Sunday, December 20, 2015

Notes on Kazoku (A Family aka Where Spring comes late by Yoji Yamada, Japan: 1970

I know this film for more than 30 years and I learned to love it a lot. But I remember that I hesitated a lot with my love during the first watching of this film and other films by Yamada as well. I was used to appreciate the formal strictness of the films by Yasujiro Ozu and for some time I considered Yamada´s concept a kind of anti concept to Ozu´s every day stories. Yes, I even felt at the beginning disturbed by Yamada´s seemingly unarrested use of melodrama. Today I am an unconditional admirer of Yoji Yamada, mostly his films he made between his successful Tora-san Series (that among the Tora-san films are as well some masterpiece is a subject of its own).
 Recently I saw Kazoku again and I became aware of the reasons for my earlier misunderstanding of this film (and a couple of other masterpieces made by him in the same decade). First thing which came to my mind was the discovery that reality and melodrama are , at least in this period of Yamadas work, in a very complex and dynamic relationship. There is of course the melodramatic forced fiction but equally there are a lot of glimpses and hints to Japanese reality of the 1970s, especially to working class realities. 
The film and this is typical for Yamada´s other masterpieces like Kokyo (Home From the Sea, 1971), Harakara (The Village, 1975) and Shiwase no kiroi no hankachi (the yellow Handkerchief (1977). There is in these films (how could I have ignored that?) an obvious documentary element. For a long time I considered him - even after I began to love his films-  as a seducer, a master of feel good movies. But in fact Yamada always leaves the choice to us. You can be absorbed by the melodramatic element, you can be moved by the story of a christian miner family who travels all the way by train from the south of Japan to the less populated North of Hokkaido to begin a new life as farmers. But during the long scenes which takes place in driving trains you can also look out of the window. This look out the window reveals traces of reality, not only the landscapes but also the deformed industrial landscape of this industry nation like huge factories, concrete buildings in the big cities etc. 

The long geographical journey is well researched, its actually the skeleton of the plot and it is not the last time a film by Yamada will base on a geographical journey. Shiwase no kiroi no hankachi and the last installment of his Gakko-series (Gakko 4, 2000) are as well journeys. And it is not as easy to distinguish always the documentary elements from the fiction like I thought. Sometimes the cinema as the art of visual story telling and cinema as a reflection of the world claim their right – and sometimes suddenly and unexpected. 
There is one moment which stayed with me over the years and which is probably one of the most disturbing moments in the films by Yoji Yamada. It is in a way a harsh confrontation with the drama of the fiction and the drama of reality. During their long journey the family reaches Tokyo, the youngest child, a hardly one years old baby girl gets very sick and they have to make a little odyssey through Tokyo to find a doctor. Finally they find an emergency station. The doctors and nurses are very busy, the family´s tragedy is only one of many. And suddenly and unexpected we see a stretcher with a heavily bleeding schoolgirl ehivh id  pushed through the station (and through the mighty cinemas cope frame). We hear a small but important spoken comment that this girl has attempted suicide in an underground railway station. For a moment these intense seconds push away the whole fiction. The moment is like a rupture in the earth cause by an earthquake. Even though this rupture will be closed again the memory of this horrible moment remains. The family is like this bleeding girl part of a large group of misfits which really don´t fit in this economic super power called Japan.
There is a good reason for the enormous popularity of Yoji Yamada in Japan. Highly respected by the unions and often called “the voice of the people” the director is indeed one of the very rare ones in the history of cinema who permanently focused on the class which obviously paid a hard prize for the economical raise of Japan after the second World war. And this interest or let´s call it even tenderness is not ideological founded like in the majority of western films dealing with the working class. None of Yamada´s heroes are political conscious fighter for the labor´s rights. In this sense Yamada follows this unique tradition of films on every day life, a sensitiveness which was never approached by the rest of the world. He might be closer to another master of shomingeki films Keisuke Kinoshita than to the great stylists Ozu and Naruse or this inspired master of improvisation Shimizu.
Despite his reputation as one of the most successful film director in the history of Japanese cinema, even his most popular films include often daring elements and playfulness. Even as a studio director in the 1970s the phenomenon Yamada was already an anachronism. If we have today still an idea how freely the old masters Ozu, Naruse, Shimizu or Kinoshita moved  with an independent spirit under the condition of the studio system than we owe that Yoji Yamada.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A brief appreciation of Aparna Sen on the occasion of her 70th. Birthday.

There is an excerpt from a masterclass in Bombay in 2010 with Aparna Sen on YouTube which gives an excellent introduction to the working process of Mr. And Mrs. Iyer. Frustrated after a project she could not realize, Aparna Sen began to write a script using the computer in the room of her daughter. She said “the story began “writing itself”. While her daughter Konkona Sen Sharma watched over her shoulder and gave some comments, Aparna Sen finally decided to cast her for the role of Meenakshi Iyer. This anecdote became in my imagination already a scene from a film. When-, or whoever will make once a bio pic or an essay film on Aparna Sen and her work should begin with this “scene”. Last but not least this anecdote is a kind of “Making Of” about one of my favorite Indian films in this still young century which I already have seen around 30 times.

A likely crush on a film by Aparna Sen, I had some years later with The Japanese Wife
My fascination for the films by Aparna Sen is not easy to explain. Instead of words and superlatives, there are always certain moments of these films which come to my mind and most descriptions can not even get near the enormous impact they had on me. But beside the fact I can enjoy the films by Aparna Sen now as examples of great cinema, there is even more they have evoked in me. They gave me a new and deeper understanding of what cinema is about, a lesson only very few books ever written on cinema could offer me. And even in my long review on Mr. And Mrs. Iyer I already knew the ideal piece on this film should be rather an audiovisual essay than a text. Before I saw Mr. And Mrs Iyer I really believed I had seen and read enough on cinema to know my way, but I was wrong because I was only tired and sated and in my vanity I considered myself as smarter than I really was. In that sense Mr. And Mrs. Iyer made me this precious gift to enable me to rediscover all the glory of cinema and especially the joy to watch films I had lost without being aware of it.

