Bergman Island (2021) | Notes

As an admirer of Isabelle Huppert and part of the touched audience of L’avenir (2016), I was curious about Mia Hansen-Løve’s new work. I noticed that she made another film in between which I haven’t heard at all. Maya (2018) has around 500 user votes on IMDb —at least, I’m not alone. For this one, the “Bergman” word in the title raised my expectations while hinting at another story of artist/intellectual characters.

A filmmaker couple, Chris and Tony, goes to a creative retreat at Fårö Island during “Bergman Week”. Tony is in the limelight and gives an interview after the screening of his film during the event. They participate in cinephile discussions, touristic Bergman safaris, and watch Cries and Whispers (1972) in a sacred film theater while working on their new projects. After some introductory sequences on the state of affairs of the couple and the sense of the location, Bergman Island steers more into Chris’ story. She is writing a film script where a young filmmaker Amy and her first love Joseph encounters after years in a wedding of their common friends, again in Fårö.

The film does not care much about praising or subverting Bergman but it comes with a couple of questions and jokes. The guide welcomes the couple to the shooting location of “Scenes From a Marriage” with a “the movie that caused millions of people to divorce” trivia. Chris and Tony stay in different flats that have a view of each others’ windows and while trying to focus on her screenplay during a writer’s block, pointing out to Bergman’s massive legacy that is felt in the room, Chris asks “How can I sit here and not feel like a loser?”. On the flip side, during a discussion with the akins of Bergman, she questions how to perceive a man who was “as cruel in his art as in his life”. He had six marriages and nine children where he most probably left all the domestic duties to his wives.

Apart from Bergman, I thought that the focus of the film was lingering around relationships and artistic imagination. It reminded me of my recent reading of the “Beautiful World, Where Are You” in the encounter of the second-degree fiction couple Amy and Joseph, of the people who picked up and sustained some sort of life story but constantly are doubtful about it. “I love two people”, one of them was saying. The tension Amy was having about bringing only a single dress that is “more cream or off-white” to a wedding and the surfacing of this dress during a tense encounter with the lover referred to a question of commitment and relationship.

Some interesting trivia I read about after the film about Hansen-Løve was that she is an author in Cahiers du Cinéma, wrote Eden (2014) with her brother who was a DJ in the 90s in France and had retreats in Fårö that gave her the idea of shooting a film there. In the film, Chris meets with a young Swedish man Hampus and spends the day with him instead of joining the Bergman Safari with Tony. The parallel editing of that particular day was highlighting the wondrousness of a random encounter and a twosome social event compared to a predetermined tourist attraction in a group during an exploratory and artistic journey. I’ve read that Hampus was someone Hansen-Løve met in her actual visit to Fårö and she included him in the film with his real identity. I read it as one of the many efforts to make an autofiction-like film.

Trivia: Denis Lenoir, the cinematographer of Bergman Island, publishes his production journal in American Cinematographer. Here is Part I.

Moving On (2019) | Notes

Moving On (2019) is the first film on Yoon Dan-bi, a quietly told generation-spanning family drama. The story is mundanely straightforward: the grandfather’s health deteriorates with age and he needs support from the family. His divorced son Byeong-ki moves in with his two children: Okju, the adolescent sister who tries to adapt to this new house while she is getting interested in herself and the outer world, and the younger brother Dongju who is a small kid pursuing love, attention, and fun. The detached house quickly becomes a playground for the kids while hosting the longings of the family members. A good example was the leitmotif of the sister’s bedroom that has a nice mosquito net becoming an object of desire for the younger brother. The brother was only able to get inside in the dawn of grandfather’s death.

In an era when more families have to band closer together for economic survival, Moving On is a hopeful, realistic, and relevant story well worth telling. [1]

I don’t know why but I find this story remarkably familiar. Maybe, in the alternative cinema of Turkey we’re a bit accustomed to representations of families in confined spaces dealing with the themes such as growing up stories, films investigating boredom of childhood or daily domestic affairs, the dodgy descents trying to sell their parents’ houses or petty and cute crimes such as stealing from the parents etc. On the other hand, it’s not a national thing, of course, the themes like growing up or old, generational relations, lonely parents, death, moving to a new place are umbrella topics that minimalist cinema likes to delve into without the need of or interest in heavy storytelling. There is no point in comparison but I thought of The Father (2020) while watching this film. How different these films are in terms of their perspectives in total domination of the audience vs. keeping the story really low-key to open up more space for them. I respect both approaches but the “good” ones in either approach manifest themselves in a glance. Moving On was not at that level for me.

