26 April 2011

In Which I Spoil Incendies and Address an Enter the Void Issue

Google Analytics informs me that Mystics in Bali(!), Cría Cuervos, Enter the Void and Incendies are the most frequently searched titles by which singles of people throughout the world find their way here. Though I don't think I answer, in their original entries, the questions implied by the search terms, and because I too am often disappointed by a lack of answers from the sites I visit for answers I'd like to offer the following two points:

Incendies Ending The rapist/torturer in the prison in which the mother was held as a political prisoner was her first son (which her other two children were searching for). So the son was raping the mother. The son/rapist is also the little boy at the beginning of the movie when the first Radiohead song (which, alas, I don't know the title of - another frequent search) plays. The mother identifies the son/rapist by his tattoo. That's why the two letters are delivered to him, one as a mother, and one as a victim. This also makes the father of the second and third children the first son, or in other words the man is their father and brother. I bet you actually knew this but didn't want to believe it.

Twin towers in Enter the Void During the Love Hotel sequence, as Oscar's spirit/the camera travels through the rooms of love makers, there is a moment that's either a flashback or a flashforward. The moment intercuts Linda and Alex's lovemaking (Linda also morphs into Oscar's mother [as Victor's mother did in the previous scene]). Like the final moment this intercut is out of focus (Noé has confirmed the woman in the birth scene is Oscar's mother): a man and woman couple, on a bed, hold a baby while a young girl in a yellow dress plays with a stuffed bear. The camera floats out the window and there's a skyline, and in the skyline is apparently the twin towers. I'm not a NYC skyline expert, but I think, like singles of Internet searchers across the world, that two buildings in the skyline are the twin towers. It's a confusing scene because the young girl is in a yellow dress, as Linda (young and old) often is in Enter the Void, and she has the bear Linda often has, but if it's Linda in the dress it can't be Linda on the bed with the baby, and also if it's Linda in the dress it can't be Oscar as a baby since Oscar is the older brother. The man appears to have long hair like Alex, and due to the content of the scene it intercuts (including the ejaculation, naturally) you would think it's Alex and Linda holding their second baby with their firstborn daughter playing with the bear and wearing the dress, perhaps a dream of the future Oscar has. But if those are the twin towers how can that be, since the towers were destroyed on September 11 2001?

19 April 2011

Notes on Rubber

There is a kind of narrative that must be played out as long as the wheelchair bound spectator (Wings Hauser) lives, and a narrative is a kind of waterfall of reasons, fundamentally (this movie has many of those rocks which jut out from the otherwise smooth surface behind the waterfall). Things can make sense without being sensible, or as a friend told me after watching Rubber a second time, "There are parts of this movie I like without knowing why."

The movie begins with a series of chairs set up for no apparent reason that are destroyed for no apparent reason by an oncoming car along the desert road, but one of the spectators later questions why the chairs were destroyed when they could have been sat in - this joke begins a series of internarrative logic based paradoxes which expand in humorous and interesting ways through the movie's duration (by the way, the movie begins not with this car, but I believe with the man holding the binoculars, which is a weird image, later given reason when the spectators use the binoculars in an impossible way made possible by internarrative logic: it's how they watch the movie they create by watching it).

The #1 reason I went to see Rubber a second time was to have a good time. The #2 reason was to investigate an alternate interpretation of Robert's character which was proposed to me over roasted bone marrow at the Little Bird Bistro on my birthday. Attempting to describe the movie for a friend, I began by stating that it's "about a malevolent tire that emerges from the desert without a past and embarks on a senseless mission of violence." Whether it was the special day, the bone marrow, or naive arrogance, I remember feeling that I was at the beginning of a pretty good description, which is sometimes difficult to do on the spot and unrehearsed. Only, then a friend across the table interrupted me, "Ahhhh. I don't know," he said, perhaps wagging his finger, "I thought Robert was an innocent." "Me too," someone else said. "[Something about a tire's destructive nature and the fulfillment of natural urges]" my first friend said. "[Something about lions in the wild hunting for food,]" another friend said. I defended my position okay enough, but I don't believe I changed minds just then. Later of course there were things I wished I'd said, but didn't say then, but said, with appropriate conviction, in muddled whispers to myself while showering or aimlessly walking. Many people don't appreciate other people stirring misunderstandings or conflicting viewpoints, however, and so it's been my own battle since then.

