Hello, Brilliant Comedy!

Daniel Brühl

In comparison to other European movies shown in class, Goodbye, Lenin! was surprisingly very normal, and of the most easily understandable. It dealt with a linear plot, a clear premise, a charismatic central character, not that unconventional ways of storytelling, and a discernible conflict. However, despite it seeming very formulaic of Hollywood movies, I find that its art cinema tendencies are integrated in how it’s able to present itself as conventional, but in its very essence makes fun of the craft of cinema itself. Through a ridiculous over-the-top dedication to movie-making, that parallels so many film majors I know, the movie uses cinema as a major force in Daniel Brühl’s character’s deceit of his mother.

Daniel Brühl, the actor that plays the main protagonist in the film is one of the most charming actors I’ve ever seen on-screen—not in a Hugh Grant charming way, no—but in his own kind of slightly quirky and compelling and magnetic and lively and lovable way. Yes, I am in love with him. To top it all off, he’s one hell of a performer too. I firmly and confidently declare that the film is already worth-watching from Daniel Brühl’s performance alone.

However, the movie itself doesn’t pale in comparison to its vibrant star. It has several notable charms of its own. I find the wonderful satire plot well-written that it’s silly yet still a smart political commentary. Actual documentary footages of this tumultous time in history are shown, and the presence of the dreams and delusions upon which the East Germans were sustained with were all situated in the film, yet everything is discussed with sophistication. A confrontation with a bank teller about Alex’s fortune was based on actual history of the reunification favoring the West Germans. Another commentary of the film is the ridiculousness of the tendency of political beliefs in infiltrating matters such as family and health. There were a lot of other gripping moments in history that the film captured, but they were absolutely elegantly integrated. I think this is firmly what sets it apart from The Edukators, since it is more successful in delivering political and social commentaries subtly and more elegantly.

The driving force of the movie is how it rises above the usual comedy films that made me despise the whole comedy genre. Usually, comedy movies that I am familiar of are filled with shallow jokes, condescending humor, and insulting joculars. Instead, this German masterpiece can humor without making fun of its characters. It mainly is driven by sublime comedic timing that complements the tender story being told. As Alex’s family faced new challenges scene after scene, it’s up to him to come up with hilarious solutions on how to address them. The thoughtful look into the great lengths to which people will actually go for for important relationships is also what makes this movie beautiful. Ideologies melt when it comes to affairs of the heart and that’s what people should remember.

L’Avventura: A Commentary on Poignancy and Alienation within the Bourgeoisie

Monica Vitti and Gabriel Ferzetti

L’Avventura is one of my favorite films that were presented in class. I think it’s raw, honest, and sad in a beautiful and poetic way. I believe it’s a commentary on the feelings of isolation and lonesomeness that exist in the bourgeoisie class despite all the money, and is told by extremely careful and subtle narration. The movie didn’t have to use extreme dialogues, animated movements, and literal depictions of their sadness, the grave atmosphere of the movie was enough to understand the poignancy of the character’s lives.

I am personally a fan of old films yet I wonder why I haven’t heard of L’Avventura before. I think it might have been because it’s in another language, but I wish I had discovered it sooner. It sort of reminds me of Gone with the Wind despite there having so many differences between the two. Gone with Wind was loud, energetic, with bright technicolor, the complete opposite of L’Avventura’s somber and miserable mood, but I find them alike in many ways. First of all, the length and the promise of an adventure at the very start were factors the two movies share. A grand scale of stories in beautiful different places were also presented by the two that you think they’re both celebrations of life. It turns out, the more they progress, the more they break your heart. Tragedies about characters who are rich and obviously to be blamed for their troubles in many ways, but still you understand them and their decisions, and their transparency just sort of speak of their humanity that you end up rooting for them. However, going back to the movie at hand, the subtlety of the narration in L’Avventura was much more impressive to me. Every shot was well-thought out. Shots of the character’s faces even without the characters speaking at all tell so much anguish and pain. Even shots of boats and waves and legs and buildings carry emotion that I don’t know how Antonioni did it.

If European cinema in the 60s were made to be responses to the conventional ways of storytelling of Hollywood, L’Avventura certainly made its mark. There’s cinematic power in how Antonioni watches, and waits, and observes the decisions of the people in front of his camera. A review of the film even mentioned that, “The characters’ motivations were left opaque and unexplained, and the story never quite resolves itself — rather like life.” In many aspects, the film was distant with the characters just like how we can never truly hear other people’s minds, there is distance among every one. The movie also like life, showed that the adventure isn’t about a grand journey with magnificent views, but in a person, a character’s journey within himself and understanding his own motivations, within his inhibitions.  The adventure of the film was the discerning, troubled, alienated characters that bounce off the screen and speak volumes. The brilliance within the characters wasn’t even just revolving around the main protagonists. Even a supporting character like Giulia, had such a heartbreaking storyline that you feel her misery even when she smiles. And Anna, who we thought was the main character but disappeared so early in the film (in a Hitchcock’s Psycho kind of way), had been long gone from the movie, but I still remembered every shot of her unhappy face whenever her best friend Claudia and her lover Sandro frolic and kiss away. The film was an emotional adventure that can only be best experienced by witnessing it and going in-depth with its rich miserable individuals.

