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

Monday, April 14, 2014


Thanks to Alok, on Sunday evening, I saw 2046 on big screen. Although I was tired from two days of night out, I pushed myself to the screening so that I may go though the experience of visual and sound, two things which Wong Kar-wai seems master in fusing so well with each other, and thus creating the often talked about 'mood', which warrant a big screen viewing.

When I saw 2046 for the first time, I approached it with infinitely high hopes and as a continuation to Kar-wai's masterpiece In the Mood for Love. My first expectation was not fully fulfilled but it did wonders in being a continuation to In the Mood for Love. It had similar themes; it had its sublime moments of deep eroticism accentuated by great music and searching visual and most importantly the devastating power of unconsummated smoldering love.

The newspaper man (Chow Mo Wan, Tony Leung Chiu-wai reprises his character from IMFL) of In the Mood for Love has moved to Hong Kong, is writing erotic novels, lives in Hotel Oriental and now having a playboy sort of living, lots of one night stands, but is never able to get over the past. He comes in contact with three women and they are in one way or the other related to his past affair, an affair which is too deeply felt and too brutally truncated that he is not able to make any new connection, any new memories, always traveling on a train to reclaim his past memories, an effort that keeps him away from making new memories. But as the life goes, people come to your lives and the past rumbles up and down, although eventually you are lost in memories which are all about past, recent past and irrecoverable past. This ghost haunts our hero, in the hotel rooms and alleys, in the curves of women, in any contact he wants to make.

The thing that I most adore about Wong Kar-wai is his thin stories and how they come to life with flair and the mastery of cinematic medium. Wong Kar-wai is a master in making references to the past in the ways few can even attempt. The choice of symbols are too elegant, of all bigger things Kar-wai chooses the number of the hotel room to keep as a reference to the lost love. The material things of the consumer world gets the shape of love objects in his hands, whether its the tinned pineapples with a particular expiry date, or a 10 dollar bill paid at every visit to the lover, or the cards that are played between lovers, or the heaps of martial art books that the lovers exchange, or the fishes in a lover's apartment or the place where the lovers meet, the wall behind and the flicking bulb in a romantic rain. These all becomes the portals to the past; something very personal sticks to them. This concept is too thin to make any art out of it, but Kar-wai does it, and that too with such a style which somehow transport you to that lonesome town where all the lovers in Kar-wai movies reside, amidst the blazing neon lights and never stopping and chattering crowds.

2046 has a bigger canvass than In the Mood for Love. The three stories are connected to IMFL beautifully. The story of a prostitute, Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), has the connection to the hotel room where the couple stayed in IMFL, The story of Wang Jing Wen (Faye Wong) is related to her common love for Kung-fu novels with the hero, who tried to write such novels with his lover in IMFL. The third story is about a mysterious gambler, Su Li Zhen (Gong Li), who has the same name as Chow's lover in IMFL (Maggie Cheung). And along with all this there is a futuristic tale of a train which people board to regain their lost memories, but they never come out of it. In all this meandering narrative and brilliant visual, Kar-wai tries hard to give his patent mood, mood of loss, mood of sexuality and mood of regret, mood of secrecy, sex and love.

An important quality of his movies is the way he blends music to visual. This mastery is even seen in the title sequence of 2046, as the array of Chinese letters flash and fade on screen, music come and goes, as if assisting their movement, matching their rhythm. I particularly like IMFL for this reason, the audio-visual treat that it offers, without losing the right note to synchronize camera to music, Su Li Zhen's every ascent and decent becomes an act of love, an act of art of love, her curves, looking back at stairs and her wiping off the rain drops from her forehead becomes such a profound experience that remains with you long after she has reached her small room and finished eating the noodles.

2046 lacked such a trance, at least in story of Li Bing, an oh-so-beautiful prostitute, who falls in love for our hero. Wong Kar-wai has a way with actors, which he seemed to have lost in one of the stories in 2046. Xiang Xiyi is so beautiful and I think a good actress too, but I think she didn't realize that in a War-kai movie you don't 'act' but just be. Her story, which is longest of all, has a touch of conventional acting which Kar-wai actors only show when they are in crowd but with their lovers they become all so muted, all too intense. All the talk and all the rough sex in this story can be muted, can be made more painful and so is the emotional/dramatic impart that Li Bing go though when the relationship does not work out. It becomes a sort of melodrama that we don't expect from Kar-wai. In a Kar-wai movie, tears don’t reach the chin, they are wiped out, with ruthless secrecy, on the cheeks itself. Here the tears reach the chin, several times.

