Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Bleu (in English, Blue), from the Trois Couleurs trilogy of Krzysztof Kieślowski, is all about the pain of love. In many ways, the film reminded me of the Italian masterpiece Cinema Paradiso, but both films take completely different aspects of the same theme. While Cinema Paradiso is about the pain of unrequited love, unfulfilled love, Bleu is about the pain of love that is lost, love that seems never to wash us again, love that seems to have filled up our life with its suffocating scent for ever.

This film could never have been possible, at least for me, without Juliette Binoche. The acme she has reached in this film with her acting is something to be wondered about—I have rarely seen so beautiful "underdone" acting in my life. Add to that the beauty, the kind smile, and the scornful smile, the grace, the dignity, the pain on Juliette's face, and rest is completed by a brilliant director, who knows his craft, who knows his colours, and who knows his moments of silence. The whole film is like, Julie (character played by Binoche) is looking in your eyes, she does not want to ask anything, it's just that you don't have the answers.

Silence plays an important part in Bleu. The film has sparse dialogues, and the dialogues that are there are too crude, too simplistic (especially considering that it's a French film). It's the silence or the background blurry noises that dominate the film. Even when Julie splashes around the swimming pool, the water's sound is subdued, and yet the unwelcome noises, like that of children in red dresses coming in the bustle of a new life to the pool one such evening, those noises are heightened in contrast. It's a beautiful sound editing scheme which brings out everything in the film too well.

Blue, the color of memories

It's the blue glass chandelier, it's the blue candy. Things associated with Julie's memory, the memory which she wants to rub off in her desperation to get rid of her pain, are all blue. So, even the notes of the music her husband composed are blue. But the world which jars her, or which is in her present state of mind, is sepia, is too yellow, is too much not blue. In a beautiful scene, Julie is eating in the café, the scene is in sepia, then the music comes, similar to the music her husband had composed, and when she finally turns, we are introduced to the beggar, playing against a blue bespattered wall. Sepia and blue are in a fight with each other, liberty desired and being chained to old memories. But what is liberty?

Blue, the color of liberty

Does liberty mean to be free from memories? To get rid of memories, and then to start afresh? Yes, you will be liberated definitely, but would that liberty be worth living for? Do you envy the liberty that now Julie's mother, suffering from Alzheimer, has? It's a brilliant analogy drawn by Kieślowski, and there are so many hidden layers in each of his scenes, with so much stationarity, that allows you to think all this. Julie's mother is watching a man sky-diving, just hanging by a rope tied to his legs, and spiralling downwards in the vast air. Is it Julie's mother's condition? Aimless? Bien sûr. But does it reflect more of Julie? No support in her life now, no love in her life now, anything which she has or had she has already been rejecting. Just a slender string of memories to connect her to life, to God, to people, and which she wants to cut. Yes, she would be then completely free in the air, but to crash down? Would that be liberty?

It’s this struggle that the film concerns itself with. Julie still cannot leave it all. There’s a man being beaten up in the streets below, her interest is aroused, no matter how indifferent she tries to become. When she is locked outside in the night, she is afraid. She has to take help of the prostitute downstairs when she is afraid to go back to her home for fear of the rats, the infants, that the cat might have killed. Note the color scheme that plays up on Julie’s face when she is listening to the sounds of night when the man is being beaten up outside: blue light playing on her face, behind the frames are yellow (even though it’s a night scene).

Blue, the color of desire

Dialogues are very rare between Julie and her husband’s assistant, Olivier, who always loved her silently, and now continues to does so, again silently but shrewdly and very delicately. Julie asks “Vous m’aimez?” (and the response, “Vous êtes sûr?”) while inviting him for sex, as if trying to destroy her body from the memories. But, it’s never been “tu” between them, the formal “vous” exists, and yet they silently drop their encasings in front of each other. Each knows why the other is doing it: and each does it unquestioningly, without knowing if there will be any other time. Even much later in the film, when Olivier has succeeded to some extent in being closer to Julie, the dialogue is “Vous me manquez?”

