Showing posts with label Documentaries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Documentaries. Show all posts

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

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

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Notes on Premières Solitudes (Young Solitudes) by Claire Simon, France: 2018. Berlin Filmfestival2018-VI.-Forum

It happens not too often in these last years of the Berlin Film festival but it still happens. You see a film without any expectations and to have chosen to see just this very film is often accidental. Such “accidents” are during a festival often the most rewarding. That happened to me just last year when I saw a documentary in the Generation section called Loving Lorna by Annika and Jessica Karlsson. The few information I had from this film sounded interesting to me and I had no idea that it turned out to be one of the most beautiful films I saw last year. And this is still one of the very few advantages of film festivasl.

Premières Solitudes consists mostly on conversations between young students at the eleventh grade of a secondary school in Ivry sur Seine,one of these prosy suburbs of Paris.
Two or three of them meet on a place they feel comfortable with and talk about their lives, their relationship to their parents, love and what they want to do in the future. Most of them are children of divorced parents. Some of them like a young woman born in Nigeria lives with a foster mother. The presence of the camera seems to increase the relaxed atmosphere. Each of the young protagonist feels free what to tell and how. The places where they meet are like niches, places at least one of them likes. One of the miracles in this film is that these conversations seem never forced. As sober and prosaic the film´s initiation point is, it develops later into a little universe of human life with all their stories.

The presence of these young people leads a life of its own. I assume they do not just follow only the filmmaker´s concept, they also perform and it seems they retain the control about what they give away from their privacy and what not. Some very few shots display the landscape of this environment, small traces of nature in this mostly very boring suburb. From time to time the camera finds glimpse of beauty, engrossed places where some of the protagonists are seen often when they meet and talk.
The spirit of security and freedom the film evokes might be fleeting and often in contrast to the awareness that these young people have hardly a chance to talk like that at home with their parents.These fragments of human life appear more and more like landscapes. Except some few moments when nobody speaks, one feels the presence of the camera. But mostly the spectator seems to forget it´s presence like the protagonists.

Days after I have seen this film, my mind is still full of their stories. Claire Simon created a strange
zone where the spectator like the protagonists can move freely. How big the quantity of stories and information really is, I realized long after I have seen the film.
The restraint formal concept of the film or even the illusion of the absence of any formal aspect is of course delusive. The film´s point of view avoids to impost itself as wiser than what it reveals. This point of view gets finally wiser through the experience it makes with this piece of world and as the film proceeds and as the result of experiences it learns permanently. The film beneficiates itself from moment to moment. It is almost like I have seen a film is arising in front of my eyes.
The old problem of documentary which deals with real problems is that one wants to learn as much as possible from these people but at the same time there is the privacy of real people to protect. In Premières Solitudes, it seems the protagonists take this decision in their own hands.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sun, 25.2, 12.30 Arsenal

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Notes on Interchange by Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky, Canada: 2018, Berlin Filmfestival2018-II.-Forum

The paradox of film is sometimes the transition between the natural ability of the photograph to record a piece of reality and the more artificial ones of the image making apparatus called cinema and it´s ability to modify.

Single, sometimes longer shots of an urban landscape at the edge of Montreal: Building lots, scaffolded Buildings. Deserted houses are for sale. Multi lane highways appear like the veins of a big city. Except in moments were some anonymous persons appear alone in front of the camera, this region appears almost deserted. An endless flood of vehicles are passing by. Occasionally rather atoms than traces of individuality appear. An elderly man behind a telephone booth. As we can´t hear if he really makes a call (he keeps the phone far away from eyes and mouth) the scene looks like a pantomime. Another man is phoning someone and the fragment from his conversation does not give any idea about him or to whom he is talking. Tiny fragments of human lives disappear almost completely after the next cut. They are literally drowned by the omnipresent noise of the traffic. One of the dominant colours is the red of the brick stones of some houses. Slightly accented, they evoke in me a delusive warmth and coziness in this down-and-out neighbourhood. Emblems and commercials often in form of neon signs or poster of Coca Cola promise a shine which already has left this quarter long time ago. In many shots, the environment is reflected in shop windows, windows of restaurants or coffee shops which are sparse frequented.

There are very few moments or better traces of landscape which give a small idea about the natural landscape which is almost totally suppressed by urban landscape. Nature absorbed by civilization.
What has won me over in this film is this strange subtle sliding between this very concrete region of a very concrete city and often it´s turn into a nearly dreamlike landscape. Especially in moments recorded at evenings or nights which are just lighted by the artificial light of the city and the neon light of shops, pubs or restaurants, the film appears like a dream.

