Review: Lost River

Every once in a while you see something that won’t let you go. That stays with you for days in a row. That makes you want to be quiet about. An experience that changes your perspective on (the) world. Something which is perhaps only possible through and because of art. Here an attempt to review, to speak up about one such experience. However impossible.
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Reflection on Birdman and the reality and/of art

Naomi Watts in Birdman
Winner of four Oscars, and some of my favourite actors in it (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts). Enough to go and watch this film, right? Or perhaps it is the subtitle of the film that made me go and see it… In any case a movie that is worth watching: “Birdman: or the unexpected virtue of ignorance“. A reflection without any spoilers.

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Comment – 12 Years a Slave

Is it possible to comment on something, when one only has a specific point of view? Possible in the sense of positively existing, non-superfluous. Are words lost, like so many moments fleeting in time, thoughts formed by the world, by what is already known, instead of forming the world. Still, the value is in the trying.
I will try.
“12 Years a Slave”, a film by Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt. Good marketing, interesting starting points (based on a true story, dealing with important social issues, great actors). But there was only one reason for me to watch this film, namely its director: Steve McQueen. Last year I went to see an overview of his work as an artist in a museum in Basel which really left a lasting impression on the manner in which I see video-art. Perhaps I was most impressed by his capacity to film the everydayness of a world without falling into das Man (sorry for the Heidegger here, but there was something particularly heideggerian about his art). “Giardini” An Italian park where the Biennale is held, where dogs roam about from dawn to dusk, without human interference but within a world completely structured… is one of these gems that I would advise everyone to go and see for herself.

Greyhounds in the mist … A still from McQueen’s film, Giardini, shown at the Venice Biennale

But then, this “12 Years a Slave”… – (and yes, perhaps I should have written this comment before it got an Oscar for Best Film 2014. Which is a purely politically motivated choice. Because it is definitely NOT the best film, see also my post on best films of 2013…)
…it is however a beautiful film. At least, I cried. Not because of the racial matters, as crying for those kinds of things is abominable. These things happened, if you really care you don’t shed a tear and feel better. No, you would do everything to stop it from happening right now (opportunities enough, take for instance sex slaves).
And still I cried, because of the beauty of the world in the face of injustice. The camerawork was truly magnificent, combined with great editing. The silences and long shots of nature, the close ups of the strings of a violin. They show the impact the world has even despite and perhaps even because of the harshness of human life.
The story is therefore only secondary. A way to bring beauty to its fullest expression. Working with wood to build a shed and the sounds that accompany it, the scraps of wood lying everywhere. Details that need an overall story to become meaningful. But its beauty is established long before you get to know the hands working with the tools. This is what I hoped for when going to a Steve McQueen film. And this is why I am already looking forward to his next work.
Beautiful, precisely because its beauty is not experienced by the actor, but left fully to be experienced by the audience.

Also, it should be said, I was positively surprised by Paul Dano in a great role – such a big leap from Little Miss Sunshine, although the same sadness could be seen in his eyes…

On Lars Von Triers' Nymphomaniac

There are still certain things that cannot be said, should not be said. (And a blogpost on Nymphomanic might be one of those things…) As a beginning writer, I am experiencing the addictive flow of thoughts translated unto paper, but also the paradox of the author-reader relationship. I read as I write which may be read.

