QUARANTINE film festival at home
14th April 2020
A quarantine film festival's been going on for 20 days now, at home. It is one of the most challenging assignments I ever had. One, coz it's family I have as audience. And second, coz it has participants from age group 15 years to 83! How to select films with that kind of audience in mind. Its a difficult period, when we are all quarantined inside, our homes while outside, the world is as if coming to an end in all ways possible. Apparently we are all together in this. Cinema can take care of a lot of things that tend to go awry in such disorienting and confounding times playing havoc with human heart & head and more. So we go on, stumbling-ly in our journey. And I wish many others could be part of this experience. Every evening, I must pick a film in a series that its becoming now with each evening taking us a step deeper into our collective understanding of be-ing human. Collective viewing is so critical to cinema. Some of the films have been seen before, some are new like, Hannah Arendt we saw yesterday.
There are few films everyone likes, others not so; each screening brings surprises. And the are the most interesting part, as the lines between this and that keeps moving.
Today was Krsyztoff Kieslowski's:
A short film about love Thou shalt not commit adultery
With films like Camera buff, Blind chance, Double life of Veronique, when it all comes together in a film, it is no more possible to talk about the different components of research, story, script, screenplay, production design, camera, sound, music, editing, acting as separate elements being good or not so. What comes before or after? Which is better or what could have been better take a back seat and the star giving system fails gloriously. Some other questions take center stage. Where does it all come together? What role does the Director plays in the making of a film? When was the film made? What was going on in that country at that time? What was happening in the world? Etc.
Kieslowski makes the film with the keen understanding of what one lives by, and what one dies of. How we perceive reality and how the memory operates upon it. How a story is told and how is it visualized? How is it watched and what will form a memory of this watching? What after all, would be understood as be-ing human? What is the relation between beauty and truth, if at all?
There is so much beauty in a Kieslowski film. And moulded by the colour and light of the suspended moments- an otherwise inexpressible Truth. All that is here, is inexpressible any other way. There is much looking, reflecting, listening. There is very less talking, few words spoken but much that seems to be heard. You may forget the camera at times but you may still watch yourself watching as it unfolds on screen, as-if in real time before your eyes.
The perception of time is palpable here. It is coded in every face that stays on screen for the duration it does. I wonder what it would mean to ask a camera student in a film school to light up faces like in a Kieslowski film? Do they teach such things in a film school? Do they study a filmmaker's mind? Or do they only use their look and style as 'references' to mould their own or simply for effect? Do they study how a story is told as much by light & colour as by the idea, performers and dialogue?
What is it that makes the faces unforgetable? What that renders the moments memorable? What is the factor that decides how as a viewer I will remember the film? Wherefrom will it start fading first in mii remembrance of it? What are the images that will flash upon mii inner eye long after the film projector gets switched off? Which impression will I carry in mii memory forever after the film? What is that which will make mii return to the film again, and again?
Why does a filmmaker make a film?
Remember thinking for a few days: Do we say what we mean? Do people mean what they say? Answer seems to be in the negative. We do not seem to say what we mean. We do not really mean what we say. Hardly. Perhaps, never. We say something and often mean something else. We do not seem to know what we want. Not really. There are somethings that go in the category of 'everybody knows'. We don't usually talk about them. Some questions are better left unasked.
But may be, says Kieslowski, we should try formulating some of those questions. That is, if one senses one does want something. Coz when we really do, our job becomes difficult. Often when we get it, we can't help noticing that the joy is not as grand as we imagined; it is short lived; quite fleeting like the desire itself; ephemeral, like our lives. Sometimes, by the time we get the thing we thought we desired, our desire has moved someplace else. Now we do not want it anymore; we want something else. And so on. Moving from one desire to the next, we forget what we wanted in the first place and why. And so, may be how does it matter if we do get what we desire. Or what we desire-d. Curious how its always in the past.
What the mainstream film is condemned to forget is what the non mainstream cinema is obliged to remember- that which is always beneath that which appears to be.
It questions, challenges, problematizes that which appears on the surface. It makes us want to re-look at what we thought we knew. The mainstream and the commercial thrives on appearances and conditioning bound by its box office contracts to tread ever so softly on the fragile belief systems or societal codes, promising to not disturb the delicately balanced conditioning much and guaranteeing to entertain its patron. The non mainstream and the non commercial invites the audience to collaborate in whatever measure they are willing, to participate in the process of creating a new understanding that can only promise to expand the horizon of understanding life, as it is lived or ought to be lived. It is difficult. There are costs. It runs the risk of not being 'popular' with everyone. Artists are usually not selling anything like a product or even an idea; they do not become rich. They must however be able to live, to create.
How do you make a living as a filmmaker? is a question the charming Bhanumati keeps on asking R. V. Ramani in his latest film Oh that's Bhanu! However I am not telling you his answer. Your guess is as good as mine. In India, they don't make a living; they live. They also grow and change with each work; hopefully also plant a seed of something in their viewers through their work. The changes sometimes are huge and mind bending, however they may not be visible as an index on the box office. It is not about numbers, like in most valuable of things. The impact is often subtle and more organic than one can measure. it can nevertheless be felt and understood.
That is why, you must watch some films. Like this one, here. About which I don't even want to speak today.
15th april. Krsyztoff Kieslowski
A short film about killing Thou shalt not kill.
The film had visibly shaken everyone in the room. And the strangely monochromatic raw images seen through a green filter literally hung over our eyes. Talking about the colour, Kieślowski credits his cinematographer, Slawomir Idziak, for this deliberate visual unattractiveness within the film. When Kieslowski first showed Idziak the screenplay, he said: "I can’t even read this! It disgusts me...I’ll shoot it only on the condition that you let me do it green and use all my filters, with which I’ll darken the image." It seems Cahiers Du Cinema wrote that it was the most originally shot movie in Cannes that year.
