Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang [2014)

I bet you thought I stopped writing about film, right?

🙂

Me too.

Sometimes.

I think…

“Am I still a film critic?”

With all this Trump this and Trump that.

With these tableaux.

This lazy poetry.

But I am back with an actual film.

And it is a masterpiece.

But I don’t know what to call it!!!

It’s a Chinese film.

Sort of.

But not really.

Because it’s by a Brazilian film director.

But not just any Brazilian film director.

Someday I will get around to reviewing one of the best exemplars of naïveté ever made.

Yes, one of the best FILMS ever made.

Central do Brasil.

Central Station.

A formative episode in my filmic life.

But back to this Chinese film directed by a Brazilian.

I didn’t even get to his name yet 🙂

Walter Salles!

Yes…two masterpieces are enough to make an auteur!!

But we can’t use the Chinese title here.

For the film.

Under consideration.

Because that would be disingenuous (and we will get to Trump).

[Or we will try.]

{so much…stuff…in the world}

Let’s paint the picture…

Three Gorges…no.

We must wait.

Central Station was a fiction film.

A beautiful masterpiece which stretches even up into the sertão.

But Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a documentary…about a guy from Fenyang…named Jia Zhangke.

Messrs. Baggini and Fosl (Julian and Peter) would call that a “spectacularly uninformative sentence”.

And Kant, the less-colorful–less-candid “analytic proposition”.

But we hit an impasse.

The film I am reviewing is so little-known (apparently) that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Worse, it has a strange, butchered title on iMDB.

There it is called Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles.

Hmmm…

I must admit:  it appears some people in marketing over at Kino Lorber are dicking around.

But we press on…

Just who the fuck is Jia Zhangke?  And why should you care about him?

Well, first:  he’s a film director.

And second:  he’s as good as Jean-Luc Godard.

Did I just say that???

Yes.

I just put someone on an equal level with my favorite director of all time.

What’s more, a Chinese guy you’ve probably never heard of.

Of whom.

And what about this Fenyang business?

Well, let’s get out our maps.

First, we must find Shaanxi Province.

Northern China.

The capital is Xi’an.

But we must get to the more obscure.

Fenyang.

Home of our subject auteur:  Jia Zhangke.

So we don’t exactly know the title…here to there…from this platform to the next.

But we will say this.

If you are in the U.S., this film is currently streaming on Netflix under the title Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang.

Or something like that.

This is the confusion of a lack of standardization.

Where’s ISO when you need them…or Zamenhof!

Ok…so why should you watch a 105 minute documentary about a filmmaker of whom you have likely never heard?

Because Walter Salles compels you.

He says, “Watch my story…  Pay attention to this little self-deprecating Chinese man.  He’s a cinematic genius.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all artisans and artists helped each other out in such a way?

A filmmaker, age 57, decides to make a film about another filmmaker, age 46.

Actually, that is quite an honor.

That an older filmmaker would help in the career of the younger one.

So we heartily praise Salles for his mise-en-scène as well as his morals.

But then we hit another impasse.

Because words cannot express the brilliance of Jia Zhangke’s grasp on cinematic language.

And so, why should you watch this film?  I ask again.

Because it gives you an introduction (not dumbed down in any way) to the works of a contemporary film artist who is leading the cinematic medium into this new century.

Likewise, it gives you an introduction to Chinese film at the same time.

These aren’t kung fu flicks (for the most part).

These are art films.

Similar to Breathless

Born of the French New Wave.

But also born of Raj Kapoor.

Indeed, as a young boy…Jia Zhangke remembered an early film which extolled thieves.  And it was this Indian film shown in China.  And the Chinese kids remembered the melismatic melodies for decades…to rip off a shred and a few threads of a melody which bound them as enfants terribles.

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a bit like Cinema Paradiso.

The big director returns home.

And there’s a sadness.

Maybe you can see your childhood home.

And hit the wall one more time.

You can imagine the family bed and the father’s desk was there.

And the books on shelves along here.

So many books.

That there is a sadness of being from Fenyang.

I feel it being from San Antonio.

And Jia Zhangke, all throughout this film, ideates thoughts which have now and then wisped in and out of my dreams.

Jia is very calm.  Thoughtful.  Serene.

