29 septembre 2007

Bordwell online

David Bordwell celebrates the first anniversary of his presence on the blogosphere, with his blog : Observations on film art and Film Art. A serious blog by a film scholar writing about current cinema with special attention to film form analysis. The insight that lacks on the internet in general and within film fans in particular.
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson have blogged 200,000 words in one year, which could have been edited, published and sold in 2 books. It's rare to see professionals (writers, journalists, critics, professors, historians, researchers) willing to share their culture and researches freely on the internet for the cinephile community. One of the stated purpose of this blog reads as follow, ressembling the first installment of my Critical Fallacy Series :
"We’ve tried to deflate some clichés of mainstream film journalism. Writers of feature articles are pressed to hit deadlines and fill column inches, so they sometimes reiterate ideas that don’t rest on much evidence. Again and again we hear that sequels are crowding out quality films, action movies are terrible, people are no longer going to the movies, the industry is falling on hard times, audiences want escape, New Media are killing traditional media, indie films are worthwhile because they’re edgy, some day all movies will be available on the Internet, and so on. Too many writers fall back on received wisdom. If the coverage of film in the popular press is ever to be as solid as, say, science journalism or even the best arts journalism, writers have to be pushed to think more originally and skeptically."
David Bordwell
Definitely an example to look up to and to follow studiously for the cinephiles who would like to turn the blogosphere into a potent alternative to the old media.

Bon Anniversaire!

Kiarostami Interview

  • Abbas Kiarostami v. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who to believe?
    No, people in Iran are not evil ! Don't bomb them...
    (Public Service Announcement of the week)

My notes on the interview of Abbas Kiarostami by Laure Adler (9-26-2007), for the exhibition in Paris MoMA : Centre Georges Pompidou. France Culture radio broadcast, available online for a couple more days (REALaudio, FRENCH-FARSI, 30').

Photograph, documentarian, filmmaker, poet, furniture designer, performance artist... a multi-talented artist.
At the head of Kannoon (Institute for the intellectual development of children and adolescents) for 20 years, Kiarostami began his cinema carreer when the Shah ruled Iran, making educational documentaries for children and about children. He learnt so much from them and by seeing himself in them. One of his close childhood friend tell him now, that the kids in his films are just like Abbas was when he was their age. I'm solitary now as an adult like I was as a child. We are all profundly lonesome beings, whatever the age, even among friends...
My job of filmmaker, ma life condition, impose this loneliness, but it's mainly because I wanted it.

There is no distinction between reality and fiction (documentaries and fictive story). Artifice and lies help to reconstitute truth on screen.

And Life Goes On... (1991) : A.K. comes back to the location where he shot his first feature film, Where is My Friend's House? (1987), which was hit by a terrible earthquake (30,000 deads). He went there with his son, 8 yold, to meet friends (protagonists of that film), and only had the idea to make it into a film, Through The Olive Trees (1994), back in Tehran. The innocence and hope in the eyes of his son confronted to the pain of life, changed the pessimistic vision A.K. had.

Taste for Secret : In The Taste of Cherry (1997) the suicide motive is mysterious, in The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), the local boy cannot reveal the subject of the documentary filmed by the guys from Tehran. Life by definition bear a secret, and this mystery of life must remain hidden. We must not reveal it.

When he set the ligthing for his photographic exhibition at Centre Pompidou, he realised the more he lowered the brightness, the more they enclosed a secret. The relationship to a work of art is to approach this secret. Maybe that's explains the black shades he wears all the time! ;)
By the way, scientists recently discovered that Monet, father of impressionism, might have had a vision disorder. There is a reason for everything...

The problem of today's movies, is there is no more mystery remaining with us when we walk out of the movie house. The essence of art is to contain this mysterious unspoken aspect. Cinema is a work of art that establishes a creative relationship between the spectator and the film, through this imaginative reaction to mystery.

