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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Goodbye 35mm film, Hello digital movie

Over the years, it has been a slow disappearance of 35mm film from commercial theaters in my city but now the transformation is complete. Not a single multiplex in the city shows 35mm anymore and every film is a digital presentation, shown either using a DVD/Blu-Ray disc or a file downloaded via satellite. This seems to have been a change that has happened without any fuss or even much discussion. Although there are a good number of people who love the change to digital and praise the "pristine" quality of digital movies. As far are these cinema goers are concerned, they do not have to put up with scratches or tiny circles in their film anymore. Distributors and studios love digital as well because they can save the cost of producing 35mm prints. In the past, studios had to spend millions of dollars in order to produce thousands of 35mm prints for mass delivery but now studios can get their product out to hundreds of locations cheaply. Theater owners also love digital because the newest film can be beamed via satellite immediately and they can screen multiple shows of a film on the same day. For example, if it were not for digital, then multiplexes would not be able to book 19 to 27 shows of the newest Hollywood film in a single day. Also, with digital, theaters require less people to look after movie projectors. Some theaters have all the shows programmed to be played via a computer and a movie automatically starts on time, even if no one is in the theater.

Even though theaters earn more profit from multiple showings of a film than previously, the ticket price has not changed from the 35mm days. The ticket price for seeing a digital copy of a new Hollywood film in a Calgary multiplex is still $12.75 (Canadian dollars), the same as it was when multiplexes still showed 35mm. However, one can argue that the cost is justified because theater owners have had to spend a lot of money to upgrade to digital projectors, which start from atleast $60,000 per projector to upwards of $150,000. So theaters have to recoup their costs, which is why they are happy with keeping the ticket price the same as previously. Interestingly, theaters who are upgrading to even more “state of the art” digital projectors are charging $3-$5 more per ticket, raising the ticket price to $15.75-$17.75. As it stands, 3D theaters charge a $3 markup for an average price of $15.75.

So is something lost in this transition to digital? If the answer was yes, then one would have seen more debate and even passionate discussions. As it stands, I believe this is one change welcomed by the masses. Although I am not finding much to cheer about. My reason does not have to do entirely with nostalgia even though this past weekend I found myself thinking fondly about the good old days after enjoying a great 35mm print of Attenberg. The film started off with some scratches before the images cleared up and from then on, it was a beautiful film presentation. I am not a purist either who believes 35mm is the only format that should be shown in a cinema. In fact, for the longest time I have argued that seeing a particular film was more important than the format the film was in, which means I was fine with 35mm, VHS tape, DVD or even a stream of bits & bytes. The biggest reason for my dissatisfaction has to with the cost of a digital movie ticket being the same or higher than for a 35mm film. My view is shaped by experiences acquiring 35mm prints for a theatrical showing. Getting all the reels of a 35mm film involved a few hundred dollars of shipping costs plus some hassles involved with getting film reels across customs/borders in time for a film showing. On the other hand, the costs for shipping or downloading a digital file is minuscule. Of course, distributors and studios still probably charge theaters the same fee or pricing structure from the 35mm days because of the newness of their product. The digital delivery of the movie is just a tiny technicality and something that saves studios cost while still ensuring a steady flow of profits. If the studios/distributors are not going to change their rates, then theaters can claim they have no choice. This argument ignores the fact that theaters are showing more shows per day now as compared to a few years ago.

The least theaters can do is openly advertise that audience are going to be watching a DVD/Blu-Ray/downloaded file of a new Hollywood film. Cineplex does advertise the digital presentation of its classic film series and yearly digital film festival where older films are shown for $5. However, things are different with new Hollywood films where no such statements about the digital nature of the film is made. Will that knowledge of seeing a DVD/Blu-Ray of a new film deter some people? Probably not. The novelty of seeing new movies in a theater has to do with the fact that people want be among the first to see a new anticipated blockbuster movie. Also, there is something to be said about the social atmosphere of attending a theater and enjoying the latest gimmick the multiplex has to offer. And multiplexes are indeed doing their best to get crowds to come back in droves by emphasizing the entertainment values of a theatrical experience, first by adding 3D and now by going further with D-Box motion systems. A moving chair in a theater certainly brings to mind the tricks used by John Goodman’s character in Matinee but in a few years more gimmicks will be added. In the last few years, many multiplexes across Canada have expanded beyond films by regularly showing live operas and sporting events on a regular basis to fill their seats and earn revenue. Unfortunately, multiplexes are still not expanding their offerings to include foreign and independent films.

