shomingekiblog is a blog associated with my former print magazine shomingeki published in German language. This blog will focuse mostly on english texts, translations from German into English and in some exceptions french texts. The official home page is at the moment: www.shomingeki.org. The official page for the German language version of shomingeki is: www.shomingekionline.org
shomingeki is now after 24 printissues available . Non-Profit.
while I write this letter to you, I am
aware that we probably will never meet.
I am aware that you do not know me and
probably never will.
But for some years and especially since
I saw your wonderful The Tree of Life around 16 times, I feel the need to express my gratitude for your films.
Not only as a cinephile and as a
critic - no – as well as a person who owes you some of the greatest moments I ever experienced in Cinema.
I am talking about something which is
beyond what we call great art, great cinema, something beyond
wonderful images or great cinematic poetry: I am talking of authenticity.
I am aware that a film like The Tree
of Life took an immense part of your (life)-time, a lot of work
and the need of all what the technical apparatus of film making
offers. Every gesture,
every image appear to me – first of all – appear to me as really lived and felt and all my awareness of this technical apparatus of fimmaking disappears in these moments. I
do not know if I shall say I watched your films or if it is more
accurate to say “I lived your films”.
Before 2005, quite a lot of friends
tried me to convince watching your films. Until 1999 when The Thin
Red Line was screened in the competition of the Berlin Film festival,
I didn´t even know your name despite I was quite familiar with the rarest names of films from India, China, Japan or even
Vietnam. Well, it was a time when I was quite a very dogmatic
cinephile and I avoided almost everything which came from the more
recent American Cinema.
Some years passed by and I bought the
DVD of The Thin Red Line as a birthday gift for a friend and
before I wrapped it in gift paper, I watched it.
I was impressed but not yet passionate.
A year later, I bought for the same
friend Days of Heaven on DVD and watched it again before
wrapping it as a gift. I came another small step closer, at least close enough to
look forward to the screening at the Berlin Film festival of The
New World in 2006.
I remember also the Berlin Film festival
2004 when a Japanese lady who is a friend of mine talked about the
screening at the retrospective "New Hollywood” of Days of Heaven
where you surprisingly appeared after the screening. With shining
eyes she told me about the enthusiastic standing ovations after the
screenings. I got aready an idea that I have probably missed something.
I think it was February 12, 2006 at the
Berlinale Palast, the press screening of The New World early in the
morning at 9am. Even though I hate this hall (which is not a real
film theater) I sat in the 7. row close enough to the screen. Beside
me this Japanese lady and her boyfriend. I can´t say that I was
prepared in any kind. I remember only that this film moved me from
the first to the last minute. And even as I am known for my very
emotional reactions during watching a film, it happened seldom that I
could not stop crying the whole time of a screening. I did not only felt
like having seen a pure cinematic masterpiece, I felt rather having
had an encounter and - yes - for the first time I understood the sentence about
the “one big soul” in The Thin Red Line. Even though you are a
filmmaker which means always you depend on the technical devices and on the
division of work of film making, I felt the presence of a very
delicate and as well vulnerable person, a feeling which always hunted me.
I remember one of the aspect which moved me deeply was the strange chemistry between the fluid handeheld camera movements and the movements of Pocahontas/Kilcher like a kind of balett between the technical apparatus of film making and a human being. This kind of delicacy and vulnerability
I have only see before in the films of the great Bengal filmmaker
Ritwik Ghatak (1925-1976).
Finally you got me. You didn´t only
conquered my cinephile heart, you won my heart just as a human being.
From the moment I heard you were working on The Tree of Life, the
following years were a very long waiting stressing my patience to its
In the same year when The New World was
released, I made my first trip to India. I had a talk with an Indian
Muslim critic who compared your films with Sufi-poetry, a thought on
which I do not want to fix your last films but which was always a big
inspiration for me. But in India I thought about Jean Renoir and
without knowing what your Tree of Life will be about, I always have
to think about you when I remember this trip.
Renoir said once (obviously under the impression of his journey to India where he made The River) how he was moved by
the way, "Indians tried to touch him". Later in one of the films on him
of the serie Les Cineastes de notre Temps, he tells Michel Simon: “The
soul is not in the head or in the heart but directly under the skin”
- a thought which will hit me through the full power some years later
when the big black woman consoles Jessica Chastain at the funeral
scenes with her mighty hands.
Some years passed by and finally there
was hope when your film was selected for the Cannes Film festival
2011. I got angry when I read the unbearable cynical reviews on your film. The
closing ceremony I followed through an internet TV channel. When
Robert de Neiro pronounced the Golden Palm for The Tree of Life I was very glad. Not that I care very much for festival awards, but this time I thought it was important - not only for your film but also for Cinema in general. "Do you allow the song to sing you or do you try to sing the song" (Greil Marcus on Van Morrison´s "Madame George" in "When that rough god goes riding"
Finally there was the day of the press
screening, two weeks before the release in Germany:
I thought installing myself among the
first 4 rows for having a bit privacy in case I get emotional.
But it was full crowded. All what I felt during this Berlin Festival
screening of The New World came back but even stronger. The moment when
this big black woman touches the hands of jessica Chastain is burnt
in my memory. I could sense it even physically.
I watched it another 6 times in
theatres and until today another 9 times on DVD or Blue ray.
I exhausted myself in too much
controversy discussion, if in Internet forums or even among the
circles around my own film magazine. For nearly half a year there was
no other film, only this one. I began to calm down in the heat of the
many discussions I participated only the day when the Fipresci
pronounced The Tree of Life as the film of the year and I felt glad
that it was accompanied by this wonderful text by Adrian Martin
“Great Events and ordinary people”.