To the question "why do we hear children precisely when the old man talks about the taste of cherry to convince the protagonist of The Taste of Cherry?"
AK responds : Chance doesn't exist in cinema. Everything in the film is noticed and endorsed whether it happened by chance during shooting or purposefuly. But the choice to keep it on the editing table is fully conscious.
The secret in The Taste of Cherry allows for every viewer to identify with the undefined crisis leading the protagonist to wish to terminate his life. Some believe he had a broken heart affair, others that he had depts...

Landscape : Nurturing Nature = identified to a mother. AK didn't choose Nature as a subject he was invited by Nature, who embraced him with wide open arms.

Politics : I accept the label of politically involved filmmaker. Politics + Poetics. Like in The Bicycle thieves.

My cinema evolved towards formal epuration : abstraction, contemplation, méditation of nature. Nature questions me profundly.

Location scouting and casting is the most time/energy consuming. To find the people who will say what I wrote is the most important. To meet in flesh what I imagined in my mind.His next film, Copie conforme (2008?), staring Juliette Binoche, is on hold for 3 years because he didn't find the right man to play opposite her. His producer suggested that maybe Abbas himself should play the role.

He doesn't always tell the actors what to do, who they are on set. Leaving the actors in doubt so they bear this worryness that is everyday life. The fact they doubt makes them look more like me.

In his last film, 100 women are shot looking at a white sheet of paper where they are supposed to read a story. They didn't know what the story was, didn't know what to do, and had to improvise. The story was added after with a voiceover commentary. The uncertainty creates the expression of truth. Too much information, indications turn actors into robots who try to become you, the auteur, and don't reflect life itself, naturally.

Cars are omnipresent in AK's films. He says a shot onboard a car combines his preference for stationary shots with the dynamics within the frame. The car allows for the spectator to concentrate on a static frame and still enjoy the motion of the background image.

Death : People always believe to be immortal, death is only for the neighbor. We only witness others dying. We'll never see our own death.

"I'm afraid of height because I've already fell
I'm afraid of a break up because I've already been broken-hearted
But why am I afraid of death if I never experienced death before?
If it's the feeling of not existing anymore, that's something we experience every time we sleep, yet we are not afraid of sleep..."

* * *

SHOT ANALYSIS by D.P. Caroline Champetier

The cinema of A.K. helps me to live, she says.

She was invited by A.K. to a private screening at the Paris MoMA of a piece of his latest work. She describes what she saw. It's a plan-sequence of 17 minutes filmed with a digital camera, with a lens probably equivalent to a 50 or 70mm.

We can see rocks on a sea shore, with cavities, in one of them, the highest, there are 3 seagull eggs, and the waves slam that rock.
An evident suspense is created by this simple situation without a need for explanation. The first egg is pushed out by the waves, and ends up in a lower, less secure, cavity. And finally falls off and disappears in the sea. The egg is lost. [Egg symbol of life, youth in becoming]
Then the other two eggs follow the same fate, are also ejected one after the other, and disappear.

When the light is switched back on, Kiarostami shows a contented smile, waiting for questions.
The sound is not live. This was a post-production reconstruction. Actually, even the plan-sequence is forged, with a precise montage of 15 shots spliced together.
A.K. master of space and time becomes the illusionist who make believe what he wants the spectator to believe. He recreated this made-up dramaturgy, this suspense, this succession of events that looked so natural and believable.

