Looking back at my film diary for 2013; I managed to watch more than 398 films, wrote more than 96,000 words in my Film Diary, and as I always say, “Not bad, but could have been more”, it could have been more if it were not for my traveling and starting my study in UK.
As you might notice, from the end of January to June; more than %98 of the films come from Soviet Union, it was my year of discovering Soviet Cinema.
I saw many films in 2013, and I chose my favorites not based on the year the film was released, but rather, the year I saw it, you might notice many films from 2012 making the list, for I saw them for the first time this year.
Favorite Films of 2013/2012
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013) Richard Linklater’s Before/After films has a special personal meaning to me, but that is another story that one day I will share with you, the reason I mentioned it, is because; even before watching the film, I knew it would be my favorite film of the year, call that a personal bias, just as, looking back; Before Sunrise is my favorite of 1995 and Before Sunset of 2004, the call already in labelling Before Midnight as being part of “Before/After Trilogy“, only, it is too early to call the film as the last time we see Jesse and Céline on the screen, there sure has to be more. I can’t remember where I read about the five stages in life, it goes something like this; fertilization before birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and the eight stage of experience; exploring, life calling, focusing, working, excelling, mastering, transcending and regencies. Where are Jesse and Céline in Before Midnight? They are in adulthood, working and mastering, about to transcend, so there is still one stage to go. The first time we see Jesse is in the airport, saying goodbye to his son, and as he leave the airport, the camera follow, in a long shot wee see a woman leaning against a car, we don’t see her face clearly, as Jesse gets into the car, the camera pan to reveal in the backseat, two little girl, who is the woman with him? Can it be that Jesse had a son with Céline and got divorced? All that is answered in the next shot, as we see Céline and Jesse together, that is about the only mystery or a story or plot in Before Midnight, and the mystery is solved within the span of 30 seconds, for Before Midnight is a film about simple events captured in time, in examination of relationship of two people, who once were madly in love, now going into the mid-age, that love is in question, everything seem to have been improvised, even the other characters dialogue, it seem each one wrote their own line, like a Rohmer or a Bresson film, we see these characters as not just a mere fictional representation on the screen, but real people that we relate too, one reason, that the three films already has a cult following, with Jesse and Céline taking an independent life on their own, out of the screen into reality. It is no wonder that sunny south Peloponnese peninsula is the location for the film, it is the sunny stage going by in their lives, before sunrise was in Vienna, then before sunset in Paris, now to Greece, an as always; Linklater, intertwine in the place into the film, Greek culture and heritage; from making Dolma, to Greek Mythology, music, to reference to Elia Kazan, etc, even the title is spelled in Greek when first it appear on the screen. The dialogues and conversation between the characters become a imitation of everything that is relevant today, language is used independently, and you have more than two people tipping in, the conversations that once Jesse and Céline had now become unbearable when they are together, rather, their intimate conversation with each become reminiscence in nostalgia or an argument on their future worries, as the doubts come in whither they are still in love with each, or will be into the future. Did I mention the constant references to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, two of my idols, made me more relate to Jesse, rather cheesy, but true .
V Tumane aka In the Fog (Sergei Loznitsa, 2012) It is expected from a viewer to have a notion of what a war film should be; action and explosion, and when a viewer once in a while encounter a war film that is about the people stranded in the war, a character study of the few, the viewer at first become hostile to it, but a smart viewer, will slowly sink into the film, becoming a participant in a meditative watch, Sergei Loznitsa, among the greatest of recent young talent coming out of Russian cinema, has perhaps made one of the best Russian war film of recent times, if I could think of another war film coming out of Russia with such realism and intensity of pure brilliant, I have to go back to the Soviet era, to Elem Klimov’s timeless masterpiece; Come and See, ironically, both film are set during the German invasion of Belarus, with Come and See being on an epic scale of larger than life war film that grip the viewer from the start to the end, and In the Fog a simple character study, slow pace, long takes, haunting the viewer long after watching it. In the Fog is based of a short novella from the great, but unknown in the West, Vasil’ Bykaw, the film captures beautifully the lyricism in Byakaw’s writings onto the screen. Loznissa’s films are revisionist of the old patriotic Soviet notions of resistance, traitors, collaborators, and passives, similar to Aleksei German’s forgotten masterpiece; Road-Checkpoint, the forgotten ones whom a history remembers as the good or the bad, events black and white, the hero, the soldier and the collaborator, only in reality, nothing is as black and white, a lie become history, washing away the truth, there are those with consciences and those without it, the later is best fitted to survive, for it knows all the trickery to survive the war, and history remembers only the official story, the rest are forgotten, as it disappear into the fog.
