Month: February 2007

Caché

My films are intended as polemical statements against the American ‘barrel down’ cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.

– Michael Haneke

Watched Michael Haneke’s Caché (Hidden)this week. Its one of the best contemporary film that i got to watch in last some time. On the surface its a thriller talking about an affluent, self contained and peaceful looking family of three(George, Anne and son Pierrot) which one day starts receiving surveillance tapes of their front gate. These tapes then while later accompanying disturbing sketches lead way to a hidden past which is revealed as the movie progresses. The identity and the motives of the ppl/person behind the tapes is not revealed straightforward though a few clues are thrown about. The clues are themselves a test for audience’s involvement and concentration. Among the two clues i could only catch the 2nd one which lies in the last scene of the movie and had i been not told about that earlier i would have surely missed it too. But given that too we only come to know about the identity of the culprits or rather so called culprits.The motive and the psychology behind remains for the audience to unravel.

The movie moves in long shots taken most of the time from a distance as if the spectator is promoted to a bystander. The long shots with complete lack of background score not only provide an unassuming space but also a resistive restlessness, which mounts as the pace gets hindered, deliberately done so as to suppress the natural instinct of the audience to cling to any plot. Also many loose threads are spawned throughout the movie without any effort of bridging between them. As the movie progresses the tapes and the normal sequence shots threateningly start looking alike with only a background sound or fast forwarding sometimes distinguishing them. There are also two sudden yet short acts of violence which just leave the audience gasping.

The movie in its core moves with a political undertone about colonialism and political oppression. The hidden past pf George is symbolically linked to the colonial and racist history of France, with the 1961 police massacre of anti-colonial protesters featuring as a main point of the hidden past. Few scenes of riots and bombings shown in the backdrop, on the television, specifically add to underlying tone and tension. Also adding to all these are the riots that happened in France in the recent past.

The way George behaves as his past comes haunting him, his noncommittal attitude to take responsibility of it, his reluctance to confide with his wife and his refusal to hold the blame or any bad conscience all very sharply show the mindset of the present society. Haneke uses George’s childhood as the building block of the apparent racism as childhood is symbolic to the age of non reason as there is never a reason for racism which just happens. But the refusal of coming to terms to it and holding any responsibility even when one confronts it and that to in the educated bourgeois comes as one of the main themes of the movie. Several other threads and themes, one of Majid’s and his son’s acts, frailty of family relations with Pierrot sense of abandon and the weight of trust in George’s and Anne relation, from the part of the movie .

On the whole its a great movie with how it handles both its subject and the audience.

Here’s a good article about Haneke’s sense of cinema. Reading it am more than tempted to go for his other movies. Few more links(Here, here and here) through which i actually came to know about Haneke and went for the screening.

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Another week

It was quite a rainy weekend, which just made me stay indoor most of the time. Though i couldn’t resist going out on Sunday evening. It did trickled a bit but then who can resist the last shivers of a receding winter.
Watched few movies :
American History X: Starts promisingly but then just flatters as it ends. Some good acting by Edward Furlong and Edward Norton.
Notorious: Alfred Hitchcock. What more can one say.
The Magdalene Sisters: True, grossing and unflinching. A good watch.

Completed My God died Young – Sasthi Brata and The Sea, The Sea – Iris Murdoch this week. The Sea, The Sea began quite fine but then slowly turned into a muddle. Though Iris pulls up in the end but still not quite that well. What downed it was too many people and too much among them though it begins with a man searching solitude, pretty ironic it was. 500 pages was too much of it. Some how i just managed through after few thoughts of abandoning it midway.
Also read about half of The Unbearable lightness of being – Kundera which has just been a fantastic read till now.

My God Died Young

Alone in my room, i wonder sometimes if these people can or should be answered. How does one explain the whole business of alienation in a short sentences; the sheer tearing pain of not being able to belong to the very place where one wants to send down roots.?This side of the twentieth century we have seen refuges galore, leaving behind them a wild trail of heroism and tenacious nationalism. But what does one do about those non-politicals who were not threatened with arrest; those voluntary exiles who were born in a home they found foreign and came to a land which shocked and unsettled them? How does one go about building a house when the timber that holds the roof and the walls together seems so fragile, when there is no mother to cry to any more, no wife to love, no children with whom to play those games which alone makes us want to live another day?

