2011年3月31日 星期四

Home for Christmas (Hjem Til Jul)

A boy is watching television. It was Christmas countdown time in Broadway, New York, full of people. A woman calls a child. The child's does not take his eyes off the television screen. The woman is angry and says that he must look at her when she talks to her. The child walks out of the house. Outside of the house, we see some hay, with strings of corn hung out to dry amidst what looks like a junk yard with old car tyres, the broken parts of a dismembered truck and other trash. The boys walks through a narrow door into a broken down and deserted church, reaches the altar, puts his hand into the sacristy, retrieves a toy, takes it, walks out. After a while the mother follows, crying out his name. She goes into the deserted church, calling out his name all the time, comes out, walking up what looks like the steel staircase of a nearby refinery. They were seen through the lenses of the rifle of a masked sniper, with finger ready to press upon the trigger. It is aimed at the child, then the woman, then the child, then the woman, then when the woman closes in on the child, first at the child and then at the woman. The finger hesitates and reaches up to remove the masks. 

The scene switches to that of a woman busy making the house looking nice with flowers and candles. A fat man arrives. They embrace. They go into a bed room, take off their clothes, and starts making passionate love at the end. They fall over the bed. The woman cries out to the man not to stop. At the end of the tumultuous sessio, the man leaves and promises to do the divorce papers after Christmas. The woman says he has been saying that last year. He says it is difficult. She asks him how he can love two women at the same time. He says he can. He leaves. The woman sulks.

The scene then switches to an another house, with another woman arranging flowers and preparing for Christmas, She calls a bespactacled middle aged man sitting behind a desk who promises to be home as soon as possible because he is on duty.Then a red truck arrives outside. It stops. A young man Paul ( Trond Fausa Aurvag) comes out, opens the door, goes into the room, sits down, begs the man sitting behind the office desk Dr. Knut ( Fridtjv Saheim) for something. The man says he cannot because if he does, he may lose his job. The young man begs him, saying that he really need to do so because it was quite unfair that he should be kept out from seeing his children because of his violence and that he has no other alternative and asks the doctor if he has any. He hasn't. He says it is Christmas time. The man behind the desk yields. 

A telephone rings. The man behind the desk takes up the phone. He says he'll fix up the star on top of the Christmas tree when he's home but that he is still on duty and will be back as soon as he is off duty. We see the woman in a house, leaving off her food prepapration in the kitchen and to decorate a Christmas tree in the sitting room. He says he loves her and really like to have a child with her. She replies that he never seems to have time.

The scene switches again. A young boy is looking at an electric train inside a shop window bathed in yellow light amidst the snow outside. Another black girl is coming out. She joins him in window shopping. They seem to know each other. She asks him what he is doing there. He says nothing, just walking. She asks him if he is celebrating Christmas. He lies that his family never does. She says hers neither because she is Muslim. She asks him if he would like to come into her house, just round corner. He hesitates and goes in. He is shown all her favourite gadgets including a telescope on her roof. She shows him how to use it. He does but sees he saw nothing. She says that's because it is still too early and that the stars will only come out later.

The scene switches to another man, cowering beneath the cold alone on the snow covered pavement, waiting for passers by. In front of him is a cup with some seed money. He has nothing to do, looks at the shop window, then sits down again. A young man approaches. He tells him that he needed some money for a train ticket to Norway but the young man says he is in hurry.

The scene switches again. We are shown the corner of a flight of wooden stairs. Some wooden boards are being lifted up, but drops, is lifted up, drops agains against the stair landing corner wall and finally disappears. Then we see another board, this time smaller being dragged up that same wooden staircase landing corner with difficulty. We next see an old man, with very slow movement. He goes to a wardrobe, carefully lifts an old grey ladies dress with tiny inconspicuous floral pattern off a hanger, places it on a wooden ironing board, then puts a white cloth above it again and starts ironing it with an steam electric iron, part by part. Suddenly, a red drop appears on the white cloth above the dress. He hesitates. Then another red drop appears close to the first one. He stops, put his hand to his nose and discovers it is bleeding, He goes to the washroom, wipes it off, and sticks some rolled up tissue to one side of his nostril to stop the bleeding and continues with the ironing.

In the meantime, the man behind the desk is home, with a bottle of good wine, kisses his wife, fixes the star and is preparing to sit down for dinner when the telephone rings. He takes the call. He apologizes to his wife. It is an emergency call. He says he will be down in 5 minutes. He stops his car near a snow covered telephone booth. Suddenly another young man appears. He says it is urgent. He flashes out a knife and pushes it against his neck. The doctor asks him to stay calm and that he would go even if he doesn't force him to and ask him for the direction how to go to where he wants. They drive through the snow, through some woods and finally stops at a log cabin. A fire is blazing at the hearth, the picture of domestic bliss. In front of it is a bed. On the bed is a woman. The doctor asks for hot water, puts on his gloves and asks the man to help hold the woman down. After some crying and shrieking, a baby is delivered. There is a look of contentment on the woman's face. They have time for a talk. He asks why they are there. The young man says he is a Serb whilst the woman is Albanian and there is no way they could stay together at home and so they came to Germany and live in a nearby church but since it is Christmas, too many people are coming and they move to where they are. He says he has a sister in Sweden but has neither money nor transport to go there. So it looks as if they'll be stuck here in the meantime. The young man thanks the Dr. Knut profusely and sees him off. His car drives off. Before it has moved a few car spaces, it stops, reverses. The doctor comes out, gives the key of his car to the young man and tells him to send a letter on the arrangement for him to get back his car when the young couple are in Sweden and trudges in the snow on foot. He is  looking up at the stars in the heaven and looks happy. The dramatic irony is obvious: only time for other's baby and children! 

The scene then switches back to the two children who are now looking at the night sky. The stars have come out. The girl tells the boy that the brightest star in the heavens is the Sirius and that some say that it might be the star of Bethlehem which shows the way of the wise men to the infant Jesus. The boy kisses the girl.

The scene then cuts from the children to an old couple seen going out on sledges to the house of an even older woman. They arrive. We see them seeing an old lady lying in bed, with the freshly ironed grey dress on her, still with the now smudged remains of the nose bleed in front it. She appears quite happy that she got visitors. The scene then quickly switches to a church. The woman we saw making love to her lover, is late for church. She goes in front asking of an empty seat and ironically is given one by her lover's wife in the church to the tune of Christmas carols. We see them sitting in the same row from right to left: the woman, thew wife, the husband, their two young children. 

The scene switches again. We see the young man who begged the doctor for the forbidden stuff  driving his red truck. He arrives at a house, stops, gets off, looks in through the window. He sees two children watching televsion and playing with some toys on the ground. He goes to a nearby shed, opens the door, and find a red Santa Claus outfit hanging on the wall and some cartons already gift-wrapped on the floor. He looks at the nameson the card outside of each and who gave it. He dons the Santa Claus outfit, put the gifts into a bag, slungs it over his shoulder and dons a Santa Claus mask, walks towards the house. He approaches the house, looks in at the window again and sees another man behind the woman, his hands working on her body from behind. She appears to enjoy it. He goes back into the shed, takes out a bottle of gin and takes some. After a while, the shed door opens. He uses a hankerchief and sticks it against the man's nose. The man faints, but not completely. They struggle. A shovel upon his head finishes him off. The young man walks towards the house as Santa Claus, gives the gifts to the children, who open them, are are delighted. One got an MP-3, the other a mobile phone. The woman asks the children to thank the man, takes him to the kitchen, embraces him, reaches her hand for his crotch and tells him he can revert to his normal voice now. To her surprise, he does not and leaves, goes back to the shed, and attempts to wake up the fainted man by giving him a little liquor and then leaves. He reacehes a church, tries to get in. But the door is locked. He tries to push it open. It doesn't. He leaves and continues driving in the the street, reaches town centre, sees a manger in a Christmas decoration in front of a restaurant, takes the baby off the manger , hugs it and places it on the seat next to the driver's seat and continues his journey.

