Before Carnage

Carnage, dir. by Roman Polanski,
photographed by Pawel Edelman

Paul Mazursky in Vanity Fair suggests that the New York City opening shot for Carnage was done so uneventfully because the director could not do it himself. Yet this is a Polanski’s film and in his work no element is left to chance. Why then the film opens with a distant shot of boys’ fight, the fight which will provide the reason for subsequent psychological action? The shot is indeed restrained, almost a bare nod to the reason for the plot.

Could the opening be different? What would happen if for example the opening showed the pre-meeting nervousness of both parties? The hosts getting ready for the visit and the marching guests on their way to the (obviously) dreaded encounter. Then the title and as is now the shot with Jodie Foster concluding the drafting of the agreement.


Helping oneself, helping others?

"Code Blue"
written and directed by Urszula Antoniak

Code Blue is another film I recently did not get. Probably due to my own limitations. Anyway, with all respect to technical accomplishments, the film's view of the world is so weird that to connect with me it would need to have a bridge of some sort. I did not find such a connection on the screen, or in between the shots. The moodiness and the mastery of the sound design and the visuals are indeed convincing but then there is a story itself and the characters that override the achievements of the filmic background.

Instead of going further into the world of the characters, everything seems to be designed to be weird, to upstage extremes found in other movies (the director talks about the rape scene in The Irreversible - that’s one of my favorite movies ever) as the orientation point for a brutal encounter depicted in her film. Regardless if the director wants to oppose it or follow, it paints her references. She gets trapped in the viscous circle of trying to upstage the shocking that has already been done before.

When Lars von Triers, one of the co-producers of the film, enters the unusual, the dark and the disturbing the results usually reach out from the screen with some understanding and empathy. Urszula Antoniak just screams (in a soft voice) and multiplies the unbearable for the hell of it.

The tragic personal departure point for her film is indeed heart breaking but I am not sure if she has managed to make her despair universal. As it is the film only oozes coldness, death and separation.

In one of the interviews (with Ola Więcka in Wysokie Obcasy from the 21 of January) Antoniak elaborating on the fact that there is very little dialogue in the film says:

“People seldom use language to say something. Of course language can be used to express emotions, to share them but more often it serves to lie about reality. Language is a tool for hiding things, for showing oneself in a better light, it leads to a theater of the word. That’s why on the screen I am more interested in body language.”

Studying the film with such a perspective will most likely reveal its deeper layers.


Pitfalls of personal docs.

Trying to keep with the self imposed restriction of not criticizing specific movies by other directors (OMG, is it difficult or what!), and after seeing a certain first person documentary, let me list a few dangers that await those of us who put themselves into their own movies:

Showing your own face in extended shots and looking pensive doesn’t automatically translate into depth.

A collection of interesting elements does not automatically turn into a subject. Since it is the connections between these elements that ultimately make or break the narrative we need to strive to join the elements rather than to just list them. Joining would be showing their connections or finding a common thread that on a certain level unifies them.

Our personal divagations, if not properly presented, do not necessarily have to concern the audience. The border that separates a display of narcissism from universal is ladened with traps of ridicule, boredom and stupidity.

Most of us are more boring, irritating, shallow or dumber than we think we are, therefore pointing the cameras at ourselves should be preceded by a hard look into the mirror. If there isn’t much reflecting back from the mirror but we still absolutely need to share our precious selves with the world let’s at least make it visually intriguing and try to push formal aspects of the storytelling.



In Darkness,
directed by Agnieszka Holland,
cinematography by Jolanta Dylewska

An important Jewish history professional says (perhaps as a provocation) that he won’t see “In Darkness” because the Holocaust and entertainment should not mix. I disagree (although the dilemma how to present the horror of the past needs to be discussed).

I watched “In Darkness” in a Warsaw crowded theater. The last scene of the film triggered there a wave of nervous, sprinkled with relief, laughter.

In good films often the camera assumes the dominating emotion in a scene. “In Darkness” takes it further and has the light telling the main emotion in a scene. This notion is masterfully carried through the entire narrative and explodes in the final, breathtaking scene, leaving the audience spellbound.

The reaction of the audience proves how needed are the attempts to understand the horrors of the past. Even when enveloped in a classical formula and therefore clearly belonging to the entertainment, such attempts work as catharsis, mirrors and powerful transformative tools.

Was the relieved and nervous laughter at the end of “In Darkness” caused by processing of (the collective) guilt? Clearly, the filmmakers took the audience by hands and made it follow the hero who, undergoing a transformation from racist to mentch, quite possibly validated in the viewers plenty of their own instincts - both good and bad. The bad most likely were often denied, the good were unattainable and outside of an individual contemporary experience. Yet both brewed and brew in the psyche of those even remotely touched by the Shoah.

Is the Hollywood formula a risky vehicle to talk about the Holocaust? Sure. We need to explore and seek additional ways to talk about it. Yet the value of the classical “entertainment” formula illuminating the most troubling aspects of our human experience is indisputable, particularly when the storytelling is so powerful.

My only beef with the film is the last line of the closing titles. It comes after the obligatory info about the subsequent events in the hero’s life. The last title jumps to a slightly sneering and moralistic comment which can devalue the just experienced intimacy of an individual human journey. In short, perhaps after a powerful story it’s better to restrain from philosophizing.