Thursday, 18 November 2010

Dimitri Kirsanoff

Dimitri Kirsanoff is probably one of the most contradictory mixtures of the traditional (often in the conservative sense of the word) and the radical avant-gardist I can think of right now. His subject matter is drawn from the archetypes of the XIXth century, the plethora of nostalgic recreations of rural figures designed for the consumption of those who left the country-side to go to the city. The myth of their iconicity, of the timeless nature of what they represent, is in itself a symptom of the tensions in which these archetypes arise: the need, when faced with the ferocious change represented by the city, to set against it an "eternal" countryside which, in fact, was of course itself changing due to the same influences that made XIXth century cities what they were (urban migration being only one of the ways in which this change expressed itself).
Yet Kirsanoff, at the same times, is profoundly aware, not of the historicity of his figures (they seem to belong to a different age, something before Griffith, or even Zola, let alone Gance), but of the historicity of the world they move in. Maybe that's what gives his films such a schizophrenic aspect: Kirsanoff as an artist pays enormous attention to "the world" as an abstraction and as something to be presented formally. Many of the montage sequences in Ménilmontant are breath-taking in the understanding they show of the modern world as speed, as alienation from processes now too vast to be grasped by a single individual. Whenever the world intervenes in the story, however, it is as an icon (see, for example, the quasi-complete parataxis used in presenting the maternity hospital in the same film).
It's also important to point out that for all his formal beauty and the breath-taking audacity of some of his sequences (not only the montage sequences already mentioned, but also, for example, the flirting scene by the river, again in Ménilmontant; or the river pouring into the window in Les Berceaux), his archetypes are actively conservative ones, and any case to be made for Kirsanoff would have to take this into account. Women seem hardly to be seen as anything other than victims or mothers, or both (Ménilmontant again, the mother rocking the child in Les Berceaux). When they take action that goes against social norms (L'Arrière-Saison, which not coincidentally takes place in a timeless environment completely isolated from the outside world), it is only as the diturbing element, the solving of which will be a return to the traditional familial order (with nothing hinting towards change). For all this, Kirsanoff seems completely uninterested in men: they are just as equally archetypes, whether absent (the sailor-father-husband of Les Berceaux, or the wood-cutter husband in L'Arrière-Saison, even though he's on screen about half of the time) or engaging in harmful conduct (the charismatic no-good charmer in Ménilmontant). Which again, makes that eye-in-the-eye sequence by the river in Ménilmontant (again, is it a coincidence that this could only happen, implausibly, somewhere rural, obviously removed from the Parisian quartier that gives the film its name?) so refreshing: for a few seconds, Kirsanoff lets his actors just breathe, look at each other, touch themselves. They are free of expectations, free of any narrative stakes, giving themselves completely to the other and the camera (which, for a few moments, are one and the same).

I haven't seen Rapt yet, but intend to soon, so more thoughts on Kirsanoff may follow.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

More Nicole Brenez lists...

I will do some blogging other than just posting NB lists here, I promise! Even though those seem to be quite succesfull, I do want this blog to be something else than just lists.

But in the meantime, here is what Brenez contributed to the Film Comment poll at the end of the decade. I found it after typing "Nicole Brenez Perfect Day", after watching that film on Ubuweb. Of all the films on her end-of-decade list I've seen so far, this one had the least impact on me. It's a very strange mixed bag of moments of intense sideration, succeeding each other in what seemed an almost mechanical fashion. It's also a beautiful paen to the human face, and the "karaoké girl" is endlessly cativating. Maybe one of the issues I had with it was one of intertextuality: the credits at the end show how much comes from Ange Leccia's other works, and since I haven't seen any (exceot for Stridura which isn't included) I didn't quite know what I was watching, or how it fitted in(speaking of intertextuality and human face, I plan to watch Garrel's Les Hautes Solitudes sometime this year). It also brigns up a few thoughts about pop songs as the memories and dreams of our time, since images can be so endlessly modulated and modified (the splendid Saturday Night Fever sequence).

Anyway, without further ado:


Even if pools about art are absurd, I participated because of my deep esteem for Gavin and Mark, and to leave some informations about rare and precious films. I’m feeling happy for the great and essential Peter Hutton. But I found the result almost totally americano-american, a usual problem in the world of images and even in the avant-garde/experimental field, who should be more vigilant about that.
So here was my own list, even if I could have mentioned hundred of other important films.

