Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Notes on a cinematic miracle called Sthalpuran (Chronicle of Space) by Akshay Indikar, India: 2020-Berlin Filmfestival2020 IV.-Generationkplus
It feels good to see that the Generation section continues to pick up films from India, which is for sure one of the greatest and most underrated film nations in the world. Directors of Indian cinema out of Bollywood, if Independent cinema, the Parallel cinema or the films of the old masters, they all face a lot of problems. Multiplexes - and even worse - the disease of streaming channels endanger the diversity of of cinema in India like in no other country. Despite all these obstacles, I find each year some Indian films which would honour all the big Film festivals which neglected this country for decades. That includes not only the last great masters of Indian cinema like Aparna Sen but as well talented young filmmaker like Pushpendra Singh or Rima Das. Akshay Indikar´s second long feature Sthalpuran, which is bravely selected for the children section, is already for me one of the most exciting film discoveries of this year´s Berlinale.
It is at the first sight a “Coming of Age”-story but as well the most daring and exciting film I ever saw at the children film festival (Generation kplus).
At the beginning a thunderstorm and city traffic under heavy rain. Later we see the 8 years old protagonist Dighu looking out from a window of a train. The boy leaves with his mother and his elder sister the big city heading towards the countryside to the house of the grandparents in the coast region Konkan. He misses his father and the mother told him he is “missed” without any trace. The kids questions about his whereabouts of heir father are never really answered.
The film is structured by Dighu´s diary records, small and simple sentences which appear like chapter headings. And for now we have a classic initial situation for a “Coming of Age”-drama: change, loss and loneliness in facing one´s own growing up.
Indikar tells this story elliptically in the way of the great minimalists Yasujiro Ozu or Hou hsiao Hsien. The “drama” is hidden in every day rituals: school, doing home works, strolling around in this breathtaking landscape.
There is a sentence from Dighu while just warned by his sister not to hang behind on the way to school: “I like the road to school much more than the school.” The strange beauty of this film is here quite well described. And strolling around through this film composed of poetic every day observations is an encouragement to discover the film from the point of view of Dighu – or even the 8 years old child we once were.
Dighu´s perspective between dealing with loss and change and his dreamy strolling around through the landscape is a movement, the film converts with a nearly uncanny precision for the spectator. Despite – or probably even because – the fact the film takes place in a part of the world totally strange to me – it transfers me back in a far distant childhood. Each shot, each landscape, each action appears as a wonder.
The grandfather explains Dighu how a clock is working and how time is measured. A seemingly simple moment but with the poetry of an Ozu.
The “Coming of Age” element is imbedded in landscapes and every day situations. Sometimes there is only the weather. A mighty thunderstorm which darkens the sky and emphasized the fleetingness of human life but also the light which makes all things visible in the world but also on the big screen.
Sthalpuran is a film which moves between two extreme poles, a certain minimalism but often moments of almost psychedelic beauty.
There are a lot of long shots and the boy seems lost in the mighty landscape, the rice fields, the forest or the beach of the sea. These images have sometimes the power of the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. When we see Dighu walking on one of the roads or paths in one of the extreme long shots, the camera records with patience his way in long sequences. It seems literally as a piece of space time of a young human life. Sometimes concrete forms and shapes turn into abstract light and colour forms and the film turns into a Laterna Magica.
Sthalpuran is like my last year´s attraction of an Indian film, Bulbul can sing by Rima Das quite a cinematic journey. Indikar´s film is full of breathtaking formal ideas. The images sometimes move amazing landscape images which emphasize the illusion of spacial depth and sometimes, like in a school scene where the sight is literally blocked by a big blackboard, the film reveals the natural flatness of the cinematic image. Sthalpuran is on one hand a very sophisticated meditation about the possibilities of cinema (in this case I mean the mighty big screen) and on the other hand it evokes in me the amazement of a child which is just discovering the world around. And by the way – Sthalpuran is as well with Pushpendra Singh´s Ashwatthama and Anjan Dutta´s Dutta Vs. Dutta one of the autobiographical inspired masterpieces of the more recent Indian cinema.
Sthalpuran by young director Akshay Indikar is not only an exciting discovery of a new great talent of world cinema, it is also a beautiful and respectful gift for the 125th. Anniversary of cinema.
Thurs, 27.Feb, 10.00 Urania
Fri, 28.Feb, 11.00, Cubix 8
Sat, 29.Feb, 9.30 Filmtheater am Friedrichshain
Saturday, February 9, 2019
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.
