Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mrinalini on the beach- Notes on one scene from ITI MRINALINI

(For the German version in shomingeki Nr. 25 please click here)

"The film will be perfect if it stops to impose itself as the art of realism and become reality metamorphosed into art." (André Bazin on The River by Jean Renoir in his book JEAN RENOIR)

The scene in Aparna Sen´s most recent film takes place on a beach. We see Mrinalini (Konkona Sen Sharma)and her daughter Sohini (adapted by her brother and his girlfriend) sitting in the sand and watching the sky and the sea in the light close to sundown. The kind they watch is like they watch an over dimensional big screen. In Aparna Sen´s films like MR. AND MRS. IYER or in THE JAPANESE WIFE we often see people watching into a landscape like they are watching to an imagined screen as well like in this film.
They sing:
"In this infinite sky
My freedom lies in this glorious light
in this infinite sky.
My freedom lies in the dust of this earth
and blades of grass
in this infinite sky."
(quoted from the english subtitles from the DVD)

They stop singing and begin to talk after a small break of silence. In this moment of silence the camera circles half around them. The moment of harmony reveals as a fleeting moment.

The girl sits left, Mrinalini right. We see a man on a bicycle in front of the sea and in the depth of the image a fisher boat. As the film deals with the film business with lies and betrayal, this one of few scenes where the characters reveal honestly their inner feelings. As the film tells about filmmaking this is one of the scene where we see a "real film"
Mother and daughter talk about their relation ship. If the girl know that she is adopted or if the girl knows who her real mother is. As they watch to the sun, the sea, the sand and the sky like to the elements of their physical existence, they begin to recognize each other as child or mother.
This scene is placed in the film around the end of the last third and even though it is the most beautiful and most happiness evoking scene in the film, in the context of this film it is the most heartbreaking one. And we are always reminded in the "Leitmotiv" of this film, the memories of an aging actress who tries to commit suicide.
Later they hug each other. The mother promises to take the daughter (whose foster parents live in Canada) in an indian school.
The scene evokes in its subtle cosmic dimension not only Ozu´s BAKUSHU or Renoir´s THE RIVER, Aparna Sen´s playful kind to deal with continuity reminds me as well in Ozu. There is a cut and we see Mother and child walking on the beach from left to right. Even though the cut suggests at the first moment a logical time response, we see that they are different dresses, the girl in a red shirt, the mother now in a red Sari. When you are caught in simple dogmas of cinematic realism you can find this connection wrong. But  if you are still open for relying on your own intuition than you can see it as one of the most beautiful moments in the work of Aparna Sen. As Mother and daughter are now together in a colored harmony they seem closer to each other than in any other moment of this film.
As they walk on the beach and before they are leaving the frame on the right side they sing again:
"In this infinite sky
My freedom lies in this glorious light (..)

And once again, this scene is another flashback of the aging Mrinalini who writes her suicide note. But memories if  unhappy ones or like in this case a very rare happy one happen often without control.
This one cut who reveals this two persons suddenly in different clothes is not a moment like  it happened but a moment  how it appears in a memory.

As this wonderful scene is integrated in the whole architecture of this film building, corresponding with the parts before and after is one thing. At the same time at least in my memory this scene has as well a kind of independent life. It is the first thing coming to my mind when I think of ITI MRINALINI. I just have to remember the song "In this infinite sky" and the scene is very present in my mind.

This one scene is strong enough for my reason to love this film. And as this scene reveals the matter we are all build of, the water, the sky and the sun it also reveals the elements of the poetry of cinema.
Yes and in a way " My freedom lies in the glorious light in this infinite sky" is a song which is at all an access to the beauty and inspirations of the films by Aparna Sen.