What is an artist? What is the value of Art to Society? To individual? Questions pop up as Jacek the protagonist, passes by a street artist drawing the portrait of a little girl in the street. A shadow hangs over every routine everyday image that hits us from the screen right through the build up till the very end.
The convicted boy Jacek, who is sentenced to death, asks to meet his lawyer before his hanging. When he meets him, he says he wanted to meet him because the lawyer shouted out his name from the window above when he was being taken to the prison in the police van. 'I am 21' he says 'and still I had tears in my eyes when I heard you call out.'
Jacek doesn't call for the priest. But makes a confession to the lawyer neverthless. His lawyer who lost the case; who could not save him from capital punishment. Jacek wants him to know how what happened could have been avoided; may be. There is only half an hour they have before the hanging. Jacek wants to tell him so much more. About her kid sister dying so much before her time, his enlistment in the army, his leaving the village, his mother back home and his father's grave which has space for three. He wants the lawyer to tell his mother to let him be put in his father's grave. He has already checked with the priest and the priest told him it is possible. Even if he must die on the gallows, he may be allowed to be buried in his father's grave; be laid beside his little sister.
The senior judge tells the lawyer his was the best case he has heard in years, in favour of the abolishment of capital punishment. Lawyer says he wished he could have noticed the boy in that cafe last year, on the day of his appointment to attorneyship. They were in the same cafe that day and while he celebrated his appointement, Jacek tested his rope under the table. Lawyer thinks he could have saved him, could have prevented what was to come. We know the moment when they were together in that cafe. We have seen Jacek scare the little girls peering in at the pastries through the window glass. May be they were her kid sister's age, we think. Its nothing short of a relief when the little girls laugh back at him unafraidly and Jacek does the same. At the same time, we are only too aware, even if painfully so, that it is a momentary relief.
As the convicted resists his doom, an army of policemen struggle to hold him and take him to his hanging, as if they are on the front trying to save their country from a traitor. A brave patriot act.
The prosecutor meets the lawyer on the stairs and stops to congratulate him on becoming a father, even though, he adds apologetically "it may not be the right moment to do so".
What is the right moment for anything?
Tajo Maru in Kurosawa's Rashomon says, but for the breeze that day, that moved the veil of that woman being carried in the palanquin, nothing of what ensued would have unfolded; he would not have ended up in a court trial defending himself against the murder of the Samurai. The fateful moment. The crime and its punishment.
Capital punishment is not awarded to the person for the crime he committed but always as a preventive threat, as an exemplary case as if warning people to keep themselves from involving themselves in any such thing. What a clever ploy by a clever society to prevent crime and promote peace. Only, does it work? We teach our children in school to be competitive, to come first, to aim for the top. They are told to not take anything lying down; to stand up for each blow dealt out to them; to serve back; to always be a winner. And at the top there is only space enough for one.
The system gets away with all crimes possible. Individuals are hanged for the crimes of society. Because? Well, you can't hang a society, can you? Besides its so complicated to analyse, understand, discern, find out who is responsible. It takes a long time and patience to really understand something. Coz when you really do understand, its difficult to pass verdict or condemn. Society however is run on the principle of reward and punishment. It is no surprise that we must draw a line between the good and the bad, point fingers, dispense justice. Justice, for all the nobility it is accorded, is a human idea-l.
Love or War, it has forever been- the individual versus society.
For each individual that hangs, we are responsible, argues the lawyer. He is told he is too sensitive for the job.
Try as he must, he cannot prove this in the court of law; cannot save the boy from hanging. However, this film, in particular goes on to make history. It seems the year of the film's release coincided with the abolishment of capital punishment in post communist Poland. And some well known critics have acknowledged the role this film played. The film was widely seen outside Poland; also winning many awards.
It is important to recall that Kieslowski started in documentary, the direct referencing of it can be seen in the deeply disturbing and remarkably scripted film Camera Buff. It was when he realised how difficult the state cesorship made it for the documentarian to speak the truth, that Kieslowski turned to fiction. Some truths it seemed to the young film artist, were only possible to essay through crafting a story universe around it. That he was a remarkable documentarian does not merit underlining. The lines between fact and fiction are challenged very early on in his work, with the presence of the camera and the power of imagemaking often assuming metaphysicaal dimensions. The nuanced power accorded the act of looking via camera cannot help but bring the work of another master, Abbas Kiarostami to mind, an impeccable voice of our times.
1st May 2020....still in quarantine
Three colours: bleu Krsyztoff Kieslowski
Kieslowski speaks a language of colours; a myriad shades in between, the broken tones. Even his black and white is not quite B&W; as if forever hinting at the many hues the human eye is not even capable of registering, pointing at the question within the question; always seeing something hidden beneath what is usually visible. How he wants you to watch the movements on screen, or listen to the unsaid seems to be calculated in the way in which the narrative opens, unfolds; the manner in which it is filmed.
Having invoked Kiarostami yesterday, today for some reason, I remember his Certified copy. Can't really explain the connection but it is as if for mii Juliette Binoche seems leads thence to Certified copy.
Perhaps its when she calls up Oliviere and asks him "Do you love me?"
When he say "yes", she asks "since when?"
We don't hear what he says. But hear her asking him to come over.
He comes. But then, somehow, nothing speaks to her anymore.
The filmmaker does not explain. You may make your own meaning, if there is any.