Nicole Brenez for Gavin Smith – Film Comment
50 great avant-garde films/events 2000-2009

0778 man.road.river – Marcellvs l, Brazil, 2004
11 000 km Far from New York – Orzu Sharipov, Tajikistan, 2004
13 Lakes – James Benning, U.S., 2005
365 Day Project – Jonas Mekas, U.S., 2007
The Action – David Matarasso, France, 2004
Addio Lugano bella – Francesca Solari, Switzerland/Germany, 2000
Aéroport Hammam-Lif – Slim Ben Chiekh, Tunisia, 2007
Aldebaran – Hugo Verlinde, France, 2001
Algérie Tours/Détours – Oriane Brun-Moschetti & Leïla Morouche, France, 2007
L’Arrière-saison – Philippe Grandrieux, France, 2006
As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty – Jonas Mekas, U.S., 2000
Atomic Park – Dominique Gonzalez Foerster, France, 2004
At Sea – Peter Hutton, USA, 2007
Barbie también puede estar tristee – Albertina Carri, 2001, Argentina
Behind this Soft Eclipse – Eva Heller, U.S., 2004
Bouquets 25-30 – Rose Lowder, France, 2002-2005
Le bombardement la porte des perles – Richard Kerr, Canada, 2004
Border – Laura Waddington, Belgium, 2004
Boyzone – Clarisse Hahn, France, 1998-2009
Bingo Show – Christelle Lheureux, France, 2003
Camera War – Lech Kowalski, International, 2009
Capitalism: Slavery, Ken Jacobs, EU, 2006
Cargo – Laura Waddington, Belgium, 2001
Carps Swimming in Color – Helga Fanderl, France, 2007
Charlemagne 2 – Piltzer – Pip Chodorov, France, 2002
Chic Point. Fashion for Israeli Checkpoints – Sharif Waked, Israël, 2003
A Circle Around the Sun – Ali Cherri, Lebanon, 2005
Les Ciseaux – Mounir Fatmi, Morocco, 2003
Dans le noir du temps – Jean-Luc Godard, Suisse, 2002
Deep Play – Harun Farocki, Allemagne, 2007
Degradation #1, X-Ray : Shroud of Security – James Schneider, International, 2006
De Imago – Patrice Kirchhofer, France, 2009
Dithyrambe à Dionysos. Avec la nuit reviendra le temps de l’oubli – Béatrice Kordon, France, 2007
Double Take – Johan Grimonprez, Belgique/Allemagne/Pays-Bas, 2009
Dream Work (For Man Ray) – Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 2001
Easter Morning – Bruce Conner, U.S., 2008
Elding – Marylène Negro, France, 2006
Empire – Edouard Salier, France , 2005, 4′
Escape – Alain Declerq, France, 2001
Etat de choc – Augustin Gimel, France/U.S., 2001
Europa 2005 – 27 Octobre – Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 2005, France, 11’
Filmer ce désert – Régis Hébraud, France, 2009
Flesh – Edouard Salier, France, 2005
Flòr da baixa – Mauro Santini, Italia, 2004
Geneva – Augustin Gimel, France, 2004
An Injury to One – Travis Wilkerson, USA, 2002
In Public – Jia Zangke, Chine, 2001
Instructions for a light & sound machine – Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 2005
In This House – Akram Zaatari, Lebanon, 2005
Je comprends moi aussi le langage des oiseaux – Sabine Massenet, France, 2000
A Letter to Uncle Boonmee – Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thaïland, 2009
Manifeste – Hélène Deschamps et Hugo Verlinde, France, 2002
Meditations on Revolution, Part IV: Greenville, MS – Robert Fenz, USA, 2001
Meditations on Revolution, Part V: Foreign City – Robert Fenz, USA, 2003
Mirages – Olivier Dury, France, 2007
Mobile Men – Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thaïland, 2008
New York Zero Zero – Jérôme Schlomoff, France, 2006
Night for Day – HC Gilje, Norway, 2004
Nightshots (1, 2, 3) – Stephen Dwoskin, UK, 2006-7
Night Still – Elke Groen, Austria, 2007
Night Sweat – Sigfried Fruhauf, 2008
No Border – Sylvain George, France,
Nouba – Katia Kameli, Algeria, 2003
Nuits polaires. Première mesure : des non-lieux – Sylvain George, France, 2008
Nu lacté de Lionel Soukaz et Othello Vilgard, France, 2002
Oh ! Uomo – Angela Ricci Lucchi et Yervant Gianikian, Italia, 2004
Ogres – Jean-Paul Noguès, France, 2001
On Hitler’s Highway – Lech Kowalski, France/Germany, 2002
Operation Double Trouble – Keith Sanborn, U.S., 2003
La peau trouée – Julien Samani, France, 2004
Perfect Day – Ange Leccia, France, 2008
Performing S.C.U.M. – Angela Marzullo, Switzerland, 2005
Phantogram – Kerry Laitala, U.S., 2008
Philippe Garrel à Digne (Premier voyage) – Gérard Courant, France, 1975-2009
Profite Motive and the Whispering Wind – John Gianvito, EU, 2007
Primitive (exhibition), Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thaïlande/GB/Allemagne, 2009
Pulsar – Maria Klonaris, France, 2001
Requiem pour le XXe siècle – Maria Klonaris & Katerina Thomadaki, France, 2004
Return to the Scene of the Crime – Ken Jacobs, E.U., 2008
River of Anger – Antoine Barraud, France, 2007
Rosa Rot – Luc & Gisèle Meichler, France, 2001
Samouraï – Johanna Vaude, France, 2002
San Francisco Redux – Anthony Stern, UK, 2008
Sans correspondance – Chaab Mahmoud, Syria/France, 2009
The Screening – Ariane Michel, France, 2007
Sommovimenti/I Volti dell’Anonimo/Vita circolare – Paolo Gioli, Italie, 2009
Soviets + Electricity – Nicolas Rey, France, 2001
Star Spangled To Death – Ken Jacobs, U.S., 2003
Sur la piste – Julien Samani, 2007
Tarrafal – Pedro Costa, Portugal, 2007, Portugal
Themes and Variations for the Naked Eye – Caitlin Horsmon, U.S., 2007
Terrae – Othello Vilgard, France, 2004
Time to Stir (Work in Progress) – Paul Cronin, UK, 2008
Untitled part 3b: (as if) beauty never ends… – Jayce Salloum, Canada, 2002
We are winning don’t forget – Jean-Gabriel Périot, 2004
West of the Tracks – Wang Bing, China, 2003
A Whiter Shade – Marylène Negro, France, 2009
The White She-Camel – Xavier Christiaens, Belgium, 2006
Wild Song. Preamble to any possible history of cinema – Chaab Mahmoud, Syria/France, 2008
http://Www.web cam – Lionel Soukaz, France, 2005