The scene switches now back to the beggar.  He is found near a caravan. He touches the door of first one caravan, then another. A burglar alarm sounds when the door of the second is touched. A woman emerges and ask what he is doing, then recognizes that he was her old flame Johannes. She asks him how he has been. The police arrives. She said the alarm was accidentally tripped and that there's no problem. The police grumbles and leaves. She invites the man into her caravan, allows him to take a bath and a shave and gives him some left over Christmas dinner and a cigarette and they reminisce about old times. We next see the man on the streets again but this time on a manger. The police searches him, finds a train ticket for his home town in Norway and packs him off to the train. We next see him on the train looking out of the window, all alone. The train reaches a station on the way. Two ambulance man was waiting. They are shown by the train attendant to where the man is. They check him out and after a short look say he is gone. They rummage through his pocket and discover who he is. The older ambulance man says that he used to be a top footballer in which match with what result and how at the height of his career, he suddenly disappeared, spoiled according to the older ambulance man, by success, by alcoholism! He is bundled off.

We next switches back to the road. The young couple and the baby suddenly stops. They go out. They look up. The sky is filled with a strange blue and grenish light like some giant vertical waves swaying about and constantly changing shape. It is the aurora borealist. The film ends.

In many ways, it is a tale of connections and re-connection, of frustration and/or reconciliation, of sadness, of pathos and joy and of irony in a lives of a number of different people of different ages and social situation : the masked female assassin relenting, a woman taking a seat in a church beside the wife of her lover, a third woman taking care of her now down and out former lover who dies whilst on the way home, a fourth woman embracing the husband whom she kicked out because of his violence, albeit as Santa Claus to their children, an old couple visiting an even older woman at Christmas and a young couple on their way to Scandinavia, the land of St. Nicolaus, or Santa Claus and witnessing that stunningly beautiful sight from the land of the reindeers at Christmas.

Three features of this film Hjem til jul or Home for Christmas (2010), the sixth by the Norwegian director Bent Hamer, based on a number of stories from the Norwegian writer Levi Henriksen "Only Soft Prseents under the Trees: ( Bare mjuke pakker under treet) which all happened within a few hours in the small town of Skoglii, strikes me most: first, the way in which he director uses color: he would repeated contrast the warmth of yellow light inside the houses with the cold light blue and white of the snow inside, ending in the breathtaking splendor of the aurora borealis (truning green from mixing blue and yelllow?) and secondly the way he transitions one scene to another through montage with either that of one detail in the scene of one story into that of another or through what I would call a thematic montage, by which he links one scene to another through the same kind of feeling evoked in each and finally the way, in which all the themes are tied together by the song, " I want to go home in Christmas" . A most enjoybale film. I'd give it a 2A.

2011年3月30日 星期三

Dos Hermanos (Brother and Sister)

Daniel Burman’sDos Hermanos” is the story of the inextricable mix of emotional need, complementality, hatred, dominance-subservience between a brother and a sister, living in Buenos Aires in the dusk of their lives, based on the Sergio Dubcovsky's novel, "Villa Laura".

Playing the domineering, egoistical, dramatic, flambuoyant, manipulative, talkative, extrovert and irresponsible elder sister Susana who is always buying and selling properties and who pretended to the world that she is a professional in real estate is Graciela Borges and in the role of the good natured, even tempered, sensitive, patient, caring, submissive gold and silver smith introvert younger brother Marcos is Antonio Gasalla.

The Argentian film, the seventh by Burman, opens with a scene in which we find Marcos taking care of their mother Neñeca, washing her hair tenderly, explaining patiently to her how mobile phone roaming service work and how it does not work if one runs out of battery etc. But shortly afterwards, she dies. Nobody came to the funeral. It transpired that Susana, did absolutely nothing to notify their mother's friends and relatives, including in particular one auntie Laura, whilst Marcos did everything including arranging for the funeral, washing her, getting the death certificate etc.

We are next shown Susana trying to buy a new property but forgot her purse. She called up Marcos and told him to look for it everywhere but not finding it, she postponed making a deposit followed shortly afterwards by another one in which she is pressed to take up a property for which she paid the deposit but never bothered to complete. The agent said if she did not close the deal, she would lose her entire deposit. The property was in Uruguay. So we next find the sister and brother in a broken down house there. Marcos set about the arduous and tedious task of putting the house in order, doing up the walls, the blinds, the kitchen, buying furniture and generally making it habitable whilst Susana occupies herself in establishing new contacts and buying new clothes etc. and making herself look beautiful and advertises the house in which they had been living for sale and stealing mail from their neighbor by using a wire coat hanger to sweep the mail from underneath the slit at the bottom of the door of their neighbor so as to increase the size of her social networking over which she prided herself.

As time went on, Marcos manages to find time to look after his own interest, as an actor. He finds acceptance in a drama club and demonstrates his ability to speak with emotion, finds a chess playing companion, although her sister tried to put him down again and said he had no talent in that regard but instead recommended herself for the leading role for the heroine in the drama Oedipus which the director wanted to mount, barging in rudely and without any prior notice of her arrival right in the middle of a session of the drama class, as if all the world should make way for her.

In the end, the drama was a success and her brother was the centre of attention and she applauded from the balcony in her gaudy dress and pointing to him and anouncing proudly to those around her that that was his brother although as usual, she was late for the performance. Is the role of the chorus played by Marcos not a comment on the plight between him and her sister? Are they not struggling blindly against their own ties in blood? Are all their talk and conduct not just so much posturing, gesturing and role playing like a blind Oepidus (Marcos loving the mother but hating her sister and having to constantly lie to make things smoother but not his sister who is in a position of competition with her mother) and not a little tragic and ridiculous?

As the film closes, we see the brother and sister reconciled. They were standing side by side, looking at the river in front of their house in the evening sunset. Shortly before that, she had said the meanest things about his brother following which without any further word, her brother simply picked up his things and lived on the other side of the river despite her repetition that she was sorry and would apologized. We see her pains at the loss.

I like particularly one scene in which each of them would pick up a drinking glass, place it against a wall and would report what he or she would hear as if it were something they heard from the other side of the wall when in fact, it was merely their peculiar way of talking to one another about what was really in their own mind but was afraid to say to the other openly and which probably was an original way they had invented as children to talk to each other about something which was bothering them in their relationship and which they thought the other should know.

I also like another scene in which Susana brought Marcos to a consular cocktail under false pretenses in which Susana helped Marcos to pick up all the delicacies they could not afford into a huge leather shoulder bag carried by Marcos for consumption at home later and the two of them stealing their way past a corrdior at the basement.

It was a film done with great sensitivity, with plenty of juicy conversation which shows the pettiness and meanness and also the tension between hatred, jealousy and genuine affection of the numerous irritiations they inflict upon each other in their crazy and effusive love-hate world. The photography was sumptuous. It is also a film full of tiny ironies and humor. As it is a South American film, there is always the lively and rhythmic music which one has come to expect from the Latinos. The acting from the two veterans is simply superb. It is a supremely enjoyable film. The screen credits are tastefully done to scenes of tap dancing, which ties in perfectly with  the new-style Oedipus play which rounded up the film. I would give it a 2 A. 


The Strange Case of Angélica

The Strange Case of Angélica ( O Estranho Caso de Angélica) (2010) I saw last night is indeed a bizarre little piece of Portuguese cinema from one of the oldest living directors, Manoel de Oliveira. According to the Wikipedia, he was born in Porto, Portugal on 11th December, 1908 to a land owning industrialist family and has been producing films since 1931, when he turned out Douro, Faina Fluvial, a documentary and in 1942, his first feature film Aniki-Bóbó about the street children in Oporto. He first trained as an actor in Germany and in 1933 acted in the second ever Portuguese non-silent film, A Canção de Lisboa. After the flop of Aniki-Bóbó, he abandoned making films and devoted the next quarter century to just running his family vineyard and did not return to film making until 1956, when he made The Artist and the City. Since 1990, he has continued to produce one film a year for pleasure rather than necessity. He won two Career Golden Lions in 1985 and 2004 and a Palm d'Or in Cannes for lifetime achievement in 2008. To him, art is always linked to existence and religion. His last film before Angélica is Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura ( The Eccentricities of a Blond Haired Girl) (2009).