Blue disturbs mii at a level different from his other films. There is something that tugs at mii inside. Is it perhaps the beauty of the faces, eyes, smiles, tears, looks, stares? Things are at times too up close, silent, inevitable. Impossible to talk about, own up to, confess or accept. Everyone so easily being what they are. No hiding. No psychological games. Its strange that the more he excels in saying less in words, the more one is left with the feeling of knowing everything. At times, even that which you rather not know. It is almost as if he begins to disturb mii with his 'all knowing', ' all seeing' 'all understanding'. Everything is so well crafted, almost chiseled, as if testing mii comprehension. Both ways, the filmmaker wins, if I get it and if I don't. There is so much left unsaid, and yet there is no ambiguity in mii mind about human nature, as regards the protagonist, or the others s/he is surrounded with. Each one in Kieslowski's world, as if condemned- to understand everybody else as they are.
Things in a Kieslowski film are somehow, just as they are, which is exactly as you would like them to be. Although one gets a strange sense sometimes, that they are however, not as they ought. He is curious about human nature and wants to look at it through a microscope. And he has chosen the camera to do that for him. Nature, is near absent in his man made world. His camera is so penetrating, at times it even aspires to enter the gut of the person through his eyes. His looking is so sharp, that the surface often reveals the core. Or this becomes that. Doesn't he want to create relentless, haunting images? Images that don't leave you, that buzz your head, like a flash of light, a blur of colour, a strain of music, a questioning look. He wants to engulf you totally in an immersive experience, almost unforgettable. He wants you to remember him, fondly. He wants to be rendered immortal in the experience he creates. The understanding that exists inspite of the chaos- the goodness, the compassion, the near impossible love; the life lost in living. Everything is so, perfect, like the music in this film. It is too close, dangerously so, to the unlived life, as if the life we seem to know, the one we want to live and can't. Everyone is alone. To each his/her own. And yet there is no way out. We are each other's only hope, as it is. And everything is connected to everything else.
'Secret life of Memory' I remember the film I & Arghya wanted to make long back. A love story of course. Which we never made. There were no people in it. Or rather there were things, objects, books, postcards and how the things move from his place to hers and vice versa. And it is through the movement of these things that you see the love story. It was not important what happens to the people, it was not about them. It was about what happens to the world around them, how it changes. Whether they come together or go their separate ways in the end, didn't really matter. What happens anyway. Who can tell?
Like the frieze moment when the other woman, the lawyer, the mistress of the Binoche's musician husband dead in an accident, carrying now his child tells his wife Julie (Binoche): "he talked a lot about you. He told mii you were good and generous. And that you wanted to be that way. He said everyone could rely on you, including mii." It is a moment that defines everyone you have seen till then in the film and more.
I am not going to read Kieslowski on Kieslowski, yet. Sandeep called. He has been reading it, watching his works; has also sent a part from the book to mii. For now I want to stay just may be, with watching his films thus, with mii reading of it. Especially at the moment, I do not want to read the filmmaker.
Blue is the only thing she breaks in the house; (after the window pane she breaks in the hospital) It is also the only thing she apparently takes with her from the family house she moves out of.
She believed life had lost all purpose with her husband and daughter dying. She wanted to die herself. Was she guilty of being alive? Would she rather, her husband the genius composer, had lived...instead of her?
When the other woman appears, the myth of the perfect breaks, and through the crack she can finally begin to see herself again. What is she like, she doesn't remember. What was she like, she tries to remember: 'was I afraid of the mice as a child?' She asks her mom. Mom has apparently forgotten she is her daughter Julie. And thinking she is her own sister, tells her- 'No, you weren't afraid of Mice. Julie was.
Is there a right time for anything? Well. It is how you choose to see it I guess.
Three colours: blanc Krsyztoff Kieslowski
Karol says there is still love in their marriage. Wife says she doesn't love him anymore. Beside their marriage wasn't consummated. She throws him on the street, he breaks in to the house, she gets police after him. He flees to Poland, & plans. He will show her. His will is air tight. He wills his money property to her, she comes for his funeral, and loses the map when he appears, ressurrected as if from the dead. Doesn't she love him now? He has a different name, identity, passport and a new home in Hongkong. The film ends with her talking to herself/ him in the asylum as seen through his binoculors.
What is the film about? For once I ask, why am I watching this? Its much of what Kieslowski would do, and yet, this one seems to go too far. Doesn't he go too far in everything though? Blind chance? Camera buff? Short film about killing...short film about love? A cinema of extremes, tempered with a relentless questioning of the norm reflected via resplendent faces in a seductive light? The fourth tempter of the Murder in the Cathedral is always there somewhere hiding beneath the floor planks, listening behind walls. Everyone is vulnerable, anyone can fall pray to desire, any desire, any moment, especially in the aspect they thought they had clarity or control over. And who is watching, as they stumble? Who takes the fall? Is everything so disconnected with everything else? Who is responsible for the way people behave; the way society gazes, the way religion commands, the state demands? Do we know who we are? Do I know what I want?
Kieslowski seems to ask the same questions over and over and over again. Each human being, including the boy in short film about killing would likely not want to do what he did, for things to unfold in another way than they do; each one would like to be someone better than s/he appears in the eyes of the other. What is the guilt heavy on each breast? Is the director taking revenge on mii as audience? Would I feel what he feels, if I see the world as he does? And if, for instance, I begin to miss life as played out in his films, in all its subtle, humane, refelctive details, would his efforts as an auteur amount to something?
A compelling storyteller like him, must make the films he makes. Perhaps his head would burst into a thousand pieces if he knows and does not tell. It seems if he knows, he must tell. If he so chooses to, we must listen. And so on.
