Saturday, September 14, 2013

Notes on Most-72 by the Markerists (comprised of Tobias Morgan, Blue Un Sok Kim and Anna Wittek, Poland: 2013

for Jean-Yves Valdman

A film is often a journey, sometimes an own, sometimes a shared one and sometimes like following a path. Most-72 is a journey through Auschwitz near Krakow. We are passing through the landscape of this empty landscape: passing by abandoned buildings, the gas chambers the crematoriums.
The railway travels, the walk through Auschwitz becomes a walk through history which will get an uncanny presence like in Marguerite Dura´s Le Main Négatives or her two Aurelia Steiner-films. The over voice comes from an English speaking Indian woman, a person. The speaking is the embodied thinking and feeling. As a film can´t reveal directly what a person thinks of feels, it can give ideas about what we see or hear - for example in this voice. The Indian woman is only present through her voice and this voice is the only physical evidence of her presence.
The landscapes and ruins of Auschwitz we see are abandoned except by some visitors but it is loaded full of what we know about the Holocaust.
The over voice begins more and more to break and changes from a description what she sees and what she knows about Auschwitz to a stammering and we can imagine she is rather stumbling than walking through this landscape.
“What were their dreams?”, she is asking when the imagined presence of the victims becomes an uncanny experience hard to describe.
The film combines a concrete travel to a concrete place, by railways or feet. The voice of a guide leads the woman through the ruins of Auschwitz.  But it also becomes a more complex inner emotional journey. The breaking voice is now more a try to describe what she “feels and experiences”. 

“I don´t know what I am doing here.” or “Nothing prepares you.”
For some moments, she walks the way where the victims walked through their dead to the gas chambers.
If the spoken language is a property, a cultural and an intellectual, it fails at the moment if a person is hit by these traces of this genocide. If the spoken language is like clothes we wear, these clothes begin to vanish in this human voice. Near the end the voice is naked the language is not more than a whimpering.
We know film as a men made device can not visualize what really happened in Auschwitz. Even Claude Lantzman with his exemplary film on the Holocaust Shoah knew that. But film can give an idea, sometimes even for small moments with the help of imagination and compassion. And sometimes these ideas in these moments where you feel you are  closer to the horror of Auschwitz are probably even more than a human mind can bear not to mention transform into language.

“Most” is the polish word for bridge and herewith it includes also a kind of “Caméra stylo”. The bridge here is a precise metaphor that Cinema can be more than just presenting images and sound but also to share ideas, experiences and last but not least feelings.

A watchtower of this concentration camp reflected in a pond and always and again the ruins. Even though they are in the process of decay they have survived the victims, victims which left nothing else than ashes and victims which names, identities are forgotten. The Indian woman is the mediator between what the film shows and the audience who has to think, experience and feel - a bridge.

The film hits you with a sudden impact even though we live in a culture of images which pretends that there is for everything an image. The film hits you through this spoken voice even though we live in a culture which believes that there are words for every thought for every emotion.

The images of this films are fragmentary, fleeting. It is not a visual monument, but thoughts, emotions, reflections. Even though we live in a culture which pretends to can record and preserve images and sounds forever, the films seems to be more like fleeting memories and reflections depending on a  living body which means also a body which is mortal.

Even though every film is made, thought and finally realised, Most-72 gives me at first the impression that this film shares a piece of lived experience, including thoughts and emotions as authentic as the collaboration between men and the technical apparatus of image-making allows.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sunday, September 8, 2013

TRANSLATION OF LETTER TO VALÉRIE DHIVER about Boku no Ojisan by Yoichi Higashi, Japan: 2000,

Dear Valérie,

I have to thank you for an advice which let me enjoy one of the most beautiful film experiences I ever made during an edition of the Berlin Film festival: Village of Dreams, which came accidentally into the competition of 1996. It was for me a little paradise of cinema. But it was anything else than a simple idyll but it remind me in that what cinema is going to loose. Such films remain in the memory and they help us like we remember in hard times the joy and courage to live which is still existing in us and which is just waiting for being rediscovered. While Village of Dreams  is directly evoking memories in my childhood it has to do with the Madeleines in Proust´s “Research for the lost times”. The Crossing  is not only dealing about that, what the film is telling about. It does not deal only with the relationship between memories and facing the present in moments where we have doubts in the world but also with how are memories itself evoked.

