Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Krótki film o milosci

The best thing about Krzysztof Kieślowski's Krótki film o milosci (A Short Film about Love) is probably that it shows an aspect of love which is very, very less understood, and is able to demonstrate that love has myriad forms, takes myriad sentiments as its ways of outpouring, including those banned by society to be even thought of: cases in point being incest, voyeurism, lust itself (and not as something distinct) and a sadistic desire and search for pain. Different people, different attractions, different names, but each one of them is "love", since each one of them is the search of a human being for something reciprocal, which sometimes he tries to find in himself through the other or which sometimes he tries to beget in himself through the other, or which sometimes he tries to destroy in himself through the other.

The film on its surface is a simple story about an adolescent falling into an intense love affair just by being a voyeur, just by watching the past-middle-aged artist who lives opposite and has a slew of sexual encounters with men, presumably agents to whom she is trying to convince to sell her artwork. The men of course take full advantage of her willingness to sell herself but probably never actually do buy something; at least, she is only a struggling artist, an unknown. But when you try to reflect on what does the story mean, on why certain things happen, and what else could have happened, it is then you tend to get absorbed completely in never thought-of issues.

One of the most striking things, established well at the outset of the film, is the sympathy placed on the voyeur. So while the same society which calls a voyeur a pervert watches this same film already anticipating their sympathies towards the voyeur. And the director doesn't fail them; he shows a sensitive boy, for company only his friend's mother, a secretive boy, and a boy who moves away his telescope when the woman opposite actually starts having sex with the man in her apartment. Later on, the boy confesses to the woman that he used to watch the complete ritual, but in any case this is never shown in the film. And we don't know whether the boy has only made this up to the woman in order to hide his sensitivity or he really used to see everything. After all, there are contradictory accounts of the origin of the telescope itself - while the boy claims that this was given to him by the friend in whose apartment (and with whose mother) he is living now and instructed to see the nice body opposite, the friend's mother later on in the film tells the woman that this is the boy's own contrivance. A doubt obviously ensues over how much the boy used to see. And considering the whole film, I think he saw "everything" but only once, and he was revolted by it.

This is essential to the film, in order to understand the hypersensitivity of the boy, who lives in his dreams, and creates his own pain. It's his friend's mother's teaching that when you've got a toothache press a hot iron to your shoulder, in order to forget the lesser pain against the greater pain. So in fact you just delude yourself into another pain, but all the while the consciousness burns inside you that why did you press the hot iron! Quite an extraordinarily suicidal teaching for a sensitive soul! It is against this backdrop of the fresh, virginal soul of the boy that this worldly woman who has sold herself to countless people but who does not enjoy any of those and keeps on somehow struggling for art, it is against this canvas the story unfolds of the boy who cannot bear that the woman whom she adores from distance breaks down, even if in private, that she cries! But unfortunately by calling her to the post office twice on false pretext only makes the woman unhappier, more bitter, and a butt of society's jokes on a lonely, poor woman.

The most interesting part of the film is the woman's reaction to the boy's confession that he watches her. It is almost never shock, except for the very initial moment; she's too tired for that, as if she's saying that ok, this was one joke yet to be played on me. But it is disbelief, of something as absurd as love itself and that too from a boy who doesn't even know her. Believing it to be just a passing stage of adolescent lust, which should be best relieved, she makes every effort of seducing the boy. And unwittingly strikes at the soul of the boy; he loves her pain and her heroic effort to not to show her pain, more than being excited about her body. It is only when he is now beyond her reach, she realises that love does exist in the world, even for a "fallen woman". The painful interlude has now probably taught each of them new things, things each of them were in need of: the boy has now been scratched, there will never be that fresh soul, he has stepped into manhood; the woman has also stepped into womanhood, she knows now that love exist, she knows now that beauty exists, and she has greater things to live for now. Maybe she is not going to seduce shady agents any longer.

The film's composition is the remarkable feature which makes the film riveting for the viewer. The film is always from the point of view of the boy, except the last part when it completely shifts to the woman. So there's no third observer in the film, no third eye. The boy's room is never shown in much detail, is not glossed over much; and most of the film goes as if one is watching the film itself through a binocular. The characters chosen are remarkable, especially the mysterious, sadistic old woman who is the boy's friend's mother and the bestial lover of the woman who is best seen peering through keyholes. It's an interesting aside to note that the woman does not have any charming, suave lovers; the most carnal instincts which prompt men to her door are compared against the platonic instincts of the boy which prompt him to even become a milkman at her door.

I only wish Kieślowski would have made Nabokov's "Lolita" and Dostoyevsky's "Poor Folks", he was so perfect for these neglected masterpieces.

Monday, May 19, 2008

La guerre est finie

The William Faulkner of cinema, Alain Resnais through La Guerre Est Finie ("The War Is Over") does not only a brilliant psychological study of the revolutionary but also of the resistance itself. The spirit, the anger, the disjointedness, the weariness, the inspiration, the mechanical, the loss of charm, the loss of ideology with the gain of further knowledge, the loss of innocence in more ways than virginal: how often do you find a film that can catch all this?

Inspirational cinematography, designed to capture the soul, the subconscious, titillates the viewer, provokes the viewer, and finally absorbs the viewer. In this one respect, Resnais differs largely from Godard, in that all his unconventionalities only draw in the viewer further, only make the viewer feel a narrow constriction at heart even more. La Guerre Est Finie stars Yves Montand, Ingrid Thulin and Geneviève Bujold, all actors whom I can call 'choicest', 'hand-picked'.

