Sunday, May 13, 2012

Before the Rain (1994)

This beautiful tale in three parts has only one major weakness: the most beautifully shot and told part comes at the very beginning, and the viewer is left struggling to reexperience the classic tale of thwarted love in the remaining, as the story slowly evolves into a political statement, even if made so poetically, so indirectly.

Also known as Pred dozhdot (in Macedonian), the film's strength lies in its visuals and its rich, stunning music: so even if the film falters on scores of an irrelevant second part and a longer-than-needed third part, all is forgiven, since one is still mesmerised by what happened in the first part: magic between and by a Macedonian novice and an Albanian untamed girl, played memorably by the French actor Grégoire Colin and the Macedonian Labina Mitevska - any praise for the two would be less. The film reminded me of several classic Uzbek love stories, stuff on which I grew up and which probably influenced me into becoming greatly into what I am: however, director Manchevski's intentions are beyond a love that bloomed for a day. His intentions are that "the circle is not round": that instead of a man's past catching up with him, it catches up with others, and thus misery extends "like a virus". One man's misdeeds may lead to an unforeseen chain reaction: which is what the film's story is in a nutshell, though here the perpetrator is faceless, rather it is the stupid humanity which can poke out "twenty-eight thousand eyes", quite a spectacle, isn't it?

Manchevski employs certain tricks very close to Kieślowski: I don't think they necessarily work here. The structure of the film itself is not simply "non-linear": it is neither circular. It is rather, what I would say, jagged: and parts of it don't make any sense to me. How does Anne have the photos of Zamira's killing, unless that is the most latest chronological piece: and if it is, what purpose does it serve, even if I ignore that it is sandwiched in between older chronological segments in order to only confuse the viewer? Kieślowski used to employ jagged storylines often, but much more cleverly. There are also the recurring motifs like the cat and the same music on radio that Trajce and a stranger hear, and of course there is the strong emphasis on cinematography of Kieślowski. What Manchevski is not able to do with those motifs that he is unable to create intuitive links between their occurrences: for Kieślowski, there were unseen connections across time and space between events, between people and between periods, hence the recurrence, but here the same seems to be belaboured and simply a trick.

Regardless, it was the first-ever feature of Manchevski, and a very ambitious one at that, so it's understandable: the greater the experience, the greater the refinement will come. In the end, what he's done is that he's given us not just a sublime film but sublime poetry, illuminated at the very start by words of foreboding, of Meša Selimović.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

À tout de suite (2004)

The much-underrated film À tout de suite (int’l title: Right Now) came as a major surprise to me: luminous and intense throughout, the film is a completely different take on the often-shot theme of bank robbery in French cinema. The film is rather all about the young girl who’s fallen hopelessly, and for ever, in life-changing love with a sensitive bank robber. It’s completely her story, that of her life, her emotions, her releases, her attempts to keep living: and the robbery and even her love are in the backdrop or serve only as props to that. Needless to say, the actor playing such a role needs to be superb and come across as vulnerable, exposable - beautiful Isild Le Besco as Lili gives one of the finest performances of French cinema.

I saw the original version in which Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” is used: I’ve heard that there is another version with some other music. “Shine on You” punctuates the film brilliantly (it’s another matter that the same music serving to bolster the story’s pathos kept me reminded throughout of Buongiorno, Notte). The decision to shoot the film in black & white serves also well the film: Le Besco seems more beautiful than she may have looked otherwise, the nude scenes seem artistic and voluptuous instead of crude as often the case is otherwise, and the film gets the grainy look of a life lived among raw emotions, not some color canvas expertly prepared for delicious consumption.

The best praise that I can think of the film is that it can give Carax’s Boy Meets Girl a stiff competition and worthy company.