Survery of International Cinema - Discussion Boards

Italian: Bicycle Thieves — Vittorio De Sica (1948)

There’s a lot to unpack from Zavattanini’s take on “the cinema”. For the sake of the discussion board — I focused on “the moral, like the artistic, problem lies in being able to observe real­ity, not to extract fictions from it” (Zavattanini). As he establishes his argument around neorealism and how it out values “America cinema”, Zavattanini constructs a strong point. There some truth in which filmmakers often create stories and entangle/string them into everyday life. But that’s just it, filmmakers create these “fiction” and don’t particularly try to impose/stifle them into realities. Interestingly, this attracts Oscar Wilde’s bold claim in his The Decay of Lying Work — “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life”. (Links to an external site.)

I don’t know. Relative to “America cinema”, I’m interested in exploring how reading between the lines of glamorized fantasies and elongated imaginations can actually reveal more truth about reality than we think. If the film were to stand on its own, then yes. As an audience member, watching the neorealism aspects of the film, painted a picture of the time period. It seems as if there’s a heavy emphasis on social responsibility, as strangers in most scenes decisively bound together to resolve a community problem. Protecting the local boy with a disability of sorts, chasing down our main character for stealing, saving the young boy on water — all serve as examples of unanimous accountability. For foreign films, I think neorealism strengthens the director’s intent in fleshing out a story and teaching its audience. In fact, I wonder what implementing an orthodox Hollywood tropes would unravel in utilizing a neorealism formula.

Japanese: Pigs And Battleships — Shōhei Imamura (1961)

As the movie progresses, the dark comedy proves to flow more efficiently. At the beginning, the satire felt obnoxious. In other words, as a spectator and new viewer, satire confused me and slowed the process of understanding the basis of the story. Perhaps, some of my other classmates ran into the same issue. But, with the different introduction of characters and growing conflicts, I found the dark humor distracting. However, as I gain a better sense of understanding the dynamic relationships, Imamura’s satire, in fact help edge out his characters. For instance, Haruko deciding to “find a soldier” at a night out lead her trapped into a room with three American soldiers. Shortly after, the next day, the soldier’s gush in the bathroom as Haruko runs away with money. Eventually, she’s trapped once again, this time in an alley way, where she’s ultimately beaten and belittled. Haruko later clarified the situation to Kanto, ensuring she’s removed all interest, in American soldiers, solidifying her love for him.

I thoroughly appreciated Imamura’s creative blueprint for camera angles. More specifically, in coordinating the scene I previously talked about. As the men shamelessly latched onto Haruko, the camera sits at a high angle, pointing directly below. We feel a greater sense of discomfort and almost claustrophobia. Like a rat experiment, a board game, or even maze runner, the set-up proves to be similar. The soldiers corner Haruko, Haruko swerves, ducks, and maneuver around the men. It impressed me and added that bit of twisted humor to the scene.

African: Mandabi — Ousmane Sembène (1968)

I watched Mandabi with no expectations. After watching films like Wild Strawberries, Pigs and Battleships and The Wicker Man, I felt completely open to embracing weirdness, confusion, discomfort, etc. But, to my surprise, Mandabi grounded me. Up to this point in the semester, I think Mandabi closes the practice of genre/style and revealing universal truths gap. In movies like Pigs and Battleships, for example, Japanese film influence often hinders delivering a clear message. Even, The Wicker Man, arguably the most “Americanized” film in that it’s from the UK, the formal techniques and thematic focuses confuses the viewer. The more high concept a film proves to be, the more likely, an American finds themselves puzzled. Taking into account, the cultural barrier, for a non-native of the country’s movie, the film must first establish the rules of their world. It didn’t feel like that with Mandabi.

The beginning may startle viewers, but it invites the viewer to understand context. And perhaps, that’s why Mandabi sets itself part. The pace doesn’t feel alarming, the editing, shots, and angles remain simple, the conflict is introduced in the first act, overall I felt eased into the film as opposed to locked into a roller coaster. Subsequently, I think the universal truths overcast the political sentiments. I understand how one can argue the narrative builds on criticism against the upper class. But, frankly, could Mbaye stolen Ibrahim’s money order otherwise? How was Mbaraka going to blackmail Ibrahim? Why did the wives keep lying and buying? At what points, did Ibrahim felt morally obliged or financially motivated? These questions are what kept me engaged throughout the film. Sure, politics might’ve drawn the blueprint for the film, and serve its message, but its those questions that’ll remain timeless.

Iranian: Close Up — Abbas Kiarostami (1990)

I’ll start with the last question. I’ve taken classes tied around the concept of IP and copyright infringement in general. And so, watching a man like Hossain Sabzian impersonate a film director, delightfully questions the legality aspect of copyright infringement. Mr. Sabzian is a pathological liar in order to fulfill his impulse in role playing — or arguably seriously manifesting — something he aims to be. Or so, this is what I thought. However, as I continued watching, I observed that Mr. Sabzian isn’t particularly striving to BE Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

Rather, he enjoys the ACT of putting on the director’s hat. Just how people paint, dance, sing, and act to sure, pursue their creative talent, for many of them, it’s a form of escapism. Perhaps, one can argue that, a divorce, ongoing poverty, and overall trouble circumstances lead Mr. Sabzian to encapsulate his interpretation of Mohsen Makhmalbaf. However, as the film shows, acting on a stage and acting in real life well — the former requires an audience while the latter unjustly gathers an audience together.

