Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sunday in Peking {American-Language Version}

Eddies in the East

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)


There's some received wisdom about the Chris Marker filmography, that Dimache à Pékin [Sunday in Peking, 1956] is not only the first Chris Marker film but also the first Marker essay-film, and more broadly the first essay-film period. Except Marker made Olympia 52 in '52, which from the little amount of it I've seen on YouTube, I would call an essay film; and he co-directed with Resnais in '53 Les statues meurent aussi [Statues Die Too] before doing a rewrite on Jean Cayrol's narration for Resnais's '55 Nuit et brouillard [Night and Fog]. Anyway, there's a long tradition of "the documentary" — in the sense of using the term. Can we say of La natation, par Jean Taris, champion de France. that it's a documentary portrait of the great athlete? I would say the essay-film or film-poem not only exhibits a display of directorial point-of-view, but additionally displays a "reasonable" (to use a term applicable in law, too) quantity of poetic juxtaposition of ideas, of narration, sound and image. Perhaps then "essay-film" is a qualitative term, and "documentary" shouldn't rightfully exist...

In advance of Resnais's Le chant du styrène, Marker employs Pierre Barbaud to compose the Eastern-accented score, orchestrated by Georges Delerue. Another credit of note: "conseil sinologique: Agnès Varda"...

From the first moments of the voice-over narration across a city balcony bedecked with an array of Chinese objets, to the quick pan upward that shows us we're in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower, and thus, probably, on the landing of Marker's own apartment, we are witness to one of the most beautiful Eastmancolor films ever made... The gesture provides a Marker-playful, though perhaps dated occidental context way-in for the joyous surprises that will abound on "the mainland" in the minutes ahead. Marker cuts to an old photo-still of the gates of Peking (present-day Beijing, the cart burdened with history wheels onward), the gates of the tombs of the Ming emperors, and intones: "It's not very often that one can step into a picture belonging to one's childhood — yet, here I was..." Thus signals the cut to Marker's footage of the gates themselves, and the title card: "PÉKIN 1955".

Marker will link the light and mist of the city's early mornings with the politesse of Chinese culture in general, and specifically with the tradition of Chinese painting. And yet: "The price of modernism does not seem so high when we see the harsh price of the picturesque."

The Revolution, though, represented not only an econo-political effort, but also one determined to combat the gradations of sheerly existential malaise: "dust, disease, and flies." Surveying the Peking of 1955, Marker wryly notes that, nevertheless, "One still finds capitalists in China — but there are no more flies." (According to Catherine Lupton in her book Chris Marker: Memories of the Future [2004], remarks like these were taken as "Communist propaganda" by the selection committee of the 1957 Berlin Film Festival, who, perhaps understandably sensitive to anything that might even be mistakenly interpreted as painting the Party in a cheerful light, demanded they be removed for the film to be projected at the good festival.) Sunday in Peking exists as a kind of fulcrum, a singularity on either side of which incessantly oscillate The China of the Future, and The Pekingese of Today (1955).

Marker films the vision of a nation that views itself as decidedly new, or at least one that puts on its best game-face. In this Tomorrowland, pre-adolescent gymnasts garbed in lantern-red sweatsuits demonstrate their maneuvers for the camera; ever Marker, he praises "these young athletes, lean as cats..." But through the filmmaker's images and narration, one perceives an irony in the very unironic, un-self-aware screen of Ersatz that seems to unfold everywhere: Peking on one hand contains a "model district" with a "model school" and its "model girls"; elsewhere, "the whole town is a display-stand for ancient China."

He continues: "Let us say no more about History — in the gardens during the afternoons History goes on. So long shut away behind its symbols, China is now called upon to reveal itself, and we are required to understand these sensitive faces: these men, these women, these children, with whom we shall have to share History as we shall have to share our daily bread." He turns to the Peking Zoo, with its lovers "chatting tenderly about the Five-Year Plan." There's a scene out of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, were he removed to the Summer Palace more than thirty years on from his death: "[T]his Mongol Versailles... [...] All this is as remote as China, and as familiar as Hyde Park."

