Saturday, September 21, 2019
At the first sight, Mayurakshi appears to me as a very sober film. But finally as the film proceeds, the surface, the first impression competes with the thoughts and emotion the film will evoke. One of the basic abilities of cinema is to confront us with the material reality of our world (in this case as well the time we live in) it can mesmerize, move or scare us not so much in what its images present but in what they evoke in us. These emotions of grief, sorrow or fear are often feelings often hidden in our every day routine.
The narration of Mayurakshi (even though we know that every narration in a fiction film is modified, invented or sometimes even forced) does not appear as a told story but as a story which literally arise from certain defined situations. Aryanil is a middle aged man who arrives in Kolkata from Chicago where he lives and works. He returns to his native city for a few days to visit his old father Sushovan. Sushovan, once a brilliant professor for history, is now suffering under a beginning dementia and other symptoms of mental and physical decay typically for his age..
Aryanil is already divorced twice and has a teenage son who studies abroad. If he is not with his old and fragile father he spends some time with his cousin or a Sahana, a woman of his age, who is a close friend since childhood.
At the beginning the film deals a lot with the measurable things of our modern time, airports, cars, the accurate book keeping recorded in the computer by the house keeper,, the precise technology of the medical instruments which analyze the physical condition of Sushovan and finally the precision of the filmmaker´s instruments for creating images and sounds itself are slightly tangible. A counter current of this very sober and rational aspect arises from Aryanil´s unsteadiness, his doubts, his failures and finally his helplessness towards the decay of his father. There is the wealth and the order of a middle class household on the surface and the small hardly perceptible ruptures underneath.
The film does not only present images of people things and places in the here and now but also memories of lives and stories which are going to disappear from human memories which depend on mortal bodies. And these human memories are depending on a living and mortal human body.
As the film proceeds beside the presentation of the characters lives, there are slight shadows, ideas how their life could have been otherwise if they had made different decisions. Aryanil, alienated and disconnected with his native city and whose life is stagnating is confronted with both: his failures but as well with the chances, the options he missed or abandoned.
There is a small, but unforgettable moment. Aryanil spends an afternoon with his childhood friend Sahana. They are in the (her?) bedroom and share a cigarette. There is a deep intimacy between them but without any obvious erotic attraction. He rests with his head on her lap and dozes off. When she asks him:”Did you just fall asleep”, she sounds rather slightly irritated than shocked. In a few seconds this scene reveals both: a closeness between them in every day activities but also (whatever they went through in their history and if there was once a kind of amorousness between them or not) the certainty that they will never be a couple.
From now on the seeming soberness of the film will be undercut by fragments of longings, emotions of grief and losses. If they are hidden in this film or evoked in me or both, I do not know.
Another example is Soumitra Chatterjee´s performance as Sushovan. One can feel both while watching the performance of this great actor who is almost something like a living legend: the professional virtuosity of an actor with more than 50 years acting experience but as well (and what his performance evokes in me), a heartbreaking embodiment of an old man at the end of his life who faces decay and loneliness. How Chatterjee felt playing a character of about his own age, I do not know.
Like phantom images behind the visible images presented in this film, a different film more rich and more moving arises as mysterious like the formation of organic life out of dead matter.
Mayurakshi the film title refers to a woman who was once (if I am not mistaken) a student of Sushovan. The history professor was very fond of her and dreamt of marrying her with his son Aryanil who refused this proposal. Sushovan´s wish to see her again urges Aryanil to look for her. When he finds a very close track to her whereabouts, he finally abandons his search and tells his father a macabre lie. Mayurakshi soon will disappear with Sushovan´s decay and inevitable death like this manifestation of a dear childhood memory embodied by the sled called Rosebud in Orson Welles´ Citizen Kane. This chapter of the film is almost as sad as when we see someone dying and there is nothing we can do about.
The film ends like it began, at the aiport, one of the most sober, impersonal and anonym places I can imagine. Of all the things, the strongest emotion displayed in this film takes place here: Suddenly while waiting for the return flight, Aryanil begins to cry, a sudden emotion where he has no control over it anymore. Another passenger asks him if he is alright but soon he goes back to his seat and again the whole airport is an anonymous place and Aryanil´s loneliness and forlornness seems even increasing.
Through the windows of the plane we see a beautiful light which breaks its way through heavy clouds. Aryanil is now only a passenger amongst other and with him we leave the fictive world of this film.
The film has as well a very unique soundtrack. Sounds (like the obligatory street sound from an Indian big city) and the music are subdued and restraint like the very economic display of emotion and drama. Prasenjit Chatterjee, Indrani Haldar and most of the other actors remind me in their acting rather in the more minimalistic performances in the films by Ozu, Dreyer of Hou Hsiao Hsien.
But when I watched the film a second time, it was of all things especially this suppression of emotion and drama that evoked so much melancholy in me.
At the end, Aryanil does after the events of his short but intense journey the same what we do after just having watched an intense film which appears in my memory much less sober like at my first impressions. He reflects about his experiences in his native city which is not his home anymore and what they evoked in him. Like us he just begins to deal with the emotional impact this journey had on him, this film had on us.
