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

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cries and Whispers

The coldness of death may be quite minimal to the coldness we show in our relationships. Death may be a welcome respite from this coldness or death may be a gate to supreme coldness of no relations. How does we look at death and how does we look at life devoid of any warmth. Are they same or the later is even worse. Why do you become cold in the relations which once were soulful and warm. Is it intentional or a result of other events of life. Is human affection so difficult to pursue. These are only some of the question we enconter as we walk through Cries and Whispers. Cries and Whispers has cries of death with whispers of longing of warmth.

Cries and Whispers is second Bergman's movie that I saw, first was Wild Strawberries. If you see these two movies, Bergman's affection to death and coldness in relationships seems too evident. May be it is amateurish to make such a statement, especially when you have seen only two movies of his, but the skill he shows in dealing with these emotions prompts you to believe that.

Cries and Whispers revolves round dying Agnes, her two sisters, Karin and Maria and their maid Anna. Although nothing much is told about Agnes past but it looks she is more warm then her sisters and long for some closeness with her sisters which she never receives. She only receives some real warmth and closeness from Anna. The relationship between Anna and Agnes could be seen as erotic but there are enough evidences that Anna is the motherly by heart and Agnes longs for that affection at her deathbed.

We see Karin, Maria and Anna in flashbacks. Karin is cold due to her ice-cold marriage. In the flashback, the scene at the dining table and bedroom paints a picture of Karin as an emotionally and sexually starved woman in anguish due to a dry relationship with her husband. This coldness and inability to connect with others becomes clear with her encounters with Maria where she stops any closeness and declares that she hate her. Although she later try to patch up with Maria but at that time Maria closes the doors. Karin with her seemingly hard exteriors is quite broken inside, she reminds of Erika of The Piano Teacher at times.

Maria is self obsessed beauty who witnesses the her wounded husband with fear but didn't reach to help him. Maria has an affair with Agnes' Doctor. In one of the most directly poetic scenes of the movie, Doctor narrates the minute but subtle changes that have come in Maria's face features since the time he met her first, depicting that Maria has gone manipulate and calculating with time and lost her innocence.

Anna seems the only kind character here, who is truly moved my Agnes' pain and try to console her by showing her all motherly love. The contrast between these characters is glaringly evident during the gruesome death sequence of Agnes where Karin and Maria couldn't conceal their coldness and not able to bridge the distance to come close to Agnes but Anna comes forward to help Agnes in her last moments. In one of the sequences, Anna cradles dead Agnes in her lap, that frame is almost picture perfect.

Cries and Whispers is superbly acted. The best of the them is Harriet Andersson as Agnes. Her painful death scenes is difficult to endure because of her compelling act. Kari Sylwan show all the traits of a mother in her portrayal of Anna. And there is cinematography which is nothing short of brilliant and soulful. Although Cries and Whispers is about darker sides of the life but you see different shades of red scattered all over. Bergman said that he used red because he think it is color of the soul. These stylistic flourishes makes a Cries and Whispers stunning to watch. Other mastery is shown in close-up department. I have heard that Bergman usually puts close ups of actresses, but he goes far enough to give you close ups of candles, clocks, flowers, letters in addition to the stunning close ups of stunning female cast.

Cries and Whispers works on a level that a few movies even aspire for. This masterpiece is usually considered a testimonial about death but to me it seemed to question more about life and its ways, bridges in relationships, warmth of closeness and coldness of mental distances.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


When you talk about attraction, you may be talking of boredom in a way. When you talk about relationships, you are in a way talking about segregation, Likewise when you talk about losing the meaning, you may be talking of the gaining something else, if not the meaning. The question about 'What brings people closer' usually moves to 'What keeps them together', when you think about someone else, you usually end up thinking about you. Some of the movies deal all this and return to the basics, images that impact you permanently. L'avventura is a movie of that power.
L'avventura is a montage of images where the images and the backdrops represents minds of characters. The characters are not very strong when the movie starts, they discover themselves as the movie moves. It is first movie that I saw which used images with such lingering power, here you need to see the whole frame to understand what's happening, L'avventura demands lots of attention, which it deserves fully. The pace of the movie is slow and its not particularly interesting that will keep you struck to the screens and it takes long time to identify with the movie but L'avventura doesn't aspire to be like that. There are long scenes with supporting cast that apparently doesn't add much to the narrative but all this is not irrelevant to the movie as a whole.

L'avventura is a story of Claudia whose friend Anna go missing on a boat trip and Anna's fiancé, Sandro becomes attracted to Claudia. This may be the dumbest way to put the plot but the best way will be to see the movie. Movie starts with all the attention on Anna, who is not sure about anything. In a beautiful crafted scene when Anna and Claudia go to pick up Sandro for the boat trip, Anna first even refuses to go up and see Sandro but end up having sex with him with Claudia waiting for her down. Characters here are self obsessed upper class. On the boat other insecurities of Anna are revealed. Meanwhile we are introduced to lots of characters on boat, that represents some stereotypes of marriage, man and woman. Anna was very unsure about her marriage, and discuss it with Sandro just before disappearing which sparks off a search of Anna, which later becomes the search of other characters mainly Claudia.

