Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nuoc (2030) by Nguyen-Vo Nghiem-Minh, Vietnam: 2014-Panorama-Berlin Filmfestival 2014 X.

Just alone for the sake of the science fiction-genre, Nguyen´s film is very interesting. Made in a film country from where we had very few chances to see films on a festival – not to mention on the big screen. To make today a science fiction film is a tricky thing (which is one reason to admire Nguyen´s courage) There are a lot of traps. There is the "high art" of Tarkovsky´s Solaris and Kubrick´s 2001: A Space Odyssey and very often generated Blockbuster Science Fiction.

Nuoc takes place in the not too far away future. The warming of the earth´s climate caused catastrophic floods. Countries in Southern Asia like Vietnam are heavily affected. For the majority of the surviving population, life is only possible on boats or wooden houses built on on long stilts.
At the beginning we see a young woman in her long and slim boat. She arrives at the police station picking up the corpse of her husband. He is drowned they tell her, an explanation she doubts. The films jumps back in time several times, to times she spent with her husband and faraway back to the time she met him first time and how both of them fell in love. A few years before the apocalypse, the woman owned a fancy coffee shop. A few years later they have nearly everything lost. The land they still own is under water, the culture is almost limited in strategies to survive.
Beside the love story and the Science Fiction aspect, there is also a thriller element. The late husband of this woman invented a gen manipulated seed which can grow with sea water. Is he killed by the company which breeds on big swimming islands of steel the rare vegetable?
The interesting thing is the mixing of genres framed into a post apocalyptic science fiction frame. The flashbacks before the disaster are clashing against the present, a time of loss, the hope for a better future (in which the water goes back) clashes with the strong feeling that the disaster caused by the climate change is just at its beginning.
Well as Vietnam is a very young film country with a very limited production of feature films and very seldom screened on big festival, this was one of the first films on my screening schedule.
I am not yet sure if this combination with Hard Science fiction, love story and thriller works always. But in general and especially as an unconditional admirer of Dang Nhat Minh, my favorite Vietnamese director, I am very attracted especially by aspects we in the west would call “half-baked”. Nuoc for example has partly serious ambition last but not least about the threat of a climate disaster but in this film there is as well a delight for opulent genre cinema, revealed in often impressing Cinema scope images. That here like so often in nearly all Vietnamese films I have seen again a woman is the central character, is a very sympathetic convention of Vietnamese cinema. The heroine played by Quynh Hoa stays in my memory, because she is not only beautiful but more important- very convincing as a young woman who struggles for surviving but also has to deal with her big losses.

I am not sure but it can be possible that Nuoc is the the first Science Fiction film in Vietnamese film history. I often think that not only in the masterpieces by Dang Nhat Minh – that certain categories like genre films and art house cinema does not really exist in this national cinema. The relatively marginal existence of Vietnamese cinema, seldom invited to big festival is not really justified.
I saw Nuoc quite at the beginning of my festival covering and until just a few hours ago, I thought it was interesting but I let it go. Well, the film, some images, impressions came back. And strangely I feel the desire to watch it another time. For now I have to be lucky enough not to have overlooked this strange cinematic creature which does not really let me go yet.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Chiisai Ouchi (The Little House) by Yoji Yamada, Japan: 2014, Competition-Berlin Filmfestival IX.

For T.

I Just came back from the press screening of Yoji Yamada´s Chiisai ouchi.
The film begins with a funeral. An old women has passed away. This old woman who appears in some flash backs is played by the wonderful Chieko Baisho who is for Yoji Yamada someone like Setsuko Hara for Ozu, or Hideo Takamine for Mikio Naruse. She was the working class heroine in many masterpieces by Yoji Yamada in the 1970s. For all those who love the films by Yoji Yamada will understand that my heart was already broken after the first minutes.

Chieko Baisho´s role as the aunt Taki who has never married and who never had children made me remembering her roles in the 1970s. Taki as an old woman and as a young girl in the flashbacks form the  the gravitation field of this film. Around her, Yamada spins a complex net of relationships, but with a lightness only and old master can approach. Takeshi, a young student and grand nephew of Taki finds some diary like notes from his aunt. The first flashbacks go back a few years and they reveal that Takeshi had a very special relationship with his old aunt who shared in her last years some memories with him. The curiosity of Takeshi and in us the audience is awakened. The film will now go much further into the past the 1930s, the time of Japan´s invasion in China and massacres by Japanese military against the Chinese civilians  The main part of the film will from now on focus on the teenager Taki who has to work as a house maid in a bourgeois household. From time to time the film jumps back to Takeshi´s memories in the last years of Taki´s life and than the film becomes again Taki´s memories. Just alone these two kind of memories, Takeshi´s and Taki´s how they are set in a relationship with each other how they distinguishes Takeshi´s point off view on history and Taki´s very subjective but really lived history gives an idea of Yamada as one of the greatest storytellers in contemporary cinema. Like I mentioned – if you look at narrative  aspects or if you try to describe that, it seems very complex but at the same time made with a lightness of an virtuoso.

