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A Sincere Reflection on Sexual Objectification
Tornatore's movies shed light on the past and current life and culture of his homeland, Siciliy. His earlier movies Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988) and Stanno Tutti Bene (1990) portray the South Italian society in a genuine way, while together with L'uomo Delle Stelle (1995) and Malèna he combines his passion for his country together with the one for cinema and history. Malèna's narrative revolves around the depiction of female beauty through the eyes and fantasies of men. Female body as an object of men's collective pressure and labelling is not peculiar to Sicily or Italy, but rather a universal phenomenon. The fact that Malèna's story is set in a small town increases this objectification, considering that every village may have its own famous beauty, reminding me Gradisca of Amarcord. But the striking story is more about Renato than Malèna. This character should not be alien, strange or even surprising to most of the male audience, because what he experiences is in accordance with a very normal pattern of growing up and puberty. The funny dichotomy of Renato is his reaction to other men of Castelcuto, who share the same sexual desires and fantasies about Malèna. What makes Renato really different from them? Why is he supposed to be innocent while others are evil, because they publicly utter their fantasies about Malèna. In Renato's dreams we don't see any pornography but it is obvious that they are indeed pornographic (or should we say "phonographic"), but additionally he has a very protective attitude towards her. Maybe he isn't really that old enough to belong to the gang of other boys, who enjoy voyeurism without attaching themselves emotionally, as opposed to Renato who mixes sexual fantasy with love. The movie has very beautiful scenery and old Italian architecture, but the general language is more absurd than realistic. Especially social crises like fascist rule, war and immigration are portrayed in very picturesque scenes, rather than tragic and chaotic. Tornatore always impresses me with the quality of colour in his movies; just to remember the retro atmosphere of his masterpiece La Leggenda del Pianista Sull'oceano (1998). The use of original music with contemporary songs makes also the movie very pleasant to watch. The political references scattered through small dialogues here and there also add the movie an ironic dimension. Especially the father's metaphoric promise about Mussolini's head being broken into two is again just like Fellini's dissident father figure in Amarcord, together with the brief depiction of the education system by the school scenes. I think Malèna has more than the mere sexual element in itself to be discovered, but the reaction to it has hitherto been only in terms of sexuality thanks to the beautiful Bellucci.
Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)
Fantastic Movie on Love, Life and Berlin!
Der Himmel Über Berlin is a fairy tale set in the gloomy atmosphere of Berlin, the meeting point of history and modernity, East and West and separation and immigration. Filmed two years before the demolition of the wall, the movie has the quality of a documentary. Filming locations such as the Potsdam Square, which entirely altered in the last two decades together with the enormous change the city experienced after 1989, increase the movie's value as a historical impression from the sky. The plot is fantastic because the main character is an angel. However the nature of angels is not really investigated deeply and what matters about them is that angels are immortal and passive observes of the life on the earth. The children, as the most important metaphor of innocence are the only ones to see the angels among mortal humans, whose thoughts are heard by Damiel and Cassiel, the two angels accompanying each other. Nonetheless the plot's supernatural character does not intervene in the realism of the movie. Strengthened by the objectivity of angels (only such an ideal being can be truly impartial towards life) what we observe in the film is not disturbed by the problematic relationship of the observer and observed, which is even scientifically formulated by what is called the Copenhagen interpretation in quantum mechanics. The use of black-and-white scenes later to be complemented by coloured ones is a smart way of distinguishing the worldly from the heavenly. The human characters Marion and Homer have also their own angel-like qualities, which attracts Damiel and Cassiel to spend time with them, respectively. Peter Falk's ironic role as himself but also as a former angel and the subsequent decision of Damiel to switch to mortality lets the audience question what they would do if they were to choose between the life of an omnivoyant angel and the finite but real life of a human full of both joys and sorrows. Damiel has been existing since the beginning of the time and he witnessed the whole past of the Earth, the living beings and finally the entire history of humanity. So, why does he choose to become human exactly in 1987 AD? I guess this is the optimistic perspective of Wenders who considers our time as one to be desired for living, even by beings which saw everything what came before and have probably a better idea for the future prospects of humanity. However Damiel is not necessarily tempted by such cosmological questions. After all he is in love and that already makes him human. We cannot know whether he will regret his decision or even if his relationship with Marion is going to last for their entire lives. Nevertheless we are all humans and don't have to decide for anything. Death is a certain part of life and until that happens one should better enjoy each cup of coffee just like Damiel does it.
