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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Adrift – Choi voi, Director - Chuyen Bui Thac, Screenplay - Dang Thi Phan

I was in a state of being adrift when deciding whether or not I should go to see ‘Adrift’. Upon seeing the trailer on youtube, I was very much put off by it, mostly by the presence of Johnny Nguyen, the horrendously bad actor who is in ‘The Rebel’, ‘Ban Mai’ etcetera, and at first impression, the way the trailer being played out, it makes the film seems a bit try hard and artistically pretentious. Nevertheless, I had a two-for-one ticket, and it was also an Australian premier, so why not get adrift!!!

Surprisingly, the film is much better than I expected, the term ‘adrift’ is accurately and cleverly defines throughout the film. And there are many ways of being adrift: for a young woman, Duyen (the main actress), one can often be adrift in amidst of being a traditional Vietnamese and a modern one, adrift in amidst of discovering her sensuality, adrift in finding out something and yet never gets to know it fully. For a man, one can often be adrift in amidst of his masculinity, not a boy, but not yet a man (hahaha, sounds like a Britney Spears’ song), regarding his ambition, he can be adrift in amidst of his reality and dream (the man and his fighting rooster).

While seeing several characters progressively being caught in the state of ‘adrift’, there are two female characters that are already being ‘adrift’ and the comparison is obvious. There are certain senses of resignation to life and a certain senses of despair in both, while for the ones who are still in the process; their innocence is tricking out them like white sap from a tree and their curiosity pushes them on into the state of being ‘adrift’. In many ways, being ‘adrift’ is both enlightening and sad, like the concept of ‘existentialism’ though this is not discussed in the film and certainly doesn’t need to.

The camera work and lighting are simple and effective, Hanoi is accurately portrayed, its beauty is not glorified as it is in ‘the vertical ray of the sun’ by ‘Tran Anh Hung’, yet in this reality, I find Hanoi much more real and the colours are much more liberating than they are in ‘the vertical ray of the sun’, the poetry in the camera work and lighting are much more subtle. The Vietnamese way of life and of living is sharply put on camera, though the dialogues can seem pretentious at times. The music is intriguing, but irrelevant to the film, the remixed of the song ‘Det Tam Gai’ is the main source and it probably is the most pretentious element in the film. Luckily Johnny Nguyen doesn’t have much to act in the film, I just find him so stiff and unconvincing, though all other actors are mighty fine, in both acting forms and figures (hehe). Adrift, I found, is a simple concept, yet interesting. The film has much more to offer, I find many earthy elements in the Vietnamese culture and the simplicity of the Vietnamese way of life is very heart warming, though this may only appear to Vietnamese audiences living in western countries. The interactions between the characters (especially Hai, Duyen’s husband and the little girl from his neighbourhood) show the openness of our Vietnamese character.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Intimacy – Jean Paul Sartre – Get intimate and dirty with Mr Sartre

On one ordinary day, without specifically looking for anything, I entered an old bookstore on the friendly street of our local shops. And there it was waiting to be snatched away by my very hand. From ‘without specifically looking for anything’, I specifically purchased ‘Intimacy’ before leaving the store.

It is, out of all the Sartre’s books that I have read (the trilogy, Nausea, Words) the most objectively written. The philosophies are clean, the writing is simple and at the heart of it, of course our existence is again being put to measure on the scale of worthiness, liberty and uncertainty. Mr Sartre’s continual search for answers regarding our choices, our decisions, and our nature is apparent, but more importantly, answers are provided within the words.

Intimacy has a very distinctive meaning to Sartre, it is beyond our usual senses for affection, and yet it is so common to our every day life. It is a seed burries deep within our conscious and nature, yet it surfaces on our actions and judgments. And in five little short stories, intimacy is intimately defined in each, and as you progress from the first story to the last, complexes around the central theme of intimacy is built, yet the layers of ideas and philosophies of ‘intimacy’ are being stripped bare, allowing the readers get extra intimate with both Sartre and his characters.

