Our Private Garden: Damien Manivel’s ‘Le Parc’

Tobias Burms

Damien Manivel's 'Le Parc' (2016)

Damien Manivel’s ‘Le Parc’ (2016)

A boy and a girl who hardly know each other go on their first date in a park and at first glance their encounter seems so pedestrian that it borders on banality: French teenagers chat about Freud, then fall in love. What else is new? Yet director Damien Manivel stripes their meeting of its particularities and focuses on the core instead, as if he were creating the theoretical abstraction of a summertime fling. Manivel (with experience in performing arts such as acrobacy and dancing) films his two characters as if they were standing on the edge of a theater stage: they both enter the frame in an almost mechanical fashion, utter phrases that sound rehearsed and perform gestures with pragmatic perfectionism. They know their every movement is being scrutinized – not just by an audience – but by each other as well. A mask of indifference is needed to overcome the initial awkwardness (every suggested conversation topic is nipped in the bud with a casual “d’accord”).

Manivel dissects the different parts of the evolving romance and goes through the motions as if they were obligatory rituals:the exchange of pleasantries is gradually replaced by careful teasing and playfights, tenderness rises when personal issues are shared and eventually, the privacy of secluded bushes is sought out. This last part especially is filmed with solemn sensibility and holds great timelessness, as if the foliage of the earth could serve no greater goal than to hide frolicking couples throughout the ages. Manivel suggests indeed that the infatuation creates a temporary Garden of Eden for these adolescents where no external influences are allowed: the only sound is the wind rustling through the trees, the park seems deserted and the few other visitors exist only as automated entities (example: a lonely jogger suddenly stops in his tracks only to repeat the same trail all over again).

The ethereal world the characters inhabit in is linked to the fact that we’re witnessing puppy love blossom in the purest (and most superficial) form, at a point where it’s still possible to have an idealized, flawless image of one another. This image is evoked through various portrait shots of the teenagers (the film is shot in 4:3 aspect ratio) that have an disarming sweetness to them, like the wallet sized photos of high school crushes that  tend to turn up during spring cleanings. As being confronted with a piercing stare you had forgotten, the second half of the film feels like desperately clutching on to a faded memory. Because, although Le Parc appears to take place in real time, there’s also the suggestion of an immense time lapse in between: “That’s us when we’re old” the girl says to the boy when they pass an endearing elderly couple.

This abrupt change of tone occurs when the romance is cut short and the girl left alone in the park after sundown. Suddenly, the idealized image seems as transient as a summer breeze and the girl is seen gathering romantic souvenirs (a forgotten pack of cigarettes, a botched selfie and a handful of text messages), as if she’s grasping on to the only tangible proof she has to remember their encounter (not unlike Harriet Smith’s pathetic box of memories in Jane Austin’s Emma)

Not only the memory becomes distorted, but the setting as well: the park turns into an eerie, abandoned place and what felt like serenity at first, is now just unbearable solitude. During these sequences, Manivel uses clairobscur compositions and contrasts the darkness of the park with radiant light sources (such as a flashlight, the moon, a bicycle light and a cell phone screen) reflected onto his protagonist, as if she were a tragic ghost roaming a purgatory of lovesickness. “I want to go back! I want to go back!” she yells during a wholly unreal moment where a sinister ferryman (previously presented as the park’s night watchman) is gently floating her down the river, which raises the question: at what point does wallowing in melancholy invoke a definitive loss of reality?

Abbas Kiarostami (1940 – 2016)

“I believe there’s only good cinema and bad cinema. Good cinema is what we can believe and bad cinema is what we can’t believe.”

Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami ranks among the most celebrated of film-makers in the last three decades. His passing on July 4, 2016, is as sad as it is surprising.

There have been a number of prominent film-makers who have passed away recently, Manoel de Oliveira, Jacques Rivette, Chantal Akerman, Peter Hutton, Michael Cimino, Alain Resnais, Chris Marker among others. Among those Kiarostami’s death is the most resonant and impactful because his predecessors in a large sense were survivors of an earlier era in the 21st Century rather than actual 21st Century film-makers. Kiarostami on the other hand, having admittedly made his first short films in the 70s remained resolutely contemporary and modern, as much a part of the world of today and considerably more avant-garde than most ambitious tyros.

The films are objects of beauty and strangeness unlike anything in film history: Whether it’s the shorts he made for the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults in Tehran (the same organization that produced Amir Naderi’s The Runner), such titles as The Bread and Alley (his first film), Break Time, Two Solutions for One Problem. His first major films, Where is the Friend’s House, Life and Nothing But, Through the Olive Trees and such classics of Iranian cinema as Close-Up, A Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us. There are also his documentaries (ABC Africa) and his more recent films, titles as unusual as Shirin, a movie that is mostly about close-ups of an audience of women who watch an off-screen film, and of course Certified Copy which is perhaps a more accessible film for newcomers than his other films. In addition to all this, Kiarostami was a prolific artist in many mediums, he started his career as a painter and commercial designer, and alongside his film-work he was a respected photographer and installation artist. He was also a poet and critic, and his own films repeatedly feature quotations of beautiful Farsi verse, from both the classic and modern eras.

His film Like Someone in Love, made in 2012, is now his last film. It is one of the best films made in the 21st Century, a mysterious story of deceptive surfaces, ambiguous encounters and urban loneliness. The film’s use of sound, its hypnotic rhythm, the typical Kiarostami use of a car as a room and stage for extended dialogue, and its lingering sense of mystery is unforgettable and rich. Especially when seen on the big screen. This is a movie engaged in a real sense with life in the 21st Century. It is not in any sense what an auteurist critic would call a “testament film”. This is a movie that breaks new ground that looked ahead to bolder and darker movies that we will never see. No more Kiarostami movies.

1) Article by Bahman Kiarostami, son of the director, on his final days:

2) Hamid Dabashi on Kiarostami, at Al Jazeera.

The moment we hear the news of the passing of a giant whom we knew at the time of his glorious achievements, time stands still, memories flood and overwhelm, words, pictures, feelings, phrases, glances, and snapshots of a lifetime come together like a collage, a kaleidoscope, in which you cannot tell if you are a spectator or the spectacle…

Last time I had this feeling was when Edward Said died. The full sense of incredulity is lessened with the dawning sense of unexpected loss and, moreover, the overwhelming recognition of the voluminous space occupied by another life adjacent to yours and yet so definitive of it.

3) An obituary at The Guardian.


“Kiarostami gave the Iranian cinema the international credibility that it has today,” [Mohsen Makhmalbaf] told the Guardian. “But his films were unfortunately not seen as much in Iran. He changed the world’s cinema; he freshened it and humanised it in contrast with Hollywood’s rough version.”

“He was a man of life, who enjoyed living and made films in praise of life – that’s why it’s so difficult to come to terms with his death,” he said.

4) Ignatiy Vishnevetsky writes at The AV Club.

The most important and internationally recognized artist to come out of Iran after the Islamic Revolution, Kiarostami had a tremendous impact on film, effortlessly bridging the philosophical and the mundane. In addition to directing features and countless shorts, he was also an accomplished photographer and poet, and dabbled in countless other art forms. A cosmopolitan figure never seen with his trademark dark glasses—which he wore because of an extreme sensitivity to light—Kiarostami often claimed to be neither especially political nor “politically religious,” though he openly criticized Iran’s leadership in interviews.

5) From the 2014 preface by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa  to the Iranian Edition of Abbas Kiarostami.

6) ‘Reflections on Like Someone in Love (2012)’ by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, with an excerpt from the author’s interview with Abbas Kiarostami


 MS: I heard that you wrote the story 20 years ago.

AK: No, I never said that. I only said the image of this girl among the suited businessmen, carrying Samsonite, had remained in my mind from many years ago. I wrote the script when I thought we were going to make it. I only shot one sequence to see how it looked. We were looking for a square, but there wasn’t any in Tokyo. I had imagined shooting the sequence with the girl and the grandmother in a single take, but it wasn’t possible because there’s no square of that kind in Tokyo or Japan.

MS: It seems that the film is also a statement about the current condition of our global culture.

AK: We show part of ourselves in our stories but it’s up to the audience to discover the hidden parts. You’re not satisfied to see the characters and the story as they are, so you look for other things about them.

MS: How much did your actors know about your script and how did you work with them? Was it different from your other films?

AK: My script was written and translated but I didn’t give it to my actors. I would give them the information on a daily basis. Mr. Okuno (who plays the old man) was a movie extra and he had come to play an extra, but I chose him for the lead. I knew if I had told him that he was the leading actor, he would run off. He said he never had any dialogue. I told him that I had two or three pages for him, and asked him if he could learn those lines by heart. Reluctantly he accepted, but until the last moment we weren’t sure. The scene in his bedroom was the last one to be shot because, only then and there did he realize that his role was the key one, the leading role. Before that, he would come every day to the set, out of Japanese courtesy and discipline, and wouldn’t complain. He’d say why for such a small role do I have to be in your film all the time?

