Showing posts with label Coming of Age. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Coming of Age. Show all posts

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

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Notes on Woorideul (The World Of Us) by Yoon Ga-eun, Korea: 2016-Berlin Filmfest 2016V.-Generation

I do not know if the English film title is a correct translation but it is a very good title. “Coming Of Age” films were made in nearly all periods of the history of cinema – and nearly in all geographical regions. Woorideul is one of them, a story very often told but with a surprising refreshing approach. Yoon Ga-eun uses a lot of close-ups and medium shots in this film about girls at the age around 10. Their quarrels, their mobbing against each other gets a special weight. Usually quarrels among children are often trivialized by adults. In a lot of scenes the world of children is isolated from the world of the adults. The “little worries” of the girls, their quarrels and yes - the sometimes shocking psychological cruelty made me often breathless. There is nothing really “cute” in this film and just during the first 20 minutes, I was quite impressed about a sharp observation of this young filmmaker just very near to Yasujiro Ozu or Hong Sang-soo. Sometimes childhood seems here like a hotbed of social discrimination and prejudice. The little brother of Sun often fights with his friend and gets often injured which is again trivialized by Sun´s parents. Cruelty between children seems to be invisible for the adults. Only the teacher sees the cruelty that the parents don´t see or don´t want to see. The problems of the adults, in this case the parents of the girls drop very subtle in the world of children. Sun´s father is an alcoholic and has a very difficult relationship to his own father who is going to die. Sun´s mother is occupied by her own work and very busy to ensure the economical surviving of the family.
Another convincing aspect of this film is the use of an almost unforced plot. Events rather happen than being invented. The worlds of the adults and the worlds of children are sometimes isolated from each other and when they cross over, nothing good happens. Sun´s father, the drinker seems to be a loser, an image his daughter has as well to struggle with in school.

The “Coming Of Age” film as a very important sub genre in the history of cinema has two legitimate aspects, one is the dream of the lost paradise of childhood, the other aspect is the long forgotten nightmare of childhood, the obvious and subtle cruelty children are exposed to. Woorideul (which is belongs to the second variation) is a merciless anti- nostalgic look on childhood. But it is as well a film full of subtle cinematic intelligence. Just to mention the small flat where Sun´s family lives in, how the small family is moving in it in the contrast to the much bigger house where Sun´s classmate Jia lives with her grandmother offer an exiting visual relationship between human beings and space.. How these children move through very spacious or narrow interiors or in open space is only one example for a refreshing clear cinematic approach. It is a very serious film because the directors takes her young protagonists very serious. The so-called “small quarrels” give already an idea of the world these girls will grow into. But like always, cinema can offer both, a painfully precision in looking to the world but as well a certain affectionateness. There is also a certain sincerity in this film and a huge confidence in its audience if the very young or old one.

What I already guessed and what I have read later in the director´s statement in the press map was about the autobiographical inspiration for this film. Well, for a film which is such sincere, a film where any emotion seems to be rather lived than invented -  it does not surprise me at all. Woorideul is the first long feature film of a young Korean filmmaker called Yoon Ga-eun. And it is both: a promising look into the future of cinema  but at the same time it seems to be made with the wisdom of an old master.

Rüdiger Tomczak


FRI, Feb 19 Haus der Kulturen der Welt     10.00
Sun Feb 21 Filmtheater am Friedrichshain 15.30

Saturday, February 14, 2015

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

An Afternoon in Paris at the Cinematheque Française with Les Quatre-Cent Coups by François Truffaut.

For Anjan Dutt and Thérese Gonzalez

It was a rainy afternoon in Paris and finally I found the location of the new Cinemathque Française. The Cinematheque presents at the time a huge exposition on Truffaut for the 30th. Anniversary of his death in 1984 and an integral retrospective. On this day they screened Truffaut's first long film Les Quatre-Cent Coups in the “Salle Henri Langlois” Even though I was surprised to see the hall almost full packed, I realized at the same time that it is typical for Paris. The audience was a mixture of nearly all generations, older people and as well school classes. The film is exactly as old as I am, 55 years. But this was not the only fact that made this afternoon to an almost Proustian experience for me. Truffaut and Bazin were probably my most important influences when I began or better when I wanted to write about films. Truffauts Les Films de ma vie, a collection of his film critics, his interview book on Hitchcock and Bazin´s books on Orson Welles and Jean Renoir are still after more than 30 years my favorite books on cinema. Some parts of it I have read more than a dozen times. In the early 1980s, Truffaut was even one of my favorite film directors. His first long feature film Les Quatre-Cent Coups came into my life even much earlier. It was a christmas eve in the late 1960s. I was about 8 or 9 and on the afternoon on this day the TV broadcasted this film. What stayed with me for much more than 40 years was Antoines escape from the youth prison. For nearly 30 years this film was totally hidden in my sub conscience.

