Shot entirely in Tel Aviv and
Both men regularly attend the study groups, but they draw the ire of the community’s Decency Police, a morals committee usually led by the rabbi and several respected members of the community when they believe someone is no longer in adherence to God’s law, where they take all necessary steps to eradicate any departures from the norm. Aaron even participates in a visit when the group is forced to intervene with a man who is romancing a young girl who is engaged to another. In this case, it was the girl’s father who initiated the action by pleading to the rabbi for some relief. But when this same group without the rabbi starts making intimidating visits to Aaron, threatening to close down his shop, starting rumors his meat is not kosher, the two become ostracized. This couldn’t be more underplayed, as the rhythm of the film is established through daily routines that become more familiar over time, where the interaction between people is quiet and soft-spoken, where even the husband and wife sleep in separate beds which are joined together for conjugal intimacy. This film doesn’t fully address the subject of gay love within the Orthodox community, as Aaron is by no means gay, he’s simply found someone he loves who makes him feel “alive,” but it certainly paints a witchhunt mentality of righteousness and moral indignation, casting out those who dare to defy the norm, leaving the ending a bit ambiguous, but certainly the painful struggle within Aaron’s family and his own internal conflicts of unending self incriminations are evident. The musical score by Nathaniel Mechaly has the classical feel of an organ and violin concerto that offers a wall to wall sound design that borders on the mournful and the sacred.
Historically, the Torah does not consider homosexual attraction sinful, only acting upon it through intercourse is forbidden according to Levicticus 18:22, calling it an abomination, a deviation from the natural way. Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits in the original release of the Encyclopedia Judaica writes:
Jewish law [...] rejects the view that homosexuality is to be regarded merely as a disease or as morally neutral.... Jewish law holds that no hedonistic ethic, even if called "love", can justify the morality of homosexuality any more than it can legitimize adultery or incest, however genuinely such acts may be performed out of love and by mutual consent.
However, these views are currently undergoing a more modern revision, where at least a small number of modern Orthodox rabbi’s have viewed homosexuality as an accident beyond one’s control, therefore not subject to prosecution. Though largely rejected by the majority, it’s important to consider that essential elements of Judaism include compassion, sympathy, empathy, and understanding, all of which are forgotten by the so-called Decency Police, whose actions themselves are called into question.
I made an inquiry to my Jewish nephew whose relatives all live in
As to the status of
homosexuality in Jewish law and in the Jewish community, it's important to
remember that there are many such laws and communities. There is no Jewish pope
and no central authority for deciding things, so every community pretty much
does its own thing. The Reform Jews don't even formally accept the legitimacy
of Jewish law, they have a thoroughly modern and democratic (you might say
secular) concept of ethics. The Conservative movement pays lip service to
Jewish law, but in general they are able to reinterpret most anything to make
it fit a modern worldview. 2 or 3 years ago they began accepting openly gay
The Orthodox are divided into modern and traditional. Many modern Orthodox have no problem with homosexuality, though they are probably still a minority. There are some gay Orthodox rabbis on the liberal wing. Many would say that homosexuality is officially a sin, but that it's a minor matter and they don't have anything personally against it. The ultra-Orthodox are sticklers for the traditional interpretation of Jewish law and they take homosexuality very seriously. But they don't hack off hands or physically punish people - they just ostracize. As long as gay people keep their habit quiet, just as men visiting prostitutes or other nefarious dealings, most are willing to look the other way
At least that's my take on it.
I attended the North American Premiere of "Eyes Wide Open"
at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. This is a somewhat provocative
yet understated examination of what it's like to be gay in the Orthodox Jewish
world. In his first feature, director Haim Tabakman, working from a Merav
Doster script, introduces us to Aaron (Zohar Shtrauss) and Ezri (Ran Danker).
Aaron runs a Kosher butcher shop that's been in the family for generations.
Ezri is an outsider, already under suspicion for questionable behavior, who
enters Aaron's world with possible intentions beyond purchasing a hunk of meat.
There's a joke there but I'll resist. The cultural constraints placed upon
gays, or anyone who is different, are painfully drawn out as the neighbors
decide what actions to take. The Orthodox Jewish community sends in its own
goons (enforcers of God?).
This character-driven film is haunting and poignant. Like many foreign films, natural lighting is predominant. The cinema verité style, without regard to shadows, is much more powerful than images in traditional
The collision of religion and sexuality is a common theme at every film festival. What is the meaning of restraint? Are we really being true to God if we destroy ourselves in the process?
A highly controversial theme, homosexuality in the Jewish Orthodox world, gets an earnest but strangely tame, still-life treatment in Haim Tabakman’s debut feature about a Jerusalem butcher (Strauss) who falls for his new hired hand (Danker), scandalising the entire community around him. Originally intended as a 50-minute TV drama, this is neither the passionate male love story it purports to be nor the portrait of a serious moral and religious dilemma it could have been. Still it may well generate interest due to its controversial subject matter.
Homeless Ezri (played by Israeli teen idol Ran Danker), wanders through the alleys of Jerusalem’s ultra-religious quarter in the pouring rain, ultimately washing up in butcher Aaron’s (Zohar Strauss) shop, asking for a job. A phone call he makes to a former lover clearly establishes Ezri as being gay, but Aaron, married with kids and a highly respected member of the community, has no inkling of that. He hires Ezri as his assistant, lets him sleep in the shop’s back room, invites him to join the family’s Friday night dinner and even attends religious lessons at the nearby yeshiva with him.
But Ezri, abandoned by his previous partner, wants more. He tempts Aaron into joining him for a traditional naked dip in a freshwater pool. And instead of cleansing him, it corrupts the butcher’s already dissatisfied soul and lights a fire that he will not be able to extinguish.
The rest is painfully predictable. Since Aaron doesn’t make much of an attempt to hide their affair, the result is inevitable. First in a friendly manner, than threateningly, he is told to get rid of Ezri. Aaron takes the abuse on board but does not respond, even when his shop is stoned, and he is visited by the Decency Police, real-life squad of thugs which tries to keep Orthodox problems out of the eyes of the world and the secular police. Aaron’s wife never reproaches him but her suffering is more eloquent than any protest.
Tabakman never attempts to tackle front-on the moral, religious and social problems generated by the gay central relationship, focusing first and foremost on the personal drama. But since what really draws his two characters together is lust - love is not in evidence here – and as they are never too concerned with the clash between their faith and their actions, interest in these two individuals sadly runs aground. Aaron’s pangs of conscience, at least concerning his family, are visible, but Ezri seems immune to any internal conflicts.
Tabakman, who edited David Volach’s much awarded My Father My Lord takes on a similar downbeat, minimalist approach. For large parts of the film, however, no clients enter Aaron’s shop; his children rarely feature; the streets are empty and deserted. It all seems unreal, a feeling which is strongly reinforced by the two protagonists, who seem often at loss navigating their parts. Strauss, whose role is more complex, should be able to convey more, but leaving the audience to provide the answers isn’t enough here.
Matt Bochenski Little White Lies
"Eyes Wide Open" David
Variety (Alissa Simon) review at Cannes, May 20, 2009
A Festival of Auteurs Manohla Dargis at
My Jewish Learning: Homosexuality and Halakhah Rabbi Michael Gold
Homosexuality: Is There a Unique Torah Perspective Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
Initial Religious Counseling for a Male Orthodox Adolescent ... Initial Religious Counseling for a Male Orthodox Adolescent Homosexual, by Joel B. Wolowelsky and Bernard L. Weinstein
Homosexuality and Lesbianism Kosher Sex
aka: Plaff! or Too Afraid of Life
Who's been throwing eggs at Concha? That's the central
mystery in this goofy 1988 social comedy from
Tabio's screwball soap opera takes us into the lives and
loves of a family in the middle-class suburbs of
From Soy Cuba to Soy
Turista: the 7 Days In Havana portmanteau project
features seven directors who have more in common with the Cannes Film Festival,
where the film premiered, than the Caribbean political hotspot where it is set.
The result is a bouncy and uneven bop through this most seductive of cities,
which should attract the curious but won’t rehabilitate the somewhat bruised
reputation of the film anthology. It’s also arguable how well
But Havana, capital of the self-described Socialist Republic of
Cuba and now run by Fidel Castro’s brother Raul, is a survivor; a city with an
enduring global cachet, a magnetic fascination which should exert a pull on
audiences which have already responded to the Paris and New York anthologies.
Running at 128 minutes, 7 Days In
With each piece set on a consecutive day of the week, some, in particular Cuban native Juan Carlos Tabio’s Bittersweet and The Fountain by Laurent Cantet, successfully dig under the surface to convey a little of what it means to be Cuban today. Gaspar Noe’s contribution is the most contemporary and cinematic. Elia Suleiman’s schtick may be as deceptively simple as ever, but his warmly familiar routine helps underscore some of the film’s more perceptive points. The longest, Julio Medem’s Celia’s Temptation, adopts a bafflingly cheesy tone, however, which sets it at jarring odds with its colleagues.
El Yuma, which is slang for yankee, casts Hutcherson as a visiting actor caught up in a drunken night in the city with taxi driver Angelito (Vladimir Cruz). Del Toro’s opener sets the look of the film, all brashly jeweled tones and smoky orange interiors, and cinematographer Daniel Aranyo takes credit here and on the shorts made by Medem, Suleiman and Tabio. Diego Bussel took over on Cantet’s and Trapero’s films while Noe memorably works his own camera.
Trapero’s Tuesday film, Jam Session, stars Emir Kusturica
as himself, a drunken Serbian film director arriving in
Medem’s Cecilia’s Temptation, meanwhile, with its lounge-lizard
soundtrack and overdone soft-focus colours, tells the story of a chanteuse torn
Tabio and Cantet finish the piece with their closely-linked
domestic dramas, pulling 7 Days In
Cuban writer Leonardo Padura and his wife Lucia Lopez Coll are
credited with co-coordinating the screenplay for the entire piece, and he
collaborated on most of the shorts (except for Suleiman, Noe, and Cantet, who
wrote their own). Viewers looking for a hard political view on
Days in Havana: Cannes Review - The Hollywood Reporter
Josh Hutcherson stars in the Cuban film directed by Croisette alumni including Laurent Cantet, Gaspard Noe and Elia Suleiman, as well as Benicio Del Toro.
Like a mojito that overdoes it on the lime juice, the omnibus
film 7 Days in
Oscillating between a sightseer’s tour of the island (now in its
53rd year of Castro rule, with Raul having officially replaced Fidel
as of 2008) and a more intimate portrait of some of its denizens, the ensemble
of short films are structured to fit in a single week, with one movie per day
and a handful of characters who reappear in several of them. If the patchwork
of stories captures the many layers of life in
The more touristy fare kicks off with Del Toro’s El Yuma, which follows a young American actor, Teddy (Hutcherson), during a wild and crazy night that includes plenty of beer, rum, girls, hookers and eventually a transvestite that he unwittingly takes back to his room. If there are no major surprises in the short – whose title is Cuban slang for “American” – the long and drunken trip is an easy enough ride, especially since Teddy seems to remain fairly aloof to all the poverty and prostitution around him.
A similar premise is proffered in Pablo Trapero’s Jam Session, which follows two-time Palme d’Or winner Emir Kusturica as he accepts an honorary prize from the Havana Film Festival in between bouts of drinking and schmoozing with local musicians. While nothing really special happens throughout the romp, it features some catchy handheld footage, including an extended sequence-shot that follows the Serbian director from the pits of a down and dirty nightclub to the city’s breathtaking shores.
Of all the Lonely Planet-esque works, the strongest one is Elia Sulieman’s Diary of a Beginner, in which the Palestinian filmmaker applies his trademark combination of Keaton and Tati-style humor to explore the world in and around his upscale hotel. There’s plenty of irony and some powerful compositions in these telling vignettes, and the one where the director watches tourists and prostitutes mingle beside a life-size bronze of Hemingway is perhaps the most memorable in the whole series.
As for the more socially conscious fare, things initially take a turn towards pure kitsch in The Temptation of Cecilia, where Spanish director Julio Medem (Sex and Lucia) tackles the dilemma of a local singer (Cristela de la Caridad Herrera) with all the subtlety of a Telemundo series. A decent cameo by Daniel Bruhl can only partially redeem the only short to specifically deal with Cubans trying to flee their homeland, but the overlit photography, slow-motion sex scenes and weepy ballades don’t do the story any service.
Native Cuban Jean Carlos Tabio (Guantanamera) fairs better with Bittersweet, in which his favored actress Mirta Ibarra plays a mom working overtime as both a baker and a shrink, trying to make ends meet during one disastrous afternoon. Likewise, French director Laurence Cantet (The Class) offers up a more realistic view of local life in The Fountain, a very documentary-style portrait of the residents in a ramshackle Havana building who team up to build an altar to the Virgin Mary.
Never afraid to raise eyebrows, Gallic bad boy Gasper Noe dishes out the most edgy entry with Ritual, where a teenage girl is subjected to the freaky mojos of a local witch doctor after she’s caught in bed with a girlfriend. Featuring an opening sequence that depicts the sort of booty-bopping usually seen in a Sean Paul video, and an extended voodoo scene where the underage victim is stripped down in a swamp, this provocative exercise provides minor aesthetic thrills.
Songs and on-screen performances by talented local musicians, including Kelvis Ochoa (Habana Blues) and trumpet player Alexander Abreu, supply a welcome musical backdrop to what’s ultimately a pleasant but somewhat forgettable Havana holiday.
WHY IS YELLOW THE MIDDLE OF THE RAINBOW? (Bakit dilaw aug gitna ng bahag-hari?) A 99
aka: I Am Furious…Yellow
Philippines (175 mi) 1981 – 1993
How are we going to finish this film? We could just wait for the spaghetti to run out.
This rare film was originally scheduled to be screened at the downtown
Drake Hotel in Chicago as part of the Prak-sis
New Media Art Festival, a three-day conference offering artistic
responses to the legacy of Cold War-era social upheaval in southeast Asia, but
the 16 mm print, the only surviving copy in the world, repeatedly stuck in the
projector, inflicting severe print damage causing the celluloid to burn, so the
screening was re-scheduled a week later to the School of the Art Institute,
where only a handful of people were fortunate enough to see this remarkable
film. Kidlat Tahimik, a Tagalog
translation of “silent lightning,” remains an obscure underground filmmaker,
considered the “Father of Philippine Independent Cinema,” but is also a writer,
artist and actor who was born Eric de Guia in Baguio City, Philippines, who
grew up in a life of privilege in a summer resort community located in the
presence of several U.S. Military bases, an experience that heavily influenced
his films, which tend to be scathing critiques of the aftereffects of
colonialism. Graduating from the
University of the Philippines in Speech and Drama, Tahimik studied at the
University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, earning a Masters
degree in Business Administration, working as a researcher for the Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris from 1968 to 1972, an
organization committed to spreading Western technology to lesser-developed countries,
where he wrote fertilizer distribution reports while working on a farm in
Norway before returning home to become a filmmaker. Tearing up his diploma and changing his name,
Tahimik lived in various artist communes, including one in
Bryan L. Yeatter describes Tahimik’s life during the 70’s in his book Cinema of the Philippines:
Tahimik traveled to Europe where he was going to try to make a living selling trinkets, but somehow along the way he managed to make contact with Werner Herzog, and using borrowed equipment, outdated film stock, and stock footage, he put together his first film [in 1977], Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare) for a mere $10,000—a remarkably low cost even in its time. The film mirrored his own experience as Tahimik played the lead, a young man who dreams of escaping the stifling existence of his isolated rural community and seeing the modern world. Through an American acquaintance, he travels to Paris to run a gumball concession, and later ventures to Germany, ultimately concluding that the modern world may have much to offer, but has also sacrificed much of importance in the process of its development.
Under Herzog’s tutelage, he took up filmmaking, making his
first film, PERFUMED NIGHTMARE (1977), a mixture of documentary, diary film,
fictionalized autobiography, cinematic essay and ethnography, and winner of
three awards at the Berlin Film Festival, where Tahimik is appalled by the massive
expansion and pervasive influence of Western technology while raging against
the colonialist impulses that led France and then the United States to make the
Philippines their own exclusive property, where the economic model was much
like the slave trade, using cheap exploited labor to ravage the nation’s
resources in order to enhance the quality of living in America while leaving
the Philippines in dire economic straits.
Screened by Tom Luddy (Telluride Film Festival co-founder) at the
Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley, Tahimik met American director Francis Ford
Coppola (who distributed the film in the United States) just about the time he
was envisioning shooting his film APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) in the Philippines. Commonly associated with the Third
Cinema movement that rejects the
More than a decade in the making, this is nothing less than revolutionary filmmaking, where the film “defies summary simply because of the sheer volume of ground it covers,” according to author and professor Christopher Pavsek, becoming a magnum opus that questions what it means to be a post-colonial Filipino, where the director had to wait until his oldest son was old enough to narrate a large portion of the film, creating an epic film diary spanning the decade of the 1980’s as seen through the eyes of Tahimik and his family. What is singularly unique about this film is the pervasive use of children, whose point of view is the focal point of the picture, as the film is a coming-of-age essay that coincides with a child growing up, curious and inquisitive, asking questions about the world around him, where the director acts as a father-figure narrator, where the film is largely a dialogue between father and oldest son, Kidlat de Guia (now a talented filmmaker in his own right), who ages noticeably as the film progresses leading up to his entrance into high school. Tahimik met his wife Katrin de Guia, who is also an artist and writer, while in Germany, seen throughout making stained glass artworks, where they also have two younger children, Kawayan and Kabunyan de Guia, where art defines how this family expresses itself. Calling the film a “celluloid collage,” we watch the family on overseas vacations, participate in school projects, and capture a child’s first steps, while also using a series of newspaper headlines and archival television reports to delve into national stories. Tahimik seamlessly blends the two together, where the personal becomes the political, all corresponding to a progression of the director’s life as a Filipino father. Using surreal imagery that often challenges the logic of the narrative, this three-hour diary incorporates contemporary history of the Philippines, Tahimik’s own family, found footage, newspaper headlines and TV broadcasts, home movies, travel footage, and documentation of public events and political demonstrations, where documentary footage is mixed with scripted performances. The film begins in Monument Valley, the site of many John Ford westerns beginning with STAGECOACH (1939), where the family is seen posing for pictures at John Ford's Point while rousing Hollywood music plays for what the director calls spaghetti movies, as the filmmaker and his son hitch a ride with (the unidentified) Dennis Hopper in his old Cadillac, which raises the question of how Indians were portrayed in the movies, continually shown in stereotype as the archenemy of the original American settlers in the West, where Indians were portrayed as savage creatures who were less than human, yet this was their land that was being trampled upon and stolen from them, where they had to be pushed aside by force to make way for the advancement of the “white man.” Following a similar theme, Tahimik identifies the Philippines as a Third World country (Third World definition - Third World Traveler) that was formerly colonized by First World nations, where the differentiation between the two can be expressed in their use of machines, as First World nations use machines to perform much of the work that in the Philippines is still performed by human labor, what Tahimik proudly tells his son is “people power.”
"Towards a Third Cinema" Towards a Third Cinema, by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino:
struggle of the peoples of the
Tahimik is an unusual sort of film pioneer, relying upon
gentle humor and a sharp wit, not to mention spashes of avant garde,
experimental cinema used in a playful
manner, with inspired musical choices like Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana Carl
Orff - O Fortuna ~ Carmina Burana - YouTube (4:51) and surprise appearances
from unidentified film artists like Francis Ford Coppola, Werner Herzog, and
Andrei Tarkovsky (the only time he came to America in 1983 for the Telluride
Film Festival), as Tahimik points out the vast economic divide between the rich
and the poor, offering a sharp critique of capitalism and Western technology
that refuses to recognize the human value contributed by each individual, where
society becomes slaves to technology and machines, including industrial
advancement that exploits the poor with low wages and poor working conditions. In the mountainous region of Baguio City
where this family lives, the indigenous community co-exists with the locals,
even though their ways and understanding of their own history may be different,
where the director seems to take great pleasure profiling local craftsmen and
women, offering images where people power is seen moving massive rocks and
boulders into a line to build a bridge across the river. Expanding on the historical confusion, the
local community is seen embracing the colonial influence of the United States,
where the presence of American military camps are scattered everywhere,
including nearby Camp John Hay which always celebrates the 4th
of July with fireworks and family games while distributing ice cream for all
the kids, where Filipino’s also grew up thinking this was the Philippine
Independence Day as well, as it was one of the few holidays everyone celebrated
together and overshadowed their own country’s national holiday (Araw ng Kalayaan).
Like John Ford and his movies, this is the
According to Raya Martin, arguably Philippine’s greatest
filmmaker, he calls this film the best Filipino movie ever made in an
Kidlat Tahimik’s cinema is best summarized by a scene in the film. Footage from his infamous unfinished-to-date Magellan project, an epic retelling of the explorer’s expedition to the Philippines, narrates: “Magellan taught his valet the rudiments of chess. Not only does he carve his own pieces and learns their movements, he picks up easily the thinking patterns of being a winner. The master realizes, for the first time, the slave is a thinking animal capable of plotting his own moves.” “Checkmate,” says Kidlat Tahimik, who acts as the indio slave in the film.
And as the whole film is a constant self-referential to Kidlat, the filmmaker, trying to make sense of his footage on the editing table, the celluloid on a flatbed spills all over a printed text by the Spanish scholar Antonio de Nebrija: Language is the perfect instrument of Empire.
“Is it any wonder that the indio now behaves like his master?”
One of the abrupt shifts of the film is newsreel footage reporting the assassination of Presidential candidate Benigno Aquino (assassination of Ninoy Aquino) as he arrives at the Manila airport, reportedly shot by “communists” say the initial reports, though more likely the murder was carried out by the bodyguards assigned to protect him by the Marcos government. Sitting President Ferdinand Marcos, closely aligned with American President Ronald Reagan, ruled as a dictator for over twenty years, the last ten under a declared martial law, where he is believed to have looted billions of dollars from the Filipino treasury. The outrage surrounding the Aquino murder catapulted his widow Corazon Aquino into the political spotlight, leading her to run for President under the banner of the People Power Revolution, which eventually led to the common perception that Marcos stole the election, declaring himself the winner, where as many as two million Filipinos fled into the streets wearing the color “yellow,” sustaining a campaign of civil disobedience, which eventually turned the military against Marcos, leading to his exile to Hawaii where he died soon afterwards while “Corrie” Aquino was proclaimed the legitimate President of the Philippines. There is a tone of true elation as Tahimik, along with all the local parents, teachers, and school kids, design yellow signs and posters for the street demonstrations, where a sea of yellow captures the mood of a nation, where Tahimik’s own 1986 footage is reminiscent of Oratorio for Prague (1968), Jan Nĕmec’s street footage of an equally euphoric Eastern European nation that believed they were on the verge of democracy before Soviet tanks started occupying the streets of Czechoslovakia. But people power prevailed, where this film is an outgrowth of the artistic freedom associated with that lifting of a blanket of corruption and the repressive measures of living under a military dictatorship. The feeling is similar to Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness (Bei qing cheng shi) (1989), which also reflected an exuberant artistic expression that was suddenly free to explore its own nation’s history after the lifting of the ruling party’s martial law that had been in effect for forty years. It is probably no accident that this sudden artistic surge of the first liberating signs of freedom reveal these directors at the height of their powers. Little did the director know that this euphoria would be followed by the startling revelation that the late dictator Marcos built the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant directly on an earthquake fault line, where it had to be disassembled, which was followed by a series of military officials on trial for corruption, the devastating impact of the 7.8 magnitude Luzon earthquake of 1990, Luzon on July 16, 1990, killing over 1600 people, causing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in damages, an event that caused massive crippling of the economy and may actually have precipitated the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo Mount Pinatubo Eruption (June 1991) covering the region in ash, leading to devastating floods, where it seemed the country was besieged by an apocalyptic fury of nature. The uniqueness of the film is experiencing it all through the personalized vantage point of a father teaching his son, widened to include literally hundreds of school children as well, where Tahimik distinctively captures them all singing Whitney Houston - Greatest Love Of All - YouTube (4:50) while exploring the local community as well as his nation’s history. According to Tahimik:
[the filmmaker can either follow] the dictum “time is money,”…or allow time to be his ally and open up to cosmic inspirations provided by a relatively free time frame.
My footages are like tiles in a mosaic…You shuffle them, change them around. In my process, nothing is permanent.
Making a film is like taking a long trip. The film voyager can load up with a full tank and bring a credit card along to insure completion of the voyage in as short a time as possible. The voyager can also load up with a few cups of gasoline and drive until he runs out and scrounge around for subsequent cups of gas to get to his destination, without worrying about how long it takes to complete his voyage… The length of the trip […] is a matter of choice depending on the combination of ingredients – inspiration, resources, tools, working materials available, personal circumstances like family or emotional disturbances, etc.
According to Christopher Pavsek, associate professor of film at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC and author of The Utopia of Film: Cinema and Its Futures in Godard, Kluge, and Tahimik, Why Is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? - BAM/PFA - Film ...:
It is impossible to describe Kidlat Tahimik’s virtually unknown masterpiece, the diary film I Am Furious Yellow (or Why Is Yellow Middle of Rainbow?), that chronicles Tahimik and his young son’s lives as they traverse the tumultuous decade of the 1980’s in the Philippines, so let’s just list a few of the things you’ll see in the course of its three hours (which go by far too quickly): a great democratic revolution deposes a dictator; a massive volcanic eruption covers the world in ash; a huge earthquake levels a whole city and social class distinctions as well; Magellan’s slave Enrique circumnavigates the globe (and wins a princess’s heart); storms rage over the gorgeous landscapes of the Philippine cordillera and Monument Valley in the U.S. Southwest; the filmmaker and his son hitch a ride with Dennis Hopper in his old Cadillac; and a tooth is pulled out of little boy’s mouth by a very big toe. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of this vastly rich film, which at once demonstrates just how vital and compelling cinema can be as well as how vital and compelling our very existences can be despite all the disasters and catastrophes—both human-made and natural—that loom from every angle. In an age of rising seas and collapsing economies, [the film] shows us how to be furious at all the injustice in the world but also how to face that injustice with the utmost joy. There are indeed few, if any, films like this in the world.
Kidlat Tahimik is the filmmaker who has developped the diary film most extensively within a discourse of postcolonial cultural critique. His distinctive filmmaking technique pries apart the various levels of self-representation so that the primitive, the native, and the premoderne are ironically constructed within a discursive bricolage centered on his own subjectivity. (…) Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? (1981-1993), three-hours diary, incorporates history of Philippines, Tahimik’s own family, found footage, newspaper headlines and TV broadcasts, home movies, travel footage, and documentation of public event and political demonstrations. Documentary footage is mixed with scripted perfomances, and he continually reverses expectations of First and Thirld World cultural scenes. His movement between cultures casts him as an exemplary Inappropriate Other. (Catherine Russell, Experimental ethnography, 1999)
Perhaps because of its length, which is an hour more than the
typical Hollywood fare that Filipinos have gotten chronically used to seeing,
Kidlat Tahimik’s Bakit Dilaw ang Gitna ng Bahaghari? (Why is Yellow
the Middle of the Rainbow?, 1994) is criminally under-seen, and is
therefore severely underrated. The film, which is effectively Kidlat Tahimik’s
account of his personal life from 1981 to 1993, is perhaps the most personal
work of the director whose films are intimately intertwined with him, his
history, and his beliefs.
Because the film is essentially a collection of footage from various points of Kidlat Tahimik’s life during the timeline, the audience becomes openly familiar with the director’s private life: learning of the intricacies of his family, joining him in his creative and social endeavours, and reflecting with him on the political events that have been unfolding alongside his personal growth. It is perhaps the multitude of facets of an artist, all portrayed with the distinct generosity and modesty that Kidlat Tahimik is most famous for, that makes Bakit Dilaw ang Gitna ng Bahaghari? such an invaluable and special film.
With the film, Kidlat Tahimik discusses alongside the difficulties of fatherhood, the birth pangs of the newly founded artists’ community he helped form in Baguio City, and the initial highs and impending disappointments of post-Ferdinand Marcos democracy. Considering the ostensible epic scope and ambition of the film, Bakit Dilaw ang Gitna ng Bahaghari? never feels burdened with self-importance.
The film moves and feels like a diary that he selflessly opens to his viewers, and in that sense, it never overreaches but instead comfortably sits in the midst of what Kidlat Tahimik is most knowledgeable of. Moreover, the film is laced with tangible authenticity. Shot and presumably made sans any script or creative intervention, the film evokes a sense personal, cultural and national histories unfold through the eyes of an active participant. In a sense, the film shows history as it is being made, raw but never confrontational, tender but never cowardly.
Kidlat Tahimik (Philippines, 1980–94). Filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik and author Christopher Pavsek in conversation. Tahimik's virtually unknown masterpiece chronicles Tahimik and his young son's lives as they traverse the tumultuous 1980s and early 1990s in the Philippines—a great democratic revolution deposes a dictator; a massive volcanic eruption covers the world in ash—and asks how one might build a new and better future out of the disasters. (174 mins)
- - - -
An idol of iconoclasts worldwide, a pioneer of the postcolonial
essay film, and the grandfather of the Philippine New Wave, Kidlat Tahimik has
made a career of—as he puts it—“straying on track.” Born Eric de Guia and
educated at the Wharton School of Business, Tahimik renounced both career and
name to become Kidlat Tahimik (roughly translated as “Quiet Lighting”) and
embrace a filmmaking aesthetic unabashedly personal and defiantly political,
filled with both warmth and fire.
Tahimik’s postcollege sojourn in Germany resulted in a friendship with Werner Herzog (who cast him in The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser), a marriage, and a deceptively ramshackle debut film, Perfumed Nightmare (1977), whose easygoing interrogation of neocolonial identity, Philippine culture, and global economies turned it into a surprise international “hit.” Praised as “the joyful discovery of blasé film buffs from Berlin to Belgrade and beyond” (SF Chronicle, 1980) and “likely to become some sort of classic” (Village Voice, 1980), the film is now heralded as a key text of both Third World Cinema and the personal essay film, offering a pairing of politics and pleasure that has continued throughout Tahimik’s oeuvre. Never shying away from embracing a proud, postcolonial identity, yet always grounded in personal observation and a quiet, understated humor, Tahimik’s works take special joy in highlighting the indigenous cultures and history of the Philippines and beyond, whether honoring Tahimik’s beloved bahag loincloth, profiling local craftsmen and women, or recounting tales of Magellan’s Filipino navigator/slave. Assembled from countless hours of filming, drawn from months and years worth of work, “my footages are like tiles in a mosaic,” he writes. “You shuffle them, change them around. In my process, nothing is permanent.”
“My best friend always mispronounced the word ‘indigenous,’” Tahimik noted in an interview in the book Philippine New Wave. He’ll say ‘indigenius.’ I would always call it cosmic mispronunciation. . . . The genius of the indigenous culture is still within us. We just have to recognize it, and let it flow out.” Committed to documenting the “indigenius,” yet always iconoclastic enough to “stray on track” to capture the wonder of life around him, Kidlat Tahimik is one of cinema’s true originals.
Behind the Bamboo Camera with Kidlat Tahimik - Harvard ... November 2 – 4, 2012
A sui generis mixture of documentary, diary film, fictionalized autobiography, cinematic essay and ethnography, Kidlat Tahimik’s 1977 debut, The Perfumed Nightmare, became an instant classic of sorts, announcing the arrival of a pioneering filmmaker. But Tahimik remains a very unusual sort of pioneer. His cinema’s sharp critique of the divides between rich and poor, capitalism and community, developed nations and the developing world relies on gentle humor, everyday experiences and childlike play. Weaving this material into knowing and heartfelt looks at life in the Philippines, Tahimik uncovers the ways in which the country’s postcolonial status places it at the center of contemporary concerns about the retreat of tradition in the face of a global marketplace dominated by an all-encompassing, ever-growing technology.
There is little in Tahimik’s early biography to indicate the career he would eventually choose. He was born Eric de Guia in Baguio in 1942 to an engineer and a woman who would be the first female mayor in the Philippines. After receiving a master’s degree from the business school at Wharton, he worked for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris in 1968. Uninspired by the research he was called upon to perform, he left his job to sell memorabilia at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Afterwards, rather than returning home, he joined an artists’ commune in Munich and eventually attracted the attention of Werner Herzog, who cast him in a small part in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974). Under Herzog’s tutelage, he took up filmmaking and premiered The Perfumed Nightmare at the 1977 Berlin film festival. The film quickly traveled the world, championed in the US by Francis Ford Coppola and Susan Sontag.
Since then, Tahimik has created a string of documentaries and one fiction feature film, all of which demonstrate his love of wordplay both silly and sophisticated and his ability to blend politics and the imagination in surprising and revealing ways.
Why Is Yellow the
Middle of the Rainbow?
(Bakit Dilaw Ang Kulay ng Bahaghari, AKA I am Furious… Yellow)
Directed by Kidlat Tahimik
Philippines 1980-94, digital video, color, 175 min. English and Tagalog with English subtitles
Tahimik’s magnum opus, Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? is an epic film diary spanning the 1980s. Though each of Tahimik’s films is unique, this one defies summary simply because of the sheer volume of ground it covers. While telling the story of a family –overseas vacations, school projects, children’s first steps – it also serves as an introduction to Filipino history and geography. Yet most arresting is the way the film moves seamlessly from the personal to the political as Tahimik’s camera documents the events leading from the assassination of Benigno Acquino to the fall of the Marcoses and progresses to hurricanes and earthquakes. “In an age of rising seas and collapsing economies, [the film] shows us how to be furious at all the injustice in the world but also how to face that injustice with the utmost joy. There are indeed few, if any, films like this….” (Christopher Pavsek)
We Are Colonial by Raya Martin - Moving Image Source Raya Martin, October 26, 2012
This essay was originally written for the book Kidlat Tahimik, published by the Jeonju International Film Festival in 2011 for their Tahimik retrospective.
"How are we going to finish this film? We could just wait for the spaghetti to run out.”
To call Kidlat Tahimik’s Why is Yellow the Middle of Rainbow? (Bakit Dilaw Ang Kulay ng Bahaghari) (1994) the best Filipino film ever made is severely contentious. For one, Kidlat has remained an underground filmmaker throughout his entire career, in a country where the basis of significance is mirrored in the recall of a mass audience. Rather than an "other," he is understood as “that” person in the local arts world. The identity of Kidlat is similar to what his name alludes to: an impermanent flash of performances, mostly of himself dancing in only a G-string, an image of the national native that represents both pride and ridicule to the perception of arts in the Philippines. Everyone remains glued, in striking awe, to the show, but almost quickly dismisses and forgets.
In the span of a decade, from 1981 to 1991, Kidlat put together a "celluloid collage" mostly inspired by and made with his eldest son and namesake, Kidlat de Guia, now a talented filmmaker in his own right. Alternatively known as I Am Furious Yellow, an early incarnation of this epic project, it transformed into a collection of other “colored” episodes, each corresponding to a progression of his life as a Filipino father. Finished in laboratories between New York and Manila, the film is a concise pronouncement of the Philippines' historical romanticized image as a colony of multiple masters.
The film is a showcase of artists: co-cameraman Boy Yniguez, best known as the cinematographer of Jeffrey Jeturian’s Kubrador (2006); the late Santiago Bose, one of the most important Filipino contemporary artists, whose collective works are representative of the post-colonial consciousness characteristic of artists from the mountain province of Baguio. Some footage was shot by Trinh T. Minh-ha, and there are cameos from the late Andrei Tarkovsky, on the way to the Telluride Film Festival in 1983, and even Kidlat’s close friend Werner Herzog. This is the world of Kidlat Tahimik.
That world is born out of a smaller bubble: Baguio, home to a wilder, label-resisting community where both the indigenous ease and artistic complexity harmoniously co-exist. This is where a naiveté is created. The isolation forces its inhabitants to embrace their city’s colonial origins as the American’s summer capital in the Philippines, with their camps scattered almost everywhere. The memory of childhood on this Disneyland of sorts is far removed from the usual Filipino's—celebrating Fourth of July as the real Independence Day, lining up for ice cream on the occasion. Kidlat, the father, is adamant about symbols in his household. Violence is taboo, and the kids are not allowed to play with guns. When they go through the newspaper to check out which movies to see, his son points to front-page images of the military’s war on rebels. That’s not a movie, he’s told.
It’s all Hollywood, anyway. Even when Kidlat pieces home movies together with his more fictional footage and movie shots from elsewhere, there's a struggle against moviemaking as we are watching. We partake in the struggle to make sense of our identity determined by our screen image as a minority. We are celluloid existential, (re)visiting John Ford's Point on a snowy day while Hollywood music escalates our self-analysis. The journey is all euphemized, Filipinized. We are good Indians and we are better off dead.
The film could not be timelier. The political situation in it, spanning from right after the Marcoses’ overthrow to the late Corazon Aquino’s regime, to the attempted coup d’etat during her time, parallels that of the new presidency of her son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, and the reversal/return to power of the Marcoses with ex-first lady Imelda having been elected as congresswoman in her late husband’s province, as well as her two children, Senator Bong-Bong Marcos and Governor Imee Marcos. More disturbing parallels are the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant that had been erected and left directly on a fault line by the late dictator, and the recent earthquakes threatening the region; the celebration of new graduates from the Philippine Military Academy (where the best leaders emerge, as Kidlat’s mother points out), and the current investigations of military officials involved in corruption; the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and the unforgettable earthquake in the early '90s that left most of the country’s economy crippled, and the recent devastating floods in Manila that highlighted controversies in the government’s distribution of relief funds. The Filipino reality becomes an endless litany of pleas, a curse that seems impossible to lift.
And yet Kidlat proposes “that,” coming directly from a nativistic proposal. Artists are moved to be like shamans in keeping touch with the old ways. In the bubble of it all, the artists are not constrained to museums or theaters. They exist where nature exists. Even when the absurd seems a contradiction, there is an unpronounced nationalism in the post-television aesthetic with which Kidlat presents the episodes of his film. It is told like any imaginary tale of the pre-colonial: from wondrous to disastrous, to tragic, and finally a rebirth. Until then, we are left to deal with the realities of our national mirage. It will be the same story decades later anyhow.
Why is Yellow the Middle of Rainbow? is a curious story of colors. One is reminded of a folktale for children written by Mexican Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos, La Historia de los Colores, inspired by his encounters with the Mayans, whom had tried to convince of a proletarian uprising. It tells the story of the origins of race, through a toucan, who narrates about the gods’ wishes to deliver more color to the world. Subcomandante Marcos was then left with another perspective on struggle and diversity. We are all cultural minorities fighting to protect our differences. History is determinedly human.
Kidlat Tahimik’s cinema is best summarized by a scene in the film. Footage from his infamous unfinished-to-date Magellan project, an epic retelling of the explorer’s expedition to the Philippines, narrates: "Magellan taught his valet the rudiments of chess. Not only does he carve his own pieces and learns their movements, he picks up easily the thinking patterns of being a winner. The master realizes, for the first time, the slave is a thinking animal capable of plotting his own moves." "Checkmate," says Kidlat Tahimik, who acts as the indio slave in the film.
And as the whole film is a constant self-referential to Kidlat, the filmmaker, trying to make sense of his footage on the editing table, the celluloid on a flatbed spills all over a printed text by the Spanish scholar Antonio de Nebrija: Language is the perfect instrument of Empire.
"Is it any wonder that the indio now behaves like his master?"
The film ends twice. Kidlat’s son massages his father’s back, who has now fallen asleep while editing on the flatbed. The startled father rouses from his sleep, saying he had imagined making a film about his son, but the images had just taken over. An epilogue follows where a devastating earthquake has claimed the joyousness of Baguio, which was the hardest hit. The earthquake had destroyed the editing room, and in the dark the kids try to look for their father. They call out to him. Moments later, he appears from the celluloid rubble and enthusiastically says, I've found the ending.
After writing this essay, I go outside of my air-conditioned room. The housemaid is silently cleaning the corners of a house built from the marriage of my father’s activism and my mother’s corporate hard work. I smoke a pack of imported cigarettes in the garden, contemplating my tepid petty bourgeois existence. I notice the efforts of my father’s gardening, arising from his frustrations in farming. It is half-finished. Wild grass has taken over most of it, and he is in the computer room, “working” and practically retired to playing Farmville online. There seems so much work to be done, and yet...
It’s the age of disillusionment. The naiveté of Kidlat Tahimik has never resounded more profoundly.
The Manila Review | Cinema Moralia Robert Nery
<em>The Utopia of Film: Cinema and its Futures in Godard ... Patrick Reagan from Screening the Past
Chicago's crash course in Filipino art cinema continues this ... Ben Sachs from The Reader, September 17, 2014
Documenting his own reality: The films of Kidlat Tahimik Conor Stuart from Erenlei magazine, November 2, 2010
Parallax ViewThe View Beyond Parallax… more reads for ... Bruce Reid from Parallax View
An award winning director of the documentary film, KOCHIYAMA: PASSION FOR JUSTICE, this is her first feature, a sweet but raw-edged look at a young woman growing up in Chicago in the early 1970’s, experimenting with sex and drugs in search of her self-identity, which leads to the Arizona desert where she comes face to face with her own past, in the shape of her dead sister and the tortured past of her parents, who once lived on this same plot of land in a Japanese internment camp. This is a truly moving work with a strong sense of history, memory, and the inherent power of stark imagery, in this case, forbidden photographs taken by her parents in the camps, which they never wanted their children to see, repeatedly going up in flames on screen until one gets the message that so did many Japanese at the hands of the atomic bomb and their memories were equally obliterated.
