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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Some reasons why I support Anamika Bandopadhyay´s film project" The Third Breast".

On December 16, India became the headline on all the recognized International newspapers and bulletins, for her daughter Jyoti Singh. Jyoti (age 23) was brutally beaten and gang-raped and finally died. The media attention and the public discourse reached a crescendo around this horrific event. Well, it was not a one-off case of sexual violence, but it did circulate the term ‘rape-culture’ in the public discourse.Everyone was talking about Rape and sexual misbehaviors, even my 11 years old son. Only few days back he attended the maturation curriculum here in the US, the curriculum which is almost nonexistent in India. The teachers asked me whether we have such awareness programs in Indian schools too. I said  “No" and fumbled.” (Anamika Bandopadhyay on her project The Third Breast)

There is no need to repeat what can be read on her excellent Indiegogo Crowd funding page. For a better understanding of this film project, the whole page should be read.

How I came in touch with the films by Anamika Bandopadhyay?
It was on Facebook when I posted a link to my English translation of my text on Ritwik Ghatak´s trilogy on the partition of Bengal. I think it was around 2011, where she gave some very interesting and insightful comments on Ritwik Ghatak. Some times later I realized that we share as well our admiration for Bengali film maker Aparna Sen.  Two years ago, I finally had the luck to watch two of her films, 1700 Kelvin from 2012 and Red from 2008, a film which deals with this Nandigram -protest ( a Human Right issue which remained nearly unknown out of India) in which she was involved. “
Involved “ is probably a good key word for the work of Anamika Bandopadhyay. As she often introduces herself as a lecturer, filmmaker and social activist – all these aspects are inseparable in her work. Both of these films include excerpts from filmy by Ritwik Ghatak. Like Ghatak she actually does not just make films “about someone or something” from a safe distance. The disturbing images we see don´t seem to be filtered through the neutrality of the image making apparatus. She is not an observer anymore but participating.
In her film Red, the cinematic chronicle of her experience with the Nandigram issue, there are some scenes, interviews with two women, abused by the police of the former left government of the CPM of West Bengal. While these women, one is a Muslim, the other a Hindu are telling from a nightmare of violence and humiliation, we see the filmmaker beside them. She always touches them to console them and when one of the woman begins to cry she even hugs her. That is a quite beautiful and compassionate gesture in the middle of a nearly apocalyptic environment. These moments are hunting me from the moment I saw this film. So I never really regretted to have compared these moment with magical and moving moment in a film by Terrence Malick which means a compassion which is sensible in every atom of this film.

Another film I saw only in an excerpt because it is not available in its full length but there is on YouTube a 5 minutes excerpt from her film Rough Cut.  I don´t even know what the whole film is about but I was mesmerized by these 5 minutes. An adolescent girl in a Hindu temple in front of the statue of a naked goddess. It seems the girl is measuring the body of this statue of a goddess and compares it with her own. As this moment tells about nothing else but of two bodies, a living one who is just in its puberty and an artificial one, it seems to me like a prayer to the results of the creation.
Even though it is a very quiet scene, we always get an idea that in this moment we discover our body the violence of ideologies and oppressions of some thousand years of human civilisation will invade our mind. It seems to me like a meditation on the beauty of our physical existence so often denied in nearly all religions and most of any ideologies.

These 5 minutes alone are reason enough to be excited about Anamika Bandopadhya´s new project The Third Breast. After all what I heard and read about this project, it looks like her most ambitioned project to date – and after all what I have read and heard about The Third Breast, it will be much more than a documentary but also a poetic film essay about how the beauty of our physical experience and how it became contaminated through a complex of powers and its ideologies.

Among so much young filmmakers I came across, there is one more thing I love in  the work of Anamika Bandopadhyay. We will never find any kind of “manifestos” in her talking about cinema and always more than "filmed ideas" Her work is a kind of quest for something which is essential for cinema, like Godard said "films on the visible things of the world".
Another of so many exciting aspects of this film project is the involvement of one of India´s finest cinematographers Sunny Joseph.

The film might be obvious about one of the most important subject of contemporary India. That will offer a lot of stuff for discussions. But the feeling I have after all what I read and heard about this project, I expect also a unique cinematic treatment of this subject, a treatment which does not work with an ideological predetermination but with a sensual and poetic search for the truth. 
Crowd funding campaigns and the growing number of platforms for this kind of film funding might be caused by difficulties to find a producer or funder but they offer as well a possibility to support and promote projects which are outside the mainstream and often outside of the specific trends and fashions of the so-called Independent Cinema. 
I supported some crowd funded projects in the past but concerning The Third Breast it is one of the most important projects I ever supported and I don´t regret any cent and any minute of time I dedicated for supporting this project. The reason is just that I believe in this film and if I have to mention some names of filmmakers which deserve a broader recognition than Anamika Bandopadhyay is one of the first names which come to my mind.

So please take a proper look at her project The Third Breast which deserves all the support it needs. You will find extended informations under following links:

And for all who haven´t read them yet, my two texts on films by Anamika Bandopadhyay.

The crowd funding Campaign goes until August, 10, 2014.

Rüdiger Tomczak