A finely polished gem of a film, this modest indie may not have the panache of Parasite but its every bit as good at exploring the effects of poverty within Korean society, often in ways that will feel close to home for viewers all around the world. [2]

Once I was a fan of South Korean cinema during the rise of Kim Ki-duk or Yeopgijeogin geunyeo years, but hardly remember the films I’ve been watching back then. Lately, I haven’t been watching much, only a couple together with Sang-soo Hong’s oeuvre. When thinking about the popular ones, aside from their cinematic achievements, one of the common denominators of Burning (2018), Parasite (2019), and Squid Game (2021) was the determinacy and the role of the class in the stories. Similar to many other countries, South Korea also looks like, at least in its popular representations, it is in a deep economical gap and crisis.

The father and the absence of his wife, as much as the sister’s situation seem to state how relationships, and the overall concept of family has failed during the previous generation, as the endless pursuit for financial success, and the occasional failure to do so, has destroyed it completely. [3]

The personal memorable moments from the film,

  • During a morning in which the father is reading something and Dongju is sleeping in the room, the father pranks the kid by waking him up for school even though it’s summer vacation. Such a delicate scene it was. It’s also not random, later on, it becomes apparent that the founder of the prank was actually the grandfather. Family bonding here.
  • The father makes his living via selling fake sneakers, “they are produced in the same factory”. Okju finds an idea of entrepreneurship here: stealing shoes from the van and selling them to stranger teenagers. She tries to accumulate money via these trades to have eye surgery. Her effort end up in the custody but she puts away life experience instead of money.
  • Okju hanging out the underwear laundry with her mother, what a symbolic but earthly scene it was.
  • As displayed in the featured image of the post, Dongju has two great dance scenes, one during his sister’s birthday one after the funeral.
  • Coming back home, passing next to an ambulance, hearing the sirens, and not noticing anything unusual.

I saw the film in 5. Visionär Film Festival Berlin together with My Mexican Bretzel. It’s funny to see that two films I watched are awarded. I can relate to the animal oracle Paul The Octopus now. The jury had given Moving On the Best Feature Film (Ex Aequo) award with the following remarks:

For its powerful simplicity in storytelling and uniting generations together in a not so assuming way, the Jury decided to award Moving On by YOON Dan-bi. With the filmmakers trust in us as an audience, we were able to feel like this family, this situation could be one of our own, creating a level of empathy that is a feat for a first-time filmmaker. [4]

Links

[1] https://www.thegate.ca/film/045943/moving-on-reel-asian-2020-review/
[2] https://www.eyeforfilm.co.uk/review/moving-on-2019-film-review-by-jennie-kermode
[3] https://www.hancinema.net/hancinema-film-review-moving-on-136505.html
[4] https://www.visionaerfilmfestival.com/news/5-visionar-film-festival-berlin-awards/

My Mexican Bretzel (2019) | Notes

A perfect bulk of personal recordings that span around twenty years and several countries meet with a creative and devoted filmmaker. My Mexican Bretzel is a found-footage montage by Nuria Giménez who finds about 50 rolls of raw film in the basement and comes up with an idea to make a feature film out of it. The 8/16 mm films are mostly shot by her grandfather Léon where the secret protagonist is a silent grandmother Vivian who talks to us by subtitles instead of a voiceover. She travels with Léon for years and writes sincere and satirical notes to her diary. As we travel in the mid 20th century, we are also witnessing the inner voice, longings, and observations of Vivian that create a tension with the visuals every once in a while.

Vivian and Léon travel from Europe to North America, starting from the postwar years until the 60s. Giménez writes a fictional story on top of the films that dramatize the life of Vivian via her diaries. The narrative creates a sense of realism at first, but as the film unfolds, it becomes apparent that the visuals are authentic but the rest -story, sound effects, or quotes- is fiction or extra-diegetic.

I liked the film since I felt that it defined and achieved some interesting goals. Building a coherent and impressive story from a set of memory records is the first. It was also a meticulous craft to delve into this several-hour archive and come up with a traceable story without perishing in the personal and familial retrospective. It’s apparent the the filmmaker is not particularly interested in found-footage and trying to make an essay-film out of it, it’s just a coincidence that she found the material and came up with an artistic narrative creation with it that is not largely aimed at in the found-footage filmmaking domain. In the Q/A section, the filmmaker sincerely told that it took around eight years for her to finish the film which also gave me an idea about the duration giving a perspective about keeping aloof from the material.