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee. —Emily Dickenson
Unlike Shunji Iwai’s ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU CHOU (2001) where there was little distinction between the blurry secondary nature of the brooding high school characters due to the overpowering stylistic flourish which drew all the attention to itself, and not nearly as inventive as Katsuhito Ishii’s brilliant film THE TASTE OF TEA (2004), another off-the-charts charmer that dazzled the heart along with the senses, this film is much less ambitious yet ultimately proves to be surprisingly successful as it actually does a superb job showcasing the diversive nature of each of the characters. While hardly a profound film, based on a Chica Umino manga comic strip from 2000 that has fed multiple TV variations in Japan, from animation to the immensely popular live action episodes that continue to this day, the simplicity of the form is deceptive, all wrapped up in what resembles another one of a seemingly endless line of Japanese teen alienation movies, this features instead a comically alluring, sweet-natured charm where there’s a deep seeded concern for others that is the heart of this film. While each of the main characters goes through a series of personal dilemmas, it’s not ultimately about them, as they each discover a larger world around them that takes on greater significance.
Set in a university art school, we are soon privy to familiar self-centered college habits where kids are uniformly trying to stand out but failing miserably, both in class and with the opposite sex. Takemoto (Sho Sakurai) is a young architecture student, a friendly sort who also works dressed up in a giant cat outfit for a local supermarket, who along with his somewhat morbid, bespectacled friend Mayama (Ryo Kase) are sent upstairs from a communal class party in search of more beer when Takemoto’s eyes fall upon another young art student, the gorgeously delicate Hagu (Yû Aoi from LILY CHOU CHOU) who is completely immersed in her work, where Mayama sees his friend fall in love right before his eyes, surrealistically expressed by a stream of colorful flower petals that gently flow from her canvas. She turns out to be the Professor’s niece, a gifted student who specializes in brilliantly colorful abstract paintings that breathe a special air of radiance. But this revery is interrupted by the crashing, disruptive entrance of an older student Morita, Yusuke Iseye from Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s AFTER LIFE (1998), who is immediately impressed with her work. Morita always seems to be the center of attention, no matter the occasion, always bragging about his own considerable talent above all others, so it comes as quite a shock that he paid anyone a compliment. Mayama meanwhile, a promising design student, has his own obsession, falling hopelessly in love with his boss Rika (Naomi Nishida), while failing to notice he’s become the object of another strikingly beautiful student’s affections, Ayumi (Megumi Seki), whose look resembles that of a classic Japanese doll.
Once the characters have all been introduced, there’s a wonderfully gentle interplay between them, not the least of which includes fascination and rejection in love, where their moods rise and fall with each passing day, but there’s always someone there to listen to them. While Professor Hanamoto (Masato Sakai) asks Takemoto to look after his niece, she in turn is more impressed with Morita’s prowess as a sculptor. When he decides to paint a giant canvas outdoors, she joins him, and together they are an utter joy to watch, eliciting applause from bystanders. While discussing Hagu’s apparent lack of discipline, a fellow professor seems disappointed by her unwillingness to conform to the requirements of specific art competitions, but Professor Hanamoto has the last word, suggesting sometimes professors need to let some students do the dreaming for all of us. These intimate moments are held together by a soft, inventive musical soundtrack by Yôko Kanno, also exquisite art direction from Momoko Nakamura that prominently accentuates architecture and painting, and an inventive trip to the ocean, which for Hagu seems to be for the very first time. Their enthusiasm on the trip is infectious, their genuine camaraderie is highly appealing, and it is here that Morita begins calling Takemoto by the knickname Mr. Youth, as he speaks so earnestly about the significance of youth. Everyone stumbles along the way, but the development of relationships is effortless, always underplayed, occasionally utilizing an interior narration to accentuate innermost thoughts. There’s nothing showy about this film, which also features the continuing presence of a computer generated black cat, which playfully enters and exits the screen, even over the end credits. Perhaps it feels a bit contrived by the ending, as it doesn’t measure up to the rest of the film’s promise where a novelistic brush heightens our appreciation for all five of the central characters, but the tone of this film is set at the beginning, where there may not be any rhyme or reason for why things happen the way they do and what lies beneath the surface cannot always be expressed, but the journey, the search itself, not necessarily the answers we find, may become more meaningful in the end simply because of the elevated impact of sharing it with others around us.
Honey and Clover Andrea Gronvall from the Reader
Based on Chica Umino's best-selling manga and hit anime TV
series, this 2006 teen romance from
Adapted from a popular manga series—which also has been reworked into both anime and live-action TV shows—Honey and Clover is another Japanese coming-of-age drama that goes heavy on whimsy. (See also 2006’s The Taste of Tea and the festival mainstay A Gentle Breeze in the Village.) Set in and around an art school, the movie is the antithesis of Art School Confidential; the title is derived from Emily Dickinson: “To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee.” Although the film has its share of funny-true moments—as when a student imagines himself arrested for stalking his crush—the mawkishness grows tiresome over the long haul.
Five college-age students in art school fumble through life lessons in Masahiro Takada's gently meandering adaptation of Chica Umino's manga romance. Sho Sakurai centers the film as "the least arty art student at the school," a genial young man who becomes the hub of a loose-knit fellowship of friends and artists (including rising Japanese star Yu Aoi of "Hula Girls" as the object of his affections). The gentle conflicts and easy rhythms and small triumphs over personal adversity are low-key almost to a fault, and the smitten stares and unrequited crushes and creative crises suggest high school melodrama as much as young-adult drama, but that restraint also is part of its comfortable charm. It's cute and sweet without getting saccharine and avoids the contrived complications of American stories of students charging the emotional and sexual minefields of adult relationships and responsibilities (no one here even makes out, let alone sleeps together). That in itself is a minor triumph in a generally contrived and sentimental genre.
Honey and Clover Facets Multi-Media
Takemoto (Sho Sakurai of boy band Arashi) is an art student
under the tutelage of Professor Hanamoto, whose parties brings him and art
students Mayama and Yamada together. At a party in the opening scene, Takemoto
is introduced to Hagu, Hanamoto's cousin's daughter, who recently entered the school
on a scholarship, whereupon Takemoto falls instantly in love. However, trouble
occurs in the form of Takemoto's neighbor Morita, a popular, talented, and
temperamental older student who has just returned from a long trip. Morita is
instantly impressed by Hagu's abstract paintings, and Hagu, in turn, begins to
admire Morita's sculpting skills. Meanwhile, Yamada has become infatuated with
Mayama, who is hopelessly in love with his boss Rika, even to the point of
stalking her and collecting her personal possessions. Even when Mayama rejects
Yamada, she remains in love with him for some inexplicable reason. The five
come together for Morita's gallery opening, but an impulsive trip to the beach
threatens to change a few things about their lives... Based on the hit Japanese
comic, Honey and Clover is a romantic comedy that is the latest entry in
a long line of Japanese manga adaptations. The lives of these five art
university students and their romantic complications is their rite of passage
to make sense of the relationship between life and art, in this bittersweet
love story of young love. Directed by
Anime News Network Carlo Santos
Second-year art student Yuuta Takemoto lives the typical college life: sleeping, eating, and dealing with troublesome apartment mates like eccentric Morita and ladies' man Mayama. Life gets interesting when Hagumi Hanamoto, the gifted niece of Professor Shuuji Hanamoto, comes to school and surprises everyone with her talents (and unusually young appearance). Takemoto wants to make friends with her, but Morita always seems to make the first move; Hagu-chan, meanwhile, is afraid of the boys and prefers the company of pottery student Ayumi Yamada. Gradually they all warm up to each other, learning the ups and downs of college life and beyond.
Was it ever supposed to get this good? Honey and
Clover began life as the debut series for Fuji TV's
(read it backwards) lineup, a new anime block aimed at older female audiences.
The simple but daring plan worked—young women who would never normally watch anime
got into it, and the manga now breaks the Top 10 sales list regularly, sitting
alongside blockbuster titles like Prince of
Tennis or Bleach.
But even viewers outside the target demographic attest to its greatness,
pointing out its heartfelt storytelling and unique visual style. It was
supposed to be just good enough for sophisticated female viewers—and it ended
up being good enough for everyone. Funnier than most comedies and more touching
than most dramas (even the live-action ones), Honey and Clover has
emerged as one of the best shows of 2005.
Like a true slice-of-life series, it begins right in the middle of things—Takemoto in his second year of college, Mayama nearing graduation, and Morita stuck in seventh-year hell. When Hagu-chan shows up, there's hardly any "please welcome the new student" pomp; she simply joins the cast, and the drama-go-round begins. There is no epic quest to fulfill, no convoluted conspiracy to unlock, no childhood friend to win over—it's just a bunch of college kids figuring out what to do with their lives, and it is fascinating. Every character gets a moment in the spotlight, with story arcs transiting flawlessly between each other. Even Takemoto, who spends most of the series as a neutral observer, closes things out with an inspiring personal triumph. The mood of the show switches effortlessly from madcap comedy to utter heartbreak and everything in between, yet nothing feels out of place. Within a single episode, a game of Art School Twister takes humor to new heights, and yet minutes later, Takemoto muses upon the meaning of friendship.
Like all good shoujo, Honey and Clover succeeds because of its characters' complex personalities. Morita emerges as a quick fan favorite with his bizarre antics and affinity for money, but to focus on him is to miss out on the intricate relationships between everyone else. In particular, Ayumi's unrequited attachment to Mayama is sure to arouse plenty of indignation about the portrayal of women in Japanese . But maybe that anger is because Ayumi openly reveals everything we hate about themselves: weakness, insecurity, and the tendency to do really stupid things in the name of love. She is the most human character in a cast of incredibly human characters.
Despite this realism on the emotional level, however, the artwork in the show is decidedly surreal and dreamlike. The character designs match the manga almost perfectly with big, expressive eyes, ultrathin lines, and characteristic hatch marks. Even the coloring style adheres to the comic; you may never again see an anime that looks like it was watercolored (there are a few exceptions, like SaiKano). The animation is equally adept, with moments of broad physical comedy being rendered just as smoothly as subtle scenes of close-up dialogue. And of course, no discussion of Honey and Clover is complete without the infamous "food" opening, where spinning plates of food behave in very un-foodlike ways. This 90-second homage to stop-motion auteur Jan Svankmajer is just the first of many artistic touches, proving that the animators—like the art students depicted in the series—treasure creativity above all else.
If is the language of emotion, then few shows speak it as eloquently as this one. With just a few studio instruments, the is able to express the gamut of emotions that each character runs through. The energetic opening theme by YUKI converts into a gentle piano solo, and even Morita's bouts of insanity are accented by charming comedic themes. The most effective emotional tools, however, are the insert songs by singer-songwriter Suga Shikao and SPITZ. Playing a poignant song over internal monologue is hardly a new thing, especially in angsty teen dramas, but to hear it used in an anime makes the technique fresh once more.
If Honey and Clover has any faults, it's that you want it to keep going after it's over. It ends just like it begins—right in the middle of things, with so much more yet to be experienced. Without realizing it, you've become part of that circle of friends: you've shared their heartbreaks and triumphs, walked alongside them as they poured out their feelings, and watched each one of them learn a little bit more about themselves. Whether in school or not, who hasn't asked themselves at some point: "What do I want to do? Who do I want to be?" Honey and Clover may not have the answers, but it's all about trying to find them.
Cinema-Repose M. Douglas
Taking the Japanese spot of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s masterfully understated TOKYO SONATA (2008) at the Academy Awards this year for Best Foreign Film, which was not only the best Japanese film of the year but among the best released anywhere in the world, this film continues the Japanese obsession with death, much like Israeli films deal with the Holocaust, though if I had to pick a film, IKIRU (1952), MABOROSI (1995) or SUZAKU (1997) would certainly come to mind. The subject here is the work of a nokanshi, who performs a highly ritualized sacred family ceremony by preparing the bodies of the deceased for their departures into the next realm, as the bodies are cleaned and dressed discreetly in front of the family, the bare skin never exposed, all done with the utmost care and precision showing a kind of quiet reverance and tranquility in the performance of the job which requires meticulous attention to detail. In America, the job is done by the funeral home behind closed doors before the body is available for viewing. Not so with this custom, which even in Japan may be somewhat rare and old fashioned, becoming outdated, like many ancient Japanese rituals. This film suggests it’s a way of paying one’s last respects, recognizing the finality of life by honoring the dead, which oftentimes evokes painful memories that might otherwise have long been suppressed. Though the film is dramatically affecting, featuring some excellent secondary characters, it’s also something of a weeper, a highly idealized portrait of grief, always showing a family that is greatly moved by the experience and extremely thankful and appreciative afterwards, oftentimes offering special gifts (though one ceremony amusingly ends in a near riot). With young and old sitting on the floor in close proximity, this becomes an extremely personal family memory.
Masahiro Motoki plays Daigo, a young cellist in the Tokyo Orchestra that announces it cannot continue due to financial obligations, leaving him and his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) in a state of limbo, eventually deciding to sell his valued cello and move back to his deceased mother’s home in the village where he grew up. Responding to a want-ad on “departures” where he thinks he’s entering the travel agency business, he is surprised to discover things are not as they seem, especially when he’s hired on the spot after a single question (“Are you willing to work hard?”) as the apprentice to his new boss, the stone faced Tsutomu Yamazaki as Sasaki, where he’s both revolted and awed by his ability to strike such a special connection with the dead. Initially the job is horrifying, where he’s too embarrassed to even reveal it to his wife, shown rather humorously where he can’t stop cleaning what he perceives as the smell of death from all but encircling him wherever he goes. In this manner, he reconnects to a piece of his past, where he’s welcomed back to the local bathhouse where he used to come as a boy, still run by the same woman who remembers him, now getting older, having lost her own husband. Once Mika discovers the truth, she can’t accept that line of work, believing working with the dead is unclean and undignified, as do many friends in the community. But they don’t see what we see, which is a profound contemplation and near surgical precision needed to perform this work, much like the artistry of playing the cello. In fact, there is a similar mindset used in each to reach a state of grace.
What’s interesting is the instrinsically Japanese and highly personal nature of this ritual, which is shown alongside another custom of public bathhouses, both of which still exist in Japanese culture but may be losing their significance in a faster paced modern society. This metaphor of death is equivalent to the idea that life changes, where the idea of leaving things behind takes on a special significance as the film develops, from leaving the body behind as the spirit ascends, to leaving certain stages of one’s life behind, such as childhood or adolescence which we outgrow, or physically living in different towns and locations in the course of one’s life, to thoughts or recollections that we once felt we knew or understood, yet our opinion changes or evolves over time, which includes the shifting perceptions of our own memories. Much of this film touches on memory, showing how seemingly insignificant details become magnified over time, or grow clearer, where instead of a flood of experiences to choose from all of which ends up in a blur, this becomes whittled down to where only a precious few stand out.
Despite the evocative nature of the film, which clearly reaches emotional heights, there’s also a kind of Disney-ized simplicity to it as well, where any and all obstacles can be overcome, and where there’s an extreme degree of repetition, especially the Joe Hisaishi musical themes that just play over and over again, as do fleeting birds in flight imagery, or a man and his cello playing by a riverbank in front of a giant mountain, where the salmon swimming upsteam section is simply a case for cloying sentiment. Everything becomes homogonized building to this perceived ideal of death as a gate of ascension to a new life, always suggesting a peaceful passing. Never do they encounter car wrecks with mangled, deformed, disfigured, or burned bodies. Never is one of them suspected of indecent advances or accused of rape, as is the case in Almodóvar’s TALK TO HER (2002), a much more artistically adventurous film that features the loving care provided to a corpse-like woman in a lengthy coma. Instead the film builds to a neatly packaged, Hallmark card harmonious picture of bliss and contentment, perhaps similar to Buddhist priests who still practice purifying rituals, but they are subject to harrassment or even political exile by the Chinese government in Tibet. While the ritual itself is impresive to see, the exclusively fictionalized aspect shown here is missing the documentary authenticity or historical perspective needed to immerse this custom within a living society that is also shown in great detail. Instead it depicts an idealized relationship with the dead that is glorified not by its acceptance within society, as it seems to remain a specialized, somewhat outsider custom, but by its depiction of tearful family close ups, intense glances, and somewhat sappy piano and cello music that continually surges to new heights before the same themes are recycled again and again.
Two years in a row, the Japanese have sent
wonderful, challenging films which arrive under the radar and absolutely
amaze. Masahiro Motoki is a revelation, playing a cellist in a
Raised in a broken family, Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) is a
disillusioned cellist who has recently lost his job in a
With his camera lingering at length on Daigo’s elegant ‘performances’ at a series of funerals, and with Joe Hisaishi’s gently affectionate score pulling on audience’s heartstrings, Yojiro Takita’s deeply affecting Oscar winner gets its viewers into mourning mode, and never lets go. Admittedly, fate does show its flair for tear-jerking drama here; fortuitously-timed deaths provide Daigo with the opportunity to win over his wife and childhood friend – who both disapprove of his new trade – once they witness the respect and tenderness he shows the departed. That said, the emotional resonance triggered by this unflinching study of grief (and grieving) goes way deeper than its borderline manipulative tactics hint at. Departures’ belief in love and forgiveness is lyrical, and hauntingly moving.
The Hollywood Reporter review Maggie Lee
-- An out-of-work cellist finds a new lease of life as a corpse cosmetician
when he develops professional pride and respect for the dead in the
heartwarming and humorous "Departures." Yojiro Takita, who directed
enduring commercial hits like "The Ying Yang Master" and "The
Yen Family," has made a popular gem -- thematically respectable,
technically hard to fault, artfully scripted to entertain and touch.
This Oscar-entry from Japan won the Grand Prix at Montreal World Film Festival and has made several festival rounds. Cinemas catering to semi-mainstream, artistically-inclined audiences would be a likelier overseas outlet than elite arthouse.
Following his orchestra's disbanding, Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) resettles in his deep north hometown with his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue). He responds to an ad for "Journey Assistant" thinking it's for a travel agency. After some droll beating around the bush by boss Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), he finds out that they are in the "encoffinment" business. "Departures" invokes the quintessentially Japanese "artisan's soul" -- a work ethic of utmost devotion to any profession. The attentive and ceremonious manner in which makeovers is performed before bodies are placed in their coffins is eye-opening. The film gently satirizes modern society's denial of the physical aspect of death through Daigo's initial shame and squeamishness about his job, and the social disdain he experiences. The scene of him wolfing down fried chicken suggests his appetite for life is eventually whetted by confronting mortality daily -- a reconnection with nature's cycle.
The film can be taxed with being a little too long and too sentimental. Joe Hisaishi's score is unabashedly romantic and the cinematography is ravishing, but there are few moments of inner contemplation. Even when Daigo is alone playing the cello, the scenes are heavily embellished with swooping shots, a heavenly countryside backdrop and rhapsodic strings.
This is compensated for by some skillful comic relief and warm rapport among the cast, especially the filial relationship Daigo develops for Sasaki who stands-in for his absent father. Motoki's performance is rich with nuance, but Yamazaki takes expressiveness to a new level, remaining unperturbed, inscrutable and affectionately condescending at all times.
is the rare film that successfully combines aspects of a commercial film, art
house film, light comedy & heavy drama (pertaining to family & death).
The film recently received a surprise boost in recognition by winning the “Best
Foreign Language Film” at this year’s Academy Awards. The film already achieved
stellar box office results when it first screened in
Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is an aspiring cellist
newly hired by a symphony in
After the couple settles into their new home, Daigo looks for
a job. He finds a listing in the newspaper advertising a position that requires
little hours, no experience, and centers around helping out others on their
journeys. Daigo assumes the position is for a travel agent, but when he arrives
at the office, he realizes the job is for an “encoffineer” (Nokanshi) - similar
to an embalmer in the
“Departures” isn’t a heavy film per se, but it does eloquently examine the effects of death as it relates to those closest to the deceased. The film also respectfully showcases the art found in the encoffineer’s work. This is particularly important to the Japanese, as the movie portrays the common perception of these workers as people who are reviled. Masahiro Motoki always uses his hands as gracefully applying make-up on the deceased as he does when playing the cello. The message that comes out loud and clear is that the work performed by encoffineers are as artful as classical music. Departures also brings to light the importance of living life to the fullest as well as the importance of forgiveness. In one particularly moving scene, Daigo Kobayashi and his wife watches from the distance as a lady he has known all his life ends her journey, while a worker at the funeral home remarks that it feels like her journey is about to begin.
Performances all around are excellent, with nary a single
shabby performance found in the movie. Masahiro Motoki obviously takes center
stage and impresses throughout the movie (especially so when you compare his
brilliant performance in “Departures” with his lifeless turn in last year’s
“The Longest Night in
Although it would have been so easy for “Departures” to lay on the sappiness, the picture always opts for the graceful route as it tells its powerful tale about life, death, and awakening. A large cross-generational group of viewers will likely find the movie inspirational. Although I don’t feel “Departures” is even the best Japanese film of the year (my vote would go to Tokyo Sonata), it’s still nice to find the Academy Awards bring to light such a strong Japanese film for the masses.
Departures Tony Rayns from Film Comment, May/June 2009
A Nutshell Review Stefan S.
Slant Magazine review [3/4] Joseph Jon Lanthier
An emotionally raw, visually stylish first feature, with the intensity of the best social melodrama, about the indomitable spirit of battered Maori wife Beth Heke (Owen) as she struggles to hold together her disintegrating family. Husband Jake (Morrison) is a violent yet charismatic bully, the sullen eldest son is already a gang member, the youngest is in care, and only gifted daughter Grace (Kerr-Bell) offers hope for the future. A gritty human drama evoking the residual vibrancy of a threatened culture.
"Once Were Warriors" is an uncompromising, emotionally draining
drama that presents the urbanization of
Warriors deprived of societal and spiritual guidance all too often wind up like Jake Heke (Temuera Morrison), an unemployed bruiser who spends most of his time drinking with his cronies at the neighborhood pub. If his wife, Beth (Rena Owen), questions his wasting money on booze, Jake answers with his fists.
The morning after, he rubs salt in her terrible wounds by complaining of her ugliness. But in time the bruises fade, the swelling subsides and Jake seduces her all over again. The Hekes would know all the stops of "A Streetcar Named Desire," though Jake's volatility and boxer's build also recall another cinematic Jake, in "Raging Bull."
The hard-drinking Beth is no angel herself. Indeed, she puts spin on the ugly cycle in one of the movie's most brutal scenes. When Jake orders her to make an omelet for a drinking buddy, the tipsy Beth literally eggs him on by smashing the carton. Jake retaliates violently as the kids cower in their beds upstairs.
In spite of everything, Beth is still sexually attracted to her husband, but she is beginning to realize what drink and violence are doing to her children. Although one son joins a gang and another is taken to a state home for delinquent boys, there is still hope for her three youngest children, especially the luminous and vulnerable 13-year-old Grace (Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell). As Beth's nurturing instincts grow and her lust wanes, Jake becomes threatened and drives the family nearer the edge of destruction.
The actors, many of them of European-Maori descent, are wonderful to look at. They also deliver authoritative yet sympathetic performances that get at the roots, or rootlessness, of their characters. Owens is a Carmen of the kitchen sink as Beth -- as destructive in her way as Morrison's Jake, a warrior who cannot recognize, much less defeat, the enemy all around him.
Adapted from Alan Duff's gritty bestseller, Maori writer Riwia Brown's
screenplay does not flinch from the ugliness of the Hekes' home life. It does,
however, hold out some hope for Beth's future and her children's, but only if
they return to their Maori homeland. The lesson, as in
Critics are often heard complaining about the lack of originality
in American filmmaking, about remakes, TV-retreads and tired concepts
dominating the multiplexes. When
ONCE WERE WARRIORS is the story of the Heke family, people of
Maori descent living in present day
The first image in ONCE WERE WARRIORS is an idyllic landscape, which is quickly revealed to be a billboard over a busy highway and a Maori "ghetto." Director Lee Tamahori sets up his story as one far removed from a perhaps-mythic past, and defined by a warrior culture in a land where the war for survival is fought against less tangible enemies. Often poor and treated with disdain by white authority figures, the Maori turn their aggression inward, in pointless and explosive barroom brawls and domestic violence. ONCE WERE WARRIORS has become a massive box office success in New Zealand for addressing this culture which accounts for almost 10% of its population, but it doesn't require a stretch to recognize that it is a story which translates all too well to stories of America's economically disadvantaged minority cultures. It is a specific story, but in many ways it is also a universal one.
The specific story is most effective thanks to several powerful performances. Rena Owen's Beth is a proud woman whose beauty still appears in a bright smile on her weathered face, though nearly twenty years of marriage have beaten her down. Her love for Jake is as genuine as her frequent fear and hatred of him, and that conflict drives the film. Temuera Morrison is even more complex as Jake, because he makes a violent drunk appealing enough during his good moments to make the relationship convincing; he is Fred Flintstone with a serious attitude. Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell, as the ever-more- pessimistic Grace, is also good, as is Taungaroa Emile as the troubled Boogie.
While it is frighteningly real violence which drives ONCE WERE
WARRIORS for much of its running time, pathos unfortunately takes over in the
third act. There is a drawn-out sequence which gives everyone a chance to cry
and make a speech, and characters start to speak in platitudes like,
"You're still a slave, Jake ... a slave to your fists" and "I'll
wear my (tatoos) on the inside." By the end, I was wondering whether
Tamahori was taking his cue from
Movie Reviews UK review [5/5] Damian Cannon
Reel.com dvd review [3.5/4] Sarah Chauncey
Entertainment Weekly review [B+] Owen Gleiberman
Ways Of Seeing Against Kenneth Clark, for John Berger, by Peter Steven from Jump Cut
Return from Africa The Long Way Home, by Bernard Weiner from Jump Cut
The Middle of the World The Long Road to Liberation, by Ying Ying Wu from Jump Cut
Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 The subversive charm of Alain Tanner, by Robert Stam from Jump Cuts
Jonah Who Will Be 25 in
the Year 2000 Subversive charm indeed! by Linda Green, John Hess, and
Dialogue on Jonah Critical dialogue, by Richard Kazis and John Hess from Jump Cut
An insightful look at the absurdities of the 1993 Serbian-Bosnian conflict. In the middle of the night, a Bosnian relief party gets lost in the fog, only to awake in morning’s light right outside the Serbian line and they are immediately fired upon where all are lost except two who land in a trench, one is presumed dead. The Serbs send two soldiers to investigate, one is instantly killed, and the rest of the film focuses on the military stand-off between each of the remaining Serb and Bosnian soldiers, who are at each other’s throats in the same trench, caught in a “no man’s land” between the two lines. The Serbs placed a land mine under the soldier presumed dead, which detonates only when he moves off the mine. There is a cat and mouse game between the two soldiers, who at first befriend one another, but then they each conspire to get revenge on the other, both remaining loyal to their respective allegiances, at first one has the gun, then the other, all this while the soldier on the land mine awakes and is unable to move, yet he becomes the mediator trying to keep the peace before the other two lose their heads. To add to this confusion, UN peacekeepers are called, over-eager journalists intervene, politicians pontificate, all of which adds up to an absurdist look at this war, but always at the center of the picture is this fallen soldier lying in a trench, only he seems to realize the dire nature of the predicament, and he’s lying helplessly on top of a sitting time bomb with no hope for a solution. The characters in the trenches are quite good and the humorous dialogue is filled with witty sarcasm and rancor, while the interventionists are not so good, as none of them quite have a grasp of the situation. This film makes that point perfectly clear.
Quentin Tarantino's meteoric rise to fame with the phenomenal
critical and popular success of Pulp Fiction , his second feature, is
not only the result of his considerable talent but of two forces operating
within contemporary Hollywood: first, an economic mini-crisis brought on by the
box-office and critical failures of many recent high-budget blockbuster
productions ( Waterworld is perhaps the most remarkable example) that
has opened the door, as in the past, for young directors who are able to make
successful films on small budgets (made for $8 million, Pulp Fiction earned
almost $64 million at the box office, not counting video sales and rentals);
second, the continuing popularity of neo-noir films, a popularity not limited
to its most thriving subgenre, the erotic thriller. If
The widely read and very cineliterate Tarantino has an obvious liking for classic hard-boiled pulp fiction (evidently Jim Thompson and W. R. Burnett in particular) and classic film noir (Huston's Asphalt Jungle probably served as a model for Reservoir Dogs ). But like several of the prominent directors of the Hollywood Renaissance in the middle 1970s (especially Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader), Tarantino also owes a substantial debt to French film noir, especially the work of Jean Pierre Melville and Jean Luc Godard. Godard's modernist refiguration of noir themes and conventions ( Alphaville is the classic example), however, would hardly please the mass audience Tarantino has in mind. The most substantial contribution of nouvelle vague anti-realism in Tarantino's films can be seen in their creative use of achronicities, disorderings in the storytelling process that make the narratives intriguing puzzles even as they uncover interesting ironies for the spectator, who must take an active role in the deciphering of the plot. The anti-Aristotelianism of this procedure, its disruption of emotional identification with the characters' plight, allows Tarantino to concentrate on thematic elements, especially the role violence plays in American culture.
Like the gang in Asphalt Jungle , the crooks in Reservoir Dogs assembled to pull a heist (itself never represented) are shown participating in what is simply a "left-handed form of endeavor." If Huston endeavors to demonstrate that criminals too have an ordinary life (households to run, relationships to pursue, bills to pay), Tarantino, in contrast, is more interested in moral dilemmas and conflict, especially as these are brought to life by situations of extraordinary danger and threat. In fact, the central conflicts of Reservoir Dogs carry a substantial moral charge and significance, even if, in the end, as the allknowing spectator alone recognizes, the characters are destroyed no matter if they are sociopaths with a yen for torture or men of good will who stand by their friends even at the cost of their own lives. And yet Tarantino obviously sympathizes with those who despise mauvaise foi and make the difficult choices that confront them. A Sartrean and Camusian moralism pervades this film.
Much the same can be said of the similar characters in Pulp Fiction , whose existential plights and difficult choices are here examined from a serio-comic perspective. A torpedo working for a drug dealer is given the assignment of looking after the boss's flirtatious wife. He tries to resist her various come-ons, only to be faced with a sudden, more demanding test: she overdoses on heroin, goes into a near-fatal coma from which he can arouse her only by jabbing a harpoon-sized needle into her heart. Amazingly, she recovers, and Tarantino finishes this sequence with a comic leave-taking scene that ends their "date". Once again, in Pulp Fiction difficult moral questions are raised. A boxer in the same drug dealer's pay refuses out of personal integrity to throw a fight as ordered. Fleeing town, he meets his boss by accident on a city street. Their confrontation, however, opens unexpectedly onto another moral plane. Both men wind up the prisoners of local sadists, who plan to sodomize, torture, and kill them. The boxer escapes, and, feeling the pang of conscience, goes back to free his erstwhile boss, who forgives the man's earlier betrayal before exacting a terrible vengeance on his torturers, one of whom is a policeman.
With their philosophical dimensions, unremitting representations
of venality and depravity among the criminal under and over class, art cinema
narrational complexities, and black humor, Tarantino's first two films are
strikingly original contributions to an American cinema struggling to rebound
from the artistic doldrums of the 1980s. As a screenwriter, he has been no less
successful. Written for former video shop co-worker Roger Avary, Killing Zoe
offers a romantic twist on the themes examined in Tarantino's own
directorial efforts. In this case, a somewhat naive and easily swayed young
criminal must make a moral stand against his lifelong friend to save the life
of a prostitute he has come to care for; the gesture is reciprocated, and the
two rescue themselves from a nightmarish world of self-destructive violence and
addiction. Similarly, True Romance and Natural Born Killers offer
outlaw couples on the run whose loyalty to each other is rewarded in the end by
their escape from a corrupt and disfiguring
Tarantino's third film as a director, Jackie Brown ,
proved less successful with audiences, though it shares much in common with his
earlier work. Though at times almost sedate, Jackie Brown also offers a
nuanced meditation on the
Quentin Tarantino Mick Sleeper looks at his debt to the French New Wave, from Images
- Mar 9, 1998 - Page 36 - Google Books Result Jet magazine,
News & Issues | The Word 'Nigger'
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor from Metroactive,
Mindful violence: the visibility of power and inner life in Kill Bill Aaron Anderson from Jump Cut, Winter 2005
Tarantino talks Vega Brothers, the Pulp Fiction & Reservoir Dogs
sequel/prequel" Petr Sciretta
from Slash Film,
11 Most Bizarre Tarantino Moments
Max Powers from ScreenJunkies,
The Tarantino Problem Ray DeRousse from What Culture, May 20, 2009
Tarantino's 20 Favorite Flicks of the Last 17 Years Quentin
Tarantino from LA Weekly,
Tarantino Has one of the most overrated directors of the '90s become one of the
most underrated of the aughts? By
Dennis Lim from Slate,
Tarantino to pen ‘The Shadow’? Tom Powers from Cinefantastique Online,
Takes on Slavery Debra J. Dickerson
"Adults Only" cinema Eddie Muller, the author of Grindhouse, talks about the origins in an interview by Gary Johnson from Images
Quentin Tarantino: Interviews - A Brief Talk With Quentin Tarantino by Gerald Peary, August 1992
Rose – An Interview with Quentin Tarantino"
defends himself against Spike Lee for criticizing him in using the
'n-word'." Charlie Rose,
Quentin Tarantino: Interviews - Introduction from the book edited by Gerald Peary
Tarantino defends slavery theme in Django Andrew Pulver interview from The Guardian, December 7, 2012
RESERVOIR DOGS C+ 79
I don't give a good fuck what you know, or don't know, but I'm gonna torture you anyway, regardless.
—Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen)
Quentin Tarantino came out of nowhere with this astonishing film debut, playing mostly to arthouse crowds, but exhibiting an unusual command of David Mamet-style profanity-laden dialogue, camera placement, complex storytelling, period music, and terrific performances, all evident from the start. Something of a horrific, one-act, modernist play, a revisit of Sartre’s No Exit, a heist gone wrong story told out of sequence, where it’s an action flick without the action, never showing the actual robbery, becoming instead a psychological examination of the male participants, all cast in their own conflicting moral dilemmas, where these guys are seen leading dead-end lives, so used to staring death in the eye that they become nihilistic, hardened cynics where life itself has little meaning. It’s an ultra violent, excessively bloody but uncompromising work, a kind of pathetic existentialist reflection on the state of masculinity, as seen through the eyes of a gang of outlaws. Opening with a big dick joke, veering into “nigger” jokes, a work where women are discussed almost exclusively as sex objects, the film is an impressionistic portrait of criminal outsiders living in a heavily stylized, artificial world where male tastelessness abounds. While disguised within the context of male criminal mentality, much of these offensive views appear throughout the work of Tarantino, where for whatever reason, he’s deluded to think a white guy can tell “nigger stories” without evoking an offensive racial response. Tarantino goes further and uses the same obnoxious tastelessness with stories about Jews, Asians, blacks, and women, all meant for laughs, where in his mind cleverness rises above the derogatory nature of his commentary. Nonetheless, the offense is still there onscreen. It’s not much different than doing a scene in blackface, claiming it was meant for cultural sarcasm, which Spike Lee did in his own film BAMBOOZLED (2000), but even from a black director it’s still abhorrently tasteless. Some may think the laugh overrides the offense, which is easy to think, so long as the noxious joke is not on you. The director’s self-indulgent insistence, however, to inflict his own brand of adolescent callousness upon the public only undermines the overall significance of his work.
film challenges the pervasive view that there is a code of honor among thieves,
as personified by mythical outlaws like Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in
BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), who captured the nation’s attention during the Depression
by becoming identified with American folklore, or a bond of loyalty owed to
seemingly invincible outlaws like James Cagney’s iconic gangster Cody Jarrett
Heat (1949). Instead this film
suggests every man is not a superhero, but simply a man, where if pushed far
enough, they’re subject to a psychological meltdown. In the manner of John Huston’s ASPHALT JUNGLE
(1950), a film noir written by crime novelist W.R. Burnett, the story concerns
a group of men planning a jewel robbery, becoming a study in crime. While Huston’s film is hyper-realistic,
reflecting the mindset of a near perfect crime that quickly unravels at the
last moment leaving every man paying the ultimate price, Tarantino creates a
vacuous netherworld that takes place nearly entirely inside an empty
warehouse. More importantly, one of the
gang takes a bullet in the gut and can be seen slowly bleeding to death, laid out
alone on a ramp receiving no medical attention, a reflection of the fate that
awaits each and every one of them. This
fatalistic exercise goes through various stages, introducing in segments each
of the main characters, developing introductory insight into each man, bringing
a unique kind of insight into their master plan, where the audience only sees
the aftermath, where information spills out little by little. The characters themselves are memorable,
headed by Joe (
What’s unique about the film is how different each character is, though all are unlikable, where there’s no real emotional connection to any one of them, mostly seen only after the failed robbery is over, where the mystery is observing how they each react to the ultimate failure of their mission. Perhaps the most inventive aspect is Tarantino’s imaginative use of flashbacks, gaining insight into the principal characters, where especially intriguing is an extended men’s room joke that is completely made up, that is part of an original flashback scene with Tim Roth, but is then used again as a fictitious personal anecdote told as if it actually happened in another sequence. Tarantino brings a great deal of sympathy to each character, all brilliantly realized by the cast, but the film itself is a slow burn of increasing anxiety, where initially only three characters (one of them bleeding to death, Mr. Orange) make it to the warehouse, the supposed meeting place, though others eventually arrive, where both Mr. Pink and White are positive they were set up, that one of the insiders is a rat. Both are amazed at the crude, Neanderthal behavior of Mr. Blonde, who they claim is a psychopath that just went berserk during the heist, causing the whole thing to blow up in their faces, with some killed and others lucky to make it out alive. The audience gets to observe the personal workmanship of Mr. Blonde firsthand in the most horrifically gruesome sequence of the film, where he is seen sadistically enjoying the torture of a captured police officer, all set to the Bubblegum pop music of The Jeff Healey Band’s “Stuck in the Middle With You.” Certainly an essential difference between this film and Pulp Fiction is contrasted by the two torture scenes, one raw and graphically appalling, completely uncompromising, while the other is staged with a humorous turn of events, becoming part of the overall audience pleasing entertainment. References to both Lee Marvin and Pam Grier appear here, as they do in later Tarantino films, becoming part of the ingrained interior mindset of the film’s cultural landscape, perhaps a response to the threat of feminism, nearly banishing women from the screen, becoming instead a distorted exaggeration of masculinity, perhaps leading to the satiric nightmarish delusions of David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), where Tarantino builds a mythical male refiguration through sick humor, contemporary tastelessness, outright cynicism, and an utter disdain for the responsibilities of the modern world.
Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough film, is a
simple but effective tale of a heist gone wrong. A group of criminals carry out
robbery at a diamond warehouse but things don’t go as planned and they end up
on the run from the police after the alarm is set off.
Four of the original gang survive, and once they’re safely hidden away at their hideout, they start to wonder just how the cops knew what they knew and why things went wrong. This leads them to assume that they might just have a snitch among them. Giving away any more information about the plot would be spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, and would be redundant for those who have.
While the film pulls together a lot of different ideas and themes from a lot of different films, it’s most obvious influence is Ringo Lam’s Chow Yun Fat vehicle, ‘City on Fire’ from 1987. The influence of Lam’s film on Tarantino’s effort is undeniable and the similarities uncanny.
But influences and originality aside, Reservoir Dogs is a great movie pulled together by razor sharp dialogue and memorable characters. The performances in the film as well are all top notch, Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink, Harvey Keitel as Mr. White, Tim Roth as Mr. Orange, Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde and especially the late, great Lawrence Tierney as Joe Cabot, the ringleader of the group.
Highlighted by memorable scenes of intense violence and black humor, Reservoir Dogs remains one of the best crime movies of the 90s, if hardly the most original. But hey, if you're going to steal, steal from the best.
EyeForFilm.co.uk Gary Duncan
Quentin Tarantino wrote, directed and starred in this ultra-cool heist story that achieved instant cult status and spawned a million poor imitations. He plays Mr Brown, a two-bit con, hired by crime boss Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) to carry out a jewellery store robbery with five other usual suspects: Mr White (Harvey Keitel), Mr Orange (Tim Roth), Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr Blue (Eddie Bunker) and Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi).
They're a motley crew of small-time losers and it's no surprise
when things go wrong. White,
The heist-gone-wrong story is nothing new, but this is a heist movie with a difference. We don't see the robbery. We see the build up - Joe putting his team together, giving them their "cover" names - and we see the fallout, after it all goes wrong, but not the job itself. It's like a whodunnit without the murder, but who needs a heist when you've got a razor-sharp script and a red hot cast?
Madsen, in particular, stands out as the sadistic Mr Blonde, who has just served a four-year stretch for Joe and he didn't squeal. Joe rewards him with a place on the crew, but when the heist is ambushed, a trigger-happy Blonde loses it and starts shooting innocent bystanders. Pink gets his hands on the diamonds, but it's Blonde who really hits pay dirt when he snags himself a hostage. Not just any old hostage, however. A cop. So when Blonde takes him back to the warehouse, you suspect it's not to share a few beers and watch Kojak reruns till the wee hours.