3rd May 2020
Suddenly, during the morning walk today, I remembered that I had almost forgotten- Reveil. The 24+ hour early morning sounds travelling around the globe on 'Dawn Chorus day'. That's what the day is designated as today 3rd May, mark in the calendar. Mii mother, bless her, if she were alive, would have gone crazy listening to this. Dawn sounds from all over the globe?
We were in Norway when I tuned in to
Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Tanzania, Amsterdam, Johannesburg, France, Germany, Swansea, London...caught the last two and half hours. Some people were taking turns to live mix, so we could move from one streaming space to another, across cities one by one, following dawn across the globe. What an idea!
Father was amazed too. He was tired after the walk but kept going to his room to rest, but coming back to listen some more. I'd tell him we are in Swansea now, and he would be like, where?! Wales? Oh that's where David lived; I went there to visit him, you know.
It was the most amazing sound pilgrimage none of us could make in 24 hours across the globe. When humans in collaboration with each other and in an interface with technology make possible such an incredible cross-continental connect, the way it happened today, its no less than a miracle, a blessing. Humans becoming what they can be best at- coming together to become a conduit for something larger than themselves. Bless Sukanto, the sound artist/recordist for leading mii into it today. Else I wouldn't have known.
Sometimes, for a brief while it feels worth-the-while; that we as Homo-whatever -Sapiens have come thus far. In a long long time, an intention, an act, sounded like human progress, to mii. Such a magical opportunity for logging into the universe for a while. Being quietly attentive. Being listener.
To connect without agenda, vested interest, away from the unabated din of the fish market. A shining example of vgsrqd izse /ahetuk prem, as we'd say in Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language, not spoken now, but studied in critical texts. It would be approximately translated as self-less, motive-less, free love amongst all. The essential connect as if, as the sounds from around the ponds, gardens, backyards, city squares, rooftops and jungles travel resounding through mii little room here in a town of central India.
What an elegant way to feel alive, as humans, for once, not talking, giving opinions, but invisible, hidden quietly behind the microphone. Listening to world. Looking at the sounds!
Robert Bresson, the astute film master from France famously said: Every sound evokes an image; every image does not necessarily evoke its sound. This enters the filmmaker's diary because it created an experience of having been somewhere, having 'seen' something, much freer and freeing than any manmade experience, even of art, poetry or film. Was liberating to be free from the tyranny of the screen, fixing eyes on changing images, moving objects, the intercutting shots, juggling between reading subtitles and looking at the story or worse still, those adverts popping up mechanically or crawling creepily into the frame. Phew! None of that. There were people from all over in the room sound theatre today, quitely talking in the super chat window, spelling sometimes the name of the birdie calling there- 'geese' 'doves' 'gulls' 'wren' 'wood pigeon'... at times just a flutter of bird wings standing out; at other times, just a note of gratitude for all the silent collaborators making the event possible... Everyone- together & apart, at the same time. The event was something that would have been as astounding even without the lockdown, but was especially so, in the middle of it. And more.
The way one experienced Time was the most incredible part. Real, continuous, flowing, as it is. And as we never actually experience it.
There is something about the way it calmed the sound and fury and voices in the head; drowned the anxiety in the body; lifted the heaviness off the heart. Trust Ear, the precision instrument slowing it down to mii originary impulse, the primary rhythm, the heartbeat.
Whether one is aware or not, one welcomes always, the cessation of thought as it happens in the process of such active listening. No story, plot, music, dialogue; no words, no meanings. Sound as meaning. Unedited Nature streaming into the concrete room, almost unimpeded, immersive. A rare instance in mii memory of Sound creating silence, becoming Silence.
No wonder, a rare experience in the human world, when we are increasingly forgetting to listen, to the unsaid, between each other and everyone else out there. What with humans taking up all the space there is, playing it up and louder and louder still to get all the attention we can hog.
I have nothing but gratitude for whoever thought of doing this, all those who pitched in, the ones conducting us through the movements across the dots on the map, all who listened.
Three colours: rouge Krsyztoff Kieslowski
3rd May contd.
'I want to be in Kieslowski's world' is what I tell miiself as the film gets over and the credits roll. I even belong there. Or so it seems; as if I have always belonged there, even when I didn't know it existed. A girl lost to this world as if; invisibly there, ageless-ly growing; timeless-ly alive. Ever since. It feels so old since one was a child. And not so long ago after all, when the wait for the silver hair first began, so one day I would wear them salt & peppered like an aunt I loved then. What happened to the time in between though?
The old man in 3 colours Red; I seem to know him, along with this girl Valentine. She is the one who also plays in Double life of Veronique. I seem to know all his characters, including the voyeurs, murderers, spies, judges, convicts, prostitues, models, lovers, wives, husbands, neighbours, mothers, fathers, brothers, friends, bosses, strangers. How could I not? I have been one. I have been many. I have been all, one by one. I have met them all, before I met them in his world. I understand the signs and symbols, their language, their look, the silences, their jealousy, their anger, the unexplained human cameraderie. or is it... fraternity?
It could be that the director, Kieslowski makes mii think that way. So that I feel, well almost, as if I have known him before, always, from another birth, even.
He does seem to read mii thoughts before I know them, just as I would imagine someone to know. Every thing, face, object, place is seen in his film, just as it ought to. The light is how it ought to be. Things are repeated just as many times as they can or do. Somethings are never repeated as they don't, some others are recur even across films, like the old woman standing on tiptoe with difficulty trying to drop an empty bottle in a garbage crusher.
