2012年4月24日 星期二

La Feria

Last Saturday was unlike any other Saturday. I won a free ticket in my Spanish class to go to "La Feria", a festival of Spanish songs, dance, tapas, cheese, ham and wine at the Jockey Club in Happy Valley, organized by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce. This year, they did something special. They invited various Spanish companies to join in in an event for "sampling" and "tasting" their best "jamon" (ham) from Spain. They call it "museo de Jamon" (ham museum!). We had ham which has been seasoned less than a year to three years. They were simply delicious, so rich in flavor and so tender that they literally melt in one's mouth. And of course, we had wine tasting. I tasted an "El Nido 2008 made with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon from a 30 year old vineyard in Jumilia and with 30% Monastrell from a 65 year old vineyard, basket pressed,and with fermentation in French and American oak barrels. It was very fruity. I like it. I got plenty of chance to taste their cheese as well.

Not only did I have good tapas, wine and other Spanish food, I had fun watching flamenco songs and dance. The music was provided by a group called "Sol y Flamenco" first formed in the HK in 2010 and is now the only purely flamenco band here.The guitarist Peeny Wong played really well. Later I learned that he graduated from the Fundación de Cristina Heerren de Arte Flamenco in Seville after three years and studied under such masters as Pedro Sierra, NIño de Pura, Paco Carte and Eduardo Rebollar. He played with fire and grace but above all, with soul. It also has a Japanese flamenco dancer Reina Tamaki who went to the same school and has been performing in Hong Kong since 2009. The drums and percussion was provided by De Kai, born in St. Louis, trained as a classical musician at the Northwestern University in Chicago and then went on to learn the "cajon" ( a kind of stool-like wooden sound box with a plywood front used as a drum in Spain, Central and South America and originated by black African slaves working in Peru who wanted to play African rhythms but must disguise their drum as a "stool" to avoid detection by their Spanish masters) and is now engaged in all kinds of fusion music. Finally we had Ingrid Sera-Gillet, a French lady born in Lyon, a ballet dancer and actress who first learned the flamenco "jondo" (deep song) and dancing in Paris in 1999 and then in New York and now teaches at the HK Academy of Performing Arts

The band singing with guest guitarists.

A guitar duet by the guest guitarists.

Flamenco singing. Not a solo affair. It requires a lot of mutual musical and emotional support from the group members from time to time.

The double bass player. I have seen him numerous times playing in various jazz bands. But this is the first time I saw him with a flamenco band.

The guitarist concentrating on his rasguaedo.

Ingrid sings with passion. Here sorrow.

Here, joy.

The flamenco bird folding its wings.

Opening up

Spreading out its wings.

Swinging her shawl

Ingrid sings another song after a short break and a change of clothes.

She dances.

She taps her feet

She gathers her hands above her head before the explosion

She twists her hands and arms

She gathers them to one side of her body

She reaches out her hands

After all the songs and dances, she needs a drink

The audience was invited to join in dancing a "Castellana". The photographer beside me went up stage. She's enjoying herself.

Some children watching what's going on on the stage.

Some were asked to join in making some Spanish tapas! The children sure had lots of fun kneading the dough etc. So did I watching them.

And some Spanish students preparing for the International Baccalauriat in a famous Shatin school sure didn't want to miss the fun, the food, the drinks , the songs and dance.

2012年4月23日 星期一

A Magnificent Farewell

I really do not know when I'll be able to hear Edo de Waart again. After having been with us for eight years and transformed the HK Philharmonic from "a regional into a world class orchestra" as Y S Liu, chairman of the orchestra's board of director said at the opening of the concert last Saturday, Edo de Waart made sure that his last concert in HK as the orchestra's Artistic and Chief Conductor would be an unforgettable experience. And he succeeded beyond the bounds of my wildest imagination and that of all my concert buddies.

We had two pieces. The first was Berlioz's La Mort de Cléopâtre and the second was Beethoven's last symphony, the 9th. Hector Berlioz is a master of symphonic poem and orchestral color. The previous week, we had his Don Quixote. This week, he gave us one of his earliest compositions, a piece he composed whilst he was still a student at the Paris Conservatoire and which he submitted as his entry for the Prix de Rome in 1829 and as he said in his memoire, one written "from the heart". Although he did not win the prize, it remained great music, with huge changes in speed and rhythm and sound volume and with parts written for every section of the orchestra and with some bold harmonies to the recitatives in Allegro vivace con impeto for the first récit, Lento cantabile Largo misterioso for the Meditation, and then Allegro assi agitato for the following part, Moderato for the Récit mesuré.  . As the programme note says, he told one of the examiners after their adjudication that it was forceful and extreme because "It's difficult to write soothing music for an Egyptian queen who has been bitten by a poisonous snake and is dying a painful death in an agony of remorse".   The magnificent music was sung for us by Susan Graham, a tall blonde with an ample rounded  soundbox for a body who appeared on the stage in a black dress with an orange band in the middle, with black lace which trailed behind her body like the diaphanous wings of a huge cicada. She did full justice to Berlioz. It was really moving.