The fact that I have seen The Crossing only once and even though I made  a lot of notes while seeing that film, my memories seem to be more like memories in a music piece. I remember the images of modern Tokyo. People are hurrying through streets which are flooded by neon light and we hear the well-known sounds of beeping handys. I am familiar with the anonymous crowd because I can find them just behind the exit of the cinema and at the placeless Potsdamer Platz. I remember camera movements, which have something like staggering and underrow from which it is hard to liberate for an individual. As familiar I am (even when I have to consider some japanese specifics)  with that  point of view, in this film it seems to be subtle accentuated into surreality. Higashi needs only a few shots for presenting all the madness and the alienation of the modern mega cities.

Koji is a young designer for advertising. In his profession still close to the picture book painters in Village of Dreams, his creativity is mistreated for the law of marketing. The twins in Village of Dreams fixed their childhood in wonderful picture books and this childhood was at the same time the source of their inspiration.  But Koji has to work hard to re-find this world in himself. 
His situation looks bad. His boss is humiliating him, because his design is hard to sell. Than, his father dies and his brother´s son is recently released from the police with probation after his failed robbery. Kojis first memories (which are told in flashbacks) have nothing of sweetness, they rather correspondents with his recent crisis. Once he remembers a hard  by his father into his face. Another time in a short dream-sequence, he swims on the river in his home village and a kind of water spirit tries to take him to the ground. He wakes up and breathes hard like he would suffocating.
He feels insecure like his nephew Takuya, whose parents are divorced. In a later moment Koji sits on the bank of the river of his native village. He is realising the landscape around him which evokes memories in him like it can happen to us if we listen to music, seeing an image - or watching a film. Takuya is on one side a boy of the present, but in that what his presence is evoking in Koji he is also a “being of time” which is Proust's definition of what elements a human identity is consisting. Takuya and Koji in his boy age are played both by the actor Takihito Yosoyamada. Higashis film demonstrates that memories in film can be like that what Proust was describing. In one scene the adult Koji and the child Koji are sitting side by side at the river. In this image the memory of a man is becoming in the sense of the word a "being of a different time”.

Higashi loves music and before writing a script the listening of music (listened in consideration of the selection of the film music) is often an important inspiration. Recently he told me that he listens films like music and sees music like films. Even after the first seeing of Boku no ojisan I realised that Higashi is working with a lot of variations from motives, correspondences, images and music pieces, which we can only partial realise consciously but which give this film its hidden richness.  I got a vague idea what it means to think in images and sounds. There is for instant the motive of the mask: the mask of the young post robber, the one from a strange being from the world of Japanese mythology  (with what I am not familiar), or the mask in which Koji attacks his boss or scares his nephew, or the youth gang who attacked Koji and who carry likely masks. But there are also the invisible mask, that we carry for others and behind which we hide our real person. There are movements like the motive of the young Koji who swims through the river and the motorcycle rides of Takuya and the moments of looking into themselves, the contemplation of a landscape or of an image. 
There is an image which beauty has to do as well with music, like with image and which may be a track like Higashi even conscious works with the two realities of realising present and memories which have for my side to do with the film reception itself: Koji and his girlfriend Rin, his brother and Takuya make an excursion to the village. In this frame, Koji is placed with his brother in the left part of the image. Takuya right before. Rin stands behind Takuya and smiles at him, like she would realise his presence as that of a “being of time”, what Koji was once. They are placed in a river landscape. In this moment she is the spectator, whose view is aimed almost from the other side of the screen, passing by Takuya directly sliding to the audience.