Its possible to, as you watch, begin to see the Matrix; how everything is connected to everything else. What happens that though one moment ago nothing really seemed to matter, the next moment, every little thing begins to matter, affect you even inspite of everything standing apparently in its way. What-ever happens that the man who wanted to die a moment earlier, wants to go on living. A man who has never loved, after the woman he loved betrayed him, who sat in his chair, turning his back to the world (albeit with the door always open) pretending to care nothing for his intelligent dog, begins to...well, dream. Its the stuff of dreams. Cinema. Not a verisimilitude, representation. The oldest & the youngest art, at the same time; before all arts and yet the last. An art as old as dreaming? If you can slowly work your way up to dreaming the dream you want to dream. Not tied to the gadgets as in a Nolan film. The best film possible, that everyone has watched closed eyes, even when inside the belly womb cave of the mother, or open eyed, through a yet blurry vision, with the focus not quite yet there. Just colours, contours, sounds, forms. And you could watch it for hours on end, clinging yet, to nothing. As if with new-ly born eyes.
4th MAy 2020
Yesterday, was a bad day, dissonant since the night before. A hanging in the air, unfinished, stunted conversation with a friend across continents. Couldn't sleep all night. A strangely disturbing dream continued like a series of retakes through the bits of sleep I could get. The midshot of a man sitting in front of computer, staring blankly into the computer, kind of sad; every retake brought him, in the same position, magnification, with the same sad expression; the shirt he wore however kept changing. So the days changed, yet everything remained unchanged. In the dream, a part of mii seems to know him. To be sure, he is the friend I had the hanging, seemingly unfinished conversation with. But all the shirts he wore, I have never seen before. At first it seemed to mii the shirts I have seen. But in a while, I kind of realised they only seemed to resemble the shirts of someone else. However these did not belong to either of them. He looked sad in mii dream.
The sadness clambered up on to mii, like with a ladder and I destined to carry it through the day. As it turned out, today was mii mother's death anniversary joined as it is now mii father's birthday. I had somehow, cooked up a feast a day before, as if unknowingly escaping to confront this strange synching of dates. Sister thought we should do something, may be read a story each of mother and father to mark the ocassion. I agreed, first hesitatingly, then it was alright, as the day progressed, it prepared mii for the evening. We had the session, with father reading his own story, Kavach, picked by Shampa and thereafter she reading Mother's story Kram se baahar, picked by Ishwar. Tuka came down and whispered in mii ear in the break between two stories to call him after the second story was over. He came at the end and played a song on his synth. It was the song by Passengers called 'Let her go'. I held the lyrics page for him and turned pages as he also sang along. It was good.
5th May 2020
I proposed continuing with the Kieslowski retrospective. Ishwar and Shampa were game. I had discovered I had the whole of Dekalogue on mii. Thanks are due to Satya and Sandeep for this part of the collection. One doesn't have to be at the mercy of the internet and its speed.
So there we were, watching today, loosely based on the commandment:
Decalog 1/ Jeden Thou shalt not have any God before me.
Having seen the last work trilogy 3 colours, 1994, going back to 1988 to a tv series, was a little odd for everyone. Most importantly- the duration and how after all film experiences by the same director, it seemed to end abruptly, before it could have us with it. It seemed a bit pat, literal may be or just plain less 'cinematic'? May be we will get into the mode of watching a TV series. But father was way too upset. He doesn't like sad films, people dying, especially a child. He denounced the film as an idea film. He had also had a lot of trouble with a short film about killing.
Its striking how different a tv series of assigned duration, slot, producer, audience can be from a film. We have already seen two 5 & 6 commandments, that Kieslowski made into longer films; they established his formidable reputation. I remember a student, a girl, in 1998, in a train moving from Pune to Bombay, asking mii categorically how and what makes cinema 'look' different from TV? She was excited that I was a cinema student at FTII and wanted to know. For instance she said, when I open the TV just randomly to any channel or even surf channels, before I notice, recognise an actor or know anything else, I already seem to know if its a TV serial or a film! What is it that makes mii see the difference at a glance? I remember being hard put to answer the question to her satisfaction. Nevertheless. I made a gallant effort. May be something did after all those hours of conversation, did make sense to her. Or so I thought.
The lines there are between things, this and that side. Religion and Ideology or Faith and Reason, Human and Machine, whichever way you want to see it. But its the interstice where all wars are played out, do they not?
This one has a triad much like father son and holy war. Where does mother Mary figure? Aunt Irene, Father and son pulled asunder by their diverse beliefs, understanding and reasonings. The machine is ready, as it declares, child is dead and god is looking over, helplessly? Well he doesn't seem very happy, nor quite in control. Yet its Him watching. Kieslowski does it often times. This omniscience of a god's point of view, mostly through the camera. It can be a voyeur, it can be god. He wouldn't distinguish nor grade. And you don't quite know why you are watching or what he makes you watch, thus; as if you had nothing better to do. The devil, sure, is in the details. Every time something happens, it is usually not that which you expected to happen nor how, i.e. if at all you expect. Much like it happens in life, when you even end up doing quite the opposite of what you thought you'd do; or find yourself say something you could not imagine saying.
I am reminded of many ancestors in cinema, those one admires for what they added to the findings, like Jean Rouch, believing cinema to be that 'Third pole' where it is still possible for humanity to come together, meet as they must. Third pole unsually refers to the region around the Himalaya-Hindu Kush mountain range and within that the Tibetan Plateau is widely known as the Third Pole because its ice fields contain the largest reserve of fresh water outside the polar regions; what makes it the contentious zone of brutal conflict and also why we all need to rally support in favour of its preservation at all costs. It concerns all.
