coromandal


the white ribbon

FILM

I just watched The White Ribbon a film by Michael Haneke. His other film Cache (Hidden) is a favorite. Cache is about a middle class family who start receiving in the mail surveillance videos of the outside of their house; concurrently the father is contacted by a family servant from his privileged childhood who was somehow abused.

In Cache, Haneke shows us violent acts but resists connecting them: not to cause or effect, nor to justice, nor to retribution. We are left to draw our own conclusions: are the videos connected to the servant? Is  there culpability? etc. It is an idea about life, that we often don’t know, can’t know; that one thing happened may or may not mean that the other thing resulted.

***

The White Ribbon is set in a small northern German town in the year that Principe shot Archduke Ferdinand an act which we know precipitated the start of the first World War. At the time, the world, Germany included, was predominantly feudal.  Heneke’s town has a Baron at the social top who owns most of the land and employs most of the people. It has a Pastor, a Doctor, a Steward and a Teacher who narrates, who are the defacto leadership of the village. The rest of the village are poor laborers and farmers. You could say that at the bottom of the social pile are the children who play a big role in the film.

On the surface The White Ribbon is mystery movie. It shows us a series of events in which people are being deliberately hurt: to start the doctor is tripped by a wire and thrown from his horse, then a farmer’s wife dies at the mill, the Baron’s son is whipped and left in the forest, a girl is molested by her father, the midwife’s son who has downs has his eyes nearly put out, a bird is ritually killed. We never really doubt that the evil is ‘within’ but we, as we are conditioned to, wonder who is perpetrating. And Haneke, true to his form, doesn’t tell us not even in the end.

You could argue that, like in Cache, The White Ribbon shows us isolated acts of violence which remain obfuscated and unconnected. However there is a theme of connection that is unmistakable. It is a society that is harsh, punitive, judging, severe by design. The Pastor uses the strictest, austere reform Protestantism to guide village adolescents through confirmation. And we see this same group of children playing with knives, killing birds, pushing a child into a stream. We are left with a sense that the austerity is at least tenuously connected to the violent acts of the village children.

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no rhyme or reason

CAUSE & EFFECT – I had a conversation with a friend recently about cause and effect.  In his world a strong link between the two is important:  to know that by good intentions, preparation, diligent work etc., an outcome can be projected, expected and perhaps even defined.  I pitched a more tenuous linkage, and so we drank our beer and bantered back and forth for a while.

I came across another way of thinking about the relationship between cause and effect in de Botton’s book Status Anxiety.  In it he says that, further back in history, we used to believe in fatedness and fortune.  That the link between what you strive to do may have a very loose relationship to the outcomes of your life, and that, beside your own volition and will, there were many factors that contribute to the courses of peoples lives.  To reflect this haphazardness, people at the extremes of society were called fortunates and unfortunates.

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white material
January 25, 2011, 7:31 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , ,

Claire Denis’ film White Material is an enormous dry African landscape; huge pictures and intimate details of landscape and war and family masterfully assembled; petty vicious politics and the immediacy of real people making life altering decisions in real time; quiet crescendo threat of civil violence; and a sense of dread that grips and tightens until the very end.

The geographic and generational center of the film is Marie a fierce slight French woman intent on keeping her Cafe Vail coffee plantation operational.  Like a vortex, everything spirals inward toward her and it.  The injured militant called the Boxer (Isaac de Bankole) on the lam takes refuge there to slowly bleed to death.  He is the local hero, and the de facto head of the militant insurrection, a band of child soldiers armed with machetes who are causing mayhem on their circuitous route toward him.

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into the arms of the priests
September 3, 2009, 12:33 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here is a bit of dialogue from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal in which Jons, the Knight’s squire asks a fresco painter in a church about his painting of death and the plague.

The Seventh Seal is about a Knight who is returning to his castle after spending time fighting in the Crusades.  He is devout, preoccupied, a believer.  His squire Jons is a much better source if you like your information straight up, as we see in this scene.

The Painter knows who butters his bread and is the conduit for a culture of fear used by a priesthood to control their people.  Of course, he won’t admit it, but the insightful Squire has no problem labeling the art as propaganda.