I loved the other two stories too much. The one with Faye Wong in love with a Japanese man, learning an alien language, and writing Kung-fu novels, and the painfully sad and deeply sexy story of a gambler, played by Gong Li, who is trapped in her memories, a female version of our hero. Both the actresses in these stories are exceptionally well. Faye Wong as a love-lorn teenager and a loving android, does such a magic that makes her lost Japanese love, ooze out of her emotionless android body. Gong Li gives a very mature performance with little dialogues and an extremely potent gait in the gloom of her hidden loss. After seeing Gong Li as Su Li Zhen, I thought she is even better than Maggie Cheung of IMFL, who missed a string or two in her performance. A small but extremely efficacious role of Su Li Zhen sizzles the screen with a powerful kiss towards the end, with melancholy music, red lipstick smeared out of the lips as if she just allowed herself to be raped by her present lover, with past carefully keeping a dreadful watch, she walking down the stairs like a fallen goddess.

The film also engages in a good old cliché, 'The Lonely Christmas Cliché', which could have been avoided given the past inventions of ennui by Kar-wai, all those beautiful inventions to refer to hole in the hearts of lovers that merge reality to fiction, producing a modern fantasy. There are some minor problems with editing which a casual watcher like me could also point out, but on a second thought I always question myself, was it meant to be like that, especially in case of masters of medium like Kar-wai, who don't care much for schedules or budget. One more problem with 2046 is its dialogues. As is the case with War-kai's stories, they are either so everyday that no mushy flamboyant communication will go with it, or they are so passionately intense that no communication in words is required at all. Characters will talk about ties and purses, but never about love and how they feel about it. 2046 has some notoriously naive dialogues which, at times, makes 2046 looks like a love child of IMFL and a mushy hallmark card.

But I must say, there is no denying the fact that its a potent sequel to In the Mood of Love, it broadens its canvass, it takes further the similar themes adding the sublime theme of regret and it is as beautifully crafted as IMFL. 2046 opens the memories whispered in the tree hole, and we find out that the wound is still bleeding and Kar-wai captures all that gore and dressings with love and understanding. For me, who so loved IMFL, and somehow want to remain in that realm, in that train of past, 2046, with all its flaws, knocks me down at least in parts and will linger for long.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I completed Decalogue by Krzysztof Kieslowski and I must say what an experience. And I must also say that Kieslowski now came close to being my favorite director, just standing next to Bergman. There is more to speak about Decalogue as a whole than in parts. And its what I will be doing here. I will try to touch each of the ten episodes briefly but talking about entirely of the great effort. For me biggest question about life and humans still remain the moral questions, the questions like what is more important to us- love, freedom, quality or anything else. Decalogue addresses these questions brilliantly.

One more thing which I really appreciate about Kieslowski is his choice of topics and his sense of awareness about people in general. In one way or the other Decalogue seems to say that we all have histories, we all have some past if not interesting but worth contemplating. All the Decalogue stories happen in the same polish apartment and characters of other stories crisscross at times. In Decalogue, Kieslowski has essentially generated a world of his own, which is infact very universal. There are other things which occur in all parts which try to link the stories in a very wholesome way. One of those is a young man who is just a mute observer in all the parts and camera focusses on him at the most crucial hours of the episodes, the points where the characters are just about to go in a dilemma which is most of the time relate quite precisely to the commandment that episode is addressing. Now since we have come to the commandment thing, I don't consider them to be the driving force in each of the episode, lot of times one episode touches on more than one commandment and you feel more resonated by other questions raised than those by the commandments. One doubt which I had before watching this ten part tour-de-force is its tone, I may assure you with all my contemplation that it not religious or anti religious or irreligious. There is more, much more to them, than the one liner commandments. Most of the times you see coincidences, miracles, odd situations, moral dilemmas on screen which are infact amongst Kieslowski's favorite themes. and all this one hour drama have the trauma of being a human, the pain or pleasure of being in a world which is not predictable, the suspense of our so-called mundane lives.

Moving on this, I find one more interesting thing about Krzysztof Kieslowski, he usually takes a risky road, most of the directors usually have in mind some very basic judgments like God doesn't exist and there is nothing like miracle. Kieslowski doesn't fear from any of these, he presents lots of situation which compels us to think the either way and more importantly with almost equal force. He takes the risk of such type of situations and let the viewers decide for themselves. Decalogue is such important artistic and philosophical document because of this reason also.