Robert’s a pretty malicious character, but he’s also likeable. What was your inspiration for that?
Quentin Dupieux: Honestly, when I wrote it, it was only supposed to be an evil character. In my mind it was like, ‘Okay, it’s just the bad guy,’ but then, when I started to shoot it, I had to deal with a tire and there’s nothing evil about a tire. So I had to change my mind a little bit (laughs), and when we did the first tests with the remote controlled tire – I had the camera attached to a stick – and it was just following the remote controlled tire in the field and, at this point, the tire was like a dog. The way it was rolling and behaving in the field, it was like a dog. So I decided, ‘Okay, it’s like a dog. It has to be like a dog.’ That’s why there’s shots where it drinks water, things like that. Suddenly, it was not just an evil character. It was more like a stupid dog. That was the inspiration.

Dupieux's answer seems to validate both interpretations to some extent. I wonder how different it would be if Robert had a face, or at least eyes, and what that face or those eyes would make us believe, or rather, how those eyes or that face would strengthen the force of our beliefs. Ultimately the answer is that Robert is fictional and neither malevolent nor innocent, but rather a character obeying laws appointed by a writer constructing a narrative, and given the facelessness of Robert and the multiple original concepts for the inanimate object, it's the best answer. I also submit that this answer is no fun.

EVIDENCE OF MALEVOLENCE (can I say I'm so, so pleased with this note's heading?)
1. Robert explodes heads.
2. There is a montage of people with destroyed heads. These people are strewn about streets and sidewalks and seem unconnected to the narrative trajectory, i.e. the love story between Robert and Sheila, which motivates many of Robert's actions.
3. Robert doesn't attempt to destroy trees, buildings, cars, etc., and if he was truly innocent wouldn't he not be making these types of distinctions while expressing his inborn state of destructiveness?
4. It's true that tires are kind of destructive, but a) it's not like their principal purpose is destruction, like a bullet or missile or something, and b) if you view a tire as destructive it's only because of the way humans use them (they put them on their cars and drive over surfaces and sometimes minor obstacles), and hence it's a nurtured or acquired state, because if you see a tire just fucking lying on a store shelf not on a car or anything and like shiver from fear of personal injury caused by the lifeless tire you're a fucking weirdo.

My initial confrontation with the question of Robert as like a lion was to quip, "A lion doesn't seem innocent when it's attacking you," which was good enough to cause the group to consider, but upon review it really seems more like fate or circumstance is the malevolent force and not the lion, because the lion continues to behave as a lion, lacking aspects of self-awareness and premeditation that enable its action to be labeled malevolent, or at least its kill to be called murder. But for me this opened a rabbit hole into other considerations, primarily I began to wonder what animal first ate another animal, what was the first one with teeth that bit into another living creature, and whether the witness sensed on a primal level (which was just the normal level at that stage I guess) something wrong about carnivorousness, and like signaled with unspoken emotional communications that an abrupt change in the perceptions and realities of relationships and communities was taking place, if the animal witness thought, even without advanced levels of self-awareness and certain reasoning faculties, "this is going to lead us to horrible long-term consequences, this single act here" and if the animal trembled, really trembled. It seems to me the origins of senseless killings are tethered to the origins of purposeful killings, because when no one is eating anyone else, and then someone eats someone else, isn't that the beginning of malevolence? It would benefit the conversation to offer definitions of the words on trial:

malevolent |məˈlevələnt|
having or showing a wish to do evil to others


evil |ˈēvəl|
profoundly immoral and malevolent
• (of a force or spirit) embodying or associated with the forces of the devil
• harmful or tending to harm
• (of something seen or smelled) extremely unpleasant
profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, esp. when regarded as a supernatural force
• a manifestation of this, esp. in people's actions
• something that is harmful or undesirable


innocent |ˈinəsənt|
1 not guilty of a crime or offense
• [ predic. ] ( innocent of) without; lacking
• [ predic. ] ( innocent of) without experience or knowledge of
2 [ attrib. ] not responsible for or directly involved in an event yet suffering its consequences
3 free from moral wrong; not corrupted
• simple; naive
4 not intended to cause harm or offense; harmless
an innocent person, in particular
• a pure, guileless, or naive person
• a person involved by chance in a situation, esp. a victim of crime or war
• ( the Innocents) the young children killed by Herod after the birth of Jesus (Matt. 2:16).

