Sunday, March 4, 2018

Notes on a cinematic journey called Ashwatthama, by Pushpendra Singh, India: 2017

I see the curious rapid change of the light and shade, I see distant lands as real and near to the inhabitants of them as my land is to me.”
( Salut Au Monde from Leaves Of Grass by Walt Whitman)

The beginning of this film is like a birth. Before the first light appears we hear a woman talking to her son. She tells him the story of Ashwatthama, a tragic character from the Indian mythology, who was cursed and became an immortal but lost soul. I am not familiar with the Indian mythology which varies from region to region in this complex culture of the Indian sub continent. But I have already a guide which will lead me through this film which will open my eyes and my ears, the curious and open hearted boy Ishvaku who is discovering the world around him. The film is like discovering another world manifested in 2 hours film.

The film is shot in Black and White. Only very few hint´s give an idea that the film is less engrossed from our time than we might think. Only very short colored moments interrupt the atmosphere of the film. They appear like subtle distortions in the space time continuum of the film´s universe.
I remember a shot near the beginning. Ishvaku is feeding the pigeons in the backyard. The backyards is closed by walls. Behind Ishvaku we see a window which leads to the world outside the barrier. The boy is totally absorbed by his action, like I am absorbed by the rich texture of this image. After a while , Ishvaku goes to the entrance of the house and disappears inside this entrance which is hardly more visible than a black spot in this image. For a moment, the camera stays with us and the pigeons in this backyard.
The vision of this piece of world does not seem to be forced at all. It is one of many moments in this film which demand nothing else than attention but it rewards you with a celebration of cinema as the art of seeing.
There is this strong feeling for confidence in cinema, confidence in what the filmmaker has seen, confidence in the apparatus which recorded it – and finally confidence that these images will unfold their intensity and often breathless beauty by themselves.

There must be a relation between the many stories told by the characters to each other and how the film´s narration creates a whole universe of stories which define a culture but also a human life. This collecting of vocally told stories is interwoven the film´s visual and audible narration. The smallest moments, seemingly non events are beside tragic moments which appear as not emphasized. The emotions which will be nevertheless evoked as the film proceeds are the results of attention, of experience and not formed by forced dramatic storytelling. But especially in its nearly shy reservation, the film often appears to me this “sense of wonder” like the time when I discovered cinema for myself.

In its dynamic between intensity and a nearly minimalistic reluctance, Ashwatthama recalls in me the journey I had with the films by Taiwanese Hou hsiao Hsien, especially with Hsimeng Rensheng (The Puppet master, 1993). In Hou´s work there was a movement from explicit autobiographical inspired films to a quest for history and culture of Taiwan but as well a quest for finding his own specific vision of cinema (evident in his famous extreme long shots). In another kind but with an equal intensity, Ashwattham has the range between personal memories, a precise look to the part of the world the director comes from but as well an own unique vision of cinema.

A brief look back to February 2014 where Pushendra Singh´s first long feature Lajwanti had its world premiere at the Forum of the Berlin Film festival. It happens seldom in my life time that a debut of a new talented filmmaker caused so much expectations for the near future. Legendary film debuts from the history of cinema like the ones by Satyajit Ray, Terrence Malick, Orson Welles or Aparna Sen happened either before my life time or outside of my awareness. With , one of the two finest films I saw at this festival in the last 12 years, I witnessed such a revelation.

After the house is attacked by bandits, Ishvaku´s mother is killed and he moves with his father to relatives. This is one of the few but pointed tragic turning points of this film which create a new situation for the protagonists. A place in the world is lost, a new one has to be found. When they arrive at their new home, the protagonists and the film spend time with mourning. As I said earlier I have not understood all codes and rituals, this is a moment which affected me a lot. The impact of the loss of a beloved person is caused by memories of my own close persons or in so many moments I have seen in the films by John Ford, Yasujiro Ozu, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Terrence Malick or Satyajit Ray.

The interiors are often sparsely lighted. The interiors are places of shelter and privacy. The implicitness of light our eyes are used by so much bad television features where we always see everything is now suspended. As films often pretend there is a a definite place in the world. True cinema and especially films like Ashwatthama suggest to find a place in the world is a permanent search.