Nice Example of Orientalist Cinema
Hamam is an Orientalist movie, reflecting the perspective of Western fantasies about the East, in this case Istanbul. Its director is actually Turkish but he filmed Hamam probably for a European audience, putting very delicate pieces of Turkish culture here and there throughout the movie. The traditional family structure, the neighbourhood dynamics, Turkish mentality of business and even culinary habits are elegantly displayed in order to present a lively taste of Turkish culture and daily life to the Western eye. However the movie actually flashes very little of the city itself. Other than a couple of boat scenes on the Bosporus and the final vista of the city, the filming locations do not include the highlights of Istanbul such as the famous mosques or squares. In line with the requirements of the plot we travel through the narrow streets of the Zeyrek area with very old and even ruined houses. As its title goes, the movie's most sound object is the Turkish bath, which has long been associated with sexuality, nakedness etc. in the Western literature and paintings. The position of Francesco as the propriety owner and therefore a kind of the new lord of Madam's household is in accordance with this general Western discourse of hegemony over the exotic Orient. The scene of Francesco's first encounter with Füsun was tempting the audience to imagine that she liked him and would like to have a relation with her new landlord in the near future. However Francesco, not very distant from this Mediterranean culture where men are used to kiss each other for greeting or being also an inheritor of the Roman world where homosexuality was considered normal, discovered his interest for the opposite sex. More than Mehmet's personal effect on that, apparently the general atmosphere of the city together with its people and culture, culminating in this historical and exotic space of hamam was the primary factor for Francesco's expansion into new sexual horizons. The cliché of "harem" fantasy mostly associated with the Turks and Istanbul itself pops up here again. The sacred private place of the Orient has always been regarded as a harem filled with multiple women as men's sexual servants. Similar to the centuries old European fictions like The Abduction from the Seraglio, the harem fantasy was a kind of European voyeurism into the privacy of the Orient, briefly reflected when Mehmet showed Francesco through a hole the naked Turkish women in the bath, which were supposedly shaving their body hair. Apart from such extravagant Orientalism, the movie also had more sincere moments of Turkish way of life to offer. The fortune telling from coffee, pouring water after someone who is departing, the "manly behaviour" of the Turks who spend time with football, playing Tavla and drinking was pretty much portrayed in a more realistic fashion. The relationship between Francesco and his wife was on the other hand a kind of the opposite of what was going on in the Orient. Marta could anyway hardly be a good wife in the eyes of the neighbourhood due to her skinny body. Her unfaithfulness was very mildly received by Francesco, but whether it was due to his modernized Occidentality as opposed to patriarchal Turks or his recent homosexuality adopted from the Turks was unclear. The tragic murder of Francesco was a warning to the European intruder of the potential dangers of the Orient which accompany its pleasures; but Marta's insistence on continuing Madam's enterprise with her aspiration in fact to turn into a Madam nevertheless ended the movie in the hope for the Western audience to realize its fantasies and ideals through an Oriental way of life.