You know how less I appreciate the new Japanese cinema of the last decades. The Crossing  has something which the former greatest national cinematography mostly lost since almost 40 years. Most of the directors of the Thirties and Fifties offered through their wonderful films an image from the world but at the same time a vision about image making. That is not the last reason why I discovered in  Yoichi Higashi for me one of the few real important contemporary Japanese directors. For that I have to thank especially you. Every image, every cut and every music piece in The Crossing has for my side to do with that what I would like to call cinematographic intelligence.

Je t´embrasse

PS: At first I was very angry about the fact that they ban The Crossing into the boring Panorama-section instead presenting it in the competition. But now I am rather wondering at all if the Berlin Film festival deserved a film like this.

This translation follows the German original which was written after seeing the film only once. It means it may includes some faults or misunderstandings which happen with memories.

1. The "Madeleines" are a kind of efrench eggc akes, which play an important role in Prousts novel.  "Madeleines" and milk coffee are evoking in the storyteller of Proust novel memories.
2. "Beings of Time" ist for my side one of the greatest film theoretical definitions in Prousts novel and ironically I remember this defination mostly while seeing asian films like from Higashi, Dang Nhat Minh, Hou Hsiao Hsien or Higashi. I understand this definition that even we are aging, moving directly from birth to death, our identity can be once of a person in their "right age" but in the next minute we  are at the same time a child of 10 years etc.  It can happen if we dream, or in the zone between sleeping and awakening. I understand Proust as well that our identity is a complicate combination of different "beings of time".  The scene with Koji sitting behind the the young boy he was in the same image and the fact that Koji in his boy age is played by the same actor who played Takuya seems to me a good example.
And off course this cinematic idea may be independent from Proust idea and this association is my own. But I still cosider Proust as one of the greatest film theorist generally.  The association Higashi/Proust has for me at first to do with my attitude that a good film is as well a good theoretical idea about cinema-which is off course transformed absolutely into cinematic poetic terms. 

Rüdiger Tomczak 
shomingeki Nr. 8, Page 24-27, July 2000

My first Notes on The Tree Of Life

This text is written a few days after I watched this film the first time, the unforgettable press screening on June 1, 2011. It was first published in the web magazine INDIAN AUTEURS. Even though a lot of ideas I had on this film were not yet expressed properly, but this text was the start of more than six month when almost only one single film occupied my mind and that was THE TREE OF LIFE.

  | Monday, June 13th, 2011

THE TREE OF LIFE takes place in a small town in Texas in the 50s. There is a family, father, mother and their boys. Later we will see that all these scenes in this little town are childhood memories of the architect Jack (Sean Penn)
Terrence Malick (born in 1943) is (too) often labeled as the great mystic person in contemporary cinema. After his two first films BADLANDS (1973) and DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) he disappeared for 20 years from the public eye until his comeback with the modern Odyssey about nature, men and war THE THIN RED LINE (1998). In the 70s he was
celebrated as one of the biggest talents of the so-called “New Hollywood”. After DAYS OF HEAVEN he was frustrated
about interventions by producers into his artistic decisions and worst of all – after working 2 years editing DAYS OF HEAVEN he was mentally burnt out. Since then Malick avoids all kind of public appearance, press conferences or interviews not even photographs. From time to time he appears surprisingly at screenings of his films like 2004 during the screening of DAYS OF HEAVEN at the Retrospective “New Hollywood” of the Berlin Film festival. Actors, actresses or other collaborators describe Malick often as a very intelligent, polite but very humble and very shy man.
With Kubrick (whom he is often compared with) he has in common that his films are produced with big Hollywood budgets but created in an independent spirit only following the filmmaker´s vision. As his early films are canonized as his most famous ones I prefer his three last films, THE THIN RED LINE, THE NEW WORLD (2005) this elegy about the discovering and conquest of America and his latest work THE TREE OF LIFE.
All these works have the typical stylistic elements of Malicks last films : fluid camera-movements, mostly with Steadicam, the use of natural light sources, a narrative structure which resembles less a story than a long narrative poem.
The most significant aspect is his use of long, sometimes even whispered over-voice monologues. They can be seen as the inner reflections of the protagonists but mostly they have the quality of a poem and sometimes even as a prayer. If there is someone who can be compared with Malick in American cinema than Trinh T. Minha, the Vietnamese-American filmmaker in her use of over-voice narration and especially her film SURNAME VIET GIVEN NAME NHAM 1989).
Malick, actually a philosopher turned into film studies in his late 20s. He has the reputation of a lover of nature and as a person equally interested in religious and scientific questions. THE THIN RED LINE and THE NEW WORLD deal with incredible beautiful natural landscapes and natives still in touch with their natural environment. These paradises will be disgraced and destroyed in the first film by the war brought in by American soldiers in World war II. or by English colonists in the almost untouched America of the 17th Century in the other film.
THE TREE OF LIFE takes place in a small town in Texas in the 50s. There is a family, father, mother and their boys. Later we will see that all these scenes in this little town are childhood memories of the architect Jack (Sean Penn). The plot is a small “coming of age” story. Malick connects this part with an excursion about the birth of the universe, the birth of our planet and finally about the beginning of life.

