Why did Bellocchio release Il regista?

October 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Did he think it was good?

He could not possibly have thought it, unless…  unless the biographical aspect of it has blinded him into thinking it is important:  after all, we all commit the grave mistake of thinking that because what happens to us is important to us therefore it must be somehow universally important.  And the truth is — it is not.

Or did he think it was not great but it would do?


To turn out good films (or novels) one has to take time to experience and digest, i.e. stop writing (or filming)

October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Il regista di matrimoni on the other hand, despite some beautiful eye candy, and some delightful oddities (Bellocchio’s films are placed somewhat in the direction of the the Manuel de Oliveira/Raoul Ruiz corner of the realism/surrealism spectrum), disappoints.  It seems an immutable principle of art that whenever an aging movie director makes a film about an aging movie director (or an aging novelist about an aging novelist) the resulting work must needs be dull.  The autobiographical details of the lives of productive artists, unlike the autobiographical details of mercenaries or gangsters or entrepreneurs, are just not terribly interesting:  sitting and writing all day does no more to develop an interesting character than turning out a movie a year, and precisely as much as any other job.  And if you trust pornographic websites, far less than the job of a librarian (or a nurse).  I suppose the sad truth is that no one has 40 good films in him (except perhaps Ozu); good directors (like Kubrick) know this and don’t mind producing a film every decade.  To turn out good films (or novels) one has to take time to experience and digest, i.e. stop writing (or filming).

Old World films, unlike New World films, are usually not about what they seem to be about

October 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Marco Bellocchio’s film L’Ora del relgione (“Religion Class” or “Religious Education”) is not about religion at all.

How do I know?  I know precisely because there is so much religion in it, far more of it than one would ever find in Rome (complete with Fellini-like evening parties heavily attended by nuns and clerics and Jesus-look alike pilgrims with crowns-of-thorns and crosses wondering casually in the streets) but also because what there is of it is…  so odd — the slick-haired, body-built cardinal in ultra-chic glasses, the beatification campaign run like an electoral campaign complete with printed leaflets and gigantesque martyr-posters, etc.

Predictably, religious types responded to the film with criticism of this oddity as an inaccuracy of presentation; these complaints belong with their other complaint — that there is no God in the film — in the Didn’t Get The Movie file.  The non-religious-types responded with similar degree of incomprehension, mostly shrugging:  God stuff, they said to a man.  But Old World films, like Old World novels — and unlike New World films and novels — are usually not about what they seem to be about.  The Old World peoples call this phenomenon – a kind of illocution — “depth” and those who don’t get it — “shallow”.  (By which they usually mean Americans).

In the best European tradition of never speaking to the central topic, of circumlocution and symbolic representation, the film is about something else altogether:  it is about a man who had hated his mother, who had rejected her with all her foibles (including religion and the church), years after her death having to deal with the fact that his mother continues to influence his life through the people around him.  “I don’t want to speak ill of my mother”, he says several times, reflecting the double prohibition to speak ill of one’s parents or of the dead; it is a prohibition of the society around him, but a prohibition he accepts because it seems decent and moral to him:  and that is precisely the drama.  If you hate your mother, and with reason, then it would be easier to junk the rules about filial piety, the official ideology that there is nothing like one’s mother’s love, and speak up.  If you do not, then you are liable to find the pressure from outside unbearable — “how can you say that about your own mother?”  etc.

To my mind, this is what the film is about: the fact that the world around us sanctifies the mother-child relationship and judges the unfilial child severely as unnatural, perverse; and that a decent child, especially one with his own children, may well like to honor that principle, or at least not contradict it publicly; but what if that decent child has a perfectly valid reason to hate?

In a more general sense, the film is about the difficulty of independence, of choosing one’s own path, against the grain.  This point is made by two symbols — the duel scene which the hero fails (his opponent judges him too inept with foil to be fit for the battle); and the video the hero has been building for himself:  one of the collapse of the Vottoriano (Altare della Patria): a kind of daydream about the collapse of all authority.

