Friday, May 24, 2019

Notes on Abhaas (Prologue) by Bijaya Jena, India: 1997




"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."
 (Paul Cézanne)


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.

Rüdiger Tomczak




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.

Rüdiger Tomczak

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.

Screening
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.

Rüdiger Tomczak

(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.

Rüdiger Tomczak

screenings:

14.February, 11.00 Cinestar 8
15. February, 22.00, Cinemaxx 4
17. February, 20.00 silent green






Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Notes on Kinder (Children) by Nina Wesemann, Germany: 2019, Berlin Filmfestival V.-Generationkplus


 

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.

Rüdiger Tomczak
14.February, 11.30, Cinemaxx 1
17. February,12.30, Filmtheater am Friedrichshain






Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Notes on Driveways by Andrew Ahn, USA: 2019-Berlin Filmfestival IV. -Generationkplus





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.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Screenings:
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.

Rüdiger Tomczak

12.February, 13.15, Cinemaxx 3
13.February, 14.30, Cubix 7




Sunday, February 10, 2019

Notes on By the Name of Tania, by Bénédicte Liénard and Mary Jiménez, Belgium/Netherland: 2019-Berlin Filmfestival 2019 II.- Generation14plus





How to present the dark side of the world in images and are there images which not only reflect these dark sides but also form a kind of resistance? These are questions as old as the history of documentary cinema. By the Name of Tania tells about one of these girls in Peru who leave their native villages for a better life. But they are allured by fantastic rumours like for example that there are rich men who will dust the girls they prefer with gold dust. But the girls end up in forced prostitution, they are beaten up, raped and their dream of freedom ends up in slavery. At the first sight such a synopsis sounds very suspicious like social porn camouflaged as a social report.. But from the first moments on , the film goes a very different way. It is a very complex film essay which moves permanently between fiction and documentary and reminds me often in the experimental films by Trinh T. Min-ha or in the films Marguerite Duras, especially in the use of over voice narration..


The film is focused on Tania. The name is fictive but gives an idea of identity. As she has a name, she is nevertheless an example of the faceless crowd of young woman or minor girls who are exploited.

The first images present landscapes. At first a young woman is lying on a bed. The room is red lighted. The contour of the body, the room and the colours are slightly disintegrated into a blur. The other landscapes are the geographical ones of the Amazon, sometimes in its natural glory, sometimes destroyed and disgraced by copious gold digging and big slums.

The film does not move always in a chronological order. Tania´s over voice comments are sometimes referring to moments we see but sometimes her voice is literally taken out of time. Once we see her looking from a terrace down to a city. The terrace appears as a frame in the film frame. It is a seldom quiet, almost contemplative moment. This little rest period seems to be necessary for both, the protagonist and the spectator to deal with the horrible events the film tells about..
Sometimes when Tania is in front of the camera, almost like in a conventional interview situation, we see the natural or urban landscape in the background which looks strangely flat while Tania´s physical appearance is almost emphasized like a three dimensional figure.

What the film finally offers, is a kind of protected zone like I suggested in a different kind in my text on Anamika Bandopadhyay´s The Third Breast. All the horrible experiences of Tania are only revealed in her commentaries. The filmmakers refusal to redouble the suffering of their protagonist in not illustrating it, might be the most important artistic decision.

Once we see Tania waiting in a police station before and during her testimony. The impact of this film is split into two aspects: the first is the awareness that Tania is only one example of this exploitation and slavery of young women, the second one is the idea of hope in distinguishing Tania always as a subject. A reason more to create a special even artificial space for her. The dynamic of documentary and fiction appears as the key to understand the film.
I do not really know how Tania´s comments are filtered from a lot of research interviews with these victims of slavery, forced prostitution of often girls of minor age. The elements of performance and documentary interviews are often difficult to distinguish. The film tries to accomplish both, compassion but as well discretion.