Intimacy – The first story explores the intimacy of a young married couple. To Lulu, the contemplative wife, there is a large discrepancy between the ideal and real definition of how her lover should be. In her real (current) relationship Lulu finds her husband (Henri) habits dirty and somewhat nuisance (i.e. he sleeps in his unwashed, yellow stained underwear, he’s hairy and somewhat voluptuous, he likes to touch her from behind which she finds a little annoying etc…). At the same time, she finds these habits very intimate and liberating. On the other hand, Pierre, her ideal and potential lover is well built, sculpted with hard muscles, he has villa in Italy, he’s charming, well read and well dressed and her good friend Rirette is encouraging Lulu to commit infidelity. The obvious question is not who she should choose, but how does she value her sense of being a woman and what does intimacy mean for her. (Sorry guys, this isn’t Titanic or Jane Austen).

The writing is witty and honest, laying down all the banal, obsolete thoughts of the characters. ‘Once she (Lulu) pretended Pierre wanted to rape Rirette. And I helped him. I held Rirette in my arms…I wonder how her (Rirette) face must look when she’s stretched out like that, all naked, under a man, feeling hands on her flesh. I wouldn’t touch her for all the money in the world. I wouldn’t know what to do with her, even if she wanted it, even if she said ‘I want it’…’ There are also plenty of twists and turns (not like those of Ms Austen) to really portray the honesty of the character Lulu, the nature of women and most of all, defining what is real to a woman in terms of love and intimacy.

The three stories follow (the wall, the room and Erostratus) have similar patterns of thoughts, though they are embedded in different story lines and characters. ‘The wall’ explores the intimacy of a soldier being a millimetre away from death, of fear, of being free from human-hood. ‘The room’ wonderfully explores the intimacy of two minds, one healthy (the wife), the other mentally ill (the husband). As much as she tries to grasp onto and understand his reality, she fails. As much as her parents try to convince her to leave him, to live her youth while she’s still young, they fail. But still, she loves him, alas, it’s not predictable as it sounds, this is where Sartre’s skills for words and thoughts come about.

And just when you think you know how Sartre’s chain of thoughts works, more surprises spring about. In Erostratus, Paul Hilbert, a ‘black hero’ (and black here does not imply skin colour) a misanthrope, an man who idealises his destiny to be short and tragic, planning his act of murdering random citizens of Paris and then his suicide. Erostratus was a man who became famous because he couldn’t find anything better to do than to burn down the temple of Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the world. Paul Hilbert may sound despicable and insolent, but the deeper you get into the story, the more you understand his logics. And in a creepy sense, while reading the novel, I actually wanted him to carry out his plan successfully, perhaps my feeling for the character is stronger than my philanthropic sense, but that is the power which Sartre has over the readers like me. Sartre’s sense of irony is wonderfully ironic and real, it is shown throughout all of his stories.

The childhood of a leader – This last story is one I most love and despise at the same time. Lucien, the angel child (with golden, radiating curls) while growing up discovers many things in life, in particular, the concept of truth and lie, the saddest of which when he finds out that he no longer loves his mother and begins to question the value of his existence. He of course, being a creation of Sartre, finds human existence quite empty and starts to plan his suicide. In his schooling years in Paris, Lucien becomes friend with Berliac and is quickly influent by Berliac’s obsession with Freudian works. At this point in his life, Lucien is very open to people around him, especially those who he feels have the same complexes with him, people who – lives outside of the matrix (as in the movie Matrix). Then along comes Bergere (one of Berliac close friends), a mid-thirty man, who challenges Lucien’s masculinity and deeply wounds his sexuality. From this point onwards, Lucien is more submerged in the mainstream society, diverged away from the bohemian crowd and very much involved in extreme politic, a subject which celebrates male camaraderie and allows him the typical masculinity which society expects of him. His complexes change, he loses his innocence, begins the practice hatred (specifically towards the Jews), and assumes the role which ‘destiny’ or ‘society’ expects of him. On a personal level, I really like this story because of the similar thoughts and complexes that we might all have perceived as a child growing up, while reading I kept thinking to myself that ‘yes, I thought of the same thing when I was 9’ etc…and obviously Lucien has chosen to become someone else, someone perhaps he finds easier to exist, easier to be accepted in his society and easier to rule society if he wants to. There is much to discuss about this story, and Sartre has made it obvious regarding the difficulty of life choices, the easier of which is adopted by Lucien. Yet ‘But if I could only be what I am I wouldn’t be worth any more than the little kite’. What could one discover searching in this mucous intimacy if not the sorrow of flesh, the ignoble lie of equality and disorder? ‘First maxim’, Lucien said, ‘not to try and see inside yourself; there is no mistake more dangerous – as much as I find Lucien so unlikeable toward the end of the story, I must also agree with Mr Sartre that he has the right to exist - ‘rights were beyond existence, like mathematical objects and religious dogma, the right to be existed to the very flesh, obeyed to the very bed’