7) At Projectorhead, we have long revered the director,

– An excerpt from An “Islamic” Reading of Close-Up authored by Kaz Rahman

Stylistically Close-Up is just that- the trial is essentially a close-up of Sabzian. Kiarostami explains the technical aspects of the zoom lens to Sabzian and then the audience sees his head and members of the family such as the eldest son and the mother in the background. It is gritty and direct and sets up a contrast with the third and final part of the film. Sabzian is free and Kiarostami arranges the real Makhmalbaf to meet him. Sabzian had earlier played the part of Makhmalbaf and convinced the family of his idea for a film – two men on a motorbike, one loses his wallet- the other lends him money and they become friends. This turns into a kind of ‘reality’ when Makhmalbaf picks Sabzian up on his motorcycle, they stop for flowers (Makhmalbaf’s money) and they ride back to the infamous house. Kiarostami shoots this all in long-shot and the visuals are bright and beautiful after the courtroom – the microphone on Makhmalbaf goes in and out, the film crew speaks out-loud of the technical problems and finally serene music (for the first time) can be heard in what is a visually stunning ending. All of these elements differ drastically from the classical narrative film where there is a mix of shots (long, medium and close), clear audio and usually music interspersed regularly throughout – and of course nary a trace of ‘the crew’.

–  And from, Mysterious Elegance of Kiarostami by Sudarshan Ramani

The conflict between the visible and the invisible is expressed in the remarkable opening of the film, where the action is presented to us as a conversation that we hear but don’t see, slowly piecing together the characters and the relationship between them. What we see seems familiar and common, a nightclub like any nightclub in a city with nightclubs. We follow two girls, Nagisa and Akiko (Rin Takanashi) discussing the latter’s issues with her boyfriend. The conversation is interrupted because Nagisa keeps moving to a table to the left of the frame leaving a seat empty. A gentleman comes forward a little later and appears to take a seat but backs away because the table ahead of him is occupied. The digressive quality of the opening, the distractions and interruptions communicates a great deal about urban life than most movies devoted in full to the subject. Akiko hopes to visit her grandmother but is tasked by Hiroshi, the patron of the bar to visit a “client” who he says is close to him. This someone, we find out later, is an old Professor of sociology, an odd fit compared to “regulars”. Akiko at first inquires if he’s a politician. Hiroshi doesn’t give a straight answer, although my guess would be that like the police inspector in the garage scene halfway into the film, Hiroshi is a former student of the professor, now taken up a calling far from his vocation. A sign of the times, our economic crisis and the impossible student loans? Kiarostami doesn’t answer, nor do I need him to.

8) A good time, perhaps, also to revisit Srikanth Srinivasan’s expansion and unravelling of a short that is Essential Kiarostami.

Titled Dinner for One, the short film shows us two eggs being fried on a pan placed over a hot stove. Meanwhile, on the soundtrack, a woman (voiced by none other than Isabelle Huppert) on the phone urges the person (invisible to us, presumably a man) to pick up the phone and talk to her. She seems to know that he is in the house and, yet, is not willing to pick up the phone. The man, on the other hand, continues to fry the two eggs (a couple?) without paying any heed to the call. Proving once more, as he has so consistently done in his marvelous career, that minimalism actually means maximum utilization of available resources, Kiarostami presents a film that can well be regarded as a crash course in minimalism by one of the greatest exponents of the school.

A Noise that Deafens: A Review of ‘Udta Punjab’

Gaurav Puri

A still from 'Udta Punjab'

A still from ‘Udta Punjab’

Udta Punjab doesn’t engage with drugs. Instead, it makes the drug addicts invisible in a hackneyed rendition of a traditional Bollywood potboiler – so much so that it manufactures a novel method for the industry to articulate its belief in the traditional moral system of good and evil under the glorified veil of realism (or real issues).

Tommy Singh is a UK returned hip-hop star, whose lyrics—his music, his lifestyle, his ‘gabru’ outfit—have produced mother-killing drug-addict monsters. A drug-addict star and his drug-addict fans. Even as the star’s narrative plays out, his addicted fans are nowhere to be seen.They will be employed by the film later– as they lie in dishevelled corners of decaying monuments, like rats in an abandoned house – as providers of redemption for our superstar. After a chance encounter in the prison with drug addicts who’ve turned criminals due to his music (for a film that rallied against censorship, it adopts a nice, moralistic view of the influence of art on society), Tommy realises that ‘drugs are bad, my lyrics are bad, they create drug addicts, my life is a waste and I am a fuddu (a loser)’.

Now, redeemed Tommy Singh is running awry looking for motivation. He cannot shed the memory of his meeting in jail away. As an exorcism, the film conveniently arranges his meeting with another besahara, bechari: a nameless Bihari migrant. She will represent the women in the film. She is also a hockey player who didn’t have the resources to play.Therefore, she is a complete victim. In a brief moment, meant perhaps to be an indication of her emancipation, the migrant shuts the mouth of the afraid Tommy Singh, half-lying on hay, with a kiss. “Bas! Ye chhod ke baki sab kiya unhone,” she tongues her torment – there was no love, no tenderness.

Rather than contemplating the apathy of her rape — a critical or at least, aware portrayal—and the violence of this act(already established as masculine mayhem), the film restages and appropriates it for its own purpose. She is quickly rendered the object of our sympathy: a nameless migrant in a world of wolves, a poor labourer with no greater ambition than visiting a tourist destination that’s now third, maybe a fourth-choice destination for the multiplex audience, a woman hockey player in a country that only watches cricket played by men. It is our obligation to root for her – we merely represent the opposite end of the power complex instituted around her.

However, the story continues, Tommy now has motivation to kill the drug lords and reclaim his lost art (the film doesn’t even declare a technical difference between the two): love, the good old drug of post-liberalisation, the Archies-child.

Parallel to this, there runs a story of institutions: police and healthcare. They fail miserably at their job, other thanour heroes—the good cop, Sartaj Singh and the enlightened nurturer, Preet—who manage to pull off a nifty detective mission by photographing the name of the phantom company set up to distribute raw opium; as also, of political pracharaks who distribute drugs during elections. Their solution: share the ‘file’ with the Election Commission, another institution.

The film’s declared ground-breaking portrayal—or ‘researched’ documentation is merely reestablishment of stereotypes—substance reduced to symbol, half-truths rendered as facts. Punjab is often talked about in the film: it is the object of various conversations that permeate through the film and is even depicted through an analogous invocation of Mexico. There are images that form the matrix of research: chemists sell over-the-counter drug cocktails, politicians front as anti-drug crusaders, migrants who work in the background in brick-kilns. But there are other images that are missing: the drug addicts and their families.

They are the invisible majority; penniless, scavenging in the streets of villages across the state, nowhere to be seen or heard. They, who are locked up on false charges, filling numbers for the police, are held under the baton. Whenever the film can spare any time from its stories of redemption, vengeance, escape, heroism or love, it devotes it to Balli, burdened with the task of standing proxy for an entire generation. He behaves like a professional (perhaps because he’s not), his eyes are the most naked.

Balli, much like the rest of the state, idolises Tommy Singh.When his elder brother, Sartaj, learns of his addiction due to an accidental overdose, he locks Balli in a room. He then proceeds to thrash him as the prisoner cries to be freed before promptly depositing the scene’s tragedy onto himself: ‘Main toh barah ghante bahaar rehta hu, aap log kyun nahin dekht eisse!? (‘I am out most of the time. Why don’t you supervise him in my absence?’) he snarls at his family members, all of who are non-characters. Later, he thrashes his younger brother as he cries to be freed. He is then transferred to a drug rehabilitation centre organised by Preet. There too, he is alone, desolate, misunderstood, a witness. Support is largely absent, and while his brother and Preet embark on another adventure, he watches silently from the window, bleeding himself. In this, the film sets up the violence which will follow later: the climax of the film turns Balli into a violent murderer, a cautionary tale, as he accidentally slashes Preet’s throat ( who dies – a martyr – while serving the cause).

The film quickly banishes Balli to the background: from here on, he will be used as a bargaining chip, a narrative contrivance, a plot MacGuffin, but he won’t make a proper appearance until the film’s ending, where he will cry over the black of the credit scroll. This is of course, a false ending – the film must end with a fantasy: the Bihari immigrant returns to take a dive to cleanse herself – and us – of the film’s dark past. Instead, savour the moment of her glory: captivated for most of the film, she is now free to swim anywhere – but where is Balli?

