Thursday, December 25, 2014

My films of the year 2014

Top 10 2014 (releases)

1. Kaze Tachinu (The Wind is Rising), Hayao Miyazaki, Japan: 2013

2.Chiisai Ouchi (The Little House), Yoji Yamada, Japan: 2014

3. L´Image Manquante (The Missing Picture), Rithy Panh, Cambodia/France: 2013

4.Lajwanti (The Honour Keeper) , Pushpendra Singh, India: 2014

5. Quissa, Anup Singh, India/Germany/Netherland: 2013

6. Boyhood, Richard Linklater, USA: 2014
7.Die Geliebten Schwestern (The Beloved Sisters), Dominik Graf, Germany: 2014
8.Le Beau Danger, Rene Frölke, Germany: 2014
9. Interstellar, Christopher Nolan, USA: 2014
10. Das Salz der Erde (Salt of the Earth), Wim Wenders, Juliano Rebeira Salgado, Germany/Brazil: 2014
ex aequo with
10. Prabhad Pehri,Jessica Sadhana and Samarth Dixit, India: 2014
10. Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson, USA: 2014

special mention:
Gone Girl, David Fincher, USA: 2014
Noc (2030), Vo Nghiem-Minh, Vietnam: 2014
The Better Angels, A.J. Edwards, USA: 2014

great discoveries this year:
Wild And Precious, Bill Mousoulis, Greece/Italy/Australia: 2012
Luv´ In The Black Country, Mathew Carter, England: 2010

The Wounded Brick, Sue-Alice Okukubo and Eduard Zorzenoni, Austria/Germany: 2013

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Notes on Wild And Precious by Bill Mousoulis, Greece/Australia/Italy: 2012

At the beginning, an aging Italian cinematographer called Giulio is introduced. Even though a fictive character, he talks directly to the camera. This opening takes place in Athens during the strikes and protest manifestations of the Greek people. It is the time of the social and economic crisis of Greece when the government brutally attacked the social existence of its own people for a crisis the people haven´t caused. Giulio is a chronicler and his monologue introduces his long experience in observing social protest movements, his opinion about the failure of the neoliberal order and ideology but also his loneliness. He calls himself a “Nowhere Man”. He is disgusted by his own country but is attracted in the Greek movement which is indeed a symbol for an awakening in Europe.

One reason for the vitality of the film is the playful reflection of arranged images and fiction and on the other side the facts like the protests and manifestations which happened at the time the film was shot. Giulio is working on a project on the protest movement in Greece. He is a chronicler between resignation and hope.

Later we see him returned to Italy in a town called Gorgonzola. He visits a woman with an 8 years old daughter. Finally we learn that the woman Irene is his wife and the girl Andrea his daughter. He abandoned them many years ago. If the couple is quite alienated from each other, the girl is almost a stranger to him. The dialogues between the couple suggests for now that they have arranged themselves with this separation. As the film proceeds it looks rather like the futile try to preserve a relationship which is already vanishing. The expression in face of Emanuela Zoccos Irene reminds me in its mixture of stoicism and vulnerability in Lisa Kreuzers lonely and abandoned women in some early films by Wim Wenders.

Back in Athens, Giulio is hired by an Australian TV-team. They want to make a film on the protest movement.Giulio is supposed to find place and finally images which are not shown in any conventional TV-report. While the TV team begins to look systematic for images, Giulio uses the focus lens of his camera sometimes like an extended eye for recognizing things he can not see with his naked eye. He always discover things nobody else sees.
This just recording images and the looking for details reminds me in André Bazins unfinished but still fresh questions of reality and cinema. It seems for me that Bill Mousoulis´ arranged images, the fictive element and the use of the cinematic apparatus have not other purpose than open our eyes and sharpen our perception for a reality which always exists as well beyond the frame.

The borders between document and fiction in Wild And Precious seem to be thin, sometimes even suspended. During the film we see a lot of cats and often a dog (called “Riot dog” in the credits). The animals enter and leave the frames and also the arranged fiction or the documented moments. Their appearances give an idea that even just an image of reality has always many layers. When we see Greek policemen with their gas masks and armed with gas munition we are also aware that they are eager to use them at the smallest sign of riot, an aspect almost deleted in most of news reports on Greece in 2012.

Wild And Precious is also a reflection on image making, recording images and what happens beyond. We see the TV team editing their first footage very focused. What happens at the same time in Italy with Irene, Andrea and their social environment seems to happen totally outside of consciousness of the image making Giulio - like in another dimension. Literally it happens out of Giulios framing the world.
As his life seems to split in two strings there are some small but very important links to these “two lives”.These moments evoke in me an undefinable melancholy like a bitter taste of homelessness. There is a wonderful moment when Giulio shoots footage in another Greek town. The first thing we see is a beautiful white cat passing by. While Giulio is looking through his camera, a teenage girl addresses him. She is shy and feels like she is disturbing him. For a moment Giulio turns his eyes from the camera and says to her “that she reminds him in his daughter." The weight of this short but intense moment is how he looks at the girl after tuning his eyes almost reluctant from his camera. Leaving for a brief moment his safety in "framing the world" in images” makes him suddenly vulnerable. The strange teenage girl becomes almost to a vision of his daughter some years later and she will probably a stranger to him like this Greek girl. A short moment like a Haiku poem.

