Let me in

“Winnipeg has 10 times the sleepwalking rate of any other city; city dwellers carry the keys to their previous addresses and those of past lovers so that when they wander to their old dreamy addresses, they can let themselves in.” –from My Winnipeg 

Next time I sleepwalk, I hope I’m carrying a full set of keys.

"[O]nly you and I in all that garden"

Quote of the day 


“You never seem to be waiting for me, but we kept meeting at every turn of the paths. Behind every bush, at the foot of each statue, near every pond. It is as if it had been only you and I in all that garden.”

8 Responses  →
Sounds like a love that won’t last.
That’s too pessimistic, J. But anyway they are all “holographs”.
If it is a good one, who cares.
If it is a bad love, then good luck with that if it lasts.
Shadowy figure:
To me it seems like a matter of perception: one person seeing the other everywhere, despite their bumping into each other being mostly random. Or, perhaps she/he is subconsciously seeking out the other. That’s the kind of silly thing that people in love tend to do.
Shadowy figure, you are oh-so secretly a love sick kitten, aren’t ya?
Tammy, a prof of mine once said that Romeo and Juliet wasn’t a literal tale in the sense that the young lovers don’t literally die at the end, but that rather this is the symbol of the death of romantic love. It’s a rather bold interpretation, I know, but I found it most interesting. I do, in my very old age, tend to agree: that the love that sustains a long, adult relationship is different from the kind that often sustains much poetry, pop music and, dare I admit, novel writing.
I knew you wouldn’t like my first comment, but there it is.
Shadowy figure:
Love sick, sick of love, whatever. I regret using the word at all, it having so many meanings that would have driven Wittgenstein mad (or who knows, maybe it did).

Sunless (Sans Soleil)

In Chris Marker’s documentary, a woman narrates letters from a friend who is a world-traveller. He has been to Japan, Africa, Iceland, San Francisco, and France. The thought-provoking images and poetic commentary in this documentary invite us to meditate on memory, space and time. Understandably, the documentary begins with a quote from T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday”:

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place.

But what or who can really capture memory, space and time? These things are forever changing, fashioned by new memories, new spaces, new times. Perhaps I need to have more faith in the capability of constancy.
Artistic films invariably play with lyrical words, turn random images into meaning-loaded riddles, slow down selective moments, and magnify the colour schemes of things. Chris Marker does these in Sunless; but this time I’m not complaining. The only complaint that I have is that there are too many images, too many things to ponder upon.
Even though the documentary brings us to several places in the world, the only place that really has my attention is Japan and below are some of the many images that impress me:
The shrine to cats in Tokyo. Here all cats put up their right hands; together they form a class of intelligent students who know all the answers to their teacher’s questions. Look at that poor cat that is handless and yet still strives to do the same thing as anybody else. Don’t these cats remind one of the bodiless cats in Kafka on the Shore? (My friend Kevin wrote me a message: ‘The cat picture reminds me of China’s Qin terra cotta warriors, especially those with the head missing.’)
The man who killed himself after the death of his wife because he couldn’t bear the sound of the word ‘Spring’.
The fascination of the phallus. There is a museum, shrine and gift-shop all in one, devoted to the phallus. We see stuffed animals (bears, monkeys, deer, etc.) engaged in sexual intercourses, emphasising on the male’s penises. Then the narrator says, ‘Who said that time heals all wounds? It would be better to say that time heals everything except wounds.’ The camera, at this point, focuses on an open vagina. It’s red and big. It looks like a bad and fresh wound.
The street chef. His face does not house a smile. His hands skilfully cracks eggs into halves. Each egg forms the same pattern on the large and horizontal frying pan. Sometimes the white of the egg becomes irregular lines on the boarder of the rest of the egg. Those lines are rebellious. Calligraphy.

The eyes that are watching you. On Japanese TV shows, there are a lot of gazes from the actors and actresses, or, fictional characters. You watch someone who is watching you. And the eye, with its eyeball, brings us this: ‘You wrote: Only one film has been capable of portraying impossible memory, insane memory – Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In the spiral of the titles I see time covering a field, ever wider, that moved away – a cyclone whose present moment contains, motionless, the eye.’

