The Munro shifts

This could be one of the characters from a short story
Runawy written by Alice Munro

It so happens that I consumed “Venus in Fur” the film, and “Runaway” the short story within a few days of each other.  I can’t shake off both.  Both for different reasons. 

Maybe it’s not entirely fair to compare film with literature, but on the other hand why not: if people produce stories for mass consumptions than the consumers have the right to compare products. 

Another reason is that both Polanski and Munro are masters in their respective crafts and as masters are expected to be nimble enough to totally spellbound the viewers/readers.  

Both storytellers play with time as the key element of forwarding the story.  Both also play with shifting the levels of their narrative lasers, if you will.  

In both cases time and attention shifts are significant.  Both withhold the information (“Runaway” - what happens, “Venus” - who’s the girl, what are her motives).  

A good write up about the Munro’s withholding technique is at: 

The film with its narrative tricks tries to dig straight into the psyche.  The story (at least on the surface) tries to uncover the events, and only then, after the events are somehow put together in the readers’ mind, the chilling psychological dimension of the story hits us with full force.   

Munro spreads her diagnosis of who we are and what we do over several layers of reality and in doing so gets the means to juggle them creating the poetic and the profound.  Polanski is confined to the psychology of two people and one space and because of that his attention shifts have to be limited to uncovering their inner layers via  “and then (or “suddenly”) he becomes…”, “she turns into…”.   In Munro’s technique it’s “let me uncover jet another side of it..”, or “while this happens, something far more important influences this event and this something is…”, or “let’s drop this particular way of seeing this event and shift to…”.   I wrote “Polanski” but it’s really for short, since it’s a collaborative effort where the cinematography by Pawel Edelman is really exceptional - I want this lenses that he uses there! - and the deliciously light and intriguing music by Alexandre Desplate captivates from the very beginning.  

In this (yes, I know) risky comparison,  one approach is more effective than the other.  Is it because the psychological “truths” served in both have different weights?  Or do they?  Is it because it’s easier to successfully manipulate more narrative elements rather than less?  Is it because the disciplines are not equal in their sophistication?  

Or perhaps a metaphor will almost always win because it quickly engulfs  our imagination and in a sense does most of the work for us, while the “Venus in fur”-like painstakingly constructed exploration of inner layers of our psyche requires from us more concentration and perhaps more …maturity.

Whatever the reason, it is the “Runaway” that refuses to stop poking into my mind and heart.    


Blindness to the world

written and directed by Andrzej Jakimowski

A wonderful film about the power of imagination and its role in our perception of the world. 

After seeing the film I was ecstatic and started looking for some reviews on the net.  Well, by misfortune I stumbled first upon a certain lukewarm review.  A very disappointing read.  Seems like the reviewer did not get anything of value from the film.  In his eyes it was flat and limping, sprinkled with some nice craftsmanship.   My reaction, on the other hand, was enthusiastic.  Who’s right?  Could I read too much into the screen?   Am I too sentimental?  Too unexperienced?  

With a subtle film, and Imagine is one, a think a thick skin reviewer can do a real damage to the perception of artistic work.  So let’s treat reviews with suspicion (says the guy who in a sense is about to give one!) 

Contrary to the lukewarm reviewer, in my take the love affair in the film is a vehicle for the exploration of imagination.  In the narrative, love is important but it is not what the film is about.  A blind man in the film tells others about the world.  He points to them unknown aspects of reality.   He teaches them how “to see.”

The message is somewhere between “fake it till you make it” pop culture approach to life and one of the critical assumptions of Transcendental Idealism in German philosophy.  (Two entries ago I telegraphed the problem of perception in Kant and Fichte in relation to the Siemek project, the documentary currently on my plate.)

Jakimowski, the director of Imagine, studied philosophy so it is safe to assume that he is versed in the role of imagination in constructing the reality.  He for sure knows Kant and Fichte.   But what’s beautiful about his script is that it also plays on normal, non philosophical, levels.  One of them could be also the filmmaking itself.  

Just like some film directors, the blind man in the story is a mixture of chutzpah, insight, lies and techniques that are not always working.  Yet, with the power of his conviction he creates the world, he gives people a way to see the reality.  Is he a fake?  Is the hero of “Imagine” a fake?  Maybe partly he is, or maybe he is just too confident.  But at the end his reading of the reality proves to be true.   And he gets the girl. 

What else is to want. 


Perceptiveness of the past

Stanislaw Elsner-Zaluski as Marek Siemek
Stephan Boden as Friedrich Schiller
from the upcoming documentary
"Department of Historical Necessity"

I just returned from Jena and Bonn where we were shooting scenes for the Marek Siemek documentary. 

The project is going forward despite budgetary hard squeezes.  Still, we managed to orchestrate a meeting between Siemek and Schiller.  Above are the two snapshots from this encounter.  

What seemed significant in directing this meeting was to have Schiller be the one who notices somebody out of his time and space, not the other way around.  As if the past not only influences but  is also able to read and perceive the reality of now. 

Needless to say it isn't going to be a normal documentary flick, although there will be classical elements there as well.


Exhibitionism or hiding in a doc

A poster announcing "Stories We Tell" 
with the discussion afterwards. 

Yesterday at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (in Warsaw) where I teach filmmaking there was a panel/audience discussion about "Stories We Tell".  I was of the opinion that the director did everything she could to lessen the emotional impact of the story.   In my mind, she did that in order to claim the subject, to project her, purposely unspecified, approach, and in doing so not to go deeper into the story.  I claimed that because Sarah Polley is a fantastic and very competent director (I am enchanted by her techniques in "Take This Waltz") and so I assumed that she was in total command of her emotionally lukewarm narrative choices in "Stories We Tell."

During the discussion questions were raised about her exhibitionism, which to me again, was just clever hiding of something she did not want to explore.