Mayurakshi by Atanu Ghosh is not only another impressing example of the shamefully neglected world of Indian cinema outside of Bollywood, it proofs once more that India belongs to the most sophisticated film countries of our time.
My journey with Indian contemporary cinema began 14 years ago when I discovered for myself the wonderful films by Aparna Sen and there is no end of this journey in sight. Mayurakshi is as well another example how much we can learn from Indian cinema about the meaning of cinema but as well why a future without cinema is impossible.
Saturday, July 27, 2019
It became for me a little tradition each year to watch a film at this strangely named “Indo-German” Film festival in Berlin. It began with Konkona Sensharma´s highly praised first long film A Death in the Gunj and one year later I saw Anup Singh´s The Song of Scorpions, films which are difficult to find on the big screen of my city. This year it was Sudipto Roy´s first long film Kia and Cosmos.
The title suggest a double meaning, first it is about the 15 years old autistic girl Kia who investigates the murder of a pregnant cat from her neighbourhood but it is also about Kia and her cosmos. Her cosmos that is the concrete city landscape of her neighbourhood in Kolkata but also her imagination, her passion for mathematics, writing stories or reading the detective novels about Feluda and Byomkesh, these two most popular detective characters among Bengali readers.
Her social cosmos is her single mother (separated from her husband), her teacher Souvik and the young rickshaw driver Rabi. Rabi picks her up every day for school and backwards. Her every day life follows always recurrent routines, like school or the quarrels with her always stressed mother Dia. But part of her cosmos are as well the streets and small alleys of her environment which we see often through her eyes. These alleys, streets or backyards are more colorful than in my memory. Under the influence of the street lightning it appears as a mystic place of dreamlike beauty, the ideal background for the murder mystery novels Kia loves so much.
Roy sometimes uses subjective shots in which we follow Kia´s movements, moments in which we see how Kia sees the world. In other moments the subjective perspective is replaced by long, hardly moved shots when she is alone in her room, with her teacher or her mother. Especially the shots when she is quarrelling with her mother, who is often overstrained, are very long, very intense and they often leave the bitter aftertaste of alienation and the lack of communication which reminds me in the films by John Cassavetes. That is sometimes emphasized through the spatial distance between the characters through the mighty cinema scope format.
These moments of a sober naturalism which puts the confidence in the precise and seismographic ability of the cinematic apparatus is contrasted by these moments of imagination when for example Kia is making with Rabi a forbidden excursion through the nightly city. These are dreamy moments which strangely evoke in me the imagined city landscapes in the animation films by Hayao Miyazaki which are inspired by real architecture but recreated into a mystic dreamlike landscape.
The relationship between the subjective moved shots and the long almost static ones from a rather objective point of view reveal the movement between Kia´s difficulty to communicate with her social environment or define her place in the world – or if we want- in her “cosmos”. But it also reveals the energy she needs for managing her life and the imagination that gives her the strength to live.
The film does not even comes near any conventional sentimentality or pity-provoking dramas about handicapped people. Roy´s playful and versatile visual style makes both equally present: Kia´s suffering but as well her strength to live.
In all its playfulness poetry and dreaminess, the cinematic richness this film is offering, bases as well on hard and very grounded work. One of these foundation from which the film unfolds its glory, is the performance of Ritwika Pal, which reveals all colors of human feelings and moods like a kaleidoscope.
The body language, the lack of a proper verbal or non-verbal communication the hyperactivity and even slight primary troubles must have been accurately researched. Even Kia´s obsessive behaviour in her every day actions look of amazing authenticity. It is one of these indescribable moments when it is hard to distinguish the poetry and imagination an actor evokes and the sense for the physical work of acting which causes this. traces of exhaustion in Pal´s face which could be the exhaustion of the character´s or the actress herself. Her performance reminds me in some glorious performances by Konkona Sensharma or Kalki Koechlins acting in Margarita with a Straw by Shonali Bose – and sometimes as well in the young Robert de Niro.
Finally, Kia leaves her “cosmos” for a while. With the stolen credit card of her mother she makes the long journey to the far distant city Kalimpong to look for her father. Her father, a dreamer and activist of a movement (which is only vaguely described) has left her mother. Kia finds out the reasons why her parents had separated themselves from each other. From a murder mystery and Coming of Age-drama, the film reveals now a family drama. On her journey by train, the young girl occurs as lost and vulnerable but as well admirable for her courage to confront herself with the truth about her dysfunctional family. She describes the encounter with her father “as a journey to a far distant star “and the mother “as the power which will bring her back to earth”. That sounds as well like a beautiful description of the two big movements of the film which complement each other. .When she looks down to the panorama of the city Kalimpong, the lights look like a cluster of stars in space. Kia explores the unknown parts of her cosmos. Like most of all great films with a strong “Coming of Age”-element, Kia and Cosmos ends with a question. Kia has to choose how she continues with her life how to go on with the search for her place in the world.
