חתונה מנייר [2015)

[WEDDING DOLL (2015)]

This may be the most important film I’ve ever reviewed.

And it also may be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen.

Cinema challenges us to drop our prejudices.

And so, this is the first Israeli film in Hebrew I’ve ever written about.

We must give each side their chance.

And we must stop seeing each other as “sides”.

To the best of my pathetic ability, I am going to attempt to describe a work of cinematic art that I have no right to enjoy.

Wedding Doll is a film which may change your opinions of Israelis.

I must keep my mind very focused to do it justice.

Because our aim is art.

My aim.

Our aim is beauty.

And my main aim is love.

We learn from our peers and our forebears what is right and cool.

We take on archetypes.

We try them on like hats.

Or like dresses.

And we feel comfortable in these metaphorical garments.

Because someone has blazed the path before us.

But the great humans take a step on their own.

If I take faltering steps, then I give the glory to God who has guided me even in such meager efforts.

Let me tell you about this film which celebrates harmony in our tearstained world.

First of all is due all credit to the director:  Nitzan Gilady.

His direction is on par with the great Kiarostami.

But it is equally on par with the great Ingmar Bergman.

It is that good!

Our story takes place in the Negev Desert.

And it behooves us out of an abundance of humanity to place the Negev in a new perspective.

This film does just that.

We see the Makhtesh Ramon.

A crater caused by water erosion.

Unique to Israel and Egypt.

And Makhtesh Ramon (makhtesh meaning “mortar grinder” in Hebrew…as in mortar and pestle) is the perfect analogy for this film.

In a mortar, things are ground up and crushed by the pestle.

Useful, lifesaving things like medicine.

But for the characters in our film, their circumstances are crushing them.

And like in life, some substances will be healing…and some poison.

Perhaps God is the great pharmacist.

I believe that to be so.

But let it be known:  there is not a single mention of God in this film.

And that is fine.

Because God speaks through his creation.

Let me please tell you about the wonderful actors who make this film sheer magic.

Above all is the astounding, stupendous, beautiful genius Moran Rosenblatt.

Her character, Hagit, is 24.

She is obsessed with getting married.

But she is also “special”.

It is a sad story.

She was apparently the victim of a head or neck injury at a young age.

At the hands of childhood bullies (it is intimated).

So she is developmentally disabled.

I hope I have worded it the right way.

Because no person deserves more deference than this character.

Rosenblatt makes her come alive as the most joyous, glowing human being imaginable.

But sadness is all around.

Hagit has unreasonable expectations of life.

Considering her situation.

Especially regarding employment.

And I can certainly understand.

She has a dream.

Her wedding dolls made out of toilet paper are miniature works of art, but she longs to be a fashion designer and work in a bridal shop.

As is the case with every human, we often cannot see our own limitations.

We push.  We dream.

And sometimes we are crushed by the cold reality of a world which doesn’t understand.

But one guy understands.

And he is Hagit’s coworker at a factory.

With just two employees.

A toilet paper factory in Israel.

What could have been maudlin in the hands of a lesser director is transformed into pure poetry by Nitzan Gilady.

But he needed the genius of Moran Rosenblatt.

And she needed help.

Roy Assaf is wonderful as Omri.

Omri watches out for Hagit the best he can.

He has good intentions.

Perhaps he is not perfect, but he brings Hagit so much happiness.

And yet his best efforts are unsustainable.

Only God can perform miracles.

Fortunately for Hagit, she has a mother who would go to the ends of the Earth for her.

Assi Levy plays her mother, Sara.

This is a lady who cleans rooms at a local hotel.

A very small town.

In the desert.

And a lady who sits by the washing machines and hot dryers perhaps in the basement of the same hotel.

Washing bedsheets and blankets and towels.

Sara devotes her whole life to her disabled daughter.

[the father is not around]

Hagit is simply not able to be on her own.

As much as Hagit wants that, the world is too cruel.

And Sara knows this.

She is protective of her little flower Hagit because her daughter is so kindhearted that she makes an easy target for unsavory individuals.

I will not tell you the plot twists.

I’ve probably said too much (to paraphrase Michael Stipe).

But this film is a masterpiece.

It is currently available on Netflix in the U.S. as Wedding Doll.

I have done my best to preserve the Hebrew title at the top.

If it is not visible, I apologize for the website template limitations.

My words cannot adequately do justice to the brilliance of this film.

And thus I will just leave you with its title.

חתונה מנייר

-PD

Les Misérables: Une tempête sous un crâne [1934)

Often when I watch films I am totally drained of energy even at the beginning.

Going into it.

And then a cinematic miracle will occasionally make me forget all about my exhaustion.

This is one of those times.

Thanks to director Raymond Bernard.

And thanks to the lead actor Harry Baur.