One more thing which is constantly becoming a very fertile source of thinking for me is the influence of others on you. I am not talking about the usual bad and good influence, but how life of others influence us, This is one of the constant theme in all the episodes of Decalogue and the factor that glues each of them in a unique fashion. Decalogue seldom takes stands but through the faces of characters which makes them stories rather then documentaries and we feel the versatility of the art of story telling in all its flair, power and youth.

I will move on a brief on each of the episode and what it generated out of me.

Part 1: This is a story about a mathematician father and his very brilliant son. Its a story about fate, unpredictability and human helplessness in the hands of nature's randomness. If I ever forced to pick one episode that I found very close to myself, it would be this one. There are questions about God to questions about death. I started with this episode and I had to wait for about an half to move for the next one.

Part 2: This is a story about a women whose husband is on death-bed and she is carrying a child of another man. She goes to the doctor to ask whether her husband is going to die, Doctor answer will decide who will live, Child or the husband. There are two big questions posed in this episode, first is the role of Human as God, doctor in this case. The second which is ever bigger is the morality issue. The tone of this episode is very somber. This may be regarded as one of the most intense part of Decalogue. Krzysztof Kieslowski always uses figurative to depict the situation of character. This part also has images of an insect struggling for its life in which it miraculously succeeds.

Part 3: Before watching this one, I was thinking how Kieslowski is going to show something like 'Honor the Sabbath day'. This is the story of a married taxi driver who meets his ex-lover on Christmas eve, that unfolds lot of things. The tone here is not particularly playful but has the tension of intimacy. This part conveyed something that is very remote to honoring the Sabbath day, it shows how such days segregate the happy and the lonely, and our basic desire of human contact.

Part 4: This episode is most bold in its theme and content. Here is a story of a young girl who finds a letter by his father titled 'To be opened after by death'. The opening of this letter changes the equations by opening up some secrets inside and outside the letter. This part is must-see for brilliant relationship portrayal and the impact of our hidden past on us.

Part 5: This is a gem. This about killing and its implications. This part shows two killing, one of long, brutal and raw and second one is short and systematic. This episode starts with very straight dialogues that argues 'Punishment is revenge'. Its a story about a killer getting a death sentence and getting killed. This particular part is very disturbing and one of the few that doesn't end in any hope.

Part 6: This one is about love. Can there exist love in some pure form that doesn't need any other special effects to kindle. Is there love devoid of anything we usually associate as depiction of love. Can love sustain without any contact. Do contact corrupt love. Here is a story about peeking Tomek, who watches a beautiful woman, Magda through his telescope, and his pleasure lies in just seeing. There are questions about voyeurism that are also raised in Red but in very different context. In the later part we see Magda do the same to Tomek, do we become the person we love (This was the question that was raised by Liv Ullman character in Bergman's 'Hour of the Wolf').

Part 7: This part is more about the question of ownership than stealing. Here is a girl whose daughter (born when she was a teenager) thinks that her grandmother is her mother. This part searches morality with in the characters and they finds them struck in their own situations. Can you steal something that belongs to you ? The last scenes of this episode is quite heart-breaking and ends with a brilliant close-up of the little girl.

Part 8: This part is most direct in its voice. This raises the questions of morality and circumstantial behavior in very clear voice. This is a story of a old professor who teaches at University. One day a Polish decendant girl comes to Poland and attends her lecture. In that lecture she tells a story about a Jewish girl at the times of war that pulls out some old strings. This episode has very direct reference to part two.

Part 9: This part about an impotent husband who spies on his wife and her lover. When his wife learns about it, she tries hard to save her marriage. This part meanders on the thin lines between sex, love and morality. This episode tries to explore love. There is dialogue which goes it's "in one's heart, not between one's legs"

Part 10: This part is the lightest of all. Its a story of two brothers who gets a treasure of rare stamps after their father dies. This is sort of a black comedy that shows how money brings in complex liabilities and we tend to tar the long old relationship for greed of money.

The themes mix and match in all the episodes, but the common aura has lingering questions of morality that encompass all the parts and that's where we relate to them. Kieslowski never tries to guide us through the rules rather here we see the weaknesses of human heart and mind, and effect of these on our lives and can we ever 'use' these rules to lead a morally perfect life.