He concludes Sunday in Peking: "I wonder whether China itself is not the sabbath of the whole world."


Other writing about the films of Chris Marker at Cinemasparagus:

Leila Attacks
(posted in 2007, and including a note in the Comments from Chris Marker himself)


Thursday, February 16, 2017


Notes on the Nakagawas

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)

Prefatory note: The go-to reference work in English about Naruse's films is Dan Sallitt's A Mikio Naruse Companion: Notes on the Extant Films, 1931-1967, which exists as a WordPress site accessible from the link. I've been reading his entries on each film after my initial viewing, and have been enjoying tremendously the lucid and sensitive considerations he's drawn from his own viewings over the years.


The film is based on another Fumiko Hayashi novel, Chairo no me [Hazel Eyes, 1950], — it's almost to Repast what Ozu's Early Summer is to Late Spring, although Ozu's two films are superior. Here again, we have a solitary housewife Mineko (Mieko Takamine) living with an essentially chaste dissatisfied workaday husband (Ken Uehara): these are the Nakagawas. (Despite the film's title, and the fact that Mineko's inner monologue lends the opening of the film its V.O. narration, the wife's point of view is not dominant.) With regard to the title: a digression on Japanese nouns and the poetic benefits of the lack of articles to express at once the specific case and the general phenomenon... — cf. the scandal of Godard's La femme mariée vs. Une femme mariée — one could translate the title "The Wife," "A Wife," etc... But: "Wife" seems most appropriate to me, in keeping with the Japanese generality...

The Nakagawas have been married ten years. The first time I saw the film I felt it was a masterpiece, the second and third times its power and complexity diminished. I'm not ready to offer any definitive judgment, not here for that... Isn't that though what keeps us intrigued by a great director's work? Even typing this I am ready to watch the film again, and so as Nakagawa-san exits his house to head to work, Naruse assigns him his own monologue. ("I wonder why we can't make it work.") — This strikes me as almost proto-Godardian, or rather let me say: here is the literary influence carried over in part from Naruse/Hayashi and their previous entanglement Repast.

The Nakagawas run a boarding-house; the Matsuyamas are a couple who board; there's a painter too, Tanimura (Kantarô Mikuni): fine-arts, but at present he pays the bills with contract painting.

(Structural flourish: Short flashback to a job Tanimura copped decorating a bar in Ginza: his anecdote stretches on in V.O. across the soundtrack....) — He spied Mrs. Matsuyama (Chieko Nakakita) there, showing up for her secret shift to work as a hostess (bartender who accommodates the patrons' moods). — "She looks like a schoolteacher to me," offers Yoshimi (Michiyo Aratama?), a visiting neighbor. "You never know with women," Tanimura replies, then gets a bucket of water splashed on his head from the height of a balcony above; the woman apologizes: "I'm sorry, I didn't see you there..." Wife expands excitingly beyond previous Narusean confines. It's difficult to discuss the film's mise-en-scène; I feel it's more on the invisible end, Naruse-wise, which only means the intense Naruse-heads will argue the fact (but I'm open to accept all contrary appraisals).

We move to Nakagawa-san in his workplace, pissed off about his delivery-lunch while his secretary Ms. Sagara (Yatsuko Tan'ami) who delivers his meal unwraps for herself a more delicious looking bentô.

The boarder Eiko Matsuyama leaves her husband the freeloading drunk — short shots around her (when she arrives home to find him passed out, as she packs her belongings onto the moving truck).

Tanimura the painter on his way to the newest exhibition, spots Nakagawa and the secretary leaving the museum together — Sagara is a widow with child, formerly lived in Osaka.

Once evening falls, still strolling, Nakagawa discloses his feelings for Sagara, after the two see a movie together, when they're on a bench in the park. ("Bad boy / Petting in the park / Bad girl / Petting in the dark") A relatively chaste admission, for his wife awaits him home while Sagara herself is on the brink of the return to Osaka.