There are lot of scenes that are like paintings, the one that comes to my mind is the reverberating scene where Claudia and Sandro ring church bells, its perhaps the most happy scene of movie. Lot of other times too, characters were happy but they are pretending it or the happiness was too short-lived to qualify. The other one was the train scene where Claudia and Sandro lying in the meadows and a train passes by. All these images are all the more interesting to watch because they represent the state of mind of the characters.

L'avventura sometimes take the shape of a mystery which is not the mystery of finding Anna, but Claudia finding herself. In one of the last scenes she reveals her changed state of mind very clearly by saying that she dread finding Anna now. This possibly reflect more when put in perspective to the scene where Claudia stopped Sandro advances in the name of faithfulness of friendship and lamented that people change so fast and people forget so easily. L'avventura's take on morality is quiet illusive.

The Last Scene of L'avventura is almost magical, you may or may not like the movie but you're going to appreciate that scene where Claudia stands putting her hands on the head of Sandro, sitting and weeping like a child, with a dormant volcano in background.

L'avventura is not going to interest you if you want any instant entertainment and instant understanding of the movie. It will take time for the movie to dissolve and I may not guarantee that too. A picture may be worth a thousand words but which words or interpretation you take make or mar the picture especially when image are meant to be speaking emotional traumas of characters. L'avventura is so rare an experience because it give numerous such images and innumerous such possibilities.

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

Fox and his friends was my first Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie but it didn't click for me. Barring some scenes in the last reels, it left me cold. So I thought to give Fassbinder another try with The Bitter tears of Petra Von Kant and now I realize why they say Fassbinder is one of the greatest film makers ever.

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is adapted from a play that Fassbinder wrote and it shows since the movie is almost theatrical and there is no effort to reduce that effect. There are stay-still camera angles, camera never searches for characters but characters find their place to fit in whereas the camera rests! With minimal camera movements, no outdoor scenes, six female characters out of which one never speaks and four have small screen times, overlong conversations, set in a claustrophobic apartment, no action as such, one might suspect how this movie is going to bind you. But The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant works on different level and all this stage-like setting and acting works wonders for it.

The Bitter Tears is a piece from the life of Petra Von Kant, a successful fashion designer just divorced from her husband because 'He stank of man'. In the beginning of the movie, she is shown as a manipulative career woman busy with her work and bosses with her assistant cum slave Marlene, expressionless girl who doesn't utter a word in the whole movie and is just like many of the mannequins lying here and there in Petra's apartment, except that she obeys Petra's orders all the time.

As the movie proceeds, Petra falls in love with a young girl Karin and promises to help her to become a model. But Karin care least of Petra. The treatment that Karin gives to Petra is almost like what Petra inflict on Marlene. Petra breaks down when Karin leaves her for a her husband. There is not much of story but here we see human relationships in darkest and bleakest form. Petra's definition of love was based on dominance, possessiveness and dependence., but when Karin flies away leaving her heartbroken she realizes the importance of freedom. One of the story dialogue movie goes like 'People need each other but haven't found a way to live with each other'. Petra has been in many relationships, all were failure and her one sided affair with Karin devastates her to realize the need of freedom and equality in a relation and as a sign of the change she lets Marlene go. Petra who once says 'Everyone is dispensable' realizes the shallowness of the statement much later. Petra starts out as someone who is strong and can manipulate people and their emotions, turns into a inconsolably helpless fellow by the final reel. Her act of freeing Marlene can be seen as a redemption of all she has done all the years to Marlene and the likes without having an idea that it could happen to her. Petra character has shades of humility but a closer look tells us they are all selfish, inorder to gain love of Karin. Her treatment to Marlene and Karin are too contrasting, suggesting that we treat people differently depending upon what they can offer to us. Petra later realizes that all the relationships cannot work in the terms of being master or slave and how painful it is to be on the receiving end. The bitter helplessness of Petra is evident when she asks Karin 'Do you love me', Karen reluctantly replies 'I love you in my own way'. She could have said no too, but she needed money that Petra can only provide. Here the manipulations of relationships seems so clear and brutal.

The other strong point of the movie is superb performance by the all-female cast. Margit Carstensen is Petra is nothing short of brilliant and Irm Hermann as Marlene has a ghostly presence. There are some of the shot that are exceptionally excellent, one of them is the final breakdown of Petra, nicely-dressed but devastated waiting for Karin's call sitting on a velvety carpet on her Birthday with a mural in the background.

The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant is about one of the pet themes of Fassbinder which he referred to as "Fascism of everyday life". Here Fassbinder paints a bleak picture of life, where every relationship is inherently manipulative and our 'potential use' is our only worth, sooner and later we realize that not only we are used by someone, but we also use others from time to time in the name of noblest emotions of love and friendship.