The film begins with a death. A local photography addict Isaac ( played by Ricardo Trépa) using the now old fashioned methods of celluloid and silver bromide dark room development techniques was called in by the governess of an estate close to the small ancient Portuguese town to photograph Angélica, the married daughter of a very rich local family (played by Pilar López de Ayala,). He was led by her sister, a nun, to where Angélica's mother, friends and relatives were gathered in a room deep within an old castle. When he first laid eyes on her, he found her in her bridal dress, with a heavenly smile, sleeping peacefully on a divan. He was struck by her beauty. He asked for the another lightbulb, was given one, cahnged it cautiously and started to click his shutter. He adjusted his focus. Something happened: he thought he saw her open her eyes, looking directly into his own eyes through his camera's lens. He thought it was an illusion and continued. She opened her eyes again. Frightened, he quickly finished what he had to do by taking a few more shots and left in a big hurry. But that was not the end. 

He returned home, developed the color prints of Angélica, amidst a stack of other black and white prints on field hands working in the nearby hillside vineyards using the old fashioned method of digging the ground with hoes to the sound of call-and-response of a Portuguese work song sung by a leader and answered by the labor gang. He found the eyes of the Angélica in the color print opening again! He was surprised. He left the table where the photographs were to calm himself. He stood close to the door through which we can see the surrounding fields and distant hills, with his back against it. Then we see the black and white image of Angélica appear behind him in front of the door, twice. But each time, Isaac turned around, she disappeared. From that point on, although he continued to take black and white photographs, he became more and more distracted and obsessed by the image of Angélica.

Then Isaac began to have dreams. She appeared above his bed. He reached out his hands towards her. She took them and led him through the door of his room and carried him over into the sky on a trip over the little town in the air, Peter-Pan like, all the while were facing each other. 

Reality in the film was represented by the heavy rumbling of gas tanker trucks constantly running on the road below the room of the pension where Isaac is living and by the fattish landlady, the owner of the pension. She constantly said that Isaac must not be so absorbed by his work and even if he were, he ought to take time off to take his breakfast and his meals. There were other lodgers in her pension: a retired engineer, a university professor and another young lady. They would meet for breakfast every morning. They would usually wait for Isaac to come before they start and in the meantime, would chit chat. They were talking about a bridge project which was cancelled because of the economic crisis. The word crisis triggered the professor into talking about Ortega Y Gasset's book "Man in Crisis" which I mentioned in an earlier blog, into the marvels of science, in particular of the mysteries of quantum physics, in which scientists have found both matter and anti-matter constantly turning into one another, with the boundaries between being and nothingness, between so-called "reality" and fantasy getting increasingly blurred. But even when Isaac did come down, he would merely take a cup of coffee and not join in the conversation. He would take his cup of coffee, walked to one side of the dining room, look out of the window, thinking, reflecting. He was living in a world of his own.

Oliveira appears to be fond of using enigmatic images, perhaps as symbols. Apart from the more obvious images in black and white of Isaac being taken for a ride high up in the starry night skies over the town and its river shimmering in the silence of the night, Isaac seems constantly being dogged by a beggar who would repeatedly ask him for money everytime he went to the church or the cemetery. Is he the alter ego of Isaac, who seems always to be begging for more from the same person? Angélica? There is also the iamge of a bird in a cage placed high up against one of the walls of the dining room of the pension, which seemed strangely immobile, which mysteriously died the morning after Isaac had the dream. In medieval folklore, a man's spirit or soul is sometimes compared to a little bird which would leave a man when he sleeps at night and would return in the morning, when he wakes up.

After another episode of imaginary encounter with Angélica, Isaac suddenly started to run towards the fields in the hillside. He ran and ran and ran until he collapsed out of sheer exhaustion and was discovered by a groups of children. He was brought back to his room, much to the annoyance of the landlady, who thought that he would only bring her bad luck.

An old doctor was called. He examined Isaac. He wanted some help from a nurse but she arrived too late. Isaac appeared too far gone. In a strange image, whilst the doctor was examining Isaac, lying apparently motionlessly on his bed, he stood up behind the doctor's back and a translucent white image of him walked towards the window. When the doctor examined him again, he was completely gone, a black and white image, (his soul? ) had flown past his studio and bedroom  door towards the hills. The film ends. 

Is Oliveira lamenting the passing of an age in which the human soul is still important, the age of protest against the alienation of man by machine, symbolized by Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, the age of what Ortega y Gasset described as the age of the mass man, the age of the colorful surrealism of Dali and the black and white surrealistm of Luis Buñuel? Issac still works in black and white. The images of the spirit of Angélica are also in black and white but the photograph of her real life corpse is in color. Is the breakfast table talk of Ortega y Gasset's Man in Crisis and the true boundaries of physics and the human psyche these coincidences? Are dreams, hallucination etc. as real for those having them as "ordinary" reality, as Isaac said at one point in the film? Are they not part of a hyper-reality, more real than "everyday" reality? A reality of the spirit? 

How could I fail to mention Oliveira's skilful use of the heavenly piano music of Chopin and Schubert, Pachebel. Is the silver screen not the space for dreams, a space where for an hour or so, our minds and our spirits are allowed to be freed from our bodies?

2011年3月29日 星期二


I had my first taste of  a light hearted romantic romp at the HKIFF last night. I saw the Turquaze. It's a film about the kind of changes in the lives of a trio of Turkish brothers in Flemish Gent in Belgium upon the death of their father, directed and screen-written by Kadir Balci, starring Nihat Altinkava as Ediz, the eldest brother Burak Balci as Timur ( the main protagonist of the film), the second brother, Sinan Vanden Eynde as Bora, the 18 year old and youngest of the trio, Charlotte Vandermeersch as Sarah (the protagonist's lover) with original music by Bert Ostyn and color saturated and fluid photography work by Ruben Impens.

The film opens with the family visiting a barely breathing old man lying with eyes closed in a hospital bed shortly after which we are shown the three brothers washing with soap bubbles the body of their father, bundling him up with a white linen and transferring his body to a coffin and then the whole family mourning against the sound of Turkish music at the burial after which there was a kind of family meal between the three brothers at the home of Ediz, the eldest brother who is married to Turkish woman. They chit chatted. Ediz asked the second brother Timur if he had a girl friend. Timur was not prepared to answer. He gave as excuse that his father had just died. Then Ediz continued to press and asked if she was a Turk. Timur asked whether it was important. He said it was. His brother didn't agree. He continued to berate Timur who retorted that he had no right to say what he did. Ediz said he is the eldest brother and could say whatever he wanted. Timur stormed out.  Ediz threw his things after him and told him never to come back. In fact, Timur had been going with a beautiful, vivacious young blonde Sarah, a sales clerk at a travel agency. Timur was working as an attendant at an art museum. They made passionate love together and Sarah just adores Timur and feels she'd never have enough of him. Their mother wanted to go back to Turkey to be with her friends and relatives. Ediz asked if his wife Zehra should accompany her to look after her but she said his wife's place is at his side. Ediz is the kind who thinks that he must continue to uphold Turkish traditions in a foreign land and thinks that an eldest brother's word is law in a Turkish family. He does not even want his wife to watch television to learn some Flemish spoken in that town. We see snippets of the lives of the three brothers. Ediz works as a mechanic in a Turkish garage and frequently picks up non-Turk women whilst the quiet and contemplative Timur had studied music at the Academy but couldn't find job as a musician but finally decided to join a dying local brass band just to have a chance to do what he has always loved: playing music. He plays both the guitar and the trumpet well but couldn't find any formal Belgian orchestra to hire him, perhaps because of his race. Their youngest brother Bora is a just an unsure teenager trying to find out about himself and is into all the techno gadgets of digital technologies. The three of them together thus represent the full spectrum of respectively old traditional authoritarian, backward looking, middle of the way and all out rejection of Turkish values in order of their age.

Sarah wanted to introduce Timur to his family who had just bought tickets for the weekend at a string quartet concert. Timur attended. Sarah's mother, an uneducated but talkative woman, who clapped her hands at the wrong time at the concert, eyed him constantly at the concert instead of listening to the music after which concert she asked Timur all kinds of ignorant and insensitive questions to which Timur replied with sarcasm and left in a quiet rage, shortly after which he returned to Istanbul from whither he originally came. Bora was upset and reproached her mother. After a while, she could bear it no longer and asked around for Timur's address in Turkey. So Sarah went to the museum to ask one of Timur's fellow worker who was crazy about Turkey but couldn't help except to suggest that he ask Bora, who would come up occasional to see Timur. She did but Bora  said he did not know. She asked who would know. He suggested Ediz to whom she went. To her surprise, he gave it to her.

