Histoire(s) du cinéma {Chapter 1(a): Toutes les histoires} [1988]

Times seem apocalyptic.

So here is the greatest movie ever made.

But it is not available on iTunes.

You may have a hard time finding it.

And an even harder time playing it.

I did.

Back in the day.

I had to acquire a region-free DVD player.

And I did.

Solely to watch this film.

It is in four parts.

Each of which is divided in two.

So, therefore, eight parts.

This much-féted masterwork was not only released on television (which is to say, it was not a “theatrical” film per se), but it was accompanied by a soundtrack on the very erudite German record label ECM and further augmented by a book (text and screenshots) published by the most famous French publishing house Gallimard.

The soundtrack is very difficult to find on CD, but it is becoming less-difficult to find in the digital realm (unlike the film itself).

You can at least “listen to the movie” on Spotify.

And so for this film review, we will only be considering (to start with) the first section (which runs 51 minutes).

It is the section with which I am most familiar.

It is my personal favorite.

But it is important to note that the entire 266 minute film is essential to the “weight” of this creation (even if this first part is the most finely-crafted).

But we will reconsider as we go along.

The first section of the film (that which is under consideration) dates from 1988.

The book was not released till 1998 (when the film was completed).

So we have a sort of serial composition here (in the sense of Finnegans Wake).

It came out in parts.

It dribbled out.

Like QAnon.

And its influence spread.

Like COVID-19.

We remember William S. Burroughs and his concept of the “word virus”.

That is certainly germane here.

But I return, again, to Finnegans Wake.

No film creation in the history of cinema is more like James Joyce’s aforementioned masterpiece than Histoire(s) du cinéma.

Indeed, the only other creation I know of which enters into this same sui generis realm is Walter Benjamin’s Passagenwerk (translated in English as Arcades Project).

These are DENSE works…these three masterpieces.

One (Joyce) a “novel”.

One (Godard) a “movie”.

And one (Benjamin) a philosophical book.

Two books and a movie.

And the movie eventually became a book (Godard’s Gallimard creation).

The reverse of the usual.

Here, book doesn’t become film.

And there is not “more” in the book than there is in the film in Godard’s case.

If anything, there is certainly less.

Which doesn’t make it any less poignant.

So, what Godard has created for us with the book is a perfect guide to REMEMBERING WHAT WE SAW.

Which is a big theme of Histoire(s) du cinéma.

Film preserves the holiness of real life (to paraphrase).

Film (and video…of which this movie makes extensive use) preserves a moment.

Film can be (and is, always) a document.

Godard outlines a very French dichotomy here.

Film can be either predominantly of the Lumière brothers’ tradition (what we might call “documentary”).

Or of the Méliès tradition (a doctored reality…a “staged” document…what we might call “drama” [and its various subgenres such as “comedy”]).

But this dichotomy is not strictly “mutually exclusive”.

And here Godard brings us the example of Robert Flaherty.

Known as a director of documentaries, Godard points out that Flaherty “staged” his documentaries (which blurs the lines between the Lumière/Méliès dichotomy).

And what of Histoire(s) du cinéma?

Is it a documentary?

In many ways, yes.

It is a history of film.

But it is also a history of the filmmaker who is MAKING that very same history of film (namely, Godard himself).

To add further layers of surreality, Godard must address his own contribution to the history of cinema (which is considerable by even the most unbiased estimation).

Which is to say…

Godard is important to the history of film.

Very important.

Whether you like him and his films or not, he cannot be ignored.

And so we have here a very curious and “loaded” document indeed.

It is a matter of historiography.

Godard cannot (and indeed, does not even try) to remove his own opinion from this exercise of surveying the history of cinema.

That may be, ultimately, because Jean-Luc Godard never stopped being a film critic.

It was as a lowly film critic that he started…and it is as a film critic with his caméra-stylo (“camera pen”) that he continues to create today.

All of his films are, in and of themselves, film criticism.

From Breathless to The Image Book, he is always making a statement.

Pointing out how vapid Hollywood can be.

Pointing out what doesn’t exist in the marketplace.

Perhaps he is creating that which he would most like to watch…as a film lover.

His favorite film didn’t exist (except in his head–except as a vague concept).

No one had made it.

So, in order to watch it, he had to create it himself.

Then he could (theoretically) “enjoy” it.

I imagine he does this with each new film he makes.

It is always an attempt (“essay”…from French etymology…”to try”) to materialize what he would like to watch.

No director has his cutting wit.

No director’s mind pivots so nimbly.

So he must become his own favorite director…over and over and over and over again.

But this film is indeed a special case.

Ten years of creation.

Joyce spent 17 years on Finnegans Wake.

Benjamin spent 13 years on his Arcades Project.

And all of this which I have written is merely a preface.

That is how IMMENSE and pithy(!) Histoire(s) du cinéma truly is.

To be a creator is tiresome.

It makes one weary.

To always dream.

To imagine.

And to sweat in pursuance of crystalizing ones inspiration.

Jean-Luc Godard has always been a bitter sort of chap.

Bitter about Hollywood.

A love/hate relationship (LOVE/HATE…Robert Mitchum…knuckle tats).

And it is true.

Godard delves very early on into the parallel birth and adolescence of cinema and the Holocaust.

Cinema and the Holocaust.

Cinema was still young.

Cinema had a responsibility to document.

The Germans were very technologically advanced (particularly in sound and video recording).

They kept records of everything.

Even when they went astray during the Third Reich.

Germany had already produced great directors by the time of the Holocaust.

At the top of the list would be F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang.

But they were not alone.

Wiene, Pabst…

There were others.

UFA (which still exists till this day) was a giant.

Think Metropolis.

So where is the documentation of the Holocaust?

[you can see what a “dangerous” question Godard is asking]

Is he “denying” the Holocaust happened?

I don’t think so.

But he’s asking a relatively simple and (I think) sincere question.

Where is the video record?

All that has been passed down to us of the concentration camps (and “death” camps) is the record made by American directors like George Stevens AFTER the camps had been liberated.

So what really went on there?

Are we to really believe the Germans shot no footage whatsoever in these camps?