The moments when single persons appear, children, old women, young women, old men and young men, are fascinating in a strange kind. The camera remains staring at their faces for a while. The people literally are doing nothing, than staring back, but obviously they are aware of the presence of camera and the filmmaker at the same time. And it is this staring back which finally preserve their anonymity.
They remain strangers like we encounter while strolling through foreign cities. The question the film evokes in my mind is - where is this joint between a rather prosaic film observation and the strange dreamlike engrossing aspect?

At the end we see again an endless avalanche of vehicles and a French-Canadian song is talking about the increasing speed of time when people get older.: “It´s not only cars that go to 100. Time too rushes by.”
Actually these verses remind me in this special feeling (probably only film can evoke) for the fleeting of time – for example in a film by Ozu. But the many drivers hidden in their cars again appear as impersonal, as anonymous like their vehicles.

Interchange is quite a proper film to open a film festival, because it deals at all with the core of cinema, the seeing itself. Sometimes the visual culture of cinema with it´s long and complex history has to go back ti it´s initial origin just to remind us that film is “the art of seeing”.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sat, 17.2, 19.30 Cinestar IMAX
Mon, 19.2 14.00, Delphi
Sat, 24.2, 22.00, Cine Star 8

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Notes on Voyage of Time - Life´s Journey, by Terrence Malick, USA: 2016


This is one of three versions of this project. The Imax-version i(narrated by Brad Pitt) s only 40 minutes long (and it seems to be rather a different film than another version) and there is a third one as long as Life´s Journey and projected with Live-music ( which is considered as Malick´s preferred version). The version Life´s Journey wonderfully narrated by Cate Blanchett (and the only which is available for me now – and that only thanks to the French Blue Ray -Release).

Another thing always confuses me: Voyage of Time is often mentioned as a heir of Malick´s legendary Project Q, another epic on the history of the world which he began and abandoned decades ago. After all what I have heard and read about this project, The Tree of Life refers as much to this Project Q as Voyage of Time. Both films are nurtured by this abandoned unfinished project. Considering Voyage of Time, I asked myself if this, Malick´s only non narrative film about birth and death of the world can work without the extreme dynamic of The Tree of Life between a very personal, even autobiographical inspired family story and the history of the universe. In a surprising way and despite its resemblance with the formation scene in The Tree of Life, Voyage of Time-Life´s Journey works on its own. It is not only a great companion piece for The Tree of Life, but also to most of his more recent films. The cosmic perspective is one important but only one of several different currents in his last 5 films which are best compared with complex living organisms. The fatal fashion among a lot of critics to ridicule these last films is the only unpleasant implication whenever a new film by America´s greatest living filmmaker is released.

As Voyage of Time-Life´s Journey (which I call for now the “Cate Blanchett”-Version) is the second new film by Malick I saw this year, and because of that 2017 will be a film year to remember. Song to Song is still very warm in my memory and it grew after every time I saw it.
Even though the “Cate Blanchett”- version is the only version I could see, it is hard to imagine a finer narrator than Cate Blanchett. It is like a recitation of a poem and a good example of what Christopher Nolan calls “the complex relationship between images and sound” (and in this case the narration included) The text often begins with Mother as an abstraction of this All.

As an admirer of his films since The New World, the biggest challenge was for me in Life´s Journey to get used to deal the lack of Lubezki`s permanently moving camera. Just alone the collaboration between Malick and Lubezki belongs to the most inspiring ones between a director and a cinematographer.

Voyage of Time-Life´s Journey is recognizable as a recent film by Terrence Malick but it looks also like a kind of missing link between Malick´s early films from the 1970s and his films from up to 1998. It is his most scripted film since Days of Heaven but another aspect which distinguished it from other more recent films by Malick, is it´ essayistic aspect. It is like we see a typical film by Malick from an engrossed angle. Blanchett, the invisible narrator is something like a hybrid between Job quoted in The Tree of Life and the Pocahontas from the New World but also an abstraction of the always searching Malick-characters. The text is even rather structured in exact pointed verses evokes doubt, questions and tries to find orientation in the face of gigantic cosmic processes compared with the short life span of a human being.While music and words are references to culture rooted in human visions of the world, the images of exploding stars, cosmic dust cosmic gas and the giant natural forces hint to a world which existed long before human consciousness and probably will still there when all traces of culture are gone. Despite a certain opulence Malick´s first approach in essayistic non-narrative cinema reminds me in Marguerite Duras´ Les Mains Négatives. Both films work with this “complex relationship” of image and over voice narration and both films are dealing with the nakedness of men in contrast to the forces of nature. Like the nameless man who lived 30000 years ago in Les Mains Négatives, we are in Voyage of Time-Life´s Journey exposed to front of huge physical and chemical processes. In Malick´s films everything is exposed to the natural but also the socio cultural history of the human world, that includes his protagonists, here even the invisible narrator, us and Malick himself. At least in the use of over voice narration, Voyage of Time-Life´s Journey is deeply connected to his extraordinary films since his comeback with The Thin Red Line.

