Monday, April 23, 2007


Bela Tarr’s Damnation is a mundane exploration of life. The film’s long shots force the viewer to ponder each doleful portrait that Tarr paints. The main character, whose name is unknown to us, is very hard to approach. This confusion comes from his action and emotion. He is oppressed by a fate that he seems to loathe. This might possibly be an economical, social, or familial issue within the main character, an issue that we never really get to the bottom of. By the end of the film, in his distraught disposition, the main character is reduced to an animalistic behavior, barking at a pack of dogs and circling them on all fours.

Tarr pays meticulous heed to the shyest details. This visual and temporal depth that Tarr emphasizes comments directly on life. The film’s narrative layout is extremely unique. He supports his simple narrative with abstruse poetic dialogue. The dialogue is sparsely spread across film. The long shots do not manipulate us in the way a rapid succession of shots might. Here we are forced to observe the main character rather than replace (or become) him. This detachment makes this film all the more foreign to us. The film not only separates us via the dominance of long shots, but also from Tarr’s use of a dark and despotic setting, which is often flooded with rains that visually mute the physical details of characters and the setting. The setting is characterized as a sort Beckett-esque landscape that is desolate and deprived of life’s vivacity.

Throughout the film there is an eeriness that peruses each scene. This strange shadow of despair forces the viewer to confront the many metaphysical questions of life. Tarr never provides us with a resolute conclusion; he only steps into this brief moment, a slim fraction, of life. What do we experience from this? All of these questions in the film force us to make phenomenological juxtapositions and connections. Despite the fact that Tarr never directly imposes his own metaphysical opinion onto the viewer, he does compel us with the bleakness of reality in this fraction of time (and person’s life) that he has decided to portray.

Another important aspect of the film is in the sound. Sound is important because it is the emotional counterpart to the film's dialogue. The film, for the most part, is diegetically scored. For example, music comes from the woman's singing, or a man playing the accordion. This aural pan from non-diegetic sound to a realization that it is diegetic (i.e., seeing the musician) is important. It creates a metaphor for wisdom and experience (this layerage of knowing/expecting). Half way through the film we are conditioned to this diegetic extension (or diegetic surprise) and before we even see the musician we are already wondering where the artist might appear in the scene.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Wounds

The film The Wounds (1998) by director Srdjan Dragojevic’s is an extraordinary depiction of the internal struggles of crime and corruption in Serbia. The fantastical nature of The Wounds exploits the glorification of violence in the media and society in general. The two main characters of the film, Pinki and Kraut, go down the narrow path of crime. They are influenced by the work of Dickie, a gangster, who uses and abuses the boys in order to toughen them up. The film opens up with Pinki and Kraut driving in the midst of a parade. Most of the film toggles from the past and cuts to them in the parade. After we travel through their history we arrive back at the festival. This takes us to the film’s final location, the cemetery. Pinki and Kraut, like all of the other gangsters in the film, resolve their issues with absolute violence. They impose a very chaotic rationale onto the viewer’s perception. Their complete disregard for everything reaches violent extremes; we see them as vessels of power and destruction that, in the end, turn destruction in on themselves.

This destructive and distorted point of view is further emphasized by the camera work and editing of the film. The rapid succession of cuts, distortion of time, and constantly burgeoning intensity all support the film’s dramatic nature. The film’s explosive impulsivity rejoins the mindset of the two main characters. The synthesis between action and construction embody the intensity of the perceptive present. It tunes into the vivacity of survival when every moment seems to be endangered. Dragojevic emphasizes this despondent aspect of the film, which reflects that generation, one that is forced to become more animalistic, fighting and killing one another for power and survival. This discontent also comments on the ethnic tensions in Serbia.

Pinki and Kraut idealize the criminal lifestyle. This dangerous behavior and carelessness is what ultimately ends up killing them. What stands out most for me is the media’s interference in the criminal issues. This explores the appalling veneration toward violence and crime in America, whose media influences a large portion of the world (via the news media, and Hollywood films). What we witness is a reflection of how these fictional (Hollywood stylized) accounts of violence vie for a real account (in some foreign countries). When Kraut and Pinki go on the talk show they exploit the exploiters by creating a horrifically violent scene over public television. This blatant depiction of the horrors of crime counteracts the show’s adoration of crime. It also shows how the media will expose anything that sells, even if that means glorifying criminals, so long as it generates a large enough audience. These criminological ideals of power and destruction are a way to repress peoples of society. What it masks are the numerous political problems of the Serbian government, and it emphasizes the replication of a criminal mass (of those who are criminal and those who are dominated by criminals).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

Cristi Puiu’s most recent film, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), is a bleak and enduring look into the conditions of the Romanian health system. The film opens up to Mr. Lazarescu looking nauseous and weak. Lazarescu’s headache dominates the pain and suffering that he’s forced to bear throughout the film. The pain begins in his stomach and eventually consumes his mind. His aching stomach leads him to believe that it is an ulcer problem because he has a medical history, specifically a surgery, involving a stomach ulcer. His self-diagnosis however is constantly ignored because each person he encounters has his or her own “medical” opinion about his condition. Many people (nurses, doctors, family, neighbors) resolve that the issue is not his stomach ulcer but instead correlated to his drinking habits. Lazarescu’s visceral illness shows how the body affects the mind. For instance, as his condition worsens his “mind” output also deteriorates. We witness this deterioration as we impatiently wait with him and the nurse in these various hospitals. We are forced to contemplate not only his suffering but also our own temporal fate.

