Tokyo no eiyu / A Hero of Tokyo (1935)

16 02 2015

While he still lacks the extensive critical examinations of his peers, there is still a narrative built around Hiroshi Shimizu and his films. It’s one that I have likely contributed to, yet here I feel the urge to resist this facile story. The narrative is heavily reliant on the upbeat, “bubbly” surface of Shimizu’s films, and the “darkness” boiling underneath. The description works to describe A Hero of Tokyo, at least to an extent. But perhaps we should get beyond that surface, and just acknowledge that for all the smiling, there is something deeply troubling happening in all of Shimizu’s films. He only has but an hour here, yet he becomes sincerely biting and downbeat in a hurry. For some, it might seem like descending into an excess of pathos too quickly, but one of Shimizu’s strengths has always been that he’s been able to communicate the pain of his characters in a completely unique structure. No one made movies like this before Shimizu, and no one has made movies like him since. That’s not hyperbole, his films operate on a unique wavelength.

1

Kaichi and his friends lament about their fathers working long hours. To alleviate this, Kanichi, Kaichi’s father, decides to remarry. He marries Haruko who already has her hands full with two kids, Hideo and Kayoko. Not soon after, Kanichi disappears, leaving his son with his “new family.” Ten years later, Kaichi is on the verge of graduation and Kayoko is to be married. The night after wedding, though, she returns home. Her husband has rejected her, on the grounds of her mother’s profession. To keep the family together, Haruko has secretly become a barmaid. Upon finding this out, Hideo becomes an alcoholic while Kaichi graduates to become a journalist. Walking around Ginza, looking for a scoop, he discovers his half-sister, Kayoko, has followed in her mother’s footsteps.

2

The unstable patriarch is frequent motif in Japanese cinema. Hell, Shimizu wasn’t even breaking new ground himself, at least not from a strictly narrative perspective. After all, the most celebrated film from this previous, I Was Born But… offers us a disillusioning image of a father, one that Ozu actually meditates on. Shimizu’s father is more schematic. He disappears in the first act and then reappears in the end, where he is loudly condemned both by the film and his son, Kanichi. This moment might not seem so satisfying  because Shimizu credits all the family’s struggles to the father’s leaving. The cynical viewer might scoff when Kanichi verbalizes this analysis of his father’s taking off, but we’ve been shown the repercussions of his act throughout the film.

3

I don’t disagree with the film finding fault in the father’s actions, but I do think that its most interesting moments occur when he is out of the picture. The family is then, left without the “stabilizing force” of a father, thrown into chaos. The father acts almost like a Chekov’s gun, albeit a human one that influences the moments of tragedy in the narrative. It sounds petulant to blame everything on the father that left your family, but in this situation, the seductive lure of patriarchy, the pitch that promises a wife that she need not find a vocation, has all collapsed. The system itself is shaky because the “positives” of it can’t even be experienced. Haruko, in fact, takes up an occupation in which all the negatives are crystallized. Though, we never see it, “sex work” is coded into her work as bar maid and thus, various forms of violence are ever ready to impose her body.

4

It might be enough for some just to have a film in which the resilient woman rises above these impositions (if you want just that, there’s always Mizoguchi) but Shimizu, clumsily but admirably shifts this into a critique. Hideo discovers Haruko at her bar. Their standoff reaches its climax when she calmly suggests that he shouldn’t be there, “Being my son, you shouldn’t be here.” He retorts, “True. Being my mother, you shouldn’t be here.” All the resiliency Hideo has seen in his mother has evaporated because he’s discovered something about her that doesn’t comfortably fit his own narrative of motherhood. His quote suggests that he’s never been able to see her as her own person. He’s not upset because a woman has to resort to work as a bar maid, but he’s upset that his mother did it. Even if it did provide for him in the long run. Her occupation, while stigmatized, never prevented her from spending time with her children. The family crumbles but it only does so when two men (Kayoko’s husband and Hideo) discover the truth about Haruko. Before her secret is revealed, the family was fully functional and loving, but it is undone by something that is unsavory.