Blanchett´s over voice narration with its long pauses correlate with the rhythmic appearance of total darkness between the images and structure the whole film like in verse.
Where comes the voice of Cate Blanchett from? In this film literally all things begins or comes out of the darkness and they will disappear in it at the end. The newborn sun has to assert its light against clouds of dark dust. The film celebrates at the same time the victory of the light over darkness as the basic condition to the evolution of life but at the same time for cinema itself.

Malick´s famous over voices are here reduced on one single female voice and it is for most parts of the film the only human reference point in the vastness of cosmic processes.
Mother you walked with me before there was a world, before there was day or night.”
This is the opening sentence of the film which literally comes out of the darkness. The reason that Malick is often blamed by superficial critics as esoteric is a result of a disastrous ignorance of how Malick works with the visible and traceable matter of the world and cinema as the visualization of it but also with poetic abstraction and religious moment as possibilities of interpreting the world. Finally science, religion and poetry are never opposites in Malick´s films. As the film´s narration is like a poetic monologue which goes its own way. Sometimes science and poetry come together, sometimes not. Some aspects of my fascination for the films by Terrence Malick, I can describe, others come over me like a natural force.

Between the moments of the foundation of the universe and the evolution of life, there are small moments of coarse grained documentary clips about groups of people from cultures all over the world, mostly people in despair, refugees, extreme poor people or people in distress.Even a burning landscape will be shown. It refers to another aspect of the films by Terrence Malick, pain and mourning. That can be caused by natural events but also by these human civilizations.

Mother, will you abandon me?”
The text becomes sometimes a prayer and poetic abstraction at the same time but it is also crucial for Terrence Malick who does not only celebrate the life but who also reminds us in the vulnerability of life.
We remember how Brad Pitt describes Malick´s work on The Tree of Life like: “I call him an imperfectionist. He finds perfection in imperfection. He is like a documentarian that´s just waiting for the moment to happen (...) (Q&A with Brad Pitt on The Tree of Life) In its last consequence, this imperfectionism means for Malick the highest artictic freedom imaginable.

It is interesting that at least compared with the legendary Project Q or the epic The Tree of Life, Voyage of Time-Life´s Journey seems to me much more “unfinished” than anything else Malick has done despite the presence of the mighty IMAX images.And it is not the first time that seemingly limitations are actually the most inspiring. The magic, the whole richness of a film by Terrence Malick enfolds very often after several watchings. I remember there was a critic (obviously from the category Malick-hater) who ridiculed the scene with the first men who are moving naked through the landscape. One has to be quite demented to find this moment ridiculous. It does not only refer to Malick´s The New World but it is also the most essential expression in Malick´s work of the above mentioned vulnerability of human life. In all its opulence, in all its cinematic attractions, Malick always goes back to the nakedness of mankind confronted with a new culture and the still mystic power of nature.

It is not just a film on birth being and decline of the world, it is an offering to get an idea about this process through many perspectives. There are documented and created images, the music and the over voice narration. The montage integrates all these elements but keeps them as own units. Despite the use of Imax images, special effects (digital and analog) in the cinema of Terrence Malick, the whole complex cinematographic apparatus will always be a, imitation of our senses, a perfect one but still an imitation.
One of the seemingly least spectacular but very moving moments, – like so often in a film by Malick –occurs near the end. A lonely girl plays on a lawn. In the background we see modern contemporary buildings. It could have been a scene from The Tree of Life, To the Wonder or anything Malick made in the last years. This landscape seems very triste but the child seems to be so involved in its own imagination, an imagination we all had once, we all forgot so often and a film can often bring these lost mood back to our mind. In the background we hear the typical North American train signal. A shot of another girl, playing with a group of children in a strangely deserted urban landscape. A detail shot of a girl´s profile, the ear appears in a close up. It is an image of a human being who experiences the world with all her senses, theses senses depending on her physical existence. We remember from the beginning a close up of a female face focused on the eye and another shot of a close up of a reptil´s eye. My description how Malick always tracks back the most beautiful visions to the physical world might sound a bit sober but it is part of his unique poetical concept of cinema. The little girl´s ear remains in my memory like the huge physical and chemical processes which formed the universe and the landscapes of the earth. (1)

A last and small chapter deals with the decline of the universe, the death of the sun and its planets and finally the end of all things. I remember the moment when the family tragedy in The Tree of life turns into this amazing sequence of the birth of the universe. I remember how much some people were irritated by this but I was sure from the first time I saw it that it was placed exactly where it belonged, right after a shot on the devastated mourning mother and as a visual echo of the job quotation from the beginning. Here in Voyage of Time-Life´s Journey, Malick offers not only his complex relationship between image sound and spoken word but also between science and faith, between a factual and a poetic vision of the world, between the matter and what it evokes in our mind and soul. The last master who approached such thing was Jean Renoir in 1951 with The River.
As we see images of the dying sun who burns our planet to ashes, the over voice paraphrases these moment in a poetical abstract but nevertheless very moving text:
The shadows flee ashore,
Time goes back to her source.
(We see a Black Hole)
Mother, I take your hands.
I dream no more.”

