Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Café Lumiere


We often went to the movies. The screen lit up and we trembled…But more often than not Madeleine and I were disappointed. The pictures were dated, they flickered. And Marilyn Monroe had aged terribly. It made us sad. This wasn’t the film we’d dreamed of. This wasn’t the total film that each of us had carried within himself...the film we wanted to make, or, more secretly, no doubt, that we wanted to live.
Paul, in Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin‑féminin



Every time I travel back from college or randomly hop on a bus. I try understanding the subtle nature of how light and patterns reflect on our moods and affect our lives- consciously. I guess we are never aware of how much color is part of our lives. And at the same time, I try deciphering and comparing two distinct images from Cinema and Life. Sometimes, when I slightly tinge my pupil and look across; everything get’s out of focus and blurred at night. Cars, street lights, people, everything becomes an union of yellow, blue and red echoing a distinct similarity to the image we see on screen. Then there is a nature of presenting thing in “Dramatic time”, the cause and effect structure of how most films work. And at the same time representing the “Non-Dramatic” moments of our life, as a matter of fact most our lives are build on the latter moments. The high verisimilitude present in most films is definitely not how life unfolds, subjectively or objectively as if their exist something as objective realism, without confusing it with “Real Actual World”.



Their is something very special about, Bernando Bertuluci, The Conformist. It’s made up of intricately choreographed and crafted moments and each scene feels like a tableaux. The frame is well equilibrated with light, texture, space and the same time it’s very easy on the eye; pleasing and observable. In one memorable scene from the film, The Conformist is traveling with his Wife in a Train, and various degrees of yellow, orange saturated hues and colors reflect through the windows. I was more struck looking at those colors, and not with what was happening in the scene. Similar moments from Godard's Pierrot Le Fou echoed in my mind. Jean Paul Belmondo and Anna Karnia are driving, and a constant flux of street lights move diagonally across the windshield. Every since I have always wondered does such varying degrees of light formulate in our lives and is it even plausible.


I have always found that my life in Delhi reflects how a Hollywood film works, fast paced, lacks identity, simply full of blokes and cloaks and everyone moves at such rhythm and pace that they forget to live. Most of our lives here echo that of other- Meaning, the identities are so much counter balanced that it’s difficult to denote who belongs where. After having spend months without taking a break. I decided to travel back home. There is a certain luxury when it comes from traveling back or staying at home. The moments, gestures and the pace are completely opposite. The train journey back home is a special moment. I was relaxed and deep into reading Truffaut seminal Biography when shades of vertical rays of sun reflected through the window on my book for a moment- I kept reading. Then, within a matter of second, the yellow got richer and deeper, and I turned back and looked outside. I could see the sky covered in rich shades of soothing yellow and melancholic red- The Conformist flashed in my mind I knew such similar moments do echo in life. Perhaps, its such subtle moments that makes up the purity of image. What artist go out and seek, a certain divine force, which together makes what “Truth” and perception of “Reality” within a work and power of image stands for. The ability to blend and enter your heart and refine your sense, move you in certain aspect. Sadly, such moments hardly exist in the “Bollywood thrash” we are constantly feed with.






I stood outside in the courtyard basking the morning glory sun, and just gazed at the rhythm and pace with which people moved and things unfolded. Almost everything felt like plotless cinema. Jim Jarmusch was right when he said, “Life has no plot why movies should”. I often think of Yasujiro Ozu as a humanitarian and Anthropologist, his films showed the purpose and struggle of everyday existence- Documentation on living. His films even though made with acute degree of austerity could be broken into waves of everyday emotion, gestures, problems and feeling.


In 2003 commemorating the centenary of Ozu birth, Shochiku for whom Yasujiro Ozu made his films, commissioned a film to pay homage to the last Master. Hou Hsien Hou one of the greatest filmmaker alive today was hired to direct the film, and Cafe Lumiere was born. I saw the film at the 2007 Osian Film Festival and was overwhelmed the way the film progressed. There is such warmth when watching the film that you get a sense your living. It did have the elements of family, trains and a story set in a contemporary Japan, but the film was quintessentially Hou. It had his long takes, ellipses and beautiful framed scenes and a convoluted use of off-screen space. In the beginning of the film, we see a young girl talking to a woman off –screen while Hou’s camera remains static. Hou does not bother to reveal who the woman is and as the movie progress we don’t remember about the woman, it’s only later in the film when the young girl’s parents visit her Hou bothers showing the neighbor. By then most people have forgotten about her, and it’s such moments and dimension of progressive narrative that makes Hou one of the greatest narrative filmmaker alive as he often referred.