Skip ahead: Mr. Matsuyama, in continuation of a series of departures and arrivals, ejects himself from the house for good after drunkenly dragging Eiko back to the place and causing a row. In the days ahead Eiko will return and ask Mrs. Nakagawa if she would rent a room to a single friend who works with her at the bar; she discloses that the friend has a "patron." (So this Mineuchi will eventually move in upstairs: all mod cons supplied by her patron ("Papa-san"), Kitô.) Coming home from work, Mr. Nakagawa is indifferent to the prospect despite the new boarder's promise of a ¥50,000 deposit: he announces he's leaving on business in Osaka.

I'll take a break from recounting the intensive plot. (1) Note Tanimura's covert fascination with Mr. Nakagawa's private life and his lamentation, upon hearing of the new boarder's move-in, that women just don't like him. (2) Note that the vacillation between house-/neighborhood-space and work-/city-space trace a similar delineation to that of Repast; Uehara unsatisfied, as in the earlier film, which is not to say in Wife that he is so conflicted. (3) There's a proto-There's Always Tomorrow [Douglas Sirk, 1956] moment with a toy-truck falling off the steps at Sagara's in Tokyo; she wishes she could could return to Tokyo with him.

Mrs. Nakagawa has drawn her conclusion about her husband's relationship with Sagara upon his return from the Osaka trip. — He confirms they're lovers, and this is the midway point of the film. "I can't believe what we're facing. This is awful."

Kitô-the-patron's wife appears at the boarding house, heartbroken upon Mineko's confirmation of the intel that a Ms. Mineuchi lives there (as she learned from a hired private eye). — "And your husband fell for a woman working at a bar."

The second-half 'settles' into an alternative groove — confrontation, Sakurai arriving to cook the estranged couple halibut — some comic so-and-so —

Odd cut from her harangue to Mineko to Nakagawa's look-in from outside — moments later. She tells Mineko (she's storming off to see her parents): "Let me say this now. You're a cold-hearted person. Have you ever offered anything to others?" — she storms out, appalled by Mineko's attitude — and Mineko departs to her parents'.

Sagara unexpectedly rearrives in Tokyo, phones Nakagawa to meet up.

Sôbei Niimura — Mineko is née Niimura apparently — he shows up at Nakagawa's workplace. — He beckons him to a meeting — afterward Nakagawa goes to "Lambre" to meet Sagara: their place.

Once she's home she's urged to return to her husband — she's chided by her sister for applying too much rouge — sis advises: stick to the lips. Mineko says: "Women are pitiful.""When men fall for other women, don't they care about their relationship with their wives?" "Of course they do; they're humans too. That's why divorce court is always busy."

Mineuchi and Kitô come home. Anxious, Mineko rifles through Nakagawa's blazer and finds a card with Sagara's address — she proceeds to pay a direct visit. She confronts Sagara, they go for an extended walk. Everything comes out. — They stop at a café and order black tea. Mineko Nakagawa: "I refuse to get divorced to receive alimony from him. If you still want to be with him, I'll kill myself and haunt the both of you."

Showdown and Sagara leaves —

Nakagawa heads to Lambre and a note awaits him delivered by a hostess, from Sagara.

The very end, in bookended monologues — he wonders whether divorce can happen; she wonders the same and expresses how she could only wish to confess more of her feelings. — "Is that what being a woman or a wife is supposed to be?"

Last two shots: (1) Nakagawa walks to work, crossing the rail line. (2) Mineko dusts the house whippingly.

As you might be able to tell, for me, this is a Naruse film where I'm trying to come to something. I'm writing these pieces with the hope that one picture leads to a revelation in the next, revelations in the nest notwithstanding. My acquaintance Brad Stevens deems this his favorite Mikio Naruse film.