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dream Story – Arthur Schnitzler and Eyes Wide Shut – Stanley Kubrick

Sexuality is an ineluctable illusion and so is truth. Desire is sagaciously simple and so is religion. The coupling of sexuality and truth, desire and religion, may seem hardly relevant to a common person, but not so for Mr Kubrick and Mr Schnitzler (as I believe).

‘- And no dream, is altogether a dream…’ by this statement, I believe that Arthur Schnitzler is corroborating Sigmund Freud’s theory that our dream indeed reflects certain aspects of our unconsciousness. And what if that ‘unconsciousness’ or that ‘dream’ becomes a little conscious, a little real and sensitive as it is for Mrs Albertine’s (Nicole Kidman), then you would get a wonderfully profound and curiously exploring novel (and film) on sexuality, truth and humanly desire.

Both the novel and the film follow the sexual conscience of the marriage couple, Fridolin and Albertine. Being the nature of a novel, the reader of course is able to expand their senses on the descriptions provide by Mr Schnitzler and more events are entailed. Schnitzler’s writing is no doubt both wonderfully sharp and elusive, allowing the readers’ minds to grasp onto the ideas and concepts that are being portrayed, yet to really pin point it, perhaps requires a certain senses of ‘unconsciousness’ like that of the author. For example, in the scene where Marianne confesses her love to Fridolin - ‘Fleetingly he recalled a novel he once read, in which a very young man, almost a boy, had been seduced, or rather raped, at his mother’s deathbed by her best friend. In the same instant, he could not for some reason help thinking of his wife’ It is easy for one to understand why he would think of this particular character while he himself is also being undesirably seduced, but to associate this event to his wife, it is indeed ‘for some reason’ was put there by the author.

The film is a magnificently separate piece on its own, Stanley Kubrick uses very atmospheric lighting, often illuminatingly gold, and falling of darkness in amidst of blossoming artificial light. In comparison to the novel, there’s a difference touch of mystery in the film, not in the words and dialogues as it is for the novel, but rather the images, the music and the women characters that willingly give themselves to Fridolin. Albertine character is not altered; she maintains both her goddess and human ascriptions in the film and the novel. Where Schnitzler leaves his words elusive, Kubrick makes it more apparent, as apparent as the last line of dialogue that Albertine utters in the film.

For a woman, human sexuality is deeply explored in her dream, while for the man, it is explored within the boundary of his reality and desires. Yet, it is the depth of Albertine’s dream that leads Fridolin to numerous adventures, pushing him close to the edge of fidelity and while the reality of her experience is much less than his, both Kubrick and Schnitzler let Albertine sit on the sexual throne of the marriage. This I thought is feminism in its very subtle form (you have better to learn from this Mrs Brelait!!!). At the end of the day, it is their faiths that have safely let them emerge from their adventures, both the real ones and from those which they dream about.

The novel and the film may appear complicated and there may seem a thousand ways to understand them. If you, like me are able to attain a certain sense of ‘unconsciousness’ to live and know that sexuality is an illusion and so is truth. Desire is simple and so is religion. Then it isn’t at all difficult to understand them, it is perhaps both the book and the film are no more simple than the act of f***ing.