Saturday, November 11, 2017

Notes on Ekjon Kobir Mrityu (Death of a Poet) by Abu Sayeed, Bangladesh: 2017

Abu Sayeed is one one of a few directors from Bangladesh whose films were shown on some international film festivals. His newest film Ekjon Kobir Mrityu is not only one of his most willful one. Three different kind of films came into my mind: first Citizen Kane by Orson Welles, Geschichtsunterricht (History Lesson) by Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet and the films by Marguerite Duras, her Aurelia-Steiner-films and Le Mains Negatives (The negative Hands). The puzzle-structure of Citizen Kane which recapitulate a human life, the work with text and images like Duras and Straub/Huillet seem to be united in Abu Sayeed´s most experimental film.

The film goes through several transformations. At the beginning there is a famous poet who suffers under insomnia. He has a strange dream about a woman dressed in white, a kind of death angel. On the next morning his son finds the poet dead. With the death of the only visible person, the narration takes only place in the off. While the family is busy to arrange the funeral ceremony, including to transport his corps to the place of his funeral, newspapers and television news are preparing special features on the death of this poet. What we see and about what the invisible acteurs are talking goes different ways. Several time we see a huge printing press and with a bit of imagination it sounds a bit like an analog film projectior. A human life has expired. Ekjon Kobir Mrityu becomes now what remains of a human identity. First of all we see the devices who conserve the collective memory, TV-cameras, audio tapes and the printing press. The dialogues by the acteurs which remain invisble are dealing from personal dialogues between the members of the family, interviews with his colleagues or contemporaries, editors and journalists are providing special features for TV and newspaper. Sometimes we hear dialogues from a phone conversation. If a dialogue takes place in a newspaper editorial office or in a TV-studio we see only fragments of persons. They remain totally anonymous. These dialogues from the off are providing the film with a kind of narration which will never be illustrated through images. This is exactly what Abu Sayeed´s film has to do with Duras`Aurelia Steiner-films and her Les Mains Negatives.

The heart of the film is an extremely long car ride on a street which is literally cut through the concrete and datable landscape of Bangladesh – but also through the whole film. There are traffic jams. Several construction places are visible. It is a journey through a disgraced and polluted landscape. When these car travels remind me in Straub/Huillet´s Geschichtsunterricht than because they are pure traces of reality which happens outside the limited frame and which remain equal to the element of fictive narration. In Straub Huillet´s film it was the real Rome of the 1970s and in Abu Sayeed´s film it is the presence the real landscape of Bangladesh. And it is exactly the collision of reality and fiction which gives this film a nearly dreamlike quality. The more prosaic the film becomes the more it inspired my imagination.

Ekjon Kobir Mrityu is a poetic film essay which works on several levels. First of all it tells about the point when a private life has expired and migrates first to the memories of the loved ones and later to the more complex collective memory of a society. As the organic and the spiritual life of the poet has lapsed, the film tells more and more about the remains. It is a little truck which has to transport the corps a long way. The printing press refers not only to the newspapers but as well to the printed words of the poet which remain like crystallized traces of his life. How his family deals with the loss and how the representatives of public life deals with a collective memory, the film is always looking for the relationship between the material and spiritual aspect of human lives. As film is, like Godard once said, “always a documentary about the visible things in the world”, Abu Sayeed´s Ekjon Kobir Mrityu is such a “documentary about the visible things” but it detects the traces of a fleeting human life and it´s poetry. At the end a poem of the dead poet is recited and it is about the beauty of stars. As stars are often subject of poetry they are also evident as the fusion reactor where all the elements arise we are finally made of. Abu Sayeed´s admirable film is as well a wise and exciting essay on cinema, it´s material but also it´s poetic and spiritual aspects.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rüdiger Tomczak


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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Notes on A Death in the Gunj, by Konkona Sensharma, India: 2016

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 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 it´s 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 it´s 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´s  future.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Monday, July 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rüdiger Tomczak

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Notes on Trapeze by Shamik Ghosh, India: 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.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Notes on Song to Song by Terrence Malick, USA: 2017

The pure frank sentiments we hold in our hearts are the only truthful sources of art. “ (Caspar David Friedrich)