More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Mikio Naruse:

Koshiben ganbare [Flunky, Work Hard, 1931]

Nasanu-naka [No Blood Relation, 1932]

Kimi to wakarete [Apart from You, 1933]

Yogoto no yume [Every-Night Dreams, 1933]

Kagirinaki hodô [Endless Pavement, 1934]

Ginza keshô [Ginza Makeup, 1951]

Meshi [Repast, 1953]


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Le chant du styrène

L'arrivée à l'usine Resnais


A World's Fair of modern(ist) form, Alain Resnais's short, plastic essay-poem-film Le chant du styrène [The Song of the Styrene, 1958] takes the viewer on a backward journey from the final removal of finished plastic products off the mold, through the process of manufacture, to their petrochemical concoction and elemental origin. We learn styrene used to be made from benzoin, drawn from the resin of the bush Styrax.

The film was commissioned by the industrial concern Pechiney. Resnais eluded their expectations; his effort is a Mad Men campaign run Tati-influenced riot, a Season 7 brainstorm in a Season 1 backdrop. He enlisted Raymond Queneau to write the voice-over narration (read by Pierre Dux), which is comprised wholly of alexandrines; a stanza by Victor Hugo acts as prologue. Then of course Pierre Barbeau added a rich and dynamic score for strings, itself a small masterpiece...

The film exists in versions featuring two different opening titles respectively: one maintains Resnais's original: "Le chant du styrène." The other merely announces: "STYRENE," and it's this version (a Janus Films print) that appears on The Criterion Channel and on the Criterion Blu-ray of Last Year in Marienbad. Alteration for the sake of a Pechiney in-house print, intended for screening at the corporate getaway?

The film moves from Mon oncle to Red Desert. Its structure and imagery echo that of Resnais's earlier Night and Fog. Here is a different kind of "concentration" camp, albeit one not without, to quote Queneau's script, its own "origins obscure". The film concludes on a plunge into the primordial: now proved prophetic: the siren's song of industry: "the future's in plastics"?


There's an excellent text on the film by Pierre Lazlo viewable here as a PDF.

Here is Raymond Queneau's voice-over text in full:

O temps, suspends ton bol, ô matière plastique !
D'où viens-tu ? Qui es-tu ? et qu'est-ce qui explique
Tes rares qualités ? De quoi es-tu donc fait ?
Quelle est son origine ? En partant de l'objet
Retrouvons ses aïeux ! Qu'à l'envers se déroule
son histoire exemplaire. Voici d'abord le moule.
Incluant la matrice, être mystérieux,
il engendre le bol ou bien tout ce qu'on veut.
Mais le moule est lui-même inclus dans une presse
qui injecte la pâte et conforme la pièce.
Ce qui présente donc le très grand avantage
d'avoir l'objet fini sans autre façonnage.
Le moule coûte cher : c'est un inconvénient -
mais il peut re-servir sur d'autres continents
Le formage sous vide est une autre façon
d'obtenir des objets : par simple aspiration.
A l'étape antérieure, adroitement rangé,
Le matériau tiédi est en plaque extrudé.
Pour entrer dans la buse il fallait le piston
et le manchon chauffant - ou le chauffant manchon
Auquel on fournissait - Quoi ? Le polystyrène
vivace et turbulent qui se hâte et s'égrène.
Et l'essaim granulé sur le tamis vibrant
fourmillait tout heureux d'un si beau colorant.
Avant d'être granule on avait été jonc,
joncs de toutes couleurs, teintes, nuances, tons
Ces joncs avaient été suivant une filière
un boudin que sans fin une vis agglomère
Et ce qui donnait lieu à l'agglutination ?
Des perles colorées de toutes les façons.
Et colorées comment ? Là devient homogène,
le pigment qu'on mélange à du polystyrène.
Mais avant il fallut que le produit séchât
et, rotativement, le produit trébucha.
C'est alors que naquit notre polystyrène
polymère produit du plus simple styrène.
Polymérisation : ce mot, chacun le sait,
désigne l'obtention d'un complexe élevé
de poids moléculaire. Et dans un autoclave
machine élémentaire à la panse concave
les molécules donc s'accrochant, se liant
en perles se formaient. Oui, mais - auparavant ?
Le styrène n'était qu'un liquide incolore
Quelque peu explosif et non pas inodore.
Et regardez-le bien : c'est la seule occasion
pour vous d'apercevoir le liquide en question.
Le styrène est produit en grande quantité
A partir de l1éthyl-benzène surchauffé.
Faut un catalyseur comme cela se nomme
oxyde ou bien de zinc ou bien de magnésium.
Le styrène autrefois s'extrayait du benjoin
provenant du styrax, arbuste indonésien.
De tuyau en tuyau ainsi nous remontons
à travers le désert des canalisations
vers les produits premiers, vers la matière abstraite
qui circulait sans fin, effective et secrète.
On lave et on distille et puis on redistille
et ce ne sont pas là exercices de style.
L'éthylbenzène peut - et doit même éclater
si la température atteint certain degré.
Il faut se demander maintenant d'où proviennent
ces produits essentiels : éthylène et benzène.
Ils s'extraient du pétrole, un liquide magique
qu'on trouve de Bordeaux jusqu'au coeur de l'Afrique.
Ils s'extraient du pétrole et aussi du charbon.
Pour faire l'un et l'autre, et l'autre et l'un sont bons.
Se transforment en gaz, le charbon se combure
et donne alors naissance à ces hydrocarbures.
On pourrait repartir sur ces nouvelles pistes
et rechercher pourquoi et l'un et l'autre existent.
Le pétrole vient-il de masses de poissons ?
On ne sait pas trop ni d'où vient le charbon.
Le pétrole vient-il du plancton en gésine ?
Question controversée... obscures origines...
Et pétrole et charbon s'en allaient en fumée
Quand le chimiste vint qui eut l'heureuse idée
de rendre ces nuées solides et d'en faire
d'innombrables objets au but utilitaire.
En matériaux nouveaux ces obscures résidus
Sont ainsi transformés. Il en est d'inconnus
qui attendent encore un travail similaire
pour faire le sujet d'autres documentaires.