The scenes have more the quality of associations and memories than chapters of a story. The film begins when the mother(Jessica Chastain) receives a telegram that her 19 years old son (the brother of the main protagonist Jack)has died. We do not know how and why he died, we are just in the elegiac introduction of this film. We see the mourning mother and the father (played by Brad Pitt who tries to hide his feelings. In short scenes we see Jack as an adult, an architect who seems a prisoner in a gigantic city of glass and stone. As we realize that Jack is the person who recalls his childhood, the“flashbacks” are exactly working like human memories including its often fragmented character.

Emmanuel Lubezki camera is always in motion and it seems to move beyond all laws of gravitation like an invisible undefinable protagonist.

Than suddenly – a small 20 minutes long excursion interrupts the main plot for a while and we see the birth of the universe, our solar-system and our earth. The first traces of life, than Hammer sharks and later dinosaurs. One of them lies exhausted in a riverbed, another small saur is caught by a big one. The big dinosaur leaves him after a moment and disappears. Rather like music, Malick uses “Leitmotivs”. One of them is the mothers sentence:”There are two ways of life and you have to choose which one you follow. The one is the way of nature, the other the way of grace.” This small scene with the dinosaurs gets much more weight in the context of the whole film. While the father is preaching a kind of simple darwinism about the right of the stronger as a natural aspect in life, Malick presents in this small intermezzo an animal which follows the “way of grace”.

After this segment about the beginning of the life the narration continues with the birth of Jack.

This “way of nature and the way of grace” is much more than a thematic keyword for the film, because it has also to do with formal details.

The film which uses obviously the finest modern technology from steadycam until even the computer animation in the excursion about the beginning of the world never gets pompous. Malicks most sophisticated approach in his last three films, especially in THE NEW WORLD and THE TREE OF LIFE is that his use of a the high complex apparatus of film is never imposing and disappears often in front what it presents. Beside that high epic ambition it also seems to be at the same time a very personal film.

Malick just doesn´t film playing children, in his cinematic point of view his cinematic eye has a tendency to become part of these children or turns into a playing child as well. In such moments Lubezkis fluid camera movements loose the character of its technical perfection – it becomes a child, a dog, a branch, a treetop, a butterfly or it trails off to the sky. His collaborationwith the Mexican cinematographer Lubezki the consequent sequel of this wonderful duet between the fluid moving camera and the movements of Q´Orianka Kilcher as the native princess Pocahontas in THE NEW WORLD. The camera is not anymore a distant voyeur, it tries to be one with this adolescent girl who is still in harmony with the world she lives in. These moments emphasize Kilchers presence and the camera as the cinematic apparatus seems to disappear.

The beautiful sentence of the young deserter in THE THIN RED LINE:”Maybe all men got one big soul where everybody is part of it” ( a sentence I quoted already wherever an occasion is offered) describes Malicks cinema quite accurate.

