Sunday, February 24, 2013

Yoi ga sametara, uchi ni kaero (Wandering Home), Yoichi Higashi, Japan: 2010

(Filmstill: Siglo/VAP/Bitters End)

The film is an adaption of an  autobiographical novel by war photographer Yutaka Kamoshida. Yoichi Higashi has a special talent to integrate documentary elements into a fiction film like the Chinese filmmaker Allen Fong. Higashi´s film reconstructs the story of the alcohol addicted war photographer Yutaka Kamoshida. He is already separated from his wife and his two children.He goes for a withdrawal treatment into a clinic. The exact translation of the film´s title “I come home when I am sober” is already a hint to the story. The film is not a tale of woe about a man who is mentally and physically finished. On the contrary – the film tells about the return to life of an almost destroyed man. Even though the end of the film gives a hint to the death of the protagonist (The real Kamoshida passed away at the age of 42 because of kidney cancer) the film is rather about a new begin than about dying.

The most shocking scenes we see near the beginning and these will be the only ones in that the main character is exposed to our gazes.Heavily drunken, Kamoshida wakes up at night (since his divorce he is living with his mother). He has wet his bed and walks heavily to the toilet where he has a hemoptysis. The following medical surgery is filmed with nearly documental precision. His wife and his children visit him at the hospital. Impressing like always in films by Higashi are here the children. They seem rather present than acting as fictive persons. This follows a special tradition of Japanese Cinema, especially the films by Hiroshi Shimizu.

The following conversations with doctors and nurses or the commitment into the psychiatric clinic emphasize for a moment the realistic aspect of the film. While we watch the wonderful actors Tadanobu Asano (Yutaka Kamoshida) and Hiromi Nagasaku (Rieko Kamoshida) working, there are often small breaks in this seemingly documental character of this film. Once , the drinker sees a ghost or a goblin who encourages him to drink. In a flashback, Kamoshida shouts at his wife (a cartoonist) , finally beats her, desolates her desk and tears her drawings. In one moment, Yutaka Kamoshida is changed himself into a dark demon.

More and more, Higashi adds elements which are related rather to picture books than to a documental reconstruction. There is for example a short moment with Rieko and her children. The background is totally black. It is almost a “Cinéma Pure”-element which rather belongs to picture books and comic strips. With that goes Higashi´s bedazzlement with his typical pointed use of film music. Higashi is one of the most inspired directors of our times in his unique use of film music. Some moments of this film remind me in one of his most beautiful films E no naka no boku no mura (Village of Dreams, 1995).  

Like in the films of so much old masters of Cinema, we find both in the film: a somnambulistic certainty and a special playfulness which adds a freshness to the film. With certainty I mean a very special sensitiveness to show exactly as much as it is neccesary to evoke imagination instead of destroying it. There are only very few hints to Kamoshida´s traumatic experiences as a war photographer in Cambodia or to the alcohol disease of his father who also ruined his whole family.

At the beginning, Rieko tells her husband´s doctor about these experiences in Cambodia. The doctor answers her with another question: “Who suffers more, the people who see the hell or the ones who have to live in it?”

The film is not fixed on a simple explanation of Kamoshidas actions but he offers possibilities in form of small hints.

Only at the beginning of the withdrawal treatment there are some heavy outbreaks of emotions by Kamoshida. Bit mostly Asano embodies his Character with an adorable calmness. There is not really a story performed for us but we indwell for a limited time period the story or the stories the film is telling. The more it gets obvious that Kamoshida is going to die (the medics diagnose cureless kidney cancer) the more appear short but unforgettable shining moments of happiness. If there is a moment in the film which illustrates how Higashi is able to create out of ordinary every day events poetic moments than a scene close to Kamoshida´s release from the clinic. He is sitting at the shore of a small river nearby and dives with his feet into the water. A few moments later his wife joins him. We see their feet and how they wrest which each other in a playful way. They seem like careless children without any burden in this moment like the hell of their relationship where they went through, is forgotten. This reunion won t last long. This small moment resists against the inevitable fact of Kamoshida´s dying.

The family is united again. Rieko cuts onions and cries. She explains to the children “it is because of the onions”. But we hear a very sad song. In an earlier dialogue between Rieko and Kamoshida´s doctor, she tells a bout a hard to define feeling where she does not know if she is happy or sad.

Kamoshida is sitting on the couch. He wars a cap and we got a hint that he is already under the treatment of a chemo therapy. On a big monitor he watches underwater films.

At the end, the family makes an excursion to the sea. Kamoshida goes with the children to the beach, Rieko stays back watching him going away. The camera is moving over the dunes that we feel for a moment the rotation of the earth like in Ozu´s Bakushu or Renoir´s The River. Rieko looks again after Kamoshida whom the film let disappear through a jump cut. This is a presumption of his quick and final absence.

While we see the family at the beach, we hear a love song which is rather shouted than sung. That is like the film ends in front of the background of the sea where all life comes from.

Maybe we can read the film as a requiem for Yutaka Kamoshida – but one requiem where the sadness, the joy, the suffering and the hope is balanced. Yoi ga sametara, uchi ni kaero is a film which makes us happy and sad at the same time.