More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Alain Resnais:

Nuit et brouillard [Night and Fog, 1955]


Monday, February 06, 2017

Night and Fog


(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Criterion Blu-ray.)


These recent viewings of Night and Fog [Nuit et brouillard, Alain Resnais, 1955] have been my first of the CNC-funded 2015 restoration, performed at 4K from the original 35mm camera negative by Éclair Group for the image and L. E. Diapason for the sound. An opening title reads: "As digital projection and restoration rapidly invaded the film world, Alain Resnais lamented that the same respect awarded old books — despite their battered covers and worn-out pages — was painfully missing when it came to aging film prints and negatives. — Thus, the utmost restraint has been exercised in the restoration of this film, in an attempt to preserve the integrity of the archival footage. – Argos Films"

Truffaut once wrote: "The effective war film is often the one in which the action begins after the war, when there is nothing but ruins and desolation everywhere: Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero and, above all, Alain Resnais’s Nuit et brouillard, the greatest film ever made." Resnais's picture certainly established a standard point of perspective — the retrospective reckoning, the face à face projections of history and memory — that would be adopted and focused further not only in the filmmaker's subsequent work but in that of Lanzmann, Marker, Godard, Akerman, and others. A method of forensic-science: train the camera, magnify the evidence. Observe the brilliant opening shot upon docile pasture, as the camera cranes down like the very Geist or omniscient prodigy only to reveal barbed wire fences in parallax relation; beneath Hanns Eisler's ambivalent score, scenarist Jean Cayrol's voice-over intones: "Même un paysage tranquille..." / "Even a peaceful landscape..." (Side-note: Every Resnais film serves also as homage to its scenarists, here Cayrol and in an associate capacity Chris Marker. Note the owl-like visage of one particular prisoner: hybrid grotesque: strange fruit.)

