dancing women. In between we have learned that the talented Anila is not only a good singer but also a dance who gave all that up for her family. At the beginning a bit shy but soon very decided she links her arm with the dancers and is totally absorbed in the dance. Just her dress seems to be alien among the tribal women.
That is also a wonderful moment and as well one of the rare moments in a film by Ray where we see a happy woman. Even though just in this small  moment, Anila can live her longings.
And finally it is not the dialogue alone but these moments which bring one "closer to the truth."
Agantuk belongs to a class of late works made by great directors (who can already look back on a rich work )which have a modesty and a freshness as such directors want to discover the cinema new again. Agantuk has in common with another masterpiece by Satyajit Ray, the equally rare screened Kanchenjangha (1962) that seemingly very few is happening. But when this film is going to end we feel that we are enriched by many wonderful experiences.
With Agantuk it is a bit like with this uncle Manmohan Mitra. At the beginning one doesn´t what it is all about. But step by step the film does the same with us like Manmohan with the Bose family: it conquers my heart.
At the end, Manmohan passes all his possession to his niece Anila. It is also a beautiful metaphor for the film which gives you literally everything what Satyajit Ray has to offer.

Rüdiger Tomczak

(german version published in shomingeki No. 24, March 2011)