A true artist.

And as he talks about the process of creation, I find him to be an exceptionally dedicated artist.

We hear about Xiao Wu (1997).

Pickpocket.  Starring Wang Hongwei.

I mean, this bloke…Wang…  His clothes hang on him in almost a magical way.

He’s a good-for-nothing bum in the Chaplin mold, but still puffing away like Belmondo in Breathless.

But Jia was right.

It’s the gait.

The way Wang Hongwei walks.

Body language.

Brilliant!

And the shots we see of Platform are really moving.

It’s like being from a place like Kiruna, Sweden.

Gotta get there by train.

Up past the Arctic Circle.

And the kids…they don’t have a lot of entertainment.

Maybe even the sight of a train.

But in China…………….far more vast.

These remote places.

Like the Three Gorges area where Jia made Dong and also Still Life.

But the joke’s on me.

Because the whole world knows Jia Zhangke.

The whole world of cinema.

And me, with my insular approach, not so much.

Because Jia won the Palme d’Or in both…wait.

We have the wrong envelope.

Ok…so maybe he’s not that well know.

His films have been screened in competition at Cannes, but no hardware yet.

With the exception of his Golden Lion from Venice.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that he’s making great films.

What matters is that he has the potential to best us all.

This was a very moving film for me.

Because it speaks to the obstacles of life.

Of the unhappiness.

Of the solitude which must be for creations to ferment properly.

To mix metaphors, we need the darkness in which to screen our masterpieces of light.

We cannot screen them in a glass house…at 2:30 p.m.

Finally, this film will give you invaluable insights into the recent history and current state of China.

All the people on Weibo (like Twitter).

The market system which has been kicking ass since the 1990s.

And crucial periods such as 1976-1989.

The restructuring period right after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

WE NOW JOIN PAULY DEATHWISH NEWS NETWORK…IN PROGRESS: “…

Xi Jinping.  His father purged in 1963.  His father jailed in 1968.  Xi was sent without his father to work in Shaanxi Province in 1969.  [The remote province from which film director Jia Zhangke hails.]

This was a time of immense violence in China.  Being purged.  Being jailed.  Being sent to the countryside to work and be re-educated.  All of this was suffused with violence.

So when President Xi got the message from President Trump himself that the U.S. had just launched 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria minutes earlier, President Xi was met with the shock of surrealism…a perfect steak…beautiful ladies…the glitz and glamour of Mar-a-Lago…and the throat punch of an actual tiger.  No paper.

“Get North Korea in line, and fast!”  Would have been the message.

So that, in these times, to truly appreciate that which is unfolding around us, we need directors like Jia Zhangke.

These are our new philosophers.  Our new poets.

Thinking about social media.

Fooling around with it.

Inventing new artistic forms.

And finding new types of loneliness.

And desperation.

Jia came from a very poor area.

He loved his family very much.

The Chinese don’t like violence.

We Americans don’t like violence.

See this film.

Then get back to me on Dereliction of Duty 🙂

-PD

Twin Peaks “Arbitrary Law” [1990)

That gum you like’s gonna come back in style.

Miguel Ferrer defers.

A mere 130 IQ.

Spatial.

âme.  âne.

Perplexed and amused us for years.

Âne-soeur.

But we are required to go deeper.

To a deeper poetry.

Greatness demands all of us.

Lenny Von Dohlen we knew in every blank gaze.

Every sheepish word.

A foreigner at home within us.

Criminalistics not complete with stylometry of Fort Meade.

Necessitating poetry.

A poetry of.

It is beyond MFA.

It is compulsion of unfettered existence.

Tied to entertainment.

I was a bastard brat.

For a moment beneath me.

My higher calling.

Thought a pentagram was imminent.

But the magic is white as MIKE.

Unity of opposites.

We will have much more to say in dissertation form.

A true X file.

With no rational explanation.

Thwarted by every dimension of reality.

And Ray Wise is brilliant.

To ask so much of an actor.

Lord let it rain on me.

What do you think?

I’m asking you.

Fire walk with me.

Wordsworth.

Perhaps Keats?

Only Baudelaire with that kind of darkness.

Maybe even necessitating Lautreamont.

But we will go deeper as we outstrip the functionalities.