But de Waart saved the best for the last. In this piece, the HK Philharmonic was assisted by the excellent Shanghai Opera House Chorus under Vance George, singing the famous chorus for the Ode for Joy. There were other singers too like Lisa Larsson as soprano, Susan Graham as mezzo soprano, Henry Choo as Tenor, Mark Schnaible as Bass Baritone. The No. 9 needs no introduction.  I like every part of the symphony but especially the final movement in which de Waart whipped up waves and waves of sound at an increasingly more exciting pace. I have heard this symphony in the concert hall I do not know how many times. It must count as the best of them all. I am probably not alone in so thinking. Nearly the entire audience on the balcony gave Edo de Waart a standing ovation, and I amongst them. I have been to the Cultural Centre concert hall on more occasions that I can ever remember. But It's the very first time I ever witnessed such a reception. De Waart had to come out I don't how many times, probably 8 to 9 and when he finally took the concert master away, the audience had not yet stopped clappling! I am sure that the whole orchestra must be very very tired after putting in their all into that majestic piece of music.  A really magnficent closing to a tenure of sustained success at the HKPO. I can't think of a more deserving recipient for the never ending rounds of applause.

2012年4月22日 星期日

A Tree in bloom《一棵開花的樹》

《一棵開花的樹》                        A Tree in Bloom

如何讓你遇見我                        How to let you see me

在我最美麗的時刻、為這           at my most beautiful moment   for this

我已在佛前、求了五百年           I've already begged the Buddha   for five hundred years

求祂讓我們結一段塵緣              begging him to let us conclude an earthy liaison

佛於是把我化作一棵樹             The Buddha turned me into a tree

長在你必經的路旁                     growing beside a path you must pass

陽光下慎重地開滿了花             Under the sun I cautiously bloom

朵朵都是我前世的盼望             every flower a hope from my former life

當你走近、請你細聽                When you approach, please listen with care

那顫抖的葉是我等待的熱情     Those trembling leaves are my passion in waiting

而當你終於無視地走過            When you finally walk past unseeing

在你身後落了一地的               behind you what fell on the ground

朋友啊!那不是花瓣               my friend!  are not petals

是我凋零的心。                      but my withered heart.

席慕蓉  Xi Mu Rong                 trans. El Zorro 亞達梭羅


出版作品如下: 詩集有《七里香》、《無怨的青春》、《時光九篇》、《水與石的對話》、《河流之歌》 ;散文集有 《成長的痕跡》、《畫出心中的彩虹》、《三弦》、《有一首歌》、《同心集》、《寫給幸福》、《在那遙遠的地方》、《信物》、《寫生者》、《我的家在高原上》、《江山有待》、《黃羊》《玫瑰》《飛魚》。作品中浸潤東方古老哲學,宗教色彩,透露出一種人生無常的蒼涼韻味。

2012年4月21日 星期六

Saturday Day Joke

Marriage is an endless source of jokes. Could that possibly have anything to do with the fact that we can seldom get out of it? But the funny thing is that all too often even after a divorce, the unhappily ex-married men and women can't wait to get married again! Whatever the truth may be, here's another joke about that baffling  social institution to brighten up your Saturday.

A man walks up to a farmer's house. He knocks on the door.

When the woman opens the door, the man asks if she knows how to have sex. Not amused, she slams the door.

Again, the man knocks and asks the same question.

Still not amused, she screams at the man to get the hell away.

Later she tells her husband what happened. He offers to stay home the following day, just in case.

Sure enough, the man returns the next day.

The husband hides with his gun while the lady answers the door.

When she is asked again if she knows how to have sex, she answers "yes."

The man replies: "Great, give some to your husband the next time you see him and tell him to keep away from my wife."

Have a nice weekend.

2012年4月20日 星期五

J L Borges' El Mar (The Sea) 博爾赫斯 的《海洋》

El Mar    The Sea

Antes que el sueño (o el terror) tejiera     Before dream (or terror) wove
Mitologías y comogonías,                            mythologies and cosmologies,
Antes que el tiempo se acuñara en días.     Before time is minted into days
El mar, el siempre mar, ya estaba y era,    The sea, ever the sea, already was.
Quién es el mar? Quién es aquel violento   Who is the sea? Who is that violent
Y antiguo ser que roe los pilares                 And ancient being that gnaws the pillars
De la tierra y es uno y muchos mares         Of the earth and is one and many seas
Y abismo y resplandor y azar y viento?      And abyss and splendor and chance and wind?
Quien lo mira lo ve por vez primera,          Who sees it, sees it for the first time,
Siempre. Con el asombro que las cosas      Always. With the wonder that things
Elementales dejan, las hermosas               Elemental leave behind, the beauties,
Tardes, la luna, el fuego de una hoguera.      The afternoon, the moon, the fire of a bonfire.
Quién es el mar, quién soy? Lo sabré el dia Who is the sea, who am I? I shall know the last day
Ulterior que sucede a la agonía.                    That follows agony

