Thursday, 30 June 2011

On being forgetful

I have been taking a break from this blog for a while now, but I never thought I will forget to post on it the one thing I've done - what WE have done, as it was a real team effort, no doubt! - related to film that I am actually proud of.

A magazine.
A film magazine.
A Croatian film magazine, at the moment only the second of that kind - as movie magazines seem to have become extinct here...

More info here and here.

If you happen to come across it, lemme know what you think - it will make me a very happy person :)

Friday, 15 April 2011

Fascinated by...

...the list of names in this year's official Cannes competition.

Seriously: the Dardenne brothers (I know, I know, it doesn't sound very promising, the film - but they will always have extra credits in my book...), Lars von Trier (who is feeling very melancholic, apparently), Aki Kaurismaki (!), Terrence Malick ( long has it been again?), Nanni Moretti, Nuri Bilge Ceylan...andsoonandsoon...

But quite frankly, only one movie and one name comes as a complete surprise to me.

Well, who would have thought?
Good luck to you, Nicolas.


Thursday, 14 April 2011

Thinking about...

in all its forms.

1) Patrick Tierney as the ignored Peter Foster/Bedros Deryan in Atom Egoyan's wonderful 'Next of Kin' (1984) (M, thank you for reminding me of it...)
2) Cristi Puiu as the lost Viorel in his own 'Aurora' (2010)
3) Andrew Garfield as the fragile Anton and Lilly Cole as his object of gentle desire in Terry Gilliam's 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' (2009)
4) Vincent Cassel as the sad Kirill in David Cronenberg's 'Eastern Promises' (2007)
5) Mads Mikkelsen as the subtle Lenny in Nicolas Winding Refn's wonderful 'Bleeder' (1997)

*and about how I always seem to go to the same films and same directors for comfort.
*and about how I hope the Spiderman role will not ruin the career for the wonderful Andrew Garfield, as it did for Maguire...
*and about...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

On being emotional

I am no great analyst - not that I don’t wish I was...Even when I was little, there was always a desire in me to be smarter, more insightful, more creative with the ideas I get from everywhere; yet I never quite managed to internalize these desires into my perspective on things; In time, I hardly became more clever and constructive. No magic came to be, even if I hoped that one day I would wake up a changed person, or at least that all the books I’ve read will change me significantly. It simply never happened.

I did, however, become more emotional in my view on things – or rather, I learned to accept that my perspective is primarily an emotional one, and make it a part of my ‘style’ (if not an advantage), instead of carrying a feeling of shame, almost guilt, because of that single mark of my personality. it has not been an easy thing to do, and it still isn’t – to say that you want to discuss things, but you have very little to offer but your subjective, emotion-driven perspective, often feels like having nothing to say at all, and it still often makes me blush when confronted with perspectives more insightful, academic, marked by more knowledge (and the fact that I somehow managed to surround myself with a lot of people officially belonging to the academia hardly makes it easier for me) than the one I can offer, substantiated by nothing more than my quiet inner voice. Yet sometimes...sometimes I let go and enjoy it. As, on certain rare occasions, I lose the shyness and the feeling that I need to be ‘smart’ in order to enjoy things the right way, and I simply let go.

This week, I tried letting go a lot – and it led to me realizing that all the films I’ve seen recently seem to deal with one topic: the need to belong. What is even lovelier, the belonging always seems to be of the most private, intimate kind possible: the belonging to one individual, one human being, one partner. Sometimes it is the dominating topic of the film – but mostly not. To belong, it seems, is often presented as a need less ‘visible’, but constantly present. And it is often a symbol, a sign marking the finding of another kind of ‘normality’: in ‘Boy A’, which I saw the other night, belonging to one soul meant being able to live at all (sadly, it also depicted how fragile the illusion of belonging is); also – and just as in ‘Never let me go’, which left me crying in a public space, making my sadness as much an experiment as a humane reaction – it is a mark of having a soul: to be loved, to belong, is a visual, practical (oh how clumsy and inadequate all these words sound) confirmation that to ‘me’ there is something deeper than what I appear to be; I can be important enough to someone enough for that person to take me as I am, so there must be that ‘something’ to me that cannot be seen by the naked eye, but that IS indeed there (I know, in any other situation this sort of theory is just completely false – as one can love the most terrible of monsters, for love has a strange way of choosing its objects; tho in these movies, it seems to fit perfectly somehow). I CAN love, even if everything that is surrounding me may indicate otherwise (and it does, which is why both these movies are so unbearably difficult and sad, but also tremendously beautiful – and worthy of far more thoughts and words than they sadly get from me). And is the idea of belonging to someone that is a sign that everything still can be all right, even if the elements of ‘everything’ bear so little attachment to the potential bond between two people, no hugs and closeness can ever really make all of it right, and it is all simply a matter of destiny/fighting/universe, or whatever other explanation you choose to believe in...