16 septembre 2007

Afternoon Times (2005/Boonsinsukh)

File 067/Afternoon Times (2005/Tossapol Boonsinsukh/Thailand) ++

Opening Sequence : The voice of the protagonist, Bo (Pijika Hanzedkarn), is heard without image talking on the phone (pitch black screen). The offscreen conversation carries on over a stationary frontal shot of a wall scattered with photographs of friends, in dim light. We understand that Bo is opening her new cafe soon and invites various long-forgotten acquaintances to the inauguration. The camera pans to reveal Bo through the kitchen door. The long take captures a mundane activity in real time, as she hangs up, looks for the next number, dials again, and repeats her attempt. The mood of the film is set with a simple shot which contains the heart of the drama. Solitude, estrangement, nonchalance and lack of attention.
Bo, in her early twenties, engages in a new life, by starting up her own business. It's the dreaded time when everyone we used to know follow their own path, travel, move abroad, work intensively or found a family. College friends lose touch and begin a solitary life on their own, building a new social network in a new social environment.
Her friends are all there with her on the wall, nostalgic memories, still fresh in her mind, with the frozen smiles and funny faces posed for the camera. But all belongs to a bygone era of carefree entertainment. Now she's alone, desperately seeking for available friends, like a market researcher, to share her joyful pride with. She would like them to launch the word-of-mouth and bring in many customers. Unfortunately the calls we overheard don't seem very successful. She's got more friends on photos than real people in her present life. A sentiment of profound abandonment sinks in, with remarkable restraint, as the shot keeps on running long after the phone calls are over, staring at her walking around in silence.

Afternoon Times is a beautiful little film made by students with the most basic production equipment to the greatest effects. The creativity of a sobre mise-en-scene, the daring transcendence of small moments, the mundane poetry... all make it an adorable, melancholic episode suspended in time. The very prototype of the Contemplative Cinema trend. Like a haunting memory revisited intact, stripped of superfluous details, these characters are caught in a strange whirlpool of redundant events. Repetition and variation.
The careful observation of minimal gestures throughout the day recalls Chantal Akerman's film which was one of the most important pionneer of "Contemplative Cinema" : Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1976). Likewise emphasis is put on body language of non-speaking people. Stationary shots frame the situations in self-contained tableaux, that render the presence of a "surveillance camera" invisible while bringing attention to the private life happening in front of our voyeur eyes. We can see what people do when nobody is looking at them, when they don't have to play a social role in front of someone else. A perspective also featured in the segments of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times (2005).

A brownish, darker evening light dominated the introductory shot, a feeling of anxiety and despair caused by the anticipation of her café grand opening. Later, a brighter sunny morning light shines on the film, tinted with a metallic blueish hue celebrating its fresh, acid, melancholic, surreal atmosphere. Congratulations to the cinematographer (Nalina Tungkanokvitaya) who does a wonderful job with natural lighting.

A delivery boy brings a baguette every morning. He's the only person Bo becomes familiar with along her redundant routine. Although their contact is strictly professional, regulated by a polite yet reserved, even timid, etiquette. Without a word he hands over the bread, she gives a banknote, he returns the change. A long trained composure. An automatized ceremonial.

The photographic memorization motif, which structures the entire film, will come as an ice-breaker for them. Upon one of his delivery he's asked to take a picture of her with her friends to immortalize the inauguration of the café. I love this type of microcosmic scenes encapsulating unspoken emotions into unsignificant acts, which we find aplenty in Miranda July's Me And You And Everyone We Know (2005) for instance. In this world of lonely disconnected individuals, every little task is an opportunity to meet with somebody else's private sphere and hopefully to step in for an instant in their sealed bubble, if the situation is not too awkward of course. Here, the favor to take a group picture for her becomes a tacit connection. The polaroid camera is used as a proxy device for interpersonal socialization with a total stranger, like with a lighter or a watch in the street. She asks "Can you take a picture for me?", but what she really means is "Hey, take a look at me please!"

This central theme of self-representation, announced in the opening shot, fully expresses the distanciation of human relationship in today's virtualized world. Without the polaroid they are confused strangers looking at their feet ashamed of themselves. But hidden behind the camera viewfinder he could lay his gaze upon her. Conversly, under the excuse of posing with her friends, she can show off her largest smile without obviously seeming to seduce him. The self-esteem is preserved for both of them.
Even though they are not aware yet of this blooming romance, the film catches there the pre-historic, founding moment of their future bond. She puts up the polaroid picture on the wall, with the other pictures. But what it stands for is less the friends we can see on the image than the invisible photographer who took it.