5

There’s maybe only two valid complaints I can think of, the first is the final father-son standoff, which verbalizes the film’s conversation in a way that manages to be too neat and too awkward at the same time. My second issue is not entirely fair on my part, but it is the handling of Kayoko, played by the wonderful Michiko Kuwano. She becomes a “famous” (her description) sex worker in the Ginza district. While she has followed in her mother’s footsteps, she hasn’t shared her feelings to this labor. There’s evidence, in fact, to suggest that she’s enjoying her work considering the circumstances. The reveal of this is treated as a plot point, though, and her own resiliency is never celebrated as her own mother’s is. In truth, the reason here is because the film is ultimately about Hideo and Kaichi, their vulnerable masculinity, and what they construct and interpret “a mother’s love” to mean to them. Hideo refuses to adapt to his mother’s reality, and it kills him. Kaichi accepts her and, with much catharsis, confronts the source of the family’s misery, his father.

6





Henry Fool (1997)

24 01 2015

After two viewings of Henry Fool, I am still, despite my love for Hal Hartley, ost. My brain continues to work all of it into something resembling expressible thoughts, but I sit here to unpack a film that I’m not entirely sure can be unpacked. The secret to Henry Fool, assuming there is one, might be to understand that the various reactions to the film, might be the very thing being addressed. To clarify, the film’s most visible concern is a conversation about art, particularly our (the audience) reception to it. Like the titular character itself, art can be both fascinating and repulsive. It’s to our discretion to decide which impulse we find ourselves most comfortable with that shapes our critical reception.

1

Simon Grim is a quiet and rather plain garbage man working in Queens. He lives with his sister, Faye, and their mother. However, there is little evidence of social interactions outside of his family. Even within the family’s house, he maintains his flat affect. He gets caught watching a couple being intimate, which leads to physical abuse. At home, a sound prompts him to lay his head on the concrete. Out of nowhere, Henry Fool appears. Henry quickly informs Simon of his troubled past, but skips on the details. To be short, he establishes himself as a runaway rebel, an artist too uncompromising to possibly keep his head above water in such a sanitary world. Henry encourages Simon to write, which he does. Simon’s poetry is polarizing – it causes a deaf mute to sing, but many others are repulsed by it. Deemed unfit for publication, Henry decides to publish Simon’s poetry on the internet, where it receives unfathomable attention.

2

In drawing a narrative outline for Henry Fool, I managed to allude two rather important things: Henry’s “unconventional” courting of Faye Grim, which leads to a child and marriage. The second is the Grim’s mother, Mary. Heavily medicated and resigned to spend afternoons on the couch, she is a character whose tragic nature lurks in the corners of Hartley’s frame. Sure, his films are just as serious on the surface as they are comical, but the humor, the snark, the staccato-like rhythm of the dialogue all seem to gloss over the tragedy and violence that do exist in Hartley’s work. Usually, these elements are manifested towards the end where Hartley’s trademark bittersweet music begins to swell and we reach a conclusion that works as both the climax and resolution, emotionally. He’ll leave us with plenty of questions, but closure has been communicated to us cinematically. Mary’s story is never augmented by such gestures though, she suffers and eventually dies quietly. The sadness that informs her death is based around the two Grim children, not her.

3

In most responses to the film, Mary’s death is ignored. Sure, mentioned in some recap of the plot, but never given the same consideration as Henry, Simon, or Faye. She’s a peripheral character, which might explain it, but many could say her death is handled poorly. It happens too quickly and we’re not given the time to embrace the enormity of her absence. It’s these swift movements that make much of Hartley’s work both difficult for some and devastating for many like myself. It’s not bad filmmaking, in fact I think it is perfectly intentional that Mary’s death just happens as films too often provide us the space and time to grieve, and then forget. Here, we’ve never made it past the first step. The two scenes that take place in the church – Mary’s funeral and Henry and Faye’s wedding are both interrupted. In any conventional film, these sequences would provide us with a proper and comfortable release of emotions – both happy and sad. Hartley teases us, though. In the case of Mary’s death, it feels more like an event that will continue to occupy an upsetting but unavoidable part of brain. Dealing with death in real life, seldom involves dealing with it, and then moving on. It’s always there, and Hartley’s incomplete dealing with Mary’s tragic end seems to evoke that dreadful sensation.