In the clautrophobia of the apartment-ed human society and the drama relentlessly unfolding inside-outside of human consciousnesses, and inspite the beauty and light that surrounds them, the conspicuous absence of nature in Kieslowski strikes mii peculiarly. What does he intend to say through that? Is nature purposely excluded? Or is it not there in his vision? Does it perhaps explain the obsession with camera, gaze and voyeurism present through his work. Along with the one that God is an idea, a fiction much like Ideology, and not a fact. But nature is not God nor is it an idea. It is a fact, the as-it-is-ness of things or be-ing, as is reflected only through the human being in his frame.
Sometimes the absence of Nature becomes very stifling. It exists in some frames, but no one is looking at it. No one is really aware of it. No one is missing it. No one goes out into it looking for anything. Whatever they look for is fated to be in the rather self sufficient world of humans, who are by turns looking at each other, or not looking at each other. Everyone lives outside that reality, ensconced in a reality all of their own making, a construct. Age of the anthropocene?
Today was exhausting with all the work from brooming, mopping, watering plants, cooking lunch and dinner. May be its good, in a way. This is realistically the time one has in hand.
'The inner voice does not speak in words'. Exactly the message I needed to hear from the universe?
For a while, a thought held mii to the graphic book in progress. Took out the sketch book with the single liners, words, flowcharts, diagrams, tables, charts. I don't quite know, from where to get hold of this serpent. If only I can see the whole.
It seems necessary to undertake something like that, perhaps the idea closest to mii for almost a decade now, something that spans a long period of study, across mii other chitrakatha, pre reTold by Loknath, or the film located in tibetan opera.
There has been some work done around it, but it is scattered across the margin notes in books, scribblings in notebooks, sketchbooks, computer, songs, story cards. It also seems to be overlapping with some other stories, viz. the sci fi. Need to find without seeking, a way of separating the threads, in a way that breaks the jinx of a decade and more of unfinished, in many ways half done work scattered across mine and Basu's hard disks. Sorting some of them parallely.
In the evening, we are back to our Dekalog.
Dekalog 2/dwa Thou shalt not take the name of thy lord god in vain.
The same apartment complex once again. Now everyone is beginning to recognise it.
This time it is an old man who looks strangely cranky and ill himself, turns out to be a doctor. A woman, who looks like she may be a doctor, turns out to be a musician. A man who appears to be dying, comes back to life as if nothing happened to him. A man, assured of his love, loses his lover along with the prospective child.
No life is ordinary, every person is special. Nothing that is out of the equation in a Kieslowski tale. The apartment complex is full of people who apparently living side by side, do not know each other. It is the quintessential urban complex we are all part of. Some of them will meet each other moving across the various parts of the Decalogue series itself. And we will get to share in a part of their life too.
This one in particular has the taste of having entered a story universe, of reading a novel which you can't put down. One of those compelling Russian sagas, that doesn't just let you be. Even when you have to keep the book down to attend to other chores in the day, it continues to as if stalk you through the house; the familiar house itself transforms into the story world, in which you suddenly begin to move ever so cautiously, taking care not to move too fast, lest it disturb a moment.
When you are inside such a novel which you know shall end soon; that which you do not want to have an end, or at least, not yet- know that Kieslowski has you in his grasp. He knows you- the audience of his films, almost as much as his characters, if not more. He knows how you look or overlook, listen, feel, think, remember or forget, reflect or understand. He knows how you condemn and pass judgment and is set to problematise that equation you have with the all too human ideas of truth, lie, justice et al forever; especially if you believed in precepts like the commandments or the tall ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity et al.
I don't know. I can't pass the verdict, says the un-doctor like doctor.
Its wrong to ask for too much, says the woman. Please ask your God for an absolution.
Do we know what she wants? Perhaps only as much as she knows herself. Or the doctor. Or the filmmaker. Kieslowski is not a filmmaker who hides from the viewer what he knows. He walks along. Simultaneously he manages to be with his characters, with the author and the readers. Chekhov sees the writer/ artist's job akin to not a judge but a lawyer, presenting the case before the readers, as seen from many perspectives.
Is there a meaning in the water dripping from a leaking pipe, or the cracked roof? What means faith in the scientific world of medicine? What means being in love with two men at the same time? What is the happiness in- being together? Why does the doctor wish to go to the philharmonic concert? This last question I ask, as if I really got the answer to that! Perhaps that's how special K. makes his viewers feel...
8th May 2020 Krsyztoff Kieslowski
Dekalogue 3 Thou shalt observe the Sabbath. Keep it holy.
Another unsettling one, like Three colours white. But mii movement as audience in this is quite reverse or so it seemed to mii. While in White, I am not quite ready to take neither the woman at face value for the creepy and spiteful behaviour she metes out to her husband, nor the man for his hateful, planned revenge; in this dekalog 3, I am from the beginning taken in by neither of the two. They don't as if seem like the people one needs to be interested in, even wondering why does one is even watching their story? Why is she behaving as she does? Why is the man going with her? It is striking to note though, that from the very beginning, the man even dressed as Santa Claus didn't seem happy.
For Christ's sake, what's going on here!? On a day set aside to celebrate and remember the Lord God, what ought our characters be doing? Playing a game? Wishing for a sign from life, to go on? There was love between them once, one can see. There is love in the man's eyes, still. This woman, alone, lonely, loveless and sad, spends the Christmas, lying through her teeth, needing someone to believe in her, seeking out her old lover, to tell him her tale of woes? The man can't quite believe her, when she tells the truth. Does he know what happened to the woman after he left her that day in the hotel? He did not try to find out. She did not tell. The woman in Dekalog two flashes for a moment in the mind, when she tells the doctor that she is going to abort the kid, she says she is telling him coz she doesn't want him to have a clean conscience either. Is this man here in Delalog 3 going to be disturbed forever too in his seemingly happy family hereafter? We only know, in the end he tells her he'll be seeing her. We also know he comes home and tries in vain to lie to his wife. She knows it is Eva and asks him if he will disappear for the Christmas evening too, and he says he's going to stay.
