Wednesday, November 5, 2008

International Film

Writer's Note: It is important to look beyond one's own province to see what is in the world, its beauty and its ideas and its power; and films, like literature and music and other arts, are windows across the world. (The texts below were written over several years, this year and in previous years.) It is fascinating to discover both similiarities and differences among people.

All texts © DG

Excerpt from “Turkish Films: The Prisoners, Love and Honor, Bliss and Dry Summer

Many Turkish films dealt with the timeless subjects of love, loyalty, place, family, and society; and the tonal palette of the films vary, both hot and cool, with some of the films becoming notorious for their indulgence in emotion. It is sad then that few of its films have been known to most informed filmgoers, that more of us have not had a chance to see some of the country’s best work for ourselves, although there have been, and are, festivals devoted to Turkish film in American cities, such as Atlanta and Boston and New York, and cities around the world, such as Berlin and Rio and Sydney. It was a good opportunity for me to see Turkish films in Manhattan, The Prisoners and Love and Honor on June 11, and Bliss and Dry Summer on June 13, especially in light of the decline—often attributed to the popularity of television and video, and fluctuations in the Turkish economy—in the quantity of the country’s filmmaking, with now about fifty films produced annually….The film Bliss (2007) is a film of beauty, challenge, emotion, tradition, and truth; and every image in the film is gorgeous. (The screening’s printed program gave the film’s date as 2006, which may or may not have been the time of its making, but most other sources I have seen list its date as 2007, the year of its release.) Based on a novel of the same name by Zulfu Livaneli, with a screenplay credited to Kubilay Tuncer, Elif Ayan, and Abdullah Oguz, the film stars Ozgu Namal as Meryem, and Murat Han as Cemal, and Talat Bulut as Irfan.

Excerpt from “Letters from the Rest of the World: the book Dreams of a Nation, On Palestinian Cinema

Dreams of a Nation is a small collection of essays on Palestinian film, on the aesthetics, history, politics, and reception of Palestinian film: it is a thoughtful and sometimes provocative book; and its strengths are its clarity, its focus, and its passion, as it argues that Palestinian film is an affirmation of Palestinian identity, an identity that is threatened by exile, by slander, by violence; but, sometimes, with no lack of sympathy for the injustices of history, one reads the book and longs for a little more film criticism and a little less historical context, for a little more objectivity and a little less outrage. Dreams of a Nation, edited and introduced by Hamid Dabashi, with a concluding essay by Dabashi, and a preface by the late, great Edward Said, contains essays by Annemarie Jacir, Joseph Massad, Michel Khleifi, Bashir Abu-Manneh, Ella Shohat, Hamid Naficy, Nizar Hassan, and Omar al-Qattan; and notes on the chapters; contributors’ biographies; a Palestinian cinema filmography; and a bibliography on Palestinian cinema. The book Dreams of a Nation is a helpful work, a valuable work, and while broadly suggestive, it does not exhaust its subject.

Excerpt from “Memoirs from the Beijing Film Academy: International Cinema, and Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou’s school days”

The cinema of the Fifth Generation represents and comments on Chinese history and life, from the ancient to the contemporary, focusing on the cosmopolitan and the rural, and developing Chinese film practice and reception, in terms of aesthetics and audience, despite censorship and local and international commercial influences. Many of us see these films and love them for their exuberant color and emotion, for their willingness to explore serious themes and still give us extreme sensation and great pleasure: and for their ability to focus on small portraits of lives that have gone ignored, uncelebrated, unremarked. Ni Zhen is a professor of the Beijing Film Academy, an instructor, friend, and colleague of the Fifth Generation, and the author of The Exploratory Screen and Reform in the Chinese Cinema; and he wrote the film scripts for Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern and Li Shaohong’s Blush. Memoirs from the Beijing Film Academy by Ni Zhen is a detailed, intimate, and thoughtful history of the aesthetic formation and practice of an important generation of Chinese film students whose works have gone on to receive the love and high regard of filmgoers around the world. The book is a testament to the importance of discipline, study, work, good fellowship, spiritual fortitude, tradition, and innovation. One reads it and knows that culture does not stop at national borders.

Excerpt from “Violence and Intimacy in Germany, Israel, and Palestine. Imitating One’s Enemies: Eytan Fox’s Walk on Water

Walk on Water, written by Gal Uchovsky and directed by Eytan Fox, is a film about an Israeli intelligence agent, a member of the Mossad who performs the duties of a detective and a professional killer (it’s fascinating to have American and Israeli films that take for granted that government employees, other than those in an army established for national defense, are hired and trained to kill: and yet, of course, denials arise usually when those people are actually charged with killing: culture contains more truth than politics)… Walk on Water is a film that offers pleasure and insight, including the pleasure of insight, as it explores family, politics—the relationship between Germans and Israeli Jews, and the possibilities for friendship, love, and sex. Its characters are made believable by their moods and their thoughts, whether it is cheer or bitterness that they feel. What does the present owe the past, and how much must the personal yield to the political? How can honesty and hope coexist? The film’s embrace of complexity is refreshing, stimulating, and satisfying. Walk on Water offers images of Istanbul, Israel, and Germany that alone make the film worth seeing. More than seventy locations in Israel and Germany were filmed in less than a month. The film cost a little over half a million Euros but it looks as if it cost much, much more. It is panoramic and intimate.

Excerpt from “The Saddest Music in the World”

The Saddest Music in the World, directed by Guy Maddin, and written by Maddin and George Toles based on an original screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro (author of An Artist of the Floating World, and The Remains of the Day), is more than one kind of moving picture: an experimental film; a musical comedy; a story of family troubles—an exploration of rivalry between father and son, and between brothers; an exploration of a woman’s crippling and the defiance and malice that has come out of it; a story about how a company calculatingly exploits human misery for money; a view of emblematic moments when people in the world seem to come together in both competition and community; a consideration of memory and forgetting—different ways of handling trauma; and the story of how one man’s confidence is defeated by circumstance, a lover’s rage, his own carelessness, and an old woman’s mocking prophecy. Guy Maddin, with cinematographer Luc Montpellier and production designer Matthew Davies, has made a new film that looks appealingly old—and its newness is not simply the fact that it was recently constructed but that its spirit is new: knowing (aware of motives base and pretentious, passionate and cunning; aware of different cultural forms around the world and the fundamental need of survival that unites all people); mocking (the crushing things from which people seem barely to survive render their hopes and pride poignant in one moment and ridiculous in another); and sympathetic (after all is said and done, whatever happens is simply another chapter in the story of humanity).

Excerpt from “Everything Must Change: Kim Ki-Duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, … and Spring; and Alexander Sokurov’s Father and Son

Father and Son is one of several recent Russian films on the familial relations between males, such as Boris Khlebnikov and Alexei Popogrebsky’s Koktebel and Andrei Zvyagintsev’s The Return. Western mainstream films are more likely to be about quests for money, power, and women. Although we regularly see male lust in other films onscreen, we rarely see male love: we rarely see a constancy of care and intensity, even between men who are relatives or long-time friends. I think Sokurov asked himself, Why shouldn’t men say exactly what they mean to say—or need to say—to each other?—and had father and son do exactly that.