In an interview Pushpendra Singh tells about how he developed the film with inspirations from own memories. Some characters are based on close relatives. Singh has really lived in the region where the film takes place. Even without having read this interview, one can get the an idea about this film in many moments as felt memories. But Ashwatthama also offers something like an ethnographic look to its own culture. The universal and the personal, the prosaic and the poetic are often evident interwoven in single moments. There is a small moment when a young woman, the eldest cousin of Ishvaku combs the boy´s hair. Both are looking into a mirror. They look at themselves. It reminds me in some moments in Lajwanti when we see Sanghmitra Hitaishi´s character looking into a mirror. This is a strange revelation to look at people who are looking at themselves. As we trying to get an image of this world and its people visible, we have to realize that these people have already an image of themselves which is not necessarily identical with our image of them.

The more the film proceeds the more we are absorbed by this look to a piece of the world. There are often recurring motives, family meetings or reunions of this community sitting around a campfire and listening to musicians who perform their songs.
The specific sense of time seems to be adapted from the specific sense of time only children have. The world as an endless huge and rich stage of wonders even though from time to time interrupted by momentous events. Some times the plot seems to melt away and than it comes back with silent but painful fierceness.
Sometimes I feel like talking again and again about so much single moments to articulate this specific “sense of wonder” I experienced. The more the film proceeds, the more I feel - despite its often seemingly non events or especially because of it – what I will call a poetic breath. Some times we are absorbed by what the images present and than the awareness of the artist and this apparatus called cinema reappears and with it the cognition that cinema is especially because its ability to create an artificial memory – cinema is desperate and heartbreaking resistance against death and caducity.

There is one unforgettable moment which is representative for the film´s spirit and the delicate style the film is made with. As much as the characters are absorbed by their world and their actions it does not mean they are always accepting their fate without reluctance. The scene , I want to refer is not only a foreshadowing of a tragic event, it is also a striking moment when these children are confronted with invisible and nameless borders. During the film Ishvaku has developed a strong bond with his deaf cousin Laali, a girl who is about the same age like him. They often stroll together through this stony and sparse landscape. One day Ishvaku is sent to school. The relatives decide that Laali shall go too. The school scene seems to be made in one long shot. The perspective is the one of the children who are sitting in front of the teacher, the board and the desk. The seemingly impassive camera evokes a strong sense of power and the little children bodies are exposed to the moody upright standing strict teacher. The view is bouncing to the wall with the board and the teacher and the wall. When the teacher learns of Laali´s deafness, he chases the two children away. The insulted children leave the school and the frame. The fact that the echo of their humiliation the insult of discrimination is left to our imagination. For a moment we remain in this picture looking at the children exposed to this teacher and the wall. For a moment the eyes are prisoners in this room. How the cruelty unfolds in this one moment is intense and afterwards a heartbreaking nearly traumatic moment.

We have seen Laali and Ishvaku discovering the endless world, now witness how they
bounce against meaningless man-made borders.
We gave seen them walking through ruins which are almost in the process to migrate into the landscape they are once built on. It is an image presenting fugacity of human cultures. It evokes a muted melancholy in me. Where it comes from, I can not tell. More and more cracks appear in this world.
The elder cousin who was supposed to be forced into an arranged marriage, has escaped. She resists and disappears. A woman is beaten. The world- or better - the world defined by men with its rules and its order unfolds its complex ambivalence.

Ashwatthama, this kaleidoscope of people , stories and landscapes appears to me as a miracle which does not really stop when the two hours film have ended. It continues to have an effect in my memory. Just the kind how characters are entering a frame and leaving it, stays with me. Sometimes the combination of image and sound widens the world, sometimes image and sound reveal its borders. The visible and the invisible can be experienced similarly. I have no idea which moves me more, the stylistic and daring consequence of this film or its incredible delicateness.
And it is one of theses films I have a hard time to let it go. And yes I have to remember again Walt Whitman´s imagined journey around the world in his poem Salut Au Monde.