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
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
Sunday, March 4, 2018
“I see the curious rapid change of the light and shade, I see distant lands as real and near to the inhabitants of them as my land is to me.”
( Salut Au Monde from Leaves Of Grass by Walt Whitman)
The beginning of this film is like a birth. Before the first light appears we hear a woman talking to her son. She tells him the story of Ashwatthama, a tragic character from the Indian mythology, who was cursed and became an immortal but lost soul. I am not familiar with the Indian mythology which varies from region to region in this complex culture of the Indian sub continent. But I have already a guide which will lead me through this film which will open my eyes and my ears, the curious and open hearted boy Ishvaku who is discovering the world around him. The film is like discovering another world manifested in 2 hours film.
The film is shot in Black and White. Only very few hint´s give an idea that the film is less engrossed from our time than we might think. Only very short colored moments interrupt the atmosphere of the film. They appear like subtle distortions in the space time continuum of the film´s universe.
I remember a shot near the beginning. Ishvaku is feeding the pigeons in the backyard. The backyards is closed by walls. Behind Ishvaku we see a window which leads to the world outside the barrier. The boy is totally absorbed by his action, like I am absorbed by the rich texture of this image. After a while , Ishvaku goes to the entrance of the house and disappears inside this entrance which is hardly more visible than a black spot in this image. For a moment, the camera stays with us and the pigeons in this backyard.
The vision of this piece of world does not seem to be forced at all. It is one of many moments in this film which demand nothing else than attention but it rewards you with a celebration of cinema as the art of seeing.
There is this strong feeling for confidence in cinema, confidence in what the filmmaker has seen, confidence in the apparatus which recorded it – and finally confidence that these images will unfold their intensity and often breathless beauty by themselves.
There must be a relation between the many stories told by the characters to each other and how the film´s narration creates a whole universe of stories which define a culture but also a human life. This collecting of vocally told stories is interwoven the film´s visual and audible narration. The smallest moments, seemingly non events are beside tragic moments which appear as not emphasized. The emotions which will be nevertheless evoked as the film proceeds are the results of attention, of experience and not formed by forced dramatic storytelling. But especially in its nearly shy reservation, the film often appears to me this “sense of wonder” like the time when I discovered cinema for myself.
In its dynamic between intensity and a nearly minimalistic reluctance, Ashwatthama recalls in me the journey I had with the films by Taiwanese Hou hsiao Hsien, especially with Hsimeng Rensheng (The Puppet master, 1993). In Hou´s work there was a movement from explicit autobiographical inspired films to a quest for history and culture of Taiwan but as well a quest for finding his own specific vision of cinema (evident in his famous extreme long shots). In another kind but with an equal intensity, Ashwattham has the range between personal memories, a precise look to the part of the world the director comes from but as well an own unique vision of cinema.
A brief look back to February 2014 where Pushendra Singh´s first long feature Lajwanti had its world premiere at the Forum of the Berlin Film festival. It happens seldom in my life time that a debut of a new talented filmmaker caused so much expectations for the near future. Legendary film debuts from the history of cinema like the ones by Satyajit Ray, Terrence Malick, Orson Welles or Aparna Sen happened either before my life time or outside of my awareness. With , one of the two finest films I saw at this festival in the last 12 years, I witnessed such a revelation.
After the house is attacked by bandits, Ishvaku´s mother is killed and he moves with his father to relatives. This is one of the few but pointed tragic turning points of this film which create a new situation for the protagonists. A place in the world is lost, a new one has to be found. When they arrive at their new home, the protagonists and the film spend time with mourning. As I said earlier I have not understood all codes and rituals, this is a moment which affected me a lot. The impact of the loss of a beloved person is caused by memories of my own close persons or in so many moments I have seen in the films by John Ford, Yasujiro Ozu, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Terrence Malick or Satyajit Ray.
The interiors are often sparsely lighted. The interiors are places of shelter and privacy. The implicitness of light our eyes are used by so much bad television features where we always see everything is now suspended. As films often pretend there is a a definite place in the world. True cinema and especially films like Ashwatthama suggest to find a place in the world is a permanent search.