4

In the foreground of Henry Fool however, is a very concise and clever conversation around art reception. Simon’s poetry produces intense emotions in anyone who reads it, but every response seems to contradict the next. Of course, we’re never privy to the actual content of his work, which is an intentional move to emphasize the reaction, not the art itself. Perhaps it is disgusting, but then again, maybe it is profoundly beautiful? While working as a garbageman alongside Simon, Henry finds what he believes to be a ring. Simon corrects him, it’s simply an unremarkable loose part. Henry keeps the “ring” and after a rather violent bowel movement, he inadvertently uses it to purpose to Faye. The metaphor might be forced on Hartley’s part here – Henry’s literal trash is, while he is taking a shit, interpreted as a symbol of undying love and devotion. The obvious parallel with Simon’s poetry is easy to draw, though the literalness of the sequence comes off as humorous rather than cumbersome.

5

Henry Fool might be Hal Hartley’s most maddening work, but it is also his most dense and strangely, his most accessible. The temptation to link my own reaction to the film with its titular character is far too great. Henry Fool the film is fascinating, vital, and funny just as it is mean-spirited, brutal, and violent. The most frustrating part of the film might be its brisk handling with domestic and sexual violence. Juxtaposed with Hartley’s other work, though, it is hard not to see this as representing the vantage point of Henry, the walking id of white male “tortured artist” types. Thankfully, it  doesn’t condone his spirit and it doesn’t require moral handwringing to make that clear. The fact that my response to Henry Fool is so murky and undefined might prove its point exactly. Art, like life, is complicated and our response should reflect that.

6





Do widzenia, do jutra / Goodbye, See You Tomorrow (1960)

13 01 2015

Narrative film has, since its inception, maintained a vested interest in depicting love. The problem, if there is one, is how close to reality these depictions have been. Rather than experiencing love first hand, many of us are indoctrinated into a culture of heteronormative romance fueled by cinema’s bursts of passions that seldom hold weight in reality. It’s not an entirely new idea, but so much of what we construct and understand as romantic love, is informed and inspired by a Hollywood screenwriter from the 1930s. This isn’t to say someone like say, Lubitsch, touched on the truth from time to time, nor is it a call against old Hollywood. Instead, I think any serious discussion about Janusz Morgenstern’s breezy but fascinating should begin with the question: what is love to us, and what are the pieces we use to stitch together this idea?

1

Jacek is a young and charismatic theater student who, one day, stumbles upon the fickle yet beautiful Marguerite. She resists his advances, but doesn’t push him away entirely. Instead, she makes it clear that while she is willing to have fun with Jacek, she is also quick to leave him. The two’s spontaneous tennis date ends with her running off with a man who has both a better grasp of her native language (French) and tennis. Jacek’s feelings remain and the two manage to continually run into each other around the city, which leads to further spontaneous dates. To Jacek, this inspires poetry but to Marguerite, it is nothing more than a distraction until she leaves the country. Maybe Jacek’s longing is all just an attempt to get into character anyway.

2

The setup here is filled with potential problems, but Morgenstern (in this, his first feature) carefully tiptoes around them. While the narrative is indeed built around Jacke and his feelings for Marguerite, never does the camera suggest that such feelings are logical. In fact, the film ends with the concept that the feelings have just been a performance anyway. There’s plenty of snappy and cute films (many birthed from various new waves) that offer us a protagonist like Jacek, but they present his desire as the only factor deserving of our sympathy. The cute girl, ever rejecting the male protagonist’s advances, is suppose to be as maddening to us, the audience as she is to our male hero. Here, the opposite is true. Jacek’s ideas on love seem preposterous while Marguerite, despite being 7 years younger, is the much more grounded and rational of the two.

