“It would be stupid of us to ruin our lives for an ideal”
Certified Copy marks a departure from Kiarostami’s early experimental, minimalist films such as Ten, Taste of Cherry and Shirin. It is his first film set outside Iran and the European influence, particularly of Michelangelo Antonioni, is much in evidence.
A British writer gives a talk on his new book which argues that authenticity is irrelevant as every copy is itself an original and every original is a copy. A French antique shop owner, played by Juliette Binoche, attends the talk with her son and obtains a number of signed copies of the book. They later meet and drive to a small Italian hill town that is famous for hosting weddings. In a café they are mistaken for a married couple and play along with the deception. They recall that they were married in the hillside town 15 years earlier and visit the hotel where they may or may not have spent their wedding night. However as the film proceeds and the contradictions increase, it becomes less and less clear what their actual relationship is.
This is a perplexing, ambiguous film in which the original and the copy and the real and the imagined become indistinguishable. However it is also an insight into a marriage that has run its course or may not even have taken place.
Abbas Kiarostami selected films
Close Up (1990); Taste of Cherry (1997); The Wind Will Carry Us (1999); Ten (2002); Five (2003); Shirin (2008); Certified Copy (2010); Like Someone in Love (2012); 24 Frames (2017 released posthumously)
“Long ago I saw you in a dream. You are holding a memory being cradled by clouds.
Long ago I saw you dancing in the fields. You are holding a promise that’s waiting to be fulfilled.
I know that your feelings have gone. I know that your worries are deep. I know that your vow of hope has vanished.
Please hold onto your dreams.
Please hang on to your promise
Please stay true to your vow.”
Another wonderful film from Lav Diaz
- Evolution of a Filipino Family
Director: Lav Diaz (10½ hours)
Other long films by Lav Diaz that must be seen: Melancholia (7½ hours); From What is Before (5½ hours); Florentina Hubaldo CTE (6 hours); A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery (8 hours); Death in the Land of the Encantos (9 hours); Century of Birthing (6 hours); Heremias (9 hours); Norte, the End of History (4 hours)
Director Bela Tarr (7½ hours)
- Out 1 (Noli me Tangere)
Director: Jacques Rivette (13 hours)
Other long films by Jacques Rivette that must be seen: La Belle Noiseuse (4 hours); L’Amour Fou (4 hours); Jeanne La Pucelle 1 and 2 (5½ hours)
- Shoah 1 and 2
Director: Claude Lanzmann (10 hours)
- Fanny and Alexander
Director: Ingmar Bergman (5½ hours)
“We end up turning memories into our own images.”
At a half-way station between heaven and earth, which resembles a run-down municipal office, the newly dead are given three days to select one moment from their lives which is recreated on film and they then relive for ever. The choices include a man who recalls the warm breeze on his face on a tram ride he took as a child; a woman’s memory of dancing in a music hall; the sensation of flying a plane through the clouds; the moment a woman is reunited with her fiancé after the war; a man who remembers a special meal of porridge cooked by his wife and an old woman with dementia who was already reliving her single memory before she died. The premise on which the film is based and the choices that people make provide Kore-Eda with the opportunity to explore issues around the reliability of memory and the relationship between the recollection and reimagining of events and what actually happened. One character wants to pick a dream as a memory and asks whether his memory can relate to the future rather than the past as “what he would create would feel a lot more real than a memory”. The film also explores the question of how memory can be recaptured. Can the filming of a recreated experience come close to the experience itself, particularly given the paucity of the props available to the film maker? How can a sensory memory based on touch, smell or taste be recreated on film? Can the recollection of the taste of the madeleine exist outside the involuntary memory of the person who tasted it? If the memory is played out by actors do you still own the memory?
Those who are unable or unwilling to choose a memory become guides, helping the newly dead to choose their single defining moment. One man who is unable to choose is offered a library of videos recording each year of his life and is perturbed to find that the videos differ from his recollection of what happened. A man who has had an unhappy life wants to pick his very first memory of being bathed by his mother at the age of six months on the basis that he will remain ignorant of what happened in the rest of his life. But can a memory be taken out of the context of what happened before or after or even what else was happening at the time? Is it the event itself that you remember or is it a reimagined version of the event or the act of reimagining it? As the manager of the half-way station observes: “The moon never changes shape but it looks different depending on the angle you see it from.”