The audience was enthusiastic. applause at the beginning, during the film and at the end rather a festival atmosphere than just a screening of film history. Everything came together, my long forgotten admiration for Truffaut and especially this film, my nearly religious admiration for Paris as the origin of cinephilia. Even though Les Quatre-Cent Coups tells about specific french locations, french habits and a specific datable time in Paris like for example the films by Yasujiro Ozu did with locations in Japan – it nevertheless gave me the feeling of a kind of homecoming. It is obviously Paris in the late 1950s but than if I remember this christmas afternoon in the 1960s, the film and all what is presented in it was quite young. The cobblestone pavement reminded me in some streets of my hometown. The time of occupation of Paris was just gone 14 years before like my home town displayed at this time still the traces of the war. As a child I was aware that this film tells about a totally different culture but I also recognized that I was familiar to the time presented in it.

There is an exiting dynamic between the fiction of the film and the real places, streets and buildings of Paris. Antoines Story seems to be really grown out of this concrete datable traces of reality. Two sentences of Truffaut stayed with me. The first was about art and entertainment when he wrote once that Hitchcock and Bergman are both entertaining and at the same time their films are great art. The other statement by him was that he always expected two things from a film, a vision of the world and a vision of film making.
When I saw Les Quatre-Cent Coups again after such a long time, I had the uncanny feeling that the film touches so much of my dreams of cinema. Truffauts ideas about cinema are totally absorbed in images and sounds. The “bigger than life”-element, the cinema scope photography a wonderful artificial device of the cinema of the 1950s has a unique relationship with this intimate story of an adolescent, a story which is probably influenced by autobiographic aspects of Truffaut himself.

As I was moved by the different ages of the audience – some were probably born after the death of Truffaut, others probably saw this film when it was released and others like my generation saw this film when it was already an icon of the Nouvelle Vague – I sometimes felt I experienced past and present of my cinephile life as well. My passion for Ozu, the Japanese masters came just after my first encounter with the Nouvelle Vague and the texts by Truffaut and Bazin.
There is also a moment which is very physical: when Antoine visits a round-up on a parish fair where the centrifugal force presses him against the wall. This is probably one the most physical scene in Truffauts work. We are not only seeing a film in this moment, we are part of it. I almost feel that I was already prepared unconscious decades before for the wonders of the films by Terrence Malick if Antoine has a sister in filmhistory it is for sure Linda from Days of Heaven) or the best example of Truffauts definition of “caméra stylo”, the films by Yang Yonghi.

At the end, Antoine runs and runs and runs. During a football play he uses a moment of lack  of attention of the prison guard to escape. There is one long shot where we see him running. After a cut he finally reaches the beach of the sea. A fleeting moment of freedom accentuated by the glory of the cinema scope format.
Than an Iris diaphragm and Antoines movement is frozen. This scene is one of the oldest memory I have in a film. In my memory and in my dreams it had a life of its own.
Another thing which comes to my mind when I think of this strong experience on this day at the Cinemathéque is, that a film like Les Quatre-Cent Coups keeps his life of its own even after 55 years of a history of reception, categorization forgetting and re-discovering.
I celebrate this screening in the Cinemathéque Français with Les Quatre-Cent Coups like a homecoming.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Monday, June 9, 2014

Notes on Boyhood by Richard Linklater

The rich and complex history of cinema developed and often realized some great dreams. Some of them are old and can be tracked back to the early history of cinema. The Japanese Yasujiro Ozu, one of the groundbreaking pioneers of a cinema about every day life called it “To show the life like it is without dramatic ups and downs”.
Richard Linklater´s Boyhood touches diverse national and international currents of cinema. First of all it is a Coming of Age-film and with Malick´s The Tree of Life and Anjan Dutt´s Dutta Vs Dutta the finest in recent years.
The mood of the film is between films by Ozu and Rohmer. Even though you think not much is happening, these film have a long aftermath. One can´t get rid of the feeling that one has only seen a fragment of a film which really lasts a whole human life long.

The film which follows the boy Mason 12 years long from childhood to his late teen age is also made in 12 years. It captures the changes of its actors but gives also an idea of the whole concrete time around the stories. But that happens not by forcing or stressing to capture “images of time” but in a rather relaxed way. It is partly what German director Rudolf Thome calls “a documentary about his actors”, partly a focused film on fashions, pop songs and everyday life in this very time the film takes place. The very European definition of minimalistic cinema which is inaccurate to describe the magic of a film by Ozu will also fail to describe the magic of Linklater´s film.