Maybe one last thing that deserves appraisal about the film is the actual cinematography of the raw footage. For certain, the way the filmmaker brought these segments together adds the actual value to the sequences but many of the pieces by themselves were already shot so beautifully, almost by a puppeteer who foresaw the rise of personal filmmaking in the 21st century. The shots cover a pristine and voyeuristic gaze on the texture of the cities, landscapes, and nature. From the energetic surf scenes to fragile walks on the ice or inspections of the shop windows, I think the unthought cameraman also contributed a lot to it.

Phoenix (2014) | Notes

Phoenix tells the story of Nelly who is freed from Auschwitz. As a demolished survivor with wounds on her face, she goes out of the hospital after an aesthetic surgery with bandages and starts looking for his husband. The loss and the recovery of identity after the camp start with the physical transformation. She is a singer, sadly we can only hear her singing towards the end. Her husband is a pianist. There’s a catch though about the whole capturing event. Did he run away and leave her? Both she and we are not sure. Nelly takes her time to find him and to find out.

She strolls in the dark ruined streets, tries bar-crawling in order to find him. Meanwhile, the woman who is helping her to run away is planning to migrate to Israel, she tries to persuade her too about the exodus. Unlike Nelly, who is still unable to process the horror, Lene is full of resentment about how the history unfolds after the camps, particularly about how Jews forgive all the perpetrators. The focus of Phoenix reminded me of the book I’ve read in Turkish which was also referenced a lot in the other texts, but I couldn’t find an exact English translation online, maybe the essays are translated and published in a different structure, as in At the Mind’s Limits. Jean Améry’s essay collection “Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne” was dealing with the survivors’, particularly intellectuals’, existence after the camps. It’s a hard and heavy topic for me to write about in a film-note-blog-post, so I’d better switch back to the film. It seems like, erstwhile, Améry launched the final scene.

“Für […] mich heißt Jude sein die Tragödie von gestern in sich lasten spüren. Ich trage auf meinem linken Unterarm die Auschwitz-Nummer; die liest sich kürzer als der Pentateuch oder der Talmud und gibt doch gründlicher Auskunft.”

If we go back to Nelly, after a short pursuit, she encounters her husband in a bar called Phoenix -reborn with a red dress- but he does not recognize her. Instead, he offers her a deal to act as if she is her wife to possess her inheritance. The second tier of the drama begins here. As Nelly is drawn together to her husband as a role-playing stranger, some archetypical narratives unfold. Johnny teaches her how to walk, what to wear, how to greet her friends after the comeback. She yields. Despite the despair, she values the joy of re-encountering with the loved one. It feels like a repetition of the first encounter with the lover.

The theme of the man forming the woman towards a desired object/subject traces back to Pygmalion and its variations. Vertigo, the film noirs, and the Frankenstein story can be counted as side-references. The director mentions the Frankenstein relation in one of his interviews, but I honestly don’t buy it, I don’t think there is enough ground for the convergence to that story, a hidden attic does not give enough material. Nina Hoss walking in the night like a vampire was another conceptualization by Petzold about the vampire stories which I didn’t really think of while watching the film. Another, maybe the last remark from the director was the actress Nina Hoss’ comments about him -as a director- following a similar path like the protagonist when it comes to director shaping the actress. Petzold is well known for his films with female protagonists but the distance between him and a woman filmmaker also lay on a great deal about the gaze and the intimacy of the director, storytelling, and the acting.

In many of Petzold’s films, I encounter a couple of scenes that I admire. In this one, the finale was exquisite with Nelly unexpectedly singing a song that proves her identity and epitomizes the whole ambivalence in the film.

Die Eingeladenen / The Invitees [Sinema Transtopia]

I found an institution that curates films and discussions around those films that they’ve selected. I attended three film screenings there which were about the migrant workers in Germany. Just in case they might remove the schedules from their website, I’ll annotate the ones I watched there. I really liked the fact that they don’t screen good films but taking these films as artifacts that one can talk about. It’s good to watch terrible films too, only if you’re in a movie theater where they present 16mm film.

The best one I saw was a documentary called Geld fürs Brot (1994) by Serap Berrakkarasu and Gisela Tuchtenhagen that tells the story of women workers in an industrial canned fish factory. A film that was able to convey the joy of the people working together with the smell of the fish that permeates into the clothes and body. I found the interview questions of the filmmakers full of directives towards the pain and despair. However, the sincerity they achieved was remarkable. There was a weekend scene where one of the workers cooked some food and there were a lot of leftovers. She was insisting the film crew about taking the extra food with them while leaving. That felt like a great example of engagement and relationship that is built during a film. Another good one was a scene during dinner with a couple where the woman was complaining about the gender roles to the filmmakers and her husband having no idea about what the discussion is about. She was telling the filmmaker, “You understand me, he doesn’t.”

