Yang Tidak Dibicarakan Ketika Membicarakan Cinta [2013)

By the grace of God I bring you this film review tonight.

Last night I was not feeling well enough to write.

And so I am happy to give you my first review of an Indonesian film.

It is a wonderful piece of cinema and is available on Netflix in the U.S. currently as What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love.

I will just say this.

Any film which includes a character sneezing his glass eye out of his head is ok by me.

Which is to say, this is a pretty strange film.

But it is not strange in an uptight, contrived, David Lynch sort of way.

Perhaps it is the basic situation which makes this film quixotic.

The bulk of the “action” takes place at a “special” school (as it is called in the subtitles).

The beautiful young people at this school all struggle with visual impairment.

There is, however, one very important character who is sighted yet cannot hear.

[We will get to him in due time]

When I tried to watch this film last night, I was not feeling very well (as mentioned previously).

And so in my debilitating moments of bubbling, dull panic I was trying to first situate this film culturally.

There was some blurb about a Dutch film fund.

And the real bit of text at the head of the film which threw me off the scent:  a reference to the Busan film fund.

Knowing Busan, I figured, “Great!  I am watching a South Korean film.”

I felt somewhat comfortable marginally knowing the cinema tradition in which I had just entered.

But as I saw women and young girls in Muslim garb, I began to question.

Indeed, even on tonight’s complete viewing, it was only 3/4 of the way through the film that I realized I was watching an Indonesian production.

Call me stupid.

Fine.

But this is not a cinema (nor a language) with which I have any experience.

It was only when I saw Jakarta on the side of a bus that I felt fairly confident where the story had been set.

So yes, this is an Indonesian film in Indonesian (or dare I say Malay).

The scope and breadth of this language is not altogether clear to me, but it seems that Indonesian is a “register” (in linguistic terms) of Malay.

Being the dunce that I am, “register” seems an awful lot like “dialect”, but I’m sure most linguists would roundly dismiss this generalization.

Perhaps “jargon” is a better synonym for “register”.

In any case, Malay (of one type or another) is spoken by about 290 million people worldwide.

But we will stick to the term Indonesian (as per the language).

Our whole film is in that language (except for one line in Javanese).

Javanese, unlike Indonesian, is not a form of Malay.

It is quite distinct.

But on to the movie!

First we must pay our respects to the highly-talented director:  Mouly Surya.

Based on a cursory search, this would be Mr. Surya (Mouly being far more common as a male name).

Ah…but thank God for research!

Our director, in fact, is MS. Surya.

She is a 36-year-old native of Jakarta.

But really, male or female, this is an obvious work of cinematic art.

What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love isn’t perfect, but it’s frighteningly close.

Which isn’t to say it’s frightening.

It’s not.

But it’s a film which sneaks up on you.

Cineastes may be familiar with the term “slow cinema” which has been bandied about here and there especially in recent years.

There may be some of that here…like when the character Diana combs her hair exactly 100 times.

[I was sure she was going to stop at 88…that number being good luck in Southeast Asian cultures]

Indeed, we are with the character for a seemingly interminable session of hair-brushing at her “boudoir”.

However, that is one of the few times where the “slow cinema” idea has our film run astray temporarily.

Other uses of the technique (an extreme of Deleuze’s “time-image”?) are quite effective and evoke the loneliness of sightless life.

Granted, no two lives are the same.

But the Indonesia pictured in our film is not an economic wonderland.

Quite the opposite.

It is a rather humble school in which students have very basic accommodations.

And as is so often the case, economic struggles exacerbate and compound coexisting problems.

But don’t get me wrong:  it appears that the students portrayed actually have it very lucky in the context of their nation (all things considered).

Arguably the star of the film is Karina Salim.

Her situation is one of ballet lessons…and a doting mother.

That said, her roommate has a family which is struggling economically.

It is a strange juxtaposition.

But let’s focus on Ms. Salim.

Her acting is really fantastic.

Whether she is blind in real life, I know not.

But her portrayal of the character Diana is in the great tradition of pathos which touched on the works of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

The French adjective pathétique.

In English, we (if I may speak for us English speakers) tend to regard pathétique as descriptive of poetic pathos.

Deep expression.

And that is exactly what Karina Salim exhibits in her delicate acting throughout this film.

Her character, Diana, is right on the cusp of womanhood.

And in a very moving set of sequences, we see her quietly preparing her underwear for the week.

The moment of her first menstruation is a cause for secret celebration.

Indeed, she shares this ascent to adulthood with only her mother…on a joyous little phone call which we overhear.

Which brings us to culture.

We almost feel embarrassed knowing this intimate detail of character Diana’s life.

But American films are so much more explicit in so many ways.

