Thursday, February 23, 2012

Glen's First Annual Film Awards

No matter how knowledgeable the voters are, no matter how catholic their film taste is, no matter how devoted they are to seeing every god-damn release, film awards are bound to irritate me - the reason being that they don't have the courtesy to reward my favourite films. So, with that in mind, I've initiated my own little awards ceremony. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Solaris: The Mundane Overtakes the Sublime

One of the most oft repeated bits of trivia about Solaris is that the source book's author, Stanislaw Lem, decried Tarkovsky's adaptation on the basis that he didn't write about, "...people's erotic problems in space." This quote, particularly when taken in the context of Tarkovsky's later comments on 2001: A Space Odyssey, (he considered it "sterile") suggest the film be read as just that: a treatise on peoples' erotic problems in space. And, having not read Lem's novel, for all I know it might be when judged in comparison to its predecessor. But on its own terms Solaris own presents itself as something rather different: a film about the difficult relationship between humankind's tendency to navel-gaze and its ability to engage with the universe around it.

In Solaris' beginning it is the scientific questions which are brought to the fore. While human loss hangs over the proceedings - brooding walks, recurrent references to the day's personal meaning, even a portrait - the text remains stubbornly devoted to the questions of Solaristics. Men sit around and debate whether there remains any scientific value left in the project and how one measures the worth of scientific knowledge. Perhaps most tellingly of all the early scenes end with the remarkably alienating, humanity-defying traffic sequence.

It's only when Kris actually reaches the station that "erotic problems" begin to surface. But this apparent change in focus simply dovetails with the film's own thematic concern: namely the difficulty humans have approaching matters with import beyond their existence and that imply limits to their existence. It's a concern which is hinted at in Dr Snaut's suggestion of acclimatisation through placing cut-up paper in the air vents to mimic the rustle of leaves on Earth, and which is latter brought home more forcefully in his birthday speech in which he insists that humans don't want to discover aliens so much as they want to rediscover themselves.

Kris is too caught up in worrying about what the reappearance of his dead wife means for him to consider it as part of the larger question of what Solaris is and how (or indeed if) it thinks. Even Dr Sartorius, who forcefully attempts to ignore any human dimension to the problem responds to the planet's physical manifestations as an attack on his psyche and responds in kind. As a result of these stubbornly human respones Solaris' interaction with the people on the station becomes ever more defined by them. As Doctor Snaut and Hari observe: S\she becomes more human the longer she stays around them.

It's no surprise then that the final, almost last ditch attempt to communicate with Solaris consists of the people aboard the space station telling the planet who they are. It's even less of a surprise that the apparent "breakthrough" appearance of islands on the surface of Solaris is merely yet another case of the planet being made to reflect themselves.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dispatches from Rotterdam: What Day is it Now?

38 Witnesses: This might’ve counted as evidence for Takashi Miike’s assertion that every film with at least one good scene is worthwhile, except that it’s more of a decent film with one brilliant scene. Granted, almost all the others come at the right times and contain the right ideas – it’s just that they’re often written a little too expressively for a realist film or that they ably express the idea behind the scene without really revealing the person delivering it. The former is especially the case with the dialogue given to Yvan Attal which indulges in a few too many “long, dark night of the soul” clich├ęs, far too many nautical metaphors and is just a little bit too focused for a drowning man with a desperate need to walk a plank. Perhaps a better actor might have been able to give the words more weight but Attal doesn’t quite nail the thousand yard stare.

In any case he’s adequate and, as suggested by my opening remarks, this is a pretty thorough exploration of guilt and justice in which both the moral and practical questions are given full reign. Should one own up to a moral failing if it’s too late to have a practical impact? Should justice deter, punish or rehabilitate? As dramas of ideas go this one does a solid job of being thoughtful about such quandries without being prescriptive. Yet because of its slightly off dialogue it never truly shines until its stunning climactic scene which spells out the horror of the initiating incident in clinical, yet gut wrenching, detail.