By Yun-hua Chen.
This year Viennale celebrates its 50th anniversary. After the opening gala, Ben Affleck’s Argo (2012), Viennale offers two weeks’ feast of feature films, short film programs, In Focus programme, and retrospectives. Especially striking in its selection of documentaries are those documenting musicians of different gender, generations, geopolitical backgrounds and artistic interests: Marcelo Machado’s Tropicália (2012), Bertrand Bonello’s Ingrid Cavern: Musique et Voix (2012), Bernd Schoch’s Aber Das Wort Hund Bellt Ja Nicht (2011), Charles Bradley: Soul of America (2012), Mirjam Unger’s Oh Yeah, She Performs! (2012), Amir Bar-Lev’s Re: Generation Music Project (2012) and Malik Bendjellou’s Searching for Sugar Man (2011). In terms of short film programs, there are films of Jean-Claude Rousseau, Rosa von Praunheim, and Werner Schroeter. A tribute to Michael Caine, graced by his presence, includes ten films from his long filmography. In Focus program is dedicated to the Portuguese filmmaker Manuel Mozos and the Italian filmmaker Alberto Grifi, whereas an important part of special programs is dedicated to five female filmmakers: Coleen Fitzgibbon, Narcisa Hirsch, Mati Diop, Kurdwin Ayub, and Amy Seimetz. Some impressive Austrian films include Museum Hours (Jem Cohen, 2012), and Grenzgänger (Florian Flicker, 2012), the latter being adapted from Karl Schönherr’s “Der Weibsteufel” and set on the Austrian borderland right before the opening up of the border under Schengen regulations.
The concerns in the air such as social unrest, Europe-wide demonstration, continuation of the Occupy movement, and revisit of the past can be seen in films such as Après Mai (Olivier Assayas, 2012), Vers Madrid (Silvain George, 2012), Zima, Uhodi! (Elena Khoreva et al., 2012), and No (Pablo Larraín, 2012). These politically engaged films range from post May ’68 in Paris, 1988 in Chile, to the contemporary 2012 in Moscow under fiction and documentary forms. Après Mai, reminiscent of Assayas’ previous TV mini-series Carlos (2010), stems from his own experience as a teenager in the aftermath of Paris 1968. Looking back at his vibrant youth as a revolutionary, Assayas recreates the zealous and fiery energy and hope for an alternative, characteristic of that time. The main character Gilles in his teens enters adulthood through collaboration with political activists, artistic self-discovery in painting and romantic encounters, balance between pursuit and doubt of idealism, and loss of the loved ones. No successfully recreates the colour and grain of archival footage by using a 4:3 aspect ratio and analog films, which allow the harmonious combination between old and new footage. The title “No” refers to the “no” campaign to the Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet who attempts to extend his presidency for another eight years. The “no” campaign spearheaded by a young advertising executive René Saavedra, which was convincingly played by Gael García Bernal, works against odds and under threat of the ruling party. Other social issues can be seen in The Central Park Five (Ken Burns, David McMahon, Sarah Burns, 2012), O Som Ao Redor (Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2012), Rengaine (Rachid Djaidani, 2012), and Csak a Szél (Bence Fliegauf, 2011), which portray tension and conflicts resulted from racial and sociopolitical divides, as well as Death Row (Werner Herzog, 2012) and Wo Hai Yo Hua Yao Shuo (Ying Liang, 2012), which touch upon the sensitive issues of death penalty and the judicial system in the U.S. and China. The debut feature O Som Ao Redor, with the English title Neighbouring Sounds, stands out with its strong audial track infused with urban noises of all kinds in the middle-class neighbourhood in Recife, ranging from dog barks to washing machines’ vibration.
We see aging as well as the struggle coming with it in La Demora (Rodrigo Plá, 2012), Malaventura (Michel Lipkes, 2011), Pincus (David Fenster, 2012), and the documentary Age Is (Stephen Dwoskin, 2012). The beginning of Malaventura is also a beautiful portrayal of time. The window at the centre of the frame right in front of the camera goes from dark to bright. We see the shadow of a human figure gradually turning into clear silhouette of a somewhat aged body through the intensity of light. The quietness of the night is replaced by slowly intensifying street sounds. From the trivial moments of medicine taking and shoe wearing, or placing an autumn leaf on a wrinkled hand, we start the day with the marginal and somewhat abandoned elderly man’s daily routine, which reveals ultimate sublimity with the change of day light. Each take takes its time to contemplate on the poetic and philosophical meanings of being, aging, loneliness, poverty, exploitation and the struggle for dignity.