And if so, why can’t we see it?

Wouldn’t it truly help us to “never forget” and “never again” and stuff etc. etc.???

It is a very inconvenient fact that, as far as the general public has been made aware, there are NO (and I repeat NO) films (NO FOOTAGE) shot by the Nazis in the concentration camps during WWII.

Surely it exists, right?

But where is it?

Who has it?

What does it show?

Godard is the ultimate enfant terrible here (and elsewhere).

He wants to know.

He’s curious.

Because he’s a film lover.

And he ultimately blames Hollywood (which had, by WWII, become the global center of the film industry) for not truly DOCUMENTING what happened in the concentration camps (neither while the camps were active nor anytime afterwards).

But here Godard branches off into an aesthetic direction.

Godard flatly rejects the talentless Spielberg evocation of Schindler’s List.

For Godard, a directer as mediocre as Steven Spielberg has no business trying to tackle humanity’s darkest hour.

This is the conundrum at the heart of Histoire(s) du cinéma.

What Godard (I think) is saying is this:  there is no way to “write” a history of cinema…because a large portion of contemporaneous history (1939-1945) was not addressed in any true way by the BUSINESS (ironically represented heavily by Jews) of Hollywood.

Godard seems to be saying that Hollywood’s Jews (which is to say, Hollywood) let down world jewry during the years 1939-1945…all for a buck (as it were).

It is a persuasive argument in many ways.

But let’s back up a step.

To reiterate, a history of cinema cannot be told…because there is a portion of that history which is MISSING.

This is a very important word here (and a very important term).

There are films which SHOULD HAVE BEEN MADE, but weren’t (by Hollywood).

And there are films which may have be made (by the Nazis), but as far as we know (factually) were not made.  They do not exist (officially).

Two kinds of films missing.

Hollywood was responsible for the Méliès portion.

Hollywood should have used its immense power (and magic) to save the Jews of Europe.

EVERY FUCKING FILM should have been about the plight of the Jews in Europe who had been rounded up.

But we know very well that that’s not what Hollywood did.

The Nazis were responsible for the Lumière portion.

As twisted as the Nazis were, there is no way in hell those sick fucks did not film (with their Agfa technology, etc.) what was going on in the camps.

No fucking way.

Of course they filmed.

Like a goddamned serial killer.

And it was of pristine quality.

So where the fuck are those films?

But, sadly, Godard is called an “anti-Semite” for asking about these films.

Very sad.

He is coming from a “pure film” stance.

He wants to see the films.

He wants the world to see them.

And so the history of cinema is incomplete.

There is a gap.

Irving Thalberg.  Howard Hughes.  CIA.  RKO.  Starlets.

Film directors have been projecting their fantasies onto the screen since the beginning.

Their perfect women.

Their dream lovers.

But you can’t approach film history without approaching Hitler.

Film was at such an important point in its development.

And along came Adolph.

Chaplin and Hitler overlap.

They have the same mustache.

The Great Dictator was a comedy…more or less.

But it was also an attempt (“essay”) to address Hitler’s presence on the world stage.

An attempt to repudiate Hitler.

And yet, Chaplin could not quite hit the right tones.

It is maudlin.

As a comedy, The Great Dictator is pretty superb.

But it hasn’t aged that well as a piece of poetic philosophy.

Not really.

In that moment, the great Chaplin was powerless.

But at least he tried.

He tried.

But something was missing.

The camps.

Direct reference to the camps.

Addressing the problem with no beating around the bush.

No horseshit.

We need to see the bodies rotting.

We have seen that.

But we need to see the gas chambers.

We need to see the German efficiency and precision.

We need to see their documents.

Their film documents.

No Hollywood recreation can convey what those mythical reels contain.

No backlot will suffice.

We have the propaganda films.

Leni Riefenstahl.

I think what Godard is saying is this…

Hollywood has, since WWII, had to live with the guilt of NOT DOING ENOUGH during the Holocaust.

At the time (while it was happening), it was not kosher (no pun intended) to address the camps.

The public needed uplifting fare.

And Hollywood provided.

Hollywood provided a service.

Entertainment.

But Hollywood (as an entity) was permanently cheapened by not addressing the deep philosophical issue of mass death…mass murder.

Hollywood could have yelled, “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

And, indeed, the theater WAS on fire.

But Hollywood said nothing.

Hollywood told jokes.

No medium is perfect.

Hollywood is people.

But as an institution, Hollywood was exposed as being essentially artless and vacuous.

There were exceptions.

Hitchcock (British…but part of Hollywood).  Chaplin (British…but part of Hollywood).

Nicholas Ray.  Erich von Stroheim (Germanic…but part of Hollywood).  D.W. Griffith.  Howard Hawks.  Orson Welles.

But WWII was also the death of European cinema.

This is a very important concept that Godard conveys.

Not only were European Jews liquidated by the Nazis, but European cinema was effectively liquidated by Hollywood.

Europe would never be the same.

Fritz Lang.  Jean Renoir.  Abel Gance.  Jean Vigo.  Jean Cocteau.  Roberto Rossellini.  Max Ophüls.

America won the war.

The Soviet Union also won the war.

Germany lost.

France was “liberated”.

Italy lost.

And as Europe was subsequently split in half (the capitalist West and the communist East), the hegemony of American film [Hollywood] spread.

At the end of the Cold War, that hegemony became complete.

And so Godard is lamenting the death of his national film industry.

Godard is Swiss.

But he is, in many ways, also French.

He is a French speaker.

His years of highest-visibility were spent in Paris.

And there is not really a Swiss film industry of which to speak.

French film died (“liberated”/occupied).

Italian film died (lost war…occupied).

German film died (lost war…occupied).

Scandinavian film died.

Everything was pushed out by Hollywood.

Europe was relegated to the the realm of “art film”.

European cinema was put in a corner.

The wrecked economies of Europe could not compete with the war-machine-rich studios of America.

America had the magic–the fantasy–the special effects–the Technicolor.

Weary Europeans wanted happiness.

And they bought into the American idea of happiness.

To the detriment of their own unique cultures and philosophies.

