Weblog since 2004 on books, films, art and travel.
Subscribe to the RSS feed.

iffr: full or empty

'Full or empty' ('Gol ya pouch'), by director Abolfazl Jalili, is another one of those delightful Iranian films that clothe sharp social commentary in lighthearted humor and a casual style of storytelling.

Jalili, whose filmography shows that most of his films have had trouble being released in Iran, made this film almost entirely on his own. As he explained, he was waiting for the necessary permits for the film, which took so long he decided to just start without them. Although he was able to finish the film and even show it in the town market where it was shot, government officials were not amused -- no doubt complicating future projects for him.

Ironically, the film is about the same kind of rebellious foolhardiness. An ambitious kid applies for a teaching job and gets mired in endless bureaucracy. While waiting, he tries to make a living with a number of odd jobs, pursues a girl and gets into all kinds of trouble. But he still perseveres. In the end, his application is approved, but there is one other candidate. To decide between them, the official calls in a 'full or empty' player.

('Full or empty', called 'balletje balletje' in Dutch, is a sleight of hand type gambling game where you have to guess which hand contains some little object. There doesn't seem to be a word for it in English, though 'Find the Lady' amounts to the same thing.)

The protagonist's picaresque adventures are as hilarious as they are realistic. His unshakable optimism in the face of adversity must be of the same kind that gets films like this made.

iffr: the piano tuner of earthquakes

'The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes' is the second feature by the Quay Brothers (how do you one-link these twins? Oh well: Stephen & Timothy).

Though slightly more accessible than 'Institute Benjamenta' (perhaps because Terry Gilliam was involved as executive producer), this is still heavy stuff -- what they call hermetic. Notions like fantastical, surrealistic and dreamlike just have to be taken more literally than usual to describe this film.

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes - 1

The story? A fairy tale really, but so bizarre it's hard to summarize. On a remote island, a sinister doctor controls events by means of a series of tide-driven automata (intricate machines comprising mini-worlds which control aspects of the real world). After murdering/abducting a young opera singer on the night before her wedding, the doctor calls in a piano tuner to do maintenance on his automata, preparing them for a cataclysmic opera in which he will wed the traumatized opera singer. Of course, the piano tuner falls for her and tries to prevent the doctor's plans...

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes - 2

Visually it is absolutely stunning. Partly animated, partly live action, the film is composed of rich tableaux shrouded in mystery and Mediterranean sunlight, which literally expose the machinations that lie behind the real (no: dream) world.

But the theme of puppetry is taken a bit too far, as the actors and the story all seem to be just instruments in this dream world. As one review puts it, the result, however beautiful, is just too stifling.

But maybe that's just another way of saying it's hermetic.

iffr: klimt

The director's cut of 'Klimt', the new film by Raúl Ruiz, starring John Malkovich, had its world premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

As emphasized by Ruiz, the film is not a biopic, but rather "a phantasmagoria, a fresco of real and imaginary characters revolving around a single point of focus: the painter Klimt."


The entire story takes place as Klimt lies on his deathbed and looks back on his life, imagining, as Ruiz put it, "what never was but might have been." Appropriately, the mind of the artist is full of dreamlike, swirling images (with lots of broken mirrors, female bodies and falling snow), making the film really look like an Art Nouveau painting.

Ruiz: "Asked to describe this film in two words, I would say: delirium and delight."

Among the historial characters portrayed in the film are Klimt's friend Egon Schiele, filmmaker George Méliès, architect Adolf Loos, as well as a young Wittgenstein.

tela totius terrae

The "tela totius terrae" (ttt) is the world wide web (www) in Latin. If this sounds like Asterix & Obelix, it turns out there's a whole 'Dictionary of Modern Latin' (published by the Vatican).

Though most new words seem unwieldy descriptions instead of real neologisms, there are some funny ones:

  • bikini = vesticula balnearis Bikiniana ("little bathing costume from Bikini")
  • cover girl = exterioris paginae puella
  • drummer = pulsator
  • hippie = conformitatis osor ("hater of conformity")
  • jazz = iazensis musica
  • kamikaze = voluntarius sui interreptor
  • masseuse = tractatrix
  • milkshake = potio agitata
  • nightclub = taberna nocturna
  • pizza = placenta compressa
  • playboy = iuvenis voluptarius
  • psychologist = humani animi investigator
  • rush hour = tempus maximae frequentiae
  • soccer = pediludium ("foot game")
  • stripper = sui ipsius nudatrix
  • UFO = res inexplicata volans
  • videocassette = sonorarum visualiumque taeniarum cistellula ("little box of ribbons of sounds and sights")
  • vodka = valida potio Slavica
  • voyeur = obscena observandi cupidus
  • weapons of mass destruction = universalis destructionis armamenta

zen logic

Without claiming to understand much of Zen (if that's even the point), here's a koan that seems to sum up its spirit nicely:

A master was asked the question, "What is the Way?" by a curious monk.
"It is right before your eyes," said the master.
"Why do I not see it for myself?"
"Because you are thinking of yourself."
"What about you: do you see it?"
"So long as you see double, saying 'I don't', and 'you do', and so on, your eyes are clouded," said the master.
"When there is neither 'I' nor 'You', can one see it?"
"When there is neither 'I' nor 'You', who is the one that wants to see it?"

(Quoted in Hofstadter's 'Gödel, Escher, Bach'.)

new year's resolutions, pt. 3

Do more photographing, so you don't have to resort to pix from the old box (Dutchism, sorry) to liven things up. This case in point is from grbl!#%tss 2004.

Amsterdam bike wreck

new year's resolutions, pt. 2

Stop playing this stupid little game called 'lines' -- however addictive and brilliant in its simplicity. (For those who want to try: five in a row with six colors against the computer who throws in three new balls for each move you make. See if you can beat my 2351 record ;)

Update: Here's a non-Java version, called 'Colored Lines'.

new year's resolutions, pt. 1

It's high time i said something about Buster Keaton here. And more specifically about the existential Keaton vs. Chaplin debate (see, for instance, 'The Dreamers'). Though both are absolute classics, after seeing Keaton's 'The General' and Chaplin's 'Modern Times', Buster Keaton is ahead 1-0. But should see more before saying more.

Buster Keaton

(Concerning Chaplin, i must say the disappointing exhibition at the Kunsthal doesn't help. Tip for curators: a museum is not a cinema.)