The film’s judgment is clear: drugs are proliferated by the rich and the powerful who bring in drugs from outside of India (the longest running brand of spirituality and getting high), who enforce these upon an unsuspecting common public to keep intact prevalent hierarchies, consolidate their own power and keep the majority silent. This allows them to continue the ‘green revolution’, to accumulate wealth which they employ to source finer material to consume at their own parties – while deigning to those vastly less affluent with cheaper, adulterated cocktails that render them largely dysfunctional. The film however does not address the genuine contention of just why the poor are so gullible, of why they are so susceptible to the lure of contraband that trickles down to them. Is it that – despite the film’s vehement opposition of substance abuse – drugs are the only form of escape from an environment of repression available to these young men and women? Is it perhaps that there is no other recourse? Is there a lack of avenues for them to articulate properly their youth? Why is it that they take to Tommy Singh’s music so naturally – while finding it difficult to confide in their own family members? What is the larger circumstance that feeds this attitude of addiction? We are told there is a swamp, those who benefit from it, but how did the swamp come to be and what sustains it – there is no inquiry, or curiosity in this direction? There is the depiction of a situation, but very little of the context.

Inside a recurring sequence, Balli and his friends skip tuition and go to the nearby khandhar (ruins) to get high. Even education – which is peddled as a commodity at the tuition centres across the country – has failed these children. This scene is important and unique, for it signifies the sheer isolation of growing up, of not being understood, of life at an age where an individual desires guardianship, but also independence. Instead of placing its sympathy with him and his friends (who exist, as all sidekicks in films do, as objects of comedy, dopey-heads meant to be mocked for one is superior to them) the film instead devotes itself to a grocery-list of the authoritative figures, the usual villains: politicians, the police and the big businessmen and their henchmen – institutions that nurture the swamp but never step into it.

It was the Mexican serial Ven Comigo (Come With Me), which became the blue-print for the first the serial of contemporary India: Hum Log. Not only was the latter show researched, but also assumed the responsibility of furthering a dialogue with its audience, the collective voice of ‘hum log’. Yet, a film announced as ‘brave’, or ‘honest’, or ‘well researched’ even before its release fails unfortunately to encourage any nuanced discourse. The film censors itself – noticeably amiss are the families of the drug addicts and beneath all of the performance of addiction, its real misery.

Not so long ago I saw Chauthi Koot(2015), a film set in Punjab in 1984. Its circumstance: the militant atmosphere that resulted from the Khalistani demand for secession. It depicts this through a wounded Punjab, its silent houses, its tamed residents, afraid mothers, dead sons and the helplessness of citizens caught between authorities, legitimate and illegitimate. The film deals with its subject through silence—relying on the power of cinema, of portrayal. But in Udta Punjab, which opens with a lengthy disclaimer as a statement of its purpose, there is a lot of noise, but very little meaning.

The Berlin Diaries III: Davies’ ‘A Quiet Passion’

Tobias Burms

Terence Davies' 'A Quiet Passion'

Terence Davies’ ‘A Quiet Passion’

The apparent ideological gap in Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion between Emily Dickinson and her strict protestant upbringing might have modern audiences lauding the misunderstood poet as an early equal rights activist, a well-needed echo of contemporary values in a period piece reflecting truly backward times:while her family of New England elitists took a conciliatory stance in the years leading to the Civil War hoping to maintain the Union (and the status-quo), Emily was an overt abolitionist who refused to undergo the humble pilgrimage imposed by the religious revival of The Great Awakening. Not only could her beliefs be inconsistent – sometimes denouncing her puritan heritage, and at others, embracing it (her brother Edward’s adultery is the threshold) – ideology as a whole is put into perspective in A Quiet Passion: Emily and her siblings upset their aunt Elizabeth – a grotesque gap-toothed matron – with ‘appallingly modern’ remarks about The French Revolution, a situation that soon escalates into genuine conflict, but then quickly turns into a homely ritual of taking loving jabs at one another and responding with rehearsed indignation, suggesting that these so-called deep rooted convictions are merely extensions of social roles.

Everyone seems to respect their place in the universe of A Quiet Passion, a microcosm consisting solely of the Dickinson family homestead in Amherst where Boston’s beau monde gathers for countless garden parties. Even the radiant chatterbox Vryling Buffam– Emily’s partner in crime –who waltzes around with the poise of a 50’s melodrama starlet and openly questions the social mores through witty banter and innuendos, is a too obvious figure of dissent to be convincingly provocative. Her acts of rebellion range from suggestively waving her fan to offending straight-faced Cavalry sergeants with her knowledge of Wuthering Heights and in spite of her many rants on gender inequality, she eventually settles down and succumbs to marriage herself. Emily, on the other hand, is a barrel of contractions and harder to categorize: a mousy woman, a bashful mimic whose sudden outbursts are unpredictable, making her the only out-of-synch element in a well-orchestrated social ballet. Vryling describes her: “You don’t demonstrate anything, you reveal.”

But what are the consequences of being inherently radical? For Emily, it is emotional quicksand, as she finds herself torn between the love for her family and her artistic aspirations, her deeply spiritual nature and her distrust for organized religion. A series of recurring close-ups of her family members placed against a dark, absent background – extracted as if from an ever-thickening family photo album – depict the process of their ageing: hairlines recede, faces wrinkle – but these illustrate not only Emily’s isolation from the world outside, but also her utter, single-minded devotion to those she calls her own. And while the film ends sadly – with Emily’s reclusiveness and misanthropy becoming increasingly pathological – a feeling of splendour prevails, to be found in small, meaningful gestures, such as Emily combing her bedridden mother’s hair, making A Quiet Passion an unapologetic salute to family cohesion.

The Berlin Diaries II: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ‘Creepy’

Tobias Burms

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 'Creepy'

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ‘Creepy’

There is something that feels wholly out of place in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kurîpî, a film whose bastardized American title (Creepy) and opening sequences evoke the aura of generic, Y2K-psycho flicks that once meant a steady income for Ashley Judd. In these, there are also feeble suggestions of a run-of-the-mill potboiler and a commendation for cultured audiences for having endured a ‘foreign’ film. The narrative that concernsarenegade cop undergoing devastating trauma (insert: ‘one year later’ flashcard) is handled with B-film purism; the setpieces too are all constructed to evoke genre (exhibits: a perfunctory nod to Psycho (1960), a pan through the window that leads us to – of all places – a static, staged interrogation room). And then, a reversal! Kurosawa arrives with a sledgehammer, smashing the inert harmony to pieces: the elegant flow of scenes is awkwardly interrupted by the image of a giant-dog being dragged on leash(much like the clumsy oversized suitcase in Kurosawa’sThe Seventh Code);the horror of a bloody corpse is tempered by the incessant, hysterical laughter of a child; the whirr of a cashew-blender causesan emotional climax to collapse into over-the-top melodrama.

Kurosawa mocks the various serial killer tropes to the extent of hyperbole:a typical shot of the reckless snoop-cop entering the lion’s den alone is repeated thrice for effect, clues are spoon-fed to the viewer (“that’s funny, my house looks exactly like the one from the crime scene”) and absurd accusations are littered through the number (a character is accused – from no logical inference – of selling guns to the Yakuza).

But how does Kurosawa locatesuchtransgression in the (as always, seemingly) perfect, suburban, domestic existence shared by forensic inspector-turned-criminology professor Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi)?The question lingers: could Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), their googly-eyed neighbor, actually be a creeper? He’s definitely a charmer (like Norman Bates was a charmer) and there is also, perhaps, a secret: the mere mention of ‘a depressed wife’ floods his introvert-daughter Nogami (Masahiro Higashide)’s eyes with definite terror. Still, Yasukoinsists on a sense of civility: she keeps showing up at Nishino’s eerie frontgate with artisanal chocolates and leftover stew.Despite her claims of a deficient social skill, Yasuko finds herself strangely attracted to the oddball nugget; his constant buffoonery, aggressive flirting cause visible turmoil in Yasuko’s serene universe,the sweatpants and worn-out moccasins an obvious departure from her husband’s spotless white shirts. A sly manipulator, Nishino deliberately transmits mixed messages to confuse the bored housewife – a classic push-pull seduction scheme that can be described as one part pickup artist, another part Charles Manson (and the two are not mutually exclusive). Takakura, on the other hand, performs his machismo: he resorts to Mike Hammer-style manhandling when trying to be persuasive and backs down on moments when a little roughness is in order, deeming him an unlikely candidate to solve a cold case– or rescue a damsel in distress. The death of the private-eye prototype seems an inevitable consequence, while Nishino shamelessly stuffs his face with hard-boiled eggs.

The Berlin Diaries I: Andre Téchiné’s ‘Being 17’

Tobias Burms

Andre Techine's 'Being 17', a spiritual descendant of his famous, 'Wild Reeds'

Andre Techine’s ‘Being 17’, a spiritual descendant of his famous, ‘Wild Reeds’

“Il est beau” is a French expression that’s tossed around easily, but has in fact more profound implications than you’d expect based on its English translation (“he’s cute”). Not only is the phrase lacking a commonly used feminine equivalent (I’ll spare you the rich vocabulary French boys use to affectionately describe their love interests), but the word ‘beau’ transcends the notion of mere good looks and can be used to express a more general desirability. It is, however, not an extendible concept, in the sense that it’s linked to quite the rigid archetype (often lampooned in Rohmer films): the tall, dark and handsome-type who’s only sensitive in an unspoken way, knows how to change a tire and never resorts to pseudo-intellectual verbal peacocking in order to assert his dominance, relying on animal-like body language instead.