The burden of handling the large array of global cinema falls to a few independent and art house theaters. And it is also these independent theaters who will stick with 35mm because they cannot afford to spend a huge chunk of their revenue to go 100% digital. Considering that these theaters struggle to attract crowds, a move to digital would not make much financial sense. The three art house theaters in Calgary (The Plaza, The Globe and the Uptown) still have the ability to show 35mm and I believe that case will apply for other such venues across North America.

35mm will not disappear completely but it will certainly become harder to find. Just like gramophones and vinyl records can still be found, 35mm theaters will be continue to exist, albeit in limited numbers. It may just happen that if in the future people want to see 35mm films then they would have to pay more for a ticket than for a digital movie because the infrastructure to produce 35mm prints might not be as affordable or accessible.

Monday, April 18, 2011

El Clasico, one down, three to go

Sat, April 16: Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona
Wed, April 20: Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Spanish Cup final
Wed, April 27: Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Champions League Semi-final, 1st Leg
Tue, May 3: Barcelona vs Real Madrid, Champions League Semi-final, 2nd Leg

Very few rivalries in world football can match Barcelona vs Madrid, so it is something unique to witness these rivals play each other four times in eighteen days in three different competitions. Saturday's 1-1 draw meant that Barcelona are still in a comfortable position to win the Spanish league title but things will get really interesting starting with Wednesday's Copa del Rey final. One of these two teams will win their first trophy of the season on Wednesday, along with bragging rights. Regardless of what happens on April 20, it is next week that will be most important for both teams. Jose Mourinho's entire selling point for getting the Real Madrid job was that he talked about bringing back the Champions League trophy to Madrid, a trophy Real have not won since Zidane's brilliant winner against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002.



Interestingly, the last time both teams played each other in the Champions League was in the semi-finals of 2002. That time, Madrid prevailed 3-1 on aggregate en route to their 9th Champions League trophy. So if Jose is to make good on his promise, then Madrid have to overcome the powerhouse that is Barcelona football club. Last year, Jose had no problems selling himself as the best candidate for Real Madrid even when Real was managed by Manuel Pellegrini. Yet, things have not been easy for Mourinho. Just like he did in Italy, Jose has complained about referees in the league and blamed everyone else but himself for his team's shortcomings. The fact is Madrid have done worse in the league compared to this stage last season under Pellegrini. Plus, Pellegrini never led his Madrid team to a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Barcelona, like Jose did back in November.



Plenty of drama to unfold over the next two weeks. In the meantime, another look at some past El Clásico games:

Real Madrid 2 - 6 Barcelona : May 2, 2009, a double by Henry



Real Madrid 4 - 1 Barcelona: May 7, 2008



Barcelona 3 - 3 Real Madrid: March 10, 2007, Messi hat-trick



Real Madrid 5 - 0 Barcelona: January 7, 1995, Zamorano hat-trick



Barcelona 5 - 0 Real Madrid: January 8, 1994, Romario hat-trick

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gaspar Noé Films

Two films by Gaspar Noé:

Seul contre tous / I Stand Alone (1998)
Enter the Void (2009)

Enter the Brain

I Stand Alone allows unfiltered access to the inner thoughts of a jobless butcher (Philippe Nahon) whereas Enter the Void visually depicts images that are circulating in a soul’s memory bank. The differing method of words vs images in the two films drives each film’s presentation and style. I Stand Alone is packed with words due to a constant stream of thoughts that bounce around inside the butcher’s head. He does not talk much to others but since he is always thinking, the film is never short on words. On the other hand, most of Enter the Void is from the perspective of Oscar’s (Nathaniel Brown) soul, who can only observe people. The camera accordingly allows the audience to see what his soul is seeing, so the film is short on dialogue and the only words that filter through are bits of conversation Oscar’s soul can make out. The camera also dips inside his brain and as a result, the audience visually sees the memories that are getting triggered. This perspective also explains the repetitious scenes of Oscar’s parents accident that are shown in the film. A human being often thinks of certain situations over and over again, which means the same thought is recirculated in the brain usually with similar associated images and feelings. Oscar is haunted by the death of his parents and cannot forget that tragedy, so he is often thinking of that accident. His thoughts may initially drift off in different directions but no matter what path his memories take, the destination is always the car in which his parents were killed.