...just like in ‘Onda vidim Tanju’/’Then I see Tanja’, the movie I saw last night. Done by a young Croatian director Juraj Lerotić, ‘Tanja’ is a movie both unusual – made together not from filmed material, but from a wonderful set of photographs – and very ‘usual’ – telling a story of a budding teenage romance in a surrounding filled with personal tragedies. Yet even if the story – overloaded with sadness – can seem a bit over the top, the beauty of the movie comes from the writer/director’s openness towards accepting emotions, instead of hiding away from them in any way. ‘Tanja’ is an example of truly courageous filmmaking in the way it treats the souls of its protagonists: it allows them to be delicate, fragile, gentle, even when it might seem that, in the ‘real world’, that sort of gentleness could be misunderstood, frowned upon, avoided as something that goes over the top, beyond what is acceptable in everyday relations (and boundaries there are indeed: me shedding tears to ‘Never let me go’ was completely ignored by my co-travellers – two ladies, one younger, one old – who, not knowing why I am crying, and obviously not wanting to intervene, continued talking to me or ignoring me just as they did before it happened, pretending not to notice it at all; showing too much emotion made them not more sensible towards me, but simply uncomfortable to the point of trying to ignore it). Lerotić allows his characters to feel and to love, and he allows himself to observe them with love through the eye of the camera – which makes his film incredibly endearing and gentle, even at its most humorous moments (and there indeed are many, some of them painted dark, some lighter). The end result is a movie that is both ‘emotional’ in itself, and tremendously emotionally engaging; one that reminds us of how sometimes, no matter how old (or young) you are, life is just so much easier when you are not going through it alone; and even if the world is confusing, and people can be confusing too, to be emotionally courageous can be rewarding (tho there are no guarantees, any cynic or a passionate Mike Leigh fan would have to conclude), and one person really can bring with him/herself all the hope in the world, and all the strength. In the words of Barry Egan, P.T. Anderson’s gentle loser of whom Lerotić’s teenage hero probably would never even hear of, “I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine“. Which is, I guess, all I want to hear on some days...when I too get particularly emotional.

Saturday, 26 March 2011


…life throws an unbearable amount of sadness on you, without any warning.

Sometimes, cinema does too.

Completely unexpectedly, I saw two movies today: ‘Biutiful’, the last work of Alejandro González Iñárritu, and (finally, almost a year after failing to catch it at TIFF!) Florin Serban's award-winning 'Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier'. And while I need to keep my thoughts and words on them for elsewhere (I promise, I will share the news here when the time comes, if it does...), I simply cannot help noting that I probably couldn’t have picked two sadder movies playing in cinemas today than I did. Not to make any confusion – they are two very different films. Yet both are about suffering in a way, and what unifies them (among other things) is that a certain source of their suffering – the main one, in case of Serban’s Silviu, and the ‘final’one, death, in case of ‘Biutiful’s Uxbal (wonderfully embodied by the ever-versatile Javier Bardem, who seems to never disappoint, and only gets better with time...) – is simply outside of their hands, outside of their power to meddle with.

While both films have their ‘issues’, they are nevertheless worthy of your time. Serban’s film, while not one to be labelled predictable, suffers from some incoherence, both in terms of characters and plot ‘odds’, and it owes a slight lack of charm to its over-insistence on being ‘Romanian’: in a while I haven’t seen such usage of certain long takes just for the sake of it. Yet it was Iñárritu’s film that eventually left me colder, less drawn by its story. Iñárritu is a director who cares for his characters; yet he cares much more for the grand-ness of his topics and the ‘importance’ of what he narrates. This leads to his films often feeling a bit overly cold, distanced, calculated – and thus hard to relate to, even if the stories he tells are often so overloaded with human suffering it seems almost impossible not to sympathize with the characters. And ‘Biutiful’ is no exception: a movie so filled with sadness it is difficult to watch, yet so loaded with stories coming together in predictable ways that it left me even a tiny bit bored at moments. And in the end, it was 'Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier' that felt more devastating in its depiction of suffering: not because Serban directs it with more grace or makes it more convincing (actually, it might be the other way around), but because of the ‘type’ of suffering he imposes on his main character.