There are often moments when the contours of bodies and things tends to be dispersed into colours and surface, a kind of reduction of the film image to its natural flatness, an disembodiment of the physical world. The illusion of the perception of bodies is for a moment suspended. One can read it is a sad link to a moment when Tania comments: “It is not my body anymore.”
By the Name of Tania is also a film about destroyed landscapes, the human and the geographical ones

It is this cinematic tactfulness for closeness and distance, for compassion and discretion which will stay with me. It is again another variation of “caméra stylo” and in its emotional impact it recalls films by Marguerite Duras like Les Mains Négatives and her two Aurelia Steiner -films.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Screenings:
12.February, 20.15, Cubix 8
14.February, 13.00 Zoo Palast 2
17.February, 16.00 Cinemaxx 3







Saturday, February 9, 2019

Notes on Bulbul can sing by Rima Das, India: 2018-Berlin Filmfestival 2019 I. -Generation14plus

 


Two thoughts came into my mind when I saw this film. The first was an idea from Helmut Färber´s film essay 3 Minutes from a film by Ozu, an analysis of a scene from Banshun (Late Spring) where Färber quoted André Bazin´s text on Renoir´s masterpiece The River and when Färber mentioned the feeling that some films seems like to made by themselves. The second idea has as well with André Bazin to do, when he mentioned in his book on Jean Renoir the term “Avantgarde of the heart”. This term meant for Bazin all currents in film history important to him.

What we know about Rima Das is that she works mostly with non-professional actors, she is her own director of cinematography, editor, writer director and producer. That these independent films do not have a big budget is a fact we have already forgotten after the first minutes. The films moves freely between epic and very personal cinema. She does not only tell about a village community of the federal state where she comes from, she offers as well a visionary very universal and very cinematic praise of the tangible and visible physical world, you find elsewhere only in the films by Ford, Malick, Renoir or in this rare Vietnamese masterpiece Thuong nho dong que (Nostalgia for the Countryside) by Dang Nhat Minh.

There are two adolescent girls and a boy of the same age. They spend their free time together. The traditional gender roles have not yet power over them. They live in a village in Assam and at the beginning they are still unknowingly of the strict patriarchal rules in this village. Piece by piece the world with all its ambivalence unfolds and the perception about the world like it is, is nothing else than the result of a remarkable observation. For now the girls Bulbul and Bonny and the boy Sumu are inseparably. It seems that the film is not telling a story but the story arises from the things, landscapes, people and beings we witness. The cinema scope-photography creates a dynamic range between intimate and epic cinema. The camera literally caresses its young protagonists and all living beings. There is a tenderness towards living beings, if towards the protagonists, or just a goatling or a little cat. Sometimes it is just a hand which touches the plants on the fields.

Bulbul can´t sing in front of an audience despite her nice voice. That frustrates her father, a musician. But the film is already singing the whole time a praise of all visible signs of creation with a intensity very close to the last films by Terrence Malick. Later when the beauty of the world collides with the man-made world with its meaningless rules and restrictions this “song” gets darker and more elegiac.

Bulbul can sing is another enrichment of the sub-genre called “coming of Age”-films. This genre reminds us in the bittersweet memory when the world is split in how it could be and how it really is.
The moment when a harmless dalliance between teenagers causes a scandal in the village, the film has its tragic turning point. Beauty and poetry faces soulless rules and restrictions. The school director who appears almost as a Kafkaesque representative of a stiff power, orders a school expulsion against Bonny and Bulbul. From now on the playfulness, the tenderness is piece by piece replaced by oppression and loss.
The river near the village was often a place of games, fun and dreams for the young protagonists. Near the end it appears like a reflection of a lost dream.