Julie herself seems so desirable when she asks with such a definitive closed fashion anything. She is so sure of herself, although she is so much at struggle inside. Her questions don’t allow anything except a “Yes” or “No”, no, not even that. Her questions only allow what she wants as a response. It’s a shock that brings you closer to her, when you see her running after Olivier’s car, to know of her husband’s mistress that she knows of only now. When Julie is locked out and she rests on the staircase, the shot is from below, from her legs upward. It’s a scene which most directors would have missed or would have overdone similar instances in the film: a scene which highlight’s Julie’s desirablity, she’s only 33, her vulnerability, and by this contrast, her strength, her resolve to fight the grief, the pain. Yes, the solution that she has got now is to run away from the grief, but she is thinking, she is fighting, and she is allowing herself to see Olivier, to see and to compose the music her husband left unfinished, to see the young man with the cross.

Blue, the color of darkness

Julie gives back the cross, it’s a simple enough scene. But is there something more to it? Is Julie also trying to reject God out from her life? This cross probably changes the young man: we’re going to see the aimless young man who we saw in the opening scenes playing with a ball, pensive with that cross in the end credits. Crosses can be passed on, a life of beauty can be passed on, isn’t it? The prostitute touches the blue chandelier in one of the most touching scenes of the movie, when Julie imperceptibly becomes a tigress, she does not want anyone to touch her memories, her one memory that she has decided to linger over. The prostitute says she had one like this in her childhood. So, what’s sacred to someone and special to someone, might be just something that “someone had also.” The blue chandelier is maybe the blue of innocence for the prostitute, now lost in the blue of the world of sold desire she “willingly” inhabits. Is that chandelier too a cross which Julie is unwittingly passing on to the prostitute. Or can that never happen? There can be no innocence now, there can only be pain. When the sick beggar has gone for some days to a hospital, he has still left his flute. Music lives, soul lives, deeds live, rest might go. The same music is invented by her husband and by the beggar. How could they have the same ideas? A connection of beauty, imagination, life that exists among people? And hence is transmissible? The film here achieves a Dostoyevskyan beauty, very hard to achieve always.

What do rats signify for Julie? She cannot yet be rid of her fears, her old fears. Try as she might, she is still the old Julie. And there’s one rat, the others are newborns. Tender life, new life, while Julie is grappling with the pain of death. Life, which is so hopeful right now, which is unknowing of what is to come, which is happy in its squeals and movements. The fadeouts: Julie is lost, disconnected, from the present, and is gone back into the world she does not want to be in anymore. But every thing reminds her of it, every thing pursues her relentlessly to not to let her forget.

Blue, the color of love

When Julie finally says “Je viens,” the demons are slayed. Memories are kept alive, but life is not led subjugated to them. No. Memories only serve to make the life more beautiful. The adjunct of pain only makes it more variegated, and makes any present happiness more blissful. One of the most beautiful end credits I’ve ever seen, all the people connected directly or indirectly in the film are shown somehow connected to that one incident: the car crash.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane

One of the best "little" movies ever made, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane rakes up several complex issues in the mind of the viewer. How much independence does a child really have to live his or her own life? Especially if the child be "different" from others, if he or she has other tastes. Jodie Foster stars brilliantly as the thirteen-year-old girl Rynn Jacobs who dares to dream big and then dares to implement them, a bit ruthlessly. A girl who loves Emily Dickinson, a girl who can understand the intentions of a young, pervert man, a girl who does not bow down to the landlady in spite of all her threatening and her extraordinarily proprietary, insolent air and who responds in as insolent, as audacious a manner, and a girl who could understand why her father wanted to kill himself and why now she has to make the best of her life without compromising with anyone.

The film's strength is its cooped-up atmosphere of the scene being almost always centered at almost one place: the drawing room of Rynn's home. The location's the same whether it's the pervert son (played by Martin Sheen) of the landlady trying to force or blackmail Rynn, whether it's the Italian police officer who's again intruding Rynn's privacy, or whether it's something concealed, something only hinted at by circumstances. Your suspense builds up until Rynn tells the whole story to a young boy who she begins to trust and love, and it's only then that relief falls in place. I still don't know whether Rynn is true in her part of the story about her father, or is there something more? Is Frank Hallet, the pervert, just that, or does he represent something more? Maybe, there's a body yet to be found!