Yamada is also a master of the art of drama which takes place in interiors. Most scenes of this film take place in closed rooms.The little house mentioned in the film title with its beautiful red roof is the point of orientation in Taki´s memories. Poverty forced her to leave her home and work as a maid. She is alone with her dreams and her longing, but unhappily involved in the affair of the lady of the house with a young art student As a loving nanny for the family´s boy who suffers under polio, she seems part of the family, but an exploited one. Even though we see very few from the outside world, war, invasion and genocide - even in the intimate space of this bourgois household, one can recognize Japan as feudal and reppressive society. The false feeling of security can change at every moment. Yamada who is called in Japan the “voice of the people” got in his own country never the critical appreciation he deserves. For my side and according to my own experiences as a member from a working class family, I am much more convinced in Yamada´s sensibility for the lower class than through the films by Ken Loach for example. If there is someone we can call a cinematic poet of the working class than it is definitely Yoji Yamada. 

Yamada the master of Japanese melodrama, often also of tragic comedies has changed during the decades of his outstanding career. At least since his Musuko (1991) the mood of his films became more bitter, from up to his masterpiece Kaabee his films includes requiem like moments. Often his films end with a funeral or death,  Chiirai ouchi  even opens with a funeral.
The dramatisation of his films changed as well in the last 20 years. There is still the clashing of comedy against tragedy and they never clashed so extreme like in Otouto (About Her Brother, 2010). Since Tokyo Kazoku his films seem to became even more contained. In Tokyo Kazoku and here in Chiisai ouchi, the music of Joe Hisaishi, one of the greatest film composers alive and a kind of Japanese Bernhard Herrman plays a very important role. Subtle small melodies permeate the film like melancholic phantoms.

Chiisai ouchi is like Clint Eastwood´s last masterpiece Hereafter wonderful cinema. If you get used to the slow pace, you will be rewarded with the finest cinematic magic these wonderful dinosaurs of world cinema has to offer. Both directors are in their Eighties. They can look back on an impressing filmography and there is nothing they have to proof anymore.

There are moments in Chiisai ouchi which appear to me like a long farewell. Just the kind how the old aunt passes her memories to her nephew seems to me like a legacy. Like Kaabee, Chiisai ouchi is again a film about Yamada´s generation, the generation of war children. 
It took me some time to get into the film. But finally Yamada got me again. I can´t count anymore the many great great films I have seen from him. Chiisai ouchi is again a precious gift made by Yoji Yamada. There is only this mood of a very long and soft farewell in this masterpiece which scares me a lot.

Rüdiger Tomczak

February 15, Friedrichstadt-Palast 9.00
February 15, Haus der Festspiele, 12.30

Friday, February 14, 2014

Le beau danger, by René Frölke, Germany: 2014-Forum, Berlin Filmfestival 2014-VIII.

It is a portrait of the Romanian writer Norman Manea. All what you learn about him, his biography, especially his deportation to a concentration camp with his family in early childhood, and his work, you learn in fragments. All what you read in the synopsis of the catalog, you experience the film like the reporter in Citizen Kane who makes researches about Charles Foster Kane´s life. The often discussed subject how to bring life and work of an artist together is not really answered, but the film offers intelligent and inspiring reflections.

In a big part of the film you have to read. The written words black on white, sometimes for some minutes you do not see anything else. You do exactly the same the filmmaker had to do preparing his film. In a way you are not a spectator of a finished film but a participant or at least a witness of a creative process. If the film is finished it has to be edited again in our own memory. One may be a bit confused just after the screening. But do not worry - the film will work in your head, or better – it really begins to affect you after the screening.There are things in life for what we have images and no words and things we have words but not images. There are long written texts in this film which evoke images and there are fragmental visual scenes which form in our mind words. There is the work of Norman Manea which is first of all the written (not spoken and not illustrated) word. One of the most impressing moments is as simple but also as sophisticated like moments from a film by Ozu. Norman Manea at the graves of his family in Romania and the Ukraine. There is the knowledge that we approach fragment by fragment , the idea of a whole human life traumatized by concentration camp and exile. But there is also often the inconceivability of a complex human fate. The moment we see Norman Manea at the graves, he seems to be very alone with his personal loss.
Like Yasujiro Ozu said: “We can talk endlessly about banalities. If it gets serious we fall silent.”

During the screening I had a strange Déjà-vu. After every moment in which you do not see anything else than written text (excerpts from stories by Norman Manea), some people left the theatre. I was reminded in this screening of Hou Hsiao Hsien´s Hsimeng Rensheng (The Pauppetmaster) 1993 at the World film festival in Montreal. Hou´s film was also a bio pic combined with staged scenes from the life of a famous puppet player and the documentary element of interviews with the real and very old puppeteer Lie Tien Luk. Some sequences were several minutes long and mostly filmed in static shots. During every shot which lasts longer than 1 minute, some people left the theater.
Patience is not always a burden. It is sometimes a long way you have to go but it is seldom unrewarded.