In ‘Biutiful’, the suffering imposed by one human being upon another (or in this case, others) is more strongly related to side characters, while the main suffering comes from, to frame it somewhat rudely but in the end accurately, ‘natural causes’. Uxbal suffers ‘for’ the others (his kids), due to his life circumstances and terminal illness, and less ‘due to’ others (tho in the case of his wife, there is a combination of the two, as he is obviously torn by own stance on her, yet can’t help it as she poses a threat to what he loves the most). And if Iñárritu hints to us the humane characteristics of his side character, so that we would feel strongly for them as we normally would for the lead(s), he makes sure to still leave them one-dimensional enough for us not to get too carried away (this refers primarily to Lilly, who is given decent space, but is reduced to a dimension the Western world likes to sympathise with the most when it comes to immigrants: a single, suffering, struggling mother, as if being an illegal immigrant is not in itself enough). Serban, on the other hand, ties all his main character’s suffering to people: he is a victim of his mother’s carelessness, and once he is old enough to understand this, and ‘wise’ enough to try to prevent it from happening again to one person he really loves (his little brother), his good intentions find so little understanding in the deaf impersonations of the system that the only thing it can do proudly in response to his mission is to stomp on him with a heavy special police forces boot. And while in any other case such framing of Silviu’s position might seem as avoiding responsibility for own actions, he is amnestied by his young age, and a lack of responsibility of others for him (as a child/young teenager).

To make things even sadder, while Iñárritu recognizes the inherent weakness to human beings, and compensates for it slightly to its miserable hero by assigning him a friend to listen to his heartfelt stories and provide for some physical gentleness that requires nothing in return, thus saving him from walking through at least some parts of his personal hell completely alone, Serban brutally deprives Silviu of all real accomplices. He gets sympathetic glances and eventually cheers from his fellow inmates, but is left alone by most – even the sympathetic prison director quickly loses interest when the ‘normal functioning’ of the system he is running seems to be brought to question. This is not to say that Silviu’s method is good in the end – but when observed as a consequence of his previous complete inability to find any allies, it becomes, if nothing else, less of an instant reason for his condemnation. What is impressive is that Serban never decides to change his course when this is concerned; where in a Hollywood movie a passionate kiss would close the cafe scene between Silviu and the girl, in Serban’s interpretation the kiss is only one-sided, as even sympathy is still masked by fear on the other side. Emotionally, he simply has no real support in anyone, which underlines his suffering even more. He is tormented AND abandoned by people (and people as parts of systems - but let us leave that for some other time, no matter how crucially important it is), not 'the world', 'nature', 'destiny' or any other concept vague enough not to be pointed out so easily - which is probably the saddest of available combinations. And had Serban been brave enough to explore the fragility of his character, the inner breakage which is depicted much too quickly and too vaguely, Silviu could have been a character truly amazing. This way, he seems like a semi-finished drawing of an interesting idea. But on that – in some other places, hopefully. For now, this post has seen enough, if not too much sadness framed in words already.

Monday, 31 January 2011

The late night 'I love you' - to Hoffman, and to the one who is my measure of fragility...

Jack: Don't worry. I'm a good swimmer.
Connie: I know...
Jack: Yeah.
Connie: I knew you'd be a good swimmer. When we talked about summer, l knew you'd be good at it.
Jack: Yeah...I am for you.
Connie: I knew you'd be good.
Jack: I am for you.

