Friday, August 29, 2014

Indiegogo Campaign: The Talent Scout

When Martin and Anita set out to make a movie they had certain criteria in mind; for starters, they were intrigued by the notion of cinema as an illusion and the allure of Hollywood. They wanted a modern-day take on the doppelgänger myth and they wanted a flawed, amoral character for their protagonist. A person who got by as much on skill and cunning as they did luck. They came up with the story of a travelling confidence man, a second-rate chisel, running the short con in some back-water town. A story where the stakes were pathetic but compelling, so they set out to make a film about Oliver, a travelling con man, claiming to be a high-powered Hollywood talent scout, offering naive women a shot at Hollywood fame and glory for a one-time fee of a hundred dollars; only to flee cash in hand, before anyone gets wise. 

To fund the project, the filmmakers turned to crowd-funding site IndieGoGo, reaching out to friends, family, and the local arts community for support and so far the response has been tremendous; people are excited by the story they are telling - and they've assembled a talented group to help them tell it. The project is in the last stages of the campaign, having raised a 1/3 of the budget through contributions on IndieGoGo, they have a little over a week to raise the remaining $4000 to meet their target of $6000. 

Those familiar with crowd-funding sites know contributors receive perks in exchange for contributing to a campaign. For The Talent Scout, Martin and Anita opted for some novel rewards for their supporters, along with more conventional ones. Items in the former category include miniatures by co-director Martin Baena. These miniatures incorporate film iconography, historical, and literary references, as well as everyday objects and themes - shipping pallets, being among the more prominent. Martin and Anita also reached out to their friends Ink+Smog, an LA print shop specializing in urban architecture centered in and around Los Angeles; their paper goods incorporate well-known landmarks and imagery that tied thematically to the film. Several of the perks include a digital copy of the final film along with Talent Scout memorabilia. You can also get your hands on original artwork made exclusively for the film, like a matted print of the storyboard by local illustrator Anna Kwan. All in all, there is something they everyone at all funding levels.

Martin and Anita studied at Concordia University, where they begun making films together. They relocated to Toronto to continue with their film careers where they had to re-establish themselves in a new city, making new contacts, getting to know the lay of the land. Since then they have collaborated on numerous projects, of which The Talent Scout, is their latest - and most ambitious. While the film is set on the road, the duo worked hard to find locations within the GTA that fit the small town aesthetic. They did this for logistical and budgetary reasons but also because it fit so well with their dominate theme of cinema as illusion. – Martin Baena

You can contribute to the project here and visit the film's website here.

Teaser Trailer for The Talent Scout:

Steps Away


Monday, August 18, 2014

Cheryl Strayed's Wild

Cheryl Strayed, while in her mid-twenties, traveled the Pacific Crest Trail from Mojave, California to the Bridge of God near Portland, Oregon. It goes without saying that during her hike she goes through a lot: the extreme burden of carrying her over-packed backpack, the extreme variation of the weather (from extreme heat to snow), unfriendly terrains and dangerous wildlife, boot problems (six loss toenails), worries about being attacked and so on. But after eleven-hundred miles she eventually makes it!

But what pushed her onto taking this trip was the death of her mother. Bobbi, who had a rough childhood and married life, was healthy throughout her life but after surprisingly been diagnosed with lung cancer while in her mid-forties the disease would take her life in a mere seven weeks (this section of the book is the most heart-wrenching to read). This led to the disintegration of their family and would send Cheryl into a dark spiral – she would drop out of school, divorce her husband, and begin doing heroin. By coincidence seeing a travel guide for the Pacific Crest Trail in a convenience store would change her life and get it back on track.

Though she wasn’t prepared for her trip she would eventually adapt, and through meeting others she would learn new skills, and become all the better at hiking for it (by the end she would be labeled the Queen of the PCT). She needs to change her path a few times due to unseen weather circumstances (probably the early effects of global warming) and her resupply packages, which she organized with her friend Lisa to be sent to the many camps on the way, provide markers of her progress.

But there are many themes throughout Wild: the relationship a daughter has to her mother, experiences growing up poor, coping with illness in the family, dealing with death and bereavement, how to start your life again, divorce, friendships, self-love and that of others… There is so much in Wild. It’s a major work for our times. 

During her hike Strayed reads a lot and talks about writing in a journal (in the trailer for the book you can also see some great photos that were taken). But it is the many years spent between the actual hike and the writing of the book where the maturity of the author can put her journey into perspective and reveal her skills as a writer. Strayed’s journey inspires and Wild illustrates the power of good art to still move people.

Strayed during her hike works so hard not to be afraid and describes being just motivated to move forward. But it is her mother who she is trying to fully grasp and there are several times where she describes the spirit of her around her.

Part of the book takes place on the Sierra Nevada and the film High Sierra is brought up, which is one of the book's only film reference. While the many literary influences include: each section begins with a couple inspiring quotes (the one by Emily Dickinson, “If your Nerve, deny you— Go above your Nerve— ” is especially striking) and Strayed, who is a literature major, is constantly reading (all of the books are listed at the back) and there are certain chapters where one can detect potential literary influences (a group of people that pick her up and describe their hard lives especially reminded me of Stephen King).

But all of this, if it is anything, it is also very Valléeien. Even the Dickinson poem with its slant rhymes, existential themes, and vivid imagery brings to mind the director of C.R.A.Z.Y. It’s a perfect match for Vallée: a personal fresco that can be cinematically rendered, and with it the creation of an alternative community and a humanizing outreach towards those in need. Similar to how Luc Moullet describes Fritz Lang, Vallée is also an auteurs d’oeuvre. Wild seems like it would perfectly fit within his body of work. Even Strayed’s point of view descriptions seem like they would easily transfer into a gripping cinematic drama. Without even yet seeing it I just know that Wild will be one of the great films of the year!

Darkness in Jean-Marc Vallée's Cinema

They key scene in Jean-Marc Vallée’s cinema is the first important one in C.R.A.Z.Y.* It can’t be stressed enough – everything in Vallée’s cinema revolves around this black hole: Zachary is born on December 25th around midnight. Shortly after his birth, when, he is given to his father to hold, his brother accidentally knocks him to the ground. This fall seems to anticipate his tragic destiny and consequently everything in Vallée’s cinema.