My emotional response stems from a moral standpoint. Instead of focusing on the technicality of the film, the construction of the story, the fingerprints of Iranian Cinema, I gravitated towards its philosophical aurora. In a further and more elaborative explanation, I wonder what philosophical undercurrents Abbas Kiarostami (Links to an external site.) depicted.

British: Gimmie Shelter — Albert and David Maysles (1970)

I came to a halt when I came across the term “Pseudo Events” in Seeing Things in America. According to google, it’s synonymous to “Media Events” which arguably makes sense. In so many words, according, New York critic Pauline Kael (Links to an external site.), the free concerts by the Rolling Stones were fabricated and therefore also pseudo-events themselves. Evidently, this discredits the filmmakers of the film, as their aim focuses “to record the truth as it happens.”

There’s a lot to unpack from this film, especially concerning its timeliness to this week’s news (Links to an external site.). Contrary to Kael’s belief, Gimmie Shelter does document the concert as it possibly can to “the truth”. In other words, the film tries and collects the best evidence of the truth. One can argue against Kael, referencing how the documentary didn’t particularly shape a narrative. For Maysles and the other directors, documenting the Rolling Stones required no narration, interference, and even lack of exposure (Maysles’ explanation of natural exposure from the concert) among other direct cinema elements. It’s why critics question their responsibility to depict Meredith Hunter’s unjustly murder:

“Altamont is where Hunter lost his life. “Gimme Shelter” is where he lost his story.” (Links to an external site.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7UsBmavjsE

Had the documentary served as an ends for PR related purposes, or simply consciously shedding light on Hunter’s (whose name rarely gets mention, if at all. This reveals the Rolling Stone’s complacency in acknowledging “how awful it was for someone to get killed”. Although this may reflect the viewer above all.) story, Kael presents a strong argument. However, this was not the case.

Swedish: Wild Strawberries — Ingmar Bergman (1957)

Initially, I enjoyed the film’s unusual storytelling methods and found myself allured one how our main went into a back flash of sorts. But after another dream and another fantasy take places, the first captivating effects felt like they were now interrupting the story as opposed to supporting. It’s difficult to act unsympathetic with the filmmakers, as the film is understood best with its original order and editing. For instance, we go from present day, to a flashback or dream, back to “present day” where our character finds himself driving a filled car. While in the car, characters inevitably grow annoyed of the talkative man. Examples of resentment, a dark past and grueling annoyance ultimately reveal itself on the surface. If we didn’t watch uncle Izak’s previous scenes that added to his character, it’s tough to say whether the following scenes would have rendered as successful/ impactful.

Arts Funding: The Watermelon Woman — Cheryl Dunye (1996)

Unlike Close Up, The Watermelon Woman balanced on depicting a documentary while also filming a fiction like story. Dunye is in the pursuit to figure out the life Fey Richardson lead. All while in the backdrop of Dunye juggling her own life. Near the start of the film, Dunye herself confides how she’s trying to be a filmmaker but finds herself clueless on what to film. Now, unfortunately, I have yet to watch 8 1/2. I just finished Begin Again (Links to an external site.), and next up is The Sopranos, (Links to an external site.) season one. But based off my friend’s description, Dunye’s film overlaps with a similar approach as Fellini. Both “filmmakers” wary of their abilities but fueled with passion, they optimized on their own dilemma. Sort of like making the best of their situation. Uninspired and overwhelmed to find their starting point, Dunye and Fellini made a film about them making a film — a donut hole within a donut hole indeed. (Links to an external site.) Or a paradox, in other words. Regardless, their search for meaning — and thus elongated self reflexivity — lead them to reconstruct their initial story entirely (Dunye shifted the film to Fey Richardson’s contribution to women in film as opposed to her love life). At least for Dunye, I’m unsure about Fellini’s ending.

In regard to the past films we watched, structurally, The Watermelon Woman held together a mold. Visually, it seems like Close Up revolved on a very loose outline. Overall, it relied heavily on the trials to narrate the film. And in efforts to succeed in using direct cinema, Gimmie Shelter lacked structure all together. Aesthetically, Close Up and Gimmie Shelter share artistic features. Maysles and Kiarostami follow an event. Both directors capture the essence of the environment — arena and trial room — while cutting back to their protagonist. Conceptually, I think all three films overlap with one another. Generally speaking, and nuances aside, Dunye, Maysles and Kiarostami research the details of a problematic person. Whether it be controversial and overlooked Fey Richardson, rock star icon Mick Jagger or infamous fraud Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the filmmakers delve deep in their psyche and created a film that slices a piece of who they are.

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