Soon we see the overgrown train-tracks that, filmed by Resnais in tracking-shot (le travelling), transported the prisoners from across Europe here to Auschwitz, to Bergen-Belsen, etc. These shots not only dramatize, attempt to replicate the 'feeling' of, arrival at this destination, disused now or rather preserved in its disuse (cf. Auschwitz I, now converted to a museum, and discussed in my piece on Comolli and Lindeperg's film Face aux fantômes), but manifest in a sense the inevitability of the narrative-line's endpoint itself. Resnais shoots Auschwitz-Birkenau 1955 in color, with cranes and via oblique high-angle tracking shots; he shoots Auschwitz I 1955 in black-and-white, using lateral tracking shots; lastly, he incorporates archival and newsreel footage and photographic documents from the 1940s. All three approaches emanate ghosts. In Face aux fantômes, Sylvie Lindeperg will raise the question of the presence and provenance of the cameras filming the Jews from the train platform as they prepare to depart to the camps. The camera-eye doesn't blink before the men, women, and children "unaware that hundreds of miles away a place has already been assigned to them."

The color images make the events hyperreal — according to Cayrol, "are all that's left for us to imagine." They also defy, silently, implicitly, "that nocturnal spectacle the Nazis were so fond of." Here lies a basis for the detail of "night and fog," a phrase used early on in the narration, some minutes before images show up of prisoners the back of whose shirts are stained with an "N N" — for "Nacht und Nebel". Such was the 'poetic' gallows-humor of the Oberhäupter and the Kapos who, in any case, were largely comprised of "petty criminals, masters among subhumans."

In 1942, Himmler visited the camps to examine progress. (In the administration's eyes, "these strange 70-pound workers are unreliable.") Cayrol tells us that the precise process of annihilation is Himmler's idea, but that "efficiency" is left up to the engineers. Work begins apace upon the furnaces. The ghoulish irony is that documents such as those made to better assess the operations' prized efficiency should lend so ineluctable a materiality to the dead: no 'ashes of time' in history, but starved desocketed corpses in piles, heaped, bulldozed into mass graves.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Fresh Wounds, Every Morning

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)

Prefatory note: The go-to reference work in English about Naruse's films is Dan Sallitt's A Mikio Naruse Companion: Notes on the Extant Films, 1931-1967, which exists as a WordPress site accessible from the link. I've been reading his entries on each film after my initial viewing, and have been enjoying tremendously the lucid and sensitive considerations he's drawn from his own viewings over the years.


Financial clerk Hatsunosuke (Ken Uehara) is married to Michiyo (Setsuko Hara), housewife. The thirty-something couple reside in a small Osaka two-story centrally located on a narrow lane adjacent to the main road; the neighbors stop by daily to share neighborhood news or request neighborly favors. One afternoon, Hatsunosuke's 20-year-old niece Satoko (Yukiko Shimazaki) arrives unexpectedly in town on the train from Tokyo to take an extended (unannounced) holiday in the household of her favorite father's-brother, escaping in the process a marriage offer she's not seriously considering.

Money pressures have weighed upon the couple; rather, have pressed upon pecuniary-minded Michiyo more than active-earner Hatsunosuke. Childless, the two make do on the salary of the husband, who had been promised prospects at his current post greater than have yet come to fruition. His secretary packs a more fulfilling bentô lunch than he does. On a rare afternoon, Michiyo leaves the zone of her washing room / de facto kitchen/pantry (designated as her zone by its cardinally framed recession up-stage in Naruse's recurring master-shot of the living room) and splurges to attend a reunion with her school friends for ¥100. The lunch is brief, given that most of the other attendees have been called away by their day-duties to their families and children.

Michiyo runs into a handsome single cousin, Kazuo (Hiroshi Nihon'yanagi), who offers to lend her the money for her Tokyo trip. We perceive Michiyo's scrimping and saving maybe as almost pathological, an assessment made difficult to gauge without qualification by her husband's own supreme indifference and lassitude.

It's hard to empathize with any of the main characters of Meshi [Repast, 1951] — especially to do so with protagonist Michiyo, the star typed here as the harried and suspicious housewife, but it's easy to take her as a complete bitch... Then again, the viewer recalls her situation, that she's likely been dealt her lot-in-life by way of a parentally-arranged marriage. 'Cattiness,' as in Naruse's previous '51 picture, Ginza Makeup: while Michiyo is out with the girls, Satoko greets Hatsunosuke home from the office. They flirt, he pings her on the forehead (Naruse makes a glorious cut-on-action here from a medium two-shot to the full-shot). Laying down she's overcome with a nosebleed he consequently attends to. She goes to sleep without having prepared the evening meal she'd promised the couple.