Europe became Americanized (at least in the realm of the cinema).

To be continued…

 

-PD

Djam [2017)

What a deeply-moving film.

I would like to talk about Tony Gatlif, the director.

You might know him from Latcho Drom.

Or from the Asia Argento film Transylvania.

Let me assure you of one thing.

Djam (known as Journey from Greece in English) is MUCH BETTER than Transylvania.

Which brings me to the crux.

The star, Daphné Patakia (truly a star!), is MUCH MORE TALENTED AND BEAUTIFUL than Asia Argento.

Mark my words.

This young lady is amazing!!!

Which is not to denigrate Asia Argento.

She’s a very good looking lady.

Her film Incompresa (which she directed) is amazing.

But Daphné Patakia is in another league altogether.

Simon Abkarian does a wonderful job here.

Maryne Cayon is indispensable.

But Daphné Patakia sends this film into orbit!

How can I describe it?

Rebetika.  Rebetiko.

Like “the blues”.

Daphné’s eyes.

Very much like:

djam1

Do you remember?

1984?

National Geographic?

Which brings us back to Greek-French.

Adèle Exarchopoulos.

Another fantastic actress.

Yes, Djam approaches the artistry of La Vie d’Adèle–Chapitres 1 & 2, but Djam is more special somehow to me.

Sure, there’s some nudity, but not much.

And we feel that this film might go the lesbian route, but instead it goes Lesbos.

It’s hard for me to overstate how important Daphné Patakia is to this film…and to film in general.

Very few actresses have done what she’s done.

It is, in truth, BEYOND our favorites in Hollywood:

-Thora Birch

-Saoirse Ronan

-Kat Dennings

Because it is done from left field.

And most related to these brilliant actresses:

-Anamaria Marinca

-Dorotheea Petre

and

-Julianne Côté

And less-so to:

-Adèle Exarchopoulos

-Pauline Étienne

One might even make a comparison to Moran Rosenblatt.

But I think the comparisons to Marinca and Petre are most apt.

Patakia is plumbing some serious depths in Djam.

And doing it with the joie de vivre of Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie.

One senses even a bit of Audrey Hepburn here.

That Funny Face bohemian dance routine.

But mixed with Anna Karina’s famous jukebox strut:

djam2.gif

New era.

Film clips.

Keep up.

Text can be extracted (if there’s anything worthwhile).

But images moving make it flow.

People want everything all at once.

But sadness can be healed.

When we care for the crazy.

God does not ignore our efforts.

And the world knows and recognizes mental illness.

Reach out a hand and console.

An essential film.

 

-PD

Vénus et Fleur [2004)

Why?

Why sexual tension.

Why do we like who we like.

Why do we choose certain people.

We must make a choice.

Did you ever have to make up your mind?

Vénus et Fleur operates on the principle of sexual tension.

The world turns on the tips of tits.

We can wait a lifetime.

20 years.

Or 1 hr. and 16 minutes (in this case).

To see the bride stripped bare.

In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter.

If it happens or not.

Because the journey has been sustained by sexual tension.

So I will give director Emmanuel Mouret credit.

He buoyed a whole film on the prospect of nudity.

There is some nudity here, but perhaps not the nudity which we seek.

That is my take.

Like Finnegans Wake.

Something is disallowed.

Something is taboo.

It is our puritanical instinct which causes us shame.

One would think such honi soit would only be found in England.

We become tangled in a web of meaning.

That any French person could feel shame is astounding.

But Fleur feels it.

She in an SJW.

A BBW.

Honestly, Isabelle Pirès is stunning here!

She is the reason I kept watching.

Sure, her character can be pitifully PC.

As when she lectures the third world about their plight.

It is maudlin.

Or is Russia the second world?

It was second.

But what is it now?

Doesn’t matter.

People still get drunk and fuck.

Says Venus.

Marseille.

Beautiful film.

Keep hoping.

And Veroushka Knoge reminds us of yet another lover.

Love is quintessentially French.

Four films and then career falls off.

Tough.

Magic moment by the sea.

 

-PD

Borat [2006)

This may be the funniest film ever made.

🙂

Really!

An erudite film critic shouldn’t admit such, should they?

But I learned long ago that I must have my own voice.

I can scour the Earth for every film to which Jean-Luc Godard made reference in Histories(s) du cinéma, but I still must contend with my own personal predilections.

We like stuff because it resonates with us.

For me, the realization was with the Romanian New Wave…and ’80s American comedies 🙂

The serious, austere, heartrending, bleak works of the Romanian New Wave have not been canonized by Godard.

Godard, the man, will (sadly) pass away.

Which is a terrible thought to me.

Because he has made his best films [sic] in his “later” years.

But the Romanian New Wave was “mine”.

I discovered it by accident.

And I dug a little deeper.

I would say about 90% of Romanian film resonates with me in a powerful way.

Almost as much as French film resonates with me.

But then I had to come to term with ’80s American comedies.

These were the things on which I grew up 🙂

And there is no greater joy in my film-viewing experience than to see a film which elicits hyperventilating belly laughs 🙂

And so, Borat [directed brilliantly by Larry Charles].

If Sacha Baron Cohen never again makes a good film, he’s still a genius in my book…based solely on this one masterpiece.

No, it is not Citizen Kane.

But it is something.

Something closer to Cohen’s hero Peter Sellers.

And to the bent mind of Andy Kaufman.

Borat Sagdiyev is the epitome of awkward…once he is placed within American society.

He is from the “backwards” land of Kazakhstan.

[of course, there is a great deal of exaggeration in this film…because such caricature can be quite funny]

The special thing about Borat (and Cohen, working through Borat) is that HE INSULTS EVERYBODY 🙂

Borat very much prefigures the Trump Presidency.

Not to mention the young Trump supporters fond of Pepe the Frog 😉

The idea is, “Lighten the fuck up!”

Laugh a little.

Laugh at yourself.

And, naughty naughty, laugh at what you’re not SUPPOSED to laugh at.

The forbidden subjects of laughter make us laugh the heartiest.

Our conscience kicks in.

We feel BAD about making light of such and such.