He liked the fragility of those moments suspended in time, those memories whose only function had been to leave behind nothing but memories. –p. 1 (Jon Kear in the book Sunless / Sans Soleil)


Originally written on March 30, 2009

星期六那晚看了賈樟河的 <<三崍好人 Still Life>>. 一氣連續看了兩次. 電影淡淡的繪出兩個主角三明及沈红由山西往奉節縣尋親的故事, 背景為消失中的三崍. 一個尋十六年不見的妻子及女兒, 一個尋兩年沒見的丈夫. 故事有點相似, 但結局大不相同.

在這裡不詳細解讀電影, 但有少許感受想說. 很多人認為中國現代化了, 富了, 事實只是一細小部份的人先富起來. 政治領袖也許覺得一小部份人富好過人人都不富. 在光彩的背後有無數貧民的故事, 有多少是外人知曉的? 當中國人不易, 當中國窮人更不易. 話說回來, 當甚麼國的窮人都不易, 當甚麼人都不易.

電影結尾其中一個鏡頭是空中人在遠處江上走鋼絲, 賈樟柯解釋道: “最後走鋼絲, 雲中漫步, 我覺得雖然前路坎坷渺茫, 或者說雖然前路很危險, 但是不管什麼樣的人, 我們必須走下去, 我覺得雖然很危險, 但是要走下去, 所以同時也很浪漫.”

浪漫嗎? 鏡頭的確是浪漫超現實的. 其實, 我們誰不在走這人生的鋼絲, 看似無盡郤有盡? 是回不了頭? 還是要繼續走, 偶時看兩岸的風光.


Swift said: 其實絕路也是有一種走法的…

I said: 是啊,有時我也想中國是超現實的,甚至是科幻的. 真羨慕你們可跟嚴浩對談呢!是比較文學課嗎

Holy said: 我是好人!

Oscar said: 有些路,走了就回不了,亦不用想回去。

Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In is a vampire story set in the suburbs of Stockholm in the early 1980s.

The film centres on Oskar, a 12-year-old loner from a dysfunctional family. Frail and androgynous, Oskar is unable to stand up for himself and is often bullied at school. He slowly befriends a mysterious neighgbour, Eli, who has recently moved into the same apartment block. We learn that Eli has been twelve years old for a long long time, and that she lives on blood which she gets either through a man who kills people and collects their blood or by attacking victims herself. Only slowly does Oskar realise the truth about his new friend. But before this realisation, they have already developed a deep friendship.
The film is beautifully shot. Almost every frame of the picture is immaculately constructed and the director lets his camera linger on these images, turning them into slowly moving postcards. Here, the film departs dramatically from the style of recent American horror films which generally feature a dizzingly-paced cutting. Alfredson’s picture, like Sweden’s winter landscape, seems frozen, punctuated by a few scenes of horror.
However, the true heart of the film lies in the tender relationship of the two lonely misfits, which is nicely presented in the final scene of the film. The story ends on a train where Oskar taps a morse code kiss (in response to Eli’s) through a suitcase in which Eli is hiding from the sunlight. We don’t know where they are going, but it does not seem to matter.
Jeff said: The movie is indeed beautifully made, especially visually. The movie moves slowly, perhaps reflecting the freezing environment of Stockholm. However, I found the movie has a strange mix in tone, at times poetic and at other times it plays almost like a parody of the horror genre, reveling in dark humor.

I said: I was a bit dismayed to learn, just now, that Oskar maybe the new Håkan. When Oskar grows old (unless Eli turns him into a vampire), Eli will remain ‘young’ (in the book she’s said to be at least 200 years old) – and at that time, she may look for a new companion. This is chilling.

Gontran said: You hadn’t thought of it when watching the movie? That’s the thing I most readily noticed. The ambiguity, I mean: “Best Friends Forever” or “Find Me Some Blood, Slave”? that is the question.
(for example: didn’t you notice that when, finally, Eli decides to have a nap in Oskar’s bed, it’s… the night just after Håkan’s death?) 

Blue Valentine

On Tuesday I saw the excellent Blue Valentine in the West End. A lot has already been written about Derek Cianfrance’s film and its unconventional structure, which cuts between the beginning and the end of the central love story. I don’t want to go too much into the film right now (perhaps three months later I’ll be able to write about it, like this) (I don’t want to spoil it for you, yo.), but it did remind me of Godard‘s famous line: “A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end… but not necessarily in that order.” The interesting thing about Blue Valentine is that it doesn’t have a middle. Or, perhaps it does, but we are never shown it and have to figure it out ourselves.
You must go see this film and buy the soundtrack. (Here’s one of the widely-circulated songs.)