JONS:  What is this supposed to represent?

PAINTER:  The Dance of Death.

JONS:  And that one is Death?

PAINTER:  Yes, he dances off with all of them.

JONS:  Why do you paint such nonsense?

PAINTER:  I thought it would serve to remind people that they must die.

JONS:  Well, it’s not going to make them feel any happier.

PAINTER:  Why should one always make people happy?  It might not be a bad idea to scare them a little once in a while.

JONS:  Then they’ll close their eyes and refuse to look at your painting.

PAINTER:  Oh, they’ll look.  A skull is almost more interesting than a naked woman.

JONS:  If you do scare them …

PAINTER:  They’ll think.

JONS:  And if they think …

PAINTER:  They’ll become still more scared.

JONS:  And then they’ll run right into the arms of the priests.

PAINTER:  That’s not my business.



between two handclaps
September 10, 2008, 1:52 am
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , ,

[cries and whispers – persona – bergman]

Here is Godard’s article on the filmmaker Bergman’s techniques, particularly his manipulation of time.  Bergman isolates moments in which his protagonists make significant decisions and then expands them to film length.  In his films, flashbacks begin and end at specific points that help to reveal the thinking of the hero.  In each case, time is expanded or collapsed to reveal the heart of a person.

Godard’s image of the space between two handclaps is beautiful!  Similarly compelling is Bergman’s insistence that we must leave time, at least our normative understanding of it, in order to see the turmoil in the minds of his characters.

Eternity at the Service of the Instantaneous
At the precise instant. Bergman, in effect, is the film-maker of the instant. Each of his films is born of the hero’s reflection on the present moment, and deepens that reflection by a sort of dislocation of time—rather in the manner of Proust but more powerfully, as though Proust were multiplied by both Joyce and Rousseau—to become a vast, limitless meditation upon the instantaneous. An Ingmar Bergman film is, if you like, one twenty-fourth of a second metamorphosed and expanded over an hour and a half. It is the world between two blinks of the eyelids, the sadness between two heart-beats, the gaiety between two handclaps.

Hence the prime importance of the flashback in these reveries of solitary Scandinavian wanderers. In Summer Interlude, a glance in her mirror is enough to send Maj-Britt Nilsson off like Orpheus and Lancelot in quest of paradise lost and time regained. Employed almost systematically by Bergman in most of his films, the flashback ceases to be what Orson Welles called one of those ‘poor tricks’ to become, if not the theme of the film, at least its sine qua non. In addition, this figure of style, even if employed as such, acquires the enormous advantage that it considerably enriches the scenario since it constitutes its internal rhythm and dramatic framework. One need only have seen any one of Bergman’s films to realize that each flashback invariably begins or ends in the right place; in two right places, I should say, because the remarkable thing is that, as with Hitchcock at his best, this sequence change always corresponds to the hero’s inner feeling, provoking in other words a renewal of the action – which is an attribute of the truly great. What one mistook for facility was simply a greater rigour. Ingmar Bergman, the intuitive artist decried by the ‘craftsmen’, here gives a lesson to the best of our scriptwriters. Not for the first time, as we shall see.

Bergmanorama, Jean Luc Godard



out-of-step

Here are Fellini’s notes on his film Nights of Cabiria about a prostitute, and following that a description of the prostitute’s house on the outskirts of Rome.  Have you seen it?

The settings for Fellini’s films are often exurban and bleak.  No doubt they are a counterpoint to the fire and optimism of his characters.  But also, and perhaps more significantly, they are the manifestation of a social act: the ostracism of people, in this case a prostitute, from proper society.  You can see this rejection in Fellini’s notes below:  his producer is scandalized that the filmmaker would want to make a film about a … prostitute.

Fellini describes meeting a poor and illiterate woman on his film set; she is like a scared animal. The prostitute’s house is a hovel, it is loved, decorated with character, and sits all alone in a field outside of the city of Rome. Of course, no one misses that she, as a prostitute, lives outside of proper Roman life.

All sorts of bad things happen in all ages to lots of people outside city gates.  A walled city can be a place of refuge or a place of appearance.  It seems Fellini’s Rome is a place of appearance, and business that needs doing but doesn’t meet the prescribed particulars of city life is conducted outside where it appears to not matter.