In a perfect world, this film would run in the good old repertoire,- or art house cinemas (as far as they are still in existence in India and elsewhere else). In India and some other countries (USA or Germany not yet included) Kia and Cosmos is available at Netflix. Now, I really understand how lucky I was to have watched Sudipto Roy´s wonderful film on the big screen where it belongs. My persistent effort to explore Indian cinema outside the merciless commercial Indian film industry was rewarded once again with another hidden gem.
Sunday, July 14, 2019
At the beginning, a boat is floating on a mighty river. Except a young couple, no one else is visible. It is the head chief Raja and his fiancée Shahida. They argue about how to coordinate their professional with their love life. Shahida went to Paris for professional reasons, Raja will now go to Kolkata for working in a restaurant. Both are from Bangladesh. It seems the spectator is on this boat on a sightseeing tour but suddenly distracted by this arguing couple. This is not only an introduction in the film´s story but as well into an idea about cinema. The boat and the couple is embedded in this mighty river landscape like this piece of fiction is embedded in the reality far beyond the film. From the first moment on, Ahaa Re is not only a film about relationships between family members, lovers or colleagues, it is as well a film about the relationship between the framed fictionalized piece of world and an idea of an equally present reality beyond it, outside of the frame and outside of fiction. If each shot is decision, it is here as well in contact with the whole world.
At the first sight, Ahaa Ree appears as a soft comedy about family and love relations and about the art of cooking, the sensual pleasure of food. But behind the more obvious themes, the film also reflects always about work. In this case it is not only about preparing dishes but picking up fresh ingredients from the market and always checking out new nuances of taste. And the work of cooking appears to me as well as a metaphor for film making. As the film often reveals working hands which select and compose it gives also a hint about the film as a result of searching and selecting itself. The film is not only about food but as well about very different kinds of persons and how they define their place in the world, their attitude about the world and from very different perspectives. It is also for example about perceptions of the world of a Muslim from Bangladesh and a Hindu widow from Kolkata.
As the story begins to be more branched, Raja meets Basundhara, a Hindu widow who runs the catering service of her father in law. Raja who begins to be interested in her makes friends with her brother and father in law. Basundhara does not talk much in this film. For a long time, all tries of Raja to propose her remain unanswered by her. Even though all other persons talk a lot about themselves, the film remains very economic with expressed emotions and therefore emotions are rather optional than directly revealed for most of the time.
Another example for Ranjan Ghosh´s dealing with fiction and reality are the moments when Raja alone, with Basundhara or with her father in law visits the market places for picking up fresh ingredients for his kitchen. It is like in the opening scene when the narrative and stylistic decisions visible in the frame stand in a context to a reality which is nearly untouched by the film´s fiction. It is like an open door where one can walk between these two dimensions, the things the film is focusing on and the perceptible world outside the frame. This enriches the film by a fresh breeze, a seeming lightness which reminds me in the films by Eric Rohmer, Yasujiro Ozu or Rudolf Thome.
Bashundara´s father in law watches the night sky and is rambling about the birth and the dead of the stars. It is again one of these moments, when the narration of the film pauses for a moment with a rather reflective moment and not only the characters but also the film seems to reflect about itself.
Rituparna Sengupta´s Basundhara is another example for the versatile options the film is offering. For a long time she hides her emotions behind a facial expression between fathomless melancholy and stoicism. For most of the time Sengupta acts restrained a bit like Shefali Shah in Kanwal Sethi´s Once again. But nearly the end of the film when her tragic story is revealed she has a fierce and unexpected emotional release. It is like a meteor strike on the quiet and sorted suface of this film. It also evokes in me memories in the incredible scenes of regrets and sadness of Setsuko Hara in Ozu´s Tokyo Monogatari and Supriya Choudhury in Ghatak´s Meghe Dhaka Tara.
There is a moment when Raja is watching at the window in his fancy apartment. At first the window emphasizes the natural limitation of cinema by the frame of the image. Later the whole screen shows the greyish clouded sky over Kolkata. And again the film has opened it´s door from it´s fiction to the universe of what it is a part of.
In another moment the house of Basundhara´s father in law is ridden by a heavy thunderstorm. The windows are still open and the house is totally exposed to this force of nature. For this short moment, human culture often evident in this film by apartments and living rooms becomes vulnerable.
The nearest thing which comes to my mind to describe the impact the film has on me, is a strolling through the paths, the rooms and places, the human landscapes the film reveals or through the versatile cinematic ideas, the film is offering.
The paths in the films are fixed but we are free to move and it is on us how we look around or how we explore the cinematic options the film has offered.
Ahaa Re by Ranjan Ghosh is another example for the vibrancy of contemporary Indian cinema outside the more and more commercialized film industry and which deserves much more attention by the international film community than it gets these days. And despite the future of cinema is threatened as an art form, there are especially some young filmmaker from India who gave me in very different ways confidence in the future of cinema, people like Rima Das, Pushpendra Singh, Konkona Sensharma, Kanwal Sethi or Anamika Bandopadhyay and there are probably even more to discover. And for sure, Ranjan Ghosh is one of them.