Instead, he ties his victim to a chair and uses him as a punch bag. He makes a half-hearted attempt at pretending he's trying to punch some information out of the sap, but soon gives up all pretence and carries on hitting him just for the fun of it.
"I don't really give a good fuck what you know, or don't know," he says, matter of fact, "but I'm going to torture you, anyway."
What follows is "that" scene. If you've already seen it, you'll know what I mean. If not, suffice to say it involves Blonde's switchblade and the cop's ear. You can probably guess the rest.
Tarantino's talent for dialogue, however, is what catapults Dogs into instant-classic status. Dogs is a heist film without a heist and an action film without much action. Instead, Tarantino lets his characters talk. And, boy, do they talk - bullshitting, wisecracking, seeing how far they can push each other. Brown pontificates on the underlying meaning of Madonna's Like A Virgin. Pink explains at great length why he doesn't tip. They're regular guys, talking about regular-guy things. Only they're not regular guys, they're cold-blooded killers who shoot first and ask questions later.
Thanks to some inspired casting, this air of danger is never far away. Tarantino, despite his bravado, has probably never picked up anything more serious than a parking ticket, but real-life "dogs," Tierney and Bunker, both did time, with Bunker holding the dubious distinction of being the youngest ever inmate of San Quentin, before making it onto the FBI's Most Wanted list.
If Quentin Tarantino's gritty, bone-chilling, powerfully violent
new film, "Reservoir Dogs," doesn't pin your ears back, nothing ever
will. The movie, which zeros in on the anatomy of a diamond heist, and, beyond
that, the flimsy notion of honor among a temporarily assembled gang of
The temporary nature of the team is important. Joe (Lawrence Tierney), the sting's boss, has made a special point to hire each member of this urban wild bunch for a one-shot deal. One job, and they scatter to the winds, knowing each other only by their gang code names. This way, Joe figures, nobody can rat out nobody else.
His plan is supposed to encourage trust, but in fact it has the opposite effect. Nobody knows anybody, so nobody trusts anybody. That way, when the job goes sour -- as it does when the cops, as if on schedule, show up and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), who's fresh out of the slammer, starts blasting away -- any one of them could have turned Judas.
With the exception of a masterfully rambling opening gabfest, in which Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) expounds for the benefit of Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) and the others on his theory of why not to tip a waitress, the movie takes place in the panic that sets in after the heist goes belly up.
Mr. Orange, who's drenched in blood from a shot to the gut, and Mr. Pink set the paranoid mood of the film when they slink back to their meeting place and start speculating on what went wrong. Soon, Mr. White arrives and offers his ideas, while, as they jaw and recomb their hair, Mr. Orange lies bleeding to death on the floor.
This is part of the film's dark, deadpan sense of humor. Mr.
Orange never does make it up off that cold cement floor, but the debate over
who's the rat and what the hell they're going to do next never flags. Clearly,
they can't take
Tarantino, who's a product of the Sundance Institute's Director's Workshop, does a righteous job for a first-time director of sketching in the atmospherics of this small-time desperado universe. Like David Mamet, whose comic-book street-talk Tarantino's most resembles, he's got a keen sense of the rhythms of the lingo, the BS, role-playing and poker-faced bravado. One of the writer-director's main comparisons is the difference between a crime movie and real crime, and how the movie reality begins to take over. They're each actors, with stage names and everything, playing out their fantasy of what their favorite movie hero -- Dirty Harry, Jimmy Cagney, Lee Marvin -- might do under similar circumstances.
Naturally, what this guarantees is that a bunch of people die. And they don't die nice, either. Because everybody's so tough, nobody can afford to back down. (Would Cagney ever back down?) The one exception is Mr. Pink, who, as he demonstrated with his waitress spiel, is the ultimate realist, and who isn't the least bit muddled about whether he is or is not in a movie. Mr. Pink knows that if he dies, he dies for real, and he's doing his best to make sure that doesn't happen.
The others aren't so sure. Suddenly, everything is way out of control, words are exchanged, tempers flare, guns are pulled, and, as often happens with guns, they go off. It's nothing new, but because of the purity of Tarantino's stripped-down style and the director's desire to deglamorize his characters, we're able to see the genre from a fresher, harsher angle. (Peckinpah inspected this terrain in "The Killer Elite" -- and, for that matter, pretty much every film he ever made -- but Bloody Sam was a poet and a romantic and Tarantino isn't.)
Another aspect that distinguishes "Reservoir Dogs" is
its cast, which is like some kind of
Maybe Harvey Keitel's presence -- he's the best-known actor in the cast -- is a tip of the hat to directors Martin Scorsese and James Toback who, along with Peckinpah, are Tarantino's spiritual godfathers. Whatever the case, Keitel downs the role in a single gulp. And so do Roth and Penn and Tarantino himself (who plays Mr. Brown).
Beyond everything, though, "Reservoir Dogs" is a testosterone meltdown; in its energy and aggressiveness, it's 100 percent male. (There's not a single female speaking part.) Still, I have to admit that I loved it. I do have one question, though: Is this what the men's movement was all about?
Dogs in Hell: No Exit Revisited | Senses of Cinema Thomas Beltzer from Senses of Cinema, May 2000
Bright Lights Film Journal [Dror Poleg] Miles Mowbray, August 2004
eFilmCritic Reviews Rob Gonsalves
reservoir dogs - review at videovista.net Christopher Geary
Dogs - Culture Court
Movie Reviews UK Damian Cannon
Reservoir Dogs - Home Theater Info Doug McLaren
DVD Verdict Norman Short
DVD Verdict - 10th Anniversary Special Edition Kevin Lee, 2-discs
DVD Journal Gregory P. Dorr, 10th Anniversary Edition, 2-discs
DVDAnswers.com - region 1 review Chris Gould, 10th Anniversary Edition, 2-discs
DVD Movie Guide (10th Anniversary Special Edition) Colin Jacobson, 2-discs
RESERVOIR DOGS - DVD review | Movie Metropolis Dean Winkelspecht, 10th Anniversary Edition, 2-discs
Reservoir Dogs: SE : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video D.K. Holm, 10th Anniversary Edition, 2-discs
Reservoir Dogs (15th Anniversary Edition) - digitallyOBSESSED! Jon Danziger, 2-discs
RESERVOIR DOGS - Blu-ray review | Movie Metropolis Dean Winkelspecht
Movie House Commentary Johnny Web
BBCi - Films Almar Haflidason
Reservoir-Dogs - Movies - The New York Times Vincent Canby
PULP FICTION B+ 92
PULP FICTION remains Tarantino’s best film, immensely
popular, currently listed #5 on Highest
Rated IMDb viewer rankings and
the place to start in evaluating his work, awarded the Palme D’Or at Cannes in
1994, over films like Kiarostami’s final installment of his Earthquake Trilogy,
THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES, Kielsowski’s THREE COLORS: RED, Atom Egoyan’s EXOTICA, or Zhang Yimou’s
TO LIVE, with Clint Eastwood as the Cannes Jury President, and went on to win
the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, losing Best Picture to FORREST
GUMP (1994) - - talk about irony. While
not sharing all the platitudes for Tarantino, finding him something of an
adolescent schlockmeister who’s often more interested in provoking controversy
and drawing attention to himself, since he remains attracted to super heroes
thrust into lurid melodramas not far removed from a fantasy, comic book
universe, creating endless dialogue about nothing in particular that some go
gaga about, but really, they seem more like undeveloped sketches, especially
since he tends to interrupt them midstream, jump into another lengthy dialogue
sequence before resuming the story later.
That he occasionally dips into realism is no substitute, however, for
the real thing, as he can’t stop himself from indulging in Hollywood kitsch
pieces, losing himself in his own childlike wonder and expanding his sequences
as violently or as grotesquely as he pleases, though in this film most of the
violence is offscreen. It’s unclear how
serious he takes his responsibilities, as down deep, he’s just a boy that wants
to have fun at the movies, constantly using movie references throughout his
works as a way of communicating with his audience. Seen as a whole, his films are not life
altering, do not make you see the world any differently, and are for the most
part a superficial alteration of reality.
Despite supposed subversive evidence to the contrary, Tarantino is not
John Waters and instead adheres to the Harvey Weinstein method of making
Especially early in his career when he made relatively low budget movies, he both revived actors stalled careers and discovered fresh faces, while also becoming enamored with the idea of putting himself in his own movies. While he’s hardly a groundbreaker, especially since he relishes a sense of honoring and reviving the past, he’s developed a near cult following that would beg to differ, including director Peter Bogdanovich who has called him “the single most influential director of his generation.” Between his quirky dialogue and his brilliant use of period music, he has articulated the art of cool on the set, where his energized and often youth oriented filmmaking is always distinguished by the creation of uniquely inventive sequences that many would claim are among the best they’ve seen. Tarantino has also maintained an avid interest in hard-boiled pulp novels, like Jim Thompson and W. R. Burnett in particular, but also classic film noir, where it’s impossible not to see evidence of Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) in the contents inside the briefcase Samuel L. Jackson carries around the whole movie, or traces of 40’s and 50’s hit men, but instead of faceless creatures hiding in the shadows barely uttering a word, he brings them front and center as his leading star characters. As the title suggests, this film is filled with chapter sequences, told out of time, but all somehow pulled together by the end with the use of recurring characters.
Tarantino pulled John Travolta out of mothballs and teamed him up with a relatively unknown at the time Samuel L. Jackson as a couple of low level hit men who are occasionally hired to do some dirty work. Their appeal lies in their hilarious comic repartee, an explicative-laced, running dialogue between the two continually engaged in random conversation filled with pop culture references, blending comedy with violence, where they rarely shut up and instead talk their way through every situation. Basically, these are a couple of smart asses with hair-trigger tempers carrying loaded guns and a penchant for using them. Jackson comes off as the smarter of the two, a guy who carries around a wallet with “Bad Mother Fucker” inscribed, but the more reckless Travolta has a special charm about him that is perfectly exposed in a series of lowbrow questions asked by Uma Thurman, the boss’s wife, who is sizing him up before they go out on the town together Son of a Preacher Man from Pulp Fiction YouTube (2:01), as ordered by his drug dealing gangland boss, Ving Rhames, an enormous guy with a violent reputation who is challenging Travolta’s loyalty by dangling his attractive wife at him. Their scenes together may be the most memorable, especially when Uma urges him to help win a twist dance contest and Travolta happily obliges Twist Contest Dance Scene (Pulp Fiction) - YouTube (3:19). But Uma Thurman is the film noir, dark-edged, femme fatale who does not appear out of place anywhere in Tarantino films, as she perfectly fits his fantasy profile, laying the groundwork for her tough-as-nails character in the upcoming KILL BILL Pt’s I and II (2003 – 04).
are introduced, disappear, or are killed off and later return as the film's
narrative structure jumps back and forth throughout, where there’s an extended
sequence with Bruce Willis that doesn’t quite work because he plays the exact
same one-note macho character that we see in all his other Hollywood films,
playing a boxer ordered to take a dive by the same gangland boss, Ving Rhames,
but instead skips town after literally killing his surprised opponent in the
ring. Out of sheer bad fortune, he meets
his boss, the one guy he’s running away from, by accident on a city street, and
the scene descends into a completely different moral plane, where after a mano
a mano confrontation we enter a world of utter depravity, where Redneck
underground sadists sodomize and torture their victims before killing
them. This entire torture porn sequence
grows endlessly more gruesome and revoltingly hideous, but suggests there are
layers of morality even among thieves. At least when Travolta and Jackson return again, opening and closing
the film, they retain their unpredictable gift for gab, where their time
onscreen immediately uplifts the material, unexpectedly ending up in the home
of Tarantino himself who uses some questionable “nigger” humor. Samuel L.
While he may have intended to
extend black culture into a white world or character, Mark Twain already did
that in Huckleberry
Finn, circa 1884, and more than 100
years later it remains a controversial decision, but artistically it’s
considered the accepted language of the historical era. Not so here, where Tarantino is unfortunately
suggesting that in the 1990’s in
Forget Oscar®-nominees Travolta and Thurman. And forget the
rancorous claims that Tarantino stole his best ideas from the last
quarter-century of action moviemaking in
[Note to anyone who's never seen a
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
A sprawling, discursive fresco: three stories bookended by a prologue and epilogue. In the first story, a mobster (Travolta) is charged with looking after the irresponsible wife (Thurman) of his vengeful boss. In the second, a washed-up boxer (Willis) tries to trick the Mob by failing to throw a fight. And in the third, two hitmen (Travolta and Jackson) carry out a job, only to call on the services of a 'cleaner' (Keitel) when it gets messier than planned. It's the way Tarantino embellishes and, finally, interlinks these old chestnuts that makes the film alternately exhilarating and frustrating. There's plenty of sharp, sassy, profane dialogue, and there are plenty of acute, funny references to pop culture, though the talk sometimes delays the action, and the references sometimes seem self-consciously arch. And there are, too, the sudden lurches between humour and violence - shocking, but without moral depth. What writer/director Tarantino lacks, as yet, is the maturity to invest his work with anything that might provoke a heartfelt emotional response to his characters. Very entertaining, none the less.
Slant Magazine review Ed Gonzalez
Quentin Tarantino's second feature, Pulp Fiction, is at once ridiculously entertaining and remarkably weightless. Its quintessential scene takes place outside the Jack Rabbit Slim's restaurant when Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) tells Vincent Vega (John Travolta) not to be a "square." Forget the irony (after a 10-year acting rut that included three Look Who's Talking films, Pulp Fiction's success made Travolta reputable again), Mia's line could be the film's mantra. Tarantino giddily incorporates countless texts (Kiss Me Deadly, Saturday Night Fever, and so on) into this farcical noir Frankenstein that, not unlike Shelly's legendary monster, eventually turns on itself. More important than the film's elegant structure is what the creation represents: Jonathan Rosenbaum summed Pulp Fiction up quite nicely as "a couch potato's paradise"; no one here can access reality unless they are summoning the many ghosts of noir's past. (Tarantino's most fascinating creation, Samuel L. Jackson's Jules Winnfield is more than a repository of disposable trivia and smart-alecky responses, embodying the film's surface concern with righteousness and redemption.) Godard and countless others did this kind of thing way before Tarantino, but Pulp Fiction had such a profound effect on older Gen Xers because it spoke to a newer generation's shared consciousness, which includes an infatuation with movies and, apparently, a fear of penetration. (What is the film's infamous rape sequence but a projection of Tarantino and his heterosexual, largely white male fanbase's deepest fears and prejudices?) When the Wolf (Harvey Keitel) makes Vincent and Jules change clothes, Jimmie (Tarantino) calls them dorks for wearing lame sports T-shirts. By pointing out the articles belong to Jimmie, Tarantino acknowledges his own dorkdom. In turn, it makes him "cool" (not enough though to permit his liberal use of the word "nigger") and a hero to his media-savvy generation. In the end, it's not that Tarantino has no life, it's that his life is the movies. Much like his characters, the director can only live by engaging cinema.
In the minds of most people, Pulp Fiction is a collection of recycled movie scenes, punctuated by extreme violence, 70's music, and pop culture references. That's supposedly all it takes to make a Quentin Tarantino movie. Yet, how many movies have there been since which have copied this "formula" that are as fresh, energetic, alive and exciting? None. Pulp Fiction remains the best movie of the 90's.
First, to address the detractors. Yes, Pulp Fiction is an
extraordinary catalog of movie references. The glowing suitcase is a reference
to Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly. Harvey Keitel's "cleaner"
character is a reference to Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita and its
American remake, Point of No Return. Uma Thurman's haircut is a
reference to silent actress Louise Brooks. The hypodermic scene (with Eric
Stoltz and Rosanna Arquette) was lifted from Martin Scorsese's American Boy.
The Ricky Nelson singer in the diner is a reference to Tarantino's favorite
movie, Howard Hawks'
As for the violence, most of it, in fact, takes place off-screen. Tarantino expertly toys with us in a way that only Hitchcock did before him--letting the scene play drag on, slowly, making us believe that we have experienced more violence than we actually have. Vincent Vega (John Travolta) shooting Marvin's head off in the back of the car is played out to the point of gruesome comedy, but very little is actually shown. Likewise Butch's (Bruce Willis) run-in with the sodomizing rednecks. There is more violence in any summer explosion blockbuster you could name. It's just that you're pummeled with it instead of being tingled, and your senses are less aware of it.
As for the pop culture references, some of it is relevant; Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent discuss hamburgers just before going into the hotel room in which the three clean-cut youths are eating hamburgers (at ), which lends a strange mystical property to the scene. Likewise, the "foot massage" talk is meant to emotionally heighten the power of Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) without actually showing any violence. Some of the talk is designed to throw you; the character of Tony "Rocky Horror" is brought up several times, and he becomes a character to us, even though he is never shown on screen. Butch and Esmerelda Villalobos talk about death during their cab ride. Isn't Butch about to face certain death several times? Butch and his girlfriend (Maria De Medeiros) talk about various things; potbellies, Spanish, etc. All of it is designed to relax you more and more until the point when Butch realizes his watch is missing. It would be one thing to keep us in suspense during this whole time, but it takes a great artist to make us relax totally before building us back up again. The dialogue itself is brilliant stuff. It's not that it sounds like the way people actually talk, but it has a movie-rhythm that just sounds good. It may be Tarantino's greatest gift.
The actors love it, too. Every actor in Pulp Fiction gives
a career-topping performance in every role (has Bruce Willis ever been better?
Uma Thurman?). Travolta especially shines, back in top form after years of bad
movies. His smooth, underconfident junkie Vincent Vega is our link to all three
stories. He "plays" a different character depending on who he's on
screen with. He talks jivey when on screen with Jules, cool when with Mia
Wallace, and tough in his brief scene with Butch. He doesn't have the
confidence to be himself at any time. It's a great performance. When Vincent
and Jules begin the movie by hassling the three young cons, they "get into
character" before entering the room.
The main thing about Pulp Fiction that people miss is its theme of redemption. Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plumme) are redeemed because they call off their restaurant holdup. Jules is redeemed after he believes he has seen the miracle of the bullets missing him. Vincent witnesses the same "miracle", refuses to believe it, and is dead the next day (in Butch's apartment). Butch is redeemed by going back to help Marcellus against the greater evil (of the rednecks). Marcellus lives because he sends Jules and Vincent after his "soul" (the contents of the briefcase). He is redeemed when he decides he needs his soul back. It is also a movie about pairs. Every scene is about the give-and-take of two people. There is also a running theme of men losing power to women. Jules mentions that he's a vegetarian because his girlfriend is. Jimmy (Tarantino) is afraid of what his wife will do if she catches him helping criminals in their house. Even when Butch goes back alone for his watch, he is "with" his father.
Yet another trick is that the movie contains no musical score, only carefully selected pop songs. A good deal of the songs are instrumentals and work very well to convey mood. And the songs are all over the map--funk music and surf music are fully integrated. We even have white soul (Dusty Springfield) and black surf (Chuck Berry). So many filmmakers need to learn the value of a quiet scene rather than drenching them in drippy music.
Pulp Fiction is a movie about the in-between spaces that
I could go on and on. Pulp Fiction has endless puzzles and pleasures that are still to be discovered. It's a movie that says more about the nature of film and the thrill of making movies than any other film in the 90's. It's a movie that is truly alive, made with spirit and energy; intelligence, and gamesmanship. I don't expect any movie in the remaining months of the millennium to top it.
Bright Lights Film Journal review The Unbearable Lightness of Being Cool, by Dror Poleg, August 2004
Boston Review (Alan A. Stone) review Boston Review, April/May 1995
The New Republic (Stanley Kauffmann) review Shooting Up,
of the antihero: Is Tarantino's 'Pulp Fiction' at root of paradigm ... Jonathan Comey from
Movieline Magazine dvd review Christopher Geitz
Movieline Magazine review Stephen Farber
DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review Movie-only review
Movie Reviews UK review [5/5] Damian Cannon
DVD Times Richard Booth, Collector’s Edition, 2-discs
DVD MovieGuide dvd review [Collector's Edition] Colin Jacobson, 2-discs
AboutFilm.com (Jeff Vorndam) review [A+] #6 Film of the 1990’s
Urban Cinefile dvd review [10th Anniversary Edition] Craig Miller
Ruthless Reviews review Erich Schulte
(David Ansen) review Trolling
for Talent at Sundance,
Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
USA (154 mi) 1997
Pam Grier On Jackie Brown, In Her Own Words Interview excerpts from Empire magazine, October 2011
KILL BILL, VOL.1 B 86
Listening to Nancy Sinatra's hauntingly slow and eerily quiet rendition of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" in the opening moments was the high point of the film for me, for as a prelude, it exquisitely foreshadows an ominous nature of what we are about to see. The Sonny Chiba segment, particularly the room of swords, was a nice balance, humorous, but also a sacred and hallowed moment, an interlude between warrior sequences. The introduction of Lucy Liu has a nice touch, Tarantino taking a stab at his own anime, again, a nice balance to the meeting of the yakuzas where Lucy masterfully struts her stuff. However, I found the build up before the fights much better than the actual fight sequences themselves, which are prolonged and predictable, and after awhile you end up wondering, what's the point? The strength of this film is the obvious joy that the filmmaker has in making it, his back and forth narrative jumps, and his inventive use of music. But it seems pretty obvious to me that a film where the lead character has a hit list with 5 intended victims, and the film is over after only 2 are finished off, is not a finished work. Meiko Kaji, the original star of the 1973 film LADY SNOWBLOOD, sings that film's theme song at the end of the snow garden sequence of Vol. 1: "As I walk by myself on this road to revenge, I have given up my womanhood many moons ago to have my opponents drown in lakes of blood."
Film Reviews | Kill Bill Vol. 1 Henry Sheehan
Lotus: Redemption and Spiritual Transformation in Kill Bill Michael K. Crowley from 24LiesASecond,
Mindful violence: the visibility of power and inner life in Kill Bill Aaron Anderson from Jump Cut, Winter 2005
Quentin Tarantino and Kill Bill Mark Harris from Patrick Murtha’s Diary
KILL BILL, Vol. 2 B 84
Film Reviews | Kill Bill Vol. 2 Henry Sheehan
GRINDHOUSE B 89
I’ve never been a particularly avid fan of Tarantino’s brand of death and mayhem, but acknowledge the exhilaration that exists in his work, even as it ventures into retreaded territory with a fun-filled adolescent male-indulgent fervor, creating fearless comic book-style, ultra-sexed Amazon women for every young male’s viewing pleasure, along with other titillating action sequences that pay homage to films of yesteryear, upping the ante by creating even greater cinematic spectacle than anything produced from that era, which, by the way, was oftentimes laced with political satire barely touched upon here. Something of a double-feature laugh riot, as you really get two 90 minute films, starting with a few fictitious eye-opening trailers from other directors, with everything strung together by many of the early film introductory filler materials that used to grace the movie screens thirty or so years ago. Intentionally scratching the film stock to make it look old, there’s a kind of quaint familiarity with the nostalgic feeling these directors were working with, the disastrous toxic spill B-movie world leading to a military cover up as the nation is invaded by an increasingly rabid form of flesh-eating zombies who would just as soon rip your arms and head off style that Rodriguez created, using hilariously conceived characters to heighten the interest, or Tarantino’s world of bad-assed women in the / mold, such as FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! where the testosterone-laced girl power reaches new heights, as we listen in on their intimate thoughts on sex and sleaze while adding to the mix the thrill of some terrific car chase scenes, including a great performance turned in by a demented stunt man, Kurt Russell. Interestingly, both directors filmed their own movies, Tarantino is prominately featured as a lousy actor in both segments, while Rodriguez, a la John Carpenter, wrote the music for his film as well, which for the most part is laced in heavy funk. While some may not take to the Rodriguez/Tarantino split, preferring one to the other, believing it is too long to sustain the audience’s interest, my view was that the unique, off-kilter mood was set from the outset with exaggerated, over-the-top trailers that led to a brilliant opening credit sequence in PLANET TERROR, featuring the strip club dance of lead actress Rose McGowen, who in a role reminiscent of Uma Thurman in KILL BILL is nothing less than phenomenal in the film.
Rose McGowen is unforgettable, both in her lurid, exaggerated, cleavage-revealing presence, and in the ballsy manner that she carries out her role as woman/earth mother. Freddy Rodriguez as the notorious El Wray is like a leftover from the Sergio Leone films, a man on a bike with gun prowess second to none (“I never miss.”) who must blow away about a hundred zombies in the film, while his broken-hearted, always downbeat love interest McGowen resembles sultry Mexical soap opera stars. There’s always an eerie presence at a Texas Barbeque House which stands alone in the middle of nowhere, along with a zombie infected military squad led by Bruce Willis, and a deranged husband and wife doctor team working at a grotesque hospital nearby that keeps collecting patients infected by zombies, but disregards the implications until pandemonium breaks out. Some of the most beautiful use of the word “Fuck” is featured in this film along with Michael Parks, from THEN CAME BRONSON, who makes a double bill appearance. Eventually Freddy and Rose, who loses one leg just below the knee but absurdly implants a hyper active machine gun, take over and bust their way to freedom, saving the world in the process, or do they? The film is filled with one bad joke after another, exaggerated caricatures, vulgarities of all kinds, ever more gross and horrid depictions of the effects of zombie infestation, including blood splurting decapitations and the chilling effects of Texas-style gun mania mixed with poor parenting skills. But we somehow overlook the violent reality of the bloody mayhem depicted and revel instead in the looney tunes mix of Southern regional cornball comedy, zombies, and free-wheeling action sequences, all of which are so over the top that its subversive intent is expertly submerged in the atmospheric melee.
Russell is equally spectacular in Tarantino’s feature, starring as Stunt Man
Mike, a famed stunt double with a giant scar running down the length of his
face who worked in legendary TV westerns and other shows that no one from the
current generation has ever heard of, but drives a death proof car specifically
designed to protect the life of the driver even under the most disastrous
circumstances. He has a run in with two
sets of gorgeous hot babes stemming from some
kind of mysterious never-explained secret vendetta, with a decidedly
different outcome in each, the first featuring Sidney Poitier’s daughter,
Sydney Tamiia Poitier as Jungle Julia, a local DJ, who is celebrating a visit
from her out of town friend, Butterfly, Vanessa Ferlito, two vivacious women
who get down and dirty stoned happy with a few friends at a local dive along with
what appears to be the world’s greatest jukebox before tangling later on the
road with Stunt Man Mike and his infamous deathmobile. Interspered in both films is the famous still
“Reel Missing,” amusingly jumping ahead in the action whenever anything
approaches X-Rated material. In another
group of women on overdrive which includes Rosario Dawson, the group seemingly
stalked by Stunt Man Mike, he decides to mess with what turns out to be a
couple of famed stunt women, Tracie Thoms, the loose-lipped, wisecracking driver,
and also pays what amounts to a loving tribute to Zoe Bell, who performs some
aerodynamic feats on the hood of a car along with some complementary work with
a lead pipe during an infamous car chase scene with Stunt Man Mike, a guy who
eventually gets his comeuppance, whittled down to size in an emotionally exposed
moment for the suddenly vulnerable ruthless killer Russell who hilariously milks
it for all it’s worth in one of the stand out moments of the year before the
inflicted punishment resumes, in what is basically a hyper-kinetic reenactment
of the exploits of a 1970 Dodge Charger from Vanishing Point (1971). The film
leaves plenty of space for the obligatory Director’s Cut soon to appear at
the worst movies by the best directors Anthony Burch from Filmwad
First things first: if you’re one of those people who’s going to defend Death Proof by saying “you just didn’t get it, you’re a mongoloid who needs to be entertained by explosions every three seconds, you can’t appreciate simple dialogue,” then shut up. I love Tarantino dialogue, I don’t mind slow films, and I’m okay with plots that go nowhere (I own and enjoy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, for Christ’s sake).
The real problem with Death Proof is that it has its priorities seriously confused. For a grindhouse-style film, it’s remarkably modern: while I’m not the connoisseur of sleaze cinema that Tarantino fancies himself, I do know that grindhouse films never spent the majority of their running time filled with pointless, superficial dialogue that served only to stroke the director’s ego. If there’s one thing a grindhouse film should never, ever do, it’s bore the audience. And Death Proof does exactly that.
And yeah, I get what the point of the dialogue was. By hearing the girls talk about regular, everyday bullshit, we’ll connect with them emotionally and it’ll be a much bigger deal when Stuntman Mike wrecks their shit. Just one problem, though: the girls have almost totally interchangeable personalities, and are more or less impossible to care for. Yeah, Zoe Bell and the Angry Black Chick stand out from the other characters, but they only stand out in that they’re really fucking annoying. Could Zoe possibly squint more in order to accentuate her bad girl dialogue, or could Angry Black Chick be any more stereotypically Angry or Black?
Not to mention that the single coolest and most interesting character in the entire film, Stuntman Mike, is only in about a fourth of the entire movie. Stuntman Mike is so cool that it’s really hard not to root for him, thus making all the bullshit dialogue with the women totally pointless. Mike’s too awesome: just let him kill these bitches and we’ll be on our way.
While the car scenes are probably the best ever put on film, you have to wonder: why on Earth didn’t Angry Black Chick just slow down when Stuntman Mike started chasing them? Or at the moment when the car actually comes to an almost-complete stop, why the hell didn’t Zoe just get off the hood and run into the car? I’m willing to suspend my disbelief pretty far in a movie called Grindhouse, but not enough to believe that an assumedly intelligent woman didn’t have the common sense to get off the hood of a friggin’ moving car when she had the chance.
I wish I could have enjoyed Death Proof more than I did, but considering it was preceded by the hilariously action-packed Planet Terror, there was no way for Death Proof to seem anything other than ploddingly slow and, overall, disappointing. The films could have probably been switched in order and Grindhouse would have worked better as a whole – not to mention that chronologically, the events of Death Proof take place before Planet Terror.
PS: Mary Elizabeth Winstead was the single hottest girl in either movie, and she did absolutely nothing. Unfortunate.
Take a trip downtown or out along the nearest two-lane highway in the '60s, '70s, or early '80s, and you wouldn't have to wander far to find a crumbling movie palace or drive-in playing lurid B-movies, rushed productions shot on tiny budgets and with little to no studio oversight. They promised, and delivered, an abundance of sex and violence, but some of them kept on delivering beyond that: The best ones preserved a given moment's hang-ups, turn-ons, anxieties, and hopes in the form of lurid, blood-and-skin-filled melodramas. To see what was on the mind of an America still coming to terms with women's lib, for instance, check out Caged Heat. And you can hear the echoes of Black Power more clearly in Truck Turner than in the mainstream political talk of the day.
Born in 1963 and 1968, respectively, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were just old enough to catch the tail end of the grindhouse era, and the right age to catch what they missed in the VHS era. Grindhouse is their attempt to pay tribute to their B-movie influences by re-creating a double feature. Rodriguez takes the first shift with Planet Terror, a zombie movie in which a small Texas town becomes the site of a military experiment gone awry, and maybe ground zero for the apocalypse. Tarantino follows him with Death Proof, a slasher/gearhead movie starring Kurt Russell as a stuntman with a uniquely outfitted car. And don't be slow coming back from the intermission, or you'll miss trailers by Rob Zombie, Shaun Of The Dead's Edgar Wright, and Hostel director Eli Roth.
Of the two films, Rodriguez's entry could more easily pass as the genuine article. The vehicles and cell phones all say 2007, but every other aspect suggests what might have happened if John Carpenter had worked for Cannon Films in 1981. Rose McGowan stars as a heartbroken go-go dancer unwittingly at the heart of a zombie invasion that leaves her transformed in ways beyond that machine gun-leg she sports on the film's poster. It's an unrelenting, blood-drenched action film that with a single scene illustrates how test-marketing and bigger budgets removed the danger of today's action films: Here, a cute kid left alone with a gun might just blow his face off.
While Tarantino's Death Proof is just as steeped in homage, there's no mistaking it for anyone else's work, from the moment the "A Film By" credit appears, superimposed over a woman's shapely feet. Initially set in Austin, Texas, it begins as a pop-culture-obsessed talkfest of the kind that made Tarantino's name. Even when nothing much is happening, it's a pleasure to watch the leads' boozy interaction as Tarantino's camera fetishizes an old jukebox stocked with 45s bearing classic labels like Dial and Scepter. Then the film starts changing shape in ways that would be unfair to reveal, but that should leave most viewers unable to believe their eyes by the film's end.
Grindhouse is a generous package of movie love, from the "missing reels" to the scratched film surfaces, and the highlights are so unforgettable that it's easy to overlook the shortcomings. Exhaustion comes programmed into the three-plus hours, and so does some tedium. Rodriguez's entry is such a canny simulation that, like so many B-movies, it occasionally plays like something better reduced to a trailer. Losing some of the easy interaction that usually characterizes his work, Tarantino's characters speak his unmistakable dialogue with a practiced awkwardness that makes sense in this context, but can still be kind of frustrating to watch.
Nonetheless, the film has a Russian-nesting-doll quality: Unpacking it steadily reveals more, both in the ways the two halves tie together, and in the substance beyond the scratchy surfaces. Rodriguez's film offers some too-faint whiffs of timeliness with its Iraq references, and both directors turn the grindhouse's traditional victimization of women on its head, with Tarantino going so far as to risk making several decades of macho iconography look ridiculous from now on. Like the best of its forebears, Grindhouse contains thrills to keep viewers in their seats, plus moments to think about on the ride home, which will probably seem unusually fraught with peril.
After explaining to
radio hosts who claimed to be big fans of Tarantino that the Grindhouse
experience recreated by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin for this double feature
experiment was not at all like the Ed Wood films of the ‘60s, it dawned on me
that I was going to still have to offer a little explanation as to what this
geeked-out horror fest was rooted in. Grindhouses were theaters in the ‘60s and
‘70s famous for playing double features of B-movies known for their
exploitation of extreme violence, sex and taboo subject matter. Since many of
them also offered burlesque shows as additional entertainment, the “grind” in
the terminology was born. While many theaters and conventions such as
Things kick off in true grindhouse fashion with Rose McGowan go-go dancing her way over the opening credits to
Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. She plays Cherry, a dancer prone to ending her routines
with tears rather than fully exposed flesh. (After From Dusk ‘Til Dawn and
Sin City, Rodriguez is officially the king of creating strip clubs where
nothing gets stripped.) In a chance encounters she comes across her ex-lover,
“El” Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, kicking a whole lot of ass in this part), a
mysterious drifter whose nickname gives him the respect he normally wouldn’t
receive from the local sheriff (Michael Biehn). This isn’t a story about lost love though.
There are ZOMBIES on the loose!
A toxic gas from the nearby military base is infecting the town of
Rodriguez has always been a filmmaker less concerned with expensive budgets and more with how much he can get out of the new toys he has to play with – and that makes this goofily entertaining piece a perfect fit. As he works in a new idea or gross-out gag in seemingly every scene, Rodriguez also plays with the grindhouse aesthetic to a literal extreme. There are lottery tickets with less scratches then on the print of Planet Terror and he’s made good on his promise to add large, gaping splices during moments the MPAA poo-poo’ed as too much to stomach. Zombies explode, abcesses are popped and gun safety advocates have a new PSA that could start running immediately. It’s all part of the frenetically funny opener that’s a perfect warm-up for Tarantino’s unpredictable contribution to the dance card.
But first, the intermission. Not an actual one mind you as there’s still plenty to see, but if the urge for a bladder break hits you, use the two minutes during Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the S.S. trailer. Aside from the hilarious cameo at the end, here is further proof that Zombie can’t even make a worthwhile film using nothing but money shots and exaggeration. It’s a wasted idea that’s just a fantasy excuse to put his wife (Sheri Moon Zombie) in a Nazi costume instead of utilizing Sybil Danning’s Howling II connection. On the other hand, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is his best work to date. As a filmmaker whose horror/comedy aspirations (Cabin Fever & Hostel) translate uneasily to feature-length narratives, Roth beheads enough people in less than three minutes to push the Legend of Sleepy Hollow to a page 12 footnote and the result is a lot of fun. Robert Rodriguez’s Machete precedes his own feature as the kick-off, but it’s Edgar Wright’s Don’t that wins the grand prize for perfecting the mock-up of the classic British horror films warning and (at the same time) daring its audience to attend it’s macabre promise of doom. Wright has already blown the lids off the zombie flick (Shaun of the Dead) and the cop genre (the impending brilliance of Hot Fuzz) and if Grindhouse 2 is eventually greenlit, here’s hoping that Wright is the first one chosen to follow in these film geek footsteps.
Big shoes to fill coming from the feet of Tarantino whose second feature of the evening, Death Proof, is going to be remembered on a lot of Nick Hornby-esque lists for years to come. Number one with a bullet is the amount of gabby setups for the big punchline to the guts, but we’re nitpicking ahead of ourselves. When three girls (Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Poitier, Jordan Ladd) make their way to a local
Mike loves getting more bang for his buck and tracks down another foursome on break from shooting a
At an equal 85 minutes to Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, Tarantino’s Death Proof takes its sweet ol’ time getting to its two sequences of Mike’s autoerotic destruction. No less than an hour of it is dedicated to the slow build (and, at least, half of that is Mike-free.) It’s part Tarantino’s gift for nonsensical gab and part frustration in wanting Mike and his car to have more than just a supporting role. You can guarantee some restlessness in the audience since the first payoff could easily have come 10-15 minutes earlier (beginning by chopping out Eli Roth and the other men, including Tarantino, from the bar scene) and we’re already into the third hour of the experience. But all is forgiven when Quentin gets his big shot to make cinema history.
The first of his car crashes is an exercise in shocking the audience piece-by-limb over and over again, but itself is merely a trailer of things to come as the final 20 minutes make up one of the most impressively staged and performed car chases you’ve ever seen. And I use the word “performed” in order to give due credit to stuntwoman Zoe Bell making her acting debut. Bell, who was Uma Thurman’s double in Kill Bill (and was one-half the subject of a marvelously entertaining documentary about stuntwomen called Double Dare), is completely charming in the role but its what she does on the hood of a Dodge Challenger that will be remembered long after you’ve left the theater.
This is where Tarantino’s build-up pays off in spades. It’s more than just caring for these women during the terror they are put through, but also to establish them as tough enough to take a few sideswipes and then look for payback. Rent-haters may enjoy Stuntman Mike bumpin’-n’-grindin’ a quarter of the film’s cast around a bit, but Tracie Thoms isn’t bursting into song to deal with it. Her performance as a tough-as-balls (but 100% feminine) stunt chick will elicit more applause and appreciation than a hundred female-empowerment action flicks (another list that Death Proof belongs high up on.) But if Kurt Russell, one of the most underappreciated actors we’ve ever had, doesn’t get his just due as Stuntman Mike then people aren’t paying attention to how truly brilliant his work is. Imagine his best roles with John Carpenter (and notice the shirt hanging in that
Rodriguez’s film certainly moves at breakneck speed compared to the majority of Tarantino’s, which may lead some to thoughts I originally had in that the order of the films be switched. By the end I would disagree and not just because Tarantino’s final moment is more satisfying or the backwards order allows for Quentin’s time-shift continuum. With all the inventiveness Rodriguez has brought to the screen with digital filmmaking, there’s an interesting progression considering his segment is purposefully more retro and Tarantino’s has the classical look of old-fashioned cinema while far more skillful than the works they are both homaging. If there’s a battle for cinema’s soul, Tarantino wins it hands down despite both of them pussying out on the sex element and turning it into a running joke that will get a huge groan the second time around. Rob Zombie and lack of nudity aside, Grindhouse is a theatrical experience that I’d love to see more of provided it doesn’t turn into a second-rate Masters of Horror (which would still be a step-up.) But for now, bargains don’t get much better than this.
I've got a theory about Grindhouse, and it goes like this: At some point during the brainstorming/beer-bonging process by which Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino developed their multimillion-dollar ersatz-exploitation double feature, the boys finished off the super nachos, sparked up a spliff, and said "Dude, let's just motherfucking bring it." From whence proceeded a checklist of must-haves: zombie hordes and one-legged go-go dancers, hot rods and hot pants, evil doctors and exploding pustules, trash-talking identical-twin babysitters, castration, decapitation, dismemberment, diminutive Mexican badasses, customized motorcycles, Kurt Russell, Osama bin Laden, Fu Manchu, tasty sausage, jive-ass stuntwomen, outrageous car wrecks, buckets of blood, geysers of gore, mountains of weaponry, explosions bigger than God (Tarantino: "How big?" Rodriguez: "Retarded big")—and of course titties, lots and lots of titties.
From first rude frame to lascivious last, Grindhouse guns
to be the last word in fanboy fetishism. Not only does it monkey around with
degenerate genres (splatter films, bad-girl flicks, John Carpenter cheapies,
car-chase extravaganzas), it apes the condition of crummy old prints. Convulsed
in phony glitches—scratches, scuffs, projector hiccups, soured film stock,
missing reels—it's a digitally enhanced homage to analogue grime that unspools
like a Guy Maddin spectacular supercharged to the Weinstein account. There may
not be any house left to grind in
The house that Rodriguez and Tarantino built is constructed on two levels. In Planet Terror, a deliciously repellent zombie apocalypse (of love), Rodriguez busts his nut in every direction, showering the screen with icky globs of glorious nonsense. The convenient thing about riffing on grindhouse is that it gives you a license to thrill at will; casual plotting, randomly generated protagonists, spectacle for its own sake, and questionable ethics come with the territory. That plays well to Rodriguez's strengths (sight gags, Grand Guignol) and weaknesses (patience, coherence) as he mounts a hilariously haphazard scenario pitting a clutch of the non-infected (Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton, Michael Biehn) against the peckish undead (makeup effects by Greg Nicotero).