Rüdiger Tomczak

(translation from the original German text in shomingeki No. 24, August 2012. But this a corrected version, some mistakes are deleted.)

In my german blog there is also an old text and interview with Higashi-san on his masterpiece E no naka no boku no mura (Viilage of Dreams).

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Notes on three films by Keisuke Kinoshita-Berlinale 2013

Konyaku yubiwa, 1950, Keisuke Kinoshita (1912-1998), Photo: Shochiku Co. Ltd.

(International Forum-Keisuke Kinoshita - retrospective)

If I am not wrong than it is exactly the 11th. time that the International Forum that introduced one of the masters of Japanese Cinema and most of them from the two Golden Ages of the 1930s and 1950s like Ozu, Shimizu, Shimazu, Shibuya for example. This year they highlighted one of the most famous and also one of the most popular master Keisuke Kinoshita with 5 films (before and after the festival, this retrospective will be extended). Most if not all retrospectives since 2004 have wandered from the wonderful small festival TokyoFilmex (Japan) directly to Berlin and I don´t expect that the source of this great film country will be exhausted soon. 

Onna (Woman), 1948

It is a film about a very fragile relationship between a small gangster and a revue girl in early Post war Japan. Most of the time the film takes place in open landscapes interwoven with closeups, nothing less than an experimental film about the outer world and the inner universes of the characters. They walk on steep slopes, dizzy coasts. The woman´s try to get away from this man and her dangerous relationship with him has its pendant in our fear of steep slopes and to get away from a dizziness which is nearly physical tangible. Images in dangerous tilt make this inner and outer landscapes even more scaring. When they walk on these slopes, the images become sometimes flat emphasizing the two dimensions of the cinematic image and Kinoshita´s film turns in such moments into a weird and heavy dream. The camera perspectives, the landscapes the camera reveals and the interplay between the geographic landscape and the landscape of these human faces reveal a bad relationship planted in a bad time which results from the disastrous war. Onna is a darker variable of such impressing landscapes-films like Hiroshi Shimizu´s Arigato-san or Satyajit Ray´s Kanchenjangha.

Konyaku yubiwa (Engagement Ring), 1950

A kind of triangular relationship like in one of the greatest Chinese films Xiao cheng zhi chun (Spring in a small Town, 1948) by Fei Mu. The doctor (Toshiro Mifune in one of his finest roles) takes over the treatment of a sick man. His wife owns a jewely´s shop in Tokyo and falls for the young doctor who answers her feelings. It is a love that will never be fulfilled, only in small moments of happiness, excursions or common railway travels between Tokyo and the house where the sick husband lives. And like in Fei Mu´s masterpiece, Kinoshita cares equally for the emotions, longings, of the woman, the doctor but as well for the fear and despair of the sick husband with a tenderness which left me breathless. The shots, changes between long shots and close ups happen with a somnanbulistic certitude which is beyond any description. Like the wife and the doctor are divided in their longings and compassion and pity for the sick husband, the film itself has a balance between the feelings of the three characters, even if these feelings are in conflict with each other or sometimes even clashing with each other. The commonplace this praise of Japanese Cinema for its awareness of cinematic forms is as simple as it is for the right reason. The German word for shot “Einstellung” (how Wenders defined it once in an interview) is one key for the extreme sophistication of this film by Keisuke Kinoshita. The film is not just a story about three lovers, the film is the three lovers itself and we are part of it.

Yuyake gumo (Farewell to Dream), 1956

The Japanese masters of Cinema, they can tell you a story like in this film – a story of a family of poor fish mongers. They can tell you a story about a sick father, an egoistic pragmatic daughter, a mother and a boy who is dreaming to escape this poverty. The film begins with a flashback and from the beginning it is clear that this escape,this dream of the boy will fail. The only thing which helps him to escape the tristesse of his life is his use of the binoculars he got from his uncle. Through the binoculars he sees a world in which he never will live and he sees a girl for whom he falls and whom he never will approach.
And just like that – in the middle of an every day story which takes place in post war Japan, Kinoshita inserts one of the most accurate and most poetic vision about Cinema I ever experienced in a film. The film is not only about an ordinary family it is also made for these families whose life allows only to dream in a film theater. The deep melancholy in Kinoshita´s film is not to be confused with what we call in the west fatalism. In all its accuracy how the fragment of the world is shown the dreams of the characters are never betrayed. Kinoshita can show an every day tristesse with an accuracy which is probably a pure phenomenon of the Japanese Cinema and at the same time there is such a deep respect in your dreams which is unbelievable. Poetic realism if this term were n´t already given away to the French prewar Cinema, it would be an excellent description for the Japanese shomingeki-films and especially for the work of Keisuke Kinoshita.
In film history, Japanese Cinema is an endless source of cinematic wisdom and for Cinema an equivalent for the lost library of Alexandria and the Forum´s rediscovery of Keisuke Kinoshita was one of the great moments this year.