We next see Sarah being taken around Istanbul and we have a kind of cinematique traveloque about the exotic touristy Istanbul when Timur show her around. During the visit, Sarah  found out that a girl's whose photo she accidentally previously found in to in Timur's wallet was not the cousin who had died as he previously told her when he was first asked because she saw her name on a grave. Then he told her that she was about to be married to him when she had a fatal traffic accident just a month before they were supposed to get married. Apparently, he had not yet gotten over his grieving. Sarah who had previously complained to Timur that he merely thought her good enough for making love but never good enough to be introduced his fmaily, asked Timur to go back to Belgium with her. He said he was not ready. She left. He saw her off at the airport. He was confused. He went drinking, got into a brawl and came home with a bruised eye and blood around one of its corners. In the meantime, Ediz continued to fool around with women and Bora also got into trouble with a motor cycle gang and also got beaten up.

Timur then came to a decision. He returned to Belgium. His mother too, found she could no longer adapt to life back in Istanbul, saying that she did not find what she was looking for but when asked what it was, she said, she herself did not know. Back in Gent, Timur had a talk with Ediz and began to talk back saying that he himself asked him not to go with non-Turkish woman but that Sarah told him when she went to the garage to get his address that she saw him making love to one there. That was his old flame, Lieve. They got into a fight and was stopped by passers by. They walked away with their arms around each others shoulders. We next see Timur playing the trumpet together with all the members of the local brass band behind him right in front of the somewhat misty glass pane on the top to bottom window of the travel agency where Sarah works. She wipes off the air conditioning water vapors from the otherwise transparent window separating them, all smiles and joy, a suitable final image of what divides them. The film ends. 

It was a light film full of flowing images and lush sound about the kind of misunderstandings between native Belgians and immigrant Turks that takes a cross-continent journey to repair: their values and customs are so different: a film about people caught between two cultures, at home in neither. There is some great original music including electronic, rock, cross-overs, flamenco guitar and traditional rhythmic Turkish folk marches and melodies in the film which I enjoy enormously. I'd give it a 2B plus. The ethnic and cultural difficulties could have been explored rather more subtly and in greater depths. As it is, we got a slick flim moving along smoothly and sensuously on the surface just like an ordinary but not particularly exceptional Hollywood commercial film on a cross cultural romance.  


2011年3月28日 星期一


Curling is the name of a game played on ice in which players by two competing teams try their best to guide over the slippery surface of an ice game ring (called "curling sheet")  8 heavy granite blocks (called "rocks"), polished into the form of a cheese cake after an initial slide by a team member towards a marked circle ( called a "house") . The team which gets the maximum number of rocks closest to the centre of the house wins. It's a bit like the French game of "boule", except that it is played on ice instead of on the ground. It  is a game which calls for a great deal of co-operation between its team members. But for me, it is the name of a Canadian movie by the film critic turned director Denis Côtè's I saw yesterday morning, the fifth in my HKIFF list.

In many ways, it is a strangely haunting film. We see endless expanses of pure white snow, over the woods, the fields, the highways, interspersed with scenes inside a lonely out of the way cabin off the highway, a bowling centre, two motels and finally a children's snowboard playground. It almost feels as if the winter snow is a silent observer of all that is going on in the film.

As the film opens, we see in close up the freckled face of a girl of about 12 called  Julyonne (played by Philomene Bilodeau). She is being examined by an opthalmologist and is told that she has got astigmatism and must wear a pair of corrective spectacles. We learn that she does not go to school. We next see her at home, talking to a man who fixes her dinner. He is her father Jean-Francois ( played by Emmanuel Bilodeau, her real life father). Their conversation is spare, almost purely functional although they apparently get on well but we see little signs of any strong or even warm emotion on their faces. There is a calmness and expressionlessness as blank as the snow outside of their house in snow-bound Quebec. We are next shown a scene of Jean Francois wiping the floor of a bowling alley, in silence, with bowling pins in the background. A new young girl Isabelle ( played by Sophie Desmarais) in heavy make-up and an exaggerated hairdo (which changes every time we see her) and drssed like a sexy doll, is arriving to work there. He looks at her for a second or two but continues to wipe the floor. After work, his boss tries to formally introduce her to him and engage him in conversation and says that he must bring out his daughter girl Julyvonne to play at the bowling centre a little more with her new assistant. He says that one should not "hide in the lake to avoid being wetted by the rain". Isabelle, a Spanish girl, doesn't understand the French proverb and asks what it means. His boss explains it to her. Jean Francois makes a non-committal reply. We next see the father and daughter walking home at the side of the highway in a blazing blizzard, is questioned by a passing police patrol car officer who offers to give them a lift home but is rejected by the father . 

As the film develops, we learn that Jean Francois does want her child to go to school because he does not want her to pick up bad habits from the other kids and not too effectively home schooling her, that the child's mother Rosie is in a woman's prison, that out of boredom Julyvonne would often glue her face to the window of her house to observe in silence what is going on outside her house,that she would even look at a man stopping his car at the side of the highway in the distance to pee, that she would lie besides some corpses lying untattended in a nearby forest, that she often asks to see Rosie, that she is allowed to see her only once during which she was embraced for the first time by someone, that being allowed to listen to the radio would be regarded by her as a great reward for having behaved well according to his father's standards (the song being played as she dances to its rhythm is signficantly Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now"), that one day Jean-Francois found another unattended young boy at the side of the highway, apparently frozen to death, that there is a suddenly a trail of blood leading from the girl's white bedsheet to the toilet, that the girl watches a tiger behind a fence in a zoo (?) lying in the snow. The images and scenes are never explained. They are merely presented and juxtaposed. We never know what happened before or afterwards.

What is Denis Côtè is trying to suggest by his images? Are they mere enigmatic symbols? Perhaps we may get a clue from two scenes: the first shows Jean Francois being invited to play a game of curling by the proprietress of the motel where he and his daughter are living but he merely watches despite enthusiastic exhortation to him to join in and the second towards the close of the film when he imitates the motions required to win the game of curling and hitting the extended hands of each member of the team in blue uniform in celebration of his having done well and embracing the proprietress (probably in his imagination) and burst into a dance but only after he had gone out and had a casual sexual encounter with another lonely woman in another motel during one of his period of anxiety and had talked during that brief escapade to an old proprietor of another motel with a sign "fermé" upon its main entrance, about the joys of rabbit hunting and the final scene, in which he is bringing his daughter to a children's snow board playground where we see children having fun with their parents so she can be with children of her age, something about which she has been asking her father for permission to do and which up till then, he has steadfastly ignored. For once, it was day time and not dark as was most of the other scenes. 

Like "The Ditch"  which I saw earlier, there is no movie score. The only music we hear is that at  the party at the bowling centre and the one heard on the radio at Jean-Francois' bleak and bare home. Is the silence of the film part of the message? The film looks like a cinematic jig-saw puzzle. We've got to fit the pieces together. It's a tale of loneliness and the need to connect. There is a subtle irony: the girl's mother who wants to be connected is locked inside a prison ( we are not told why) whilst two persons who are free not within heavy prison gates appear to be voluntarily isolating themselves from society, living alone in an attempt to avoid being "contaminated" by society's bad habits and therefore living a kind of marginal existence outside the pale of normal human intercourse in a kind of solitude a deux.

Are Jean-Francois and Julyvonne happy? Should they continue to stay outside of normal social intercourse?  By the image at the start of the film that Julyonne does not have the two pupils of of her eyes correctly focused, is the director suggesting that she does not see the world with the correct perspective? Is Jean Francois's boss pointing to the core of his employee's problem when he used that French proverb about the avoiding the rain by drowning in a lake? Is the role that best fits Jean Francois is that of a clown, the role that he was given by his boss at a children's birthday party at the bowling centre? Is Julyvonne fascinated with the danger of the sleeping and yawning tiger behind the fence? Does she prefer the company of corpses to her solitude? Is the director suggesting that there may well be other children dying of solitude in Quebec apart from Julyevonne? That the menstural blood of Julyvonne indicates that she has arrived at another stage in her life in which she needs some changes in the way she has been brought up and is that not why the proprietress of her motel suggest that instead of cleaning up the mess of her blood on the floor, it would have been easier if she were to give Jean Francois another new room altogether? Is the true meaning of the game of curling the process of enthusiastic participation in it rather its results? Do we "win" merely by playing?  Denis Cóté does not give any easy answers. He prefers to show us, to give hints, allusions and enigmatic symbols rather than to tell us. The photography is sensitive, the winter snow and silence overpowering and the acting very natural. I'd give the minimalist film a 2A.