Where Rodriguez does grindhouse more or less straight up, Tarantino takes greater license with Death Proof—which is to say the tradition he's elaborating on is the Tarantino Movie. Only tangentially related to the vehicular-mayhem genre (Vanishing Point is name-checked repeatedly), this sneaky contraption is booby-trapped with twisty talk, structural shocks, berserkoid set pieces, and unabashed foot fetishism. Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a genial psychopath with a thing for running down babes in his customized Dodge Charger. His targets include Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier), Zoë (Uma's Kill Bill stunt double, Zoë Bell), Abernathy (radiant Rosario Dawson), and the inevitable Tough Black Chick (Tracie Thoms as Kim). Her incurable case of Tarantino-style Tourette's—"bitch" this, "mothafucka" that, nonstop "nigga pleez"—strikes what may be the only truly gratuitous note in this ostensible exploitation epic.
Given a climate where major studios cash in on the most fucked-up shit imaginable (a remake of The Last House on the Left is in the works), there's not much ante for Grindhouse to up. The vibe, in any event, is more convivial than confrontational—the blockbuster as block party. Tarantino is a big supporter of the neo-exploitation crowd (two of whose luminaries, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, contribute ingenious trailers for imaginary films alongside Edgar Wright and Rodriguez), but his own sensibility is sweeter. Death Proof expends most of its energy on boozy barroom camaraderie and baroque restaurant chitchat. Even the villain is rather a dear; Tarantino clearly relishes his rehabilitation of Russell (here giving a charmed, witty performance), on whom he lavishes as much affection as his girls gone wild. And wild they go, pedal to the metal, brandishing iron poles, turning the tables on Stuntman Mike in a giddy automotive assault that climaxes with the finest syncopation since Before Sunset.
So yeah, it's a gas, from first frame to last —and by the time you exit this slobbering behemoth, you'll have taken in a quarter-million of them. This monumentally pointless movie is best summarized by a line from Planet Terror: "At some point in your life, you find a use for every useless talent you have." Rodriguez, Tarantino, and Co. aim for nothing more noble than to freak the funk, and it's about goddamn time. Go wasted, go stoned, go without your parents' permission. In paying homage to an obsolete form of movie culture, Grindhouse delivers a dropkick to ours.
PopMatters Cynthia Fuchs
Grindhouse Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
David Denby: “Grindhouse” and “The TV Set.” from the New Yorker
Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez Talk Grindhouse Steven Rea from the
News: Movies don't always have to be picture perfect to gain our loyalty Duane Dudek from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Quentin Tarantino Discusses His Love of B-Movies Quentin Tarantino: a B-movie badass, by Giovanni Fazio from Japan Times Online
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
Movie House Commentary Johnny Web
10 Picks from the Grindhouse Tim Lucas from Sight and Sound
New York Times (registration req'd) A.O. Scott
Death Proof |
Review | Screen Lee Marshall at
Quentin Tarantino should go back to making films that matter.
If the shorter, Grindhouse version of Death Proof, his hybrid
slasher meets car chase homage to early 1970s B-movies, hinted that everyone's
favourite cult director was running out of creative gas, the full-length
This "director's cut" may run 27 minutes longer than the US-released version, but the extra footage just makes this stylised genre exercise seem even more pointless. The main problem with Death Proof is not the authenticity of cine-geek Tarantino's heartfelt and occasionally quite funny tribute to movies like Dirty Mary Crazy Larry or Vanishing Point, but his failure to go beyond winks and references to craft a film that works, even on a genre-based, non-festival, real-audience level. Any car-chase film in which the final, climactic pursuit gets boring around three minutes in clearly has some knots to iron out.
Of course, this will
mean little to Tarantino's core fanbase, which will lap the film up in cinemas
and on DVD. But with the two features on the
Death Proof is really two films that mirror each other –
except in the first the bad guy wins, and in the second he loses. The bad guy
is Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a grizzly, scarred, gravel-voiced loner who
drives a mean black car. When he sees a group of badass girlfriends (played by
Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Jordan Ladd and Vanessa Ferlito) out on the prowl in
downtown Austin, Mike follows them, all the way to a bar that's all nostalgic
neon with a jukebox loaded with Staxx funk-soul classics on real vinyl.
(Tarantino himself plays
In part two – which
unspools 14 months later in
Plenty of fun is had in the attempt to make Death Proof look like a real early 1970s B-movie: scratches, abrupt cuts, inept splices and lines running down the film surface contribute with garish lighting and warped theme-tune playback to give a sense of weathered authenticity. Costumes and production design are also spot-on. But two things rub against this effect. Tarantino here acts for the first time as DoP on one of his films, and while some of the chase scenes and exterior-interior rig-mounted car shots do mimic the style of the grindhouse genre flick, plenty of others are far more contemporary in style; there's even a short reprise of the famous circling shot from the beginning of Reservoir Dogs.
Even more jarring is the interminable dialogue these two sets of gurlzz indulge in during the long, long run-up to the dual action explosions. If you thought from the posters that Death Proof was mostly tyre-smoking racer action, think again. It's mostly girl-talk – though these girls talk about sex and cars in a suspiciously male-oriented way. Not only are these huge swathes of dialogue mostly flat and inert in terms of both story and character, but with the exception of a few inspired riffs, they fail to reach the comic-ironic peaks we know (mostly from Pulp Fiction) that the director is capable of.
Kurt Russell inhabits his role with relish, and his character is the only really interesting one in the film – he plays Stuntman Mike as an articulate, weary lone wolf, who in the final reel exhibits a comic vulnerability and lack of courage under fire. Stuntwoman Zoe Bell seizes her hour under the arclights with great gusto, and there are some nice turns from some of her professional actress colleagues – notably Vanessa Ferlito as a sassy but grounded good-time girl in part one.
But fruity character parts don't add up to a great film. Dramatically limp, even as a genre piece, Death Proof provokes a rate of distracted watch-glancing never before experienced in a Tarantino movie.
Death Proof Patrick Z. McGavin
The French have a
description for the cursed film-—film maudit. So it is probably disappointingly
fitting that Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” was unveiled in the Cannes
competition in the longer form European cut, issued with the delicious subtitle
“Boulevard of Death,” as part of the festival’s official competition.
Liberated from its unfortunate attachment to “Planet Terror,” Rodriguez’s reductive and mediocre contribution to the two-part “Grindhouse,” Tarantino’s effort suggests a movie without a fixed or final shape. It was unfortunately denied its proper artistic and critical analysis because of the disproportionate emphasis on the movie’s commercial flop upon its release in April.
Even more problematic, the new material substantially weakens rather than improves the 87-minute cut that concluded the original release version. Many American critics were also angry and some felt duped by the 16-minute discrepancy in running times posted by the festival and distributor Weinstein Company. For the record, the actual running time is 111 minutes, not 127 minutes. The new material adds ideological and sexual connotations the director is unable to satisfy.
Tarantino said in the press conference that, rather than focus on the running time, the attention should be on the structural and formal changes of the new version, and on what he called a 180-degree shift from the “Grindhouse” version.
The original cut found a perfect balance between Tarantino’s discursive and idiosyncratic feel for character and his colorful, commanding and visceral play of action, suspense and movement.
The original’s two-part structure is maintained here, split between two charged encounters involving the malevolent loner, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who terrorizes two separate groups of women. Like before, the action shifts between two extremes, a cruel angel of death whose unexplained pathology is turned against him when three bad ass chicks prove far more daring, resourceful and tough than he could ever have imagined.
It is instructive to look at the new material, and explore how it alters and changes the expanded version. Three major changes in the first half are: an earlier appearance of Stuntman Mike’s car ominously viewed from a high angle shot trailing the car driven by the three girls; an off-screen sexual foreplay in the rain involving Butterfly’s Vanessa Ferlito; the excised lap dance involving Stuntman Mike and Butterfly.
The first moment makes explicit a feeling easily inferred, that Stuntman Mike was stalking the girls (a point already made by the surveillance photographs he maintained on his visor). The second added movement disrupts the flow and imagery, slowing and distracting any possibility of a visceral edge.
The lap dance sequence is provocatively shot and staged though it adds a somewhat uncomfortable and reactionary sexual tone to the first part, suggesting an extreme brand of punishment for their sexuality, and it underlines a recurring weakness of Tarantino’s work, an inability to articulate expressions of female sexuality.
The location moves from Austin, Texas to Lebanon, Tennessee. The most elaborate stylistic change from the two versions is an extended sequence shot in black and white unfolding in the parking lot convenience store the second group of girls repair to just before they pick up the stunt specialist Zoë Bell.
One prominent weakness of both versions is that Tarantino inexplicably chose to shoot the movie himself since he is not a skillful cinematographer and too much of the imagery lacks precision and edge. The black and white photography is inexpressively dull and the images denied any pop, looking rather cheap and unformed.
It seriously harms the power and quality of the material, which is pretty interesting if creepy as Stuntman Mike disturbingly locates the means to insinuate himself against Rosario Dawson’s Abernathy. Again the scene also underscores the director’s lack of comfort and spontaneity involving female sexuality. They talk a great game, but there appears a fundamental unease and contradictory ideas about women, their bodies and what they represent.
The half hour car chase that concludes the film is still as exhilarating, inventive and satisfying as any moment in Tarantino’s previous films. Bell is absolutely astonishing, and the characterization and progressive these women undertake is glorious and beguiling, earning the highest compliment—they become Hawksian, making them as tough, skilled and adventurous as the men.
On a formal level, the power of the pursuit and chase material is not just the electric contrast of the two cars--it becomes a meditation on Bell and her body. The sight of her strapped to the front of the car, her shirt rising exposing her taut, muscle bound stomach is one of the most provocative and empowering images of recent movies.
It remains a movie of moments, like a beautifully designed tracking shot that begins at the feet of Sydney Poitier and climbs up her long and alluring leg, the astonishingly lyrical moment when Bell leaps in one balletic movement into the open window of the car. The back and forth choreography of the chase sequence is certainly something to behold, creating a sense of anticipation and expectation.
“Death Proof” needed greater precision and dexterity. Now, it is longer but not better version, the movie that needs a propulsive, lean and stripping away. Instead it is inflated and at once self-involved and self-important.
Tarantino’s connection to the period, the movies and the directors of the grindhouse era is unassailable. He needed stronger producers to rein some of his inchoate ideas. That would have lifted “Death Proof” into elite status, a genre B-movie that satisfies as both cinema and deep and lascivious entertainment. It is still caught on a precipice between form and content, stranded and trapped and somewhat fatally at odds with itself. It is the film that never resolves itself.
Death Proof Tony Rayns from Sight and Sound
Critique. Death Proof, a Grindhouse film by Quentin Tarantino Emmanuel Burdeau from Cahiers du Cinéma
Death Proof Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS C- 68
The film is skillfully made, but it’s too silly to be enjoyed, even as a joke. Tarantino may think that he is doing Jews a favor by launching this revenge fantasy (in the burning theatre, working-class Jewish boys get to pump Hitler and Göring full of lead), but somehow I doubt that the gesture will be appreciated. Tarantino has become an embarrassment: his virtuosity as a maker of images has been overwhelmed by his inanity as an idiot de la cinémathèque. “Inglourious Basterds” is a hundred and fifty-two minutes long, but Tarantino’s fans will wait for the director’s cut, which no doubt shows Shirley Temple arriving at Treblinka with the Glenn Miller band and performing a special rendition of “Baby Take a Bow,” from the immortal 1934 movie of the same name, before she fetchingly leads the S.S. guards to the gas chamber.
—David Denby from The New Yorker
While this isn’t totally worthless, it comes pretty close, despite well made sequences that resemble the grand tradition of filmmaking and the incessant clues that Tarantino places throughout the entire film of tributes to other films and filmmakers. What really ruins this movie is the juvenile and somewhat snarky tone that simply doesn’t lead anywhere. Usually, especially in revenge fantasies, there are characters that the audience can get behind before the thrills begin, but not so here, as it’s divided into different chapter headings where only a few characters extend into additional chapters, and one never gets much of a feel for any of them. Christopher Waltz relishes his role as an infamous Nazi interrogator who hunts down Jews, a guy who is all manner and etiquette before he moves in for the kill. His notorious villainy is at the heart of the picture, as he’s the guy you root against. Brad Pitt plays a slightly deranged Dirty Dozen American mercenary commander who leads his rat Basterd troops into Europe to wipe out as many Nazi’s as possible, considering all Nazi’s as less than human, whose goal is to be as ruthless, or even more so, than the Nazi’s themselves. How do you root for Americans who are as amoral or even more evil than the Nazi’s? So really, you get a movie filled with nothing but grotesque characters, none of whom have any redeeming value whatsoever. Well, c’est la vie - - that’s war. Perhaps so, but you don’t get a glimpse of it in this movie, which isn’t really about war at all, but instead hides in the underbelly of human vindictiveness, displaying a form a sadism like those business cards displayed in AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000), where it’s all about competetive one-upmanship. In different hands, it’s possible this might have worked on some other level, perhaps even a breathlessly exaggerated color saturated DICK TRACY (1990) style musical for each explosion of violence, but with Tarantino, it turns into the childish fun equal to a visit to the local video arcade. Except for the opening shot in Chapter 5, which was mind boggling perfection, set to David Bowie's CAT PEOPLE (1982) theme song, “Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline,” there’s really nothing I’ll remember about this film.
I can see how this giddy tone of jingoism could really bring out the worst in people, as it seems to appeal to their ugliest nature, as the racism or prejudices that usually remain deep seeded may rise to the surface and happily exhibit signs of hate bashing, as was witnessed in the theater today, as the crowd cheered in moments of a guy getting his skull bashed in or, of course, his face turned into a bloody pulp, not to mention several outbreaks where people's otherwise reserved nature felt more inclined to yell expletives at the screen. It was a chatty crowd where people remained talking throughout the entire picture and after the President got yelled at by a House member this week ( I guess every Tom, Dick, and Harry feels vindicated enough to yell incessantly at a movie screen—at least in this movie. Other films with similar influence might have been SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG (1971), the only film where I’ve ever witnessed full blown, pants down intercourse in the theater along with several patrons openly shooting up hard narcotics, or perhaps the initial influence of John Singleton’s BOYZ IN THE HOOD (1991), an anti-gang movie that was initially appreciated by hard core gang members for its authenticity, causing flare ups of violence in the movie screenings. But despite their impact, those were adult movies with a significant message about the social ills of the nation. This film, on the other hand, displays a near lascivious interest in self-gratification, as if by going off on this comic book fantasia that the movie will, at least perception-wise, right some wrongs in this world. I believe Tarantino is badly mistaken, at least judging by this film, as it appears all he’s really interested in is pleasing himself. Certainly movies all too often portray Nazi’s with such seriousness and gravity, as if the subject is exclusively sacred territory, and no doubt it is, but it’s not like Nazi’s couldn’t use a healthy dose of tasteless Mad magazine sarcastic lampooning every once in awhile, but this is not the film that does it. It’s more like a bad caricature filled with B-movie and Hogan’s Heroes TV references.
Most of this film, which takes place in Nazi occupied France, is all talk leading up to brief moments of senseless violence, where the elongated sequences seem to go on forever due to the neverending verbiage and hospitality of characters that are too kind to show undesired elements to the door. So the chattiness, especially evident in Christopher Waltz, who sees every discussion as a battle of the wills, grates on the nerves after awhile, even as his giggles resemble Monty Python stalwart John Cleese. Brad Pitt is all caricature as a good old Rebel boy, one of the last vestiges of the South, who’s dead set on rewriting history by showing an ornerier side than your enemy, which means you have to be more treacherous than they are. It’s all about playing games with stereotypes, almost as if history itself is irrelevant, that only the symbols matter. When the director takes control of the symbols, it’s clear he has the power to determine any outcome. Much of this, however, is all too predictable, especially the boy meets girl story, where the boy turns out to be a Nazi war hero who’s too big for his britches, who can’t even stand the sight of watching himself in his own movie, or the Basterds meet the French underground in the discreet hideaway of a basement bar filled with nothing but Nazi’s in a barroom scene that goes on forever until all Hell breaks loose. Tarantino features an essential film noir girl in a red dress, which sets up the exquisite Chapter 5 opening, but even that scene dovetails into a marathon talkfest. The intermittent violence is overwhelmingly nihilistic, as rarely does anyone survive, which leaves the impression of a Macbethian universe where life doesn’t matter and only evil triumphs. The idea that anyone would wish to aspire to be as wretched as the Nazi's is simply beyond stupid, it's ridiculous. Does anyone aspire to be like Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson? In the end, I didn’t feel like returning to the sandbox and having Nazi fun playing infantile war games with Quintin. There’s little left to the imagination, as everything is thoroughly analyzed and spelled out completely, leaving the audience in something of a brain dead haze afterwards, as morality doesn’t even exist, because it’s been tossed aside by the unconscionable ease at the number of people who were killed in this film, all supposedly for the benefit of cinema.
Spelling may not be Quentin Tarantino’s forte, but his grasp of language (both verbal and visual) is peerless. Yet though the writer-director was once widely imitated, he has now settled into an idiosyncratic groove that puts off more people than it attracts, and it’s doubtful Inglourious Basterds will redress the imbalance. Detractors and proponents alike will see what they want to see in this two-and-a-half-hour World War II fable, which hits all the beats of a retribution-laden genre piece without ever entirely satiating character or audience bloodlust.
Tarantino’s violence, however, has gained resonance and horror. That’s evident from the slow-burn opening sequence, in which Nazi colonel Hans Landa (Waltz) uses snake-oil floridness to make a farmer (Denis Menochet) confess that he’s hiding a Jewish family under his floorboards. Waltz has the showier role, but Tarantino makes sure to juxtapose the SS agent’s verbose charms with close-ups of Menochet’s gradually crumbling features. It’s devastating in ways that only movies allow, and also lays down the tonally twisted groundwork for the film’s apocalyptic finale, which rewrites history with ambiguous aplomb.
In between are more Pabst and Piz Palü references than an UFA-loving cinephile can shake an ice pick at. Brad Pitt goes Burn After Reading broad, with Southern twang instead of frosted tips, as the leader of the eponymous American mercenaries. Meanwhile, the great Michael Fassbender plays his cultivated opposite: a British secret-service agent who knows his Riefenstahl better than his regional accents. But it’s a stand-alone moment during Basterds’ hellfire climax that lingers most in the mind. That would be the fleetingly projected face of the vengeful Shosanna Dreyfus (Laurent), floating and cackling in smoky space—an evanescent image gloating in what is revealed to be a fruitless comeuppance.
Following famous figures
like Stanley Kubrick or Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino delivers his
war film, which is undoubtedly his most ambitious, but also his laziest — of
course, he's bring his personal touch. But here, after a long, rather promising
opening sequence, showing the massacre of a Jewish family hidden under the
floor of French farm, at the conclusion of an interminable interrogation where
the tension settles progressively and the verbal exchanges get more nervous,
Inglorious Basterds loses itself in a vast caricature. Witness the
representation of Adolf Hitler, physically closer in resemblance to Sadam Hussein
than to the historical figure, showing all of his destructive madness, but
With its international casting and ambitious subject, a lot was expected from this much-anticipated film, which could have been used as a playing field for Tarantino's art. As the title implies, the story simply follows a troop of particularly sanguinary American soldiers, chasing Nazis and scalping their victims. One won't know much else about these basterds, since the film will not go into character development and does not give them any scene of anthology except for this sequence where a German officer undergoes a muscular interrogation which ends in a smashed cranium by blows of a baseball bat. Even the famous scene known as the
More must be demanded of Tarantino. Admittedly, his spaghetti western way of filming a father observing the arrival of the Nazis from a distance at the top of a hill, fatally anticipating the drama to come, or his way of stretching the scenes by filling them with truculent dialogue before letting violence emerge, and his pleasure in mixing humor and dramatic tension in the same scene, save the film from boredom. One could have had a good time. But the film doesn't abandon its entertaining function, never attempting to pursue any reflection, whether it's on the genre to which it claims to belong (Tarantino does not make use of the WWII framework solely as a context), or on the themes recurrent in the director's work such as revenge.
At first glance seductive, given that the Tarantinian touch is recognizable in each scene, Inglorious Basterds allows itself to be viewed as an object of pure entertainment, but leaves an after-taste of frustration as a big schoolboy prank. Unfortunate.
Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" – his misspellings, not mine – is a self-described fairy tale. Being that this is a Tarantino film, you can be sure it's closer to one of Grimm's more ghastly escapades than to "Sleeping Beauty." In this World War II fantasy, top Nazis get obliterated by Jewish avengers.
The film is divided into five chapters, each given its own heading. The first chapter, which is shot in the slow-burn, panoramic style of a spaghetti western, is titled "Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France." Subsequent chapters likewise have the look and feel of different moviemaking genres, although 1960s "Dirty Dozen"-ish stylistics predominate.
What does this filmic fandango add up to? Tarantino, who
looks at life through a viewfinder, sees film as the ultimate righter of
wrongs. Through the magic of movies he overturns the Holocaust. Who needs
bummers like "Schindler's List" and "The Diary of Anne
Frank," or even the historically based "
His "fun" here involves a band of Jewish American revengers, headed up by Brad Pitt's perpetually chin-jutting, non-Jewish Lt. Aldo Raine, who specialize in scalping Nazis and carving swastikas into their foreheads. The most intimidating of the Basterds is a baseball-bat-wielding hulk known as "Bear Jew" (played by Eli Roth, the sicko-horror film director).
A parallel story line has Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), who
alone escaped the massacre of her family in the opening chapter, plotting her
payback three years later as the owner, under an assumed identity, of a movie
theater in occupied
There's lots more plot in this 2-1/2-hour fantasia, and, despite its action-movie origins, lots of talk. It's the least virtuosic movie Tarantino has ever made. Many of the sequences drag on unduly, especially an early scalping scene, which could have been scalped by at least 10 minutes, and several set pieces involving a German glamour queen and Allied secret agent (Diane Kruger). As is standard with Tarantino, the baddest of the bad guys get the best dialogue – in this case, the dreaded Nazi "Jew Hunter" Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), who first decimates Shosanna's family and then carries on from there.
Landa is such a wily and despicable concoction that, in movie terms, he's almost impossible not to like. And therein lies part of my problem with this movie. Tarantino may have set out to make a World War II film where the Jews come out on top, but he can't resist indulging in the same old penny dreadful shenanigans as all the other pulpmeisters who feature villains you love to hate. No one else in "Inglourious Basterds" comes close to Landa for sheer charisma.
Tarantino, who is not Jewish, may be genuine in his desire to make the un-"Schindler's List" but there's absolutely no irony, no pathos, in his game plan. Doesn't he realize that making a righteous fantasy about the Jewish incineration of the Nazi brass only reinforces the sad reality that, tragically, this never happened? Knowing what we know, how can we look at this film and cheer?
I have another large difficulty with this film. Tarantino's
fantasy implies that if only there had been Jews like the Basterds, there would
not have been an
That's the trouble with filmmakers like Tarantino. Their heads are so crammed with old movies that they confuse movies with real life. And what may have been intended as a screw-loose tribute to Jewish gumption ends up its opposite.
You’ve got to admire the sheer, infectious force of Quentin Tarantino’s personality. Is there any
other popular American director, who, like Tarantino, is constantly ranting and
raving about cinema’s glorious past and giving young filmgoers reason to extend
their DVD library back beyond ‘Star Wars’? Even the name of his new film is
fondly stolen from a little known Italian movie of the 1970s. It’s only when
you turn to Tarantino’s own films that things get more tricky. For the sad
truth is that Tarantino, like cheap wine, just isn’t improving with age.
Which is an awkward reality because Tarantino obviously wants to put away childish things with this new film. Not only does Brad Pitt close the film with the self-regarding line ‘This may well be my masterpiece’, but ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a little more restrained and a little more quiet than films like ‘Death Proof’ and ‘Kill Bill’.
I say ‘a little’ because much of the film is not quiet at all: when the music comes, it’s loud; when the deaths occur, they’re gruesome, even sadistic; and when the plot kicks in, it’s pure, wild fantasy.
The film moves liberally between French, German and English dialogue and takes us through five chapters. First, in 1941, we see a Nazi, Colonel Hans Landa (played by Austrian Christoph Waltz), known as ‘The Jew Hunter’, discover and kill a Jewish family in
Then we’re introduced to the ‘basterds’, a gang of eight Jewish-American soldiers who, while deep undercover, roam Nazi-occupied France, murdering German soldiers and collecting their scalps. They’re led by a
For the film’s final chapters, we leap to
This might be a period movie, but still we clock Tarantino’s signature style – the extended, know-it-all dialogue, the tricky gunplay, the pop-cultural nods. There’s even a Mexican stand-off à la ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and the obligatory ‘nigger’ reference, this time in French. But this lacks the stylistic pizzazz of Tarantino’s best, and by putting more emphasis than usual on the chatter it makes it more obvious that the talk often lacks wit and verve.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tarantino takes the history of cinema more seriously than the history of
What’s not clear is what Tarantino wants to achieve: ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is an immature work that doesn’t know whether it’s a pastiche, a spoof, a counterfactual drama, a revenge tragedy or a character comedy. How can we, within a space of minutes, feel adult sympathy for a hunted Jewish family and then childish glee when a Nazi’s skull is crushed with a baseball bat? The one cancels out the other.
But perhaps the biggest faux pas is introducing real historical characters. Tarantino’s inventions are big enough – not least Waltz’s terrific ‘movie’ Nazi – so why does he have to court implausibility by dragging in a loony Hitler (Martin Wuttke, nothing special) and introducing Goebbels? You might imagine, too, that this film was written in the ’60s: Tarantino seems blithely uninterested in more than 60 years of slow reconciliation between
‘Subtle’ is not a word in Tarantino's lexicon. At the film’s heart is a fatal attempt to conflate fact with fiction and a celebration of vengeance that’s misplaced and embarrassing. Loyal fans expecting a familiar patchwork of Tarantino tics and quirks – ‘Pulp History’ or ‘Kill Hitler’ – might not be disappointed. Those expecting anything approaching progress, cinematically or ideologically, probably will be.
Tarantino Rewrites the Holocaust | Newsweek Movies | Newsweek.com When Jews Attack, by Daniel Mendelsohn from Newsweek
At the climax of Quentin Tarantino's latest movie, Inglourious Basterds, which is set during World War II and which is concerned, at least superficially, with Jews, you get to witness a horribly familiar Holocaust atrocity—with a deeply unfamiliar twist. A group of unsuspecting people is tricked into entering a large building; the doors of the building are locked and bolted from the outside; then the building is set on fire. The twist here is not that Tarantino, a director with a notorious penchant for explicit violence, shows you in loving detail what happens inside the burning building—the desperate banging on the doors, the bodies alight, the screams, confusion, the flames. The twist is that this time the people inside the building are Nazis and the people who are killing them are Jews. What you make of the movie—and what it says about contemporary culture—depends on whether that inversion will leave audiences cheering or horrified.
"Inversion" is the name of the game here. Tarantino, who began his career as a video-store clerk, has created a body of work consisting of elaborate riffs on second-tier genre films (blaxploitation, gangster, martial arts), every detail of which he seems to have seen and memorized. In Inglourious Basterds (the dimwitted misspelling is never explained), he's after bigger game and a more consequential subject: those gritty World War II epics in which an unlikely, ill-shaven group of hard-boiled recruits must perform some impossible mission (The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, The Naked and the Dead, and, of course, Enzo Castellari's Inglorious Bastards, to which Tarantino's title pays homage). Here, the ill-shaven GIs belong to a group that the movies used to represent as soft-boiled—they're all Jewish—and their mission, under the leadership of a blond, cigar-chomping, decidedly un-Jewish lieutenant named Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, playing what you might call the Lee Marvin role), is simply to ambush and kill as many Nazis as they can—and then bring back their scalps as trophies.
The scalping—which, this being a Tarantino movie, leaves nothing to the imagination—is a clue to the kind of post-modern fun that the director wants to have here, as he throws elements of both the war movie and the Western into his directorial blender and hits "purée" (and, more seriously, reveals how much the two genres overlap). A second, parallel storyline about Jews who fight back, involving not one but two plans to assassinate the high Nazi brass at a film premiere, invokes the cinema with even more elaborate playfulness. (One thread includes both a film critic and a German movie star, the latter played by a spot-on Diana Kruger, for whom Hildegard Knef is clearly a more comfortable fit than was Helen of Troy.) If Inglourious Basterds represents an evolution for the director, it's that in this new movie, the movies aren't just a subtle (or not so subtle) element in an allusive esthetic game; they are, at last, front and center. One plot depends on the flammability of 35mm nitrate film stock, while another crucial incident hangs on a character's apparent dismay at the way that film gets history wrong. It's a movie whose life depends on movies. Tarantino himself summed up his feelings about the role of cinema in Basterds. "I like that it's the power of the cinema that fights the Nazis," he has said. "But not just as a metaphor, as a literal reality."
The problem is that the movies aren't real life, and this is where Tarantino, with his video-store vision of the world, gets into trouble. Controversies about the uses of Jewish suffering in World War II in popular entertainment—no matter how innocently such entertainment may be intended—go back at least as far as Mel Brooks's The Producers in 1968, and exploded once again in 1997 when Roberto Benigni's concentration-camp comedy, Life Is Beautiful, came out. It's possible that at least some of the discussion of Inglourious Basterds will focus on the appropriateness (or inappropriateness) of using the Holocaust, even tangentially, as a vehicle for a playful, postmodern movie that so feverishly celebrates little more than film itself.
But the real problem here is the message, not the medium. If you strip away the amusing, self-referential gamesmanship that makes up Tarantino's style, Inglourious Basterds, like many of his other films, is in fact about something real and deeply felt: the visceral pleasure of revenge. Vengeance seems to be a subject about which Tarantino the person, as well as Tarantino the filmmaker, has strong feelings; his onscreen treatment of it as something both necessary and satisfying are reflected offscreen as well. "If I had a gun and a 12-year-old kid broke into this house," he told the critic J. Hoberman in a 1996 interview, "I would kill him. You have no right to come into my house…I would empty the gun until you were dead."
In Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino indulges this taste for vengeful violence by—well, by turning Jews into Nazis. In history, Jews were repeatedly herded into buildings and burned alive (a barbarism on which the plot of another recent film, The Reader, hangs); in Inglourious Basterds, it's the Jews who orchestrate this horror. In history, the Nazis and their local collaborators made sport of human suffering; here, it's the Jews who take whacks at Nazi skulls with baseball bats, complete with mock sports-announcer commentary, turning murder into a parodic "game." And in history, Nazis carved Stars of David into the chests of rabbis before killing them; here, the "basterds" carve swastikas into the foreheads of those victims whom they leave alive.
Tarantino, the master of the obsessively paced revenge flick, invites his audiences to applaud this odd inversion—to take, as his films often invite them to take, a deep, emotional satisfaction in turning the tables on the bad guys. ("The Germans will be sickened by us," Raine tells his corps of Jewish savages early on.) But these bad guys were real, this history was real, and the feelings we have about them and what they did are real and have real-world consequences and implications. Do you really want audiences cheering for a revenge that turns Jews into carboncopies of Nazis, that makes Jews into "sickening" perpetrators? I'm not so sure. An alternative, and morally superior, form of "revenge" for Jews would be to do precisely what Jews have been doing since World War II ended: that is, to preserve and perpetuate the memory of the destruction that was visited upon them, precisely in order to help prevent the recurrence of such mass horrors in the future. Never again, the refrain goes. The emotions that Tarantino's new film evokes are precisely what lurk beneath the possibility that "again" will happen.
Tarantino's movie may be the latest, if the most extreme, example of a trend that shows just how fragile memory can be—a series of popular World War II films that disproportionately emphasize armed Jewish heroism (Defiance) and German resistance (Valkyrie, White Rose), or elicit sympathy for German moral confusion (The Reader). If so, it may be that our present-day taste for "empowerment," our anxious horror of being represented as "victims"—nowadays there are no victims, only "survivors"—has begun to distort the representation of the past, one in which passive victims, alas, vastly outnumbered those who were able to fight back. "Facts can be so misleading," Hans Landa, the evil SS man, murmurs at one point in Inglourious Basterds. Perhaps, but fantasies are even more misleading. To indulge them at the expense of the truth of history would be the most inglorious bastardization of all.
to that I.B. post, on Star Wars and WWII film zunguzungu,
Inglourious Basterds zunguzungu, November 5, 2009
Slant Magazine review [3/4] Ed Gonzalez
Basterds; Jackboot Mutiny « Louis Proyect: The ... Finding Pabst in Tarantino, Louis
Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist,
Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds Makes Holocaust Revisionism Fun J. Hoberman from The Village Voice
Cruelty Zach Ralston from Elusive
The Movie Review: 'Inglourious Basterds' Christopher Orr from The New Republic
Film Freak Central review Walter Chaw
Recommended Reading: Daniel Mendelsohn on the New Tarantino Jonathan Rosenbaum
James Rocchi MSN Summer Movie Guide
(Todd Brown) review Travis Stevens
Eric Kohn Falling Short of Tarantino’s Own
High Bar, “Inglourious” Goes Bubblegum, at
Basterds Review. Cannes 2009. Karina
Patrick Z McGavin at Cannes from Stop Smiling magazine, May 21, 2009
FirstShowing.net (Alex Billington) review [8.5/10] May 20, 2009
Matt Dentler Ain’t It Cool News
Tim Hayes Critics Notebook
Cinephile's Guide to Inglourious Basterds: Cinematic ... Cinematic
References in Quentin Tarantino's War Film, by Kevin Sturton from
Analysis of Quentin Tarantino and His Films
Michael Peters from
Alison Willmore at
David Bourgeois at
Tom Carson GQ magazine at Cannes, May 20. 2009
Melissa Anderson at
J. Hoberman from The Village Voice,
Basterds David Hudson at
Tarantino: “I am God…”
covering the Tarantino press conference,
Julian Sancton interviews actor Samm Levine at Cannes from Vanity Fair, May 15, 2009
Michael Fleming interviews Tarantino at Cannes from Variety, May 17, 2009
Kristin Hohenadel interviews Tarantino at Cannes from The Scotsman, May 17, 2009
Hollywood Reporter Steven Zeitchik interviews Tarantino, May 18, 2009
Interview: Quentin Tarantino Interview by Sean O’Hagan from The Observer, August 9, 2009
CBC.ca Arts review Greig Dymond interviews Eli Roth, August 14, 2009
Entertainment Weekly review [B] Lisa Schwarzbaum
The Hollywood Reporter review Kirk Honeycutt at Cannes, May 20, 2009
Todd McCarthy at
Anne Thompson at
Jones BBC News at
film the talk of Cannes BBC News at
Cannes 2009: 'Inglourious Basterds' review Dave Calhoun at Cannes from Time Out London
Daily Telegraph review [3/5]
Sukhdev Sandhu at
James Christopher Inglourious Basterds at the
Tarantino's nastiest Basterd Guy Dixon from The Globe and the Mail, August 19, 2009
The Globe and Mail (Rick Groen) review [2/4] Pulp Fiction Set in a Era of Tragic Fact, August 25, 2009
Jonathan Owen Inglorious? No. Bastards? Never. Meet the real Tarantino war heroes, from The Independent, May 17, 2009
Geoffrey Macnab First Night: Inglourious Basterds,
The Independent review [3/5] Dog Soldiers, by Anthony Quinn from The Independent, August 21, 2009
Tarantino's Basterds is a Cannes turkey Peter Bradshaw at Cannes from The Guardian, May 20, 2009
Cannes film festival: Only one winner when Tarantino takes on Hitler Mark Brown at Cannes from The Guardian, May 20, 2009
Going Cap in Cannes Xan Brooks at Cannes from The Guardian, May 20, 2009
Blog: Why Tarantino is a real enfant terrible at Cannes Catherine Shoard at Cannes from The Guardian, May 20, 2009
Damon Wise introduces Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds Damon Wise from The Guardian, August 15, 2009
Quentin Tarantino: champion of trash cinema John Patterson from The Guardian, August 17, 2009
Basterds: one star from Peter Bradshaw
Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian,
Inglourious Basterds is cinema's revenge on life David Cox from The Guardian, August 20, 2009
Cannes '09 Day 8: Basterds for breakfast Wesley Morris at Cannes from The Boston Globe, May 20, 2009
Boston Globe review [2.5/4] Ty Burr
do Jewish film critics have against 'Basterds' avenging Jews? Patrick Goldstein from The LA Times,
Back Lynn Hirschberg looks at
Tarantino’s audition of Diane Kruger from The
New York Times,
After Days of
Cringing at the Screen, a Reason to Smile Sweetly Manohla Dargis at
Actor Tastes the Glory Dennis Lim
from The New York Times,
The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review August 21, 2009
Slow TV, a terrific debate
the new Tarantino film Inglourious
Adrian Martin and three
Inglourious Basterds, Can
Lilian Harvey - Bibliography, Photographs, Postcards and Tobacco cards Virtual Film History
Lilian Harvey Silent Ladies
DJANGO UNCHAINED D 58
Slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. —Spike Lee
Slavery as entertainment?—It is in Quentin Tarantino’s world, where next to nothing about slavery is learned by watching this film.
In matters of racial understanding, historical or otherwise,
it’s a curious thing about fantasy, as it doesn’t really fit anywhere, but
exists in a netherworld all its own.
Some may take delight in the imaginings of male revenge fantasies where
women are mere afterthoughts, while others will wonder what’s the point of
bringing a comic book, super hero sensibility to matters of actual American
history? Do we really need, as an
example, a heroic Abraham Lincoln riding a thunderous horse through the rebel
lines killing Confederates at
While the film plays out like an irreverent spaghetti
western, using stereotype and exaggeration, what’s missing is the everpresent
tone of danger and suspense in Sergio Leone movies, where the bad guys (Lee Van
Cleef, Eli Wallach) are often as cunning and conniving as the hero, where
extreme character ingenuity places the outcome in doubt. In this film, like blaxploitation movies, the
outcome is never in doubt, as the world is broken down into good and evil, and
evil gets a taste of its own medicine.
The problem here is not the revenge fantasy itself, such as the bumbling
Klu Klux Klan raid that amusingly gets hung up on the pettiness of seemingly
insignificant details, but the loathsome degree of wretched sadism that goes
along with it, which brings a repellant nature to the film. Outside of two central characters, Christoph
Waltz as Dr. King Schultz, a highly successful bounty hunter, and Foxx as
Django, a young apprentice in the trade, who operate as a professionally
trained team throughout, and an always convincing appearance from Samuel L.
Jackson as an ever faithful yet uppity house “nigger,” there is no character
development whatsoever. If this were a
rollicking screwball comedy where people were continually being made fun of,
perhaps exaggeration and excess would be relevant to the style of humor, but
much of this is no laughing matter, and is instead simply endless talking
waiting around for something vile to happen, where the foul and tasteless use
of the n-word passes for the otherwise missing drama, where the South is
continually reduced to typical ROOTS (1977) style set pieces and sadistic white
stereotypes, people with a salacious appetite for the most gruesome aspects of
slavery. For a near 3-hour film, this
can only be described as excessive, especially when it’s being passed off as
Foxx is a bit preposterous in the role, as he quickly shifts from a nearly inaudible chained slave huddled together with other similarly shackled men to a highly skilled black cowboy with excellent horsemanship and near perfect shooting skills, where the audacity of what comes out of his mouth would no doubt have gotten him shot in real life, but in this version people somehow avoid the temptation, perhaps enthralled by the prospective financial incentives offered by Dr. King, a method used to lure out his targets. Waltz’s introductory gift for gab is charming, where his flowery elucidation of the English language in the remote, uneducated frontier of the American West has an element of the patently absurd about it, where most of the humor is in the earlier stages of their friendship. By the time they get to a slave plantation in Mississippi, where the continuously smug Leonardo DiCaprio continually overacts as the smarmy plantation owner who happens to be in possession of Django’s wife, a slave supposedly given the mythical name of Brünnhilde (Kerry Washington) by her white German mistress, the bounty hunters are knee deep in Southern Gothic plantation lore, expressed through a series of ever increasing levels of sadistic horror viewed with varying degrees of pleasure, such as witnessing a slave get eaten alive by a pack of wild dogs, or casually watching, over cocktails, Mandingo fighters battle to the death. Why this needs to be exhibited as entertainment fodder in the film is an open question, as in SHOAH (1985), Claude Lanzmann makes a 9 and ½ hour Holocaust documentary without ever showing the death camps, and Rolf de Heer’s THE TRACKER (2002) reveals the wisdom and cultural insight of a chained black Aboriginal in the Australian outback, continually differentiating between the brutal racism of his white captors and the sly intelligence of his own character. Rather than escalate these cultural differences in a journey of mounting psychological dread, Tarantino simply leads us where he predictably always leads his audience, into a nihilistic, apocalyptic hellfire of explosions and gunfire, where bodies are strewn across the screen in a landscape of the collected dead, where it may as well be zombies getting blown away. This is a sorry excuse for a movie turning the wretchedness of slavery into sports bar entertainment.