The subject of loneliness and the observation of the isolated person has always interested me. Even as a child, I couldn’t help but notice those who didn’t fit in for one reason or another—myself included. In life, and for my films, I have always been interested in the out-of-step. Curiously, it’s usually those who are either too smart or those who are too stupid who are left out. The difference is, the smart ones often isolate themselves, while the less intelligent ones are usually isolated by the others. In Nights of Cabiria, I explore the pride of one of those who has been excluded.
/…/
During the shooting of Il Bidone, I met a real-life Cabiria. She was living in a little hovel near the ruins of the Roman aqueduct. At first, she was indignant at my disruption of her daytime routine. When I offered her a lunch box from our food truck, she came closer, like a small homeless female cat, an orphan, a waif, maltreated and living in the streets, but still very hungry, hungry enough to overcome her fears with the offer of food.  Her name was Wanda, a name I might have made up for her if it hadn’t already been hers. After a few days, she communicated with me, though in her inarticulate way, some of the circumstances of being a streetwalker in Rome.
/../
Goffredo Lombardo had the option for my next picture. He was appalled by the idea of a story about a prostitute, an unsympathetic character as far as he was concerned, and he found his excuse to back out of the deal. He wasn’t unique. Quite a few producers didn’t like the idea.
/…/
For Giulietta’s wardrobe, we went to a street market to shop for the clothes Cabiria would wear. Afterwards, because she wasn’t going to have pretty clothes to wear in the film, I took her to an expensive boutique to buy a new dress for herself.
/…/
The positive nature of Cabiria is so noble and wonderful. Cabiria offers herself to the lowest bidder and hears truth in lies. Though she is a prostitute, her basic instinct is to search for happiness as best she can, as one who has not been dealt a good hand. She wants to change, but she has been typecast in life as a loser. Yet she is a loser who always goes on to look again for some happiness.

-Federico Fellini, Nights of Cabiria

As I said, here is the description of Cabiria’s house outside of Rome.  I think she hasn’t chosen to isolate herself, but that others have isolated her as Fellini says.  She is outcast and her house shows her situation clearly:  it floats, is unconnected in the no place removed from the economic and social security of the city.

The little house belonging to the title character in Federico Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” rises out of the landscape on the edge of a desolate yet oddly cheerful little Roman neighborhood, like one of the solitary, boxy buildings that dot the horizon in a Krazy Kat cartoon. It’s a cube built out of something like stucco, with a curtain of beads hanging like a shimmer of fake rain in front of its simple door — part jazzed-up fairy-tale cottage, part Spartan make-do dwelling. For its owner, the love-starved yet emotionally self-sufficient prostitute Cabiria, played by Giulietta Masina, in the role of her career, the house represents security and pride, a place to return to that’s all her own, like the tiny studio apartment of any city working girl. But is the house meant to signify isolation as a protective measure, or the sense of feeling truly at home with oneself? Or both? That conflict lies at the heart of what may be Fellini’s loveliest and most moving picture, made in 1957 … Maybe what’s so wrenching is that the house in “Nights of Cabiria” does symbolize both: Isolation can be a way to hide from pain and involvement, but there are also times when no one seems to deserve our company, when solitude — a deep sense of being at home with oneself — is preferable to anything else.

-Stephanie Zacharek, The Little Tramp, Salon Entertainment



the realm of presentiments
February 4, 2008, 6:59 am
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: , , ,

Trying to get to the realm of intuition is seen as a betrayal; but this realm is the very real inner life of a human being.

“You make films to give people something, to transport them somewhere else, and it doesn’t matter if you transport them to a world of intuition or a world of intellect…A lot of people don’t understand the direction in which I’m going. They think…I’ve betrayed my way of looking at the world…I absolutely don’t feel I’ve betrayed any of my opinions or my attitude to life. The realm of superstitions, fortune-telling, presentiments, intuition, dreams, all this is the inner life of a human being, and all this is the hardest thing to film…I’ve been trying to get there from the beginning. I’m somebody who doesn’t know, somebody who’s searching.”

– Krzystztof Kieslowski