The last image shows a clouded sky until it sinks back into the darkness of the ending credits. The “intervals” of darkness in Voyage of Time-Life´s Journey is close to the clay formed from the bottom of Renoir´s The River. The statues of gods and goddesses formed out of clay are brought back to the river after the ceremonies where it becomes again mud on the river´s bottom.

What remains is a more simple truth: in only 6 years Terrence Malick has released his 5 most beautiful films. And always when the last scoffs, slating reviews or misunderstandings caused by blind ideological prejudice fade away, all of these wonderful 5 last films are already turning into true classics of the cinema of the 21st. Century.

Rüdiger Tomczak


(1) It is not enough for me to be astonished about this film or to be impressed by it. There is so much more what is evoked in me by this work. Malick uses a lot of artifices. But the amazement and the emotion evoked by these artifices seems to me something that Malick is sharing with us. There is no moment in this film which I can imagine as something different as something real felt or experienced. Not till then – I imagine- Malick confides these experience, these perceptions or probably some of his own memories and  experiences to the apparatus of film making. While seeing this film and despite my awareness of these instruments which record, conserve and visualize -  these recorded moments seem to dissolve away themselves from them. This feeling for the authenticity of every single moment in The Tree of Life or his previous films The Thin Red Line and The New World are shining much brighter than all the complex and imposing instruments used in this film I would like to call „The Malick-Paradox”. (from my text on The Tree of Life)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Notes on The Third Breast by Anamika Bandopadhyay, India/USA: 2017

If any thing is sacred, the human body is sacred.”
(Walt Whitman)

At the beginning, ocean waves on a beach in Goa, a popular region for Indians and tourists from abroad. The over voice commentary of Anamika Bandopadhyay tells about this place and the pleasure of drinking coconut water. She recalls the stories told by her grandmother. On the beach we see an old woman and a young girl with sun glasses. For a short moment it appears like an idyll evoked by a Marcel Proust- like memory and caused by coconut water, the pendant to the Madeleine, a French pastry occurring in Proust´s novel In Search of lost times.

The second part of the film´s introduction is a harsh contrast: News headlines report about the gang raping case in Delhi from December 16, 2012 which lead to the death of the victim, a young woman. Images of angry protesting Indian women follow. In the following months after this tragic event a series of gang raping all over the country followed. The public finally took attention on rape cases even though they happened as well long before December 2012. It was evident that the perpetrators felt very safe without the fear being indicted.

Anamika Bandopadhyay mentions that there is no sex education (maturation curriculum) in Indian schools. Her son absolved it already at the age of 11 in an American school. The Indian government rejects the idea of sex education in schools because they say it is “against the Indian tradition”. In Germany for example (which is far from being a pioneering country in this case) sex education in schools was from up around 1975 already obligatory and no biology teacher could refuse to teach sex education anymore.
What is the “Indian tradition” asks Anamika Bandopadhyay and her journey to different places in and periods of Indian history begins.

In the films by Anamika Bandopadhyay I have seen so far, it is impossible to separate the poet from the scholar or the human right activist. Like in her previous films Red (2008) and 1700 Kelvin (2012) she is completely involved.

The Third Breast is a film essay about the contradictions in the Indian culture history of sexuality. On one hand in modern India a total ban of sex in culture and education, on the other hand a brutal oppression of women. As rape is by politicians often underplayed as accidental events, it appears soon that it is caused by a misogyny deeply rooted in the history of colonial and post colonial India. With her questions, for example “What is the Indian tradition?, the filmmaker goes back to the distant past of India. Interviews with different people, scientists, activists or young students give hints to a deeper truth of “Indian tradition”. One of the essential elements of the filmmaker´s research is the comparison between a relatively liberal attitude towards sexuality in the medieval India and its absurd oppression in modern India. This ancient attitude or let me use knowledge of sexuality is documented in old texts, paintings, sculptures and poetry. At least the erotic sculptures in some temples in India are still accessible and proof this once total different attitude towards sexuality in this culture. Even without knowing KamaSutra, it is widely accepted that India has one of the oldest knowledge about the human body. As we experience in this that sex has quite a lot to do with “Indian tradition”. Bandopadhyay works with different elements, the interviews, collage, images as evidence but often as well with a certain playfulness. Beside the researches there is always as well the element of the experience she made during her journey, a reminder that she, the filmmaker is always a part of the complex history she reveals in her recorded images.

