Saturday, May 03, 2014


To the pacing of soft snow-flakes, to the grimness of winter but the warmth of people's hopes, disappointments, tears and laughter, to the isolation of cells from other cells, humans from other humans, even as stories do link up, is set the beautifully poetic film Polytechnique, a film with little dialogues, and a film where you would least expect visual poetry and meaningful substance if you were to know that the film is basically about a 1989 shooting spree in a Canadian college.

The best thing that the film has done is to limit colour, dialogues, music, acting: rather, the film is about silence. Or, about silences. That of the young man who is forced to seek a solution to his life in killing others, who has no friends, no girlfriend, who, one feels, is in some need of unconditional love, who is intelligent but not in sync with the world and feels painfully that he's not in. That of the young woman who finds the world a less accepting place for her ambitions to enter a male-dominated field, who is in the bubble of ambitions and her passion for engineering and life. That of the young nerd who is shy, who is easily taken advantage of by a girl at the photocopier, the kind of girl with her mean cleverness that is the representative quality for all womankind for the first young man. That of places where music is bursting out, unknown of the shootings going on in other parts of the campus. That of the men who left the girls to their fate and remained transfixed in silent guilt throughout their lives. That of the surviving women and men, who have seen something out of the ordinary and have remained in its cocoon, through dreams and trauma and a too painfully acquired ability to see beyond their short-term goals.

With stunning cinematography and attention to detail, lingering over hands, pistols, snow, little trivia, in beautiful soft black & white, Denis Villeneuve's film touches the heart and, even though it seems that it is faithful to the actual occurrences, also takes liberties to make it a greater work of art rather than mere reconstruction of events. More importantly, Villeneuve gives the role of the killer to not someone who looks Arab by looks, unlike the actual killer's identity: this is a wonderful consideration, given that the film could otherwise lead to hate crime against immigrants in countries like Canada and France, where many from the Maghreb make home. The film is not about gender, violence or death thrills, something that easily such a film ends up in becoming: the film is about disjunct identities, it is about the loneliness in modern, often Western civilization, that culminates here in an act of rage.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

In a film, in a story, when you do not develop your characters, when you do not give anyone the chance to know them, and when you fill your story with stylistic devices of handsome (here typewritten) statements and repetitive visuals of impact (here, shattering glass and exploding bombs), regardless of how well the film or the story looks or reads, they remain hollow. This is the central problem of the overambitious German film Der Baader Meinhof Komplex.

The film traverses a complex historical layer of (West) Germany, about something that is still awake in public consciousness to some extent: the possibility of violence in the aftermath of the two World Wars remains very much so in Europe, and one feels that even more now than ever we are all sitting on some tinderbox. Germany, because of its myriad emotions coming from pride over an empire or a nation that has seen periods of Frederick the Great, to the Weimar Republic and finally to Hitler's project, is the case most intensified out among all. In many ways, the Baader-Meinhof gang of thugs, or RAF in other words, was the product of this confusion: I am not suggesting Baader to be this product, because whether he was or he was not glosses over the seeming fact that he was simply a common waylayer in the guise of the then extolled "anarchist," but the coloured imagination of the youth certainly was so: youth whose fight against US occupation of Vietnam was their new drug, who had their newfound liberty of doing whatever they like, of being trigger-happy, whether it's fucking anyone and wherever, shooting a pistol shot at whomsoever or whatsoever or just into the void, or glorifying themselves by pushing and bullying others into some cruel act. The so-called anarchist often plays the Russian roulette, not with himself, which he pretends to, but with others' lives: he believes in nothing, but in destruction, in inversion and in perversion. Meinhof and her group may fight against the likes of the Shah of Iran, but they will also take arms and training from the Stasi, or from the Arabs whom they would otherwise disdain by getting nude whenever they want to, with no care for some other culture; or they may easily hijack a plane, because after all the passengers of an airplane can presumably be only capitalists.

And yet, the film tries to go away from who Baader was, who Gudrun was, who Ulrike was, or who Mohnhaupt was. It paints them in a haze of smoke and sex, high-falutin words and a mixed bag of actions, most of which end up botched and all of which are dirty: but fails to reveal the essential insecurity underlying someone like these adrenaline-fuelled terrorists. These are people who are neither Vietnamese, nor Arabs: their land has not been taken away, they have not been subjected to poisonous gas, and even in prison they have access to TV, radio and other means of contact, something that many free people in other countries wouldn't have. These are not terrorists driven by a consuming anger from experience. Their anger is rather the anger from impotence: they know their fathers were impotent, and they know that they are equally impotent, and so since they cannot fuck, their guns do the fucking part. And this is where the film comes up a pathetic cropper: there are a lot of incidents, lot of shouting and shooting, but there is no substance. Even though the film gathers a good cast, the director only succeeds in partially brightening up the image of some of the most despicable murderers in German history, which, considering how littered it is with them, is to say much.

There is no sensitivity of La guerre est finie, there is no small but detailed scope of Buongiorno, Notte, and there is no human uplifting story of The Lives of Others, all comparable films in theme and preoccupations: all there is, is a body but no soul. The body is handsome - the production values are high - but without the soul, the eyes don't light up.