There is a total justice in the films by Aparna Sen about the two aspects of cinema, the one is to dream of a life we never lived and the other one, a reflection about what we are and in what world we live.
Near the end of Mr. And Mrs. Iyer we see Raja (Rahul Bose) bringing coffee for Meenakshi (Konkona Sen Sharma)and himself in their train compartment. He takes Meenakshi´s baby in his arm and or a moment Meenakshi leans herself on Raja´s shoulder. For seconds they who were total strangers some days ago are very close. One single cut of breathtaking precision brings them and us back to the ground of reality, Meenakshi back to her husband waiting at the station, Raja (a wildlife photographer) back to his editor and finally us to the end of the film and our return to our own reality.

In my imagination, I always wonder what Max Ophüls, Francois Truffaut or Douglas Sirk would have think about Mr. And Mrs. Iyer, The Japanese Wife or Goynar Baksho. If there is ever a male pendant to Danielle Darieux´s tragic obsessed lover in Madame de.. by Max Ophüls than it is Rahul Bose in The Japanese Wife.

The most beautiful moments in Aparna Sen´s films are often moments when the characters are watching something like they look at a big screen: In The Japanese Wife, Rahul Bose at the shore of the river where Hindus perform their funeral rites. We see his back and his point of view is an extension of our own perspective. This river has killed his parents and the direction of his look is directed to something that is lost forever. Just this image has the power of a landscape painting by Caspar David Friedrich or a moment in a film my America´s landscape painter of cinema John Ford.
In Mr. And Mrs. Iyer, Meenakshi and Raja are looking through the objective of Raja´s photo camera. It is a rare moment of contemplation. They are watching deers in the forest and again it seems they are watching to a big screen. There is also the amazing scene with the young Mrinalini in Iti Mrinalini on the beach of the ocean with her daughter. It is the most beautiful moment in this film which will be lost a few moments later through tragic circumstances. Here they don´t only watch like to a big over dimensional screen but the whole world around them becomes a screen, the scene is as well a kind of total cinema.

It is time for the world in and outside of India to discover all the films by Aparna Sen in retrospectives and at best with restored film prints.

Rüdiger Tomczak

-IMDB site for Aparna Sen unfortunately it does not include her Television work, her new short film and her next film which will released soon).

(the Aparna Sen masterclass 2010

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Notes on Margarita With A Straw by Shonali Bose, India/USA: 2014

“I think the great artists (..) have always thought with the heart.” 
/Douglas Sirk)

Cinema is not only a kind of magic but it includes often as well a reference to this mighty apparatus where cinema is built with. I remember that I wrote more than 20 years ago on Hou Hsiao Hsiens masterpiece Hsimeng Rensheng, a bio pic on a famous Taiwanese puppeteer (The Puppetmaster, 1993) something like "that we are first absorbed by the performance and later we see exactly the hands who causes this magic.

Laila is since her birth disabled by cerebral palsy. As she can´t walk on her own she moves in an electric wheel chair, This device enables her to lead a social life, university shopping or meeting friends. It is almost like a dolly or a crane for the camera which enables us to participate in the this piece of the world revealed in this film. For approaching a certain standards in life quality, Laila is depending on these devices like wheel chair or a computer tablet with voice program. Like we move virtually through the space the film reveals, we do it like Laila with the help of technical devices.

If one read the synopsis of this kind of coming of age-drama about a disabled young woman, her desires, longings and losses one expect a lot of melodrama. Invited to New York for a fellowship in creative writing she fells in love with a lesbian girl Khanum who is of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origins. Back in her home town Delhi for summer vacation she has not only to deal with her new sexual identity but also confront them with her mother´s conservative attitude about love and life.
When I finally saw this film, I was astonished by the kind this dramatic story finally got flesh and blood in a very nonorthodox way. There two competing forces in this film. The first is the tendency of identification and to be absorbed in this story. It begins with the analogy of the movement of Laila´s wheel chair and the movements of the camera. But we are also very close to Laila´s every day life, her longing for love and last but not least to her very special humour. The other tendency is that the film seems to be resisting itself to drift into pure melodrama. And there is an analogy to this tendency in Laila´s reluctance to be seen through pity.

When Laila for example masturbates after watching a porn site in the Internet, she suddenly turns her back to us. This image motive when she turns the back to us happens several time in this film. In this moment it seems our presence as a voyeur is not welcomed at all.
Much later in the film Laila confesses to her girlfriend Khanum that she has betrayed her once with a British boy. There is as well a moment when both women turn their back ti us. Like so often in this film some even intimate secret the characters shares with us, others not.

As the film proceeds, we do not only witness that a lot of Laila´s longings and desires remain unfulfilled, our own desire to be absorbed by a melodramatic identification will fail sometimes too. The dynamic between the tendencies of identification and reflection is one of the film´s most striking aspects. The most dramatic event, the death of the Laila´s mother is almost Ozu-esque. The sound is reduced to an absolute minimum. We hear only the sound of the medicinal apparatus on which the life of Laila´s mother depends on. Than a sudden beep invades the silence and a doctors says: “Sorry, she has gone.” As the soundtrack is mostly composed of a lot of nuances creating an every day-like atmosphere and with a very emphatic music – in these moments it seems to disappear almost completely. That remembers me in the Japanese term Mu which means emptiness or nothingness.
A likely moment we have again in a scene of a confrontation between Laila and Khanum. After a heavy crosstalk, a moment of silence will follow.  The loneliness of the characters , occupied by their grieve or losses and this strange loneliness of the spectator come together in an uncanny way. 