Enter the Void

Near the end of I Stand Alone, the butcher wants to enter a void by ending his life but he manages to stay in the real world. However, in Enter the Void Oscar literally enters a void (via a different route than what the butcher intended) and also manages to re-emerge from that void. Interestingly, a tiny spliced shot in I Stand Alone shows a birth but that birth does not take place until the ending of Enter the Void.

The end is just the beginning

Commercial cinema is never short on happy endings but incredibly, Gaspar Noe also provides a happy ending in all three of his features albeit with a slight deviation. Irreversible moves backwards and ends on a calm note as all the brutality and ugliness is shown long before the end. Enter the Void also ends on a positive note when a birth is meant to signify a new beginning. At first it looks like I Stand Alone will end on a miserable note but the audience is given a 30 second warning to leave the theater if they want to avoid seeing any violence. For those that stay, the film shows the butcher succumbing to the demons inside his head and falling to the lowest depth imaginable. However, it turns out that evil act was just in his imagination and the camera pulls out of his brain to show that some form of morality still exists.
If the film had ended at this point, the ending would have been happy indeed. However, the final words uttered by the butcher hint that he may just go ahead and do whatever he wants. So that means after the final credits bad things could happen but as far as the audience is concerned they can leave with some measure of hope.

However, getting to the ending in all these films is anything but a pleasant experience. Irreversible has two segments (fire extinguisher & the rape scene) which cause discomfort while Enter the Void shows an immoral world of drugs, sex and corruption where happiness is always out of reach. I Stand Alone drags the audience through the butcher’s sickening thoughts and actions but the film also shows that society around the butcher is not that hopeful either. Poverty, joblessness and racism is rampant and one wonders how many more butchers are wandering around the streets.

Yes there is a director here

The final credits of I Stand Alone say “You have been watching a Gaspar Noe film”.

It is hard to imagine audience can ever forget his name after watching any of his features. His films cannot be dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders but instead warrant a reaction of some sort, be it positive or negative. Of course, his films divide audience but one truly feels that Noe has directed his films and everything shown is as per his vision. The camera bounces around when it is needed to and if the camera is not moving, then it is stationary for a reason. Majority of Enter the Void is from the point of view of Oscar’s soul, so a hovering camera angle is essential for creating that feeling. To this effect, the film manages to sustain a floating point of view right until the end and does not take any shortcuts. The start of Irreversible features a camera that spins around giving an impression of a fly navigating around buildings before landing up inside a room to listen to the wisdom of a naked man (Philippe Nahon). However, the camera is absolutely still during the nine minute long rape sequence because that is what Noe intended. If there was any moment in the film that the camera needed to look away, it was during that sequence in the tunnel. Yet, the audience is not offered that option. In I Stand Alone quick zooms and cuts, punctuated with offscreen gunshots, point to the volatile mental state of the butcher. The butcher’s mind is working in overdrive and building up hatred for everyone around him. He cannot sit still even for a minute, is constantly agitated and often acts out the first thought that enters his brain. So the rapid fire editing gives the film an accelerated pace and highlights his restlessness.

Also credits in Noe’s films are a talking point in themselves. Irreversible features credits that run backwards and sideways while Enter the Void assaults the senses with a brightly colored credit sequence that zips by in a flash and uses various eye-catching fonts.



Personally, I think I Stand Alone is the most complete film out of the three while Enter the Void is the best directed film. Irreversible is a few notches behind the other two but it is also the film that got the most attention and ensured his other two films were accessible.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Pere Portabella Spotlight

I had never heard of Pere Portabella until I came across Jonathan Rosenbaum’s wonderful book Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia in which Rosenbaum has two essays discussing Portabella’s films. In the first essay, published in 2006, Rosenbaum talks about the joy of discovering Portabella’s film Cuadecuc, Vampir at Cannes in 1971. Jonathan also talks about the lack of availability of Portabella’s films on DVD which is a reason why his films never got much attention in North America. Thankfully, a DVD set was available by 2009 for which Jonathan wrote his second essay. Pere Portabella’s films are even more accessible now thanks to mubi.com who have almost all the director’s shorts and films available for online viewing. Certainly, all the films that Jonathan talks about in his essays are available on mubi.com. So Jonathan’s essays are a direct reason for selecting films as part of this spotlight:

