Sunday, March 26, 2017
After having seen 5 films by Greek-Australian filmmaker Bill Mousoulis, I think the transitions between documentary and fiction in his films are always very thin. His new film Songs of Revolution is a journey through different kinds of Greek music, the connection between these different kinds and the history of Greece from the beginning of the 20th Century until to date. The film begins with an audiovisual collage. Different TV channels propagating the false dreams of commercials and the nightmares of recent Greek reality. The first song (Enough), a Punk song appears and we see images of manifestations. The non-filtered anger of this punk song connects with the image of the naked anger of the people. The first disturbing moments hint to a reality of people who are struggling for surviving between anger and sadness. The pseudo reality suggested by Neoliberalism and its instrument Television between political filtered information and commercials is busted.
The film introduces different kinds of music from the Remebetica (which is called the Greek Blues), the protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s, Punk and other alternative forms like Rap and and experimental music of recent times. This happens in interviews with musicians, recorded concert excerpts but also with arranged musical-like scenes. The interviews with musicians give an introduction how Greek history of the last 100 years is connected with the music as the expression of a long history of suffering from the occupation by the Great Turks, the German occupation during world war II., civil war, dictatorship and finally the most recent crisis. One can use it as a kind of orientation in this film, but how the film proceeds it will offer very different accesses.
Bill Mousoulis never really makes films just “about” something, he looks at something but often also reacts on what he sees and interacts with the people he meets. And this transition from documentary to fiction, this balancing act between fiction and reality happens sometimes sudden. There is a young musician whom we see at first working in his band. Later he offers a musical-like performance as a waiter in a restaurant.
Another musician quarrels with his parents. The dialogue of the persons are stylized like a rap song. This might be a hint to the difficulty of nonconformist musician to survive but it is also a good example for the playfulness of Bill Mousoulis who moves freely between documentary and fiction. Later we will see actors staging songs which are sung by others.
The image making devices called cinema as used by Bill Mousoulis seem always to overcome over it´s cold technical precision. Even this balancing act between reality and fiction seems rather organic than arty. Mousoulis always tries to get his “instrument” his image making devices always in accordance to these different kinds of music. Songs of Revolution is not only a great music film, it becomes often like music itself.
Among several musical-like scenes there are 5 songs which appear in the playback method. They are sung by another singer but staged by actress Marianthi Koliaki. During some songs she moves her lips, pretending to sing. During other songs she paraphrase with her whole body the stories told in this songs. Even with this cinematographic trick, Mousoulis creates an own veracity. Koliaki´s heartbreaking performance reminds me in Madhabi Mukherjee´s likewise staged songs in Ritwik Ghatak´s masterpiece Subarnarekha. The tristesse of the urban landscape where Koliaki is walking through, the synchronism between the sadness and the longings in the songs and her body language is breathtaking. It is one of these moments where the film becomes a song itself.
Another moment and a completely different stylistic approach: A musician meets a very old musician. He tells him how much he admires him and that he wrote a song dedicated to his elder idol. Than he performs the song. Even though in contrast to the staged song performances, this seemingly just documented scene has it´s own beauty and yes – it´s own poetry. It is also an example how versatile the film tries to approach all these different kind of music. The rage of scene with the first punk song in this film is edited in furious hard cuts. Other moments, especially the interviews are observant and comparatively sober. The musical scenes, the fictional element complement the other aspects and I would like to call them as moments of “magic realism”.
One of the most fascinating aspects in the films by Bill Mousoulis I have seen so far is this dynamic relationship between moments when his films are “made” and these moments when things are just happen in front of the camera. I mean an equal intensity of moments when Mousoulis uses the options his apparatus offers but also moments where he seems just recording what is in front of his camera. There is a scene when several musicians including a female singer are meeting in the evening at a street cafe. One of them introduces the other musicians to each other. Everyone brought his own instrument and soon they play music together. Even though it seems to be one of these moments which “just happened” and even though it is one of these observational moments, for me it appears like a moment of pure cinema, different than the tour de force of this lost soul personified by Marianthi Koliaki but with the same intensity.
Like so much good films, Songs of Revolution is also like a journey-experience which evokes in me so much different and sometimes contradictory moods, thoughts and emotions. The sadness, the anger, the bitterness of people who live under difficult circumstances but also their vitality appeared for less than 2 hours film in all its intensity. Songs of Revolution is one reason more to be grateful for this quite fortunate coincidence for me to get in touch with the films by Bill Mousoulis.