But lets stay on this primal scene – this unforgettable image – a little longer, because it’s important. A newborn being dropped into the abyss of darkness and shadows. A young child without the opportunity to even be himself, make choices and live his life, is already lost. After being dropped - one imagines that he would reach out for safety, trying to grasp at something to hold onto but he is all bundled up - no one catches him. He could be gone forever. There is something infinitely sad and tragic about this whole situation – where do you go from there? The scene could have lasted longer.

Zach makes it – barely – but his life afterwards is still a continuous fight – nothing comes easy for him. This is life. There is a desperation to it. And if you want to make it, you need to struggle from the deepest of yourself. Zach does so, or at least he tries, to do his best to be emotionally honest and to find moments of happiness where he can, even though for him life is very confusing. (The scenes of Zach biking to loose his asthma, walking in the snow to overcome his sexuality, or through the desert to understand life seems to really anticipate Vallée’s interest in Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and her confrontation with the natural elements during her hike of the PCT).

Christmas (the death of Jesus, Christianity) and winter time plays an important role in the film as a marker of the cycle of life that passes by. (The Christmas setting is also a point of common with Gilles Carle’s masterful La vie heureuse de Léopold Z). C.R.A.Z.Y. is set in the Sixties and Seventies and in Québec this is the post-le Grand noiceur, Révolution tranquille (this is the period of political corruption as on view in Denys Arcand’s Réjeanne Padovani). Through the transition between generations there is the creation of a new world (a reoccurring motif in Vallée's cinema). It’s not directly political, as say how Robert Lepage would film it, but the social is explored through the personal as within the Beaulieu household the five boys represent different paths the society is going (e.g. sports, intellectual pursuits, homosexuality, drugs, a blank slate). Through the emotional and the psychological Vallée depicts how it feels to face the abyss of existing within new times. The fights between the children and their father emphasize this conflict and awkwardness.

There is a supernatural quality to Vallée’s cinema. In C.R.A.Z.Y. Zach has a don – a supernatural power to heal others – which is a local folklore in Quebec. Zach sees the souls of people that are not actually there or have died (this would be a trait passed on to character’s in Café and Dallas) like his father when in Jerusalem or his brother who died of a heroin overdose. (This actually connects Vallée to the M. Night Shyamalan of The Sixth Sense).  Zach’s brother Raymond (Pierre-Luc Brillant) has triangular tattoo on his back, which would reappear as a visual motif in Café. And that film's repeating of similar plot points from C.R.A.Z.Y, but without its cowriter’s François Boulay emphasis on homosexuality, can be seen as both a tabula rasa for Vallée and a variation on a different path Zach could have taken in life - further emphasizing Vallée's mysticism.

I think Vallée is perhaps the most Québécois of directors. It’s just that with C.R.A.Z.Y. he said everything that he needed to on the subject so that afterward he had to move onwards to new territories. In C.R.A.Z.Y.  there’s a very sophisticated use of Québécois French and later in Café he looks at young adult life there that’s too rarely shown in films. Other examples include: Vallée discussing Francis Mankiewicz’s Les Bons Débarras, or talking to Montreal film students about the joys of film school, or when he appears on Québécois media interviews where he expresses his deep love for the culture, or when he brings his own crew to work on his films abroad. He's infiltrating his Québécois sensibility worldwide, which, I think, makes it more influential.

If the ending of C.R.A.Z.Y. seems a little too saccharine today, as Zach and Gervais reunite in old age to get French fries, it’s just because Vallée's recent films are a lot more mature and aren’t afraid to acknowledge the darkness (while still being humanistic). There is a bleakness and fatalism to Café and Dallas (Antoine dies in a plane explosion and Ron dies too). These traits actually makes the endings of Café de flore more similar to another film by another Québécois director, Denis Côté, and his Vic and Flow saw a Bear.

Just like the title of Jean-Sébastien Chauvin’s new film Les Enfants indicates: youth is a major subjects of our times. The young have to carry the weight of history on their shoulders and these are dangerous times: just look at the news to see how world is being ravished by ethnic differences, national pride, unnecessary wars, diseases, the negative effects of capitalism, and environmental problems. We're fucked. But we still have to fight.

For his new film Wild if any film comparison would be deemed appropriate (even before seeing the film) it would be with Sarah Polley and her beautiful film Stories We Tell, which is about a young daughter trying to grasp the enigma of her mother that passed away prematurely of cancer (which is also the driving force behind her entire filmography from Away from Her to Take This Waltz). The experience of bereavement led both women to change their lives and this led them to create artistic works of catharsis (directing and writing, respectively), which propose that there is still meaning to be had.

Excluding The Young Victoria (whose restriction paralleled Vallée's within the restraints of a super-production period film), Wild with its strong female character, a first for late-career Vallée, based on Strayed's incredible story, has the potential to be Vallée’s most feminist film.
* For another fascinating look at C.R.A.Z.Y. see Gabriel Laverdière’s mémoire, Poétiques Identitaires (Université Laval, 2010).

Strayed's Boot (Shoes in Cultural History)

On the cover of Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild there is a picture of a well-worn boot. Though not actually Strayed’s but a stock photo, the boot has black rubber soles and are a brown canvas. Their petite quality and the brightness of the red laces emphasize their femininity. It’s a striking image as the boots are a symbol of Strayed’s journey. They convey a durability, adventure and sense of fun. This image beautifully stands in for the best and the worst of everything that she went through during her her hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.

During the months Strayed hiked the PCT she went through two pairs of boots. The first pair was too small and broke her toenails (she would even loose a boot mid-hike). After learning about the company's great warranty she would get a second pair shipped to her (free of cost) during the hike. One imagines that her actual pair would look a lot worst than the one’s on the cover. Strayed eventually finished her hike and got to the Bridge of God near Portland, Oregon where to celebrate she got herself an ice cream cone (during her trip, having only the tips raised from waitressing for a few months, it was the small pleasures like a Snapple or a burger that helped her get through the trip).

