Sunday, 20 June 2010

On how, in life and love, we have choices

"I fell in love with her, Alice."
"Oh, as if you had no choice? There's a moment, there's always a moment, "I can do this, I can give into this, or I can resist it", and I don't know when your moment was, but I bet you there was one."

(Dan and Alice, Closer, Mike Nichols, 2004)

Friday, 11 June 2010

On how cinema and life clash inevitably, and so often tragically

This morning, one of the major dailies in Croatia published an article under the following title:
'Father kills two underage daughters, then takes away his own life/Otac ubio dvije maloljetne kćeri pa si oduzeo život'
In the article, it was stated that the man, D.G., was separated from his wife, who he wanted to get back with, but she apparently didn't feel the same way. He came to her in the early morning, they had an argument, and the whole thing ended as it did, tragically...
Instantly, the images of Cristi Puiu's 'Aurora' came back to my mind, together with the feeling of shame and - at the same time - compassion it envoked in me as I was watching it, and as I was writing about it here the other day. Sure, in Puiu's film, the children stay OK - Viorel is too gentle of a person to be anything less than loving as a father. But besides that, the story looks so familiar...And while it was so easy to be compassionate with the gentle, soft-spoken Viorel once the spotlight was on him, and it was only him we were getting to know, how do I show any compassion with the father here? And (why) should I?
I oh so wish feature film fiction movies could be a little more fictional sometimes...

Sunday, 6 June 2010

As all good things have to end...

...TIFF, too, ended today...and my visit to it ended even a tiny bit earlier - and it is already missed. And yes, I have been gathering courage and will to dedicate to it a few lines, like a nice wrap-up of all the beautiful things left behind. However, I can't seem to stop thinking of a question so insanely complex, it seems almost ridiculous to ask it at all...

It all started with two stories.
The first one? Well...C - my beloved partner in crime - and I recently went to see György Pálfi's latest film, 'I am not your friend'. We took lovely company, and, in the dark of the cutest little cinema, enjoyed a film that was - to me - more interesting than good. A hyper-realistic chronicle of relations between a few odd (to say the least) couples in contemporary Budapest, it felt (and indeed was, as we later found out) highly improvised, raw and very authentic in a way. Yet, to my amateur-ish eye and an ear resilient to any sounds in Hungarian (and it is not that I am not trying - but it is just a language incredibly complex, and unbearably rich in words for a poor beginner), Pálfi's movie didn't seem like something so 'new' and remarkable as it could have been - it felt almost 'overdone' at times, and I would have, in my occasional attacks of smugness (of which I am not at all proud, but I am learning to face and control their existence), probably labeled it as an interesting experiment, but nothing previously unseen, before moving on to enjoying something more appealing and exciting to me in its novelty and depth. Yet C's reaction to it made me confused, almost embarrassed: he related to it completely, proclaiming it to be brilliant not because of its style or visual beauty, but because of how authentic it is, and how precise in capturing the decadence of the Hungarian capital; Yet, as the dialogues were untranslatable in all their colloquial glory, and the feel of the city was foreign to me, it was obviously something that I cannot understand or relate to - and the sad truth was that he was right, I really couldn't. And while we were talking after we exited the cinema, for moments it would seem to me like we had seen two completely different films - and the loss, it was obvious, was all mine...

And so, for the next two days, I was haunted by the idea that I will never, even if I really try, be able to understand some things about not only Hungarian, but foreign cinema in general; the topics, the small cultural references, the subtle insinuations to actual political or other happenings that marked the lives of locally rooted heroes, even the fine nuances related to how they spoke (with language transferring all sorts of messages, from their social status to general manners), were just simply 'untranslatable' to my world, and therefore out of my reach - putting me in a position similar to that of an anthropologist doomed to always observe a 'foreign' culture without ever being capable of 'understanding' it. And 'Aurora', the movie I wrote about recently, seemed to be the sole peak of my horror caused by ignorance: the loooong takes depicting details of everyday life which must have had a deeper meaning that was just invisible to me, the football references that mush have had a story behind them, one of which I obviously had no clue about...There must have been - I felt - so much more to those three hours than I ever could have spotted, and that made me tremendously sad in a way. But was this really so? 'No', said the unlikely voice of my newly acquired Romanian friend, a passionate follower of the Festival and a film critic; According to him, there was nothing that I was really missing - most of those references were completely irrelevant for the story anyway, or were not really references at all (for instance, for him, as he doesn't follow football, the football 'sparks' were no less confusing than for me, only he took them as far less relevant) but only 'time-fillers'; besides, the general idea of 'Aurora' was just as understandable to both of us, and it was its universality that made it a really great film.