Friday, May 24, 2019
"Nature is not on the surface, it is deep inside. The colors are the expression of this depth on the surface. They raise up from the roots of the world. They are their life. The life of ideas."
Sometimes, writing on films feels like writing against the amnesia in the film history. There is probably no cinematic heritage among the great film nations which is more endangered than the very complex and versatile cinema of India.
Abhaas is the second long feature film my Mrs. Bijaya Jena, an actress and filmmaker from the Indian state Orissa. This film from 1997 was recently restored for film-festivals and reprises. But restoring means as well to safe a film not only against being forgotten but also to safe it against the physical decay of its print source.
And from the first sight the film won me over as an incredible beautiful color film which evokes in me memories of such extraordinary examples in the use of color for films like Jean Renoir´s mesmerizing The River, John Ford´s daring use of color in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Ophüls´ Lola Montez or Kubrick´s Barry Lyndon. But Abhaas is also a film which goes through several metamorphoses and it has a long echo weeks or months after I have seen it. There is still the echo on my retina from this purples, violet, red and green tones. I do not feel much less intoxicated like the Astronaut Dave Bowman in the psychedelic star gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The film begins with a family meeting where all the characters are introduced: the rich landlord Ray who gave shelter for the young poet Chandra and the young widow Kukila. Ray´s daughter has visited the landlord with her little boy Rabi. The story the film will tell, the persons´s stories it will select originate from the microcosm of a family. At the beginning there is a fascinating dynamic between a quiet pace and the awesome visual beauty of the colors. The tragedy is yet hard to trace but one can have a slight idea of tectonic movements under the surface. In the first 30 minutes, the film flows in its episodic structure and the more the film proceeds, the more we recall the beginning, and in retrospect each moments occurs as precious. One of these small ruptures under the beautiful though decaying beauty of Ray´s country estate there is a moment during a religious ceremony when the priest protests against the widow Kukila´s participation.
Chandra, Kukila and the little Rabi make excursions to a fair and later to a little waterfall. Chandra recites poems for Kukila, the child is bored. But this little jaunts are of mesmerizing and of almost dreamlike beauty. These three characters seem to live in their own world – and just alone these contemplative moments alone are traces of an unforgettable cinematic paradise. They will remain in my memory when the film changes into darker moods. Watching the film correspondents always with recalling earlier moments of this film.
When Chandra and Kukila begin to fall in love for each other, Chandra learns that Ray secretly seduces the young widow. And as soon as the family learns that the young people have feeling for each other they try driven by class conceit to remarry Kukila as soon as possible. The comparatively liberal Ray (the film takes place in the 1950s) appears now as proprietorial, the young people adopted into this family are reduced to human property. There is a last desperate try of Kukila to persuade Chandra to escape with with him. They do not live anymore in their own world, the are part of Ray´s human property in a world dominated by worldly power.But this is only a short rebellion against the fate. Kukila learns that she is pregnant. To avoid a scandal, Ray organize in the village an abortion. The abortion fails and Kukila dies.
The episodic narration leads now to a pointed tragedy. When the police is alarmed and the incorrupt physician reports the death case to the police, Ray blames Chandra for both, Kukila´s pregnancy and her death. Chandra has to go to prison for some years and he does it without protest and without the least try to declare his innocence.
After this fierce dramatic development, the film calms down in a mysterious way.
The paradisiac beginning and the tragic end of a love story have gone and the film moves to its third movement. In his prison cell, Chandra writes poems, most of them are an echo of his lost love. This is as well a metaphor of this film which deals in its third part with reflections, memories, inversions and with the past beauty and tragedy of the previous two parts.
In between Ray is hunted by his guilt and literally by Kukila´s ghost which leads him to illness and death.
Abhaas reminds me sometimes that I see films often like I hear my favorite music. Cinema which is almost connected with all other arts, moves often between its concrete graphic nature and an abstract aspect. But I also think it is a film about the work of our memory in the sense Chris Marker reflected in his Sans Soleil on Hitchcock´s masterpiece Vertigo.
The fiction of a film is always lending the real things, buildings landscapes and beings of this world and at the end everything has to be given back.
Chandra, the poet inherited a piece of land Ray wanted to give him before he passed away. The landlord driven by his bad conscience has even published Chandra´s poem. But at the end, when Chandra´s innocence is proven, the poet does exactly what the audience has to do: to let all things go. Chandra, the Sufi poet vanishes into the infinity of the world. A deserted riverbank at the end, almost cleaned by traces of the film´s fiction which has inspired, mesmerized and us and which made us reflecting about it a very long time.
When in he end credits small frames with fragments of the film appear, than the whole film fixed by this chemical and mechanic process appears almost like a memory based on the organic process of the human brain. And it is hard to believe that human lives are condensed to less than 2 hours film.
In the middle of 1990s when the film public out of India, especially most of the big film festivals abandoned India cinema. Abhaas is an almost forgotten masterpiece. With the restoration of this film, a piece of cinematic memory is saved. With Satyajit Ray´s wonderful last film Agantuk, Shaji N. Karun´s Malick-like masterpiece Swaham and Aparna Sen´s grim and disturbing Yugant, Bijaya Jena´s Abhaas, probably my cinematic rediscovery of this year is for me another enlightenment of Indian cinema of the 1990s.