Finally the more the film moves from Mason´s childhood to his adolescence, the more the film reveals the fleeting of time. Actually the transitions of the different time pieces the film is composed of,  happen often in a sudden cut. We recognizes the persons we felt familiar with in the precedent scene but we always have to find a new orientation in in these changes which had happend.
The film is also full of every day rituals, the family meals, the meeting of the children with the father who is divorced from their mother and the different schools the children have to visit. There is a unique dynamic between moments we feel as present and which can turn after one single cut into a memory. Even though the film takes place in a very recent part of American history and even for example the election campaign for Barack Obama is a very fresh memory, we will be aware that such moments are “captured history like in amber” like the filmmakers Barbara and Winfried Junge said about their longtime project on The Children of Golzow.
The narrative form of Boyhood seems nearly unforced. Stories are not told in this film, they seem to happen just in front of our eyes. And the more the film proceeds some moments we thought as small and banal become important, sometimes moving memories. Once there is a camping holiday with the adolescent Mason and his father( Ethan Hawke). Thy are talking while walking through a forest. We see the moment like it happens just now but we also get an idea about this moment when it becomes a memory in a human life.
If we think “not much happens “during the film, we leave it after more than 160 minutes with a head full of memories in a lot of moments we want to experience again. Even simple moments will be condensed in my memory to magic moments full of poetry.

Boyhood is a wonderful example that modesty and simplicity has nothing to to with a kind of asceticism often propagated in European cinema. Linklater stays close to the small and big events in the life of his protagonists. The kind how this film is punctuated by transitions of time and a lot of pop songs gives his very sophisticated approach of cinematic realism as well a very playful accent. The love for cinema and the love for life are saturating each other.

Near the end when Mason is on the move to a university in a distant town, his aging mother (Paricia Arquette) is full of grieve and bitterness. Like in Ozus films, children are leaving their parent´s home, a new period in life begins. The mother now fully aware of her own aging resumes bitterly that after all the birthdays, marriages and divorces she experienced, her next celebration will probably her own funeral. That is almost an Ozu-like objection in her life and the world she lives in as a woman and a mother.
In another scene, a celebration of Mason´s college graduation the divorced father has a small conversation with his former wife and says to her that “she did a good job with the kids” Another great subtle moment which will be unforgettable. In such moments we witness the metaphormosis of every day moments into film poetry.

At the end Mason sits with a girl who probably will become his next girlfriend  in the middle of a mythic landscape in Texas. They talk to each other like people who just have met a short time agao and who begin to learn more about the other.  After a while they become silent, looking into each others face and smile. This smile is the last moment of this film. We are dismissed but just alone for this moment I could see this film over and over again. If films can make us happy without betraying us than Boyhood by Richard Linklater is such a film.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Somos Mari Pepa (We are Mari Pepa) by Samuel Kishi Leopo, Mexico: 2013-Generation14 plus-Berlinale 2014 VI.

The film itself is like a song with always repeated verses and an always repeated refrain.
There is a group of adolescents who founded a punk band but never made it further than one song. The film begins like a comedy. Hidden in this songlike repeated themes and while the film proceeds, we learn details of each boy´s social life. The guitarist for example  lives with his grandmother, an old woman who is often confused and who does not talk a single work. His father has remarried but the boy has almost no contact with him. The drummer´s father is unemployed and a drinker, a demoralized and very phlegmatic man. In its best moments Somos Mari Pepa reminds me in Hou Hsiao Hsien´ s wonderful Feng-kuei lai te jen (The Boys from Feng-Kuei) , especially in its sensibility in the observation of adolescents. The film is often very funny, but its humor is very tricky, because this kids are on the swell to an adult life with very limited perspectives. It is time to decide to higher educations or how to find a job.
During a soccer play among kids from the neighbour hood they encounter an old homeless guy who tells them about his failed career as a football player. He is almost a pendant to the young drummer´s father. Behind the facade of easygoing actions, the seriousness of life is lurking behind every corner of this quarter. Finally the grandmother of the young guitarist has a breakdown and will committed to a home for the aged. As the film works with an episodic structure with often repeated themes, near the end the film gets a bitter taste.

The aesthetic of this film is versatile. There are moments which are based on video clips,  but then moments of subtle observations of a monotonous every day life. But the closer the film comes to its end, the seeming lightness disappears. What stays with me are are images like the father drinking beer in his car.  one single image which tells a lot about the world revealed in this film. A man who has already given up. There is a strange dynamic between the noisy easygoing youngsters and the resigned silence of the adults. Despite its humour, despite this funny and very smutty text of the boys punk song, Leopo´s film has its moments of an Ozu-like accuracy in the observation of his characters deeply rooted in this this piece of world the film is telling about. Like I mentioned, it is one of these tricky films which seem so light but which are full of moments, sometimes single images, impressions which stay in my mind.

Rüdiger Tomczak

February 13, Cubix 8, 15.30
February 16, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 20.00

Monday, October 14, 2013

An Afternoon in Abries with a masterpiece called Thuong Nho Dong Que (Nostalgia for the Countryland) by Dang Nhat Minh

For T.

This text is a translation from a review, published in shomingeki No. 4, June 1997 with added comments.