3

So why bother with Jacek at all anyway? The frame story here posits the idea that his courting of Marguerite was either just a performance on his part or just a very intense imagination. Of course, the answer could be both, but the idea of performance is the one that gives us the most to work with. The proposition could then be that the experience of love is something of a performance, no not a conscious acting out, but a thing that we feel like we’re suppose to do because well, we’ve been fed the images to believe in it since we were born. I’m not enough of a cynical asshole to say that love is completely fake, that’s simply ridiculous. Instead, I think what the film gives us is the idea that we are eager to take on a certain role in relationship. Romantic love exists, but it takes more than what Jacek has to offer here. Throughout the film, we’re treated to a show involving hand puppetry. The movements of the hands, visually removed from the rest of the body, are oozing with sexual potential. It’s Jacek’s sensuality that has him pining for Marguerite. As she herself says, “The unreal life is the best I can offer you.” The ability to recognize and point out the differences is Morgenstern’s biggest accomplishment.

4





Nanatsu no umi: Zempen Shojo-Hen / Seven Seas: Virginity Chapter (1931)

4 01 2015

Ambitious projects such as the Seven Seas one would not be the norm for Hiroshi Shimizu, at least for what survives from him. The peaceful, quiet, but equally heartbreaking phenomena that occurs in his best films (Mr. Thank You and Ornamental Hairpin, to name just two) is boisterous and tragic. At least, that is the case for this film, the first entry in the two-part series. The technical bravado that runs through all of his work is present, yet it seems to take on a completely new meaning in the context of a film that is more dramatic on the surface (which comes from its literary origins, surely) yet demonstrates something very specific and unique about Shimizu’s abilities as a filmmaker.

1

Yumie is a working class girl engaged to Yuzuru. She gets invited to a party put on by her fiance’s parents, but she initially ignores the request. She’s busy, and has better things to do. She submits to the family’s pressure, though and at the party she meets international playboy Takehiko. Takehiko falls hopelessly in love with Yumie, at least that is how he explains his possessive behavior around her. Yumie quickly feels uncomfortable and leaves, but the next day, he proudly declares his love for her, which makes her visibly but she tries to console him. Playing off of her good will, Takehiko is able to take advantage of Yumie. The repercussions of his act begin to disintegrate what was once a promising family.

2

With this first part of the series being titled “Virginity Chapter” it is tempting to assume that the main dramatic conflict revolves around it. While Yumie’s chastity does play a part in the drama, the reality is less her “indiscretion” (and it seems problematic to call it that) and rather the responses of those around her. Her father is heartbroken, to the point that he feels validated in violently tossing her away when she crawls to him crying for help. Yumie has not “slipped” but rather has been pressured, with Takehiko’s threats of violence, into sexual activity. Despite some characters’ insisting that Yumie is at fault, she has become a victim of sexual violence. As is the case even today, her experience, her very own pain is the thing used to denigrate her.

3

The “Virginity Chapter” ends with the suggestion that Yumie will accept the potential nightmare of becoming Takehiko’s wife. She acknowledges the pain, but her face suggests a potential scheme. She might not have an elaborate plan for revenge, but as Takehiko’s object (and I think it’s important to use the word object here, as Takehiko clearly doesn’t care about her as a person) of desire, she suddenly has some control. To be anything short of the unreasonable expectations would frustrate him, let alone openly defying his orders. Her tragedy has given her the opportunity to be in control. It’s a revolutionary thought, though one can criticize this for providing a dramatic shift that absolves Yumie of her past trauma. If this all sounds like a little too much for a Shimizu film, it’s important to remember this pain and this violence was always lurking in the corners of his protagonists’ past.