This is one of those films which can slip under the radar.

Mercifully, its four-hour-and-forty-minute running time is broken up into three parts.

That was, incidentally, also the mode of release in 1934.

The three parts apparently were shown in theaters by way of staggered releases (in the incredibly short time span of three weeks).

It is somewhat of an ingenious device.  I’m not familiar with another film to have received such a treatment.

This first section of Hugo’s novel is titled here Une tempête sous un crâne.

As you might expect, it is a particularly touching story.

It is certainly worth revisiting Les Misérables after seeing this first film.

The story is very heroic.  Harry Baur instills pride.  Proud to be human.

Few characters in life or fiction make such an impression.

The initial meeting with the priest is awe-inspiring.

As Jean Valjean says (in amazement), “I haven’t slept in a bed in 19 years.”

A real bed.  With sheets.  Like normal people.

Having been in jail.

His statement is a stunner.

I know that feeling.

As an artist.

I slept on a couch for years.

I slept on the floor.

We must remember that Valjean’s crime was stealing a loaf of bread.

Five years.

His four attempts to break out of jail extended his sentence by 14 years.

19 in total.

Hard labor.

All from stealing a loaf of bread.

And wanting to be free.

And then there is dear Fantine (played by Florelle).

A mother reduced to prostitution.

Sells her hair.  Sells her teeth.

All for her daughter Cosette.

It is reification in overdrive.

Finally, Fantine has nothing to sell but her body.

She has sold parts.

She stayed pure as long as she could.

She was tricked.

And an orphan to begin with.

So she ends up in a factory…playing the glass bead game…stringing cheap necklaces to keep her daughter alive.

And another pair of vultures (the Thénardiers) trick her more.

They rip her off.

Always more and more.

Just like modern life.

Modern times.

Les Temps modernes.

So we must remember Victor Hugo as an artist of conscience.

And Sartre…conscience.

Perhaps less artful.

And Barack Obama.

Completely artless, but still perhaps some conscience.

Let’s not underestimate the humanism of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program.

Sure, “the Guidance” was issued by Jeh Johnson (of Homeland Security).

Yes, the program is unlawful.

It is a new law.

That’s not the purview of the executive branch.

Yes, the plaintiffs are right in their invocation of the Take Care clause of the U.S. constitution.

But we must make sure to not misquote former Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark by omitting the final words of his famous quote:

“Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws…”  Which is to say, yes:  Judge Hanen…you are right.  Greg Abbott…you are right.  Republican states…you are right.  [I am speaking, of course, about the forthcoming Supreme Court decision on immigration…United States v. Texas.]

BUT…there’s more to Tom Clark’s quote…and it is often left out.  As Paul Harvey would have said, THAT’S the rest of the story.

Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws, OR WORSE, ITS DISREGARD OF THE CHARACTER OF ITS OWN EXISTENCE.

Which is to say:  the Democrats have the high moral ground here.

Let me clarify.

I hate Obama.  He’s a fake and a phony.

He had the opportunity to bring to real perpetrators of 9/11 to justice.

He didn’t.

That should have been job #1 after having wrested the White House from the maniacal neocon Bush junta.

Unfortunately, at the very deepest levels it seems that cabal never left.

Obama merely carried on the War on Terror charade (even going so far as to kill a dead man…the bogus bogeyman…Osama bin Laden).

But Obama and Jeh Johnson are right about DAPA.  MORALLY right.  Which doesn’t make their actions legal.  But I applaud the current administration for OSTENSIBLY caring about the people affected…the human beings…our illegal alien brothers and sisters.  They are, first of all, humans.  If they entered this country illegally, that is a secondary consideration.  They must always remain, first and foremost, HUMANS.

Yeah, Obama and friends most likely pulled off the Sandy Hook false flag.  That’s because the administration is, in general, a bunch of scumbags.

Speaking of presidents, Donald Trump is the only real candidate left.

Sure, he needs to slap himself in the face a few times and realize that Mexicans (among other immigrants from the south) and Muslims are people.  That’s a big hurdle for the Donald.

That’s the stumbling block.

Trump is winning because he’s the only one willing to admit that he’s a jerk.

His actions say it.

Hillary?  Secret jerk.

Cruz?  Thinly-veiled jerk.

Sanders?  Well-meaning jerk.

And then there’s the other jerk.  We’ll call him nice jerk.

Trump has won the rhetoric battle.

Now he needs to dial it back a little bit and find a soul.

I know he has one…deep down in there…somewhere.

Sanders is right about Snowden.  Trump has fumbled that one a bit.

But Trump is still the only one to address 9/11 with any sort of credibility.

That is priceless.

Can Donald “Jean Valjean” Trump turn it around and really make a positive difference?

I think he can, but he has to learn the lesson of the candlesticks…the silver…and the 40 sous.