Nicole Brenez said this on May 30, 2010 at 6:26 am | Reply

Found here.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Incomplete notes on the character of the new cinema

"Incomplete notes on the character of the new cinema

The cinema is in crisis. It neither apprehends our reality in an honest way nor does it aid us in imagining a different kind of future. It is suffocated by a set of anachronistic conventions dictated by the agents of commerce. What follows are incomplete notes on the basis for a new cinema practice:

The absence of verisimilitude in the corporate cinema has reconfirmed the essential radicalism of critical realism. But the new cinema will also reflect the fact that, as bb [Bertolt Brecht] has observed, “realism is not simply a matter of form.”

Instead of asking whether images change the world (a question whose answer now seems obvious), the new cinema seeks to discover what should be changed, and how.

The new cinema recognizes that any apprehension of the present is predicated upon an understanding of the past. Likewise, a new future can only be imagined after an understanding of the present is attained.

The new cinema doesn’t concern itself with technological debates, particularly the antagonisms of analogue against digital. It employs, without prejudice, any and all tools available to it.

The new cinema can only exist in a state as unfinished and incomplete as the world it aims to mirror and engage.

The new cinema should strive for beauty, but never perfection.

That which has been viewed as beautiful, the new cinema will regard as ugly;

That which has been seen as ugly, the new cinema will regard as beautiful.

Clarity is a form of beauty. Mystification is a form of defeat.