Montand is the centre of the film; it is through him we get an interior view of an intelligent revolutionary who loves his country, and probably from that love is losing his ideology, seeing now, in his 'retirement' age, the futileness of it all. Some more will die, will anything change? Is that the way to go about it? Yes, the Spain of legends and bull-fights is sold to the tourists, and people enjoy and go away, satisfied that all is well with Franco's Spain. But would killing off tourism and civil war be the way out? Wouldn't those same scatterbrained people then go elsewhere and 'enjoy their lives'?

Long and short dollies, finest editing and cinematography I've ever seen in my life, and an equally ingenious way of making acquired passions of a man impersonal - all make the film a masterpiece. Let's get down to each one in detail.

Dollies and intercutting shots serve only to make the film more Montand-centric. As Montand is living a revolutionary's life, going places, struggling with his reactionism and what he sees now as the truth, and what is going to happen, something is happening somewhere all the times. There are so many people connected, networked, underground. Someone is waiting to apprehend someone, slip in someone quietly behind doors that might never issue forth that one person; someone is waiting patiently for that someone to come home and reclaim her. Some of these are things not real, only in Montand's imagination and dread of future, or his foresight. Some of it will happen in the film in the ensuing scenes. Some of it has happened before. But, suddenly, in between a Montand scene, you get these different images of different people, going about quietly, unquiet events happening to them quietly, and then you are back to the Montand scene. So now you are seeped in the subconscious of Montand's soul, you are now the disturbed revolutionary who has so much to achieve and so little means to do so.

Especially striking is the scene when Montand has just come to a café, depressed after being told to stay put and that he is growing old, he should rest and 'be convinced'. The images that flash in the telephone booth this time not only include all those involved underground but also Bujold, daughter of a resistance sympathiser and whom he is having an aimless affair with. It's a striking image, one of innocence, Bujold's eyelashes drooping, a virginal image. A guilt on freshness and virginity lost? But on what all counts? It also foretells in a way Bujold's own involvement, on a different and much more radical and destructive and foolhardy scale, in the underground movement. Also, an 'acquired taste'?

Bujold is French, not Spanish, and so are her friends. Theirs is a different case than Montand, who plays Domingo, a Spanish man. But they are obsessed with their youth, and they give it the names of internationalism, Leninism, and truth. A case of acquired tastes when you are intelligent, want to do something but you don't have proper outlets, and you have money or are well-to-do. Not only through such characters but also by way of using narrations in different voices (and not those of the actors) does the film make its point across of ideologies speaking. It is most prominent when Montand argues with other resistance leaders about the inevitable failure of the coming strike. There are two to three voices, not Montand's, not the other leaders', which take up this discussion. It is as if men have become impersonal here, they have been taken control of something higher than themselves, they have become just 'voices' and 'ideologies' and that's their identification, their brand. They will die one day, even their ideologies will be forgotten, at least as attached to them. There would be just the murmur of those voices on the wind.


The film ends in inevitability. Thulin, the mistress whose devotion sometimes makes Montand uncomfortable yet at peace with himself, learns Montand is going to be sucked into a trap, and she starts out to let him know and save him from crossing into Spain. The film ends here, yet there's a shadow of death over it. Either Thulin will not be able to save Montand, or she will be able to save him and Montand will quit this life and spend the remaining part of it trying to make peace with himself and his country. Death, in one case of Montand the physical entity, in the other case of Montand the man of ideals, dreams, revolutionary potentials. That’s why Montand could feel the ‘shadow of death’ through the narrator in the penultimate scene.


To say a simple thing, yet beautifully, yet effectively, to show a story which hadn't had to use far stretches of imaginations, except the most inspiring ones of what happens between a young man and a young girl when they are in love with each other, and when it's first love for both of them, to do all this you not only require a director of the calibre of Ingmar Bergman, but you also require an actress like Maj-Britt Nilsson. She is so natural, so much the Marie, the playful, winsome ballerina she is playing in the film, you don't even realise that these are actors and this is a film. More crucially, Bergman has stuck true to the title (literally "Summer Games"), so the film is a long sequence of youthful love which you don't otherwise get at all in films.

Usually, there is at the most a scene like the montage scene in Eric Segal's Love Story, but why a montage? Why a brief moment, when your whole film is about love between two people? Are you lost of ideas, or do you feel shy and insecure that your film is a celebration of love? This is the place where Bergman excels, he has given full scope to his characters in the degree they require. So while there's that old woman all in black walking in front of Marie, no one knows whether foreshadowing Marie's lonely old life or just being a placard on old life in general, she just strikes a terror in the heart, she just forebodes what is to happen in the film afterwards. There is no attempt of variegating the example or extending the analogy. There is again, much later in the film, a much direct reference to what the viewer can expect soon, through the moustachioed aunt of Birger Malmsten (playing the hero, Henrik) talking about death and legacy. And finally there's the magician, who is more the mirror for Marie rather than the one they are both looking into. The magician incidentally reminded me of the philosopher of Godard's Vivre Sa Vie, almost doing the same role of letting realise the protagonist the punctum in her life.

The cinematography of the film is stunning. And even more so the choice of locale by Bergman. It looks fit for those two young lovers, wanting to be free birds, Marie and Henrik. They both look a part of that world and part of each other when they are on those sharp rocks jutting out on the sea, they both look lost in the world and to each other when they are seen in company, in that world where there is more piano, crockery, ballet, Uncle Erland. The film goes on to show how actors who fit into their parts are essential for a film, especially if it aspires to rise to the heights of "sublime", which Sommarlek (Summer Interlude) does easily.