After this defining moment, that will only become meaningful to them and the audience later on, the daily routine and the recurring scenes will unfold according to the slow pace of time flowing by. Careful shots of dishwashing, window cleaning, housekeeping in silence and solitude. Times of inner ruminations, patient wait and reverie accompanied by the absorbing melody on a diegetic cassette with classical music. A catchy repetitive soundtrack reminiscent of Kikujiro (1999). Meanwhile the short length of this one music track marks the passage of time, as she has to rewind the cassette manually to repeat the play. Another little task indicative of the actual duration of life moments. Another opportunity for him and her to connect through a common taste for this music.

The whole story is articulated in seasonal chapters entitled "Afternoon Times", "Summer", "Rain", "Winter", "Summer later"

In a funny scene, Bo dresses like a tourist, with sunglasses, backpack, camera, and pretends to visit this splendid café for the first time. She contemplates cautiously every little object decorating the place, with a self-satisfied admiration, projecting into this fictional character the ideal customer she'd like to serve if the turnout wasn't so poor. She then unpacks her sleeping bag on the floor and stares at the ceiling. It's nice to remember a similar scene in Me And You And Everyone We Know when the kids wondered what it would be like if the world was upside down.

On a rainy day, he's soaked and she gives him a towel. Is it because the light is darker, because the rain pours outside, because the wet clothes wear out the usual respectful distances, or because of this tender gesture showing care? After so many meetings at regular hours for the bread, they seem to look at eachother with different eyes this time. No word spoken yet, no effusion of sentiments. Just a memorable moment shared intimately, the secret happiness of being together. An awkward silence extended indefinitely, planted face to face, which would normally make anybody uncomfortable. Though none of them seems in a hurry to break this tensed silence. They soon return to their lives without uttering a word.

The cassette jams in a bundle and so begins the time without music.

The next visit, surrealism creeps in for a moment of arrested poetry. Within the uncut course of a long take stretching over 6 minutes, they are mysteriously locked inside when he delivered the bread. The locksmith can't even rescue them because rains is still pouring outside. By a welcomed enchantment they are miraculously stuck together for a while. They resolve to wait, and she offers to cook a meal for him. The strange ways of fate has kept them close together for a longer time than their usual commercial transaction. As oddly as it occured, the temporary spell is broken when he finished his food and the door now opens naturally. He wondered why the habitual music wasn't playing and promises to bring her a new tape. But he doesn't come back the next day, someone else's delivers bread.

She paints dozens of childish drawings representing a fish, a horse, a camera (again the motif of self-representation), countless rows of dashes... and a delivery boy with a baguette in a bag. She loses appetite. Her business is running down. She has to move out. The walls are covered with copies of the same drawing of the delivery boy, like the identical frames of a film strip, like a dismantled cartoon. The paintings have replaced and covered up the photos on her wall. A new medium of representation illustrates the memories of her second life, leaving the photos behind.

Another uncut long take runs for nearly 15 minutes for the second last scene. In one plan sequence the whole set is packed into boxes, just like if the shooting was over, she clears the borrowed premises, helped by a friend. All drawings are picked up one by one, all pictures, and decorative objects. When he asks why she paints, why she takes pictures, she replies "to kill time", "no particular reason" to futher burry her feelings and regrets...
We realize that life is like a movie production, good times are like afternoon times, they last only a while and then we have to move on and get over them. Memories fit in a little box.

The closing shot, brings back the music in the film, after a long silent shot onboard a taxi, showing a close up of her disillusionned face. Her music, their music, re-appear in non-diegetic form, as if the cassette was playing in her mind, and puts a gentle smile on her face. The film considers the archiving of vain memories, as well as the unconscious, intangible making of important ones. The smallest moments of life we never pay attention to, which slam back in our mind when the loss become more sensible. This is a delicate and touching expression of the construction of our sentimental personality.