I remember, just a few day ago, a colleague whom I respect a lot recommended me this film and he even called it "beautiful." Well, I am not completely sure about that - to be frank - but I am very impressed by this very unique  courage of the filmmaker which is evident in each moment of this film. I do not mean the distance as the attitude of René Frölke. It is the other way around:  Nearness or distance is here an attitude we have to choose for ourselves and we are free to do it.And if we don´t do, it is our problem.
I can´t say I am already finished with this film, neither can I say I have "understand" the whole film. - but I am still working on it. But though I have the strong idea there is some greatness in this film and this greatness lays side by side with modesty.

Rüdiger Tomczak

February 15, Zoo Palast 2, 22.00
February 16, Arsenal 1      12.30

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Notes on Prabhat pheri (Journey with Prabhat) by Jessica Sadana and Samarth Dixit, India: 2014, Forum-Berlinale 2014 VII.

First of all, this documentary is a journey through Indian film history. At first it is about a place which was once a famous film studio which produced films from the early history of Indian cinema called the "Prabhat studios". After it was closed the Indian government owned it and the famous Film Institute of India was founded.
We hear witnesses who still remember the time of the film studio and later film professors of this institute. Film history took place here but now the studying, preserving and restoring of films takes place. That does not include only to prevent the Indian film heritage against its chemical decay but also to prevent the knowledge of film history against the waters of forgetfulness.
I can´t hesitate to think of Chou Davy´s Le Sommeil d´Or (The Golden Slumber, Forum 2012) this journey through Cambodian film history which was by force nearly erased. Well in India it is mostly a shameful carelessness which erases film history.
Several time we see people from this institute working with 35mm film matter, restoring editing, archiving, projecting. Ironically we just have entered the age of digital film projecting. The knowledge about the complex mechanical and chemical work with 35 mm film is in danger to be forgotten soon.

Prabhat Pheri distinguishes beautifully several kinds of memories, the memories from people who worked at the film studio or at the film institute. Anecdotes and little stories saved through memories but depending on a living human body. The other memories, photos and last but not least the film prints it self seem to be as mortal as the mostly old people who are remembering.

Right at the beginning we see countless film prints which are already decomposed forever lost. An image which reminds painfully in the mortality of cinema.
This film institute is also a place of stories. Ritwik Ghatak, the super nova of Indian Cinema was once a teacher here. Even though for a short time, Ghatak influenced a whole generation of film makers. Only with joint efforts of international film archives , Ghataks films could be saved against its decay and disappearance from the public memory.

Prabhat Pheri itself is built like a big real estate with countless rooms. Each room is full of almost forgotten stories in form of oral tradition or evident in form of photos, film prints or abandoned film equipment.

The film itself seems sometimes an analogy of an archive. Editing itself becomes an analogy to the work of geologists, archaeologists or anthropologists who just began to catalogue their finds.
Ironically a film from a country which was nearly neglected by the Berlin Film festival in the last years, offers this year one of the wisest film essays about the endangerment of the film heritage in general.
In one chapter of this film, we see film students striking against the privatisation of this institute. This is quite an important hint to the endless fight between cinema as a part of our culture and their knowledge against the exploitation of the industry supported by the worldwide virus called Neoliberalism where privatisation does not mean anything else than destruction.

Prabhat Pheri, the first long film by Jessica Sadana and Samarth Dixit is a fascinating piece of documentary essay, wise, inspiring and sometimes even poetic, a kind of film essay which reminds me in Chou Davy´s Le Sommeil D´Or and Patricio Guzman´s masterpiece Nostalgia De La Luz at the same time. Martin Scorsese, who himself is devoted to the preservationof  the worldwide heritage of Cinema (whom I would like to recommend this film), said once that films often look into  the past. Like the astronomers in Guzman´s Nostalgia De La Luz, these young filmmakers are exploring the past of Indian Cinema with all its partly forgotten knowledge. This knowledge will be important to learn for the future of cinema. Last but not least, this film deals as well with a very urgent aspect, the specific and rich Indian film heritage which is one of the most endangered in world cinema. If for cinephiles or film historians, Prabhat pheri has a lot to offer.

Rüdiger Tomczak

February 14, Arsenal 1, 17.30
February 15, Delphi, 16.30

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Somos Mari Pepa (We are Mari Pepa) by Samuel Kishi Leopo, Mexico: 2013-Generation14 plus-Berlinale 2014 VI.