Rüdiger Tomczak

The retrospective will be continued at the Arsenal, Potsdamer Strasse 4

Friday, February 15, 2013

Notes on Die Wiedergänger (The Revenants) by Andreas Bolm, Germany 2013-Berlinale 2013

Perspective German Cinema

What was that, this strange but crazy and beautiful creature of a film?
One day after the screening I try to remember this film like I often try to recall a dream of last night which occupies my mind but I remain unable to tell it in words.

There is a forest (I often dream of forests), an aging couple who live reclusively in a house and a young man walking through the forest on the search for shelter. There is a young man singing on his electric guitar strange songs accompanied by  a red haired woman on the drums. Elements like notes, sketches for a story. They are waiting to be edited together. When these traces of a narration disappear for moments and the camera stops or makes and endless long travelling, an over voice narrator tells fragment of a story with hints to a family drama and a  post-apocalyptic science fiction novel. TV news pronounce the ban of certain kinds of vegetables and gives also a hint to a nuclear disaster.
The audience is at first an editor and finally also the story teller.
As Andreas Bolm said, the film has to do with the place in Northern Germany where he comes from it is another hint, another offering to read the film, to edit it for yourself.
The forest is a very complex and sensitive ecological system. So is Cinema. I have a soft spot for the endangered species like Malick, Straub (yes, yes the must be mentioned in one breath) and a lot more from countries which have seldom access to this neoliberal dominated Filmfestival, unless they accept the new neo-colonialism of Dieter Kosslick´s World Cinema Fund. In Cinema these endangered species are something like the extremely endangered Royal Bengali Tiger in India. And the neoliberalism like manifested in the ideology of this festival with their talent campus (imposing an industrial production of talents) is the equivalent of the hint radioactivity as a danger for men and nature in this film. 
The young man on the guitar, played by Andreas Bolm himself sings defiant songs. And the film has something defiant as well.
But the young man who strays through the forest desperately looking for a place where he can live or survive is even a more beautiful image for the spirit of the film.
Those were the days when such films were shown at the International Forum as rare and unconsumed narrative or non-narrative cinematic forms, films which might not ne perfect, but films which does n´t fit in any categories. But they bring fresh wind. 
The young man can not move into a house ready for occupancy, he has to build something, has to work which is again an image for what you have to do to find a place in this film where you can "live".
And another beautiful aspect of Die Wiedergänger is, he does n´t answer the dogma of a neoliberal ideology  - which built already metastases in nearly all parts of our culture -  with another dogma.
It is not one of this boring "smart" films from my country (I have seen one at the Forum) but a very lovable one.
The film does not want more than getting a place for itself and that's probably the only thing Andreas Bolm is insisting on.
The question of the future of Cinema is more or less concentrated in the defense of its diversity. Die Wiedergänger reminds us in this diversity.

The forest in Andreas Bolm´s film allow both, people who are living in a house. They have found a place. But it allows also people who are looking for a place. Another beautiful image for the richness of Cinema. 

Rüdiger Tomczak

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Shirley-Visions of Reality, by Gustav Deutsch, Austria: 2013-Berlin Filmfestival 2013

(International Forum)

To the Memory of Jacques Ouellet (1964-2011)

It is film in 13 scenes. Each scene is inspired by one famous painting of Edward Hopper. Shirley, the fictive actress moves through this scenes, she breathes, seems to be alive.
She will not age through the span of three decades. This 13 scenes frame as well American history from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Shirley is like us she jumps through the times without aging.
The film is about both, dwelling in and with 13 paintings by Edward Hopper but the film is as well thinking about Cinema and it uses the images of Hopper not just for a quotation but like a philosophy about images.

All 13 scenes are introduced by a title of a very concrete day in history and some fragments of broadcast news. These transitions remind me in Robert Mulligan´s Next Year, Same Place, another approach to think in images about history and Cinema. There is always the thin red line between global history and the history of a human life. And again I have to recall Adrian Martin´s extraordinary essay “Great Events and ordinary People”, this laudatio on Terrence Malick´s The Tree of Life on the FIPRESCI-site but which is also one of the most profound essay on Cinema in general I read for a very long time.

The sound itself seems to be painted. Sometimes background noise from streets, trains passing by, the sound of a curtain in a movie theater which we can hardly see.
But sometimes it is added music, a song, a piece which is not bound to the concrete time.

The reason I attended a screening of this film was Edward Hopper, but Gustav Deutsch offers much more than a cinematic interpretation of this wonderful painter who influenced and fascinated so much filmmaker. One of his paintings “New York Movie”, which I adore is a painting you don´t just watch, you feel like dwell in it for a while. The film does about the same. The stories, the film spins about Shirley, this woman who jumps through time have a strange effect. We can follow this stories or imagine our own. We can follow the over voice monologues of the film or our own unspoken silent thoughts. Shirley is a missing link between spectator and filmmaker.

