Esther Rots' debut feature 'Kan door huid heen' ('Can Go Through Skin') has its official premiere at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival, but it was screened out of competition in Rotterdam on Saturday. Living up to its poetically corrosive title, this intense, subjective account of a woman's unravelling mind takes 'Repulsion' to the chilling Dutch countryside.
After being the victim of a random act of violence, Marieke (a stunning role of Rifka Lodeizen) moves to the countryside and tries to make a new start. At first her erratic behavior, alternating between feeble attempts to renovate the dilapidated house and spells of utter lethargy, may be part of coming to terms with her traumatic experience. But in the isolation of the house, whose growing disarray reflects her state of mind, Marieke proves unable to give her life a new direction and loses herself in paranoid delusions and revengeful fantasies.
Unfortunately Rots takes the angel of vengeance subplot a bit too far, even if it only plays out in her protagonist's deranged mind. (Her director's statement suggests Marieke's radicalization to be real, which would make matters worse, but at least the film leaves it open to interpretation.)
As a psychological study of vulnerability and shattered integrity, however, the film convincingly treads the thin line between coping and losing. Here its unpredictable, associative narration, the nervous, subjective camera (Lennert Hillege) and the soundtrack (Dan Geesin), a combination of soothing songs and disquieting instrumental parts, all add to convey Marieke's desperate struggle.
Rots, who wrote, directed and edited 'Kan door huid heen', made a few successful short films, two of which were shown in Cannes. Her latest short is online: 'Dialoogoefening no. 1: Stad' ('Dialogue Excercise no. 1: City'; no subtitles).
Peter Liechti's 'The Sound of Insects - Record of a Mummy', which had its world premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival on Saturday, might well be the longest death scene in film history. Reminiscent of both 'Into the Wild' and Chris Marker's cinematic essays, it is a deeply unsettling meditation on death and, by implication, the dehumanization of modern life.
Based on the novella 'Until I Am a Mummy' ('Miira ni narumade') by Japanese author Shimada Masahiko, which in turn was based on actual events, the film tells the macabre story of a nameless man who starves himself to death in a hut in the woods. Months later, his mummified corpse is found by accident, along with a diary of his incredible 62-day deathbed.
Liechti, who was "both fascinated and irritated immensely" by the text, presents the diary in a voice-over, accompanied by a stream of subjective, associative images. We see through the man's eyes, alone in the wilderness with his thoughts, and we are forced to experience the entire, drawn-out process of his suicide with him.
At first, he passes the time reading Beckett's 'Malone Dies' and listening to Bach's 'Mattheus Passion' on the radio. While he documents his bodily deterioration, we see images of his surroundings - the forest, the sky - and detached, gloomy images from a city - silhouettes on sidewalks, faces behind a tram window.
The man has no history, no context or motive, except his own resolve. He has no ties to this world, and the only he thing he might be remembered for is his extraordinary way of dying. As Liechti interprets this:
Ultimately, the nameless man's manner of dying [...] constitutes the most radical form of renouncement: a total retreat from the hustle and bustle in an achievement-oriented society, the unmitigated refusal to consume, to partake in the haste of this life.
Growing weaker, the man muses on his self-imposed limbo. After 40 days, he notes the fact that he has now fasted longer than Moses, Jesus and the Buddha. But unlike them, as an unbeliever he hasn't had any revelation, nothing to bring back to the world of the living. And besides, he is too weak now to leave his tent.
From here on, his visions become more lyrical: images of water start to dominate, reflecting the man's preoccupation with his crossing of the river Styx to the afterworld. The diary becomes more fragmentary and hallucinatory, until the last entry, on day 62, states:
There is light.
As the 38th International Film Festival Rotterdam kicks off with a brand new tiger logo, here's a comparison with its tigers from the past. From the old, melancholy tiger by design collective Hard Werken to the lithe, leaping tiger by Max Kisman and the new, Dick Bruna-ish tiger by 75B.