It's this Saki-esque tone of the story that leaves you so much on tenterhooks. Jodie Foster plays her part to perfection, cool, composed, and collected - you ever can't tell whether she's telling truth or not, even though you've got the benefit of being the third party, of being the viewer. The whole room, the house bristles with warnings, dangers, as if screaming that here another pervert lives, and there's no guarantee who's going to have the almond-tasting tea next! Martin Sheen brings a new dimension to the film, that of the pervert whom everyone knows as the pervert. So he has got to fight on his way in the town, somehow try to deny his tattered reputation, and yet always be on the lookout for damaging it anew, for again getting attracted to where the world would call him a pervert.

Based on Laird Koenig's novel of the same name, the film won two Saturns in 1977.

La Spagnola

An unconventional film, it's another one in a line of those films which somehow only succeed in showing a woman helpless, in showing her in need of a man always. La Spagnola is for me the Australian version of Merci, La Vie. It's interesting that while both films show men always lusting after women, as lechers, yet it's the women who probably show up in a poorer light than men themselves - the unresisting, whimperous, confused beings that women are shown to be. While I would like to say a lot about the portrayal of women in these films and in general in the media, this, a film review, is not a proper place to do so.

The film, simply put, is brilliant. In spite of my reservations with both this film and Merci, La Vie for what they are trying to show, it has indeed to be said that both are designed to provoke thought. Which in itself is a good thing - for when you think, it is not a given that you're going to think only what the film-maker intended, you might very well run in an opposite direction. Opening with the shot of an un-Australian looking, un-charming teenage girl covering up the screen and the flat Australian barren landscape behind, the film sets its tone in the opening moments itself. While the husband is leaving the wife and house, and the wife is bickering and not at all ready to give way, the daughter is calmly looking, "contemplating" to use the right word, at the scene. As if she's not involved in it. Or, as we get to know her better, she's too sure of the outcome, and her love for her father and her hate of her mother's bickering ways are too strong to involve herself further in this scene in which she knows each will play out her part for sure, the father of leaving responsiblities, the mother of bickering and making herself a whore, the daughter of contemplating, self-discovering, and finally learning a woman's part in life.

The film's extraordinary charm lies in the success of the director to make an ordinary, everyday story transform into an unearthly phenomenon. Nothing seems real in the film, even though nothing is operating in the realm of fantasy or allegory as was the case in Merci, La Vie. Here, except one or two dream sequences, everything is rooted in the barren, desert landscape, everything in the stillness that surrounds these beings of a different culture in this inhospitable oasis. The hints are barely dropped at: there's just a school scene in which migrant children are being beat into "Australian dignity." And yes, most neighbours who La Spagnola consorts with now seem integrated very much in Australia, it's only La Spagnola who looks very much Spanish. And yet it is she who counts herself as Australian and has no professed sentiments for Spain, for it's "Australia that's feeding us." Beyond this, the film proceeds more on the tension between mother and daughter: tension created due to men, due to middle-class ennui, due to strikingly different natures of mother and daughter. A harsh camera and lighting arrangement, or an excess as for example when the mother's lover tries to seduce the daughter, makes the film even more disturbing. Silent studies of the daughter's contemplative face, taking in it all, and equally silent, relaxed, reassured movements by the daughter herself (brilliant acting by Alice Ansara) - all lead to this silent boil, for which we don't know where to put a finger on. On this heat and desolation? On lack of cultured or charming men? On their being migrants? On middle-class life? Or simply on their being women?

The two really striking things are in themselves are so small and yet so impactful. One is that the mother is always La Spagnola for everyone ("the Spanish woman"). It's strange that although the dialogue proceeds in Spanish, although she has relatives, so obviously there are other Spanish around, it's she who gets referred to as "the Spanish woman," the director probably pointing out to her lack of integrability to Australian lifestyle. The other is the strange bilingualness (or rather, multilingualness, for there are other languages too) of the film. The mother asks the question in Spanish and the daughter answers it sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English. And a very heavy, lazy accented English. The film's bilingualness throughout works wonders, it does not let the viewer settle down in a zone, it keeps him on the edge. It is another of the several unpredictabilities associated with this film. The film in its climax again probably gives out the message that women must accept life as it is and thank life for as it is, for life even as such is something to be lived for. This might be a truth for many women. Yet, who dares to teach woman "acceptance"? It's here that I don't agree with both Merci, La Vie and La Spagnola, but yes I would recommend anyone to watch these films for sure. They will open a world of thoughts and a world of cinematic possibilities in front of you.

The film was the official entry from Australia for the Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film category. This was in itself strange, insofar as it's a predominantly Spanish language film.