I know it sounds very absurd and it is
probably my own business, but whenever I discussed the film with
others, I did not felt just the need to express my opinion defending
a masterpiece – I always felt the absurd idea to "protect" the work of
a person very dear to me.
Except the films by Ritwik Ghatak I
knew only the feeling to have “understood” a film. The films by
Ritwik Ghatak and yours belong to the films where I felt they
And what your films have in common with
the films of Ritwik Ghatak is also that I never felt I have
discovered them for myself. They never confirmed the thing we call
“knowledge about cinema”.
They came and they touched me. These
films discovered me and there is nothing I could do about.
The same with your wonderful To The
Wonder, which becomes more and more one of my favorites after The
Tree of Life. Just to mention the beautiful light, a light I have
never seen before in cinema and I doubt I will see it ever again in
my life in any other film.
I can´t say I am somewhat like an
expert of your films. Until now I never bothered about the often
mentioned influences of Heidegger in your films whose books I never read until now. My
personal access to your films was a fortunate accident and your films
seem like a gift.
I see now a lot in Cinema with another
point of view.
I have to thank you again for this.
Godard once said that films are always
documentaries about the visible things in this world.
In your films I even feels the matter
where we all are built of.
I think since Jean Renoir very few
filmmakers have celebrated the results of the phenomenon we call
creation or formation like you.
Your films are about both: Body and
Soul or better – your films are made of Body and Soul.
I feel the love for this visible matter
of the world in all your films.
I feel the tenderness for all the
creatures appearing in your films if they are actors with names like
Linda Manz, Nick Nolte, James Caviezel, Q´Orianka Kilcher, jessica
Chastain, Brad Pitt, Olga Kurylenko, Hunter McCracken to mention only
some of them. A bird, a cat, a dog, a tree, even for your dinosaurs
in The Tree of Life I feel this deep love for all living creatures.
In your films I fell “the love that
Moments of your films are always coming
back to me, sometimes suddenly.
The big black woman who tries to
console the mourning Jessica Chastain with her mighty hands still
hunts and will always hunt me.
The nakedness in the face of Brad Pitt
after his factory is closed, the face of Jessica Chastain after a
telegram informs her about the death of her son, the despair of
Q´Orianka Kilcher after she is uprooted from her culture, the last
shot with Nick Nolte in The Thin Red Line, the face of Olga
Kurylenko, the moment in The Tree of Life when the mourning
phrases of the mother turn into this incredible chapter about the
formation of the world.
I wish you all the best, health,
happiness and strength.
I wish you that all the love you put in
your work will be rewarded.
I do not know if you care about your
birthday, but I will raise a glass on you.
With all my gratitude and my best wishes
Rüdiger Tomczak (editor of the
“The greatness of Cinema is that it
is dammed to the modesty of photography” (Jean-Marie Straub)
First of all, Redfern is a photo film.
If I am not mistaken – a short moment of floating clouds is the
only part of the film with moving images.
The sound and the images are
complementing each other but keep a kind of autonomy.
Trang Nguyen´s film is both, a
formalistic work and at the same time an amazing precise portrait of
a small community, a community of uprooted people in Redfern, a part
of Sydney. Most of them are descends of Aborigines, those native
Australians who are now a minority of around 2 percent of the whole
Even though the film tells about a
community which is in danger to disappear, lost their language or got
named by the British with false names, it is more a film about people
who begin to reconstruct their history fragment by fragment.
The film arises from two seemingly
opposites, images which does not allow at all the illusion of moving
images and a soundtrack which moves through these collection of
single images like a river.. What we will remember are faces of
people, places in this quarter called Redfern and the stories of some
people who went through drug addiction, alcoholism or other
As the films seems to be a
re-construction of a journey the filmmaker once made. It is also
about a community which tries to reconstruct the history of the
people´s culture including the personal stories of its members.
What the film in its strange beauty
evokes in the dreams and hopes of these people comes from the people
and things the film reveals itself. I feel a bit reminded in the
pioneers of Cinema like the Lumiere brothers, sometimes in one of the
central ideas of André Bazin (that the beauty unfolds in the things
itself) but as well in the seismographic sensibility and tenderness
in her view to the people like a Yasujiro Ozu. That Trang Nguyen
seems at the first sight to take everything away from what we call
Cinema – it has no other effect than finally offering us pure
Redfern, once an important industry
region in Australia is now in a bad state, drug dealing, high
unemployment and a high crime rate. The remains of industrial
buildings witnesses the disgrace of landscapes and people. The
uprooting of the aborigines once hired as cheap labors is part of it.
These uprooted people are now
abandoned, lost. But Trang Nguyen´s Redfern tells also about
how this uprooted and abandoned people begin to find back their place
in the world.
In an environment of destruction,
neglect and despair, the film shows people who resist in their
vitality and in their hope and their dreams.
Trang Nguyen´s perception is without
the smallest trace of sentimentality but she also never betrays the
hopes and dreams of these people.
Actually Redfern consists of the film
we see and the film which is evoked in our head. The soundtrack
creates another space than these single photographs. Even though
this film is as well a work of montage, the final editing will take
place in our imagination.
I saw this film now three times and it
becomes more beautiful with each watching. Call it another
minimalistic approach if you like but I have doubts if it is the
correct definition. Redfern has this strange beauty of
abandoned industry landscapes where once abandoned there will be grow
plants and flowers which were supposed to be lost. To recognize a
sense of beauty in this disgraced landscapes, Trang Nguyen´s
“minimalism” is nothing else than an instrument to focus on the
essential. I can hardly believe that this film which evoked so much
thoughts, ideas and feelings in me about the world, the people and
last but not least cinema – is just 30 minutes long. I am looking
forward to see her next films.