Perhaps we are shocked because the reality of womanhood is rarely addressed in Hollywood movies.

And so we see that Hollywood still has taboos.

In this age in which anything goes, honest depiction of mundane-yet-visceral life realities (such as menstruation) are all but absent (save from a film like Carrie [1976]).

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this particular kind of honesty about femininity onscreen.

But what the hell do I know?  I’m a dude.

So let’s back to the film.

While Ayushita is very good as Diana’s roommate, it is really Nicholas Saputra who is the other star of this film.

His character is a deaf punk rocker.

[Let that one sink in for a second]

Every day he has a different shirt.

The Sex Pistols.  Led Zeppelin (?!?).  The Clash.  Joan Jett.

He definitely has the best hairstyle in the film.

[A strange zig-zag bleach job which I’ve never seen previously]

His character Edo is a social engineer par excellence.

Yes, there is some trickery in this film.

But it is not malicious.

Or if it begins as malicious, it is transformed into something quite beautiful.

[think Amélie]

But here’s where things get really strange.

There is really no decorous way of putting this, but there are a few characters in this film which pop up from time to time…AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHO THEY ARE!

There is a rather tasteless meme going back generations that all Chinese people look the same to a Westerner.

[And, perhaps, all Brits (for instance) look the same to a Chinese person]

But, again, there are some characters in this film which seem to be playing out some subplot which escaped me completely.

Indeed, I have so rarely seen anything like it that I can only associate my confusion with that felt by so many in relation to the surreal Howard Hawks narrative in The Big Sleep.

Granted, in our film this is a very minor element.

But it is still disorienting.

Was there some series of edits which mangled this film?

Can I really not tell one Indonesian person from another?

I don’t know.

You’ll have to see it for yourself.

And explain to me exactly what is going on.

For instance, does the blind character Andhika somehow learn how to drive a Vespa around town?

And is he cheating on Diana?

Or is Diana cheating on herself?

Are there two Dianas?

Again, a few scenes completely lost me.

But they do not ruin the general continuity of this film.

If anything, they add a mercurial charm to the whole affair.

And so I wholeheartedly recommend this film which portrays a side of life on which many of us are completely uninformed.

Visual impairment.  Braille.  Hearing impairment.  The difficulty of asking a clerk at 7-Eleven, “what kind of cigarettes do girls buy” in sign language.

And there is beauty in this world.

The appreciation for just a glimmer of sight (however blurry).

And yet, the difficulty of EVERY SINGLE TASK.

Most of all, this is a love story.

Two love stories (at least).

[not counting the extraneous players which pop up here and there]

But it is a very, VERY unique love story.

For me, it is an incredibly moving film because of the acting of Karina Salim and also Anggun Priambodo (who plays Andhika).

So take an adventure to Jakarta.  Capital of Indonesia.  World’s fourth-most-populous country.

While Indonesia is approximately 87% Muslim, this film portrays a diversity of religious devotion.

Indeed, while one student prays, another listens to a radio play (as one would have heard in the days of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes [1939-1946]).

Indeed, this scene of overlap…with religion in the background (the praying student) and learning in the foreground (listening to a lesson?  or just a bit of entertainment for the girls who live at this school?) is one of the most fascinating from a visual and cultural perspective.

I cannot pretend to know what is going on in all of the footage.

And so an expert on education for the visually impaired in Indonesia would perhaps be able to elucidate some of the more esoteric aspects of this film.

In the meantime, enjoy!

-PD

Les Misérables: Liberté, liberté chérie [1934)

Tonight, a miracle happened to me.

For a lonely film critic, that can mean only one thing:  love.

And so I thank GOd for a moment of happiness.

No, I am not drunk beyond syntactical awareness.

I am merely thinking of Catherine the Great.

1729-1796.

Russia.

Екатерина Алексеевна.

But then I am also thinking of the Panthéon.

Paris.

First came Mirabeau.

1791.

A mere three years.

And then Voltaire.

Ah!  Now we are getting somewhere!!

Émile Genevois, like Jonathan Donahue, thinks of “Little Rhymes” when he’s alone and scared.

This is the character Gavroche.

Sous les pavés, la plage.

Mai ’68.

And then the beautiful Marat in 1794.

And still Catherine lived.

Charlotte Corday died.  Aged 24.

Back on track with Rousseau.

The barricades.

Rue Saint-Denis.  From the June Rebellion of 1832 to the sex shops of 2016.

Prostitution.

Vive la République!

And then the dream of Catherine the Great (второй) came to an end.

Night falls…

Reality.

Yes, maybe it was Katharine Hepburn instead.

Too pure!

But what I’ve lived my life for.

Dedicated.

Misguided.

Recalibrated.

Sad but honest.

Just a simple car ride.