There are still certain things that cannot be said, should not be said. (And a blogpost on Nymphomanic might be one of those things…) As a beginning writer, I am experiencing the addictive flow of thoughts translated unto paper, but also the paradox of the author-reader relationship. I read as I write which may be read. The purpose and reasoning behind writing is still hard to fathom.
And then there is moving images. Involving the eye, the ear. The maker, the writer, the actor, the audience, and not to forget the media who will comment on it all. An intricate relationship. But let us not linger on the question as to why it fascinates so, why it is the modern type of mesmerism.
Lars von Trier wrote and directed one of my favourite films of all time, Dogville (2003) which influenced my view on theatre immensely. And with Nymphomaniac he has outdone himself once more. Two films which are really one and the same – no annoying recaptures at the beginning of part 2, no repetition, just a clear cut halfway through: to breathe, to reflect, to muse before reaching the end. So to all those people who say part I is better than part II, I can only say: really? Are you stupid?
[Spoiler alert!]
Nymphomaniac is the tale of a woman. Not of womanhood, not of the history of women, not of the result of feminism, not of the present reality of everything. It is however a very good tale, one that reflects many general issues and at least with me was personally very moving and easy to relate to. (And yes, now I hear you think: but this was a film with excessive sex-scenes and mostly single older men go and watch it? Yes, this is true. But among the audience also a lot of young people can be found, young women, like me.)
I will not analyse all of it. It’s four hours of film. But I will try to share a few of my observations. First of all, the beauty. Although the lead character Charlotte Gainsbourg (Joe) is one of my favourite actresses, she and the many many people she meets and interacts with, many of whom probably beautiful people on themselves, none of them, none of them were beautiful. It was the visual that had a beauty, continuously throughout the film. The surrounding was perfectly beautiful. Take the opening shots, slowly following the outlines of bricks, wood, metal plates, an inner courtyard – with beautiful albeit unrealistic sounds as if one is feeling the images resonate. And then there is the fascination with trees, the myths surrounding the relationships of the trees, the one more beautiful than the other and mocked for it.
Another telling aspect of Nymphomaniac is the guilt. Having sex outside of conventional relationships is something to be looked down upon, at least this is what Joe says that should be done. There is no other way than to blame her for her own downfall. But throughout her story, her life, she professes no guilt at all. She explores her sexuality, her needs, her longings, and the world and all it has to offer. Especially the scene in which the betrayed wife and her children barge in on Joe and the husband is telling. It is painful, not because of the betrayal. But because Joe has no remorse – and should we? It is painful because of the reaction of the wife, the symbol of tradition. The way Von Trier captured this moment makes the audience side with Joe, but not because all of a sudden we think adultery is a good thing. It is an existentialist pragmatism that we relate to. Which is why this film should not be seen as general ideological piece of film, but as a specific story. (Independent of the fact of how many women face the same challenges as Joe.)
One of the most interesting parts is the manner in which her life is analysed. The metaphors of fishing, the stain on the wall. But the theory of the three types of lovers – the patient one (the man in the red car, waiting patiently for his turn, taking his time and only involved with the other), the tiger (taking control, knowing himself and mastering the other) and the lover (the unfathomable, the one which makes feeling key, until it becomes impossible) – might be the most interesting one.
And finally, the end. (I mentioned spoilers, right?) Joe shooting down the man who had listened carefully to her story, but then trying to take advantage – because she had been with so many men, what could she possibly have against it? This act, this saying ‘no’ – for the first time in her life – is maybe the whole point of the film. Something that could be said to be true of today’s position of women. (Or maybe of Simone de Beauvoir’s world.) Women are to excel both at home and in a career, taking every opportunity to impress, being feminine while facing a world in which the feminine is still regarded a weakness when it comes to business and success. Joe takes her own sexuality as more important than the one of the other (mea vulva maxima vulva), in a way her response to her frustration, the opportunities provided, her turning her knowledge of a man’s sexual preferences into a criminal enterprise is neither male nor female. She is searching for her place, as a person – outside of that encompassing dichotomy. And it is the ‘no’, the shot that ends the film, that breaks this search. It is the end.

Best Films 2013

It’s that time of the year to make lists, review what you’ve done, what you will do, etc etc. Here my 2013* top-10 films… [no spoilers]…

Martina Gedeck in “Die Wand”

1 Die Wand (
Austrian/German, 2012. It’s hard to say why this film came to be number 1 for me this year. This had to do with the way the audience responded. After it had finished, we all sat in silence for quite some minutes before anyone dared to get up and leave the cinema. It’s a film that stays with you, for many weeks.
2 Io sono Li (
Italy, 2011. Touching little gem. It’s one of those films that make you very happy about life, while being realistic and not a happy-happy film. In fact, I was so happy that after exiting the cinema and walking around town in a daze, my wallet was stolen and I didn’t notice until the next day…
3 Inside Llewyn Davis (
USA, 2013. Perhaps because I saw this film at exactly the right moment in life, this film made me cry for a long time. What does it mean to relate to this so much? Is it the music that finally got to me? No, there is much more going on, choices made. Excellent cinematography.
4 Matterhorn (
Netherlands, 2013. How to show the crazy habits of an extremely conservative Dutch town in which human relations are still the same as hundred years ago, without passing a verdict? By showing it, and introducing a stranger into town who is truly innocent, which makes the townspeople’s response extremely rediculous. And most funny.
5 Kid (
Belgium, 2012. Probably not too many people have seen this film, yet it deserves a mention. A chilling story of how children are resilient and find ways to be children, despite the inability of the grownups surrounding them to take care of them.
6 La Grande Belezza (
Italy, 2013. A reflection on the absurd by the king of the absurd normalcy we call the good life. Set in the extravagance of Rome’s nightclubs, a so-called-writer mourns his and his companions inability to exist.
7 Lore (
Australia, 2012. Set in Germany 1945, we follow a girl who was brought up to think like a victor in a world that turns against her.
8 Ginger & Rosa (
UK, 2012. By my favorite director, set in 1960s London, a wonderful story that needs to be told over and over – to defy the present authority, you need to find out who to trust, who you are, who you love and what it is worth to fight for. (See also previous post.)
9 Hannah Arendt (
Japan(??), 2012. Following Hannah Arendt and her work for The New Yorker into her work which we now know as the book ‘The banality of Evil’. I had expected more of this film, maybe because that book is so extremely good. But it does give a context, and with very nice images brings this topic to a bigger audience. Too bad the relation to Heidegger was forcefully brought up, without going into depth and thereby merely reinforcing the general thoughts concerning that relationship.
10 La cinquième saison (
Belgium, 2012. Most excellent, perhaps this should be the number 1. Not only due to the way it’s brought to the screen. But the story itself, the way people respond to the fact that after winter, no spring follows, is very original and perfectly shows humanity’s dependence on nature, and how ‘we’ behave in times of anguish and hunger. A must see film for everyone interested in life.
(Nymphomaniac probably also deserves a place… yet only came out this week…)
* Based on films that reached the Dutch cinema in 2013.