Ashwatthama is sone of these cinematic miracles which refer to the great past of cinema but at the same time to its future. The film is still new and still on its journey through film festivals. From time to time, cinema needs a radical redefinition such as Ashwatthama to move forward.

There are these two precious gifts, Pushpendra Singh gave to cinema, the one is Lajwanti, the other is Ashwatthama. Now it is turn of what we call the public world of cinema to proof if it deserves these gifts. About one thing I am absolutely sure – I can´t imagine a near future of cinema without Pushpendra Singh.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Friday, February 23, 2018

Notes on Garbage, by Q, India: 2018 – or how to place a provocative Indian film in an India-phobic film festival, Berlin Filmfestival VIII-Panorama

Indeed, Garbage is an interesting film which evokes a lot of questions but last but not least it´s presence as the only Indian film this year is also symptomatic for the recently rather India-phobic attitude of this festival, very few exceptions included. This inscrutable ignorance of one of the most interesting film country in the world was only interrupted in the last 10 years by rare masterpieces like Vilhir (The Well, Generation 2010) by Umesh Vinayak Kolkarni and Pushpendra Singh´s Lajwanti (Forum 2014)

Garbage by Q (Qaushik Mukherjee), is a film which hardly will pass the outmoded Indian censorship board for getting a theatrical distribution in India. It is partly because of it´s revealing of graphic violence and partly because of it´s open attack on hypocrisy of the dominating Hindu-fundamentalism in contemporary India.

My relation with this film is conflicted even though I still think one of his previous films Gandhu was an important and fresh new voice in contemporary Indian cinema. Q´s wish during his introduction that the audience “shall suffer” under this “joyless and sad film” was for my side fulfilled - at least for me. Since Pasolini´s Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, I have not seen a film (commercial splatter excluded) which reveals so much concision of human bodies, bodily fluids and torture. If Pasolini´s film was reckoning with the Italian fascism, Garbage refers obviously with the present violence in India, partly based on it´s conflicting attitude towards sexuality supported by a right wing and Hindu-fundamentalistic government. If a film wants to provoke that is not necessarily a bad thing. Garbage openly refers to contemporary India. The short living world press has already forgotten horrible events like the genocide in Gujarat and most recently a wave of raping cases. The most known among these cases, the barbaric rape of a young woman in December 2012 changed almost over night India´s rating as a relative safe tourist country into the rate “critical”. For now the exposure of violent, sadistic and masochistic acts in Q´s film is at least understandable. How extreme and excessive one can find that, is another field. But one question remains, the question if it is necessary to shock or torture to approach a certain understanding or even compassion for the victims of violence? Q rather follows the way of Pasolini or Fassbinder in his bold language, while other talented contemporaries from Q´s generation like Konkona Sensharma in her A Death in the Gunj (indeed a total different film on violence and gender identity in India) seems to follow a path between the formal elegance of Hitchcock and Mizoguchi or Pushpendra Singh with Lajwanti whose way of cinema is between the minimalism or petry of Ozu, Straub/Huillet, Renoir and Ford.

It is true, Garbage belongs to the diversity of contemporary Indian cinema. But as it is the only Indian film shown this year selected by the so-called biggest International Film festival that is quite a problem for me because the vanity of this festival imposes that it´s selection is representative for world cinema. This is of course the problem of the festival and not the the problem at the film at all.

The girl who is kept as a slave by the taxi driver (who is a Hindu fundamentalist and a sexual perverse at the same time) is the perfect mediator between the film and the audience. Her chains are visible. Our chains only evident in the film´s bold language, it´s montage and aggressive sound design. For both of us, the slave girl or the audience – there is no way to escape from this film. If her presence evokes empathy or is she just a fellow inmate, that is again another question. My reason not to put Q in the same category like Shekar Kapur and his horrible Bandit Queen or Nagisa Oshima´s awkward overrated Ai no Korida (The Realm of Senses) – both films are speculating only on the sensationalism of the audience - is the access offered by the character of this slave girl. We are captured with her – and she can be read as an agent or even as an Alter Ego of Q himself. As conflicted my relation with Garbage is, I put him in case of doubt rather in context with this despaired almost unbearable but thoroughly honest film by Pasolini.