In an interview Pushpendra Singh tells about how he developed the film with inspirations from own memories. Some characters are based on close relatives. Singh has really lived in the region where the film takes place. Even without having read this interview, one can get the an idea about this film in many moments as felt memories. But Ashwatthama also offers something like an ethnographic look to its own culture. The universal and the personal, the prosaic and the poetic are often evident interwoven in single moments. There is a small moment when a young woman, the eldest cousin of Ishvaku combs the boy´s hair. Both are looking into a mirror. They look at themselves. It reminds me in some moments in Lajwanti when we see Sanghmitra Hitaishi´s character looking into a mirror. This is a strange revelation to look at people who are looking at themselves. As we trying to get an image of this world and its people visible, we have to realize that these people have already an image of themselves which is not necessarily identical with our image of them.
The more the film proceeds the more we are absorbed by this look to a piece of the world. There are often recurring motives, family meetings or reunions of this community sitting around a campfire and listening to musicians who perform their songs.
The specific sense of time seems to be adapted from the specific sense of time only children have. The world as an endless huge and rich stage of wonders even though from time to time interrupted by momentous events. Some times the plot seems to melt away and than it comes back with silent but painful fierceness.
Sometimes I feel like talking again and again about so much single moments to articulate this specific “sense of wonder” I experienced. The more the film proceeds, the more I feel - despite its often seemingly non events or especially because of it – what I will call a poetic breath. Some times we are absorbed by what the images present and than the awareness of the artist and this apparatus called cinema reappears and with it the cognition that cinema is especially because its ability to create an artificial memory – cinema is desperate and heartbreaking resistance against death and caducity.
There is one unforgettable moment which is representative for the film´s spirit and the delicate style the film is made with. As much as the characters are absorbed by their world and their actions it does not mean they are always accepting their fate without reluctance. The scene , I want to refer is not only a foreshadowing of a tragic event, it is also a striking moment when these children are confronted with invisible and nameless borders. During the film Ishvaku has developed a strong bond with his deaf cousin Laali, a girl who is about the same age like him. They often stroll together through this stony and sparse landscape. One day Ishvaku is sent to school. The relatives decide that Laali shall go too. The school scene seems to be made in one long shot. The perspective is the one of the children who are sitting in front of the teacher, the board and the desk. The seemingly impassive camera evokes a strong sense of power and the little children bodies are exposed to the moody upright standing strict teacher. The view is bouncing to the wall with the board and the teacher and the wall. When the teacher learns of Laali´s deafness, he chases the two children away. The insulted children leave the school and the frame. The fact that the echo of their humiliation the insult of discrimination is left to our imagination. For a moment we remain in this picture looking at the children exposed to this teacher and the wall. For a moment the eyes are prisoners in this room. How the cruelty unfolds in this one moment is intense and afterwards a heartbreaking nearly traumatic moment.
We have seen Laali and Ishvaku discovering the endless world, now witness how they
bounce against meaningless man-made borders.
We gave seen them walking through ruins which are almost in the process to migrate into the landscape they are once built on. It is an image presenting fugacity of human cultures. It evokes a muted melancholy in me. Where it comes from, I can not tell. More and more cracks appear in this world.
The elder cousin who was supposed to be forced into an arranged marriage, has escaped. She resists and disappears. A woman is beaten. The world- or better - the world defined by men with its rules and its order unfolds its complex ambivalence.
Ashwatthama, this kaleidoscope of people , stories and landscapes appears to me as a miracle which does not really stop when the two hours film have ended. It continues to have an effect in my memory. Just the kind how characters are entering a frame and leaving it, stays with me. Sometimes the combination of image and sound widens the world, sometimes image and sound reveal its borders. The visible and the invisible can be experienced similarly. I have no idea which moves me more, the stylistic and daring consequence of this film or its incredible delicateness.
And it is one of theses films I have a hard time to let it go. And yes I have to remember again Walt Whitman´s imagined journey around the world in his poem Salut Au Monde.
Ashwatthama is sone of these cinematic miracles which refer to the great past of cinema but at the same time to its future. The film is still new and still on its journey through film festivals. From time to time, cinema needs a radical redefinition such as Ashwatthama to move forward.
There are these two precious gifts, Pushpendra Singh gave to cinema, the one is Lajwanti, the other is Ashwatthama. Now it is turn of what we call the public world of cinema to proof if it deserves these gifts. About one thing I am absolutely sure – I can´t imagine a near future of cinema without Pushpendra Singh.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
“you and I are close, we intertwine; you may stand on the other side of the hill once in a while, but you may also be me while remaining what you are and what I am not.”
― Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism
A moment in the first 20 minutes of the film, a seemingly unimposing scene: A young man called Shutu takes an old pullover which once belonged to his recently deceased father. He smells on it an finally puts it on. Later as the film proceeds we will realize that this scene carries already the DNA of the whole film. For now there is nothing more to know that he is distressed by his grieve and very very lonely with it.
It was just a day before the screening in Berlin when I learned by accident that Konkona Sensharma´s A Death in the Gunj one of the films I was waiting for in this year, was shown in my city during an Indogerman Festival. I took a deep breath because I almost missed this note. The excitement has a long history. It was her performance in Shonali Bose´s Amu which lead me to Mr. And Mrs Iyer by Aparna Sen and with that to all the glory to her mother´s work as a director. Konkona Sen Sharma became one of my favorite actresses, Aparna Sen one of my favorite film directors alive. As much about her family.
The morning after the screening I read again Anjan Dutt´s enthusiastic review of A Death in the Gunj. Strangely the film evoked in me in another kind but likely strong my personal echo of the 1970s like Dutt´s masterpiece Dutta Vs Dutta – despite the visible specific hints to a country and culture strange to me. I mean this dynamic between the perception of the strangeness of this culture and at the same time the recognition of the universality of human behavior. The leather jacket of Ranvir Shorey evoked quite a déya vu in me and I almost had this specific smell of leather in my nose. And between what the film is and what it evokes in me, a kind of resonant cavity arises for me. As accidental as it is, I realized on my way home that Shutu is exactly of my generation and there are some parts of him that I and probably a lot of male spectators will recognize if they like it or not. Quite a mixture of feelings are flooding my mind like in one of these heavy bizarre dreams between desire, fear and depression.
The opening of the film is a mystery which will dissolved at the end of the film and which gives the film from the beginning a subliminal suspense. Two men are looking into a boot of their car at a corps which remains invisible to us. As we see them from the perspective of the unknown dead, it is a ghostly non-human perspective. Soon the film opens a flashback seven days before and tells this in exactly 7 chapters. We have no idea what will happen but we are sure something will happen.
A group of city people consisting of family members and friends arrive at a former Anglo-Indian town to spend holiday in one of these old houses. The location seems already engrossed and nearby there are tribal people. For now the film remembers me in Satyajit Ray´s masterpiece Aranyer Din Ratri mixed with a subtle suspense. Without knowing where the film will lead us the slight suspense originated from the opening sharpens our attention to even the smallest detail. The group of people which has just arrived are neither bigger nor smaller than life just perceptible enough for us to connect with them. But as the film proceeds, the holiday idyll reveals small cracks, very small at the beginning but steady growing. The growing doubt that nothing is what it seems causes concern. The protagonists kill time with parlor games, drinking and macabre jokes mostly on the cost of the young sensitive Shutu. One of these subtle but nevertheless disturbing signs is the attitude of the city people towards their servants. As a tribal dance is like a welcomed tourist attraction the contempt of the city people towards the servants is revealed but also the other way around. For the servants the city people are just annoying strangers.
In several interviews, Sensharma always mentioned her empathy for Shutu, because “Men are often victims of the patriarchal system itself”. In her film Shutu will be teased at the beginning than bullied and finally he will be even beaten and hurt. The physical injuries caused by one of these stupid horse plays are visible, the mental ones only perceptible in his face the camera explores and in his posture.
The ensemble of characters are like a color palette of possibilities of human behavior concerted with each other: Tillotama Shome and Kalki Koechlin, two conflictive women or the conflict between the nearly unchained macho Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and the young sensitive almost androgynous Shutu (Vikrant Massey), to mention some of them. In this nowhere land between the adults and a little bored girl girl called Kana, there is Shutu placed. All together this group is something like a kaleidoscope of different human types.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. (Marcel Proust)
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. (Marcel Proust)
The former Anglo-Indian town itself appears like a nowhere land between city and countryside, between culture and nature, the always present nature which is already reconquering this man-made location. And between the human definition of rules, gender or power and submission the nameless undefined presence of nature is perceptible. The conditioned human culture appears sometimes like a prison.