4





Suzaki Paradaisu: Akashingô / Suzaki Paradise Red Light (1956)

25 12 2014

If one is to know anything about filmmaker Yuzo Kawashima, it’s that he served as a mentor to the much more celebrated Shohei Imamura. After providing backup for Yasujiro Ozu and Kinuyo Tanaka, Kawashima was the last director Imamura took orders from. Unlike Ozu and Tanaka, there isn’t as much written about Kawashima so the impulse is to engage through his work and its connection with Imamura. This isn’t a completely useless exercise, but it does limit us. Perhaps it is most helpful to begin with what Kawashima and screenwriter Toshiro Ide (a frequent Naruse collaborator) manage to do here. Maybe it won’t strike us especially original and new on the surface, but their conversation that comes from it is unique.

1

Tsutae and Yoshiji are an unemployed couple pondering their fate on the center of the bridge. They’re reached a literal and figurative crossroads, all options for a “normal” life seem to have been exhausted. Tsutae schmoozes her way into a job as a barmaid at an establishment run by an old acquaintance, Otuku. Yoshiji isn’t entirely accepting of his girlfriend’s role, in particular its proximity to sex work. He doesn’t entirely know Tsutae’s past, but he knows he doesn’t want her “falling back” into those old ways. Otuku manages to get Yoshiji a job as a noodle deliveryman, where he is befriended by a Tamako, a gentle woman that seems eager to get close to him. All this happens while Otuku’s runaway husband returns with the intention of resuming his role as a father.

2

I can imagine a certain type of cynical viewer watching the opening fifteen minutes of this film and rolling their eyes at the prospect of yet another Japanese film from the 1950s dealing with some variation of sex work. 1956 alone also gave us Naruse’s Flowing and Mizoguchi’s Street of Shame. The irony, of course, is that in 1956, Japan’s anti-prostitution laws were looming. As always, it feels necessary to distinguish between forms of sex work in Japan, the women here are closer to Mizoguchi’s “prostitutes” – a word that I hesitate using just because of the violence it inflicts on its targets, but they occupy a different place in society as the geishas in Naruse’s Flowing. The geishas, at least in a superficial way, are more “respectable” even as they are subjected to just as much ill will from men.

3

Tsutae in Suzaki Paradise Red Light doesn’t occupy either position, though the space she occupies is marked with the more scrutinized prostitutes of Mizoguchi’s film. Although the viewer never sees her doing anything beyond pouring drinks, her place of business, because it is in Suzaki, is marked as being lower. It’s this marking that bothers Yoshiji, because neither he nor us learns about Tsutae’s past, we are teased about it, invited to imagine a existence in which she did have to sell her body to make money. He sees himself (and men in general) as being necessary for women in order to protect them from such a life, yet Tsutae becomes a barmaid because Yoshiji’s ideas for making money has left them with absolutely nothing. He sees this as failing his patriarchal duty. He bundles up this frustration, which leads to his obsessive outbursts that threaten to ruin their relationship entirely.

4

The films ends with the two’s reconciliation. Just like the beginning, they stand on a bridge and wonder how they’ll make a life together. Tsutae, sensing the frustration she’s caused her boyfriend, tells him that he gets to pick where they go next. It’s easy to read this ending as a confirmation of the same patriarchal values that Yoshiji fails to live up to, but I hesitate to accept this. I think the reality is instead that Tsutae, perhaps out of convenience, has stayed in this relationship. She does so because it is slightly more pleasant than the life she saw working as a barmaid, even as it did provide her with some financial comfort. Maybe she’s terrified of change, and thus, she accepts a familiar reality, the one which was introduced to us in the beginning of the film. The opacity of her decision benefits the film, maybe it lacks “logic” yet it seems more grounded to reality. It’s sad and unfortunate for Tsutae, but who are we to question her choice?