We learn that throughout the day Lazarescu uses both medication and alcohol in attempts to suppress his nauseating condition. The attempts however are ineffective, and by the end of the night Lazarescu is calling for an ambulance. The peculiar thing about this part of the film is that his desire to receive treatment isn’t at all urgent. He never directly asks for an ambulance to arrive right away; instead it is his neighbor who has to finally call, demanding an ambulance, and acknowledging the seriousness of Lazarescu’s illness. Lazarescu’s patience might be because he is accustomed to the third rate medical assistance provided to citizens in Romania. The film on a whole addresses these issues of debt, power, and bureaucratic dysfunction that exist in Romania.

The long takes and lengthy duration of the film exposes us to this sense of hopelessness that many Romanians are forced to live under day in a day out. The film’s intensity lies in our impatience toward the system of bureaucratic hierarchy and social destitution made apparent in the film. This reality Puiu emphasizes both cinematographically and narratively. The film directly comments on the stereotypical medical film or show. In these depictions the medical world is glamorized and the doctors and nurses are glorified for their devoted contributions. This however is not the reality, doctors and nurses are as much human as Lazarescu, and they also have everyday problems both at work and at home. The long takes (shots) of the film don’t just emphasize Lazarescu long lugubrious wait but also the long and exhausting hours that doctors and nurses invest in their jobs, which are often under-paying and or under-staffed, making shifts more strenuous and workers tenuous (again, an instance where physical deterioration influences the mind or psychology of a person). Another important cinematographic element of the film is Puiu’s use of hand-held camera movement. The rigid and jerky camera movement creates a sort of uneasiness within the viewer. This in effect creates a very visceral experience and influences the viewer to feel as discomposed as Lazarescu.

Lazarescu’s character is important because his character is average. The various faults and vices of Lazarescu at times hinder his treatment and service provided for him. Puiu uses this character to generate sympathy, not because Lazarescu is a “good guy”, but because Lazarescu is an ordinary elder. This demographic is a dominating part of the population that Puiu is trying to voice about. Moreover, he emphasizes the numerous troubles and tribulations of Lazarescu, which relates the audience to their problems as well. Lazarescu is a human being, and should not deserve to be tossed from one health institution to the next. However, the reality is that he is a living, breathing, dying individual who is being ignored and such is the case for so many others.

The Oak

In the film The Oak Romanian director Lucian Pintilie explores those last stages of the slowly waning and degenerating Romanian Communist system. This film is extremely unique because it is a fresh glance into Romanian arts and culture, which for the most part is relatively hard to find. In the world of visual and performing arts Pintilie is most known for his direction in theater. Made in 1993, The Oak takes place in the ‘80s, in the late years of communism. Romania was one of the last countries to dissolve the harsh Stalinist policies. The film provides an examination of the (Ceausescu’s) internally repressive and economically deteriorating regime. We trail the main character, Nela, on a sort of pilgrimage that she has following the death of her father.

The narrative of the film takes us from the death of Nela’s father to the end when she buries her father’s ashes next to an oak tree. From one angle of the film, Pintilie examines the territory between male and female. In this perspective we weave together and set apart the relationships between Nela and Mitica, Nela and her father, and the relationship between Nela’s parents. The relationship between Nela and Mitica begins in the hospital, when Nela finds out that Mitica arrived in her defense while she was being raped by a group of ruffians. Both characters seem to commonly contain the same aversion toward their political state of affairs. This behavior prompts them to vividly display their aggravation and discontent. For example, in the opening scene, Nela at the death of her father reacts in a moving outburst against her sister, against her father, and even against herself. Here she shouts furiously at her sister and sets a fire in front of the door of her father’s apartment. Pintilie shows how many Romanian are forced to displace their anger because the weight of oppression and financial deficit is so much to bear.

For Nela, discontent arrives when the government refuses to assist her father with the costs for his medication. This is Pintilie’s comment on Ceausescu’s inability to properly provide Romanian peoples with adequate health services and medicine. He comments further on the system when we learn about Mitica. Mitica is exact opposite of the procedures instituted by the strange bureaucracy of the regime. His compassion compels him to attend to the needs of those around him despite the lack of supplies available to him. Throughout the film he argues and criticizes the decisions of his higher-ups. This behavior gets him into some trouble; however, ironically the same hierarchy of bureaucrats who jail him end up releasing him as a returned favor for his services as a doctor.

Another aspect of the film is how Pintilie explores the emotional efficacy of family and, in Nela’s case, the importance of her relationship with her father. Throughout her pilgrimage, Nela carries along with her the ashes of her father, which happen to be stored in a Nescafe container. The Nescafe container is a clear representation of commodification and the capitalist system; it is an emblem of what her father initially fought to resist against, consequently in the name of a regime that does little for him. We learn about the powerful relationship Nela had with her father. We learn that when her parents divorced she went with her father, and her sister went with their mother. Her attachment explores the importance of communication and union involved in the human condition. The communist ideology is about community and connectivity, however despairingly this film shows how the social and political conditions are quite the opposite. This emphasizes the discreet severity of the violence that manifests in the system, a system that ignores ethics in the concern for maintaining power. This is explicitly depicted in the end when a busload of children are sacrificed (murdered) by their government, the very institution that is supposed to be in their defense, in order to minimize conflict issues with terrorist groups and the spread of revolutionary ideas. We see how the government’s duty does not lie in serving its people; instead the people are submissive to the government. The Oak ends in an odd manner when Nela and Mitica remark on their disinterest in the “normal,” saying they hope they have a child who is not normal. This is an idea that is embraced throughout the film. Take for instance Nela’s job with children who are not seen as normal but regarded as special. Pintilie sees the future in the hands of the youth. And if they are to adhere to the “normal” then they would accept all of the hegemony and deceit that goes along with the Ceausescu regime. But Pintilie, as abovementioned, resolves this by closing the film with the Nela and Mitica’s powerful revulsion for these “norms”.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


The 2005 film Lunacy is Jan Svankmajer’s surreal examination of ideological extremes. Prior to the film Svankmajer, himself, addresses the audience prefacing the story’s distinct exposition of what he sees as the three models of extremes. The first extreme is absolute freedom; the second extreme is of absolute authority; and the final model is a combination of two, a mélange of extremes, which he states is “the madhouse that we live in today.”