Michiyo packs up and leaves for Tokyo, accompanied by Satoko her albatross who figures it wise to return to her parents, even as in chance parallel Michiyo is returning to her own for the purpose of spousal hiatus. In the course of the train ride, who appears but Cousin Kazuo; Michiyo grows visibly perturbed by the advances made on Satoko's part to her finely groomed and chiseled blood-relative. She resents Satoko's carefree approach to life and love, and her indifference to a marriage proposal (arranged or not?) that awaits in Tokyo. As with the 'weirdness' between her husband and his niece, so exists a tension-on-crush for Michiyo towards her cousin.

Once in Tokyo, Michiyo's brother quickly disabuses her of the decision to reintegrate even briefly into the nuclear family, on the basis of a disruption to their own routine while she works through her own situation, having taken leave from the marriage house and in search of work. The final act, out of a contemporary Hollywood picture, heralds a typhoon that disrupts the already unsettled house with restless sleep and structural damage to the home.

Shortly after Satoko wonders aloud to Michiyo that, "It would make you and Hatsunosuke happy if I married Kazuo, right?", the elder woman erupts into a crazed laughter upon which Naruse punctuates the scene. Hatsunosuke arrives in Tokyo, cowed, or chastened, or whatever suggests an equivalent more invisible. A pair of street-troupers gambol down a lane (just as in Ginza Makeup) providing an interlude of relief from the bittersweet drama at hand. Hatsunosuke explains that he's found new income — his uncle has given him a job offer, and the prospect of increased income, money is reignited.

The couple boards the train back to Osaka, and Michiyo's internal monologue returns in voice-over narration (taken from text from the Hayashi source novel?) for the third time in the film, following the opening and her arrival in Tokyo: "...as we share our lives together in search of happiness: perhaps that is what true happiness means to me."


More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Mikio Naruse:

Koshiben ganbare [Flunky, Work Hard, 1931]

Nasanu-naka [No Blood Relation, 1932]

Kimi to wakarete [Apart from You, 1933]

Yogoto no yume [Every-Night Dreams, 1933]

Kagirinaki hodô [Endless Pavement, 1934]

Ginza keshô [Ginza Makeup, 1951]


Monday, January 30, 2017

Face aux fantômes

And Yet

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Criterion Blu-ray for Night and Fog.)


Face aux fantômes [Facing Ghosts] by Jean-Louis Comolli and Sylvie Lindeperg, produced by Argos Films under the aegis of the INA in 2009, details in 99 minutes the background of the creation of Alain Resnais's 1955 landmark Nuit et brouillard [Night and Fog]. The film takes the form of a lengthy and elucidating interview with historian Sylvie Lindeperg conducted and shot by Comolli within a hangar-like media-workspace illumined by footlights and various blue gels. The first shot reflexes upon a dolly track setup, with 'bowed' angle of the camera recording the traversal of the track's length; unnecessary apparatus for this kind of project, one would think — indeed the entire space seems a little ostentatious or overreaching, albeit this context of steely, 'futuristic' cavernousness perhaps materializes an interior 'third-image' of Night and Fog intended by Resnais in the course of what he would come to describe as a "re-presentation" of the death-camp footage.

1945. French families awaiting deportees' return. The image that will survive: the patriotic deportee: the Resistance fighter coming home to France. Lindeperg: "This of course left unmentioned the specific and tragic fate of the Jews deported for extermination. Images of deportees begin to be shown in late April 1945; they're used to convey this message, even though the faces and bodies tell another story, one that wasn't part of the message of Frenay's ministry nor of the French news."