5





Kokuhakuteki joyûron / Confessions Among Actresses (1971)

18 12 2014

Throughout his career, Yoshishige Yoshida frequently worked with his wife Mariko Okada. The two built a relationship, at least cinematically speaking, that seemed deeply intimate, with a transparency that sometimes felt like a pen’s tip breaking their paper. Perhaps they both operate too openly, but whatever the case, it yielded some of the most exciting and aesthetically advanced films from Japan during the 1960s. Here, though, he decided to go even deeper, executing a film that directly confronts both reality’s contribution to fiction as well as performativity in its relation to gender. Yoshida has crafted a melodrama filled with hysterical women, but he’s pulled the (figurative) camera back further and in the process revealed the context in which we engage with these ideas of melodrama. Considering it gender connotation, the term might be completely irrelevant.

1

Kyoko Ichimori, Aki Kaido, and Makiko Isaku are all famous actresses playing in the same movie. Though we never see them together until the very end, we are taught to understand that the three are connected not just by a film, but by a shared trauama. For Kyoko, it’s a reoccurring dream in which she sees her husband cheating on her with …perhaps her assistant? Or maybe somebody else entirely, and maybe the dream is actually a sequence in the aforementioned film? Makiko is haunted by a failed double suicide with a lover, who may or may not have been her father. Aki, like Kyoko also has suspicions about her husband, but her anxiety is brought on by a memory of her friend’s assault.

2

I was listening to a recent interview with Jacqueline Rose about her new book Women in Dark Times. The book focuses on three extremely different women, all of whom are united (at least in Rose’s narrative) but their ability to make their suffering known in resourceful ways. One of these women is Marilyn Monroe, whose status as a “feminist icon” is often contested, but Rose makes a crucial observation about Monroe’s performance. She suggests their heightened “ditzyness” was her own way of undermining the content. A “fuck you” to the writers for creating such a vapid character and to those in casting who saw such a vapid character as a natural fit for her image. I mention all of this because it reverberated in my brain through Confessions Among Actress, here are three women whose “success” as performers might have be charged by their real life experiences. This isn’t anything new, but Yoshida’s suggestion is that women who are dramatic performers are discredited as they navigate in the real world. Their suffering is seen as trivial because they are so flighty on screen.

3

Yamada’s dialogue seems to echo these sentiments, with constant reminder from the few male characters that they see the problems of the women as something laughable. Weirdly enough, all the men in the film must defer to the women, if only because of their elevated status as celebrities. It is this celebrity status that provides men with their skepticism, although that is ultimately wrongheaded. Early on, Kyoko’s agent tells her that “Only what can be seen on the exterior is real with actresses” but then the film goes on to rally against this. In a way, such a simplified idea might have a grain of truth. Many believe that a great actor (and Mariko Okada and Ineko Arima are indeed great) can convey something underneath their gestures and dialogue. But in the public sphere, it is the surface that becomes the only reality and thus, the trauma of all three women here is ignored because of their public image.

4

While the meta quality provides us with many of material to ponder, but Yamada’s real talent has always been his compositions. His earlier films showcase the grace and sophistication of Antonioni, while punctuating scenes with a camera that is ever on the move, looking for evocative tactile imagery. He visuals remain sensualist here, but he is less willing to let his camera roam around his character endlessly, though he does that exactly from time to time. More frequently, he retreats to precise compositions that recall Ozu, yet suggests a completely different way of seeing bodies. Ozu provided portraits, while Yoshida (at least here) seems to be on a mission to discover new ways of creating an architecture with his characters. It visualizes the malleability of an actress, and her dehumanization that results from it.

5





Charulata (1964)

14 11 2014

In this, my second encounter with Satyajit Ray’s beloved Charulata, I’ve already stumbled upon more than a couple reviews that, although they praise the film, they also suggest a potential disconnect in the film’s historical context. There are indeed Indian literary references in the film that are guaranteed to confuse a western audience, but getting hung up on these specific references seems to miss what should already be apparent. Yes, Charulata is lyrical and mesmerizing but one can’t separate Charu’s personal turmoil from India’s political climate. I hesitate to call the film a meditation on the idea of “a modern woman” in India because it suggests a cold, detached framing of its protagonist. On the contrary, it is Ray’s nearly sentimental compassion for Charu that makes the film’s political insights all the more trenchant.