Holy Motors: A Performance Piece

Denis Lavant

Holy Motors is a film that was not particularly my cup of tea, but still one that I rather enjoyed studying. Like the other European films we were required to watch for the class, it was far from the customary, but it was still much weirder than all the other movies presented to us. It didn’t really have a plot and the character was odd, free of any charisma, and even performing extremely peculiar acts that I was originally completely repulsed by. At first, I couldn’t sit through the off-putting acts the character was engaging with like the random 3D sex, biting off someone’s hand, licking a woman’s armpit while blood was coming out of his mouth, etc. It’s as if the movie wanted so bad for people not to like it that it decided on the nastiest things someone could do and made the character do it. However, I realized that beyond the weird acts that were committed by the protagonist, the film was a study on performance, and how an actor’s talent still remains an essential part of cinema.

Guillermo del Toro once talked about the genesis of cinema rooting from theatre, costume-design, set-design, and other forms of art which pale in comparison to what people notice in movies now, such as screenplay and cinematography. By abandoning a comprehensible plot and grand special effects, the film allowed other art forms to take center stage. The movie focused on complex a complex performance with brilliant makeup and costume-design showing that even without a coherent story, other art forms can still stand on their own. It kind of reminds me of how other paintings do not have to be thoroughly analyzed and squeezed for an interpretation and history, when they can be appreciated for what they are. Some modernist paintings require us to take a step back and just appreciate them organically and I think this movie is making a modern movement that mimics that statement as well. It’s sort of similar to how L’Avventura abandons the importance of a plot, only this is more dedicated in truly not having a driving force of a story.

I was surprised with the scene of the protagonist suddenly picking up his daughter in the middle of the film and acting like an actual father with real questions that a real father would ask. I thought that that was really just him picking up his daughter in the midst of all the performances he had for the day, instead of it being just another acting gig. But after watching the scene with the niece who turned out to be an actress as well, I realized that the daughter might have been an actress too. However, the idea that the daughter could be real and that ordinary life is situated in the middle of all the madness seemed more appealing to me. I think it symbolizes the possibility of grappling the absurdity too in our day-to-day lives because they can exist side by side with the mundane.

The conversation in the car with the random old man also striked me. He mentioned doing what he does simply because of the act itself. However, he was specific in naming the change of the size of cameras nowadays as the reason, but I think it symbolizes how modernity is changing how art is. Nowadays it’s more common to lose the sense of creating for creation’s sake because of how fast the world is moving. I think it’s the creator of the film also talking to us about how he sometimes does not believe his works anymore because they no longer feel real to him. This is also supported by the character continously getting mad at lying (getting mad at his daughter and to someone named, “Theo” for lying). It contrasts how acting is basically making an audience believe in something that is fake, but talks about how acting in it’s own way is honest in essence because of how much artists of the craft believe in it.

Although despite all these musings about the film, there are still so many things that confuse me such as the monkeys, the talking cars in the end, and the significance of a driver to the point of even showing her put on a mask. But despite all the ambiguous things in the film, I can’t help but appreciate it’s dedication in shining light on the importance of performance in cinema.

What is a Perfect Human?

Lars Von Trier tortures his personal hero, Jørgen Leth, in The Five Obstructions challenging him to recreate his 1967 short film, The Perfect Human, in five different ways. Throughout the film, Von Trier presented five different ways of obstructing his favorite film describing it as a masterpiece already, and should only be subjected to getting “ruined.” Leth agreed at the beginning saying a a good perversion can cultivate but soon found himself suffering over the impish rules Von Trier had set out for him to follow. Both The Perfect Human and The Five Obstructions itself are pieces completely unknown to me previously that I was confronted by this film completely free of any presuppositions on how it was going to be. I was completely glad that that was the case because prior to that I haven’t had a movie-viewing experience like that in so long wherein I anticipated every second intrigued on how the film would play out. At first I found Von Trier condescending and couldn’t stomach the self-righteous way of speaking he was using towards his supposed “hero”. But the more I watched, the more I came to admire the way he was only challenging Leth’s creativity by daring him to rethink a work already so familiar with him, and even one that he’s already satisfied with. The film formulates the question of whether rules restrict creativity, or simply enhance it begetting the individual to think innovatively within the walls of his or her limitations. This was especially shone light upon during the third obstruction when Leth was asked to make a film completely free of restrictions. It rendered the question, is it harder to work with following a list of constraints, or is it necessary for creation? Although both circumstances, whether with limitations or without, Leth was still able to create crafts so beautifully, I felt that he was learning more and more from each obstruction.  He grew each time he reinvented his magnum opus, proving that our best works could still be challenged, and should be challenged. It is the only way we can grow without playing victim of being too satisfied with ourselves hindering expansion of our art.