There is another scene, inspired by another “Movie”-painting of Hopper: An almost empty film theater, we see Shirley from the side. The screen is almost hidden right outside the frame. We hear the soundtrack of a french film and we see her face. An intermission, the sound of the closing curtains. Shirley is captivated by the film but also by her own thoughts and feelings about her life which we hear as an over voice monologue. She is almost crying about the film or about her life, we don´t know exactly what is going on inside her mind but we get an idea about it – because we know this very special and hard to describe situation when we are alone in a film theater. But we feel there is a person aware of her time and her life but living in the frame of a very concrete and verifiable period of history.. It is an image of Shirley but today as well an image of a woman in a certain period of history in a movie theater, involved in her life and the film which are also specific elements of a past time.
The film gives her a name. I know it is a coincidence and not more than an accident that I watched at the same day this wonderful screening of the eldest Korean film which is in existence, Crossroads of Youth, combines with a performance of singer and narrator how it was screened in a Korean film theater of the 1930s. If I remember this, the most remarkable day of the Berlin Filmfestival 2013, I have to think of these image of Shirley and the nameless Korean audience which disappeared as identities in the darkness of forgotten history.
I am moved in a strange kind by Shirley like I am moved by the the forgotten Korean audience of the 1930s. Her individuality will turn into a ghost, but so will mine and this image Shirley alone in a movie theater means a human being alone alone watching a film, being captured in the things she sees on the screen and reflections on her own life will be as well the image which remains from all my passion for Cinema and all the way I connected it with my life.
In my mind this film brings together my admiration for Ozu and Malick at the same time. This image of the woman in a movie theater has at the same time the melancholy of an Ozu film but as well the incredible uncanny vision of the earth in the future burnt by the sun which turned into a Red Giant from Malick´s The Tree of Life.

Ozu once said he needed the limitations to be free and this wonderful film called Shirley – Visions of Reality which is structured in 13 limited frames, inspired by very specific paintings of Edward Hopper offers eternal freedom of inspiration. It is a homage to this great painter, it is a reflection about cinema but also a poetic essay about human individuals born into very specific (in this case American) history and last but not least a hymn to Cinema as the “art of seeing”.

(The painting by Hopper (Intermission) I am referring to in my text can be found here.)

Rüdiger Tomczak

Next screenings:
Cubix 9: 17.02, 20.00

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tokyo Kazoku ( A Family from Tokyo), by Yoji Yamada, Japan: 2013, Berlinale 2013

(Berlinale Special)

I was sceptic since I heard Yamada was supposed to make a remake of Ozu´s masterpiece Tokyo Monogatari. I was less worried about Ozu´s legendary film which will survive a dozen remakes if neccesary. I was more concerned about Yoji Yamada who is a master in his own right. Much closer to Kinoshita than to Ozu, among his more than 80 films there are a lot of masterpieces especially from the 1970s, 1990s and his last great film Kaabee is still in my mind. I am sure, Yamada must have at least a dozen of unfilmed screenplays on his desk written by himself. It remains a mystery to me -  why the hell a remake of Ozus film?

The film itself was the disappointment I expected. Could have been worse. Nearly unbearable are the sequences when the respect to Ozu´s original was too high. Than the film seems to be paralyzed.
The universes of Yasujiro Ozu and Yoji Yamada (for my side the greatest living japanese film director) are different. To move between both of them you need a wormhole. In a few moments you have the feeling you can connect these two different universes. One reason is the excellent music by Joe Hisaishi, a kind of Bernhard Herrman of contemporary Japanese Cinema. Hisaishi does n´t imitate the melodies of Ozu´s film, he re-interprets them with own little melodies.
Always when Yamada made changes in the original Ozu-plot, we get an idea what kind of film it could have been if Yamada had dealt more freely with this icon of the Japanese Cinema of the 1950s.
Yamada showed courage to replace Setsuko Hara´s daughter in law Noriko with a youngest son and his girlfriend also called Noriko. The youngest son is like the son in Yamada´s Musuko the underdog of the family, We know, Setsulo Hara´s Noriko was the heart of Ozu´s famous film from 1953. But Yamada found the perfect sollution in this change of the constellation. The film needed more of such radical changes of the original plot. Always when Yamada gives up the neary slavely respect of the original, the film offers both, this “wormhole” between the universes of Ozu and Yamada and even more, in such moments this very special Yamada-magic appears and enjoys for moments the freedom not to be compared with a film which is one of the most admired masterpiece of Japanese Cinema.

Yamada is like Frank Capra a master of the “comédie dramatique” and in contrast to Ozu, he is like Keisuke Kinoshita a master of Japanese melodrama. When Yamada´s temper in Tokyo Kazoku is a bit too much detained, probably out of respect for Ozu, the film got a strange emptiness and a static which has nothing to do with Ozu´s kind of framing.
It might have been forgotten, but Yamada already made a homage to Ozu 1991 with his masterpiece Musuko, a film which could have been called “Variation about a theme of Yasujiro Ozu” and last but not least a film which works as both, a homage to Ozu and a film by Yamada.
For avoiding misunderstandings – even though I have the reputation as a die hard admirer of Ozu, considering Tokyo Kazoku I am more concerned about Yamada, a director who enriched the Japanese Cinema after the decline of the Second Golden age with such wonderful films like Kazoku, Shiwase no kiroi no hankachi, Kokyo, Harakara and others. Just remember the year 2008 when the two old masters at the end of their Seventies Clint Eastwood and Yoji Yamada dominated with their films Gran Torino and Kaabee the whole year 2008. Kaabee was not just a good film, it was something like Yamada´s pendant to Kinoshita´s Nijushi no Hitomi (Twenty-four Eyes).
I love Yoji Yamada, even though in another kind like I adore Ozu. Mots of all I hope this exerted remake of Tokyo Monogatari will not be the last film by Yoji Yamada. It is not just that I consider this as a failed film by a great director - for me it is almost I saw a failure of a dear old friend and dammed - that makes me suffering.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Next screenings:
Friederichstadt-Palast:            13.02, 21.15
Haus der Berliner Festspiele: 14.02, 21.00
Berlinale Palast:                     17.02,14.30

other text on Yoji Yamada in this blog are here

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Notes on Le Météore (The Meteor) by François Delisle, Quebec: 2012, Berlinale 2012