He portrays these extremes using none other than the infamous Marquis de Sade. The instability of the characters, such as Marquis, brings into question the veracity of perception. Svankmajer shows how the way in which we perceive is hinged off the system we adhere to, i.e. our ideological stance. As the film develops sanity becomes more and more detached, and the depersonalizing nature of the film becomes more knowable as it evolves. We see how complete anarchy and complete authority pan out in the ideological scheme of things.

Our understanding of Marquis’ purpose in relation to Berlot is rather trivial throughout the entire film. Marquis explains that because their childhood experiences are alike he feels inclined to communicate with Berlot. This attempt to associate with Berlot however actually involves him exposing Berlot to a bizarre, anarchistic lifestyle. We go through the entire film with Marquis and yet we never become attached to his character, instead we distance our emotions from him.

Marquis’ sadistic, hyperrational logic dominates the first two-thirds of the film. Here we see his mental instability conflicts with his idea of liberty. He feels that complete liberty is the only rational way to live. However, absolute liberty is a paradox because if complete liberty exists then people have liberty to hinder or harm the liberty of others thereby creating a situation where someone does not have complete liberty; this ultimately suggests survival of the fittest.

The concept of anarchy is further exhibited within the mental hospital. At first glance, when we enter the hospital, it seems like the hospital is run amok. However, soon thereafter, we learn that the hospital’s philosophy encourages complete anarchy; this is then debunked when we later learn the frenzy isn’t the hospital’s ideology but the rather the patients’. Marquis and the actual doctor both exploit the two extremes of absolute freedom, and absolute authority. Svankmajer displays for us the uncanny practice involved in the extremes of power (independent or authoritative power).

The Marquis psychologically manipulates the patients, using his hyperrational logic to brainwash the others into accepting complete anarchy. A good example of this is when Marquis does a tableau vivant of a Delacroix’s painting “Liberty leading the people”. At this time, he also has a monologue where he reiterates his perverse and twisted logic of absolute freedom. Marquis also, in his anarchistic rationale, tests people faith by denigrating the existence of God, using the problem of evil as partial basis for his argument.

Svankmajer’s concoction of stop-motion with live action uniquely displays the film’s surreal content. He orchestrates his stop-motion sequences using many fleshy and meaty materials. These emphasize how much the body influences the mind. The body here seems to be represented by these pieces of meat, along with a mix of other anatomical features. These animated materials seem to summarize in short sequences the acts that precede it. Svankmajer contextualizes human action in these interludes, metaphorically representing the physiological aspect of human nature, which involves physical desires. These physical desires however are often conflicted with and influenced by socio-political institution. Take, for instance, the system of complete control. Svankmajer displays this when the slabs of meat are attached to strings like marionettes, this displays the lack of freedom in a system of authority. Overall Svankmajer seems to use these short sequences to portray human actions from a detached point of view, looking at our behavior from a symbolic perspective where our actions become the actions of normal inanimate objects, pieces of meat (which at one time contributed to the animation of an animal, as muscle).

Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Short Film About Killing

A Short Film About Killing (1988) is Kieslowski’s feature film, which originally came out of his Decalogue series. The film focuses on particular moral dilemmas attached to both the law, and human nature. Human action and human responsibility are brought to forefront of the film. Kieslowski forces us to pass judgment over the issue. The film’s bleak content frames the film with a particular harshness that imposes the issue of capital punishment on the film. Throughout the film we are forced to apply our own ethics to the characters’ actions.

The film’s aesthetic content reveals a second level to the film. Aspects such as cinematography, color, lighting, editing etc support the film’s distinct mysteriousness. Take for instance the film’s tint, which saturates different forms of light with a greenish coloring. The tint doesn’t necessarily distort any of the features of the film, but rather it sets a particular tone. The film contains this very tainted green, almost polluted looking wash that furthers the film’s gloomy aura. The colors also work simultaneously with Kieslowski’s particular use of lighting. He focuses on shadows and shading in order to frame the film as though it is almost unreal, even nightmarish. Here Kieslowski limits our perception so that we can’t quite make out certain peripheral details. This speaks specifically to the film in that it focuses on individual perception as opposed to cultural (or collective) perception, on such topics as ethics. We are provided with certain details some of which people do not normally witness. Take for example, the five minute long act of killing itself. Other details of the film are muddled and or distorted in symbols.

Kieslowski uses symbols and motifs throughout the film. Take, for instance, the cat that is hanged in the beginning of the film. This opens up the film’s harsh and cold portrayal. The film ends with Jacek, the main character, hung. Should we imply that his hanging is in someway analogous to that of the cat? Why invite these connections? Kieslowski seems to be framing chance images that invite the viewer to create connections between symbols and motifs. Another instance of this indistinct symbolism is the devil-head that swings from the taxi’s rear-view mirror. Many of these symbols however are either lost in their cultural context, or ambiguously representative of multiple connections.