The rice fields are shining greenish golden. Nham, a 17 years old boy works with others in a brickworks. We see how he works, how he sweats and how he moans because of this strain. After the work he lays down on the bricks which are ready to be burnt. The others, exhausted as well are gathering to relax. The money he earned for this hard work he passes to his sister in law. He walks home and the rice field is filling now the whole frame of the image. The film is especially about the planting and harvesting of the rice fields. The kind he picks up a rice spike and how he chews on it is referential. He is looking to the blue sky where a plane is flying.

Nhams father has died in the war. He is living with his mother, his little sister and his sister in law Ngu together. His brother (Ngu´s husband), moved away looking for work to earn his living. Form time to time Ngu receives a letter from him in which he informs her that his return will be postponed, a half hearted promise.
Nham loves poems and works with his family in the rice fields. There is an unspoken love between him and his sister in law. His over voice comments suggest that everything we see is already past. As a sensitive adolescent he resemble Harriet in Jean Renoir´s The River. He experiences in comical and sad episodes the life of this rural community. Seemingly banal episodes interfuse this subjective narration.
A Television  antenna is installed of the roof of one of the few houses with a TV. Children are mocking about a fashion parade broadcasted in Television. A pig walks through the kitchen. Villagers are talking about how life might be in the big cities. Seemingly banal events grow on the edges of the film´s story. It seems the point of view of the directors is like an excited child which is so absorbed by all these
neglibilities around Nham´s story.

Nham goes by bike to the station to pick up a niece of his neighbour. This niece has left Vietnam many years before. Sometimes the camera follows him close, another time his drive is observed from the distance. Once the point of view is absorbed by movement, the next time the cinematic space is shallowed and emphasizes the two dimensions of an image.

Quyen the homecoming niece returns to the village of her childhood. She wears sun glasses and differs so much from the people in this village like a foreigner. She tells that she has left the country to escape her husband. Later, she was in a refugee camp in Hong Kongwhere she married for a short time an American for leaving this camp. It is a clear hint to the tragedy of the Vietnamese Boat People who had to leave Vietnam. This village appears sometimes almost like an utopian place where the joys and sufferings of a whole country is gathering, a widow mourning about her husband who dies in the war, the Vietnamese who returned from a foreign country and who is dreaming from her childhood. It is about a return to the earth in a world of technical progress which intervades only in small signs. Quyen, the stranger is rediscovering her home village but at the same times as well her own alienation from her native home.

Last time I saw this film for the 32. time with my friend T. In Abries. I felt that in this nearly two hours I showed a big part of my life. My passion for this films which stayed with me for 16 years includes my love for the films by Ozu Ford and Renoir and – I just discovered it recently – it prepared myself for the wonders in the films by Terrence Malick. The same love for the sensual visible world like Renoir and Malick, the same kind how our point of view is absorbed by the things we see. And yes – long before I even knew the name of Terrence Malick, it was the first film where I sensed the “one big soul” all late masterpieces by Terrence Malick are telling about.

I was strangely moved in the kind how people are touching things or touching their hairs. The technique of the films seems to retrait itself in front of the things it reveals. Sometimes a glance rambles to a river where a boat is driving or where children are swimming. Another time we see plants moved by the wind. Images in European Cinema like that I only knew from another masterpiece by Jean Renoir: Une Partie de Campagne.
Even the identity of Nham the narrator seems to be absorbed in his encounters with the stories of others and especially in his own sensual experiences. In one scene he looks secretly at Quyen who is bathing in the the river. He takes her clothes and begin to smell them. When Quyen sees him, he is scared and disappears in the fields.

Another extraordinary moment in this film. I forgot to mention the most important. The moment Nham takes the shirt of Quyen who swims naked in the river, he closes his eyes. And even his action seems to be caused first by a sexual excitement, the expression in his face has as well something of a silent prayer at the same moment. This is probably one of the most earnest erotic scene in the history of Cinema.

A ritual festival, dedicated to the ancestors with prayers and ritual dances. In the evening a wonderful puppet show will be performed with men who move the puppets from behind a curtain in a pond and who let the puppet dance on the water. We see the fascinated glances of children and adults. In these moments I do not think in the cultural context of this beautiful performance to a culture strange to me. I remember the first puppet show I have seen in my life.

There are two moments which are burnt into my memory, strong moments which remind me that the true meaning of the term eroticism always means the biggest respect in the creation. Ngu, the lonely sister in law hugs Nham in a moment of despair. He answers this hugging. The remain for a while hugging each other. Suddenly Ngu is scared by Nhams ejaculation and takes her arms from his body. We see Nham and how he is surprised feeling the sperm on his fingers.
In another scene Nham and his sister in law discovering on a field a nest with new born birds. Ngu pets them and touches their beaks with her tongue. She smiles and sings an old Vietnamese folk song and is absorbed by this encounter like a child. In Dang Nhat Minh´s film there is always a physical sensation for the caressing of living bodies.