(Connie and Jack, Jack Goes Boating, Philip Seymour Hoffman 2010)

If there was ever an actor who was the embodiment of courage, it must be Philip Seymour Hoffman. There are people who can act. There are those who are nice and loveable. There are those who cross their boundaries for every single task that comes up ahead of them, be it for adrenaline or for any other reason in the world. But Hoffman...Hoffman is all of this, and so much more. For every single role he does, he doesn't (just) change physically (ironically, his biggest 'official' recognition he won for one extreme of pure physical disappearance – stealing up that Oscar for the role of Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s film, which will probably remain memorized in my thoughts as a living oil on canvass, an amazing painting, a lifeless masterpiece...and he was at the same time most laughed at for the other – the role of the transvestite Rusty in ‘Flawless’; yet he is mostly always the same, with the same hair and the same look and the same recognizable invisibility); he strips naked, completely, down to the bone. To the heart. To the soul. He fights battles with every single one of known emotions, conditions and states of mind, and he wins every time, whether it is cruelty (‘Mission:Impossible III’, ‘The Red Dragon’), subtle evilness (‘Cold Mountain’), confusion (‘State and Main’), despair and humiliation (‘The 25th Hour’), coolness (‘Almost Famous’), sadness (‘Love, Liza’), addiction (‘Owning Mahowny’)...just literally anything. There is simply nothing he cannot do, and his ability to let go is always the most captivating detail in all of his movies, no matter who he was directed by, or what his role is.

But it is not (only) his versatility that makes Hoffman so unique – it is his fearlessness in showing fragility that I love so much. In a fiction world of cinema where men are courageous avengers, fearless defenders, flaming lovers and calculating gamblers (or otherwise exist mainly in comedies, as losers and ‘weaklings’ who are to be laughed at, or miraculously transformed into ‘real men’ by the end of the movie), often stripped bare of all fear, fragility and gentleness (or, if they do exist, they are only catalyst for courageous deeds – with the fear of loss transforming an average father or husband into a fearless fighter; not to mention one who looks like Christian Bale or Tom Cruise, just waiting to show off his muscles under the ‘ready for office’ everyday outfit), Hoffman embodies a gorgeously humane precedent, without ever crossing over the boundary of being laughable or tacky. Even when Todd Solondz turns him into the ‘creepy guy next door’, or when P.T. Anderson strips him down and humiliates him as the quiet, gentle and shy Scotty (whose existence we barely notice, and who is reduced to one ‘marking of time’, one historical symbol), there is still so much authentic warmth to him, it is sometimes difficult to watch, but always touching on so many levels. And even if it sometimes seems that he is the embodiment of loser(s), it is almost never so: for as much as I am not fond of Jacob (Elinsky) as he whines about his privileged life to Monty to hide the fact that he doesn’t have a clue about life’s difficulties, and all the literature he teaches has taught him nothing about the real-world dialogue, the look in his eyes after an unexpected (and forbidden!) kiss shows him off not as the predator, but as a scared man in search of some freedom, which he can’t find because he’s trapped in his own world of ‘culture’; and even if his Wilson – after the loss of Liza – may seem at first as someone who’s given up on himself, understanding his reasons will only make him more humane in any attentive observer’s eye: for what can be more humane, more sad and more worthy of my understanding, than the grief caused by the loss of one’s life embodied in love? These characters are ‘shameful’ only if sorrow is shameful; only if being weak is in some way unnatural, and learning to deal with our emotions is something easy, irrelevant and so futile, that we shouldn’t ever dare to bring it out to the open, in front of others. And maybe this is indeed so in Hollywood dreamland – but in real life, fragility is not something to hide, but a proof that our hearts are indeed more than a part of the perfect body machinery, a gentle beauty in itself. And Hoffman radiates that beauty with every move, and every word.

‘Jack Goes Boating’ could be the gentlest, most stripped down work of Hoffman’s so far. For Jack is not only his character to play with, but – with the movie being Hoffman’s directorial debut – the decision of how much of his inner world to show was also left up to Hoffman himself. In the end, Jack is a man so gentle, it is almost unbearable. And while he is often uncomfortable with himself and with others - clearing his throat obsessively when feeling threatened or overexposed in any way – the tiny glimpses of courage he shows (embodied so poetically in the swimming lessons, which were funny and sad at the same time) come off as feats worthy of praise much greater than the acts we award and praise in everyday life. And they are. For no physical challenges, no successes in sports and medals won can ever compare with the courage of saying ‘I love you’; and no Oscar shine for the greatest performance can ever top the amount of soul given in the act of the first kiss. Hoffman, as an Oscar winner, knows this; judging by this role, he knows it well. And he makes Jack so kind to the world, you would think the world will crush him with all its sorrow. But it doesn’t, for he wiped away his tears – in front of us, the observers, reminding us there is no shame in demonstrating weakness, even if it makes both his and our cheeks blush – and has learned how to cook, and how to swim. And even how to row a boat. And how to love...well, that he has known all along...