Shorts #26

Today’s Shorts: Feast Of Love (2014), Yellow Earth (1984), Lessons of Darkness (1992), Alexander Nevsky (1938), Hotel Transylvania (2012), King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (2017), Spring In A Small Town (1948), The Housemaid (1960)

A highly enjoyable, despite being imperfect in many ways, romance. What makes Daawat-e-Ishq, or, Feast of Love, work are the light touches of comedy, the chemistry between the major characters and the brilliant, rounded tone.

The downfalls are plentiful, but not too damaging. This is a highly contrived movie that sticks to the romantic formula quite strictly – all the way down to the final scene being in a train station or airport. Added to this, the musical numbers, whilst fun, aren’t impressive. And the snippets of action…. not good at all. There is also an attempt to construct this romance around the social issue of dowry exchange – which is illegal, but still prevalent in India. There is further commentary on materialism and love in this narrative, but it is held together rather loosely by the heavy demands of the genre which push much of the social commentary to the side.

All in all, imperfect, but highly enjoyable. I had a great time with this one. Maybe you will too.

Yellow Earth is a conflicting film that reflects on the impact of communist revolution in rural northern China. In such, whilst the communist movement is praised through song and dialogue throughout, the desolate and arid imagery of this narrative suggests antithetical political ideas. It’s this highly visual and cinematic approach to story that not only implies a critique on communist revolution through depicting its failures to adapt and being adopted by people, but also makes this film a significant piece of Chinese film history. In such, this is considered one of the first Fifth Generation films that emerged after the fall of the communist state in China. It’s Kaige’s approach to visuals, in turn, story, that played a part in reinvigorating Chinese filmmaking after it had been neglected (outside of propaganda filmmaking) during the cultural revolution of the 60s and 70s.

For its complexity, on this first watch Yellow Earth struck me most as a visual piece whilst its narrative fell subservient. Maybe with a re-watch I’d see things differently.

An audio-visual masterpiece, Herzog’s Lessons Of Darkness is shot after shot after shot after shot of devastatingly beautiful imagery, so awe-inspiring that they seem to transcend earthly description as to silently depict the alien and the ethereal.

Capturing the aftermath of the First Gulf War and the Kuwaiti oil fires, this film embodies the concept of ‘apocalyptic’ with sheer grace and no context. Less a documentary and more a fantasy, there is then little that can be easily articulated about this movie. We are invited to step into a new and monstrous world and are soon left stumbling away without comprehension, just a slack jaw and an obliterated imagination.

A historical epic from Sergei Eisenstein, Alexander Nevsky follows the rise of 13th century Russian people, lead by Prince Nevsky, against the German Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire.

Whilst the scope of the battle sequences in this film’s final act are pretty astonishing – not to mention influential – there is a clear weight on this film; Eisenstein is very clearly been suppressed. And this is not just an observation, but the truth. Following blunders and failures with previous films that, in fact, got producers murdered by Stalin, Eisenstein was given a final chance to make a film in 1938 under the supervision of Dmitri Vasilyev who would keep him in budget, on schedule and operating within traditional means of filmmaking. This meant no formalism and no montage. So, though Eisenstein works closely with the sound of this film, which is intricately designed, this film is somewhat disheartening.

Ultimately a piece of cinema meant to rouse the Russians against the Nazi Germans with on-coming WWII, Alexander Nevsky is quite brilliant, but clearly the subject of artistic suppression.

Hotel Transylvania is… I suppose you could say that it’s a passable kids’ movie. Somewhat enjoyable, but very dumb, this isn’t hard to sit through. However, if you chose to judge this film harshly… well, you’d have a lot to say.

I’m fairly certain that if we resurrected Bram Stoker and made him sit through all of the films that have been made over the decades that involve Dracula, by the time he got to this, he’d have died of heart failure. The height of bastardisation and an exhausted piece of cinema, Hotel Transylvania is just a highly cliched, not at all smart, throw away movie. What stands out most to me is Sandler’s shameless performance. When I imagine him recording this nonsense I can only bow my head and think of one word: fool.

Without much more to say, this movie does quite well in keeping kids quiet for a while, but, I’m not sure how great of an achievement that is.

A modern masterpiece. Ritchie consciously incorporates classical symbols with powerful archetypes and a traditional tale into the modern blockbuster, which is given flair by a unique style. This ticks all the boxes that I could ever deem important: character, subtext, entertainment, style, etc. I cannot fault this movie; it takes advantage of great stories of the past and re-contextualises them in one of the greatest expressions of contemporary digital cinema I’ve seen.