Jørgen Leth

Regarding creative decisions made throughout the film, I was completely impressed with the idea of using the transparent screen in Bombay for the second obstruction despite Von Trier disliking it. I think it emphasized the merging of the perfect human with the real world. The concrete reality were the people framed behind the screen and the perfect human was not completely out-of-reach from them, but just on the other side. It supports Von Trier’s desire for this film to minimize the distance between the perfect and what is truly human. Another factor that I loved from this film was how, even if there was tension between the two characters, it was hard not to agree with both of them. Von Trier wanted to challenge Leth to create a “crappy” work and told him that he’s already a genius, so he shouldn’t be satisfied with that and forever be in competition with himself, he should seek beyond and receive “therapy”. However, Leth found this completely impossible saying, “We can’t help becoming instinctively involved looking for a solution that would satisfy us” pertaining to his decisions concerning his craft. I think it’s a poetic parallel of life and how sometimes, despite our desire to let go of wanting to be perfect, it’s in our very human nature to look for the perfect, and that is just what simply is human. The film concludes with the fifth obstruction requiring Leth to give his name to Von Trier completely and allow him to be the one responsible for creating the final short. I was completely aghast with that request wondering how it would ever be possible for someone to completely let go of their work and pass it onto someone releasing all proprietorship over it. But it made me realize that that is what art entails us, to learn how to completely let go. Because once we’ve released a craft that came from our own ideas our own inspirations and release it into the real world, it no longer belongs to us but to the world. Because no matter what, beauty is always determined by the beholder.

Moreover, the movie was more than a study on creativity, but a study on the person himself. From how far he’s willing to go for the sake of creation, to the degree of perversion he could endure that could separate him from his idea of art and himself. Because even with his resistance to being dull and obsession with being “perfect,” Leth is just delivering what it means to be human. The film wanted to study the bridge between perfect and human and Leth is a perfect example of someone bridging that gap.

Godard’s Playfulness and Fervor in A Woman is a Woman

Jean-Claude Brialy and Anna Karina

Spunky, playful, and silly. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about A Woman is a Woman. Prior to watching the movie one of the people I trust the most when it comes to taste in movies, already speak highly of Jean-Luc Godard. My friend absolutely adores his 1969 film, Pierrot Le Fou, and I have to say that Godard did not disappoint when I watched A Woman is a Woman. The movie was a treat from start to finish, with so many things to discuss about it. There’s the spirited plot, perky characters, and it’s complete deconstruction of the cinematic form of a conventional Hollywood musical. But perhaps simple pleasure of being a film that enjoys itself without restrictions and any imposed boundaries what is to be loved most about the film.

I wholly believe that before being concerned about anything else, the movie wants to have fun and represent what cinema could be if it’s stripped of all it’s rules. The whole fight between Emile and Angela complete with a humorous rolling of their R’s, a whole fuss about cooking, random biking inside a house, fighting over a lamp, and making comments using books, They were tongue-in-cheek humor that I repeatedly watch scenes several times again after I saw the movie. Yet even though Emile and Angela are obviously to be rooted for, there are also times you enjoy with Alfred and his character’s charm and his relentless pursuit of Angela.

Godard’s love of the craft of film transcends this masterpiece more than anything else. It feels as if we are being taken into his own colorful mind where characters dance around and babble nonsense and music suddenly plays out of nowhere. The plot didn’t have much depth to it, we were dawdling, bantering, and flirting with the characters to care too much about it. The story was merely a canvas for Godard to paint upon bright colors that beam back and forth as his camera drifts to subjects carrying on with their superfluous conversations as scenes are cut in-and-out without warning.

Despite not having seen Breathless, being an avid cinephile means being aware of Godard’s fame and how he redefined traditional cinema by blatantly using sudden, unorthodox cuts. I didn’t understand at first the depth of storytelling those cuts could actually carry, but after seeing A Woman is a Woman, I can’t help but think there’s more to it than Godard making a statement about filmmaking that’s free of restrictions. In fact, I think it’s his way of separating us from the characters, suddenly cutting us off, and telling us not to be to engrossed by the story and the movie’s troubles. He constantly reminds us, that hey, this is a viewing experience. It’s just a film. Enjoy it. I think this is also why his characters suddenly breaks the fifth wall every now and then to acknowledge the audience our bow to them.

Especially in A Woman is a Woman, Jean-Luc Godard is challenging viewers to forget about inhibitions, forget everything you know about cinema, sit back and relish in music and vibrant frames. His fervor in this nonconformist piece is truly a delight and I honestly believe there’s no one else in the world who could’ve made a film like this.