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Notes on Beol-sae (House of Hummingbird) by Kim Bo-ra, Republic Korea: 2018, Berlin Filmfestival2019 VIII.-Generation14plus
Beol-sae looks at the first sight like a modern shomingeki-film and at the same time like a Korean feminist pendant to Hou Hsiao Hsien´s autobiographical masterpiece of modern Asian cinema Tong Nien wang shi (A Time to live and a Time to die). Premiered and awarded last year at the festival of Pusan/Korea Beol-sae was one of the highlights I have seen this year at the generation-section of the Berlin film festival which surprised me me in the last years with an impressive diversity of cinematic forms.
In her first long feature, Kim Bo-ra introduces herself as a unique stylist for the future of cinema.
The film takes place during some months in Seoul in the year 1994. Its narration evolves around the young teenage girl Eunhee. Consequently, the narration is built of every day episodes, at first seemingly incidental later they seemed like intensified by themselves more and more in an almost uncanny way. Eunhee, her friends, brother, sister and parents are common people we know from so much films by Ozu or Naruse. The (living) space, in this case closed rooms plays an important role: kitchen, living room, bed room, the class room of the school or the hospital where Eunhee has to admit herself during the middle of the film. The narration is fragmented through these small every day situations, quarrels with parents, friends or the brother, the first kiss.
The best example for this very unorthodox narrative style is a kind of love story
As the film proceeds, Eunhee develops feelings for the teacher of the calligraphy school. At first an optional narrative sub story like a hint, later in retrospect it appears as one of the crucial moments in this film.
The film is about the history of the intimate life and social environment of Eunhee but punctuated with four drastic events. First of all, her uncle, an alcoholic passes away, a tragedy which affects the family but which won´t be recorded in any history book. Later there is a hint to the football championship in the USA and the death of a leader in North Korea. These are signs of history where the film is embedded. Another tragic event, the collapse of a big bridge causes many lives, including a person close to Eunhee. This is the moment when global history directly affects the private sphere of the protagonists. The episodic narration turns into a huge gravitation field
Kim Bo-ra´s film is an exquisite meditation about the relationship between history and human identities and it shows a maturity of an old master which one can´t usually expect in a first long feature film.
In the last 30 years and especially in Asian cinema, some directors cultivated long shots without any cut and very close to André Bazin´s use of the term . Two different names come to my mind. First of all, the Taiwanese Hou Hsiao Hsien. His extreme long shots appear to me as real time blocs among the film. Another Taiwanese, Tsai Ming-liang uses long shots in a more artificial way. In his sequences time appears as expanded like the set is much to near an event horizon of a Black hole. Kim Bo-ra works here with another variation more close to Hou Hsiao Hsien but with a totally different accent. In some of her long shots, when even the camera is unmoved (or hardly moved) the movement of the protagonists sometimes pauses in almost frozen gestures. The cinematic movement is suspended for a while. These moments also suspend the narration for a moment. They suspend the cinematic illusion of space, time and movement and what we call world as it appears on the screen.
In other moments, actions of violence: Eunhee is beaten by her brother, the father shows sign of outrage in his aggressive behavior. There is a moment when Eunhee is alone in her room, totally enraged. Her movements appear nearly like an explosion in this mostly quiet film. It seems she rebels against the restrictions forced on her by the very specific Korean society of the 1990s, by all representatives of authority (teacher, parents, the elder brother) but also by the limitations of the frame of the screen which appears as the visualization of all restrictions of this world she is exposed to.
Even though this film is about young people, even though this film is focusing on urban every day life, there is a current underneath which evokes in me this undefinable taste of transientness. When the film ends it leaves on me the impression of a memory like sculptured for the eternity while we whom this memory is shared with are confronted with the own mortality.
In 138 minutes a whole human life is sensible. When the film is over , I felt this exhausting euphoria between admiration and being heartbroken, between being happy to have seen such a great film but with the eyes full of tears. I felt such a thing this year only with two other films, Driveways by Andrew Ahn and Bulbul can sing by Rima Das.
Like these films, Beol-sae does not just leaves the impression of a film I just saw. It is a film I lived with, breathed with and dwelt in for a while.
Beol-sae won the Grand Prix of the Jury of Generation 14plus, Bulbul can sing, my other darling from this festival by Rima Das won a special mention.
17.February, 16.00, Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
Friday, February 15, 2019
Notes on a short gem called Rang Mahal (Palace of Colours by Prantik Basu, India: 2018, Berlin Filmfestival2019 VII.-Berlinale-shorts
Maybe films which are dealing with the genesis or the formation of the world and with the origin of mankind have always to do with the history of cinema.