I also watched some really weird institutional education and integration films that document how indoctrination works for migrants in asymmetric power relations. One of the films about teaching the rules inside the factory reminded me Staplerfahrer Klaus – Der erste Arbeitstag (2000, oh, now on YouTube). When I first watched it years ago, I was sure that this film was mocking some real-life educational content, glad that I watched what it mocks.

Here is their website: https://bi-bak.de/en/bi-bakino
Here is their about us: https://bi-bak.de/en/about-us


Good Luck in Germany, 01.10.2021

Guten Tag (Episode 26)
FDR 196?, 15 min. german OV, 16mm

Tipps für den Alltag II, Ausländische Arbeitnehmer im Industriebetrieb
FDR 196?, 12 min. OV with german subtitles, 16mm

Viel Glück in Deutschland (Episode 2)
Thilo Philipp / Uwe Krauss, FDR 197?, 15 min. german OV, 16mm

Zu Gast in unserem Land: Kemal
Herbert Ballmann, FDR 1977, 50 min. german OV

“I am a stranger here,” “I am a foreigner,” “I don’t speak German” are all phrases that can be learned in the Goethe Institute’s elaborately produced 26-part language course series, Guten Tag (Good Day). With a great deal of artistic imagination, scenes around “Language, Culture, Germany” are staged and slowly intoned in an effort to bring the newly arrived closer. Viel Glück in Deutschland (Good Luck in Germany), on the other hand, prepares employees for everyday life in the workplace with vocabulary such as “time card,” “personnel office” and “the foreman is waiting”. In Tipps für den Alltag (Everyday Tips), the portrayal of what is characterized as typically German and represented as the ideal norm also has a comic effect, while the depictions of foreign workers can certainly be perceived as problematic. Similar patterns can be found in the educational film series produced by the Federal Agency for Civic Education, Zu Gast in unserem Land (A Guest in our Country). Here, younger generations belonging to the social majority are prepared for confrontations with the so-called “guests”. Following the screening, there will be a discussion in which we dissect the persistent stereotypes unreflectively projected onto later generations of people with an immigration history and the racist behaviors that are subsequently internalized. (ML)

Nurse Kim’s Message Home + Ekmek Parası, 02.10.2021

Nurse Kim’s Message Home
FRG 197?, 16 min. OV

Ekmek Parası – Geld fürs Brot
Serap Berrakkarasu / Gisela Tuchtenhagen, Deutschland 1994, 86 min. OV with english subtitles

In Ekmek Parası – Geld fürs Brot (Money for Bread), the money doesn’t stink, but the fish does. A smell that is difficult to wash off. Women from Turkey and Mecklenburg work in the fish factory in Lübeck. Here, the camera acts as accomplice: Serap Berrakkarasu and cinematographer Gisela Tuchtenhagen establish a closeness to the workers who candidly describe (in Turkish) the working conditions at the factory, answering questions about life, death and dreams. The supporting film, Nurse Kim’s Message Home, produced by Hoechst AG, is accompanied by a paternalistic voiceover and follows a group of Korean nurses working in Frankfurt after the recruitment agreement with South Korea in 1971. (MB)

Bağrıyanık Ömer ve Güzel Zeynep + Geyikler, Annem ve Almanya, 08.10.2021

Bağrıyanık Ömer ve Güzel Zeynep
Yücel Çakmaklı, Turkey 1978, 30 min. OmdU / OV with English subtitles

Geyikler, Annem ve Almanya
Tuncer Baytok, Turkey 1987, 71 min. OmdU / OV with English subtitles

Two figures are particularly central to migration: those who return home and those who remain at home. Despite this fact, both are often forgotten in discussions about migration. With two films found in the archive of the Turkish state broadcaster TRT and shown for the first time in Germany, this film evening is dedicated to these two often neglected figures. In Bağrıyanık Ömer ile Güzel Zeynep, Ömer, a returned migrant worker, confronts his wife Zeynep about adultery in front of her lover: Poetically he shares the memories of his time abroad. The result is an idiosyncratic view of 1970s Munich from the perspective of an immigrant worker whose self-image has been wounded. In Geyikler, Annem ve Almanya, Nigar recapitulates her childhood in Turkey during the absence of her migrant father. Memories of life in the village, the move to Istanbul, longings for the father’s indefinite return, and the mother’s sudden departure for Germany reveal the effects of migration on a child’s life. (ÖA)

In cooperation with Philipps-Universität Marburg, funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation).