Sunday, January 20, 2013

My 6th birthday and my discovery of cinema

(film theatre "Metropolis" (former Bali) at Bochum Centralstation/Germany)

to the memory of Robert Mulligan (23.August 1925 - 20 December 2008)

Just 48 years ago at the same day I was in a film theatre for the first time in my life. It was my 6th. Birthday. My eldest brother took me in one of this cinema halls which were built into the central railway stations. At this time almost every big cities had these kind of cinemas. This very special cinema was called Bali, a short form for central station lighthouses.
They changed the program every day and the same film was screened from 9 am to 11 pm.
I remember it was a Laurel & Hardy film we saw. And against the order of my mother, my brothers and me saw the whole film twice including commercials and newsreel. I was in another world.
Even today this film theatre is still alive. After some years of abandoned it was renovated and now its called Metropolis, a repertoire cinema.
It is sacred place for, appeared so often in my dreams that I can´t count it anymore.
It was 48 years ago, exactly January 20, 1965, 20 years after World war 2 which still left its traces in my city Bochum.
I remember the wonder the whole day was for me, the rays of light from the projections cabin, the screen which gave me the illusion of depth, the smell of pop corn, the usherette with her torch, the dimming light of the hall.
I still smell the French Fries we ate on the way home, wrapped in paper.
At this time I remember the “Bali had no own toilets and we had to use the station bath rooms downstairs. The urinals were to high for me and my brother had to lift me up, before I cried in despair.
And of course he was scolded by my mother because we arrived very late in the evening.
But I am still grateful to my brother. He introduced me to cinema.

In these 48 years I saw thousands of films, switched to different preferences. Kubrick than Welles, Renoir, Ozu and the Japanese masters, Ford, Hou hsiao Hsien, Malick etc.etc.
But I am always coming back to this time and to this place.
In happy moments I forget all the burden of knowledge and cinema becomes again the wonder of January 20, 1965.
Even recently, it came back when I saw such different films like The Tree of Life.
It came back to me again and again.
It does n´t matter if a film is made or taking place in Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, America or India.
Two far away cities like Montreal and Kolkata are evoking in a strange kind I have no explanation for, the Bochum in my memories.
Wherever I go, my mind returns to this time and place of my childhood.

Most of this wonderful cinemas don´t exist anymore. The best films I saw on Festivals or on DVD.
And in most of this cinemas which are gone I can only return in my imagination.
Among these temples of dreams, the “Metropolis” in Bochum is one of the last of its kind in Germany.

To this time and place I sometimes return in a loop way.
Recently - just to mention the most recent love affairs I had with films – these loop ways went via the Louisiana of the 1950s in Robert Mulligan´s The Man in the Moon and via Kolkata of the 1970s in Anjan Dutt´s Dutta vs Dutta.
Both films I could see only on DVD, but their magic was strong enough enough to take me back to this magical moment of January 20, 1965.
Were it the Elvis-songs in Mulligan´s films or the King Crimson-song in Dutt´s film – all this music was close to the stuff my eldest brother listened in the 60s and 70s?
Like Martin Scorsese once said that Renoir who had to escape France found his roots, including the artistic heritage of his father´s painting back in West Bengal where he mad The River.
I felt something like that with Dutta vs Dutta. What a coincidence that Anjan Dutt is of the generation of my eldest brother, these generation who introduce their little brothers into cinema.
The film took me back to this time when Cinema was a collective place where different people dreamt their own dreams side by side.
This film from a Bengali brought me back to this very moment of my beloved “Bali” (ironical this short form of a very prosaic word has a very exotic sound) with my eldest brother 48 years before.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Friday, January 18, 2013

Letter to Ashis Pandit on Dutta Vs Dutta by Anjan Dutt, India 2012

The changing of sunlight to moonlight 
Reflections of my life, oh, how they fill my eyes 
The greetings of people in trouble 
Reflections of my life, oh, how they fill my mind
(song "Reflections of my life" from the band Marmalade)

Dear Ashis,

Last evening I watched the new DVD of Anjan Dutt´s Dutta VS. Dutta.
It is the 5th film I saw from this director. I liked them all, some more some a bit less.
But how could I know that this, his most recent film will break my heart. During seeing this film, I was already impressed and moved to tears. But it was even more intense when I waked up this morning and the first thing came to my mind, was Dutta vs Dutta.