Wyndham Lewis.

And then host for Ezra Pound.

In possession which destroyed Lasker’s first edition.

Belmondo once proved his love.

Similarly.

To use our powers for good.

Une femme.

Hokey fumbling with mysticism.

Deadly accuracy of possession.

We want to know more of Moloch.

And the cremation of care.

 

-PD

Popiół i diament [1958)

The words don’t come easily.

In the old crypt.

He has to toss her the matches.

His trusty matches.

Twice he has lit the cigarette of Commissar Szczuka.

As for her.  Her.

Ewa Krzyżewska.

Krystyna.  I saw you in a magazyna.  (GZM)

But Zbigniew Cybulski knows the author.

Cyprian Norwid.

All he wanted to do was go to school.

He had done well.  A smart kid.

The assassin poet.  Maciek.

A bit like the gunrunning Rimbaud.

Ashes and diamonds.  Violets in the dustbin.

Adam Pawlikowski couldn’t help but inhale the fleeting perfume of love.

A little love turns an assassin straight.

It is like James Bond.

Daniel Craig.

Skyfall, perhaps.

Simple word association.

And for “assassination”?  “Employment.”

This is Ashes and Diamonds by Andrzej Wajda.

The precursor to Bruno Forestier in Le Petit Soldat.

And in many (many) ways, the precursor to Michel in À Bout de souffle.

So much of Jean-Paul Belmondo seems to come from Zbigniew Cybulski.

It makes sense.

The sunglasses.

Living in the sewers during the uprising in Warsaw.

Godard.  So underground that he wore his sunglasses at night.

Yes, they are a way to hide.

For The Velvet Underground they would become a way to survive the strobe-light insanity of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

For Lou Reed they would become immortalized as a way to deal with the harsh light of the day (or night) when on heroin.

This was no doubt from Hubert Selby, Jr.  From William S. Burroughs.

Perhaps even Nelson Algren.

But let’s not get too far afield.

This is a “review” of a Polish film called Popiół i diament.

It is an achingly-beautiful film.  There.  I said it.

I don’t begrudge this film.

She is my first love within Polish cinema.

There is something so special about this film.

Little moments.  The flowers dropped in the trash.

The “what-could-have-been”.  The employment by way of death.

The pull and tug of war.  The futility of taking sides.

Wajda was making a bold statement here.

There are no winners in Ashes and Diamonds.

The only winner is the viewer.

The viewer who sees the film-poetry and loses themselves for a moment upon the ash heap…the midden pile…the city dump which is modern life.

For a moment…stumbling across the wasteland…there is a girl…and a little bouquet of violets.

 

-PD

Pierrot le Fou [1965)

Here.  Ici.  Godard=Picasso=Joyce.  It may start with an Élie Faure quote concerning Velázquez, but that is just to set the stage for this ball of colored glass which goes beyond cinema.  The politics come on stronger, but they are like that strangely succinct Butthole Surfers lyric about not giving a fuck about the FBI…or the CIA.

You must only dial M.  Two murders by scissor.  Furthermore, the only way to catch a thief might be in his fireworks.  The tears of a clown…Clyde and his Bonnie…I can’t even keep track of their casual carnage.  Two?  3?  One thing is for sure:  the excitement of Breathless returns…along with the high school musical version of Broadway…in a bare apartment…a girl and a shitload of guns.  That’s all you need for this film.  And a car.  The spirit of Gene Kelly emerges later to spiff up the surreal song moments.

Pierrot doesn’t drive off a cliff.  But he drives right into the sea.  Yes, books were Pierrot’s downfall.  He’s never gonna get that job at Standard Oil.  Especially since he skipped town with a smokin’-hot murderer.  Drive all night.  Fuck it!  I’m so sick of everyone.  I just want to do what I want.  You know, just get in your car and start driving.  Find a town somewhere and start a whole new life.

Enid Coleslaw would doubtless have a certain simpatico with our lovers Marianne and Ferdinand (Pierrot [Belmondo]).  But this paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  A parrot, a fox, sure…but eating out of tin cans…Marianne, like Groucho Marx, wants some hot-cha-cha!  And so the dance hall in town.  It could be L’Atalante.  It could be Casque d’Or.  Why are the police not here yet?  Because they like to let people destroy themselves.  Victor Hugo meets Dostoyevsky.