From that conversation on, I've been thinking a lot about the universality of cinema, and of the 'transferability' of ideas across different cultures and language barriers. How much do I lose when watching a movie in a language I don't understand, and how much of it gets - literally - lost in translation? If a certain story is indeed focused on being a study of something 'locally' rooted, how valid and meaningful can it be at all, when taken out of its original context? And is it really true that the marking of a really good movie lies in the universality of its primary focus(es), or is this just a misconception, based on the ignorance towards the problem of 'translatability'?

Very raw, naive questions, I know - and ones that have to do less with movie-making, and much more with philosophy than I would like them to. And, no, I don't (yet) have a satisfactory answer to share. But I am open to readings, opinions, attitudes - anything that might get me a step closer to my own personal answer(s)...

Friday, 4 June 2010

And this would be...

...the place for a quote. But this time I have none - somehow it always turns out that I forget the Moleskine when it would be of most use...

Finally saw Cristi Puiu's 'Aurora' last night, as the last movie I managed to 'catch' so far at the TIFF; and in a way, it was disturbing and moving enough for me to still think about it today, and it caused in me a need to write a couple of quick lines about it, even tho I really didn't want to in a way...and yet, it wasn't what I expected it would be.

'Aurora' is a tremendously sad film, one about a man who has lost love in his life, and will do anything in order to 'improve' that - but his choice of 'improvement' is just unbearably wrong, tho, it seems, it is the only one he can think of, a sort of a last attempt to make things right, by making them completely wrong.

The topic in itself is beautiful; and so is Puiu as the understated, silent, not-really-existing-anymore Viorel. But all this still doesn't amount to a beautiful film. The biggest problem is, paradoxically, the movie's length; In his previous film, 'Lazarescu', capturing the slowness of time passing was necessary as a way to illustrate the slowness of the system. 'Aurora', however, has no intention of dealing with the system - it is a film so tremendously private, it made me feel like a voyeur on occasions; and as much as Puiu tries to root it in the contemporary Romanian society (and he does so through a number of amazing little details, conversations, nods and looks; unfortunately, while some of them were visible to me, I was painfully aware the entire time that most of the finesse is just slipping through my fingers like fine sand - as a foreigner, it is hard to relate to little everyday things that are, to me, completely unknown, and for which I just have no interpretation, or even feeling. But this is always the danger of film as medium - its narrative is never quite translatable, and a lot of it gets lost in between layers; luckily, some of the messages are universal - were they not, it would make watching foreign films completely impossible...), its story is universal in a way that allows it to re-play itself anywhere and everywhere. The pacing of the movie thus becomes a decision, rather than a necessity derived from its intention - and Puiu makes a somewhat bad choice deciding to observe his (anti)hero with such a lazy, drowsy cinematographic eye, as the final 'finding' just isn't 'big' enough to justify for all the seconds spent in waiting for its revelation. But it is definitely sad enough, regardless of whether one perceives the poor Viorel as insane, tragic, or just unbearably lonely (and, as one of the characters of the movie labels him, 'a big softie'). Puiu's film might be viewed as a study of human nature, and our capability of committing a crime (in that view, it shares an overlapping territory with another amazing film I've seen recently, Bong's 'Mother') - and seeing it like this, pulled through the filters of morale that places the biggest value on the the life of a person, feels 'right' somehow. But for me, it is more a study on sadness of an individual, who is only 'crazy' when thought of as of a number, a general Someone, and not an individual with emotions and dilemmas - as much as saying this makes me feel shy, almost embarrassed for my moral drift. Whether the director's decision to shoot it in a slow pace was 'programmatic' (keeping his reputation of the 'initiator', if not the ideologist of the Romanian New Wave cinema) or purely instinctive is maybe less important. More important is his tremendous arrogance in titling the film - 'Aurora', he explained after the screening, means the beginning, and every beginning is a good in itself. For Viorel, however, there is no real beginning anymore - nothing that opens before him promises a field of opportunities, only a prison cell and some more loneliness, just of the kind he was trying to escape in the first place. And only someone completely insensitive of his suffering could play on him such a cruel language trick. But knowing that Puiu and Viorel, for the three hours of the movie, become one (literally, as the latter is both created and embodied by the former), one should maybe think of it only as of self-irony, and not an offense. In any case, 'Aurora' is not an easy experience to live through for sure, but also not an easy one to watch.

Or maybe I just got it all wrong again?