One of the most remarkable aspect in this film is Nham´s gender role. He is grown up almost only among women (men appear only as dead and gone or an uncle who is considered as a failure), small girls, young women, old women. His sexual awakening, one of the central elements of each films in this sub genre “Coming of age-film is connected with this subtle violence who finally puts Nham in his gender role the civilisation dictates him. The military service which follows directly his adolescence is quite a very sharp nobservation for this very gentle film. Finally what distinguishes Nham from his sister in law from his mother and the beautiful Quyen seems to be less biological than a social code.

Drunken truck drivers cause the death of two little girls, among them Nham´s little sister. The death invades with sudden violence into the world of this sensitive boy. From now on the film will be a long and eternal sad farewell. In a vision, Quyen who is waiting at the railway station for her departure, sees a boat where the two dead girls are waving to her. She says goodbye to Nham. A long time he looks after the departing train. Home is for him something concrete a sensual sensation. For Queyen the exile Vietnamese with the sad smile it is nothing more than a lost dream.

Nham gets his draft into military service. Sitting on a truck he writes following sentences on a paper: My name is Nham. I am missing my village. But I will return none day. He throws the paper into the lands ape. In another shot we see the heavy wheels of the truck on a plastered street which separates him and his beloved earth. The paper he wrote, is floating through the air. Nham´s declaration of love to his native village is lost. We see Ngu on a rice field. With the clothes and her dress protected against sun and the sharp edges of the plants she is bent over doing the hard work on which the life of the whole village depends on. Suddenly the image freezes.

Thuong Nho Dong Que is a remarkable film. Except some very few artificial moments and a few shots I almost have forgotten its form. There is so much tenderness and attention to details that every approach of analysis must fail What I have seen and what I almost believed to have touched seems to me like a personal memory for which I have to find a form for myself.
The miracle of this film is that it evokes the longing to rediscover this world with all senses of my body.

And yes, this text is written before this film became an obsession for me. I saw it just a few time when I wrote this text. Even though I saw it 32 times, I am not yet finished with this film and I never will. It came back when I saw The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick. The film came back when I saw Robert Mulligan´s wonderful The Man in the Moon – and this film is a very close relative of Jean Renoir´s masterpiece The River.
It is one of these films which became a part of life and there is nothing I can do about.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sunday, September 8, 2013

TRANSLATION OF LETTER TO VALÉRIE DHIVER about Boku no Ojisan by Yoichi Higashi, Japan: 2000,

Dear Valérie,

I have to thank you for an advice which let me enjoy one of the most beautiful film experiences I ever made during an edition of the Berlin Film festival: Village of Dreams, which came accidentally into the competition of 1996. It was for me a little paradise of cinema. But it was anything else than a simple idyll but it remind me in that what cinema is going to loose. Such films remain in the memory and they help us like we remember in hard times the joy and courage to live which is still existing in us and which is just waiting for being rediscovered. While Village of Dreams  is directly evoking memories in my childhood it has to do with the Madeleines in Proust´s “Research for the lost times”. The Crossing  is not only dealing about that, what the film is telling about. It does not deal only with the relationship between memories and facing the present in moments where we have doubts in the world but also with how are memories itself evoked.

The fact that I have seen The Crossing only once and even though I made  a lot of notes while seeing that film, my memories seem to be more like memories in a music piece. I remember the images of modern Tokyo. People are hurrying through streets which are flooded by neon light and we hear the well-known sounds of beeping handys. I am familiar with the anonymous crowd because I can find them just behind the exit of the cinema and at the placeless Potsdamer Platz. I remember camera movements, which have something like staggering and underrow from which it is hard to liberate for an individual. As familiar I am (even when I have to consider some japanese specifics)  with that  point of view, in this film it seems to be subtle accentuated into surreality. Higashi needs only a few shots for presenting all the madness and the alienation of the modern mega cities.

Koji is a young designer for advertising. In his profession still close to the picture book painters in Village of Dreams, his creativity is mistreated for the law of marketing. The twins in Village of Dreams fixed their childhood in wonderful picture books and this childhood was at the same time the source of their inspiration.  But Koji has to work hard to re-find this world in himself. 
His situation looks bad. His boss is humiliating him, because his design is hard to sell. Than, his father dies and his brother´s son is recently released from the police with probation after his failed robbery. Kojis first memories (which are told in flashbacks) have nothing of sweetness, they rather correspondents with his recent crisis. Once he remembers a hard  by his father into his face. Another time in a short dream-sequence, he swims on the river in his home village and a kind of water spirit tries to take him to the ground. He wakes up and breathes hard like he would suffocating.
He feels insecure like his nephew Takuya, whose parents are divorced. In a later moment Koji sits on the bank of the river of his native village. He is realising the landscape around him which evokes memories in him like it can happen to us if we listen to music, seeing an image - or watching a film. Takuya is on one side a boy of the present, but in that what his presence is evoking in Koji he is also a “being of time” which is Proust's definition of what elements a human identity is consisting. Takuya and Koji in his boy age are played both by the actor Takihito Yosoyamada. Higashis film demonstrates that memories in film can be like that what Proust was describing. In one scene the adult Koji and the child Koji are sitting side by side at the river. In this image the memory of a man is becoming in the sense of the word a "being of a different time”.