It will be a tightrope.  The master bigot will have to convince a country of bigots that our humanity impels us to a higher moral standard.

That is Victor Hugo here…applied to the here and now.

 

-PD

 

 

Čovek nije ptica [1965)

It makes sense that Man Is Not a Bird was Dušan Makavejev’s first film.  It has that first-film “breadth” to it.

Where Ljubavni slučaj ili tragedija službenice P.T.T. (Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator) struck with absolute precision, Čovek nije ptica meanders about a bit in search of the appropriate film language. 

[N.B.  Wikipedia spells “bird” in Serbo-Croat for this film as “tica”.  I’m not sure why that is as “tica” seems to mean nothing (whereas “ptica” means “bird”).]

Though our film is set in a strange, backwards town, the narrative is considerably sprawled.

Eva Ras (the star of Love Affair…) is here as a more minor character.  However, she is the one who most lives out the message of the title.

This film has a strange obsession with hypnosis.  There is a hypnotist, but the film starts off with a scientific denunciation of superstition.  Through hypnosis (we are told), a distressed person can be made to abandon the grip of superstition.

Back to our hypnotist in the middle of the film…he is more of an entertainer than anything.  I am not entirely sure, but I believe the initial “legitimate” hypnotist (psychologist) and the later “entertainer” hypnotist are played by the same actor.

If that is the case, then Makavejev’s later metaphor (the circus) makes more sense.  But what is really complex about this film is the layering of metaphors upon one another.  It makes finding meaning very difficult.

One “reading” would be that life is a circus.  Another reading would be that “cinema” is a circus which purports to present a more truthful version of life than what we know.

But what does that mean?

Every day we experience life is some respect.  What could be “more truthful” than our daily experience?  Is Makavejev implying that we lie to ourselves?  Quite possibly.

As film viewers (spectators), we may become immersed in a particular movie and identify with characters and stories.  In a way, WE are the fourth wall.  The fourth wall is our temporary reality.  We enter into the false reality of film.

But, film gives us a chance to observe “ourselves”.  When we heavily identify with a particular character, we are having a sort of “out of body experience”.

And this brings us back to hypnosis.

Man Is Not a Bird is a very beautiful film (in a grimy, socialist, factory soot kind of way), but it is (perhaps not surprisingly) a dark film as well.

Shot, like Love Affair…, in black and white there is something more sinister about this film than the more gentle and humorous Love Affair…  But who are we kidding?  Love Affair… is inextricably wound up with death.  What could be darker than that?

Answer:  life without life.

It is what Eva Ras experiences as she is emotionally abused and disrespected by her husband.  Her husband, as it turns out, is working a job which is so hazardous to his health that the position is being eliminated ASAP.  And that’s in communist Yugoslavia!  All through this film we see a sort of poverty which separates East from West.  The poor Eastern Europeans.  What the West would come to realize (like New York Times film critic Vincent Canby) was that the East had something of immense wealth.  If pressed, I would call it soul.

Man is not a bird (even if, under hypnosis, he believes this to be the case).  Man is also no angel.  Janez Vrhovec plays a sort of martyr in this film.  Another more light-hearted character prods him as to whether he can feel the tingling of his burgeoning angel wings (the prodding is actually quite sardonic).

Man is not a machine.  But Jan Rudinski (Janez Vrhovec), the deft Slovenian machinist/engineer, has become a slave to his job.  From Pakistan to Dar es Salaam:  Rudinski makes his comrades proud with his exceptional efficiency.

But let us return to Eva Ras.

To turn Godard on his head, A Woman Is Not A Woman.

Why do I say that?

Because the French word for wife (femme) is the same as the French word for woman (femme).

And so a whole new world of wordplay opens up for us concerning TWO Godard films (namely):

Une Femme est une femme

and

Une Femme mariée.

In the first, we could potentially have the proto-syllogisms:

A woman is a wife.

Or, conversely:

A wife is a woman.

Furthermore, we could have:

A woman is a woman (the accepted translation in the English-speaking world).

Or, on the contrary:

A wife is a wife.

It gets to be such that we assume there is some sort of “boys will be boys” idiomatic phrase in operation.  Not being a native French speaker, I cannot confirm or deny that.  But I do know that Godard loves word play.  And therefore, the simple answer may not be the intended answer.

To illustrate further we have,

Une Femme mariée.

The accepted English translation is A Married Woman, but could it not be the more perverse and thought-provoking A Married Wife?

One thing is certain:

Man Is Not a Bird will have you under its spell whether you understand it or not.  At least, that’s the experience I had.

I would add one final bit of exegesis (extra Jesus).

It may very well be that Makavejev was making a disparaging statement about the communist Yugoslavian state with his first film.  It would be like the secret messages which Shostakovich managed to work into his music (particularly the string quartets) while living in Soviet Russia.