But it is a reflex:  it just simply is fucking funny 🙂

Nothing is going to take the fun out of this world quicker than those who scrub history, those who censor films, those who impose sensitivity training liberally…

Let’s get nitty-gritty.

Ken Davitian is excellent as Borat’s assistant Azamat Bagatov.

Nothing like having to hairdry the balls of your boss 🙂

[not to mention “back pussy”]

Yes, the humor is SO WRONG.

So bad!

But, as I overheard two days ago at the video story, white guys still reminisce fondly about Eddie Murphy standup routines.

Not exactly my bag, but I get it.

[and black guys, hispanic guys…Eddie Murphy was very much a “taboo” comedian]

Which brings us to Lenny Bruce.

I love Lenny Bruce.

Guy was messed up.

But he was brave.

So the point is, crude humor is maybe not the smartest…maybe not the best influence on society…but we need a little of it, it seems.

Maybe it’s because we’re all sinners?

I don’t know.

I don’t want to get too theological.

If I was a better Christian, perhaps I would repudiate Borat.

But I simply cannot do that.

And so I’ll keep it brief:

God works in mysterious ways.

I may be wrong.

But this film helps my heart with a laughter unlike any other.

 

-PD

La vita è bella [1997)

If would be a shame if there were any lies wrapped up in Holocaust historiography.

Because, if there were, they would have the potential to seriously degrade what should be a pure remembrance.

If, for instance, the majority of concentration camp prisoners/workers died as a direct result of the Allies cutting Nazi supply lines.

And when these camps were “liberated” or otherwise found, public relations needed a story (and fast!) to account for this horrible loss of life which technically fell on the shoulders of the Allies.

If (and it’s a big if) that was the case, then such a “noble” lie might have been “borrowed” by the emerging Zionist state of Israel.

Anything to make way for the Jewish homeland.

To recap, if a majority of Jewish casualties in WWII were actually the result of the Allies attempting to starve the Nazi state into submission through siege tactics, then the Allies would have had motive and opportunity to foist upon the world a caricatured distortion of the facts.

Caricatures do not do true honor to the victims.

And if the emerging Jewish state of Israel used such distorted facts to further lobby for a “homeland” (a place where people were already living…non-Jews…for a long time), we could say that “Israel” also had motive and opportunity to participate in this “noble lie” (for different reasons).

But what is most sad is that what I have just written would get me arrested in several countries of the world (mostly in Europe).

We will mention one:  France.

I have spoken about the Loi Gayssot in critical terms before.

And I do not think it is a smart piece of legislation.

It is, ironically, a very authoritarian law.

If I understand it correctly, this law (aimed at “Holocaust deniers”) punishes even those who object on critical grounds to any factual aspect of Holocaust “history”.

As we know, history has been wrong before.

And it can be wrong again.

Furthermore, we never close the door on a particular epoch.

For every other event (except the Holocaust), we welcome new research which brings the situation into clearer focus.

The Holocaust is the one period of history which is off limits (verboten) to any sort of skepticism.

And it is this sort of authoritarian attitude of anti-history which will be the unraveling of whatever the liars of history are trying to hide.

Lies are a big part of every world event.

Operators at the lower level just want to cover their butts.

White lies.

But these white lies can pile up.

And pretty soon the official historiography bears little resemblance to the actual event in question.

Mid-level operators merely want to move up in life.

They want to keep the bigwigs off their backs.

So they condone low-level lies.

And they even concoct some fairly witty stratagems of their own.

And these regional efforts coalesce into inexplicable gumbos of narrative (like the story we have all been given concerning 9/11).

But the real fuckery happens at the high-level.

Here is where everything is a game.

Here is where hubris reigns supreme.

Here is where the Ivy League and the Oxford/Cambridge set conspire in an unholy matrimony of minds to make “a new world”.

These are the minds which, largely, have been so besotted with “logic” that they can no longer entertain the idea of a God or any sort of higher power.

And it is at this level that public relations and social engineering churn out lies which are meant to shape world history.

Lies which are meant to redraw the map.

If the gas chambers did not exist (except in the propagandistic imagination of Allied copy) in any Nazi camp, then it would have likely been a high-level wonk who conceived of such a grand macabre to once and for all paint the Nazis as “pure evil” and the Allies as “beneficent warriors” fighting a “just war”.

So let’s see how censored the Internet is, ok?

As of today, you can still harbor some doubts.

A mathematician doubts.

Bertrand Russell doubted Gottlob Frege.

And Russell was right to doubt.

Logic and mathematics teach us that most “complete, unified” systems eventually fall by the wayside.

That is because they are flawed.

Our knowledge improves.

Some discoveries are truly special, but it is always a process of learning.

The Gayssot Act in France (and other similar legislation in neighboring countries) wants you to take (on faith) the complete accuracy of Holocaust historiography SO FAR.

Such legislation is eager to CLOSE THE BOOK on all nuance and scholarship.

But there is at least one website which seems to harbor healthy doubts about aspects of the Holocaust.

Remember:  questioning ANY PART OF THE HOLOCAUST in France is a violation of the Gayssot Act.

Excuse my French, but that is fucked up!

Don’t we want the truth?

If Hillary Clinton was running a child trafficking ring, do we want to know that?

Yes.

If Donald Trump was colluding with the Russian government to get elected, don’t we want to know that?

Yes.

If the gas chambers were a fanciful way to paint the Nazis as the ultimate enemies, don’t we want to know that there were (in fact) no gas chambers in any concentration camp?

Yes.

We want to know.

And we also want to know how bad the Nazis were.

We want to know about babies on bayonets.

We want to know every Jew-hating idea they ever penned or yelled.

Because we do not approve of this Jew hating.

But we will not punish speech.

In our quest to quash the Nazi strain of hatred, we will not become (ourselves) “Nazis”.

Because the Loi Gayssot only encourages people to seek out “taboo” knowledge.

I can’t believe I agree with the scumbag Cass Sunstein on an actual point, but I think I do.

In other words:  don’t make the knowledge taboo.

Let the cream rise to the top.

Let the crap sink.

Do not criminalize idiocy.