“Il est beau” is uttered somewhere in the beginning of André Téchiné’s teenage angst fable Quand on a 17 ans (Being 17) by middle aged doctor Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain) after she meets the adopted son of one of her patients, Thomas (Corentin Fila), the dark-skinned, rugged, amiable farmboy who experiments with bovine painkillers as a cheap Paracetamol alternative on his sick mother while attempting a transfer to the Advanced BAC S program. Every day, this working class hero leaves his snug wooden cabin to embark on a two-hour commune across the snowy Pyrenees in order to reach school.  Once there, his  engineered indifference is mistaken for teenage rebellion by the incompetent administration. When Thomas faces suspension for slacking off, Marianne’s typicallyFrench instinct of handling small interpersonal conflicts like a heated political debate comes into play (and we’re reminded of the abysmal Entre les Murs (2008)) as she decides to take him into her own house – saving him the trouble of a daily two hour hike – where she will tutor the boy and occasionally feel up his dreamy, farm-sculpted pecs.

While the film may portray Marianne simply as a naïve do-gooder, Quand on a 17 ans also partly works as a modern day Teorema; a tale of middle class ennui that’s stirred up by an ‘exotic’ looking outsider who is filmed as a sex object from first frame in. Thomas makes a fine addition to Marianne’s family, which consists of her husband – a pilot stationed somewhere in the Middle-East – and her son Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein), who feels an unexplained animosity towards his playground chum. If Thomas is the embodiment of ‘beau’, the a contrario definition ‘moche’ (which has equally serious implications, meaning not only ‘ugly’, but ‘bad’, ‘worthless’ and ‘failed to reach the higher echelons of social hierarchy’) fits Damien quite nicely: a sloucher, rodent-faced momma’s boy who enjoys going mano a mano with his crewcut ex-military neighbour. His excuse is that he wants to cultivate self-defense, which may infact be an indication he’s in emotional distress (he’s probably struggling with his sexuality, co-writer Céline Sciamma adds). The arrival of Thomas creates a testosterone induced Arms Race between the boys, but Thomas quickly gains the upper hand in the household, facilitated by hubby’s absence (he’s mostly seen as a static entity on Skype conversations, reduced to a digital family photo) and Damien’s overall inferiority. The three of them form a Rebel Without a Cause-style improvised family, Thomas the Dad, Marianne the Mom and Damien the Child (who’ll gladly wear an apron to whoop up some gratin dauphinoise for his new parents).

The constant jousting between the young lads reveals an unmistakeable sexual tension (because physical combat is the only socially accepted initiation ritual for gay love, co-writer Céline Sciamma adds) and the film deals with all the typical insecurities of the age where the hormonal bouillabaisse reaches its boiling point. But while the Rimbaud poem to which the title refers cleverly mocks the way trivial adolescent flings are often romanticized in hindsight, Quand on a 17 ans wallows in sentimental reminiscence. Thomas is portrayed as a guardian angel (not unlike the Nathan character is Téchiné’s equally schmaltzy La Fille du RER), the Pyrenees serving as his Mount Olivet and the idyllic countryside backdrop of majestic mountains and endless lakes adds unnecessary grandeur to this puppy love story, making the film something of an LGBT-arthouse remake of My Girl. Apart from the delightfully offbeat moment where Damien comes out of the closet by making Thomas drive him to some random Grindr hook-up, the film fails to acknowledge the chaotic, elusive nature of teenage lust and delivers a nice story with some solid performances instead, making Quand on a 17ans a shoe-in for the next year’s César awards, quality label for ‘un beau film’.


The Pitfalls of Artistic Remembrance

Sudarshan Ramani

David Bowie as Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ, which features Lazarus in a key scene)

David Bowie as Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ, which features Lazarus in a key scene)


Over the last few months, Projectorhead has struggled to keep up with the dead. The only obituaries we contributed was to commemorate Chantal Akerman (October 5, 2015) and Manoel de Oliveira (April 2, 2015). But 2015 has proven to be a year of a great thinning out: Setsuko Hara (September 2015), Maureen O’Hara (October 2015), Vilmos Zsigmond (January 1, 2016), David Bowie (January 10, 2016), Ettore Scola (January 19, 2016) and Jacques Rivette (January 29, 2016).

For some reasons, I could not individually write the obituaries of each individual, partly for practical reasons (lack of familiarity with their work), partly for personal reasons (a particularly embarrassing connection with one of the figures), and partly because I was tired, tired of having to miss out on the golden age when these artists were alive, at their best and am now left to vicariously mourn them out of hastily formed snippets.

As audiences of film-makers and artists, we form relationships with the works of certain film-makers, and we remember them with a series of memory associations.

1. The first film I watched of Jacques Rivette (Celine and Julie Go Boating),

2. Your favorite performance by Setsuko Hara (Takako in Tokyo Twilight, also my favorite Ozu),

3. Did you know David Bowie from his music or from his work as an actor? (I first knew him from Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and The Hunger),

4. Most underrated performance by Maureen O’Hara (John Ford’s The Long Gray Line and Renoir’s This Land is Mine),

5.Have you seen many Ettore Scola movies (only one, A Special Day with Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, but I mean to see more, after all I only saw one Altman film at the time of his death).

Autograph of Mr. Zsigmond taken on a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy notebook

Autograph of Mr. Zsigmond taken on a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy notebook

6. Have you ever met any of these dead people or are you just vicariously mourning them through their work? I did meet Vilmos Zsigmond when he came to the Kodak Expo in Mumbai in 2011 and gave a lecture. I was in audience with my friend Abdul. After the conference, we approached him for his autograph. I embarrassed myself by praising his work on New York New York which he good-naturedly reminded me was shot by László Kovács, even as all the folks around me laughed out loud.

Several years ago, when Eric Rohmer perished (January 11, 2010), I made a remark commending a writer for having published his obituary for his newspaper in such a prompt fashion. I was impressed that the writer was able to commemorate the artist and articulate his entire career and encapsulate it in such a brief period of time. It was then that I became aware of how obituaries, at least obituaries for prominent public figures, are written. It’s common for newspaper writers to pre-write obituaries for famous figures, leaving aside a date and some paragraphs to fill in as and when things advance. This was shocking to me, even if I found out that this was a commonly known practice. At the time I was skeptical of this practice, today I’ve come around.

My ideal at the time was based on a mistaken assumption about François Truffaut’s film The Green Room. Truffaut himself plays the lead role of Julien Davenne, a writer of obituaries, a widower and a man alone who finally builds a temple of memory filled with photographs of his fallen friends. This is a dark, morbid and painful story of a man destroying himself by obsession with the dead. The air of morbidity that hangs around the film is further heightened by its accidental connections. At the end of the film, Truffaut’s character, Julien Davenne passes away in Nathalie Baye’s arms and she lights a candle at the cathedral of memory which he builds. This was made in 1978 and six years later, Truffaut would die of brain tumor, despite being the youngest born of the French New Wave. He would be followed by Jacques Demy who died of AIDS in 1990. This disease also claimed the life of Néstor Almendros, the cinematographer of many of Truffaut’s films (including The Green Room), who died in 1992.

Truffaut as Julienne Davenne

Truffaut as Julienne Davenne

Auteurism, originally used as a critical tool by Truffaut and his friends, has in the course of the last few decades become a self-correcting dogma. This dogma was that there are no accidents, that the artist’s work intuitively connects and bridges his life and his work. It doesn’t matter that Truffaut was healthy when he made The Green Room, it doesn’t matter that he made two other major films after that (The Last Metro, The Woman Next Door). It doesn’t matter that, rationally considered, the connections between the film and Truffaut’s final fate (and that of Almendros) is purely coincidental and something that only the reader can form, in retrospect.

One can still make case that via, The Green Room, Truffaut made a film about the obsessive nature of remembrance, a shrine of pictures and images with which one can build an altar of the dead (to quote the title of the original Henry James short story). You can do some research and find something to support your argument, by citing Truffaut’s biography (by Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana) that the director was much distressed by the passing of Jean Renoir and the ill-health of Alfred Hitchcock in the 70s. Among Davenne’s altar are images of Jean Cocteau and André Bazin. The morbidity that hangs over The Green Room bears witness to Truffaut’s quote, taken out context, about film lovers being sick people.

But this still of course has little to do with the film itself and more to do with what I project on to it, more to do with my, desire, to identify with Truffaut and his film, and let’s be honest, his life which with the hindsight of death becomes a canvas to project oneself on. One can’t truly live Truffaut’s life but by watching his movies, we can somehow project ourselves into the “state of mind” in which Truffaut made the film and somehow revive him, preserve him through his art and by the act of writing, wear his skin like a new coat: an anthropomorphized version of Bazin’s “Mummy complex” his description of “pseudo-realism”.