The texts by Geet Govinda, the erotic sculptures in several temples which depict sexual practice or even old texts which describe the sexual relationship between the “iconic” Indian (unmarried) lovers Radha and Krishna are in existence. The film is also a confrontation of images, the ones of a relatively liberal sexual moral in the past and the hypocritical images of the present moral of in post colonial India which are established today. And in this confrontation of dominating and suppressed images like established and suppressed ideas of humanity, Bandopadhyay uses one of the most important nature of film, the presentation of images.
She also integrates small episodes where she appears in front of the camera.
In one of them she explains a souvenir seller in Varanasi an object that he has in his collection symbolizes the penis of a Hindu-god. That disturbs not only the seller but as well a client is refusing to buy it.
Even among a group of open minded young people the image of a naked goddess displaying vagina and breasts causes for some of them feelings of discomfort. Paradoxically the tradition of India appears for some contemporaries as something very strange and exotic. Parents,tells Bandopadhyay, avoid to visit with their children these temples with erotic sculptures.

One of the aspects I value most, is that Anamika Bandopadhyay despite her involvement in the subject appears never predetermined and it seems we even witness with her a lot of discoveries she made during this journey. Her questions are punctuating the film and bring us closer to a truth than hasty answers.
There is, for example a moment where it is mentioned that the menstruation was in ancient times regarded as a sign of purity of a woman. Temples with statues of naked goddesses were closed for four days a month when the goddess “menstruates” Later , the menstruation as a symbol of purity and even divineness was distorted into a sign of impurity and these temples denied access for menstruating women. What changed this attitude? One hint mentioned in an interview is the fatal combination of the prudery of the British colonial rulers and the prudery of the Brahmin cast. For a long time the tribal culture was relatively uninfluenced by sexual moral of India. Tribal women had more freedom to choose and separate again from their partner. But even these last traces of a different India seem to have disappeared. Another offered explanation is the rise of a Right wing movement which originated in the 1930s and which took its inspiration from a distorted Hindu-ideology and which includes the vilification of women and the discrimination of lower cast people.

The Third Breast offers different accesses to a certain aspect in Indian culture history and it gives an idea about the complexity of this country. Despite its analytical aspect there is also the “caméra stylo” - element. It is an insight and the film does not leave one moment of doubt that it is made by a woman from its culture. Like the incredible trilogy on the partition of Bengal by one of her spiritual mentors Ritwik Ghatak there is a relationship between the global history and how it is affecting the person who tells us about.
The filmmaker´s questions open the space for new perceptions. Even if she blames religious fanaticism, The Third Breast includes not a statement against religion in general but points out against misuse and distortion Her films are never made with this smart predetermined “I know it all” attitude. That let her appears literally “Unarmed” and vulnerable. The moment when she tries to comfort one of the abused women in Red , illustrates what I mean quite accurate.

Once we see her in an alternative temple called Devipuram, founded by an atom physicist. It is a temple where women are worshipped and we see her washed by temple servants. It is again one of the protected zones for women in this film. At the end we see again the old woman and the girl with the sun glasses on the beach a poetic image for a memory and another of these “protected zones” in this film, where oppression and abuses of women is suspended for a short while. This moments reminds me in a moment from one of her previous films Rough Cut, actually the only moment from this film ( which is probably lost) available for me. Only about 5 wonderful minutes are available on Bandopadhyay´s YouTube channel. A man and a young girl are in a temple. The man is painting or busy with a maintenance of one of the sculptures. The girl stands in front of a naked goddess. On her toe tips she stretches her body to touch the statue. She is measuring the size of the artificial body, touching its proportions and compares them with the proportions of her own. Her actions are like unspoken questions. Whenever I have to articulate my appreciation for Anamika Bandopadhyay´s films this fragment comes to my mind.

At the end of The Third Breast, the filmmaker reveals the story of the goddess Meenakshi as told by her grandmother. Meenakshi is born with a third breast. The parents were worried about this “deformation” and raised her like a boy. Some consider it not as a deformation but an extra of erotic appeal or strength. The film ends with the image of the old woman and the girl with sun glasses on the beach in front of the ocean waves. They are at the same time exposed to a natural force but the image is one of these “protected zones”. A fleeting moment in a film which told us so much about a disturbed world where women have to struggle to assert their space.

The Third Breast is another example for a “committed “ cinema which is full of compassion, anger but also tenderness without giving in for a second to any kind of sensationalism. I feel confidence in these images which appear to me as documented of true encounters, true experiences and true reflections.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Friday, February 17, 2017

Notes on an afternoon at the Zoo -Palast with a masterpiece called Loving Lorna by Annika and Jessica Karlsson, Sweden: 2017. Berlin Filmfestival VIII. Genaration14plus

It is not the first time that I made exciting discoveries at the children and youth film section known under the terrible name “Generation” but a section which seems to be for me the only one in this festival which has a distinctive contour.
Another aspect of this year´s festival edition will stay with me: Except one example, almost all other films which inspired me, are documentaries. Even though all of these documentaries might have different approaches. Loving Lorna, for instance seems to be very close to the favoured documentary filmmaker of my country: Peter Nestler and Helke Misselwitz. I have seen Loving Lorna in Berlin´s most beautiful film theatre called Zoo-Palast and I feel again confirmed that documentaries belong to the big screen.

