This promotional shot from the upcoming season of Sherlock immediately reminded me of Edward Hopper’s iconic painting Nighthawks (1942). I certainly envision Watson sitting in the English equivalent of a diner late at night, suffering from insomnia brought on by his troubled thoughts. He is a lone man in a large city.
Wong Kar-Wai is one of my favourite filmmakers. Other than his masterpiece In the Mood for Love, I also appreciate Days of Being Wild and Chungking Express. I love how most of his films have a distinct time and place (most are set in Hong Kong), but evoke universal experiences such as urban isolation. While In the Mood for Love has a distinct mood of nostalgia and captures a bygone era, Chungking Express is firmly planted in present-day Hong Kong- a bustling city teeming with people and pulsating with bright lights. The frenetic camerawork and saturated colors give a sense of energy as well as claustrophobia. A common thread between the two films is the existential ennui that pervades them. It is ironic that in overcrowded Hong Kong, though personal space is frequently encroached upon and one never seems to be alone, the sense of alienation is stronger than ever. Perhaps this is emblematic of all modern cities?
As with almost all of Wong’s films, the soundtrack is superb. The most iconic song from the film, for me, is ‘California Dreaming’. This classic, catchy tune promises an escape from her mundane life for one of the characters. California is a mythical land of open roads, beaches, sunshine and freedom; a place that idealistic youth dream of. It is fitting that she eventually becomes a flight attendant, earning a ticket out of Hong Kong and paving her path towards California.
Finally, I watched one of Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave films with Anna Karina as the main character. She is captivating as Angela, turning from coquettish to despairing at the blink of an eye. Her beauty and vulnerability draws you in, as you sense her longing and frustration at her inability to connect with Emile.
I found Godard’s techniques, revolutionary for his time, very effective at capturing the contradictions of romantic relationships. Instead of having the entire scene play out in chronological time, Godard splices snippets to form a slightly disjointed narrative. The viewer is left to imagine what happens, for example, in an argument between Angela and Emile. This reflects the nature of spats between couples in real life- the primary matter of dispute often plays less of a role than the little silly phrases uttered.
Like Last Year at Marienbad, another defining French New Wave film, A Woman is a Woman is a refreshing departure from the frenetic, action-packed but emotionally hollow narratives of Hollywood cinema. I’ll be checking out other Godard films if I can.
This 1956 film (winner of the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film) is absolutely delightful and precious. The little boy’s mannerisms and interactions with his ‘pet’ balloon are a joy to watch. The director is especially skilled at ascribing anthropomorphic qualities to the balloon, which displays different emotions- playfulness, attachment, distress etc. It’s as if the balloon takes on a life of its own when the boy unties it from a lamp.
I feel that there are subtle undercurrents of social commentary, especially on the role of school and authority. Authority figures (teachers, an elderly woman who’s the boy’s primary caretaker) display a tendency to confine children and separate them from the external world by shutting doors or windows, thereby estranging the boy from his balloon. To me, the balloon with its vivid hue represents that special quality inherent in every child- perhaps a curiousness and sense of wonder. The fact that the boy is the only one among his boorish male peers to have a balloon is very telling.
His solitary walks about the streets of Paris also set him apart as a unique, intelligent, sensitive child, whereas being confined in classrooms has manifested in bad behaviour among most of his male classmates. When he encounters another girl with a blue balloon, I think it’s a sign of a kindred spirit. Finally, when his balloon deflates after being attacked by the gang of boys, the balloons in the city of every colour drift towards him. Floating in the air, he is carried away in an unforgettable ending shot.
My taste in drama serials is rather diverse- American, British, Korean, Japanese and a sprinkling of mainland Chinese and Taiwanese. Bu Bu Jing Xin (translated rather horribly as Startling by Each Step) is my favourite mainland Chinese drama, and it happens to be a period piece (though not strictly authentic).
To me, costumes are a main feature of any period drama or film, and the Manchu attire in Bu Bu Jing Xin is so richly-coloured and ornate. I particularly admire scenes in the snow as they showcase dramatic capes with fur-lined collars. The black fur Manchu hat that men occasionally don is striking in its austerity, a contrast to the elaborate gilded headdresses of the women. It’s fascinating how actors can transform into their characters with the aid of their wardrobe.
I watched this gem a while back but re-lived it with my sis recently. I love how the characters are portrayed in a wonderfully real, down-to-earth way, especially Matt King and his daughter Alexandra. Matt is emotionally estranged from his wife and trying to reconnect with her as she lies comatose in hospital. His love for her is a remnant of the bond they once shared, yet he hates her for what she’s done to him (having an affair). The way he lashes out at her and her lack of response is terribly heartbreaking. She’s not able to defend herself, to justify her actions, or to somehow mitigate the anger and hurt he feels, which only heightens his frustration.
Alexandra, too, has to struggle with her conflicted feelings about her mum. They argued over her affair, yes, and her own teenage angst probably came into it as well. But as she stands with her dad and younger sister on a hill, gazing at their own spot of untouched Hawaiian paradise, she recalls with a touch of fondness how she and her mum used to camp there by the beach. It’s these quiet, subtly moving moments that form the heartbeat of the film. The lush natural landscape of Hawaii with its calming blues and greens serves as a perfect palette.
Finally, the ending shot in which Matt and his two daughters snuggle together on the couch watching TV, is extraordinary in its simplicity and sense of comfort. As a new family, they are still learning to cope, but it’s a good start.
Continuing the theme of unforgettable flavours, I watched Ozu’s Ochazuke no Aji last night. The fact that an estranged couple of different social class and family upbringing can bond over a humble dish of Ochazuke (rice with condiments, submerged in green tea) is very telling of food’s ability to speak to the soul. Ochazuke is a quintessentially Japanese dish usually made at home with leftovers. Its simple and primitive taste is a metaphor for what marriage should be- honest at heart. Taeko, the wife, finally realizes that marital pleasure is derived from commonplace gestures, easy company, mutual respect and understanding of each other’s habits. The ability to uncover such subtleties and complexities in familial relationships is what makes Ozu a great filmmaker.
At the beginning of the film, lingering close-up shots of the couple’s nude bodies show them entwined in an embrace. This intimacy is merely physical as they’ve yet to bare their souls to each other.
Hiroshima and Nevers… what do these two places have in common? Nothing, it seems, just as our protagonists appear to be worlds apart.
‘What were you doing when the bomb fell on Hiroshima?’
‘I was on the street in Paris.’
‘I heard it was a sunny day in Paris.’
The male protagonist’s casual remark reveals our attitudes towards those who’ve never experienced war- the sense that they don’t know what it’s like. In fact, they do. All of us do by virtue of the human empathy and capacity for sorrow and pain. War has a rippling effect; a strange way of spreading its noxious waves even to those removed from the main action. Hiroshima mon Amour links two individuals on very different cultural and emotional planes in a poetic depiction of universal grief and suffering.
In the darkness of the alley she passes me.
Her dress envelops her in a tight embrace
A sombre wash of charcoal enlivened by
A splash of lavender lilies on her left shoulder.
Her hips sway as she walks away.
She is that gilded lily trapped in
The shadows of her own soul.
I cannot touch her for fear
That she’ll wilt like a fragile flower.
That era is long gone
But the scent of her perfume lingers.