As the film is new, informations can be found at the Songs of Revolution-web site and at the homepage of Bill Mousoulis.
Friday, April 3, 2015
Blue Notes is the fourth film by Bill Mousoulis I have seen so far. To describe the strange fascination which some of his films evoke in me, let me use this image: They are like an imagined long walk with him through a city and its people. At the beginning the people and locations are strange to me but when the walk is over I am full of stories and familiar faces.
Blue Notes is both, a compilation of five different stories which interact with each other – sometimes more, sometimes less – but it is also like a documentary on how a narrative film comes to existence out of moments, observations and the visible matter of the world. There are two opposed movements in this film: To use an example from physics it is how the matter is formed to parts of the world which can be named and how parts of the world disintegrate itself to nameless matter.
The five stories deal mostly with couples and individuals who either try to get their life in order or people whose lives goe apart. There is for example a drug addicted young man who is indecisive if he shall go on to subdue his addiction or writing a song or playing in a band. Another person, a young woman is violently abused by her boyfriend and the life she installed for herself goes apart in an instant. There is also a Greek immigrant called Kosta who is working as a watchman in an underground parking and who is almost a prisoner of his loneliness and nostalgia for his native country which is in unreachable distance from Australia. Kosta, joins a Greek choir which interprets old Greek songs. For now it the only home he can get. This episode exists as well as a separate short film (Kosta).
The stories in this film seem have literally grown from the formed matter we see, the locations, the different apartments, streets and people. Moments of every day actions turn sometimes into very intense scenes. These traces of individual drama become for a moment shining cinematic moments and soon these traces will disintegrate itself.
Another of these five stories is about a middle aged married couple. Like in a film by Ozu we see several variations of one and the same every day ritual. The man comes home from work, welcomed by his wife and his two dogs. The wife is preparing in the kitchen the dinner. He greets her and pours a drink for her and himself than he sits down on a sofa and reads a book or the new paper and some moments later his wife joins him. There are three or four variations of this ritual in the film. But from variation to variation it reveals more and more despair. While waiting for her husband, the wife discovers a book on depression her husband is just reading.
On another evening, the woman is waiting again for her husband´s homecoming. He is late, she gets anxious and finally leaves the house. She finds her husband dead in his car. This tragic moment hit me totally unprepared and reminds me in Ozus last film Samma No Aji. Just alone this moment makes Blue Notes unforgettable for me.
The wonderful episode with the Greek immigrant seems to be like a contrast to the other episode full of despair. As he is introduced as a hopeless lonely man stranded in Australia he at least makes a huge step out of his isolation when he joins the Greek Choir. There is this wonderful moment when he practices the Greek songs in his small apartment and when his face reveals slight traces of happiness.
Blue Notes is a realistic view on people living in a big city but at the same time it is full of playfulness in its formalistic and narrative approach. Bill Mousoulis´ view on these people is discreet but full of affection and compassion.
The use of music in Blue Notes is another evidence for the films´s versatility. Melodies played on acoustic guitars or hard Rock rhythms. Sometimes the music is just part of the soundtrack and sometimes we see music just performed by a singer or a band – and sometimes we listen and watch musicians during rehearsals. The music is an echo of the film´s approach. As I was in the segment of the middle aged couple or the wonderful one about Kosta nearly absorbed, there are other moments where I had rather the feeling to be a witness of the creative process of film making. In this sense, Blue Notes offers both; a fascinating and inspiring vision of cinema but as well an idea where this fascination is actually originated from.
Blue Notes is poetic and analytic at the same time.
Blue Notes is poetic and analytic at the same time.
This and many other films by Bill Mousoulis on DVD can be purchased here.
This and many other films by Bill Mousoulis on DVD can be purchased here.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
At the beginning, an aging Italian cinematographer called Giulio is introduced. Even though a fictive character, he talks directly to the camera. This opening takes place in Athens during the strikes and protest manifestations of the Greek people. It is the time of the social and economic crisis of Greece when the government brutally attacked the social existence of its own people for a crisis the people haven´t caused. Giulio is a chronicler and his monologue introduces his long experience in observing social protest movements, his opinion about the failure of the neoliberal order and ideology but also his loneliness. He calls himself a “Nowhere Man”. He is disgusted by his own country but is attracted in the Greek movement which is indeed a symbol for an awakening in Europe.