More torture à la Le Petit Soldat.  Use the whore’s dress.  Polyester.  An especially nasty asphyxiation.  And so Ferdinand ends up back in the bathtub…where he started.  Instead of reading the history of modern art to his daughter, he has just outed his lover.  What a terrible 5:00 pm.  What a terrible 5:00 pm.  What a terrible 5:00 pm.

Maybe I will just let the train pulverize me.  Why is it always damsels in distress?  Damoiseau?

Ah, but it all makes so much sense in the end.  Raymond Devos sums it up.  That tune that’s always been playing.  It is our comedic, pathetic love life.  Yes, she betrayed us.  And so he fails to not commit suicide.

A failed failure is a success.  I’ve always had trouble spelling that word.  I blame Bob Dylan.  There is no k in success.  And though I long embraced suckcess, I now remove the k and a c comes with it.  Sucess.  I have unsuccessfully spelled success.  As a graduate student.  In business.

Ah, but it’s really no use.  One must stay optimistic.  Realistic.  Let’s face it:  the chances are slim.  It takes a lot to laugh.  Hear that lonesome whistle blow.  Maybe tomorrow Bob Dylan.  Suckcess in all its glory.

-PD

Les Carabiniers [1963)

Iskra.  И́скра.  Spark.  Good film criticism requires a spark…something which separates it from run-of-the-mill recounting.  Our society is so impoverished.  Apparently Wikipedia didn’t put any of its recent fundraising money towards their article on The Caribineers [sic].  Nay, I had to stray to the rival IMDb to find what I was looking for.  I know how Wiki works (more or less).  People contribute information, at various levels of veracity and artfulness, to topical articles about which they feel at least an interest if not an expertise.  Perhaps IMDb works the same way.  I’m not sure.  One thing is sure in my book:  Wikipedia is the more powerful tool and, just as importantly, it is artfully austere–the Bauhaus of digi-pedias.  IMDb is not lacking in breadth (as concerns film), but it is clunky and feels like a really shitty version of amazon.com.

Business.  Amazon has owned IMDb since 1998.  I’ve gotten some great stuff from Amazon…some of it at a good price.  But Wikipedia does has a different feel, and for that it is to be commended.  It is the utopia ideal at work.  And that tangent brings me to the name.

Odile Geoffroy.  IMDb claims she was in Vivre sa vie as well as Les Carabiniers.  Perhaps.  It appears to have been quite a small role.  I do not recall it.  But at least IMDb (Amazon) gave me her name.  The same cannot be said for the woeful, woeful Wikipedia article titled The Caribineers.

Why Ms. Geoffroy?  Because her part in Les Carabiniers is anything but trivial.  Iskra.  Spark.  Из искры возгорится пламя.  From a spark a fire will flare up.  Yes, the brutes of Les Carabiniers really have a tough time offing Ms. Geoffrey’s character…even with a white handkerchief over her perfect, blond visage.  It’s the only way.  Her beauty is too strong for the base, lecherous soldiers tasked with shutting her up.  And then she begins to speak…

Yes, she has a mind.  She is not a mindless Venus–nor a venal Cleopatra.  But they shoot her anyway.  In fact, it takes a magazine full of bullets to finally keep her synapses from firing; her limbs from moving.

And so we have another political film from Jean-Luc Godard.  Again, like Le Petit soldat which preceded it by release but not creation, the political slant is not really towards a particular faction (as far as I can tell).  In other words, the Marxist-Leninist spark is just that:  a quick, tentative reference to something which was perhaps still taking hold in Godard’s mind.

What we do get is an anti-war film along the lines of Renoir’s La Grand illusion, but with the gritty realism of Rossellini’s first post-war films.  Roberto’s spirit is inextricably woven into the fabric of Les Carabiniers.  Albert Juross portrays the idiocy of war as well as Catharine Ribeiro portrays the pretty spoils of mo-bil-i-za-tion.  The latter (Ribeiro) would enjoy a long career as an iconoclastic singer.  Which brings up another point:

where was Anna Karina?  Belmondo?  It might have seemed at the time that the Karina-Godard synergy had abated.  Nothing could have been further from the truth of what followed.  Some of her best starring turns for Godard lay ahead of her, but this strange film served as a bit of punctuation for Godard…almost a continuance of Le Petit soldat.  It bears mentioning that of his first five features, only Une Femme est une femme had been in color.  This from the auteur who was to yet shortly give the world Pierrot le Fou and Le Mépris.

