{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Monday, March 31, 2008

Hiatus... and Films...

Its been over a month that I have blogged and in fact I never even thought of any need or felt any urge to blog. This sufficiently tells us the weak foundations on which this blog rests, or rather sleeps. Last time, when I started to write something to post with urgency but quickly discarded was about a brilliant film that I saw almost by accident. I had seen Who's Camus Anyway? laying in Chicago Library racks for long but never picked it up (now I think of it, I attribute this to its title (which in my opinion is the weakest thing about the film). I thought of it as an intellectual pseudo-serious student film). I am glad that I read Ed Gonzalez's (one of my favorite critics, he is thoughtful, incisive and unafraid to go wrong) praises of this film and I picked it over Makhmalbaf's The Silence (Nice film but little too beautiful, I should not say this I even smelt some bad breath of Theo Angelopoulos in few scenes).

One of the main reasons for not seeing as many films as I see and thus not blogging at all is the turbulence in my professional life. Since things were related to work, it was easy going, but also time consuming and uninspiring. As shameful as it seems, I did not even see 10 films in March, and I was always meek in my choices, trying to see easy going comedies or re-watching things passively. In the course of events, I left Chicago two weeks back and came to a small town in Indiana, thus further reducing my chances to see good films. Chicago, though not New York, was a place for film buffs, where every international film sooner or later hits either Gene Siskel, Music Box or Landmark Century Cinema, and backed with big Harold Washington Library DVD section, one can cover a lot. Gene Siskel was a great place and I saw three great documentaries there last year- Into Great Silence, Lake of Fire and Manufactured Landscapes - I liked them in that order.

Actually I liked them so much that I saw each of them twice. Lake of Fire turns brilliant in its last reels where director raises the film above pro-life/pro-choice voices and shows us how a woman going through abortion given all the support of the father of the child (at least at the time) and the care of the doctor feels. When after undergoing an abortion, she bravely starts weeping in front of the camera, pro-life/pro-choice merge and evaporate into something which is beyond such questions - the human trauma of being a mother in such a situation. Similarly, in Manufactured Landscapes' brilliant opening tracking shot of a Chinese manufacturing unit assembly line brings the main voice of the film - although highly beautiful and tightly composed these landscapes are manufactured and underneath them lies something free and natural. In one of the episodes which shows the construction of the biggest dam project in China and how it displaced thousands of people, the irony comes forth in a matter-of-fact way when people who were evacuated gets job for livelihood to break and clear away their own houses, to create these manufactured landscapes. Also, the pitch perfect photography of the documentary - anything from colorful landscapes of area overexploited for natural resources to the stack of computer waste piled like a modern art piece - makes us wonder what beauty means to us when we see these pictures segregated from their context.

On a visual level, Into Great Silence creates a space of peace and tranquility, and aligns itself to the rhythm of its subject, whether it is the repetitiveness of their day to day activities or their minimal interaction with each other. Into Great Silence, to me, is a possibility of such existence, which is very life affirming. Seeing this film second time (when you are not seeing it for anything but experiencing it on visceral level) was one of the highlights of my 2007 film watching.

Coming back to my favorite film this year (2008) yet, Who's Camus Anyway?, its film about a bunch of students trying to make a film on Camus' The Stranger. This film is as much about Camus' existential themes, as it is about film making, and to complete the arc, as much about the players involved in film making, on and off the sets. As you can see, all this gives the director, Mitsuo Yanagimachi, enough freedom to explore the idea of fiction, reality and their relation to film-making. In Fassbinder's minor effort Beware of the Holy Whore, he was more concerned with the manipulative master-slave relationship between the disinterested cast and sadomasochistic smug director and to some extent about how films are reflection of that but not how films represent reality or even better, how reality and fiction are inseparable when we talk about films. There are several high points in Who's Camus Anyway?, the first is the opening tracking shot which not only reminds us of Altman's The Player but even talks about it, and obviously the climax where film plays an is-it-real-or-not game with the audiences while the most crucial scene of the film is shot. It becomes scary and reliving breath by breath and I started questioning why I even liked the lame and one dimensional provocations of Haneke in Funny Games. The director of Who's Camus Anyway? is not punishing his audience or not even condescending them, but at that same time, with enough cinematic power, showing how the images lie but also how they are the only truth you have when you see a film - a free form experiment of both the powers and limits of cinema.

But my favorite scene from the film comes midway. Here one character playfully starts to read some sort of psychoanalysis report of film's lead character (based on The Stranger’s Meursault) and after few seconds other voice (this time a grim voice of a girl, with little music in the backgroud) starts to read the opening paragraph of The Stranger and slowly, with the dual voices reading symptom and analysis, the camera moves where a bunch of students are playing cello and flute and all these voices converge into a scariest snare, as the camera move towards darkness. For me, this scene works purely on cinematic level, it has no relation to the narrative or the character arc, but I must say this was my cinematic high of the year, yet to be topped.