Kieslowski camera work is also very specific and effectively adds to the film’s intensity. Many of his shots are at skewed angles, or tangled behind objects. This gives us a very voyeuristic feel, as if we are peeking in on the characters in the film. Many of the tight and cluttered shots work together with the emptiness of the green filters and limited lighting to add to that mysterious emotion that Kieslowski imposes on the viewer. These tight shots also create a more intimate relationship between the viewer and the film. For instance, Kieslowski, in numerous shots, has Jacek’s face dominate the entire shot. This tight attention to Jacek’s emotion, or lack thereof, links us closer to the issue Kieslowski is trying to display. He seems to be trying to capture the essence of the unsympathetic reality of not only homicide but also of life and death in general. The taxi driver, although he was a rude person, did not in any way deserve to die. And even after Jacek is dead we do not really feel resolved, instead we feel very empty because we come out of the film realizing how bleak the world actually is.

Provincial Actors

Angieszka Holland’s 1979 film Provincial Actors intimately explores the numerous struggles between a cast of actors under the harsh censorship policies in Poland at the time. We see this repression throughout the film as the director unabashedly chops lines out of the play. The main character of the film, and lead role in the play, Chris, however frequently counters the director’s censorship. His role embodies that late 70s sentiment of laboring resistance against the political disparity. This is also what ultimately led to the Solidarity movement, which formed in 1980. The movement was hinged on national pride, non-violence, and advocating social change.

Chris uses his popularity and position in the play to question the director’s exhibition of power and censorship. He tries to convince the rest of the cast about the issue however they are unresponsive to it. Even his wife ignores his complaints. This is either because she knows that nothing will change because they are just provincial actors, or because she is oblivious to his concerns. I can’t imagine that his wife is completely numb to the political atrocities. It seems, perhaps, that she feels so oppressed by the system that their reaction against it will only afford them trouble. In the end Chris continues to battle censorship issues in the theatre. We know this because the director confronts Chris about reciting lines that were edited out. The director in response belittles Chris saying that his resistance is worthless because no one even notices the significance of the lines he’s reciting. This could imply that the majority is deceived by governmental hegemony.

Another important aspect of the film includes the relationship between Chris and his wife, Anna. This explores more intimately how communist oppression effected the population on an individual level. The play ultimately forces the couple apart. This is because Chris is so preoccupied with the political conditions and pressures for him to conform to the censorial oppression. Anna’s only response to his reaction against the play is when she suggests that he should leave the play. She’s not quite keen on the system he is trying to undermine. This might suggest her reluctance to become resistant herself; this is because she is as oppressed as everyone else in the film. However, despite her reluctance, she does have a strong social role in the film. She independently resists Chris whenever he shows dominance over her. For instance, we he orders her to make sandwiches she directly confronts him about it. In another scene, Chris, in an exhibition of power, slaps her on the face. Here, he loses control of his emotions. All of the pressure that he feels he is bearing to conform forces him to buckle and he inflicts his pain onto his wife.

The elder neighbor is a brief but important character. He seems to be an active embodiment of such themes as aging and temporality, as well as social and generational differences. His suicide is displayed in a very bleak and abrupt manner. We only get a quick glimpse of his plummeting body through the apartment window. His death ultimately remarks on the human condition in relation to the social and political system. Holland explores the desolate, despairing and wreak mystery that is our existence.

My Twentieth Century

Ildiko Enyedi’s 1989 film, My Twentieth Century, is an extremely complex movie whose narrative functions to explore the embodiment of modernity at the turn of the century. The film simply peruses and catalogues the visual and social changes in history. The film does not really adhere to a formal plot structure. Instead, we are enigmatically tossed around a time-scape that lends itself to the life of Dora and Lili. The film explores various themes that replicate and journey through turn of the century events and sentiment.

Enyedi, through a mixture of episodic events, melds together different factions of the past in order to synthesize a complete picture of the changes at hand. These juxtapositions allow us to learn more about the main characters, who seem to stand for social issues, history and technology. Take for instance the great exhibition of lights that are displayed at the film’s opening sequence. This particular image (this sequence) provides us with particular ideas which we are forced to juxtapose with every scene that follows. A technological advancement, such as the light bulb, represents for instance, progress.

In the beginning of the film we witness the birth of both Dora and Lili. The scenes following then explore the separation between the twins. The young girls grow up in two different environments. This dichotomy explores the different social and economical condition in which they find themselves representative. Dora grows up to become materialistic. For instance on the train she’s wearing a very elegant black dress, drinking wine, etc. Lili, on the other hand, finds solace in life that is committed to political activism.

Accordingly, Enyedi provides us with the presence of notions purported Weininger, which the film explicitly presents claiming women as either whores or virgins. I think what Enyedi is trying to explore is this fork in the road where women decided what factors will dominate their perception. Dora finds her autonomy represented in the material goods that she consumes, and despite the fact that men try to appeal to her with their power, which is defined in status (wealth, etc), she pay them little heed, and seems more amused by the exchange of goods for pleasure. To Lili this exchange is foreign; instead, she is more interested in a greater good, a purpose that is representative of something beyond her own amusement or pleasure. In the end, the film seems to embody a whole slew of ideas and aspects related to (temporal) progress including social, political, economic, technological and sexual issues.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Who is Singing Over There

One of the most popular films in Yugoslavia is Slobodan Sijan’s 1980 classic comedy Who is Singing Over There? and it’s not hard to see why. The film goes along the course of a bus route. Here a group of citizens composed of all different eccentricities journey together to get to Belgrade. Sijan sketches out each character’s personality; he finds their quirks, and their various reactions to one another and the particular problems that arrive during the course of the trip. The bus takes us through the rural Yugoslavian landscape where the route ends in Belgrade. What we encounter on the trip are many conflicts that are witty and comical in the way they arise and or result.