Despite my discomfort with this film it belongs to the endless discussion of contemporary cinema because it causes a lot of questions about esthetics of cinema, what to and how to show explicit violence or sexuality in cinema or not. The so-called “most political” film festival in the world was here rather inconsequent if not cowardly. They had the option to select Garbage for the competition. But they shifted it instead to the the Panorama, the most disputable and most shapeless section in the long history of this festival. The Panorama is like a black hole – if good or bad films, most of them disappear soon from the public memory. It is symptomatic for the inconsequence of Kosslick´s populistic policy. The irony is hiding a film like Garbage in the Panorama is like a foreboding the film´s fate if it it will be confronted with the equally dubiously institution called Central Board of Indian Cinema.

Rüdiger Tomczak
Fri, 23.2, 20.15, Cubix 7
Sat, 24.2, 22.45, Cinestar 3
Sun, 25.2, 16.00, Zoo-Palast 2

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Notes on Retablo, , by Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L., Peru:2017,Berlin FilmfestivalVII.-Generation

First of all this is a film, framed often by doors and windows and it offers some time a glimpse to the eternal world and sometimes to a world defined by frames and borders.
At the beginning a group photo of some villagers will be made. The father, a respected artisan who makes altar pieces for churches and little figures made out of clay for tourists has blindfolded his son who is now describing the group of villagers in details to test his visual memory. The colours of their dresses, the woman with the baby in her arm, he recalls details he need for creating an effigy of it. In this very first shot one gets an idea of Aparicio L,´s visual sophistication.

Retablo is not only a film in pure film images but as well a reflection about film images as well. To experience glimpses of reality and to look at the reproductions of it, this is a theme which goes through the whole film.

Subtle but consequently the film leads image after image to the transformation of a contemplative world in the Peruvian Andes into a nightmare of violence and discrimination caused by a man made society. Segundo and his father do not create only well crafted altarpieces for the church and souvenirs for tourists but as well miniatures of tiny little clay puppets based on real villagers. The photo shot in the first scene is the model of a composition of many tiny clay puppets, arranged like on a miniature stage and framed by a wooden box. There is one of the visual most impressing moments of the film: the father and Segundo contemplate their work of art. We see them open the wooden box, their eyes in amazement. Behind them a window framed the landscape and it is like we see both of them staring like on a imagined screen and at the same time we stare over them to another screen. A crossing of two glimpses in different directions. The characters and we, each of us witness how someone sees something. Retablo is indeed a film about seeing.

Retablo seems to be a film about two possibilities of cinema, the recording of a real piece of the world but as well the ability to create a reproduction of it. The impressing cinema scope photography between open landscapes and the emphasis of frames (the image format but as well doors and windows) and sometimes the ensemble of clay figures framed by the wooden box like a stage, always gives a hint to cinema itself. The old utopia of cinema to enable us to discover the world or “to define one´s own image of the world” stays here in contrast to a society which insist on archaic, patriarchic and stiff images of the world.
The actor of the adolescent Segundo, Beyar Roca supports the visual virtuosity of this film. As he mostly remains silent, his questions, doubt and his conflicted and confused emotions are all reflected in his stoic facial expression. It seems to be almost part of this wild and sparse highland environment.

The permanently increasing tragic tone of the film is caused by the father´s secret homosexuality. Once uncovered, he is almost beaten to death by some villagers. His wife abandons him, most of his work is destroyed. The miniature of the village community made out of this tiny clay figures now appears as a hateful, angry and violent mob, the treacherous security of a community turns into a nightmare.

Retablo is a film about freedom but as well about its limitations, both visible in the things the film reveals like houses, doors, - and window frames or animal compounds but as well perceptible the film´s visual concept. Cinema seems sometimes breaks out of this borders and sometimes it reminds us painfully in the existence of these borders we are exposed to.

At the end we are literally left in these borders. Segundo leaves his house and his village to find another place to live and to perform his craft. We are literally left behind into the darkness of the abandoned house when he shut the door from outside, a darkness which is the final caesura between the film and the end credits.

