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)...


  1. Yes, some things are lost in translation, but what can you do about it? You can either learn the language of every movie you watch, or accept the fact that you are inevitably losing some things (while, still, receiving some other motives and ideas even though you don`t share the language - after, there still ARE foreign movies that attach to us).

    I don`t feel comfortable while puring out "words of wisdom", but hey.

    By the way, I did not know about this blog until I discovered it accidentaly. I must say that it is great and, please, do write more.

    Sudden Sid

  2. Heyhey :))
    Oh, do not worry - I think we actually agree on things here :) The inevitability of the loss is under no conditions the reason to give up on foreign cinema in total (specially not when your 'native' cinema is - Croatian; but OK, that was a really lame joke, I admit :)), not at all! But in itself, the question of how much we are able to 'transfer' - or, seen from the other shore, how much do we lose (even if we know the language, and move to the country, can we ever really become really 'local' or not?) - from the sole fact that we don't know the setting is just an interesting thing for me to think about; that is, of course, under the assumption that one believes we lose anything at all, which some simply don't! :) But, as already admitted, there's a lot more philosophy to this issue than I am able to even grasp, and hardly debate with any 'seriousness' to it - but this might be at least an incentive for me to start thinking...


    And...thank you :) I promise that I will try to keep my laziness tamed, and to write at least somewhat regularly...I really do :)