All of the characters in the film exhibit a wide spectrum of particularities. Sijan emphasizes these particular character types. These “types” he uses to create metaphors for the different people amongst the different political and socio-economical strata of society. The numerous people who are picked up are forced to cooperate amongst one another. Here they create groups or allies while maintaining what is in their general interest. This same idea can be applied to humanity on a whole, that we associate with people who we feel work with what is in our general interest (not necessarily best interest however). For instance, near the film’s end, when the man’s purse ends up missing the Germanophile assumes that the gypsies stole it. This cultural and social stereotype has the group of people on the bus unanimously agree with the Germanophile where they then accuse and abuse the two boys for something they didn’t do. It is never revealed to the characters that their assumption about the boys was wrong, however Sijan decided to show the audience that detail. This emphasizes the social lack of empathy amongst the group. There are numerous instances when he shows these differences between classes and social behaviors. Another example of this comes when the young married couple goes into the woods to have sex while the others, in a voyeuristic-manner, watch. The Germanophile comments on the uncouth behavior and remarks on the obscenity of it, however, his watching them in the act is no less perverse than the act itself.

We also go through the film watching the characters develop. This in many ways involves the growing attachment and or affection between characters. This is specifically the case between the bus owner and his son. The son’s childish behavior doesn’t limit him as a character. He seems to be the most honest character, and the only one who ever enjoys himself. The son joins the resistance army, this forces the bus owner (his father) to separate from his son. Not only that but from the film’s context we are aware that his son is probably going to end up in the war (which means his son may die). This detail like the detail about the wallet is knowledge that we have and the characters don’t. This information forces us to ponder the worth of these relationships. It also influences us to think about the value of human relationships, and human temporality. Sijan explores human destruction and differentiation on a personal scale and juxtaposes it with the destruction of the war, which is what ends up concluding the movie.

WR: Mysteries of the Organism

Makavejev’s experimental 1971 film, WR: Mysteries of an Organism, explores, as a filmic collage, an assortment of social and political issues. The film explores the counter-culture emphasis against the social norms of oppression over sexuality. Makavejev also exercises cinematic autonomy by filming numerous sexually explicit scenes, which leave no anatomical details behind.

The film first aligns us with doctor Wilhelm Reich, which is presumably what “WR” may stand for among other suggested acronyms such as World Revolution. The documentary-like beginning informs us of Reich’s orgone box, which he is eventually prosecuted for, and his particular school of therapy. The film uses many Freudian devices and symbols to constantly juxtapose human behavior, sexuality, and politics. Makavejev exploits the commoditization of capitalism and the restrictive elements of communism. Under communism the individual is treated as insignificant. That means that a person’s appointed role is in the best interest of the group; and that creative (artistic) and sexual energy are seen as destructive, unproductive elements in society.

Makavejev’s collage of symbols, and allusion has us questioning every image the film presents. The film gets caught up in a series of events, which may not be temporally simultaneous, but reveal a concurrent exhibition of scenes whereby the idea is about exercising liberation. For instance, Tuli Kupferberg, from the underground band the Fugs, is walking around New York stroking a toy gun, awkwardly walking around businessmen and other people all the while the song “Kill for peace” is playing. Another display of this new liberation is when he visits the office of Screw magazine, or when we, in the narrative portion of the film, see the nude young couple chasing each other around the room promiscuously exploring one another.

The overall coherence is only secondary to the visual demonstration of images and ideas that Makavejev finds schematically important in understanding the contemporary international social and political issues of the day. He employs phallic references throughout the many images and ideas he proposes, as device that symbolizes among other things, a sort of masturbation. For instance, in one scene Kupferberg is standing on a bridge, wearing army fatigues, stroking his toy machine gun. This symbolic reference shows war and violence as a form of masturbation. The same idea is true for capitalism, having Tuli walk all around New York city through these crowds of people who, for the most part, buy into the materialism and commodity that capitalism sells, which also exploits another form of masturbation. These non-necessitous actions, such as commercialism and materialism, are all capitalistic frauds that occupy our time. Juxtaposed, however, with what Makavejev says about communism takes us from one extreme to another. The communist ideal reinforces a group mentality, while the capitalist ideal enforces mass consumption as means of exploring individualism (but really, it enforces a norm of materialism, which the group or society is encouraged to follow).

The Witness

The film The Witness (1969) by Hungarian director Peter Basco is a satirical exploration of the communist regime during the harsh paranoiac Stalin fueled era of communism. The film takes place during the most oppressive era in Hungarian history (’48-’56). Here we get a glimpse of an infrastructure built on grounds where any and everyone is a suspicious subject in the communist eye. This system is exploited and explored throughout the entire film. The films derisive humor obviously didn't go over well, which is why it was banned in Hungary until '81.

The story focuses mainly on Joszef Pelikan and his experience under the communist system. His run around starts when he’s arrested for illegally killing his pig in order to feed his family. However, instead of making an example out of Joszef they use him as a tool for their different ploys, including scripted show trials. When he’s released from prison he finds out that his offense no longer exists. Here we see the power of the government, and their ability to simply erase events from history however they please. This startles Joszef because he fesses up to slaughtering the pig, but the officials respond to him saying their never was a pig.

This same ride of satirical events continues as the film progresses. Virag, who pulled strings to get Joszef released from prison, now wants him to test against Zoltan, a so-called spy. The trial however isn’t hinged on any valid reason for suspicion; the trials are scripted. These show trials are a harsh reality of the communist regime where many officials were forced to say they were spies, fascists, etc. The show trials birthed out of Soviet paranoia of the 1930’s. Joszef’s experience in the show trial didn’t quite pan out as most trials did. He ends up confusing details, and emphasizes his limited capabilities. For example, his common response was to say, “I’m just an idiot” or “I don’t understand.” The ironic thing is that there wasn’t much to understand. Many of the decisions made by officials, and many of the trails, were hinged on trivial details, and non-sense.