Higashi loves music and before writing a script the listening of music (listened in consideration of the selection of the film music) is often an important inspiration. Recently he told me that he listens films like music and sees music like films. Even after the first seeing of Boku no ojisan I realised that Higashi is working with a lot of variations from motives, correspondences, images and music pieces, which we can only partial realise consciously but which give this film its hidden richness.  I got a vague idea what it means to think in images and sounds. There is for instant the motive of the mask: the mask of the young post robber, the one from a strange being from the world of Japanese mythology  (with what I am not familiar), or the mask in which Koji attacks his boss or scares his nephew, or the youth gang who attacked Koji and who carry likely masks. But there are also the invisible mask, that we carry for others and behind which we hide our real person. There are movements like the motive of the young Koji who swims through the river and the motorcycle rides of Takuya and the moments of looking into themselves, the contemplation of a landscape or of an image. 
There is an image which beauty has to do as well with music, like with image and which may be a track like Higashi even conscious works with the two realities of realising present and memories which have for my side to do with the film reception itself: Koji and his girlfriend Rin, his brother and Takuya make an excursion to the village. In this frame, Koji is placed with his brother in the left part of the image. Takuya right before. Rin stands behind Takuya and smiles at him, like she would realise his presence as that of a “being of time”, what Koji was once. They are placed in a river landscape. In this moment she is the spectator, whose view is aimed almost from the other side of the screen, passing by Takuya directly sliding to the audience.

You know how less I appreciate the new Japanese cinema of the last decades. The Crossing  has something which the former greatest national cinematography mostly lost since almost 40 years. Most of the directors of the Thirties and Fifties offered through their wonderful films an image from the world but at the same time a vision about image making. That is not the last reason why I discovered in  Yoichi Higashi for me one of the few real important contemporary Japanese directors. For that I have to thank especially you. Every image, every cut and every music piece in The Crossing has for my side to do with that what I would like to call cinematographic intelligence.

Je t´embrasse

PS: At first I was very angry about the fact that they ban The Crossing into the boring Panorama-section instead presenting it in the competition. But now I am rather wondering at all if the Berlin Film festival deserved a film like this.

This translation follows the German original which was written after seeing the film only once. It means it may includes some faults or misunderstandings which happen with memories.

1. The "Madeleines" are a kind of efrench eggc akes, which play an important role in Prousts novel.  "Madeleines" and milk coffee are evoking in the storyteller of Proust novel memories.
2. "Beings of Time" ist for my side one of the greatest film theoretical definitions in Prousts novel and ironically I remember this defination mostly while seeing asian films like from Higashi, Dang Nhat Minh, Hou Hsiao Hsien or Higashi. I understand this definition that even we are aging, moving directly from birth to death, our identity can be once of a person in their "right age" but in the next minute we  are at the same time a child of 10 years etc.  It can happen if we dream, or in the zone between sleeping and awakening. I understand Proust as well that our identity is a complicate combination of different "beings of time".  The scene with Koji sitting behind the the young boy he was in the same image and the fact that Koji in his boy age is played by the same actor who played Takuya seems to me a good example.
And off course this cinematic idea may be independent from Proust idea and this association is my own. But I still cosider Proust as one of the greatest film theorist generally.  The association Higashi/Proust has for me at first to do with my attitude that a good film is as well a good theoretical idea about cinema-which is off course transformed absolutely into cinematic poetic terms. 

Rüdiger Tomczak 
shomingeki Nr. 8, Page 24-27, July 2000

Friday, January 18, 2013

Letter to Ashis Pandit on Dutta Vs Dutta by Anjan Dutt, India 2012

The changing of sunlight to moonlight 
Reflections of my life, oh, how they fill my eyes 
The greetings of people in trouble 
Reflections of my life, oh, how they fill my mind
(song "Reflections of my life" from the band Marmalade)

Dear Ashis,

Last evening I watched the new DVD of Anjan Dutt´s Dutta VS. Dutta.
It is the 5th film I saw from this director. I liked them all, some more some a bit less.
But how could I know that this, his most recent film will break my heart. During seeing this film, I was already impressed and moved to tears. But it was even more intense when I waked up this morning and the first thing came to my mind, was Dutta vs Dutta.

It might be the knowledge that this film is autobiographical, one of the “Songs about Themselves". The filmmakers who are mostly hidden behind the camera, their own aesthetic system or often in the case of Anjan Dutt( when he appears physically in his films) totally changed into a fictive character.
Remarkable is here Anjan Dutt´s performance as his own father. But at the same time the over coice narration spoken in the first person is also from him.

He talks about the first kiss, the first cigarette the first drink, friends with whom he spent his youth and who finally disappeared. Like in most of his films there is also the strange contrast between nostalgia and harsh realism. The family is divided. The mother is alcoholic, the father pretending strictness (as a follower of Indira Gandhi), he is a lawyer r but also a sinner who has an affair. Rono, Anjan Dutt´s Ego has no intention to follow the wishes of his father. He likes to play guitar and sing and he wants to be an actor.