Any way you slice it, B-movie maestro Quentin
Tarantino's blaxploitation/spaghetti western hybrid can cozy up to Death
Proof as one of his slightest efforts. That's not to say that there isn't
plenty of fun to be had, if you're in the mood for a well-shot, ultra-bloody
action comedy packed with Tarantino's distinct wordplay — there is. However, Django
Unchained feels more like the work of a man getting his ya-yas out than a
purposeful look at the horrors of slavery.
As Dr. King Shultz (a former dentist turned bounty hunter), Christoph Waltz proves that a great deal of the appeal of his Oscar-winning turn as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds came from how he sounds reciting Tarantino's dialogue. Shultz shares Landa's general zeal for conversation and picking at verbal smokescreens. This is a good thing for the film's entertainment value, but further evidence of Tarantino's difficulty creating distinct voices for his characters.
This is something he does a far better job of achieving with Django. After being freed by Shultz — to help him identify a trio of criminals carrying a hefty bounty — Django Freeman signs on as a deputy bounty hunter. Initially there's little more than a cheap recurring joke based upon the surprise of townspeople seeing a black man proudly astride a horse and the good doctor's polite and professional handling of violent conflict, but when Shultz agrees to help Django rescue his wife from cotton magnate Calvin Candie (a scenery nibbling Leonardo DiCaprio), a plot is set into motion that's pure Tarantino.
Shultz encourages Django to adopt the character of a black slaver — the lowest form of scum in Django's books — to deflect the potential suspicions of Mr. Candie and his associates while the two infiltrators negotiate the purchase of a fine Nubian specimen to compete in a despicable underground fight circuit as a cover for their real object of desire.
Foxx does a tremendous job imbedding his character's seething rage within the confines of a different variety of hate: self. How people hide themselves in roles is amongst Tarantino's chief concerns once again, but aside from the subtle barbed exchanges between Django and head house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), this theme isn't particularly well fleshed-out.
The sheer demands of gleeful violent revenge win out at the end of the day, with the picture devolving into the same "burn it all down" mentality displayed in Inglourious Basterds, but without that film's mechanism of being part of a scenario that had a greater influence on the larger problem of persecution.
As fun as it can be to see a bunch of racists get brutally slaughtered, Django Unchained doesn't leave much of an impression to chew over, and it's hard to ignore that this basic plot was already addressed much more efficiently and comically in the final season of Chappelle's Show.
Opinion: Quentin Tarantino creates an exceptional slave Salamishah Tillet from In America from CNN, December 25, 2012, also seen here: Salamishah Tillet
Quentin Tarantino set out to make his newest film, “Django
Unchained,” to avenge
“How can you ignore such a huge part of American history?” the
director recently told Newsweek magazine. “
On this point, he is right.
Unlike the preponderance of movies on other historical atrocities – including the Holocaust, which Tarantino tackled in "Inglorious Basterds" – there have only been a handful of Hollywood films made on American slavery. And none were directed by an African-American.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of those movies were racist.
Dating back to D.W. Griffin’s “The Birth of a Nation” in 1915, white slave masters were heroes and formerly enslaved African-Americans were villains.
“Gone With the Wind,” the 1939 box-office smash, did no better as slave characters like Prissy, Mammy and Uncle Peter appeared as docile and happy servants.
These two films alone dominated all subsequent Hollywood representations of slavery until late 20th-century movies such as “Glory,” “Amistad” and “Beloved” depicted African-Americans as resistors.
But films on slavery have never been about the past alone.
They are influenced by the way we see our racial selves in the moment and also help shape those images. More often than not, slavery is the historical backdrop against which filmmakers and audiences can gauge their own racial problems or progress.
“Django Unchained” is no different. Though set two years before the Civil War, the movie is very much Tarantino’s 21st-century racial fantasy.
There is much to criticize in this film: the excessive use of the N-word, gratuitous
gun violence and its male dominance. Women are objects of apathy or
sympathy and are not as nearly as complex or charismatic as any of the male
characters. This is very much a movie about how men, white and black, navigate
And there is much to defend.
The slave-turned-bounty hunter Django, who rescues his wife from slavery, is an African-American hero never seen before on the big screen. He alone is capable of the brilliance, moral courage and swagger needed to resist slavery.
And yet his exceptionality comes at a price: Unlike "Amistad’s" Cinque or "Beloved’s" Sethe, he seems to exist in a vacuum. Most of the slave characters he meets are not his equals; they are flat, naive, and as in awe of him as the audience. And they barely dent racial stereotypes.
The emphasis on black exceptionalism is not just in Tarantino’s film. It has been a problem in the post-civil rights era, one that should be defined as much by the everyday killings of youths such as Trayvon Martin as much the re-election of the first African-American president.
Instead, racial progress is too often determined by the exceptional success of people such as Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
It is true, as
But our constant celebration of their individual success as the only proof of racial progress is too risky.
Perry warns: “Either the person or people are seen as role models and lauded for their attainments and transcendence of the 'bear' of race, or they are viewed as inauthentic, illegitimate, and threatening.”
Conservatives tout “exceptional African-Americans” to deny contemporary structures of racism, and liberals applaud them for transcending race. In both cases, the ongoing racial inequities that affect the majority of African-Americans today are seen as a thing of the past, as a bygone of the era of slavery.
Clearly, most Americans, much less African-Americans, will ever be able to become Obama or Oprah. But in our modern era, their achievements become a stand-in for all African-Americans. They prove how easy it is for all people to attain the American dream or how deficient African-Americans are when they don’t.
We should be aware that “Django Unchained” is a film that could not have been made at any other racial moment. But by privileging the few, we do not have to deal with the severe racial inequalities that most African-Americans confront in education, employment, health care and the criminal justice system.
As we cheer Django on in his revenge, we ought to ask ourselves: What
happened to all the other slaves in
The line on Django Unchained, the latest from Quentin Tarantino, is that it's a companion piece to his previous feature, Inglourious Basterds. Both are genre pieces that function as racial revenge fantasies: the war movie Inglourious Basterds shows Jewish-American soldiers slaughtering Nazis in occupied France, and the western Django Unchained follows a freed slave in the antebellum south as he guns down hillbillies, plantation owners, and Klansmen. Both movies play fast and loose with history: Inglourious Basterds ends with Hitler being assassinated, and Django Unchained, set in 1858, is filled with implausible characters and events. Tarantino may be a stickler for period details—most of the rooms are candlelit, most of the characters have terrible teeth, and excess beer foam is wiped off with a stick—but his vision of the south also includes rap tunes, a German bounty hunter, and Australian bad guys who seem to have stepped out of Crocodile Dundee.
Despite this questionable history, though, Django Unchained has deep roots in the American literature of the 1850s. The most popular book of that era—aside from the Bible, of course—was Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published in 1852, it had sold a half million copies by 1857, when it was flying off shelves at the rate of 1,000 a week. Today most people are less familiar with the book than with the racial epithet it spawned: in the 50s and 60s especially, "Uncle Tom" became synonymous with blacks who changed their behavior or appearance to ingratiate themselves with whites. Oddly, this epithet is far removed from Stowe's conception of the character as a Christ figure, which was a radical notion in antebellum times. Django (Jamie Foxx) is more like the Count of Monte Cristo, to name another character from 19th-century literature, but the history of Uncle Tom's Cabin can tell us a lot about Django Unchained.
In the book Uncle Tom is a middle-aged slave sold downriver again and again until finally he ends up the property of Simon Legree, a monstrous plantation owner who forbids him from reading the Bible and commands him to thrash other slaves. When Tom refuses, he's beaten to death by his overseers but expresses his forgiveness just before he expires, which moves them so powerfully that they convert to Christianity. The character turned out to be remarkably elastic: as Linda Williams reports in her book Playing the Race Card, traveling theater companies created their own dramatizations of the novel, know as "Tom shows," and each subsequent version strayed farther from the book. By the turn of the century, there were versions of Uncle Tom's Cabin that had hardly anything to do with Stowe's story; some portrayed Tom as a foolish, old minstrel-show character, and others ended happily, with Tom surviving.
These distortions only continued when Uncle Tom's Cabin hit the big screen. In the first known movie version, from 1903, the aging, potbellied Tom is played by a white actor in blackface, and black actors playing slaves dance merrily at the beginning of each scene. A later version, from 1914, departs radically from the novel when another slave, whose life Tom has spared earlier, returns the favor by stalking and killing Simon Legree. So Tarantino's great innovation—creating a tale of black vengeance in the antebellum south—hasn't only been done before, it was done nearly a hundred years ago, and under the aegis of Uncle Tom's Cabin, no less.
The other major American literary trend of the 1850s was the growing popularity of dime novels: cheap, throwaway stories that favored action over introspection, fantasy over reality, and directness over metaphor or symbolism. The pulp fiction of their day, dime novels were responsible for many of the western archetypes that filtered into the movies, including the spaghetti westerns that inspired Django Unchained. Django escapes from slavery after his owners are killed in a bloody shootout with Dr. King Schultz (Dr. King—get it?), a German dentist turned bounty hunter who's played by Christoph Waltz. The doctor wants Django to lead him to a gang of killers he's pursuing, and after hearing the story of Django's lost love, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), he offers to help rescue her from Candieland, a notorious plantation run by the brutal Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a lover of Mandingo fighting.
Django Unchained may be entertaining and occasionally funny, but its ideas don't really hold up. The characters' racism is supposed to be shocking, but we've all seen this sort of stuff in countless dramas and historical documentaries. Strip away all the hip music and spaghetti-western set pieces and you're left with True Romance (1993), which Tony Scott directed from a Tarantino script. When Candie compares the skull of a black man to that of a white man, his monologue is nearly identical in content, tone, and delivery to a conversation between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken in True Romance. Django's frequent visions of Broomhilda are reminiscent of Christian Slater's fantastical conversations with Elvis in the earlier movie, and the penultimate shootout in Django Unchained recalls the bullet-riddled finale of True Romance. The opening credits of Django Unchained are virtually identical to those of Jackie Brown, with the protagonist walking in profile to bombastic, orchestral soul music.
Jackie Brown is Tarantino's best and most lasting film; its characters are the richest and most fully formed, and their motives grow deeper and more nuanced with each viewing. But since that movie Tarantino has largely abandoned character development and introspection; the people in his more recent movies often register as props or caricatures, which can make their motivation seem sketchy. Schultz is presented as a mercenary, yet he agrees to undertake the likely suicide mission of freeing Broomhilda because she speaks beautiful German. The supposedly formidable Candie fails to grasp that Broomhilda and Django know each other despite the fact that they both have the letter R branded on their faces. Yet Tarantino doesn't seem to care; the whole story is absurd anyway, so who needs rounded characters?
The only complex character in Django Unchained turns out to be
Stephen, Candie's trusted old slave hand, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Ironically, Stephen is a classic Uncle Tom—the stereotype, not the actual
character—and whether or not Tarantino understands the implications of this,
When Inglourious Basterds was released, Daniel Mendelsohn wrote a scathing Newsweek essay in which he argued that Tarantino, by creating a film in which Jews exact revenge on Nazis, was equating the victim with the victimizer. No one should be surprised that the director would construct another movie on this cracked ethical foundation, but that doesn't mean Django Unchained has anything important to say about race, or that anyone should use race to attack or defend it. The real problem with Django Unchained is not race hatred but Tarantino's predictable and uninspired treatment of it.
“Django” gets slavery wrong Tarantino Unchained, by Jelani Cobb from
The New Yorker,
Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, reviewed by Richard Brody ... The Riddle of Tarantino, by Richard Brody from The New Yorker, December 28, 2012
Unchained Reviewed: Tarantino's Crap Masterpiece : The ... David Denby from The New Yorker,
Play [Steven Boone] Quentin Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED and the
Many Spike Lees,
Melody: Two Troublemakin' Bruvas Take on Tarantino's ... Steven Boone and Odie Henderson from Big
Tarantino, Slave To His Habits: Django Unchained, Reviewed Will Leitch from Deadspin,
Voice [Scott Foundas]
[Omar P.L. Moore] Django Kinda Sorta On A Short Leash, Via
Django Unchained: What Kind of Fantasy Is This? Annalee Newitz from io9, December 28, 2013
After Dark [Noel Vera]
After Dark part 2 [Noel Vera]
David Thomson reviews Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained ... Django Unchained Is All Talk With Nothing to Say, by David Thomson from The New Republic, January 5, 2013
Sight & Sound [Nick Pinkerton] January 2013
Daily Kos: The Truth About 'Django Unchained' Ryan Brooke
Review: 3 Different Opinions On The Good & The Bad Of Quentin ... The indieWIRE Playlist
Freak Out About Django Unchained
Aisha Harris from Slate,
Was There Really “Mandingo Fighting,” Like in Django Unchained? Aisha
Harris from Slate,
Tarantino is the baddest black filmmaker working today Eric Deggans from Slate, December 27, 2012
Django Unchained and Lincoln Have in Common: A Woman Problem Allyssa Rosenberg from Slate,
a black director have made “Django”?
David Sirota from Slate,
Tarantino flunks American history Kimberly Ellis from Salon, January 13, 2012
drops the N-bomb Mary Elizabeth
Williams from Salon,
Tarantino gives the NRA ammo Andrew O’Hehir from Salon, January 14, 2013
Quentin Tarantino talks to himself Brian Gresko from Salon, January 14, 2013
REVIEW: Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' A Bloated Bloody Affair ... Alison Willmore from Movieline, also seen here: Movieline [Alison Willmore]
Tarantino Says Slavery Still Exists Via 'Mass Incarcerations' & The 'War
On Drugs' Frank DiGiacomo from Movieline,
Tarantino's 'Django' Klansmen Inspired By John Ford: 'To Say The Least, I
Hate Him' Jen Yamato from
Heart of Dixie | Film Comment | Film Society of Lincoln Center Geoffrey O’Brien from Film Comment, January/February
Dialogue: Django Unchained | Film Comment | Film Society ... Max Nelson from Film Comment,
Quentin Tarantino's 'Django Unchained': The Good, the Bad - Alternet Jazmyne Z. Young and Asani Shakur from Alternet
Django Unchained (2012) Jeffrey Overstreet from Patheos
Django Unchained Review- The Good, Bad and ... - Ruthless Reviews L. Ron Mexico from Ruthless Reviews
Punk [Zeba Blay]
Combustible Celluloid Review - Django Unchained (2012), Quentin ... Jeffrey M. Anderson
'Django Unchained': Quentin Tarantino’s Answer to Spielberg’s
'Lincoln' Joe Weiner from The Nation,
Lee Calls 'Django Unchained' 'Disrespectful' Rolling
Quentin Tarantino, Postmodern Racist - Film Forum on mubi.com Mubi Forum, January 2013
Quentin Tarantino on Django Unchained and the Problem with ... Allison Samuels interview from The Daily Beast, December 10, 2012
Quentin Tarantino unchained - Page 1 - Movies - Minneapolis - City ... Karina Longworth interview from Minneapolis City Pages, December 19, 2012
'Unchained,' Part 2: On the N-Word
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. from The Root, Pt. 2,
'Unchained,' Part 3: White Saviors Henry
Louis Gates, Jr. from The Root, Pt. 3,
“I find the criticism ridiculous”
excerpts from Henry Louis Gates interview with Tarantino at Salon,
Quentin Tarantino: my inspiration for Django Unchained Gavin Edwards interview from The Observer, December 29, 2012
Tarantino, DiCaprio, Foxx Say 'Django Unchained' Plot Was 'Tough' Alex Waterfield and Lauren Effron report on Nightline anchor Cynthia McFadden’s interview from ABC News, January 8, 2013
Quentin Tarantino Got Those Crazy Blood Spurts in ... - Vulture Kyle Buchanan interview from The Vulture,
Django defused the 'n-bomb'? David
Cox from The Guardian,
Lincoln and America Adam Mars-Jones
from The Guardian,
Quentin Tarantino not 'wasting time' over Spike Lee The Telegraph,
Quentin Tarantino in furious rant over Django Unchained violence questions Andrew Hough from The Telegraph, January 11, 2013
KUHNER: Jamie Foxx and the rise of black bigotry Jeffrey T. Kuhner from The Washington Times, December 13, 2012
'Django' an unsettling experience for many blacks - Los Angeles Times Erin Aubry Kaplan
IN MOM’S HEAD (La Tête de Maman) B+ 92
A film that exists almost entirely through the interior narrative of a somewhat insolent but free-spirited 15-year old tomboy Lulu, Chloé Coulloud, who in another movie might be featured as jailbait, but here obsesses over what her lethargic and occasionally eccentric mother (Karin Viard) must be thinking, as she almost never smiles and remains aloof and detached in a permanent state of depression. Usually this style of film can be wretchedly overwritten and self-absorbed, but written by the director and co-writer Michel Leclerc, this is an imaginative spin on a coming of age story filled with curious fantasy sequences, only it’s not so much about Lulu, but her mother’s mysterious past which slowly unravels before her eyes, much of it to Lulu’s utter amazement. What sparks her interest is a single photograph found hidden in the cellar of her mother dressed as a hula dancer at an earlier stage in her life when she obviously appeared much happier, wearing a big smile on her face. This thought plagues Lulu as she can’t stop imagining what her mother’s life must have been like and that she’s been carrying around a secret life all these years, much like the revelations unearthed in THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (1995). Her own father who is attentive and patient with his reticent wife remains clueless about what happened before they met, while her grandmother (Suzy Falk), an ornery, opinionated woman who grows tired of incessant questions about the past, only adds to the hidden intrigue. Lulu begins to think her mother never really had a choice in her life, or if she did, it was stolen from her, perhaps by her own over-controlling mother, leaving her in a state of exasperated despair.
The film is cleverly told, leaving much of the backstory untold, beautifully shot by Aurélien Devaux, carefully balancing the real life adolescent world of a strong-willed teenager who refuses to be pushed around with an unusually healthy fantasy world of her own, speaking regularly to the ghost of actress Jane Birken, perhaps the mother she wishes she had, who sings several of the songs on the soundtrack, like Marianne Faithfull, many of them 30 or 40 years old featured in other films, but also a new song that they sing together in a joyous bond of sisterhood. Lulu’s delirious rendition of Birken’s giddy song “Di Doo Dah” from 1973 is one of the high points of the film. But certainly the heart and soul of the film is Viard’s coming to life through her past, as she delicately bridges both worlds and appears perfectly natural in both, while duplicate actors are used to bridge the time gaps for other characters. Lulu, of course, once she sees evidence of her mother’s smile is busy trying to connect the dots and sew the two worlds together from both her past and her present.
It’s a heartfelt attempt filled with dreamlike rhapsodic flights of the imagination oftentimes substituting for reality, all seamlessly blended together, guided by Lulu’s inner desires. She connects with her own young lover, Simon, Arthur Ligerot, a schoolyard fighting partner who bears a strange resemblance to Michael Cera from JUNO (2007), at the same time flashback sequences reveal her mother indulging in youthful indiscretions from her distant past. The music by Éric Neveux adds a graceful touch of solemnity, especially as the subject matter slowly grows more complex. This is a unique way of looking back at one’s life, where we discover how easy it is to lose track of ourselves, how we evolve into different beings that may have little relation to who we once were. While somewhat capricious in nature, this film doesn’t want us to let go of our romantic inclinations, suggesting through the fierce independence of Lulu’s character that we’re in a different age today, that the societal needs of jobs and financial security oftentimes take precedence over our own needs, where it’s easy to get sidetracked along the way. This unusual film takes a circuitous path, but eventually it leads us back home.
Festival of New French Cinema Andrea Gronvall from The Reader
Uncommonly wise about filial bonds, this offbeat charmer (2007) follows teenage tomboy Lucille (Chloe Coulloud) as she tries to free her mother (Karin Viard of Time Out) from a long depression. Lucille is angry about everything—her name, a boy she fights at school, even her birthday—but mostly she’s frustrated by her mother’s hypochondria and backyard trances (cleverly rendered by director Carine Tardieu as faux home movies). After discovering some keepsakes from the mother’s happier bohemian days, Lucille decides to reunite mom with her former Romeo, who’s grown almost as eccentric. To accent Lucille’s naive fantasies, cinematographer Aurelien Devaux uses framing and low-key lighting to evoke an illustrated fairy tale. 95 min.
Carine Tardieu has turned out a gently enigmatic film of the kind that used to be called a 'woman's picture'. The protagonist Lucille, known as Lulu is first seen in a pre-credit sequence fighting in a school playground and looking about ten or twelve whilst a short time later she is seen at the wheel of the family car with her parents as passengers. Half the time she is fairly plain with slightly crooked teeth and at others she is radiant with perfect teeth. Her mother, Karin Viard, is loaded with inertia and permanently depressed and has been so for most of Lulu's life so when Lulu stumbles on a set of photos and a home movie showing a radiant Viard in love - but not with her husband - Lulu decides to track down the lover and bring him back into her mother's life. As another person has noted there are several questions that could use answers but on the whole it's a charming little film very much in the French style.
12th Annual Festival of New French Cinema Facets Multi-Media
year-old Lulu (Chloé Coulloud), a combative, precocious tomboy with a wicked
sense of humor and a propensity for temper tantrums, longs to make her mother
Juliette (Karin Viard, Le Rôle de sa vie, True Enough) laugh
again. Juliette suffers from severe depression, spends much of her time
entertaining morbid thoughts about her dead husband and her dead ancestors, and
has a complicated relationship with her daughter in which the roles of child
and adult are often reversed. When Lulu learns of her mother's first love, a
man named Jacques (Kad Merad, Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis) who made her
happy twenty years ago, she sets out to search for him and summons him to her
mother's side, hoping he will work his magic again. Director Tardieu combines
reality with fantasy sequences (where Jane Birkin appears as herself and as
Lulu's imaginary substitute mother), adolescent angst with a decidedly adult
feel, and dark humor with moments of poignancy and emotional candor in a film
about adolescence that is in a whole different ballpark than most. Directed by
A young 15 year old girl seeks to find out why her mother is so sullen and eventually discovers via an old photo and ciné film that since a failed love of her youth, she has never been the same. The young lady manages to find the mother's ex boyfriend, who is a vet in a zoo, and subtly arranges for the two to meet. Of course the ex boyfriend has aged somewhat and lost the central part of his hair, nevertheless she recognizes him though he does not recognize her. Parallel to this, they mother discovers that she is seriously ill. The story is quite original, though implausible. The lady's relationship with her husband ( who is the father of her child ) is not clear and not studied in enough depth. We don't learn why she is not happy with him, indeed whether she is really unhappy with him or just indifferent. The young lady also has a peculiar relationship with the actress Jane Birkin who serves as a model and spiritual guide for her and does actually appear in the film but there is some conjecture as to whether she is really there or a mere figment of the young lady's imagination. The relationship between the mother and her husband, when the latter discovers that she has met up again with her first love is unclear and ill defined. He does not seem to react at all and this is not plausible. The mother's illness intervenes and becomes important towards the end of the film. The ex boyfriend decides it is time for him to leave her and pursue his life. What becomes of the mother we don't know. Basically, the ending is left hanging in the air and is a disappointment and there is a distinct impression that the director was at loss how to terminate her film, even though the whole affair had started out on a good and original idea. Worth watching then for the performances, some of the humour is distinctly dubious and scatological, something probably designed for the French market, but don't expect a coherent and nicely sealed ending.
La Tête de Maman Carine Tardieu ::
European-Films.net Boyd Van Hoeij
A tomboy daughter looks for her suffering mother’s former lover in order to get a smile back on her face in Carine Tardieu’s La tête de maman (In Mom’s Head). Clearly about an adolescent girl but not only aimed at girls or even adolescents, the film seduces with a surprisingly dense narrative and a decidedly French take on the role of extramarital affairs and everyone’s undeniable right to happiness. Despite some moments of magical realism and its occasionally child-like vision of the world, La tête de maman comes off as a more than grown-up debut feature for Tardieu and offers another showcase for the talents of Karin Viard as the mother.
The film’s strong opening sequence introduces 15-year-old Lucille (Chloé Coulloud), who explains she only wants to be called Lulu or -- even better – be left alone an not called anything at all. A cute classmate (Arthur Ligerot) rises to the occasion and promptly finds himself on the schoolyard floor with a nose bleed and Lulu all over him, punching him wherever she can. When a schoolmaster finally pulls her off, the boy calls out with self-satisfied smile: "Lucille!" The girl then returns home and explains in voice-over what she thinks is happening in her depressed mother’s head; Juliette (Viard, Le couperet / The Ax) has been obsessed with her dead fire fighter father whose body was never found, and with all the other dead relatives stretching back for centuries.
These introductory minutes immediately paint a picture of Lulu as a combative and curious kid who tries to understand the world around her with whatever limited means she has available. Though Tardieu, who co-wrote the film with screenwriter Michel Leclerc, indulges in some richly detailed fantasy sequences -- for example showing all the dead relatives in period garb in a long row that ends with Lulu and her mother – the kernel of the narrative is more real than many films about adolescents. This is not a rose-coloured version of the world in which minor teenage issues the size of pimples are ironed out during a couple of montage pieces set to easily digestible pop music.
There are moments Lulu wishes her mother was dead, though as soon as she discovers that "Juju" knew happiness before her birth with Jacques (Alexandre Fogelmann in flashbacks, Kad Merad in the here and now), a man who is not her supportive and caring father (Pascal Elbé), she decides she must find that man and see if he can still work his magic with her mother twenty years later.
The semi-autobiographical film is anything if not a product of a liberal upbringing. Parents and children smoke pot, swear frequently, drink alcohol, walk around naked, have sex and illegally drive cars -- all without repercussions. Though conservative audiences might frown at all this behaviour as one might do at the weird behaviour of primates in a zoo, Lulu’s insistence on bringing her mother together with a man that is not her father does make sense in the context of the film.
Tardieu makes it perfectly clear that what drives Lulu is not a wish to destruct her parents’ marriage but simply to do what is the best thing for her ill mother. A very short scene in which father and daughter share a beer in a bar is really all the explanation that is needed, while careful plotting in the latter half of the film finds the perfect resolution and offers a strong sense of closure. (The reason for the break-up between Jacques and Juliette has a facile explanation that is all but glossed over, but from Lulu’s point of view this makes sense – this is not what interests her.)
Coulloud is fine but lacks that spark that might one day make her a star, while Merad, Elbé and Jane Birkin (as herself and Lulu’s imaginary substitute mother) offer fine supporting turns. It is Viard, however, who attracts attention with her layered performance as the ill mother who once knew happiness and might find it again… over a shared passion for animal droppings.
Tariq, Bassam and Omar Mullick
THESE BIRDS WALK A- 93
This film is an eye opening and transcendent experience,
reminiscent of Kiarostami’s magnificent film LIFE, AND NOTHING MORE…(1992),
part of his Kokar Earthquake Trilogy that was shot in the ruins of a deadly
earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people.
What attracted first time filmmaker Bassam Tariq and longtime photographer
Omar Mullick to Pakistan was the benevolent work of Abdus Sattar Edhi, now in
his mid 80’s, considered one of the great humanitarians of the world who is
often mentioned when speaking of laudable candidates for the Nobel Prize. In 1951, with 5000 rupees (about $81
dollars), he formed the Bilqis Edhi Foundation, a nonprofit social-welfare program named
after his wife, dedicated to serving Pakistan's abandoned and abused women and
children, mostly devoted to helping runaway youths, where today the foundation
runs over 300 centers. Edhi discovered
that many Pakistani women were killing their babies at birth, often because
they were born outside marriage, where one newborn child was stoned to death
outside a mosque on the orders of religious leaders. So he placed a little cradle outside every
Edhi centre along with a sign that reads:
“Do not commit another sin: leave
your baby in our care.” Edhi has so far
saved 35,000 babies and found families for approximately half of them. Regarded as a guardian of the poor, to this
day he owns two pairs of clothes, has never taken a salary from his
organization, and lives in a small apartment over an overcrowded
What we see are hordes of young children, some beaten, neglected or outright abandoned, all mostly under 12, with a large group of half-starved babies that have been left on their doorstep, where Edhi himself sits on the floor and bathes each and every one of them, where every week in Karachi the Edhi center feeds over 10,000 people, rarely turning anyone away, providing a safety net for the country with an extensive network of orphanages, women's shelters, welfare assistance and hospitals. Early on we hear the voice of twenty-year old Asad, with no knowledge of his own parents, whose dire situation living on the streets was so desperate that he was ready to take his own life, but he saw a “Help Wanted” sign when passing by the Edhi center and decided to work just for a few days caring for others. Several years later, he’s been able to move beyond his original trauma by splitting his time between retrieving the dead bodies piled up by ethnic fighting, street crime, and gang warfare, and returning the runaways to their families, by now claiming he’s seen it all, murders on the street, suicides, and horrible accidents. But lost children have become his teachers, where learning from their circumstances has helped distance him from his own pain, becoming one of the empathetic faces of the institution as he’s able to identify with each child. Far from being an exclusively harrowing experience, however, the filmmakers do an excellent job of mixing raw footage with often poetic cinematography by Mullick, and a simply awe-inspiring electronic, violin-centered musical score by Todd Reynolds, which adds a touch of experimental films, where an exposé on the human condition becomes artfully presented, often illuminating the overriding feeling of loneliness with solitary images that have a painterly feel. This juxtaposition of momentary beauty is interspersed throughout with Asad’s steam-of-conscious observations, offering a contrast to the rough edges of the story.
Most of the subsequent footage focuses on a few of the older kids assigned to the Karachi home, as the center is overrun by kids and there’s little recreational activity for them to do, where the children are fed, with medical care provided, but they’re not comfortable with the idea of calling this place their home, as many remember their families, where most of the children feel abandoned, longing to return home, often seen praying for this salvation. One of the more agitated kids is Omar, who couldn’t be any more than 10, but he’s often seen bullying others or showing a surprising degree of aggression, using in-your-face profanity, where he brags how his parents beat him (wearing the scars on his face), but he refused to shed more than a single tear. When picking on others doesn’t work, as there are bigger and older kids at the center who intervene, he’s often left alone, seen crying afterwards, literally overcome by his own misery. While the Edhi centers can protect these kids from the harsh reality of the outside world, many continue to have suicide tendencies or believe God has abandoned them as well. One of the most heartbreaking moments is witnessing Asad returning one of these kids back to his family, where the boy is shivering in fright and in tears at the thought of having to be returned to the family that continuously beat him, where the family is not happy about his return either, uttering “I’d have been happier if you’d brought me his corpse,” where as impossible as it seems, home life may actually cause greater grief and sorrow than the solitary isolation of the shelter. Here it appears there are 20 or 30 people to a one-roomed house in an overpopulated slum, obviously too many mouths to feed, where the boy running away was no accident, but something he was driven to do by an uncaring and hostile family, which, when confronted with Asad’s allegations of beatings and abuse, quickly denies before the cameras that they ever laid a hand on the boy.
Asad’s final delivery is Omar, who lives deep into Taliban territory, offering a uniquely human and sympathetic face never before associated with that of “the enemy,” where the circuitous journey into the heart of darkness includes an elusive race by Omar disappearing into a massive crowd at the Mazar shrine, which he insists on visiting, eluding authorities to be able to pray next to a shrine before they continue their long and arduous journey through the night and into the next morning before arriving at one of the most desolate places on the planet, where there are no houses or standing structures, only the flattened, bombed-out ruins of a destroyed village, likely from a drone attack or a long forgotten battle scene, where one instantly mourns for any signs of humanity forced to live in these ghastly conditions. Omar points out his home, where there is no water, gas, electricity, or even a roof, just half destroyed, ramble shack huts where his family suggests he’s actually safer and better off in the shelter than living here, acknowledging they have many more children who remain under the protection of other Edhi shelters, where the family has no intention of looking for them. It’s only here that one gets the fuller picture of what these kids are running away from, where as painful as it is to admit, life in the overcrowded Edhi shelters may actually bring these children closer to God’s grace, where they are fed and clothed and protected from the appalling conditions of utter destruction, famine, and brutal poverty. Deeply moving and void of any pretense, these are graphic depictions of a life unimaginable just about anyplace else in the world today, evidence of a kind of prehistoric dawn of man, even worse than the devastating, war ravaged rubble of GERMANY YEAR ZERO (1948), more reminiscent of Hiroshima, as everything is flattened, where no buildings survive. Out of the calamitous ruins of destruction new life forms may thrive, where one can only hope and pray that one of them is human. After driving in a car all night and much of the day just to find this place, it’s nearly unfathomable to imagine how Omar and his siblings are actually making the dangerous trek back across the country on foot to find their way back into the protection of the Ebhi shelters so many miles and miles away, where they may as well be lone survivors of the apocalypse, but as the film suggests, they must learn to walk before they can fly.
New Yorker Richard Brody (capsule review)
Beginning with a look at a living saint—the octogenarian Abdul Sattar Edhi, whose foundation provides a refuge for runaways and abandoned children in Karachi, Pakistan—the documentary filmmakers Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq turn their attention to the young residents of Edhi’s group home as well as to Asad, a once desperate orphan who has remade his life as a driver for the organization and functions as the chidren’s unofficial advocate. They certainly need one; the boys whom Mullick and Tariq follow most closely, Omar and Rafiullah, have grown up with terrifying violence at home. The smart and unsentimental Omar, a tough customer who is also a sensitive and vulnerable friend, displays scars from cuts inflicted by his father. The quiet Rafiullah, who cries on his way home in fear of beatings, is greeted by members of his extended family with the wish that his dead body had shown up instead, and Asad negotiates with them to spare him from punishment. The filmmakers capture extraordinary adventure on the wing, as when they enter Taliban territory to bring Omar home; along the way, the boy visits a shrine against Asad’s wishes, resulting in one of the most exciting and daringly filmed chase scenes in the recent cinema. In Urdu.
These Birds Walk was very well-received at
Film Comment Eric Hynes
The subjects of Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s exquisite
documentary may not be able to fly, but they’re hardly just walking. Street
kids who’ve been swept into an orphanage in
Long-take, Lord of the Flies–like sequences following the kids within the Edhi center—a sanctuary founded by aging humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi—alternate with scenes of former street refugee Asad, whose job as an ambulance driver consists of returning runaways and transporting the dead. The filmmakers never underscore this irony, yet it haunts everyone from Asad, who’s offered higher commissions for dead bodies than live ones, to boys who’d rather die than return to an abusive household, to impoverished families unable to feed their children.
Such callousness is refuted by Asad’s battle-scarred empathy, old man Edhi’s endurance, and the poetry of the film itself, which finds beauty not in poverty but in glimpses and gestures that transcend it. “What’s up with your running?” Asad asks the silent Omar, but no explanation is necessary.
There are lost children in every country, no matter how advanced it thinks itself; children who are beaten, neglected or outright abandoned. Children who run away. The only thing that varies is the level of resources that strangers can gather to bring to their aid. Abdus Sattar Edhi has dedicated his life to helping children like this. He is now at the end of his life, sitting on the floor washing babies, quietly taking joy in their smiles. The children's home that he founded will go on without him. He will be remembered by thousands.
Inside the children's home, we meet some of the kids. There are a
lot of them. The place is full of constant movement and noise, its few staff
struggling to keep up. Many of the kids miss their homes and families, many are
lonely, but it is also a place of joy, full of the energy generated by having
so many people to play with. The kids squabble in the corridors, declare
eternal friendship, swat each other on the head during prayers. They discuss
religion, politics and their undying love for
One kid stands out. This is Omar. He's a bully, but he's also plainly very fond of some of his companions. He won't back down from anything, including fights with much bigger kids over petty things like the loss of a sandal. His determination to live on his own terms is a bold act of defiance in a county battered by poverty and war. But he misses home, misses sleeping curled up with his brothers and sisters. As kids are returned to their families, he keeps getting bumped to the end of the list, because his home is in Taliban country.
Taking the kids home, where possible, is Asad. He's an ambulance driver, an orphan himself, once suicidal, now finding a reason to live through helping others. Not that it's an easy job. Petrol is scarce and he has to fit in enough paid trips - helping sick people and transporting corpses - to make ends meet. Can't he just carry a kid and a corpse at the same time? he is asked, and he has to try and explain why this would be a problem.
Sometimes when Asad takes the kids home, their families are delighted to see them. Sometimes they tell him it would be better if the kids were dead. With resources at the home stretched, he has to make difficult decisions.
Simple, observational, this documentary lets is subjects speak for themselves. Through its focus on children it presents a much wider-reaching portrait of a society trying to hold onto its values in the face of chaos and economic hardship. Amid the squalor, there are scenes of great beauty. Some of the snatches of conversation we hear are like found art, poetic in what they capture and convey. From fragments, the filmmakers have assembled something remarkable. Catch it if you can.
The opening of Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq's These Birds Walk pulsates with youthful energy, as the camera follows a child running across a field and into the ocean, where he splashes around freely, seemingly without a care in the world. These images encapsulate the kind of freedom implied by the film's title, and it's one that, for reasons that have to do with the chaotic environment the boy is in, will mostly be denied to him and the rest of the Pakistanis featured in the film—except in stray moments that are given expressive emphasis under the filmmakers' strikingly cinematic sensibility.
At first, These Birds Walk seems as if it will be a
tribute to the laudable humanitarian efforts of the Edhi Foundation, a
nonprofit social-welfare program, founded by celebrated philanthropist Abdul
Sattar Edhi, devoted to helping runaway youths in
Mullick and Tariq use a wide range of cinematic techniques to convey the tenuous environment in which their subjects find themselves: the uneasy sense of oasis the runaways feel at one of the Edhi Foundation's clinics and those occasional moments where youths such as Omar lash out, puncturing the establishment's haven-like feeling. Many of the scenes within the clinic are captured in long takes and fixed-camera shots, but with certain images beginning out of focus before slowly becoming clearer—a clever way to suggest undertones of doom-laden tension amid the outward calm. Within such a context, one can't help but notice those isolated moments of explosive energy that erupt within the foundation, perhaps most memorably in an extended handheld tracking shot that follows Omar going up and down a hallway picking fights with other runaways as he struggles to find a missing slipper.
But far from being just shallow gambits to make the film seem spuriously "cinematic," such visual tropes serve to highlight a sense of rootless dislocation among runaways like Omar, one borne out of a profound lack of a sense of "home." The final 10 minutes of These Birds Walk crystallizes this feeling, as Asad drives Omar back to a dangerous and desolate Taliban-controlled village that doesn't appear to even have any houses to speak of. And when Asad discovers that Omar's family members didn't necessarily mind that he ran away in the first place (because anywhere is safer than his particular village), one begins to get a fuller sense of the kind of deeply human emotional complexities that underpin even the most well-meaning of philanthropic efforts in such a troubled milieu. Edhi may admit to feeling "closer to God" when he helps children, but the truth on the ground, as ever, is painfully complicated—though that, of course, hardly means that the fight isn't worth keeping up in the first place.
NewCity Chicago Ray Pride
These Birds Walk / The Dissolve Scott Tobias
These Birds Walk - The Playlist|Indiewire Diana Drumm from The Playlist
Village Voice John Oursler
These Birds Walk Tyler Foster from DVD Talk
Film Journal Intl David Noh
Sound On Sight Simon Opitz
THESE BIRDS WALK Facets Multi Media
Chicago Reader Ben Sachs
'These Birds Walk' takes an intimate look
at the lives of Pakistan's runaway children Noreen Nasir interview from PBS,
BOMBLOG: These Birds Walk by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold Anya Jaremko-Greenwold interviews the director from Bomblog, November 4, 2013
Interview with Omar Mullick Nick Dawson interview from Filmmaker magazine,
SXSW Review: 'These Birds Walk' | Variety Peter Debruge
good man of Karachi: In Pakistan, and especially in Karachi ... Tim McGirk extensive article from The Independent,
day I met Abdul Sattar Edhi, a living saint - Telegraph Peter Oborne extensive article from The Telegraph,
Los Angeles Times Betsy Sharkey
RogerEbert.com Omer M. Mozaffar
New York Times Nicolas Rapold
Tarkovsky, Andrei Art and Culture
Tarkovsky's poetic films, interwoven with loose narrative threads and strikingly sublime images, demand a lot from the viewer, but return much more. In his signature piece "Andrei Rublev" (1969), a three-hour exposition on the fifteenth-century painter, Tarkovsky takes the viewer through series of scenes that jump one to the next with no seeming coherence or linear structure. Shots of everyday life in the countryside are interspliced with recurring symbolic imagery such as a jug of milk shattering on the floor, lovers levitating in ecstasy, and characters struck by an invisible hand; each image transitions to the next until the gaze is gradually arrested by the whole of this meticulously crafted cinematic experience. Each scene, quietly lensed, not obtrusively explained, leaves a stark impression; the kinetic thought process can then synthesize these into its own meanings. Tarkovsky's belief in the visual is thus clear: "The image is an impression of the truth, a glimpse of the truth permitted to us in our blindness."