Several beautiful Asian films have been showcased at this year’s Viennale. Tsai Ming-liang’s short film Walker (2012), filmed in the city centre of Hong Kong, contemplates upon speed, cityscape, gaze, perception, crowd and life. We see Tsai’s long-term collaborator Lee Kang-sheng dressed in red monk costumes walking at an extremely slow pace. The whole city swirls around the slowly moving body, with each step moving millimeter by millimeter, which does not return the gaze of curious passers-by crowding on narrow streets in the densely populated and fast-paced metropolitan. The world passes by the red-clothed monk at a speed which almost seems like fast-forwarding, and the monk keeps on his slow motion march. The monk’s wordless low speed “walking” is an undisguised and unpretentious image of time and existence. Wang Bing’s documentary San Zimei (2012) observes the day to day life in a remote mountain village in Yunnan, China. The camera is situated at the height of the children, whose survival depends on raising livestock and cultivating potatoes at an altitude of 3,200 metres. It takes us to intimately participate in their daily existence with modesty and honesty. Without self-exoticization from exposing poverty and unfamiliarity to the Western cinema-goers, Wang’s observational look allows life to unfold without manipulating the three sisters’ tempo of life. In an almost poetic aesthetic, the images are mostly tinted with earthly colours, as seasons come and go, in rain, in coldness or in stubbornly fierce wind. Brillante Mendoza’s Sinapupunan (2012), which focuses on the childless aging Muslim couple, Bangas-An and Shaleha, is the dramatisation of a true story in the southern Philippines. They live on fish, crafted bright-coloured tapestries and occasional jobs as midwife. After some failed attempts to adopt a child, Shaleha decided to find Bangas-An a second wife. Beautifully portrayed by one of Philippines’ most loved stars, Naura Aunor, Shaleha sacrifices everything, from the engine of their fish boat to her loving marital relationship, in order for her husband to have offspring. The film is at the same time an ethnographic gaze at various rituals and practices, and a touching depiction of life enwrapped by blue sky and sea.
Hong Sangsoo’s Da-Reun Na-Ra-E-Suh (2012) is an impressive film interwoven by three forking paths. The film starts with the two shots of a young film student who has just moved to the countryside with her mother in order to evade creditors. Out of boredom in the seaside town of Mohang, she drafts her script which composes of a charming French woman named Anne, a middle-aged filmmaker, a young woman working at the family-run hotel, and a local lifeguard living in an orange tent in a public park. Each segment starts with Anne’s arrival in the same hotel for different reasons and as different characters, yet always welcomed by the young woman and at some point using an umbrella. These characters, in three respective segments, encounter one another under different circumstances and develop different relationships. They are like chess pieces of the filmmaker who rearranges their trajectories, dialogues, and interpersonal dynamism each time. Or, the three segments are like three reincarnations of these characters, who cross the paths of one another within cinematic time. They thus create labyrinthine effects foregrounding cinematic artificiality, arbitrariness and indeterminacy.
The “In Focus” program composes of retrospectives of the Italian filmmaker Alberto Grifi and the Portuguese filmmaker Manuel Mozos, as well as the carte blanche for Manuel Mozos. Grifi’s three short film programs and the two most celebrated films Anna (1972-75) and La Doppia Vita di Anna (1972-75), directed on videos and recently restored by the Cineteca de Bologna, take the audience to review his versatility and continuous zeal in experimental cinema and political movements. At the same time that Grifi rebels against the socio-political norms, he revolutionizes film language aesthetically through experiments with images and refusal of structure and unison. In the short film La Verifica Incerta (1964), co-directed with Franco Baruchello, he worked with found footage from classic Hollywood film materials and detached the images from their narrative connections in the vein of Dadaism. By rewinding, repeating and reinventing the images, he recreates meanings, and reflects upon the nature of the film medium. The free, fun and flowing Il Grande Freddo (1971), another short film of Grifi, on the other hand, works with dream logic and wanders between hallucination, flickering light, doubling butterflies and multiplying tropes.
Yun-hua Chen recently completed her PhD in Film Studies, and is currently working on several academic articles.