An animal is harming the other animal it eats, even if it's within its nature to eat it, though it's free from moral wrong, and as it doesn't know the potential depths of its own consciousness it can't be expected to grasp the potential depth of another consciousness. The thing about mankind is we've brought efficiency and numbers to the act of killing, and introduced the term murder - which I definitely don't think animals do, murder, given the premeditation aspect (though it's kind of cute to imagine lions hunched over a table covered in blueprints, cigars in their lion mouths) - but I reject the claim that this makes us extra evil, or only extra evil, because we're also capable of extreme tenderness, compassion, empathy, mercy, rectitude, etc. We're simply extra capable creatures who possess sufficient reasoning faculties that we hope will eventually win the battle over our extra harmful potentialities. The thing about the cycle of life and nature and shit is that advancement and evolution entail injustices that must be balanced by nature, and I think it's interesting that human self-awareness and reasoning allow us to kill plentifully, but also love exceptionally and to amazing degrees. Robert demonstrates an advanced degree of self-awareness, a component of humanistic reasoning, by loving Sheila for purposes beyond evolutionary or survival advantages. She doesn't pet him, take care of him, etc., though she doesn't attack him either. Robert's consciousness lacks a sense of morality, perhaps, but I believe his knowledge of love is superior to, for example, King Kong's. Robert's story is like the story of King Kong - Robert is taken from the jungle of unconsciousness into the civilization of consciousness - and they're both captivated by a single woman - but King Kong behaves like a real animal, and is only violent in animalistic senses, while Robert demonstrates several human and superhuman qualities that could potentially result in culpability for his actions, which extend beyond self-preservation. I'd have dinner with King Kong, but not Robert.

1. Well, it's not like lions confusedly attack trees and buildings (please link to appropriate article w/pictures if they do). They attack things which pose a threat to them, and Robert makes peoples' heads explode because they are his potential threat (but was the water bottle a threat, was the glass bottle, and was the goddamn bunny?).
2. As Dupieux discovered when he began to consider the tire as an evil entity, a tire is not inherently evil. Think of the lion again, and think of training a lion to attack, which is weird so downgrade and think of an attack dog: the dog takes on a violent purpose due to conditioning and training. Robert is trained to destroy through a past life as a car's tire (as seen, in fact, during a flashback after the pool drowning incident). The lesson of destruction is forced upon it through prolonged experiences that shape its view of reality, made to absorb violence at the center of its being, its nature corrupted by man. I think Robert demonstrates signs of advanced consciousness and self-awareness, for example emulating Sheila by showering (to shower, Robert must have used his mind powers to turn the water knob), swimming, and watching television, and I think these evidences of advanced consciousness rule out this consideration, but maybe not.

1. Robert becomes inert (at the bottom of the pool, though, a kind of multiply motivated inertia I admit) when the narrative is believed to be concluded due to the deaths of the spectators. Once this is disproved and reported, he re-animates and kills the hotel owner.
2. Seems like, in the same scene, he should have exploded the head of Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) to eliminate the brunt of his woes.

1. Robert, in his new form, explodes the head of the wheelchair man and continues his journey (towards Los Angeles!).

05 April 2011

I Am Curious (Yellow) and Zusje

Mr. De Grazia: Would you state for the jury, please, some of the ways in which this film explores important issues of today?
Stanley Kauffmann: I would begin by stating its basic tone, temper, or theme is the idea of transition, that the picture has grappled basically with the idea that we are living in a time of profound change in all aspects and perspectives of modern industrial civilization; and this basic theme of change, of transition, which is affecting all our lives, willy or nilly, is explored in four or five different veins.
That is, we see change in social attitudes, change in political attitudes, change in that version of political attitudes that deals with military views, changes in sexual relations, changes in the status of women in the society ...

They fought the battle in the courts and on the screen, but does the screen remember the fight? I Am Curious (Yellow) reminds me of the possibility of absolute freedom in film narratives, of the creative potential of dramatic form in cinema. For example, for years I've carried the dream of mid-film credits, for whatever reason, and now I know what that would be like. It'd be charming.

In special features Vilgot Sjöman explains how he asked his producer for film and total creative control with no script, and because it was the 60s or Sweden or for other reasons, this happened. Sjöman shot, edited, shot, edited, and felt he didn't have a complete film, so he asked his producer for more film and ended with enough footage for two movies, Yellow and Blue, the colors on Sweden's flag.

In the book edition of Gus Van Sant's screenplays for Even Cowgirls Get the Blues/My Own Private Idaho, Van Sant talks about his screenwriting form, which he admits isn't traditional. He notes that Hollywood standards are based on a model of conformity, and he fucks conformity. He says the distinctness of his films is a direct result of the individuality present in the way he writes his screenplays.

I believe in the principles of both these anecdotes. The creative artist must allow itself limitless, unreserved potential. Cronenberg talks about this another way when he says the writer shouldn't write with a budget in mind. He insists it'd be a form of self-censorship.

Stanley Kauffmann: Psychologically, the film does its exploration in carrying forward at the same time several different strands of unassailable reality and of variations on that reality that play back and forth, that present a nicely variegated, thick texture of fact and sort of fantasies on fact, which is representative of what our society is beginning to be more and more aware of in terms of our daily perceptions of what we see, that there is a great difference between the black and white that has been formerly assumed of what is fact and what is fantasy ...

Although after all this is said, the film must be watched. What is it like to watch I Am Curious (Yellow)? It's sometimes confusing, boring, alarming, etc. It's a different type of movie, and brings with it different types of feelings.