Noted as the most famous Soviet filmmaker since Sergei Eisenstein, Tarkovsky was heavily influenced by the classical education provided by his father, Arseniy Tarkovsky, a well-known poet. To a certain extent, Tarkovsky was able to evade Marxist restrictions on art and his government's emphasis on Social Realism. (He defected to the West just prior to his death from cancer.) His films have religious subtexts, as in his debut, "Ivan's Childhood" (1962), and often focus on spiritual battles. Tarkovsky's artistic motivation also seems to have been spiritually borne: "The artist is always a servant, and is perpetually trying to pay for the gift that has been given to him as if by miracle." Although Tarkovksy's dream-like cinema compiles shards of inner lucidity that initially seem incoherent, the overall effect of his films is both haunting and elegiac when consumed as a subconscious whole.
DVDBeaver Director’s Chair: http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/masterlist.htm
Andrei Tarkovsky is considered one of the most significant filmmakers of the 20th century and the most notable Soviet film-maker of the modern era. Although his appeal often extends to scholars and academia, his popularity, fueled by his commitment to cinema expressed as poetry and art, has risen extensively in the past few years allowing his small oeuvre of only 7 feature films to be exposed to a much wider audience. Flexing from dense, personal memories (Mirror) to episodic articulations on art's relevant survival (Andrei Rublev) - Tarkovsky's films mark themselves with grand depth of construction, a bold visual expression of thematic time and space and an often inaccessible transcendent spirituality of faith and the unconquerable human spirit. His keen interpretation of the responsibility of the artist strike uncompromisingly bold and unique themes within the ambiguous nature of his narrative structure. The profound magnitude of the 'metaphysical' and inter-personal interpretations resonate most prominently upon re-visitation of his complex films.
Andrei Tarkovsky Website official site with superb links
Andrei Tarkovsky Maximilian Le Cain from Senses of Cinema
"Tarkovsky, or the Burning House," by Petr Král, translated by Kevin Windl from Screening the Past
Totaro on Tarkovsky Art for All ‘Time,’ by Donato Totaro from Film-Philosophy
"Andrei Rublev, The Stalker, and Social Realism," by Birkan Unver Part 2 from the Light Millennium
Europe Review - Tarkovsky: The Long Take That Kills
Benjamin Halligan investigates Tarkovsky's rejection of montage
"Non-diegetic sound and aural imagery in the films of Andrei Tarkovsky," by Rob Bridgett from Sound Design of the Moving Image
"Andrei Tarkovsky, Master of the Cinematic Image," by Stuart C. Hancock from the Mars Hill Review
Trinity...," by D. P. Armstrong. [PDF] a lecture given to the
Tarkovsky at Film North
an oddly organized homage to Tarkovsky’s filmmaking
"Mirror, Mirror," by Chris Fujiwara a Tarkovsky retrospective review from the Boston Phoenix
Film School: Andrei Tarkovsky
Acquarello reviews Ivan's Childhood, Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Mirror, Stalker, Nostalgia and The Sacrifice
Tarkovsky's Cinema of Spirituality
Gregory and Maria Pearse
of A. Tarkovsky
Home page for this museum situated in Tarkovsky's birthplace, Yuryevets, Russia
through Space Chris Fujiwara
Stalking Tarkovsky at the
Sheffield Doc/Fest David Cox
from The Guardian,
Films Admired by
Tarkovsky Kenji from Mubi,
Tarkovsky’s Legacy Kenji from Mubi, March 16, 2010
Part 2 ()
This is Tarkovsky’s first student film while he was studying at the VGIK (Russian State Institute of Cinema).
Although I did like the 1946 adaptation of the Killers, I
wasn't sure how a Russian, let alone someone who is usually much more into the
visual prowess of things like Andrei Tarkovsky, would tackle Ernest Hemingway's
brief, pulpy story of men on a mission and a man in hiding from those men.
Turns out it's one of the best short films I've seen from a soon-to-be world
renown European auteur, because of it's emphasis on the simplicity of suspense,
of human action in desperate circumstances and how it's filmed with a mix of
the noir style and with Tarkovsky's dependence on figures in curiously exciting
compositions. He isn't alone on the film, however, as the middle scene at the
apartment was directed by friend Alexander Gordon, with Tarkovsky directing the
bigger chunks at the diner, and another guy Marika Beiku co-directing overall.
Since the apartment scene is so short though, and accounts for just three
shots, one being most elaborate as it goes in and out, tight and wide, on the
morose Swede in hiding and his friend at the diner filling him in on what
happened, it's mostly Tarkovsky's game here.
Part of the skill, and curiosity, in how tense the long first scene at the diner is that music is completely absent, with the only tone coming from Tarkovsky himself as a whistling customer. Meanwhile, Tarkovsky uses Hemingway's dialog in a very realistic manner, even when he goes deliberate angles, like when George goes into the back with the sandwiches and we see his feet in the same tilted frame as an empty can on the floor, or with the usage of the mirror on the wall. There's also the suddenness of seeing a machine gun that strikes things up in the room, and just the general attitude of Al and Max, the hit men, as they keep calling George "bright boy" in a way that reminds me of the curious double-talk in a self-consciously bad-ass movie like Pulp Fiction (not to mention the near casual usage of the 'N' bomb). While it ends sort of on a screeching halt, the sense of ambiguity as to the fate of the Swede as well as everyone else in the diner who hid the secret is worthwhile for the material, as it's perfectly anti-climactic. It's not entirely a simple experiment, as it's too polished for that, but I couldn't see how it could be made any longer either. It's perfectly paced and acted nearly as well, and it's a fitting pre-cursor to the un-prolific but remarkable career of one of
The Killers Gary W. Tooze from DVDBeaver
This is Tarkovsky’s second student film while he was studying at the VGIK.
I never much liked the poor visual style of the most soviet
films I've seen. But this one caught my attention, for that it's very stylishly
The short film tells a story of a little soviet town where during roadworks a stockpile of WWII bombshells was discovered buried under the ground. The town gets evacuated & the army men have to remove the discovery accurately so that it doesn't blow away the buildings nearby. Tarkovsky even threw in some subplots. One being a man who was in the army during WWII and offered his help. The other - a surgeon, operating a wounded person in the evacuated town's hospital.
The film is fast paced and very well done. It holds an atmosphere of tension, makes the viewer fear that the shells will explode any second. Scenes are cleverly composed and memorable with first time appearances by famous Russian actors Leonid Kuravlyov and Stas Liubshin. The film's title comes from Kuravlyov character's line: "Yes, bro, seems like there will be no leave today". Probably the best short I've ever seen.
1960's The Steamroller and the Violin
was Andrei Tarkovsky's thesis film at the
I was 18 years old when I stumbled into a double bill of La Jetée and The Mirror. Up until that point, my knowledge of surrealism and metaphor in the cinema was largely culled from Terry Gilliam and Fantastic Planet. I had no idea what poetry could be created with a camera.
Needless to say, I was blown away by my introduction to the directors Chris Marker (La Jetée) and, most importantly, the famed Russian surrealist Andrei Tarkovsky (The Mirror). Both directors deployed such mysterious floating narratives -- every time I thought I knew exactly what was going on, the metaphors twisted and pulled their narrative into new oceans of meaning.
These magnificent creations were film at its most intangible. I learned that evening that the most concrete, life- reflecting form of art is not far from the most abstract, ineffable means of storytelling. From the most realistic comes the most surrealistic. The abstract image may be confusing, but even if we know nothing else, we know it is not reality, and thus we have a grounding point. Our perspective remains uncluttered and clear. The more realistic image, on the other hand, that possesses some element of the unknown is much more disorienting. A painting by Magritte -- where normal components make up a bizarre whole (a train, for example, hurtling not out of a tunnel but out of a domestic fireplace) -- upsets our perspective because the distinction between the real and the surreal are blurred.
This confusion of the real and the surreal was what I felt at the end of The Mirror. I felt as if I might drown in this utterly different method of storytelling, but I didn't want to come up for air. I still don't.
Tarkovsky's thesis film, The Steamroller and the Violin, made in 1960, is now being distributed on VHS and DVD by Facets Multimedia. Made when Tarkovsky was only 28 years old, the film is an accomplished work by a burgeoning genius. The narrative could be construed by those hungry for detailed plotlines as weak and simplistic, but Tarkovsky's signature use of water and mirrors as metaphor for self-reflection and the beauty in the everyday, and his reliance on moments of quiet rather than dialogue to tell his story, are in full, glorious effect.
The Steamroller and the Violin is, really, a children's film, a popular genre under the Soviet regime. Detailing the unusual relationship between Sasha (Igor Fomchenko), a seven year old boy harassed by his peers for playing the violin, and Sergey (Vladimir Zamansky), an adult steamroller operator, The Steamroller and the Violin is a moving but peculiarly distancing film. Although the bond central to the narrative is as sweet as a Peter Rabbit book, Tarkovsky's hints of alienation, determinism, and irony transform the film into a meaningful, unsentimental account of childhood and the memories that color it. More than merely a children's film, The Steamroller and the Violin feels like the memory of a story heard years before, now influenced by adult stimuli like romance films and war. It's a fable for adults, told with the quiet modesty of a children's story.
The storyline is not what is so amazing about the film, although it includes some delightful, subtly ironic play. Sergey and Sasha meet, share experiences and talents, and, eventually, lose each other. It is an obvious pattern, but one that is usually used in romance films. Tarkovsky gently calls attention to the parallels between the friendship and an adult romance (after Sasha has seen Sergey for the last time, he dreams of running up to the steamroller and driving into the distance with him; they may as well be on a white horse, riding into the sunset), and thus makes what could be a tearfully melodramatic and overly sugary story into a dreamily, slightly humorous commentary on childhood relationships and memories. And just as objects may take on intensely sentimental value in a relationship between lovers, objects take on great importance for Sasha, representing a new way of understanding one's physical world, one that Sergey and Sasha discover together.
Tarkovsky's focus on objects, however, shows that, in this film, the process of digesting visual information is just as important as storyline. Sasha, at one point, looks in a store window and sees the street reflected in broken mirrors and puddles on the ground. This sequence is the most mystical, poetic, and beautiful in the film; it brings to mind filmmakers like Dziga Vertov (Man With a Movie Camera) as well as the later accomplishments of Tarkovsky himself. As Sasha looks, the pendulum-like camera movement, paired with the mirrors' kaleidoscopic effects, turns daily images like a flock of pigeons, apples spilled on the ground, and balloons in mid-flight into a whirling panoply of visual music. The audience is held as captive as Sasha as Tarkovsky allows us to pause and just look at the surreal -- and the beautiful -- in the everyday. The effect is, in a way, disorienting, but most importantly, wondrous; Tarkovsky, in effect, makes his audience into enraptured children.
Later, Sasha plays a private concert for Sergey as they stand in a condemned building dappled with late afternoon light. Watery reflections play on the walls, creating a visual accompaniment to the soothing, mournful music Sasha plays. The image is nothing short of hallucinatory and transcendent, and feels as ethereal as a half-familiar childhood memory. It is as though the audience were Sasha, years later, remembering this moment as a hazy, fading silhouette of the past. That is the brilliance of this quiet little film; before you know it, you're caught up in the glow of memory. Tarkovsky leads us like children through the hallways of his poetics, and we cannot help but follow his wanderings, taking time to gaze along the way.
Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of The Steamroller and the Violin is the exciting feeling of a genius on the brink of realizing his full potential. Water imagery abounds, as it does in later Tarkovsky films, here serving as metaphors for personal reflection and memory. The almost reverential silences, also signature Tarkovsky devices, crop up constantly in The Steamroller and the Violin; often, meaning is conveyed through glances rather than words. Truly, a genius on his way to being discovered lies within this sweet film. Finding him present in every corner of every frame is a joy, a triumph, and a celebration of the tremendous talent he would eventually become.
The Steamroller and the Violin James Steffen from Turner Classic Movies
My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt encouraged and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how.Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.
on Ivan's Childhood we encountered protests from the film authorities every
time we tried to replace narrative causality with poetic articulations...There
was no question of revising the basic working principles of film-making. But
whenever the dramatic structure showed the slightest sign of something new—of
treating the rationale of everyday life relatively freely—it was met with cries
of protest and incomprehension. These mostly cited the audience: they had to
have a plot that unfolded without a break, they were not capable of watching a
screen if the film did not have a strong story-line. The contrasts in the
film—cuts from dreams to reality, or, conversely, from the last scene in the
crypt to victory day in
—Andrei Tarkovsky, from Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema
Andrei Tarkovsky not only established himself
as the finest Soviet director of the post-War period, but is considered one of
the most significant filmmakers of the 20th century. Working between 1962 and 1986, he only
completed seven feature films, five in the
At 29, Tarkovsky had just graduated from VGIK (the Gerasimov All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography) when his first film was inherited from director Eduard Abalov, who had to abort the project, and is based on Vladimir Bogomolov’s novella The Ivan, and is now considered one of the boldest, artistically daring directorial film debuts in history, and one of the greatest post-Stalin era Russian films, winning immediate recognition, including the Golden Lion 1st Place Prize at Venice, calling Tarkovsky the Bergman from the East. Bergman responded by calling Tarkovsky “the greatest, the one who invented new language, reflections of life as a dream.” Tarkovsky treated his profession as a high calling, a devotion, a special cause, claiming film is the high art of opening up the human soul to an artistic image, claiming “Art can lead a man to the depth of the human soul and leave man defenseless to good.” The film was introduced at the Moscow Institute of Cinema with the following comments, “The film we are about to see is something extraordinary, never been seen on our screens before, a really great talent.” Tarkovsky was born in 1932 and would be 13 when the war ended. “I was his age when the war began. His situation was that of my generation.” The film is a very personal statement which introduces poetic cinema, moving from a terrifying realism to a poetic fantasy, revealing a mastery at incorporating surrealist elements into his cinematic world, which included his cameraman Vadim Yusov, a very strong presence of an artist behind the camera, creating a certain texture of images. He and Tarkovsky establish very personal imprints. “I’m sculpting in time,” imposing rhythm, time, duration, giving the film a language outside the regular dimensions of human existence.
Called by Jean-Paul Sartre a work of “Socialist surrealism,” the film is far from a conventional war drama, set during WWII over the course of just two days, where war is shown without bombs or battle scenes, as the past and present are woven into a psychological state of emotional turmoil, as Tarkovsky creates a uniquely personal stream-of-conscious narrative that blends reality with dreams and childhood memories to capture the portrait of an anguished soul of a young 12-year old orphan Ivan, in an unusually sensitive and affecting performance by Kolya Burlaiev. Opening in a dream, flying through the air among the trees, leading to piles of dead bodies around the devastated ruins of a burned-out mill, Ivan is seen wading through some swamp water, crawling under barbed wire, and the reality of war is revealed instantly. A flashback sets Ivan and his mother standing above a well looking down into it. She points out a star at the bottom of the well, stating our day is its night. Ivan can then be seen at the bottom of the well trying to scoop up the star in his hands, looking up at his mother who is then shot and killed. From such tenderness, death, that introduces Ivan’s overriding sense of melancholy throughout the film, a poetic moment where the dead return to console the living, where his main solace becomes his dream-memory world, a return to a time and place of childhood innocence.
Attempting to avenge his parent’s death, Ivan performs reconnaissance missions for the Soviet Army and is immediately told “War is for grown men,” ordering him to the rear where he can attend military school. But instead, he hangs around headquarters and volunteers for some of the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines, where his shy, childlike behavior is a stark contrast to the battle-hardened courage displayed during combat. He’s attracted to the character of Masha (Valentina Malyavina), an attractive nurse to Lieutenant Galtsev (Yevgeni Zharikov), who is then aggressively courted in the birch woods by Captain Kholin (Valentin Zibkov), swinging her effortlessly over a dug ravine, giving her a long kiss. She then has a long shot walking on a tree trunk, beautifully extended in time, eventually running away into the birch trees. In another sequence, Masha is told “War is a man’s business, it’s not for girls.” She has a fantasy in the trees with swelling music, but this becomes a fantasy of death, revealing Ivan in the present as a young boy wearing big boots, flipping through pages of an art book depicting Germans trampling on people, commenting “They poured petrol over people,” asking the two officers “Will you take me along to the other side?” But they respond “War isn’t for children...We mustn’t let him cross to the other bank,” claiming Ivan lost his mother, father, and sister, all killed by Nazi’s, followed by a play sequence of Ivan playing out a war game, like a dream, hearing voices, ringing a bell, a child alone, drawn into the shadows of darkness and light.
As a result of the post-Stalinist thaw in Soviet film construction, Tarkovsky’s highly personalized film deglamorizes war and instead focuses on the horribly anguishing internalized consequences, which often find expression on the surface, blurring the lines between dreams and reality, as Ivan joins a team assigned to retrieve the bodies of two other boys hung from a tree, previous scouts executed by the Germans. Like a mythical journey across the River Styx, Ivan and the two officers set out for the other shore, quietly in a boat, with hauntingly serene and still images, with a sign “Welcome,” which reveals the entry into enemy territory, where Ivan sees a wall with the words “Avenge our death. There are 8 of us, all under 19,” where flares light up the night sky over a tranquil lake which is at peace. Ivan’s inner thoughts suggest a dream where he is with another girl riding a cart filled with apples, initially in the rain, then the trees in the background become negative images, arriving at a peaceful shore where several horses are eating the apples on the ground, with a burning fire followed by the image “Avenge our death.” As they pass a downed plane in a mist and arrive in perfect stillness on the other side, Ivan separates from the men, preferring to go alone, where eventually the two officers are able to return without Ivan. It is the first snow and all is quiet. There is a long extended scene of the two men sitting at a table, motionless, where nothing is happening. “It’s so quiet—the war.” One hears the dripping of water, a true Tarkovsky moment, followed by the playing of a Russian bass, Chaliapin, on a phonograph, where the haunting quiet feels like the granting of a final wish before death.
The extreme hush is followed by thunderous newsreel footage of a Soviet victory with soldiers marching down the streets of Berlin, with the ringing of church bells, where soldiers examine what was a Nazi headquarters in ruins, revealing what appears to be identified as the charred body of Goebbels, who poisoned his wife and family, then committed suicide. We hear random thoughts out loud, “Will this be the last war on earth?” “I survived, and I must work for peace.” The soldiers find picture after picture of dead Nazi victims, shot, shot, hanged, hanged, shot, where they find Ivan’s photo where he is seen hanging upside down from a meat hook, dead. The camera pans the death rooms where the Nazi’s killed their victims, followed by a dream fantasia expressing the absolute tenderness of Ivan and his mother on a peaceful shore, collecting and drinking water, where Ivan plays with other children, chasing after a little girl, the one with the apples, running along the shore, running, running, running right past. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more a reflection of Ivan’s interior landscape, where by the end of his spiritual journey, Ivan is finally free from the brutality and madness of war and this hollow victory of man, and has finally crossed over to the other shore and found peace at the end, the peace of the dead. A transforming work, where certainly one of the essential themes of the film, and what likely attracted Tarkovsky to the material in the first place, was downplaying the military heroism and instead focusing on how someone’s rational interior world could be fractured and shattered by traumatizing war experiences, a symbol for the many Russian lives shattered by the war, using haunting imagery to show how war alters human perception to the point where people can no longer distinguish between reality and illusion.
Time Out Tony Rayns
Tarkovsky's first feature is in many ways an orthodox Russian film of its period. Ivan is a teenage Soviet spy on the German front in World War II who undertakes dangerous missions behind enemy lines, until the inevitable mission from which there is no return. Many of Tarkovsky's later images and themes are already present and correct: Ivan silently wading through still water, eerily immanent forestscapes, the poetry of forbidden zones, and life-and-death struggles played out in slow motion. But the glittering black-and-white camerawork has a florid, bravura quality that Tarkovsky later rejected, as if determined to invest this more or less familiar material with touches of 'visionary' beauty. The irony is that the generic storyline provides a much stronger foundation for his visual ambitions than do the religiose and feebly philosophical abstractions that ostensibly underpin the films from Solaris onwards. Tha aura of holiness around Ivan registers neither as religious bombast nor as patriotic myth-making, but rather as an awed respect for childhood mysteries. This is Tarkovsky before his peasant sentimentality and sense of self-importance got the better of him, and it still looks hugely impressive.
Ivan's Childhood Pacific Cinematheque
praised by Jean-Paul Sartre as a work of "Socialist surrealism",
Tarkovsky's lyrical debut feature won the Golden Lion at
Last Week Harrison Sherrod from Cine-File
One of the most bold, idiosyncratic directorial debuts in the history of cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky's IVAN'S CHILDHOOD centers on a young orphan who attempts to avenge his parents' deaths by performing reconnaissance operations for the Soviet army. Though he is ordered to return to the rear and attend military school, Ivan manages to hang around headquarters and volunteer for a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Ivan's behavior oscillates between being that of a callow child and a battle-hardened boy soldier with more valor and grit than most of his older comrades, and although we see him playact a knife fight, this is no game. As a result of the Khrushchev Thaw, IVAN'S CHILDHOOD is one in a series of late 50s Soviet films that eschews a typical propagandistic gung-ho outlook and deglamorizes the war by focusing on individual suffering. Though Mosfilm originally intended the film to be directed by Edward Gaikovich Abalyan, Tarkovsky makes it his own by imbuing it with fragments of his personal wartime experience. Indeed, the metaphysical forces prominently featured in his later work are already in play here. Similar to THE MIRROR, the film blurs the line between reality, memory, and the dream world. Tarkovsky incorporates a mélange of stylistic techniques that may or may not reflect the varying layers of reality, including negative images, documentary footage, dizzying point of view shots, and canted camera angles reminiscent of German Expressionist filmmaking. A third of the way through the film, Ivan encounters a distraught, shell-shocked old man whose house is largely in ruins; however, the man proceeds to hang a picture on what's left of a brick wall. With this image, Tarkovsky is suggesting that war obscures one's perception to the point that they are unable to delineate between the boundaries of reality and illusion. The film is playing as part of a Tarkovsky/Malick program titled "The Sacred and the Dasein" at Doc Films, and beyond the oft mentioned similarities between the two directors, there is a haunting likeness between the final scenes of IVAN'S CHILDHOOD and THE TREE OF LIFE, both of which take place on a beach and function as a dreamlike comment on the afterlife. Perhaps Ingmar Bergman said it best: "My discovery of Tarkovsky's first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me." (1962, 95 min, 35mm)
A harrowing yet poetic account of war seen through the eyes of a twelve year old boy, My Name is Ivan (1962) was Andrei Tarkovsky's first feature film and one that had a major impact on Russian cinema and the international film world (It won the Golden Lion at the 1962 Venice International Film Festival). The film, based on a novella by Vladimir Bogomolov, traces the brief life of a young concentration camp escapee, working as a spy for the Russian army during World War II. Recently orphaned - his mother and father were murdered, his sister killed by a bomb - Ivan dedicates himself to revenge against the Germans and willingly accompanies two Russian soldiers into a 'No Man's Land' between the two armies where they hope to retrieve the bodies of some dead comrades.
The ironic Russian title, Ivan's Childhood, is actually the more appropriate one since Ivan has already lost his innocence when the film opens. Here is a young boy who has had his childhood stolen from him by a man-made calamity. In the title role, Nikolai Burlyayev gives a remarkable performance, his expressive features allowing him to appear as a hungry, wide-eyed waif one moment and as a confident, expert assassin in the next. Equally unique is Andrei Tarkovsky's direction, which resembles a stream of consciousness narrative, blending realistic action sequences with the visions, dreams, and memories of the title character. There are also numerous cultural references to art, religion, music, and poetry and the visual compositions of the film are often haunting and unconventional: a light above a table swings back and forth to the sound of shellfire, reflections of leafless trees in a lake resemble crosses, a sudden explosion destroys a wall to reveal an icon of the Madonna and child, tilted over at an oblique angle.
Tarkovsky began work on My Name is Ivan, he was actually
replacing another director -
My Name is Ivan was released in 1962,
it brought Tarkovsky international fame almost immediately. At numerous film
Ivan’s Childhood (1962) Darren Hughes from Long Pauses
Ivan's Childhood | Senses of Cinema Fergus Daly from Senses of Cinema, July 2001
DVD Times Noel Megahey
Andrei Tarkovsky: The Logic of Poetry Dennis Toth from Film Notes from the CMA
The QNetwork Film Desk [James Kendrick] Criterion Collection
digitallyObsessed! DVD Reviews (Dan Heaton) Criterion Collection
epinions Criterion DVD [Stephen O.Murray] Criterion Collection
VideoVista Gary Couzens
Strictly Film School Acquarello
ANDREI RUBLEV A+ 100+
I was also blown away by ANDREI RUBLEV. Think of the film imagery of, say, Terrence Malick's DAYS OF HEAVEN, and one wonders, can a film be any more beautiful? Then one sees this film, which, above all others I've ever seen, defines what it is to be an epic masterpiece, filled with Tarkovsky's nobility of spirit, his personal imprint, where the camera perfectly captures series after series of absolutely, incredibly powerful images, some serenely beautiful, others terrifying, but all filled with thought, purpose, imagination, and power. Interestingly, ANDREI RUBLEV was released the same year as Bresson’s AU HAZARD BALTHAZAR, as both are among the finest films ever released expressing the cruelty of man through animals, specifically horses by Tarkovsky and a donkey by Bresson. Also in each film, after being viewed as a victim of man’s cruelty, the animal achieves an image of heavenly transcendence, representing the highest spiritual attainment of man.
Andrei Rublev Pacific Cinematheque
monumental second feature -- presented here in a fully- restored, full-length,
35mm CinemaScope print -- is considered by many to be the finest Soviet film of
the postwar era. Andrei Rublev presents eight imaginary episodes in the life of
its title character, a 15th century Russian Orthodox monk who won renown as an
icon painter. Little is known about the historical Rublev; Tarkovsky renders
him as a man clinging desperately to his faith in God and art in a world of
overwhelming cruelty and barbarism. The allegorical significance of the film
was not lost on the commissars -- Rublev's plight could stand for that of any
number of modern artists under Soviet rule -- and, after stunning Moscow audiences
at the end of 1966, the film was promptly banned for five years (on the grounds
of "historical inaccuracy"). An edited version won the International
Critics Prize at
With some of the most stunning cinematography this side of Kurosawa, Andrei
Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev is one of the finest films ever made.
Andrei Rublev was a medieval Russian painter of religious frescoes and icons,
Tarkovsky and Transcendental Style
For those new to the cinema of Tarkovsky, this is the best film to begin with. His direction is never more solid, and the subject matter and pacing are more accessible to viewers more accustomed to commercial
The transcendental style emphases "the shot" over montage and mise en scene over editing, to invoke meaning in the cinema. "The camera should preserve the unity of space and time," as Harvard Film Professor Vlada Petric puts it in his audio commentary. The transcendental method is an acquired taste and can be boring for those who do not understand cinematic metaphor. But if you stick with it, you'll be rewarded.
Criterion restores Rublev to its full running time of 205 minutes and Petric's audio commentary outlines Tarkovsky's thematic imperatives. Seven sequences are sifted out for analyses: the ntroduction, the crucifixion, the Hhliday pagan ritual, the Chapel of the Ascension, the raid, the bell, and Rublev's paintings. It would have been useful for professor Petric to clarify the philosophy used by the characters and to explain what all the horses in the film represent. Alas, his commentary requires that his listeners be well versed in art history in order to understand some of his stylistic juxtapositions, which can be obscure.
Tarkovsky himself shows up in excerpts of "Poet of the Cinema" commenting vaguely on broad questions such as "What is Art?" When asked what he would like to tell young people, his answer inspired unanticipated laughter: "Learn to love solitude, to be more alone with yourselves." So very Russian.
The disc also includes a great historical timeline that presents the major events in the lives of both Rublev and Tarkovsky. However, the sharp images of the non-anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) presentation are lessened by the slightly muddy quality of the digital mono soundtrack, a victim of the limited technology and recording technique available to Tarkovsky.
Andrei Tarkovsky's second feature has had an immensely chequered career.
Shot over a two-year period, it was completed in 1966, and promptly banned by
the authorities (the then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev pointedly walked out
during an official screening). After a print found its way to the 1969 Cannes
Film Festival, it finally got a release on both sides of the Iron Curtain in
the early 1970s, but in a severely truncated 145-minute version. Re-releases
pushed the running time up to 186 minutes (the version shown on BBC2 and
released on DVD by Artificial Eye and the Russian Cinema Council), but the
Criterion DVD is effectively the Western premiere of Tarkovsky's original
205-minute cut, The Passion of Andrei.
Whatever the problems faced by filmmakers working in the former Soviet Union, one thing they didn't have to worry about once their script was approved was whether or not their films would get sufficient funding. Andrei Rublev is an epic on a colossal David Lean-like scale (adjusted for inflation, the budget would be right up there with Hollywood's nine-figure blockbusters) - and all the more remarkable because it's also a profoundly complex, philosophically intricate meditation on what it means to be an artist: the kind of script that, if made in the West, would either have to be considerably dumbed down or shot on a hopelessly inadequate budget.
The sheer scale of the film is seen right from the opening sequence, an anachronistic but compelling allegorical tale of an over-ambitious balloon flight - which before its passenger plunges to his death gives us an extraordinary God's eye view of medieval
Absolutely nothing like Andrei Rublev had ever been seen before, and the Soviet authorities made sure that nothing like it would be seen again: it's a complete one-off. Tarkovsky was a perfectionist on a Kubrick-like scale, and his formidable attention to detail makes his vision of medieval
Among the greatest of all historical epics is Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev, a 15th Century biopic that's hardly an epic at all in the conventional sense. It may be more descriptive to call Rublev an elliptical masterpiece, a narrative whose elisions offer new perspectives on the events it chooses to depict.
The film's mysterious prologue sets the tone for what is to follow. A group of peasants struggles with the moorings of a hot-air balloon tethered outside a church. Before they let it loose, one man climbs aboard from the top of the church tower. As the balloon sails free, the camera itself suddenly becomes airborne, floating above the earth to show us what he sees. The exhilarating sequence is, of course, fraught with danger, and the experiment ends badly.
We never learn any more about that man or his ill-fated flight.
Instead, we're introduced to a group of three monks leaving
That's the condition under which we'll view the rest of the film -- as each of its seven segments begins, the viewer is again thrown off-balance. Rublev's presence isn't even a constant, as some sequences unfold without him. We expect him to show up eventually, as a bit player or even a spectator, but each vignette is absorbing in its own right. The key is that the events in the film illuminate Rublev's state of mind -- or rather they show what Tarkovsky imagines to be Rublev's state of mind, since few facts are known about the painter's actual life story. In that way, Rublev's character here is emblematic of The Artist, particularly one torn between a devotion to the spiritual and the nagging sensation that, perhaps, there is a great hypocrisy behind much of what masquerades as spirituality.
One such scene has Rublev stumbling across a pagan ritual charged with carnality. His curiosity is overwhelming -- as he observes one couple making love, he momentarily forgets where he's standing and his robes literally catch on fire. He's eventually captured and tied to a cross, a literal echo of his earlier imagining of a passion play, despite his protest that the sinners will burn in hell for their transgression. Later, he'll refuse to paint the Last Judgment, despite a colleague's matter-of-fact enthusiasm over a particularly threatening manifestation of Satan.
The final crisis comes when Rublev kills a man during the pillage
of the town of
As a Soviet filmmaker, Tarkovsky works in the shadow of Eisenstein, but his shooting style seems influenced less by Eisensteinian montage and more by the fluid camerawork and careful choreography favored by Murnau and Dreyer. The most obvious reference point for Tarkovsky's mise en scène is Ingmar Bergman, whose somber medieval tableaux for The Seventh Seal are reflected in Tarkovsky's vision. But because Bergman never shot in widescreen, Tarkovsky's use of the Cinemascope frame even more closely resembles the early work of Sacha Vierny, particularly Last Year at Marienbad. The key motif here is stately tracking shots that transform Tarkovsky's compositions, emphasizing the nature of architecture and landscape.
Tarkovsky's keen sense of spatial dynamics make Andrei Rublev a film of unerring beauty, one that would be remembered as some kind of masterwork on the strength of its photography alone. It's the impeccable marriage of nearly impressionistic content to impressive formalism that imbues Rublev with the power of great cinema. Here is that cinematic incongruity -- an epic art film.
-J. Hoberman Criterion essay
A Guide to Fifty Minutes' Worth of Andrei Rublev including an amazing collection of historical photos
"Andrei Rublev: Religious Epiphany in Art," by Nigel Savio D'Sa Journal of Religion and Film
SOLARIS A 98
I am aware of the controversy, as the writer completely disowned the Tarkovsky film. Stanislaw Lem's book takes place solely in space and renders humans, and all of their human values and understandings, frail and inept, mankind is merely a "speck of dust" within the cosmos, a world completely beyond all human understanding. Certainly love is a useless commodity, dwarfed by the immenseness of what we can't comprehend.
Tarkovsky's film, by contrast, completely re-writes Lem's story and focuses on the glory of human values that we take with us wherever we go, values that, in fact, comprise the essence of our humanity, represented by the recurring themes of the music of Bach, the paintings of Brueghel, a Greek bust, Cervantes' Don Quixote, all representations of our past. There is a wonderful scene in the space station library, complete with these earth references, as the men are challenged by the spirit of Kris's wife, she identifies the visitors as mirrors of their own consciousness, and she appears more human than any of them. Also, what Tarkovsky and his musical director Eduard Artemiev do with music is magnificent, literally transforming the Bach Prelude with the electronic music associated with Solaris, they are blended into one as the wife and mother and the childhood home and the space station all meld into one. By the time Kris returns to earth, this same theme has been transformed into something still recognizable, yet completely original, a musical reflection of Kris's own transformation. I felt the Tarkovsky film challenged the audience with the power of memory and history with the power of our modern day perspective and let the audience be the judge of what they felt was a more powerful force. Tarkovsky's ending is also completely ambiguous and can be interpreted with multiple possibilities. In fact, I was talking about this film for days after I saw it.
In my view, Tarkovsky is arguably the greatest filmmaker ever, perhaps alongside Dreyer, and the argument is simple. While they both made few films, each is an undisputed masterpiece, every one a brilliant work of art. Not even an A- in the group, all solid A's. Now that doesn't mean each of us can't dispute it, but that's how the argument goes. SOLARIS may be among his lesser works, (according to me, all are 4 Stars, on a 10 point scale, all are 10's, on a 100 point scale, all are between 97 to 100) but not because of any lack of creative input on Tarkovsky's part, his force is dominating and overwhelming in every film, all deal with the transformation of the human soul, but instead is based on the wooden acting performance of the lead character of Kris. The female lead, on the other hand, Natalia Bondarchuk, is among Tarkovsky's most memorable.
Solaris Pacific Cinematheque
Based on a novel by the noted Polish writer Stanislaw Lem,
Tarkovsky's Solaris is often described as the Soviet 2001; Jay Scott once
called it "Star Trek as written by Dostoevsky." The film concerns a
troubled, guilt-ridden scientist sent to investigate strange occurrences on a
space station orbiting Solaris, a mysterious planet with an intelligent Ocean
capable of penetrating the deepest recesses of the subconscious. Confronted on
his arrival by the incarnation of a long-dead lover, the protagonist is forced
to relive the greatest moral failures of his past. The film is magnificently
mounted in widescreen and colour, and offers a fascinating, felicitous marriage
between Tarkovsky's characteristic moral/metaphysical concerns and the popular
format of science fiction, a genre for which the director expressed no
particular affection, but to which he would return again -- more obliquely,
just as cerebrally -- in Stalker and The Sacrifice. Winner of a Special Jury
Prize at Cannes in 1972, "Solaris ranks with the best of Tarkovsky's work,
which is to say it ranks with the best movies produced at any time"
(Scott, Globe & Mail).
Now available in a terrific double-disc special edition from Criterion, Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 sci-fi classic, Solaris, arrives just a day ahead of Steven Soderbergh's pared-down remake. Though definitely not a film for all tastes, the Russian master's multilayered, cerebral mind-bender offers many rewards to those patient enough to withstand three hours of unremittingly slow, but spellbinding material.
Based on the book by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, Solaris charts the evolution of faithless psychiatrist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), who recovers his lost humanity on a space station surrounding the titular planet. Sent there to investigate some bizarre behavior by the crew, Kris finds the two remaining scientists, cyberneticist Snaut and astrobiologist Sartorius (Yüri Yärvet and Anatoli Solonitzin), under self-imposed lock and key. In their disheveled quarters, both men harbor what they call "visitors," entities, manifested by the planet itself, who embody some form of guilt associated with their respective hosts — generally a person, but in Snaut's case we never see his apparently abusive "friend," so it's terrifyingly unclear what purpose Solaris might have in sending such companions.
Kris himself is quickly drawn into this surreal and disturbing existence when his dead wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), also appears on-board. The spitting image of his suicidal spouse, she is undeniably real, yet she is clearly some sort of duplicate whose consciousness seems connected to her namesake by Kris' memories alone; in other regards, she is a distinctly different person. As she begins to grow emotionally, she struggles with the existential dilemma of individuality. And as Kris is forced to come to terms with, and accept, this doppelgänger, he himself becomes more human in the process. And, in conclusion, Kris is not only affected by Solaris, but becomes the reciprocal catalyst for a change in that being's existence, as well.
Solaris author Lem made no bones about disliking Tarkovsky's take on his novel. The primary reason was the director's overemphasis on faith vs. science, and Kris' ties to Earth, both in the half-hour of additional terrestrial scenes that preceed the Solaris encounter, and in the highly developed — and quite dysfunctional — family relationships that Kris resolves, one by one, through his exchange with the cognizant planet.
Lem's intent was more purely science-fiction-oriented: to explore man's ability to deal with alien life-forms — a situation he didn't especially think that our egotistical species would be prepared to handle. Yet despite the two artists' divergent perspectives, Tarkovsky's film does convey those very things that communicate Lem's basic theme: interaction with the unknown, and the fear and confusion such an encounter would cause. Solaris is compelling and chilling from start to finish because the director offers a committed, intensely atmospheric vision that is jammed with symbolism and detail — it may be more spiritually oriented than Lem would have liked, but it is undeniably a commanding piece of filmmaking.
Tired of renting a film from your local video store's science fiction bin, only to discover yet another chunk of mindless American pabulum? Well, take a turn into the foreign film section next time and try out the Russian-made SOLARIS, a rare example of Thinking Man's/Woman's Science Fiction from the labyrinthine genius of the late Andrei Tarkovsky. Though not as hypnotic and maddening as his later STALKER (imagine 2001 as rewritten by Samuel Beckett), both films capture a texture for nature and complexity of themes which are rarely attempted in modern-day celluloid sci-fi. Based on Stanislaw Lem's celebrated novel, the story involves a psychologist named Kelvin who's assigned to check on some funny business at a space station circling Solaris---a mysterious planet comprised of a swirling ocean of fog and matter. He arrives to discover the living quarters are nasty, grimy and unkept; the pair of remaining residents are half-nuts and unusually secretive; and the corridors echo with foreboding (not to mention dirty laundry). All the characters remain solemn and passive throughout (typical for Russian cinema), even as absurd, unexplainable occurrences transpire, such as some mysterious new additions to the ship's population. Soon Kelvin himself is pulled into the station's spell, and he must contend with the sudden appearance of his deceased wife, while trying to unravel who---or what---is causing these "guests" to form from the crew's subconscious desires. This a dense tale, as visionary as it is enigmatic, and though the special effects aren't going to give I.L.M. any worries, they're effective in a highly stylized way. But what makes it truly different is that instead of relying on cold technology and gimmicks, Tarkovsky builds his foundation on the all-too-human conditions of Loss and Longing. Who hasn't dreamt of reliving the past? Or seeing the person we once loved, one final time? Heavy themes to be found in a sci-fi flick, and though Tarkovsky is never subtle in his intentions, the entire enterprise is forged in personal pain...Be prepared to slow down your rhythms a bit though. Several long, pretentious sequences may tax your patience (such as a tour along an urban highway, symbolizing Kelvin's journey through space), but there's beauty to be found in every shot. And at nearly three hours long, this epic-length tale is certain to infuriate short-attention-span viewers, even as it dazzles those with an eye toward the more intellectually courageous. Though not for all tastes, SOLARIS is an uncompromising masterpiece of despair and romance, poured within the trappings of traditional science fiction.
Yes, 165 minutes. 21 minutes longer than 2001 : A Space Odyssey, to which it was intended as a Soviet response. And there are moments when it feels like 165 hours, when it seems to be taking pride in being as aggressively nebulous as possible. But with Tarkovsky, you give the benefit of the doubt. The opening section is stunning. A man stands in a field near a dacha in the Russian countryside, watching the reeds in the water. He’s an astronaut, and this is what it looks like when it’s your last day on Earth. The images are so eerily beautiful, so powerful, you’re hooked - you know you’ll stay the course. You trust this movie.
Soon, the story proper - loosely based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel - starts. The man, Kris Kelvin (solid Donatas Banionis) travels to a space station circling the distant planet Solaris. Only two of the original eighty-five crew survive. It has been established that the vast ocean covering the planet’s surface is a single, sentient creature - a vast, mysterious alien brain, with the power to conjure up simulacra of people from the cosmonauts’ memories. Kelvin is thus “visited” by his wife Hari (top-billed Natalya Bondarchuk) whose suicide 10 years before he never quite managed to get over. Bondarchuk is phenomenal in a uniquely difficult role - she’s heartbreaking in her vulnerability, but as soon as she arrives on the scene things start to get really slow.