Nocturne 29 (1968)
Aidez l'Espagne (1969, short 5 min)
Miró l'altre (1969, short 15 min)
Vampir (1970)
Umbracle (1972)
Informe general (1976)
Warsaw Bridge (1989)
The Silence Before Bach (2007)

Starting point

It is always a pleasure to dive into a director’s work without having read much about their films. This allows a person to navigate through the work on their own terms without any context or history getting in the way. Of course, there is always the danger that one can go off course in interpreting the films but the pure unfiltered joy in discovering the films surely overrides the risk. Although when it came to Pere Portabella, it was hard to approach his work without any filters. He is a Catalan filmmaker and my first instinct was to wonder whether his Catalan identity would have any political attachments associated. The only reason I would consider that is because my first introduction to Catalan identity was via FC Barcelona, Catalunya’s most visible global symbol. Barcelona are one of the best footballing teams in the world but the roots of their bitter rivalry with Real Madrid is dipped in political fire. Francisco Franco did his utmost to suppress Catalan identity which included Barcelona football club. The Barca fans could not criticize Franco without suffering any backlash but they could direct their hatred towards the team that Franco supported, which was Real Madrid. In fact, Franco used to attend matches between the two teams in Barcelona’s stadium, Nou Camp, where Barca’s fans could openly shout at Real Madrid without any consequences. The origin of Barcelona's rivalry does not mean that all Catalan film directors depict political topics. For example, no political trace exists in director José Luis Guerín’s In the City of Sylvia or Guest. As it turns out, in the case of Pere Portabella the political tag sticks not only because Portabella made films that were brave enough to deal with nationalistic questions head-on but because he was selected as a Senator in 1977. From his official website, pereportabella.com:

”Since the 1960s, Portabella always maintained a political commitment with all those movements against the Franco dictatorship that supported individual and collective democratic liberties.

In 1977, he was elected Senator in the first democratic elections and he participated in the writing of the present day Spanish Constitution.”


Informe General is an almost three hour documentary that looks at events after Franco’s death. The opening five minutes contain ominous music as the camera hovers around the structure that contains Franco’s tomb. The music ends when the camera focuses on his tomb and the name "Francisco Franco". Immediately after that shot, the music is upbeat and positive as if a cloud of darkness has finally been lifted. However, that music quickly gives way to tones emphasizing urgency before police sirens are added to the mix. The scenes that follow show violent clashes between police and protesters, scenes which in recent months have been all over the news, ranging from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and other Middle-East countries. In the film, the scenes emphasize the clashes that took place between the state, Franco loyalists and citizens aching for freedom.


The film then does something remarkable which is hardly ever seen in political films. It gives all the relevant parties a voice. So we hear from heads of political parties, unions and ordinary citizens whose lives were altered under Franco. In a remarkable sequence, near the end of the film, the heads of all five political parties discuss what the future holds for Spain.

The five parties, liberals, social-democrats, socialists, communists and christian-democrats, were never united prior to Franco’s death but they were all able to put aside their differences after his death. Their discussions helped usher in a new democratic phase in Spanish life.

A trio of black and white films, with a pinch of color

Cuadacuc, Vampir is a black and white documentary about the making of Jesus Franco’s Count Dracula. Portabella’s feature provides a fascinating look into the filmmaking process in general as we get to see various challenges and hurdles involved in making a feature film. The rich photography gives the work a 1930’s feel even though the documentary is about a modern day color feature. Reading in between the lines, it feels like the fake vampire in the film is a loose representation of Francisco Franco & his brutal blood sucking dictatorship.

Jonanthan Rosenbaum explains the film’s name change and the underground nature of the film:

It’s worth adding that the name of the filmmaker and the title of his film were both slightly different from the way we know them today, for reasons that are historically significant. The name of this Barcelona-based filmmaker was listed as Pedro Portabella and his film was called simply Vampir. Why? Because he was Catalan, a language forbidden in Franco’s Spain, making both the name “Pere” and the word "Cuadacuc" (which I’m told is an obscure Catalan term meaning both a worm’s tail and the end of a reel of unexposed film stock) equally impermissible. Furthermore, Portabella wasn’t present at the screening because, as I later discovered, he was one of the two Spanish producers of Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana one decade earlier, and the Franco government was punishing him for having helped to engineer this subterfuge by confiscating his passport, making it impossible for him to travel outside of Spain. And for those like myself who wondered how a film as unorthodox as this could play in Franco Spain at all, it eventually became clear that it survived, like the Catalan language itself (not to mention Dracula), clandestinely, via secret nourishment.