Pandora'nin kutusu (2008)
Subtle Plot with Great Acting
Pandora's Box must be kept closed. Once it is opened nothing is the same anymore. When Nusret joins the lives of her children in a most unexpected way, the status quo balancing the relationships of the three siblings changes drastically. Apparently it is Nesrin, whose story we mainly watch. None of her relations as a wife, a mother, a daughter and a sister are in a healthy condition. But through the narrative we find out that she was and still is the most responsible one of the three siblings. Also she cares a lot for her son, who apparently studies in a costly private university. Compared to Güzin, who is already a pathetic looser, Nesrin should have been the more successful sister with her marriage and motherhood. But she has got an obsessive instinct for control, stemming from her feeling of perfectness. She doesn't lie like Güzin or she is hardworking and prudent unlike Mehmet. This righteousness ego even allows her to intrude into her son's private sphere, because what she does is the right thing and serves to the good of everyone in the last analysis. Murat is not an evil guy or something. His encounter with the thief on the street just reflects that he is a normal person just like everyone. He is afraid of violence and death. Probably in his early twenties, he just tries to escape and Mehmet's lodge is apparently a suitable hermitage. The cutest irony of the movie is the comfortable friendship of Murat with her grandmother he didn't know before. Named after her deceased husband, Nusret really enjoys asking Murat's name again and again. Finally she is happy to have her companion. Anyway the meaningless life in the city is not worth to live for Nusret, especially when she must be the prisoner in an apartment house surrounded by concrete or in a nursing home. Although being considered as useless by her mother, it is only Murat who realizes that Nusret deserves more than that. The story is full with sad things and a happy end is arguable. The Alzheimer theme is unpleasant for the audience and it reminds one the death of parents as well as one's own. Maybe the only remedy to feel happy right after watching this movie is to adopt Mehmet's nihilism.
Como agua para chocolate (1992)
Food, Love and Revolution
Como Agua Para Chocolate is a passionate love story with a distinct narrative through several metaphors, most predominantly food and the revolutionary setting. Besides the sad "forbidden love" theme between Tita and Pedro, I especially found it interesting to discover various clues about the social life in Mexico one century ago. The movie depicts Mexican rural life in ranches as encircled with traditions and strict rules in order to ensure the continuous functioning of this self-sufficient closed system. It is women who hold authority as a land-owning family, personified in the merciless figure of Mama Elena, the guardian of "decent" customs and values of the household. Tita's role in the story is one of a revolutionary in that she resists Elena and the traditions imposed by her authority even after she passes away. The events in 1910's Mexico are parallel to the microcosm of the ranch. The disadvantaged strata of the society revolt against the established rule and the women play a very active role in this struggle. Probably the character of Gertrudis is an exaggeration (how she becomes the general of the militia) but it is a fact that armed women called "soldaderas" actually fought battles side by side with men, other than providing the forces with various logistics such as nursing, cooking and material supply. Although the question whether someone like Gertrudis coming from a landowning family should fight on the side of the peasant rebels requires deeper historical knowledge of the Mexican Revolution, it didn't seem to me realistic. However putting class issues aside, it is apparent that both rebels and Gertrudis are on the same side against the traditional authority. American outsider Dr. Brown's intervention into the internal family affairs in order to both offer help but also to look for personal gain (Tita's hand in marriage) is also ironically reminiscent of the United States involvement during the revolution. I'm sure there are many more themes and analogies in the movie which can be associated with the Mexican history and culture, but difficult to remark if one is not much familiar with both of them. The insufficient budget of the movie was one of its weakest points, especially for scenes which required better visualization (the characters looked like the same even after twenty years); however I enjoyed it a lot, especially after having seen all of those beautifully decorated tables full of delicious food. I can recommend another Mexican movie reflecting rural life and its victims oppressed by tradition: María Candelaria (1943).