At key points in Solaris, just as you start to bog down in the static story and rambling philosophising, Tarkovsky pulls some audacious stunt that keeps you glued to the screen: at the one-hour stage a dwarf suddenly, absurdly, appears in the spaceship, then he’s gone, never to be seen again. An hour later the characters experience an unexplained ‘thirty seconds of weightlessness’ that’s one of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenes ever filmed. Then, just as the pace slows even further, just as you think no ending can possibly be justify trudging through this static swamp, Tarkovsky proves you dead wrong.
Solaris has been attacked for its ‘kindergarten philosophy,’ and that’s fair comment. It’s hard to disagree with the sniffy verdict of the Communist apparatchik at the Mosfilm studio: “ Take-home message: there’s no point in humanity dragging its shit from one end of the galaxy to the other.” And the skimpy English subtitling on some prints doesn’t help. But there is something glorious about the way Tarkovsky steers what the Party obviously intended as a massively big-budget space epic into his own idiosyncratic territory, making it into a crazy rumination on memory, art and family.
Yes, some of the shots and scenes are ridiculously long, but this is a price worth paying for the chance to see things unlike anything else in cinema: a silent ten-minute drive through what looks like Osaka; an intimate inspection of Brueghel’s ‘Return of the Hunters’; a glass doorhandle slowly rocking to a stop on a wooden chair. At one stage David Lynch was being lined up to do Return of the Jedi instead of Dune, and perhaps his take on Star Wars might have turned out like Solaris - nonsensical and borderline unwatchable as a science-fiction movie, but dazzling as a grand, visionary statement of maddening artistic genius.
Anyone who has seen a film by Andrei Tarkovsky has, in a sense, been
inducted into a special group of people who have been immersed in his talent
for powerful filmmaking. He is also one of the most important directors in the
history of world cinema, in my opinion, and his works have attained a certain
following that approaches religious proportions. Every Tarkovsky film I've ever
seen has simply blown me away. I've felt completely exhausted by not only the
philosophical and dramatic power of the piece, but by the aching attention to
artistic detail that makes his work visually stunning. His 1972 film, Solaris,
is no different, although it is arguably Tarkovsky's most elaborate production
in terms of sets, special effects, and overall design. Based on a novel by
Polish author Stanislaw Lem (upon whose work he would also base Stalker,
in 1979), it is perhaps his most accessible film, but it is also one of his
bleakest and most unsettling. It is an eerie, mysterious, and haunting story
that mixes both compelling human drama with a very heavy underlying sci-fi
Set in a nondescript future, the story concerns Kris Kelvin, a psychologist who, as the film begins, has been asked to travel to a deep space station to determine whether the last remaining three crew members are stable enough to continue their mission. What makes the situation strange and difficult is that the station is a base that orbits a mysterious planet (known as Solaris) that is composed of nothing but a weird, pulsating ocean. The planet has resisted any attempts at successful exploration and after a disastrous event in which several crew members lose their lives, the remaining three scientists are now out of contact with Earth. A surviving crew member gives his report, but it's a weird hallucination about varied images and experiences which no one takes seriously, not even Kelvin. Once on board the station, Kelvin encounters a disheveled mess of a space craft, and his old friend, Dr. Gibarius, is dead. The remaining two scientists, Sartorius and Snaut, can only speak in weird riddles and veiled threats about Kelvin not understanding what he's in for.
Disoriented and disturbed by what he has found on board Solaris station, Kelvin enters further into pseudo-madness when he awakens one day to discover his late wife, Hari, now shares his room with him. Where she came from, he has no idea, but she is flesh and blood. He soon discovers what has happened on board the station: that the planet Solaris is somehow taking subliminal thoughts from the astronauts and turning them into reality, thus distorting their mental state and completely confusing them. What should the men do? Live out their lives amongst the weird flotsam and jetsam that Solaris continually summons from their minds? Or should they enter the proposed final phase of the mission and bombard the surface of Solaris with radiation, in an attempt to find out what makes it "tick." Kelvin loves his wife, but at the same time, he understands, to his horror, that the wife he has on board the station is not real, and not truly the same woman, but rather a copy created by an alien intelligence beyond understanding.
There are deep themes here, and Tarkovsky manages to balance them quite well without losing control of the entire project. If anything, Solaris is a disturbing portrait of "first contact" with an alien intelligence that's neither hostile nor friendly, it simply is; it does what it apparently deems necessary, but in the process, who is truly studying whom? The scientists, when it comes down to it, are not doing the work; the work is being done on them. At least, I feel that's one of the layers here. The production also accomplishes an amazing level of immersion into the world of the Solaris station with excellent sets, strewn with the wreckage of "visitors" from the subconscious. They also, however, reflect the surrealistic, artistic tone that most of Tarkovsky's highly-visual films represent. It is ethereal and beautiful, while it is also extremely dark and disturbing. Solaris is not a neat, tidy sci-fi story, but rather a deeply morose journey into psychological oblivion. That might sound extreme, and to an extent it is, but it's also a highly entertaining. Solaris is, no doubt about it, an "art" film that burns the brain cells—in a positive way—as it exercises your imagination and your own philosophical nature, leaving its viewers with something to discuss for many nights to come. It has stayed with me since I first saw it back in 1990, and it will undoubtedly stay with you.
-Phillip Lopate Criterion essay
Solaris Acquarello from Senses of Cinema
Solaris Michael Brooke from DVD Times
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Scifilm Review Gerry Carpenter
MovieMartyr.com Jeremy Heilman
MIRROR A 99
aka: The Looking Glass
“When thought has been expressed in an artistic image, an exact form has been found for it.” —Andrei Tarkovsky
Perhaps the ultimate abstract, “metaphysical” experience, extremely difficult and challenging, to the point of being frustrating. With a book, you can re-read difficult passages for greater understanding. In a film, you get one shot at it, so there is more of a rhythmic flow of events. In this film, Tarkovsky creates wave after wave of new layers, using dream sequences, memories, and fantasies intermingled with stark newsreel footage of the Spanish Civil War, the great Russian retreat in WWII, Maoism in China, eventually arriving back at the present, but continually looking back to our collective childhood, suggesting perhaps that all the Russian families destroyed by war are being reconstructed in the making of this film. After some thought, my take on this film is it's supposed to be frustrating, in the same way Picasso and Cubism were frustrating, or atonalism, all frustrating to the prevailing, accepted standards. MIRROR blows a hole in those conventional standards and is really an abstract, impressionistic mosaic very similar to Eisenstein's POTEMKIN, only this comes after WWII, the horrors of which the world had never seen. How does one comprehend the insanity of war? Doesn't one have to reach extremely deep inside and find a language which encompasses everything, conscious and subconscious? Tarkovsky radically invents artistic poems of fragmented images, deeply felt personal images in what I now believe is a defiantly personal film, where he takes on this awesome responsibility, suggesting perhaps that all Russian families destroyed by war are being reconstructed in the making of this film. The personal intensity of someone caught up in near death experiences would probably closely resemble the construction of thoughts in MIRROR, thoughts racing in all directions, flashbacks, memories, dreams, attempts to find thoughts that are somehow appealing or comforting in the midst of such horror. This is the reality of the moment which is captured throughout this and other Tarkovsky films. Tarkovsky seems to be a man’s man, a filmmaker’s filmmaker, one that others draw inspiration from due to the richness of his material.
The film opens with a young man who stutters, while a female therapist is using what appears to be methods of touching, and perhaps hypnosis to relieve his anxiety. “I will relieve the tension and you will speak effortlessly and clearly.” This suggests relaxing the barriers of comprehension and all pre-conceived theories and ideas about film language, history, and art. Only then is the viewer prepared for what follows, much of which appears incomprehensible. Tarkovsky radically invents poems and fragmented images, deeply felt personal images in a defiantly personal film, a densely autobiographical study of the artist and his mother, wife, and child, using a “Proustian plunge” into stream of consciousness and memory, inventing something truly original and unique, a film with tremendous spiritual energy. The film was made on a small budget and went through 20 different editing processes until he settled on a final cut.
There are 4 poems written by Tarkovsky’s father, read, I believe, by the director. Tarkovsky films seem to feature an absent father, and a beautiful, but cold and distant mother. The old woman is Tarkovsky’s mother, but is played both young and old, using the same actress to play both the young mother and the wife, which is deliberately confusing. There is no grandmother, only a mother and children, the little boy is the artist as a young boy, featuring a narrator who walks through his childhood, trying to go through the mirror to reclaim his lost childhood and the innocence which was once his, featuring music by Bach, Purcell, and Pergolesi.
“Why are you so sad? Why are you so happy? We are filled with doubts and anxieties because we don’t trust our inner natures.” As one poem opens with an awakening, there are images of a burning barn, drinking water from a well, then changing from color to black and white, a child awakens asking for his father, while a mother is washing her hair in a tub. It’s raining outside, the woman looks in the mirror and sees an old woman looking back. “Being silent for awhile is good. Words can’t really convey emotions that are inert.”
A woman rushes through a forest into town during a downpour of rain, entering a newspaper company searching for a mistake she believes she made, claiming she could see an improper word, eventually getting into an argument with a coworker who tells her she’s always asking someone else to go “fetch some water” for her. When she tries to take a shower, there’s no water in the shower. The narrator says when he remembers his mother, he sees his wife’s face.
During a marital breakup, we see images of a Spaniard imitating a toreador killing a bull, a woman in exile claiming she can not return to Spain, as her husband and children are Russian, which is followed by images of a bombed city, children running through the streets, a moment of panic and shock, a line of refugees, followed by a brief glimpse of victory, supported by an eerie shot of giant balloons inscribed with the letters CCCP. A boy glances for several minutes through an art book with drawings by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, followed by a quote from Pushkin: “Not for anything in the world would I change my country.”
We see a child’s memory at a military firing range, newsreel footage of the WWII Russian retreat, where the soldiers are struggling to transport heavy artillery across rivers of mud, a voice narrates “We are immortal,” followed by an image of the atomic bomb, huge throngs of Chinese Maoists raising Red flags, portraits of Chairman Mao, and carrying the Red book. We hear that the Tartars from the East never crossed the Western border, preserving Christianity in Russia, though geographically separated by churches from Europe, we see Christians, many isolated, more looks at art drawings, reviewing pictures of the wife and the old woman, then a memory of the old woman as a young woman after Moscow was bombed. She was evacuated, moved into the country, actually forced to beg for food for her two children, creating a sense of guilt in the narrator as he knows his mother has dealt with political terror and sacrificed everything for him, forcing him now to feel responsible for all the conditions surrounding his life. Then a boy looks at himself in the mirror, followed by the image of a woman’s hand, a burning branch behind the hand makes the finger glow red, like a dim lamp. “Who did the angel appear to at the burning bush? Moses.”
We see an image of the husband, the sacrifice of a rooster, then an extraordinary image of a woman laying down, but suspended in air above the bed, as if levitating, then a Greek poem about the separation of the soul and the body. There is a light in the mirror, a fluttering of curtains, a young boy with a giant vase of milk, then the boy is naked, swimming in the water, the images of the mother turn into an old woman, a boy on his bed holds a small bird in his hand, then lifts his hand and releases the bird, followed by a landscape of a green forest across a meadow, there are lovers in the meadow. “Do You want a boy or girl?” Birth, a perfect act of creation, film, thought, artistic expression as creation, life, nature’s way, followed by mystical and physical images of nature. The old woman returns, as we see aging wood growing moss, nature’s way of aging, the old woman is walking in the meadow with two children. The wife looks at her life with tears in her eyes. remaining behind, standing behind a tall cross, watching the old woman taking the children further and further away, the camera recedes into a dark forest, receding further until the trees blot out the meadow, receding still further, blotting out all life, revealing only darkness.
The first time I saw MIRROR, I had no idea what to expect, and I found it damn near incomprehensible, almost to the point of being angry at how frustrating it was. Then in the lobby after the film, I heard all these other people whining and complaining about how difficult this film was, how pretentious and what a piece of crap it was, like who the hell did this person think he was, etc, what a pompous ass - thoughts along these lines, which made me re-think my entire view of the film, as I, personally, did not wish to be associated with the whiners and the complainers. I wasn't going to be a film wimp. So this was a transforming film experience, as I had to personally re-invent my take on this film. Understanding the reality of that moment, transforming a single moment in time through art, the art of opening up the human soul to an artistic image, is present in all Tarkovsky films.
The Mirror Film Comment
“One of the highpoints in the development of
modern cinema.”—Maximilian Le Cain, Senses of Cinema
For many, The Mirror is simply Tarkovsky’s masterpiece –– his most ambitious and most emotionally wrenching film. The plot, such as it is, concerns a dying man who reflects back on his childhood during World War II, the postwar transformation of Russian society, and his difficult relations with his wife and his mother. Yet, the film is concerned not with the facts of the memories than the memory’s textures: the precise feelings experienced at these moments. A collage of imagery –– including dramatic sequences, personal memories, newsreels, dreams and purely abstract passages –– the film also liberally quotes from the poetry of Tarkovsky’s father Arseny. In a double role as both the narrator’s estranged wife and his mother, Margareta Terekova is simply amazing.
The Mirror Pacific Cinematheque
Tarkovsky's visually sumptuous fourth feature offers an
idiosyncratic history of twentieth-century Russia, in the form of a poet's
fragmented reflections on three generations of his family. The poems used in
the film were written and read by Tarkovsky's own father; Tarkovsky's mother
appears in a small role as the protagonist's elderly mother. In a dual role,
actress Margarita Terekhova is both the protagonist's wife and his mother as a
younger woman. "The Mirror is Tarkovsky's central film, and his most
personal one, although it might be better described as a transpersonal
autobiography. Dreams and memories of an individual protagonist (who is never
seen on screen) blend with dreams and memories of the culture. The generations
of one family mingle. The Mirror achieves something which is uniquely possible
in cinema but which no other film has even attempted: it expresses the
continuity of consciousness across time, in a flow of images of the most
profound beauty" (Amnon Buchbinder). "Unique its form, unique its
vision" (Chris Peachment, Time Out). "Profoundly intimate . . . one
of the rare completely achieved films of autobiography" (Mark Le Fanu).
Happy Thanksgiving Darren Hughes from Long Pauses
My all-time favorite needle drop accompanies my favorite sequence in what also happens to be my favorite film, Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror. Midway through the film, Tarkovsky interjects a strange sequence in which a party of Spanish immigrants tell stories of the Civil War and bullfighting. (It's all part of his on-going meditation on the meanings of nostalgia.) Tarkovsky augments their stories with found footage of Spaniards fleeing the war, building his montage to a crescendo with the sounds of frantic crowds and squealing trains and ending on a shot of a young, frightened girl who stares directly into the camera. And then silence. And a cut to more found footage -- this time of early Soviet ballooners and a ticker-tape parade. I always cry at the precise moment Tarkovsky fades in the sound of Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater, No 12: Quando corpus."
CINE-FILE: Cine-List Tristan Johnson
Long before the great TREE OF LIFE euphoria of 2011, another film (from another director's famously sparse oeuvre) went off uncharted into the space between memories past and present, mapping onto them a universal significance. Andrei Tarkovsky's THE MIRROR may lack dinosaurs and metaphorical doors in the desert, but it does set a mean precedent for everything a passion project can be when an auteur is working on such an intensely personal level. Long a dream project of Tarkovsky's, it was only in the wake of SOLARIS that he was able to secure funding, and armed with a meager allotment of film stock, he began production in late 1973. Given the non-linear, dreamlike progression of the film, such obstacles aren't hard to comprehend, and they perhaps explain why this is his most fleeting film outside his debut, IVAN'S CHILDHOOD. Drawn across the middle of the 20th century, THE MIRROR takes a stream of consciousness journey through familial memories, with actors in dual roles as father and son, as wife and mother. Woven in are poems penned by Tarkovsky's own father, assorted clips of wartime newsreel footage, and the quiet, ethereal imagery characteristic of all his films. It all makes for a hazy dream of cinema, one from which you tragically wake too early. But lest the length should fool you, this is not Tarkovsky for beginners. No surprise that at his most personal, he's also at his most esoteric, so an afternoon spent with one of his aforementioned films would be a good primer. As for those already in his thrall, this is imperative viewing. (1974, 108 min, 35mm)
“Whatever happens, I must make Mirror - that is... a duty... I think
constantly about Mirror. It could make a beautiful picture. It will
actually be an instance of a film based in its entirety on personal experience.
And for that reason, I’m convinced, it will be important to those who see it.”
(Tarkovsky, 7th Sept, 1970)
Whether or not Mirror is Tarkovsky’s greatest film is a matter for the viewer. It’s undeniably his most accessible. Unlike everything else he produced after his debut, Ivan’s Childhood, Mirror isn’t forbiddingly long, nor does it explore matters of challenging philosophy. Uniquely among his seven pictures, scenes take place in a recognisably modern, urban environment. But Mirror is hardly a straightforward watch. There’s no ‘plot’ as such; single actors take multiple roles; we switch episodically back and forwards through time, switching between colour and tinted monochrome, often within the same scene. But you soon grasp what’s going on. For perhaps the only time, Tarkovsky freed himself from conventional narrative altogether, and instead attempted something different - to recreate his own world of memories on celluloid. And it is a stunning success.
Films can only really be validly compared with other films, but that’s easier said than done with a picture like Mirror. It’s as much a poetic and literary project as a cinematic one - Peter Handke’s 70s diaries and notebooks published as The Weight of the World are a good parallel. Tarkovsky uses extracts from his father’s verse (“I’ll conjure up which century I like...” to stitch together an intricate network of images and scenes, memories and dreams, colours and shapes and sounds. The cumulative effect is overwhelming, such is the director’s absolute control over, and confidence in, his material. What we see may only make total sense to Tarkovsky himself - these are deeply personal shards of autobiography he’s manipulating - but that doesn’t mean his audiences will be in any way baffled or alienated. This is his triumph - to create a valid, personal universe into which others can step, sure of their path through the forest of his subconscious.
It seems perverse to summarise or synopsise the ‘events’ of Mirror, but, roughly speaking, it’s the result of a 40-year-old, lying ill in his Moscow flat, looking back over his life. He narrates the story, but we never see his face. He’s separated from his wife (Margarita Terekhova) and child (Ignat Daniltsev), and, when she pays a visit, admits that their relationship partly broke down because he never sorted out his relationship with his mother. Meanwhile Ignat forms future memories of his own. The past is always protruding, unbidden, into the present, and we flash back to various episodes in the narrator’s childhood in the country, some momentous, some apparently trivial - Daniltsev plays the young narrator, Terekhova the mother - interspersed with newsreel footage of key events in recent Soviet history.
While it’s often tricky to establish exactly what’s going on, you don’t care - Mirror is such a seductively watchable experience. This is partly due Terekhova’s astonishing double performance as the mother/wife, at one point gazing hypnotically, full into the camera, as she’s about to kill a cockerel. It’s also because the film is studded with some of the most astonishing images in all cinema. Fire and rain are everywhere, curtains billow in mysterious darkened rooms, winds gust over fields and through forests (Tarkovsky must have used a windmachine for some of these effects). A man lies on a bed, picks up a wounded bird, cradles it for a moment before throwing it up, and it rises in slow motion through the air. There isn’t a single bad shot in the movie, not a single off-note struck. Apparently Tarkovsky went through 20 cuts before he was happy, and it shows, it was worth it. What he ended up with was perhaps the ultimate example of what a supremely talented individual - an artist - can do with cinema. Compared with this, should we even call these other things films at all?
“I should like to ask you all not to be so demanding, and should not think of Mirror as a difficult film. It is no more than a straightforward, simple story. It doesn’t have to be made any more understandable.” (Tarkovsky, 29th April, 1975)
After the relatively conventional, narrative-driven likes of Ivan's
Childhood, Andrei Rublev and Solaris, AndreiTarkovsky's work
underwent a sharp conversion, turning inwardly on itself to create four
uniquely beautiful but often frustratingly impenetrable films where endlessly
complex and intricate layers of images and sounds combine to create a whole
encyclopaedia of subtle, allusive meanings to which the story very much plays
The Mirror was the first of these, and remains the most 'difficult', largely because Tarkovsky made it so deeply personal - essentially, it's his autobiography. But this isn't 'autobiography' in the sense of "I was born in 1932 and grew up in
And that's very much what it's like encountering The Mirror for the first time, without any knowledge of Tarkovsky's life or mid-twentieth-century Russian history, which pretty much describes the conditions under which I first saw it in the early 1980s (though it's worth noting that for all its apparent impenetrability, this generated more ardent fan mail from ordinary Russians than any of Tarkovsky's other films).
Despite having only the vaguest clue what it was about, though, I kept watching, because Tarkovsky's control of his material is so compelling that I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. An early sequence, with the children calmly watching their neighbour's house burn to the ground, captures all the fascination they must have felt at the sight, along with some almost tactile sensations - not just the fire, but the water dripping off the roof of the shed from which they stand and stare. Almost every scene is given a similar iconic moment, with the seemingly banal - a reflection in an oil lamp, breath fading from the surface of a table, the wind rustling through bushes and cornfields, burning embers, flowing water - being filmed in such a way as though we'd never seen it before.
And this is the crucial point about The Mirror - as Tarkovsky himself says on the soundtrack, "words cannot express a person's emotions". So on a first viewing, it should really be experienced: explanations come later, and there are plenty on offer (most notably in Tarkovsky's own book Sculpting in Time), after which one returns to the film again and it becomes ever more richer. It's been compared to a Cubist painting, and it's easy to see why: its subject is illuminated from a whole range of angles, many applied simultaneously, with the result that it often seems like a radically different film on each encounter (Tarkovsky apparently re-edited the material some twenty times before he felt he'd got the balance right).
Ironically enough, given the film's subject, Tarkovsky himself hardly registers on the screen - much of the focus is on his mother, played initially by Margareta Terekhova and, later on, by his real mother (Tarkovsky grew up in a single-parent family after his father, the poet Arseniy Tarkovsky, walked out on them - his poems regularly recur on the soundtrack like a half-buried memory, and when he appears as a character, he's usually just offscreen, lurking in the shadows).
The outside world is only barely touched upon - Stalin's Terror of the late 1930s becomes an interlude where his panic-stricken mother is convinced her inept proofreading has caused an inadvertently obscene mistake in an official volume, the Spanish Civil War is alluded to via the brief presence of Spanish refugees in the family apartment, while World War II becomes a sequence between a lonely, embittered orphan and his teacher that flares up into a suspenseful confrontation over a grenade.
These episodes are enhanced by the striking use of newsreel footage of episodes from the Spanish Civil War and of Soviet troops during World War II, whose function is partly to give us a guide as to the period being described somewhat elliptically in the main narrative, but also to make a point about the filming of 'history': even when the subject is faithfully recorded, the mere act of selection (of the shot in the first place and of this particular footage subsequently) makes this material into just as much a work of art as Tarkovsky's own images.
But just as much attention is paid to the characters' inner lives, as outwardly realistic scenes segue into what can only be dreams - the mother wanders through the house after washing her hair, as water pours from the ceiling over her (like most Tarkovsky films, The Mirror is saturated in water, fog and moisture in general), while later her body levitates as she sleeps.
There's no chance someone with my background will ever get to fully grasp The Mirror - I'd have to be Russian and at least three decades older for it to speak to me the way it spoke to Tarkovsky's contemporaries - but even I can appreciate that it's one of the most hauntingly beautiful films I've ever seen, as well as one of that tiny handful of works that genuinely pushes the medium into new and previously undiscovered territory.
STALKER (Сталкер) A 100
Here we are at the threshold. This is the most important moment of your lives. You have to know that here your most cherished wish will come true. The most sincere one. The one reached through suffering. —Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) from STALKER (1979)
“It is about the existence of God in man, and about the death of spirituality as a result of our possessing false knowledge.” —Andrei Tarkovsky
Now the summer has passed.
It might never have been.
It is warm in the sun,
But it isn’t enough.
All that might’ve occurred
Like a five-fingered leaf
Fluttered into my hands,
But it isn’t enough.
Neither evil nor good
Has yet vanished in vain,
It all burned and was light,
But it isn’t enough.
Life has been as a shield,
And has offered protection.
I have been most fortunate,
But it isn’t enough.
The leaves were not burned.
The boughs were not broken,
The day clear as glass,
But it isn’t enough.
—But There Has to be More, by Arseny Tarkovsky, the director’s father, recited by the Stalker outside The Room
One of the great achievements in cinema history, Tarkovsky unearths new grounds in this beautifully hypnotic, oddly ambiguous, near complete re-write of a Russian science fiction novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, where Tarkovsky eliminates all but the barest traces of science fiction, turning this instead into a philosophical parable on human existence. Much like the journey of the three Wise Men seeking spiritual guidance, yet ironically a film requiring the tacit approval of the Communist Soviet State, this film incorporates several Scriptural references, including a strangely unbiblical Revelations dream sequence and a reference to Emmaus Road where two of Jesus’disciples failed to recognize the person who (in an atheistic, totalitarian controlled society) shall not be named—the resurrected Christ, not to mention a character wearing a crown of thorns, and features a similar quest for knowledge and insight, but it’s set in an unnamed future evidenced by train whistles and a corrosive post-industrial world of toxic waste, rot, and decay, where the interior human component comes to mirror that soulless reflection of destroyed, meaningless lives.
Beset with difficulties from the outset, Tarkovsky initially shot nearly
half the film before realizing the Kodak film stock, rare in Russia, was
defective, where he immediately petitioned for additional funding, which was
granted only on the condition he’d shoot a 2-part film, and money was forwarded
for the 2nd part. In the second attempt at filming, the crew
experienced equipment problems, shutting down production. Tarkovsky actually suffered a heart attack
after firing his original cinematographer Georgi Rerberg, who filmed MIRROR
(1975), and also his production designer Aleksandr Bojm, claiming artistic
differences, which allowed the director time to change the entire concept of a
film that was initially conceived in 'Scope and ended up in a more tightly
constricted, boxed 1:33 aspect ratio, and where the character of the Stalker
evolved from an arrogantly confident smuggler to a man constantly at odds with
his own fragile human limitations. Cameraman
Leonid Kalashnikov showed up on the set for a few weeks before being replaced
by Aleksandr Knyazhinsky, while Tarkovsky himself assumed the set designer
duties. In addition, the shooting took place near an abandoned hydroelectric
plant in Tallinn, Estonia, where the actors and film crew may have spent months
exposed to chemical poisoning from the toxic white foam floating down the
Jägala River, causing allergic reactions on the set and where Tarkovsky
himself, his wife Larissa, and his favorite leading actor Anatoli Solonitsyn
all died within a decade from similar causes, pulmonary lung cancer. Due
to bureaucratic censor boards and ongoing feuds regarding artistic integrity
and a continuing difficulty obtaining State funding, this is the final film
Tarkovsky shot in
Opening in a Sepia-toned Black and White, Aleksandr Kaidanovsky plays the Stalker, a painstakingly conscientious guide with the mental capacity to illegally lead people successfully through a dangerous and forbidden, unpopulated area known as The Zone, "the quietest place in the world" where the faint sounds of birds can be heard, the result perhaps of alien activity or an intelligence greater than our own, and of a meteorite falling several decades earlier, where in the center is a destination known as The Room, a place where one’s innermost desire can become true. Soldiers initially entered the swampy region in tanks with weapons and never returned, now full of syringes, medical waste, contaminated standing water, and discarded human artifacts and debris, overgrown with vegetation over time, surrounded by gates and barbed wire while protected by military personnel. Against the wishes of his distraught wife and physically deformed daughter, somehow the genetic result of his activities in The Zone, the Stalker agrees to guide two men into The Zone, Anatoli Solonitsyn as the cynical Writer and Nikolai Grinko as the science Professor.
Their harrowing ride into the eerie stillness of The Zone leads to one of the most brilliantly constructed sequences, a seamlessly envisioned train ride where the edited images, seemingly captured in one shot (there are 5) perfectly match the haunting, anticipatory mood and psychology of the men with the quiet, rhythmic clacking of the train, where once they finally reach their destination the world around them quickly turns into color. While the two are contemptibly suspicious of their guide's unerring caution, the Stalker is wary about proceeding too quickly, never taking a straight line, but zigs and zags in the direction where they’re going, where the mystery of The Zone changes with each visit, a maze of constantly shifting traps, where the rules of entry also seem to change, allowing the passage of some but denying entrance to others. For the Stalker, he never knows the intentions of his passengers and can only hope for the best, proceeding as cautiously as possible. Despite the apparent simplicity of the journey itself, Tarkovsky creates vivid suspense throughout the entire length of their quest, making this something of an edge of your seat thriller, as one never knows what to expect, not even the Stalker himself who recounts some of his earlier adventures, some not so successful. Notable are the inclusion of unique dream sequences, some spectacular passageways, a gorgeous electronic soundtrack from composer Eduard Artemyev, Tarkovsky’s signature interior rain sequences, and the appearance of a black dog that grows attached to the Stalker.
STALKER begins a pattern that continues in Tarkovsky’s final two films, expressing a self-destructive world of commerce or transitory concerns that has lost touch with its own existence and all connections with nature, a world where faith and spirituality have also been lost or discarded, featuring Stalkers, Holy Fools or lost souls who are treated with scorn and contempt by those they attempt to save. Looked upon by others as weak, despised, and even a bit mad, Stalker recognizes his own limited human condition, a rugged but wounded soul most likely damaged from his exposure to some poisonous chemical or radioactive substance, grown weary from a world in constant decay, filled with a palpable fear for having to live with the potential damaging consequences of continuously exposing himself and his family to the unknown elements of The Zone. Yet it is his awareness of his human weakness that is the source of a spiritual connection that others lack. While plainly an attack on the spiritual emptiness of society, in STALKER, all the initial hopes expressed to alter man’s destiny are dashed by the complexity and near incomprehensibility of reaching the precipice of The Room, that moment when all potential solutions vanish from the minds of mortal beings, described by some as that “poverty of spirit,” perhaps struck by the all-knowing omniscience and enormity of it all, where at least in one of the earlier scripts (there were supposedly 10), Writer acknowledges “We haven’t matured to this place.” One of the most emotionally compelling moments is when trifling personal motives are exposed and the painfully disappointed Stalker breaks down to reveal the extent of his own personal anguish and the heavy toll this journey takes on his wounded psyche, as he can lead others to the mysteries of The Room, hoping they can find wisdom and salvation, but cannot receive any personal benefit himself, claiming “It lets those pass who have lost all hope, not good or bad, but wretched people.” In the end, The Zone is less a place than each man's individual reaction to it.
In Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky acknowledges a central theme of “human dignity (and) how a man suffers if he has no self-respect,” reflected in the Stalker’s draining faith in mankind, also the redemptive powers of love expressed by Stalker’s wife in her final monologue, calling it a “final miracle to set against the unbelief, cynicism, (and) moral vacuum poisoning the modern world…It is about the existence of God in man, and about the death of spirituality as a result of our possessing false knowledge.” While the Writer and Professor are ultimately humbled and rendered human, as if challenged by passing through the rigors of Dante's Inferno, a kind of Vladimir and Estragon lost in the incomprehensibility of their banal existence in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, their arrogance and hubris are reflected in iconic Russian figures, Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor comes to mind from The Brothers Karamazov and the worshipping of false prophets, also the imposter, the Pretender Tsar from Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, both works that also feature a similar witnessing Holy Fool character that was also present in ANDREI RUBLEV (1966). The false Trinity of Stalker’s misguided faith, the Professor’s wrongful use of reason, and Writer’s art that ultimately is expressed in self doubt, fail to produce the expected miracle that instead appears in Stalker’s own family, combining his own spirituality and his wife’s steadfast devotion with his daughter’s unexplained mysticism that is nothing less than transcendence, especially considering the squalor and industrial ugliness that is everpresent in the polluted landscape of this world, where the muted sounds of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy can strangely and ironically be heard. Tarkovsky certainly attempts to draw a distinction between what is human and what is eternal in his films, where this film shows a myopic tendency for humans to dwell on phantoms and incidental matter that is purely transitory, failing to recognize the distinguishing human element that defines our earthly existence—the selfless capacity to love.
Against the fractured density of Mirror, Stalker sets a form of absolute linear simplicity. The Stalker leads two men, the Writer and the Professor, across the Zone - a forbidden territory deep inside a police state - towards the Room, which can lay bare the devices and desires of your heart. However, let no one persuade you that this is sci-fi or common allegory. The ragged, shaven-headed men are familiar from Solzenitzyn, and the zone may be a sentient landscape of hallucinatory power, but its deadly litter of industrial detritus is all too recognisable. The wettest, grimmest trek ever seen on film leads to nihilistic impasse - huddled in dirt, the discovery of faith seems impossible; and without faith, life outside the Zone, impossible. But hang on in to the ending, where a plain declaration of love and a vision of pure magic at least point the way to redemption. As always, Tarkovsky conjures images like you've never seen before; and as a journey to the heart of darkness, it's a good deal more persuasive than Coppola's.
Stalker Pacific Cinematheque (link lost)
brilliantly dense, breathtakingly textured Stalker suggests a fantastical
confluence of in-the-gulag Solzhenitsyn and post-apocalyptic science fiction,
and could be an elaborate, allegorical, otherworldly illustration of that old
maxim, "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it." In a
devastated post- industrial police state, two men, a writer and a scientist,
engage the special mystic skills of a Stalker to guide them through the
forbidden Zone, a damp, fecund, overgrown wasteland where the rules of nature
no longer apply. At the centre of the Zone, it is reputed, is the Room, a place
where the deepest desires of one's heart are said to come true. The amazing
journey there will test the limits and adequacy of the way each of the three protagonists
makes sense of the world: through art, through science, and through faith.
Distinguished by a remarkable sense of tactility, composed of stunning sepia
images, and offering layer upon layer of meaning, Stalker is a haunting and
unforgettable work from a (late) director whose (too few) films are quite
unlike anything else in world cinema.
This week offers a rare opportunity to see a 35mm print (and imported one at that) of Andrei Tarkovsky's sci-fi masterpiece STALKER, a film that is as mesmerizing as it is elusive. Loosely based on the Polish novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Tarkovsky's STALKER creates a decrepit industrial world where a mysterious Zone is sealed off by the government. The Zone, rumored to be of alien origin, is navigable by guides known as Stalkers. The Stalker of the title leads a writer and a scientist through the surrounding detritus into the oneiric Zone—an allegorical stand-in for nothing less than life itself—on a spiritual quest for a room that grants one's deepest subconscious wish. Tarkovsky composes his scenes to obscure the surroundings and tightly controls the audience's view through long, choreographed takes. Shots run long and are cut seamlessly. Coupled with non-localized sounds and a methodical synth score, sequences in the film beckon the audience into its illusion of continuous action while heightening the sense of time passing. The use of nondiegetic sounds subtly reminds us that this may be a subjective world established for the Stalker's mystical purpose. Where sci-fi films tend to overstate humanity's limitless imagination of the universe, Tarkovsky reappropriates the genre's trappings to suggest the cosmos' deepest truths are in one's own mind. STALKER posits—perhaps frighteningly—that, in this exploration of the self, there is something that knows more about us than we know ourselves. The writer and scientist, both at their spiritual and intellectual nadir, hope the room will renew their métier; the Stalker's purpose, as stated by Tarkovsky, is to "impose on them the idea of hope." But STALKER is a rich and continually inspiring work not for this (or any other) fixed meaning but rather for its resistance to any one single interpretation. The Tuesday screening will feature Gregory Verkhovsky, the assistant cameraman on STALKER, who will present his on-set photography of Tarkovsky and answer questions. (1979, 163 min, 35mm)
10 Key Moments in Films (4th Batch) Jonathan Rosenbaum
1979 / Stalker – The miracle in the final shot.
West Germany/U.S.S.R. Director: Andrei Tarkovsky. Actor: Natasha Abramova.
Why it’s Key: After all hope is lost, a moment of ecstatic revelation.
Few films resist synopsis more than Stalker, but the emotions and the decrepit settings are never in doubt. The story concerns the title hero being hired by a writer and scientist to guide them into the supposedly miraculous Zone, where their innermost wishes are supposed to be fulfilled. But an absence of miracles is all they encounter, and the three men come back beaten, the Stalker most of all. Greeted by his wife and crippled daughter, he declares himself a failure, the world a desolate place devoid of faith.
However reluctant Tarkovsky may have been to discuss the story’s allegorical meanings, he was outspoken about its main theme, “human dignity”, and the redemptive power of love shown by the Stalker’s wife –calling it a “final miracle to set against the unbelief, cynicism, moral vacuum poisoning the modern world” as exemplified by the writer and scientist. But in fact the film concludes with another miracle concerning the daughter.
Seated alone — after reading a poem that we hear her recite in voiceover while dandelion fluff drifts around her — she idly, telekinetically, and rather sadly makes two glasses and a jar slide across the table in front of her as the camera moves back. Then, as the camera moves forward again, the loud rattle of an approaching train is briefly accompanied by Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” before the image fades out on her placid face. The sounds of the train and Beethoven seem equally matched against this quiet, unseen moment of ecstatic revelation.
Trying to write about a film by Russian auteur Andrei
Tarkovsky is like trying to write about the book of Ecclesiastes, or
Shakespeare, or the new Arcade Fire CD. Sometimes you just have to
experience a work in order to understand its insights, its
challenges, its poetic feel. It's not always easy, and you won't typically
get it the first time around. These are works in which you must
immerse yourself in both the experience and the context in which it
was made, and even then you might need more than one experience with
it to latch on to all the "in-between the lines".
While this is the first time I've sat down with Stalker, I'm familiar with Tarkovsky, having sat multiple times with several other films: The Sacrifice, Solaris, Andrei Rublev -- the latter of which leaves a hum in your system on the second viewing. Tarkovsky lived as a Christian filmmaker/artist under Soviet rule. His films subtly hold a mirror to the oppression he lived in, and even more subtly suggest a better way found through faith. When working under a regime you often find yourself dealing in subtleties.
His films are highly artistic, almost like wandering into an art gallery that instantly catches you by surprise, taking your breath away. They're also profound and poetic, both at the same time -- but sometimes the films feel numbingly slow.
I can understand it when a person says Tarkovsky's films are not for them, that the pacing it too great a challenge, that they can't fall into some of the surrealist acting or spiritual metaphors. But I wouldn't understand if one couldn't appreciate the political and spiritual search for freedom of expression that's anchored at the core of his work. A boundary pusher in a system that needed him, Tarkovsky carried a torch that could have landed him, like recent Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, in trouble with the system and in jail.
To not understand at least that much of the context and then to watch any of Tarkovsky's films would make the experience a real bore. Education is a must when approaching and trying to understand the mark he left.
On the surface, Stalker is a very simple science fiction story of a man that takes some visitors into a mysterious post-apocalyptic land called "The Zone." The Zone seems to strangely affect those who break through its militarized border to get in. Various interpretations try and explain the power that's found there. I have my own. It's different, but I think it's got teeth.
Having been to Russia quite a few times, even before the collapse of communism, having been in all kinds of churches there and knowing what people of the Christian faith dealt with in those years, it's really admirable -- of the highest sort -- to think that Tarkovsky made this particular film in 1979, almost a decade in front of glasnost and Polish solidarity but twenty years after Brother Andrew visited Moscow. I don't know what kind of freedom of speech was available in 1979 in either the church or in art in general, but consider all of the following elements found in communist-era Stalker:
A telling of the story of the road to Emmaus (without mention of the identity of the stranger that appeared); a pronouncement of unforgiveness while a major character is wearing a crown of thorns; the idea that a violent act will bring an end to the thing that might liberate someone (a bomb in the zone); and a little girl -- once called a mutant, born of the "Stalker," a man whose sole life purpose is to guide visitors through The Zone -- who is more powerful than anyone thinks, with strange psychic powers in the film's end.
All of this leads me to believe that the Zone is actually a place of peace and restoration, Garden-like in its state of tranquility, and that the world outside of the Zone is simply a world afraid of change and left in its own dismantled state. The little girl is a representative of the next generation who is going to "feel" the Zone out before she arrives.
The Zone in the context of Soviet Russia seems to suggest that there are ideas on the other side of oppression, that there is visible peace in sight. Note how peaceful the Zone is. Note how when they arrive the Stalker immediately feels a connection to the land. He feels like he's come home. It is humanity's natural state to desire freedom from oppression, whether from tyranny or more suggestive oppression in lack of freedom of speech or political correctness. He feels at home here, and he feels a peace, yet every step is feared. It's a life he's not known before. Sure, it's in color, but there are going to be pitfalls and traps along the way. But it is a place he wants to navigate, because the human heart longs for liberation.
These are some intense reasons in the narrative structure and mystery of the Zone to fall incredibly in love with everything Tarkovsky lays out here in 1979. I haven't even gotten to the high-level, immense beauty of the cinematography, the intensity of the bedroom and the marriage in this context, the magnetic visuals that also blow the viewer away.