When the film moves to its end, I get an idea about its richness and I still can´t believe it is presented in only 95 minutes.
At the end Bulbul and a woman from her village go to the river for mourning the loss of a loved one. Bulbul sings quietly. They are framed into this mighty landscape and the clouded sky at dawn. This moment is a good example for this combination of cinematic landscape painting and human drama.
And I am totally disrupted between the breathtaking beauty of this film and its heartbreaking finale.
How can I further describe a cinematic experience which not just sums up experiences but intensifies experiences into a visual poem which will stay with me for a long time.
Bulbul can sing is a film which has an absolute confidence in the potentials of cinema. It is a film of absolute attention towards the things it presents and therefore great cinema. After the films by young filmmaker from India I saw recently like Konkona Sensharma´s A Death in the Gunj, Pushpendra Singh´s Ashwatthama or Kanwal Sethi´s Once again. Bulbul can sing by Rima Das is another gem outside of Bollywood and a very promising example of young Indian cinema.
There was a time when the Berlin Film festival played a key role in the promotion of Indian art cinema outside of India. It was in the 1970s and 1980s. In the last decades, Indian cinema appears in Berlin only very sporadic and the very few great films I could see at the Berlin Filmfestival appeared only in the Berlinale-Forum and the Generation-section.

And yes, a cinematic beauty like Bulbul can sing is one of the reason this Generation-section became over the years my favorite section of this film festival.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Screenings:
12.Feb, 16.30 Zoo Palast
14.Feb, 17.00 Haus der Kulturen der Welt
15.Feb, 10.00, Zoo Palast 2
16.Feb, 14.30, Cubix 7








Friday, January 18, 2019

Notes on Once again, by Kanwal Sethi, India: 2018




In recent years, I often came across films which have either a limited release, no proper release at all or they are distributed soon as Video on demand. In the best case these films have limited theatrical release or at least some screenings before they are sacked by Netflix and Co. One of these films is Once again by Kanwal Sethi, a work which definitely should be seen on the big screen.
In recent years, I came across films which are strong enough to stand for themselves but which offer as well a vision or at least an idea of the greatness of cinema and its history. It does not mind in what part of the world they take place or in what part of the world they tell from.
Once again belongs to the films which reveal stories about ordinary people and reminded me in the stylized Japanese every day dramas like for example in the legendary masterpieces by Mikio Naruse or Yasujiro Ozu, the style remains at the first sight hidden behind a simplicity which suggests these films are almost made by themselves. When one begins to look a bit deeper, one can come to the conclusion that these films seemingly simplicity can also be seen as one of the highest cultivated aesthetic principle.

The synopsis of Once again could be told in one sentence. An aging Bollywood-star fells in love with a widowed restaurant owner. But to describe its formal fineness and all the different moods, feelings and ideas the film evokes is quite a different challenge.

A big part of the dialog are phone calls between two middle aged people the divorced actor Amar and the widow Tara. Sometimes we see them during their secret phone calls, sometimes the phone dialog appear as voice-over and independent from the action of the protagonists. Once again is also a “city film”, in this case it takes place in Mumbai and often at night. Old and modern buildings, crowded streets, shops, food,- and tea stalls suggest a place which has its own life without the film´s fiction but also without us as spectators. The fiction appears as very delicate and I often fear it will vanish in this microcosm Mumbai. But this fear increases my attention. The characters do not explain themselves only in words. One has to watch them and listen to their mostly very quiet conservations performed with an incredible stylized, almost Japanese slowness. But the attention will be rewarded by glimpses of beauty and poetry hidden in this seemingly sober constructed film. The wonders seem to grow amidst the sad and monotonous every day life of two middle aged and very lonely persons.
There are moments of high intensity. In one of these moments brings Tara, the restaurant owner like on many evenings food to Amar´s luxurious apartment. This time some colleagues of him are are there. He introduces Tara as the “woman who cooks for him”. After his clumsily lack of sensitivity we see a close up of Shefali Shah. In this shot reveals in seconds what Tara might feel. And again like in the films by Ozu, such small moments can have a mysterious emotional power.