A picture of Strayed’s backpack, which she labeled Monster, would have conjured a whole different set of associations. The backpack symbolized the weight of the personal turmoil that she went through and was dealing with. So by the end, after overcoming these traumas, how she regards Monster from at first a beast she could not even carry then slowly towards affection (she still keeps it in her basement as a souvenir), can be seen as a sign of her coming to terms with her past.

The chosen picture of the boot on the cover might still be a better one, though. Boots have played a significant role in art history and it’s worth conjuring other examples of their representation to better understand what makes Strayed’s work and the cover of Wild so exemplary.

There is the impressionism of Vincent van Gogh’s A Pair of Shoes (1886) with its earthy colors and bold brush strokes. Van Gogh’s still life painting of his own shoes emphasizes the harshness of existence through their well-worn quality. This realistic portrayal of shoes, drab yet honorable, of what is typically a disregarded and forgotten object is humanized through van Gogh’s empathy towards them. One can understand why Martin Heidegger would specifically address the painting in terms of concepts like ‘being’ and ‘truth’ in his seminal essay The Origin of the Work of Art.

There is the Surrealist tradition of René Magritte’s The Red Model (1937): an uncanny image of a pair disembodied feet meshing into leather boots. Magritte’s brand of modern art, which incorporates a critique of the illusion of painting within the painting, was brilliantly studied by the post-structuralist and post–modernist. 

For a more pop sensibility there is Elvis Presley’s song Blue Suede Shoes or a more urban equivalent Nelly’s Air Force Ones. But what Strayed does in Wild is retreat to nature as a way to overcome a trauma, which might make her journey closer to the cultural zeitgeist of the run by Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, John Karakeuer’s Into the Wild, or maybe more appropriately Terry Fox’s run for cancer.

Strayed's journey is a return to basics - shedding the obligations of a social life to better find inner peace. It is worth bringing up K-Hole’s article Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom (without having to get into its all-caps aphorisms, trend words dialectics, or normcore collages) as some of its ideas are useful to understand the exceptional nature of Strayed's journey. It's a polemic against social expectations and uniqueness for the sake of being idiosyncratic and one of its key concepts include the connection between youth and freedom. For K-Hole ‘Youth Mode’ is for a democracy against a culture created by corporations and marketers,
"Youth [is] the fullness of potential, the ability to be the person you want to be. It’s about the freedom to choose how you relate; the freedom to choose how you understand; the freedom to try new things; the freedom to make mistakes.”
All of the above, from Strayed's journey to K-Hole, goes really well with Jean-Marc Vallée and what he's doing with films as since his last film, Dallas Buyers Clubs, he has had a strong interest in regular people and everyday heroism, though never in a superficial or self-aggrandizing way. Just like Ron Woodroof, the story of an AIDS activist that opened a experimental medical clinic, whose fight for life gave it its meaning, with Wild Vallée highlights Strayed, in his first literary adaptation, and her recovery and walk into the wilderness.  Like Charlie Chaplin’s humanism, Vallée’s cinema is that of the working class, overcoming obstacles, and a welcoming hand to those people in need. (The sections in Wild of the campsites and communal sharing on the PCT between the hikers really reminded me of similar scenes in Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men.)

Vallée chooses sources material and characters with spirits that he admires. After Wild, which will be premiering soon at TIFF, his next project is Demolition, which will star Naomi Watts and Jake Gyllenhaal, and is about an investment banker struggling to deal with the death of his wife as he becomes obsessed with destruction and starts a relationship with a single mom.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Book Trailer)

Jean-Marc Vallée: DJ

I wanted to put my signature on the film with the soundtrack, so while I was writing, I was listening to a lot of music trying to find the right feeling, the right lyrics that define and describe the characters and set up different tones.” - Jean-Marc Vallée

It’s Christmas and in church Zach levitates into the air as the choir joins him in singing Sympathy for the Devil. A single mother and her young boy with Down syndrome dance through Paris’ streets as Café de flore is playing. A rig worker in Dallas, Ron Woodroff, opens an experimental AIDS clinic set to Life is Strange.

Jean-Marc Vallée’s cinema is one full of scenes with striking accompanying songs. Through the drama and music he can instill a strong emotion in the viewer, which is unmatched in contemporary cinema. Music is really important to his films - this needs to be stressed. Vallée includes in his film music that people actually listen to (regardless of budget restrictions) and this makes his films more affective and universal.

After being frustrated with his first three films, Vallée would spend ten years getting C.R.A.Z.Y. off of the ground. It’s his artistic and commercial breakthrough. On its cinematic inspirations, and similar films to it, Vallée brings up Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby (Zach even has a Harold and Maude poster in his room), American Beauty, Billy Elliot, and other rock-centered films like High Fidelity and Almost Famous.

It’s fascinating too to hear interviews with Vallée as he discusses the other songs that he couldn’t get the rights to, which makes one imagine how differently the films could have been. (A film like C.R.A.Z.Y. was never able to play in the States for this reason as the rights for the songs were sold only to Canada thinking it was only going to be a small film before it achieved its popularity after playing at Venice and TIFF).

There are periphery connections between Vallée’s cinema and the music industry, too. Marc-André Grondin from C.R.A.Z.Y. played drums in two bands, Nitrosonique and The Adam Brown. Kevin Parent from Café de Flore, who plays the DJ, is a famous Québécois singer-songwriter. Jared Leto from Dallas Buyers Club is in the band 30 Seconds to Mars and Bradford Cox from Deerhunter has a small role in the film, too. This heavy interest in bands aligns Vallée with other famous directors that also pursue music in side projects like Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, and Jim Jarmusch.

Vallée on C.R.A.Z.Y., “The soundtrack in this film is like another character. While I was writing I was doing a mix tape, like I have done for my friends or when I am DJing.” (I really want to know more about these DJing activities now). Vallée even speaks about how the Sex Pistols’ album Never Mind the Bollocks changed his life (his interest in British Rock was one of the reasons he would spend a year in London filming The Young Victoria, even though you wouldn’t know it due to the classical qualities of that film and its score).