The new cinema refuses to recognize national borders. It identifies itself neither as fiction nor as documentary. Likewise, it is unconcerned with genre, which is useful only to the agents of commerce.

Popular culture is neither. The new cinema will strive to return popular culture to the people themselves."

Travis Wilkerson, here.

I stumbled on this interview while looking for the links to downloading An Injury to one, which I had just seen, in order to send it to a friend.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The "mysteries" and mysteries of Uncle Boonmee

I'm still trying to sort out my thoughts about Uncle Boonmee, which I've seen twice in two days and preferred the second time. But one of the things I'm already reasonably sure about is that there is something more than slightly irritating about the discourse surrounding it (I mean the articles by writers I would take seriously, i.e. who take the film seriously). I'll probably come back to this when (if?) I get around to reading the Cahiers and Positif articles on it, but one of the dominant characteristics of all the articles I've read so far has been to take a stand on the film rather than discuss it. Mark Peranson's article, sublime in its enthusiasm, in a way falls prey most of all to this trap. Thankfully, the articles accompanies an interview in which Peranson is more acute and searching in trying to explore the film the way he would any other film, but what of the Inrockuptibles review? (I will one day discuss the Inrocks more in detail, how they represent a triumph of taste over insight, with all the losses in intellectual curiosity implied) Even Le Temps has at least one better insight (bottom of page 1). Mystery is a very important word to describe a lot of very good art, and is an essential one to describe Uncle Boonmee, but so far it has been used as a shield, to deflect any attempt to really evaluate what is going on.

With this in mind, I'll attempt to set down a few inroads.

Uncle Boonmee is less hypnotic than the two other Apichatpong films I've seen, Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century. Part of this, at least for me, has to do with the lack of camera movement, though I'm still trying to tease out why he completely renounces something he'd used for both previous films. Overall, though, it seems this is more a film of surfaces, less prone to withhold its treasures. There's nothing like the motorcycle ride from Tropical Malady or the Black Hole from Syndromes and a Century here. Doubtless my expectations were also what confounded me the first time, what with the tendency of great artists to do everything except what you expect of them. Especially since in this film, Apichatpong plays with his audience even more than in the previous ones.
This is all the more unsettling since the narrative is in many ways more straightforward than in Tropical Malady or Syndromes and a Century. Apart from a catfish episode, essential thematically but a blast out of nowhere in terms of the narrative, and a dream sequence not very hard to assimilate when it appears (though understanding it is another story), the film is linear. Even the two possible realities at the end (truly superb. I'm reminded of an Arthur C. Clarke article in which he called for greater but more simple imagination on the part of SF writers, using the example of a man walking into a room and switching on the light only to find out that it was already on) happen concurrently, equivalently, but after the time warp that gave them birth.
Yet for all this straightforwardness, Apichatpong is playing a very serious game with audience expectations.
Almost every single scene announces a conflict that will go completely unresolved, that principle extending also to the overall narrative scheme (Jaai, the Laotian helper, so important in the first scenes, announces he will leave soon and is not seen again. Even his departure is neither witnessed nor mentioned by the other characters or us) and even the title: unless we accept the Princess or the Catfish as a previous avatar of Boonmee (there's nothing to indicate this is or isn't the case), we don't see any of Boonmee's previous lives, only his relatives' current after-lives and his own future life. The scene of the Catfish is, once again, essential in this aspect: what is set up as the key elements of the narrative, her quest for her lost beauty and the love of her palanquin bearer, is made completely irrelevant in the face of what turns out, a posteriori, to be essential: the possibility of a relationship between man and nature.

I don't know yet quite how to relate all of this to the rest of the film, except to note that the theme of man's relationship with nature is also present almost everywhere else (Aunt Jen coming from the city and trying to adapt to the rural house, the jungle as place of possibility and danger simultaneously...), but the Princess and the Catfish is one of the supreme instances of man's fusion with the natural world in the whole of cinema. And, of course, it's also a question of man's relationship with cinema, as the Princess's vision of her former beauty in the silver screen of the water makes clear. But what is so beautiful in that scene is not just the sexual nature of the fusion, but how literal it is, and how cinema itself is included in the equation. The encounter is not presented as sexual, it is sexual. And cinema itself becomes a participant in this epiphany: first of all a curious and tender observer of this physical bliss, the camera then suddenly gives up on its status as an outside observer to fuse completely with its surroundings, annihilating itself in a shot which echoes the previously observed movement from abandonment of human contingencies (ornamental status symbols) to pure oneness with the elements.