Yes, this was a flop. Yes, a lot of people disliked it. Yes, very few people saw this. Such is to be expected, and such says very little about the quality and depths of this film. Without a doubt, this is a masterpiece and an inspiring expression of the state of modern cinema. With all cynicism and pretence melting away, I can assure you I will be writing about this in greater depth sometime soon.

Without melodrama, spite or simplicity, Spring In A Small Town is a film centred on a love triangle. Rooting out a profoundly deep conflict between morality, romance, desire and duty in all of the characters engulfed by this mesh of social ties, this narrative left me speechless in a way that was reminiscent of my first viewing of De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.

Shot with precise classical cinematic language with clear inspirations from Hollywood, Spring In A Small Town intricately constructs a confined space, dense with emotion and heavy with confounded thoughts. Contemplatively paced and predominantly very quiet, the mise en scene and atmosphere open up avenues of empathy that lead right into the hearts of characters. It is very clear why this is considered one of the greatest Chinese films of all time.

The Housemaid should end after about 70 minutes with a mutilated and decapitated housemaid – and so is, in many ways, the complete reverse of certain contemporary South Korean films such as the infamous Oldboy – but this narrative sustains its confined dramatic horror tropes into satirical oblivion. This leaves this film a slightly confounding one that, on one level, critiques men, on another, depicts an utterly failed family, and on another, is a frothing tirade about conflicts between classes and cultures (western and Asian). I cannot say that I derived anything substantial from this film’s critique, instead was infuriated by the impossibly evil antagonist and over-civilised family (which says both good and bad things about this film’s script). This is nonetheless an intriguing look into South Korean film history as this is considered one of the best film’s ever produced from the nation.

All in all, The Housemaid is an incredibly well-designed movie that shocks and manipulates the emotions more than it communicates.



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Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind – The Saviour Witch

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Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind – The Saviour Witch

Thoughts On: Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind (風の谷のナウシカ, 1984)

A princess must confront the encroaching poisonous nature, as well as the people who want to destroy it, of a post-apocalyptic world to bring it into harmony.

Whilst it is undeniable that Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is an aesthetic masterpiece, this film’s narrative can too easily be boiled down to simplicity. In such, whilst Nausicaä is, on one level, anti-war and pro-environmentalist, there is so much more imbued into this narrative that allows it to transcend this description; after all, an anti-war and pro-environment statement is an easy and popular one to make (and has been for many decades now), but nonetheless takes skill in articulating in a way that ensures it is sincerely heard.

With its basis in Miyazaki’s own environmental concerns (it is said that he was inspired to make this film following the mercury poisoning of Minamata Bay) and his anti-war sensibilities (he was a young boy during WWII), Nausicaä is a clear condemnation of man’s capacity to poison the earth and then turn to a hammer and nail to begin ‘fixing’ it. These concepts are laid bare in the narrative through dialogue and the character of Obaba, the blind wise old lady of the valley of the wind. This is certainly the one downfall of Miyazaki’s storytelling; he does not always figure out ways to exposit plot details or important elements of the subtext without barefaced dialogue. However, whilst this does degrade this film ever so slightly, the use of symbols and classical tropes throughout this story is astounding.

Turning directly to the crux of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, we should start with a look at Nausicaä herself. A brilliant embodiment of Miyazaki’s female protagonists, Nausicaä is an amalgam of many female archetypes with a few traditionally male ones. Most starkly, Nausicaä is a reference to Homer’s Odyssey and the character of Nausicaä, who becomes a mother figure to Odysseus after she rescues him and sends him on his way home. Nausicaä, both Homer’s and Miyazaki’s, project a fundamental idea of femininity; that being one with links to nurture, understanding and a temperament that seems to inspire worship. Miyazaki’s Nausicaä is, however, a fighter and an adventurer forced to step into the king’s – her father’s – shoes, too. So, like more recent characters such as Disney’s Moana, Nausicaä has a strong animus – both in regards to the Jungian male archetype in the female personality, and in regards to motivation. Added to this, however, Miyazaki’s Nausicaä is a saviour and a witch.

The Christ-like images of this narrative have clear connotations; not only will Nausicaä open her arms, ready to bare the crucifixion of her own (somewhat curtailed) pacifism and others’ blind violence through this film, but she, like Christ, is resurrected after her great sacrifice. This reference to the abstract saviour meta-narrative is inevitable considering Nausicaä’s role as a prophet of the people of the Valley of the Wind, which makes her an antagonist to the impulsively destructive war tribes. However, Nausicaä is not a just a prophet. As could be argued with most prophets who manifest a malicious opposition through their magical abilities and leadership, Nausicaä is a mage or witch.