Jorge Luis Borges 1967                                trans... El Zorro


海洋, 永恆的洋,巳在。

作者:豪爾赫·路易斯·博爾赫斯   譯者: 亞達梭羅

Jorge Luis Borges,1899年8月24日-1986年6月14日 ,阿根廷作家,詩人。他的作品涵蓋多個文學範疇,包括:短文、隨筆小品、詩、文學評論、翻譯文學。其中以拉丁文雋永的文字和深刻的哲理見長。

2012年4月18日 星期三

伊甸之窗 (The Window of Eden)

伊甸之窗                                  The Window of Eden

也許是紅色                               Perhaps red,        
也許是藍色                               Perhaps blue,
可惜眼前卻失落了                     Pity losing
一個春天和一個夏天                  A spring and a summer
誰能告訴我,                            Who can tell me 
春天和夏天只有紅色和藍色?     if there're only red and blue in spring and summer?
 春天有萬紫千紅嗎                     Are there ten thousand purples and a thousand reds in spring
 夏天有藍天白雲嗎                     Are there blue skies and white clouds in summer
呵, 我記起了湖波盪漾的一瞬    Oh, I remember the moment the lake waves rocked
除了紫紫紅紅                            Not only purples and reds
還有閃亮的銀光和幽影               But also shimmering silvers and shades
也有彎過天穹的虹彩                  And colors of the rainbow across the sky
更有點點斜紋的雨線                  And patches of slanting rain lines too
 淡墨的 暗綠的                             in light ink  in shades of green
 赭黄的遠山和平野                        orange yellow distant hills and wild plains
那曾經屬於我的宮庭後苑          The rear palace garden that once was mine
那曾經屬於我的蘋菓樹             The apple tree that once was mine
那曾經給夏娃摘掉禁果的垂枝   That hanging bough where Eve picked the forbidden fruit
都如噩夢似的留下印記,          Have all left their nightmarish marks
伴侶低聲問過我                       My mate asked me in a whisper
誰幫你把伊甸抬到我們的窗前   Who helped you bring Eden below our window

慕容羽軍                                     Translated: El Zorro


奉獻 (An Offering)

奉獻                             Offering

妳種花                         You grow flowers,  
我種夢                         I grow dreams
種花的, 長成鮮花       You who grow flowers, have become a flower
我的夢, 穿過硬土       My dream, pushing through stiff earth
長上去,長上去           Is growing up, is growing up
終於長成                     It's finally grown into
一支旗幟                     A  banner

我呼啦啦地笑着           Chuckling
接受妳的                     I accept your
敬意                            Salute

藍海文                        translated:  El Zorro



2012年4月16日 星期一

Dream Harmonies

Having been away for holidays or otherwise busy about many things, it was a most delightful experience to be back at the Cultural Centre for my Saturday concert. The evening's fare was a bit unusual. It consisted of only two pieces, the first by Richard Strauss and the second by a very innovative contemporary American composer John Adams.

The first piece was a symphonic poem called Don Quixote, based on Miguel de Cervantes famous episodic novel parodying the foolishness of an elderly gentleman whose head was seized by the romanticism associated with "courageous exploits" of the knights of chivalry which he has read in books at a time when such knights had become an anachronism in Renaissance Europe. and who actually took to the road "as if" he really were a knight in shining armour out to rescue damsels in distress. His "lady" was merely the daughter of a small innkeeper. The music had 10 variations on the main theme and a finale, with the cello representing Don Quixote and the bass clarinet representing his accompanying squire Sancho Panza. The various variations were supposed to depict various key scenes in the novel like Don Quixote charging at the windmill which he took to be a monster, plunging into an army in the midst of a battle (a flock of sheep), Don Quixote recounting his dreams, rushing to the rescue of a maiden (a statue in a religious procession), Don Quixote dreaming of his lady Dulcinea, Don Quixote meeting three peasant women on donkey which Sancho Panza persuaded Don Quixote was his Dulcinea with her two companions, Don Quixote sitting on a bench with wind from bellows rushing at him but imagining that he is charging about on horse back at great speed, Don Quixote riding a boat without any means of moving it and getting crushed under a giant mill-wheel, Don Quixote seeing two priests but mistaking them for magicians, Don Quixote being made to give up his dreams of more adventure by a neighbor who played along with him in a mock duel in which he defeated the poor old fool and the sorrows of a Don Quixote robbed of his dreams. The music was rich and varied and all parts of the orchestra fully utilized but I don't know why, the orchestra somehow seemed to be in less than its best in this piece.