(International Forum)

Who is seeing this incredible landscape? Who sees the coyote, the mighty eagle, the moon the sundown, the waterfall, the waves of the sea, the mighty forest covered with snow?

The film begins with classical organ music and the first images we see are natural phenomenons, the sky, water, the matter of the material world we can sense.
There is no dialogue, only thoughts and reflections of some persons.
Pierre is in prison. Under influence of drugs he caused during a car accident the death of a young girl. His mother is almost 70 and beside visiting her son in jail she has as well to take care of her sister who is dying of cancer.
Pierre´s wife has cut off all ties with him. Other persons whose thoughts and reflections we hear as over voice are a drug dealer and a prison guard. This prison guard´s thoughts go between his own family problems and his compassion for the prisoners.

These characters are alone with their feelings thoughts. We are the only ones who are listening to them.
We share their loneliness. Their inner world becomes for a moment part of ourselves.

Pierre (interpreted by the director himself) is a little bit like the badly injured young soldier in Dalton Trumbo´s Johnny got his gun, a torso which lives almost only in his thoughts and feelings. Captured in his small prison with a small window with bars, the world outside is only this limited frame which is a contrast to the wide landscape we see, a landscape he can only dream of, or remember it.

His mother knows that she will be dead when her son will be released from prison. Suzanne, Pierre´s wife tries to begin new relationships. But we don´t know if what we see is only her wish, her reality or Pierre´s imagination.
Sometimes there are scenes we can call childhood memories, a boy swimming in the water, private super 8-sequences we assign to Pierre's memories. But we can n´t be sure at all.

Delisle´s use of CinemaScope is unique. It can in one moment open the eyes to an eternal landscape and in the next moment it can cause claustrophobia . Sometimes Pierre´s face dominates the frame of this extreme format. Sometimes we see Suzanne or Pierre´s mother sitting an a driving car. If the point of view is through the front shield, its wide, but if its shot from the side where we see these persons sitting in the car captured in their inner world the world begins to shrink.

Sometimes we are prisoners in a very heavy and weird dream, captives in a seat of a film theatre, between dreaming and being awake and sometimes we are like the eagle which can fly through the endless landscape.
Sometimes we are captivated by the thoughts, reflections of these mortal persons. And sometimes we are digressing and we don´t know anymore what are our thoughts and the thoughts evoked by the film´s fiction.

I don´t know anymore where I heard this. Was it the great Bengali master Ritwik Ghatak who said: “Film is the most abstract of all arts”?

It is very therapeutic getting back to the basics of the filmmaker´s craft, almost like a  Lumière -cameraman.” ( François Delisle) He is referring of his shooting of the landscape images, mostly only with the photographer Anouk Lessard and his son assisting him.

That evokes a thought in me from the perspective of “the other side”, not the filmmaker, but the audience and I think of the brothers Lumière and his famous film A Train arrives at the Station. Like we know there is a big difference between the fascination of the filmmakers Fascination for this once new technical invention called Cinema and in capturing this moment and the shock and the fear of the contemporary audience caused by this three-dimensional effect.

Emotions evoked by this film which is beautiful and in the next moment disturbing can be caused by a very concrete fact of the loss of these persons, of their loneliness or for example of the Pierre´s helplessness who once tells about how he was raped by another prisoner. But sometimes I am also moved by just a shot of the moon at night or an endless long sundown, moments engrossed from these members of a separated family, of this prison guard who is like us split between his compassion for the prisoners and his own problems.

Le Météore is also a film about the centrifugal and gravitation force.We change from being one of these characters into the eagle and the other way around.

And dammed - I know there is much more to say about a film which uses the relation between image , sound and spoken language in a likely boldness like for example Straub/Huillet, Marguerite Duras, Trinh T. Minha and Terrence Malick in his own unique way on the thin red line between narrative and experimental Cinema.
After the film festivals from Munich and Mannheim-Heidelberg, finally the International Forum of Young Cinema discovered François Delisle, one of the most inventive filmmaker from Independent Cinema from Quebec.

Rüdiger Tomczak

On the four previous films by Delisle you can find texts on the website of shomingeki
Except two texts all others are available in German and English.