The often mentioned spiritual or even religious tendencies in Malicks film remain on a level where they don´t force to a simple and easy interpretation but to offer quite a variety of possibilities. Beside the “big questions” of our existence the existence or non-existence of god, or the mysterious history of the universe, Malicks film asks with the same intensity the worldly concrete questions about the visible matter we and the world around us are made of. At the beginning the boys definition of father and mother are two different definitions of god. She the loving and protecting one, he the cruel one most focused on the material surviving. Later Jack realizes that his mother is a slave of his father and his father a slave of the factory he works for and which finally fires him or blackmails him to take a lower job. Quite a concrete comment to the failure of the “American Dream” (often preached by the father)in a film who often was labeled as esoteric. While Jack still hates his father and his machoism, Brad Pitt has one of the most moving scenes in his career. Clumsily he tries to apologize to his sons. He regrets “not to have realized beauty around him he was unable to see”. He even asks his attitude in life. Even though he is exposed in all his meagerness, it is one of the most tenderly scenes in the film. A wonderful episode about the fall of the father authority which can be compared with the father in Ozus UMARATE WA MITAKREDO (I was born, but.., 1932) That is just one short scene but it is representative for the richness of themes in this film which can´t be measured after having watched it only once.

We see a lot of hands touching other hands, other bodies, grass, trees animals or the mother pets the wing of a butterfly.
Malicks films doesn´t only celebrate the big questions beyond the fragile existence of life, he celebrates with the same intensity the concrete material world. The swollen belly of the pregnant mother, the tiny foot of the newborn held in the hand of the parents. Malicks celebration of the fragility of living bodies especially in their mortality is a strong and even heartbreaking contrast to the inevitability of the fact that one day all life will disappear when our sun will turn into a red giant.
I have to recall a small conservation with an Indian Muslim, a film critic in Bombay about Malick. He told me about his idea that Malick has strong affinities to Sufi-poetry, a poetry who celebrates the worldly joy in life as much as they faith in
While I am writing all this, I feel it is incomplete and not only because these are the impressions after having watched this film only once.
In all these years of my passion for cinema I collected a certain kind of “knowledge” or approached a kind of an own personal order. In the last 10 or 12 years very few directors I discovered confused this self-satisfied order like the films by Ritwik Ghatak or Terrence Malick. A lot of films I discovered in these years, I was prepared for. But I was not prepared for the emotional impact the films Ghatak or Malick had on me. In different ways they evoked more than admiration.
Beside all their brilliance, they opened my sense for a certain kind of vulnerability. Long before I learned about Ghataks biography I was sure his films were at first very authentic documents of a very disturbed soul, yes they became in its nakedness of human emotions the films which define pain in the strongest way, I ever saw in cinema. In another way Malick also seems to me both, as a master who created his own cinematic language, but at the same time his films,
especially his late ones evoke in me as well my image of Malick as a filmmaker with a delicateness of a child. When I saw first THE NEW WORLD at the Berlin Film festival 2005 I felt in the gentleness of Q´Orianka Kilcher as the teenage native princess Pocahontas the ideal embodiment of Terrence Malicks cinematic point of view. To enjoy Malicks films from a certain distance from the safe position of a voyeur is impossible for me. These films are going through my body and soul or they don´t happen as films to me at all.
I am sure what makes these films even more vulnerable are their lack of cynicism. That makes them easy to attack,
especially by a bunch of frustrated journalists on a big film festival. DAYS OF HEAVEN, THE NEW WORLD have strong elements of and THE TREE OF LIFE is a kind of coming to age-film at all and it is significant that most of Malicks films deal with one of the most sensitive phases in human life. TREE OF LIFE (especially time and location) seem even has autobiographical elements. I am less impressed by the obvious visible craft ship than in its total lack of vanity and this strange kind of vulnerability which is unique in Malicks late films. There is an image for my feelings for his films. To watch a film like THE TREE OF LIFE is like to pet the wing of a butterfly.

Rüdiger Tomczak

my long text on Tree of Life is here