The next piece was much better. It was Harmonielehre or "the book of harmony" and according to the programme notes, it was a "huge study of tone harmony, part textbook, part philosophical rumination that Arnold Schoenberg published in 1911" This piece is also a parody but of a different sort: it parodies certain types of music. It was a minimalist work in three movements, a kind of pastische of late romantic music in which the composer threw in imitative bits of the music of Mahler, Sibelius, Debussy and Schoenberg. The result is a strange hodge podge of different styles and a sonic feast much to the delight of my hi fi concert buddies. There are mixed into it some folkloric elements which fascinated Adams as he was studying the symbolism in Jung's mythology about the collective unconscious.at the the time he wrote the piece. The final part is a myth associated with the Medieval mystic Meister Echkart. This piece was first played by Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra many many years ago. So it probably meant a lot to our departing conductor. The sonic texture is undoubtedly very rich and most exciting to hear. De Waart got such long applauses that he must have come out more than 7 times! The audience obviously loved his music. So did I.

2012年4月14日 星期六

Saturday Joke

I studied in a Catholic school. No matter how bad certain miltant atheists think some religious schools are, there may well be just a little something going on there in such schools which somehow parents may find useful. You don't have to believe in what I'm talking about. Just read what follows.

Little Zachary was doing very badly in maths. His parents had tried
everything - tutors, mentors, flash cards, special learning centers. In short,
everything they could think of to help his math. 

Finally, as a last ditch effort, they enrolled
Zachary in the local Catholic school. After the first day, little Zachary came
home with a very serious look on his face. He didn't even kiss his mother
hello. Instead, he went straight to his room and started studying.

Books and papers were spread out all over the room
and little Zachary was hard at work. His mother was amazed. She called him down
to dinner.

To her shock, the minute he was done, he marched
back to his room without a word, and in no time, he was back hitting the books
as hard as before.

This went on for some time, day after day, while
the mother tried to understand what made all the difference.

Finally, little Zachary brought home his report
card. He quietly laid it on the table, went up to his room and hit the books.
With great trepidation,his Mom looked at it.

To her great surprise, Little
Zachary got an 'A' in maths. His mom could no longer hold her curiosity. She went to
his room and said, "Son, what was it? Was it the

Little Zachary looked at her
and shook his head and said "No."

"Well, then," she replied, '"was it the books, the
discipline, the structure, the uniforms? WHAT WAS IT?"

Little Zachary looked at her and said, 'Well, on
the first day of school when I saw that guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew
they weren't fooling around.'

Have a wonderful Saturday and if your kids have problems with maths, you might want to give this joke a little "serious" thought!


2012年4月11日 星期三

A Simple Life (桃姐)

It's a long time since I last saw any film by Ann Hui (許鞍華). She never ceases to surprise me. Many many years ago, she did an MA thesis on a now little known French "nouveau roman" writer and director in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Alain Robbe-Grillet, with whose novels, films and literary theory I too was at one time fascinated. I can still see a trace of Robbe-Grillet's influence in the way she prioritizes details of images in her film 《桃姐》(A Simple Life) (2011) which is anything but simple. Starring two ace actor and actress Andy Lau (劉德華) and Deanie Yip (葉德嫻), it tells of the very special kind of subtle emotions that can subsist between a family maid and her young master through years of living together in close physical proximity to each other and through knowing of the most intimate personal idiosyncrasies of each other.

With this film, Anne Hui won the Golden Horse Award for best director, Andy Lau for best actor and Deanie Yip  won the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival, the Golden Horse Award, Estonia Film Festival and the Asia Film Festival. I cannot think of a more deserving actress. I like the way she conveys with her eyes, her facial expression, her body gestures, the tone of her voice the care and concern she has for her young master, who remains always a somewhat remote yet a most intimate part of her life and the focus of her attention and emotions so that she would do whatever he asks of her. She spoils him as if he were her very own son. 桃姐 (literary "Sister Plum") possesses a naturally self-effacing understanding and tolerating attitude towards others' faults and foibles and there is nothing she would not do within her powers to make life comfortable for her young master. She has become part and parcel of the family in which she serves. By comparison, Andy Lau still seems a bit stiff and strained in his acting. He doesn't seem to be able to forget that he is Andy Lau, notwithstanding his best efforts.  