When some of the adult men Nandu or Vikram are trying to “toughen up” the fragile Shutu, their motivation is based on this imposed darwinian understanding of nature, a man-made interpretation of nature. The film itself suggests rather a separation or an alienation between men and nature. There is rather an indifferent coexistence between men and nature. In some of these intense cinema scope-images we see the mighty forest and a tiny street. Most of the characters do not have an eye for this beauty, but it often seems this nature watches them. There is an uncanny encounter between Shutu( who falls into a traphole) and a wolf. It is not more than a short eye contact but nevertheless one of the most mysterious moments in this film. We realize that the biggest part of the world which we captured in words lead an existence of its own. And finally the conditioning in which we define the world separates us from nature.
Mimi (Kalki Koechlin) seduces Shutu twice. At first when she is very drunk. Her behavior is a mirroring of both, Vikram who takes what he wants but in her oppressed needs as well of Shutu. She calls him “very beautiful, almost like a girl.” The first seducing scene is symptomatic for the film, an combination of revealing and indicating. The second seducing scene takes place on a grave yard, literally between the dead. sex once in Terrence Malick´s Song to Song poetic defined as “The flame of life” appears here in Sen Sharma´s film as a naked reflex against the fear of death or at least between the wrong persons at the wrong place and wrong time. None of Sensharma´s characters are explicit evil but most of them are careless and unable to feel empathy. This affair triggers a chain of events which lead to the film´s stirring finale which I can´t reveal but which is – still in my system.
The end credits are rolling on a street surrounded by the forest at night seen from the rear window of a driving car, a travelling shot which is in its spookiness evoking in me memories in Murnau´s Nosferatu. Literally the last traces of light are sinking into darkness of the final fade out. This often underrated ritual of cinema, this transition between the film projection and the reality is here as well a little piece of art in its own right
This a very versatile film, playing with different traditions and genres of cinema. The suspense is as decent as the film music but strong enough to engross us. A Death in the Gunj is as well an example of an excellent use of this cinema scope format. This format once invented for films bigger than life in the competition against the rising Television in the 1950s and later used rather for artistic visions, especially by the Japanese since the late 1950s. Sensharma uses in her film this format in a nearly perfect dynamic between opulence (visible especially in the wonderful landscape shots) and intimacy, between chamber piece and landscape panorama.
A Death in the Gunj is not only an impressing film debut feature. It is still echoing in my mind. In simple words – good films like A Death in the Gunj are rooted in the glorious history of cinema, enriching the presence of it and at the same time they offering new perspectives for it´ future.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
It comes again to my mind why I consider Indian cinema as one of the most vibrant ones of our time. As the glory of the past of Indian cinema once appalled the dominance of a mostly Euro-centrist film historiography, it´s exciting present is often ignored by the so-called big Film festivals. Some Indian short films I saw recently reassure myself in appreciating Indian cinema which is just not very much trendy and obviously not in fashion among the majority of festival programmers but nevertheless at least as exciting as interesting than films from Iran or China which frequent all kinds of European film festivals.
Trapeze is a 13 minutes long nightmare but one of these nightmares which feel to real to be forgotten soon. At the beginning, a surreal image of a road traffic which moves backwards. A young man called Sandip receives a phone call from a friend who told him that he is is arrested for murdering his fiance. From one second to the next the world of Trapeze is split into two parallel worlds. Radio and television report without cease about violence and terror attacks. When Sandip takes a shave, a pure every day action, the sink is suddenly filled with blood. To distinguish what is imagined and what is real, becomes difficult.
There is a scene when Sandip fights with his fiancé Ipshita, if I remember correctly, about religious fanaticism in which Sandip is involved. On the surface a mundane quarrel between a couple. The violence is subliminal in this scene filmed in close ups and it is visible in the angry and almost hate filled face of Sandip. An every day quarrel between a young couple or is it already a hint to a fathomless drama? As the images also the soundtrack moves from seemingly mundane sounds to distorted and alienated ones.
Later, Sandip encounters in a cellar-like room a strange clown who seems to be in his viciousness a close relative to Heath Ledger´s Joker in Christopher Nolan´s The Dark Knight. His gestures are like an even more cynical variations of Chaplin´s “The Great Dictator. No one can escape his horrible laughter. In front of him, we recognize Ipshita´s corpse, her throat cut open.
Mundane living rooms turn into catacombs of fear and guilt, ordinary people into monsters of hate.
Trapeze is a miniature filled with old and very primary motives from the history of cinema, for example the “Doppelgänger”-motive or the split personality in the fantastic films from early German cinema, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-theme, but also the motive of real and imagined murder in Hitchcock´s Strangers on a Train. And like Hitchcock, the terror grows in every day objects or between every day actions. The world we inhabit turns from one moment to the next into a scary place.