David Bowie, who released his final album, Black Star, two days before his death and recorded it under the knowledge of his demise, was typically self-reflexive about the audience’s desire to grasp and hold on to the artist’s career in the wake of his death. The desire to seize memory and give it shape. As his song “Lazarus” goes: “Look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen/I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen/ Everybody knows me now.”

17 is Baudelaire, 18 is Bunuel, 23 is Keaton, 26 is William Blake, 27 is Rimbaud, 36 is Isaac Newton and those are only the ones I can name

The ones I know: 17: Baudelaire, 18: Bunuel, 23: Keaton, 26: William Blake, 27: Rimbaud, 36: Isaac Newton 

Jim Jarmusch’s magnificent Only Lovers Left Alive also seizes from Truffaut, the idea of a memory wall of images constructed as an altar to the past. Jarmusch’s film is more successful than Truffaut because his characters are honest. They are vampires, blood suckers drawing from life and art to prolong and enrich their immortal existence as Adam and Eve. They have met the likes of Mark Twain, Buster Keaton, Nicholas Ray, Charles Darwin and Christopher Marlowe.

Fundamentally auteurism is about the ability of viewers to form connections between the artist’s work and life, to create a romantic biography based on their memories and relationships with the director’s works. It ends up becoming a series of lists with which film you saw first, which film you like best, the underrated, the overrated, the film-you-changed-your-mind-about, the film-you-now-consider-dated.

But ultimately, each film is an act of living, an act of giving. Art is about life, it’s not about making an altar to the dead, it’s about taking spirit from their work and finding a way to make it useful to your life. As Truffaut himself finally said of the film (with which he was not satisfied entirely, and indeed seems far less personal and confessional than the surface conditions would lead you to assume): “The Green Room is not a fable, not a psychological picture. The moral is: One must deal with the living! This man has neglected life. Here we have a breakdown of the idea of survival.”

Each film made by the French New Wave, both the films made in the 60s, the early 80s, the films made in the 21st Century are works engaged with reality, with the world around them. The likes of Marker, Varda, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette, Resnais and Godard continued to make great films well into the 21st Century. They remained as experimental and intense in their final years as they did in their youth. Rohmer’s final films (L’Anglaise et le duc, Triple Agent, Les Amours d’Astrée et de la Céladon) were among his most political films, among the richest and most ambiguous films made in the 21st Century. Claude Chabrol’s prophetic films (Merci pour le Chocolat, The Comedy of Power, A Girl Cut in Two) are among the most viciously satirical portrays of contemporary Europe. Agnès Varda made Vagabond, Kung Fu Master, The Gleaners and I and The Beach of Agnès. Resnais made daring and often hilarious series of musicals and filmed theatre (Coeurs, Vous n’avez rien encore vu, Life of Riley). Godard in the 21st Century with such films as Notre musique, Filme Socialisme and Adieu au langage remains the most radical of all film-makers, and especially in the wake of the last film, is now the greatest living artist, of any medium, in the world, the only one in contemporary life who can be placed alongside Picasso, Schoenberg, Joyce and Proust.

Jacques Rivette was for many years the most obscure of the French New Wave even if, as Truffaut noted, he was, “The most fanatic of our band of fanatics.” Rivette was the most determined, idealistic and uncompromising of the French New Wave, likened by Claire Denis in her documentary on Rivette to that of the French Revolutionary Louis Antoine de Saint-Just.

Rivette’s Cameo in Haut/Bas/Fragile

Rivette’s Cameo in Haut/Bas/Fragile

What I remember most from Rivette’s films are love and fear. Love, the joy of friendship, as in Celine and Julie Go Boating where Juliette Berto (La chinoise, Weekend) and Dominique Labourier (Le petit théâtre de Jean Renoir). Fear, the silences, the paranoia, and the dread of Paris nous appartient, the sense of gaping void behind the surfaces of society. There is no movie that better captures the meaning of conspiracy theory better than Rivette’s film, the paranoia, the endless waiting that something exists behind the surface and yet in the end we find nothing, we see nothing and we become nothing, as indeed happens in the case of the disappearance of Giani Esposito’s theatre director Gerard Lenz. This film was shot over three years, with funding come as and when it materialized, some of the night scenes were shot using streetlamp as available light, or so I read somewhere and can’t verify at present. The images of the characters walking across the street, under the lamps prefigure Antonioni’s L’Avventura. Yes in cinephilic terms I can see the references to Tourneur’s Cat People and Val Lewton-Mark Robson’s The Seventh Victim, I love occult paranoia a great deal myself, but the alienation in Paris nous appartient is different.

I’ve noticed from the few Rivette films I’ve seen (I haven’t seen Out 1 and L’amour fou on account of their sheer unavailability), that Rivette likes friends but hates groups. He likes it when fewer people interact with each other on first name basis but large groups tend to bring paranoia, fear, distrust. This is present in Paris nous appartient and it contrasts heavily with Celine and Julie Go Boating and also Haut/Bas/Fragile where we have fewer characters, some of the same occult weirdness but it’s joyful, it’s playful, it’s magical, there’s a mix of tones her.

The movie of his which I love the most was his second to last film, Ne touchez pas la hache, an obsessive and destructive passion nurtured and burned in the bosom of Balzac’s society. The period detail, the fevered performances (Guillaume Depardieu, who would die in 2009) and the sense of desolation in the film is incredible. This film was one of Rivette’s rare commercial successes (as was La Belle noiseuse, another Balzac adaptation) and it’s filled with life, with daring and excitement. This was also the last film he made before he was stricken with Alzheimer’s. His final film, Around a Small Mountain (36 vues du pic Saint-Loup) was reduced to becoming his shortest feature at 84 mins because he struggled to remember scenes and images he had shot. One can argue, given what we know of Alzheimer’s that, Ne touchez pas la hache was his true final film but that is falling into auteurist fallacy again.

Rivette, in his later years came against the theory, describing it as a myth, “There is no auteur in films … a film is something which preexists in its own right. It is only interesting if you have this feeling that the film preexists and that you are trying to reach it, to discover it, taking precautions to avoid spoiling it or deforming it.” Rivette worked heavily in improvisations in his later films and he regarded his actors as collaborators. His first two features (Paris nous appartient and La religieuse) were heavily scripted but in the obscure L’amour fou (which with the DVD release of Out 1 has finally become Rivette’s most obscure feature) he changed styles and shifted to improvisations. Narrative would periodically appear, but mostly in poetic terms of the occult, the Sun and Moon Goddess in the baffling Duelle and Noroît. The former film, shot in Paris, somehow transforms it into a fantasy world, an alternate universe of film noir dread and waste. Noroît is a more enjoyable film, The Revenger’s Tragedy mixed with Jacques Tourneur’s Anne of the Indies, but it’s still weird and alienating.

Obviously there’s more to that. Just like there’s more to the French New Wave then a bunch of obituary dates and first and last films. Rivette would have undoubtedly made more films had his memory not failed him, his final feature would have been longer and since it was released in 2009, his final 7 years would perhaps have featured another Rivette film or two, in the tradition of Resnais, Chabrol and Rohmer who made films till the very end. The films of Rivette are a labyrinth in which we can lose ourselves, a labyrinth people by some of the greatest actors and performers in film history. To lose oneself in the abyss of Rivette’s films, the depths of loneliness, solitude and fear, is to find a companion to confront our own lives and enrich it.

Art is in many cases a realm of dead masters who we are always behind on. This is far truer of us today in the 21st Century than it was for earlier generations. We have far more books to read, far more music and far more movies to catch up to and be accustomed to then the artists of an earlier pre-Internet generation, who were more or less cordoned to the distribution channels that existed in their neighborhood, depending on publishers to send books and vinyls to local stores, songs and movies featured on radio and TV. Today, the world is an oyster and the rate of information absorption is at times overwhelming and bewildering.

The challenges of memory, to preserve and share the achievements of masters like Rivette and the other great artists who died in this past year is to remind oneself of the speed of life, to paraphrase David Bowie’s title for an instrumental song in his album Low. Life is constantly at move, its richness and mysteries are intoxicatingly greater than our ability to comprehend it.

Rather than seeing the death of the likes of Rivette, Akerman, Oliveira, Scola, Setsuko Hara and Maureen O’Hara as an end to contemplate with the loftiness of Olympian despair, we should be grateful that it falls on our generation to give meaning and continuity to their achievement.

This is a daunting responsibility and a remarkable privilege.


PH at Ghent: From a Porous City

Anuj Malhotra

The following series was consolidated on the sidelines of the Young Critics’ Workshop organised at Ghent Film Festival by the excellent publication about cinephilia, Photogenie.

