The Film and the Other Arts

in 33rd Istanbul International Film Festival

by Angelo Mitchievici

Every film festival has its own shape and depth; like a fleet of ships, themes pass between films creating discussion. This year’s international section focused on the polyphonic character of the seventh art, encompassing them all. Music was a re-occurring topic in the festival, and the winning film of the FIPRESCI award in the international section offered a case study, that of the musician Nick Cave. In documentary-fiction, 20.000 Days on Earth — neither one nor the other, composed mostly of dialogues — Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard tried to map out the abyssal psyche, and reservoir of anxieties and phantoms of the musician, never hesitating to include his psychoanalyst’s response. Static, introspective and analytical in the first part, the movie recovers its character and liveliness in the second part, making the music participate in its story.

Made from a collection of sketches surrounding a mysterious character, of a Salinger-esque nature, Frank, always wearing a mask in the form of a giant head — a caricatured, but eloquent expression of the condition of the genius — the movie with the same name as that of Lenny Abrahamson, explores the idea of music as a total experiment. The band, whose members belong to a new generation of angry young people who are distinguished by their non-conformism and eccentricity, retreats somewhere in the countryside, in a cabin where some sort of experiment takes place, an experiment concerning the limits of neuroses, perfectly Dadaist, and simultaneously a kind of Cabaret Voltaire without spectators. For teenage Jon, the youngest member and initially the outsider of the band, this experiment takes on the face of an initiation: through music, in music, and beyond. The apparent failure shows up through the band’s Dadaist expression, that should open up to the public, a sign that music should stay a symbol of the ineffable and non-commercial.

The music again becomes the subject of neuroses, but also of therapy, as seen through the instance of Icelandic Ragnar Bragason’s movie, Metalhead (Málmhaus). This time, a teenage girl suffers a trauma following the tragic death of her older brother due to an accident. Through the process of identification, the girl assumes her brother’s condition as a rocker is a way of revolting against everyone: God, family, friends, community, herself. The film cleverly gathers explicative clichés from the culture specific to rock, surrounding a troubled teenager, one who expresses her rock passion in a gentle, harmless, tolerant community of peasants who intone hymns at church. The unlikely appearance of a minister, an ex-rocker, is meant to be a providential reconversion, which coincides to the family’s egress from the mourning state and the psychotic sourness by rediscovering the folk from youth as music for the teenagers. Music as a form of therapy, against a vast horizon of musical taste is the central idea of the film, where this wild, bad girl is far away from the abyssal criminal teenagers of Gus van Sant. Look, the director seems to say, rock is not as antisocial and infantile as you thought, it can also be therapeutic.

Tryptyque, the film from Canadians Pedro Pires and Robert Lepage, one of the best titles in the international section, takes the idea of music in an ineffable zone at its cross path with literature and the plastic art. Three episodes bring to the forefront three characters who are connected; two sisters, one of whom has serious psychic problems, Michelle, a bookseller, the other, Marie, a wonderful jazz singer, who, after brain surgery, looses articulation in her speech, and the surgeon whose hands begin to tremble and effect his career. The three stories don’t find conventional therapies a solution: nothing can be done for Michelle to get rid of the voices and presences that scare her, the medication has its limits, but lyricism through music revive a state of trance and modulate the anxieties to form an acceptable solution. For Marie, except for language, there is only music; the sound purely and masterly modulated, the only one that the memory keeps. Finally, for Thomas, the surgeon about to lose steadiness in his hand, the art intervenes in a compensatory way — we can think of Caravaggio or Michelangelo to understand the harmony of the celeste organ and the choir of angels that stand in as the brain. You can’t make an abstraction of the choral music in this film.