When the film begins, we see Roger Leung, her young master whose whole family had long emigrated to Canada, returning home from Beijing enjoying his favourite steamed crab and steamed fish after she went to the market to handpick everything for the preparation of the meal. The story is supposed to be based upon a real life about Sister Plum, who has been a family maid for the same family for some 60 years, since age 13 and has seen 5 generations of the same family, that of the producer 李恩霖. The story takes on real interest when 桃姐 got a stroke and could not work any more. Roger arranged for her to be taken care of in a home for the aged run by his buddy and gave her the best room and the best service that money could buy and would take time off to see him whenever he returns to Hong Kong e.g to go to a nearby local tea-house, to meet her parents and to take her to the premier of his film, to buy her her favourite barbecued goose rice noodles. We see how in the home for the aged, other old people are treated by members of their family and for a bit of added humor, how an old man 堅叔 (Uncle Kin) (秦沛) would time and again "borrow" money to indulge in his sexual urges despite his age, foolishly thinking or hoping that others didn't know. and also another episode in which two co-directors of a film in which Roger is involved staged a "fight" to squeeze a little more money for financing the film from its PRC  financier. We see how the old people would dribble, how they while away the time staring into the air with blank eyes, how they would gossip about newcomers,  how excited and delighted they would be to share in a little snacks brought by others for another one of their inmates, how they suffer from lack of care and attention by their own children, how an old woman who had given her life's savings to her precious son would continue to hope against hope that she would be taken to spend the Chinese New Year with him because he "promised" to do so although he had failed repeatedly to pay his half share of her expenses which he previously "promised" to contribute. We see how 桃姐  would pick her stuffs carefully at the market, comment on others' cuisine, refuse to throw away all kinds of stuffs for memory's sake, how she remembers all kinds of details about various incidents in the history of her service of her host family and how she remembers the names of all the buddies of Roger who had tasted of her excellent cuisine when they were young and how she refuses to have her teeth replaced for fear of spending her boss's money and how warmly she felt  when she was looked after by her young master now that she was in trouble.

I like the way Anne Hui simply presents the images, without comment, without forced "drama", without sentimentality and let the subtle images tell her story with a very easy rhythm and the sparing use of string music, always unintrusive and natural, to enhance a little the inevitable unfurling of the fabric of fate of 桃姐. Anne Hui has developed into a true master of the celluloid media.  

2012年4月10日 星期二

The First Man (Le Premier Homme) (第一人)

My last film at the HKIFF Le Premier Homme (The First Man) (2011) written and directed by Gianni Amelio (La stella che non c'è (2006)), is a very personal tale of the complex emotions of an Algerian born and raised French novelist upon his return as an honoured guest to his Algerian alma mater in the politically turbulent times on the eve of its independence.

Based upon a posthumously found half completed manuscript for a novel by one of my favourite French writers, Albert Camus, the story hovers between the past and the present, between childhood and adulthood, between the political ideal of unity between the French and the native Arab and some of the local born French colonials and the political reality of agitation by extremists on both sides of the issue, rather like the issue of Tibet in China today. Camus was  sympathetic to the cause of Algerians independence.

As the film opens, we see a man Jean Cormerly (Jacques Gamblin) busily trudging along a narrow alley uphill in the Arab quarters of the city, being stared at by the Arab passers-by. That was in 1957. He was looking for an old  friend, Abdelkarim Benhabboucha, an Arab who when they were young and studying at the same primary school had out of jealousy grabbed him from behind whilst the future novelist was engrossed in reading a book during recess time. As a result, they got into a fight. It was seen by the teacher who asked who started it first. The Arab boy Mickael Batret (Michael Betret) raised his hand and admitted to it. He was made to stand at a corner of the football field during the lunch break. When the victim offered him a piece of bread, he brushed him off in anger. When his grandma learned of the incident, she decided that the boy should quit school and help earn some money for their family living from hand to mouth, by working as a printer's apprentice. But later, his former teacher paid him a visit and persuaded her grandma to let him continue his studies because he saw great potential in the boy who was always able to answer all the questions he posed to the class. He said he could arrange for a subsidy for the boy because of his poverty. His grandma relented.

At the school and at home, the young would be novelist was taught the value of honesty and of justice. We are shown an episode whereby the poor future novelist was asked by her grandmotherUlla Bau to go to the local butcher to buy 500 grams of meat. When he returned, he came back with 450 gm. The grandmother (Ulla Baugué ) took the child back to the butcher's where she argued with him and harangued him for cheating a boy. The butcher denied and insisted that the boy only gave him 4.50 sous instead of 5 sous. Whilst they were arguing, the boy stood watching in silence. In the end, the butcher gave her the "missing" meat. On the way back home, he told his grandma that the butcher was right! His grandma was furious and there and then asked him to take the meat back to the butcher and to apologize. He explained that whilst going to the loo, a coin fell out and dropped into the toilet bowl and he did not retrieve it because it was too dirty. Whilst the boy was gone, we see the grandma reaching her hand into the toilet bowl. That's how poor they were. That was in 1924.

One of the people the novelist saw upon his return to Algeria was his former teacher Mr. Bernard (Denis Podalydes) . They discussed the situation in Algeria. His teacher said he was worried because the voice of the racist extremists appeared to be getting louder and louder. Then we see the author giving his speech. Immediately before he spoke, we hear the words of an extremist advocating violence. When the author spoke, he spoke of the need of the French and the Arabs to live living in harmony, as they have done in the past and of the importance of justice and that it was still possible. But the extremists on both sides got into a fight at the university lecture hall and the following morning, the local newspaper splashed headline banner "Commotion after author spoke".  We see how proud his mother, Catherine Comery (Catherine Sola) an illiterate who has since learned a little to read so that she can read what his son wrote, felt when she discovered the news article..I think her illiterate mother, who refused to return to France, is a symbol of the author's own love of Algeria.