Jeanne Dielman

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles


In Ghent, paintings of the 21st century: two persons, standing outside a swinging glass door, smoking; men on a third-floor balcony, Go-Pro trained on the street; yellow, tungsten nightlight in a fourth floor window; computer programmig students seated in neat diagonals in a classroom wrapped with one-way glass that converts them into a display: they can be seen, they cannot see. Similar instances of indoor spaces mixing, seeping into the outdoors (and vice-versa) abound in the city. A waiter at a tavern may walk upto you as he begins to clear the terrace around closing time and say, ‘Will you take your drinks inside?’ Portability is expected of an individual, of the company he keeps, his ware, his beverage – all engineered to immediate, easy transportation.

Even if Ghent may seem like a culture of the exteriors: people cycle, skate, walk, scooter, rowse rabble, drink (and the narratives of the city are constructed around its terraces, squares, bylanes and streets) – in a city of glass window, canals and bridges, all boundaries are but arbitrary. When the city hosts a film festival, therefore – a largely interior event – there is a tendency that it may overflow the allotted venue and flood the city-streets – banners, kiosks, booklets, posters, t-shirts everywhere – but also, the free-agent staff of the festival, students who one may spot at the local hostel the morning, and outside a festival nighttime screening as ushers, as travelers who carry the festival with them wherever they go. Ultimately, in a city so porous, no matter where one is, one is at the site of the festival.

The Lobster

Yorgos Lonthimos’ third feature, Cannes-certified, zoological-gagreel The Lobster is – alongwith Harun Farocki’s mini-masterpiece, Nothing Ventured (1996) and David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014) – one of the most telling treatises about the gradual, inevitable reduction of contemporary life into a framework of simulations, performances, and institutionalized fraud. The adults in the film are placed inside a traditional power-structure called ‘The Hotel’ (nomenclature 101: typical, suitably devoid of specific characteristics, see: ‘The Syndicate’), which is an evil institution with a head-villainess, her stooges and rogue agents. The inmates have to, in order to resist certain devolution into an animal of their choosing, find a sexual, agreeing partner (‘a natural match’) within a stipulated time. The situation is desperate, true romance is a privilege – and this is where the film intersects with Farocki – this reduces human interaction into a series of cleverly engineered business transactions A significant revelation: a nosebleed that is the foundation of a seemingly perfect, aesthetically pleasing relationship between two young people is actually the result of self-inflicted nose-wounds, hard-bangs against walls, doors, table-tops, etc. Similar maneuvers afflict through the rest of the film, until there is the semblance of actual, emotional love – but gradually, the lovers begin to rehearse behavior, speech patterns, visual deceptions and finally,  in a bizarre, gratuitous gesture, makeup that allows them to sustain their relationship. Lonthimos adopts a system of extreme absurdity (to demonstrate a forged heartlessness, the lead protagonist kicks a little girl who wants to hug him in the shin) that is manifest also in his clean, geometric, diagonal compositions that truncate and guillotine human shapes in mysterious, obscure halves – a useful strategy for a film where actors speak in ironic, distant tones, and it’s almost impossible to comment on their true nature.


Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno is rendered in a curious duotone: it is emotional, unironic, brutal, entirely invested in its premise, but at the same time, exists as if in response to other contemporary films – as a result, it is also all a bit of a joke really. Roth extracts his hipster, student activist characters at the center of the film from the general, American indie landscape; its flood of teen-comedies, coming-of-age dramas, racism-treatises, self-discovery films and comic-book adaptations (see: The Diary of a Teenage Girl) and subjects them to a situation where they are herded inside a cage in an alien, exotic, poorer land and made anthropological witnesses to a life outside of their ego-bubble – this serves a dual purpose: a life-skills class but also, film criticism (topic of the day: American independent film). This allows the film to inherit its radical purpose from the wisemen of 70s Italian cannibal-film: Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato (who the film is dedicated to) but also less explicitly, its angry, hardtalking, tonal qualities from Koji Wakamatsu, John Boorman and Oliver Stone. Unlike them, however, Roth is self-aware, amused, comforted in contemporary cinema’s favourite safety-hatches: parody, homage, citation. His film, unlike theirs, is a bit half-assed in that while it is outrageous and its sadism casual – it is actually simulating these effects, as if from a distance, from under the regime of knowledge and of knowing. For instance, its inelegant, rudimentary shot-taking, exaggerated performances, drop-shadow credits exist not as a result of a natural impulse, but as smart-alec, giggling, tip-of-the-hats to earlier filmmakers. Influence, if any, is manifest in a film better if it appears intuitive, invisible ways – not as much if it results from facsimile reproduction.



Before anything else, her hand enters the frame. Manicured nails, covered in cherry-red nail shine, sturdy fingers, slightly stubby. A leather glove is placed on the shelf and becomes a device. In the first scene of the film, as she gets up to leave, she walks around the table, chest-up invisible and places her hand on the shoulder of the girl seated with her back to us (we do not know who she is yet, but we will find soon enough). Carol is after all the story of Carol’s hand: on the toy-store shelf, the forgotten glove, the hand on the shoulder, the first, sensuous, lustful touch. Haynes distills his film through minor, microscopic gestures that carve a distinction between the tenderness of the love story and the vulgarity that surrounds it. They touch, caress, kiss, gasp, graze; the others push, shove, barge in, slam doors and intrude violently. Most of it is in long-lensed close-ups that are actually Haynes’ gross, affected underlining of his own style (and this there is the difference between him and James Gray) but the one great moment of the film exists, quite ironically, in a wide-shot: having made her purchase at the toy-store, Carol begins to walk towards the exit, her salesgirl-lover looking after her and suddenly turns back to say: ‘I will see you around’ and Blanchette affects a gesture, a single, vertical eye-swipe that tears apart all pretense and fills the New York Christmas air with enough erotic charge to last a winter.

Kent Jones’ recent film about the legendary interview book, much revered reclamation project, Hitchcock/Truffaut is already unique in its conception: it is not a film based on abook, it is a film about a film book – as a result, some interesting choices: page-spreads become landscapes for the camera to swoop over, lines of text are highlighted as if in alternating simulations of iris-ins and close-ups, halftoned pictures from the book are scanned in high-resolution and subjected to different levels of magnifications – but the great achievement of it is that its initially stated premise is merely a ruse. Ultimately, it adopts the structure of any freewheeling cinephile discussion: the book, even Truffaut recede into the background and the subject of the book, the filmography of master Alfred Hitchcock is discussed at length (it starts as an aside but becomes the main subject – a testament to the sheer, irresistible seduction of Hitchcock’s control). The usual, tired faces: Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Olivier Assayas, Arnaud Desplechin (cinephile-director brigade) conduct a sports broadcast on Hitchcock and his films – they talk endlessly, very few smart observations are made but this allows Jones to instead construct a ‘best of Hitchcock’ showreel: a minor glance from Topaz, brunette being washed off in Marnie, the lodger walking on plexi-glass in The Lodger, the telephone operator’s voyeurism in Easy Virtue but also the iconic, ceremonial inclusions: the crop-duster scene, the shower-murder, the belltower. If anything, the film – much like the book – exists as a testament, and when it comes to Hitchcock, there are never enough.


The two best films at the festival were restorations; Chantal Akerman’s supermasterpiece Jeanne Dielman: 23 Quai Du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles and Hou-Hsiao-Hsien’s The Boys from Fengkeui – both instances of young prodigies announcing themselves to the world (Akerman with a foghorn). Both Akerman and Hou’s style intersect at various, visible levels but exists in the service of entirely different aims: in Jeanne Dielman, for instance, the incorruptible regime of static-camera images are employed  to create a tyranny of ritual and repetition that our character must rupture violently (through sudden, impulsive shifts in her daily routine: a trip to the market, a new dish, the refusal to make her hair, loveless cuddling of a baby – not merely murder). The Boys from Fengkeui will affect a cycle of similar, static, repeated images (an empty chair, the verandah of a neighbour, a doorway) to construct a system of echoes, resemblances, memories – a system of circulation that will let the past seep into the present, present into the past – precisely so that the young, dislocated protagonists can recreate the lives, routine, relationships of their village in the city too. The protagonist of Akerman’s film must combat familiarity, must escape the system imposed on her by her director’s unbroken, continuous stare, while the three boys, outsiders in the city, lost and miserable, yearn for familiar, recognizable patterns.

Chantal Akerman (1950 – 2015)

Chantal Akerman

If I have a reputation for being difficult, it’s because I love the everyday and want to present it. In general people go to the movies precisely to escape the everyday. – Chantal Akerman

At the age of 25, Orson Welles made Citizen Kane. At the age of 24, Chantal Akerman made Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. That wasn’t even her first feature. That was Je, tu, il, elle (1974) and she had made a few shorts before, including Hotel Monterey and La chambre. What makes these set of films astonishing and makes Akerman’s prodigy so much more impressive than that of Welles is that she seemed to have arrived fully formed.