La grande bellezza aka The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013) La grande bellezza opens with a quote from Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night, and like Céline’s writings, you are taking into a hyper pessimism of a nihilist journey, this time into the city of Rome, and everything that exist in Rome is of interest to Jep Gambardella, since he was uprooted from his home as a youth, living in Rome, when the reality is too much to take, he takes into his fantasy, walking among the Roman ruins, he sees his vision of the city, in his imagination he creates his own stories and characters, Sorrentino’s camera become his vision, it fly in all direction, defying gravity in a circus of the holy, the profound and the vice, glamor, disgust, vulgar, the serious, the silly, a jungle of sound, noise and music, a wildlife inhabited by creatures feeding upon the past, none happy at the present of existence, with they only route taking out is escapism into the material world of desires, empty pleasures, with the new icon of worship replacing the old, a plastic surgeon is the new Pop to be worshiped and asked for miracles, pure Felliniesque. You got tribute to Italian masters; Fellini, Antonioni, Rossellini, Pasolini, etc, all over the place, just to name a few. La grande bellezza is a beautiful film, a grand cinematography, each scene like a painting on a vast canvas, it is among those films that must be watched on the big screen, otherwise, the collective experience of watching is lost. Jep who seem to be indifferent to everything, cold and distance, like the rest has a incurable wound of his past; the girl he once loved, and lost, his is living his old age, the passions he once had, and now are gone forever, he is lost, suppressing his most sincere emotions, but they show up now and then, as he become aware of himself thought the eyes of others. Rome’s new La dolce vita, the sweet life generation are old and grumpy, they are cold, not sweet anymore, lost in the vast spaces, reflecting upon their failures, they are full of emptiness, pretending to still live the fast life. A mediation on life, love, death, grief, faith, religion, loneliness, youth, old age, melancholic, nostalgia, and Art, or what is considered art with its meaningless and empty values like its creators, among the best scene; a frustrated little girl taking out his anger on a big canvas with paints, looking on are Europe’s biggest art critics and gallery owner, the nothings is given a value, therefore it become art, and she is an artist, earning millions, while the real art is locked up behind the doors. Many comparison has been made between La grande bellezza and Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and all is to the point, it is modern day La Dolce Vita, with it grander tour de force journey.
Post Tenebras Lux aka Light after Darkness (Carlos Reygadas, 2012) In Spring of 2008, I first watched Reygadas’ Silent Light, I had to watch it three more times in the span of a week, and for a month, I could not stop talking about the films and recommending it to other friends, I had already seen both of earlier work of Reygadas; Japon and Battle in Heaven, and I thought little of them, but after seeing Silent Light, I eagerly waited for his next film, and it is five years later, gain, watching a new Reygadas film, Post Tenebras Lux, and like Silent Light, it has the power to shock you, to leave you for days reflecting upon the imagery, for it is hypnotic in it power. From the first image, of a Little girl, her first words are given to images and color that she sees, sound only she can hear, textures only she can feel, the film search for a style, for a narrative, from the world of childhood that consist of feeling through our senses, to the world of the adults, that consist of feeling and emotions, that become the story of Light after Darkness; light of childhood, and darkness of adulthood, both are elements of existence within nature, and it is nature that conquers both. There is a Father who seem to live in paradise, with a a happy family, only, just as he is gentle with his children, he is equally cruel to other being in nature, a Mother, who only care for her children, but something dark live within her, we never know what it is. Then there is something, someone,, it is always looking in, it live within the lens, distorting the reality, at times it appear, red with a tail, it is the mythical creature; devil, ready to corrupt the happy childhood that is full of mystery. The unpredictability of the film, the experimental use of narrative, the rapid shift and jumps between sequences, make it feel like watching a dream, a fantasy, or a mere recollections of memories, it shift back and forth; quotes from Tolstoy, from Pierre in War and Peace, is mentioned by bourgeoisie, drinking champagne and smoking cigars discussing Dostoevsky and Chekhov, then, next cut; to a nightmarish of an orgy in France, in which the couple are looking for a “Duchamp” room, but they mistakenly get into “Hegel” room, there is a dark element of humor in the film. Everything is in depth of field, the action is center staged, distorted, but always controlled, innovative use of framing and lens, it is a film that distort reality into a nightmarish dream of fantasy.
Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (Hong Sang-soo, 2013) In Hong Sang-soo’s cinema, our first love is with his characters, his films are character study within a framework of a relationship, like Rohmer’s films, but just as Rohmer is formal in his shooting style, the opposite is true for Sang-soo; he loosen his style whenever he desires, his camera is staged like a distance viewer, always observing, and like any observation, as we observe others, the camera become an eye, a little pan here and there become the turning of the head, or glancing of the eyes. His use of color is naturalistic, subtle, yet, there is always a bright color within the frame that attract our eyes (the red sweater that Haewon love to wear), same is true for his composition, they seem very realistic, almost a documentary setup, but they are calculated to utmost details, true is also for the use of sound, the long takes, music and voice-over, as it is with the acting and the characters behaviors, he makes it look so simple, watching his film is like taking a slow walk in the park, when you get lost, you don’t want to find your way out, just as you don’t want to stop observing the characters in Sang-soo’s films, they become intimate friends, that influence comes from Robert Bresson, and if I pick, in my opinion, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon is the most Bressonian of all of Sang-soo’s films to date in his use of space, major actions happens off-screen, only a few line of voice-over is used to inform the viewer of the shift in the narrative, although the one style that makes Sang-soo different from many filmmakers working today is his minimal use of the cut, he never cut within a scene, rather, each cut take the viewer into a different place and time, instead of the cut, he prefer to re-frame, pan, or zoom in, in a way, he is like a master haiku poet; always capturing time and space as it is, as it slowly build up into a climax of pure emotions.
Jagten aka The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012) There are many ways of analyzing Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, and as you watch it, you come out with your own personal observation as to the film, one thing is for sure; everything that happens, every character’s motive, behaviors, and perception of reality is based on an event that never took place, and to have a character guilty of a crime that is none-existence is like condemning him to live in the abyss of the darkest place in human psyche, there comes the question that examine the nature of; friendship, relationship, ethics, morality, justice, crime, violent, revenge, individualism, mob attitude, forgiveness, redemption, and vindication, I’m sure I have missed many more words and adjective to describe the masterful complexity of the film, it is perfect in every way, and there are many ways in The Hunt.
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012) From the first frame of Frances Ha, the playfulness of the two characters, the string music, the giveaway moments, and the black and white cinematography, one can’t help but think of François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, made 50 years after Truffaut’s timeless masterpiece, Frances Ha is a a different take on relationship gone astray, cold and distance at times, perhaps no other tribute to the master is as clear as the playful use of music as a sudden burst into emotion within each scene (Georges Delerue’s Thème de Camille from Godard’s Le mépris, among the many from Delerue used in the film) the scene where she is running to get cash is pure French New Wave, such nostalgic tribute, even her two brief roommate are copies of Jules and Jim, and expect lots of running, riding bicycle, giveaway moments, more playful, childish behaviors, but in a world in which the reality of the grownup sink in, there comes the nostalgia of finding oneself alone amide the crowd, and the only escape, is behaviors that is viewed by others as abnormal, or rather, childish, that is the problem with Frances Ha; she still want to be a child, in an ever changing world of grownup, and those moments of pure happiness, the few she has, are those she behave on her own, the few time she is happy with others, passes by, and turn into nostalgia for her, to escape it, a sudden impulse drive her, like going to Paris for two days, the reason? only Frances Ha knows, as she end up sleeping away her time in Paris in a little room, when she is out, her Paris a gloomy walk into empty streets, cafes, and apartments, for one sees places as one feel at the time, and her confusion only make her shift into a world of make believes, pretending to others to be what she is not, as Frances Ha slowly shift into the territory of dark humor, the harder she try to fit, the more she falls into the abyss of loneliness and alienation, for like everything else; time can make even friendship into a distance memory of forgotten happiness, and reflection upon it, only make one nostalgic.
