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).