For the record, it's a very good film, but for the moment, I still think Kagemusha, Apocalypse Now and La Dolce Vita are better, without mentioning Syndromes and a Century. Or even Film Socialisme. Not that this is really the point. Maybe this is one of those films...

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

By a strange coincidence...

It's something of a blessing that the first tennis match I have watched in years would be none other than Mahut-Isner. Ok, I walked in when they were already in the 50s, expecting my Common Room to be showing the World Cup (the only occasion on which I watch football), but still...
So I thought I'd just point out that though Daney is the most famous to have written about Tennis in the context of cinema, Chris Marker had prophesied this phenomenon long ago...

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Le Cri (part 2)

Japan in the 2000s:
Bicycling Chronicles, by Wakamatsu Kôji, and All About Lily Chouchou, by Iwai Shunji.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Femme et Fatale vont en bateau

It might be partly provocation on my part, but what Femme Fatale reminds me of most, is the explorations of Rivette's house: when is a fiction a construction? Is a fiction a construction, or is it a destruction, an unravelling of something that exists? Is vision understanding? There's something about (the idea of, since it happens off-screen) Antonio Banderas rushing down to help a beautiful woman he doesn't know get up that reminds me of one post-68 girl running after another on a huge parisian flight of stairs.
Haven't seen Sliding Doors, but I strongly doubt I would find it half as enjoyable as Femme Fatale. From what I've understood of SD, it's fate that creates the opportunity for choice. In Femme Fatale, choice is always there. It's the consequences that create fate. Which is why Brian DePalma is still miles away from Inarritu's world of coincidence: the ending comes ambiguously close, but it's free choice that dominates.
And this is probably the best heist scene of the 2000s (the other one I can think of, Inside Man, is made into a whole film, which is kind of cheating).

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Epics and Lists

One figure of style that seems to have gone out of fashion is the list. It survives in cinema only as the most conventional montage of, say, images of a city (children and pigeons in the park, people walking in the street, to show us all the lives that will be lost in Rock, for example; or a montage of images of the loved one, now dead; stuff like that), that functions not on the principle of heroic accumulation, but of signifying what they represent (so that in fact, in all those cases, one image should be enough).
But think back to most of the great epic poems, Homer, Virgil, or even other literary models (Shakespeare, Dante, Farid Ud-Dinn Attar, the Ramayana), and they are teeming with lists, lists of enemies killed, or valiant heroes, or extraordinary deeds... They function on a dynamic principle that all elements gain a critical mass from being together, complement each other to a certain degree (it is not enough for the wise hero to be included, if the brave hero, strong hero, cunning hero, good-spirited hero... are not as well).
I was reminded of these moments as I watched the scene in Go-Go Tales in which Ray introduces all the girls to his (almost non-existent) audience: here is a list in all its purity, a rattling of names, an accumulation of bodies that ends up embodying not the abstract idea of "the strip club", but the reality of its community, with its inner tensions (the dancer who refuses to dance, the one who asks for money) and its outer pizazz. Abel Ferrara does something quite amazing: he lists parts to show that the image they call up is more than the sum of them (if that's not dialectical film-making...).

And footnote: Brad Stevens is tremendously helpful in linking this to Le Crime de Monsieur Lange.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

"The Decade" est mort, vive "The Decade"!

"If one adopts a cyclical theory of film history, the next golden age of internationalism will be the first decade of the next century."
Jonathan Rosenbaum, September 1987.

If we posit the beginning of the decade, in film terms, with Movie Mutations, in 2003, and if we consider that the number of internet users worldwide has increased by 400% between 2000 and 2009, how gloriously long will this decade turn out to be?

Monday, 12 April 2010

"L'art moderne doit se montrer à la hauteur de la grande industrie et non pas se contenter de la prendre pour thème", Adorno, Aesthetic Theory.
Que dire d'un film qui fait les deux?