No Man's Land (2001)
Bold Satire of War
"Neutrality does not exist in the face of murder. Doing nothing to stop it is, in fact, choosing. It is not being neutral." This quote sounds good and contains a very impressive statement about the crime of inaction. As I watched the movie many years ago for the first time, this quote was my favourite and I was fascinated by the movie's strong critical stance against the Western world watching people killed on TV, as if it was a reality show. More or less the same approach was on another civil war themed movie, Hotel Rwanda (2004), where again peace forces were nothing but an incapacitated group of tourists serving only to visual aesthetics in their colourful uniforms. Having watched No Man's Land for a second time, I have different feelings about it. The course of events is actually in its natural civil war conditions: People speaking the same language kill each other and all are convinced that they defend their fatherlands, until a French officer, who questions himself about the goals, purposes and responsibilities of his military mission, violates his authority and with some luck finds himself in a disillusion of being able to intervene, make decisions and save lives as a neutral side, meaning on neither side but on the side of humanity. In the eyes of the audience this officer with only good intentions throughout his actions, even when he disobeys his commander, is a hero. The character Jane Livingstone appears also to be such a hero using her camera instead of a weapon, whose statement on news channel summarizes the critical approach of the movie towards inaction. But later on even this sympathetic, charming woman hero turns out to be one of those greedy press members insulting his cameraman by telling him not to think or saying that a trench is just a trench. On the other hand the "evil guys", like the captain threatening the press members with confiscating their yellow cards or the colonel, who only sits back at his office and flirting with his "secretary", become the wiser ones with the unexpected and tragic final. Of course one cannot deactivate a quality trap mine, made in EU, because the EU produces only good stuff, which gives it the right to have a say in other countries with its military presence, whose members at the end of the day only get shocked by the madness of the "maniac Balkan people", who even don't know how to speak French. The tragic end didn't make me happy and when I first saw the movie I had really hopes for Cera when Chiki told him he'll die of cancer. But the tragedy is reality and it is good that Tanović didn't try to avoid it. The war itself was a choice and the mine was only produced to kill people right at the beginning. Saying "I'm neutral" in this case should be translated as "it is not personal". The bomb is not produced to kill Cera but anyone, so it is not personal and in the eyes of the war persons are not really worth, contrary to what the French officer thought at the beginning. I'm sure if the movie continued we would see him back in his hut and learned not to question things anymore, because a soldier's duty is to do what is said, not to think, just like Livingstone's cameraman. Both have to shoot when it is ordered.
Amarcord is a masterpiece. Fellini is again very successful in creating a story without a very concrete plot but rather reflecting general descriptions and integrated impressions of a state of collective being in small sketches and vignettes with caricature like characters, as in his previous movies I Vitelloni (1953), La Dolce Vita (1960) and Roma (1972). I don't know whether the work is based on what Fellini himself had experienced as a child, but I guess the important thing is that the movie reflects more or less the memories of his generation. It is the story of a year of an Italian small town, with weather and seasons being related to human emotions like joy, hope and death. So, it is a cyclical story and its elements are actually made of stereotypes (like the mad man, blind musician, prostitute, teachers etc.), all of which are elaborately composing an artistic narrative of the social realities and dominant mentality of the 1930's rural Italy: the personal relations of an average family, approach to sexuality, teachers and pupils, workers (I loved their poem), the status of the old elite, treatment of people with mental illness, technological grandeur of the era (SS Rex) and finally the roles of religion and politics. Especially the latter coins the decade of the Italian history portrayed in the movie, probably inspiring Bertolucci for making Novecento (1976). Gradisca, the adored woman by all, fanatically admires only three things: the Fascist leader, SS Rex and Gary Cooper. Magali Noël, playing Gradisca with outstanding performance besides other characters in several Fellini movies, comes originally from Izmir before having migrated to France in the 1950's. Back to the themes of the movie, the one which was predominantly referred to was the authority. Aurelio's authority challenged by his son has to be balanced by Miranda, probably as it was the case in the traditional large families of the era. All the adolescents (don't forget that Fellini is among them) being in the centre of the movie, especially Titta, are always faced with the authority of the family, the teachers and the church. Although they are innocent and sometimes very rightful in their resistance against these institutions, they are made feel guilty even for the most natural things like masturbation. But sex is not only an adolescent fantasy. Mixed with Orientalist mysteries, gossips of all kinds of sexual stories are popular among the men of the town (sheikh's harem, Gradisca's affair etc.). Even the lunatic uncle cries for "una donna"! All the naughty boys are well obedient when visited by the heroic Fascists; one of them even dreams of his romantic marriage accompanied by a state ceremony in front of the deified Duce. Although telling his reactionary workers the same story about the need of working patiently in order to get rich, Aurelio is still a potential leftist in the eyes of the Blackshirts. The ancien régime is fading away with the nervous count getting powerless each day and only the homeless still greeting the king's statute before sleeping on the sidewalk. However, the Fascists are not wrong in their paranoia, since the lights can go off just right before the final shot, with l'Internationale shouting the verses: "they are not the supreme saviours, neither God, nor Caesar, nor tribune".