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (Michel Gondry, 2013) There are many documentaries on Noam, with social and political themes as its main subject, this one is different, Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? is deep rooted in philosophical dialectics examination on linguistic, every word, sentence and meaning is given an image in symbolism, imagery to words with Gondry’s animation speaking Noam’s mind, imagery and sound explain to the viewer the inner meaning that is communicating. As Noam question everything, from his childhood memory, love for Russian literate of 19th century, to classicism in science, Aristotle, Medieval, Galileo, Renaissance, Descartes, Newton, Darwin, Evolution, skepticism, daily perception and interpretation of objects, genetic, inspirations, epistemology, astrology, religion, prejudice, death of his wife, relationship, family, linguistic, human right issues,and his trip to Kurdistan and advocacy of the Kurdish issue. Gondry’s heavy french accent and Chomsky’s masterly of the language, their misunderstand at time is simply hilarious, the film has many humors.
Like Someone In Love (Abbas Kiarostami, 2012) More than half of Kiarostami’s cinema take place inside a car, passengers on a journey, looking out into the passing world, from Tehran, to Tuscany, to Tokyo and beyond. Long dialogues and conversation between characters from different social background that circumstance bring them together for a short glimpse of times, and then separate, never to meet again, traditional, social or generational conflict surface within each encounter, with simple cameras setup, from the perspective of each characters and one from that of the viewer, sound like simplicity and minimalism at its best? That is the cinema of Kiarostami, but with each passing film, he add more flavor to his style; in Like Someone In Love, there are few sarcastically humor scenes that one rarely sees in a Kiarostami films, same is true with building suspense and stretching it, and his experimental use of sound, of creating images and characters off-screen with only their voices, it is simply brilliant, take the Grandmother in the film, we only get a glimpse of her from the window of a passing taxi, yet, she is one of the six characters that make the film, as for the casting, the performances are not as genuine as the non-actors that Kiarostami used to get the best performances out in his films back home in Iran, especially Akiko, she is poor at her reactions, which is the core of Kiarostami’s cinema; as the camera is held more on the observed, than the observer, still, masterful from a Master.
Le Passe aka The Past (Asghar Farhadi, 2013) We are creatures who think; we are living in the present, and only the present and the future matter, but the truth is; everything that we do or we plan to do is determined by the past, for it is in the metaphysical nature of time, that only the past exist; as I type these word, they are present, but now are past, just as the next sentence come from a future thought, but as I type it in the present, it become the past. It is only befitting that a film titled Le Passe, represent a reality on the screen, with characters and circumstances who’s destiny are shaped by muddy events that happened in the past, with the revelation of the truth, comes the unpredictable consequences. As in all of Farhadi’s film, a Dostoevskian examination of relationship of a couple is at the center stage of the film; in About Elly, it was escapism and the failure of the two couple to understand each other, in Fireworks Wednesday, it was the suspicion between the two, in Beautiful City, the two are separated by the norms of society that condemn their relationship, and in Nader and Simin: A Separation, it was the making the hard decision to separate, in Le Passe, all that has been, it the attempt to start a new beginning into the future that is at stake, for the past still hunt each of the characters, as there is this constant tension between characters in Farhadi’s film that slowly build into a climax, their mere present within the same space of each other is enough for the suspense, as each character hide more emotion underneath, than showing on the surface, the periodical release of tensions within them is always taking out at the person that is not part of the conflict, only toward the end, does each person face their inner demons in which they find the source as of being in others, so it is with the adults in La Passe, they each leave the frame, as if running away from the others, as for the children, they are there as contrast to them, they never hide way their emotion, from rage to happiness, they express it emotionally and physically, at the end, there comes those moments of each character, as they breakup into pieces, shattered like their relationship.
Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier, 2012) Oslo, August 31st open like an experimental film, with voices recalling the memory of a day in Oslo, it could have been the story of anyone in the city, but it become that of Anders, a day and a night in the life of a former drug addict, in the morning he is leaving a rehab clinic, he is determent to commit suicide, take a rock with himself and sink himself into a river, but as if resurrected, he surface again, to start his day, into Oslo, to search for what has remain of his past, and what is left of the future, with the constant thought of suicide in between, with the style of the film shifting as the mood changes, perhaps none is more obvious as the examination of everyday life in a cafe, heard and seen from the perspective of Anders, wise use of sound by the process of selectivity and elimination, as in a Kieślowski film. Oslo, day and night, is a cold and distance city, former friends are more cold and stranger to each others than the unknown walkers going by, his only redemption is a girl far away from him, on the other side of the world, calling, leaving messages, to get a second chance at love he once let go by, but the answer never comes, the day and night mean nothing to him at the end, only to realize the grim reality of a past that will never be corrected in the present, nor in the future, what is left to do but to take a journey into the undiscover’d country, from whose bourn, no traveler returns.