Another moment is a dialog between Amar and his driver. When Amar learns that his driver is abandoned by his wife and children because of his time-consuming work, there is nothing more to say, Amar hugs his driver in a sudden mood of compassion.
A look to the seaside, seen from Amar s apartment: there is nothing idyllic in this glance. It seems as empty like an abandoned film set. The famous aging film star appears for this moment like the ghost he plays in one of his recent films.
When we see Tara telephoning with him, she is in her little bedroom, the last hideaway to safe a minimal privacy.

The “dramatic conflict” as suggested by the story unfolds when a paparazzi discovers Amar and Tara during one of their secret meetings at night and soon Tara´s whole family gets alarmed. Especially Tara´s son has no sympathy for his mother´s longings. It is a likely conflict we know from two different masterpieces which as well embody two different approaches: Douglas Sirk´s melodramatic All That Heaven Allows and Yasujiro Ozu´s Akibiyori (Late Autumn). Kanwal Sethi seems to tend strongly to the Ozu-option to defuse the dramatic effect and again to count on the spectator´s attention. Both options evoke feelings, but Ozu and Sethi´ s approach begin as a start on a very sober revealing of a woman´s place in a society under certain circumstances, the conflict of the individual longings and wishes and the obligations forced on them by their position in a society.
The expectations, the longings of people are often contrasted with the indifference of the city and their longings seems like a subversion against the heart,- and meaningless social rules.
Moments of magic do not come as guaranteed. One has to look for it in nuances and often only in a few seconds, a gesture or in an expression in a human face.

Once they meet at Amar´s apartment. He tries to declare his feelings for her. For a moment their hands are folding into one another. But when Amar´s expresses his doubts if he is ready at all for a relationship, their hands are separating from each other suddenly.
There are moments of happiness, the many secret excursions at night or when they attending a shadow play. But they remain fleeting and unforgettable at the same time as precious cinematic miracles.
As most of the scenes take place at night with mostly sparse light, the film itself seems frail and often under threat to disappear into darkness. The dialog between Amar and Tara have the same frailty. They mostly talk very quiet and slow and before, between and after they talk there is always the presence of silence.
But in all its accuracy, in all its formal clarity - the film never abandons the longings and dreams of its protagonists.
Once again, by Kanwal Sethi, a film of the 21th century is not only a fine unique piece of contemporary Indian cinema. It carries as well the wisdom of the long history of cinema in itself and even more – it reminds us once again how important cinema is for our contemporary world.

Rüdiger Tomczak

For reading the German version of my review on Once again, please click HERE.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Notes on The Song of Scorpions by Anup Singh, India: 2017




Ten years ago I had a talk with a Bengali film critic. When I praised Anup Singh´s Ritwik Ghatak-homage Ekti Nadir Naam (The Name of a River), the critic answered that he (Singh) was not one of us:” That irritated me a lot, not only I consider his dreamlike poetic reflection on Ghatak as one of the finest homages one filmmaker dedicated to another, I felt uncomfortable with this arbitrary and easy use of “us” and who belongs to what etc. This memory came back to my mind when I saw last summer Anup Singh´s latest film The Song of Scorpions during a Film festival in Berlin with the strange name “Indo-German Film festival. In the discussion after the film, Singh explained his decision to cast the female main character with the Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. He met her once during a festival and they had intense discussions about Singh´s previous film Qissa and as well about what it means being exiled from one´s country and culture (Farahani is exiled from Iran since 2012). Finally Farahani plays a woman from Rajastan. The often overused terms like home or identity are often fixed values in different civilizations. But they can be taken away from us very quickly. Singh described her character Nooran as “exiled from her house, her family and finally from her body”.
In the three films by Anup Singh (who was born in Tanzania) exile appears always in the complex meaning of this word. All his characters (as well in his poetic essayistic Ghatak Homage) are uprooted exiled and homeless. Irrfan Khans and Tilotama Shomes characters in Qissa or Irrfan Khans and Golshifteh Farahani´s characters in The Song of the Scorpions offer visible embodiments of what Kumar Shahani said once on Ritwik Ghatak that partition does not only mean a geographical partition but a partition which goes through body and soul of the people.