Fa yeung nin wah (2000)
The Soft and Gentle Wind from the Orient
In The Mood For Love was a totally different experience for me. I'm not sure if I even liked it or not. I think both. The characteristic mise-en-scène is very experimental. Wonderful costume, lighting, camera effects, use of music, smoke and rain and the insistent repetition of thematic scenes were very impressive and deserve praise. The contextual setting, the lives of two white-collar workers in the marginal environment of early 1960's Hong Kong flat-sharing community was a really interesting subject. While Mao's infamous Cultural Revolution continues in China, the island evolves into a cosmopolitan outpost of Western civilization, resulting in the amalgamation of Chinese traditions together with "degenerate" values of the free market society. The collective mentality and the rigid approach to morality by the Chinese, embedded in the old culture of the country going back to the teachings of Confucius and Lao Tse, are brutally contested in the 20th century by the increasing need of individuality of the people, who don't continue with their older modes of living. Business trips, employment of women (buying food rather than cooking at home or eating together with the neighbours), tolerance to adultery are all novelties introduced by the more complexly urbanized life and the growth of service sector in metropolis. The use of contemporary music from China together with Cuban hits by Nat King Cole was very successful, reflecting this liminality of cultural life. My only dissatisfaction is with the love story itself. During the whole movie the physically distanced couple are portrayed as moral people, since they don't want to betray their respective wife and husband just as they do. They are "different". This idea sounds very romantic and sweet but ridiculous. A love can exist without sex of course, but this couple gives us the impression that they only don't have sex, not because they actually want a relationship like that and are satisfied with intimate sharing of thoughts and moments, but as if they are only forcing themselves to refuse it in order to despise the unfaithful couple, which I call "the invisibles". This careful invisibility of the "bad wife" and "bad husband" was reminiscent of the sensitive avoiding of showing Mohammed's face in the classic movie The Message (1976). It is obvious that the characters are not looking for sex but for a partner to share their lives, which they cannot do under the framework of marriage. They are both gentle, emotional and live next to each other, so for the time being they are a perfect couple. But their stance is self-contradictory. If relation without sex is what they want and how they truly satisfy themselves and they continue this in clandestine occasions knowing that it is wrong what they are doing, these people are not really different than "the invisibles". This doesn't mean that their relationship is wrong but their concern with morality is groundless and the movie's objective narrative is somehow lauding their apparent honesty and purity.
