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).

Titane (2021) | Notes

Some definitions

Titane: A metal highly resistant to heat and corrosion, with high tensile strength alloys.
Love Is a Dog from Hell: Charles Bukowski, 1977 – a raw, lyrical, exploration of the exigencies, heartbreaks, and limits of love.
Mechanophilia: a paraphilia involving a sexual attraction to machines such as bicycles, motor vehicles, helicopters, ships, and aeroplanes. [Picabia, Marinetti]

The atmosphere at the cinema

The rules about the empty seats during the pandemic were removed today at the film theater. All the seats were occupied. There were some high-pitch laughs and one or two deep breaths en mass. When the film ended, the general audience’s attitude was wry. Not affected by the film but joking about it. It might also be a defense mechanism towards the tactile experience that film offers that is hard to swallow and digest. Maybe we all will encounter Alexia in a transient dream sequence or during a real-life moment, where she passes by and hopefully does not kill us.

Reminiscences

I’ll start with personal reminiscences about the other films to avoid writing and thinking about them. Some of them might be the first references for the others:

  • Les garçons sauvages (2017, transformation not with metals but with nature)
  • Rundskop (2011, steroids, needles, muscles, the father)
  • Crash (1996, almost all the other Cronenbergs, cars, sexuality, and body)
  • The Elephant Man (1980, the gaze of the others, monstrosity)
  • Gräns (2018, alienation, still finding your love and peer)
  • Teströl és lélekröl (2017, a romantic and calm version of this love story)

Notes

For me, it was a film about heavy transformation, strangeness, uncanny desires, acceptance, and love. The transformation was between sexes and from flesh to metals. Despite starting like a Fast and Furious movie, the desire to fuck cars, to kill people, to hate dad, to have something bushing out in the body subverts the protagonist. And the subversion opens up new spaces for her.

Since it’s a French arthouse sci-fi thriller gore drama, there are some tricks taken from genre movies that cause sudden laughter (how many more people do I need to kill?) or make the fur fly (hit the nose, Jack). They don’t add to the exploration that the film is after but perhaps helps it be more audience-friendly.

The soundtrack is from Jim Williams, the interpretation of Sarabande was shivering. The soundtracks had become more and more impressive for me lately, maybe because I re-started to experience them in the movie theater again. It was similar in my childhood too, I was dreaming about shitty movies just because they had such seductive trailers, with tempting audio design. Years later, I’ve learned about the marketing tricks in the trailers. Nevertheless, before the film, we watched the trailer of House of Gucci, which also had a tantalizing soundtrack. Recently, Matrix IV also hit it with the White Rabbit, the holy song mentions even a chessboard.

I related with Alexia and the firefighter guy who adopted him. The narrative of the characters dealing with their body or the filmmaker dealing with how the characters are dealing with their bodies is a rare topic to find in the stories. Most of the time, the great bodies of the actors and actresses are already given and they don’t disintegrate throughout the film. That’s why I thought of Rundskop. For example, one of the popular bodily transformations that took place before the films such as The Machinist (2004) or Monster (2003) felt like the easy ways while watching Titane [my browser extension that helps me for writing in English tries to correct Titane as Titanic].

As an addition to this bodily transformation, how Alexia is handling the changes in her body was adventitious. In general, when people encounter negative changes in their bodies —I don’t know what they do when they see positive changes, probably praise themselves— they ask others and finally see a doctor. However, I believe, it’s also not really rare that people taking action on their bodies to fix or delay these symptoms. Scratching the skin/tissue might be the first and foremost instinctive attempt. Nevertheless, once you damage the body or it’s transformed weirdly itself, then you need to hide it. The silk gauze or different kinds of creams step in at that moment. However, this practice of hiding is never eternal, it plays an intricate game with distance and intimacy. I won’t forget the traces of the cloth on Alexia’s body.

I tried but couldn’t reach the core of the story which is probably —getting help from Docornau’s interviews— about the possibilities of being human and seeking/finding connection and love. One of the reasons that I liked the film was its resourcefulness in terms of some fundamental themes. Let me list those and say goodbye: gruesome child play with the father, paternal guilt, alienation, hurting oneself, unconditional protection and love, extraordinary coincidence, unconscious violence, burning the house, hiding in the hoodie, dancing under the flags, needle in the butt, metal in the spine. The images that last.