Back in Italy for a few days, Giulio tries to restore the bound to his family he abandoned but his head is probably still occupied by the footage he still is supposed to shoot in Greece. He is talking to Irene about a place in Milan where he hopes to meet more often his family. It is amazing how Bill Mousoulis moved his focus from the protests in Greece, a concrete datable historic event to the reflection on image making and finally to the intimate sphere of Giulio, Irene and Andrea. Mousoulis creates a dynamic relationship between these elements.

As each image might be a choice, the result offers much more. Bill Mousoulis always opens the attention for the unexpected accidental moments of life which invade and leave the arranged frame. These moments have often a Haiku-like poetry. There is for example a sick looking very skinny cat. Later we learn that Andrea is very depressed because this cat is going to die. A neighbour is crying because her cat has disappeared.

At the end, Giulio is on his way back to Greece. The “Nowhere Man” disappears in the “Nowhere Place” airport like the film this fragment of the world disappears into the credits.
Wild And Precious is a rich and wonderful film experience. Even though I was very aware of the apparatus of image making, I almost can feel how the recorded film , a kind of artificial descends into my own biological one where it gets a life on its own. Suddenly small moments come to my mind like the film has a life of its own in my memory- and there is nothing I can do about it.

Rüdiger Tomczak

After its festival circulation the film is available optional with English, Italian or Greek subtitles under this web address.

Friday, November 21, 2014

An Afternoon in Paris at the Cinematheque Française with Les Quatre-Cent Coups by François Truffaut.

For Anjan Dutt and Thérese Gonzalez

It was a rainy afternoon in Paris and finally I found the location of the new Cinemathque Française. The Cinematheque presents at the time a huge exposition on Truffaut for the 30th. Anniversary of his death in 1984 and an integral retrospective. On this day they screened Truffaut's first long film Les Quatre-Cent Coups in the “Salle Henri Langlois” Even though I was surprised to see the hall almost full packed, I realized at the same time that it is typical for Paris. The audience was a mixture of nearly all generations, older people and as well school classes. The film is exactly as old as I am, 55 years. But this was not the only fact that made this afternoon to an almost Proustian experience for me. Truffaut and Bazin were probably my most important influences when I began or better when I wanted to write about films. Truffauts Les Films de ma vie, a collection of his film critics, his interview book on Hitchcock and Bazin´s books on Orson Welles and Jean Renoir are still after more than 30 years my favorite books on cinema. Some parts of it I have read more than a dozen times. In the early 1980s, Truffaut was even one of my favorite film directors. His first long feature film Les Quatre-Cent Coups came into my life even much earlier. It was a christmas eve in the late 1960s. I was about 8 or 9 and on the afternoon on this day the TV broadcasted this film. What stayed with me for much more than 40 years was Antoines escape from the youth prison. For nearly 30 years this film was totally hidden in my sub conscience.

The audience was enthusiastic. applause at the beginning, during the film and at the end rather a festival atmosphere than just a screening of film history. Everything came together, my long forgotten admiration for Truffaut and especially this film, my nearly religious admiration for Paris as the origin of cinephilia. Even though Les Quatre-Cent Coups tells about specific french locations, french habits and a specific datable time in Paris like for example the films by Yasujiro Ozu did with locations in Japan – it nevertheless gave me the feeling of a kind of homecoming. It is obviously Paris in the late 1950s but than if I remember this christmas afternoon in the 1960s, the film and all what is presented in it was quite young. The cobblestone pavement reminded me in some streets of my hometown. The time of occupation of Paris was just gone 14 years before like my home town displayed at this time still the traces of the war. As a child I was aware that this film tells about a totally different culture but I also recognized that I was familiar to the time presented in it.

There is an exiting dynamic between the fiction of the film and the real places, streets and buildings of Paris. Antoines Story seems to be really grown out of this concrete datable traces of reality. Two sentences of Truffaut stayed with me. The first was about art and entertainment when he wrote once that Hitchcock and Bergman are both entertaining and at the same time their films are great art. The other statement by him was that he always expected two things from a film, a vision of the world and a vision of film making.
When I saw Les Quatre-Cent Coups again after such a long time, I had the uncanny feeling that the film touches so much of my dreams of cinema. Truffauts ideas about cinema are totally absorbed in images and sounds. The “bigger than life”-element, the cinema scope photography a wonderful artificial device of the cinema of the 1950s has a unique relationship with this intimate story of an adolescent, a story which is probably influenced by autobiographic aspects of Truffaut himself.

As I was moved by the different ages of the audience – some were probably born after the death of Truffaut, others probably saw this film when it was released and others like my generation saw this film when it was already an icon of the Nouvelle Vague – I sometimes felt I experienced past and present of my cinephile life as well. My passion for Ozu, the Japanese masters came just after my first encounter with the Nouvelle Vague and the texts by Truffaut and Bazin.
There is also a moment which is very physical: when Antoine visits a round-up on a parish fair where the centrifugal force presses him against the wall. This is probably one the most physical scene in Truffauts work. We are not only seeing a film in this moment, we are part of it. I almost feel that I was already prepared unconscious decades before for the wonders of the films by Terrence Malick if Antoine has a sister in filmhistory it is for sure Linda from Days of Heaven) or the best example of Truffauts definition of “caméra stylo”, the films by Yang Yonghi.