The film itself is like a song with always repeated verses and an always repeated refrain.
There is a group of adolescents who founded a punk band but never made it further than one song. The film begins like a comedy. Hidden in this songlike repeated themes and while the film proceeds, we learn details of each boy´s social life. The guitarist for example  lives with his grandmother, an old woman who is often confused and who does not talk a single work. His father has remarried but the boy has almost no contact with him. The drummer´s father is unemployed and a drinker, a demoralized and very phlegmatic man. In its best moments Somos Mari Pepa reminds me in Hou Hsiao Hsien´ s wonderful Feng-kuei lai te jen (The Boys from Feng-Kuei) , especially in its sensibility in the observation of adolescents. The film is often very funny, but its humor is very tricky, because this kids are on the swell to an adult life with very limited perspectives. It is time to decide to higher educations or how to find a job.
During a soccer play among kids from the neighbour hood they encounter an old homeless guy who tells them about his failed career as a football player. He is almost a pendant to the young drummer´s father. Behind the facade of easygoing actions, the seriousness of life is lurking behind every corner of this quarter. Finally the grandmother of the young guitarist has a breakdown and will committed to a home for the aged. As the film works with an episodic structure with often repeated themes, near the end the film gets a bitter taste.

The aesthetic of this film is versatile. There are moments which are based on video clips,  but then moments of subtle observations of a monotonous every day life. But the closer the film comes to its end, the seeming lightness disappears. What stays with me are are images like the father drinking beer in his car.  one single image which tells a lot about the world revealed in this film. A man who has already given up. There is a strange dynamic between the noisy easygoing youngsters and the resigned silence of the adults. Despite its humour, despite this funny and very smutty text of the boys punk song, Leopo´s film has its moments of an Ozu-like accuracy in the observation of his characters deeply rooted in this this piece of world the film is telling about. Like I mentioned, it is one of these tricky films which seem so light but which are full of moments, sometimes single images, impressions which stay in my mind.

Rüdiger Tomczak

February 13, Cubix 8, 15.30
February 16, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 20.00

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Notes on Lajwanti (The Honour Keeper) by Pushpendra Singh, India: 2014, Berlinale Forum, Berlin Filmfestival 2014 V.


The desert of Rajasthan: when the women have to fetch water, they are obliged to walk many miles to the well. During the Q & A at the world premiere of Lajwanti, Pushpendra Singh defined the well not only as the source of the water this indispensable element of life but also as a source of stories. The well is the source of material and cultural life at the same time.
Cinema is sometimes the art of storytelling in images and sounds, but sometimes it goes far back in time to the origins of story telling.

The story of this film does not seem to be told, it does rather seem to happen during the endless way, women have to go to the well and back to their village. The sparingness of this landscape is in a strong contrast to the beauty of the women´s dresses. Sometimes they sing, sometimes they are exchanging stories. The way to the well exposed to the merciless burning sun, the effort to survive and the beauty of stories, dresses and songs belong together.

Sometimes it happens that you see a film from a part of the world which seems so alien to us, so engrossed from our usual life but at the same time you feel invited to share this life for the limited time of the length of a film. That does not mean you understand everything but a film can sometimes gives us an idea about this life strange to us.

The story of this strange man who collects pigeons, a love story between this man and a woman seems to be grown directly from this landscape. It seems to grow on this endless way to the well and back to the village. The camera itself seems to be a collector of this story – or in other terms the pendant to the pitchers the women wear on their head.
The water is for the physical surviving of the people, the stories, the beauty of their dresses, their stories and their songs is for the surviving of their souls.

A film is always a limited frame of the world. But sometimes like in Lajwanti there is the idea of an endless over dimensional big screen where I do not now where nature ends and the culture of cinematic image making begins.

Every film is made, every frame is chosen. But though, there are films which seem to arise just in front of our eyes.
One can lose oneself in this endless desert landscape. The songs, the stories and the well are like an idea of home like a safe orientation in this infinite desert.

When we remember the history of the making of Jean Renoir´s masterpiece The River, we have to remember that Jean Renoir came back to Los Angeles with insufficient material. Renoir re- created the whole film during editing with a lot of documentary shots he made against the will of his producer and against the will of Rumer Godden, the author of the book the film is adapted from. As Renoir opened the fiction more and more to real landscapes and impressions he had recorded in India, the film became despite the disastrous working conditions one of his most beautiful films.
I am pretty sure, Jean Renoir would have loved Lajwanti.

It is hard to distinguish in the beauty of Lajwanti what is made, chosen and selected and what really is arising just at the moment we see this film.

A film is often like a journey we have made. What stays with us are first of all the experiences we have made – if through a real or a cinematic journey.

The beauty of cinema does not always appear easily. Sometimes we have to make a long walk like the women in this film to the well to approach it. But when we have walked this way we get our reward, the most precious reward cinema can offer.

Just one day after I saw this film I close my eyes and I still see images of this film. They will still stay with me long after this edition of the Berlin film festival will be history. As Indian cinema became a real stepchild of nearly all sections of this film festival, like so often in the last 10 years, one of the very few Indian films I saw at this festival became one of the most beautiful film experiences, I made. As most festivals already lost its purpose to discover strange and beautiful films, Lajwanti is exactly the right reminder what film festivals once were invented for.