(Excuse the quality - the images were scanned from the festival program. Surprisingly few of the old logos and posters show up online. Would be a good IFFR project: create an online archive of all festival posters.)
Update: For its anniversary edition, the IFFR has published all 40 festival posters.
In 1952 Elias Canetti, best known for his novel 'Auto-da-Fé' and his study 'Crowds and Power', visited Marrakesh with a British film company. (Would be interesting to know which film this was, but haven't been able to find out.) His travel sketches and stories, collected in 'The Voices of Marrakesh', vividly evoke the bewildering sights and sounds of the city. What's more, they evoke the traveler's giddiness of deliberately (or in the case of Marrakesh: unavoidably) getting lost in an unknown city.
To quote just one example, Canetti's spot-on description of the age-old ritual of negotiating in the souks:
It is desirable that the toing and froing of negotiations should last a miniature, incident-packed eternity. The merchant is delighted at the time you take over your purchase. Arguments aimed at making the other give ground should be far-fetched, involved, emphatic, and stimulating. You can be dignified or eloquent, but you will do best to be both. Dignity is employed by both parties to show that they do not attach too much importance to either sale or purchase. Eloquence serves to soften the opponent's resolution. Some arguments merely arouse scorn; others cut to the quick. You must try everything before you surrender. But even when the time has come to surrender it must happen, suddenly and unexpectedly so that your opponent is thrown into confusion and for a moment lets you see into his heart. Some disarm you with arrogance, others with charm. Every trick is admissible, any slackening of attention inconceivable.
The 23 stories collected by Zadie Smith in 'The Book of Other People' have one thing in common: they're about character. As Smith notes, "the instruction was simple: make somebody up."
Besides notable contributions by Dave Eggers (the forlorn fairytale of 'Theo' the giant), Miranda July (the reverberations of a chance meeting with Hollywood star 'Roy Spivey') and A.L. Kennedy (the bloody tragic breakdown of 'Frank'), one story that stands out is Chris Ware's graphic story 'Jordan Wellington Lint'.
In his neurotically meticulous style, instantly recognizable ever since 'The Smartest Kid on Earth', Ware traces the life of Jordan Lint from birth up to age thirteen, with each page showing a single day of each year. From the blurry perceptions of a baby to the rowdy fantasies of boyhood, the storytelling is almost phenomenological in its subjectivity. With half-understood family tragedies lurking in the background, the reader is left to fill in their impact on the protagonist's development. It's a psychologist's case study - with a cliffhanger at age thirteen, just as puberty sets in.
Interestingly, Ware is continuing the story of Jordan Lint's life and further installments will be published in Virginia Quarterly Review "as Ware completes them". (The image above is from VQR; Jordan Lint at age fourteen.)
As the first serious frost in years starts to get Holland into iceskating mode, one of the strangest Dutch words is coming back into use: 'klunen', 'to walk on iceskates over land'. Of Frysian origin, it is used in skating tours to avoid bad stretches of ice or to get from one frozen lake or canal to another, most famously during the Elfstedentocht.
Though English has apparently loaned the word (kluning), there's probably no other language in the world with a verb for this rather ridiculous-looking activity.
(Old-school kluning photo here. Some more old-school iceskating photos here).
And this I dreamt, and this I dream,
And some time this I will dream again,
And all will be repeated, all be re-embodied,
You will dream everything I have seen in dream.
To one side from ourselves, to one side from the world
Wave follows wave to break on the shore,
On each wave is a star, a person, a bird,
Dreams, reality, death - on wave after wave.
No need for a date: I was, I am, and I will be,
Life is a wonder of wonders, and to wonder
I dedicate myself, on my knees, like an orphan,
Alone - among mirrors - fenced in by reflections:
Cities and seas, iridescent, intensified.
A mother in tears takes a child on her lap.
- Arseny Tarkovsky
(An alternative translation here. More of Tarkovsky's poems in English here.)