 “Give me a chance, Dean.”

The King’s Speech

Last night, we went to watch The King’s Speech in the local cinema. The house was full, even for the ten-o’clock showing. I have liked Colin Firth since his charming turn as Darcy in Andrew Davies’s 1995 BBC adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.1 And while he excels as the grief-stricken college professor in last year’s A Single Man, his performance as the stammering King George VI (known in his family as “Bertie”) overcoming his speech impediment with the support of an Australian therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush) is even more impressive.
From the first moments of The King’s Speech, I was both engaged with the story and deeply sympathetic to Bertie’s plight as a stammerer forced to do public speaking. The opening scene, for example, when he is required to give a radio address in front of a packed Wembley Stadium audience for the closing of the 1925 Empire Exhibition, is tense and heartbreaking. “Let the microphone do the work” is easier said than done. Tom Hooper’s direction is particularly strong at capturing the reaction of the audience whose disappointment and embarrassment makes this speech almost painful to watch.

Throughout the film, we get to see more of Bertie’s stammering, although he seems more at ease talking to his wife and daughters than he does speaking in an official capacity. Of course, his condition slowly improves through his treatment by Lionel, which is equal parts physical therapy and psychoanalysis. Interestingly, in the first therapy session, Bertie (who is still “Duke of York”) is able to recite Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy without stammering, and this recitation is recorded while he is listening to loud music and cannot hear himself (a technique called ‘masking’). The script-writer makes use of this moment to give new meaning to the great question and foreshadow what will happen in the film: in this case, the answer ‘To be’ is perhaps more like ‘To be King’.
The relationship between Bertie and Lionel is complicated by class, personality and nationality, especially since the Australian Lionel insists on equality and familiarity with the eventual King. The script exploits these themes nicely and gets a lot of humour and empathy out of the differences in the men’s social status. Despite his position, Bertie is portrayed as profoundly self-conscious and lacking in confidence. However, he is also very funny and oftentimes makes jokes about his condition. For me, one of the funniest scenes is when Bertie is asked by Lionel to swear to express his frustration. At first, Bertie, so used to social propriety, is only willing to express a handful of relatively innocuous profanities, but eventually lets go with an eloquent barrage of fucks and shits, after he is challenged by Lionel to be less of a schoolboy. Bertie finishes his tirade by rhyming ‘shits’ with ‘tits’, a moment that got an uproarious laugh from the audience.
The rest of the film does a good job of portraying Bertie’s battle to overcome his stammer, especially in relation to his difficult father (played by Michael Gambon) and brother (played by Guy Pearce), and the fraught politics of his brother’s abdication and the prospects of war. The climax of the film centres on Bertie’s radio speech in which he tries to inspire the nation to be united against the threat of Nazi Germany, a goal which he reaches with the help of Lionel conducting throughout the address.2 (While previously Logue addresses the King as Bertie, after this broadcast, he finally calls him “Your Majesty”.) The speech is intercut with shots of people from different walks of life, listening attentively to their King, in their living rooms, in the pubs and factories, in the open fields, outside Buckingham Palace, etc. The scene is quite moving, which is of course the point. Republicans might see this as Royalist propaganda, although for me it is as much about overcoming one’s challenges as it is a triumphal representation of the Royal family. Surely, using this inspirational message of individual achievement to hide the Royalist message means that this is very good propaganda indeed. But nevermind when it is this enjoyable.
Every one brings their A game to the film and the direction, cinematography, script and art direction are all top-notch. Likewise, the performances are all excellent. Carter is sympathetic and noble as the Queen, which is particularly effective when played alongside Firth and it is easy to believe them as a loving couple. Guy Pearce is terrifically (when is Pearce not terrific?) immature, arrogant and cruel as George’s brother, David (King Edward VIII). One heart-breaking scene stands out in which David mercilessly mocks Bertie’s stammer to his face: “B-B-B-Bertie”. That David is oblivious to his own failures and irresponsibilities adds to the power of the scene. Gambon as George V only appears twice, but his presence is strongly felt in both, as one would expect.

Also read this moving article about the man.

1Firth reunites with his Pride and Prejudice co-star Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth Bennet) in The King’s Speech; Ehle plays Logue’s wife.
2Firth is extremely good in this speech. You can compare his with the real King VI’s here. You can also read extracts from Logue’s diary and his correspondence with the King and Queen.