You can see the influence of a film like C.R.A.Z.Y. on other Québécois directors. For example, in Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies the use of the Radiohead song seems very Valléeien. Xavier Dolan’s J'ai tué ma mere, about a queer teenager coming of age, is really close in subject to C.R.A.Z.Y. and the use of music in his new film Mommy also sounds really Valléeien.

But what makes Vallée’s films stand out so much is the structural perfection of his use of scores. The songs are organically imbued to reflect all at once the characters, drama of the scene, and atmosphere. Certain songs are used in a very specific way. For example, they can reflect generational gaps. In C.R.A.Z.Y. Zach’s father Gervais Beaulieu (Michel Côté) listens to traditional, older music like Patsy Cline (he even names his children after each letter of her song Crazy, which plays a major role in the film) and Charles Aznavour, while Zach listens more to rock music like The Cure and David Bowie. There are these musical contrasts in all of his films (e.g. the mother and Dj in Café, Ron and Rayon in Dallas), as well.

Though this DJ aesthetic to film scores isn’t anything new – one can thing of the pop score sensibilities of Scorsese’s Goodfellas or the films of Olivier Assayas – Vallée not only renders perfectly this technique, but he brings it to Canadian cinema, which is known for being a modest cinema, where the high licensing fees usually scares the producers off. (Vallée actually had to get his directing and producing fee cut to afford them on C.R.A.Z.Y.).

This is a ways away from the film scores typically associated with the Classical Hollywood Studio era as epitomized by a David Lean-Maurice Jarre orchestra score or its modern Hollywood equivalent Steven Spielberg-John Wiliams (the kind of composers you would find described at length in say Pierre Berthomieu’s La musique de film). If Spielberg is more classical, Vallée is more modern as in his films the music varies from being played off of  records, CDs and iPods. (Vallée even has his own Celebrity iTunes playlist, to illustrate how up he is with the times). Even the commercials that he made in his intervening years included great songs (e.g. Mr. Lonely in his LCBO commercial). 

If a film like Café means so much for Vallée (regardless of its ambiguous resurrection, which I know some people deride him for) it’s because it's actually one of his most personal films. With its main DJ protagonist it's his film where he brings his love of music to the forefront. As well, discussing music with him is the best way to get a great interview out of the director.

At first I was worried how he’ll bring his music sensibility to his new film Wild, which is mostly set in the wilderness, but after actually reading the book, it is actually full of musical references. Cheryl Strayed’s a music buff and sings to herself, hitchhikes in cars which are playing music, and surprisingly even goes to a couple of bars and concerts.

Vallée’s obviously a master of his art and is in total control of his films and career. Music plays an important part in them for their emotional affectiveness and universal appeal

(Here are the playlists to his films C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria, Café de flore, and Dallas Buyers Club.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014


Bologna does for nostalgia in a few days more than any other impetus.  This year, the William Wellman retrospective yielded many fresh and vibrant films.  I thoroughly enjoyed Beggars of Life (1928), The Man I Love (1929), Night Nurse (1931), Other Men’s Women (1931) and A Star is Born (1937), all shown in very good 35mm prints.  A major discovery was the German director Werner Hochbaum, whose avant-garde sensibilities inter-woven with narrative story-telling of 1930s Germany, sparked many an interesting conversation and my admiration.  His unique style and expertly edited films were a pleasure to behold.  Immediately following a Hochbaum screening, I heard someone say, “I cannot believe I never even heard of Werner Hochbaum!  I can’t wait to see the other films!”  Then, 10 seconds later, just a few feet away I heard someone else say, “Well, I was told that I should check out the Hochbaum films.  I have seen one and that’s enough!  Hochbaum has all the irritating stylistic touches of contemporary directors - only he was doing it in the 1930s!” 

This year, a new event to their already exciting programme is the transformation of the Cineteca Bologna courtyard, called the Little Piazza Pasolini, into an open-air late-night cinema for a couple of screenings.  The special projection was done via a large projector that uses a carbon lantern.  Watching Germaine Dulac's entertaining 1928 film, La Princesse Mandane, in a gorgeous 35mm print with the strong scent of carbon burning in the air was quite an experience.  The carbon lantern produced a shimmering, velvet cascade of black and white pictures that glowed in the night.