When the novelist finally found his Arab friend, he was told that his good friend was in a depression. When his friend saw him, he was delighted but sad. He told the author that his son (Hachemi Abdelmalek) had been arrested for being involved in terrorist activities but that he was convinced that his son was innocent. The author told him he knew the Minister of Interior and would do his best to see if something could be done. We next see him visiting the man's son and told him about his plans and then we see the man's father visiting his son, who told his father that he was not as innocent as his father thought and that he was proud of what he did. We learned later that there was no reprieve of his death sentence. 
It was a simple tale, told simply about how  a man must live honestly and be true to himself and accept the consequences of his act, with calm, with quiet courage, with indifference and perhaps even with a certain contempt vis a vis the injustices of the times brought on by those forces beyond one's control which some would call his "fate" or "destiny". We see also in this film how the values of honesty, justice and moral courage may have been implanted into one's psyche from a young age, by one's concrete life experience and how such values may flower long after one is grown up and sustain one and keep one on one's track with unshaken steadfastness. In this film the cinematographer has caught well the atmosphere of the Algerian sun, the Arab style architecture, the busy cafes and bazaars and the cool but dark interior of the houses of the poor in Algeria. I like the play of light and dark in the film which was done with great sensitivity. A reflective close to my not too hectic film viewing at this year's HKIFF.

2012年4月9日 星期一

Your Sister's Sister (忽然搭上你家姐)

My second last film at the HKIFF, Your Sister's Sister (2011), is a very middle class film about the messed
up lives of two sisters and a man in their late twenties and early
thirties by a woman director Lyn Sheldon (We Go Way Back (06), My
Effortless Brilliance (08), Humpday
(09), starring  Mark Duplass playing Jack, Emily Blunt playing Iris and Rosemarie DeWitt playing her elder sister Hannah.
Iris, Jack's dead brother's ex, meets Jack at a party and finds him totally disorganized. She suggests to Jack that he should take a bike ride to her father's cabin at Puget Sound and spend some time there to think things out all alone in a completely secluded corner of the world. Jack takes her advice. But when he arrives, he finds to his surprise another woman there, drinking all alone. She is Iris's sister, Hannah. Hannah is there because she has just broken off a 9-year-old lesbian relationship with her ex and wants to chill out there. She has plenty of tequilla to drown out her pains and pours her heart out to Jack and asks him in turn what brought him there. He tells her how he could not pick up his life after his favourite brother's death. They're both in a rut. In a half drunken state, Jack made love to her. The following morning, to his horror, Iris arrives. Iris hasn't seen Hannah for a while. They had endless things to catch up on with each other. Iris, who has a hidden crush on Jack, asks Hannah's opinion about Jack. In the middle of the talk, Hannah feels she must confess to Iris that she slept with Jack the previous night. Iris flew into a rage Eventually, Jack confesses to Iris that although she slept with Hannah, Iris was where his heart belonged.
I like the film, done in a very natural manner and with some beautiful photography of the natural scenery on the island. Most of the dialogues are improvised by the actors, who almost co-wrote them with the director and screenplay writer. The first part of the film is full of humor as Jack tried to hide the fact that he slept with Hannah but as the film moves on, it becomes more and more emotionally intense. The acting was good by all three. It's an excellent little study on the transformation of one kind of feeling into another between Iris and Jack through the complex feelings of love and rivalry between two sisters.

2012年4月3日 星期二

Back To Stay (繭愛)

Chekhov once wrote of playwriting: " This is a prescription for utter naturalism; and, if followed exactly, it would yield only tedium".

If "Sleepless Night"  is too loud, too fast and furious for one's sanity, then my next HKIFF film may well be its antithesis: it's too monotonous, too slow and too uneventful. Nonetheless, that didn't stop it from walking away with prizes at the Locarno Film Festival in 2011: the Golden Leopard for the best film and best actress (Maria Canale) and also the international critic's award. 

The film Abri Puertas y Ventanas ( Back To Stay) written and directed by Argentina born but Swiss-raised MiIagros Mumenthale, probably best exemplifies what Anton Chekhov said about his own plays in which nothing much happens: "in which people arrive, go away, have dinner, talk about the weather, and play cards. Life must be exactly as it is, and people as they are--not on stilts." But it really takes a great deal of skill to attain Chekhovs apparently simple ideal: " Let everything on the stage be just as complicated, and at the same time just as simple as it is in life." . That's a tall order. It requires consummate skill about what kind of trivial episodes the director chooses to present on the screen: whether there is any inherent "drama" embedded in the mundane details of daily living and whether at appropriate junctures, a little inconspicuous emphasis is introduced to enhance the little "dramas" behind the apparently "non-dramatic" materials. Chekhov's was against putting life "on stilts". I don't think he would have any serious objection to putting life, especially, the lives of young ladies, on "stiletto" , so to speak., just for enhanced effects. Otherwise, it would be naturalistic life, not art.