Next screenings:
Cinestar Event:   12.02, 19.30
Cinestar 8:          13.02, 11.00
Cubix 7:             15.02, 15.00
Arsenal 1:          16.02, 22.00

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Notes on Cheungchun-eui sipjaro (Crossroads of Youth), by Ahn Jong-hwa, Korea: 1934-Berlinale 2013

(International Forum)

This is the eldest silent film from Korea which has survived and unfortunately the only film at all by Ahn Jong-hwa.
The try to explore he early history of Asian Cinema is full of obstacles. Even what we know about the early history of Japanese and Chinese Cinema is fragmentary, but what is left to us from the silent film period of Korean Cinema is even less. War, occupation, civil war and after that a carelessness about the cinematic heritage has left only a few fragments and just an idea how Korean Cinema in the 1930s would look like. This special screening of Cheungchun-eui sipjaro is again one of the filmhistoric highlights in the history of this film festival and like so often thanks to the International Forum. Last year we got an idea about Cambodian Cinema which is nearly wiped out through the terror regime of the Red Khmer.
During the screening, I had a likely feeling like last year. It was not this beautiful melodrama alone which moved me. The film is part of a performance with live music, singer and a “pyeonsa” the Korean pendant to the Japanese Benshi (a narrator) staged by contemporary director Kim Tae-yong.

Before the film began, a woman and a man sang in Korean. Before I even entered the Delphi theatre, a Korean pronounced the screening. The whole event was a staged journey into Korean cinema culture of the 1930s.
As an European but familiar with old Asian films, after a short while of acclimatisation with the silent film traditions like narrator and singer, I was blown away. It was an extreme experience. When I imagined for a moment sitting in a Korean film theater there was always the awakening, the awareness what I see is a relict from a lost world. The people who have seen this film at its premiere have probably all gone. I had, I remember a likely feeling with the Cambodian films last year.
For a moment this whole performance combined with the screening of a cinematic rarity made me thinking of all the personal feelings, the laughter and the tears of these people who are now anonymous.
The decay of most of these silent films from Korea or better my knowledge about the loss of them makes this experience even more precious to me.

The film itself - a melodrama of a young village man who goes to the big city and who has to protect his love and his sister against a sleazy man -  is full of stunning visual ideas and as fragmentary the early Korean film history exists in film prints, there remains a sadness in me that we probably never will learn much more about this national cinematic period. This period is not even 80 years old and in a strange way film seems as mortal than a human life.
I know some purists would like to go on my throat, but I never liked silent films without music, because they were never screened without it in the period of silent cinema. And the whole performance which is last but not least a reconstruction of the silent film tradition in Korea is both, a film historian scientific device to give an idea about a piece of lost cinema culture and at the same time it is poetic. Two stories are told here at the same time, the one the film is performing and the other, the imagined story on an unknown day in a film theater in Korea which is forgotten now, probably deconstructed and forgotten for ever. Kim Tae-Yong´s staging is like a time machine. For me it seems more than an exotic attraction and I rather think he does for a nearly forgotten period of Cinema a work like so much photographer do in transforming datas from space  telescopes into images which makes worlds which are already gone visible 
In the case of this special event which deserves its term for more than one reason, I got a glimpse not only about a lost chapter of Cinema, but also that this special period of national Cinema that was once lived by men.

I don´t know if I will be able to describe my feelings after I left the film theater today, dismissed back in my reality like an awakening after a dream. We can try analyze or try to categorize this film. We can try to put in in a historian context, the Korean or the east Asian at that time. We can make researches about the traditions of Korean melodramas of that period. But what really moved me to tears was: I felt ghosts around me, the ghost of the people who made such a film but as well the ghosts of the Koreans who watched this films in full packed theaters like the Delphi today.
I was unable to see any other film today and feel as melancholic as the protagonist in John Huston´s Joyce-adaption The Dead.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Kujira no Machi (The Town of Whales, by Keiko Tsuruoka, Japan: 2012 Berlinale 2013

(International Forum)

You can call it a kind of Coming of Age film. A boy (Tomohiko) and two girls (Machi and Hotaru) are high school students. First of all we see them walking around the strange deserted school, sitting in empty classrooms or swimming in an empty pool just for them alone. It is also a kind of triangle relationship between three adolescents. Nothing happens and there is not yet something like a plot. But the colours are emphasized, mostly warm red tones. There is rather an option of a story than a story itself. The focusing on moments in which is the option to form a story out of it, but rather as an offering. You can accept this offering but you don´t have to. It is a film where your eyes can move freely through. 

These two girls and this boy are already playing and experimenting  with the gender roles they are supposed to adopt. They are confused. They don´t know really where to go with this. And it is the same with the film, which is a try or in better words - an approach to define itself as a film. A film is often a journey and in this case literally.

While these three teenagers are trying to approach the world, Machi is looking for her brother who disappeared 6 years ago. The Coming of Age film is now as well a kind of Road Movie. They meet the brother´s friend, who seems ti be a transsexual person. This is not more than a hint why Machi´s brother left home. He appears only once , in a dream of Machi. We can further suppose that the girl is looking for a certain established image of her brother rather than for the brother himself.