Rüdiger Tomczak

The German version of this text will be published 2014/2015 in the final print issue of shomingeki.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Notes on Kaal by Bappaditya Bandopadhyay, India , India: 2007

The film is a kind of sequel of KANTATAR and it deals as well with human trafficking.
Young women from the Indian-Bangladeshi border are picked up by well organized bender gangs. They take advantage of desperate women. One of them from Bangladesh is gang raped by Indian patrol men, another one is ditched and robbed by her "husband" shortly after the marriage. She is pregnant and will get her unborn child aborted.From the beginning these women are prisoners.
They allure the women into the big city with money and the promise of a better life. Most of these women are even to desperate to believe such promises, but they have to survive in one way or another. The point of view in this film is a Stroheim-like, a bleak and very pessimistic view on this civilisation. Most of men are either horny machos or greedy gangsters who want to earn money on the cost of the women.
In the city there is always the threat that every prostitute who tries to escape will be murdered. The police in the native village some women came from are corrupt, they don´t accept even the most obvious proof of a rape.The police chief is even himself a "client".
Bandopadhyay´s contemporary India is as merciless as Mizoguchi´s feudal Japan. 
Once taken to a big city (probably Kolkata) the benders take thei womens passports and command them "not to give their real names nor their address away". As a matter of fact, they are alrady robbed of their addresses and names. One of them is a refugee whose odyssey just goes on like her previous one from the previous film KANTATAR ended. Most of the money they earn from their "clients" they are allowed to keep are just for surviving, dresses or pleasures to help them forgetting that they are captives. Their deeply injured souls are now hidden behind fency dresses, make up. Sometimes they walk through shopping malls, or going to a film theatre. The false glamour of these malls and the false glamor of female sex slaves in a total diseased world. One of the most touching and at the same time most eloquent scene is a long moment where some of these women are walking through a shopping center. We hear a rock song. It is a strange and deeply sad moment hard to describe because it is pure cinema.
The lightning in the bars, or shopping malls makes this women even more anomymous. The traces of pain and suffering in their faces are hidden. Human trafficking, illegal prostitution are already part of the economy in the shadow of the signs of the legal one like the shopping malls. And finally most of the "clients" are representents of the legal world, business men or even politicians. The exploitation of these women is not even a secret anymore but  rather an accepted fact in modern India.
They are some signs in the film that its grim went beyond what the Indian Board of Censorship could bear. Just at the beginning when the raped woman from Bangladesh is looking for justice at the police station, the police chief said something like "how hard it is to proof a rape". Then suddenly his lips move silent and we hear a strange beep. (my source is the Indian DVD). It looks like some dialogues are at least for the Indian version deleted.
There are a lot of pans in this film like a try to overcome the claustrophobia with movements who measure the space like a permanently looking for a "way out". The CinemaScope format which is often used for its ability to capture wide and endless landscapes has here rather the effect to emphasize the captivity of the women.
While some of the women dream of saving money for "going to another big city" despite all the threatening of their bender, some try to improve their situation with solidarity towards the other women.
And while these women are struggling with their situation in one way or another, the next women will be picked up soon from villages or from the border to Bangladesh.
First of all, KAAL is a very disturbing film and it remains disturbing in your memory long after the film is over.
Beside that Bandhopadhyay has a strong sense when the films has to be direct and when it has to be subtle. Sometimes it is the eloquence of the CinemaScope photography which makes this film even more bleak.
The films (now 3 to be correct) by Bappaditya Bandhopadyay, I discovered by accident just following an advice. As my access to contemporary Indian art cinema is quite limited, I am depending on such advices. For once I am sure. There was a time at big international  film festivals like Berlin when they had selected a film like KAAL without hesitation. The more I see from this hidden gems of Indian cinema  like KAAL, the less I can understand the lack of interest, even the ignorance in the "Post Ray"- period of Parallel Indian cinema.
All three films by Bappaditya Bandopadhyay I have seen so far are neither trendy nor fashionable. He just follows his own orientation and vision.

I am really looking forward to see more of his films.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Notes on The River by Jean Renoir, India/USA: 1951

For around 20 years I am in love with this film and for a reason hard to understand for myself I always failt to realize a long essay on this film.
But this film is always with me and after a break it came back to life during my first trip to India and especially during the first time I attended a small performance of classical Indian dance.
There was always with me the passionate essay by André Bazin on The River called "a pure masterpiece" where Bazin defended this film against its critics.
No doubt for me if have to choose between The River and Renoir´s most famous film La Regle du Jeu, I always would choose The River.
Today I would even say this film is a kind of Renoir´s "Tree of Life". But it is always by far the only time in film history where a westerner made in a film in Asia and it became an Asian film.
Neither in America and Europe nor in India itself the film was much loved at the time of its release.