Hirokazu Kore-Eda selected films
After Life (1998); Nobody Knows (2004); Still Walking (2008); Air Doll (2009); I Wish (2011); Like Father Like Son (2013); Our Little Sister (2015); After the Storm (2016); The Third Murder (2017); Shoplifters (2018)
The Turin Horse
Whereas Sátántangó is Béla Tarr’s masterpiece, The Turin Horse has an unmatched primal bleakness and an overbearing feeling of emptiness and post-apocalyptic hopelessness.
Over a blank screen we are told that in Turin in 1897 Frederick Nietzsche intervened when he saw a cabman beating his horse. Sobbing, he threw his arms around the horse’s neck. He was taken home saying his final words “Mutter, Ich bin dumm” and lived a further ten years in a state of wordless dementia; but “of the horse we know nothing”.
The opening shot is of a shaggy horse and cart being driven across a desolate landscape by a bedraggled man, accompanied by Vig Mihály’s four note dirge which along with the sound of the gale forms a constant backdrop for the next two and a half hours. This is the first of a number of long repetitive and immersive takes that draw you into the monotony and barrenness of the man and his daughter’s meagre existence. The girl fetches water, washes clothes, tends to the horse and cooks the potatoes that form their only sustenance. This sparse daily routine is repeated wordlessly or occasionally monosyllabically. The horse falls ill and refuses to eat; they are visited by a neighbour described by Tarr in an interview as a “Nietzschean shadow” who brings news of the total destruction of a nearby town. They are also visited by a troupe of gypsies who drain the well of water. They pile their possessions into the cart and leave their run-down hovel leading the ailing horse and dragging the cart. Their progress is painfully slow. They reach the summit of the hill and then turn back. There is no explanation and no meaning. The storm subsides, the lights go out, the lamps and the fire will no longer burn and the screen fades to blank.
Very little happens, and what does happen is repeated in a downward spiral of deteriorating monotony, intensified by the stark black and white camera work. Béla Tarr has described the film as an ‘Anti-Bible’ about the “heaviness of human existence”. There is nothing outside apart from the relentless storm. It is a nihilistic journey from meaninglessness to resignation set in a post-Christian world stripped of symbolism and hope. Tarr announced that The Turin Horse will be the last film he makes. When you have seen the end of the world and the death of God there is nowhere else left to go.
Béla Tarr selected films
Autumn Almanac (1984); Damnation (1988); Sátántangó (1994); Werkmeister Harmonies (2000); The Man from London (2007); The Turin Horse (2011)
Eternity and a Day
“If only I could hold onto this moment. If only I could pin it like a butterfly so that it won’t fly away.”
A child recounts the legend of a city that sunk to the bottom of the sea that appears when the morning star misses the earth and everything including time stops. Alexander is dying. Tomorrow he is to be admitted to hospital. This is his last day. He rescues a young vagrant boy from the police and then from a child adoption ring. The child wants to return to his homeland but as they near the border he changes his mind. Alexander is a poet. His final project is to complete an unfinished poem by Dionysios Solomos, an exile living in Italy who returns to Greece but has forgotten his native language and needs to buy words from the poor. There is a beautiful scene where a young girl sells him the word ‘moonstruck’ which he describes as “a night full of wonders; a night sown with magic”
Alexander is himself an exile, lost in his poetry and distant from his dead wife, Anna. In a letter Anna tells of ‘her day’ where family and friends gather at their beach-side house to celebrate the birth of her daughter. It is the defining moment in her life that she wants to capture and hold. Alexander moves between the different timeframes on a journey with no ending, always the same age wearing the same grey coat.
There are themes that recur in all of Angelopoulos’s later films: the Homeric journey, exile, the outsider, memory and loss. There are also the tableaux and unexplained moments of magic: As Alexander and the child reach the Albanian border they see through the snow and mist bodies hanging from the wire fence, some still, some moving. There are the cyclists in the bright yellow raincoats that pass one way and then the other like a premonition. There is the traditional wedding procession with the ritualistic bridal dance. There is the vigil for a dead child; there is the bus ride to the terminal where a trio of musicians play the theme tune written by Eleni Karaindrov. It is the same tune that Alexander plays at the beginning of the film and which ricochets back from the apartment opposite and which accompanies the final dance on the beach where only Alexander and Anna remain; the moment where time stops and Alexander asks “How long does tomorrow last?” and she replies “An eternity and a day” but he can no longer hear her.
Theo Angelopoulos selected films
Voyage to Cythera (1984); Landscape in the Mist (1988); The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991); Ulysses’ Gaze (1995); Eternity and a Day (1998); Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (2004); The Dust of Time (2008)