Above is the last paragraph from My God Died Young which is an autobiography of Sasthi Brata written when he was 27 year’s of age, published two years later. Right from the outset My God Died Young is a fiery and angry story of an anachronistic young man who was born and brought up in an conservative Brahmin family and then later educated in a strict catholic school. Both of them with their ethos of constraints and boundaries contributed to his sense of angst, trauma and more importantly deprivation.He writes:

..I sometimes make strenuous effort to appear natural and gay. The result is often a double-take, a pathetic display of adolescent ferment..[..].. There are few things i can do without an incipient feeling of sin. Thanks to the twin pressures of a Brahmin home and a nonconformist schooling, most of the times I moved in the steel braces of subconscious inhibitions.

Sasthi writes exclusively about the taboos, superstitions, logics and illogics of both the worlds which were pressing him b/w them. There’s his mother who’s deeply religious and a model Indian wife, whom he loves very much but slowly as he comes of age or grows up enough to accept his rage, began to hate. Another figure in his growing up age which helped churn out the rebel in him was the catholic school Headmaster. Sasthi talks about his strictly manners and his ways of punishing students and how much fear those things used to evoke in him.

Ready to change his religion right before his completion of school education his Uncle managed to persuade him into a six month stint of reading Upanishads. They both went through The school of Shankra. The impact that period had on his was that he no longer felt ashamed of his being an Hindu or Brahmin But was still not that much enthralled or enchanted enough to embrace it as a way of living.
He writes:

Ironically , the philosophy of Shankara successfully weaned me from religion. I was interested in it as an intellectual exercise but not as a way of life. The evil work of school was undone. I began to turn agnostic..I became less nervous of sinning. My mother, the dogmas of my masters, my secret prayers and feelings of guilt, began to loose their hold. The rains were over..

His college life began with his Love of debating flowering, winning him few accolades and also landing him into much revered British Council debating circles. Though he began to grow in confidence though confusion and frustration never left him. As he moved ahead the deprivation and mental wreck that his upbringing had on him made every walk of his burdened and heavy. He writes :

I won laurels at college, was known to be charming, witty and clever. Yet there was the persistent feeling of unease lest the mask should crack. My passions were second rate, my mind a jumbled cliches collected from others. Yet i strained my self, wanted to rise above the insipid level of what i knew to be my very mediocre capacities..[..]..I was the shadow of the shadow. It was always hard to build life on such frail foundations.

He later had an whirlwind of a romance with a girl while in college about which he writes exclusively. As expected he moved towards west after the college completed. But then the west also had its own set of ethos which just added to his every present sense of dissatisfaction.
I guess the alienation that any society brings out in a man gives him a few nerves of discontent which run in his body like live wires always waiting to get in to a frenzy. And only Utopia can soothe them down.
Not only the story of Sasthi very much likable or rather relatable, his amazing flair in writing just makes it impossible to put it down. As the pages only tell the tale till his 27th year we can very much can imagine the later ones as how much the world has changed for better. He writes in the preface to the 2006 edition :

If My God Died Young, then he(Nietzsche notwithstanding) has had cyclic resurrections and recurring burials since his obituary appeared in my book in 1968.

The Customer

He comes everyday. Same table, same corner , same order, same direction, same face and the same strangeness of it. He had been visiting our cafe for the past one and a half week. 15th of April was the day when he came for the first time. He’s always alone, always sitting on the same chair facing the counter and his back towards the window. Window that we say to our customer’s as the window to the world as it faces the Times square.

His face has a strange quality to it. I don’t know what but its strange. Strange in the sense that i can’t classify it. But to tell you the Truth its the most natural face that you could ever see. One look and you may never recognise him again. Yeah you won’t recognise him the next time because he will look as similar to anybody else. Kind of face that a thief will always cherish. May be that forgetful familiarity is the unique strangeness of it.

A unique element of something that makes it almost similar to anything. Its a secret. A secret if unraveled will tell the secret of the world. A uniqueness that if seen and understood would dissolve everything onto itself. I guess he realise that too and knows that i know it too. Somehow i haven’t heard his voice and i also don’t remember how he gave his first order which i repeat everyday. It’s as if we already know that’s to be exchanged and only thing that’s remaining is yet to be known.