A few days after I have seen this film, I already begin to forget how perplexed I was on that day. It was the first time I felt confused after a film by Terrence Malick. During the days after the screening, several moments of the film came back to my mind unintentional like the film lives a life of it´s own. I read three reviews, the beautiful ones by Richard Brody and Patrick Tomassi and the more sceptical one by Matt Zoller Seitz. Paradoxically it was the sceptical review by Zoller-Seitz which inspired me to rethink the effect the film had on me. At the beginning I felt much closer to the conclusion of Zoller Seitz than to the other two rather enthusiastic reviews.
Compared with his two previous films,, the shameless underrated masterpiece To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, Song to Song has more recognizable elements of what we call narration. It is the third film Malick created without a proper screenplay. Strangely I felt in Song to Song the lack of this very special intensity of these two previous films, where the montage finally created in a magical way an own gravitation field which brings all the often improvised elements together. This recognizable triangle relationship between two musicians played by Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling and a rich and powerful music producer (Michael Fassbinder) are in contrast with a strange centrifugal force which makes every moment even more fleeting, even a bit more fragmented than in Malick´s previous films. On the first sight – there is everything what we know from recent films by him, especially since his collaboration with this wonderful Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Luebzki: the pending sliding movements which creates a choreography with the movements of the acteurs that appears to me almost like Max Ophüls with a hand held camera. There are also the famous over voices, an element which is present in all films by Malick but much more refined and cultivated since The Thin Red Line. This time it was often difficult to me to distinguish the different over voices/characters from each other. It was the Babel-effect or to talk with Jean Renoir the problem that “every one has his reasons” how it is verbalized in his La Regle du jeu. Literally I often had problems “to get hold” on those fleeting moments. In other films by Malick there were always several moments which immediately burnt into my memories.
But exactly in this moment of doubt I had in this film, the film comes back in little pieces to my memory like my brain was working like a ruminant. And with a delay of some days the old excitement, the strong emotions I usually feel for a film by Terrence Malick since The New World are back again.

Even though the film takes place in the music world of Austin / Texas, most of the excerpts of live-concerts or recorded songs are as fragmented than anything else in Malicks recent films. Sometimes the protagonists attend concerts not from the grandstand but from a place they look sidewards to the stage. As insiders they seem often less interested in the performances than the audience mass. There is actually a link to Malick´s previous film Knight Of Cups who takes place like Song to Song on the other side of the entertainment industry where the common audience has no access.
But even if Malick´s last two films are dealing with artists who have to deal with a business which buys and sells them - in their emotions, their memories their grieve and their losses the acteurs are as lost and lonely like the uprooted Pocahontas in The New World, the grieving mother in The Tree of Life or the lost soul Marina in To the Wonder – and finally very close to the rough, still non verbalized emotions and thoughts we have when we attend a film screening. Whenever I hear these over voice whispering, I almost can feel my own silent ones. In of of the big themes in Malick´s work, the lostness of most of his characters on their quest for identity, Malick seems to have gone with Song to Song even a step further. The collision between pain and grieve and the beauty of the world seems to be a bit more pointed. Often in Song to Song, the protagonists are indifferent to the beauty we see at the same moment on the screen.
Especially the characters who went through losses, grieve like the young soldiers in The Thin Red Line, especially Pocahontas in The New World, Mrs. O´ Brian in The Tree of Life or Marina in To the Wonder are still able to see the beauty of the world. In Song to Song we hear Rooney Mara´s voice telling: “I can´t bear to see the birds, because I saw them with you.” Obviously these words are leaded to her lover but it also implies, that she sees the world from a different perspective than us, the audience. The majestic view of a flying flock of birds we could often share in our imaginations with the protagonists in other films by Malick but not with Rooney Mara and other characters in Song to Song. They literally see a different film than we do. When we learn relatively quick the greed and aggressive possessive manner of the music producer (one of Malick´s most diabolic characters) Mara and Gosling seem to be helpless exposed to his manipulations.

There remains in me a feeling of discomfort with the film but it is very close to a film from another favorite director of mine which I admire but which also scares and distressed me in revealing a disconnected modern civilization, Yasujiro Ozu´s dark Tokyo Boshoku (Tokyo Twilight).