Les Carabiniers is really rather a dense film to dissect.  I think Pauline Kael and Susan Sontag would be aghast at having been cited on such a paltry Wikipedia article as The Caribineers.  It is to Godard’s credit that this seldom-mentioned classic from his oeuvre poses a problem in breadth for being even beyond the scope of a time-on-my-hands blogger like me.

-PD

Casablanca [1942)

Time goes by.  Time goes by.  Sitting in his own gin joint…stinking drunk.  It’s like Pythagoras is hammering on Bogie’s heart…searching for a certain ratio.  Left to die in Casablanca.  The money is good, sure!  But the heart is broken.

The heart that loves and the heart that fights…these are the same heart.  If she can take it, so can I.  And Dooley Wilson strides into the song.  It was in the piano all along.

The piano…that musical typewriter…where Beethoven wrote novels as much as chiseled sonorities.  Truth is, nobody is listening.  There are those in this world we trust.  At present we wait.

And then she arrives.  And we blow it.  All of that crestfallen love transformed into angst.  She was the most beautiful woman we ever saw.  When Belmondo and Seberg joyride around Paris, it is in tribute to them.  And perhaps Héloïse and Abelard really are buried at Père Lachaise.  Maybe, maybe not.

But when she hummed that tune in the noir shadows…then the piano started to play.  It’s no use.  She’ll never come.  Oh, but she does come.  And then she leaves again.  We begin to wonder whether she ever existed at all…whether Pythagoras ever passed a blacksmith and heard an anvil chorus.  Anytime’s a good time to be born…and anytime is a good time to die.  Harry Partch said that.  And Casablanca’s as good a place for it as any.  Bogie said that.

Ten thousand dollars/at the drop of a hat/I’d give it all gladly/if our lives could be like that.  Bob Dylan said that.  There’s blood on the tracks…greasing the rails…from the concentration camps to North Africa.  Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world…  And now Bogie has to think for all of us.  And he does.

Laszlo had to go all Charles Ives and instead of the Fourth of July, it’s the 14th and “La Marseillaise” is drowning out “Die Wacht am Rhein”…tentatively at first, but ultimately in a rousing rout.

I lost my place…my train of thought.  Rick lost his place…the train from Oran.  It must have been that song…Herman Hupfeld.  Humbert Humbert?  No, that’s more Claude Rains’ department.  Have you tried 22 tonight?  Leave it there.

It’s more Schindler than Schindler…because it’s cinema.  Mostly because it’s Bogart.  The harder they fall…in love.  And so now the piano is silent.  Another proprietor has taken over.  I was always on the side of the underdog…an expensive habit.  Was never much of a business man.

And she flies away.  He remembers the day…the last time.  For me, it was Messiaen.  Turangalîla.  An airport in New Orleans.  I’m not qualified to shine Faulkner’s shoes, but here I am…none the less.

Deep underground is the resistance.  Love.  Maybe.  For now we have cinema…when we can allow ourselves to indulge in such.  We burn in darkened halls…or simply darkened bedrooms on a laptop.  Maybe she has come and gone.  Ingrid, painted so lovingly by Curtiz as she first hears the song again…like the other Bergman…like the overture to The Magic Flute.

I coulda been someone.  I coulda been a contenda.  No, another film.  We merely have our thoughts to cache until the library disappears like mandala sand.  Back to the bottle.  Scorsese gets it!

A lovely day and a lovely actress and Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev with the windows down.  Honey.  He did the right thing.  The hard path.  The road less-traveled.  The true saint.  The golden agitator.  Some say the French invented love.

We’ll always have Paris.  That hour in a van…stuck in traffic.  How very Tati!  There’s Sacré-Cœur…and the Arc de Triomphe from the side.

And then…getting on that plane.  The hardest part.  Like seeing the Eiffel Tower…only on departure.

-PD