The Crying Game (1992)
The Crying Game is an impressive example of the use of twist, even after the cinema audience has experienced later movies like The Usual Suspects (1995), The Game (1997) and Fight Club (1999). After all the starting point of the story is a small-scale deception of romance set up for Jody by a small group of IRA members including Fergus, who ends up in a more original delusion and has to face its consequences just like Jody did. The two distinctive parts of the movie (in terms of location, setting, theme and even hairstyles) are very well combined with each other, both of them having the gentle "nature" of Fergus as their common denominators. With the exception of him, the members and actions of IRA are not sympathetic to the audience at all. One reason of it can be that watching the movie one doesn't get any idea about the specific motivations of the individual IRA members for what they do. Also the reason why a nice guy like Fergus ended up in a terrorist organization or is (at least at the beginning) convinced of the use of violence is not clear. His personal history and relations to people other than Dil and Jude (family, friends etc., we only witness to his quarrel at work during his whole presence in London) is another mystery. However this much anonymity (literally, since Fergus is Jimmy in the second part) thoroughly reflects loneliness and need for love in all the cases: Jody in custody, Fergus in exile, Dil in sexual exclusion. The deeper nature of the relationship between Jody and Dil had to remain secret in the first part but after Dil's secret was revealed it is only Fergus who tells about his own relation with Jody, when the reality is twisted again but this time only for Dil. Considering Fergus' second vision of Jody as he runs with his cynical laughter and Dil's discovery of Jude's part in her "soldier"s kidnapping, I don't know who takes revenge from whom. But I especially liked Dil's grandiose killing finale, ironically mostly motivated by the jealousy against her victim's seductive breasts, which were the advantage of her sexual competitor against both men in comparison to herself. Like the romance of Dil and Fergus, the kind of Stockholm syndrome between Fergus and Jody has also its unusual oddities related with sexuality. It is not the bed scene when Fergus had to encounter a penis in an uncomfortable way for the first time in the movie, if you remember his help to Jody peeing, which was in turn Jody's second peeing scene, the first being together with Jude just right before being kidnapped when he had explicitly indicated how good he felt. As it can be seen, the movie is full with circular links, ironies and deceptions; connecting difficult and controversial but very different themes like the IRA and trans-sexuality in one story with a gentle and romantic tone.
Lumière et compagnie (1995)
Lumière et Compagnie is a very interesting documentary, giving the audience different perspectives on the meaning of cinema within the concept of its birth a century ago. Heavily centered on directors from France and other countries with strong historical or linguistic bonds to France (Romania, Algeria, Burkina Faso etc.), the movie nevertheless tries to adopt a universal discourse on cinema through evaluating it as a global language of art. Among the movies of the 40 directors and a couple of Lumière examples shown in the film there are certain approaches and themes I find interesting and very much related to the questions asked to the participant directors about the meaning of cinema and its future. Peter Greenaway's segment with the passing calendar years starting from the symbolic date of 1895 with a constant sitting naked man was in that sense very much reminding me the novelty of cinema when compared to the life of humanity and civilization, just like the 52 seconds passing in the life of that man, who is young and promising. The parts combining the whole film together with interviews and shots showing the audience how these individual movies were made was also a theme itself in the movies of Sanders-Brahms, Chahine, Lelouch and Axel, all emphasizing on the making of the movie more than the movie itself as Lumière et Compagnie was about. The concept of realizing the presence of a camera and trying to be on the screen was elaborately used by Booman and Allouache, whereby the latter strikingly combined it with his country's patriarchal social structure. I really enjoy Costa-Gavras' segment, which delicately reminds me of my status of audience after 50 seconds of eye contact with the audience on the screen, for which cinema is produced at the end of the day. Haneke is again outstanding with filming an already prepared television shot, maybe challenging the three rules of the game in an original fashion but I prefer such rule violations when done more sincerely like in the case of Ouedraogo when he was caught by the camera saying "in Burkina Faso we can make four takes with the soldiers". Most of the directors are optimistic and even emotional when commenting on cinema and its future, but somehow many of them sound to me as clichés; maybe they are not so good in speech that's why they chose to make movies. However I think the strongest statement was uttered by Yoshida that cinema cannot capture every moment and the director shooting his movie at the real time of the nuclear bomb attack would be dead. Very reminiscent of Chacun Son Cinéma (2007) prepared for the Cannes Film Festival by 33 directors, it is always fun to watch samples from great directors and the use of the so-called first movie camera as the basic concept is a very challenging and as much as a successful idea.