Retablo, the first film by Peruvian Álvaro Delgado Aparicio L. Comes as close to a masterpiece as a first film of a young director can be. For sure, this is one of the finest new films I have seen this year at the Berlin Film festival – and like it happens so often to me – by a fortunate accident.

Rüdiger Tomczak

ScreeningSat, 24.2, 11.00 Cinemaxx 3

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sun, 25.2, 12.30 Arsenal

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Notes on Les Rois Mongols (Cross my Heart) by Luc Picard, Canada: 2017, Berlin Filmfestival2018,V.-Generation

Compared with the more consequent auteurist cinema of Kamila Andini´s impressing Sekala Niskala (The Seen and the Unseen), Luc Picard´s Les Rois Mongols looks rather like mainstream and comes close what we consider as a typical children film. But I am fine with this, the children, - and youth section is always interesting in it´s diversity. Side by side one can find conventional storytelling (which is not by nature a bad thing) and rather experimental cinema like the film by Andini, I mentioned.
Picard refers in his film to a chapter in French-Canadian history which is still hardly known outside of Quebec. The film takes place in the 1970s in Montreal. A radical leftish movement for the independence of Quebec leads to violent confrontations with the central government of Canada. One of the most famous French-Canadian novel, Bonheur d´?ccasion by Gabrielle Roy takes place in St. Henry, a former slum quarter in Montreal during World War 2.
In the 1970s, Montreal was still dominated by the poverty of the french speaking working class. I have a soft spot for this part of French-Canadian history. The 1970s was the time time when a lot of my friends in Quebec lived their early childhood, youth or their live as young adults. My head is full of their stories. My late friend Claude Forget, an activist for Independent cinema told me about this time when Montreal was dominated by soldiers and tanks rolling through the city under Martial Law. My different friends told me a lot what it means to be French-Canadian. A cinematic time travel taking place in a city I often visited can´t leave me indifferent at all.
I even recognized some of the French pop songs used in this film, songs my friends loved in their youth. The main theme of the soundtrack appeared to me as a theme of one of these Quebecer folk songs which can be tracked down to the songs, the first French settlers brought to this once new world.
The Uproar in the 1970s was a big crack in the Canadian union and it is visible until today. In Picard´s film it goes even through families. Forty years ago, Quebec is still beaten by poverty, the social conscience was almost a monopoly of the Catholic church.

The two families, the film is telling about are consequently members of the working class. The young girl Manon´s family is affected by the deadly sickness of her father. The mother is unable to cope with this and Manon´s brother will be sent to a foster family. What will happen with the adolescent girl remains unclear. The other family, is even more split. It is the family of her cousin, a teenage boy, a little one and a grown up young man who sympathizes with the radical group FLQ (Front for the Liberation) and that brings him in conflict with his father. As much as the films spins it´s fiction from this background between drama and elements of a crazy comedy, the fiction sometimes correspondents with the historical background and sometimes it peels away from it. That is necessarily not a disadvantage of the film. During watching this film and days after it, I felt I had two films in my heart, a film about a historical problem which is not solved today and a narration about individual characters exemplary for the forgotten and nameless people who were exposed to the impact of history. Do these two elements are going always together? Probably not, but the tension between history which had an impact on this culture and the conventions of mainstream storytelling is at least interesting. The film has an unusual bitter end anywhere between Chaplin´s Modern Times and Truffaut´s The Quatre-Cent Coups. The characters who suffered under historical circumstances are fading away in their anonymity this injustice of history.
When the film in it´s last moment gets finally rid of all it´s fiction, the after taste of unsolved and unprocessed history – than it appears not anymore as mainstream or conventional as it looks on the first sight.

Rüdiger Tomczak

To speak about the slightly rising presence of French-Canadian cinema on the Berlinale, I can´t hesitate to recognize an irony. If they were some films who broke ground for a wider interest in this very interesting film region than it was some films screened in the last 11 years by true independent filmmaker like Catherine Martin, Richard Brouillette, François Delisle or Chloé Leriche (whose Avant Les Rues was screened at the Generation two years ago).