Several texts told already about the extreme bad conditions the film was made, the low budget, the heat, the problem that Renoir never knew for 2 weeks how the images he shot were looking like. It was the first color film shot in India and also Renoir´s first approach to work with colors.

And Renoir added in this film (an adaption from a novel by Rumor Godden who also was the co-writer of the screenplay) elements which were not in the novel. First of all he shot a lot of of documentary footage, recorded Indian music and added the story of an British-indian girl called Melanie, an inspiration which is the most precious element in this masterpiece. Neither Rumer Godden nor the producer were very happy with this. Even though the subject was a coming of age -story about some British adolescent girls grown up in India, the narrative, explicit western point of view is always undermined with Renoir´s obsession for Indian landscapes, Indian people, Indian music and last but not least Indian colors or how suitable they were to be recorded by Technicolor at that time.

As I can´t agree with accusations against this film like exoticism, naivety, occidental sentimentality etc -  which came from critics from Europe, America and India at the same time - I still consider the film as an Asian film. How the small plot is structuring a lot of non-dramatic moments, very close to Ozu and much closer than any European or American will ever come to that, evokes one irony in film history. By accident The River was released in the same year like Ozu´s Bakushu and both films have a likely scene with some of the most sophisticated camera movements I have ever see. If we remember the beach scene in Bakushu where a camera movement suggests for a small moment the rotation of the earth, we have the pendant in Renoir´s film at the end, when the camera slides over the heads of Melanie, Valerie and Harriet ( again a movement which reminds us in the rotation of our planet) to the eternal flowing river. Both films are one of the most accessible films by their director´s, both films have on the surface a "light" character, both offer a lot of heart warming humor - and yet both films are the most ambitioned and most sophisticated these directors ever made. Last but not least, both films are unorthodox in their narrative style and by another accident, both films belong to the most beautiful films I ever saw in my life for more than 20 years.

There is the moment when the film reveals just a series of shots of some people just having an afternoon nap. You just see people sleeping like you see otherwise rather in films by Ozu than anywhere else. Just this small moment is unimaginable in European  nor in American cinema. But after all the whole film really could have take place in all places of the world. I agree with Bazin that despite the fact Ray saw this film in the 1970s, around 20 years after it was made and despite how much Ray was reserved against The River, there is an affinity to the Apu-trilogy and too some other films Ray made. There is like I mentioned an affinity to Ozu and even a prophecy to great films made in the following 60 years. Even though Renoir is a quite different cinematic temperament, the poetic structure of the images can evoke even Malick´s The Tree of Life.

One key scene of this film is Harriet reading a self written story to the crippled Lt. John and Valerie about the eternal circles of life. A young woman gives birth to a girl who grows up and marries. And again the story continues to an endless circle. As an English girl, Harriet knows a few real Indians and includes in this story Indians she knows like Melanie and Anil. Heart of this scene is Melanie´s (Radha Bournier´s Kuchipudi- dance, obviously part of Renoir´s recorded documentary footage. This seemingly harmless story told by a girl in her adolescence enfolds one of the most complex and self-reflective moments in Renoir´s work.

How ridicule it is to blame this film for naivety or superficial exotic attractions, is that that the perspective India seen from western eyes is always part of the whole film. Lt. John the American crippled and mentally disturbed by the war on the search for himself, even more explicit the search of the Anglo-Indian Melanie for the culture where she belongs to or the old Mr. John who is almost absorbed by India after the death of his Indian wife are like the adolescent girls or the boy who is obsessed by snakes a real kaleidoscope of point of views.The rest of India (the film takes obviously place some decades before India´s independence) is relatively seldom present in the plot. Ray once described his disappointment when Renoir said that it is rather a film about English in India with hardly Indian characters and even made for western audience. The fact he added Melanie as a character to the film seems almost like a reaction of Renoir on that criticism and without doubt she is the missing link between the intimate life of an English family and the "real" India which begins behind the wall of the garden.
And much more than Renoir probably intended during making this film, through Melanie and his own documentary footage this film opens much more up to a more complex image of India at this time.
It shouldn´t be forgotten that Renoir knew very few about India. It was the South Indian actress Radha Bournier, a classical Indian dancer who introduced Renoir especially to Indian art like dance and music. She must have been a kind of guide for Renoir and he finally integrated her in the film against the dislike of Rumor Godden. The fact he really learned about India by traveling through it and by meeting people from India must have been the most important influences.