Like Homayoun Ershadi in طعم گيلاس

There is no putting any punctuation on that.

No catafalque of Lamarque.

Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude.

à son ami Franz Liszt

November Uprising.  1830.  1831.

Poland and Lithuania.

And back to that Russian Empire of Catherine (and Пётр before her).

It’s funny.

In Honegger we might hear shades of Tchaikovsky.

The Arabian Dance we know so well from The Nutcracker Suite.

Coffee.

Divertissement.

Act II (второй).

Tableau III.

It wasn’t a diacritical mark.  It was merely a speck of dirt on the screen.

In the half-light.

With cat eyes.

Pray to goD for another chance to hold the coins of long suffering.

Through the sewers of Paris.

I thank you for that blessing of weight lifted momentarily.

 

-PD

 

 

Die Büchse der Pandora [1929)

Elle est une femme fatale.

Thus sang the chorus.  Der unsichtbar Chor.

On Big Star’s cover of The Velvet Underground.

Third/Sister Lovers.  Alex Chilton from Lou Reed.

And so if we want to really know the prostitute in Vivre sa vie (Godard’s best “movie”), then we must see G.W. Pabst’s Die Büchse der Pandora.

Pandora’s Box.

Is empty.

See Mulholland Dr.

Blue key.

Lighting.

Her hair.

Louise Brooks.

The gloss of her brunette bob.

Yes, this film is many things.

Confusing?  Yes.

Boring?  Yes.

Genius?  Absolutely.

And here is why.

The two climaxes.

One would fit seamlessly into Fritz Lang’s M…or virtually anything by Alfred Hitchcock.

But the other climax?

It is seconds before.

And worlds more important.

A candle.

Like Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation album.

Two lost souls.

Dreaming.

One is reflecting on a messed up life.  Perhaps.

The other is a messed up life reflecting on nothing.  Just content with a moment’s peace.  Maybe.

Together.

The misfits.

Soon consumed by cataclysm.

An act of God.

Or its opposite.

What I mean to convey is that G.W. Pabst did something remarkable with this film.

It really does read (watch?) like Mulholland Dr. or The Big Sleep.

Something is missing here and there.

Sound!  (for one thing…)

I’ve said it before, but it really does matter who picks the music for these silent films.

It takes some research to know whether the version which has come down to you has anything to do with any official release which might have happened in the year of said film’s premiere.

What I got was Tchaikovsky…and “Greensleeves”…

But, most remarkably…it is the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (by Пётр Ильи́ч) without the soaring love theme…which is to say, it is the build-ups…the violent cymbal crashes…the angular solemnity which Dvořák’s 9th Symphony also shares (particularly the bold final movement).

But none of this really matters.

What matters is Lulu.  Nana.

Alban Berg.  “Das Messer ist blutig…”

Émile Zola

The fine print.

Frank Wedekind

October 24, 1929

the fear index

abnormally low?

who was ready on December 1st to see the premier of Pandora’s box in new York city?

Yes, I’m afraid the world runs on fine print.

And so the glamorous flapper Lulu had a tortuous go of it (behind the scenes).

The difference between men and women.

Every word is labored now.

Because once you are caught in a font it is a vicious circle.

And so I only urge:

press on through the boredom for at least there is a candle.

-PD

Limelight [1952)

I didn’t know movies could be this good.

Where have they been keeping this all of our lives?

Us.

When I was young I stumbled into The Gold Rush.  25/52.

And I lived at the end of a flower in City Lights.

So I knew.

But I forgot.

That Charlie Chaplin was the most vivid outcast—the great romantic on rollerskates.

And the miracle?

Claire Bloom lives.

No Sylvia Plath ending.

And Charles Chaplin lives.

As much as Baudelaire’s vieux saltimbanque.

It was her first film.  Bloom.

Age 21.

And now she is 84 years young.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////

No one told me films could be miracles.

It’s kinda like Thora Birch.

Buster Keaton.

People thought she stopped working.

But it wasn’t true.

////////////////////////////////////////////////////

No greater love have I seen for an art.

Like Pierre-Auguste kissing the canvas…and then painting.

You can’t simply say Renoir in film and let it linger…

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Tell Tchaikovsky the news.

The first chord.  In Moscow perhaps.  And all 122 pages fall onto the keyboard.

A thunderous vibration like Chaliapin.

Фёдор Ива́нович Шаля́пин

Boris Godunov.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

A drinking problem.

Stage fright.

Torn and frayed.

At the edges.

In the wings.

Wings.

Ah yes…I haven’t heard that name in a long time.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

The piano was unprepared.

A cage of equal temperament.

And so we removed the great nest

of cosmic dissonance.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Don’t get me wrong.

I love a good cluster chord.

An honest, flawed note.