These early films, especially Jeanne Dielman is remarkable for its conviction, its authority and its genius. There’s very little hint of the precociousness that is so visible in Kane or other early films such as Before the Revolution by Bertolucci (made when he was 21). Akerman’s film display great maturity, rich observation and incredible experience. The style of the film, the lengthy duration of its shots, its extended compositions and rhythms, the eschewal of straight narrative comes from a confidence and commitment that is far from the province of youth. It comes not just from knowing what it means to be an outsider; it comes from the ability to be objective and critical of the same experience as well, filtered by a command of framing and rhythm that escape many film-makers with a lifetime of experience.

Akerman is a Belgian daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her grandparents were murdered in Auschwitz and her mother was the only survivor and the young Chantal had to cope with her mother’s trauma in the camps alongside her adolescence. Akerman was an outsider at school (being both Jewish and homosexual) and at the age of 15, she saw Godard’s Pierrot le fou and turned to making films. After making Saute ma ville Akerman traveled to New York in 1971 and her films form the crucial synthesis between the American and European avant-garde. Her films are inspired by Godard and the New Wave and also by Brakhage and Michael Snow and they are generally remarkable in the sense that, for all its autobiographical nature, Akerman is considerably engaged with the world. She has made movies in Israel, in the American South and Russia after the fall of the USSR. For Almayer’s Folly, she went to Cambodia and shot on location in Phnom Penh. She’s made art installations, documentaries about Jewish jokes, about Pina Bausch and her final film No Home Movie (2015) is an interview with her mother.

A biographical sketch of Chantal Akerman’s life is not necessary to appreciate the force and beauty of such films as Jeanne Dielman, Les Rendezvous d’Anna, News from Home, Golden Eighties, La Captive, Almayer’s Folly. Yet at the same time it’s inescapable with this film-maker and not just because her films are heavily autobiographical. It comes because Akerman, like Godard, is a film-maker with a strong personality. Her films are personal, self-reflexive and come from a rich capacity for invention. Like Godard, there is an aspect to Akerman’s misé-en-scene that carries a sense of performance – her compositions, the distinct rhythm of the editing, the movements of the actors and actresses – that has a level of playfulness and wit despite the rigor and difficulty of the style of these films. Her own interviews in magazines, the self-portrait she made for Cinéastes de Notre Temps, her lead performance in Je, tu, il, elle, her narration in News from Home also bear the sense of an artist creating and imparting a sense of self on the reader and audience.

Her movies are similar to John Cassavetes in a crucial respect, regardless of the many other differences in style. They keep you on edge, they grab your attention and through the force of the images and the performances, they create the effect less of a viewing than an experience. Jeanne Dielman for instance is not a movie where “nothing” happens, nor is it, as often misunderstood a movie where “nothing” happens.The movie provides you over the course of three days a depiction of the way the tiny rituals and activities of everyday life provides a stage on which you can perform a certain role and function. Far from a kitchen sink depiction of “reality”, it is indeed a highly stylized and symbolic film, and a movie of considerable ambiguity and mystery.

This assertion manifests itself even in her more recent films – La Captive and Almayer’s Folly. Both are adaptations, Proust and Conrad respectively and both are remarkable in the way the film creates images sounds and performances dealing with obsession, love and identity. They are also some of the most visually beautiful movies ever made. Some unforgettable moments of Stanislas Merhar’s Simon chasing Sylvie Testud’s Ariane across Paris in La captive, the image of Nina (Aurora Marion) singing to the camera at the start of Almayer’s Folly, Almayer cutting a swathe through a forest before parting himself from his daughter. One thinks of a wealth of feeling and detail whose like will never come again.

Akerman made films for the big screen, they made everyday life a grand epic and they gave the outsider a freedom to assert his or herself without sentimentality or compromise. They are films of an artist who was relentless in pursuing the truth.

A Series of Links on Akerman:

1) Richard Brody in the New Yorker

In effect, Akerman transformed the visual styles and narrative forms, the dramatic syntax and artistic codes of the modern cinema, into a woman’s cinema. Subjecting the art to a kind of free aesthetic psychoanalysis, she worked in a vast array of genres and forms. She made her personal life—and her body—the subject of her 1976 film, “Je, Tu, Il, Elle” (I, You, He, She), in which she plays the lead role, as a lesbian who travels to visit her ex-lover (Claire Wauthion). That year, in New York, she filmed one of the most resonantly painterly and personal city pictures, “News from Home,” the soundtrack of which features letters written to her by her mother. Her 1982 film, “Toute Une Nuit” (One Whole Night), is one of the most delicately choreographed of all love films, a fusion of observational documentary and the bittersweet theatrical precision of Max Ophüls’s exquisitely scathing romances. Her choreographic inventiveness fused with Pina Bausch’s in the 1983 documentary “One Day Pina Asked …,” as well as in the 1986 musical “Golden Eighties,” set in a Brussels shopping mall where the antic and seductive comings and goings are marked by the legacy and memory of the Second World War.

2) Jean-Michael Frodon in Slate

(translated from French by Sudarshan Ramani)

Chantal Akerman is dead. She was 65 years. She committed suicide. But, death, in every sense, was there since the beginning, and it had even preceded her birth. Her first short film, Saute ma ville ended with the explosion of her Brussels kitchen – made in 1968, of course. And of course, from the moment she was born, in the year 1950, behind her laughter, her magnificent voice hoarse with cigarette smoke, behind the glow of her green eyes that no one will forget even if they met her once, the shadow of the Shoah was never absent.

It was never absent, not even in the frenzied musical comedy (Golden Eighties, 1986), or the adaptations of Proust (La Captive, 2000) or Conrad (Almayer’s Follly). It was there in her documentary on Pina Bausch (One day Pina asked me 1983), and of course in South (1999), where her pure rage against racism in America is transmuted into pure beauty.

The Shoah had crushed her family and extended indefinitely a veil of inhuman terror into the world, which she never forgot. No question of course of this trauma explaining her suicide, or finding within it the causes for her act. Rather, one must recall this in order to appreciate that her œuvre and her life demonstrates that for a long time, she had lived with death present by her side.

3) Kent Jones on the Lincoln Center website.

She had a horror of clichés and neat formulations, and it seems to me that she was always trying to wriggle out of the straitjacket of such size-ups and classifications as feminist, structuralist, leftist, or “essentially” Jewish, even when they were made in her favor … Chantal was direct, tough, and emotionally extravagant. She was small in stature but she commanded a room with her fatigued stance, her grand and sometimes wicked smile, her wild rough-grained voice, and her eyes. The eyes had it. I’ve rarely looked into a pair of eyes so bewitching.

As a filmmaker, she didn’t have a commercial bone in her body. She gave it a try with Golden Eighties and A Couch in New York and, to a certain extent, Tomorrow We Move, all of which are fascinating films, the latter in particular, a dizzying, angular, breathless movie with an undercurrent of anxious sadness. There are some funny, lyrical passages in A Couch in New York (and in the resolutely deadpan black and white short J’ai faim, j’ai froid), but she didn’t really have the temperament for comedy or high spirits. She made films of extraordinary tonal control—for instance, Toute une nuit, the ferocious La Captive and, of course, Jeanne Dielman—but I would hesitate to call any of them elegant. Elegance wasn’t her thing. She was involved, deeply so, with the sounding of mysteries and enigmas drifting or hovering just beyond the everyday world, the shattering strangeness of people living through a hot summer night or trying out for a movie musical or walking the halls of the Hotel Monterey. In a sense, all of her movies are ghost stories populated by future phantoms.

Chantal’s films do not comfort. They jolt and they re-orient, they put you and me face to face with accumulating time, in whose shadow we live whether we know it or not. That’s the source of their terror and their great beauty—one in the same.

4) Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at The A.V. Club

Often characterized as a minimalist, Akerman was fascinated with long takes, sparse spaces (hotel rooms being a favorite), and meaningful repetition. That, however, doesn’t really encompass the scope of the filmmaker’s work, which ranged from documentaries to fiction features with stars and from adaptations of Joseph Conrad (Almayer’s Folly) and Marcel Proust (The Captive) to a pastel-toned musical set in a shopping mall (Golden Eighties). Akerman first came to New York in 1970, and the city would provide inspiration for both some of her best work (1977’s News From Home), and her most commercial (1996’s A Couch In New York, starring William Hurt and Juliette Binoche). In addition to her filmmaking, Akerman also taught, including a lengthy stint at Harvard, where she was Andrew Bujalski’s thesis advisor. Most recently, Akerman took a position at the City College Of New York. 

Often haunting, sometimes haunted, Akerman’s best films derive their power from how they clue the viewer into what is being left unexpressed or unsaid; she could turn a long take of a person going about their kitchen into a portrait of the world they inhabited. Her latest, No Home Movie, recently had its American premiere at the New York Film Festival. Like News From Home, the film takes its inspiration from the filmmaker’s relationship to her late mother, who survived Auschwitz but was unable to talk about her experiences.