(s) ++ (w) ++ (m) ++ (i) +++ (c) +++
  • If you're interested in seeing this student film (not yet available commercialy), please contact directly the director, TOSSAPOL BOONSINSUKH, at this email.

P.S. My apologizes to Tossapol for taking so long to finally write up this long overdue review. And many thanks to CelineJulie at Limiteless Cinema for recommending this beautifully contemplative film.

10 septembre 2007


Victor Erice - Abbas Kiarostami. CORRESPONDANCES
Paris MoMA Sept 19, 2007 - January 7, 2008

The meeting of two contemporary masters : what a perfect cinephilic event in all imaginable ways. Their full filmography will be screened over 4 months which is a rare occasion in itself, as their films are usually hard-to-see. It's always admirable when artists are celebrated at this level before passing away. This exhbition was first created in Barcelona in February 2006 by Alain Bergala and Jordi Ballo. Then moved to Madrid, now Paris. Australia booked it, and it will probably tour around the world. The presence of these filmmakers will be the major asset of this exceptional event to dialogue with eachother and with the public. Two conferences will be broadcasted live online!

  • L'Histoire des Trente, Year 2000 : Films on Time (Sept 22 / 18:00 GMT+2) with the short films projected : Ten Minutes Older (2001/Kiarostami); Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet : Lifeline (2002/Erice); Roads of Kiarostami (2005/Kiarostami); La Morte rouge (2006/Erice)
  • Question de Cinema (Dec 8 / 14h30-19h GMT+1) with Victor Erice, Abbas Kiarostami, Alain Bergala, Fabienne Costa, Jean-Michel Frodon, Stéphane Goudet, Youssef Ishaghpour, Jean-Pierre Limosin, Jean-Philippe Tessé, Marcos Uzal.
Kiarostami will also stage a live performance with video installation.

The centerpiece of this event will be the 10 video-letters Erice and Kiarostami have been exchanging the past 3 years at the suggestion of Alain Bergala. This could be as consensual and formulaic as a portemanteau project commissionned by a third party who imposes an idea to creators who don't need directions. But this project sounds really exciting.
Both filmmakers who happen to share the same age of 67 are discreet and introverted (especially Victor Erice who makes one new movie per decade) accepted to interact artistically by investing the short format of video-essay. Looking at the sent dates, Kiarostami seems less motivated or slower, but looking at the stills from the videos his contribution seems less literal (in a penpal way) and more abstracted, poetical (in the production of stand-alone pieces). Imagine if we could have a trace of a correspondance between Tarkovsky and Bresson, Satyajit Ray and Kurosawa...

  • 1) El Jardin del Pintor (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 22 april 2005, 9'30"
  • 2) Mashhad (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, 5 Sept 2005, 10'
  • 3) Arroyo de la Luz (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 22 Oct 2005, 20'18"
  • 4) The Quince (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, dec 2005, 12'
  • 5) José (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 18 Jun 2006, 7'19"
  • 6) Sea Mail (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 10 aug 2006, 3'49"
  • 7) A Rainy Day (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, 11 mar 2007, 11'10"
  • 8) A la deriva (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, sep 2006 - mar 2007, 13'24"
  • 9) Treasure Map (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, apr 2007, 7'23"
  • 10) Escrito en el agua (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, may 2007, 2'35"

Accompaning these videos, an exhibition of multimedia works by the two artists around the themes they have in common : childhood, landscape, roads, trees, silence... Notably there will be an artificial forest scenographied by Kiarostami himself. As well as their latest short films : Roads of Kiarostami (2006/Kiarostami), made for the Korean festival, and La Morte Rouge (2006/Erice), made for the original exhibition in Barcelona. The good news is also that Victor Erice is currently working on a new series of films called "Memories and Dream"!