This film has also a soundtrack which is strangely restrained and which is also an equivalent of the journey of the tree young people through a nearly deserted world.
It is not that the film does n´t come to the point – it is rather that the film refuses even to focus this point. There remains always an analogy between how the film moves from moment to moment and the search of these three teenagers.
An unfinished film like an unfinished search.
But how absurd it seems, in its lack of smartness lies as well a big piece of wisdom.
Keiko Tsuruoka remains with her characters. Her film moves as hesitant like these young people. We are close to a time when we tried to experience the world before the violence of predetermination.
A subtle experimental film. A shy but at the same time a very courageous and daring first long feature.
The film won my heart, my sympathy.

Rüdiger Tomczak
Next screenings:
Cinestar 8: 11.02, 22.00
Cubix 7  13.02,    15.00
Arsenal1:16.02,   20.00

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Notes on Kya Hya is Shahar ko? (What happened to this city), by Deepa Dhanraj, India: 1986-Berlin Filmfestival 2013

(International Forum (Living Archive Project)

The Living Archive-Project of the Arsenal – Institute for Film and media art is a collaboration between filmmakers, curators or film historians around the globe. This institute, the former “Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek” the initiators of the International Forum of Young Cinema, own a big film archive not only consisting of a lot films screened at the International Forum sections for more than 40 years. It was from the beginning the idea to make films shown at the Berlin Film festival available after the festival, especially for films which have no chance to get a properly distribution.

Kya Hya is Shahar ko?, a documentary by Deepa Dhanraj from 1986 is a film which was nearly lost, the original negative is already damaged and can be used only partly for restoration. So they tried a restoration with the poorly preserved negative and the film print owned by the Arsenal. As this restoration is going on the digital print is still on the limit of being watchable.

As the clashes between Muslims and Hindus a kind of communal riots dramatically raised after the partition of India -they are still today a big problem in the Indian sub continent, this film was introduced as an "exemplary political documentary from India". As it is hard for me  if not impossible for the moment to verify this reputation because I lack the knowledge of other documentaries from this time, the film benefits for my side mostly from its character as a document and less from being a documentary film.
That happens sometimes: you see very old films just saved from its decay and you can appreciate it with a certain historian interest but you won´t be able to appreciate it as a film - or at least you are unable to find the key for appreciating it as precious cinematic landmark.
There is a lot of blood shown in the film and there are a lot of women, men and children from Muslim and Hindu families who are mourning about family members killed in one of these riots between the two dominating religious groups in India. That these riots are always provoked for special political interests is well known, at least since the tragic partition of India. But to translate this dimension of suffering into images and sound is quite a delicate thing and difficult to realize. The film has sometimes such moments. Just at the beginning we see a Muslim woman who escaped with her children at a Hindu neighbor´s house who offered her shelter. But most parts of the film have for me the look of a provisional editing harder to adopt than the provisional preservation.
Maybe it is a certain kind of didactic which always disturb me in documentary films. If there is a certain kind of poetry in this film or even something special than I have to admit I missed it.

Among the few documentaries from India if not political like Shaan Khattau´s impressing Bhopal film The Dark I must not name (2000)or explicit political like in two very moving films by Bengali Anamika Bandopadhyay Red (2008) and 1700 Kelvin i(2012) n their efforts to understand documentary film as well as a cinematic form, I come rather to the conclusion that Indian documentaries made by women filmmaker have made almost a quantum leap forward compared to 1986.

Finally this special screening revealed a central problem of Indian Cinema, the embarrassing  carelessness of Indian producers, archives and unfortunately sometimes even filmmakers for their cinematic heritage. That it concerns a lot of films , from art cinema to documentaries which are not older than 30 years is an alarming condition.And yes the weak presence of India which is still one of the most interesting film countries in the world is a big problem and with big nostalgia I remember the time when the Gregors explored the cinematic diversity of this complex cultural landscape. But that is another story....

Rüdiger Tomczak

next screening: 09.02, Delphi 14.00

Friday, February 8, 2013

Notes on Yi Dai Zong Shi (The Grandmaster) by Wong Kar Wei, China: 2013 Berlinale 2013

(Opening Film)

I was n´t a big admirer of Wong Kar Wei at all, but this disliking of his films goes back to a time where I for example neither knew the name Terrence Malick nor did I care just to try watching his films. So, a lot of things like preferences has changed in me. That I was once a quite a dogmatic person at that time is excusable, the fact that I felt smart and good with it is quite embarrassing for me.

To have watch some months ago one of Wong Kar Wei´s most famous films In The Mood for Love (2000) was a good thing to do for verifying my opinion about this director.
Just the first moments of his martial arts film Yi Dai Zong Shi were quite revealing and I know where my mistake lies. His stylized camera movements, I used to find manipulating more than 12 years ago. But indeed as I saw his most recent film. I realized I was wrong. As dreamlike his films are, as aware they make us about the gigantic machine who produces these dreamlike visions.
The first fighting scenes at the beginning in the middle of a rain fall, something strange happens: a  movement between the cinematic illusion and the strange awareness of exactly this illusion. The dominating rain is almost physical tangible but it also conceals some details of this fighting scene.

Ip Man, the almost invincible Kung Fu-master has a female equivalent called Gong Er, the only one against he lost a fight. Strangely and it might be a hint to understand martial films arts as a film genre, it is the speed of this fighting technique which overpowers the rival like we are overpowered by the cinematic illusion of the modern cinematic machine which we can track down to the first Laterna Magica and even further back to Ten thousands of years old paintings in prehistoric caves.