The film is about the petty squabbles, jealousies, dislikes and emotional conflicts between three orphan sisters Marina (María Canale) the oldest, Sofia (Martina Juncadella) and Violeta Tauss (Ailín Salas) in an old house long after the death of their grandma, Alicia (nothing about who or how their parents are or how they came to be living in that house). There is no authority figure in the house: no elderly fatherly or matriarchical figure nor even any man. They drift, each according to their own very different character, bitching each other but also secretly relying upon each other.  It would probably take a shock to let them wake up from their reverence against touching anything in their old house, their grandmother's possession, including outdated record player, tape recorder, old style black and white TV and a whole garage of her stuffs.etc.  This came in the form of a sudden decision by Violetta to leave their house with her boy friend whom she had been secretly dating and the assistance of a young male neighbor Francisco (Julián Tello) who helped them cut down a dying vine and move their furniture about and with whom Marina fell in love.

The title Abri Puertas y Ventanas, literally means "open the doors and windows". This is exactly what happened, when Marina got so angry that without telling her, the youngest sold part of her grandma's stuffs and bought herself a new cell-phone which Marina destroyed with her hammer after which she threw it out the window and in the process broke its window pane. Whenever there are quarrels, the girls will lock themselves inside their own rooms! The film ends by the two remaining sisters listening to the tape of a new song written, sung and accompanied on the guitar by their departed sister Violetta in which she says she still remembers them.

There're certainly lots and lots of trivial details in their lives but I don't think it would help to place a little more emphasis on certain of the scenes by a bit of music or the use of camera movement. As it is, the shots are mostly static. Taking into account that the whole film is centred on their house, it could be very tedious at times. At certain points, I felt I needed a siesta, the way one of them was dangling in a hammock in their garden. I suppose that the competition at Locarno last year could not have been very great. But I must give credit to Maria Canale, who conveys well the kind the nervous but impotent rage she feels at the antics of her sisters. A good study of human dynamics in an enclosed environment.

2012年4月2日 星期一

Guilty of Romance (Koi No Tsumi) (戀之罪)

It's the first time I saw any film by Japanese auteur Sono Sion (園子溫). The film is shocker in very sense of the word. Guilty of Romance (Koi No Tsumi) (戀之罪) is billed as a sex crime thriller. But I think it's much more than that.

The provocative film, written and directed by the cult-film maker Sono Sion ("Cold Fish" ) opens with someone reporting finding two separate parts of a decomposed female body in a rundown building awaiting demolition in Tokyo's "love hotels" district. When the upper torso of one of those smooth plastic female doll-faced mannequins is removed, we find a badly decomposed body with maggots crawling all over it whilst in a separate part of the building, another part of a human body is found, except the upper and lower portion between the human and the mannequin's are reversed. The forensic pathologist tells the female police inspector Kazuko Yoshida (水野美紀) that the dismembered body parts belongs to the same person and that she died about 10 days ago but that some other parts of the body are still missing. She checks through the photos on the missing persons" list and zeroes in on Izumi ( Megumi Kagurazaka) (神樂坂惠), wife of famous erotic novel writer  (Kandji Tsuda) and suspected to be a part time hooker. Through careful screening and interviews, she suspects that the body belongs to one Mitsuko (Makato Togashi) (冨樫真), an assistant professor of literature at an Elite University whose father, who died about 10 years ago, is also a famous professor of literature at the same university.

As the film develops, we see how Izumi, a typical submissive Japanese housewife who lives a doll-like but also maid-like existence in a beautiful model modern home much admired by her friends, has to obey a strict routine every day. She must place the slippers at the exact same spot immediately behind the main entrance and (later also beside her husband's bed) and the right kind of soap at the bathroom, when her husband's, whom she adores, returns home at exactly the same time every evening, takes a bath and then reads on a sofa some four feet away from her. She must not approach him unless given express permission to do so. He never eats at home. She has been told  and completely believes that that her husband needs "complete concentration" to write and therefore cannot stay at home during the day and thus leaves home at exactly the same time every morning after giving her a tiny peck on her cheek but otherwise hardly ever touches her.