2011年3月27日 星期日

Leap Year ( Año Bisieto)

In "Man and Crisis", Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish existentialist philosopher, says" man can come to such a pass that, although he must do something to live...he finds no occupation which satisfies him, nor do the matters on his material and social horizon or the ideas on his intellecutal horizon move him to anything which seems satisfactory. He will go on doing this or that, but he will do it like an automaton, without achieving any sense of solidarity between himself and his acts; these acts he considers of no account, without meaning. When this happens, there surges up in him an unconquerable loathing of the world and of living, both of which seem to him to have a character which is purely negative...These men try to resolve the problem of living,  that is, of treating with things and with neighbors, by reducing contact to a minimum...man,in effect reduces life and the world to a corner, to a single fragment of what it was formerly. This is simplification in the face of desperation, in the face of feeling lost in an excessive richness of life...all those appetites and possible pleasures, but none of them full and complete...he who has truly despaired feels this quality of negativity extending throughout the entire ambit of his life, with no single point in the whole span where he can make himself secure...our own period is constitutionally one of desperation..a period of disorientation. But insofar as he is disoriented, and not yet oriented, he is despairing...in these situations, man find himself facing not a whole series of ways out, but a dead end...As Spaniards say, he is between the sword and the wall...man denies his whole life except for a single point which, thus isolated, becomes exaggerated, exacerbated, exasperated. He pretends that life consists only of this, that this single point alone is important and the rest is nothing...Man who is lost in complications aspire to save himself in simplicity--a universal return to nudity, a general call rid oneself of, to retire from, to deny, all richness, complexity and abundance."   To me, this rather long passage from the Spanish philospher, although originally meant for some other purpose, describes to a T the 4th HKIFF film I saw last night, The Leap Year.

As the film opens, we see a rather ordinary, slightly plumb dark skinned young Mexican lady shopping in another perfectly ordinary looking supermarket, goes home, returns home, talks to his mom and young brother about some trivialities, makes a telephone call to get some information to write a newspaper or magazine article and then goes to the window of her tiny dark studio flat with the barest of furniture, wall decoration, the only window of which looks into a small patio below and the window of the opposite flat. Through the slit at the corner of her cheap cloth curtain, she voyeurizes the young couple sitting intimately on a sofa. She reaches her hand to her crotch and masturbates.

She eats, she writes, she talks to her mother and her brother, she puts on make up before her dressing table, changes her dresses, goes out, picks up men, takes off her clothes once she is inside her flat and have sex with them. The men would leave whilst she is sleeping or think that she is still sleeping. She does not find out their name until after she has made love, nor does she need to know who or what they are. Neither does she care to tell them who or what she is. She picks up a young man who says he is a designer, Arturo, likes the way he makes love. The first time, he hits her butts whilst banging her. The second time, he hits her face. The third time, he belts her. The fourth time, he pisses on her. The fifth time, he burns her breast with a butt of a lit cigarette. The sixth  time, he passes the blade of a knife around her neck, her breast. 

The woman crosses each day of the month of February with a cross. Shortly before that, she learns that she is fired and has been promised an exploration of another position The 29th day was completely blotted out. It was the day her father died four years ago. On the previous day, she was told on the phone that she is fired but that the editor will see if he can get her another position. She tells her sadistic lover to come the following day and make love with her again and plunge the knife into her so that she can feel the blood running over her own body as he makes love to her. She tells him that she will prepare gloves for him so that no fingerprints will be left and nobody can find out who the killer is. On the following day, she puts on a white gown, places a pair of white glove on the coffee table and a knife, plus a towel and arranges them neatly into a pile. She stays a short while in front of a picture of the Holy Virgin, probably asking her to intercede for her for what she is about to do. The phone rings. It is his brother Raul. He is coming up. She quickly puts away the stuffs on the table under the bed. He enters. They embrace. He has just broken up with his girlfriend. She consoles him. He lies on her lap. She strokes his hair and shoulder. The film ends.

It is a minimalist film. Save for the first scenario, the entire film is confined to her bedroom and what goes on within. The bedroom is her uterus. It protects her egg. There the egg is born. There she finds the only activity which give meaning to her life. It is there she intends to end her life. When life is an endless routine, when the only activity which makes her feel she is still alive and therefore still human is love-making, it is surprising what some people will do. As Ortega y Gasset says, in such despair, people may then desperately try to reduce life to one single activity and hope in that single activity to be a climax of both pleaure and pain, of activity and inactivity, of life and death. Love-making has become a ritual. In the Genesis, God is said to have created the world in 6 days and on the seventh day, He rested. Perhaps the woman in the film wants to round off her life of physical pleasure the same way, an eternal rest, the rest to end all temporary deaths at the height of orgasm. Perhaps the only person she really loves is her father. That's may be why she plans to end her life on the fourth anniversary of the day her father dies, perhaps so that she may be joined with her father in a different world. But we really do not know. We only know that she kept her father's shaver which she uses to shave her body hair. Whatever may be the true reason she chooses to die on that anniversary, her plans are interrupted by life: the life of the only living  person she truly loves and cares for, her brother. She is redeemed by her affection for her brother.  A macabre film.

In this film by Michael Rowe, the only thing we learn about this 25 year-old journalist Laura, played by Monica Carmen, is that she lives in Oaxaca, Mexico, has a mother and a brother. She does not appear to have any friends. All her life she never really has any love, only love making. She longs for the kind of love which she despairs to find. Is that may be why she allows Arturo to torture her and ends her life? 




2011年3月26日 星期六

Cirkus Columbia

Mira Furlan and Miki Manojlovic in Cirkus Columbia

Last night was a Friday night that I shall never forget. I saw my third film of the HKIFF. I was deliriously happy about what I saw. It was a beautiful film in many ways. It starts with a shot of a young man getting up, going into the patio to have breakfast and asking his mom to bring him his shirt. He uses his finger to pick up some food on the wooden table and is scolded by his mom, and says he is merely trying to taste it. He is told to wash his hands which he does using the water from the water jug from which he drinks. A military captain arrives and brings him a box which contains a powerful attenae. He goes up the roof and sets it up immediately, dropping things from the roof which nearly hit someone below. He is an amateur ham radio enthusiast.

Next we see a slick new Mercedes Benz travelling down a small country road amidst mottled green leaves, the sun shining behind them as fluttering films of translucence. From the windshield, we see to the left a beautiful slim sexy young red head with a big wicker basket in front of her chest expressing surprise that Bonny inside was vomiting. At the steering wheel to her left, we see a middle aged man with a thick head of hair and bushy eyebrows. A haunting folk melody was being sung by an angel like female voice. The car stops by a gas station. A gauche young man in T-shirt who looks like he hasn't fully woken up comes up hesitantly to service the novel car and is trying to figure out where the gas tank entry was. He fills her up. He wakes his sleeping companion and signals him to look at the beautiful young lady. The man pays. The young gas station attendant says he hasn't got change. The middle aged man asks where his boss is. He says his boss is still sleeping and won't be around until about 10 a.m. The middle aged man shrugs his shoulders and says at least the boy can wash the windscreen. The young man does so but nearly breaks the rain wiper and apologizes. The Benz leaves.

The car arrives at a small town. It owner finds a bar whose boss seems to know him and who brings out his best wine and freshly baked meat. He asks how he can get back his flat and is told that he must go find the mayor. He does. The mayor seems quite familiar with him too. He whisk out a bottle of good wine which he says he has been drinking for the past 20 years whilst the mayor brings out from under his table some ham which he says he has been eating for the past 50 years. They have a good time with the ham and the wine reminiscing good old times. The mayor thanks him for the big donation he made for him. He tells the mayor he has a little problem: how to get back his flat after it has been occupied rent free by others for 20 years. The mayor says there is no problem. We next see a whole team of people of policemen arriving at his flat and demanding that it be returned. A woman pours scalding hot water on the policeman and swears she will die before she leaves. The mayor calls in the firemen. They arrive and ram open the door, rush in and get the screaming and shrieking woman out and lock her up in the police car and later in a cell but the new mayor offers her a run down city council flat. The man goes into his former home, inspects everything and instals himself and his girl friend there. They were supposed to get the divorce papers ready so that he can legally marry the girl. But once he is there, his mind seems occupied by other things. 