According to Adrian Martin´s essay on Malick´s The Tree of Life, "Great Events and Ordinary People", Dutta vs Dutta tells about the inner conflicts of a family but at the same time as well about the turbulences of West Bengal in the 1970s, the Naxal Movements ( a maoistic movement in India), uproars and the repressing reaction of the police. When the sister finally marries a naxalite, the family and especially the dreams of the father Biren Dutt is disturbed.

Dutta VS Dutta is also a brilliant example of an autobiographic period drama. Even as a foreigner, I get a sense of this Kolkata in the 1970s. It is like reading Marcel Proust´s On the Search for the lost Times  - even without being a French, even without being familiar with typical french  gestures - you get at least an idea about time and location of this novel.  Costumes, production design in Dutta vs Dutta are never just decoration. In the combination with the music they look rather like memories which were lived and felt. Until now Cinema is the only time machine which is invented. 
Despite the distance between Kolkata and where I life, I can connect with the music used as well in this film. It was world wide the period of folk and Rock music, King Crimson for example, music sometimes listened by my elder brothers whose generation is the same like Anjan Dutt´s. Sometimes small hints like the persons are dressed, a picture of Jean-Luc Godard or Bob Dylan on the wall of a room is enough for me to be transferred to another time.
Several times the film changes from colors to monochrome sepia. When the colors fade the film has less the look of performed memories but memories depending on the body of a mortal living human being.  

In the 5 films by Anjan Dutt I hace seen as far, I feel Anjan Dutt leads the old discussion about art and entertainment ad absurd um. The films I saw until now from him have both and always at the same time. His films are always tragic and funny at the same time. It is like how I said the same with the contrast between Nostalgia and sometimes harsh moments. This is a film you can enjoy and at the same time you learn a lot about what the film is telling about but as well about Cinema in general.

Anjan Dutt´s characters are full of contradictions and especially the ones he performs himself are close to burst. To show how history moves through the body of an individual is always one of the most difficult things in Cinema - and Anjan Dutt manages it like he has never done anything else. His performance as Biren Dutt is one of his most soulful one: the father you can imagine to rebel against, the petty bourgeois who is secretly a sinner. Anjan Dutt´s characters are great especially in their failures and their weakness.

If I think about the two texts on other films by Anjan Dutt, I have written so far, I believe Dutta vs Dutta highlights a different light on these films like  Bow Barracks Forwever or Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na All three films include a very crucial open rebellion against father, mother or in the case of Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na against a fatherlike character. In Bow Barracks Forever we have the long and intense scene between the young Anglo-indian Bradley and his mother, in Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na we have a very angry dialogue between Ranjana and her idol and in his most recent film finally the final rebellion of Anjan Dutt´s Ego Rono against his father. It is a rebellion against the image father, mother or a father-like character are making themselves of their children/disciples. Remarkable in all this three films the young people are aggressive but at the same time they are fighting with tears. The silence after this angry dialogues tells as much as the dialogues itself. In such moments Anjan Dutt´s films give a location about "pure cinema".  

Where it comes from this freshness in the films by Anjan Dutt, I do not know. He is not following any fashions or trends, he “sings his own songs” and after all what I heard about - he even found his niche.
And Anjan Dutt is fearless in using different genre pattern and in all the five films I have seen so far, all films are unique. Call it popular or mainstream or whatever, these films have a personal signature. Like Truffaut said about Bergman and Hitchcock: "Both directors films are entertaining but also great art."

Dutt has an amazing eye for characters, characters you never forget. But in Dutta vs Dutta there is everything a nuance more intense and even his own performance as Biren Dutta is one of his four or five most impressing ones I can remember.

The performance the intention to tell a story reaches in Dutta vs Dutta often the border where I feel he begins to share. His own voice used for the over voice-commentary has some weight in this film. At the end there is a very moving scene between his Ego Rono and his father Biren. Biren has suffered a brain stroke and it is hard to know what he still realizes and what not. Before we hear Anjan Dutt´s off-commentary, which is obviously from the present, he says, that he became an actor and is now a filmmaker and no one among his family members we see in this film know his films.
Later Rono tells his sick father that he got a role in a film by Mirinal Sen. Clumsily Biren makes efforts to hug his son. This is a very intimate and heartbreaking moment.
How could I know that a film by Anjat Dutt finally moves me to tears?
I have expected good storytelling, some good music and some insights into my beloved Kolkata in the 1970s. But what I got is finally a very personal moving film.
Dutta vs Dutta is honest, heartbreaking and authentic to the bones.