Sunday, 11 April 2010


Pitching two directors "against" one another is more useful as a way of comparing approaches than as a way of making value judgements. So when I compare Jia Zhang-ke's 24 City and Wang Bing's Tie Xi: West of the tracks, it's clear to me that both films are truly great, among the key events of the decade in terms of cinema.

Yet what vast differences! I just saw 24 City again a few days ago to write about it in the student paper and concluded that Jia was more interested in truth than reality. Wang Bing is almost completely interested in reality, but truth shines out of his work just as much as it does from Jia's, though in very different ways. The two most striking differences lie in the fact that firstly, Wang Bing shows people working, which Jia almost doesn't do at all, and secondly, that while Jia films a factory on the scale of cinema, Wang films it to the scale of men, elevating cinema to the scale of the factory rather than vice-versa. This is most apparent in his travelling shots (I'm here referring to Rust I and Rust II, not the long shots taken from trains in Rails): they exist only as the steps of the cameraman walking through a space. No smoothness of aesthetic gestures enabled by the cinematic apparatus (dollies, steadicams...). A camera, placed slightly lower than eye level, accompanying every step Wang Bing makes. Whether the factory unfolds as a monstrous space, or as a wonderful one, or a desolate gradeur, it is the way it unfolds to an individual: any gesture, for WB, will start there, with the simplest, richest scale there is: 1:1.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Whole World

I'm still reeling from my discovery of Paradjanov yesterday, especially the second of the two films I saw: The Legend of Suram Fortress (the other was Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, which though less perfectly achieved, has some of the finest forest photography I've ever seen, almost on a par with King Hu and Terrence Malick).
What's quite unique in this film is Paradjanov's unashamed attempt to portray nothing less than the whole world, which shines through most aspects of his film-making here.
Every shot in that film is complete and needs nothing more to convey what has to be conveyed. This is not to say that the frame is sealed off: people and animals can enter it or leave it. But once outside it, they might as well cease to exist (as do the son's retinue in the magician's den, toward the end). The idea of off-screen space or cutting along the axis is completely foreign to Paradjanov in this film: each shot is completely fulfilled. Everyone involved in the action is always on screen, and if ever a character addresses someone off screen, it is the audience, which will never, in this film, get or even need a point of view other than the one Paradjanov sets at the beginning of each of his event-chapters. Yet the claim to totality in this film is not that of classical film-making, which also seeks to represent the totality of the action, for the very simple reason that the action is Suram Fortress is presented to the audience without involving the audience in it: for Paradjanov, space is rich, diverse, infinite, but impenetrable.

This is reflected in the narrative, which is brought to a quasi biblical simplicity of means (And Moses said... And God saw that it was good). That's not to say that Paradjanov is uninterested in his story. He's very interested in his tale, but not really as a story, more as a succession of moments of key importance. Every single step is essential in his progression, yet the impression is not that of a narrative unraveling, but of events aggregating. Paradjanov goes for almost complete paratax, relying on our ability to identify places and make connections between location, character and event, and as such is incapable of creating anything like suspense (here too he differs from the classical approach to the complete narrative: there is no construction of a narrative, only eternal present moments amassing like grains of sand in an hourglass, until suddenly the hourglass tips). What he can create, however, is moments of monumental importance: since every one stands on its own, only implicitly a consequence of former events, each one echoes like a miracle.
Any action in any frame is both a culmination of former events, a reinvention of all former actions and an absolutely complete unity: every shot reinterprets the whole film before it.

(Note of frustration: the ending of this masterwork was ruined for me by the man sitting next to me, at the very end of the row I was sat on; this anti-social creature decided, during what was obviously the very last shot of the film, with only seconds to go before the credits, to get up and exit, forcing every single person on our row to let him pass. I've seen some annoying behavior at the cinema before, but in terms of sheer stupidity, this trumps all).

Monday, 15 February 2010

Just for the pleasure

My favorite scenes in Pretty in Pink are, pretty predictably, all the ones involving Ducky. Obviously, the disc shop scene is a monument, as is the one when he talks to the bouncer. But what strikes me in both cases is how little dramatic justification these two scenes have. They're there just for the pleasure of spending time with a character who ends up being a lot more than just the foil to the girl (which James Spader ends up being for the boy, although his charisma saves him). Duckie is the one stray element in the film, infinitely more physical than Molly Ringwald or Andrew McCarthy, and though he's probably, with Harry Dean Stanton, the one who suffers most in the film, he's the one most capable of inhabiting his body with sheer joy.