What does religion mean? Does truth have a chance in the society we have built? Can we control events from happening the way they do? Why are the precepts so very impossible to live by? Why must there be commandments we are obliged to break every day? And yet again, do we know what we want?
And what do you want Mr Direktor? Why in your films does each character understand the other like they do? What is the question you ask yourself as maker while you write their parts out? The curious fact that the woman you don't much care about in the beginning of the episode, who for all you care, even creates a revulsion in you through the Zweigian 'beware of pity', transforms over the course of the unfolding narrative into someone you can relate to, even begin to care about. You still remember the man who was angry and exasperted with her at the beginning of the film when he first saw her in the landing of his apartment, was a tad sad doing the Santa Claus act- a strikingly sad Santa to begin with. After the mad breakneck speeding of the car on the empty roads of Warsaw by night on Christmas eve, when Ewa apologises for ruining his Christmas eve, he says- not at all, it was fun. There is something in his eyes betraying what he yet remembers from the past- what he needs to remember was important to him then, so is it now. She has lied to him through the night or is it for three years? He speaks the truth when he says he will be seeing her or does he?
Where is God and how ought one to pray? What is holy? Where is God, asks Kieslowski, when a woman is alone on Christmas eve, while the world gathers in their cozy homes and intimate family gatherings to celebrate life, forgetting all about the lonely ones. What about God, asks Kieslowski, who comes dressed as Ewa to play a game with a family man on Christmas eve? Does the man in question, observe sabbath the tough way? Does he pass the test which we almost fail as audience, wondering which side to take, as if it were there for our taking? Questions are what we are left with. And they are important.
9th May 2020 Krsyztoff Kieslowski
Dekalog 4 Thou shalt honour thy mother and father
Something similar to yesterday's plot: the prying, pretending, lying. The girl here, not to forget is an acting student. She may well have decided to play Electra. It is rather complex. If you so choose to decide, anything can be anything; anyone can be anyone. Till it is whole and intact, it works, but the lines turn out to be ever so thin, when you cross them.
People however play games. People in Kieslowski's world take the game seriously enough. They are usually honest, even in the thick of their lies and deceit and bluff. Safer to play with someone you really trust, or love. Its better than playing alone or talking to yourself. So that in the event of it not working out, there is scope to just forget it, like a bad dream, instead of killing yourself over it. After all whats the use of being human, if we cannot help each other discover what we absolutely must, to go on.
Else, sooner than later, words get the better of you. And once you get caught in the net of words, you've had it. It takes usually a life time to get out of the language labyrinths, may be more. At best as the poet says:
Tell the wind, to fill your emptiness.
Tell darkness to help you cross the river
Tell roads to put you to work
Tell words to...
Don't say anything to words.
The dangerous part of Kieslowski retrospective is that I am fast getting used to these visitations to his world, as if to another planet. The world where people look at each other, hear themselves and understand the unsaid, like nobody's business. Inspite of the noise, there is often only as much silence as needed to hear the inner voice. Will it be difficult to come back to mii familiar world after this tryst in the Kieslowskian world? Will the one who comes back be the same as the one who went in? Coming back not same from a dip in the river of time, is somehow, a comforting thought. At least tonight. When watching a sick silent video art on a link forwarded by mii student, sends a shiver down mii spine; to realise what bad art can do to an otherwise perfect day...
10th May 2020 Krsyztoff Kieslowski
Dekalog 7 Thou shalt not steal.
We skipped number 5 & 6 because we already watched the longer versions of these as full fledged films earlier- the two 'short films about love & killing'.
* * *
Anka, the little girl has two mothers. She recognises only one of them as mother. She is six.
Her mother can't prove she's her real mother; the papers are in the name of the other woman, who refuses to give the girl up. And now, its too late for a recall.
The 'original' mother asks the question if stealing one's own property is 'stealing'? And thence the question of 'property' hangs in the air. What should we do with the child? Is she anyone's property? She will eventually, I guess decide for herself when she grows up. Or will she? But Kieslowski wants to tell us how choice is fate. There is no choice. Well. It is a situation. And like every other, too complex to fit in to a set of moral ordinations. Try asking: who's responsible?
Why does society lay down some laws that are actually impossible to follow? Full of contradictions and incompatible values, reflecting the makers of these laws in the name of God defending a particular religion or the many false gods that rise in opposition to it, like Ideology. Born in nazi occupied Germany, and suffering the volte face of communism through his growing up years, there doesn't seem to be anyone more qualified than Kieslowski to tell these tales, sometimes marked as the 'cinema of moral anxiety'.
East European cinema has always told tales from a perspective, starkly different from what goes in the name of European in general. With good reason, one always felt closer to East Europe, even though one's idols often lay in the other more visible part. Striking how the student cinema, even from the 80's at FTII, seems to resemble a student film from East Europe. Have always wondered why.
In particular, we don't seem to share their trauma of the second world war, the grave ideologically pitched political battles and moral anxiety. We have had our past of slavery, our trauma of partition. But nothing quite as poignant that melted us so as to raise questions with no easy answers. We have found it easier to find a certain brand of peace with the past and settle for entertainment that does not dare bother us past the cinema hall's doors. Nothing that carries over in our thoughts to our homes, nothing which is allowed to haunt us or make us face uncomfortable questions. Let us only tell love stories. The poor and the tribal are usually happy and dancing in the commercial films and sad or angry in the art films. The real ones very few really care about.