It might be the knowledge that this film is autobiographical, one of the “Songs about Themselves". The filmmakers who are mostly hidden behind the camera, their own aesthetic system or often in the case of Anjan Dutt( when he appears physically in his films) totally changed into a fictive character.
Remarkable is here Anjan Dutt´s performance as his own father. But at the same time the over coice narration spoken in the first person is also from him.

He talks about the first kiss, the first cigarette the first drink, friends with whom he spent his youth and who finally disappeared. Like in most of his films there is also the strange contrast between nostalgia and harsh realism. The family is divided. The mother is alcoholic, the father pretending strictness (as a follower of Indira Gandhi), he is a lawyer r but also a sinner who has an affair. Rono, Anjan Dutt´s Ego has no intention to follow the wishes of his father. He likes to play guitar and sing and he wants to be an actor.

According to Adrian Martin´s essay on Malick´s The Tree of Life, "Great Events and Ordinary People", Dutta vs Dutta tells about the inner conflicts of a family but at the same time as well about the turbulences of West Bengal in the 1970s, the Naxal Movements ( a maoistic movement in India), uproars and the repressing reaction of the police. When the sister finally marries a naxalite, the family and especially the dreams of the father Biren Dutt is disturbed.

Dutta VS Dutta is also a brilliant example of an autobiographic period drama. Even as a foreigner, I get a sense of this Kolkata in the 1970s. It is like reading Marcel Proust´s On the Search for the lost Times  - even without being a French, even without being familiar with typical french  gestures - you get at least an idea about time and location of this novel.  Costumes, production design in Dutta vs Dutta are never just decoration. In the combination with the music they look rather like memories which were lived and felt. Until now Cinema is the only time machine which is invented. 
Despite the distance between Kolkata and where I life, I can connect with the music used as well in this film. It was world wide the period of folk and Rock music, King Crimson for example, music sometimes listened by my elder brothers whose generation is the same like Anjan Dutt´s. Sometimes small hints like the persons are dressed, a picture of Jean-Luc Godard or Bob Dylan on the wall of a room is enough for me to be transferred to another time.
Several times the film changes from colors to monochrome sepia. When the colors fade the film has less the look of performed memories but memories depending on the body of a mortal living human being.  

In the 5 films by Anjan Dutt I hace seen as far, I feel Anjan Dutt leads the old discussion about art and entertainment ad absurd um. The films I saw until now from him have both and always at the same time. His films are always tragic and funny at the same time. It is like how I said the same with the contrast between Nostalgia and sometimes harsh moments. This is a film you can enjoy and at the same time you learn a lot about what the film is telling about but as well about Cinema in general.

Anjan Dutt´s characters are full of contradictions and especially the ones he performs himself are close to burst. To show how history moves through the body of an individual is always one of the most difficult things in Cinema - and Anjan Dutt manages it like he has never done anything else. His performance as Biren Dutt is one of his most soulful one: the father you can imagine to rebel against, the petty bourgeois who is secretly a sinner. Anjan Dutt´s characters are great especially in their failures and their weakness.

If I think about the two texts on other films by Anjan Dutt, I have written so far, I believe Dutta vs Dutta highlights a different light on these films like  Bow Barracks Forwever or Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na All three films include a very crucial open rebellion against father, mother or in the case of Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na against a fatherlike character. In Bow Barracks Forever we have the long and intense scene between the young Anglo-indian Bradley and his mother, in Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na we have a very angry dialogue between Ranjana and her idol and in his most recent film finally the final rebellion of Anjan Dutt´s Ego Rono against his father. It is a rebellion against the image father, mother or a father-like character are making themselves of their children/disciples. Remarkable in all this three films the young people are aggressive but at the same time they are fighting with tears. The silence after this angry dialogues tells as much as the dialogues itself. In such moments Anjan Dutt´s films give a location about "pure cinema".  