I still remember Konkona Sen Sharma´s brilliant and almost minimalistic and nearly "Noh-like" performance in Shonali Bose´s debut film Amu. There was a metamorphism of Amu from an every day like drama into a tragedy caused by a concrete historic event. In Margarita with a Straw the film changes alway from every day like and seemingly event less story telling to drama and back, a rhythm which can be seen in the whole film. While Sen Sharma´s Amu becomes almost a prisoner of her own past like James Stewart in Hitchcoc´s Vertigo, Kalki Koechlin´s equally impressing performed Laila is in most parts of the film despite all her losses in control of her own life. She remains in the Here and Now. She does not always approach the happiness she is longing for but she is aware in the sense of Marcel Proust "about the reasons which prevent her from being happy".
Sen Sharma´s Amu has in the narrative strategy of this film the double function as the main character but also as the mediator between audience and the film´s fiction. This strong relation ship will vanish completely in this great last moment when disappears and the end of the film´s fiction is marked with a slow train which crossed the frame diagonal. In Margarita With A Straw, this other wonderful portrait of a woman the relationship between spectator and Kalki Koechlin´s Laila works different. When we often have the feeling she is just performing for us, she gets finally a life on her own. In some moments we see only her face with traces of tiredness and it is hard to say if this tiredness is performed or if it is it the real tiredness of Kalki Koechlin (who considered her role as physically very demanding). Shonali Boses´s film has often these touch points between the virtual universe of the film´s fiction and the reality beyond the film. These are evidences of a truthfulness of Bose´s films which is hard to describe but traceable in her films.

 At the end, Laila´s mother has passed away and her girlfriend Khanum has raturned to New York. The final moment of this film (even though much more cheerful than the famous endings of a film by Ozu) is a bittersweet variation of the Japanese term mono no aware. It is a conclusion of experiences like Tom Milne once defined the end of Ozu´s Tokyo monogatari.
At the hairdresser, Laila gets a phone call. Some friends invite her to see a movie. "I have a date", she says. We see her reflection in a mirror (like we often did in the film) and we will later learn that this date is finally a date with herself. Her father gives her a ride to a place where she will enjoy her beloved cocktail Margarita "with a straw". She smiles while enjoying her cocktail and blows a kiss to herself reflected in another mirror. For a moment this mirror frames her like a film image which is again framed in the whole aspect ratio of the film format.After having much struggled in this film with her disability, her journey finally leads her to a moment of accepting herself and finally the things like they are.
A cheerful but at the same moment very moving last moment which also includes the fleetingness of the things the whole film has told about. With this last smile we are finally gently dismissed from the film which was partly inspired by Shonali´Bose´s cousin and partly by the director´s  own experiences. 

The credits begin with the Rumi-quotation: “ The wound is the place where light enters you.” and a dedication to her late son who passed away under tragic circumstances.
Credits of a film this caesura between the end of the virtual reality of a film and the world we live in is for me often a very special moment. Soon the experience we made with this film will become a memory. It is also a moment of recapitulating the whole experience the film has offered and the emotions it has evoked in me. There is this magic aspect in cinema: A film can enchant you and they can be truthful as well. Margarita with A Straw is one of these miracles.

Rüdiger Tomczak


Another draft version of this text included a passage which suggested to define Margarita with a Straw as a kind of "Caméra Stylo", those definition of radical personal films which are filmed like written, a term which fits very different kind of films, documentaries, essay films but also narrative films. For now I discarded this chapter completely. But after watching the whole "Making Of"- bonus features on the Indian DVD I still think this could be another interesting aspect of this film. 
I also discarded a comparison from a more recent version of this text in which I compared the last smile of Kalki Koechlin with the smile of Sean Penn at the end of Terrence Malick´s  autobiographical inspired The Tree Of Life. This idea was a very strong feeling but probably better saved for an audiovisual essay than a text.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Soul is under the Skin – On To The Wonder by Terrence Malick, USA: 2012


(For the German version published in shomingeki Nr. 25 please click here)

For A.B and T.G.

What is this love that loves us?
That comes from Nowhere
From all around.
The sky
You Cloud, You love me too. (Monologue from Marina)

There is a jazz ballad called Body And Soul which was interpreted by so much great musicians. This comes to my mind when I think about the last films by Terrence Malick. Sure,  last but not least all these films include philosophical, spiritual and even religious ideas. The fact the films are blamed by many so-called critics as esoteric and even as kitsch either amuses me or makes me very angry. At least in the Western Cinema of the last decades, I can´t remember any other films which are as much in love with the physical perceptible world. The only “close relative” to Terrence Malick from the film countries of the West seems to me the French master Jean Renoir and especially his films Une Partie de Campagne and The River.
One of the three films from the French Series Les Cinéastes de Notre Temps which are dedicated to Jean Renoir and made by Jacques Rivette is a recording of a conversation between Renoir and the French actor Michel Simon. I do not remember exactly if Renoir has cited or has expressed his own thoughts when he said: “The soul is not in the heart and not in the head but directly under the skin.” I can´t imagine any better sentence to describe my fascination for the films by Terrence Malick.

The film begins with two lovers, the American Neil and the Ukrainian-French Marina. They travel by train through Europe and they are visiting different places in Europe. Even more than in The New World the distinctive fluid camera movements by Emmanuel Lubezki seem like an endless dance which will be mostly answered by Marina. That has the same eloquence like we know from the films by Max Ophüls and Kenji Mizoguchi but on the other hand it is impossible to reduce it just on its artistry. It seems to be filmed like it was once felt.

At the beginning the bodies of the lovers appear weightless. As the film proceeds the gravitation will reconquer the bodies of the lovers. An excursion to the Mont St. Michel in the Normandie and later a walk at the beach during low tide and close to the high tide. The first moments of the film appear like memories, moments already taken out of time. The couple moves pending and gliding through this space and this scene has almost a dreamlike quality, a dream which will clear away as the film proceeds. They will remember this experience and they will try to hold this dream which is already a lost dream.