After a while, the 30-ish Isumi feels bored at having nothing to do during the day and applies for a job as a supermarket "food tasting" stall attendant after getting her husband's approval. Then one day, she attracted the attention of a woman porn magazine and film producer who persuaded her to give it a try. At first she naively thought her work would be restricted to posing for photos,and hesitantly agreed but as her first day proceeded, she was asked to wear less and less until she was completely naked and eventually, was made the female partner in a porn movie. To her surprise, she found a strange new delight and an inexplicable sense of "liberation" in what she was doing. After the movie making, the male actor invited her to continue their love-making at the "love hotel" district. There she was accosted by a tall gentleman in a rain coat who, like a magician,  would produce plastic squish balls from his pocket which would spill some pinkish paint all over one' face and dress when smashed. He turned out to be the pimp for another hooker, Mitsuko, the owner of the dismembered corpse. She wanted to follow in her footsteps because she was fascinated by the authoritative manner in which Mitsuko spoke but was advised not to. Mitsuko told her that though she was a hooker, she was also a literature professor at Elite University and that if she liked, Izumi could visit her there. She told Isumi that dilapidated house where she provided her services was her "Castle", the mystery of which she wished to penetrate. She related how about 10 years ago, her father introduced her to Kafka's novel "The Castle" the symbolism of which she has since adopted as that of her own in her private search for life's meaning and which has become a personal obsession. Izumi was intrigued and attracted by her very unconventional point of view.  Driven by an urge she did not fully understand, she followed her as she went about "entertaining" her clients as she watched and was later made a "prostitute" for the mate of her sexual partner. To her surprise, she did not find it repulsive. Mitsuko told her that she must insist on asking for money for making love with someone she does not love. Eventually she went to listen to one of Mitsuko's lecture and was very impressed. She recites a poem which says something  to the effect that she should never have learned words because there's another world without words ( presumably a world where desire begins). There, words will fail and people can only stop in tears. Convinced of the glory of finding her own sexuality, Izumi pleads with Mitsuko to initiates her into her exciting life and was introduced to work for the Mitsuko's pimp group, "the Enchantresses" and also to Mitsuko's mother, who seemed to know all about her daughter's secret life as a nighttime hooker and who also appeared to be quite familiar with Mitsuko's "pimp", the tall man in a raincoat with swish balls. We learn eventually that in fact it was Mitsuko's mother who cut her daughter into pieces after she died. She did not want any of her "dirty" parts in her house after her daughter died!  In the meantime, Izumi carefully documents her subtle change of attitude in her personal diary.

Towards the close of the film, we find to our surprise that Isumi's husband, who seemed the model of civility, decency and formality at home, was a regular customer of Mitsuko and wanted to be "strangled" during love-making so that he may be inspired to write about the intensity of sexual pleasure but when he protested to the manager of the Enchantress Club upon the arrival of  Mitsuko on that last call and asked for another, he was promised to a new girl but before she arrives, Mitsuko made love to him like a frenzied woman. One came, wearing a wig. After she made love to him like another crazy woman, she removed her wig. It turned out that it was his wife! When the film ends, we see Isumi peeing on the ground at a quayside, being watched by two much amused young kids to the tune of an extract from  Mahler's Symphony No. 5 , separated from them by certain dark metal bars, in a patische of the way the hero was separated from the object of youthful beauty in Visconti's "Death In Venice". by stretches of shimmering sea water in the receding tide on the golden sand in the sunset. I like the way Sion makes use of baroque music in this film to create a certain aesthetic "distance" from the "violence" of his theme, to balance the sublime with the depraved as we track the rapid sexual initiation and progress of Izumi from repression to addiction in an accelerating down/upward spiral. 

To me, the film portrays very well the strict division of Japan into two kinds of societies and culture. On the outside, everything is civilized, ideal, rational, public, with every aspect of life meticulously planned and executed with clock-like precision but beneath this smooth running surface, there rage the currents of the much darker forces of  more primitive biological instincts, its unsatiated but natural animal like desires for sex, violence, aggression for which only the night, the seamy run down hotels in cheap and lurid artificial lights seem to provide the right kind of habitat, but with absolutely no connection between the two. It is as if Japanese psyche is split into two water-tight halves, more or less like a Freudian schizophrenic split between the Superego and the Id. In fact, Mitsuko felt an Electra-like  complex to have sex with his father, whom she adored and with whom she identifies but was forbidden from doing so by her mother, who also knew of the wild strain shared by her husband and her daughter. As her mother came from a distinguished family, she quietly "tolerated" everything for the sake of not tarnishing her family name.  In the mean time, she bides her time patiently, coldly and calculatingly, for the moment when her daughter kills herself because she understands thoroughly that Mitusko feels the pain of unsatisfied desire to be so great and so intensely that eventually, sooner or later she would literally beg to be killed. With the assistance of Isumi and her pimp manager, Mitsuko did just that.That was the mystery behind the word "Castle" written in blood on the wall of the room where Kazuko found Mitsuko's body.

I like the way Sion images Mitsuko through appropriate cosmetic work as a witch or devil like figure, with skinny and skeleton-like body, heavy dark eye-lines, dark and red mascara with yellowish edges and dark lipstick to become a concrete symbol of her steel-like determination to push to the limits her beast-like desire.  There may be some truth in the promoter's claim that it portrays a spine-chilling "inferno" of desire! I like the contrast between order and chaos, the monotony of the idealized family relationship between man and wife and the repression of human desires which such an arrangement enforces, and the inherent unnaturalness of such an arrangement and the initially liberating effect of sex in the dark, seamy side of Tokyo and the explosive effects of its complete and uninhibited expression. There are no easy solutions. None is offered. Only a hint in the closing images.