Verag’s character adds a lot to the mordant wit of the film as well. He is physically worn away. His character almost seems like a robot where someone behind the scenes is pulling his strings. This is true, someone is obviously controlling him or else he wouldn’t be so worried about manipulating Joszef. However we never actually see who or what controls or influences Verag’s decision-making process. He also doesn’t eat much because of an ulcer, which is presumably affected by the amount of stress that is imposed on him from the party. Much like Joszef’s emphasis on his being an “idiot”, Verag is constantly emphasizing his paranoia saying “how can you be sure” or “not being suspicious is suspicious.” This distinct association shows that party as paranoid and the common man as unknowing.

The film overall really shows how the common man in his own way is a hero. Even though Joszef doesn’t quite understand the arbitrary actions of the party he consciously questions the validity and veracity of them. His run around with the party, going in and out of prison, reflects the instability of the communist infrastructure. The film doesn’t necessarily explore the horrors of communist oppression but attacks the historical issues in a mocking sardonic scope that allows the viewer to overcome the harsh past and learn from the experience.

The Shop on Main Street

Elmar Klos and Jan Kadar together, in The Shop on Main Street, provide an example of the traumatic and paranoiac experience of Slovakia life under Fascist oppression (specifically anti-Semitism). The film displays everyday hardships typical to common peoples, such as those in the main character, Tono Brtko. Kadar focuses on human relationships and the human exhibition of power (social and or political). For instance, when the Tono and his brother in-law Mark are together with their wives at Tono’s Mark, with confidence, displays his power and abilities, those of which have been provided to him through the Fascist Slovakian party.

Tono, however, doesn’t have power to rely on; he’s weak in his marriage, and his closest friend is his dog. His confidence only extends so far throughout the film. Tono knows his abilities and uses them where he can; in his case, it is carpentry. He builds and refurbishes things, such as, the old woman, Mrs. Lautmann’s furniture (i.e. her dresser and mirror, etc). His other project is the Fascist monument that is being built in the middle of town.

Once he’s appointed the Aryan operator of Mrs. Lautmann’s shop he realizes the shop is only a front. His only brother in-law scammed him by giving him a shop that won’t provide him with any profit, oppressing his ability to succeed (exhibiting his power over Tono). At the shop Brtko is instructed by Kucher to let the woman still live and work at the shop while the Jewish community pays to support both Tono and her. This arrangement endangers Tono, Lautmann, and Kucher. Throughout the film we see the relationship between Tono and Lautmann, and Tono and Kucher grow. Tono finally develops a sense of responsibility. When he’s confronted about by his wife, Tono responds aggressively.

The Fascist set up a mass deportation of the Jews. This increases the films terror and intensity. Not only that, but the location where they gather the Jews is at the monument outside of the Lautmann’s shop. The paranoia increases as the film gets more claustrophobic. The tight and uncomfortable feeling that Tono is experiencing, from hiding Lautmann, emanates clearly throughout the end scenes of the film. His alcohol-ravaged mind is also tossing back and forth frantic dizzying ideas about whether or not to send poor old Mrs. Lautmann out to the square for deportation. However juxtaposing this with Mrs. Lautmann’s contentment and naivety toward the whole situation creates an awkward tension where even the viewer begins to get anxious.

In the end, all of the paranoia, chance and drama got Tono nowhere. And what are we supposed to feel about Tono? The pity that might arise does so because his hysteria was a product of the Fascist pressures and oppression. The film over all employs a more realistic aesthetic. Kadar’s character selection, and particular focus on common actions poses realistic questions about human nature, power, and perception.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Red and The White

The 1968 Hungarian film The Red and the White is Jansco’s exploration of war. He takes advantage of the liberal attitude in Hungary. His difficult, and abstract filmic narrative is influenced by the modernist ideologies; his impulse is to force the viewer to look the film’s form. The story surrounds the war between the reds and the whites. Jansco’s photographic form concentrates on wide, distanced shots. He usually has long enduring shots. These filmic elements alienate the viewer from character attachment. Through these distanced shots, and lack of character attachment Jansco portends that war is void of identity.

Jansco shows how insignificant the individual is in the overall efforts of war. Not only that, but Jansco shows how meaningless the war is, and how trivial victory really is. Who wins in war where people and cultures on both sides are harmed, and even destroyed? Jansco presents both armies, red and white, as bad. He emphasizes the unnecessary and trivial choices made during war. For instance, many of the so-called victories involved senseless acts of humiliation against people of the opposing army.

The arbitrary rules of war achieve nothing. In fact, the war seems much like any ordinary board game, whose rules make little sense and only apply to the game, outside of the game these frivolous rules are completely insignificant. He shows how unstructured both armies are. However, in the midst of all this chaos Jansco adheres to strict filmic patterns. These patterns affect our perception of the film. His long shots detach us from the war. It is precisely in this detached state of mind where we are forced to question the actions of the film on whole. If the film surround a few main characters are our understanding of war would be muddle in character stories where we’d become preoccupied with the individual. Jansco makes it perfectly clear that he doesn’t want to impose this attachment to characters. It is even sometimes hard to pinpoint which army is which. This I think further detaches us, because we don’t even assess the validity of each army. Instead we confine our thoughts to war in its most basic and fundamental level of raw conflict.

The wide shot at the film’s end is clear example of how Jansco avoids any instance of emotional attachment. The characters in both armies are almost presented as like pieces or figurines in board game. This sequence blatantly depicts war as a sort of game. Overall, the lack of emotion and attachment is a form of manipulation in itself. This behavior, or mind set, influences us as viewers to lose a sense of hope. In the futility and sadness, Jansco focuses on the selflessness of war. He juxtaposes this harsh negative condition of war with a tranquil rural landscape. On the whole, he seems to be trying to show how unnatural war is, and show how our human condition is not based on those arbitrary rules and actions that result in murder and humiliation.