Wed, 21.2, 15.30, Filmtheater am Friedrichshain
Fri, 23.2, 16.30, Cinemaxx 1

Monday, February 19, 2018

Notes on 11x14 by James Benning, USA: 1977, Berlin Filmfestival2018-IV.-Forum

Cinema can tell stories or just evoke them depending on the imagination of the spectator. Between this very simple statement there are numberless shades of grey. In the Forum-program (the festival presented a restored version blown up on a 35 millimetre print) one can read: “11x14 is film theory in images.”
The more films we see the more books on film we read, over the years a certain accumulation about cinema is approached.
But what is this knowledge actually worth it if it is not paired with impartiality, a fresh mind which still preserve a certain kind of openness? Some years ago, I watched with a friend Benning´s RR, film composed of long static shots about trains passing by. Suddenly a person from the environment of my family came to my mind, someone who has nothing to do with art, avantgarde,- or experimental cinema but who is a passionate lover of everything which has to do with railroad or trains. I can imagine that he would have enjoyed the film at least as much as I did.

The screening of James Benning´s first long film 11x14 is not just a rediscovering of a part of film history but it seems to me as an audiovisual quest for the reason why we love watching films and what fascinates us that we can´t stop staring at the screen. Knowledge is a good thing as long as it does not interfere with a certain curiosity.

There is a long shot taking place in a local driving train on the way over suburbs to a big American city. I felt it was about 8 to 10 minutes long. If there was a cut between this long moment, I have not recognized it. We see a person dozing in front of the front window of this rail car. We can hardly recognize more of this person than a shadow. The front window becomes a screen itself and we see for now nothing else than the landscapes passing by: industrial regions, suburbs. The noise of the rail car sliding on the rails is omnipresent.
At first it looks like a visual demonstration of André Bazin´s thought that the apparatus and the filmmaker retreat in front of what they reveal, the piece of the real world displayed on the railcar´s front window. On the other hand it appears to me as poetry not far away from this long Bob Dylan song which appears at least twice in this film.

I have often thought and occasionally written about the affinity between the mechanical aspect of analog cinema ( both for recording and projecting) and trains, especially in the films by Ozu. Despite the differences in scenes for example like the famous train sequence in Ozu´s Banshun, the train scene in Hitchock´s North By Northwest and their different dealing with time, these moments came back to my mind. While Ozu´s and Hitchcock´s montage creates an artificial time, Benning uses a piece of real time. But despite these differences, all three train moments are intense and unforgettable. The windows of this train finally reveal a piece of world beyond the frame of the film.
The late 70s in Benning´s 11x14 is for me less abstract than Ozu´s post war Japan of the late 40s or Hitchcock´s thriller of the late 50s, because it takes place in my life time. It gives me an idea about time which has passed long ago within my existence.

Cracks in walls and buildings are visible. The noise of trains sliding on their rails is almost an acoustic memory of mine in the 1970s, signs of the fugacity of buildings and machines. The film itself seems like a laborious restored and preserved ruin. The sense for the mortality of all things, which is now nearly disturbed by digital image making devices, is very special here. This is another analogy I often thought the chemical memory of film and the biochemical of living beings.Once recorded the whole art, poetry and idea of a film like 11x14 is depending on the matter on which it is recorded like a human memory from a living body.

Another moment of this film stays with me. It takes place in a kitchen of an elderly couple. On the left side of the frame we see the woman making the dishes, on the right side the man is sitting on a table. Right in the middle of the picture, we see a corridor which leads into the “depth of the image” Another person is sensible at the end of the corridor, probably taking a shower in rooms which are hidden in this shot.This shot emphasizes at the same time the flatness of the film image but also its ability to create an illusion of space. In the same shot the film is what it is but also what it can evoke.

Film keeps time captured like amber”, German filmmaker Winfried Junge once said. The sentence in mind makes each moment in 11x14 unforgettable.

For minutes an image does not show anything but a big factory chimney which is blowing huge masses of smoke into the air. Again the Bob Dylan song. At first it seems like an endless loop of one of these “empty shots” of Ozu but the longer this moment lasts the stronger my feeling for its transience increases. Even though this shot seems to get rid of all traces of “meaning”, it seems very precious to me.