The film is a miniature of the life of an Irish working class family in a social deprived suburb of Dublin. The father is unemployed for some years and caring for his horses is his way to deal with it.
The mother suffers under epilepsy, which restricts her life in a certain way. She compensates this with her passion about books, reading, collecting all kinds of literature and bringing her private library always in a new order. The small insights in the dreams and longings of this people is filmed with big reverence. These insights are very intimate but discreet at the same time. One of their children is the 17 years old red-haired and freckled Lorna who has inherited the love for horses from her father. Her own horse is at the same age like her. She wants to become a farrier, a profession which almost becomes extinct. Her violent backache will probably prevent her from fulfilling her dream.

The film is close to the idea of André Bazin once described in his book on Jean Renoir, that “the things appear like accidental in front of our eyes and it is just a temporary privilege we enjoy.

The mother´s disease, the father´s unemployment are evident in these stories they tell in front of the camera. The “drama”, the tragedies hidden in almost every family story is here embedded in every day actions. I remember a critic writing on Yasujiro Ozu´s characters (the name escaped me) once that “Ozu´characters are to busy with life to explain themselves.”
Even though different in it´s formal approach, Loving Lorna is the second quite Ozuesque film I saw after Ann-Carolin Renninger´s and René Frölke´s wonderful From a Year of Non Events on this year´s festival.
The suburb itself is in the process of transformation. A shabby high rise apartment building is demolished. Power shovels with wrecking balls are often visible in this suburb. 
When Lorna rides on her horse it appears like an anachronism. The Ozuesque love for things which irresistible disappear is present in each moment. When the last image is fading away, the struggle of this family will continue. But for this heartbreaking short time of 61 minutes we got a glimpse of this “circle of life”. Loving Lorna is a piece of more recent social history but history which gets for a short times faces, names , identities – literally bodies and souls. And these bodies and souls appear through or despite this strange phenomenon cinema which bases on a mechanical and chemical process standardized by an industry which never cared much about the art, documentary or poetry of cinema.

When the identities of these wonderful people disappear in the anonymity of the end credits, when the film takes literally it´s last breath a feeling for the transients of life stays long, long, long with me. This little masterpiece by Swedish twin sisters Annika and Jessica Karlsson I have seen on the mighty big screen of a cinema cathedral called Zoo-Palast (which enhanced ordinary life for 61 minutest to an almost cosmic event), I am sure I got a glimpse of the “lost paradise of cinema”, a term Wim Wenders once used for the films by Yasujiro Ozu.

Rüdiger Tomczak

18.02, Cinemaxx 3, 16.00
19.02, Cinemaxx 1, 17.30

a slight extended  version in German can be found here 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Notes on a miracle called Aus einem Jahr der Nichtereignisse (From a Year of Non Events) by Ann-Carolin Renninger and René Frölke, Germany: 2017. Berlin Filmfestival VI.-Forum

An almost deserted farm in Northern Germany: An old man, Willi  lives here alone with his cat, some chicken and some geese. He has survived his wife and he intends to spend the rest of his life here in loneliness, a loneliness which will be interrupted occasionally by visitors. With the help of a walking frame he still walks on his property for feeding the animals or just contemplating the irresistible savaging of this men made landscape. He often talks with his cat, his only companion. The part of this film which could be considered as a portrait of this very old man is very discreet if not of an “Ozuesque” respect. Beside the human landscape Willi, the film includes a meditation about the landscape of the environment which marks the border of this man´s living space but also it´s tie to the whole world. The cat is always present. Even though there are very charming moments with this cat which will warm the hearts of every unconditional cat lover (we hear the cat´s purring ans snoring), the strong presence of this animal goes far beyond a certain cuteness. It rather reminds me in the presence of so many animals in the Japanese Haikus.

The attitude of the filmmaker is sometimes evident in the things they reveal in their film. There is a moment when Willi  takes the cat on his lap. He caresses the cat very softly and when the cat tries to get free he let it go at once.

The film is recorded in 16 millimeter and Super 8 material, some images are coloured, others in Black and White. Sometimes even the buzzing of a camera is audible. The presence of the device which records these images and sounds is a hint to the modesty of a film which does not want to be more than giving an image of a human life. Sometimes the film turns into darkness (caused by the end of a film reel) and the soundtrack continues. In other moments there are scenes without sound. If intended or not the the evidence of the ability and disability of the cinematic devices to reflect a human life enriches the film with a strange poetry.