Rang Mahal begins with a mountain landscape. We see the matter as old as the birth of our planet. An over voice narrator recites the genesis of the world how it is passed on by the tribe Santal from their mythology. The Santal belong to the natives of the Indian sub continent. It is about the creation of all matter, the beginning of life and finally the origin of men. The film reveals at the beginning natural landscape which is later modified by human civilization. Sometimes, we recognize in the midst of this wild and breathtaking beautiful landscape small paths made by men. Sometimes a few paintings are showed.
As the images show what is, the matter, the text based on a myth which is always an interpretation of the world. It is fascinating how text and images have its own life independent from each other but they finally appear as two possibilities to understand the world. In it´s balance of text and image, Rang Mahal is a close relative of these seemingly very different films like Marguerite Duras´Les Mains Negatives (The negative hands) or Terrence Malick´s Voyage of Time – A Life´s Journey. All these films move between two different poles of cinema, the first one is the ability of cinema to reveal the material world, the second pole is to evoke something or which stimulates our imagination.
As the film proceeds more and more signs of civilization appear, a man working with the soil or a cyclist. The natural landscape turns partly into a landscape cultivated by men. A roof of these houses is based on the structure of a fish skeleton. Power poles are visible in this seemingly almost untouched landscape. In some moments this film has something of a lost dream. The relationship between mankind and nature seems still intact. A world is conceivable where mankind lives in accordance with nature instead of exploiting it.
First of all, this is a very rigorous film about the diversity of cinema between reproducing images of the world and the storytelling, between realism and poetry. The idea of cinema actually began ages ago before our common era when humans began to form what we call civilization and communities. The old cave paintings are probably the origin of cinema.
In all it´s wisdom, in all it´s artistic decisions, Rang Mahal still gives space for this primary, and yes - for my sake - even naive joy in seeing images and to be absorbed by stories. And images are what this film offers quite a lot: Children, animals the incredible landscapes, the beautiful paintings of houses and rooms. In more than one aspect it is a film which reminds us why we love cinematic images.
Than, sentences from this over-voice recitation like, “After all, we all are part of the creator´s dream”, or, “We all are part of cosmic history”.
Rang Mahal is not only an invitation to see very exquisite images from an endangered culture, it is as well a crystal clear film about the Seeing itself.
Even though Prantik Basu cultivates a kind of formal strictness, it is a film you can watch and breathe freely. That it is free of any dogmatism is evident in this implicitness the film presents a peaceful co-existence of the things which are what they are and the things which are evoked through imagination.
The glory of cinema – it can also be found in this short and beautiful gem Rang Mahal by Prantik Basu.
(The film is part of the program Berlinale-shorts V (The show must go on)
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Notes on Outsaiyed Elkhortoum (Khartoum Offside) by Marwa Zein, Sudan/Norway/Denmark: 2019-Berlin Filmfestival VI. -Forum
The filmmaker visits her native country, Sudan, a country where she has actually never lived. Born in Saudi Arabia and later grown up in Egypt. Sudan is for her something like the unknown home country. Consequently the film is a cinematic travelogue. It consists of interviews with different women and observations but it is also a personal reflection how her life had been if she had grown up in this very country. First of all, she appears as a stranger in her native country.
Most of the women she meets, are enthusiastic about football. One of them dreams about building up a national ladies football team. As Sudan is a member of the Fifa, it is officially still not allowed for women to play football. Each training unit, each game is a fight against this stupid restriction. Marwa Zein is very close to her protagonists, their dreams their and their resistance against a patriarchal culture. Her images are actually images which are officially oppressed. Sometimes films are not only revealing a diversity, they themselves contribute to it.
She accompanies these women during training, some matches and moments when women are mostly among women. She records their enthusiasm and their ability to form companionship under very oppressive conditions. While ladies football is becoming more and more established in other countries, in Sudan it is still a sub culture. The resistance against this restriction caused by religion, state and male dominated culture is not yet an open battle but the idea of a change is imaginable.
Sometimes cinema has this ability to offer images from other cultures which are totally ignored or totally oppressed. In other words – cinema can often offer images hidden in an oppressed diversity.
In my now a bit disillusioned, once very romantic idea about film festivals as a place of cinematic and cultural diversity as its most important meaning, the film reminds me a bit what I was looking for all these years in film festivals.
Between watching these women playing football, talking to each other or expressing their dreams and hopes, there is a moment when the film reminds us that there is still a long way to these women's freedom and self determination. Once we see a hole in the wall of a house. Sunlight breaks through this hole and and changes the light into a shining golden shade. The light finds its way through a tiny hole and it is a good metaphor for this film. It is an abstract poetic moment in this mostly sober but compassionate film. As a survey, the film comes to rather sober conclusions. The women are still isolated not only by their country´s restriction but as well by the indifference of the Fifa which even appears as more distorted than it is already. But Marwa Zein creates literally space for this women, an imagined albeit small zone of freedom and self determination where they can unfold themselves. The seedling for change is small and frail, but it still begins to grow.
14.February, 11.00 Cinestar 8
15. February, 22.00, Cinemaxx 4
17. February, 20.00 silent green
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Kinder is the graduation film of young filmmaker Nina Wesemann who sudied at the film school in Munich (HFF München).