Jean Renoir wrote in his autobiography once about his India-experiences that he was “deeply moved how the Indians tried to touch him”. Terrence Malick is like Jean Renoir a filmmaker who celebrates the tangible and visible matter of the world and us are made of. And the spiritual and religious aspects are no contradiction at all. They are an interpretation of the world we can share or not. They seem to belong together as two aspects of the world, the nature like it is and how people try with or without success to deal with it.
The kind Malick´s characters try to touch the loved ones but also the world around them is very close to that what must have moved Renoir so much during his India-experiences. In Song to Song they try it desperate and often without avail like in no other film by Malick. They literally try to get with their hands hold in this world and sometimes they fail. But at all, emotions, mental conditions in a film by Terrence Malick are always revealed through bodies, movements, glimpse, sounds and an intensive exploration of the facets of human faces - very close to the films by Ingmar Bergman, Ritwik Ghatak and Carl Theodor Dreyer. Malick´s cinema is a big veneration for the matter of the world and the matter, cinema is made of as well.

I said it often and I say it again: the accusation Malick´s films from up to The Tree of Life are esoteric or simple religious propaganda is not only unfair but even poor nonsense and it is finally a big embarrassment of quite a big part of film criticism.

Property, it´s all about property” (Sean Penn in The Thin Red Line)

And yes, even though a marginalia but always evident, Malicks films are not at all isolated from the social reality or social history of the world: Exploitation of human labour in Days of Heaven, war as the decline of human civilization in The Thin Red Line, the aggressive British imperialism to conquer new markets in The New World, the illusion in and the failure of the American way of Life in The Tree of Life, the evidence of hardship in Bartlesville/ Oklahoma in To the Wonder. In Knight of Cups and Song to Song there are signs of a certain cynicism of the rich and powerful, especially in how these films reveal the exploitation of the female body. Most evident in the nearly Stroheim-like character played by Michael Fassbinder whose manner finally leads to the suicide of his wife played by Nathalie Portmann, an unusual harsh explosion of tragedy in this film.
It is very fashionable, it is trendy, cool and catchpenny to ridicule the more recent films by Terrence Malick. That became recently a sport in mainstream criticism and even worse in blind and ideological motivated criticism. But it ignores or even defrauds the rich diversity Terrence Malick has given to recent world cinema.

And yes, I have forgotten that there was as well a moment which moved me very deeply and which is enough motivation to see this film again: it is the short but weighty presence of Rock-singer Patti Smith. It is a moment hardly a minute long but strong enough to be remembered until my very end and which is also a precise image for the poetry of Terrence Malick. Patti Smith talks with Rooney Mara and just this dialog between a real and a fictive person, the port between fiction and documentary alone is amazing. The elder singer tells about her late husbands, that she still will wear his ring because he was the love of her life. The younger woman tells her about her unhappy sex affair with this producer. And suddenly this little dialog turns into something like a confession from woman to woman and Patti Smith becomes an non denominational spiritual advisor which is often reserved for male priests. How the hands of these women touch each other, how Smith comforts the young disturbed woman and how she finally touches her cheeks, is a high concentration of Malick´s poetry and compassion. This moment comes always back to my mind, again and again - and there is nothing I can do about it. It reminds me in this strong and heartbreaking moment from The Tree of Life when this wonderful big black lady comforts the mourning Jessica Chastain with her huge hands. In these seconds the films reveal the whole beauty of the cinema of Terrence Malick itself. These two scenes tell me all what I love in the films by Terrence Malick, for what I have no words.

Rüdiger Tomczak

The mentioned reviews:
A Prayer for Ryan Gosling (Patrick Tomassi
Review by Matt Zoller Seitz at

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Notes on Songs of Revolution by Bill Mousoulis, Greece/Australia: 2017

After having seen 5 films by Greek-Australian filmmaker Bill Mousoulis, I think the transitions between documentary and fiction in his films are always very thin. His new film Songs of Revolution is a journey through different kinds of Greek music, the connection between these different kinds and the history of Greece from the beginning of the 20th Century until to date. The film begins with an audiovisual collage. Different TV channels propagating the false dreams of commercials and the nightmares of recent Greek reality. The first song (Enough), a Punk song appears and we see images of manifestations. The non-filtered anger of this punk song connects with the image of the naked anger of the people. The first disturbing moments hint to a reality of people who are struggling for surviving between anger and sadness. The pseudo reality suggested by Neoliberalism and its instrument Television between political filtered information and commercials is busted.