5) At Fandor

Janet Bergstrom
, Sight and Sound

Akerman the filmmaker came of age at the same time as the new age of feminism, and her films became key texts in the nascent field of feminist film theory. Feminism posed the apparently simple question of who speaks when a woman in film speaks (as character, as director…); Akerman insisted convincingly that her films’ modes of address rather than their stories alone are the locus of their feminist perspective. The many arguments about what form a ‘new women’s cinema’ should take revolved around a presumed dichotomy between so-called realist (meaning accessible) and avant-garde (meaning elitist) work; Akerman’s films rendered such distinctions irrelevant and illustrated the reductiveness of the categories.”

J. Hoberman
“Comparable in force and originality to Godard or Fassbinder, Chantal Akerman is arguably the most important European director of her generation.”

Jordan Cronk
“She’s one of the most political filmmakers I know, and yet not a single one of her films is about politics, or an overriding issue, or anything so blatantly topical. She approaches her subjects from a variety of (usually fixed) angles, often choosing to simply observe activities and the incidental development of the resultant dramas … Akerman’s style is modernist in its temporal conceptualisation yet somehow almost classical in its negotiation of physical and geographic space. A number of her films – including 1972’s Hôtel Monterey, 1977’s News from Home and D’Est – are about actual places, and as such stand as uniquely first-person meditations on public environments. But if the formalist frameworks and mundane nature of her chosen settings seem to suggest static cinematic experiences, Akerman’s best work manages to generate an internal dynamism wherein narrative and aesthetic economy work toward locating a nascent power in the actualities of our everyday surroundings.”

6) Her Brilliant Decade – Museum of Moving Image Interview

“The bond between mothers and daughters is present in many of your films.
AKERMAN: Oh yes, too much. I’ve tried to get rid of it. I’m a second-generation child. I was born in 1950; my mother got out of the camps in 1945. And, as soon as I was born, I was already an old baby, because my mother needed all of the room for her grief. She went to Auschwitz, her parents died, she survived. I felt that [grief] as a kid, so I couldn’t be angry. I had to protect her, I couldn’t exist in a way, only in relation with her. I will be 60 in a few months, and I’m finally saying I. A year and a half ago, I finally realized that I was angry, like a 15-year-old kid who has a revolution. Otherwise, I constantly adored my mother; it was a way to escape and hide my anger, not be able to exist. Because she was a woman, I couldn’t exist as a woman. She had grief, so I couldn’t have grief. She was hurt, so I couldn’t scream. As soon as I was born, I was already old, and I never changed, I’m still an old baby. You see what I mean? It’s a problem with second-generation children, after the camps. In psychoanalysis, [they] speak about the dead mother that you swallow inside you. It’s a bit complicated. It’s still problematic.

It is a very complex relationship.
AKERMAN: She was very beautiful when she was young. She still knows that, and projects that. She was trying to be elegant, because we were very poor when I was a child. And I totally internalized the fact that we were poor and that I should not ask anything of anybody, especially not of my parents. But my mother always wanted to be beautiful when going out with my father. When I was 2 or 3, she would ask me, “Chantal, should I wear this or that?” I had to say, “Have a nice night, have a nice evening,” like an old person already, giving, especially to my mother, all the space. Movies were pure sublimation. If I hadn’t done movies, I would have been dead. That’s why I was never there to be elegant, or wear nice clothes. My mother was the woman. I didn’t know if I was a man, a girl, a daughter, a baby, an animal….

7) Jonathan Rosenbaum in his piece Chantal Akerman: The Integrity of the Exile and the Everyday

“There are at least two potential obstacles to appreciating Akerman’s films that have a lot to do with the terminology routinely employed by film criticism. The first has to do with the role of a director and how it’s perceived. It’s widely believed, with some justice, that film criticism and appreciation in general made a significant step forward when the French term mise en scène started becoming more widespread during the 1960s … there is another French term, in some ways an even more important one, that hasn’t entered common usage, in part because the concept behind it is a little more difficult to grasp: découpage. In terms of its popular French usage, it has three separate but interlocking meanings: the final form of a script, the breakdown of a film into separate shots and sequences prior to filming, and the basic structure of a finished film … If the term mise en scène implies an industrial model of cinema, the term découpage implies an artistic or artisanal model … In this context it is misleading to talk merely about Akerman’s mise en scène in spite of her close attention to framing, because from that vantage point, many of her movies look rather anemic. It’s her découpage that matters — that is, not only what happens in her shots but what happens between them, among them, across them, and through them. (The same thing applies to practically all of the most important filmmakers in the history of movies: Robert Bresson, Carl Dreyer, Sergei Eisenstein, Alfred Hitchcock, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Jean Renoir, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Orson Welles may be known to us as master directors, but their art is ultimately the art of découpage rather than simply mise en scène.)”

8) At Projectorhead

Sudarshan Ramani on Almayer’s Folly

There’s no question that Almayer’s Folly bathes with a vitality and freedom rare in contemporary cinema. Chantal Akerman of course has made some of the best films of the world for more than thirty years, mixing fiction films with documentaries, video installations and experimental work. Almayer’s Folly is her first fictional film for more than six years and a stirring return to 35mm cinema… Akerman had previously stated that she preferred urban over pastoral settings owing to the great presence of lines in the former. You wouldn’t be able to tell in this film, delighting as it does in the tangled woods, the overwhelming cover of the trees and the canals that surround the settlement of Almayer’s trading post.

Devdutt Trivedi with his essay, The Other Akerman: The Essay Film in News From Home (1976) 

It is curious to analyze the function of the cut in the making of an essay film. The editing of an essay film is closer to Robert Bresson’s use of discrete chunks than it is to Sergei Eisenstein’s use of continuous building blocks (shots).In Akerman, each shot has two halves: a location-space half (which is becoming fictional) and a narrative-space half (which is becoming-real).The shots function like a machine, and create a multiplicity consisting of various senses of speed and various senses of slowness.

I have argued as to how Akerman takes the film outside of the domain of intentionality. Filmmakers would disagree. They would argue that every shot has some degree of construction if not a very precise degree of it. I would therefore argue that there is a double intentionality in Akerman and Ozu where one process constructs the image: its fictional and “real” setting and another half which folds the intentionality back onto itself so that the new may be accidentally produced.

A question arises. What is Akerman’s construction of duration or its becoming-temporality? I believe that it is to go deliberately slower than the real. It is only when you go deliberately slower than the real that you at once come in contact with duration. Karl Marx argues that the temporality of capital is slightly faster than the empirical temporality of the everyday. This is precisely the opposite: i.e. going slower to at once place ourselves in duration. The film moves deliberately slower and then slightly faster.

PH at Berwick: Dreaming of Electric Sheep

Gautam Valluri

Discount Rick Deckard

Discount Rick Deckard

Ion de Sosa’s Sueñan los Androides (2014) is a wonderfully weird film. The Berlin-based Spanish filmmaker’s adaptation of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a brave effort indeed. Set in the horribly touristic Spanish city of Benirdom, the film follows a mysterious Rick Deckard-esque man on a mission to hunt down and exterminate androids living amongst the population.

The exterminations themselves are ear-splitting loud and often come unexpectedly. The audience are startled and go through most of the film on the edge of their seats because in this film one never really knows when the next gun shot will ring out. Although the synopsis claims the film is set in the year 2052 AD, there is no mention of it anywhere in the film. The film is set inside tall buildings were mostly senior citizens dwell and because all the androids are young, one is deceptively led to believe that the youth of the place are being targetted.

Although not very apparent, the film does touch upon the current economic state of Spain in general. The androids, being mostly young workers are eliminated, perhaps implying the youth of Spain ‘disappearing’ from the country in search of greener pastures elsewhere in Europe. De Sosa himself is a young Spanish filmmaker living and working in Berlin, where he also finished this film. The film also alludes to the mostly retired British and Belgian population of Bernirdom. These senior citizens have left their cold countries for sun in the twilight of their life, yet rarely ever have to change how they used to live in their homelands. The economy of Benirdom however owes a lot to the inflow of these retirees and most of the young people in the city have jobs which revolve around their upkeep, much like the androids in the film.

De Sosa’s choice to film Sueñan in boxy, academy aspect ratio 16mm film adds to the timelessness of the film. He moves from robotically static shots of interiors of buildings under construction to night clubs where senior citizens dance to exotic music to Super8-ish footage of young people, perhaps already successfully exterminated. Oh and did I mention there is a sheep?

Earlier in the film, the unnamed hit man loses his beloved pet sheep to some unnamed illness and makes an attempt to purchase another to replace it. Ofcourse, the year is 2052 and pets are in short supply. Where dogs and cats cost anywhere between a million to a million and a half pesetas, the solitary sheep costs four and a half million. He cannot afford it.

If the film succeeds at anything, it is the way with which it owns its goofiness. It’s a challenging piece to watch, especially since it does not pretend to have anything profound to say.