AND DO NOT EVEN think ABOUT A CHINESE METHOD LIKE REEDUCATION!

So here is the site, dear friends:

http://codoh.com

Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Don’t let some shit-stained-pants-wearing talking head deter you from visiting this site.

Remember when CNN told the world that only “they” could report on WikiLeaks?

These tactics are wearing thin.

If the truth is out there (thank you X-Files), then people will find it.

And the frauds will be exposed.

And the genuine articles will be raised up on cheerful arms.

The global media wants you to think that only dumb Arabs and Persians would ever “deny” the Holocaust.

Do some fucking research!

And I fall into the same target.

I tell myself, “Do some fucking research!”

I do.

All the time.

Just as it was impractical to get an unbiased assessment of 9/11 when the commissioners were appointed by the Bush administration, so too is it impractical to think that a Jewish (or, God forbid, Israeli) author can give an impartial account of any aspect of the Holocaust.

And yet, this is a conundrum.

For Jews, no period of history is so important.

And I sympathize with the call to “never forget”.

But we must be extremely careful to get right exactly what it is we are to “never forget”.

“Never forget” rings especially hollow in the United States regarding 9/11…because most people have absolutely no deep understanding of that event.

I have done my research on that fateful day.

And everything which led up to it.

And much of what followed.

So in the case of 9/11, “never forget” is meaningless…because the vast majority NEVER KNEW IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Which is the trouble with such campaigns.

The message, then, is “Never forget…what we’ve told you…happened.”

Well, that’s not very bloody comforting!

And the propaganda is pretty transparent.

Which brings us to the “Holocaust industry” and this masterpiece of a film (really):  Life is Beautiful.

There is very little propaganda in this film.

There is very little mindless regurgitation of dubious assertions.

But yet it is still there.

And hence my opening diatribe.

First, let me get in one more jab.

Here is something I have actually read.

By Robert Faurisson.

It is called, “The ‘Problem of the Gas Chambers'”.

http://codoh.com/library/document/868/?lang=en

It is from 1980.

There are 141 pieces by Dr. Faurisson (among many other authors) on the CODOH site.

I have read few of them.

But enough to pique my curiosity.

As I said, it makes me highly suspicious when an obviously brilliant scholar such as Dr. Faurisson is “refuted” solely by ad hominem attacks.

When such is the case, said victim only grows stronger.

And Dr. Faurisson is not attacking the Jews.

He’s attacking history.

With logic.

Read it for yourself.

To be recursive, he seems to have found a “fatal flaw” in the historiography which predominates in such shite as Schindler’s List.

We don’t need a John Williams swooning violin melody to tell us the truth.

We just need the fucking truth.

Whatever it is.

We don’t need music in our museums to drive home a particular point.

We just need the artifacts.

They must be laid out in a way which allows for logical conclusion.

They must not LEAD the museum-goer to a particular conclusion.

If they do, then we have entered the realm of propaganda.

And we should be made aware of our participation as guinea pigs in such attempted thought control.

You can read about Dr. Faurisson’s struggles against the French government here (in his biography on the CODOH site):

http://codoh.com/library/categories/1104/

Ok…

La vita è bella.

🙂

It’s a beautiful movie.

Which I saw many times in the theater.

When it came out.

One of the most important and formative films for me as a cinephile.

Roberto Benigni is my favorite actor ever.

And Nicoletta Braschi is wonderful in this film.

Furthermore, Benigni’s film direction is underrated.

The scene, for instance, where he and Sergio Bustric lay in bed is such a lushly-filmed tableau.

I wanted to live in that scene.

Amongst those antiques.

And their hilarious repartee involving Schopenhauer 🙂

But Life is Beautiful is notable mostly as a work of naïveté.

Like Cinema Paradiso.

Instead of Ennio Morricone’s gossamer score, we get Nicola Piovani’s criminally-unavailable musical backing.

[get on that, Spotify!]

There is true magic in this film.

The kiss between Benigni and Braschi under the banquet table.

Sure…

There is so much Chaplin in this film.

Mistaken identity.

The whole thing starts with a virtual rip of The Great Dictator.

But Benigni tells a new story.

And the details don’t matter.

One death was too many…during World War II.

And one family torn apart…was too many…during the Holocaust.

-PD

Tu dors Nicole [2014)

Here is filmic perfection.

God damn!

Fucking hell!

Excuse my Tourette’s outburst.

But it’s like a geyser.

Because this film really, really (REALLY) got me!

[the boy who cries wolf must get ever more creative]

Wolf!

A big, bad, beautiful wolf here…

I had no idea coming into this film–what I was getting into.

No idea about country of origin.

Or province.

No idea about actors or director.

No idea about language.

Or subtitles.

Just the least thumbnail sketch of plot.

But other than that.

Nothing.

Rien.

In French it’s shorter.

Nothing is even less of a thing in French.

By three letters.

An economy of means.

And that serves as as good a point as any (whew!) at which (yikes!) to start talking about this MASTERPIECE MASTERPIECE MASTERPIECE.

Because I don’t have to get drunk.

I don’t drink.

I don’t have to get high.

I only take my boring medications.

As prescribed.

But you know what really lights my fuse?

Cinema.

And love.

And love when it is cinematic.

And hope.

Optimism.

The hope of love.

The promise of love (however distant the possibility) when it is expressed cinematically.

In a film I feel like I’m the only one watching.

So i must first [sic] thank the universe for Julianne Côté.

As Borat would say, wah-wah-way-woe!

For nerds like me.

That little in-between haircut.

But fuck it…

Hair doesn’t matter.

It’s soul.

It’s shining through.

Ms. Côté is a very attractive girl.

But not in the meretricious sense.

That is left to the less-than-sterling character played by Catherine St-Laurent (who’s also great in this film).

Every film needs a villain.

Frenemies!

As the singularly-poetic Liam Gallagher once penned (and sang):

“You could be my enemy/I guess there’s still time”

Yeah…

But we need to get back to Julianne Côté.

Because she changed my DNA with this film.

She wrecked me (as Tom Petty might have said).

She took my soul and balled it up like dough and made gingerbread men out of it.