The film introduces different kinds of music from the Remebetica (which is called the Greek Blues), the protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s, Punk and other alternative forms like Rap and and experimental music of recent times. This happens in interviews with musicians, recorded concert excerpts but also with arranged musical-like scenes. The interviews with musicians give an introduction how Greek history of the last 100 years is connected with the music as the expression of a long history of suffering from the occupation by the Great Turks, the German occupation during world war II., civil war, dictatorship and finally the most recent crisis. One can use it as a kind of orientation in this film, but how the film proceeds it will offer very different accesses.

Bill Mousoulis never really makes films just “about” something, he looks at something but often also reacts on what he sees and interacts with the people he meets. And this transition from documentary to fiction, this balancing act between fiction and reality happens sometimes sudden. There is a young musician whom we see at first working in his band. Later he offers a musical-like performance as a waiter in a restaurant.
Another musician quarrels with his parents. The dialogue of the persons are stylized like a rap song. This might be a hint to the difficulty of nonconformist musician to survive but it is also a good example for the playfulness of Bill Mousoulis who moves freely between documentary and fiction. Later we will see actors staging songs which are sung by others.

The image making devices called cinema as used by Bill Mousoulis seem always to overcome over it´s cold technical precision. Even this balancing act between reality and fiction seems rather organic than arty. Mousoulis always tries to get his “instrument” his image making devices always in accordance to these different kinds of music. Songs of Revolution is not only a great music film, it becomes often like music itself.

Among several musical-like scenes there are 5 songs which appear in the playback method. They are sung by another singer but staged by actress Marianthi Koliaki. During some songs she moves her lips, pretending to sing. During other songs she paraphrase with her whole body the stories told in this songs. Even with this cinematographic trick, Mousoulis creates an own veracity. Koliaki´s heartbreaking performance reminds me in Madhabi Mukherjee´s likewise staged songs in Ritwik Ghatak´s masterpiece Subarnarekha. The tristesse of the urban landscape where Koliaki is walking through, the synchronism between the sadness and the longings in the songs and her body language is breathtaking. It is one of these moments where the film becomes a song itself.

Another moment and a completely different stylistic approach: A musician meets a very old musician. He tells him how much he admires him and that he wrote a song dedicated to his elder idol. Than he performs the song. Even though in contrast to the staged song performances, this seemingly just documented scene has it´s own beauty and yes – it´s own poetry. It is also an example how versatile the film tries to approach all these different kind of music. The rage of scene with the first punk song in this film is edited in furious hard cuts. Other moments, especially the interviews are observant and comparatively sober. The musical scenes, the fictional element complement the other aspects and I would like to call them as moments of “magic realism”.

One of the most fascinating aspects in the films by Bill Mousoulis I have seen so far is this dynamic relationship between moments when his films are “made” and these moments when things are just happen in front of the camera. I mean an equal intensity of moments when Mousoulis uses the options his apparatus offers but also moments where he seems just recording what is in front of his camera. There is a scene when several musicians including a female singer are meeting in the evening at a street cafe. One of them introduces the other musicians to each other. Everyone brought his own instrument and soon they play music together. Even though it seems to be one of these moments which “just happened” and even though it is one of these observational moments, for me it appears like a moment of pure cinema, different than the tour de force of this lost soul personified by Marianthi Koliaki but with the same intensity.

Like so much good films, Songs of Revolution is also like a journey-experience which evokes in me so much different and sometimes contradictory moods, thoughts and emotions. The sadness, the anger, the bitterness of people who live under difficult circumstances but also their vitality appeared for less than 2 hours film in all its intensity. Songs of Revolution is one reason more to be grateful for this quite fortunate coincidence for me to get in touch with the films by Bill Mousoulis.

Rüdiger Tomczak

As the film is new, informations can be found at the Songs of Revolution-web site and at the homepage of Bill Mousoulis.