Sometimes I feel a bit that Wong Kar Wei´s film is forced to its length of only 120 minutes which seems too short for its narrative complexity.
But in general, I felt comfortable with this film. I know there was a time when I was never getting tired of preaching about Wong Kar Wei as a false prophet of modern cinema. This time I can´t even help feeling Nostalgia for his films which I used to condemn long time before.

In some moments of this film, I feel reminded in Max Ophüls´s only film in shot Cinemascope Lola Montez where Ophüls used the frame very flexible, sometimes only a small part of this frame is visible, others not and then the frame uses again the whole extreme format.

Even though like most of the Berlinale screenings, Yi Dai Zong Shi was as well a digital projection -  Ironically this film seems to be as fragile, like the old analog film matter.
The rain at the first scene for example is at the same time illusional but at the same time abstract and with a bit of imagination it looks like  scene from an old film bad preserved and dammed to its chemical decay.
As it is a film about changes and losses and last but not least also a love which never will be fulfilled, the film in its material appearance as light and sound seem mortal and it seems it can disappear at any moment.
Its a film which evokes in me the strange desire to see it again in a 35 mm- print.
If not unconditionally enthusiasm – but I begin to feel constantly respect for the work of Wong Kar Wei.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Next screenings:
Friederichspalast                                      08.02, 15.00
Haus Der Berliner Filmfestspiele,            08.02, 20.00

Notes on I Used to be Darker by Mathew Porterfield, USA: 2013 -Berlin Filmfestival 2013-I.

(International Forum)

There are films which leave you for the first moments after the screening speechless. Just a few hours after I have seen a film like I used to be Darker by Mathew Porterfield, I will fail to articulate in words what I have seen and what I have experienced. It is like with films by Eric Rohmer, Mikio Naruse, some films by Rufolf Thome or Yasujiro Ozu, Film in which seemingly very few happens but the mind is so full of images, impressions – sometimes only short moments.
First of all you have to take home all these impressions in your mind, impressions which are not yet translated into terms, words , not to mention opinions.

Films like I used to be Darker seem to be made by itself.
The plot of this film seems nothing else than a set up of situations on which the characters have to react , have to live with it.
The situation is about this: A young Irish Girl (Taryn), stranded in America visits her aunt Kim and her cousin Abby in Baltimore. But she drops just in when Kim is in the process of a separation from her husband Ned.
I do not really “know” what the persons feel. There are hints.
Abby does n´t talk with her mother Kim (a folk singer) who moved out and lives together with members of her band. Taryn is probably disturbed because she is a runaway and her only family in this strange country is her aunt who is just separated and her cousin.

These hints, the film gives us about its characters are like cinematic Haikus.
In one scene Ned, the husband suffering under the separation from Kim is singing alone an elegy on his lost love. Later he smashes his guitar in anger.

Kim who suffers because she feels rejected by her daughter gives a concert with her band. The song she performs is called “American Child” and it is sung (or at least I imagine) with a special fervency like she put all her emotions in this song.
How do I describe this moment without being able to sing the song, Kim has sung?

Abby, Ned´s and Kim´s daughter finds at the internet an old video from her father, performing a folk song with a harmonica. In this old video he can hardly be recognized as the Ned of the present.
When Taryn and Kim are talking about Taryn´s mother (Kim´s sister who”was a punk”) we get small hints of the history of the characters, not enough to put the finger on but more than enough to imagine or to dream yourself in the world this films offers. When Taryn and Kim open an old foto album, we are not seeing all the old pictures Taryn and Kim see.

Did I say, almost nothing happened in this film? Maybe I am totally wrong and there is happening too much in this 90 minutes. I didn´t realize it at the first moment neither did I realize it just after the screening. Just a few hours later, my head is still full of all these small but wonderful moments the films has given to me.
Sometimes you just need a Haiku and you feel that the world is rotating around itself and around the sun.

I remember the rooms the characters occupied and I remember even the cat in Kim´s house. We see the cat very seldom but it is always there. A lot of things about the characters and the world they live in we do not know, we just feel it is all there. Sometimes we feel that strange presence through hints, sometimes we feel that it is hidden in the memories of these characters, hidden in their sorrow their anger their tenderness.
At the end, Kim is alone , plays her guitar and sings the song “These days..”
A magic moment which evokes in me again one of these “Haiku-scenes” in the films by Yasujiro Ozu. We are aware that this wonderful will finish without answering all our questions.
Oh, these films.
The last moment with Kim singing a song just for herself and giving us the privilege to share it with us. How shall I describe it without being able to sing this song?

The compacted 90 minutes of this film just begin to unfold itself. The more I recall certain moments of this wonderful piece of cinema in my mind, the more beauty I discover.
I am not yet finished with this film, I just got a hint that I am in love with it.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Next screenings:

Delphi:        08.02  21.30
Cinestar 8: 09.02, 13.30
Cubix 9:     10.02,  22.45
fsk:              13.02, 18.30
Cinestar 8: 17.02, 21.30