Friday, 18 January 2008

Movies reviews - Koktebel, Jan Svankmajer Vol1


A Russian movie about a boy and his out of work recovering alcoholic father who travel across the country on foot to get to a little town called Koktebel. The boy is level-headed. His father isn’t. The movie begins with them hitching a ride on a train, moves on to them spending time with a railway guard, working on a house in exchange for money, meeting with and recovering from an attack, splitting up, and finally reaching the town.

They might be poor but they aren’t dumb. The father used to be an aeronautical engineer and knows his rights. The son is intelligent and curious about gliders and birds, yet far too old for his age, having lived with an alcoholic father in the past. The story told in the movie is mainly the story of the boy, his observations and experiences.

The movie is characterized by a light non-invasive soundtrack that suits the film. Other appealing things are the way the camera tends to linger on a particular person for a while, allowing us to watch that person at our leisure.

Collected works of Jan Svankmajer - Vol1

I happened to rent this without knowing what to expect. The DVD turned out to consist of various short movies (around 10-15 mins each) by Svankmajer. Each movie is made in a slightly different style like puppetry, stop photography (used a lot), cartoons, etc., and is usually silent, except for a soundtrack. Some shorts are in colour and some are black and white. Each movie is either about or contains physical or displayed representations of ideas, values, etc. i.e. the stories the director tells us are really pictorial representations of human nature, feelings, patterns, etc.

For example, his short about the picnic shows us a picnic with no people. Instead, the objects in a picnic seem to be enjoying themselves – clothes, tables, chairs, record player and spade all seem to be having a fun time by themselves. ‘Et Cetera’ shows us a collection of cartoons – in one, a man taming an animal turns into the animal and vice versa.

The director is talented; he uses sound and music in ways I’ve never heard before. An impulse I had while watching his shorts was to take notes. I felt like I was seeing something new, a new way of portraying ideas. With very little sound, your attention is taken up almost entirely by the visuals that move quickly and are edited crisply. The tone of the shorts is dark and morbid. In many instances, the ideas that the director chose to portray and images he chose to represent those ideas left me reeling. I need to see more stuff like this.

My favourite among the lot is ‘Punch and Judy’. It involves two puppets fighting over a guinea pig and how their fight escalates. A metaphor for violent human nature. I came across a review on IMDB that mirrors my exact thoughts about this short but is way better than what I could ever put down on paper:

And here as well,


Bits and Pieces said...

Hmm...unsure if I could actually make sense of surrealistic cinema. I mean, I watched The Darjeeling Limited last weekend and I thought that was quite weird, besides being highly inaccurate in its depiction of India.

Interesting, how in the first film the camera freezes onto a person in order to allow you (the viewer) to gaze at the actor in leisure. What are some of the things you observed, which you would not have observed if the camera did not linger?

Daniel said...

If the camera were to not linger...

I suppose when you're watching a movie about people travelling, having a camera linger on a person's face makes you realise that travel itself involves a lot of lingering i.e. a major part of your walking, trekking, a train ride is spent looking blankly or thoughtfully into the distance without saying a word.

So having a lingering shot just emphasises this forced silence that you have no choice over and makes us winder what's going through our character's mind during the crawling close-up shot.

Also, showing us how people spend their time when alone like this is in keeping with the realistic tone of the film. You wouldn't see this in a slickly edited Hollywood film, which is what I guess this film would be more like without shots like these.

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