Take your dissonance like a man…someone said…maybe Henry Cowell.

On second thought, ’twas Ives.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

I’ve spent my life in a drum.

Like Keith Moon.

A human projectile.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

88 ways to look at a blackbird.

I’ve never seen one person leave it all on the stage quite like that.

A lifetime’s work.  Painted.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

The film was in black and white?

I didn’t happen to notice.

Because behind my eyes the colours were bursting.

U.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

And so like those little speckles in the concrete which the moon caught.

As I dreamt of being a composer.

And I too dove headfirst into the void like Yves Klein.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

And for us it was no sleight of hand.

There was no airbrushed net.

And I landed hard.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Gandhi is smiling and that’s all that matters.

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

between yell and Yale

bell strut feet dill old pod loot.  Look!

88 ways to be a composer and an itch ain’t one (bite me!)

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Film is completely unimportant when writing about film.

Take Hubert’s Flea Circus on 42nd St.

I would never have known were it not for Nick Tosches.

And my favorite book:

Where Dead Voices Gather.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Yeah, but it’s like Picasso’s musicians.

You think I’ve really cracked up.  Craquelure.

“Any fish bite if you got good bait.”

They tell us in economics there’s only one Mona Lisa.

Because the painter is dead.

Only one…

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Because he’s not alive to paint another.

Another Mona Lisa.

Unlimited supply.  EMI.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

You’re driving at something.

I just know it.

Because the film was too long.  And too good.

Not possible, Likert.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Many aw-kward moments of perfection.

Where Chaplin hit too close to home.

Was it Dave Davies?

“Death of a Clown”

Yes, precisely.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

It can’t be described conventionally.

You can’t just go to the Grand Canyon and say, “Vast.”

Was ist das?

Ja!

That is what I’m trying to say.

-PD

Gummo [1997)

When the rain comes down…in the swimming pool…and rabbit ears has his pink life…kissed by movie stars.

Rabbit ears isn’t so lonely anymore.  Literally hovering over the highway.  Chain-link crosswalk.  Loitering.

Rabbit ears had it bad in the dump.  Got beat up by stereotypes.  Shot with cap guns.  But the words real hurtful.

I wanna add my own appendix to this here masterpiece.  And so’s I goes on the Google and finds pictures.

They say a boy can’t be beautiful.  Just handsome.  And a taxi…a cab.  Can only be hansom.

We’ll get to your favorite scene in due time.  Just tape that bacon to the tile.  We’ll be returning.

I wanna add my own art to art already made.  Found footage.  Found emotions.  On the junk heap.  Andre Breton.

All those cool French guys recording their dreams.  Dali.  With a little slanted dot over the eye.

Yeah, Dali and Bunuel.  With a little wave over the inn.

And the donkey or whatever.  Gets his eye cut reel bad.  And this was near the beginning of cinema.

And Bunuel went on to Mexico.  And Aleister Crowley went to Mexico.  And Antonin Artaud.

And then Bunuel made French movies.  Maybe they were all French.  But not the Mexican ones.

And Eisenstein made a Mexican movie.  Reel good that.

And why is I talking funny and sayings nothing?

Because I been steeped like a tea bag in pure genius.

Ain’t my genius.  I’m just the reader.  The watcher.  The observer.

And then somebody gets Schrödinger‘s cat.  And they hurt it real bad.

Nobody ever asks what Schrody’s cat was named.  And it so happens Foot Foot.

Like the song by The Shaggs?  I think so, my pal.

So lemme tell you.

If I go on many more tangents like a line glancing off a sphere I will lose something important.

No no…I keep going.

Because my glasses fogged up with tears from crying.  When I had to get up to pee.

Later.  The retarded girl.  In the Krokus shirt.  But when she’s jogging back and forth.

That’s my family.

Yeah, for a minute I saw the whole totality of my lineage.

And it really made me cry.  Prematurely.

But mostly it’s when the rain falls.

It looks like the most heavenly scene.

I’m Mr. Rabbit.  I took a lot of risks.

A pink life.  That’s being vulnerable.  Listening to Tchaikovsky.

I skated down the hill on a banana like Jesus Christ.

One little pebble and my face is fucked for weeks.

One passing car and I’m Jello.  J E LL O.

But take a deep breath because you’ve shivered shirtless.

God damn.  You’ve got pink rabbit ears and knuckle tats.

You weren’t meant for this world.

And when the perfect storm comes—-

a lifetime of pain melts away.

For a second.

You’re not the freak.

For a second somebody wants you.

And you want them too.

And, really, it’s just fun.

That life has dealt you this miracle.

It makes your Xenia, Ohio bearable.  Just.

Life is transitory.  Crackling like a wet transistor.

Here today be here not tomorrow.

-PD