Nowhere Boy

Aaron Johnson is handsome (and young!). We watched Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy, a film about the young John Lennon, played rather convincingly, I must say, by Aaron Johnson. However, he is certainly not as good as Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays Lennon’s aunt, Mimi Smith. She is so good she is better than the rest of the cast combined.
Apart from Kristin Scott Thomas, the film also benefits from a great soundtrack. One of the songs that I liked was Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You”. I instantly fell in love with it but I also wanted to listen to a female cover. I found Nina Simone’s version rather good too.
Another song that captured my attention was John Lennon’s “Mother” (listen to it here), which made me cry when it’s being played at the end of the film. The song is autobiographical: Lennon is talking to his mother, Julia Lennon, who was killed on the street by a drunk driver when he was 17 (‘Mother, you had me but I never had you, / I wanted you but you didn’t want me’) and his father, Alf Lennon, who walked out of his life when he was just a kid (‘Farther, you left me but I never left you, / I needed you but you didn’t need me’). While in the first part of the song, the persona says ‘Goodbye’ to his father and mother, the second part of the song is a desperate and heart-wrenching plea to both parents: ‘Mama don’t go’ and ‘Daddy come home’ are repeated again and again. You can feel the sense of hysteric helplessness in Lennon’s singing and the simple lyrics (no doubt appropriating a sad child’s vocabulary) but there is no harsh resentment. A plea to a parent not to go (emotionally, physically, mortally, whatever), obviously, also reminds one of Dylan Thomas’s poem.

What is gossip?

The answer can be found in Doubt, the 2008 film adaptation of the John Patrick Shanley’s stage play Doubt: A Parable, which won a Pulitzer Prize:

A woman was gossiping with her friend about a man whom they hardly knew – I know none of you have ever done this. That night, she had a dream: a great hand appeared over her and pointed down on her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’ Rourke, and she told him the whole thing. ‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that God All Mighty’s hand pointing down at me? Should I ask for your absolution? Father, have I done something wrong?’ ‘Yes,’ Father O’ Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly-brought-up female. You have blamed false witness on your neighbor. You played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed.’ So, the woman said she was sorry, and asked for forgiveness. ‘Not so fast,’ says O’ Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow upon your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me.’ So, the woman went home: took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to her roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. ‘Did you cut the pillow with a knife?’ he says. ‘Yes, Father.’ ‘And what were the results?’ ‘Feathers,’ she said. ‘Feathers?’ he repeated. ‘Feathers; everywhere, Father.’ ‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out onto the wind,’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’ ‘And that,’ said Father O’ Rourke, ‘is gossip!’


Love & Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs

Last night we went to watch Love & Other Drugs in Covent Garden. Thank you, E, for the generosity!

On the film:

  • Anne, you are no Kate Winslet or Penelope Cruz (with reference to her own comment on screen nudity in this Fresh Air interview.)1 Was she thinking of Little Children or Open Your Eyes, for example? And your Kym-mode (Rachel Getting Married) does not impress this time. Oh wait, you were unconvincing even then. (But bravo on being a good White Queen.)
  • Jake, you are no George Clooney (think Up in the Air). Where’s the Jake in Donnie Darko, Bubble BoyBrokeback Mountain, Proof and Zodiac? (Let’s forget he’s in The Day After Tomorrow.)
  • ‎”I cut probably a total of about 5 seconds out of the nude scenes,” Anne says in the interview. At least 100 more should have been cut. Right, it’s worse than Killing Me Softly.
  • Both Jake and Anne are nominated for Golden Globe awards. Anne, you are absolutely no match for either Julianne or Annette (The Kids Are All Right).
  • (And I hope Jeremy will win the Best Supporting Actor award — he’s marvellous in The Town (and in The Hurt Locker last year).)
1It would be good to first listen to Anne’s segment and then Natalie Portman’s on her role in Black Swan; the intelligent Portman is even more eloquent and sophisticated in comparison.
Next, I’m looking forward to Blue Valentine. Listen to an interview with Ryan Gosling’s here. What is Cindy’s secret? Don’t tell me.
Blue Valentine