Just a few moments later, there is a scene which belongs to the most eloquent and at the same time to the most moving scenes in a film by Terrence Malick. In a Park in Paris, Neil asks Marina if she and her 10 years old daughter will come with him to America. This moment is literally very moving, the handheld camera dances to the whole scene and especially Olga Kurylenko is dancing like a female dervish. In this park we see something like a mini version of the Statue Of Liberty. In this scene the euphory of love, the promise of fortune in the far away America in its formal playfulness an enchanting cinematic moment. With a shot of the sea, the film leads over to the house in America where Neil lives. This a moment of dreamlike beauty which justifies already after a few minutes the “wonder” in the title of the film.

Especially this promise will be disappointed later. We see enchanting American landscapes filmed in a light which I have never seen in cinema before and since To The Wonder. But we see also abased landscapes. The estate of Neils house is surrounded by a high fence. Neil the geologists takes samples from the soil in this neighbourhood and declares this soil as contaminated with poisonous stuff which endangers the life of people and animals.
While gradually the happiness of the couple breaks through betrayal and ignorance the film offers more and more insights to the shady sides of America. Traces of poverty, loneliness and despair are interwoven in the film which tells at the same time about a love relationship which is becoming more and more difficult. We see drug addicted and dangerous criminals in a jail. A Spanish priest who is obviously in a crisis of faith offers the prisoners the sacrament. Behind the walls of this maximum security prison, there is no entrance for the wonderful light. These ugly sides of the civilization sometimes collide with moments of the probably most beautiful light I can remember.

Malick´s cinema is a cinema of intensities and these intensities can vary from euphoria to an absolute despair. Some of these intensities we can already see in Olga Kurylenko´s face. To talk about the human faces in Malick´s films (which remind me always in the films of the Bengali master Ritwik Ghatak) there are these moments when the formal artistry is suspended and disappears behind truly and naked emotions. This makes the whole film as vulnerable like the emotions and characters it reveals.

Terrence Malick´s films have always originated awesome female characters, the characters performed by Sissy Spacek, Brooke Adams, Linda Manz, Q´Orianka Kilcher and probably the most impressive character performed by Olga Kurylenko.

In comparison to the time-consuming work on The Tree of Life, To The Wonder seems to be originated from a relaxed promenade. It is the more astounding that this “smaller” film by Malick continues seamless the series of masterpieces since 1998. This period began with three epic films, two of them on American history. Where The Tree of Life for example connects the birth and death of the universe with a very intimate family story and where Malick brings together the world of the matter with the spiritual world, To The Wonder connects the earthly and physical love between people with the spiritual love together. These two kinds of love are never opposed, they supplement each other. The Spanish priest is after Neil and Marina the third main character of this film. The religiousness in the films by Terrence Malick is especially one of the bodies of the living beings and the landscapes. Much more more than in the mystery of the creation Malick seems to be fascinated by its results.

When we see the priest performing uninspired sermon in a nearly deserted church, he seems to be isolated in his despair. As a contrast we see him later working in the prison. One can sense now a special tenderness towards the failed individuals of this world. Or later his commitment when he helps old people to walk, offers a dying old person the last sacrament or when he gives his jacket away for an aging drug addicted woman. As soon as the priest commits himself to the worldly reality (especially at the end of the film) it brings him -  not closer to God  -than at least it offers him the closest contact to the result of the creation. Exactly in these moments a film by Terrence Malick becomes a visual prayer. Near the end is another wonderful moment, a prayer-like monologue of the priest talking to Jesus Christ.
Christ be with me
Christ before me.
Christ behind me.
Christ in me.
Christ beneath me.
Christ above me.
Christ on my right.
Christ on my left
Christ in my heart.

During this monologue we see again one of these memory-like sequences when Marina watches a child which is feeding goose. The most striking aspect in this monologue is that it is based on very concrete physical orientation like with in, behind, neath, on my left etc.That reminds as well in the first tries of children to express a very physical-spatial orientation in words. Whenever we have to talk about religious aspects in films by Terrence Malick, dogmatic preaching or ideological predetermination we will never find.

To The Wonder is like I said before a long and ecstatic dance and finally Malick is the Dervish who combines the movements of the camera and the actors to one coherent movement.

One can always talk about the light in this film which is typical for the last films by Terrence Malick. It is well known that Malick always uses (as far as the technique allows) natural light sources. But light is much more as a technical aspect of film making.Last but not least it is one of the key elements of cinema, film making as well like film projection. And it is at the same time the key element of the world, the formation and the visualisation. Light comes in a concrete way from the sun as the source of life. Like in The Tree of Life, light is always both, a measurably physical process but as well a symbol which goes through all human civilizations and religions. In another impressing scene we see the priest together with a black church servant who cleans the coloured windows of the church. The servant describes the light that “hit´s you” which enters in different colours through the glass. Once again there is a combination of the meaning of the light as a physical phenomenon but as well as a spiritual symbol. When the priest holds his hand on the window one can almost feel the warmth of the filtered sun rays. In other moments we see landscapes in a red and golden light lightening the faces of the protagonists. The light of this film will hunt me forever.

In many ways it makes sense to me that some critics consider The Tree of Life and To The Wonder as the beginning of Terrence Malick´s autobiographical period. (His newest film Knight Of Cups confirms that again) Maybe slightly more encrypted than in The Tree of Life (see remarks and links at the end of this text), To The Wonder includes again a life confession, in this film a failed love relationship.The intensity in which this relationship is filmed makes it impossible for me to imagine that Malick has filmed that without having experienced that before. In my text on The Tree Of Life I defined my own term, the “Malick paradox" And I refer to the authenticity of emotions and moods which appear despite all logistic and technical aspects of film making nearly unfiltered and f for this reason so affecting.