Where it comes from this freshness in the films by Anjan Dutt, I do not know. He is not following any fashions or trends, he “sings his own songs” and after all what I heard about - he even found his niche.
And Anjan Dutt is fearless in using different genre pattern and in all the five films I have seen so far, all films are unique. Call it popular or mainstream or whatever, these films have a personal signature. Like Truffaut said about Bergman and Hitchcock: "Both directors films are entertaining but also great art."

Dutt has an amazing eye for characters, characters you never forget. But in Dutta vs Dutta there is everything a nuance more intense and even his own performance as Biren Dutta is one of his four or five most impressing ones I can remember.

The performance the intention to tell a story reaches in Dutta vs Dutta often the border where I feel he begins to share. His own voice used for the over voice-commentary has some weight in this film. At the end there is a very moving scene between his Ego Rono and his father Biren. Biren has suffered a brain stroke and it is hard to know what he still realizes and what not. Before we hear Anjan Dutt´s off-commentary, which is obviously from the present, he says, that he became an actor and is now a filmmaker and no one among his family members we see in this film know his films.
Later Rono tells his sick father that he got a role in a film by Mirinal Sen. Clumsily Biren makes efforts to hug his son. This is a very intimate and heartbreaking moment.
How could I know that a film by Anjat Dutt finally moves me to tears?
I have expected good storytelling, some good music and some insights into my beloved Kolkata in the 1970s. But what I got is finally a very personal moving film.
Dutta vs Dutta is honest, heartbreaking and authentic to the bones.

And last but not least, Dutta vs Dutta enriches cinema with another autobiographical inspired masterpiece. In its captivating evoking of both, a concrete historic period and the personal history of an individual. In fact this wonderful film is a kind of Bengali pendant to Hou Hsiao Hsien´s Tong Nien Wang shi (A Time to live and a time to die, Taiwan: 1985) or Terrence Malick´s The Tree of Life. As different these films are, they approach from different sides the center of Cinema.
Out of my controll – while Anjan Dutt shared in his film his memories-  my own in the 1970s of my childhood came to my mind. Maybe cinema has as well always to do with the dammed thing called identity. Believe it or not after this evening, I dreamt the whole night only about this film.
 I am so in love with this film and nobody is here to share it with. 
In my imagination I have seen this film with you in a film theatre in Kolkata.

All the best

A text onn Anjan Dutt´s Bow Barracks forever
and on Ranjana.... Recently I published the english version of a review of Dutta Vs Dutta whose german version was written for the print version. Here is the Link.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Notes on Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na by Anjan Dutta, India: 2011

First of all – this film is a musical. A musical, in this case a Rock-Musical has the strange phenomen, that the songs have a presence in the spectator´s memory, sometimes connected and sometimes independent from the story the film is telling.
As it is the third film I saw by Anjan Dutt, I can resume that his films I saw so far are full of different actions all happening at the same time. And from time to time it happens that these different actions are clashing with each other.
The plot is finally only one element, sometimes paraphrased through the music, sometimes opposed.

Abani Sen (Anjan Dutt) is an aging Rock-star. He has ruined his body already with alcohol and drugs.  During a concert at the beginning of the film he has a physical breakdown. Even though already a living legend as a musician and song writer, he is also a destructive character hardly able to communicate with the few people really close to him.
After dismissed from the hospital and already preparing for his next concert, a young woman, Ranjana (Parno Mitra) gets the chance to sing a song before he and his band will enter the stage. Ranjana´s beautiful ballad, accompanied onlyby her acoustic guitar is nearly destroyed by an impatient audience who just wants to see their stars. This is one of the many scenes of disillusionment which oppose not only the wonderful music but as well some engrossing moments. Between the fiction which captivate us, sometimes even make us dream, there are often these moment like ice cold showers.