There is the change of the seasons visible in a landscape already abandoned by men and which will be soon reconquered by nature and the house as the evidence of the presence of men. There are a lot of still lifes shot in the rooms of this farm house. Despite the absence of men, these images are revealing crystallized traces of them. They have lived here. The perceptible decay of things which have a meaning for a human life seems to be as mortal as life itself. The hints evoked by these images might be very subtle but they will remain in my memory. The calmness of a film (which we learnt 
from Japanese cinema) can be sometimes very evocative, often moving and not seldom even heartbreaking.

The presence of this old man and his animals and the awareness of these image making devices have a strange chemistry. The moments of “actions” with the old man and his cat or the fragmented stories he tells from his life are often alternated by absolute silence. How much really happened in this film on “Non Events”, I just begin to realize many hours after I attended the screening.

More than 20 years ago I once wrote on Ozu´s Bakushu (Early Summer) that “ the film (Bakushu) is like human memories compressed to 2 hours film. It is like memory itself depending on a body which has to die some day”. I was referring to the insufficient preservation of the original analog source of this film.
Since than I always see an affinity between the analog chemical process of film recording and the biochemical process of human memories depending on a living body. This idea came back to my mind after i saw Aus einem Jahr der Nichtereignisse.

The morning after I saw this wonderful film, the memory of it is still strong and present with a mixed feeling of happiness and a light indefinable melancholy. That is an unmistakable sign that I must have fallen in love with a film. There nothing more I can add for now. There is only one thing I am sure about: From a Year of Non Events by Ann-Carolin Renninger and René Frölke is the most beautiful film experience I made at this year´s festival.

Rüdiger Tomczak

16.02,Cinemaxx 4, 19.30
18.02, Delphi, 16.30

Monday, February 13, 2017

Notes on Mon Rot Fai (Railway Sleepers) by Sompot Chidgasornpongse, Thailand: 2016-Berlin Filmfestival2017 IV.-Forum

At the beginning, the history of the first railway in Thailand is introduced by inter titles. A few moments later, a train departs from a station. We see it from the rear window of the last wagon. It is a very long scene. First slowly than faster and faster the train is leaving the landscape behind. It is like a long tracking shot backwards which evokes a strange feeling for spatial depth. When the train drives through a tunnel, the screen turns for a moment dark. After some minutes, the film has already won me over.

In the first half, the camera records only in a compartment for ordinary people (second or even third class). It is overcrowded by old and young people, people who are sleeping, people who are watching the landscapes or children doing their homework for school. When the train stops, people entering or leaving the train. Often sellers offering water, coffee, snacks or dime novels. Conductors are controlling the tickets, soldiers sometimes making checks on passengers. The monotonous sound of the train, the sound scape of human voices and the camera which seems to be right among the crowd evoke a very vividly atmosphere. Sometimes we as the audience seem to be a part of it. The flashing landscapes are like an universe of images in a Laterna Magica. But sometimes there is the physical and mental illusion of train journey. One can almost feel the vibrations. We are involved.

This strange and beautiful film offers both experiences of cinema and world. Sometimes we are just part of it, sometimes we are reflecting about it. Except near the end of the film when some passengers tell their story and beside the film is framed by very few narrations about the history of this railway we see mostly people who are literally doing nothing that gives us an idea about their story. But nevertheless even when no story is told, the stories are present behind dreaming or sleeping faces, behind small actions when people are just busy with themselves. Actually it is whole universe of stories often suspended by dream and sleep or just kept by the people for themselves. It is exactly the same namelessness of ours the spectators.

Later the film takes place in the more convenient compartments. Richer people are drinking and dining beside tourists. Conductors and servants are busy preparing the beds in the pull man coach or taking orders for the next breakfast. The human stories might be for most of the time hidden behind actions but sometimes they appear in micro fragments like the fast flashing landscapes you wee from the windows. The film has the beauty of a clear night sky full of stars where we can watch endlessly. But what we see is nothing more than very small shining lights.

Mon Rot Fai is one of these films for which film festivals once actually invented for. It might takes place in a far distant country, it might tell about strange cultures and landscapes but it often can bring both together: the exploration of another part of the world but at the same time it can be part of the own personal “Recherche du temps perdu” I mean cinema that can offer a peaceful co-existence of exploring the unknown and the strange but as well the own dreams and memories.

One part of myself was reflecting and thinking all the time how close trains and cinema are, referring to so many films by Yasujiro Ozu, the wonderful train scenes in Satyajit Ray´s Nayak (the Hero) or Hitchcock´s North by Northwest. And yes, Mon Rot Fai reminds me as well in more recent masterpieces of films about trains like James Benning´s RR or Catherine Martin´s film poem Océan.
But the other part of me turned into the child I once was who saw it´s first film in a cinema and who experienced the first time a train journey. Sometimes there are these miracles like Mon Rot Fai which move us for a limited time to far distant places but at the same time they bring us back where we came from.