Rüdiger Tomczak

February 12, Cubix 9, 20.00
February 13, Arsenal 1, 20.15
February 16, Cinestar 8, 22.00

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hitono Nozomino Yorokobiyo (Joy Of Man´s Desiring) by Masakazu Sugita, Japan: 2014, Generation Kplus, Berlin Filmfest 2014, IV.

The film is not about an earthquake which caused the death of the parents of two children. It is rather about the after shock visible in the face and the gestures of a girl called Haruna. Haruna is about 12, her little brother Sotha around 5. Haruna tries to hide their parents death before her little brother.
Near the beginning of the film we see a funeral ceremony and later the cremation of the parents. The coffins disappear behind doors of steel. Right from the beginning there is this bitter taste of absence of this parents. An aunt of the children will adopt them, trying to make them feel home.

The Japanese cinematic sensibility is often a seismographic one. According to Carl Theodor Dreyer´s definition of the human face “as a landscape he never got tired to explore", Sugita´s film is as well about the face of the young actress Ayahne Omori. At the first sight you do not see any emotion at all in this face. For now the emotional shock of her loss is hidden. Her movements are slow, often delayed. When she walks, she stops sometimes. One is afraid her body will stop in the next moment to work at all. Once we see her walking through a school corridor. She walks and walks slowly and it seems she never will reach the end of it. Another moment shows how she walks home from school. It begins to rain. Suddenly she stops, remains almost motionless and than knees. The absence of visible emotion is tricky, like silent high explosive gas escaping from a tank. In this moment you get an idea about this child´s inner struggle. Just a hint, but a hint which hits you with this subtle power which is more or less a domain of this rich Japanese Cinema.

At the beginning we see a small injury in the girl´s face. Her feet are bleeding. It is the moment when she tried to safe her parents. Later after they have died not even this slight physical injury is visible.

The music of the film is a strange jingling on a piano which leads to nowhere. Someone tries desperately to develop a melody. But this jingling remains fragmented, it seems efforts without avail. It sounds like this accords are revealing the condition of the children´s mental state. There is no home and there is no way to go.
We see Haruna and Sotha near the end walking through almost deserted landscapes. They do not know where to go and they do not have a place to go.
It is only the teacher at Haruna´s school who has an idea that this girl is first of all heavily depressed, a lost soul. Mostly Haruna is closed into herself. That is hard to bear, she seems the loneliest person on earth.
Only at the end her oppressed emotions are paving its way to the surface of this slim body. Haruna´s body is now a single trembling and crying.And that leads to a Ritwik Ghatak-like emotional commotion, a catharsis which is painful heartbreaking but a necessary move towards healing.

Hitono Nozomino Yoro Kobiyo is quite a lesson in cinematic patience, a domain in which the Japanese Cinema developed so much great directors and countless masterpieces.In western terms we could say Sugita approaches a kind of cinematic minimalism. But how I suggested in my Notes on Ozu´s Akibiyori, I am not sure about the accurateness of this term considering Japan as one of the greatest country in the history of Cinema. The European minimalism is often a minimalism of ideology and of the intellect, while the Asian and especially the Japanese is often one of the heart, a style which first of all is felt and lived.
Hitono Nozomino Yoro Kobiyu is almost a film without any drama but until now it was the first film at this year´s Berlin Filmfestival that broke my heart.
At the beginning of Werner Herzog´s Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser), there is following Quotation: “Don´t you hear the terrible cry which we use to call the silence?”

Rüdiger Tomczak

February, 11, Cinemaxx 3, 14.00
February, 12,Filmtheater am Friedrichshain, 15.30
February, 16, Cinemaxx 3, 11.30

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Notes on The Better Angels by A.J.Edwards, USA: 2014-Panorama-Berlin Filmfestival 2014 III.

To see something in this film, it took me a while. The knowledge that this film is not only co-produced by Malick but also that Edwards was a close co-worker for the last three masterpieces by Malick trapped me several times. Treetops filmed from below, the movements of the camera and the protagonists (here mostly the two mythic women in the life of Abraham Lincoln: his mother who died young and his stepmother). The innocence in which I discovered Malick for myself seemed to be impossible at the beginning.

The Better Angels is filmed in Black and White. The film focuses on three years from the childhood of Abraham Lincoln, especially on his relationship with his mother, stepmother and his father. The lack of colours makes this American landscape even more barren. Depending on farm work and being over dependent by nature and threatened by diseases. Human life and traces of human civilisation seems very fragile here.
The film begins with monuments of Lincoln, cold lifeless stone and than turns into scenes from the childhood of the man who became one of the most famous president of the United States.
One of the central conflict is the young boy Abe Lincoln who is a thinker and dreamer which is not right helpful for a family who has  to struggle for surviving. The wilderness,the thicket begins right here, a few  minutes walk from the shabby and dirty wooden cabin. The wild beast America is not yet tamed.
There is also the conflict between physical strength (the father) and the intellectual and dreaming boy.