The Joke

The 1969 film The Joke, credited to both Jaromil Jires and Milan Kundera, was banned soon thereafter it was released. The film is influenced by the nature of Kundera’s writing. His frequent use of dark humor is an elemental contribution to the film. The main character, Ludvik, cannot come to grips with his reproachful past. Throughout the film Jires toggles between Ludvik’s flashbacks of his oppressive past and contrasts it with his present state of living. Jires portrays the extremely oppressive state of communism. He makes it clear to point out that Ludvik is not a bad guy; he’s an ordinary citizen who unfortunately became the victim of the political and social oppression. Jires explores the pretentiousness of communism by exploiting the triviality of numerous public celebrations, which only really exist to suppress mass counterrevolutionary movements, instead this portray the image of false patriotism.

The story unfolds starting with Ludvik’s relationship to Margaret. Their relationship seems to fade when Margaret decides to attend an extracurricular course on politics. This is obviously reflexive of the sentiment at the time, which promoted patriotism. This sort of behavior is ingrained even in the young children of the society who in their patriotism become much like a boy scout; however this sort of patriotism, and attachment to the party continues to grow with age. This loyal and subservient behavior to the government forces citizens to turn on its own people, including family and friends, in the name of patriotism for the government. Such is the case for Margaret who turned on Ludvik, who in a letter to Margaret passed a joke about Trotsky. His joke however was not treated as a joke; it was treated with the utmost scrutiny, inevitably resulting in a six year sentence at an army labor camp, and thereafter labor working mines.

Jires tries to effectively, and realistically explore Ludvik’s tragic fate. The story emphasizes how much his distant past influences his everyday life. Jires, by interspersing flashbacks with the present, shows how real Ludvik’s past is. Ludvik is often seen, after a flashback, responding to his flashbacks—talking to himself, making gestures as if he is responding to his flashbacks, etc. This intangible past obviously goes unaffected by Ludvik’s responses and unfortunately tortures him throughout the film. Jires provides a vivid picture of Ludvik’s tormented psychology. He constantly relives a past that he wishes he could’ve eschewed sometime ago.

Since he can’t reclaim this past of his, and change the course history he tries his hand at revenge. This attempt, however, results in a distorted and pretentious love scheme. This attention to relationships, and the influence of age, love, and desire all come laced with Kundera’s definitive dark humor. It isn’t necessarily that Kundera intends to portray sad and embarrassing relationships instead he is trying to capture the essence of reality (that is, what it is to be human and to fault as humans do). The story ends with Helena embarrassed because Ludvik uses her. She desperately yanks his arm, and falls to her knees in hopes that he might take her back however he doesn’t. This leads her to attempt suicide, however in the humorous manner akin to Kundera, her attempt at suicide fails because what she eats are laxatives. In the end Helena’s assistant defends her by picking a fight with Ludvik; the fight ends when Ludvik beats the young man to the ground. Ludvik stands over the young man and confessing the beating isn’t meant for him. It’s obviously implied that his reaction came out of his repressed anger toward the communist oppression that ruined his life (that is, he lost his education, his companion, and time spent on so many years wasted in the army and mining camps).

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Vera Chytilova’s 1966 film Daisies is an incredibly peculiar modernist film out of the Czech new wave. She distinctively explores film as a medium. It might be best to look at Daisies as a film collage. Chytilova uses experimental editing techniques, which include numerous montage sequences, nonlinear editing, and several discontinuities. The film also goes through a series of color and tint changes. One might question the arbitrariness of her meddle with colors; however, it appears to represent, for the viewer, the artificiality of film.

Several times throughout the film she makes us conscious of the fact that the film is precisely that, just a film. An instance of this comes when the two main characters, Marie I and Marie II, use their scissors to not only cut themselves apart but also the film itself apart. Scissors are a reoccurring symbol; the main characters use them to cut food, sheets, paper, themselves, etc. The scissors are able to edit, erase, cut and create anew. The objects and images, which are cut out or cut up, are then brought into a new context. For example, one Marie cuts a picture of a steak out of an advertisement and eats it; she takes a picture and turns it into food. Whether or not it has nutritional value is irrelevant. What is important is that Chytilova questions the use and practicality of everyday things such as food, magazines, or even gaudy dinnerware.

Her excessive use of absurd and or arbitrary objects can be read as Dada inspired; however, this can also be read as an experimental exhibition of the symbolic. The film opens with a machine that’s running interspersed with war footage. We closely examine the cogs of the machine, and its rhythm. What is this machine, and furthermore, why is this combined with war footage? It seems to me that Chytilova is hinting at the communist ideology; she shows how individual cogs work together, much like people of the “group” should in communist ideology, to achieve a common output. This machine is purposeless, and arbitrary; however, when this juxtaposed with the communist system it reflects how many of the people worked together in the system, the "cogs", did so for no purpose at all but to work for the sake of working. It is through these vague metaphors and symbols that Chytilova inspires the viewer to look for deeper meaning in the film. This isn’t the only method to which she approaches the film; she also includes multiple sequences that have the main characters out with men of the bourgeois. Through these sequences she exploits the bourgeois, and has the main characters trick and use them emotionally, economically, and presumably sexually for their own good.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Closely Watched Trains

Juri Menzel, among other Czech film directors including Milos Forman, is a key contributor to the Czech New Wave. This new wave of art films comes in period after the French New Wave. These Czech directors, Menzel included, emulate the same urge to change as occurred in France several years prior. This newly found liberalization, which is largely influenced by the new lightening of control (namely less censorship) over the arts, begins in the mid-1950s. It is in this new wave of cinema that plots often contain strange, and dark humor. The films contain a distinct quirk about them, mostly because they write their many characters to have eccentric habits.