[ok, that’s stretching it…]

Because Catherine St-Laurent is the magazine cover girl.

It’s no accident we see her in a bikini…poolside.

But Ms.Côté just floats on the foam spaghetti.

Submersed.

Weightless.

Her face as beautiful…as the moon.

I MUST STOP HERE TO SAY THAT A GOOD MANY OF MY MORE SUBLIME THOUGHTS JUST DISAPPEARED DUE TO SOME COMPUTER GLITCH

And it is only appropriate.

As Nicole’s life is a grand series of fuck-ups and almosts.

Yes, thanks a fucking lot, WordPress.

And Apple.

You jerks.

Ten minutes of writing down the drain.

Ok, so the milk is spilt.

How to get back on track?

I don’t know where I was.

I spun my loveliest sentences.

Turned my most gossamer phrases.

And hit “Save” ever fucking second.

But it didn’t matter.

So we will go to tech metaphor.

Always fall in love with the typewriter.

Even the electric typewriter (like Histoire(s) du cinéma).

And give Microsoft no quarter.

Granted.

They are, for once, innocent.

The answer is.

There is no getting back.

Not some Thomas Wolfe trip.

But simply to say that nothing I can write will sum up the brilliance of Stéphane Lafleur’s direction.

I am exercising zero hyperbole when I say that THIS IS A PERFECT FILM.

And nothing will ever sum up my admiration (yes, love) for Julianne Côté’s performance.

Nay, for her.

Let’s quote Elton John…

“Someone saved my life tonight…”

Yeah!

Thank you, Julianne!

I will just say Julianne from now on…because my computer doesn’t like diacritical marks 🙂

I’ll say it again a few times.

Tu dors Nicole has changed my perception of film.

Of cinema.

Of what a movie can be.

It’s that good!

It’s that important!

I can’t believe what I just saw… […]

-PD

تاکسی‎‎ [2015)

[JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI (2015)]

This must be “Axis of Evil” week here at paulydeathwish.com 🙂

As I have stated recently to a friend.

George W. Bush was the worst President the United States has ever seen.

And Barack Obama was probably the second-worst.

So what does that make me?

Democrat?

Republican?

Libertarian?

Let’s get to that question (if you even care to know) by a circuitous route, shall we?

First, we must again praise the people of Iran.

It was long ago that I saw my first Iranian film.

Taste of Cherry.

طعم گيلاس…‎‎

[Ta’m-e gīlās…]

It was such a profound experience.

There I was.

In a movie theater in Austin.

And I couldn’t have given a shit about cinema.

But I was there.

For some reason.

God only knows why.

And I saw a movie which in many ways changed my life.

[but it took many years to sink in]

Even so, I came to regard the name of its director (Abbas Kiarostami) with a sort of awe.

Yet, I doubted.

[as we all well should]

And so I said to the cinema gods, “Let Kiarostami perform his miracle again…if he be so brilliant!”

And he did.

I was supposed to be watching Life, and Nothing More…

But I made a mistake.

Because my French is so bad.

[you know, Kiarostami died in Paris last year (may God rest his soul)]

I needed 1991, but I chose 1990.

And it was another miracle.

Close-Up.

I don’t know.

Is it…

کلوزآپ ?

Or…

نمای نزدیک ?

[“Klūzāp”?  Or “nemā-ye nazdīk”?]

Because the unfailing Google Translate (now the second-most popular “tr” search after “Trump” [as “translate”]) tells me that both terms mean “close-up”.

But who can translate Trump?

[ahhh…]

Perhaps only an Iranian?

Well, we would be in good hands if director Jafar Panahi was that man.

Why?

Because Mr. Panahi has made a film which is of the same rarefied air as the two Kiarostami films which I have referenced.

The work is called Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, and it is currently available on Netflix in the U.S.

No, it’s not a really trite game show.

No, it’s not some premise for an uncreative pornographer.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi ( تاکسی) pushes the limits of barebones filmmaking in much the same way that the Palestinian masterpiece 5 Broken Cameras did.

[yes, I know the latter film was an Israeli coproduction…with an Israeli co-director…‎‎but the film was very much Palestinian in its inmost heart]

What our director Mr. Panahi adds to the method (budget cinematography) is an uncertainty of reality.

Frankly, I have never seen a film quite like Jafar Panahi’s Taxi.

Is it a documentary?  Is it staged?

One thing’s for sure.

If it’s staged, the injured man and his wailing wife deserve Oscars “toot sweet”!

Truly, it is panic-inducing…

Which is not true of this film in general.

No, dear eggshell friends (if you’re out there)…don’t be afraid.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi will only take you on a “wondrous boat ride” (so to speak) for a brief, more-or-less manageable period of time.

The rest of the film is fascinating…engrossing…painfully and gloriously perplexing.

Yes, Mr. Panahi borrows Kiarostami’s favorite device:  filming from a moving vehicle.

But so what?!?

Panahi was an assistant director to Kiarostami.

And Abbas certainly wasn’t the first to film out of a car window.

But let’s examine for a moment…

Yes, the special part of this method is that the camera is turned INWARDS.

And so we feel we are seeing Homayoun Ershadi vacillate between life and death…all over again.

Or we feel we are seeing the calm, gracious mannerisms of Mohsen Makhmalbaf transposed from motorcycle to taxicab.

But what we are seeing most of all is a director stepping in front of the camera.

Like Truffaut.

And Chaplin before him.

Godard has done it to excellent effect as well.

And Jafar Panahi is like an empty reed of meditation as he navigates an unending stream of chaos which enters his faux-taxi.

But the most poignant moments are when Hana Saeidi reminds us of the childish joy of being an auto passenger…and when the lawyer Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh addresses us…we, the watchers of cinema.

Who will watch those watching the watchers?

It’s like Juvenal in a hall of mirrors.

But Ms. Sotoudeh breaks the fourth wall and takes us to a very special place.

Prison.

And so, again, frankly:  we don’t know how Jafar Panahi’s Taxi was ever made.

Isn’t Iran one of the most intolerant countries on Earth?

Just what is going on here??

All of this Shostakovich-ean rebellion is really breathtaking when under the microscope of close viewing.

