Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Film: Ten minutes older: The trumpet

Two omnibuses of the name “Ten minutes older” were assembled from short movies by such respectable directors that I keep wondering how producers ever managed to get them all on the project. There are some of the greatest living director’s names on the list, and from all around USA and Europe (only one Asian, though).

The task was simple: make a movie, no longer than ten minutes, with the theme of time. After watching each segment of the movie, you are indeed ten minutes older, and hopefully you’ve spent them worthwhile. Stories in “The cello” are tied together with the chamber cello music that every segment begins and ends with, while in “The trumpet”, that role is given to the laid back trumpet jazz.

And the result was strangely even for this kind of project. “Ten minuter older: The cello” is, in it’s every story, so different from “Ten minutes older: The trumpet”, that I have get feeling that the choice of stories for each movie was made after the stories were shot. On the other hand, orientation of the choice for “The trumpet” mostly to the directors who made their fame since the start of 80ies onward, while “The cello” prefers directors who made their names a decade previous to that (although, this is not the rule), makes me think that the choice was pre-made. I’m left with the impression that directors for the each movie coincidentally thought along the same lines.

In any case, “The cello” directors decided for the experimental, uncommunicative approach, while “The trumpet” directors made a set of emotive sketches. The second movie was much more to my liking.

So anyway, about “The cello”: film starts with Bernardo Bertolucci (once great, nowadays mostly struggling to find his muse) with his “Historie d’eaux”, a slow-paced ethnic drama. Followed by Mike Figgis (director who turned from such straight movies like “Leaving Las Vegas” to experimental approach in “The loss of sexual innocence” and “Timecode”) with “About time 2”: this is a story told through screen split into four parts – and the only reason why we can follow the story is, there isn’t much of it anyway; The segments seem more like a test area for furthering his experimenting. Claire Denis who made her first feature “Chocolate” in 88’, with “Vers Nancy”, takes a simple (but too obvious) choice of making a segment with two people talking about subject of time in train. Istvan Szabo, the most acclaimed Hungarian filmmaker, makes “Ten minutes after”, a probably most narrative segment in this movie. Jiri Mencel, Czech master, gave in “One moment” nothing more than a string of poetic impressions, however nice to watch. Volker Schlondorff (“Thin drum”), in “Enlightenment”, made parallels between the narrated text from the Augustine’s “Confessions” and the flight of an insect. Michael Radford (“Il postino”) made “Addicted to stars”, a story different in execution, but not in tone and pacing, from the rest: an SF segment about an astronaut who comes from the mission and meets his son who grew older than him. Finally, Jean-Luc Godard, legend of the 60ies new wave and director of such influential movies as “Breathless” and “Weekend”, in “Dans le noir du temps”, through a string of blinking segments, made a little lexicon of terms, often related to morality (however, with some of the latest films he made, I don’t have much trust in his understanding of morality – but that’s another story).

Often painfully hard to follow because of the muddled film language, “The cello” failed to impress me with anything but the list of authors. There is some great imagery in it (Mencel), some interesting ideas (Szabo, Schlondorff), but a lot of empty talk and walk as well. Interesting, but that’s it.

Now, that’s it about the first movie. I’m going to dedicate much more space to “Ten minutes older: The trumpet”, that is a completely different story. Each and every director from this list managed to make a great little story, all using their conventional means of narration. There is true in the fact that all directors given here are in the peak point of their careers, with as much great movies in front of them as behind them, while for a lot of directors in the previous list, the greatest moment has already passed. Anyway...

Film starts with segment by Aki Kaurismaki (Leningrad cowboys trilogy), Finnish master of minimalism. Segment called “Dogs have no hell”, with his favourite actors Markku Peltola and Kati Outinen, tells in his usual style, stripped of any surface display of emotions, about a story of a man who proposes a woman to go with him to Siberia, where he got a job. The emotion is, as usually with Kaurismaki, hidden in hints and little things that his characters, genuinely good people, do. So, she says yes. And then they buy the ring, and get on the train. There is barely and word spoken in the entire movie. Even though I’ve seem much more powerful and evocative moments in Kaurismaki’s movies, this piece is a fine little display of his stripped poetics; Not the best segment of the film either, but if you appreciate Kaurismaki’s style, any little piece of his work is precious.

Victor Erice is the Spanish director for whom I’ve shamefully first heard of him here. But his work spans since sixties, though in very uneven tempo. Anyway, his segment “Lifeline” is a beautiful piece shot in black/white. For the most part, it shows a series of idyllic rural sights. But Erice somehow manages to sneak in a hint of trembling and expectance of something terrible to happen. And indeed, a cradle with the baby is slowly getting filled with blood. Then, a scream. Yet, the baby is saved: her navel chord hasn’t been tied properly, and now we see a big village women re-tying it and saving the baby, who instantly smiles and giggles.