The young man at the gas station arrives back in a bicycle, finds its door closed against having a new occupant. In the night, he hurls a stone at the bedroom window, breaks it and leaves in his bicycle. The next morning, he climbs up the wall and the metal stairs around the pipes at the side of the house to get back his radio and tries it out. He gets a radio ham signal from America and is esctatic. Someone hears him. He is found out and is brought down to face the middle aged man. To his surprise, the middle aged man is not angry and give him the keys to the house and tells him to enter through the front door if he like and need not to climb in like a thief. It turns out that the woman the man (called Divko) evicts is his ex-wife Lucija and the gauche young man is his son Martin and Bonny is a black tom cat!

Soon, Bonny is missing. He himself looks for him everywhere and can't find him. He then sends his son and his girl friend to look for it and became the laughing stock of the town. After a while, he figured out a way to get back at those who laugh at him. He put up notices everywhere that there will be a reward of 2000 Deutsche mark for any one who can bring back the cat and we next see a scene in which we see lights up everywhere in the middle of the night and we hear off screen, everyone calling for Bonny!

The film is a fast moving hilarious, ironic film on the situation in a small village town in southern Hersegovina, a part of the former Yugoslavia which used to be ruled by the Communist Party now overturned and replaced by a democratic party shortly after 1990 but before the Yugoslavian wars broke out. There are conflicts between friends because of political opinions (whether one supports Communism or capitalism), ethnic origin (whether one is a Serbian or a Croatian), class (whether one is rich or poor), official status (whether one is a civilian, a police or a military official). Friends become foes and foes become friends because of such differences.

As the film ends, we see the middle aged man, sending away his son and his new girl friend Azra who has in the meantime developed a romantic liaison whilst searching together for their fiancé's and their father's darling Bonny, off to Germany because of certain Serbian military coup, in the middle aged man's car, together with the head of the local police, with money given to the young man by his father. Seeing that he still has a heart for her son, the mother reconciles with her husband. As the cinema resounds with another beautifully lyrical folk song, we see the middle aged man reaching his hand across the seat of his wife as they were riding the Cerkus Columbia, going up and down and round and round, a look of contentment on their faces as in the distance, we see the smoke rising up from three bombs, one following another, one closer than the other, amidst the roofs of the building, close to a church tower but with the sound of the blast muted to a faint crackle, rather like fire-crackers than those of real bombs. Everything seems just a game. I like the way the director skilfully ties everything up with this final image of the merry go round. It is the perfect symbol of what goes on in Herzegovina with its endless changes of place in the musical chair and constant shifts in the balance of power between now the Communist, now the Democrats, now the military, now the police, now the old mayor and now the new mayor, now the husband, now the wife, now the past and now the present, now man, now a tom cat! What started out as a revenge ends with a reconciliation, of a man with his own past which never deserts him and works its magic on him and transforms him back to where he started once he is in touch with it again!

The middle aged man, Divko Buntic is wonderuflly played by Miki Manojlovic, who is most convincing as a monomaniac, his ex-wife Lucija by Mira Furlan, his son Martin by Boris Ler and his girlfriend Azra by Jelena Stupljanin. Miki is simply superb as the self-centred and half-crazed and monomanical but generous Divko bent on punishing his ex-wife and ignoring his new girl friend once he is home from Germany after 20 years and on finding his lost cat, which ironically only appears on the branch of a nearby tree when he and his ex-wife are enjoying the swing in the old fashioned Cirkus! The photography is sensitive and the music very listenable!

Lucija consoling his son after his release from the police station.

Lucija and Martin see Divko after the latter got Martin out using his influence from a private prison within the clutches of the uprising Serbian faction about to blow the town up.

Divko putting up "Lost Cat"Reward" notices in the small town

The director of the film  Danis Tanovic co-adapted the film script based on the novel of the same name by the Croatian journalist Ivica Dikic. The film was selected as the Bosnian entry for the best foreign language film at the 83rd Academy Awards but lost.


The song with which the film closes.

A Short Saturday Joke

It's Saturday and sunny. Time for a joke. As I'm fairly busy with films, it'll be a short one. But to make up for its brevity the font will be bigger. It's about a rather serious subject: Truth. There are 6 of them. Here they are.

Six Truths of Life


1.   You cannot stick your tongue out and look up  at the ceiling at the same time, a physical  impossibility.      


2.  All idiots, after reading #1 will  try it. 

3.  And discover #1 is a  lie.

4. You are  smiling now because you are an idiot.

5.  You soon will forward this to  another idiot.

6.  There is still a stupid smile  on your face ...

I'm an idiot. I need company.  You now have 2 options: delete  it, or send it along to put a
  smile on someone else's face today. 

2011年3月25日 星期五


My second film at the HKIFF is the Swedish Svinalängorna (literally "the Swine Rows", the housing project where part of the film is set) or in its English name Beyond, directed and co- screen-played by one of Ingar Bergman's fomer actresses now turned director Pernilla August and starring Noomi Rapace as the heroine Leena, Ola Rapace as her husband Kimmo, Alpha Blad as Marja her daugher and  and Selma Cuba as her son Flisan Ville Virtanen as her father Johan and Outi Maenpaa as Aili her mother, Tehilla Blad as the child Leena, Junior Blad as her younger but since deceased brother Sakari. 

The film starts with a close up of one side of Leena's face. As the camera withdrew further from her face, we see there is another face beside her, it was that of a man, Kimmo. She is still asleep. The man wakes up. He moves his face towards hers. His face is above hers and starts kissing her. She half resists. A telephone rings. She doesn't feel like taking it. It continues to ring. She has to get up. She does. We see her face with the telephone. The female voice asks, Leena? She switches it off. Off screen, we hear some chidlren's voices, telling her they're coming. She tells her husband to pretend they are still sleeping. Her husband asks her who the call was from. She says it was just a crank call. We see the head of first one child emerging from screen right then another. On the head of the first, a girl about 8 or 9 was a white crown with four battery-powered candles around it. The other, younger, another girl about 6 or 7 also has a white crown of tinsel but without candles. On the hand of the older child was a birthday cake. We learn later they're Marja and Flisan.  They are singing Santa Lucia. She looks happy and kisses them. It is the picture of domestic bliss. The bliss is shattered by another telephone call. She takes the call. It's from a hospital in Ystad, a town some more several hundre KM  away. The voice at the end of the line says that her mother called her previously but it was cut but that she asked the hospital to call again. She takes the call at the toilet. She hangs up without saying anything. She is reflecting. Her mind flashes back to her childhood. She was brushing her teeth. She saw her mother, in a swim suit. She was at the head of an indoor swimming pool, preparing to swim. The camera pans to the right. We see a small young beside the mother some 8 feet away. Her mother plunged in. So did she. We see bubbles from the splashing arms and feet and the sound of water as their limbs thrashed, splattered speeding away.  Then the scene switches to another day. It was her first day in school. Her mother overslept and they brushed their teeth and had to rush. 

Leena returns to the bedroom with a sullen face. Her husband asks her who called. She tells him. He tells her that if she doesn't go her mother might get depressed. She says that people get depressed all the time. She doesn't want to go. Her husband says they must. He kisses and holds her tight in his arms. The following day, she was surprised when she heard her husband telephoning to his office saying that he would have to take a few days off.

Next we see her face again in front of the steering wheel of her car, with her husband beside her, her two children behind. As she was driving. It was raining, water dripping on the windscreen and the windows. There were constant flash backs. She was inpsecting a new house with her parents. An agent was showing them around. Before she leaves, the middle aged female agent reminds her mother not to clog the toilet with newspapers and that they need to pay the utilities themselves. Her mother was happy with the house but was complaining to her husband why he let the agent  talk to him that way, as if they were ignorant peasants.

They moved into the new house and were introduced to the new neighbors. Young Leena got talking to another girl at the next verandah and was invited to go into her house. She climbed over the fence and saw how nice everything was. They got talking and saw a lipstick on the girls table. She said she could have it. She took it and held it against her chest. In another flash back, she saw her father planting sunflower seeds and showing her in her bedroom how they germinated in a corrugated egg carton paper before taking them out into the garden of their new house and how he gave them lots of attention. She saw how well they grew. She recalls how the neighbors said they were nourished not with water, but with love. She was back in her bedroom, writing out the definition of new vocabularies she learned at school, words like love, peace, panic, depression, orgasm,  liquor,  puck, stubborn, hermit etc.

