Monday, September 06, 2010

Ambivalent Experiences

You like some movies, you hate some. There are other movies which confuse you. You don’t know what to say. They are not bad, but it’s trifle difficult for you figure out the qualities of the movies. Here are two examples:

The Piano Tuner of the Earthquakes (2006)

Directed by Stephen Quay and Timothy Quay, popularly known as the Quay Bothers (There are so many brothers making films in Hollywood, starting with the famous Coen brothers to the Wachowski brothers of The Matrix trilogy). The Quays are identical twins, and are influential stop-motion animators (The technology in which the Wes Anderson film ‘The Fantastic Mr Fox’ was made).

The Piano Tuner is their second film, after Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995). The film contains stop-motion animation, to show the automata in work (An automaton (plural: automata or automatons) is a self-operating machine. The word is sometimes used to describe a robot, more specifically an autonomous robot. An alternative spelling, now obsolete, is automation. The automata in the Hellenistic world were intended as toys, religious idols, or tools for demonstrating basic scientific principles); there are puppets as well, and there are human actors , including the beautiful Amira Casar, a French-Irish actress, as Malvina, an opera singer.

As the title suggests it’s the story of a piano tuner, but there’s no piano in the story. At the first glance, the place where the characters move looks like a version of Prospero’s island, with the certain Dr Droz playing the character from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Then suddenly, after the piano tuner arrives at the island, the story becomes a mediaeval fairy tale where an evil wizard has imprisoned a beautiful princess, and it’s the hero’s task to rescuer her. As the piano tuner meets the opera singer, the story takes an abrupt turn to become a tale of obsession.

It’s very difficult to keep track of what’s happening. But what you see on screen is absolutely fantastic, in an impressionistic sort of way. It reminds you of classic silent movies shot inside a studio, which look very much like a studio.

And the film ends, and you don’t know how to react.

Therefore, here’s review from Time Out London“The all-too-long-awaited follow-up to the Quays’ wonderful first feature (‘Institute Benjamenta’) is as imaginative, eccentric and visually seductive as one expects from these seasoned explorers of the uncanny. Great expertise is again evident in the blending of live action and puppet animation in the tale of Malvina (Amira Casar), a beautiful opera singer abducted during a performance by the sinister Dr Droz (Gottfried John). The mad inventor whisks her away from her lover, subjecting her to a life of mournful seclusion on a remote tropical island that is his home and kingdom, whither Felisberto (Cesar Sarachu), a piano tuner, is meanwhile summoned to repair seven automata…

“In other words, the film’s a weird fairy tale, a Gothic fable of obsessive desire, magical prowess and bizarre coincidence that owes at least as much to painting, literature, music and myth as to cinema. (In fact, save for Borowczyk and a handful of horror movies, it’s hard to divine much common ground between this and most cinema likely to screen these days.) The pace, in keeping with the feverish, dreamlike hothouse isle on which the delectable damsel’s kept against her (lack of) will, perhaps tends a little too much towards the languid, and Sarachu’s performance comes over as clumsy; Assumpta Serna as Droz’s devotee also seems slightly adrift, so only Casar and John have the full measure of the piece. Still, no one expects conventional pleasures from the Quays, and for those who like their movies different, ambitious and luscious to look at (Nic Knowland’s ’Scope camerawork is extraordinary), there’s much here to enjoy."

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003)

As someone said, there are no originals; everything in storytelling is a copy of Shakespeare. We can argue about the statement, but the fact remains, novelty of a story as such is lost forever, what remains is the process, how you tell the story. The art is in the telling, not in the tale. If this is true, Mike Hodges’ (famous for the 1971 crime drama ‘Get Carter’) ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’ is fantastic film. When the film ends, at the same point where it started, you are like what happened? There are too many loose threads.

Think again, and you realise, unlike other films, this one was never about tying loose ends. The film starts with those loose ends, and finishes at the same point, there is no resolution, no ending, happy or others, just a part of the journey.

In a bad film, this would be hubris. We want a proper tangible ending before we leave the theatre (or switch off the computer and go to sleep). But the film refuses to oblige us, and how we love the film for this.

There are films that spend an enormous amount of time establishing characters, and the inter-personal relationship between characters (it is especially true of Bollywood movies, where the lovers must sing a song to drive home the point that they are in love.) Here, the relationship emerges from how the character interact with each other. We are introduced to a friend; and we know they were close friends in how he reacts holding his friend Davey’s body.

Davey kills himself because he was raped by a man called Boad. Now, this is something odd in the context of a gangster, noir film, especially when there’s no apparent connection between Davey and Boad. It’s just a random act or violence (but male rape?).

Enters Davey brothers Will, who was once a gangsters, and probably a fearsome one. Three years ago he left London to live alone in a car. He was probably in love with Helen who surely looks older than him. Now, Clive Owen’s Will returns to London to find out what exactly happened. The film noir begins. We meet a few characters whose motive we do not know. The film refuses to explain it either. Instead, the film shows the characters as they live, and die. And credit. And you don’t know how to react.

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