Another aspect which overshadows the fragments of Lincolns childhood is our knowledge of Lincolns biography. The film emphasizes at the beginning and the end the inevitable death of Lincoln and that everything we see is already history. And yes there is a kind of distance which is more Mizuguchi-like or in western cinema terms – more like in Kubrick´s Barry Lyndon. That means we are more kept on distance like for example in Malick´s The New World.

I almost ran into another trap: I could not get rid of the comparison between Abe Lincolns  and  the young Jack´s relationship in  The Tree of Life to their parents which can be as well the result of my clumsily try to find orientation in this film.
But another thought came into my mind, a slight trace to put the film for myself in another context.. The young actor Braydon Denney looks almost like I imagine Henry Fonda as a boy. That brings me to another trace – John Fords masterpiece Young Mr. Lincoln from 1939. That relativizes a bit this invading comparison between the the family constellation sin The Better Angels and Malick´s The Tree of Life. As Edwards´Lincoln is influenced by these two women (mother and stepmother, Ford´s Lincoln is leaded as well by a woman, by his  early love who passed away at a very young age.

The film has one of its most impressing moments when the boy Abe sees for the first time in his life a group of African slaves chained and silenced. You can really see that this encounter made a big impression on this child. This moment will never be mentioned verbally in this film, but it remains as a big question for this young boy until the end of this film. We do not really know about Lincolns encounter with one of the most barbaric aspects of American history, but it is enough that we sense that something is working in his mind. It is almost an ozu-esque moment. Despite we know today, the abolishment of slavery was in the American Civil War only a part of the strategy of the American Union,  Edwards tells like Ford first of all about an American mythic figure. But this mythic figure is very grounded in the barren shabby wooden hut in the middle of the American wilderness where the young American civilisation had to struggle to survive. Where Edwards is working with this wild almost untouched natural landscape, Ford is working with this young and brilliant Henry Fonda who enriches a mythic figure with a soul.

Even though I am from this generation who is grown up with American Cinema, the more I am thinking about this country, especially about this tension between classical Holly wood and the renewals in the 1960s, I am realising how very few we really know about this very complex culture.
Donald Ritchie, one of the first western authors who discovered the glory of Japanese Cinema, established especially concerning Ozu the term “Japaneseness” And yes there is probably something like “Americaness” in American Cinema – not only in the films of two of its greatest masters John Ford and Terrence Malick, but also in the films by Jeff Nichols, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, A. J. Edwards and a lot more others which reminds us how much more we still to have learn about this country which we believed misleadingly to know better than our own.
I am not yet finished with A.J.Edwards´The Better Angels. But I suggest to consider this very interesting film through the relationship between classical Hollywood and New Hollywood and American Independent Cinema. Of course – and here we can´t hardly avoid a John Ford or a Terrence Malick, both key figures of their time.

Rüdiger Tomczak


February, 11, Cinemaxx 7 10.00  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Notes on Akibiyori (Late Autumn by Yasujiro Ozu, Japan: 1960- (Berlin Filmfestival II. - Berlinale Classics

I remember the Berlin Film festival 1988. Akibiyori was screened in the retrospective “History of the colour Films”. I was already a big admirer of Ozu and I knew this film already but until this very screening I knew some films by Ozu only from TV in horribly German dubbed versions. This screening 1988 took place in a film theatre which is colsed since a long time now. It was called “Astor”. I remember I sat in the first row and even though it is by far not the saddest film by Ozu, I could not stop to cry the fist 30 minutes. It was a brilliant print in french subtitles. But I knew the film and the french subtitles did not bother me at all.
I was blown away by the colours, a beauty I was not prepared for. This was the begin of a year I discovered more films by Ozu and – more important – on the big screen.
Ozu made only 5 films in colour, but some of them are the most beautiful colour films ever made. This impression I had from the screening of Akibiyori 1988 is burnt into my memory, Setsulo Hara´s kimono at her last common journey with her daughter (who will get married soon) remains unforgettable for me.
Akibiyori is also one of half a dozen films by Ozu I watched in the last 30 years more than 20 times and the most beautiful one was this screening on a winter evening in the “Astor”
Another moment is hunting me, a moment of the film I am always looking forward when ever I see this film.
Setsuko, Hara, who plays a widow works in a school for handcrafts. In the background from a building close to this  school we hear the Menuetto, the second movement from Mozart´s piano sonata No. 11. It is part of the soundtrack and appears like by accident. But it has a beauty like this wonderful colours. It often happens in Ozus films, especially in his late masterpieces: something appears like an accident but like a magic moment.
When Setsuko Hara´s Akiko Miwa makes her last journey with her daughter, we hear a lot of songs from other hotel guests in the background. Especially when Ozu began to make films in colours, the soundtrack has a unique chemistry with the colours.
Melodies appear, which are connected with some character´s memories.