At the end, Antoine runs and runs and runs. During a football play he uses a moment of lack  of attention of the prison guard to escape. There is one long shot where we see him running. After a cut he finally reaches the beach of the sea. A fleeting moment of freedom accentuated by the glory of the cinema scope format.
Than an Iris diaphragm and Antoines movement is frozen. This scene is one of the oldest memory I have in a film. In my memory and in my dreams it had a life of its own.
Another thing which comes to my mind when I think of this strong experience on this day at the Cinemathéque is, that a film like Les Quatre-Cent Coups keeps his life of its own even after 55 years of a history of reception, categorization forgetting and re-discovering.
I celebrate this screening in the Cinemathéque Français with Les Quatre-Cent Coups like a homecoming.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Notes on Luv´In The Black Country by Mathew E. Carter, England: 2010

Cinema reveals often different kind of landscapes. One is the geographical landscape and often a very concrete region like in this film an abandoned industry region called “Black Country in the English Midlands.. Just the first images reminded me in the region I was born and lived a big part of my life, the German industry region “Ruhrgebiet” with its rivers and artificial waterways.
The other kind of landscape is the human one, the stories of human lives who lived in these regions.
The film is composed with five interviews by people from the “Black Country” telling us their love stories. These interviews are interwoven with images of this very specific location with its waterways, bridges and abandoned industry buildings.
The fact the film is shot in black and white reminds me not only in the great films by German documentary filmmaker Peter Nestler but also in one of the first great films ever made on the working class, Ozus Hitori Musuko (The Only Son, 1936). And strangely if I compare the “Black Country” with the region I come from, I realized that the Ruhrgebiet itself exists in my memory mostly in Black and White.

Five stories from five individuals are told in this film. These are fragments or even rather miniatures of human lives. As love stories are mostly the most intense periods of human lives, these moments shine through this landscape. This region actually installed for exploitation of human labour (like the region I come from) appears now as an almost  dreamlike engrossed landscape.

The Black Country is like “my” Ruhrgebiet a region where people despite industrial exploitation created a unique community. The lowest class developed a kind of identity, their kind of resistance against the exploitation of their labour. Once this region lacks profit in the one dimensional world outlook of the industry and their political executors, it was sold out and abandoned without the least consideration of the people who worked and lived here.

The film has rather the form of a song in 5 verses. The refrain is always the water, the plants, the bridges and the buildings we see. The brief flash ups of 5 different intense pieces of 5 different human lives seem literally to originate from this landscape. For a moment we witness short and uncanny moments of individual lives. When the interviews are finished, the person sometimes go into the landscape and their individuality seems to disappear again.

In Allen Fong´s almost forgotten masterpiece of the New Wave of Hong Kong Cinema, Banbian Ren (Ah Ying) someone says: In”In 100 years nobody will know how we have lived." The people, things and landscapes presented in this film are already in the process to be neglected. In this sense Luv´ In The Black Country represents a cinema of memory. In just 15 minutes it reveals the glory of cinematic poetry. The black and white pictures stuck with me like the images from a film by Ozu or Ford.

Like I mentioned - an industry region like the Black Country is an artificial landscape. Even more than the Ruhrgebiet, even the waterways in the Black Country are purely artificial, but the people who lived here are real. Cinema, a product of the industrialization itself is an artificial device to record things, people and landscapes, creating a kind of artificial memory. But the feeling I have after having seen this film is that I have had short and deep insights in these human existences which are revealed in this short film. Five stories, five memories which are now saved in my own memory with the help of this wonderful device called cinema.

The film is a very rare example of history from below about people who will never be recorded in history books. And for that, this little masterpiece does not need any clever commentary or ideological conduct. There is just the attention and affection of the filmmaker who uses the precise apparatus of film making. Which reveals a part of the world which will soon be forgotten. And sometimes 15 minutes are enough to get a glimpse of the glory of cinema.

Rüdiger Tomczak

I highly recommend a look on the website BlackCountry Cinema from a group of young filmmakers including Mathew E. Carter.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Notes on 15 Park Avenue by Aparna Sen, India: 2005

Made between two of her finest films Mr. And Mrs. Iyer and The Japanese Wife, 15 Park Avenue points to some of the central themes in the work by Aparna Sen: The perception of reality. It begins as a drama of a schizophrenic young woman from a  middle class family, her relationships with her ex fiance, her sister. Traumatized after an assignment as a photo journalist where she was raped, she is considered as a nursing case. Even though I have read in an interview that Aparna Sen was inspired by a case of schizophrenia among relatives, the films turns soon into a surreal heavy dreamlike film. As the divided identity is a very old theme in the history of cinema – from early German cinema to Hitchcock and mystic or horror thrillers means it is a very popular subject in art house as well like in genre cinema, the film offers different interpretations and an end which is as mystic like Antonionis Blow Up, or to mention the much more recent mystic thriller Shutter Island by Martin Scorsese.
On the surface, 15 Park Avenue is a drama of a mental sick woman who is caught more and more in her delusions until she finally disappears from our and the other character´s perception of reality. The tracks offered by the story does not at all gives us answers but it evokes more and more questions as the film proceeds.
Mithis elder sister Anu (Shabana Azmi) is professor for physics, much involved in quantum theories, theories which itself ask our perception of the physical reality in a very radical way. In a very crucial dialogue scene between Azmi and Mithis psychiatrist (Dhrittiman Chatterjee) in a restaurant when he explains her with a little vase from a neighbour table how subjective the perception of reality can be. Mithi (Konkona Sen Sharma) who still lives in her delusions with her ex fiance and her “5 children” asks once her sister ( who tries from time to time bring Mithi back to reality) what she (Anu) would think if Mithi had said her career as a physicist is pure imagination.
Relatively early in the film Aparna Sen works with disturbing montages and transitions. One of the most remarkable seems at the beginning like a conventional parallel montage suggesting the simultaneity of Anu giving a lecture about quantum mechanics and Mithi (mis-) (treated by a kind of shaman at home.
But the soundtracks of Anus lecture and Mithis “treatment begin to mix and the rhythmic exchange of the scenes with Mithi and Anu have nothing to do anymore with a parallel montage, this moment looks like two moments taking place at the same time but are wedged into each other,  a montage which does n´t arrange but which is close in this moment to lead to chaos. For this moment there is a small idea about this at least for our human perception scaring chaos of the invisible processes of the matter we can´t sense.
The universe in Aparna Sens films was never as instable as in 15 Park Avenue.

Konkona Sen Sharma whose acting career was quite young in 2005 gives here sometimes a more expressionistic or Kurosawa-like performance quite different to her eloquent and sensible Mrs. Iyer, the rather chaplinesque Titli in Rituparno Ghosh´s Titli or the nearly minimalistic and very Noh-like performance in Shonali Boses´s Amu. 15 Park Avenue itself is a film with very different approaches of acting. The “rationalistic” chracters by Azmi and Chatterjee are in contrast with Sen Sharmas but also with Rahul Boses (as Mithis ex fiance) nearly somnambulistic performance.
The montage of the film now really begins to jump between locations. Mithis family make a short trip to Bhutan and from one moment to the other we are suddenly in Bhutan without very much prepared, a logic which looks very dreamlike.
There is another ghostly scene. Joydeep , Mithis ex fiance is as well in Bhutan with his wife and his children. To his own surprise he discovers Mithi, follows her to her bungalow and talks with her elder sister. Mithi does not recognize him. We see Rahul Bose when he sits down on a bank covering with a hand his face in shock and suddenly he is back sitting on another bank in his own hotel. This is one of the must radical jump cuts. We are strangely irritated in our spatial orientation between the Bhutan locations. If Mithi is a lost soul, we are finally too.

One of the cruelst moment even though filmed very subtle is the raping scene of Mithi. I remember a scene of mental violence in Yugant between Anjan Dutt and Rupa Ganguly. The scene in 15 Park Avenue deals with physical violence. Not much has to be shown. We know what will happen with Mithi. But the moment when one of the rapist destroys Mithis cassette recorder and smashes her photo camera against the wall is as shocking and nearly unbearable as the famous murder sequence in Hitchcock´s Psycho. We do not have to see like they rupture her dress, because of this camera which is smashed against the wall. As a camera in a film is very often a topos of the invisible image making apparatus with which Cinema is made and this film finally is made by a woman, this moment seems to me one of the most nightmarish scenes in Aparna Sens films.

The most striking narrative parts which tell us about Mithi are from second hand sources, Anu´s report about Mithis story told to the psychiatrist and Joydeeps memories and the story he finally tells to his wife. Every story which is told about Mithi is as well interpreted according to their own perceptions of reality. The finale of the film is that Mithi finally escapes from what we call the normal perception of reality. She literally disappears from one dimension to another one where no one can follow her.And the bitter irony is when Mithi finally finds her way back “home”, we the audience have lost it.

After having seen 15 Park Avenue again after a long while, I realized how important it is to see her films in the context of her work as a director again and again. 
Even though it is not much more than a superlative, I have my reasons anyway to consider Aparna Sen one of the most inventive narrative filmmaker in contemporary cinema.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Monday, September 15, 2014

Notes on The Wounded Brick by Sue-Alice Okukubo and Eduard Zorzenoni, Austria/Germany: 2013

For Nitesh Rohit

When I saw this film, one of my first thoughts which came into my mind was a memory in a series of dreams I had long time ago after the impact my favorite film by Yasujiro Ozu, Bakushu had on me. These were dreams about buildings and rooms where I felt safe with strange connections between private rooms and public rooms where I was connected with people. Another thought was a memory when I wrote about Ozu´s last film Samma no aji and my desparate try to find an order in my chaotic admiration for this film. I made a simple list of all the rooms; living rooms, bars, restaurants or offices where the film takes place. That revealed for me that except his famous establishing shots and very few open air scenes, almost each scene of the film could be identified with a certain room, some of his rooms/scenes appeared like Leitmotivs and most of the rooms were connected with a certain emotion of the characters. I think it was the first time I felt that films can be built like imagined buildings. Even though I can´t say I am an expert for architecture, I felt comfortable with talking about an “architecture of a film”.

The Wounded Brick is on the surface a documentary on architecture and urban planning. Several interviews with architects and a social scientist from Berlin appear but also interviews with Italians who lost their home during the earthquake in 2009. Now they live in provisional domiciles. Some of them return to their damaged homes in an old Italian town. It is clear that they do not just miss their property but a whole social life which was connected with these houses. More and more the film turns into a kaleidoscope of interesting thoughts and ideas how architecture can be used for the life quality of the people and fragments of stories from people who have lived in their own houses. How especially the victims are telling about their now destroyed or at least heavily damaged homes, these rooms become rooms of life time, connected with memories. If Proust defines human memories as “beings of time”, the film by Sue-Alice Okukubo and Eduard Zorzenoni define them as “rooms of time”.

The interviews with the architects and the German social scientist are filmed in static shots. At the second viewing of this film I discovered a subtle but strange relationship between these people and the rooms they are living in, if private rooms or their offices. One of them, an old Austrian architect sits on a very huge couch and he talks mostly on projects he once worked on. Another architects appears in his living room which is flooded by light through big windows. He is framed between two mighty statues. As the Austrian architect seems a bit lost on his big couch, even fragile, this other man seems bold in this room he probably designed himself. The German social scientist who tells about the history of urban planning in the parts of former separated Berlin is framed by book shelves, a lot of paper work and even a printer is visible. He who himself is a living archive of the social history of urban planning is in a strange harmony with the room and the things which surround him. One Italian architect appears on the street. All of them are full of knowledge but also of ideas and visions how to make architecture more human and not only in the interests of politic and capitalism.
There is an Italian architect and activist. His office is small, his desk almost tiny. He seems to be pushed aside in this narrow room and this room is almost a contrast to his ideas and visions to make architecture for the people and his plea for the right of the people to create their own living space.