It is written already that the recorded film matter Renoir had together when he returned to Los Angeles was quite a mess. There was the low budget which made it impossible to do any re shootings and his daring experiment to work with professional and non-professional actors was not always lucky. We really don´t know how much of matter was useless. It is even not known if Renoir intended to integrate the documentary matter he shot in India.
But he had no choice to combine the film´s fiction with these matter. I don´t know if it was intended to be used for the film, but finally Renoir had chosen to use Indian music he recorded in India for the film. Finally it was the editing work who really made this film what it is now. The River was made but actually "happened" at the same time. The River was as well the final destination of his odyssey which began with his escape from France occupied by the Nazis through Italy and finally Hollywood where he was frustrated.

We can imagine Renoir in a lot of characters in this film: the crippled soldier (in fact Renoir was wounded in World war I. and was close to loose a leg), in Melanie who is split between her Indian and English identity, in the children Bogey and Harriet or in Mr. John who is totally absorbed by India. After exile, his unhappy experiences in Hollywood, Renoir was himself in a period where he was looking hardly for his place in this world. Last but not least, The River is the quintessence of Renoir´s deep love for the physical world. How the statues of the gods and goddesses made out of the loam of the river, after the religious celebrations they will brought back to the river where they will become again loam, Renoir reveals as well at the the scene about celebration of color the pigment powder all the colors around us are made of. The light, the water, the heaven, the loam ground, the people and the animals one can call The River as a nearly religious celebration of the matter of the world.

The fiction in this film is like the house with garden and wall. In the moment when Renoir opens this "house", the fictional idea of India to the rest of the world, Renoir opens the idea to real matter. The result is this film which never let me go.

Rüdiger Tomczak

remarks. the film was 2004 fully restored and who else than Martin Scorsese, one of the most passionate preserver of the heritage of cinema was again involved. The latest DVD from Criterion or BFI are all based on this restoration.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Notes on Hugo by Martin Scorsese, USA: 2011

Beside being a great director, Scorsese got in the last years almost more attention for his efforts and his support in preserving films from different parts of the world and from different periods of the history of cinema. HUGO which is last but not least obviously a homage to Georges Méliès (1861-1938)., is the poetic version of his devotion for cinema. 
Despite my inability of stereoscopic seeing, HUGO is using the 3D-technique for much more than a superficial attraction. There is an analogy in this film with the hint to the famous film by the Lumiére brothers "A train arrives at the Station" and this technique of the early 21th century. Both are part of the phenomenon of illusion, a betrayal based on the limitation of the human eye.
Beside the fact that Scorsese tries to use 3D in a sophisticated way like it was never used before, the characters in this film, the young orphan Hugo, his new friend Isabelle the foster daughter of the George   Méliès and "Pa George" himself, performed by Ben Kingsley are as present than as the digitalized Paris of the late 1920s or early 1930s. During watching this film I thought a lot of the films by Jacques Tati and if I think how he would have used the newest digital technology of our time, I can imagine it would look like something very close to Scorsese´s HUGO.
Among the miracles this film offers is how Scorsese combines the fantasy world of the boy and the link to the tragedy of the real   Méliès.
The boy, called Hugo lives in something like the "dreams", Melies was creating until world war I. which finished his career as one of the first magicians of cinema.
In fact even just as a children film, HUGO is a beautiful piece of cinema. But one can see even the sophisticated side of Scorsese who know like only very few great contemporary directors how fragile cinema is , how soon a master from today will be forgotten tomorrow and last but not least how fragile the matter of cinema really is. The boy who lives in a secret place of a central Parisian station lives not really in a safe fantasy world. He is always in danger to be captured by a really Tati-like station policeman who sends all orphans to the orphanage. Always when Hugo leaves his kind of "Ivory tower" he is chased by this policeman or endangered in several ways. Even the grumpy and embittered old   Méliès is at first a threat to him. Scorsese´s created illusions seem to be as fragile. The more the film develops the more it reveals the tragedy of the nearly forgotten pioneer of cinema, George   Méliès. And the more the film develops, the characters are getting more presence than all the impressing apparatus, the film is made with. How Hugo and his new friend Isabelle get more and more aware that this grumpy old man is a forgotten pioneer of cinema, there is a rupture in the fantasy world of the children. This film is so much and last but not least as well a coming of age story. 
The realm of Hugo, a kind of hidden place every child is dreaming of is close to us all who love cinema since our childhood. The world outside of cinema as a safe place for our dreams is the fact that the history of cinema also destroyed whole careers. As fairy tale-like HUGO appears, it is clear in its polarization of cinema as a place for dreams and creativity but also as an institution which is always influenced for the better or for the worse by the state of the world. I do agree with most of the positive statements about HUGO that it is at first a homage to cinema itself. At the same time it tells about its endangerment by economical, in some cases as well political interests. Scorsese is able to reveal this polarization without betraying this kind of love we cinephiles once felt for cinema.
There are moments in this film when Hugo can slip into his hidden realm of dreams and there are moments where it is not possible anymore. There is a time the children are just happy to be in their own world of fantasy and there is a time when they have to deal with the world outside in a bigger context. "Pa George" is both the great storyteller and magician we adore but as well a fragile old man who needs help.
HUGO is quite an example that enchantment, magic is possible without betrayal. Scorsese this film historian, this cinephile and last but not least this preservation of the heritage of cinema brings two things in this film together: the deep love and respect for the history of cinema including its forgotten pioneers and  at the same time the hope for the future of cinema. Like I said about Terrence Malick´s THE TREE OF LIFE, I will say about HUGO: there is not "one bad bone in this film."
Scorsese is not only one of the few director´s of "New Hollywood" who are still making films because of the compromises he had to made during the last 30 years. No, that he still make films - and in the case of HUGO his finest film since AGE OF INNOCENCE - is that he kept alive his unconditional love for cinema. And cinema needs this lover more than ever before. 