First of all the appearance of such a film on a big festival proves again the courage of this very special children-, and youth section.
I remember during the Q&A after the screening yesterday, a small kid asked “what is this film about”. That caused quite a laughter but in its innocence it was quite close to the centre of this remarkable piece of film. The more I think about this film, the more I respect it. It is far beyond a clever graduation film of a clever student but a challenging experiment with children and film. Kinder is not one of these projects which are just confirming already ensured theories of cinema but a wild, wise and sometimes innocent beauty. And sometimes the film has the brave spirit of the first film pioneers. With this documentary, I feel like having experienced a journey through the history of documentary cinema from the Brothers Lumière to everything what is possible today. The whole film is like a precious unpolished jewel and it offers both the enthusiasm of the film pioneers and the wisdom of more than 120 years of cinema.
The film revolves around three different groups of children, all from different parts of Berlin. They might not know about each other but the film connects them to a mosaic of a childhood in Berlin.
What strikes me most is the articulation of Nina Wesemann in her cinematic point of view. And again I have to stress the wonderful explanation of the German word “Einstellung” by Wim Wenders which goes far beyond its English equivalence “shot”. “Einstellung” includes as well an attitude for or about something.
A child on a play ground, totally absorbed by its play. If the beauty of this fleeting moment is caused just by a strong confidence of the filmmaker in that what happens in front of the camera or is it caused by her crucial “Einstellung”, her decision as a filmmaker?
Sometimes, as soon as the children get aware of the presence of filmmaker and camera, they begin to “perform”. That reminds me in some famous moment in Robert J. Flaherty´s Nanook of the North.
An equivalence in Wesemann´s film I see in the moment when a boy eats a very hot pepperoni where it is not always easy to distinguish what is his authentic physical reaction and what his “performance”.
Sometimes the cinematic point of view is from a grown up at children, sometimes I imagine Nina Wesemann using her camera like a time traveler looking for her own childhood. In other moments her point of view seems as absorbed by the events in front of the camera like a child playing in the sand.
The poetry of cinema - no matter if fiction or documentary - has to do with a fine sense for how and when to create and how and when to just let things happen.
Like photography film is an art created with the assistance of a mighty apparatus and cinematic poetry is sometimes a very fine adjustment between human and machine.
Sometimes cinema absorbs us and sometimes we have a slight idea of the presence of this machine.
Sometimes we see children who are filmed, sometimes we see the children we once were. These moments evoke in me the old photographs in my family albums from my childhood and I myself am absorbed in the things I see on the screen and the memories they evoke in me. Between these moments of absorption there is the slight awareness that this film is created, composed and structured. In Kinder, we see a lot of sequences shot from driving local trains, busses or trams. These sidewards movements flatten the image to its original two dimensions. Like in these many train scenes in the history of cinema it appears to me as an analogy of a film strip which moves through a projector. The poetry of cinema is often this movement between the illusion of depth and the awareness of the technique which enables this illusion.
These children play often question and answer-games. There is a moment when they articulate in a playful way questions about the origin of the universe and life. Some other children are visiting a historical museum in Berlin. All these fragmental seemingly accidental episodes sum up at the end to a film which articulate very wise questions about the world but also about film.
Kinder by Nina Wesemann is an exciting discovery from the more experimental side of this wonderful Berlinale-Generation which makes me hopeful for the future of this often endangered child of the late 19. Century called cinema.
14.February, 11.30, Cinemaxx 1
17. February,12.30, Filmtheater am Friedrichshain
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Driveways is as well a film about cleaning out. In its literally meaning it is about cleaning out the house of a deceased person but it is also about cleaning out the troubled soul for facing the future or for coming to terms with the own life.
The film is also about the crossing of different path of life. One path is very close to its end, the other is halfway on this path, another just begins.
Kathy, an Asian-American woman (Hong Chau) and her 8 years old son Cody are on a road trip to the house of her elder sister who just passed away. The sisters lost contact for many years.The house has to be cleaned out for selling it. When they arrive, electricity is switched off and the house is full packed with things, most of them look like junk. It is one of these heartbreaking moments everyone experiences in life. Things, souvenirs etc. loose the meaning when its owner is no more, they are disconnected from a soul who has gone. What we learn about the story of Cody and Cathy, we learn only through small hints. We encounter them here and now. Kathy is a troubled woman, troubled by her difficult relationship with the deceased sister and probably by men. Once she phones with a man, a boyfriend or even Cody´s father – we do not know for sure. Cody is a sensitive but frightened boy. For mother and son, the future is a catalogue of questions, how to make a living for her and the child, where to live, to sell the inherited house or not. Cody encounters the old neighbour Del, a military veteran played by the wonderful Brian Dennehy who is still warm in my memory after his performance in Terrence Malick´s Knight of Cups. Their gradual approach belongs to the wonders of this film. Del still mourns the loss of his wife who passed away years ago and he develops very soon a friendship with the young boy. All those protagonists exist in the Here and Now but there is as well the almost phantasmal presence of their history and their identity as human beings whose complexity and lifetime appears as far beyond the 88 film minutes.