Between all these interviews, there are interwoven images of landscapes, parts of nature sometimes with slight traces of human existence. If I remember correct there was as well an image where nature almost recaptured a ruin. Another moment shows rocks. With a little bit of imagination we can recognize a cave, the archaic form of human dwellings.

A hint to the beauty of this film can be found in an interview with an architect from Frankfurt who always pleas for creating a living space for people more playful instead of reducing architecture only on the functional aspect. As the film reveals the problems of architecture to remain independent from the interests of a capitalistic order or certain politicians there is a lot we immediately recognize, especially if you live in a European metropolis. But the film always opens a space for alternatives even if they exist often only in dreams, visions ideas or projects rejected by the political and economic powers. As the worldwide tendency in urban planning is more or less a destruction of social lives for the interest of money and politic, the film makes a sharp difference between natural disasters and economical and political intended destruction.

I remember a scene which has the quality of a heavy melancholic dream. A man enters an old Italian town which was heavily damaged by the earthquake. It is locked and it seems to be a forbidden place now. We see a lot of scaffolds backing the old and damaged buildings. The man is alone on the way home to his damaged house. This could be an opening for a post-apocalyptic fiction film. It is also one of the many fragments of human stories the film offers. The man is mourning about the loss of his home but he shows as well a strong and defiant will to recover this loss. This is not only a great visual moment but also another hint for the spirit of this film.

Every film seems to be constructed like a building and to use another time my analogy between Ozu and The Wounded Brick, this film also looks on the surface like a very rigorous construction but as it proceeds it is filled with human emotions. A film is like the rooms we live in, it is not for consumption but for living in. How the rooms we call our home is filled with memories, encounter , our whole social and individual life, The Wounded Brick offers a lot of fragments of stories and emotions.
If one is affected by how urban planning is realized today, one will recognize a lot of these problems in this film. But even in a formal cinematic way The Wounded Brick by Sue-Alice Okukubo and Eduard Zorzenoni is an exellent example that cinema is more than revealing the mostly dark sides of the world we live in but also offering an attitude to this world.
The Wounded Brick is a film you can literally indwell.

Rüdiger Tomczak

The film is not only independently produced but also distributed. It will be screened in the next weeks and months in some film theatres in Germany or Austria. For more information please follow this Link.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dutta Vs Dutta by Anjan Dutt, India: 2012

When I was growing up, there were two things that were unpopular in my house. One was me, and the other was my guitar.”
(Bruce Springsteen)

(For the The German version in shomingeki Nr. 25 please klick here.?
Among a handful of more recent favorite films which stay with me, there is Dutta Vs Dutta, a film of Bengali Songwriter, singer, actor and director Anjan Dutt.
I recall some of my first (non recorded) thoughts I had when I wrote on one of his earlier films Bow Barracks Forever. Two very different directors, Frank Capra and John Cassavetes came into my mind who had only in common that they admired each other a lot. In my imagine I thought that a “common” film made by Capra and Cassavetes could look like Bow Barracks Forever.

Like most of films I have seen so far by Anjan Dutt, Dutta Vs Dutta is a tragicomedy. But the fact that this film is strongly autobiographic inspired lets the comical, the burlesque and the tragic clash the more harder.

The film takes place in Kolkata during the early 1970s, a time which was dominated worldwide by youth protest movements and rock music The time in Kolkata the films is about reveals for example fights between radical Maoists (called Naxalites) and the almost authoritarian government lead by former Indian premier minister Indira Gandhi.

The film opens with Rono, Anjan Dutt´s Ego as a teenager has to leave the English Boarding school in Darjeering because his debt-ridden father could not pay the school fee. He has to return into the house of his family in Kolkata which he hates and where his father is always in conflict with his brother and his wife.

Anjan Dutt himself can be seen (or heard) in a memorable double role. He plays Ronos father Biren (actually his own) and at the same time he speaks the subjective over voice commentary of the grown up Rono. Biren Dutta is a wanna-be lawyer, a drinker, a choleric who tries with petty bourgeois pride to distract others and himself from the financial ruin of his family. Just this double role, the visible Biren and the invisible older Rono have a unique suspense. At least the Bengali audience must have been aware of this memorable double presence of Anjan Dutt, because his voice is very well known.

Thematically, Dutta Vs Dutta could be compared with Oscar Roehler´s Quellen des Lebens (Sources of Life, 2012), another obvious autobiographic inspired film. But Anjan Dutt´s film seems to me more playful , what means for me always as well more poetic. How this film moves between performance, comedy and personal biography absorbed me immediately.
Biren himself is a performer, someone who pretends to be someone else. Rono (and the over voice of Anjan Dutt) are telling from the opposite, about feelings which are or were real felt. Biren wants to send his son to England that he can become a real lawyer, a profession Biren never really approached for himself. But Rono wants to become an actor, rebels against his father and causes a lot of conflicts.
On the surface the film seems anecdotal in its narrative structure. But in these anecdotes are often hidden very essential twists of the story and after some time I have to recall Hou Hsiao Hsien´s autobiographical masterpiece Tong Nien Wang shi (A Time To live and a time to die, 1985).