Rüdiger Tomczak

There is a wonderful essay by Adam Cook in his magazine Cinémezzo called "For the Love of Movies."


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Banbian Ren (Ah Ying) by Allen Fong, Hong Kong: 1983

Ah Ying is a young fish market seller who wants to become an actress. She comes from a big family and this family lives cramped in a small apartment in Hong Kong. There is the fish market. We see hands which scale fishes or cut off their heads. A crowd is standing around. The whole family is busy with selling and preparing fish. A few moments later we see the apartment of the family: two rooms where any square centimeter is used with remarkable inventiveness. At evening dinner the whole family is gathering. Ah Ying is listening rock music with headphones which we hear with her ears and which becomes almost inaudible quiet as she takes of the ear phones. The parents are exhausted and the father is drunk. He is stumbling through the narrow rooms. In the room where his six daughters are sleeping in bunk beds he is almost falling. Ah Ying helps him up. The ones who haven´t here dreams anymore are doomed. Allen Fong sees the world sometimes with painful accuracy. But at the same time he loves the people he is filming. To tell about the things you love most in the world is probably the most beautiful reason to make films.

Ah Ying at the reception room of the Film Culture Center of Hong Kong. A friendly assistant introduces her to this institution. She can participate for free in all classes for directing and acting. As a contribution for membership she has to do from time to time some work here like cleaning and she is also asked for writing some articles for the film magazine owned by this institution. From a small movie theatre we see her and another person cleaning the film projector and the projection cabin. We see three rectangular windows through which the movements of the cleaning people look like three projected little films.

After her work at the market, Ah Ying washes herself to get rid of the smell from the fishes. She attends a course for acting. Cheung, a script writer who just returned from the USA is the teacher of this class. He is limping and introduces himself with a short performance in Cantonese. Why do you want to become actors, he asks. For earning money or for becoming famous, answer some of the students. Ah Ying answers that she just wants to learn something more.
In one shot we see her nervousness in the movements of her feet which permanently slip in and out of her sandals. In another performance, Cheung is blowing rings out of the smoke from his cigarette. Than he asks his shy students to perform. Nobody answers and just at the moment Cheung will finish this class, Ah Ying stands up walks shyly to the desk and lifts the bag of the teacher aside. First she list a cigarette and blows rings than she performs standing at her fish market. Than she sings a song in English and she sings it with such heartiness as this were be the most beautiful thing she has to give. If I had only a few minutes time to introduce this film, I would choose this small wonderful moment. And I would not say anything more. This is the moment I fall in love with this film.