The last films by Terrence Malick are unique in their almost provoking vulnerability. I am literally touched by his films, because they often deal with touches. One should take attention how the lovers touch each other and how  (except outbursts of violence) caresses are dying when their relationship is in its decline.

At the end Marina will leave the country. The love has failed, the divorce is legally executed. The farewell at the airport and the unbearable sad long walk of Marine through the gangway to her aircraft evokes the certainty that this farewell is final.

The final of the film consists mostly of memory like fragments. We see again some breathtaking beautiful landscapes. Marina appears again after the farewell like Pocahontas in The New World after a letter has pronounced her death as a being of a subjective memory. And again fragments of happiness appear but now as moments passed by long ago. It almost seems that Marina has passed away. In these sequences there is the dance of Marina in a super market, a moment mostly ridiculed in negative reviews of this film. For me it is a moment which is so crazy, incredible beautiful and affecting at the same time that I  always have to take a deep breath. Oh if I could stop the film at this wonderful moment!

Like so often we see Olga Kurylenko moves rather dancing than walking through the landscape. In one moment the light of the sinking sunpenetrates her beautiful face like X-rays. This moment is as dramatic as the image of the dying sun burning our planet in The Tree Of Life. And like at the end of The Thin Red Line the film ends with a glimpse of the lost paradise in this case their voyagage to the  Mt. Saint Michel, the final image of the film.

The film goes always under my skin and I mean that literally because according to Renoir the soul is directly under the skin.

Rüdiger Tomczak

I can´t recommend often enough the wonderful text by Adrian Martin on The Tree Of Life, Great Events andOrdinary People which is a laudatio for this film but as much an excellent observation of Malick´s work and how it is embedded in the history of cinema.

A treasure for biographical details of Terrence Malick is the book One Big Soul by Paul Meher jr, 2012.

Two other texts are very interesting biographical details, The Runaway Genius by Peter Biskind (which I recommend not without reservations)

and an inspiring essay by Bob Turner on To The Wonder

Friday, June 5, 2015

Notes on Parama by Aparna Sen, India: 1985

A look into the films by Aparna Sen which I learnt to love in the last 10 years offers for me two options: The first one is the joy and inspiration I got from my favorite films, especially Mr. And Mrs. Iyer and The Japanese Wife. The second one is to learn more about her work as a whole which is more a kind of  historic view to find traces of her evolution as a film director.
Parama is her second long feature film and among my Bengali friends there are quite a few who consider Parama as one of her finest works.

Beside being a great story teller, there are several currents in her work. I think one of her big themes is often the different perceptions of reality by her protagonists often filtered through their subjective vision of the world. Aparna Sen once called Parama as her “most feministic film”. But she never used film just for delivering an ideological predetermined messages. She is probably one of the few contemporary Indian filmmaker whose realism should be seen in a more complex way like for example the ideas of André Bazin. As well Anjan Dutt´s definition of a “magic realism” in his text on Goynar Baksho is a good hint to her work.

Parama is a woman around forty who has married into a big and wealthy middle class family. She lives with her husband, her children and her in laws together in a big house. At the beginning when the whole family is assembled, it takes some time until we recognize the main protagonist and as well until we finally can distinguish her from the female servants. Even though the film was already 20 years old during my first voyage to Kolkata, this moment of recognizing the woman of the house evoked a Déjà-vu remembering some invitations to Bengali families I followed.
One family member introduces the photo journalist Rahul to the family. He wants to make a series of pictures of “an authentic Bengali house wife”. And finally he gets the permission to shoot pictures of Parama. A love affair between Rahul and Parama develops We do not know if he is in love with an image of Parama but we can guess Parama discovers different images about herself beyond being a mother, a wife, a daughter in law or a sister in law.

Like in Virginia Wolf´s A Room For One´s Own, Aparna Sen´s women are always struggling for a place in the world which is their own, the old Anglo-Indian lady in 36 Chowinghee Lane included. While the women in Sen´s earlier films are rather defending the small space they have for their own than conquering new one the heroines of her last 5 or 6 films and especially through some characters characters performed by Konkona Sen Sharma are sometimes conquering new ground for themselves, most evident in Goynar Baksho. Even Sen Sharmas orthodox Hindu woman Meenakshi in Mr. And Mrs. Iyer who is like most of Aparna Sen´s women a lonely and oppressed middle class woman demonstrate through her active glances a real resistance again being part of an image someone makes for himself of her. She is not anymore captured through a male´s view but herself looking to the world around her. There is probably an interesting development between the nearly sad souls of Sen´s early women characters and the departure of Sen Sharma´s character in Goynar Baksho.

Parama seems mostly to be captured in internal rooms of the house. Only some excursions with her lover Rahul and some meetings with her artist friend interrupt her isolation.
On one excursion Rahul and Parama climb on a building. It is high and seems to be ruinous. While the photographer moves as skilled like a cat, Parama feels only dizzy and is scared to fall. He has no sense for gravitation, she senses the gravitation extremely strong. Through this moment of physical actions we also get an image about this love relationship.

The soundtrack often uses melodies of American folk songs evident as Paramas dream to go with Rahul to America on tour and playing her sitar. The music emphasizes this longing and at the same time it refers to the forlornness of this dream.