She continues: "When the Auschwitz camp was evacuated in January of 1945 due to the advance of Soviet troops, the deportees were evacuated westward, in what was later called 'death marches,' to the concentration camps of the Greater Germanic Reich. At that point, they were mixed with, notably, Resistance prisoners. This was the case at the Bergen-Belsen camp, which received many evacuees from Auschwitz. They were liberated in April by British forces and repatriated to France along with other categories of deportees. So if we examine the image of the camps and deportees as seen from France, these deportees return to France together, and that contributes to the confusion. Furthermore, the dominant political line presenting deportees as Resistance fighters reinforces the image of the concentration camp as the only sort of camp, one in which Jews and non-Jews, without distinction, suffered the same fate. In addition, the images shown to the French immediately after the war are of the Western camps. No images of the liberation of Auschwitz or Majdanek were shown. When we speak of the creation of the collective image of the concentration camps and their liberation, all the images were of the Western camps."

Lindeperg goes on to relate that in November 1954, an exhibition opened in Paris titled "Résistance — Libération — Déportation, (1940-1945)" at the Musée Pédagogique. "It's helmed by the French Committee for the History of the Second World War, and more specifically, its secretary general, Henri Michel, and Olga Wormser, who oversees the section on deportation." Wormser, in the early '50s, also joined the committee on the history of deportation, which concentrated on examining the structure of the concentration camp system and whose members included ex-Resistance fighters among others. Their mandate "was first to gather evidence, and then to write the history."

Wormser and Michel write Tragédie de la déportation, 1940-1945, témoignages de survivants des camps de concentration allemands, based on accounts from Resistance prisoners while indicating the gaping absence of the genocide of the Jews. (Lindeperg: Wormser "does this discreetly, first because the narrative frame doesn't allow for it, and also because her understanding of the two phenomena still lacks clarity.")

Fast-forward: Henri Michel ("working under the gaze of the deportees"; Lindeperg cites "the demands of memory and of history") contacts Anatole Dauman (co-founder with Philippe Lifschitz of Argos Films), asks can he produce such a work. Dauman writes to Michel accepting, on the grounds the film will only ever exist if it aims for and meets "the highest artistic ambitions". The film will be produced within the context of the aforementioned exhibition of documents and relics pertaining to the war and in accord with the vision the Réseau du Souvenir. It must honor the dead. Amid these tensions Nuit et brouillard must operate. And it will further serve to advance Olga Wormser's own inquiries.

Resnais will operate on "the principle of accumulation". He is given access to the documents and objects used in the exhibition.

Resnais's modus operandi in part was to make a film in direct contrast to Les camps de la mort (realized by correspondents, Allies, etc.) — a print of which the director owned on 16mm as a "reference". Lindeperg notes that for Resnais it was essential to find the balance between the straight presentation (let's say, an archive dump) and artistic construction.

"It's no longer 1945 — he's 're-presenting' these archival images."

The images of Westerbork and the transport contain no narration by his screenwriter, Jean Cayrol. "Resnais shows a sort of intuition that comes before perceptual knowing...""One must both pierce the mystery, and preserve it."

"Were the subjects reassured by the camera's presence?""The camera pans to seek out her face." — her name was Anna Maria "Settela" Steinbach.

Wormser was historical consultant to Resnais — her knowledge and point of view was still being shaped; as Lindeperg puts it, and as indicated earlier: the film is "a rough draft and an initial synthesis of a history still taking shape."

Resnais had to tweak Cayrol's narration to fit the editing — as he Cayrol couldn't bear to return to the editing room. — "This was where Chris Marker came in.""He did a sort of rewrite of Cayrol's text, but based on the film's images, of course. So then Cayrol pulled himself together and rewrote Chris Marker's version, but this time in the editing room. That's how we moved forward: sentence by sentence. We'd try each one out. So the structure of the narration is very much in the style of Chris Marker, but it's Cayrol's words and thoughts."

Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland and Resnais's arrival to shoot there — no 'museum' in an institutional sense as with the site of "Auschwitz I" — where the filmmaker shoots in black-and-white various interiors. Lindeperg: "This choice implies that everything shot in the museum [of Auschwitz I] is relegated to the past."

The film concludes with a thread about Celan's adaptation of Cayrol's V.O. for the German-language dub: How does it differ from Cayrol's original French-language version? "It shows intent." Here the word is directly used: They "lied".