Almost all his five colour films are corresponding with some very early films by Ozu. Akibiyori could be seen as the sequel of Ozus. Seishun no yuma ima izuko (Where now are the Dreams of Youth, 1932). Parts of what the elder characters in this film are remembering from their life reminds exactly in this film made 28 years earlier. Even without ever having used flashbacks, the past is always present in Ozus films. Ozus characters are always full of memories and I remember my first impression I had from Akiko was, that as absurd as it seems, these characters have a life on their own. The first night after the first time I saw this film, I dreamt only about the characters, this dream was an endless variation of Akibiyori.

To come back to this remarkable screening of 1988, I think it was the first time that I was really obsessed with these rooms the characters are living in and with.
Even though Ozu reduced his formal cinematic a lot, I am not so sure about calling him a minimalist. There was a time when I thought I have to be interested in Bresson as well but his films left me cold until today opposite to Ozu. You can call Ozu´s films formal strict, but after seeing most of his films, you remember the delicious dished in these films and the exquisite kind of drinks they enjoyed in this film.
Rooms can be changed, renovated, varied or be painted in different colours. Akibiyori is like his first colour film Higanbana and his last masterpiece Samma no aji close to the plot of one of his most famous film Banshun. But if you see this mentioned film in a row the changes and variations he made are evident.
Akibiyori is with Samma no aji, Ozu´s finest films in colour. Even though I consider Samma no aji as one of the finest films Ozu ever made, as an introduction into Ozus work with colour, Akibiyori is probably the better access.It is also one of Ozu´s lightest and often funniest film. His comedy Ohayo,(1959) might be his funniest film after the war but leaves me relatively cold. Together with Bakushu (1951) and Soshun (1956) Akibiyori is probably Ozu´s most successful approach to come very close to his vision "to show the life "without dramatic ups and downs".

Rüdiger Tomczak

February 10, Cinemaxx 8, 20.00
february 15, Cinemaxx  8, 19.00

Notes on Stagecoach by John Ford, USA: 1939 (Berlin Filmfestival I. -Retrospective Aesthetics and Shadows

There is no book where you can learn as much about cinema than through the films by John Ford or Yasujiro Ozu. When, like Wim Wenders said Yasujiro Ozu was a sanctuary of Cinema, one can say the same about John Ford. I discovered the films of both masters around the same time for myself and Stagecoach was one of the first films by Ford where I discovered that Ford was by far more than a great storyteller. It is well known that Stagecoach re-established the Western as an A-genre. For me, it is more important that Stagecoach is also an exemplary Road Movie. In Road Movies, a voyage if in a car or like here in a carriage became pure Cinema, Cinema and voyage became one.
It is neither Fords only great Western nor Fords only Road Movie (remember his early masterpiece Pilgrimage from 1933), but it is a great film to begin your journey with the films by John Ford. Stagecoach as a journey through the mythological landscape of the American west and this other Road Movie from Japan, Hiroshi Shimizu´s Arigato-san from 1936, a journey through a very concrete Japan of the 1930sare films I always come back to them. They help me to understand a lot of films which are made decades later. The most recent masterpiece by Aparna Sen, Mr. And Mrs. Iyer for example has affinities to both, Fords poetic western/Road Movie and Shimizu´s journey through a Japan shattered by by an economic depression.

In the critical reception of John Ford, especially Stagecoach – there is always the stupid misunderstanding of Ford as a racist. The natives we see in Stagecoach as a threat, remain anonymous. More important Ford characters, the sympathetic or the non sympathetic are still far away from the perception that they are invaders in this beautiful country. In other words they are still occupied with themselves. The white society in Fords films are full of discrimination. The true heroes of this film are not John Wayne´s Ringo or the sheriff, but first of all Dallas, a prostitute which is chased out of town and an always drunken Dr. Boone. They are the characters who are really confronted with challenges and they grow with them. Finally it is Dr. Boone who has to help another woman in the carriage to deliver a child. It is a very funny but also moving moment when Boone has to make some efforts to get sober and how he has to deal with his fear being not able anymore to work as a doctor. Impossible not to fall in love with Thomas Mitchell´s Boone or Claire Trevor´s Dallas. Like often in Fords films, the outsiders, the misfits are often the most important people in a community when they get a chance to proof it.
As Fords characters emerge during this cinematic journey, we will see later how Ford´s sight of the American west will develop to a much more complex one. As it is known that finally Stagecoach re-established the western 1929 again, Ford finally also invented the sub genre we call “end time western” with his late masterpieces The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Two Rode Together. Elements of a more critical sight of the confrontation between the white invaders and the Natives begins already 1948 in Fort Apache, by far the masterpiece of his cavalry trilogy. The first western who really revealed racism were the western by John Ford. No American director had the courage to use John Wayne for playing an open racist like in The Searchers.
The cinema of John Ford is finally a kaleidoscope of American history. The movement from a mythological western to the avantegarde of the "end time western", And western, by the way are only one chapter in the rich work of John Ford.
Like I mentioned his early any less known masterpiece Pilgrimage would have been as well a great introduction to Fords cinematic universe. Stagecoach was on of three masterpieces by Ford made in 1939. The others were Young Mr. Lincoln, one of the finest bio pic in the history of cinema and Drums Along The Mohawk”. With the exception of Pilgrimage (1933), the 1930s were for Ford mostly a time of experimenting with different genres with different influences. With Stagecoach and the other mentioned films, Ford was finally established as one of the leading figures in American film history and the next 30 years of American cinema are not even thinkable without his contribution.