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)

Even though, this film´s center is autobiographical, there are not really supporting characters., but each character has its moment to shine. They are for (sometimes even very short) moments in the center of this film and remain unforgettable: The alcohol-addicted mother, a mentally disabled uncle, the quarrelsome aunt, the mistress of Biren, Rono´s first love or the Grandfather who suddenly appears near the end of his this film.Some of them have only a few minutes screen time but they stay with me.
Anjan Dutt is a fearless filmmaker who is able to juggle with very different elements in his film. He even can afford to exaggerate some times without harming the coherence of the whole film.The magic which keeps the film together is like a secret gravitation field.
Just alone Anjan Dutt´s performance as Biren Dutta is an acting tour de force but these sometimes seemingly exaggerations go strangely hand in hand with a nearly analytical attitude of Anjan Dutt toward his character.

My family is my church and my children are my gods.”, we hear him often in his big gestures and a whisky glass and a cigar in his hands pretending again to be a wanna be patriarch.

While Rono is beginning to find his place in the world, Biren will begin to loose his one step by step. Rono´s sister rebelled in her kind against her father. She marries a Naxalite and refuses the marriage candidate her father suggested. Later Biren looses his American cabriolet, one of his status symbols. We see him crying sitting alone in his office. If he cries only about the loss of his car or is there a kind of awareness that his civic facade begins to crumble, we do not know.
In a very intense scene there is a conflict between Rono and his father when he staggers into his father ans his mistress. Even though Rono is nearly exhausted he stands against the authority of his father and Biren is finally unmasked. There are two likely intense scenes like this in Bow Barracks Forever and Ranjana Amir A Ashbona between son and mother and between a young female singer and her father-like idol. The kind the young characters has to assert themselves seems to be a very earnest struggle for surviving. Like in Dutta Vs Dutta the authority is for a moment suspended. If we remember the wonderful Bonsai-sequence from Ozu´s Dekigokoro (Passing Fancy, 1933), where the exposed father accepts to be beaten by his little son, we have quite an accurate image for the intensity of this scene in Dutta Vs Dutta. In the midst of this wondrous network of moving and funny moments, I feel sometimes like awaken from a dreamlike trance and suddenly I am aware how serious Anjan Dutt is with his film. Sometimes cinema is literally a matter of life and death.

The film has also a dynamic between this almost checkless lust for fabulation and moments when the film seems to be totally reluctant. In these moments the film has a special delicateness and especially when the mask of fabulation is suspended for a moment.
How the film is juggling with its different poles, seems to me like a miracle. Maybe the power who keeps this film together with a somnambulist's certainty has also to do with economy, means a very sharp awareness of how to use these different elements. One example is the music by Neel Dutt, actually more or less consisting of four songs and a central theme divided on the whole length of the film very economic. The music seems to me like the coordinates for the geometry of the whole film. It is very memorable.

Finally Dutta Vs Dutta deals as well with a big house, the property of the family Dutta. The film itself is built like a big house in which the different characters and their stories are like rooms. And this “film house” again is embedded into history of the early 1970s.

Near the end of the film we are aware of the passing of time. On the streets or in the houses Rono is invited to, they are already visible. In the house of one of Ronos friends, a singer, we see a picture of Godard on the wall. Wit his school mate he listens a song from the legendary King Crimson album In the Court of the Crimson King. This is one of the sequences in black and white with a sepia tone. It is at all very unique how the film changes between colour, black and white and sepia tone. Sometimes you feel the vitality of the characters literally jump at you and in other moment the film seems to be already memory and refers to the mortality of the people.

While Biren near the end looses a lot, the film finally leaves the anecdote-like narration and concentrates more and more on the autobiographical aspect. At the end we realise suddenly that even the house Dutta has changed. The alcohol addicted mother is gone, the mentally disabled uncle has died. Again we hear the voice of Anjan Dutt. This voice tells that he finally found his place in the world , in this house in the formerly hated Kolkata. He tells, that he makes now films, but all of his relatives will never learn about them. He has “found his cinema” and even got one National Award. This is a very moving monologue, recited by the grown up Rono/Anjan Dutt is engrossed for decades from the time the film takes place into the future.

Mother had, I thought struggled a heavy fight all alone and now she has become to these leavings of bones.” Yasushi Inoue, My Mother)

At the end Biren spends some days in police custody, because he refused access to a house search by the police. They were looking for Rono´s school mate who became a follower of the Naxalites. After some days, Biren returns totally broken. Later a brain stroke ruins his health. Rono, who nurses his father and who gives him the medicine tells him that he finally got his first role in a film by Mrinal Sen and that he will earn 5000 Rupees. If his father understands him, we do not know. The authority of the father has gone, the hate of Rono on the place where he comes from, too. After he encouraged his father for a small try to walk by himself, he hugs him. Wit this gesture he seems to have made his peace with his story, his origin from what he always wanted to escape.
That is an incredible final moment where the whole richness of this film is now concentrated on two bodies. I was fundamentally moved beyond words.
In this moment the film itself becomes as vulnerable like the two persons. That moves me as directly like this image in Sona mo hitori no watashi (Sona, the Other Myself) by Yang Yonghi when we see her at the death bed of her father and her over voice informs us from his death.
I am sure there must be reasons that I do not get Dutta Vs Dutta out of my mind.