In Closely Watched Trains Menzel melds comedy with pathos. For young Milos it is a constant struggle with his sexuality. He’s confronted by his own physiological dysfunction, premature ejaculation, which he thinks prevents him from becoming a man. This film responds to the call for identity. At a time when the political system influences people to focus on the group, as opposed to the primary focus being the individual. Menzel turns the mirror back onto the people to reflect the many issues involved in daily life. Although the story surrounds the life of Milos, the main character, we’re introduced to a large number of characters. We are not only introduced to these characters but we also get a feel for their quirks; we begin to understand their habits, their interests, what makes the tick, etc.

The story never really becomes completely unordinary. And the plot never becomes unbelievable. However, when Milos goes to the brothel to commit suicide we finally get a glimpse of that mordant, and almost absurd humor. This melancholic humor resonates throughout many Czech films. Suicide in the youth culture also appears to be significant. In both Closely Watched Trains and in Forman’s Loves of a Blonde the main characters are both unsuccessful at committing suicide. Is this to suggest a suicide epidemic in society at the time? Or might this be referring to the generation as being lost, to the point where they cannot even control the extent of their own deaths. These Czech new wave films are particular about their content material, which limits them to a very dark but conspicuous humor that mimics the issues that are sad, and possibly embarrassing, but most of all they are real.

Knife in the Water

In Roman Polanski’s drama Knife in the Water power is strangely and subtly expressed as a dominating theme. The story begins when Andrzej and Krystyna pick up a young hitchhiker. The story opens up with questions about trust and power. Do they trust this man that they’ve just picked up? In the car ride to the docks Polanski focuses on many details, which set up the film’s psychological eccentricity. He uses silence, close up shots, and subtle gestures between characters to introduce the obscure issue of power between individuals. The three character are separated by their age, gender, and different classes.

Once Polanski takes us away from the docks, he also takes us away from domestic issues. As a statement Polanski limits himself to three characters. Throughout the film Polanski has us questioning the role of each character, wondering who is in control. Andrzej uses his confidence to exhibit his reign of power over the two others. However Krystyna slyly assert herself in areas she sees necessary, taking control over situations she’s particularly interested in. For instance, her affair with the young hitchhiker reaffirms her autonomy over her husbands subtly domineering role. The young hitchhiker deceives the man, and presumably has an affair with his wife. These three people feed off of one another for power. This could be a metaphor about society on the whole. Each of the characters are divided by three factors: sex, age, and class. The issue of power between the young and the old generation shows, as Krystyna mentions, how the younger generation is trying to emulate the older generation; the goal of course is to try and achieve success, and more importantly power, which comes from money.

Power is defined through the sexuality of each character. Andrzej asserts his power using commands of dominance, which are exhibited in his mannerisms. It can be suggested that he uses an excessive amount of dominance to because he impotent in other areas of his life. Krystyna uses sex as a way to reassure herself of her own autonomy. She is able to deceive her powerful husband, and use the young hitchhiker for her own pleasure. The young man also uses sex to show that he has what Andrzej has, and by fulfilling Krystyna he is taking Andrzej’s dominance away, and using it for his own power and personal esteem. The knife is a reoccurring phallic symbol that represents the competition between characters. When the knife finally falls in the water it is then that each character resolutely changes their roles. Andrzej is no longer making commands; he’s busy trying to find the young man. Meanwhile the young man and Krystyna are exploring their dominance (which comes from their sexual autonomy) over Andrzej.

Bad Luck

Bad Luck is Polish director Andrzej Munk’s slapstick comedy, which addresses many social and political issues. Through his sardonic lens he focuses on and brings into perspective the social and political implications of conformity. He effectively portrays anti-Semitism in the Polish society, linking humor to the amoral position. Munk uses this bleak history in combination with comedy in order to oppose the Polish tradition of story telling. Instead of bringing light to a story about nobles, he uses a common character with a humorous role.

Munk deconstructs the Polish myths of heroism. The main character, Piszcyck (Bogumil Kobiela) who is your “average Joe”, goes through great lengths to assimilate; his futile attempts often times lead to a mistake or disaster. Munk demonstrates through Piszcyck’s oblivion that life can exist without politics; this in many respects is a type of resistance, which takes the audience away from the historical atrocities and tragedies. Piszcyck, however, is unlike the majority because his sincerity is exaggerated. Munk captures the pother of Piszcyck, who is too blind to see his disasters are not because of fate. Instead his misfortune is due to his frequent lying, hyper-sincerity, and his indecisiveness. Throughout the film he’s confronted with situations that require him to take one side or the other, however, he doesn’t autonomously (or consciously) choose a side or a path. For example, when Piszcyck attends a political rally, one group is pro-government and the other fascist, he finds himself alternating between groups, yelling and rooting. Piszcyck’s position is often times based on chance.

The audience will never know whether or not Piszcyck’s accounts are accurate, or if he is exaggerating the truth. But it is possible to assume, from his narcissistic and mischievous behavior and the frequent contradictions in his stories, that some of his past is also shrouded in fictional details. As a statement this suggests that people should question the veracity of stories. The film also questions the validity of fate, and more specifically how much so does fate influence a person. Piszcyck’s story, which asks for pity, in this case from the prison warden, instead shows that fate hasn’t burdened his past but rather it is all of the lies and indecisiveness that has affected his history.