With other friends, Del plays bingo in a club for war veterans. Some of his pals show already signs of dementia. Soon Del has to leave his home because his daughter, a judge will take him to her house to take care of him. At the same time Cody and his mother are close to the decision to keep the house instead of selling it. The one has to leave his home, others are just close to find one.
Even though the film is also telling about abandoned houses, Driveways is a film I felt at home with just after the first minutes. Sometimes it looks like a Road Movie made by Ozu. Even though structured in every day episodes with a seeming lightness, there is a quite melancholic undertone of caducity. Andrew Ahn accomplishes a glimpse of eternity in a very subtle way and with heart warming compassion.
Driveways is at the same time a film about farewell. Two currents are crossing each other. A life path which is very close to its end and another one which just begins.
Life and Death are present and sometimes in the same shot. In house of the deceased aunt, the boy finds a corpse of a cat. When Cody says that he likes to visit Del in the faraway Seattle, the old man answers that it is a very long way there is the notion of Del´s death in the near future.
The porch is a transition between the public part of a house and the more private rooms. A lot of scenes take place on such a porch. It is near the end when on Del´s porch an incredible beautiful and moving scene will take place. Del tells about his late wife about his regrets in his long life. It is not just a very tender moment, the whole film becomes in such moments tenderness and compassion itself.
When Cody and Del are sitting in front of the door, we see them from behind and we follow their glances into the environment, the settlement surrounded by trees. It is a contemplative enchanting shot. We do not only see but we see also people who are looking at something like to an invisible screen. As they are framed it emphasizes also cinema as a fragment of what we call world. Driveways, this little miracle of Independent cinema celebrates life and cinema at the same time.
13.February, 10.00 Haus der Kulturen der Welt
17.February, 10.00 Cinemaxx 3
Monday, February 11, 2019
Notes on Une Colonie (A Colony) by Geneviève Dulude De Celles, Canada: 2018, Berlin Filmfestival III.-Generationkplus
The film takes place in a rural region of Quebec near a Native American reservation. At first it seems to be about an ordinary family among many others. The film is structured in single every day moments, family dinner, school, games and walks through the forest nearby. To reach the school it takes a long drive by bus. Ordinary moments happen at the first sight very incidental but soon they evolve from that through some repetitions to a compelling rhythm. The drama behind the ordinary, the unique behind the common unfolds at first subtly but with rising intensity. Sometimes the glory and beauty of cinema does not seem only the result of the intentions of the filmmakers but as well their curiosity and their discoveries of this piece of the world they want to tell about.There is a family in this small settlement, the father is rarely seen, the mother is a professional dancer. They have two very different daughters, Mylia, the adolescent shy and very introverted one and Camille, a small and very lively kid. At first the film seems to be built of situations of every day life. Later in school when Mylia´s teacher gives lessons about the history of the conquering of America, her class mate Jim, a Native feels insulted and it is one of the small cracks in this seemingly prosy life. How the film varies and sometimes repeat these every day situations forms soon a strange poetry. Banal moments become significant, prose turns into poetry.
Mylia is an outsider, a shy loner. Not yet outgrown of her childhood she has already lost this special imagination, this sense for magic her little sister still has. Camille still talks to animals, her whole environment is a magic place while for Mylia the world consists of a lot of questions and doubts.
The drama in this film seems never forced. It rises up directly from this episodic structure. At the end the parents will get divorced. The children has to move again and it is especially hard for Mylia who just recently changed school already once. At the end a letter from her to the young Native Jim is recited, a hint to the beginning of a love story. How this “love story” will develop we do not know but just the hint to an option leaves us with hope. It is not a Happy End but an end with a promising option.
The art of making films with and about children and adolescents is a matter of perception. Mylia is very shy and her attempt to find her way in life is faltering and very careful. The camera in Une Colonie does not just reveal images of this very cautious and lonely girl, it literally adapts her careful faltering and her shyness. It is not a film about a shy girl but in total accordance with this girl and her glimpses of the world around her.
Later as the film proceeds and the more it moves towards its end we get an idea that this incidental and seemingly accidental episodic structure manifests itself as a very special aesthetic attitude.
Dulude-De Celles strictly refuses to be smarter as her protagonists accomplishes a breathtaking closeness to them. After all the cinematic point of view in Une Colonie is not illustrating but discovering the human and geographical landscape in this very region of Quebec.
At the end when the film already begins to become a memory when the credits are accompanied by a sad folk blues song I feel the whole enrichment of this cinematic experience. Une Colonie is exactly in its refusal of forcing the drama and especially in it´s restraint a very moving, a very emotional film experience.
I still have the sound of the incredible beautiful French-Canadian accent in my ears. The glimpses, these seemingly prosaic moments varied every day moments are concentrated in my memory to a long and beautiful song. In another kind like this wonderful Bulbul can sing by Rima Das, Une Colonie by Geneviève Dulude De Celles is another example of a film which celebrates the glory and the endless diversity of cinema.
12.February, 13.15, Cinemaxx 3
13.February, 14.30, Cubix 7