One reason for the vitality of the film is the playful reflection of arranged images and fiction and on the other side the facts like the protests and manifestations which happened at the time the film was shot. Giulio is working on a project on the protest movement in Greece. He is a chronicler between resignation and hope.
Later we see him returned to Italy in a town called Gorgonzola. He visits a woman with an 8 years old daughter. Finally we learn that the woman Irene is his wife and the girl Andrea his daughter. He abandoned them many years ago. If the couple is quite alienated from each other, the girl is almost a stranger to him. The dialogues between the couple suggests for now that they have arranged themselves with this separation. As the film proceeds it looks rather like the futile try to preserve a relationship which is already vanishing. The expression in face of Emanuela Zoccos Irene reminds me in its mixture of stoicism and vulnerability in Lisa Kreuzers lonely and abandoned women in some early films by Wim Wenders.
Back in Athens, Giulio is hired by an Australian TV-team. They want to make a film on the protest movement.Giulio is supposed to find place and finally images which are not shown in any conventional TV-report. While the TV team begins to look systematic for images, Giulio uses the focus lens of his camera sometimes like an extended eye for recognizing things he can not see with his naked eye. He always discover things nobody else sees.
This just recording images and the looking for details reminds me in André Bazins unfinished but still fresh questions of reality and cinema. It seems for me that Bill Mousoulis´ arranged images, the fictive element and the use of the cinematic apparatus have not other purpose than open our eyes and sharpen our perception for a reality which always exists as well beyond the frame.
The borders between document and fiction in Wild And Precious seem to be thin, sometimes even suspended. During the film we see a lot of cats and often a dog (called “Riot dog” in the credits). The animals enter and leave the frames and also the arranged fiction or the documented moments. Their appearances give an idea that even just an image of reality has always many layers. When we see Greek policemen with their gas masks and armed with gas munition we are also aware that they are eager to use them at the smallest sign of riot, an aspect almost deleted in most of news reports on Greece in 2012.
Wild And Precious is also a reflection on image making, recording images and what happens beyond. We see the TV team editing their first footage very focused. What happens at the same time in Italy with Irene, Andrea and their social environment seems to happen totally outside of consciousness of the image making Giulio - like in another dimension. Literally it happens out of Giulios framing the world.
As his life seems to split in two strings there are some small but very important links to these “two lives”.These moments evoke in me an undefinable melancholy like a bitter taste of homelessness. There is a wonderful moment when Giulio shoots footage in another Greek town. The first thing we see is a beautiful white cat passing by. While Giulio is looking through his camera, a teenage girl addresses him. She is shy and feels like she is disturbing him. For a moment Giulio turns his eyes from the camera and says to her “that she reminds him in his daughter." The weight of this short but intense moment is how he looks at the girl after tuning his eyes almost reluctant from his camera. Leaving for a brief moment his safety in "framing the world" in images” makes him suddenly vulnerable. The strange teenage girl becomes almost to a vision of his daughter some years later and she will probably a stranger to him like this Greek girl. A short moment like a Haiku poem.
Back in Italy for a few days, Giulio tries to restore the bound to his family he abandoned but his head is probably still occupied by the footage he still is supposed to shoot in Greece. He is talking to Irene about a place in Milan where he hopes to meet more often his family. It is amazing how Bill Mousoulis moved his focus from the protests in Greece, a concrete datable historic event to the reflection on image making and finally to the intimate sphere of Giulio, Irene and Andrea. Mousoulis creates a dynamic relationship between these elements.
As each image might be a choice, the result offers much more. Bill Mousoulis always opens the attention for the unexpected accidental moments of life which invade and leave the arranged frame. These moments have often a Haiku-like poetry. There is for example a sick looking very skinny cat. Later we learn that Andrea is very depressed because this cat is going to die. A neighbour is crying because her cat has disappeared.
At the end, Giulio is on his way back to Greece. The “Nowhere Man” disappears in the “Nowhere Place” airport like the film this fragment of the world disappears into the credits.
Wild And Precious is a rich and wonderful film experience. Even though I was very aware of the apparatus of image making, I almost can feel how the recorded film , a kind of artificial descends into my own biological one where it gets a life on its own. Suddenly small moments come to my mind like the film has a life of its own in my memory- and there is nothing I can do about it.
After its festival circulation the film is available optional with English, Italian or Greek subtitles under this web address.