Rüdiger Tomczak

15.02,Akademie der Künste 21.30
16.02, Arsenal 1, 20.00
17.02, Cinestar 8, 16.30
18.02 Cinemaxx 4 22.00

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Notes on Rudolf Thome – Überall Blumen (Rudolf Thome – Flowers Everywhere) by Serpil Turhan, Germany: 2016-Berlin Filmfestival VI.-Forum

For Shaan and Thérese

At the beginning and near the end we see prints of films by Rudolf Thome lying in piles of rusted canisters, moments which are not only just sad but depressing. Film prints in rusted canisters – two films I saw in recent years at the Forum come to my mind, the wilful destruction of the nearly complete film heritage of Cambodia by the Red Khmer in Davy Chou´s Le Sommeil d´Or (Golden Slumber, 2012) and prints of Indian films in a former film studio near Bombay ( now part of the Puna Film institute) in Prabhat Pheri (The Journey with Prabhat, 2014 ( by the film students Jessica Sadana and Sammarth Dixit. In this film, an important part of German film history decays literally almost  in front of my door.

The world premiere of Rudolf Thome – Überall Blumen, yesterday at the Delphi film theatre was quite memorable. There was laughter everywhere and it evoked in me a likely memorable screening of Truffaut´s Les Qautre-Cent Coups in 2014 at the Cinematheque in Paris. In Paris like yesterday in Berlin, the ages of the audience variesd between those who could have been companions of Thome´s or Truffaut´s early films, people in my age who discovered Thome in the 1980s, and very young  people who could be my children or Thome´s grandchildren. When I discovered one of my favorite films by Thome, Berlin Chamissoplatz, the filmmaker Serpil Turhan was still a baby.

Rudolf Thome – Überall Blumen is a bit like Ozu´s Bakushu, a seemingly bright and often funny film. The melancholy is subliminal. When the film becomes a memory the slight feeling for this melancholy one had during the screening becomes stronger.
The film is entirely shot at Thome´s converted farm in Brandenburg and one of the miracles of this film is the perceptible relationship between the portrait of Rudolf Thome and the environment. This never looks constructed but it is filmed with a somnambulistic lightness.

Serpil Turhan was involved in Rudolf Thomes work as a main actress in his “time travel-trilogy” which includes one of his masterpieces Rot und Blau (Red And Blue, 2003) and later as an assistant. But in this film, Turhan focuses mostly on every day rituals. Conversations about the different kinds of brushing the teeth in some of his films, Thome appears as a gardener, a lover of birds or as a father etc. Once we see him writing the screenplay for his film Writing a script, we know from his Moana-Blog (Link),  is for Thome a public affair which you can follow life in the nternet – from the handwritten notes until the finished script.This creative process is embedded in a nother every day ritual.

There is a balance between long interviews and a kind of still life shots of the natural environments of this converted farm and the landscape of the village, a balance between long conversations and moments of silence. The pond of his garden is cleaned and we see croaking frogs. The excitement of Thome when he has filmed red starts, the daily work on his blog but than as well conversations about the obligatory self staging of Thome, the director who is now filmed by one of his actresses. The order in this film is not based on Thome´s filmography and there is no real volitional hierarchy between the so-called banal and significant moments of his life like it is presented in the film´s  interviews.
Between Thome´s pleasure in gardening, bird watching, bicycling  and every day rituals – there are moments of losses: the coincidental birth of his youngest son and the death of the wonderful cinematographer Martin Schäfer, the abandoning of his Film. Later they are talking about the death of another son of Thome but also about the late Marquard Bohm, one of Thome´s favorite actors.

There is a barn where Thome collected several clapperboards from different films he made. The titles are still written on it. In another moment, Thome tells that he has still stored the costumes once designed for Hannelore Elsner who played in several of his films in the 2000s. He is frustrated that no archive is interested in these costumes. In these moments, Rudolf Thome – Überall Blumen has a bit of an elegy on a great filmmaker which is abandoned by film historians.
I can´t get these images of the film prints in rusted canisters out of my head, they present for me the drastic endangerment of what we call the film heritage. These are the drops of bitterness in this beautiful affectionate and strangely moving film portrait.

Among the films made by one filmmaker about another one, Rudolf Thome – Überall Blumen by Serpil Turhan belongs to me with  films like Kohi Jikou (Café Lumiere, 2004) Hou Hsiao Hsien´s homage to Yasujiro Ozu, or Ekti Nadir Naam (The Name Of a River), Anup Singh´s homage to Ritwik Ghatak to the most beautiful films in recent years dedicated from one filmmaker to another.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Feb 20, Arsenal 1                    19.00
Feb 21 Akademie der Künste 14.00