Another film by Ford will be screened in this retrospective: Grapes of Wrath, his dark and grim Steinbeck-adaption.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Saturday, Feb 8 Cinemaxx 8, 18.00
Saturday, Feb 15 Zeughauskino, 21.00

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Notes on Nostalgia De La Luz (Nostalgia for the Light) by Patricio Guzman, Chile/Spain/France/Germany: 2010

The irony of my access to this film is strange. Even though I hunted for years for the DVD of Guzman´s legendary masterpiece La Batalla de Chile, I almost ignored the release of this film. It was this wonderful laudatio for Terrence Malick´s masterpiece The Tree of Life for the Fipresci site, “Great Events and Ordinary People” written by Adrian Martin who mentioned Nostalgia de la Luz.
I knew already his film Salvador Allende. The history of Chile around the government Allende and the bloodshed caused by the coup d´état of Pinochet played quite a very important role in my adolescence life, because it was the first time I was aware that fascism was not only history but a danger which can always happen again. When I was just 14, this was quite a disturbing fact for me.

Nostalgia de la Luz was released in the same year like another great documentary which is explicit autobiographical inspired: Sona mo hitori no watashi (Sona, The Other Myself) by Korean filmmaker Yang Yonghi.
So, even though familiar with the name Patricio Guzman, it was the films by Yang Yonghi and Terrence Malick which actually were my inspirations to watch this film.

At the beginning we see a lot of telescopes, an old one and one of the most modern ones in the Atacama desert in Chile. Guzman tells in his commentary about his obsession for telescopes which are in fact optical devices like a film camera. An astronomer explains to Guzman that the present is a very thin line and according to light speed and even if it is only about a small part of a microsecond, all what we or what the camera sees is already past. One can say that a camera is a very close relative to a telescope.
An astronomer can only look into the past of the universe to learn something about where we come from. We see in this film geologists who try to reconstruct the past, for example pre-columbian history.
But we see also women who are searching for years for the physical remains of their close relatives who were killed by Pinochet´s agents. Most of them were executed anonymous and the corps are buried in the desert or thrown into the sea. Some of these women have found body parts of their relatives, some will probably never find for what they are looking for.
Nostalgia de la Luz is a film about history, the history of the physical existence which we can now track down with the assistance of modern optical devises almost to the beginning of the world.
It is also about the history of Chile, in which Patricio Guzman is a witness and his work is a chronicle of this part of history.
But third – it is also about personal history, means the part of history which personal affected you. It is well known that Guzman has lost close relatives like these old women who are digging for bones of their loved ones. Jorge Müller Silva, the cinematographer of Guzman´s La Batalla de Chile was also kidnapped. His physical remains were until today never found. And even Guzman himself escaped only with a lot of luck.

There is a young female astronomer whose parents were killed by Pinochet´s bastards. She explains why to look at the stars was like a therapy for her.
All the people and all the things, including the old and the high tech optical devices he shows in his films are composed to an explicit personal journey. Guzman is part of the things he reveals and the telescopes are the close relatives of his own cinematographic devices.
Guzman is indeed a “troublemaker” like the women who are digging for the remains of their loved ones, “troublemakers” who do not want to forget.
Even though Nostalgia de la Luz goes further to the beginning of the world than any other film by Guzman, is as well requiem. It is about loss like the third part of his Batalla de Chile, “The Power Of The People”, his nonofficial fourth part of La Batalla de Chile, Chile Obstinate Memory.
The greatness of Patricio Guzman that he is always part of the things he reveals. There is no standing above history. Guzman is a chronicler of history but the same time like Yang Yonghi or his compatriot Marilu Mallet participants and victims of history.
Cinema is like astronomy a search for the past from what we finally learn where and who we are.
Present how it is said in this film is a very fleeting moment and without memories we are dead.
If we think of our time and about contemporary Cinema – we have to come to the conclusion how urgently we still need filmmakers like Patricio Guzman and especially such a masterpiece like Nostalgia de la Luz.

Rüdiger Tomczak

I can´t recommand this text by Adrian Martin "Great Events and Ordinary People"  often enough.