The lustre of the images created by this unique projection brought back memories of my childhood and visits to A. J., our faithful and hard-working projectionist at the Roxy Cinema in Leonora, Guyana.  The old projectors at the Roxy also used carbon.  Even after 23 long years, the familiarity of that scent, the cool late-night breeze and the dance of flickering images, re-opened memories and made that screening an emotional experience.  Amidst all of this, I remembered A.J. himself and how kind he was to me and my endless questions.  I would watch him closely as he wrote the glass plates for the slides of the coming attractions.  I would help him run the films on a spinner post-projection and put them back in their cans.  If I did a good job, he would give me pieces of spliced 35mm film.  A.J. is no longer alive but I will never forget him.  It was only after his death I realized that I had never ever found out what his initials stood for.  Visiting Guyana many years later and seeing all that remained of the abandoned Roxy Cinema was an empty space and dilapidated pieces of an instantly recognizable yellow and black concrete wall with a diamond design... well, there are no words to describe the impact of such a sight.  But thanks to a festival like Il Cinema Ritrovato, memories never die.  And suddenly, without rhyme or reason, during a screening at this very special festival, a sweet, buried memory is rejuvenated and the floodgates of nostalgia are opened.  Of the 44 films I saw, these are my favourites, in order of preference:
35mm | 19​33 | Germany | 76 min | Werner Hochbaum | ​Programme: The Films of Werner Hochbaum
The obscure German director, Werner Hochbaum, has crafted an artistic tableau suffused in stylistic rigour.  A woman receives a note from her imprisoned husband indicating that he will be released the next day at 9 a.m.  He is expecting her to be there when he is released and they will begin a new life tomorrow.  What transpires in between the time the letter is received and the climax is an event of countless innovations.  Way ahead of its time, the editing technique, the continuous flow of the camera, the stunning dissolves - all brilliantly executed.  I don’t think I have ever seen a room filmed from the point of view of a violin before!  Time plays an integral part of the film’s motif and there are innumerable shots of clocks everywhere, including a most curious shot of a close-up of the back of an alarm clock focusing on the winding keys.  When he is released from prison, the man is recognized by neighbours and suddenly the soundtrack is filled with a cacophonic hiss of whispers coupled with shots of women opening and closing windows, their lips in close-up and tongues that wag.  One of the best sequences in the film is just after he is released, he comes across a merry-go-round.  He sees a young girl standing next to the ride.  He touches her hair.  Her older sister is on the merry-go-round and looks on suspiciously.  The camera is attached to the merry-go-round so it takes us on a 360 degree pan of the area and each time the camera approaches the man and child, we fear for the child’s safety although there is nothing to fear except the anticipation of a rotating camera.  Another special sequence:  A man rings a doorbell.  There is no answer and he rings it again.  A pet bird in a cage inside the house chirps back in response.  The man rings and the bird sings and before you know it, a most unusual musical dialogue is derived from this wordless scene.  Life Begins Tomorrow is a tour-de-force of rhythmic photoplay.  With very few lines of dialogue, it sets the heart soaring when one discovers a director of such talent who is practically unknown.
35mm | 1965 | Britain | 100 min | Kevin Brownlow, Andrew Mollo | Programme: Rediscovered & Restored
Reviled by most and sundry upon its release, this film poses the question, what would have happened had the Nazis invaded England during the war and took control of every establishment?  How this film was made in England just 20 years after the end of WWII, shot in the streets without significant funding is a feat in itself.  Made for just a few thousand pounds with countless volunteers over a period of seven years, It Happened Here is a chilling and frightening account of the what-if scenario.  Accused of both fascism and pacifism, the film is a curious blend of fiction and cinema verité.  A nurse finds herself seeking employment with the Nazis.  She is seen as a traitor to the British, but her intention is to make Britain new and improved.  A non-political person, she focuses only on her work which compels her to nurse the sick, regardless of who is in charge.  She is not ashamed of working alongside the Nazis.  However, when her loyalty to the Nazis is questioned, she is demoted and sent to a hospice for the sick deep in the English countryside.  Her first task is to tend to newly-arrived tubercular Polish migrant workers, all dressed in striped pyjamas, which happens to be what patients wear at this “hospice” run by British doctors and nurses.  After giving them injections the first night of their arrival, she is surprised to find their beds all empty the next morning.  When she questions this further, things get worse.  The juxtaposition of these images to actual events in concentration camps just 20 years earlier is inescapable.   Commanding the screen is Pauline Murray, in one of her two roles ever.  She never acted again after this film.  The directors employed real neo-Nazis to play themselves in key roles as leaders of the invading German army.  Their anti-Semitic diatribe was all theirs and not scripted.  The film was only able to be completed, thanks to the generosity of Stanley Kubrick, who heard of this independent project and wanting to help, offered the filmmakers film stock that was left over from Dr. Strangelove.  Thank you, Mr. Kubrick.

DCP | 1932 | France | 115​ min | Raymond Bernard | Programme: Rediscovered & Restored
One of the most underrated French films ever, Wooden Crosses chronicles war as the most desolate and terrifying event man has ever encountered.  With rigorous direction and authentic to a fault, Raymond Bernard captures the disintegration and annihilation of a squadron of French soldiers in WWI with the precision of a surgeon and the soul of a humanist.  Simple in structure, it avoids melodrama and story development to make us sympathize with the soldiers.  In fact, it makes us feel for them just as they are - men going to their doom.  From the opening shot of rows and rows of soldiers that dissolve and morph into rows and rows of white wooden crosses in a cemetery, I felt a tingle up my spine. One of the most famous endings of war films is the butterfly scene in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) which is also about WWI.  But I argue that the final agonizing moments of Wooden Crosses are the most powerful final scenes of any war film.  Never has death been more terrifying in the eyes of a soldier left alone to die.  The utter feeling of abandonment.  The inevitability of death.  The mouth agape.  The eyes bulging.  The cries weakening.  And then, all is silent and a wooden cross stands where you once stood.  I felt I was there, on that field, watching someone dying in real time.  A poetic ​gem​ of a film, urgently in need of being rediscovered.

DCP | 1953 | India | 132 min | Bimal Roy | Programme: 1950s Indian Cinema​
For a long time, I have been waiting patiently for an opportunity to see Bimal Roy’s acclaimed film on the big screen.  After years of anticipation, Bologna has made that wish come true.  Needless to say, my expectations were high, but I had no need to be anxious because from the very first few minutes, I knew I was watching something special.  A destitute farmer stands to forfeit the only thing he possesses – the two acres of land upon which stands his small house and farm land.  If he does not gather 235 rupees within three months, the landlord will auction the land, upon which he plans to build a mill.  Leaving his pregnant wife and elderly father, the farmer sets out to the city to earn some money only to find the harsh realities of trying to find work and earn money in the big city.  He is willing to do anything to make money so that he can ease his burden.  But he ends up physically carrying human burden as he is transformed into a human carriage, a rickshaw puller.  The irony is obvious.  Bimal Roy does not milk the unhappy turn of events for sympathy.  In fact, the script does not allow for scenes of sentimentality.  There are moments of desperation that unfold melodramatically, but they are directed with skill and acted with genuine emotion.  Through a relentless performance by the great character actor, Balraj Sahni, the farmer firmly keeps his mind focused on one thing only – saving his two acres of land.  The songs are kept to a minimum and are featured as background accompaniment to the plot.  I am afraid that the more cynical audiences of today may be tempted to call this film ‘miserable’.  The sad reality is that this 60-year old film is more relevant in India today than ever before.  The en masse suicide of rural farmers in the past few years as India continues its modernization process makes this film more topical than ever.  In Competition at Cannes 1954, where it won a Special Prix International, Do Bigha Zameen is one of the most moving films I have ever experienced.
35mm | 1961 | Poland | 118 min | Andrzej Wajda | Programme: Polish New Wave
A terse and sobering experience of WWII through the eyes of a Polish Jew.  Before you can say, I have seen this many times already and although this is a subject oft-revisited in Polish cinema, Wajda has a different angle - he focuses completely on Polish behaviour and actions.  The Germans are almost never seen.  There are no German characters, except a few soldiers in the streets.  Wajda explores the ugliness, hypocrisy and prejudice that war brings out in people.  Anti-Semitism and its alleged moral justification are at the heart of this complex and intelligent film.  A young Jewish man is set free from prison during riots and chaos when Germany invades Poland.  Later, as all the Jews are put in the ghetto, he becomes a corpse-collector of the ghetto streets.  His escape from the ghetto and attempts at survival among Poles is chronicled and the experience is harrowing.  There are no villains or clichéd characterizations.  These are just people and can only be judged by themselves.  The hate he experiences among the Poles produces a unique twist, for his life outside the ghetto becomes so unbearable that for the rest of the film, all his efforts are not to escape the war or the country, but simply to return to the ghetto, to die with his own people.  One of the key points Wajda makes in the film is that anti-Semitism was not exported to Poland by the Germans.  It was already there, thriving as part of Polish pre-war society.  Hence, the film, dismissed upon release, is Wajda's unknown great film.  Along with The Ashes (1965), Landscape After Battle (1970), Innocent Sorcerers (1960) and Sweet Rush (2009), Samson (1961) is one of Wajda's best films.