Art As It Is Meant To Be: Io Sono Li

Tao Zhao as Shun Li in “Shun Li and the Poet”

Sometimes you come across a piece of art that is exactly what it supposed to be like. An experience that doesn’t leave you alone for quite some time. Watching ‘Io Sono Li‘ is such an experience.
(Don’t worry, no spoilers involved.)
After five days of loud music and cheering as my city has been taken over by partying youngsters and military and other people who walk fifty or so kilometers a day for four days in a row in order to get a small token to remember it by (Nijmeegse Vierdaagse), I needed to flee the heat and noise. So I went to the cinema. Specifically, I went to see a film that just came out, an Italian ‘art-house’ production.
It is amazing how chlichés can be avoided by showing things for what they are, not making them into whatever you hope to show your audience. To let the images speak for themselves. Some reviewers said the actors were very well chosen, as if the part was made especially for them. But I think that is a superficial way of looking at it. When actors play their part, it is up to the viewer (and thus up to the director) to look at their emotions and the thoughts that speak through their eyes. Not getting too much involved creates so much beauty!
Of course there are a large amount of social issues that are part of contemporary society that forms the structure of the film. But I say structure, not the content. The content is independent of the surrounding, which is what makes this film so extraordinary: the viewer can relate to it especially because it shows something human, and not some bigger picture. Art is not used to ‘fix’ a problem or to create a discourse.
Art as it is meant, to look at the world once more, differently.

Ginger & Rosa

Ginger & Rosa

Let’s not be fooled by beauty. Some things are not going to be solved, and apologies are misplaced when you follow your principles. But what Ginger and Rosa (Sally Potter, 2012) does not show, is that sometimes principles can be wrong.
‘Ginger and Rosa’ gives us an interesting insight into the past without being just an historical situating of two girls growing up, but which is meaningful to us today. At least, it can be. Faced with a world that does not care, people react the same: they cling to whatever seems meaningful. The abandoned child reacts by entering into a fatal relationship with a father-figure. The child whose parents separate searches for something she can fix: the nuclear threat to wipe out humanity. The fact that these two similar reactions drive a friendship to a breaking point is due to circumstances. In a way the personalities are a distraction from what is really going on. Back then, just as it is now. Faced with nihilism, we need something to hold on to. Even when we know this substitution is a mere distraction.
The imagery in the film is absolutely stunning, as I expected from a Sally Potter movie (The Man Who Cried is still my favourite though). There is a certain slowness to the whole film, without it being obvious or annoying: it gives the whole a natural feeling. Ever seen anyone bite their fingernails in on the big screen, as if she was completely unaware of doing so?
What I would have liked, however, is the ending to have been different. The father is an important figure in the film, boasting about his principles and living by them, even when it hurts all the people around him. And although we might disagree with his principles, there is something heroic about this: choosing a difficult path by not going along with what is considered duty or normal. Then why, in the end, does he apologize for his behaviour? Faced with a world that does not care, he chose to care and be active, consciously. And apologies are totally misplaced when you’ve consciously made your decisions. What you could do in a situation in which you realize what you’ve done hurts others, is to change your principles. But don’t apologize for caring.

Mr. Nobody

A nice movie that I’d recommend to everyone. Interesting perspectives on life, mixed with a splash of existentialism and some romance.
It starts out describing the universe & time being created simultanuously, with six spatial and one temporal dimension. Of which three dimensions are hardly known, and what if one of them was also a temporal dimension?
Choice, it seems, is so difficult, because you cannot turn back. But the angels that seal the lips of every newborn with oblivion, forget this one boy, Nemo. And when Nemo grows up, his knowledge of the future makes him unique…
That’s all I will say, but it’s a very realistic movie, not a space/SciFi thing full of techonology. It focusses on choices we make, and butterfly effects that normal people cannot make undone…
Truly a remarkable (European) movie 🙂