RETROSPECTIVE (list of films projected)

Of Victor Erice I've only seen 2 (El Espiritu de la Colmena, El Sol del Membrillo) so I'm most excited to finally discover El Sur, and his short films.
I know very little of Kiarostami (Close Up, The Wind Will Carry Us, The Taste of Cherry), his films are not projected very often, especially the lesser-known. Thus I'll be able to catch up with this major oeuvre of our time that everyone around is praising.
I would love to see everything, and I'll try but if I can't, please let me know which titles I must not miss in priority.


Since Erice filmography is considerably shorter he was offered a Carte Blanche to show alongside films he liked.The original list Erice submitted was declined by the curators because the titles were too familiar for the French public and had enough exposition already. So these films will not be shown at the exhibition but it's important to know Erice elected them originaly to illustrate, inspire, nourish and dialogue with his own filmography :

  • The Kid (1921/Charles Chaplin/USA)
  • I was born but... (1932/Yasujiro Ozu/Japan)
  • Treasure Island (1934/Victor Fleming/USA)
  • Germany Year Zero (1947/Roberto Rosselini/Italy)
  • The Bicycle Thief (1948/Vittorio de Sica/Italy)
  • Los Olvidados (1950/Luis Buñuel/Spain)
  • Moonfleet (1954/Fritz Lang/USA)
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955/Charles Laughton/USA)
  • Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959/François Truffaut/France)
  • Ivan's Childhood (1962/Andrei Tarkovsky/Russia)
  • Mouchette (1967/Robert Bresson/France)
The recurring theme was obviously "childhood" as seen by classic masters of cinema history.
Meanwhile, it's a pleasure to discover, instead, more films recommended by Erice as his favorites, ones we never heard of or aren't as widely available as the above titles. So here is the final list, that will be screened :

  • Las Hurdes (1933/Luis Buñuel/Spain) Short DOC
  • Espoir, Sierra de Teruel (1939/André Malraux/France) director's cut
  • The Saga of Anatahan (1953/Josef von Sternberg/USA)
  • Chibusa yo eien nare (1955/Kinuyo Tanaka/Japan)
  • Acto da Primavera (1963/Manoel de Oliveira/Portugal) DOC
  • El verdugo (1963/Luis Garcia Berlanga/Spain)
  • La Tía Tula (1963/Miguel Picazo/Spain)
  • Uccellacci e uccellini (1966/Pier Paolo Pasolini/Italy)
  • My Childhood (1972/Bill Douglass/UK)
  • Queridísimos verdugos (1973/Basilio Martín Patino/Spain) DOC
  • L'Ordre (1974/Jean-Daniel Pollet/France) Short DOC
  • Lost, lost, lost (1976/Jonas Mekas/USA)
  • My Ain Folk (1976/Bill Douglas/UK)
  • We Can't Go Home Again (1976/Nicholas Ray/USA)
  • My Way Home (1978/Bill Douglas/UK)
  • Dalla nube alla Resistenza (1979/Straub/Huillet/Italy/France)
  • La verdad sobre el caso Savolta (1980/Antonio Drove/Spain)
  • El viaje a ninguna parte (1986/Fernando Fernán Gómez/Spain)
  • A Comedia de Deus (1995/João César Monteiro/Portugal)

    One last choice was denied by the right holders :
    Khaneh siah ast / The House Is Black (1962/Forough Farrokhzad/Iran)

The recurring theme here would be "resistance". I love to look at a Carte Blanche listing, because like a favorites list, it tells so much about someone's personality and particularly about their cinema vision and sensibility. And it's the opportunity to share a part of this filmmaker's cinephile culture.

More later when the exhibition opens... [video-letters 1 - 2]

Related : Exhibition coverage in e-Cahiers (Sept 2007); Errata podcast, Robert Davis and J. Robert talk about Kiarostami's Homework (1989); Girish : Abbas Kiarostami's Early Films; Zach Campbell : Kiarostami Until 1987