In a book store Ah Ying meets the teacher Cheung. I sell fish she answers shyly when he asks what she does for her living. He is telling her about his bad paid jobs he did in America for financing his education. They understand each other about the work which is necessary for realizing their dreams. In a fast food restaurant they are talking about music. Ah Ying´s favorite musicians David Bowie or Brian Eno are unfamiliar to Cheung but he likes Simon & Garfunkel. Ah Ying sings a verse from "Scarborough Fair". He likes this songs and intones it in the Peking Opera style. The other guests are applauding and he thanks his "audience".

Cheung is working on a screenplay about contemporary Hong Kong. For this project he is collecting stories of people he knows including Ah Ying. "Imagine", he tells her, " in 100 years nobody will know how we have lived." We don´t know  exactly during watching this film that Cheung and Ah Ying are real persons but we feel it nevertheless by heart. The actress playing Ah Ying, Hui So-Ying  performs herself, the character of Cheung is based on a friend by Allen Fong who passed away close before the film was made. He was also in reality Hui So-Yings acting teacher.

In one scene Cheung´s old rusty "Volkswagen" stops working in the middle of a city road. This road bypasses windows of apartments. We see one of these flats from the perspective of a dweller who hands Cheung and Ah Ying the telephone for calling help. We see this room once more this time deserted. In all playfulness in all the concomitance of reality and story telling as well in its mixture - the real places keep something like their own independence.

From a certain moment on there are a lot of conversations in this film which are filmed like in a documentary. Once Cheung meets Ah Ying´s former boyfriend, visits her family in this cramped apartment and talks with her parents. In this moments Cheung seems to be like Allen Fong who makes researches for his film. Sometimes we see Cheung arguing with his producer about the screenplay. They were friends in their student days and together they dreamed once of making good films. Times have changed, answered the producer while permanently suggesting Cheung for compromises.
One Night Cheung and Ah Ying make a walk around the haven. A gigantic luxury liner is departing. She tries him to tell about her feelings for him. Than we see them from a long shot. And their dreams seems now fragile and forlorn.

The acting students  at their rehearsals for a play. After some problems between Ah Ying and Cheung who play the main characters, the premiere takes place. Even Ah Ying´s parents are applauding proudly. But after the play is over, she goes to the washing room and cries. The performed feeling on the stage about love which is only fulfilled in the Hereafter,  she takes with her into her own reality. This feeling performed on the stage is echoing in her like in ourselves. While watching a film which moved us a lot we try to connect own personal experiences with the situations we saw in the film.

Later Cheung takes farewell from Ah Ying. He will go to the USA for getting surgery for his leg. Together with them we see how the old Volkswagen will be scrapped. This vehicle, this thing which witnessed so much stories becomes a compact bunch of metal.
After this farewell, Ah Ying is again in her apartment. An argument with her brother and she is alone again in the depressing narrowness and she is again alone with her dreams.

At the end she is called by a casting agent for a television channel. In front of a long table three persons are sitting. She sits face to face to them in a certain distance. She recites a small love scene. And than she says a sentence which moved me like the song at the beginning of the film. She answers the question why she wants to become an actress that she is selling fishes at the market. "There was a time", she continues, that she refused to admit this but today she does not feel anymore ashamed. That is an incredible sentence which has also to do with the utopia of art that shall help us to deal with our life instead to replace it. Later at the fish market, the telephone is ringing again. Ah Ying has once more an interview with the television channel. The mother becomes grumpy and mentions that her daughter shall better focus on selling fish. Than the camera travels back. Ah Ying and her family are hard to recognize in this crowd. They get back their anonymity. The image freezes.

The story of Hui So-Ying hits me in the middle of my heart and not only because of some parallels to my own story.  It is not only a film about ordinary people, it is rather a love song to them. Both aspects of cinema are evenhanded: the ability to give images about the reality but also about the dreams which helps us to deal with the often tough reality. Banbian Ren remains for me one of the most beautiful and most lovable films from the so called New Wave of Hong Kong Cinema I have seen..