Young people enjoy a picnic in a park. On a big field, we see a combine harvester. This is a film where even the small transitions between every shot is memorable.

And often the films appears to me as a composition of recorded memories as authentic as film can capture memories.

The Austrian Film museum in Vienna restored this film in collaboration with the Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art in Berlin.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Notes on Tokyo Boshoku (Tokyo Twilight) by Yasujiro Ozu, Japan: 1957, Berlin Filmfestival2018, III.-Berlinale-Classics

I have a hard time to understand why this film is labelled under “Berlinale Classics”. In 1957 when Tokyo Boshoku had it´s premiere, almost no one neither in Berlin nor elsewhere outside of Japan had even an idea that Ozu existed at all. But than it is probably meaningless to think about the quite dumb use of a strange Neo-English which dominates the language of the Berlinale administration. But shall I complaint if something like a rare masterpiece by Ozu will be screened?

Tokyo Boshoku is Ozu´s last film in Black and White and the reason why he worked after since 1958 only with colours is well answered by this bleak film itself. The first thing which comes to my mind whenever I think about this film is the theory about the death of the universe by freezing in a very far distant future. The world of Ozu´s film itself seems here under the threat of death by freezing. Unusually for Ozu, Tokyo Boshoku is almost without any humour and whenever something like a gag appears a laughter will soon get stuck in the middle. Tokyo Boshoku is here a bit like Hitchcock´s Vertigo, at the first sight a typical theme of it`s director but at a closer look a very melancholic reflection.
It is winter ( a not so popular season in a film from his postwar period). The cold is omnipresent in the whole film. It is the perceptible cold but as well an analogy to the frostiness of the relationships between the characters. Whenever in most of Ozu´s films pubs, bars, or restaurants are frequented it means fun, social life and laughter. In Tokyo Boshoku it is only a place to get warm for a while – it is nothing more than the last reflex of the instinct of self preservation.

A fat elderly man drinks tea. At first he looks like one of his funny supporting characters. But a few seconds later we see on his face traces of a hopeless loneliness. The world of Ozu we know and which we even recognize here for moments seem slightly distorted.
To use another analogy from the astronomy. The characters in this film seem moving away from each other like the galaxies in our known universe. Each dialogue seems to take an endless effort and if there is any film in which you feel the silence, a cold and deadly silence than it is Tokyo Boshoku. The background music, mostly happy bar music increases this feeling even more. The balance of most postwar films by Ozu between humour, poetic observation of every day life and melancholy is broken here for the benefit of a breeding sadness which is hard to define and hard to bear. Each of the characters is almost isolated with their losses. The parents are divorced, the eldest daughter thinks about leaving her drinking husband, the youngest daughter is disturbed and confused. This constellation of a totally dysfunctional family does not promise anything good.

To understand early Japanese cinema but as well the old masters who worked in both of the great zeniths in Japanese film history, it is important to know that the cinema of this country has a lot to do with the Westernization of Japan. Ozu himself belonged to artists and intellectuals who experienced influences from America or Europe as liberating and inspiring. His passion for American cinema is legendary. This monstrous mixture of a former military dictatorship and the raising of a new westernized capitalism is the society´s self created monster. Even though Ozu´s civil courage during war and military government is as well legendary and even though I do not follow the interpretation of Chishu Ryu as Ozu´s Alter Ego, Chisu Ryu´s father is is one of his most unusual father figures. It is one of Ozu´s films which is as well a baseline study of Ozu´s generation. Ryu´s father is part of Ozu´s generation responsible (if not personally but as a generation) for both the war and the new economy and alienation following western patterns and that makes Tokyo Boshoku one of the most self reflecting films Ozu and probably the whole Japanese cinema ever created. A small hint suggest that the father´s marriage is destroyed by the consequences of the war. Beside so much other things, the film is also a process of coming to terms with one´s past.
I can´t say that I love Tokyo Boshoku as much as Tokyo monogatari, Banshun or especially Bakushu, but it is definitely one of his bravest film and probably one of the bravest Japanese film ever made. It might be often hard to bear in it´s drawing of desperate loneliness and alienation.
A small subtle moment reveals the dark and for Ozu unusual pessimistic mood. During an argument the father has with the youngest daughter, he says in anger:” You are not my daughter” In a film by Ozu this sentence from a parent is like a death threat or a verbal abortion.