Stanley Kauffmann: ...what this director is aiming at is exactly that slight fuzziness, slight blurring of the line between what is fact and what is fiction.
It is a part of a modern view of not just art but a lot of matters. What used to be thought of as a clear dividing line, an iron barrier between art and life, should go or can go or has gone, and we are not really aware of it yet.

I quote Kauffmann not simply as an authority, but because of the eloquence and insight in his answers, and his participation in the context of Yellow. Such compassion was shown for a quest of meaning, such tenderness for the individual. It's important to me to see that the movie, in its time, was treated seriously despite its potential lack of solutions, and despite its sometimes playful surface. Kauffmann excavated the inner questions of Yellow, so that the court could grasp the sense of a shared journey between audience and film.

I believe that while exploring the dimensions of a film, as an audience member, you should also be exploring dimensions of yourself, and as the film is more and more revealed to you, you are more revealed to yourself. This can happen in so many interesting ways, but a direct course to indirectness shouldn't be dismissed, although I think in contemporary films it perhaps has been, as a preference for elusive focal points has been relegated to the art house. Mainstream characters, potentially perfect (sometimes designed to be perfectly flawed for dramatic purposes), have replaced people, who have a history of imperfection and ambiguous virtue.

In particular it's interesting that a complex, multi-sided and ongoing battle for societal harmony is explored on a macro scale through the politics of Sweden, and on a micro scale through Lena's experiences, especially her stormy love affair and home life. Yellow's narrative is of Lena, a free thinking 20 year old who tallies the changes brought by radical external development as she participates in her life's narrative and expansion of personality identity, sometimes cordial and sometimes in conflict with the outside world.

The movie knows our greatest problems lie within as much as anywhere else, that the seeds of discord are in the hearts of people and their relationships with each other. The movie wants to truthfully depict this, but is concerned about its manipulations and short cuts, and so Sjöman includes himself and his own conflicts as a filmmaker. The documentary aspects aren't granted automatic ascendency over the fictional elements, and sometimes the two are blended so that vital questions remain more important than easy answers. I too suffer from immense confusions, not easily solved by applying dramatic devices to my life (though I sometimes try, to great disaster, because strong emotions rarely, and then hardly, follow story beats), and find the ideas of Yellow sometimes liberating, sometimes cathartic, and sometimes simply, wondrously relatable.

The question of the camera and its effect on reality is a fundamental concern in filmmaking. Zusje's technique of a protagonist in a camcorder pov raises implicit ideas about the camera's ability to record facets of a person's soul, and of a camera's ability to illuminate the emotions of a person in front of or behind the camera.

Martijn visits his estranged sister Daantje, who has started her own life in Amsterdam. What Martijn's life is like I'm less sure of, and what I know about Daantje I know from Martijn's camera. The film is the record of their relationship as witnessed by Martijn's camera, and we cannot know about the man behind the camera without knowing about the people in front of the camera, and vice versa, and the audience works to realize what they are not showing or telling.

The subjective camera brings us closer to the characters' living experiences and creates an ambiguous emotional surface. For example, why does Martijn hide behind the camera, what is he hiding, and is he hiding? Another example, do the others tolerate Martijn despite his camera, or because of his camera - are they starving for recognition, in whatever form, for attention, however it comes? Is it even about any of these things? The nexus of the film is in the relationship between brother and sister, and the film's narrative is the surface, the mask to, an inward investigation of intricate connections between the siblings.

I had long wanted to do a film that felt like a found home video, and Zusje is that film. Martijn fabricates and conjures a narrative of partial and absolute reality, aiming his camera as a way of personal emphasis, and the people around him respond in spontaneous and unprogrammed behavior sometimes, calculated and purposeful behavior other times. That is, the camera becomes a symbol of the human eye, the obtrusiveness of our lives upon each other, and the way our presence shapes the lives of others.

These two films represent courageous encounters with the substance that envelops certain mysteries of being human. If the mysteries were clearly solved, the essence of mysteries would be neutralized, and the struggle for self-identity trivialized. Answers needn't be strained from dramatic forms. In forcing clarity on complex matters there is the danger of reductionism, and also an ironic non-admission of complexity, a kind of dramatic accusation about the nature of uncertainty. Simply, irrationality itself must thrive in the heart of a film that truly wants to deal with matters of irrational humanity and eternal riddles.

In the spirit of Yellow, I'd like not to end on what appears to be a summation. I'd like to say that I like the scene in Yellow when Lena has a conversation with MLK Jr. from her bike. I like her pedaling feet, and I like Jr.'s face, which must have done so much of his work for him, as it's an incredibly sincere and naked human face, with eyes like deep portals, etc.