And last but not least, Dutta vs Dutta enriches cinema with another autobiographical inspired masterpiece. In its captivating evoking of both, a concrete historic period and the personal history of an individual. In fact this wonderful film is a kind of Bengali pendant to Hou Hsiao Hsien´s Tong Nien Wang shi (A Time to live and a time to die, Taiwan: 1985) or Terrence Malick´s The Tree of Life. As different these films are, they approach from different sides the center of Cinema.
Out of my controll – while Anjan Dutt shared in his film his memories-  my own in the 1970s of my childhood came to my mind. Maybe cinema has as well always to do with the dammed thing called identity. Believe it or not after this evening, I dreamt the whole night only about this film.
 I am so in love with this film and nobody is here to share it with. 
In my imagination I have seen this film with you in a film theatre in Kolkata.

All the best

A text onn Anjan Dutt´s Bow Barracks forever
and on Ranjana.... Recently I published the english version of a review of Dutta Vs Dutta whose german version was written for the print version. Here is the Link.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Notes on The Man in the Moon by Robert Mulligan, USA: 1991

Some films come like a surprise, unexpected – and it is sometimes like love at the first sight.
Mulligan´s The Man in the Moon is the last film of this director. Even though I loved already his most famous film To Kill a Mockingbird, I was nearly ignorant about his films except there as a small and beautiful text by Peter Nau on The Nickel Ride in the last print issue of my magazine.

The Man in the Moon is a Coming of Age-film about two girls in Louisiana in 1957. The house they live in reminds me in its greenish color in the house in Jean Renoir´s masterpiece The River, a house and its garden limited by a fence. Behind the fence there is a pond where the 14 years old Dani likes to bath. Sometimes she is running this way through the bushes, followed by this long and elegant camera movements which are so typical in this film.
The film begins with the moon, imitating its orbit around the earth while we listening one of Dani´s favorite Elvis-song. It is an overture.
The first scene is a camera movement towards the house Dani and her elder sister Maureen are living in. Through the trees and the yard closer and closer to the house and the bedroom of the two girls, literally from the global to the private sphere of a family.
The song of Maureen and Dani can begin. In its lyrical quality, The Man in the Moon seems to be a very close relative of The River and Dang Nhat Minh´s Thuong Nho Dong Que (Nostalgia For the Countryside) but in its permanent movement between the global and the personal life of this family it leads also to Terrence Malick´s The Tree of Life.
Robert Mulligan´s film is also a work which is in touch with life, the up and downs of adolescent girls, the every day life of a family, the boring Sunday school on Sundays, the few entertainments the country side can offer for young people. It is also about the hard work for surviving. The plot is nearly invisible, we are captivated by the wonderful moments this film is filled with. For an American film of the 1990s, it seems rather exotic to me. Just let´s put aside for a second my references to Renoir´s film which was made 40 years before this one Mulligan´s almost prophetic hint to the film by Malick, made 20 years later – then I have to think in the extremely long camera movements of the films by the forgotten Japanese master Hiroshi Shimizu (another great director in capturing young adolescents). The drams of ordinary country girls, first love and all the elements of this sub genre called “Coming of Age”, Mulligan becomes at the same time an American Renoir, an American Ozu or Shimizu and finally an American Dang Nhat Minh – and last but not least – I can also see a prophecy of the enlightenment the mentioned film by Terrence Malick will give to world cinema.

While we are captured in this wonderful moment the death penetrate abrupt and surprising. The world Maureen and Dani are living in won´t be the same anymore. As young as these girls are, this youthful poem of a film gets the touch of grieve and aging.
The Man in the Moon is a simple yet very wise film. It ends like The River (this wonderful short simulation of the movement of the earth). In Mulligan´s film the camera closes with a movement back from the house. The window of Maureen´s and Dani´s bed room disappears between branches of a tree and the light of a full moon. The film takes a long and melancholy farewell of these persons who were so close to us for a few more than 90 minutes.
Like the sculptures of the gods and goddesses in The River become again clay in the ground of the River like our earth will become burnt ashes in The Tree of Life – it is like we are chased out of a paradise called Cinema.All the films which came to my mind when I saw The Man in the Moon have in common their Sufi-like poetry, this celebrating of life with all the senses we got.

Good, there are times when I am asking myself why so much fuss about Cinema all these years. And that is sometimes answered with an unexpected gift as an answer.
Robert Mulligan´s simple and great film is not a film you just watch. You have to live it with all the fibers of your body and all your soul or you remain just blind and dense.

Rüdiger Tomczak

PS: Maybe I should explain a bit more my definition of Paradise concerning this film and cinema in general. Especially in the so-called "Coming of Age"-films. In The River and The Man in the Moon there adolescent girls or in Thuong Nho Dong Que and The Tree of Life adolescent boys. This specific aga when kids are usually pushed into a certain gender identification - or in other words pushed into the dictatorship of the stupidness of predetermined men made roles, this films by Mulligan, Malick, Renoir or Dang set us back in a certain doubt we had once. The miracle of these films is last but not least that they take for a while the burden of this stupid conditioned gender identity from us - and especially from our point of view.