If ever a film by Ozu scared me than this extremely sad and abysmal masterpiece called Tokyo Boshoku.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sun, 25.2, Cinemaxx 8, 11.30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rüdiger Tomczak

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Notes on Sekala Niskala (The Seen and the Unseen) by Kamila Andini, Indonesia: 2017,Berlin Filmfestival2018-I.-Generation

Usually there is no Berlin Film festival for me without attending some films from the children-, and youth section. Here film and festival still belong together and and in recent years some of the films selected for this section were still with me at the end of the year.
Sekala Niskala, the second film by Indonesian filmmaker Mrs. Kamila Andini could be one of those films. It´s narrative style seems rather rising from a given situation than from a conventional story. Two twin children (the girl Tantri and the boy Tantra)somewhere in Indonesia: their amusement is to steal sacrificial offerings like eggs. For now it is a bit like in Hou Hsiao Hsien´s early films. This specific childlike living from day to day suddenly stops when the boy gets seriously ill. A new and rather dramatic situation develops where the episodic narration will be built on. But Andini avoids any dramatization and like the old Japanese masters the feelings the film will evoke by the sum of experiences and not through preformed dramatic effects. For a long time, the film is made of long static shots or shots where the camera movement is almost invisible. Sometimes the camera, especially in open air shots will move occasionally. The single episodes the film´s narration is based of are not just summing up to a story but offers options for a story. Beside a certain formal stringency, the film introduces another element, a playfulness. Dance performances by masked children with painted skin convert the prosaic aspect of the films for moments into dreamlike sequences. The film develops a dynamic between realism and dream between static and movement.

The hospital scenes follow the sober aspect of the first scenes. The whole family camps in the reception room to be with the sick boy. A small dialog between the parents suggest that the boy´s illness is very serious and they have to expect the worst.
There is for example one shot typical for the more prosaic aspect of the film but which gives through this very shot a subtle hint to feelings: The girl is in the left part of this frame, just on the edge of the frame while the sick boy on the opposite site, almost hidden by the curtains of his sickbed. The space between them accented through the mighty CinemaScope format.
The more the film develops, the more the foreshadow of inevitability dominates the mood of this film, the more the girl´s dance performances with masks based on animals appear. The initial situation of the film changes with rather surreal moments.
Sekala Niskala is a wise film about aspects of life we can understand and aspects we are defenseless exposed to.
The narration seems to move by itself without being forced.

There are some very impressive night scenes, a greyish darkness in which the world as displayed in this film is always threatened to disappear in this formless dark grey. It is a strong visual impression for a film which also deals with grieve, loss and fear from the perspective of a child. Sometimes we hear the mother singing. Her songs have something of a elegy to an inevitable loss. It is like a sad rebellion against death, literally against the fading of the light.

The paradox of cinema that even the the cultures most alien to me can become very close for a moment. As much as I am aware of the strangeness of this images from a culture far away from me, as much cinema always breaks always universal paths for me.
I have no idea when or if I will see this film again in my country, if it enters distribution or not. That is a reason more that to see films like Sekala Niskala seem rather as a fleeting privilege. About one thing I am very sure. Kamila Andini things and feels cinema, she experiments with the core of cinema itself. And even more important, a film like Sekala Niskala from a country which hardly appears at big festivals makes me believe in a future of cinema.

At the end I remember a beautiful short moment, a shadow play performed in one of these dreamlike sequences by the sick boy. A fleeting moment but a quite exact analogy to the scope of this film, which reminds me in one moment in Hou Hsiao Hsien and in the next in the amazing silhouette films by legendary German filmmaker Lotte Reiniger.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sun, 18.2, 10.00 Zoo-Palast
Mon, 19.2, 15.30, Filmtheater am Friederichshain
Tue, 20.2, 12.30, Zoo-Palast
Fri, 23.2 10.00, Haus der Kulturen der Welt