But I'm quite conflicted about Stalker. Actually, I'm more conflicted about my own experience with it than I am with the film itself. Moments definitely have a trance-like, hypnotic feel, and after a bit you are simultaneously enjoying the mesmerizing scenes while wishing for it to move on. That is why I love a quote I found on the Arts & Faith board, a quote which pretty well sums up my confliction for Tarkovsky's great film: One of the things I'm trying to unpack is the possibility that some aesthetic experiments are more likely to evoke widely varying responses even within the same viewer, precisely because the element being experimented with is a particularly subjective and changeable one. And that the experience of time is just such a thing. It tried my patience at times, to be sure. But in reflecting on it after only one viewing, I have no doubt I'll be visiting again -- especially after the final scene, where a lot of the film came together for me.
There is no doubt Tarkovsky is one of the great masters. I'm only learning to finally catch on.
Always remember that
in "metaphysical," even in Russian, you have "physical."
STALKER is a Soviet film (it is Tarkovsky's sixth and, in my opinion, his best) but "to stalk" is an English verb (and a regular one at that). To be precise, to stalk is to "pursue at close range," a way of closing in, a walk, almost a dance. In "stalking" the part of the body which is afraid lags behind and the part which is not afraid is compelled to move forward. With its pauses and its terrors, the stalk is the walk of those who make their way through unknown territory. In STALKER danger is everywhere, but it has no face. The landscape too is without end, without horizon, without North. There are plenty of tanks, factories, giant pipes, a railroad, a corpse, a dog, a telephone which still works, but the whole thing is being overrun by nature. This fossilized industrial landscape, this corner of the twentieth century which has become a strata (Tarkovsky was a geologist in Siberia from 1954 to 1956, and it is still a part of him), this is the Zone. One does not go into the Zone, one has to creep in because it is guarded by soldiers. One does not walk there, one "stalks."
In the cinema we have seen cowboys who move towards each other with coquettish steps before they shoot, the stagnation of crowds, couples dancing and urban motion; we have never seen the stalk. Tarkovsky's film is first and foremost a documentary about a certain way of walking, not necessarily the best (especially in the
The film doesn't begin so abruptly. It is a bit more orderly, but not much. Tarkovsky, in a liberal adaptation of a science fiction novel by the brothers Strougavski, imagines a world in which a mysterious accident has left part of the planet alien, dangerous and closed off from access. The Zone is that forbidden corner, returned to its primitive state. It's a last reserve of fantasy and a territory of macabre beauty. Shadowy characters, for a little money, give "tours" of it. These are the Stalkers. These transitory people live a miserable existence between two worlds. This time, the Stalker (part sage, part tour guide, very much hoodlum) has brought with him a Writer and a Professor. The Writer (with his plastic bag) speaks little, but has an idea in mind. For there is a goal to this trip a trois: In the middle of the Zone there is a "room" which, they say, fulfills the wishes of those who enter it. So they say.
At the entrance to the room, the Stalker and his two clients back down: no one will step inside. First of all out of fear, then out of wisdom. Out of fear because if the room is a hoax, it would be humiliating to let on that one had believed in it; and if it really does fulfill all wishes, nothing will be left to wish for; and if it answers unconscious desires, one doesn't know what to expect. Out of wisdom because no life is livable without the absolute, of course, but the absolute is not a place, it is a movement away: a movement which diverts one, which deports one (in every sense of the word), which makes one "stalk". It matters little in the end what's put on the plate, or even that one believes: that one believes in believing or in others capacity to believe. What matters is one's movement.
As a spectator, one cannot resist "stalking" in the forest of symbols which the film becomes. Tarkovsky's scenario is such a diabolical machine that it does not exclude any interpretation a priori. In a kaleidoscope, one can see what one wants. Perhaps the Zone is planet Earth, the Soviet continent, our unconscious, or the film itself. The Stalker could easily be a mutant, a dissident, a crazed psychoanalyst, a preacher looking for a cult or a spectator. You can "play symbols" with the film, but it's a game you shouldn't overdo either (no more with Tarkovsky than with Fellini or Buñuel, other great humorists of interpretation.) Besides, the freshness and the beauty of STALKER lie elsewhere.
When the film is over, when we are a little tired of interpreting, once we've eaten everything on the plate, what is left? Exactly the same film. The same compelling images. The same Zone with the presence of water, with its teasing lapping, piles of rusted metal, nature at its most voracious, and inescapable humidity. As with all films that trigger a rush of interpretation in the viewer, STALKER is a film which is striking for the physical presence of its elements, their stubborn existence and way of being there, even if there was no one to see them, to get close to them or to film them. This is not a new phenomenon: already in ANDREI RUBLEV there was the mud, that primal form. In STALKER the elements have an organic presence: water, dew and puddles dampen the soil and eat away at the ruins.
A film can be interpreted. This one in particular lends itself to it (even if in the end it hides its secrets.) But we are not obliged to interpret it. A film can be watched too. One can watch for the appearance of things which one has never seen before in a film. The watcher-viewer sees things which the interpreter-viewer can no longer make out. The watcher stays at the surface because he doesn't believe in depth. At the beginning of this article, I was wondering where the characters had learned the stalk: that twisted walk of people who are afraid but who have forgotten the source of their fears. And what of these prematurely aged faces, these mini-Zones where grimaces have become wrinkles? And the self-effacing violence of those who wait to receive a beating (or maybe to give a beating if they haven't forgotten how?) And what of the false calm of the dangerous monomaniac and the empty reasonings of a man who is too solitary?
These do not come only from Tarkovsky's imagination. They cannot be invented, they come from elsewhere. But from where? STALKER is a metaphysical fable, a course in courage, a lesson in faith, a reflection on the end of time, a quest, whatever one wants. STALKER is also the film in which we come across, for the first time, bodies and faces which come from a place we know about only through hear-say. A place whose traces we thought the Soviet cinema had lost completely. This place is the Gulag. The Zone is also an archipelago. STALKER is also a realist film.
Is Andrei Tarkovsky’s
Stalker about the gulags? Chernobyl? EU immigration? Reflections on the possible meanings of the
film by novelist Geoff Dyer from The
Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1980) came second, behind Blade Runner, in a recent BFI poll of its members' top movies. In outline, it's one of the simplest films ever made: a guide, or Stalker, takes two people, Writer and Professor, into a forbidden area called the Zone, at the heart of which is the Room, where your deepest wish will come true. It is this simplicity that gives the film its fathomless resonance. If Tarkovsky's previous film, Solaris, seemed like a Soviet 2001, was Stalker Tarkovsky's take on The Wizard of Oz?
The starkness of its conception did not prevent the production
traumas that seem integral to the creation myths of other favourites: the likes
of Apocalypse Now and Fitzcarraldo. Plans to shoot in
The film itself has become synonymous both with cinema's claims to high art and a test of the viewer's ability to appreciate it as such. Anyone sharing Cate Blanchett's enthusiasm for it - "every single frame of the film is burned into my retina" - attests not just to the director's lofty purity of purpose, but to their own capacity to survive at the challenging peaks of human achievement. So a certain amount of blowback is inevitable. David Thomson included Stalker in his pantheon of 1,000 memorable movies, but was dubious about the notion of the Room. Perhaps it's "an infinite, if dank enclosure in which an uncertain number of strangers are watching the works of Tarkovsky. Equally, it may be that as malfunction of one kind or another covers the world, we may have a hard time distinguishing the Room, the Zone, and the local multiplex."
Sometimes wry scepticism is a more appropriate tribute than po-faced reverence, especially given that Tarkovsky leaves ample room for doubt. Any claim made for the Zone ("the quietest place in the world," says the Stalker) is countered by the suggestion that it's a bit disappointing ("smells like a bog," says Professor). In an interview Tarkovsky even raised the possibility that the Zone did not exist and was merely the Stalker's invention.
Though it's easily forgotten, there's often a touch of comedy - even slapstick - in Tarkovsky-land. Deep in the Zone, on the threshold of the Room, the three guys are pondering the mysteries of existence when a phone rings. The professor answers: "Hello? No, this is not the clinic!" Was this the inspiration for those Orange-sponsored "Don't let a phone ruin your movie" scenarios?
I've seen Stalker more times than any film except The Great Escape. I've seen it when the projectionist got the reels in the wrong order (I was the only person who noticed), I've seen it on my own in Paris and dubbed into Italian in Rome, I've seen it on acid (remember that sequence when the solid ground begins to ripple?) and I've seen it on telly - and it's never quite as I remember. Like the Zone, it's always changing. Like the Stalker, I feel quite at home in it, but whenever I see the film I try to imagine what it might be like, watching it for the first time when it seems so weird.
Consider the first 15 minutes. After a credit sequence showing an oldish guy drinking in a gloomy bar, we peer through an interior set of doors into a room. Inside already, the camera takes us deeper indoors. It's as if Tarkovsky has started off where Antonioni left off in the penultimate inside-out shot of The Passenger and taken it a stage further: inside-in. It's slower than Antonioni, and without the colour. It has a kind of sub-monochrome in which the spectrum has been so compressed that it might turn out to be a source of energy, like oil and almost as dark - but with a gold sheen, too. The camera pans across the people in bed and then tracks back. Not a long take by Tarkovsky's standards, but still, one takes the point. "If the regular length of a shot is increased, one becomes bored, but if you keep on making it longer, it piques your interest, and if you make it even longer a new quality emerges, a special intensity of attention."
The rumble of heavy transport - accompanied by an anthem to Homo Sovieticus - causes a glass to rattle across a table. The man wakes up and gets out of bed. Unusually, he sleeps without his trousers but with his sweater. Another weird thing is that, although trying not to wake his wife, he puts on his trousers and his boots before clomping quietly into the kitchen. His wife was awake, it turns out, or has been roused by his movements.
It would be interesting to compile a list of the first words spoken in films and run the results through a computer. In this instance they are spoken by the wife: "Why did you take my watch?" The film's only just started, she has just woken up and, from a husbandly point of view, she is nagging. No wonder he wants out! But of course we're also getting the big theme introduced: time. In effect, Tarkovsky is saying to the audience: "Forget about other ideas of time. Stop looking at your watches, give yourself over to Tarkovsky-time, and the helter-skelter mayhem of The Bourne Ultimatum will seem more tedious than L'Avventura."
The wife expands on this notion of time - she has lost her best years, grown old - and you're reminded again of Antonioni, because the plain truth is, she's no Monica Vitti. Then she lays a whole guilt trip on him, but the usual terms - you only think of yourself - are reversed. She says: "Even if you don't think of yourself ..." Whoa, some kind of Dostoevskian twist here.
She begs him to stay, but he's got to do what a holy fool's got
to do. Tarkovsky's films have always invited allegorical interpretation, and
certain viewers might be tempted to view the Stalker's impending trip in the
light of recent history. Is the Zone an idealised image of the
She says he'll end up in prison. He replies that
"everywhere's a prison". One assumes this is intended metaphorically,
but the film is constantly making us wonder about its connection to the state
that funded it. (Worth pausing here to consider if Tarkovsky could ever have
raised the dough to make this film in the unrepressive west.) Now, this was the
1970s, not the 1930s or the 1950s, when the
Still, while the film may not be about the gulag, it is haunted by memories of the camps, from the overlap of vocabulary ("Zona", "the meat grinder") to the Stalker's Zek-style shaved head. The turnaround, as the film-maker Chris Marker has pointed out, is that here freedom is found within the wire.
After the Stalker leaves, his wife has one of those sexualised fits of which Tarkovsky seems to have been fond, writhing away in a climax of abandonment. He, on the other hand, like many men before and since, has gone to the pub. He's not there to meet his mates - this is not Distant Voices, Still Lives - but the people he's taking into the Zone. From the bar they can hear a train, can hear that lonesome whistle blow. So there are hints, here, of a heist movie - the Stalker being lured back into the Zone for one last job - and of a sci-fi western (ie "eastern"). They leave the bar, begin their journey into the cinematic unknown. In a way that might prove significant, the Stalker tramps through a puddle like a man with more important things on his mind than worrying about wet feet.
Since there are people out there who have not yet had Stalker burned into their retinas, and given the film's zero-gravity suspense - is anything going to happen? - I propose to leave it there, before the blissful shift into colour, before we glimpse the wonders of the Zone, ages before the miracle of the film's closing sequence. But three further observations won't spoil anyone's enjoyment.
One: despite their scepticism, Writer and Professor sufficiently buy into the Stalker's soggy faith that they end up wading, shoulder-deep, through radioactive-looking water without even removing their overcoats. Two: near the end, the Writer puts a crown of thorns on his head. Biblical? I dunno. Everything just is. Or isn't, but may be. Three: at a certain point the audacious claim is made that the reason we were put on earth was to create works of art. By the same token, it's not enough to say that Stalker is a great film - it is the reason cinema was invented.
essay on Stalker by Joseph Mach
STALKER: a synopsis and analysis Ivan Grozny responds to the Mach essay,
Thing from Inner Space Slavoj Žižek from Art Margins,
Tarkovsky's The Stalker: A Christian Allegory Set in the "Evil Empire" Gregory Halvorsen Schreck, a religious interpretation from East-West Church & Ministry Report, Summer 2001
DVD Review Donato Totaro from
A Deleuzian Analysis of Tarkovsky’s Theory of Time-Pressure,
Part 1 David George Menard from Offscreen,
A Deleuzian Analysis of Tarkovsky’s Theory of Time-Pressure,
Part 2 David George Menard
Stalker - Reverse Shot In the Zone, by Eric Hynes, Spring 2004
Here’s Gregory Wolfe reflecting on Stalker Image Journal, Winter 2008
Wolfe on Tarkovsky's Stalker… and Image. - Looking Closer John Owen response to Gregory Wolfe essay,
Offscreen.com :: Temporal Defamiliarization and Mise-en-Scène in ... Zoë Heyn-Jones from Offscreen, Januaury 31, 2011
Stalker Michael Brooke from DVD Times
Kamera Todd Harbour, also seen here: Russian Film: Andrei Tarkovsky: Stalker - Сталкер (1979) and here: Andrei Tarkovsky - Stalker 1979 - Stormfront
Some thoughts on Tarkovsky's Stalker « Ruthless Culture Jonathan McCalmont
The Valve - A Literary Organ | Tarkovsky's Stalker A response to McCalmont by Adam Roberts
night_porter: Andrei Tarkovsky, Stalker Live Journal
Stalker John Sinnott from DVD Talk
Structural and Temporal Analysis of Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker ...
EyeForFilm.co.uk Amber Wilkinson
Strictly Film School Acquarello
Arts & Faith Top100 Spiritually Significant Films Tyler Petty, listed at #15
Stalker Arts and Faith
Stalker Review [Archive] - The Academy
Film discussion group,
What's your personal interpretation of the ending to Stalker ... Mubi, film discussion group
Briefing. "Zona": Geoff Dyer on Tarkovsky's "Stalker" David Hudson from Mubi,
Green Integer Blog: Hope (on Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker) pretty much a synopsis
Stalker meme Feuilleton,
and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side Of “Stalker” A documentary on the making of the film, from
Stalker Anthony Reed from All Movie Guide
View topic - Stalker (Tarkovsky, 1979)
Criterion Forum, a film discussion group,
Zizek on Alter Ego and Tarkovsky’s Stalker Ben Atlas, January 9, 2010
Stalker – The Dream
Sequence Ben Atlas,
Tarkovsky on the Zone of
Uman Ben Atlas,
Tarkovsky’s Prayer Ben Atlas, November 7, 2010
Stalker - Reference Encyclopedic summary
the Stalker: Geoff Dyer on Tarkovsky
Joshua Jelly-Schapiro interviews the author about his book Zona, from BFI Sight and Sound,
[ Nostalghia.com | The Topics :: Scena - Andrei Tarkovsky on Stalker ] excerpts from Tarkovsky interviews with Luisa Capo in Scena, 1980
BBCi - Films Tom Dawson
Stalking Tarkovsky at the
Sheffield Doc/Fest David Cox
from The Guardian,
Stalker - Tarkovsky - YouTube Dream Sequence (shot in one take, by the way) ()
Stalker (Сталкер) entire full-length film
While still a student at university, Andrei Tarkovsky visited a clairvoyant who, at the future filmmaker's request, called up the spirit of fellow countryman and author Boris Pasternak. "You will make seven films!" the Dr. Zhivago novelist told Tarkovsky in the stentorian tones of the spirit world. "Only seven?" came his disappointed reply. To which Pasternak amended, "But they'll all be good!" Every frame of Tarkovsky's filmography is haunted by that simple prophecy; his cinema at its best seems to exist outside the realm of natural law, defying the mortal encroachments that eventually consumed the director in the form of a fatal cancer. Recently released on DVD by Facets Video, Voyage in Time (a Tarkovsky side-project to his–-pace Pasternak—seven features) acts as a making-of companion piece to his sixth film Nostalghia, though, befitting Tarkovsky's inimitable cinematic sense, it's unlike anything one's ever seen. For a little over an hour the director and Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra (a frequent Antonioni collaborator) engage in spirited dialogues on art and life while moving through a striking series of exterior and interior tableaus. Tarkovsky makes no pretenses toward documentary in Voyage in Time—he and Guerra are mere figures in a succession of landscapes and this falsification of their creative experience helps to undercut their conversation's inherent egotism. Essentially, Tarkovsky solves the problem of the behind-the-scenes documentary by absorbing himself into the mise-en-scène, becoming a character in his own story rather than its god-like figurehead. Tarkovsky is a clearly controlling man, but Voyage in Time reveals the more self-effacing aspects of his personality, forever humble before the holy power of cinema.
Sad to say that Facets has botched this release. Digital artifacts and audio hiss n' crackle are prevalent in the full-frame mono transfer. There's a herky-jerkiness to any sequence reliant on movement of camera or character and this suggests the NTSC DVD is made from a PAL source. In addition, according to a Tarkovsky , Facets used a print with incorrectly translated and misspelled subtitles. This is confirmed at several points in the film (e.g., when Tarkovsky's film Stalker is translated as Stalkin'). Overall, a terrible transfer of an essential film.
Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky completed only six feature films in a directorial career of more than 20 years. Each realizes a personal world intense and individual, ranging from that of a boy soldier during the Second World War, Ivan's Childhood (1962), to that of three scientists, far in the future, orbiting a sentient planet, Solaris (1972). Together, Trakovsky's films offer a vision of what cinema can be, a meditation on the individual's relationship to the transcendent.
Voyage in Time, a one-hour television film, snatches a
fragment of Tarkovsky's working life. It catalogues one summer in the long
partnership between Tarkovsky and Tonino Guerra, which culminated in
Tarkovsky's threnody for his life in the
According to his diaries, Tarkovsky reached
In this complex mood, he and Guerra embarked on a cross-country
journey, scouting locations for their film, test-shooting as they went. The
resulting documentary reveals their process of collaboration, emerging not
simply between two men who see the world through film, but between two cultures
and many eras. The conceit of a day spent going over their two months of work
frames this meditation. As the artists move between the balcony and the
interior of Guerra's
So far, so travelogue, albeit with intellectually demanding guides whose patience with minutiae might outlast that of their audience. As the "day" goes on, Tarkovsky answers questions about his work purportedly sent to Guerra by young cinephiles. These responses are less directly illuminating of his cinematic passion than Michal Leszczylowski's biopic Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (1987). But they do begin to conjure up the time of the mind, the clashes of happenstance and memory, the long-dead and the never-realized, from which Tarkovsky and Guerra are inventing Nostalghia and which, retrospectively, emerges as the core of Voyage in Time.
The alchemy of their collaboration is perhaps best illustrated
when Tarkovsky succumbs to irritation at his itinerary. In his Italian diaries,
he enthuses about
At this moment Tarkovsky's resistance collapses: he confesses he feels as if he is on holiday instead of working. It's hard not to hear a trace of guilt that he has found contentment in his temporary exile, a theme to which a later shot of Tarkovsky, turned away from the camera, leaning against a wall and twisting his wedding ring, also refers. Neither Nostalghia's protagonist nor the director can remain an abstract character. From the wandering scholar Andrei Gotchakov emerges the man so sunk in anomie only an apocalyptic visionary can arouse him; from the world-famous director filming his own artistic process emerges a man facing the possibility that he might have to choose between his family and his work.
In a 1979 interview with Guerra, Tarkovsky claims he always wanted to film like an amateur. He says he craved "the possibility to observe nature, and people, and film them, without haste. The story would be born autonomously; as the result of these observations, not from obliged shots, planned in the tiniest detail." Despite its artifice, in many ways Voyage in Time is that film. The story of artistic synergy that is realized, in which alienation and aspiration are equally important, conveys a deeply humanist vision of the end of the 20th century. In a poem composed for Tarkovsky during the shooting of Voyage in Time, Guerra writes, "But what we told each other / Is so light, it cannot be kept in." Facets' DVD lets us share in their mutual telling.
If you seek additional information on Tarkofsky, the best source
is a Canadian website,
which not only contains selections of Tarkovsky's writings and interviews,
including his diaries, but also archives an international range of articles and
commentaries translated into English. The publishers of this website also
highlight one problem with the subtitling of Voyage in Time. They
believe that Facets re-used a "draft" subtitle track, which contained
some significant translation errors. A full list appears under the
Nostalghia Pacific Cinematheque
Co-written with the prolific Italian screenwriter Tonino
Guerra (known for his frequent collaborations with Antonioni, Fellini, Rosi,
and the Tavianis), Nostalghia was Tarkovsky's first film made outside the
The first film of Tarkovsky to be made outside
A Russian academic (Jankovsky) visits
Tarkovsky follows here the Bergmanesque line of psychodrama as his main character, profoundly influenced by these two encounters, is led towards the ultimate struggle for individual catharsis.
The dark, permanently wet setting, reminiscent of Stalker and The Mirror, supplants the typical Tarkovsky reticence with some unique metaphysical allusions. The slow-moving camerawork may rend some scenes infuriating but the mystic beauty which emanates from the film - sequences like the one where the madman is burned in a square under the sounds of Beethoven's ninth symphony - gives Nostalgia an awe-inspiring, even disturbing vision of man's struggle for true faith.
The films of the late Andrei Tarkovsky have a reputation of being audience unfriendly to a fault, of being difficult, highly personal and visual films with a stupifying effect on the viewer that has triggered a bout of attention deficit disorder in more than one viewer. The truth is that Tarkovsky, the son of a poet, uses an almost entirely poetic approach to filmmaking that bravely lets the audience decode for itself a good deal of what is shown. Yes it is difficult viewing and very demanding. But isn’t the function of poetry to use an almost codified personal language to express ideas? Then why is the same practice vilified in filmmaking? Aren’t images as malleable as words? Tarkovsky’s films establish a visual analog for poetry, a codifying of imagery into abstract thoughts and emotions that tap deeply into the subconscious and resonate in the way poetry does.
Nostalghia is the story of a renowned Russian poet, Andrei
Gortchakov (Oleg Yankovsky), on a research mission in the Tuscan hills of
We soon see that Andrei inhabits two worlds, as most poets do – the world of his dreams and recollection of his boyhood farm house and village, and the waking world where he is fascinated by Domenico. Ignoring Eugenia’s need for love (in a memorable scene she watches women pray for children to a statue of the Virgin Mary), he visits Domenico. The old man asks him for a single favor… to light a candle and carry it across the pool at the hot spring, as the villagers, fearing he is insane, won’t let him. Eugenia berates Andrei for his intellectual aloofness and leaves. Andrei gets drunk and reads poetry in the ruins of a villa.
Eugenia calls from
Like the films of Alain Resnais, Tarkovsky’s films are obsessed with memory. While I think some of Tarkovsky’s work – namely his mind-bending science fiction film Stalker and the even more personal Mirror – are more compelling films, Nostalghia represents an important contribution to the Tarkovsky canon, containing some of the director’s most indelible images. Domenico’s self-immolation is surreal and upsetting, played out in an atmosphere that recalls the madhouse in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (the gathered crowd looks dangerously mad), and the final image, of Andrei sitting by a small model of his boyhood home contained within the arches of a ruined Italian cathedral, sums up the film’s dialectic of reality and fantasy as only a powerful image can. Tarkovsky’s slowly tracking camera, as always, glides lovingly over images of incredible beauty and ugliness, perhaps best exemplified by Andrei’s visit to Domenico’s ruin of a house, where it literally rains inside. Co-written by Italian poet and screenwriter Tonino Guerra (a frequent collaborator of Michelangelo Antionioni), Nostalghia haunts the memory long after it’s over.
Most films aim for efficient entertainment, they get you
in, get you out and it's done. You won't get anything like that with Andrei
(1983) which critic J. Hoberman once described as "not so much a movie as
a place to inhabit for two hours." Lushly beautiful and haunting, Nostalghia is also a challenging,
thought-provoking work. Movie critic Leonard Maltin called it a
"provocative, insightful epic, lovingly rendered by one of the cinema's
Tarkovsky's film follows the musicologist Gortchakov (played by Oleg Yankovsky from The Mirror, 1975) during a research trip to
Nostalghia can trace its beginnings back to early 1976 when Tarkovsky started working with Italian screenwriter and long-time friend Tonino Guerra (a frequent Antonioni collaborator) on a project called Journey Through Italy for Italian television. Though a script was written, Tarkovsky was sidetracked for a few years by work on Stalker (1979) and a stage adaptation of Hamlet. In the summer of 1979, he briefly considered an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot before picking up the Italian project again. It was now called Nostalghia (the word refers to a particular Russian feeling when "far from their native land") and Tarkovsky spent weeks in the Italian country with Guerra working on notes and ideas. This resulted in Tarkovsky's only documentary, an hour-long compilation of the journey called Time of Travel. Shortly after Tarkovsky returned to
In the middle of 1980, Tarkovsky was back in
The main character of Gortchakov was originally intended for Anatoli Solonitsyn (who'd played the lead role in Andrei Rublev, 1969) but he was seriously ill and eventually died in June 1982. The role was offered to another Tarkovsky veteran, Aleksandr Kajdanovsky (Stalker), but when he wasn't given permission to leave the country it finally went to Oleg Yankovsky. In the spring of 1982, Tarkovsky finalized the other actors and scouted locations in
Nostalghia showed at
The Sacrifice Pacific Cinematheque
Tarkovsky's devastating final film -- "a Faust for the
nuclear age" (David Parkinson) -- was made in Sweden with several regular
members of Ingmar Bergman's team, including cinematographer Sven Nykvist, art
director Anna Asp, and actor Erland Josephson. Described by Tarkovsky as a meditation
on "the absence in our culture of room for spiritual experience," the
film is set on an isolated island, where Alexander (Josephson), a distinguished
man of letters, lives in seemingly idyllic semi-retirement. The apple of his
eye is his young son Little Man, who represents for him the great hope of the
future. That future is abruptly shattered by the outbreak of the unthinkable:
global nuclear war. In desperation, Alexander makes a private vow to God: he
will renounce everything -- family, possessions, even speech -- if somehow the
world can be put to rights again. The Sacrifice is a masterful, elegant film of
great formal rigour and intensity. Tarkovsky supervised its editing from his
hospital bed; he died of cancer in December 1986. "No one else can
approach his sense of the Apocalyptic. His death leaves a gaping hole in the
cinema of spiritual quest" (Chris Peachment). "Tarkovsky is for me
the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film,
as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream" (Ingmar Bergman).
Tarkovsky’s last film, but by no means intended as the last
testament it’s now become - he planned to mount a production of The Flying
Sixtyish philosopher Alexander (Erland Josephson) lives in a
beautiful house on an island off Sweden’s Baltic coast, with English wife
Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood), teenage daughter Julia (Valerie Maitesse) and young
son, known only as Gossen, or “Little Man” (Tommy Kjellvqist). It’s Alexander’s
birthday, and he’s visited by eccentric bicycling postman Otto (Allan Erdawll)
and smug doctor Viktor (Sven Wollter), who is “carrying on” with
The Sacrifice is like a compendium of all the ideas (faith, role of artist, power of nature, virtue of childhood) and images (love as levitation, a boy standing by a tree) from his previous six films. As usual, there’s a baffling rush of philosophical debate, stitched together with some of the most astonishing shots in all cinema. Watching this long film is an intermittently dazzling experience, but also somewhat unsatisfying. Just how much of what we’re watching is real, and how much is Alexander’s hallucination - we’re given clues along the way, such a bicycle being parked in a certain way, only to reappear in a slightly different place later on - is open to question. In Tarkovsky’s films, dreams are nothing if not cinematic. But piecing together the director’s “intention” seems to be missing the point.
Worrying about the narrative of The Sacrifice, or indeed any of this director’s films, is a waste of time. Here, he creates a remarkable sense of atmosphere - this must be one of the dampest of all movies, played out to the constant steady rumble of some unseen, distant foghorn, and many of the painterly compositions recall the dazzlingly sparse Baltic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich. Indoors, Tarkovsky subtly manipulates light among darkness, his characters walking around on a polished dark-wood floor in such a remarkable house it seems sinful to burn it down, as Alexander does at the end of the film.
Tarkovsky’s rigorous control of image produces some astonishing tracking shots, moving back and forth across the the island terrain, while his equally assiduous control of sound mingles far-off wailings, Japanese woodwinds, Swedish folk tunes. This attention to sonic detail makes the performance of Susan Fleetwood - brother of Fleetwood Mac’s Mick - all the more baffling. She’s clearly speaking English all the way through, but most of her lines are dubbed into Swedish. Except for a brief period when, hearing of the War, she succumbs to tedious hysterics - she then speaks in clear English, screaming her concerns about the fate of ‘Little Man’.
This Little Man is perhaps the most unsatisfactory element of the whole film. At the start, he’s just had a throat operation and cannot speak. He helps his father “plant” a dead old tree among some rocks, re-enacting a parable in which an oft-watered lump of wood eventually blossomed - and at the end Little Man is shown doing just that, now having regained the power of speech. The film ends with Tarkovsky’s dedication to his own son - ‘with hope and confidence’ - but this seems manipulatively banal in the light of what he’s shown us in the preceding two-hours-plus. But, despite these qualifications, The Sacrifice could never have been made by anybody else - this is Tarkovsky’s world, and many viewers will choose not to enter. It’t their loss.
To see The Sacrifice after a junk-food diet of
This is the mood in Solaris, Mirror and the other sanctuaries
erected over the past quarter-century by Andrei Tarkovsky. The pleasures these
films admit are rarefied: the meticulous placing of actors and objects in a
frame, the charged and stately grace of a camera movement, the surreal images
from someone else's dream. Yet you should also feel the spectacular unity of
vision and visuals, of passion and method. Compared with The Sacrifice's art,
the formal sophistication of even the best
The Sacrifice is only the seventh feature film in a career
that began with the lyrical, prize-laden My Name Is Ivan (1962). Tarkovsky was
just 30 then, the son of a renowned Soviet poet and the rising sun of the
Soviet film establishment -- a cinema Yevtushenko. But soon his artistic
intransigence and the supposed obscurity of his themes nettled the bureaucracy
that financed his films. The epic Andrei Rublev, completed in 1966, was not
released in the U.S.S.R. until 1971; Solaris (1972), based on the Stanislaw Lem
novel, suffered official censure; the lusciously enigmatic Mirror (1978) and
Stalker (1979) sealed Tarkovsky's fate as a picturemaker on the way out. Within
a few years, he was. He went to
So it is not surprising that at the twilight of his life, this introspective artist should imagine the last flash of the last night of everybody's life -- the end of the world -- on film. The Sacrifice comprises 24 hours in the lives of eight people at a secluded summer house. The upstairs quartet is Alexander (Josephson), a former actor who now teaches aesthetics; his English wife (Susan Fleetwood); a grown daughter (Filippa Franzen); and an adored son called Little Man (Tommy Kjellqvist). In various levels of the servant class are two maids, Julia (Valerie Mairesse) and Maria (Gudrun Gisladottir); Victor (Sven Wollter), a handsome doctor who attends the illnesses and neuroses of this frazzled family; and Otto (Allan Edwall), a postman who spouts Nietzsche, and will goad Alexander toward the starring role in a holocaustic farce-tragedy.
They could be Eugene O'Neill's soul-wizened Tyrones, or an extended Chekhovian family chatting its way toward collapse, or the Ewings under sedation. And Tarkovsky is happy to display them in their dolors, at his pace, with all the spare majesty of his style. In the morning, Alexander celebrates his birthday by planting a tree with his son -- an ordinary bucolic tableau, captured in a ravishing shot that lasts almost ten minutes. That afternoon, when the daughter playfully balances a pear on the doctor's knee, it seems a daring bit of coquetry; nothing more need be revealed. Then at night Alexander hears a radio report of an imminent World War III. He rushes downstairs; a sonic burst sets the house reverberating; a pitcher of milk tumbles slowly from its cabinet and breaks on the floor. Alexander snaps too.
And here The Sacrifice strips gears and revs into a kind of controlled delirium. It embraces elements of old-dark-house melodramas (a creaking door, a dead phone) and French farce (Alexander sneaking down a ladder for a late- night tryst). Yes, the end of any world, even this desiccated one, can be both spooky and funny. And so is Alexander's unshakable belief, stoked by Otto, that the fate of the planet depends on his "lying with" the ethereal Maria. Is she Eve or Lilith, Mary or Mary Magdalene? Or just a maid who understands that even a dotty master deserves the rite-of-last-night? Like any man trying to take any woman to bed, Alexander offers her a two-faced come-on: If we make love we can create a new world; if we don't make love I'll kill myself. Out of sympathy, she accedes to his plea, and their bed revolves and rises, sharing their forced ecstasy.
Earlier that night, this Father Abraham of the apocalypse had vowed to surrender his beloved son if God would only restore everything to its earlier state of blessed torpor. And come morning, all is restored, in spades. Mama is whining, Daughter is pouting, Doctor is leaving. The world may not be ending, but theirs is -- with a whimper. For Alexander, the only rational response is to go crazy. He carefully sets the house afire and (in a wondrous 6 1/2-min. shot) runs about the grounds, eluding his family until he is carted off in an ambulance, and the gutted house collapses. Each nuclear family detonates its own nuclear catastrophe.
The Sacrifice ends on a note of desperate hope: that every birth means a new genesis. As the ambulance careers by, Little Man waters his father's tree. He relaxes under it and says, "In the beginning was the Word. Why is that, Papa?" It is a poignant query, a heroic response, especially since the speaker is not only this Little Man but also Tarkovsky -- a man who has virtually offered up his life in the sacrifice to make, not good movies, but great films. In The Sacrifice, the cryptic Tarkovsky style helps create a towering cathedral.
Sync: The Regent Journal of Film and Video [Bart Tolleson] (essay) Materialism and the Messiah
"Zarathustra's gift in Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice," by Gino Moliterno from Screening the Past
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
"And Then There Was Sound: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky," by Andrea Truppin Sound in Tarkovsky’s THE SACRIFICE, also an interview with Owe Svensson, Swedish sound mixer
by Olga Surkova from the
An Interview with Layla Alexander Garrett Tarkovsky’s interpreter and personal assistant on THE SACRIFICE, by Jap Mees from Talking Pictures
New York Times (registration req'd) Walter Goodman
Behind the scenes on Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice on YouTube ()
Bela Tarr, The Films of Pacific Cinematheque
Pacific Cinamatheque and the Vancouver International Film Festival are pleased to present a retrospective of the films of Bela Tarr, a Hungarian filmmaker whose work remains little-known in North American, but who is gradually establishing a reputation as one of world cinema's most impressive and distinctive talents.
In fact, a critical buzz of major proportions has recently begun to gather around TarrÅs work, due primarily to the circulation on the festival scene of the director's astonishing Satantango (1994), a monumental, magical, rigorous, seven-hour, black-and-white magnum opus on eastern Europe in aftermath of communism that has drawn comparisons to the lofty likes of Angelopoulos, Antonioni, and Tarkovsky. Jonathan Rosenbaum of Chicago Reader chose Satantango as one of the top ten films of 1994; William Johnson of Film Comment cited it as "the highlight of the  New York Film Festival" ; Dimitri Eipides of the Toronto International Film Festival described it as "an epic work by one the world most impressive filmmakers"; John Ewing of the Cleveland Cinematheque hailed it as "the film event of the year"; and J. Hoberman of the Village Voice recently selected it as one of best films of 1996 -- and claimed that, despite its seven-hour length, "more than a few of those who came to see it [during a brief engagement in New York last summer] came back to see it again."
If the likes of Tarkovsky and Angelopoulos are often invoked todescribe Tarr's more recent work, then John Cassavetes stand as a more apt touchstone for those earlier Tarr features. Claustrophobic, confrontational, loosely structured, rough-edged dramas, they feature improvisational acting and liberal use of close-ups and hand-held cameras, and typically focus on the emotional fissures of ordinary working-class existence. Their major themes have remained central to Tarr's work: "a constant attention to the deep malaise within society, dysfunctional families and individuals, and an inability to find happiness" (Piers Handling, Toronto I.F.F.).
Family Nest, Tarr's first feature, was made when the director was a
mere 22 years old, and before he had received his formal training as a
filmmaker. It earned the Hungarian Film Critics' Prize for best first feature,
and shared top prize at the Mannheim Film Festival in 1979. The Outsider,
Tarr's second feature, was made while he was a student at
Almanac of Fall marked an important transition in Tarr's work. The claustrophobic, confrontational, kitchen-sink dramatics of his earlier work remained in place -- Variety described Almanac as "an even more painful, scorching and unsettling image of Hungarian society" -- but the semi-documentary conventions were jettisoned for a new highly formal, highly controlled visual style, including experiments in the expressive use of colour and odd camera angles a la Raßl Ruiz.
Tarr's formal rigour and high stylization reached their maturity in Damnation
and Satantango, spellbinding, moody, apocalyptic films in which
"his canvas has expanded, his world view has become more refined (more
dystopian and misanthropic!), and his control of the medium grown more highly
assured. Damnation and Satantango will be viewed as central works
of east European cinema in the decades to come. They sit astride a momentous
event in history, the dissolution of the communist world, and document this
moment in a way that only great art can. . . The films are reminiscent of
Fellini's La dolce vita and Antonioni's L'avventura in the manner
in which they mirror their times. For anyone who wants to visit the state of
mind of present eastern Europe (be it
"[Tarr] is slowly emerging as one of the most distinctive talents in the world, although it has taken him six films, and a career that began over 20 years ago, to reach this point. And he is still a young man." -- Piers Handling
Béla Tarr—heir to the state-subsidized vanguard of Miklós Jancsó and Andre Tarkovsky and subject of a full retro opening Friday at MOMA—is known here largely for his seven-hour magnum opus, Sátántangó, a bleakly comic allegory of social disintegration on the muddy vacuum of the central plain Hungarians call the puszta.
Recognized as a landmark from its first screenings at the 1994 Berlin Film Festival, Sátántangó is a characteristically East European tale of charismatic swindlers casting their spell on hapless peasants. Indeed, Tarr's hypnotic film (taken from a novel by modernist Laszlo Krasznahorkai) constructs somewhat the same relationship with its viewers. A movie in which emptiness becomes amazingly rich, textured, and visceral, Sátántangó is a multiple tour de force—for the actors, as the camera circles them in the lengthy continuous takes that Tarr adapts from Jancsó, and for Tarr, who constructs his narrative out of these morose blocks of real time. The final shot, in which one character boards up his window, provides a superbly materialist fade-out.
More experiential than narrative, Sátántangó has fewer shots than the average 90-minute feature, and two hour-long chunks of it would be remarkable movies in their own right. In one, a fat, drunken doctor spies on his neighbors, runs out of booze, and is forced to make an epic trek through torrential rain to get another bottle; in another, a 10-year-old girl poisons a cat and then herself. The titular performance is a remarkable composition in repetitive ranting, drunken strutting, and befuddled dancing to the same mind-breaking musical loop. After everyone collapses, the accordionist finishes all their drinks and pukes (offscreen). Not until halfway through the movie is it apparent that much of the action is unfolding simultaneously.
Sátántangó is a masterpiece of visionary miserablism, but then Tarr originally burst on the Hungarian film scene, a 22-year-old enfant terrible, with his 1978 Family Nest—a relentless, Cassavetes-style kitchen-sink drama in which three generations of workers (non-actors all) and a blasting TV set are crammed together in a Budapest apartment. The naturalistically incessant squabbling is artfully orchestrated and shot through with a distinctive dark humor. Tarr followed up with the similarly claustrophobic prole operas, The Outsider (1981) and Prefab People (1982). His style then shifted with the stridently punk pyrotechnics of Almanac of Fall (1985), a kammerspiel that seemed at the time to be a misguidedly tarted-up version of his gritty domestic dramas. For me, Tarr's breakthrough was the voluptuously entropic Damnation (1987), a majestic study of erotic betrayal in an industrial wasteland, which had a brief run at Anthology Film Archives in early 1990.
Damnation, a film whose rapt attention to landscape, fastidious creation of a climate, and immaculately sumptuous cinematography recalls Tarkovsky, was Tarr's first to be written with Krasznahorkai. Paradoxically, this ongoing collaboration has allowed for the primacy of the visual in Sátántangó and Tarr's latest, Werckmeister Harmonies—which opens the MOMA retro.
Béla Tarr Trilogy Ed Halter from the Village Voice
Festivals, exhibitors, and critics maintain— both in practice and in attitude—an invisible demarcation between the avant-garde and the art film. On one side of this curatorial DMZ lie figures like Ken Jacobs or Jennifer Reeves, ghettoized in experimental sidebars, small-gauge cinematheques, and galleries, cultivating relatively insular but devoted audiences. Just over the border sits a mostly n