Abani invites the girl to sing a song on his next album and promptly - a few days later - she knocks at his door. But Abani´s intention is just to seduce this girl. And Anjan Dutt performs the attempt of seducing the girl in an almost Stroheim-like naturalism. There is only the sexual greed of a male who is aware of his power. Ranjana is just saved because she faints from the drugs hidden in her soft drink.
Later, Abani tells her about his true intentions and what he really thinks about her talent. When she finally decides to leave, Abani gets another breakdown caused by his excessive use of alcohol and drugs. Wit the help from her aunt (a nurse) via telephone, she saves Abani´s life. She is disillusioned by the character of her idol. Finally, Abani promises to help her start a career as a singer. The human relation between an aging cynical Pop star and the young singer with dreamy eyes seems nearly impossible. The communication they build, they do just through music.
Ranjana learns from Abani´s house keeper that Abani killed some years ago his wife and child while driving a car in a drunken condition. Abani´s obvious human failure is in  contrast to his music and whenever the film switches into a musical scene, it turnsinto another dimension.
Unforgettable is the performance of Suman Kabir as Abani´s brother in low, who is also a musician (and Abani´s idol) but has given up public concerts after his sister´s death. Suman Kabir, who is in reality a living legend in Bengali contemporary music has a presence which is hard to describe. Impossible for me to say if he just is or if he performs. When Abani visits him, he plays his guitar in his living room and sings with a voice which seems to me from another world, every word which is sung seems to me has lived by him. It has the fervency of the Blues. And Kabir´s character Stanley Bose lives not anymore for concerts and records but for the underprivileged villagers whom he teaches music. It is a magical scene and probably one key for the understanding of the film´s  often abrupt change between the harsh story of a destructive and destructed Pop star and the story of the wonderful songs. The use of Neel Dutt´s  music beside the songs and mostly in moments when we see Abani drinking and alone, is mostly disharmonious, emphasizing the emptiness of Abani. Outside of his music, Abani is always on the edge to a breakdown.

One remarkable scene: Abani suggests to Ranjana to sing a Tagore-song. The whole performance leads to a spontaneous session between Ranjana, Abani, Stanley Bose and Abani´s band and this song bridges playfully different locations. Only in his music, everything works, Abani´s difficult relation with his friends and with Ranjana is like as his last energy of life mobilized only for the music.

The irony of this film is that Anjan Dutt as a director managed to attract attention to these different characters, while the fictive character Abani performed by him is almost blind for all the people around him.
Abani is going to die gradually. For a few moments he is able to see in Ranjana a mirrror of his enthusiasm as a young man and not the object of his desire. But as soon as the shy young woman becomes more self assured, he considers her as a competitor.

Like in Bow Barracks forever, the film tells not just a story but several stories simultaneously. Sometimes it is visible in a single shot. While Abani lets Ranjana play a simple accord, he ignores her and talks with some members of his band. Ranjana is always present in the background, her accords became enraged. As ignored by the aging men who drink and talk, we are the ones who can´t ignore her. She claims her presence and we have to choose where to focus our attention in the foreground or in the depth of the frame.

When I saw this film the first time, I found it partly disturbing, rather a demontage of the myth of a fictive pop star. Like so often – this films as well became richer during the second time I watched it. It is quite impressing how the director Anjan Dutt undercuts the enormous nearly narcissistic screen presence of the character he performs. The presence of such wonderful characters like Suman Kabir´s Stanley and Parno Mitra´s Ranjana for example are more and more evident as Anjan Dutt´s strange strategy to tell several stories simultaneously. Just the changes in the face of Parno Mitra which shows during the film all facets of emotion is worth to see the film alone three times.

And there are quite a lot of reasons to watch this film several time.
And well, I am quite tired in these discussions with Indians and Non-Indians about how bad Indian films are. Even though in my own limitations to have access or an overview as well of the films recently made in India - this country became one of my favorites in contemporary cinema. I have no problem to mention just from the last 12 years around 30 films which would have been worth to show abroad on big international festivals.
Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na by Anjan Dutta belongs to these discoveries.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Read also on Anjan Dutt´s Bow Barracks Forever.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Notes on The Man in the Moon by Robert Mulligan, USA: 1991

Some films come like a surprise, unexpected – and it is sometimes like love at the first sight.
Mulligan´s The Man in the Moon is the last film of this director. Even though I loved already his most famous film To Kill a Mockingbird, I was nearly ignorant about his films except there as a small and beautiful text by Peter Nau on The Nickel Ride in the last print issue of my magazine.