Umbracle highlights the kidnappings, torture and censorship that existed in Franco’s regime. The film starts off harmlessly with a man looking around in a shop. The ominous music indicates something is wrong but the images show nothing out of the ordinary. A phone starts ringing but no one picks it up nor can we see where the phone is located. Instead, the man walks out of the shop and stands at a corner, trying to light his cigar.

 
The street is empty except for one passerby. Suddenly a car comes around the corner and a few men jump out and grab the passerby and put him in the car. The phone continues ringing in the background. The man with the shades looks on. The same pattern is repeated on another day leading to another kidnapping. The phone assists in the flow of information while the ringing phone that is never picked up represents the citizen who has disappeared without a trace. By imposing a kidnapping with the sound of a ringing phone, Portabella is able to convey the ruthless and spy like nature of a cruel regime without using any dialogues.

The first words that are spoken in the film are around the fourteen minute mark when the rules of censorship in Spanish Cinema under Franco are outlined. The extensive rules were applied not only to a finished film but also to a film script in progress. As the commentator notes that such strict rules meant that some filmmakers started to self censor themselves in order to ensure their film was made. It is eye-opening to see such revelations about cinematic censorship in 1970’s Spanish society as one would not normally associate such strict rules with a Western European nation. When a government prevents freedom of expression and identity, then making a film can be an act of revolution and a film camera becomes a great political weapon.

Nocturno 29 is the most experimental of the three black and white Portabella films but it also manages to command the most visual attention due to the presence of Italian actress Lucia Bosé who is a pleasure to look at. The fragmented manner of presenting a love affair recalls Antonioni’s L'Eclisse.

The camera keeps a close watch on Bosé’s character and lovingly follows her, allowing the audience to observe her getting dressed, undressing, walking around gardens and smiling.

Lucia Bosé Pere Portabelloa Film
Lucia Bosé

When her character goes to take a shower, the glass door disperses her image into a lovely mosaic which gives a sense of her figure but manages to hide her body.


A little bit of color makes its way near the end of the film.


The film does not contain any political elements but the title does not hide its implications as it refers to 29 “black years” of the Franco dictatorship.

Musical connections

Warsaw Bridge and The Silence Before Bach are joined by a love of classical music and manage to portray their stories with plenty of enjoyable musical pieces.

"What’s wrong with music?

No great composer has appeared in years and why is that?

Because silence no longer exists."


The following exchange at a party in Warsaw Bridge can also be used to highlight the importance of silence in films. Modern day commercial cinema is afraid to use silence and it seems that many directors are afraid of even having few seconds pass by without a dialogue, explosion or background music. Maybe it has something to do with the disappearance of silence from most major cities around the world? Whatever the case, silence is a key component of a film. It used to be and it should always be. Pere Portabella understood this which is why silence is present in most of his films.

The story of Warsaw Bridge is inspired from a real life incident when a scuba diver’s body was discovered in a burning forest. The rest of the film manages to put forth a possible theory about how the diver ended up meeting his death in that manner by incorporating loosely tied segments of a love triangle, engaging conversations about art, musical segments and intriguing visuals. One worthy visual sequence takes place in a fish market and manages to make a trio of dead sharks look terrifying and captivating at the same time. Another pleasing segment features a conductor who is standing in the middle of a market, with his orchestra located on individual apartment balconies and building roofs around him. His instructions are conveyed to the orchestra via television sets.


The Silence Before Bach appropriately starts off in silence as a camera moves around empty halls of a gallery. Suddenly music fills the screen and we quickly encounter the source -- a mechanical piano.