35mm | 1938 | ​Germany | 91 min | Werner Hochbaum | Programme: The Films of Werner Hochbaum​
A tough, realistic, no-nonsense woman, Erna Quandt loses her man at sea, where she spent most of her time accompanying him for his work.  After his demise, she goes ashore.  She has learnt one thing being on the seas:  the team must band together for the captain to ensure the voyage is successful.  She soon finds employment as a housekeeper to a wealthy couple under marital strain.  What an absolutely original and memorable character is Miss Quandt!  She takes her courteous but firm attitude to her new job and tells her mistress that it is not proper to entertain other men when her husband is not at home.  She also refuses to lie to callers saying that the mistress is not at home, when she is.  She  declares to her mistress, “A lie is a lie!  You are at home!”  But it is her efficiency and hard work that keep her in their employ.  A strange occurrence makes her question her steadfastness and naturally it concerns the affairs of the heart.  Miss Quandt meets a man of shady character.  We (and she) know that he uses women for money.  She is aware that she will eventually be asked to give him money but she does not repel his sweet-talk.  Her willingness to tolerate him makes him question his actions in the most unexpected of ways.  Once again, as in his earlier films, Werner Hochbaum uses his unique style of continuous flow of scene to great effect.  Beautifully shot and heart-rending, A Girl Goes Ashore is one of Hochbaum’s best from his small but unique filmography.

35mm | 1959 | India | 146 min | Guru Dutt | Programme: 1950s Indian Cinema
A film deemed as an essential in the canon of Indian classics.  I waited patiently for many years to see this film on the big screen and thanks to Bologna, this has come to pass, and in 35mm and all!  A successful film director finds a young woman to play the lead in his next film.  He takes a chance against protests from the studio and the woman herself who has no interest in acting.  It pays off as not only is she a natural, but audiences identify with her simplicity.  As their relationship develops, even though he is married with child, the unspoken love between the two is observed and by all especially the director's pre-teen daughter.  His marriage is already under considerable strain as his in-laws and wife are strongly against the vulgarity of the cinema and its people.  His wife abandons him and takes custody of his daughter and he abandons himself in his work.  His work suffers and his latest film fails and loses millions.  Finished, he falls into despair, depression and alcoholism.  Years later, he revisits the studio as an old man and is mistaken for an extra and cast as a beggar.  Guru Dutt made only a handful of films but they were unlike anything the Indian film industry had ever seen. His early Bollywood commercial films Baazi (1951), Jaal (1952), Baaz (1953) and Aar-Paar (1954) are some of the most memorable and exciting films of that era.  With Pyaasa (1957) he carved a new name and niche for himself and what a legacy he has left!  Kaagaz Ke Phool foretold his downfall as the film was extremely expensive and was a massive failure. The studio and Dutt were in financial ruin.  Disgraced, he never directed another film.  His marriage fell apart.  He was having an affair with Waheeda Rehman, the star of his films Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool.  He started drinking heavily and very soon the affair ended.  In 1964, just 5 years after Kaagaz Ke Phool, he took an overdose of sleeping pills and died at the young age of 39.  It's as if he made a film about his life and how it would end, and then he proceeded to do exactly that.  What other gems may have been in store for us if only this, his most ambitious film, was successful?  Guru Dutt has left us with a brooding gem of loneliness and the fear of being forgotten.  Precisely 50 years after his death, he is acclaimed and remembered more than he or his contemporaries could ever imagine.
DCP | 1958 | India | 102 min | Ritwik Ghatak​ | Programme: 1950s Indian Cinema​
A surreptitiously sly tale that begins as an apparent comedy, ends up being one of the smartest films of the festival.  We follow two silly characters, an uncle and nephew, as the latter is on his way to his own wedding.  They contort their faces, giggle, and repeat idiotic observations.  They take a dilapidated taxi that looks like it’s about 30 years old.  Once they arrive at their destination, suddenly we continue on in the taxi and the story follows the driver.  We find out that the only important thing in the taxi driver’s life is his broken, asthmatically wheezing, rattling contraption of a car.  Ridiculed and laughed at by all in his village, not to mention the local garage, the man is actually in love with his car, his only means of sustenance.  Deeply humanist, Pathetic Fallacy is reminiscent of Dariush Mehrjui’s classic Iranian masterpiece, The Cow (1969).  This film surprises on every level as it explores the strange bond between man and machine.  The original title means a mechanical man, but the English title works just as well.  It would be remiss of me to credit the greatness of this film only to Ritwik Ghatak and not mention the brilliant lead performance by Kali Bannerjee.  It is through him we relate to his strange kinship with the machine.  It is a staggering performance of pathos and determination.  If we do not believe him, there is no film.  It builds to an unforgettable moment that includes a look of angst, a crying sound, dust in the wind, a little boy playing with a particular object, and then a smile and a teardrop.
35mm | 1935 | Japan | 73​ min | Kenji Mizoguchi | ​Programme: 1930s Japanese Cinema​
This 35mm restoration of one of the great Mizoguchi’s rare films will remain with me for a long time.  An understated drama, it is heartbreaking and stifling but always subtle, elegant and sophisticated.  A boy is raised by a kind stranger and develops a bond between the man and his daughter.  Now a young man, he leaves the countryside for Tokyo to study and have a career.  He promises to return to marry the man’s daughter.  Caught up in the new and fast world, he does not return.  The old man and daughter travel to Tokyo to find out about his intentions.  It is in the city the drama unfolds ever so quietly without even a harsh word spoken.  There is no confrontation, only painful realizations and the agony of waiting and waiting and waiting.  The old man and daughter are given hints of the young man’s drastic change of heart via a messenger, but never from his own mouth.  Shame, ingratitude, pride and defeat play out in the confines of their rented room.  This is an elegant and underappreciated film from one of the world’s most gifted filmmakers.