Les Salauds aka Bastards (Claire Denis, 2013) There is a magic to Denis as to how she captures the human body, in her films, the flesh, the movement of the muscles, gestures, gaze, even a little twisting of the arm has a significant meaning to the psychology of the characters. I remember the first I watched Beau travail, which was my first encounter with the cinema of Denis; I was so overwhelmed by the poetic beauty of the film, which find itself in the simple gestures and body movement, I kept going back watching the film to know the secret behind its hypnotic power, and that power is in choreographing the simple movement of the body to utmost details, as if a musical performance set to a tempo that know no space nor boundaries, it just flows, same is true for Les Salauds, more formal in its narrative structure, but as bold and innovative as Beau travail, take a journey into the heart of darkness, in which the many faces of darkness become an obscure object of desire in a murky world of the innocents and the guilt, intertwining toward an abyss, great soundtrack form Tindersticks.
Vous n’avez encore rien vu aka You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Alain Resnais, 2012) The essence of cinema consist of two basic emotions; actions and reactions, just as it exist within a metaphysical and a realistic observations; there is the screen, there is the viewer, there is action, there is reaction. The norm of cinema is to capture the two in one, narrative driven, the reaction from perspective of the viewer become that of the film, character take your emotions, as you emphasize with them and the story. Many filmmakers tried to capture the two reality on separate medium, the action and the reaction, the screen and the viewer, and each time, by eliminating on motif of the other, a rather experimental take, films have been made, in which as a viewer, you become aware of the construction of the film, and participate as a viewer within the characters in the film, Kiarostami’s Shirin is an example, as is some films of Godard, or Herz Frank, etc. Resnais has always been one of those filmmakers, with passing time, somehow he managed to innovate himself, find a way to make film on an experimental scale, but narrative driven as if in classic tradition of filmmaking, in You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet the two walk a balance line, it is a film that examine the nature of films, theater, acting, play, literature, painting, music, poetry, architecture and their constant interaction with the viewer, sound like experimental filmmaking, but it is a film more in line of an Agatha Christi mystery tale, especially Then There Were None; a dead man call upon the living, a playwright and his former stage actors to gather in a large mansion in a remote place to perform a modern day version of Eurydice , full of unexpected events, shifting of narrative and character study, past, present and the future exists on the same canvas, the acting is also in three stages, three different people at times, playing the same role, each with a different take as they observe each other, they lost in time, space, places and memories that is forces upon them with no control over it, such classic narrative and style, such subtle form to tell a story, yet, such innovation, such freshness. “I love you too much to live”, says Orpheus to Eurydice, and one tender gaze, one look take away Eurydice back to Hades. Vous n’avez encore rien vu is based on Jean Anouilh’s plays Eurydice and Dear Antoine: or, the Love That Failed, and like Resnais’s earlier film, Melo, which is based on a Henry Bernstein play; both film are an examination on the impossibility of a lasting love, in Melo, it is only a reflection on the woman from two men who both loved her equally, in Vous n’avez encore rien vu, it is one man’s dilemma with two characteristic, love and death, he seem to find both eternal when they become one; Orpheus is with Eurydice at last.
Un monde sans femmes aka A World Without Women (Guillaume Brac, 2012) Ah, what a small masterpiece Un monde sans femmes is, just under one hour in length, it got everything of emotions that many of today’s film lack, it is almost a perfect tribute to the cinema of Ermanno Olmi, with characters that one encounters in daily life, too real for the screen. There are five characters in the film; Sylvain, a shy middle age man, living a lonely life, who fall in love with two strangers; a mother and a daughter, arriving for a short holiday in a small French coastal town. Sylvain become attached to them, and fall in love with the Mother, only to have a rival in Gilles, a local police who seduce the Mother, for she is attracted to guys who want her for a short time, as she confess to Sylvain of her inability to secure a long lasting relationship, heartbroken, there is nothing left for him but a short outburst of emotion in the night before the departure of the two stranger. The guilt of abandonment is felt by the daughter, who in return is the only one who is capable of feeling Sylvain’s pain, for she seem to understand the true nature of love. There is also the character of Marie, a old woman and a friend of Sylvain whom he confide in. In today’s ever macho cinema, it is hard to come upon a film like Un monde sans femmes, to find a sensitive, shy and passive character as Sylvain.