Then more music is played in the form of slow notes as a man fine tunes a piano while his dog quietly sits on the floor, absorbed in the music as well. There are multiple stories in The Silence Before Bach which take place in between various musical sessions. The stories range from the past to the present and tackle a variety of topics such as observations about Germans and their love for soccer and music, truckers talking about their lives and an enthusiastic butcher expressing delight about adding rosemary when cooking meat. As soon as one story ends, music comes on in the form of an unrelated segment, followed by another tale without music. This pattern of alternating dialogue and music makes for an absorbing experience. If there was ever a film to lose one self in, this would be it.


Overall

Pere Portabella’s films do not follow a conventional narrative but if one lets the images wash over them, then there is a chance to derive a pleasure from his films. Overall, a truly worthy discovery, all thanks to Jonathan Rosenbaum who is an amazing critic and a pure cinephile. Unlike most critics who are busy reviewing the latest Hollywood blockbuster, Rosenbaum uses his writing to talk about discovering new foreign/independent films and hunting down older films.

As a major aside: I am probably the only person to think this but I might as well say it. The camera angles which capture Lucia Bosé’s smile and beauty in Nocturno 29 made her look like Aishwarya Rai. Just saying...
Lucia Bosé

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

2011 Copa America: Japan

Japan has pulled out of this year's Copa America tournament. The Japanese Football association president Junji Ogura said:

"The priority at this moment is to continue saving lives and rebuilding the country after the earthquake and tsunami"

The reasons are perfectly understandable but Japan's withdrawal is a loss for the South American tournament. Japan have improved considerably from the last time they played in Copa America (1999) when they managed only a single point from their 3 group games -- Japan lost the opener 3-2 to Peru, lost 4-0 to Paraguay before tying Bolivia 1-1 in their final game. Japanese football has been on an upward path since they co-hosted the 2002 World Cup. Japan had a fantastic 2010 World Cup where they showed considerable tactical and technical ability in overcoming Cameroon and Denmark to reach the round of 16 before they narrowly lost on penalties to Paraguay after a tight 0-0 game. Japan started 2011 in fine form by beating Australia to win the 2011 Asian Cup. The Copa America in Argentina would have given Japanese footballers another solid test to build on. But not to be.

It is not clear which team will replace Japan but Spain is the front-runner. I will then include the replacement team officially in my Copa America Book & Film Festival. I still plan to read the book and watch the film selected to represent Japan even though I will not be able to use the Japanese entries in the final competition results. So the two entries are:

Book: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Film: Tokyo Sonata directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A Roy Andersson double

Two films from Swedish director Roy Andersson:

Songs from the Second Floor (2000)
You, the Living (2007)


Singing songs en route to Godot

Songs from the Second Floor can be considered as a cinematic twist on Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. In the famous play, two characters quietly wait for Godot because they believe Godot will make everything better and provide them happiness. In Songs from the Second Floor, characters are always in motion looking for happiness but since their movements only result in tiny advances, their motion can be considered as a painful never ending waiting period. For example, a majority of the character’s lives are effected by an almost never ending traffic jam. One character complains about spending 8 hours stuck in the traffic, while on other occasions, the traffic gridlock is shown to continue for multiple days. There are empty streets all around a single congested road but no one seems to be driving on the side streets. Instead, everyone just stays trapped in one street, moving a few yards every few minutes and never arriving to their destination on time. An officer on the way to a millionaire general’s 100th birthday comes up with this wisdom:

"Life is Time and time is a stretch of road. That makes life a journey, a trip."

He goes on to add that heritage, tradition and history are maps and compasses that accompany a person on their journey. As the cars inch their way slowly down the never ending road, people have the illusion of getting closer to their end goal whereas, they are still in the same relative position.

Another line that is often repeated in the film is “Beloved be the who sits down.” Since everyone is always in motion, sitting down to rest appears to be a luxury.

The persistent sentiment in both films features characters who are exhausted and tired of their lives. In Songs from the Second Floor, Kalle (Lars Nordh) repeatedly shouts that he cannot take it anymore and in a desperate attempt to better his life, he burns down his own shop hoping to collect the insurance money. In You, the Living, a psychologist admits he cannot continue in his job because he cannot stand listening to people complain anymore. Characters in the films come off as carrying a huge burden on their shoulders. This extra baggage is demonstrated near the end of Songs.. when characters are shown pulling tons of luggage en route to possibly heaven where their souls will get the rest they failed to get on earth.