This lyricism is also present in the poetic film from Polish filmmakers Janna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze, Papusza. It is a lyricism that has its own tradition in Polish filmmaking, even if we think only of Andrzej Wajda’s The Birch Wood. Here though, the cropped image is similar to emotionally loaded paintings, often referencing Russian cinematography. The appearance of an authentic poetic offering to the gypsy Papusza (The Doll), a form of sublimation, an elevation of lyricism, is fully present in the gypsy music that represents the subject of the film. This contradicts the traditional form of expression through music of the gypsies’ feelings; its naïve and sentimental poetry, a contradiction that the modernity of the lyrical form chosen by Papusza creates. The idyllic manner, being considerably kitsch in the way in which gypsy life is portrayed, is doubled by poetry and melancholy. The lyricism suppresses the logic of the narration; despite the documentary focus and historical relevance the directors try to give it through a chronological approach and reflectios on political climate. Literature and music meet and separate in this film, despite the impossibility of their coexisting in the same popular culture.

The à la russe melancholy is replaced with the à la français neurosis in Violette, Martin Provost’s biography about the French writer Violette Leduc. What Frank and metal head girl do for music, the neurotic Violette Leduc does for literature, transforming her blood into ink under the guidance of feminist Simone de Beauvoir and dramatist Jean Genet. No cliché is absent; the genius suffers, he/she is misunderstood, acts weirdly, is a little bit perverted yet innocent, and, most importantly, makes his/her own viscera, metaphysics or literature. The film presents chronologically, with predictable dramatization, scenes that are comprehensible for everyone: what it means to live with the burden of literature.

Even if it is obvious, homoeroticism is not the main theme in Guillaume Gallienne’s film, Me, Myself and Mum (Le garçons et Guillaume à table!) — the second distinct film in the international section — even if the character takes on such affects doing everything possible to be like Maman. Part of the confusion is a teenager in search of identity, problematised because it is undefined or incorrectly stated, still, it not necessarily homosexuality, since Guillaume is not homosexual, just suffering an unsolved Oedipal complex. Foremost, Guillaume is the actor and director of his own show, and the film integrates in a sensible and intelligent way this theatricality, a form of mise en abyme, as a formula consecrated as style through visual connections to a prestigious tradition: commedia dell’arte and la comédie française. In this show, which is excellently conducted, the accent falls on the theatrical performance with exaggerations that are, for the most part, difficult to accept in film; gestures, which pushes the boundaries towards mannerisms. The subject of the film is, in fact, this manner of interpreting and this is what makes the performance of the actor remarkable, pedantic, extremely nuanced, and above all, a pretext.

Art also marks place in Daniele Luchetti’s film Those Happy Years (Anni felici), as it represents the moment of crisis in the evolution of an Italian family in 1974. Guido is the author of a happening that ends in failure, but the crisis isn’t just destructive, it also frees a creative force in Guido and sexually emancipates his wife. The classic Italian family; conservative, in debt to a traditional order, unfolds and is restored by a modern couple who harmoniously integrate the realm of childhood; a perspective the director adopts in the film. The relationship between art and sexuality is the major theme in this film, one developed within a very precise frame of culture and civilization, for which the director has an informed regard. The bothersome length and attempt to give supplementary explanations are detrimental to Luchetti’s interest in the film.

Concerning therapy through art and with regard to its limits, the Swedish film from Anna Odell, The Reunion (Återträffen), is more than representative, being built on a visible mise en abyme surrounding a film that fictionalizes a reunion between graduates from the same high school class after 20 years. The film is realized with actors and the one excluded from this reunion, who comes back to re-discuss the “hierarchies” after 20 years and to dramatize the exclusion in a violent showdown. The frustration of the female character and her aggression does not involve the disappearance of conflict or the need to have a real explanation; rather it is a symbolic revenge. The psychodrama Oddell uses does not concern the cruelty of a group of teenagers towards an outsider, but her incapacity to understand the sorts of sociability and inter-human relationships. The film does not describe the mechanism of frustration, but it becomes, in a psychoanalytical way, the frustration itself.

Blind (Körlük), a Norwegian film from Eskil Vogt is a debut that deserves attention for its experimental character and the finesse with which the psychological observations and surrealist insertions reintroduce thematically the relationship between film and other arts. Specifically, at the level of sensation, of a hypersensibility generated by the annulment of one of the senses, in this case, sight. In fact, the film offers a lesson in “seeing” as told through the other senses, especially through a seventh sense which correlates with the seventh art and its symphonic dimension, as well as the power to imagine worlds where others are not able to see anything.

Edited by Tara Judah