Its 4:02 now, still minutes before he comes. The restlessness in me is more than usual today. Being a midweek holiday today we had fewer customer’s today so i decided to draw his face. As expected i couldn’t. I knew i wont be able to do that, may be i was scared. Scared that drawing anything will rob him of that uniqueness. But even visualizing him proved too difficult. Nor that i couldn’t see him but as i tried focusing on his eyes or the lips or the nose the face simply vanished as if his face doesn’t stands on his facial features.

Hush..
Its 4:10 now. Let me prepare his order. I just don’t want to wasted any time on that, when he’s there.
Oh its him. but its 4:11.
Ah, its not him. Its just somebody sitting at his place. Lemme tell him that its reserved.
‘Marlin tell that guy that the seat is reserved. He may be coming anytime’.
‘But it’s the same guy. See the image on his Jacket’s back, its the same one he wore yesterday’.

What! How? I mean….’

The Devil’s Backbone

Ghost stories are never scary. They do have few moments of fright and horror but nothing more and rest all is violence, gore and loud screams. And most of it is the fear of the characters which some how movie makers feel that the viewer’s will feel too. yeah no doubt we humans have the uncanny tendency to sway with emotions of others but somehow fear is too internal, too personal a thing to go along like that. And Guillermo del Toro does well to avoid all these.

The Devil’s backbone is a story set in an Orphanage, against the back drop of Spanish civil war. Carlos, whose father has died and is left with a tutor who also abandons him, lands at the orphanage. As the story progress amidst minor scuffles between Carlos and other children, Carlos learns about ‘the one who sighs’. A shabby looking building, dusty surrounding, semi-dark indoors, basements with muddy pools and a unexploded 10 feet high bomb in the courtyard all add to fantastic atmosphere, though nothing is overdone as to make them look scary. The ghost here is quite interestingly shown, as he moves there’s a semi liquid air around him where blood droplets float and also there’s a wound on his forehead which flows regularly acting as a source of all those droplets.

As the story progress with Carlos frequently seeing the dead orphan, which all other’s can sometimes hear or seem to, Del toro also focuses on the Old lady headmaster who’s a widow but is having an secret affair with Jacinth, who works there and is also a an orphan from the same orphanage, though he detests this part of his life and is waiting to clear his hand on the gold which the Lady headmaster has save in the name of the Orphanage. Also in the story is old Dr. Casares who’s quite fond of Carlos and also is a past lover of the Lady headmaster, though the old flame still burns deep.

Tension builds as The ghost frequents its visits and diverts also as Jacinth reveals his true face but then this not so obvious focus on scare is the scoring line of the movie.

Movie ends with Casares’s following words as he himself turns into a ghost:
What is a ghost?
A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again?
An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive.
An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.

January and me

Blogging can be really boring when you don’t take time out of it.
Isn’t that same for every other thing we just don’t care about or can’t find time to care about. Anyhow, its not that i don’t like blogging or anthing but just that somehow i couldn’t blog this whole of Jan. Even the soliatry two post that i had in Jan were drafts from some time back and i just published them. Jan had been quite busy, and i just wished that there would have been more than 24 hours every day or may be i should have been still in college, safe for this job which just swallows that big chunk of my life.
Anyhow i did read a few book and watched a lot of movies. Just that
blogging or writing anthing would have meant some less time for them.
Lemme just go through those books as i don’t think i would be writing
anything big on them.

1) Snow- Orhan Pamuk : A magnificent book about Islamic world, its differences and its angst. The story is set in Kars, a remote Turkish state. The main protagonist Ka arrives there as a Journalist writing about the suicide epidemic among scarf wearing girls that has engulfed the place, though his actual intent of being there is to find some happiness which has alluded him all his life. So much was his happiness that he ends up writing 19 poems in a span of few day, noting that he couldn’t write one in the past 3-4 years. The reasons for his happiness were his love Ipek and snow. As the story progresses Pamuk introduces few characters and through them he juggles between different views about God, atheism and faith. He then goes on to show the intolerance and fury of both Islamic fundamentalists and the representatives of the secularist Turkish state leading to a thrilling end. A really good book for the way he introduces and manages his characters and the views that he shows through them.