And let me tell you, that village woman is great, with the power of appearance that only amateur actors have. She shows so much love, by pressing baby’s little feet to her lips, the maternity glows from her large face. Erice shot this segment in colour, then in last moment decided to print it in black and white.

Werner Herzog, German director with impressively large filmography behind him, but who only reached world recognition with his 1977 film “Stroszek”, made “Ten thousand years older” for this film. It’s a documentary about last discovered south American tribe and how the burst of western civilization slowly brings to decay the old culture of this tribe. Excellent movie, it’s sole subject is very emotive, and skilled Herzog gives it justice. Themes of how aggressive western culture decays old values of smaller cultures is often topic of his ultimately sad movies, as is visual style that resembles the documentary.

Jim Jarmusch, need I say more about the cult director of American independent scene, does “Int. Trailer Night”, the story in which virtually nothing happens: We see an actress (Chloe Sevigny), in her trailer during the break on the set, spending ten minutes resting, occasionally being interrupted to prepare for the rest of shooting.

This is a classic Jarmusch setup; He is always more interested in moments of character’s privacy as they tell the most about the character itself; Action is not his concern, it is moments between the action sequences. In “Ghost Dog – The way of samurai”, his only film that could be considered an action movie, we do spend a lot more time watching the things Ghost Dog, hired killer, does between his jobs, than actual jobs. We see scenes and situations that would, by any other director, be rejected as not important for the story. Such is the choice of scene in “Int. Trailer Night”: a film about making films by Jarmusch, is deemed to show his character during the break, instead of during the shooting, trying to find her peace. This film is also black and white.

Then there is Wim Wenders, director known for his slow-paced, introspective, poetic films, like “Das Himmel uber Berlin” (“Wings of desire”), “Lisbon story”, and “Buena Vista Social Club”. His segment, “Twelve miles to Trona” is, however, anything but slow. It tells a story of a poisoned man (Charles Esten), driving to get to the nearest city and hospital. You might say that there’s not much of a story except for a little glance at his dysfunctional marriage that we’re allowed to see, but Wenders gets a great joy out of the deserted landscape that the man passes through, with windmills that accent the desert more than they interrupt it, then from psychedelic, hallucinatory colours seen through man’s eyes; A beautiful, absorbing sequence. It is interesting how Wenders uses colour in his segment, as opposed to the number of black/white segments in the rest of the movie.

Eventually, a man meets another car in the crossroad, and is still lucid enough to get to the other car and ask to be driven to hospital. He wakes up in hospital bed hours later, and meets a person who saved him: sixteen years old girl. He tells her that she’s a good drives. She says that she just got her license the other day. Just in time.

Spike Lee, star of the independent American scene, does another black and white segment, “We wuz robbed”. This time it’s a documentary about the elections for president of USA in 2000, and the assumption that George W. Bush stole the elections. Lee cross-cuts series of interviews, making it into a chronological story that spans over the election day. Lee shows significant skills in the effort of crosscutting, making his characters interrupt each other, or finish each other’s sentences. The result is a very good and engaged piece of filmmaking.

Another director, Kaige Chen, got me by surprise. This Chinese director gave the final piece, “100 flowers hidden deep”, a bittersweet comedy that offers several emotional twists during it’s short lasting. A group of moving workers is picked up on the street by a man who hires them to move his furniture. But when they arrive to the place, there is no house around: just a plain where houses maybe used to be, long ago. Head of workers calls the boss on the phone, gets informed that the man is crazy and to try to take the money from him anyway. But the man won’t give the money until the furniture is moved. And so workers start the moving job, pretending to hold the man’s “furniture” in hands. It goes on until one of workers forgets that he was holding “the vase” in hands, and, in man’s eyes, it is broken. This event saddens the man more than a broken vase would; It seems like something is broken inside him. Crust-hearted workers feel that, and, growing to like him, they offer not to charge the moving in exchange for the broken vase. This doesn’t help much.

Driving from the scene, a mover’s truck gets stuck in the mud. While trying to get the tire out of the mud, a head worker digs out a doorbell. The man recognizes his old doorbell from the house that was once in that place and, as if he got some strange new energy, runs away chiming it. Turning around, the workers suddenly get a vision of what the man saw the whole time: a house surrounded by garden with flowers – in perhaps an unnecessary but still beautiful, computer-generated scene.

Wit this scene, the film ends. We get another look at the impressive cast of directors once again, after we saw a glimpse of what they’re great for.


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