In aother episode, she remembers his father was returning home. She saw that once he entered the house, he held her mother and wanted to make love to her. He couldn't wait. Her mother half resisted. She was complaining that he was drinking too much. She heard her father vowing to her mother to be sober. When he saw her pouring his liquor into the toilet, he belted her, whilst her mother merely crouched at the sitting room floor through the door of which she could see his father lashing her, crying but did not stop him.

Then we're back to her driving, on the way to Ystad. The children are singing the alphabet song. She wants her husband to sing. He can't remember except a tiny fragment and apologizes. It was raining heavily. The beads of water on the windscreen makes her remember the water beads in the shower of a beach her mother brought her to and those at the gymn when she first joined the school's junior swimming team wearing her own swimsuit and how was told to dress like the other, how  the male coach said that if she did not want to swim, she should not join and how on the day of the competition, she stayed inside the shower room and did not want to go out and how she was told that she could never win if she never came out and how when the time came,  she swam, and swam and swam and eventually won the junior champion and how happy and proud her mother and the coach and everybody was and how her mother was also a swimming athlete in Finland having won some medals too. She could not concentrate as memories of her childhood flashed back and nearly has an accident. She stops the car and runs towards a nearby wood. Her husband rans after her in the rain, comforts her in the woods with kissess and hugs. 

They arrived at the hospital. She introduced her husband to her mother and also her children rather coldly, doing the minimum. It was the first time her mother saw her children. She said they got lovely names. When they were alone, her mother begged her to bring her her dad and was told to take her wedding ring which she had placed at a sideborad in her house. She was asked to stay there for a while.  

At her mother's request, they moved into her house. They found the house in a total mess, with utility bills unpaid, dishes left unwashed at the kitchen sink. Whilst she was cleaning up, Marja was going through the things in her mother's bedroom. She was looking at certain photographs including those of her younger brother Sakari and began asking who was who in the photos. She was angry and scolded her that she previously told her not to touch anything. But the photos triggers memories of how she had to help look after her younger brother and how as a child, she had to cycle to the supermarket, how she had to help make biscuits in the kitchen and even had to help her mother doing hourly paid work as a cleaning lady for richer people and how she helped her mother once to clean a wash basin and mirror and was given more money by her mother than she thought she deserved and how when she said it was too much, how her mother said she did an excellent job and how when she visited her rich neighbor's house, she was taught how to wash glasses properly by girl neighbor's mother's live-in boyfriend, a building site supervisor when her own father was just an ordinary worker. 

Her husband found her childhood Christmas wish list. And she recalls how her mother complains to her father about their emigrating from Finland to Sweden and be second class citizens because her husband has become a drunk and how during a Christmas, her husband insisted on putting on the Christmas light lubs on a small Christams tree and how her mother told him to do so later and join in the family celebration and how he insisted but fell because he was too drunk and how they then got into a quarrel because he turned a happy occasion into an unhappy incident following which remark, he hit her and how they struggled on the floor and eventually how his father slashed her mother with glass shard from a broken liquor bottle, with blood all over her fallen body and how she had to call the ambulance and how her brother had to be taken away because the authorities said so following her mother's injury and she remember how she fought against the authorities taking away her brother. Her husband wondered why she never mentioned about her having a brother before until now.

Next we see Leena at the hospital, carrying a flask. We learn later it contains her father's ashes. Her mother reminsinces over her father, saying how well he danced the tango when he was young and the wonderful time they spent together and how good it was to stay in the hospital because when she needed anything, she only had to press a bell and how her brother died because of an accident whereupon Leena flew into a rage and said brusquely what a terrible husband she had, how she got beaten up and how her brother died of drug overdose because of depression after going from one institution to another.Her mother then apologized to her and said how sorry she was and admitted that it was she who signed the papers giving up Sakari. because she could not cope. They cried. She remembers how to induce her young brother to eat some biscuits, she had to promise to give him a bubble bathe with plenty of bubbles. Aili asked for a cigarette because she was dying to have one. She gave it to her and put her out on the verandah because she knew that her mother was not going to live long. She went home. She got another call from the hospital. She was told ther mother had died. She put down the phone, cried, and said she ought to have been there. Her husband holds him in his arm and kisses her. The film ends. 

The film is based on a best selling semi-autobiogrpahical story of the same name about the 1970's written by Susanna Alakoski, dealing with alcoholism and domestic violence which won the August Award, Sweden's most prestigious literary prize. It was a good film, but not exceptional but Noomi Rapace's acting is excellent as the emotionally controlled Leena. So were the acting of her mother and the children. One can see the influence of Bergman's close up everywhere. The constant use of dark blue in the car journey and the hospital gives the film a sombre mood which helps to convey the repressed sorrows of Leena's past.  The music, though sparingly used, is used to good effect, with guitar and one of Chopin's Nocturnes on piano. The ploy of Leena's Christmas wish list and her vocabulary list serves to tie skilfully toether the scattered fragments of Leena's memory and give it a certain kind of aleatory unity. The constant cuts between the present and the past  adds contrast and tension and explain why Leena was so cold, reserved and controlled in everything she does towards her mother which we see at the start of the film. Her desperate attempt to seal her past into a never to be opened chest of memories fail with that fatal telephone call on the morning of her birthday. The past always has a way of catching up with us when we least expects it! Overall, I would give it a B plus.

Aili                    Aili & Leena          Leena


Johan & Sakari    Leena         Young Leena     Leena & Kimmo


Leena     Leena's New Home   Leena in Swimming Competition



2011年3月24日 星期四

Krishnamurti and Bohm

David Bohm is nuclear physicist and the author of the influential book "The Implicate Order". Krishnamurti is an iconoclastic writer on what may loosely be termed "spirituality".  So it may be interesting to see what would happen when two such leading minds encounter each other. This forms the subject matter of an interview on 2nd April 1980, first appearing in The Ending of Time 2nd April, 1980, the last chapter of Krishnamurti's book "On God."

Krishnamurti starts by asking whether Bohm, as a scientist who has examined the atom, finds there is something beyond it. Bohm replies: " You can always feel that there is more beyond that, but it doesn't tell you what it is. It is clear that whatever one knows is limited...And there must be more beyond." Krishnamurti then asks whether one can grasp it or whether our mind can go beyond theories and whether there is anything beyond emptiness or silence or whether silence is part of emptiness and whether if it is not silence, whether we could say it is something absolute, something totally independent on anything else and Bohm suggests that it may be the old Aristotelian notion of the absolute which is the self-active and a cause of itself or something which has no cause. But Krishnamurti prefers to define that something negatively by saying what it is not. He says, "You see, the moment you said Aristotle--it is not that...there is something beyond all this. Probably it can never be put into words. But it must be put into words", rather like what LaoTzu said about the Tao. Bohm then suggests, "Any attempt to put it into words makes it relative...we have a long history of danger with the absolute. People have put it into words and it has become very oppressive."

They try to define what is that something beyond. Krishnamurti says "Beyond all that...All that is something, part of an immensity", the emptiness, the silence, the energy etc. Bohm suggests " Silence, energy, whatever, ...even if you were to say there is something beyond that, still you logically leave room for going agian beyond that."  But Krishnamurti disagrees: "There is nothing beyond it. I stick to that. Not dogmatically or obstinately. I feel that that is the beginning and the ending of everything. The ending and the beginning are the same, right?". Bohm suggests: " If we take the ground from which it comes, it must be the ground which it falls" to which Krishnamurti replies" energy, emptiness, silence, all that is. All that. Not ground." because "There is nothing beyond it. No cause. If you have cause then you have ground." Bohm tries to understand "It comes from the ground, goes to the ground, but it does not begin or end."  But Krishnamurti replies: "There is no beginning and no ending...Is that death--not death in the sense I will die, but the complete ending of everything...Death of everything the mind has cultivated. This emptiness is not the product of the mind, of the particular mind...that emptiness can only exist when there is death--total death--of the particular.". Bohm asks, "So we are saying the ending of the particular, the death of the particular, is the emptiness, which is universal. Now you are saying that the universal also dies." to which Krishnamurti replies in the positive. Bohm does not understand. "Well, I think it becomes almost inexpressible if you say the universal is gone, because expression is the universal...what would it mean to talk of the ending of the universal? What would it mean to have the ending of the universal?" Then Krishnamurti explains" "Nothing. Why should it have a meaning if it is happening? What has that got to do with man?" Bohm asks for the ordinary person: " Let's say that man feels he must have some contact with the ultimate ground in his life, otherwise, there is no meaning." to which Krishnamurti replies: " But it hasn't. That ground hasn't any relationship with man...you have talked marvellously of sunsets, but what has that got to do with me? Will that or your talk help me to get over my ugliness? My quarrels with my wife or whatever it is?"