They, the dead

Death is a persistent element present in both Andersson films either in the form of the walking dead (zombies, ghosts) or characters who are on the verge of dying. The latter includes people who have had enough of their life and are contemplating suicide. In fact, it appears that death is walking side by side with these people seeking to collect their worn and beaten up bodies. Songs from the Second Floor depicts an end of the world scenario where inhabitants are on the verge of extinction, so it is not surprizing to see death hovering over the inhabitants. And just to make sure that death does not miss a single person, a fleet of bombers heads towards the city at the end of You, the Living so that no person is forced to continue living their miserable life. As depressing as the topic of death sounds, Andersson’s films are anything but a downer. In fact, they are packed with plenty of dry humour and absurd situations which may not induce a full out laugh but a disbelieving smile and a shake of the head. Each frame contains enough fascinating action in both the foreground and background which ensures no misery is taken too seriously. In one scene in Songs from the Second Floor, Kalle is upset about his burned down shop but in the background, a procession of office employees walk flagellating themselves.

The same employees are found walking in the background when in the foreground an officer is philosophizing about the meaning of life. In You, the Living an elderly man narrates how he lost a huge chunk of his money but his sad story does not garner too much attention as the man is being humped by a woman in a viking hat who is moaning with pleasure.

7 years apart but united together

Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living stand as separate films but they contain the same dry humour style and each is a case study of miserable characters in a city on the verge of extinction. Jokes that start off in the first film are visually depicted in the second film. For example, in the first film a business meeting is interrupted when an employee points to a neighboring building that is moving.

The moving building is never shown but in You, the Living a moving house is shown, which may have been mistaken for the moving building in the first film.

The traffic congestion from the first film is still found in You, the Living.

In Songs... characters are shown to be escaping the city with their luggage. One interpretation of that escape is that it refers to people carrying their baggage as they head to heaven. Another explanation is provided by the ending of You, the Living when fighter airplanes are seen heading towards the city. The aerial shot of the planes indicate they are going to bomb the city into destruction, which would mean that the luggage scene in Songs.. is an attempt by the residents to escape their city before it is destroyed.

The misery of the characters in the first film continues in the second film as well. Religion is literally thrown in the landfill in the first film when a character throws crucifies in a garbage pile which means people have no faith or hope to cling onto in You, the Living.

Songs from the Second Floor spends a bit more time on each character and is a complete and richer work than You, the Living which is a series of dry humor episodes that never adds up to a complete whole.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Beware of the angry tire!!!

Rubber (2010, France, Quentin Dupieux)

Very few films come with an inbuilt cult classic quality like Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber. A film about a killer tire advertised with some stunning posters easily makes for plenty of buzz and anticipation.


The opening few minutes of Rubber strengthen that cult status with a hilarious monologue which features a cop who faces the camera to describe various sequences that happen in other films for "no reason".


His words prepare the audience to suspend any logic while watching Rubber. Of course, no amount of logic can ever explain a killer tire but the cop’s words ensure that the film gets a critic proof pass. The story then hilariously adds a fake audience within the film who are witnessing the same movie as us, although they are watching the action with binoculars.


The presence of the fake audience turns Rubber into a live reality show within the scripted film that we the audience are watching. The opening sequences of the cinematic reality tire show depict how the tire is awakened and slowly learns to master his psychic killing abilities. At first, the fake audience is amazed and shocked by the tire’s new found powers. Eventually, the novelty wears thin and the audience is bored, especially by long periods of the tire’s inactivity which involve the tire just staying stationery and pondering about his next move. Things take an interesting turn when the tire goes for a drive down the highway and falls for a young woman. The tire follows her and waits for an appropriate opportunity to make another move. In the meantime, the tire takes out his anger on other victims by blowing them up.


The film's posters point to a 1970’s kind of slasher/killer film with plenty of gore but that is not the case. Some blood is shed but not on the scale as indicated by the posters. Instead, Rubber tries to use the 70’s look to incorporate some absurd situations, dry humour and artistic elements. Unfortunately, thirty minutes into the film, the fake audience angle wears thin and the jokes dry out. Some life is injected into the film for brief periods before things come to a standstill again. It is not until the final moments when things truly get interesting after a tricycle gathers an army of killer tires. Alas, the film ends before we get to witness the army of killer tires in action. Why? No reason...

except to leave the door open for a sequel?