Rüdiger Tomczak

(the text was published first time in German in shomingeki No. 6, October 1998 and is slightly changed for this post. Actually this publication was part of my covering of the International Filmfestival of Fribourg/Switzerland 1998 where two films by Allen Fong participated in a retrospective of Hong Kong-cinema. )

A German text on A LITTLE LIFE OPERA is available in my German Blog here.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Yugant by Aparna Sen, India: 1995

(this is a note from shomingeki No. 6, October 1998 on the International Filmfestival of Fribourg and it is one of some shorter notes on other films).

One of the two Indian entries deals with a crisis of a relationship. YUGANT (What the Sea said), a film by Aparna Sen tells about a married couple who meet after a long time of separation for a reunion at the place they spent their honeymoon. He is  designer and she is a dancer. Aparna Sen interweaves the crisis of a wealthy couple with the common destruction of the ecological environment. Whole populations of regions will be relocated for making space for a fill dam. Both protagonists don´t have only permanently redefine their place in this marriage but they have also redefine their position as artist or businessman in the world. Casually we see in TV-news reports about oil contaminated beaches. At the end the sea is in flames. This all dominating fire is the final image of this film which begins as an intimate play and ends in an Apocalypse.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kyoto Uzumasa Monogatari (Kyoto Story) by Yoji Yamada and Tsutomu Abe


The film must have been made very quickly because when because when I was in Japan last November, I learned that Yamada was just in Kyoto shooting this film. Actually the film is a collective project between the Shochiku-company, the Ritsumeikan University, Yoji Yamada and his longtime assistant Tsutomu Abe (who is the co-director of this film). The fact that this film is made quickly and that it is at first a project for promoting procreation is not recognizeable in this film.

The film is a love story like it is written in the titles. The film is shot in the ancient quarter in Kyoto called Uzumasa where "the history of film is still alive". The film is made " in the strong hope and passion for the rebirth of cinema."
The film is both, a documentary about this quarter and the people who are living here. The story which is told in the film is build on this. The fictive and the documentary-aspect are standing equally side by side. Sometimes there is a domination of the documentary-aspect when the actors/protagonists are interviewed. Another time the film unfolds a love story which is nurtured by the ground of reality and which can always be retracked to that.

Kyoko is the daughter of an owner of a small cleaning shop. She works part time in a library. Her boyfriend Kota is the son of a Tofu maker.
This quarter still breathes the legend of the famous Daei-studios which produced famous films like Kurosawa´s Rashomon and Mizoguchi´s Ugetsu Monogatari. As the story of Kyoko and Kota is still imaginable as part of the reality in Uzumasa, the film adds another character, a young and clumsy sinologist. He falls in love with Kyoko when he lends very heavy books on chinese language from her library. Film as a document of the real world but as well as a realm of dreams are permanently interwoven. The films moves in both aspects with somnambulistic virtuosity.

There is the wonderful moment when Kyoko is with the young amorous sinologist in a coffee shop. While he is confessing his feelings to her and while he invites her to go with him to Tokyo and than to Peking the whole scene is filmed from outside and through the window. The fragment of a story  is double framed by the window and by the frame of the film image. This scene seems to me engrossed from the mostly strong presence of the streets, houses and people in this very concrete Quarter Uzumasa. In this tragic and comical moment there is as well an idea of a change. Even though Kyoko doesn´t seem to answer the feelings of the sinologist it awakes in her a longing to leave her always alike every day routine and the always alike quarter Uzumasa. It is like a light fog lays above the reality.

At the end we see Kyoko in a tram The sinologist´s offering to go to Tokyo with him, she has declined. She is sitting in the tram who rolls through the very real urban landscape of the city like after having visited a cinema hall which allowed her to dream for a while. The landscapes she drives through are real and concrete and at the same time like the fleeting echo of a dream which has a long aftermath which still works long after the film has ended.

Like I mentioned - even though the purpose of the film is to promote new talents it seems to me as well as a good access into the rich and not yet completely measured work of Yoji Yamada.
Kyoto Uzumasa  Monogatari is an example that a film can make us happy even when it leads us back to the real world  after a short dream.
Yoji Yamada´s 81th film Otouto was not even released - and yet he whips this film in a collective project with Tsutomu Abe as a wonderful gift. Just like that. If there is today in cinema something like a home for me than the films by Yoji Yamada.

Rüdiger Tomczak

translation from the german text published in shomingeki No. 22, May/June 2010.

on Yamada´s MUSUKO you find a text here