The Hurt Locker

I was gripped from the opening seconds of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker about an elite Army bomb squad whose main job is to defuse roadside bombs. The film uses suspense masterfully to suggest the tension and fear of the soldiers’ tasks. For them, every pile of garbage could be an IED and every corner could hide an insurgent. At times the tension was almost too much for me to watch but my eyes remained glued to the screen. I was particularly affected by the climax of the film in which the squad fails to defuse the chain of bombs strapped to an Iraqi man, even though he was desperate for their help.
The performances in the film are generally strong and unsentimental. Although most of the main actors were unfamiliar to me, the film does have cameos by some of my favourite performers such as Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes (Fiennes also worked with Bigelow in Strange Days, another film which I liked a lot). Perhaps suggesting the realities of war, these stars only appear briefly before they are killed.
To me, Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker was a far superior film than her ex-husband’s production, Avatar. Although Cameron’s vision of Pandora was impressive [I will post my review of the film here later], I was more moved by the Middle East setting of The Hurt Locker: the heat, the sand, the sweat, and the feeling that despite all of their technology and military power the American soldiers were trapped by their situation. These all felt very authentic and sincere.
After the film, I was uncertain what exactly the term ‘Hurt Locker’ refers to. There were a couple of things which I thought may have been the referents, including the anti-bomb suit that one of the soldiers wears or the suit of bombs which the Iraqi man in the climax is forced to wear. However, according to various websites, the term means to cause pain to someone. If so, this was an apt title for the movie — The Hurt Locker was a punch to the viewers’ stomach.

The Ghost

The Ghost is based on the novel by Robert Harris of the same title. We thought it was a fine old-fashioned thriller; it reminded one of both Hitchcock and the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s. Directed by Roman Polanski, the film shows some remarkable similarities to his own personal life and the viewer can’t help wonder if the claustrophobia and paranoia which suffuses the film came out of his own experience of avoiding extradition. Still, it is best not read too much biography into these things.

The film tells the story of an unnamed ghost writer (played by Ewan McGregor) who has been hired to rewrite the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, modelled on Tony Blair (played by Pierce Brosnan). The ghost writer is replacing a former aid to the PM, who had been helping with the book and had died under suspicious circumstances. Soon after the ghost writer arrives to an isolated compound on an island in New England where the PM is residing, news breaks out that the PM will be facing an investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes. From this point on, the intrigue and tension slowly builds until some very dramatic final moments.
Throughout the film, Polanski’s considerable skills are on display. Regardless of what you think about him as a person, it is impossible to deny his talent as a filmmaker. As said earlier, the film reminds us of movies made by Hitchcock, especially the sense of suspense just beneath the surface and the psychological isolation of the characters. The score by Alexandre Desplat is also reminiscent of Bernard Herrman’s music used in a number of Hitchcock films.
Of the leading actors, I liked Ewan McGregor and Kim Cattrall (who played the Prime Minister’s personal assistant and mistress) most. The former has a nonchalant detachment that seems apt for his role and the latter is uptightly bitchy and yet sympathetic at the end. I also liked the Professor character (Professor Paul Emmett) convincingly played by Tom Wilkinson. His meeting with the ghost was one of the highlights.
Many of the film’s details are beautifully done: The modernist house where the bulk of the action takes place captures the isolation and paranoia of the characters. The location of the building on a largely deserted island also emphasises the incongruity of its existence with the surrounding.
Lastly, I paid much attention to the fate of the manuscript written by the PM and the first ghostwriter. It is interesting to see its physical deterioration (the initially pristine pages get marked and crumpled) as the film progresses, reflecting the PM’s deteriorating public image and life. The final scene in which the pages of this manuscript scatter down a London street is terrific and effective. It is also quite similar to one of the Liberal Democrat’s ads in which the broken promises of the other parties float around the country as discarded leaflets.

sleep furiously

The Welsh documentary sleep furiously1 by Gideon Koppel records a year of life in Trefeurig, a small farming community in Wales.
The film does not have an obvious structure or narrative. But in its formless way, it documents the slow decline of the farming community. Koppel has an incredible eye for everyday details that reveal the subtle beauty of life and of simple and elegant truths. The director often lets the camera remain motionless for long periods of time. He is especially fond of long shots which show people or objects moving slowly from one side of the frame to the other side. Despite its slow pace, the film manages to be engaging throughout. In fact, there are several very funny moments which sparked laughter in the audience and brought tears to the eyes of j.
The film has been called a love-letter to Trefeurig, the director’s hometown. But it also feels like a love-letter to the audience.
1The film title may have been inspired by Chomsky’s ‘Colourless green ideas sleep furiously’.