There’s certainly a sardonic tinge to the title of Andrei Tarkovsky’s first feature, Ivan’s Childhood, one that’s not dissimilar to the equally acerbic appellation of R.W. Fassbender’s The Marriage of Maria Braun. In the case of both pictures, the names, through their assumed simplicity, convey the eponymous periods housed therein as exceptions to the norm, subversions of what we assume such times – times of conjugality and juvenility – to typically be. Rather than years of felicity, ardor, and comfortable sentiment, we’re confronted instead with those of tragedy and finality, as each picture conveys its titular era as but a dearth of dreams and leisure: Maria’s marriage is never truly actualized, nor is Ivan ever permitted a childhood of innocence. The parallels mostly end there, despite the marked excellence that both pictures exude. Fassbinder was always known for his eccentrically personal visions of humanity, while conversely, Takovsky’s offerings were forged with a more calculatedly reflective and longingly spectral touch; Ivan’s Childhood stands a harbinger to the precise, empathic potency the filmmaker would later come to revolutionize, perhaps even perfect.
Author Joe Galm
We are all, in a statement that’s as meagerly abstruse as it is edifying, creatures of limitation: slaves to genetic circumstance and cultural bent, the uniquely faulty products of lineage, timing, nature, and chance. And yet, we tend to romanticize such concessions, oftentimes spinning our origin stories as would any notable fabulist, tethering our most identifiable traits to cutesy, anecdotal quirks whilst ignoring the broader, and frankly unflattering, circumscriptions we also bear.
A film peculiar in its elemental inconsistency, the effectiveness of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil hinges largely on how accepting one is of both its patch quilt tonality and jerky cadence. Observed from a distance, Gilliam’s 1985 Orwellian tableau appears an admixture of genre cues and filmic allusion, as he employs aural and graphic notations in conveying themes of imperial oppression. From the violent crescendo of Bernard Herrman’s Psycho score to the humanism-eschewing automation rampant in Chaplin’s Modern Times, Brazil is a conglomerate of both obvious and illusory cinematic reference, duly delineating a meta-movie trend in order to espouse a relationship between fantasy and the arts. And through his principal’s bureaucratically smothered psyche, Gilliam establishes an adroit, though jarring,
“You really were holding back before,” avers the young Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) in the breaths following her first full-on bout of vampiric fornication with bloodsucking beau Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison). Swan, both a chimerical surrogate for Twilight…
For a film concerning toxic societal encroachment, the environs of Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend are markedly pastoral, landscapes largely unfettered by human insistence. To be sure, the vistas contained therein, though spackled chromatically with pop-minded flourishes, focus mostly on the civilizational fringe, locales thought of more for their idyllic beauty than potential for industry. Though severed from what’s arrogantly presumed to be high society, the emphasis on both nature and natural tendency in this, Godard’s 15th full-length output, mirrors the ebb and flow of cultural evolution – how social constructs aren’t the offspring of spontaneity, but rather a symbiotic offshoot of countless organic processes. Sure, the hand of humanity can still be felt. Automobilist wreckage adds a touch of chaotic, consumerist décor to the proceedings, and the various driveways – which allot the narrative a guise of road-movie linearism – evoke feelings of a world we’re foolishly attempting to tame, perhaps conquer.
Bookending Terrence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea is a tellingly inversive set of shots, tracking varietals that establish the position of an apartment window to the labyrinthine streets and expansive society that continues to churn from outside its confines. As Hitchcock unobtrusively evoked in the beginning of Psycho, Davies too opens his film by relating how the atypical tends to exist, thrive even, within the private alcoves of life, flourishing – or perhaps decomposing – just below our ordinary, worldly facades.
Once in a moment of genuine and emotionally founded inquiry, a Christian called upon evolutionary biologist – and noted atheist – Richard Dawkins to give a secular explanation for, according to the man, his own interactions with Jesus Christ. Dawkins began by clinically detailing how sociocultural contexts inevitably mold individual belief systems, how he was essentially a Christian by preset circumstance, before finally closing his colloquy by saying, “The human mind is extremely susceptible to hallucination.” Personal opinions aside, I feel there’s a certain profundity to this closing riposte, even if it’s something that reads as ostensibly simple. Implied therein is the idea that assumptions are often the bases of our personal world models – replicas of reality through which we interpret our place within universal entirety – and even the sturdiest of convictions can amount to nothing more than mere delusion. Important then is to consider the place of perception in regards to decision making, and to further extrapolate, defining the human persona. Our viewpoints, even those of questionable validity, are at the forefront of governing our grasp of existence; actuality and the person’s apprehension of it represent two entirely different visions.
It’s now common knowledge that Gaspar Noé found his eureka moment for Enter the Void during a shroom induced viewing of Robert Montgomery’s insipid first-person noir, Lady in the Lake, though there’s little in way of imbrication between the films aside from their noted POV codification. Montgomery’s picture was largely a product of the times, a cheeky encapsulation of 40’s male egotism further hobbled by its formal and gestural plasticity – the staging is forced, the performances more so, and the impotence of its at-first novel approach is quickly exposed.
Orpheus is the cinema of dreams, a work in which planes of reality flux effortlessly from one state to another. To be sure, there’s a fluid quality to the film’s compositional cadence and thematic layering, but to label the work as one of a purely oneiric intent would be to trivialize director Jean Cocteau’s encompassing existential vision. For you see, Orpheus is a work of unique device in that it halves the breadth of entirety, everything from the corporeal to the discarnate, into two distinct hemispheres: One half an ectype similar to our own perceptible world, the other an abstraction that shows just how flawed and malleable that first vision is.
Death isn’t so much an act of creation, as it’s theorized to be in Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, but a rather arbitrary continuance of the cosmic status quo. But really, the weight we assign to mortality is usually an emotional aggregate, the sum of our experiences dealing with the recently or soon-to-be deceased. Perhaps then, that “gravity” is more apropos a descriptor in communicating how it is we handle death, at least in regard to the passing of those we share intimate bonds with. Keeping with this interpretation we can see how empathy and grief tend to correlate with familial or social proximity, interpersonal links that form a sort of poignant force fusing us together.