Likewise, Ferris Bueller's Day Off is one long string of scenes that are just for the pleasure. Which is why the least convincing bits (though they are still fun) are the ones involving Jeffrey Jones once Sloane has been picked up from school. They're there to provide some sort of narrative stake, which goes against the grain of the rest of the film: that day off is one big digression.

Also, what is it about museums and perfect scenes? Two great films find their souls in them.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Friday, 29 January 2010

Battle Royale

What's so surprising with Battle Royale, given its reputation and especially its pitch, is how many positive examples of humanity Fukasaku actually gives us. The film is full of quiet moments of cooperation, love, help... (This might explain why I don't find the "villain" who joins in the game for the killing that convincing. He acts like an invincible zombie more than any thing else, unlike the other two "monstrous" characters of the film, Mitsuko and Kitano). What makes it all the more poignant is how easily those are destroyed by the children themselves when they internalize the dynamics of adults bent on setting all forms of rebellion against each other. This means not only a despairing outlook in which rebellion becomes something that feeds into the plans of power, but also, more hopefully, a vision of simple humanity lending a hand to others as the most basic but most essential act of resistance.

And the ending is one of the great puzzles of modern cinema.

Friday, 8 January 2010

What's most disappointing in Haneke's The White Ribbon, especially given its aims (to represent how a repressive protestantism can destroy the community it tries to uphold) is how almost completely it fails at representing community. The diverse strands of the narrative (doctor, preacher, peasant, baron, teacher) are very rarely brought in contact with one another. The teacher, who narrates the story, seems to have little to no contact with either the peasant family or the doctor, and most of these narrative strands exist in isolation from one another. However many scenes happen in the streets, there is no sense of the village as a public space in which social forces interact (as villages go, Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us or Shimizu's Children in the Wind or Four Seasons of Children could teach Haneke a thing or two... or fifty).

The case of the peasant family is the most typical: regarded with contempt more than empathy (but then the only attempts at empathy in the film are rather unconvincing, i.e. the too-naive to be touching romance between the teacher and a young woman he ends up marrying (probably)), they are represented as suffering from their economic quasi-enslavement to the baron, though that is denied any force: the father tells his son that they are now starving and cannot find work, but there is no depiction of any process, of any attempt to find food for the family, of anything other than the fighting between father and son. They never interact with any of the other characters, apart from one scene which really drives the failure home: at church, the baron makes a speech about those who mishandled his son and how the farmer's son mishandled his cabbages. Though in the communal milieu par excellence, the scene could almost be happening solely between the farmer and the baron: the shots of other members of the audience shown are faces of strangers, giving no opportunity to connect any of the characters we know to this particular issue. There is no sense of roaming, of opening up to other unforeseen interactions, either: Haneke implies, rather heavy-handedly, that the other peasants could be in that same uncomfortable situation one day, but since there is no sense of who these other peasants are, or of what community they form, the point is purely intellectual. There is no sense of how the same framework connects to the teacher, the doctor, the preacher (mentioned briefly at this point in the voice-over, but who carries in this scene zero dramatic significance).

The same could be said of the village ball scene, which serves, in a classical manner, as a superficial setting of joy before the chaos starts: Haneke only pays attention to individual interactions on the margins, except for one brief (and precious) shot highlighting the animosity between eastern European immigrant labourers and the local Austrians. Apart from that, the party might as well have been cancelled with no dramatic impact.

As in Tarantino's uninteresting Inglorious Basterds, which for all its load of hype contained one of the most beautiful images of the last ten years (Shoshanna projected ona burning screen, her face seen in the smoke), Das Weisse Band contains one of the most beautiful shots of the year, which starts off as the most perfect vision of a child's fear I know of, but sadly ends up rejoining the film with its obsession of making a point over observing its unfolding. The doctor's young son climbs down the stairs, calling his sister in a trembling voice, making the supreme effort of entering a dark room (but only moving within the ray of light projected from the door), not finding her there, going back to look for her in a room he has already seen... The first half of that shot is priceless; it conjures a sense of primal fear more effective than the rest of the film put together.