Decalogue attains something that may be only a far dream for others. Seldom can moving images have such impact on us and you wonder how much can be said in just ten hours.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Son's Room

Kieslowskian blue grief has turned white. A family losing a block and readjusting the newly found grief into their settled lives. A missing block leaves space, filled with grief instantly, heavy sadness. A stanza taken out of a poem and the poem trying to shuffle words and get a life. A vacant room filled with undiscovered memories, life refusing to let them go or let you out.

Nanni Moretti's (known as Italian Woody Allen for his comedies) Palme d'Or winner, The Son's Room is an honest contemplation on loss and grief associated with it. It bends objectivity, the endgame of giving easy solutions till the pebbles under the viewer's heart start rolling and breaks it. A reason to the grief, the questions like 'why me', different ways to come to terms with loss give way to an acceptance and filling in of the empty spaces, mending the broken time.

Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) is a middle aged psychoanalyst who is good at giving easy answers and some solace to his clients, but like his clients, he do share the fact that he is not doing them full justice. His beautiful wife Paola (Laura Morante) works in an art publishing house and is the mother of two teenage children, Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice) and Irene (Jasmine Trinca).

Film starts by showing the family where everybody is friendly and open, and everybody has some secrets, in short a healthy happy family where there are chuckles at the dinner table and father and son go for long walks. All this calm and light family atmosphere is contrasted by the patients at Giovanni's clinic and the way Giovanni listens to them, always calm, almost uninterested, and very objective, giving comforting placebos to them. Giovanni deals his family with more compassion, an unassuming bourgeois happiness. The grief and illness of his patients and his inability to connect to it and his objectivity that every problem has a solution, strikes back at him, later in the film.

Here the tragedy strikes the family. The shot preceding the tragedy are in Keislowski's tradition. Each member of family is shown nearly missing an accident except for the son, Andrea, who happily boards a scuba diving boat, all geared up and smiling but actually gets into an accident. Unprepared, the family is pushed into a death zone. Giovanni, along with grief, struggles with some guilt because he canceled a run with his son to go on an appointment to his hypochondriac client. He also tries to find out the reason for his son's death, fault in the equipment, gas running out but a slight mystery surrounds and more than that it doesn't give him any comfort from the encompassing grief. As objectivity eludes Giovanni and he is more and more consumed my his own grief, he decided to leave his practice. Irene vents her anger with pulling up a fight at her championship game, which result in her month long suspension from the team. Paola finds other ways to fight it, by talking about Andrea but trying to shut the chapter, it too doesn't help. There are signs of family breaking since the happiness has faded away, sorrow pushing the family member to disconnect, pushing them to weep in bedrooms, changing rooms, all alone, secretly. They do the rituals, they organize a funeral mass to shut the doors to grief, but it tickles into closed chambers, tickles out of the sealed coffin of Andrea, into closed rooms, through some unknown letters, some new pictures, some old secrets, fossilized grief lives.

With surface simplicity, without ringing forced, the film moves to the family's coming to terms with Andrea's loss. They now know that memories will keep coming back, unlike Andrea. Its so cliched to write it but the film manages to do it without any unexpected twists and turns. There is a small indication in the film about the externalization of grief and how it helps the family to accept the loss like a healing, a therapy.

There are some brilliant scenes in the films. Lots of the scenes are at Giovanni's clinic where patients tell their stories and their funny fetishes. After Andrea's death, when a patient tells a happy story of her husband and her kids, Giovanni bursts into tears. The scene where Irene asks to see Andrea for the last time in the coffin. The scene where Giovanni goes to a carnival park to forget or rather vent out his grief, feels isolated and left out in the colorful happiness. The scene where Giovanni finds out that every thing in his home is broken, the fact that he never noticed or even cared in the happier times. One more thing to note in the film is its background score, which compliments the films so beautifully that you seldom consider it out of it. The song in the last scene where the family stands near the sea, although a bit mushy, sounds solacing to the ears.

The film is a tear-jerker without intentionally trying to be so. There are so many muted emotions, repressed grief that the viewer comes forth to drop the tears for the family, be a part of the their grief, their catharsis, moaning for Andrea without knowing him but by knowing what he meant to the family, a missing block in the puzzle of happiness and a cavity for eternal memories to come where we try to cave in, like his family, his friends.

The Son's Room, with all the sorrow and grief, shows how the dead never dies, and how we continue to live with them, manages to be subtlety bright and uplifting. For the sentimental types, its highly recommended but for the emotionally glaciated, its a must see.