35mm | 1935 | Japan | 74​ min | Heinosuke Gosho | ​Programme: 1930s Japanese Cinema​
What a wonderful surprise this film is!  It is of sorts, a sister film to The Bride Talks in Her Sleep (1933), both directed by the under-appreciated Japanese master, Heinosuke Gosho.  Very well-written with sharp characterizations, the film opens with a newly-married couple preparing for the day.  I don’t believe I have ever seen such physical display of affection ever in any Japanese film.  Both kiss and cling to each other as if their lives depended on it, but their sincerity cannot be questioned.  As soon as he is off to work, she goes to sleep.  Rumours are started by prying neighbours and the young husband finds out and is outraged.  Sleeping this early in the day signifies a wanton lifestyle and laziness that bring dishonour to him and his family.  He comes home stealthily one day and confronts her.  When she refuses to give him the reason she sleeps, he threatens divorce.  She then confesses that she cannot sleep at night as he talks non-stop in his sleep.  On top of that, seeing that he is so good-looking, she is worried that one day he will mention other women’s names in his sleep, so she stays up all night to make sure that he doesn’t say another woman’s name.  The in-laws arrive as the news of the sleeping bride reached them and they demand the divorce be carried out.  It is now up to the young couple to save their marriage.  Then the doctor of mesmerism arrives on the scene.  Hilarity ensues.

35mm | 1933 | Japan | 57​ min | Heinosuke Gosho | ​Programme: 1930s Japanese Cinema​
A group of friends show up at their newly-married friend's home one night under the pretence of a cordial visit.  However, they have heard rumours that the new bride talks in her sleep.  They are adamant to stay (even if they are not welcome) until she falls asleep so they can eavesdrop on the contents of her nocturnal monologue.  How times have changed!  Back then, and I am sure not just in Japanese culture, a woman talking in her sleep was considered something sexually scandalous.  What would she say?  Would she reveal anything titillating?  Would she disclose any intimate secrets in her sleep?  The men are so intrigued by the fact that a passive woman mumbling fragmented sentences in her sleep could possibly be an exciting event for them.  Their reasons for the stay-over are not apparent, nor are they mentioned by any of the men.  It is with excellent acting and witty writing we get the gist of their minds.  It is a fascinating comedy of manners and gender politics. Gosho's deft touch and skilful direction make this film an undisputed pleasure of the festival.

35mm | 1932​ | USA | 75​ min | Ernst Lubitsch | Programme: World War I​
It is not the usual case to discover a film by a famous director that no one seems to talk about, but this is precisely what happened during the screening of Lubitsch's remarkable film.  Alone in the trenches during WWI, a young French soldier bayonets an equally young German soldier.  He looks at the dying boy's perplexed face that has a mixture of sadness, surprise, fear and expectancy.  He dies with his hands still on the letter he was writing.  The French soldier finds out from the letter and other letters in his coat that the young German hated war.  He had no quarrel with the French as he lived in Paris for 2 years prior to the war.  Stricken with guilt and grief, the French soldier falls into depression and turns to the church for answers and guidance.  He is told by the priest: "Forget it, you were only doing your duty."  Disillusioned, he goes to Germany to meet the parents of the man he killed.  A technically astute and remarkably authentic film, I could have sworn it was made in Germany with German extras if I didn't know better.  Tender, political, poignant, it is one of the most precious finds of the festival.  One of the most moving scenes features two German mothers at the graves of their sons.  This is their exchange: 
"Your boy loved my cinnamon cakes."
"Did he?  How do you know this?"
"He used to visit me on Saturdays when I did my baking."
"Oh, I see.  How do you make your cinnamon cakes?"
"Well, I use flour, eggs, shortening, two cups of sugar..."
"Two cups of sugar!?!  Oh, I would only use one cup.  Now I know for next time..."
And her voice trails off as they both realise there will never ever be a next time for either of their sons.

DCP | 1931 | France | 96 min | Jean Renoir | Programme: Rediscovered & Restored
Renoir’s unsentimental, harsh yet sensitive examination of human behaviour and class structure is about the downfall of a quiet, soft-spoken middle-aged man and his relationship with his wife and mistress.  It is a relatively unknown film compared to Renoir’s more popular works.  This may be his most brutal film and it passes no judgment in its moralistic ambiguity.  The man has a chance encounter with a younger woman who is under the influence of her pimp.  The girl believes in her heart that the pimp is the love of her life.  Upon the knowledge that the older man has money and is also a part-time painter, her pimp thrusts her into his arms.  Not before long, deceit, abuse and murder ensue and this culminates in the most unpredictable chain of events.  Michel Simon soars as Legrand in perhaps his most complex role.  The use of fade to black is especially effective in the last 20 minutes of the film.  This is a toxic concoction of a film.  An unforgettable scene focuses on a fleeting painting, two pan-handlers and the name Clara Wood.  But my favourite sequence involves a group of musicians, a busy street, a gathered crowd, a room, a woman on a bed, a man in the room and the camera that travels up from the street to the room, then down from the room to the street.