There is a remarkable scene which is a good example for the art of Aparna Sen:
Paramas husband is on a business trip in Bombay. Parama who feels lonely and scared phones him. We see her almost huddled in her room like a prisoner in her own home while he looks out of the hotel window to the open sea and a beach boulevard (probably the famous St. Marine Drive). He talks to her like to a scared child and not with a grown up woman. After the phone calls he dictates a letter to his young and beautiful secretary. But than he says that it is late and they shall stop working for today. As he tries to invite the young woman for a drink we see the secretary (who sits on a sofa) stretching herself for collecting all the files which are scattered all over the sofa. Actually a very banal moment but during this movement when the young woman seems almost lying on this sofa, this moment now from the business man´s subjective perspective becomes already part of his erotic fantasy. It is a very short moment but this very banal action of the secretary is suddenly captured in a predetermined male view and in these few seconds the young woman is totally captured in the image the middle aged man has from his secretary. The moment is also a brilliant example for Aparna Sen´s sensitivity for the different perceptions of of the world by her protagonists.
In the last quarter of the film Parama´s husband will finally discover her affair with Rahul through a photo magazine with pictures from Parama and a handwritten personal dedication of Rahul. He reacts very harsh, calls her a whore. What Parama does not know is that her husband already made in his fantasy in his imagination for the moment (I described above) a whore out of his secretary. When he discovers literally different images of his wife which happened out of his control and out of his sense for possession, his gentle petty bourgeois facade fails.
The film turns now to be very bleak and develops to a suicide attempt of Parama and a deep mental crisis.
And again at the end there is another variation of Aparna Sen´s attention for the different perceptions of reality of her characters. For her family, Parama is now a mentally diseased and very fragile woman. They forgive her out of pity. But she has one of the clearest moment in the whole film when she finally applies for a small job as a shop seller for Sarees. This is a clear decision a step into a more self determination. Parama is still captured, isolated and lonely. But in one of her last scenes she looks out of her window. And like so often in Aparna Sen´s films one of her characters look at something like an invisble  big screen.
Aparna Sen´s films are not only dealing with the art of cinema (this beautiful definition of cinema in Wim Wenders´ Kings Of The Road), they are in fact an excellent school of seeing.

Rüdiger Tomczak.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Some thoughts on Blue Notes by Bill Mousoulis, Australia: 2006

Blue Notes is the fourth film by Bill Mousoulis I have seen so far. To describe the strange fascination which some of his films evoke in me, let me use this image: They are like an imagined long walk with him through a city and its people. At the beginning the people and locations are strange to me but when the walk is over I am full of stories and familiar faces.
Blue Notes is both, a compilation of five different stories which interact with each other – sometimes more, sometimes less – but it is also like a documentary on how a narrative film comes to existence out of moments, observations and the visible matter of the world. There are two opposed movements in this film: To use an example from physics it is how the matter is formed to parts of the world which can be named and how parts of the world disintegrate itself to nameless matter.

The five stories deal mostly with couples and individuals who either try to get their life in order or people whose lives goe apart. There is for example a drug addicted young man who is indecisive if he shall go on to subdue his addiction or writing a song or playing in a band. Another person, a young woman is violently abused by her boyfriend and the life she installed for herself goes apart in an instant. There is also a Greek immigrant called Kosta who is working as a watchman in an underground parking and who is almost a prisoner of his loneliness and nostalgia for his native country which is in unreachable distance from Australia. Kosta, joins a Greek choir which interprets old Greek songs. For now it the only home he can get. This episode exists as well as a separate short film (Kosta).

The stories in this film seem have literally grown from the formed matter we see, the locations, the different apartments, streets and people. Moments of every day actions turn sometimes into very intense scenes. These traces of individual drama become for a moment shining cinematic moments and soon these traces will disintegrate itself.

Another of these five stories is about a middle aged married couple. Like in a film by Ozu we see several variations of one and the same every day ritual. The man comes home from work, welcomed by his wife and his two dogs. The wife is preparing in the kitchen the dinner. He greets her and pours a drink for her and himself than he sits down on a sofa and reads a book or the new paper and some moments later his wife joins him. There are three or four variations of this ritual in the film. But from variation to variation it reveals more and more despair. While waiting for her husband, the wife discovers a book on depression her husband is just reading.
On another evening, the woman is waiting again for her husband´s homecoming. He is late, she gets anxious and finally leaves the house. She finds her husband dead in his car. This tragic moment hit me totally unprepared and reminds me in Ozus last film Samma No Aji. Just alone this moment makes Blue Notes unforgettable for me.

The wonderful episode with the Greek immigrant seems to be like a contrast to the other episode full of despair. As he is introduced as a hopeless lonely man stranded in Australia he at least makes a huge step out of his isolation when he joins the Greek Choir. There is this wonderful moment when he practices the Greek songs in his small apartment and when his face reveals slight traces of happiness.
Blue Notes is a realistic view on people living in a big city but at the same time it is full of playfulness in its formalistic and narrative approach. Bill Mousoulis´ view on these people is discreet but full of affection and compassion.

The use of music in Blue Notes is another evidence for the films´s versatility. Melodies played on acoustic guitars or hard Rock rhythms. Sometimes the music is just part of the soundtrack and sometimes we see music just performed by a singer or a band – and sometimes we listen and watch musicians during rehearsals. The music is an echo of the film´s approach. As I was in the segment of the middle aged couple or the wonderful one about Kosta nearly absorbed, there are other moments where I had rather the feeling to be a witness of the creative process of film making. In this sense, Blue Notes offers both; a fascinating and inspiring vision of cinema but as well an idea where this fascination is actually originated from. 
Blue Notes is poetic and analytic at the same time.

Rüdiger Tomczak

This and many other films by Bill Mousoulis on DVD can be purchased here

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Notes on Fernglück (Distant Fortune) by Shaheen Dill-Riaz, Bangladesh/Germany: 2015


Actually Fernglück is a film mostly financed by television.  it was a brilliant idea to make a little tour through some German film theatres before its premiere at the television channel 3Sat. And it was worth to see it on the big screen.
To begin with , Fernglück, the most recent film by Bangladeshi-German filmmaker Shaheen Dill-Riaz is his finest piece of film since his shameless underrated masterpiece  Shilpo Shahor Shapnalok (The Happiest People in the World, 2005).  
Even though Dill-Riaz spent the first half of his life in his native country Bangladesh and the second one in Germany (only interrupted through long travels to Bangladesh), he travels with us again to Bangladesh and there is not even a trace of smart alecky statements but pure cinema. As he follows some young German women and men who went to Bangladesh as voluntaries for developement aid, he does not give a statement about the encounter of different cultures, he explores them with his camera like he explored his new home Germany as a young man in the early 1990s. Even more important - he respects the idealism of the young people.He talks, listens to these young people and records their journey. In more than one way, it echoes his most personal film The Happiest People in the World where his own biography is confronted with the biography of some people in Dhaka (most of them close to him). Almost in the sense of André Bazin, in both of these films there is a confidence in film and its reflection of reality which does not need any ideological predetermination. Cinema seems here as a quest. Some questions are answered, others not.