The Man in the Moon is a Coming of Age-film about two girls in Louisiana in 1957. The house they live in reminds me in its greenish color in the house in Jean Renoir´s masterpiece The River, a house and its garden limited by a fence. Behind the fence there is a pond where the 14 years old Dani likes to bath. Sometimes she is running this way through the bushes, followed by this long and elegant camera movements which are so typical in this film.
The film begins with the moon, imitating its orbit around the earth while we listening one of Dani´s favorite Elvis-song. It is an overture.
The first scene is a camera movement towards the house Dani and her elder sister Maureen are living in. Through the trees and the yard closer and closer to the house and the bedroom of the two girls, literally from the global to the private sphere of a family.
The song of Maureen and Dani can begin. In its lyrical quality, The Man in the Moon seems to be a very close relative of The River and Dang Nhat Minh´s Thuong Nho Dong Que (Nostalgia For the Countryside) but in its permanent movement between the global and the personal life of this family it leads also to Terrence Malick´s The Tree of Life.
Robert Mulligan´s film is also a work which is in touch with life, the up and downs of adolescent girls, the every day life of a family, the boring Sunday school on Sundays, the few entertainments the country side can offer for young people. It is also about the hard work for surviving. The plot is nearly invisible, we are captivated by the wonderful moments this film is filled with. For an American film of the 1990s, it seems rather exotic to me. Just let´s put aside for a second my references to Renoir´s film which was made 40 years before this one Mulligan´s almost prophetic hint to the film by Malick, made 20 years later – then I have to think in the extremely long camera movements of the films by the forgotten Japanese master Hiroshi Shimizu (another great director in capturing young adolescents). The drams of ordinary country girls, first love and all the elements of this sub genre called “Coming of Age”, Mulligan becomes at the same time an American Renoir, an American Ozu or Shimizu and finally an American Dang Nhat Minh – and last but not least – I can also see a prophecy of the enlightenment the mentioned film by Terrence Malick will give to world cinema.

While we are captured in this wonderful moment the death penetrate abrupt and surprising. The world Maureen and Dani are living in won´t be the same anymore. As young as these girls are, this youthful poem of a film gets the touch of grieve and aging.
The Man in the Moon is a simple yet very wise film. It ends like The River (this wonderful short simulation of the movement of the earth). In Mulligan´s film the camera closes with a movement back from the house. The window of Maureen´s and Dani´s bed room disappears between branches of a tree and the light of a full moon. The film takes a long and melancholy farewell of these persons who were so close to us for a few more than 90 minutes.
Like the sculptures of the gods and goddesses in The River become again clay in the ground of the River like our earth will become burnt ashes in The Tree of Life – it is like we are chased out of a paradise called Cinema.All the films which came to my mind when I saw The Man in the Moon have in common their Sufi-like poetry, this celebrating of life with all the senses we got.

Good, there are times when I am asking myself why so much fuss about Cinema all these years. And that is sometimes answered with an unexpected gift as an answer.
Robert Mulligan´s simple and great film is not a film you just watch. You have to live it with all the fibers of your body and all your soul or you remain just blind and dense.

Rüdiger Tomczak

PS: Maybe I should explain a bit more my definition of Paradise concerning this film and cinema in general. Especially in the so-called "Coming of Age"-films. In The River and The Man in the Moon there adolescent girls or in Thuong Nho Dong Que and The Tree of Life adolescent boys. This specific aga when kids are usually pushed into a certain gender identification - or in other words pushed into the dictatorship of the stupidness of predetermined men made roles, this films by Mulligan, Malick, Renoir or Dang set us back in a certain doubt we had once. The miracle of these films is last but not least that they take for a while the burden of this stupid conditioned gender identity from us - and especially from our point of view.