Bohm asks for us again. " we went into this logically starting from the suffering of mankind, showing it originates in a wrong turning, that leads inevitably..." and is interrupted by Krishnamurti: " Yes but man asks, help me get past the wrong turn. Put me on the right path. and to that, one says: please don't become anything....He won't listen" and the barrier is the "I"  or "more deeply, all your thoughts, deep attachments--all that is in your way. If you can't leave these, then you will have no relationship with that. But man doesn't want to leave these...What he wants is some comfortable, easy way of living without any trouble, and he can't have that....There is no meaning." Bohm replies" "And then people invent meaning...Even going back, the ancient religions have said similar things, that God is ground, so they seek God, you know." But Krishnamurti says, "Ah no, this isn't God...Give them hope, give them faith,...Make life a little more comfortable to live." Bohm then asks, "how is this to be conveyed to the ordinary man?..And what will we do in this world?" . Krishnamurti's punch line is "Live....And then if you have no conflict, no "I", there is something else operating." Bohm replies, "Yes it is important to say that, because the Christian idea of perfection may seem rather boring because there is nothing to do!" Bohm wants man to create meaning for himself through his own ability to create but Krishnamurti says that that must be left for another occasion. 

If this conversation proves anything, it proves how difficult it is for us to get out from our previous thoughts, our previous concepts, our past, personal or cultural. Yet that appears to be what Krishnamurti is trying to advocate: we must die to our past, our previous knowledge and learn to live everyday as if we were a new born baby, without being burdened by our past and everything we have learned. But I don't think that that path is for every one. Even if they are willing to do so, they may not be capable of doing so because the force of habit is simply too great especially when our habits operate at the unconscious level, without our being even aware that they are operating behind the scene, beneath the level of our awareness. .

2011年3月23日 星期三


Last week, I saw an unusual film from Spain. It was called "Biutiful", the way the protagonist's daughter wrote the English word on to a photograph of the snow-covered summit of the Pyrenees against a clear blue sky. The photograph was pinned on the door of a run-down refrigerator in the kitchen of a small studio flat in the slums of modern day Barcelona.She wrote it out letter by letter as her father half hesitantly spelt it out for her in response to her question. We see in the girl's eyes how she longed to have a ski-ing holiday there. 

The film was co-written, co-produced and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and starred Javier Bardem, the winner of the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Fesitval in May, 2010. This is a powerful film about the life of a man living at the margin of contemporary Barcelona, with its illegal immigrants from Africa and China, its need for cheap labor, for drugs, for sex, for violence, for amusement, for escape from boredom, from death but ultimately for meaning.

As the film opens, we see a man smoking amongst the snow amidst the bare branches of some denuded trees, pensive. A dark skinned young man approaches. They eye one another from a distance. The young man decides to get closer. The first offers the other a cigarette. The other takes it. They smile. They take a puff on their own cigarette, each continuing to think their own thoughts about their own separate problems. They separate, in silence.

Next our ears are bombarded with the deafening sounds of some disco music. Nude ladies were doing some pole dance on the stage in the flickering colors of a stroboscope in a bar disco filled with cigarette smoke, boose, half clad hookers shuffling around  men looking for one night stands. We see the hero talking to his fat brother, Tito (played by Eduard Fernández) his back against the entwining arms of two women. His brother introduces a passing young hooker to him . The hooker beckons him with an alluring look and says he looks great. He is not interested. He had come to talk business, about getting work for some illegal immigrants. He is Oxbal, played by Bardem

We are then shown scenes of some slum sweat shop producing garments. We see oriental faces speaking nothing but Putonghua, their hands feverishly putting certain cut cloth under the fast stitching needles of some electric sewing machines. Supervising them are two Chinese men, one younger and the other middle aged. The older man does not speak Spanish but the younger man does. From the way they talk in Chinese and the way they look at each other, they appear to be engaged in some kind of lovers quarrel as much over the direction their business is moving as their personal relationship. The older man interrupted their quarrel to give Oxbal some money to sweeten it for the Spanish authorities and they resumed their quarrel which ended with one of them kissing the other on the mouth.  

Then the scene switches to that of a woman dancing naked, a glass of wine in her hand over a bed. Sleeping on the bed is the Oxbal's brother, Tito. The woman steps on to the man's back. The man pulls her over to kiss her. We learn later that the woman is Oxbal's wife, Ana (played by Hanna Bouchaib) . The movie moves on in scene after rapid scene as we follow the life of Oxbal: he had to see the police to keep them from looking where they ought to, to arrange work for illegal African workers, Chinese illegal workers, to find accommodation to house them, to push drugs, to spend time occasionally in funeral parlors to tell anxious relatives the thoughts of corpses for pay, he having inherited such a supernatural psychic gift from his mother's family, to feed his children, to take them to school and to make them happy etc.

In fact, we learn as the film unrolls that he has two young children, is separated from his wife who left him because of her violence and his cancer, she herself being a drunk, a dope addict, a violent mother and a slut. But his wife comes one day to see the children and says she loves him and wants to be given another chance. She begs him. He relents but she relapses into her irresponsible ways: she promises to take the children to their dream holiday in the Pyrenees but leaves her daughter behind on the ground of some trivial disobedience. He has to take the children away from her but in the meantime, he learns that his cancer is worsening and does not have long to live. He struggles to keep his family and his own hectic life together amidst the mad jumble of all the things he has to do. He saw that the illegal Chinese workers were sleeping on the floor without any heating. He bought some cheap gas heaters from a second hand store and gave them to the workers. Then he learned from the TV that all of them died the night before and their bodies were disposed of by their Chinese bosses by dumping them on to a nearby beach. He was struck with a terrible guilt. He blamed himself for not ensuring that the heaters were in working order and not leaking gas before he bought them. We see him agonising over his lack of judgement out of a desire to scrimp on what little money he had.

He loves his children, but knowing of his impending fate, he has little choice but to leave them to the care of an African woman whose husband was arrested and deported and for whom he had engaged in a fight during the former's scuffles with the arresting Spanish police. When the signs of death became imminent, he gave her all the money that he had and asked the African woman to take care of them. When the film ends, we see the African woman with her own toddler child at the Barcelona Airport on a homeward bound flight back to Africa. 

It was a fast film in which we have some spectacular cinema work from Rodgrigo Prieto, who manages to glut our eyes with an incredibly rich feast of colors and forms. We have simply superb acting from Bardem and also a first rate musical score from Gustavo Santaolalla, which adds not a little to the pace and mood of the fast but emotive scenes. A postmodern saga of love, violence, greed, betrayal in the life of a petty criminal striving honestly to find some order and to retain a modicum of humanity amidst the impossibly maddening pace of big city life in the fragmented and alienating half world of criminals and illegals in contemporary Spain. He buckled under the strain of trying desperately to keep a balance between devotion to family, friends, health and the need to make a living or merely to survive.  Nobody can survive under such circumstances. His world finally disintegrates under the weight of all kinds of pressures into that ultimate chaos: that of a cancerous death! There is no lack of dark irony: the hero's attempt to give warmth to the illegal Chinese immigrants results in their massacre by gas. Oxbal's wife attempt to give joy to her children results in desertion of her daughter, an occasion for joy turns into an occasion for heart-breaks. Oxbal's dedication to the welfare of the black illegal immigrant and that of his wife results in the betrayal by the latter's wife, who took all his money and deserted his children. Nothing turns out the way the protagonist expects. Is the chaos of his life a reflection of the fragmentation of Spanish society or the other way round? Is his cancer merely personal or social? Does the film lament or rejoice in such fragmentation or disintegration? Who is right? Who is wrong? Who a hero? Who a villain? Does it matter? A sad movie. But what an excellent one!