Rüdiger Tomczak

(This is a translation of the third draft of a Germain text, written for the forthcoming print issue of shomingeki No. 25 which will be released end of this year.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Notes on a masterpiece called Kaze Tachinu (The Wind rises) by Hayao Miyazaki, Japan: 2013

The dream of flying was always an essential part in the filmy by Hayao Miyazaki. On the surface, Kaze Tachinu is a bio pic about the Japanese aircraft engineer Jiro Horikoshi, famous for his planes built for the company Mitsubishi and finally used for the inglorious action of Japan during world war 2. After a next step into the depth of one of the most ambitioned film by the Ghibli studio as well by one of its masters Hayao Miyazaki, there is a series of dreams, Jiro has about encounters with an Italian aircraft engineer called Caproni.
“To fly is a beautiful dream. To Fly is a terrible dream”, he says in the first dream to the short sighted boy Jiro. In another dream, Jiro, still a child flies just from the roof of his house with  a small plane. There is almost no gravity at the beginning it is a dance with the wind. Suddenly bombing planes, a distorted and demonic dream vision of the destruction of war planes appears, hits Jiro´s plane and he crashes.

Finally planes have a lot of common with Cinema. Both are at first technical inventions and both were misused in the history as well for destruction. The dream of flying is close to the dream of cinema.
Like so much great films, Kaze Tachinu is in one of its many layers as well a film about cinema. It is a film on the beauty of machines, the ones the film shows, the other the film is made with.
Last but not least, it is a film about an artist and a workaholic who is really obsessed about his dreams to fly. In reality he is unable to become a pilot because of his bad eyesight. Long before the film was released, there were a lot of ideological attacks on Miyazaki from the right wing as well from the left and from other countries. Understandable are only the attacks from the Japanese Right wing, because Miyazaki´s antipathy against military is always present in this film.. Beyond the limits of idiocy were the attacks from the lefts. One must be blind to see Jiro as a heroic figure. The film sharply works with the brutal clash of Jiro´s dream to build “beautiful airplanes” and the fact that he is finally integrated into the war machine of Japan. The film isn´t actually only a period film but also a dynamic drama between what could be and what was, a tension which is visible in the whole film. In all sympathy for Jiro, the film makes me thinking in John Ford who was often often blamed in a very simplistic way for racism or patriotism. Like Ford, Miyazaki reveals that nearly all aspects of human civilisation, technology,culture and art can turn from beauty into its opposite my misuse. 
During Jiro´s stay in Germany where he shall learn from the German engineers there is one short moment when he and his friend listen a Schubert-song from Die Wintereise in front of a window of a house. It takes place in the city Dessau which looks like some of the many engrossed city landscape in Miyazakis films. One moment later the two Japanese witness the gestapo chasing a man. The beauty of Miyazakis animated images are often invaded by moments of destruction and terror which come often without any warning. The earthquake in Tokyo 1923 or a very likely image of the destruction caused by the planes Jiro built.

Miyazakis animated world is rich and complex. Miyazaki´s streets, buildings like coffee shops or apartments are about on the level of American painter Edward Hopper. During a stay in a spa hotel, where he finally falls in love with Nahoko, he meets a German refugee (if a Jew, a political refugee or a dissident writer, I do not now). He tells Jiro about what is going on and what will going on in Japan and Germany (a country lead by rascals) and this spa hotel makes us forgetting Japans invasions in East Asia and all the crimes which are going on right now. This moments of subtle disturbance are often integrated in Miyazakis fantastic images, his delicate and rich composed pictures of the world

The love story between Jiro and Nahoko who suffers under tuberculosis is another important element of the film. At the same time it is one of the most beautiful love stories Miyazaki ever told, but in some moments it turns almost into the abyssal kind like for example Hitchcock´s masterpiece Vertigo.
The most beautiful moments between Jiro an Nahoko have always to do with wind, rain and the beautiful painted sky and one of the most tenderly scene is about a play with a plane made of paper. Even though Jiro knows that his love (whom he marries later in a hurry) suffers under serious illness, he keeps her away far too long from a clinic where she probably could be healed. To his superior he says that he can´t work without her close to him. At the day of Jiro´s biggest triumph he will loose her forever. Secretly she goes back to the clinic aware that she will die soon. At the same time the beauty of his art building aircraft turns into machines of mass destruction. At the end in a last dream with the Italian Caproni he encounters his dead wife Nahoko again who says that he shall live. These are last words of his late wife in whose death Jiro was at least complicit.

In a way Kaze Tachinu is also a succession from one of the greatest national film heritage in the world. His incredible details on Japanese every day life have to do with the masters of the shomingeki-films, Ozu, Naruse, Shimzu and others and among all the films made by Ghibli, it is probably with Yoshifumi Kondo´s Mimi o Sumase ba (Whisper of the Heart) one of the most realistic ones.

A film deals always with things we see and things we don´t see.
The essence of cinema is not to reproduce an image of reality or create an own world, but the dynamic tension between both aspects
The beauty of cinema is not that a film captures us in a dream, leads us to an escape from the world we live in, neither can cinema exist without our dreams from a world better than the world we live in.
Cinema was never invented to tell us what is good and what is bad. The true cinema is not preaching but it enables us to distinguish between them.
True cinema can not be explored by any theory or any predetermined ideology, because every great film has more or less hidden in itself its own idea of a theory of cinema.