But Jafar Panahi remains stone-faced.

Like Buster Keaton.

Yet, this is largely no comedy.

This is a big “fuck you” to the government of Iran.

And yet, it is the most subtle “fuck you” ever committed to film.

Only a genius can do such things.

DSCH

etc.

Yes, dear friends.  Mr. Panahi has been banned from making films.

And yet he made one.

And then another.

And then this one.

So we salute you, Mr. Panahi.

We appreciate such in America.

To illustrate:

<–fuck you, fuck you–>, and most of all…fuck you ^

That is freedom.

It is ugly.

Messy.

But it works.

And so as a Donald Trump supporter (yes, me), I say, “bring it on, you whiny, sub-literate protesters!”

Maybe they’re right.

But it’s their right.

To protest.

And so we mix and knead.

And we need the yeast of dissent to ever grow again.

Let’s bake some goddamned bread, people!

-PD

Tokyo Fiancée [2014)

I have been absent.

Because work.

Not working, but looking.

Labor.

Jobs.

Money.

Healthcare.

I have been absent because anxiety.

Always.

But better.

Walking.

Stretching.

Exercise.

Rest.

Time.

And now the cosmos brings me a perfect film.

Because Pauline Étienne.

Actress full of joy.

But the grand auteur is Stefan Liberski.

Every color.

Every gesture.

You must pinstripe, tuck up your hair you haven’t.

You must primary color.

Yellow and red.  Made in U.S.A.

“You must fall in love with me,” says Pauline Étienne.

“I command you.”

[she continues]

And of all the girls in the world, the Belgians and Finnish are the most diabolically beautiful on film.

Godard said the Swiss.

Clear bias.

And so we have a Belgian film set in Japan.

If we try hard, we can hear Debussy.  Estampes…

Pagodes…

Sado Island… […]

To dream in the rain.

Cross the bridge.

And the river steams.

You seek a nectarine.

A noisy kiss.

Pauline Étienne.

Buttermilk legs joy rollerskate skinny.

Was taken from Salinger.

Joyce said spittoon.

As cuspidor.

The most beautiful word.

Girl.

Some films, books so good…too much to handle.

My wish.

To marry.

To have that happiness.

A mere handful of fives away from Valentine’s.

When Colombia and Ecuador will be pumping out roses for Starbuckers.

All along.

They said that sex was uncouth.

Or resorted to farm metaphors of propagating species.

But.

They couldn’t talk about love.

Excitement.

When your breath is stolen by a cold kiss.

In the autumn.

Winter.

And yet warmth from optimism.

But we must get on to the little back alleys of Tokyo.

And for a moment stop this dream.

To be born.

In Japan.

Of Belgian parents.

Does not a Japanese make.

I can suck the life out of Auden.

Elliptical.

Though I thought I was aping Céline.

But director Stefan Liberski is aping no one.

personne

We must mention the author and not the auteur, though in French there is no difference (save for the milieu of cinema).

And she gives us a fantastic story.

Amélie Nothomb.

No thumb.

Better than “all thumbs”.

Rhombus.

Can you suck on a diamond lozenge from a ring?

Lots of sucking.

But that’s the aw-kward + loneliness which makes a great film.

This one just happens to pull in Belgique and Nippon to boot.

It depends.

On her yellow socks.

On her haircut.

Pauline Étienne.

On sweater with blue stripes.

Like Edward Hopper did the cinematography.

But the Francophones have it figured out.

Every trick.

Which is to say.

No tricks.

Just emotion.

Realism.

No bullshit.

Embrace the history of film.

Compare and contrast.

What works?  What doesn’t?

What speaks to you?  How does a culture (French, par exemple) see a film?

Answer:  it doesn’t fucking matter.

What matters is the overflowing love and romance which infuses Tokyo Fiancée.

Only thing Lars von Trier ever did well was film Kirsten Dunst in the nude.

Stefan Liberski surpasses von Trier’s entire oeuvre with this one film.

Yes, I’m polemic as fuck!

I’ll take François Truffaut (the film critic) and a bottle of white wine for my friend.

I like red.

And Guy Debord.

I’ll take chances.

Damn.

I have taken so many fucking chances.

But we get scared.

Worn out.

Frightened by inexperience.

All of that is in the film.

Taichi Inoue is really sweet as Rinri.

But I keep coming back to Pauline Étienne.

She has cast a spell over me.

And I must ask:  who does she signify?

Forget the character name.

For each sad soul who dreams their way to the end.

She represents someone.

Fondue.

Teeth which nave never left the village.

New born yellow as unripe baby corn.

On the farm.

Maybe.

A different register (accent?) of French in Belgium.

Immediately recognizable to a Parisian.

And with little modesty lambasted as yokel French.

But perhaps the Belgians and Quebecois have this in common.

A cause for solidarity.

And add in the Swiss…with their weird counting and smoky lisp.

Is it?

Tokyo Fiancée hits harder than La Religieuse (2013) because it is not stilted nor steeped in period costumes.

Just tell a fucking story, we say.

Pauline Étienne.  Born in Ixelles.

How could anyone from such a place be any less than ravishing?

When we think in microcosm.

If we only know one Indian person.

They become India.

For us.

And complicate this with a multicultural relationship.

That is the gasoline of Tokyo Fiancée.

It is clean.  And genius.  Like Magritte.

A bowler hat.  An apple.  And MoMA depth.

We want to be in this Japan.

Because the eyes have captured the essence of magic.

Ingenuity.

Frivolity.

Fun.

Tokyo Fiancée succeeds at every point where Lost in Translation failed (which was at every point).

This is the real deal.

Real acting.

Real art.

Not a dilettante piece.

Sofia Coppola should send her usage permissions for My Bloody Valentine and Kevin Shields tracks to Stefan Liberski posthaste.

Such music is the only thing which could make Tokyo Fiancée any better.

And yet, it is a perfect film.

Don’t fuck with perfection.

Maybe again MBV and Liberski can have a meeting of minds.

But make sure to include the Anna Karina of our age.

Pauline Étienne.

An actress for which Francophonie has been searching for 60 years.