People as if are saying, don't tell us the reality outside. We are somehow trying to go beyond the bloody past and the troubled history we have. They would rather you wouldn't tell them the truth.
Did Majka never have a real mother? Why she can't be mother to her own daughter? Majka was only 16 when it happened. Did the polish teacher seduce her? Did her mother save themselves from public shame by registering the child Anka as her own daughter? Is that divine justice for her mother to now lavish the love and attention she could not on her own daughter Majka, on her granddaughter Anka. Majka was only 16 when it happened. Did the polish teacher seduce her? Did her mother save themselves from public shame by registering Anka as her own daughter? What can/should Majka, unable to bear the little girl shouting in her sleep every night, do? Being too angry and rough and a little off her head, she doesn't qualify to be a mother, or so everyone thinks. The polish teacher is now cursed with making teddy bears all his life in the Kieslowski world. Does he remember Majka, she wants to know? He doesn't remember her, but she can, if she like, stay at his place for as long. Its a curiously 'just' world, this world of Kieslowski where people nevertheless, despite everything, in their own ways, seem to understand each other. The teddy maker lies to Majka's father saying she is not here, when he calls him and she is sitting in front. Even the woman at the railway station lies to protect a Majka 'running away from everything'. People do seem to get reprimanded or rewarded, for their little acts of cruelty and kindness in this quaint Kieslowskian world. Or do they? What can set this world we have built, right?
11th May 2020 Krsyztoff Kieslowski
Dekalog 8 Thou shalt not bear false witness.
The ethics professor is shocked to recognise herself in the story told by the visiting American scholar in her class. At first she can't quite deal with it, but soon she finds herself going in search of her, finding her in the lobby, taking her out, inviting her to supper, offering her to stay overnight in her house.
The American Jew scholar apparently has lived forty years with the memory of that one difficult evening back in her childhood, when she was six. She has made her own calculations, analysis, conclusions in all these years in between. They do and do not match with what the evidence reveals. Everyone has their own set of sufferings, they must live through. What can you give someone out of what you have and how does it matter? The girl wants to do something with her anger, hurt, may be make the professor guilty after all these years? Or may be just give her a peek into one such frightful moment in the old street she takes her to revisit. It is a street haunted by that evening where a humiliation forty years old lives even now.
The harder you try to understand, the emptier you seem to become. Is there even a tiny bit of disentangling of the threads made possible by this process? May be a conversation between two people willing to own up to their past, to confront their desires, an effort to delineate their intentions does after all mean something ? A narrative-ising is perhaps the best alternative to an unlived life that one always dreams about but one that somehow, keeps getting forever postponed. For a fiction filmmaker, anything can happen in a story, if you know how to imbue it with the real life blood you have once touched as an ace documentary maker yourself. It is possible to script a tale you would like to have people enter where they can meet each other, confront their demons, make peace with their troubled hearts, even if for a brief while. Once imagined, visualized and re-told, the story stays. It has the power of transforming something, knotted deep inside the human psyche as if forever. May be one is not the same as one was before entering this world, before one met the fabulously unforgettable characters walking, talking, looking, smiling, crying, dreaming screaming, questioning in the film.
Else what is the meaning of all this? Who are we to each other? Living in the same apartments and metting across continents and decades, how are we connected? Are we interested in understanding what connects us? How can we help each other through this absurd life? To what extent can we go, for it?
The situations in his film, the silent word-less understanding between characters; the signs shared by them; the codes rendered collectively readable appear too good to be true at times. Yet it is the intention behind that counts. I am reminded of Anupam Misra when he talked about the principle behind the ritual of naming someone in India. Its not that someone is called Sundar or 'the beautiful one' or Pavan or 'free as the wind' because they are so, but also in the hope that the name given to them will affect their being.
Every principle he subverts is worth the while for an individual to indict the society with; every question he raises is significant. The director uses his power to create a world where amidst crumbling morality and decay, people still have the scope to excel themselves, even if it means breaking out of the image they have crafted of themselves. They are willy nilly helped by the other person; their meeting, if they want, may mean something after all. It can become an encounter that can deeply affect their lives, if not outright change it. What more can you ask cinema to do? More than reminding yourself of who you are, who you are capable of becoming. Or is it be-ing?
13th May 2020 Krsyztoff Kieslowski
Dekalog 10 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods.
The two brothers in this film, who will later, in another film of Kieslowski, return- as they do in the black comedy Three colours white.
This one's a fable, a sort of folk tale. An incredible mix of comedy and pathos in the way the two brothers echo each other; like in the scene they both look at the sky and say how they have forgotten everything else in life, and how in that moment, it feels like childhood when there was no care in the world.
But a second childhood is in fact not at all what is in the offing. Its the harsh adult world which his father understood and they couldn't for the life of them understand- neither him nor the world. With misplaced sense of trust, doubt and not knowing what they really want, the property which they never knew was theirs, suddenly falls into their lap from the blue sky and eventually, as it happens, vanishes much the same way. A sort of childhood does return for the two sons when having lost everthing, all over again, they are now ready to even start building from scratch. Once again like many times before, mirroring each other in what they do- like buying the exact three stamps on the first day of their 'new' life. For the first time perhaps, now they have between them- a stamp series 'all of their own earning', a sort of return to a beginning; something of value even between the brothers, after they have gained and lost everything. Is it never too late then, to begin again?