In the hands of communist governments, art (and particularly film…after Lenin’s admiration of the medium for its uniqueness) had to represent the people.  On one side (with communist eyes) this is admirable.  From the other (with capitalist eyes) this is seen as propaganda.

Any astute capitalist would have realized that (particularly in times of war) there was not much difference from communist and capitalist propaganda.  Both economic systems availed themselves of the practice of propagandizing.

But my guess, regarding the film in question, is that Makavejev recognized his own role as a propagandist (he had no choice in the matter…either please the censors or leave the profession) and likewise saw film as a double-edged sword of hypnosis.

And so his first film is really a realization…of that power in film…that power that can drive the masses to love…or to kill.

 

-PD

 

 

 

Passion [1982)

All you need is the first word.  The first sentence to get you going.

You can meditate.  Think too hard.

And now that it’s started it is gloriously ruined.  Like Kind of Blue.

Miles Davis would tell his players…one take.

Perhaps there were caveats.  But Bill Evans was ready.  Coltrane…

It is the same with “Sister Ray” by The Velvet Underground.

One take.  Make it count.

Everything proceeds from the first word.  But don’t take it too seriously.

It is like many other first words.  “Once upon a time…”

From a mist rises Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  Bruckner would use the same device many times (no doubt in honor of Ludwig van).

Yes.  We say Ludwig Van in honor of Mauricio Kagel.  And the entire spirit of everything here might be compared to Joseph Beuys.

And just like that <bam> we go over-budget.

Jerzy Radziwilowicz plays the Jean-Luc Godard character here (with the wardrobe ostensibly taken right off the back of Jacques Dutronc).  Thus Godard still creates a distance between his story and THE story.  The whole bit about Poland is made to throw us off the scent (a bit like the glorious obfuscation of Joyce in Finnegans Wake).

We find Godard to be right.  The available forms are too mundane.  The audience stops thinking when they are comfortable.  So we must disorient them a bit–prod like a brainiac Hitchcock.

You see, the most important thing is not who acted in this film.  Rather, the crucial component is the juxtaposition which allows for revelation.

We see the most perfectly-placed tableaux of human paintings.  Come to life.  The proper term is tableau vivant.  Maybe you see them at Christmas.  Perhaps a manger and the Christian genesis.

Ah, but with Godard it is Delacroix and Rubens and Rembrandt etc.  I assume Ingmar Bergman missed this Godard film because the former had already made up his mind regarding the latter.  And thus the admiration flowed in one direction alone.  We see the delicacy of Bergman–that technique of the long shot (temporally speaking).  You can almost imagine Godard telling his cast of thousands in this mini-epic to have no expression at all.

There is a connection to Stravinsky.  Neoclassicism, but really a radical belief in the purity of music.  To paraphrase Igor, “Music doesn’t have meaning.  A note is a note.”  Perhaps I have done the great composer an injustice with my memory.  Yet, a paraphrase is a paraphrase.

We humans are not computers.  No matter how many books we have.  No matter how steel-trap our memory.  No matter how fast our Internet.

And thus, that which is juxtaposed against the meticulous composition of the tableaux vivants?  Everyday life.  Careless shots.  The beauty of the sky.  The natural sway of a handheld camera.  The sun as it burns up the lens upon peeking through the bare trees.  Hanna Schygulla running through the snow with a lavender umbrella.

Real life.  Labor.  A factory.  And who is the real star?  Isabelle Huppert.  Her character in Sauve qui peut (la vie) was not a sympathetic one.  Can we say?  WE had no sympathy for her.  Very little.  Not none.

Yet here…she is the lamb of God (of which she speaks).  Huppert is the labor element.  Workers’ rights.  It is intimated that her monotonous job has caused her to stutter.  Why?  Because it is not easy to talk about the factory.

And why, she asks, are people in films never shown working?  It is not allowed.  Filming in factories.  Indeed, I believe there is a specifically French meaning here.  [And Swiss, as the film is shot in Switzerland.]  But the real shocker?  Work and sex (“pornography”) are equally prohibited on the screen.

Only Godard would find this fascinating link.  And that is why we love him.

But mostly it is another thing.

Life is so much richer in the films of Godard.  Sure, there are some exceptions, but the exceptions themselves are merely the process being revealed.  It is “the thinking life” to paraphrase Henry Miller.

Once you have been there, you don’t want to go back.  Or you can’t go back.  But we do go back.  Thinking is hard work.

And as the world bemoans what havoc Europe has wrought, let it be noted…the Beethovens, Mozarts, Dvoraks…

This is the humanism which little by little comes to occupy the mature films of Jean-Luc Godard.

Most importantly, he never stopped being a critic.

And his film reviews?  They are his films themselves.

-PD