The news about violence there and then invades the here and now. The recent history of violence and terror attacks has arrived the living together of what we call civilization.
The film is always most disturbing in its transitions from what we call mundane life and the nightmare mankind finally create. I refer here to an end ,a seemingly happy ending” which returns with one single cut to the nightmare again we want to escape and what the whole film is about. If we thought we “wake up” from a nightmare, we realize that we are still in the middle of it.
It is still amazing that a 13 minutes long film can be much more though provoking and affecting than all the news shows in the world. What remains, is a memory of a weird dream in which we try to hold on certainties which always blur into doubt.
Trapeze is like a shock wave. The news on violence and here the terror attacks in France finally have reached the private and more intimate space. We see Sandip often running through narrow lanes. There is no real escape and there is no real escape from the nightmare the film evokes. Last but not least, Trapeze is an exciting fusion of experimental cinema with interwoven genre-elements.
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.
18.02, Cinemaxx 3, 16.00
19.02, Cinemaxx 1, 17.30
a slight extended version in German can be found here
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.
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.
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
Monday, January 30, 2017
Diamond Island is the name of a new quarter in Phnom Penh still in it´s construction phase. Near the beginning, a computer animation presents how these quarter of luxury apartments, shopping malls or expensive hotels and restaurants will look like. The worker who are hired to fulfill this construction live in ugly dirty shags. Most of them come from the countryside for earning money ti support their poor families.. The false promises of the new and modern Cambodia of the 21.Century is nearly in every shot present. For the ones who can´t participate in this -so -called progress, they have only the illusion mostly performed on their smart phones. Bora is one of these young boy looking for their fortune in the big city. Most of the characters in the film, if boys or girls, have hardly finished their adolescence. They appear like extremely fragile beings thrown into this world, a Cambodia which is still dealing with the trauma of the auto-genocide and destruction of a big part of it´s entire cultural heritage in the past but already overrun by this other monster called Neoliberal capitalism. Even though the adolescent boys are talking about girls and sex, their existence is on edge. The work is dangerous and accidents happen.
The hopes and dreams these young people have are colliding with this huge construction project, a project when it is once finished won´t have any place for them.
When night has fallen the whole area get through different neon lights an almost engrossed appearance, a fairy tale-like illusion through which the characters move like homeless ghosts. As hopeless as life appears in this film, there are always these moments when the characters try to get traces of happiness wherever they can get it, very improvised Karaoke parties, a tour on a motor bike. There is a scene with a familiar talk between Bora and one of his brother who left his family long ago on an unfinished roof of an unfinished building. From above the environment looks like a long shot on a huge screen in a cinema. As delusive these beautiful moments are, they are definitely required for the characters surviving in this world.
There was this impressing documentary Le Sommeil d´Or, Chou Davy made in 2011 which follows the traces of the Golden Age of Cambodian cinema, a cinematic heritage which was nearly destroyed by the Red Khmer and which left only a very few surviving prints. Beside this achievement to safe a piece of almost forgotten film history, Chou is also part of a movement for a new Cambodian cinema.
In Diamond Island he uses the scaffolds, the unfinished buildings which are always present in the strange lights of the night for a strange and nearly subversive poetry. And only during night and in the colourful artificial light the city seems to belong to these characters.
There is an interesting work with the non-professional actors. Like in the early films by Hou Hsiao Hsien, Chou Davy uses often long and static shots. There is for example a long conversation between Bora and his brother. We see both in their profile, the big screen almost enhances the spatial distance between these alienated brothers. It is not only what they say that moves me, but the long pauses between their talking. That creates a kind of intensity, not because of the seemingly simple dialogue but through the faces and postures of the actors. There is the wonderful moment when Bora goes out one night with a girl. He hardly talks and theses young people´s happiness is rather guessable than visible. Later there is a very tragic moment when Bora´s mother dies. Like in a film by Ozu, Bora is informed about his mother´s death and a few cuts later we are in the middle of the funeral rites. The emotional impact of this tragedy comes with delay but than with all it´s weight.
Diamond Island, the first long feature film by Chou Davy is a beautiful complementary piece to Le Sommeil d´Or. While the first one is a look back to Cambodian history which includes the Cambodian cinema as well, the second one seems like a promising preview of a future of a new Cambodian cinema.