Singh called his new film as inspired by folk tales. This invites me to compare it with another great contemporary film which takes place in Rajastan and is also inspired by a folktale, Lajwanti by Pushpendra Singh. While Lajwanti presents an image of human civilization where the people are deeply rooted in their landscape and culture and what we call identity. The world in Lajwanti might be already an echo of a world which is already lost - but that is another field. The world in The Song of Scorpions is already introduced as a world in the process of going apart. If I am as a spectator in Lajwanti an invisible guest who can contemplate, in The Song of Scorpions I feel an uncanny and painful closeness to the cameleer Aadam (Irrfan Khan) and the young healer Nooran (Golshifteh Farahani and their disrooting from a world they once belonged to.
These two great films present two sides of cinema, the first reminds us that we are part of the world, part of our culture, of all we call home, the other film reminds us this certainty is not guaranteed. It is bit like we see first a film by Ozu and later a film by Ghatak.

There is for example the tradition of healing. Nooran is learning from her grandmother Zubaida (Waheeda Rehman) the art of healing. A sting of a scorpion can kill a person in 24 hours. These healer can safe lives when they literally sing the poison out of the body of the victims. But this tradition carried from one generation to the next is endangered. Nooran is not yet ready to replace Zubaida and the old woman herself is close to the end of her life. There is the threat that this circulation will be interrupted. I remember an intense glance of Waheeda Rehman the moment before she falls into sleep which is intense and at the same time a reminder of cinema as the art of presenting glances. The fact that is the last moment of her appearance in this film makes this moment the more unforgettable. This notion of disappearance and death stays with me.

Another narrative element is the relationship between Nooran and Aadam. There is no chance that a kind of love story can develop, just two lost souls who never should have met appear. One gets an idea of this disaffected relationship which will be confirmed much later through Aadam´s very cruel intrigue. Nooran is attacked and hurt by a friend of Aadam. The grandmother has already disappeared and might be dead. As the film proceeds Nooran agrees to be Aadam´s second wife (after she rejected him before) the tragedy unfolds.
When one of Aadam´ s children asks her to sing the song that heals a sting from a scorpion she answers, that she can not sing anymore because the poison is inside her.

A central visual motive in this film is the harsh contrast between darkness and light, night and day. At night one sees only fireplaces, vague silhouettes of people and sometimes reflections of traces of light in their eyes. It is a darkness almost as a night sky with far distant stars. During the day the sun burns merciless on people, animals and the desert landscape. In both extremes people appear as exposed and vulnerable.
The contrast between darkness and light presents also two extreme poles of cinema, the inspiration, imagination caused by things we can rather guess than notice. The other extreme is the burning sun during the day. It burns merciless on the faces of these actors. No detail can escape our attention. They are exposed and for a moment the thin layer of fiction is suspended behind a strong feeling for the physical presence of Golshifteh Farahani and Irrfan Khan. Cinema can not exist without light, but here light appears as well as an destructive power.
Near the end there are some close ups of the faces of Irrfan Khan and Golshifteh Farahani. It has an intensity which is only sensible on a big screen.These are faces of two lost souls in a failed relationship and a civilization which goes apart.
This fatal combination of human failure and the indifference of nature in this desrt landscape give the film an almost apocalyptical taste like the ending moments in films like Erich von Stroheim´s Greed or Ritwik Ghatak´s Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (The River Titash), moments which are literally burnt in my memory.

Nooran disappears at the end just like her Grandmother and more or less this film is as well a film about disappearance.
In a sentimental and blissful mood, I often consider Cinema as my true home but nevertheless a film like The Song of the Scorpions can remind us as well how fragile these terms home or identity are and that they can be taken from us without warning. There is a kind of cinema through which we approach at least an idea how to dwell in the world as strange or familiar it appears and there is a cinema in which we have to redefine our place in the world.

Rüdiger Tomczak