The more profound world of Marco Bellocchio

October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Italian movie makers have lost the power to have themselves distributed outside of Italy and we are all losers for it.  The opportunity to see films such as those of Marco Bellocchio is the opportunity to see another way of seeing the world, another sensitivity, a radically different eye, and a very deep, meditative, nuanced, multi-layered way of representing the human condition.  Buon giorno, Notte, a film about the kidnapping of Aldo Moro does not start with a big explosion; no hard and fast action takes place on screen, there is no gut-wrenching cruelty — instead, a far subtler drama is being played out:  of one of the terrorists losing her conviction in the action and grappling with the implications of what she is doing.  One has a stronger sense of watching a Greek drama — with all its direct power to move — than in any other film of the last two decades.  His L’Ora di religione tells the story of an atheist with an unspecified grudge towards his dead mother having to deal with the family’s moves to have her declared a saint: the film is told in an odd, somewhat surrealistic way, complete with a day-break duel at foil-point (in Gianicolo? — with the dome of the Vatican looming directly behind the fencers), a masonic meeting, a papal audience and a nun honey-trap, all designed to make the film seem like a 16 century drama transposed into modernity — a very artful way of leading the viewer to reflect on the true subject of the film — our difficulty in dealing with established sanctities.

That all films about artists are a failure

April 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I turned off (and dumped) Copying Beethoven; today, Goya in Bordeaux.  When is the last time I have seen a good film about an artist?  Impromptu?  And that only because it was a comedy.

Throwing up on Kokoschka

March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Throwing up on Kokoschka:  I don’t know whether the notion is Yasmine Reza’s or Roman Polanski’s, but it is precious: I want to every time I see it. (In Carnage).


Why Separation has won the Academy Awards. Why Americans don’t make movies like it.

February 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

“How can a film like A separation win the Academy Awards?” one asks himself.  “Films of this sort never win Academy Awards.  There must be a mistake.”

The mistake is one’s own:  Academy Awards — like most film awards — are not won by the best film, but by the film which ticks the most boxes; or, in other words, the film with fewest obstacles to winning.  Unlike other competitions (e.g. Cannes) Academy Awards judges don’t watch the films during public screenings, but on their own time, which probably means often not, which in turn means that obstacles to winning are in fact obstacles to watching.  This year, they may not have watched In Darkness for the same reason for which I haven’t (“Oh no, not another holocaust film”). They may have skipped Warhorse for shear surfeit of Spielberg.  But Separation seems timely (“we’re about to bomb them”) and Islam-engaged (“divorce in an Islamic state” — “they’re just like us”) and — who knows — perhaps reflects American industry’s desire to muscle in on the “Iranian-film” market. (All the critics rave, there must be a market there).

Given all these checked boxes, Separation‘s win isn’t really surprising.

Yet, the puzzlement remains:  Separation is an Old World movie par excellence:  it is “difficult”:  it it tells a complicated story — a story complicated by issues of class, modernity, and religion, all of which are sketched rather than spelled out; actor’s motivations are not explained — it is up to the viewer to figure things out; characters have depth; and their actions are motivated by a kind of guesswork regarding what their interlocutors are really thinking (and not saying); part of the act of watching is precisely this guesswork —  trying to figure out why x is doing what he is doing.  This kind of story telling is universal in the Old World — Koreans, Iranians, Bengalis, Turks, Japanese all make movies of this kind (in addition to whatever other movies they make); this kind of movies travels well — Iranians watch Ozu, Japanese watch Ceylan; and is highly regarded by a certain influential class of viewers in each of those countries.  This kind of movies wins international film awards in the Old World.

Yet, Americans rarely make such movies; some Woody Allen films are like this (“Matchpoint”), perhaps one or two Kubricks (“Eyes wide shut”).  (Who else?) When they do, they often make them abroad or with foreign money; and never make a success of them at home.  More disturbingly a crushing majority of Americans from precisely the socio-economic class which in the rest of the world can be counted on to watch, like, and discuss this kind of movies admits openly and without embarrassment to not understanding such films and not liking them.  Old Worlders uniformly find this shallow and disappointing — how is it possible not to understand this movie?  How is it possible not to like it?

Perhaps one explanation lies in the fundamentality of the American concept of KIS — “keep it simple”.  We, Old Worlders, find life complicated:  it is complicated by issues of class and religion, of traditional morality, of social compact; but to Americans — in our eyes at least — life seems simple: it is all about unfettered pursuit of happiness, the live- and-let-live ethos; we are not happy in our marriage, things are not working out, let’s not fight it, let’s not over-analyze it, let’s up sticks and move on, life’s too short to suffer.  (“Move to California, strike oil, become a dot.com millionaire”).

Which is perhaps why things work in America in ways in which they fail to work elsewhere (the highways, the supermarkets, the shopping by mail order, etc.); and while life there seems so much easier there to new arrivals from the Old World.  We Old Worlders admire this, and long for it, and, upon finding ourselves in America for the first time, find it incredibly liberating, but, in our tortured Old World way, we end up finding it shallow and intellectually dissatisfying.

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