35mm | 1932 | Germany | 63 min | Werner Hochbaum | Programme: The Films of Werner Hochbaum
Hochbaum's camera slips through the narrow streets of Hamburg to explore its slinky and surreptitious Red Light district.  Once again, the story he weaves is simple but the poetry of his images is inspiring.  A criminal is on the run.  He breaks into a young woman's room.  They look at each other and without uttering a word, much is said.  There is an instant connection.  She hides him.  Thus begins their 24-hour tryst while the police are still on the hunt for him.  From the opening moments, a plethora of activity is captured via stylistic touches:  legs walking, dancing, climbing, fingers at work, waves at the Hamburg port crashing, tired faces, weary eyes, nightlife and frivolity.  A panning shot of flagstones morph into piano keys.  To depict the criminal and woman have had intimate relations, there is a peculiar and rather naughty shot of a teddy bear lying atop a doll.  Hochbaum holds that shot for a good 5 seconds or so and its meaning is conveyed in more ways than one.  In one amazing sequence, women are in a bar, they are talking, smiling and the piano is being played.  Then all of a sudden, the women stop talking, there is absolutely no sound, the music has stopped, everyone is immobile.  The eyes have stopped blinking.  The life has been drained from the party.  Perhaps it is a statement being made by Hochbaum about the monotony of their lives.  But, after a minute or so, a customer enters the bar and then everything bursts into life again.  The inhabitants of the bar resume talking, laughing, dancing.  And the music plays on in this stunning sequence of movement, vitality and life. 

DCP​ | 1920 | Germany | 75​ min | Robert Wiene | Programme: Rediscovered & Restored​
It is inexplicable how this very famous film eluded me for so many years.  Featuring a pristine restoration, this unforgettably haunting film is the epitome of Expressionism.  A kaleidoscope of contorted streets, crumbling houses, triangular doors, shadows on the walls, fill the screen to the brim and then some.  These eccentric images seem to want to spill over the sides of the frame.  All of this is perfectly designed in the setting of a fair of oddities and sensational exhibitionism.  It is not wonder the zigzag roads eventually lead to an insane asylum.  A strange creature in the form of Dr. Caligari comes to town bringing with him a somnambulist as a sideshow.  Who better than Conrad Veidt to play the weird somnambulist?  Not before long, both Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist are under suspicion of malfeasance.  This film is so brilliantly constructed and directed that I felt hypnotized throughout.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari may be the most exemplary of the films of German Expressionism.

35mm | 1918 | Germany | 45 min | Rosa Porten, Franz Eckstein | ​Programme: The Films of Dr. R. Portegg​
A delightful comedy that highlights the talents of Wanda Treumann and the co-directors, Rosa Porten and Franz Eckstein. Love and money intertwined in a maze of marketing, business, trickery and eventually marriage.  A worker in a cigarette factory falls for the president of the company but he wants to be amused only and has no care for a commitment.  She then wins the grand lottery.  The factory is in financial difficulties and the president rethinks his refusal and asks her to marry him. She wastes no time is showing him the door!  But wanting to prove herself as his equal in business, she comes up with a brilliant marketing strategy to boost cigarette sales.  Since she is now in demand after winning the lottery, they will do a campaign where her photo will be inserted in one packet of cigarette.  Whosoever buys that packet, will be the lucky man.  In exchange for her golden advertising idea, she asks to become an associate.  Of course, nothing turns out as planned.  How fun are these two directors - they used the first syllable of both their last names to come up with their pseudonym, Portegg.

DCP | 1913-1914 | France | 352 min | Louis Feuillade | Programme: Rediscovered & Restored​
This 100-year old, 6-hour film is quite excellent in how it entertains, intrigues and excites.  Feuillade is a master controller of the camera and the action that resides within.  A beautiful and extremely clean restoration, with the right amount of grain, this massive episodic film contains many labyrnthian plots of twists and turns at ever corner.  A diabolical, murderous and sociopathic villain, a determined police inspector, his eager assistant, zealous villains disguised as bankers, businessmen, priests, judges and one of the funniest of all – an American detective sent to help with the investigation, his name:  Tom Bob.  Logic should not be applied to the various plots as one could easily find many holes in them.  But the mise-en-scene, structure, flow and design of the film are splendid.  The film bristles with energy and good performances especially René Navarre as the titular Fantômas, and Reneé Carl who plays his mistress.

35mm | 1919 | France | 51​ min | Germaine Dulac | Programme: The Films of Germaine Dulac
A young, bored wife to an archaeologist/museum curator takes to entertaining a younger man, much to her older husband's chagrin.  He tries to be understanding and fights his jealousy, but alas, the monster overpowers him.  What is unusual is that he doesn't vent his anger on his young wife, but decides to play a game of chance on himself.  He poisons one cigarette and places it among many others in his cigarette box.  Eventually, he will smoke that cigarette, but when that will be, he doesn't know.  When it happens, it happens.  His wife is completely oblivious of her husband's emotional distress but senses all may not be well.  This 95-year old film is the earliest surviving film of Germaine Dulac.  It features a young liberated woman, location shooting, realistic performances and an advanced montage style.  

Farewell and see to your journey, but return soon…
To bid me arrivederci from this wonderful festival, I couldn’t ask for a more poignant farewell.  As I was waiting for my train to Roma Termini station, the previous train was departing Bologna for Naples on the same platform.  A few feet from me, a father was saying goodbye to his wife and young children through the soundproof glass window.  As the train started to move, he began to walk alongside the train, waving and blowing kisses to his family.  His wife appeared to be tearful and so were the children.  He then stopped and mouthed the words repeatedly, “Ti amo, ti amo”.  The train disappeared and he stood there for a moment with a sad look on his face.  Then he looked at me, smiled, shrugged in the most recognizable Italian manner and walked away.  And like that, until we meet again, la vita continua…