Friday, 20 September 2019

We'll Live Till Monday - 1968 film

We'll Live Till Monday, directed by Stanislav Rostotsky, is a 1968 Soviet film.  Set in a Moscow school, it examines the relationships and tensions between staff and students in said establishment.

This is another one of those movies which just had to be produced in black-and-white, as the monochrome makes for a certain ascetic quality, as well as offering scope for some effective imagery and symbolism.

The central character in this drama is the history teacher Melnikov. He appears sour, careworn, abrupt and something of an outsider with his colleagues.

A notable feature of this film for me is the irreverence of some of the main players and their dialogue. It is good that we have the chance to see these films. They show a side of the USSR which some people cannot conceive of.  The same dynamics, concerns and conflicts existed in Soviet institutions as they did in their Western equivalents.  It may be that the school was intended as a microcosm of tensions and upheavals in wider Soviet society.  People were striving for means of self-expression and autonomy, testing the boundaries perhaps.

It also occurred to me that the school portrayed here was less rigid and regimented than my own alma mater in England....

Throughout there are subtle commentaries and observations concerning Soviet educational and cultural matters, often delivered with some sarcasm or cynicism.

I liked the sets and the bleak-ish sense of realism in this picture, and in general there is a sense of refinement and elegance which truly appealed to me. No big portentous themes, just an intelligent and endearing piece of film-making, containing fine acting from many of those involved.

Perhaps the most intriguing quote from the film - "Happiness is to be understood"....

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser - 1974 film

One of the most affecting films which I have seen recently was The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser, written and directed by Werner Herzog, and released in 1974.

Based on real events, and set in the 19th century, the movie follows the experiences of Kaspar, who had spent the first seventeen years of his existence imprisoned in a cell, with little or no contact with society or other people. One day he is released from this captivity by a mysterious man dressed in black who had apparently fed him previously.

Initially Kaspar is "abandoned" in a nearby village, and is viewed with curiosity by the locals. Having been cut off from "civilization", he has not been nurtured, or raised on societal norms. He therefore exhibits different thresholds, interpretations and reactions towards things around him.

The spectacle of Kaspar getting used to his new surroundings got me thinking.  Perhaps people don't realise what "natural" is, and overlook the impact of man-made customs and laws. Because Kaspar does not conform to society's conceptions of "civilized" behaviour, it seems that the people decide that he has to be exploited, demeaned and humiliated. Fear and ignorance come into play here, in addition to deference to the status quo and "how things are done".

Kaspar was taught by the villagers largely on their terms.  Later, after being rescued and "adopted" by a professor,  he was allowed to find his own way more, and to express himself.  Unsullied by the strictures of mainstream society, he is not brainwashed and indoctrinated like others, on questions of religion, social status and morality. Also, he refrains from subscribing to conventional wisdom on some academic matters.

Kaspar has not been tutored in the niceties of polite society.  He is not aggressive, but he has developed differently. In seeing his musical inclinations, we perhaps see a hint that some things transcend social mores and hierarchies.

The concluding passages of the film are pleasingly ambiguous, and are open to various interpretations. One idea in my mind was that Kaspar was physically attacked because he was not "developing" or assimilating in the manner hoped for or anticipated, and that the "experiment" was going awry.

I found the autopsy scenes fascinating. The participants were arguably missing the point on the question of "abnormality".  Perhaps it is the others who are strange and abnormal, rather than Kaspar himself?

This film was a very interesting and intriguing watch, posing some fairly profound questions about how our society, and our perceptions of normality, have developed over the centuries.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul - 1974 film

Increasingly I have been drawn towards European art cinema, and in particular the simpler works with restrained production values, which make the viewer think rather than assaulting the senses with special effects and action sequences.

One such film which I watched recently only reinforced the direction of my movie-viewing habits.  This was Ali:Fear Eats The Soul, a 1974 film written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Set in Munich, the film focuses on the relationship between a 60 year old German woman (Emmi) and a younger Moroccan guest-worker (Ali).  They are subjected to much prejudice and hatred, and Emmi is ostracized by many of those around her, particularly after the pair get married.

The dialogue between the two main characters is very natural and charming, and I found myself rooting for the two main characters (Emmi and Ali), as they are both sympathetic and likeable.

As much as the relationship between Emmi and Ali is endearing and touching to behold, the attitudes of many of the people around them are troubling and disturbing.  I guess that Fassbinder was shining a light on the darker aspects of the German economic miracle, and of West German post-war society generally.

The contrast between the humanity and genuineness of Ali and Emmi, and the rigidity and bigotry of other people is very stark.  The film also explores themes of loneliness, isolation and alienation. The settings are quite austere and bleak, exacerbating these sensations. Interestingly, and disconcertingly, many of the issues brought up by this picture are still resonant today.

In addition to the other merits of the film, the acting is of a high order, and special praise has to go to Brigitte Mira, who plays the role of Emmi.  Fassbinder himself  acts in one of the supporting roles.

There is some fine symbolism in this movie, and Ali and Emmi are often shown alone, with other people either absent or at some distance, as if to emphasise how they are alone, shunned by the rest of the population.

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul I found to be an absorbing and engaging film, the kind of work which really makes people think.