I remember the night after the screening in Berlin which I attended with a friend. We talked the whole night about the film and its protagonists. In my memory they began soon after the film ended a life of their own. If something like that happens in a documentary film, that means for me always the evidence of having seen a great film.
If there are a trace of the philosophy of Shaheen Dill Riaz where I can put my finger on than it is one can understand himself better when one can understand the other.

the different reactions of these young Germany are captured equally. One young man will break up his stay in Bangladesh very early. Another young man who is first very motivated resigns after some months of demoralization. We see him searching in water samples from different water pumps in villages for the dangerous poison arsenic. All samples are negative and the young man doubts if the method of analyzing the water is properly at all.
Most of the young women seem to deal much better with the clash between their idealism and the local reality. One of these young woman gets friendly with a female teacher in a village but it is hard for her to accept her subordination as a woman to her family, as a second wife of a man. These confrontation of idealism and reality is often tragic. If these confrontations seem impossible to overcome, Fernglück unfolds as well moments of humor. There is this unforgettable tea house scene when one of the young woman talks with an old man about what is possible in Germany, how to love, marry or how to have relationships. The translator translates in his own way. At the same time we laugh about the predeterminations of the Bengalis and the Germans. But this laughter is not a laughter on the cost of these protagonists, it is a laughter we have with them together. Especially in these invincibly borders between two cultures, this laughter has a very special relieving character. 

During the film was made, a tragic accident happens. A textile factory collapses with more than 1000 dead persons, mostly women. Some of the young Germans visit survivors in the hospital. One of the survivors, a young woman who lost an arm and was buried for days under the ruins of the factory before she was rescued. To a German woman with jeans and a Kurta she explains that these kind of jeans were made in these factories. The young German tries to cover with the Kurta her jeans with a bashful smile. This is a wonderful, almost John Ford-like moment about the borders between different cultures without any judgement. The young survivor has a strange and disturbing sarcasm.

In Dhaka manifestations against war criminals who were responsible for the genocide of Pakistanis against Bengalis during the Liberation war in the 1970s. Some young people, among them a German are demonstrating against the death penalty which is claimed by most of the Bengali protester. Very subtle, Shaheen Dill-Riaz build in information about the history of Bangladesh which is hardly known in Germany.
As the situations for the young Germans becomes very risky they will be sent back to Germany. Unfinished business but the film itself is a very rich journey and some of these young people will stay connected with this country.
True, there are still questions which remain unanswered for us, for the young Germans but as well for the filmmaker himself. But Fernglück answers the question what cinema can be,:a quest how to define the own place in the universe while confronted with the Unknown. Even though we know the world outside of each frame is very keen and not always easy to understand, in each of the film´s frame I feel a kind of protection – for the protagonists and for myself. This beautiful, tender, sad and sometimes funny piece of cinema belongs to the big screen and finally – it is with Patricio Guzman´s masterpiece El Botón de Nacár the first great documentaries of this year.

Rüdiger Tomczak

the film is still available in the mediathek of 3Sat (only in German and only available in Germany Switzerland and Austria)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Notes on Dhanak (Rainbow), by Nagesh Kukunoor, India: 2014-Berlinale 2015- X.-Generation Kplus

Dhanak, one of the very few Indian films shown at this year´s Berlin Film Festival is a wonderful mixture of Road Movie and Fairy Tale. It is not only a film for and about children but has also the lightness but incredible inspired kind of a child´s play.
Tow orphans are on the move to meet in a far distant city in Rajastan Sha Rukh Khan. Pari, the girl is ten, her little brother Chotu is blind. On a poster, Pari saw that Sha Rukh Khan promised to recover eyesight for blind children.
The journey goes through the real desert landscape and they encounter a lot of curious, funny, sad and often very dangerous people like kidnapper. Kukunoor´s approach to make a film for children is one thing. On another level this film offers a correspondence between reality and play, the harsh reality of social and geographic environment and fairy tale between the children´s struggle for surviving and their fairy tale -like inspiration. If there is any Indian cinematic pendant to Grimm´s famous fairy tale Hansel and Grete, we have got it with this film, in Cinema Scope and in colours which are always stronger than in reality. Sha Rukh Khan as a Bollywood myth is only a hint. The film celebrate itself literally as a cinematic rainbow. And the film offers two option to enjoy it: the first is to enjoy it like you enjoy the first film you saw on the big screen in your life. The second option is to reflect about this everlasting relationship between cinema and reality.
One of the most unforgettable and moving character, the children encounter is a former truck driver who has lost his wife and his children during a car accident. After that he became crazy and now he walks with a steering wheel and a horn like “driving a truck”. That reminds me at the same time in the crazy boy who imitates a tram in Akira Kurosawa´s heartbreaking sad Dodeskaden and in the incredible beauty and poetry of a film by Hiroshi Shimizu.
This dynamic between sadness and comedy, between drama and fun is extremely well balanced and reflected very well in this “elder sister-Little brother” -constellation. The film is moving on a very thin line between playfulness and earnestness of two very poor children. Deeply rooted in the geographic and social reality of this part of the world with several hints to the problems the children are confronted with. Dhanak remains at the same time cinema embedded in the poetry of a fairy tale-like storytelling.