Here‘s a beautiful lecture which Pamuk gave about the desires, fears and sturggles of a writer.

2) Kafka on the Shore- Haruki Murakami : So finally i picked this one after it had bit dust on my table for some 2 months. I just feared that someday i will just end up reading all of Murakami’s books and what will be left would be a long wait, wait for him to write another one. Anyhow, coming to the book, it was just another step up the ladder by Murakami on the tower of bizzare. As Murakami seems hell bent on attacking the normal his imagination just soares high and high. The main theme as it looks was the look at the world as metaphors. As one of the character in the story says: ‘The world is a metaphor, Kafka Tamura’. The book just drowns you with metaphors, myths, concepts, theories, Japanese folk tales, and above all his imagination. Just sample this conversation b/w two characters :
“At any rate you and your story are throwing a stone at a target that’s very far away. Do you understand that?”
I nod.” i know. But metaphors can reduce the distance”
“We’re not metaphors.”
“I know,” I say. “But metaphors help eliminate what separates you and me.”
A faint smile comes to her as she looks up at me. “That’s the oddest pickup line I’ve ever heard.”
“There’re a lot of odd things going on—but I feel like I’m slowly getting closer to the truth.”
“Actually getting closer to a metaphorical truth? Or metaphorically getting closer to an actual truth? Or maybe they supplement each other?”

As with any of Murakami’s work you can’t say that you got it all. Same was here though a bit more than his any other novel but still the satisfaction of reading Murakami was just like the other times. Here’s an interview of Murakami about the novel.

Other two book that i read were Flaubert’s Parrot- Julian Barnes and A Man without a country- Kurt Vonnegut. Both were quite good in heir own ways. Also Halfway through in both The First man- Albert Camus and The Sea, the Sea – Iris murdoch.

Among the movies few notable watches were : Babel, Amores Perros(12 Grams was much better movie than these two), Rebecca, Rope, Eyes Wide Shut, China Town, Before Sunrise and 12 Angry men.

The Parrot

Here’s a short story that was in Flaubert’s Parrot – Julian Barnes. It was found among some press cuttings that Flaubert collected over his life time.

********* 

In Gerouville, near Arlon, there lived a man who owned a magnificent parrot. It was his sole love. As a young man, he had been the victim of an ill-starred passion; the experince had made him misanthropic, and now he lived along with his parrot. he had taught the bird to pronounce the name of his lost love, and this name was repeated hundred times a day.This was the bird’s only talent, but in the eyes of his owner, the unfortunate Henery K-, it was the talent worth all the others. Every time he heard the sacred name pronounced by this strange voice, Henery thrilled with joy; it seemed to him like a voice form the grave, something mysterious and superhuman.

Solitude engulfed the imagination of Henery K-, and gradually the parrot began to take on a rare significance in his mind. For him it became a kind of holy bird: he would handle it with deep respect and spend hours in rapt contemplation of it Then the parrot returning his master’s gaze with an unflinching eye, would mummer the cabbalistic word, and Henery’s soul would be filled with memory of his lost happiness.This strange life lasted several years. One day, however, people noticed that Henery K – was looking gloomier than usual; and there was a strange,  wild light in his eyes. His parrot had died.

Henery K-continued to live alone, now completely so. He had no link with the out side world. He became more and more wrapped in h8mself. Sometimes he would not leave his room for days on end. He would eat whatever food was brought to him, but took no notice of anyone.

Gradually he began to believe that he himself had turned into a parrot. As if in imitation of the dead bird, he would squawk out the name he would love to hear; he would try walking like a parrot, perching on things, and extending his arms as if he had wings to beat.Sometimes, he would loose his temper and start breaking the furniture; and his family decided to send him to the masion de sante at Gheel. On the journey there, however, he escaped during the night.The next morning they found him perched on a tree. Persuading him to come down proved very difficult, until someone had the idea an enormous parrot cage. On seeing this, the unfortunate monomaniac climbed down and was recaptured. He is now in the maison de sante at Gheel looking for the eyes that would  loving gaze so that he may be able to utter those holy words.