If cinema is the most endangered art form of today, there is a need, an urgently need that films are like part of a collective consciousness of the whole history of cinema with all its richness and all its glory. Films which do not steal from this rich history, this immense source of richness, beauty and wisdom, but which refer to or which are linked to this richness.There are films which are unique but at the same time deeply rooted in this richness of cinema. They are at the same time universal or might they tell an epic story from the culture the film comes from. But at the same time these films can be very personal, the work of a single mind connected with this long and manifold history of cinema.
These films will be unforgettable. First for their own sake, secondly for their achievements to remind us what cinema can be and where it comes from.

One of these films is Kaze Tachinu by Hayako Miyazaki. It is one of Miyazaki´s most beautiful and at the same time time his saddest film but definitely the finest Ghibli film since 1995. And if Kaze Tachinu will be Miyazaki´s last film than it is one of the finest swansongs in the history of cinema on the level of the last films by Ozu, Naruse, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray and many others.
It is meaningless to write any further, because there are still coming memories into my mind, I forgot to mention. One of them is this incredible sound design where for example the sound of engines or the earthquake made of human voices. And for those who do not understand when I always say, the composer Joe Hisaishi is the Japanese Bernhard Herrman, you have to watch this film.

Last but not least Kaze Tachinu is one of these films where images of this film will hunt me forever. They are not really finished when the credits are gone. I am sure I will see this cinematic miracle several times again.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Notes on Qissa – A Tale Of A Lonely Ghost by Anup Singh, India/Germany: 2013

For Thérese and Anamika

I am sure if we once have to try to understand the recent film history of this still young century, we probably could  to do this as well with the help of Adrian Martin´s wonderful essay Great Events and Ordinary People. Actually meant as a laudatio for Terrence Malick´s masterpiece The Tree of Life, it is also a thought provoking and refreshing essay on the dynamic between the extraordinary and ordinary events which influence the life of the people.

Anup Singh´s Qissa is on one level an epic period drama, on the other hand as well a very intimate play. Among so much other things, it is as well a paradigm of excellent cinema scope photography which reminds be in the ground breaking use of this format in Max Ophüls´ Lola Montez. In the film by Ophüls and in the film by Singh, the Cinemas scope frame can open our view to the eternity of the world and in the next moment and especially in interior scenes, it makes us to prisoners and all the glory of the world is temporally out of our sight. 

Qissa is also a film about landscapes, the geographical one of the Pakistani and Indian part of the Punjab but as well the landscape of the faces, especially the face of actress Tillotama Shome who appears in this film as an Indian pendant to Maria Renée Falconetti in Carl Theodor Dreyer´s La Passion de Jeanne d´Arc. In Qissa these faces are as impressing than the desert-like landsapes, the villages with destroyed and burnt houses houses.

Thematically Qissa consists also of variations of identity, the identity which is given to us by global and national history but as well the more intimate identity given to us by the families we come from. One can see this film as one single circular movement. But this circular movement includes also the centrifugal force which throw the protagonists literal from the center of their home and identity  to the No Man´s Land where they have to define themselves again.
As the film begins with the partition of India we are introduced to a Sikh family which escapes from the Pakistan-territory of the Punjab to the Indian part, the film turns into a very private drama about this family , father, mother and three daughters. The father is longing for a son because in the ideolgy of a patriarchal society only a son can safe the heritage of a family. But the fourth child is also a girl. Now something very strange happens, the father ignores this fact and raises his youngest daughter like a son. The father´s (Irrfan Khan) loss of reality does not even stop when his youngest daughter Kanwar (Tillotama Shome) gets her first menstruation.
Later the father marries her to a girl called Neeli from a lower caste. The wrong gender identity the father forced on her daughter is finally blown up.
But the narration gets now a very remarkable twist. The loss of identity caused by historic circumstances has now its pendant in the loss of gender identity. Like I mentioned, Tillotama Shome´s appearance as Kanwar emphasized a likely androgynous aspect like Falconettis Jeanne d´Arc in Dreyers film, a deeply human aspect but often hidden behind the conditioned definition of gender roles.

It is probably as well a cinematic aspect, because cinema does not only tell very often about things which once were but also about things which could have been. Cinema can also question what we define as our identity and in the case of Qissa – there are moments we are really not always sure if we are boy or girl. Actually as the patriarchal dominated society which caused the father´s insanity, Neeli and Kanvar finally become a lesbian love couple. But as soon as they found their own sexual identity the community again turns against them.
The father killed by Kanwar appears later as a ghost. I remember that I once wrote on Buddhadeb Dasgupta s film Kaalpurush “that to love cinema means we have to believe sometimes in ghosts”.
Finally we realize that Qissa is told from a perspective of a ghost, a soul which will be lost forever. The failures of what we call history but as well the mistakes made in the personal history of a family are close relatives.

In another kind than Anup Singh´s homage to Ritwik Ghatak, Ekti Nadir Naam (The Name of A River, 2002) Qissa has as well a dreamlike quality. Ekti Nadir Naam is neither a bio pic nor a documentary on Ghatak but Anup Singh really dreams himself through all the richness of the cinematic realm of one of India´s finest filmmaker and the film could be also named "Poem for Ritwik Ghatak". If you own the brilliant DVD released by the British Film Institute, it is worth to see the film once again with the director´s commentary soundtrack., one of the most interesting, moving and honest commentaries of this kind I ever heard.

Qissa might be a different approach by director Anup Singh than this incredible Ekti Nadir Naam, but it is made with the likely dreamlike beauty the same wisdom in history (and history of cinema) and with the same delicateness.
The faces of Irrfan Khan, Tillotama Shome or Rasika Dugal are still hunting me. As there is nothing I can do about, I at least now from past experiences that this is exactly a sign when a film becomes to be a part of my heart.

Rüdiger Tomczak