From time to time a film like Dhanak is really an essential healing after seeing so much film and after knowing so much about film. For children, Dhanak might be another introduction into the wonder of cinema, for us aging ones it should be welcomed as a rediscovery of where our love to cinema really comes from.
Rüdiger Tomczak

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Notes On Coming Of Age, by Teboho Edkins, South Africa/Germany: 2015-Berlinale 2015-IX.-Generation14plus

A documentary which takes place in the Highlands of South Africa and which is an observation of two young brothers and two teenage girls. It is an inhospitable place to live and it is winter. But again we have impressive images of a geographic and a human landscape. The female leader of this community pleads for progress and for education of the young people. Beside this we still see traditional rituals like initiation rites for young men, in this film the elder brother.
And we can almost feel the freezing air of this winterly mountain landscape.
The film remains a fragmented look to this piece of world. But suddenly we see glimpses of beauty.
Two teenage girls try to maintain their friendship when one of them goes to another school. Like in the finest film by German documentary filmmaker, we always feel that the protagonists know that they are filmed. As we are making our image of them, they seem to react in establishing their own image of themselves.
The film this observation of certain people in certain situations caused by the environment they have to live in comes close to Wim Wenders´s ideal defined in his film Tokyo-Ga” to film without the pressure to have to proof something”. In Rainer Gansera´s film on André Bazin, Eric Rohmer says, that the things we see in a film have to unfold and speak for themselves. In the case of Coming Of Age, we do not see a film which is beautiful made but a film where beauty arises in front of our eyes.
The distance, reduction and even discretion can be in cinema often an overblown attitude. In Coming Of Age the people, the landscape and the things unfold themselves in a natural way. The camera and the whole apparatus of cinema seem to have only one purpose the encourage this self unfolding of the things happening in front of the camera. And such a distant discreet attitude does not exclude a certain tenderness.
The shy smile of these girls who know that they are filmed, stays in my memory. The separation of this two girls, the 15 years old boy who can´t go to school because he has to bring the flock of sheep through the winter – are elements, small hints for a drama which will develop further in our imagination. Coming Of Age reminds me in another kind than Nikolaus Geyrhalter´s wonderful Über die Jahre (Over The Years, Forum) in the finest film by one of Germany´s greatest documentary film maker Peter Nestler.
What makes the joy to watch this film even greater (especially during a film festival) is the simple and undoubtedly fact that the most sophisticated and most cinephile audience of the Berlin Film festival you find exclusively and only during screenings of the Children-and youth films.
Rüdiger Tomczak

Sat, Feb 14, Zoo-Palast  12.30
Sun, Feb15,Cinemaxx 1 14.30

Friday, February 13, 2015

Notes On Viaggio nella dopo-storia (Journey Into Post History) by Vincent Dieutre, France: 2015-Berlinale2015-VIII.-Forum

The film is a try of a remake of Rossellini´s masterpiece Viaggio In Italia, it is a homage to this film, a personal interpretation or how Dieutre calls it in his over voice commentary, an exercise of appreciation.
The couple Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders are here replaced by the homosexual couple Tom and Alex.
The film is always interwoven with personal reflections and thoughts by the filmmaker. Often we see him talking with a lawyer specialized in copyrights and all the legal affairs related to make a remake.
Rossellini´s masterpiece is always present, obviously in excerpts and often projected on huge screens as the background. In these moments it does not look anymore like a projected film, but like a memory of a film or even like a memory of an event which had a big impact on one´s life. The film is present in the dialogue of this gay couple which is only slightly modified. Even in the images of the Naples in the 21.century, you still feel the shadow of Rossellini´s film.

Between all the options how to define this film, I would choose rather the term “audiovisual essay” In one scene the lawyer explains to the filmmaker that adapting, remaking or even quoting an existing work becomes a problem “if you discourage the people to watch the original work”. As a matter of fact Viaggio nelle dopo-storia makes one watching the Rossellini film again and it does not matter if one already knows this film or not.

The film is a sounding of this huge resonance space between a film we love and admire, its impact on our subjective experience and our view to the world.
The actual “remake” does not really take place, it remains fragmented if caused by legal copyright-issue, technical or financial problems or finally caused by the filmmaker´ hesitation.
What makes this film to such an inspiring experience is the dynamic relationship between the film by Rossellini (and Dieutre´ for it) and the echo it leaves in the contemporary Naples and literally in the whole film by Dieutre.
After all Viaggio nella dopo-storia is probably an appreciation of a famous film, an appreciation of cinema, only a French cinephile can approach.
It is a film with many layers each of them are corresponding with each other and these layers are in the images and in the soundtrack.
Adapted and modified dialogues between Alex and Tom have sometimes a character of an evocation of the time, space and also the concrete part of history connected with Viaggio In Italia. And again the projected excerpts on a huge screen. Sometimes Tom and Alex are acting in front of it. The screen is indefinable big. We see only fragments from Rossellini´s images. In its many layers Dieutre´s film reminds me sometimes in Stanley Kwan´s masterpiece Ruan Ling Yu on the Chinese actress Ruan Ling yu and sometimes in Anup Singh´s mesmerizing cinematic dance through the world of Bengali master Ritwik Ghatak, The Name Of A River. If Anup Singh´s appreciation (which is not fixed on a certain film by Ghatak) is closer to Terrence Malick and Stanley Kwan´s bio pic closer to Orson Welles, they have nevertheless something in common with Viaggio nella dopo-jistoria. These films are more like a homage, these are films by people who really lived in and with their admired subjects. These films are great inspirations for all those who love films, who write about films - but also for those who make films.

I always loved Viaggio in Italia. Vincent Dieutre make me love it now even more. And after all, this film is a wonderful example how to talk, think, feel and how to express our love for cinema.
If film criticism and film making ever comes together, than Viaggio nella dopo-storia is a kind of la ove match between both of them.

Rüdiger Tomczak


Sunday, Febr 15, Arsenal 1 17.30