Well, here she is.

And this is the model:  Tokyo Fiancée.

Let the joy in her heart hit the screen (splat!).

Jump on the bed.  Ahhh!!!

In the mountains.  Wooh!  The rush.

An actress with all 21 petals on her Fibonacci daisy.

Which is to say, fully capable of cinema immortality.

I believe it was Mallarmé who wrote of “bursting pomegranates” (!)

Very few films have ever had this effect on me.

And I needed this one very bad.

To confirm that there are quirky, special people in the world.

That there are eyes who see beauty in the details I notice.

And that genius in the cinema is not dead.

Thank you Mr. Liberski.

And thank you Pauline Étienne for your performance which has brought hope to a very sad person in Texas.

Je veux exprimer ma plus profonde gratitude.

C’est infini.

-PD

Filmistaan [2013)

I consider it an auspicious sign that my survey of Indian cinema begins in earnest with the masterpiece Filmistaan.

Do not mistake this piece of cinema for a half-baked idea.

Do not even attempt to lower it by calling it a comedy.

And not least, do not think only of India.

I wanted to come up with a catchy pigeonhole.

Indian Subcontinent.

The Subcontinent.

But I have too much respect for the great traditions of Bollywood (and Lollywood) to do such a thing.

And so this is very much an Indian film.

India.

And it is very much a comedy.

So funny!

But it is touching in a way to which few films can ever aspire.

Filmistaan, like Roberto Benigni’s magnum opus La vita è bella, takes on a very serious subject with the best weapon of all:  humor.

But instead of the Holocaust, we get the Partition.

And yet, Filmistaan is not some laborious period piece.

[leave that to the artless Spielbergs]

No, our film addresses the tension between India and Pakistan in the most deft, feather-light manner imaginable.

And for this we have to thank a new auteur on the world stage:  Nitin Kakkar.

I say “new” because Mr. Kakkar has not been graced with the honor of his own Wikipedia page in English yet.

Well, he is wholly deserving of that honor (based on Filmistaan alone).

But Mr. Kakkar had to have magical actors to pull this off.

Luckily for him, he did!

Sharib Hashmi is undoubtedly the star of this picture.

His performance as Sunny goes from the highest highs of emotion to the lowest lows.

It is truly remarkable.

Mr. Hashmi is about one month older than me.

40 years old.

Perhaps that’s why I identified with his youthful optimism and passionate devotion to cinema.

But to understand our film, we must first locate Rajasthan on a map.

It is the biggest state in India.

It is northwest.

And it borders Pakistan.

To understand Rajasthan, we must comprehend the Thar Desert.

Most of the Thar Desert is in Rajasthan, but it extends somewhat into Pakistan.

These are all important details in understanding our film.

Rajasthan is arid.

Like the American Southwest, it’s a good place to get lost…or kidnapped.

But friends are to be found in the most unlikely places.

And the friendship of shared interest, such as two cinema devotees, knows no borders.

For Mr. Hashmi, the brilliance of his performance depends on the artful support he receives from fellow-actor Inaamulhaq.

But let’s examine the divide between India and Pakistan for a moment.

It is a fact that a man from Peshawar (if he speaks Urdu) can communicate with a man from Delhi (if he speaks Hindi).

Peshawar, of course, is in Pakistan.

Indeed, it’s so far into Pakistan that it’s almost in Afghanistan.

Delhi, of course, is in India.

It is in the north-central part of the country.

It is, further, not essential that the two talkers hypothesized above be men.

The salient detail is that Hindi and Urdu are essentially the same language (in their spoken forms).

This is vital to understanding Filmistaan.

But continuing, the two languages could not look more different once they are written down.

[Which is to say, the two hypothesized men might be at loggerheads were they forced to communicate with pen and paper]

Urdu looks similar to its written forebear Farsi (the language of Iran) [which is itself a descendent of Arabic script].

To put it quite simply, a neophyte like myself would probably have a difficult time telling the difference between Urdu, Persian (Farsi), and Arabic.

Hindi is in the wholly different Devanagari script.

You will not confuse written Urdu and Hindi.

It’s at least as obvious as Picasso to Pollock (if not Warhol to Rembrandt).

But enough analogies.

Why should you watch Filmistaan?

Well, for one…it’s currently on Netflix.

Yes, ever since I have joined the streaming service, I have ventured to be a more “worthwhile” film critic by giving you relatively-spoiler-free reviews of current titles to be found on the U.S. version of the site.

But that’s only the beginning.

Yes, there are wonderful performances from Kumud Mishra and Gopal Dutt (as well as a plethora of fine supporting actors).

But the real reason is that Filmistaan expresses the sublime.

The context is terrorism.

The context is border tension.

Indeed, on the Indian Subcontinent, the context is two nuclear states.

Pakistan and India.

But the context goes back.

To Jinnah and Nehru.

And the threads bind.

Cricket.  Cinema.  Music.

There is an excellent example in Filmistaan which illustrates the situation.

Dilip Kumar.

Now 94 years old.

Like my hypothetical man from earlier, born in Peshawar.

Then a part of “Pre-Independence India”.

Now a part of Pakistan.

Bordering Afghanistan.

In Filmistaan, Inaamulhaq knows him as Sir Yusuf.

Sunny knows him as Dilip.

Dilip Kumar was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in Peshawar in 1922.

Sir Yusuf.

Dilip Kumar.

Same person.

It’s like the World Wars.

fenêtre in French

das Fenster in German

window.

/\

fenêtre /\ Fenster

But when you look through a window (or a border), everything can look backwards.

You’re so close, in reality.

But you’re reading the word as if in a mirror.

Nitin Kakkar directed a masterpiece with Filmistaan because he put his heart and soul into evoking peace.

There are no winners in a nuclear war.

And peace is a rare commodity on the world stage.

Geopolitics…

But we must reach out that hand.

And shake it.

I congratulate Nitin Kakkar and Sharib Hashmi for their dedication.

It is evident.

Though I speak neither Hindi nor Urdu, I was able to watch.

And understand.

I needed the subtitles.

But sublime emotions may be mutually intelligible across cultures.

What a film!

-PD