1

 

Charu is married to Bhupati, a busy newspaper editor. In fact, he’s so busy that he has no time for his wife. She embroiders a handkerchief for him, and he is stunned that she has the time to do such a thing. In reality, Charu has plenty of time, but nothing in particular to do. Bhupati, finally sensing his wife’s unrest, recruits Manda, his sister-in-law, and Amal, his cousin, to keep her company. Amal and Charu, despite their initial reservations about each other, begin to bound over a mutual appreciation of literature. Their own writing becomes a foundation for a playful rivalry, which soon threatens to take a more romantic turn.

2

While Charulata is a film about unrequited love, I think the viewer that sees the film as being primarily concerned with such emotions, is missing a lot. There is something beautiful in how Ray is able to ingrain a very instinctual, perhaps even melodramatic, love triangle into a film that is a political meditation. As seems to be a reoccurring theme on this blog, I find it a false move to suggest that the film’s political discourse can be viewed separately from its its discourse of passion. The two are inherently connected, constantly informing the suggestions of both. Without the potential for an affair, there is nothing about Charu’s own exclusion from a life of very serious and very literary-minded men.

3

 

The connection seems like a reach but I thought of Alex Ross Perry’s recent film, Listen Up Philip, more than once here. That film, to be brief, is a self-critical approach to the construction of serious white men of literature. The men in Charulata are not actually white, of course, but they do aspire to whiteness. British politics is of far greater interest than Charu, herself. Bhupati tells Amal about an opportunity to study in England and Amal’s eyes become filled with childlike wonder. “The land of Shakespeare?” he asks Bhupati as if hypnotized by the artistic potential to be found in the truly modern, truly progressive western Europe.

4

 

The irony of the above scene is immediately evident as we see Bhupati and Amal (both of whom, I think it is important to mention, are likable and sympathetic men) not just socially mobile but in an environment that encourages their creativity.  Charu, on the other hand, is in a more limited position. Yet, she seems to be just as creative and intelligent. She can never escape the halls of her exquisitely decorated house, though. This is an idea that Ray visualizes in the film’s nearly silent opening. She grabs a pair of opera glasses and observes men working outside, suggesting to us that she (and the film itself) has switched the gaze, completely reordering an important gender power dynamic. After that, though, she is lost. She can only gracefully float around the space she’s contained in and nothing more. Despite all the privilege and comfort that comes from being married to a middle class man, she is still a woman and she is still limited in her social movement.

5

It’s hard to efficiently articulate all the ground that Ray covers in this film. This is perhaps his most beautiful film, even though it is bound entirely to a house that was constructed in a studio. At times, this seems like the logical visual progression of Renoir, simple rooms become overwhelming triumphs of architectural designs, beautiful compositions that despite the awe they inspire in us, also visually reinforce the idea that Charu still feels small. Maybe the film’s most important moment, to me at least, comes about thirty minutes in. Amal and Manda have both arrived to keep Charu company. Amal tries to begin a conversation on literature, one which Manda is not properly equipped. Instead of buying into Amal’s attempt to separate the two women by their perceived intelligence, Charu refuses his baiting of a “smart discussion” and instead offers up a writer who Amal finds pedestrian. “How original” he cries in protest, to which Charu replies “how can you expect me to be original?” Amal wants Charu as an “interesting and smart woman” in his own construction, he’s not able to accept her as an entire person, one who could perhaps surpass his intelligence. Just look at his response to Charu’s own writing. Charu stands in defiance to our western, white, and male framing of intelligence. She’s a marvel of a person, just as Ray’s film is a marvel to look at, but just as important, she is active political resistance with a tender heart, one that beats loudly and breaks violently.

6








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