For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
The Edge Of Heaven
I'm a film fan but, I must admit, I'm not a big fan of commercial, American blockbuster movies and the Hollywood star system. Of course, there are many, many American films and film directors I love. Midnight Cowboy. Taxi Driver. Five Easy Pieces. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. John Ford. Orson Welles. David Lynch. Michael Moore. But, given a choice, I'd much rather watch more understated, low-budget European film, which is so far removed from Hollywood's sentimental, melodramatic glitz and glamour. I really don't want to seem snobbish or pretentious, highbrow or high-minded. I just prefer the restrained 'realism' of European cinema to the majority of today's Hollywood movies, which I often find gratuitously violent, cynically manipulative, unadventurously 'safe', ruthlessly commercial, and overtly escapist and unrealistic.
The fact is: I'm an arthouse man. Show me a film with dazzling 'special effects', or a genre film, whether horror, SF, thriller or costume drama - and I can get quickly bored. But give me a slow-moving Tarkovsky - when a camera may pan round a room in a single take for five minutes - or an obscure Czech film about a pigeon-breeding stationmaster, an unorthodox film of Berlin low-life shot in grainy black and white or a surrealistic Cocteau or Bunuel, and I'm hooked. I don't want to be all serious and 'arty' about it, but I just don't like going to movies (or reading books for that matter) for mere escapism or light entertainment (not that I'm looking down on escapism and light entertainment - far from it). I want to be enlightened, stimulated, educated, provoked, transformed; I want to learn something about how we live and survive in this difficult, crazy world; I want to experience real people with real problems and real emotions; I want all the glorious chaos and inconsistency and beauty and horror of real life turned into meaningful art. That's what I want in a good film or a good book. I don't want Terminator or Joan Collins, Gladiator or Jackie Collins. If I sound like a prig, than so be it!
My love of arthouse cinema originated way back in my teens and early twenties, when I watched movies a lot, perhaps several a week. My greatest passion then was for the French 'New Wave' directors: Chabrol, Godard, Rohmer - and, above all, Truffaut. The 400 Blows, Shoot The Piano Player, Jules and Jim, Fahrenheit 451, Stolen Kisses, Day For Night, The Man Who Loved Women - I could watch these films again and again. I was also completely overwhelmed by the bleak, truthful, existentialist films of Ingmar Bergman - one of our greatest European movie makers - and his hugely talented cameraman, Sven Nykvist. Nowadays I hardly ever go to the cinema, but I do watch DVDs and the odd TV film.
A couple of nights ago I saw the 2007 German-Turkish film Edge Of Heaven (Auf Der Anderen Seite in its original German title) directed by Fatih Akin, a brilliant young German film director of Turkish descent. It's a great piece of film making. The lives of six fascinating characters - some Turkish, some German - are intertwined in a complex but engrossing story set against an unsettling backdrop of German-Turkish culture and politics. I won't give a summary of the plot - you can read about it here - but I really do want to recommend this film, which contains some very fine examples of restrained, unsensational, 'realistic' acting.
One of the characters is played by the very fine German screen actress Hanna Schygulla, who appeared in many of the films made by the controversial German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder - including Berlin Alexanderplatz, The Marriage Of Maria Braun and his masterpiece, Effi Briest.