Café Lumiere is a beautiful film. Provided you know what you are looking for. On surface the film may seem so out of the world, as it’s broken and paired down to such distinct images, sound and characters that though they appear warm, but are somewhat reconciled within their obsession or image they have formulated. A similar distinction with the films of Yasujiro Ozu. Though their exist certain freedom and space within the frame yet one can feel a certain tension or self-restraint in this film of Hou, which though close to Ozu on the thematic and contextual level breakaway in it’s notion for concealing and reveling or out spoken resealed. Ozu fundamentally never moved his camera, they were always still, or even when it moved the composition did remain the same. However, Hou camera does reframe- pan, tilt so even though their exist a certain similarity in their mis-en-scene, but Ozu mise-en-scene had more vitality and rigor then Hou. Though, Hou film's especially the ones based on the rich and complex History of Taiwan is so layered and dense, that I remember the first time I saw the film I was lost.


Café Lumiere is a film which is very difficult to put into words. It’s like when you go on a holiday, one can easily express his/her feeling regarding the places and tourist destination one visited. But it would be hard to express if one by sheer luck or chance get’s to experience something more delicate. Something which was unplanned, as if it happened out of thin air. That is the magic of the film, lot of people might not understand that, a film about a young girl who is pregnant and decides to keep the baby irrespective of marrying the guy could be told in such non-dramatic fashion. Had this been a “Hollywood” or “Bollywood” film a lot of time and energy would have been spend dealing with the girl as a victim or victimized with chutzpah of emotions and kitsch to account for


Café Lumiere is delicate, warm, sweet, you can feel, breathe, rest, relax, walk, and run in the cinematic space. And even get lost. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when the father comes back home, and sits down to drink and watch TV. Hou Hsien Hou camera simply lingers on as he drinks and watches TV. There is something so special in this scene, which cannot be put into words. I guess, I find such mundane scenes very special. Whether it’s a Hong Sang Soo film where people group around to eat, or Hou Hsien Hou film where the camera lingers on too allow a person to observe and appreciate his own existence and cherish the small moments in his life. It really echoes with moments, time, lights, energy, gestures which I find really special. For eg: A simple act of drinking tea with friends, smoking a cigarette, walking on a lonely road, standing in your balcony, watching TV alone and many other such small moments in our lives which makes most of our “ Dead Time”, perhaps it’ such moments I seek in our Indian Films. And I’m sure they would come a time when we would be ready to stand up and make films which is attuned to our “Everyday realities” in the same breath and manner like our " Masters".

3 comments:

Shubhank said...

Café Lumière is lovely. An absolute delight to watch.

“Life has no plot why movies should”
He is definitely right.


Daily I walk from work to home. Its a 50 min walk and for those 50 minutes I have absolutely no thoughts doodling in my mind. Its blank, totally.

I feel like filming the whole experience. It starts in an alley, as I approach the main road the sound of the vehicles honking becomes more prominent, for a while its only streetlights all the way.
This is followed by a small stretch of empty plots and wide roads, no streetlights, vehicles speeding away, a sort of darkness prevails.
Slowly I come to this junction, honking sounds again, everyone is in a hurry to get back home - I am not and for fuck knows what reasons. Someone bargaining with an auto-waala while another person is abusing the same auto-waala for blocking his way.

...and so on.

Its amazing, I see the same things everyday, its mundane but I never get tired of it.

nitesh said...

Thanks for your comment Shubhank.

Remember when you had come down to Delhi, and we were simply wandering and walking planning to capture such moments on screen. I guess it's such special moments which really is missing in our films.

Dedalus said...

Probably too late in the day-but where can I find this film in Delhi? Could you help please?