Classically, the witch can be good or bad, but is often a figure of greater sight; they can see into the future, or possibly into the realm of darkness or light. The witch is then often defined by deception and/or mystery; she cannot be understood, nor is she predictable in nature. To make sense of this manifestation that crosses many cultures, we could look to the Abrahamic creation myth of Adam and Eve. It has been suggested (I came into contact with this idea through a lecture of Jordan Peterson’s) that Eve being deceived by the serpent to eat fruit from The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the archetypal female waking humanity up. Whilst the Adam and Eve story is framed under the guise of the Original Sin, to label such an action as mere sin then seems too simplistic. For humanity to steal its vision, just like Prometheus stole fire from Olympus, is an act of independence that seemingly granted humans the right to live consciously in a world of chaos and malevolence; and to further make good out of this world. This makes Eve a hero who defied an over-protective parent.

Returning to Eve granting humans passage into the disorderly and malevolent real world, the concept of chaos – and humanity being born of it – in the creation myth is common throughout many of its cultural incarnations. For example, the ex nihilo concept (from nothing came something by virtue of God) sees chaos and nothingness given order via the presence of consciousness; light is let into being – and ex nihilo is found not just in Abrahamic religions, but also ancient Egyptian, Northern American, Asian, African, etc. theologies also. A further example of chaos’ role in creation can be seen in the Taoist religion; The Way (the essential being of the universe; a life force) is said to have gave being to unity, which can be implied to be the beginnings of the physical universe. With light as this perceivable, guiding entity emerging from darkness being the essential crux of many creations myths, the manifestation of leading male and female archetypes that further open humanity’s eyes as we evolve resurrects the dormant chaos that pre-exists us.

Guides and leaders in narratives seem to be like Eve in the Garden of Eden; through sin they break into a greater state of being. And this sin, this deception of a set of rules – even if they are laid down by God – is the fundamental idea of courage. Courageousness is leadership, but, foresight needs to predate this courage as, without learning how to take a step, you cannot even begin to walk. This foresight is enlightenment, is being woken up by a recognition of your power (the snake which leads you to The Tree of Knowledge). Foresight is passed down to others through guidance; through becoming a beacon of light which others can follow. However, as said, taking these steps requires the snake – and the snake can be an overwhelming force of evil that can transcend disobedience and become destruction – and this is why, after being guided to disobey by a snake, humans have been fighting them. Because the snake is involved in guidance, especially if you wish to guide people away from the norms and towards the new, new leaders are met with persecution (chaos). And thus we come to understand why prophets, such as Jesus, are tortured and killed, but eventually resurrected; standing up for new ideas and a new path ahead takes bearing the whip of the old ways (and if those old ways are particularly tyrannical, then the whip – what you can think of as the old snake – will bite unforgivingly hard) before your movement gains true momentum. Thus, the chaos that this new light emerges from within the saviour meta-narrative is man-made just as the new light is.

Transposing these ideas onto Nausicaä, we can see that she is a guide (she is Eve; the witch; the light) who means to confront chaos and lead her people out of the darkness through enlightenment. What is so expressive about Miyazaki’s narrative here, however, is that it combines the human-centric ideas of birth with the non-human entity driven creation stories. In such, The Way, or nature, is manifested in Nausicaä through the insects. So, not only does Nausicaä have to lead humans and bare their snapping whips, but she also has to guide nature and chaos itself whilst, again, facing persecution (and thus manifests the true anti-war and pro-environment concepts of this film).

Nausicaä becomes a great saviour witch through the courageous deception of humanity with its faulted presumptions of nature, and such is defined by her alliance with the fox and the snakes of nature (which are the insects in this story). In Japanese folklore, there are two kinds of witches: those who make companions out of snakes and those who befriend foxes. Classically and cross-culturally, the snake is evil and the fox is deception. We have already seen the snake linked to prophetic guides, and so the attribution of the fox is obvious; by reconciling with the deceptive temperament of nature, Nausicaä seemingly turns against her own people, but is ultimately taming the forces of chaos to transcend into a new state of being with them. So, just like the universe is often said to have come from chaos, in Nausicaä – just as in many other myths – an enlightened humanity comes from great darkness and chaos. The arc of this narrative is then entirely predicated on creation myths, which makes this is a re-creation story. And understanding Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind as a re-creation story synergises our cross-cultural references to multiple mythological narratives because this is (was in the 80s) the contemporary projection of the understanding of the creation meta-narrative in action.

Seeing Nausicaä as a bastard child of so many concepts frames this story in accordance to its deeply archetypal nature. Whilst this is then about war and pollution on the surface, this narrative is so imperative, confounding (consider those who would dismiss this film because of its stance of war and the environment) and immersive because this is ultimately a story about a magical witch who sees as no one else can enlightening people to their own faults and guiding them into a new and better world. Such is the fundamental saviour narrative re-created beautifully in my view, which ultimately leaves Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind a masterpiece in regards to form and content.



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