Visions of Europe is a 2004 anthology film with shorts by various directors about the current state of the continent, which I’ve already started to watch earlier and still may never finish. Pretty hit or miss.

The Miracle (Martin Sulik)
An immaculate conception story, the girl’s parents and priest trying to get answers. God’s message, via the girl, “We mustn’t build tower blocks. The big ones must heed the small. We need to travel more to resist the false messiah.” Weird, kinda spooky. Not sure if the floating coffee cup at the end helped or not.
image

Anna Lives In Marghera (Francesca Comencini)
Briskly edited montage of an Italian student who participates in Rage Against The Machine-soundtracked political protests and prays when she’s not working on her thesis about industrial pollution.
image

Children Lose Nothing (Sharunas Bartas)
A girl collects frogs. Two boys fight over a girl. A paper boat! Finely photographed brownish little art short. Symbolic of something!
image

Room For All (Constantine Giannaris)
Talking heads tell us about the immigrant experience in Greece. Giannaris just made a movie called Gender Pop – the title alone is more interesting than this.

Prologue (Béla Tarr)
Loooong black-and-white dolly shot (imagine that) with pretty music by Mihaly Vig showing hundreds of people waiting in line to get food. Tibor Takacs was one name in the credits – could it be the director of The Gate?
image

Invisible State (Aisling Walsh)
A serious man in a suit tells us angrily about human trafficking. “They will tell of Irish eyes not smiling.” Walsh made a teary Aidan Quinn drama the previous year.
image

Crossroad (Malgorzata Szumowska)
The adventures of a catholic cross outdoors at a crossroad. Eventually some coroners take down the classic Jesus and replace it with a blobby new plastic Jesus. Was it supposed to be funny? I found it kinda funny.
image

Paris By Night (Tony Gatlif)
Immigrants on the run, one of them injured, run through the Paris streets to some good music. Jarmuschy. Same year as Gatlif’s acclaimed Exiles.
image

Another sci-fi time-travel political-conspiracy comedy from 1970’s Czechoslovakia. How many could there be? Unsurprisingly, this shares its writers (and some actors) with Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself With Tea.

In the future year of 1999, a group of terrorist physicists drop “G-bombs” that make all women grow beards and become infertile. Instead of falling into chaos like the stupid civilization in Children of Men, they do what any reasonable person would do – invent a time machine to travel to 1911 and kill Einstein before he can invent the bomb. A historian tells them Einstein will be at a party where a chandelier will fall and narrowly miss him, so they plot to see that his chair is underneath it when it falls. This from scientists who have guns that can kill, work as jetpacks, tie someone up in toilet paper, nullify gravity and make nifty ‘ptoo ptoo’ sound effects – they’re gonna use a chandelier. One guy meets his own father (aged 10-ish) in the past. There are hijinks (film is sped up, slapstick is achieved) and the kid is killed by mistake.

Back in 1999 they explain what happened and try again – but this time things get stupid complicated because at least one other group (incl. the terrorist physicists) go back in time as well. Lots of people are tied up and some cops are confused. Things happen in the dark that I could not make out. Einstein is shot and our guys return home happy – but the historian has fallen in love with Einstein, so she had him fake his death, and she convinces him to follow his other passion and be a violinist instead of a physicist.

Problem solved – the bomb never existed – but back in 1999, a group of terrorist chemists has caused all the men to become effeminate and afraid of women, so the future of the human race is still at risk! Luckily, our hero who invented the time machine now “invents” the atomic bomb and they blow the evil chemists to bits. Einstein (who would be 120 years old in ’99 – I’m guessing they did their plot calculations from 1970 and only added the year 1999 at the last minute) shows up with the historian to play violin.

It’s hardly a hilarious movie, but entertaining enough – and nice widescreen picture. I’m glad someone is out there taking good care of cult Czech films. 25 years later, the guy who played Einstein would star in Svankmajer’s Faust. Lipsky followed up with a kids movie called Six Bears and a Clown, which actually played on CBS.

Tarsem’s previous movie The Cell had a crappy story and bad acting wrapped around a handful of intensely cool but disconnected imagery. This one has a simple but decent story and good acting, with about half the movie being intensely cool imagery, finely intertwined with the rest of the plot. A quantum leap forward!

The gimmick of not having a gimmick (no digital effects, etc) was distracting as hell. We were always “what country do you think that is” or “THAT isn’t a real place is it” or “aha, that’s GOT to be a digital effect” or “is the little girl acting or not, she seems so natural.” From online trivia we learn it’s a remake of a 1981 Bulgarian film and the little girl was often improvising.

Movie itself is a wonder. In Princess Bride’s framing story, grandpa Peter Falk is reading a great, classic storybook, so the bulk movie has to be great and classic, and it lives up – but in The Fall we have an unreliable narrator, suicidal, heartbroken, wasted on morphine, making it up as he goes along. In a sense this makes the story more unpredictable, but it’s also a huge cop-out because if the writing is poor you can say “oh it’s supposed to be poor, didn’t you get that?” And it is kinda poor. Our hero the masked bandit with his lost love and archnemesis kinda fizzles, and his side characters Luigi (“explosives expert” who only uses explosives once, suicidally at the very end), The Ex-Slave and The Indian just make poses and look beautiful against the exotic scenery, getting shown up by the problem-solving Charles Darwin and his pet monkey. So it doesn’t sound too good and it’s probably not, but if you’re gonna throw out images this nice, I’ll let your thin plot slide. Carried over from The Cell we’ve still got some nightmarish imagery too. When their guide The Mystic is captured, being chopped to death with an axe (barely offscreen), crying and repeating the safe word “googly googly”, small birds flying out of his mouth, that’s a thing that gets stuck terribly in my head while I’m trying to sleep.

Movie ends with a montage of Keaton and Chaplin stunt scenes, half of which I recognized, in a belated homage to stunt men (our hero is one, ended up in the hospital with the little girl by falling badly off a bridge). Weird. Nobody I’ve heard of in the cast, which makes sense. If you’re shooting a self-financed movie over four years in 20+ countries, you’re not gonna get many recognizable actors to sign up. However, Lee Pace (our storytelling hero) is now starring in Pushing Daisies.

The premiere title of my personally-curated Obscure Movie Sundays monthly film screening programme was well-attended (five persons), the viewers anxious to view what my own invitation tantalizingly called “a 1977 surreal sci-fi comedy from Czechoslovakia. Set in the futuristic 1990’s, the plot involves identical twins and nazis with time machines. An obscure cult classic!” The movie lives up to the letter of that description, but wasn’t as wacky-enjoyable as it would sound. Still an affable, somewhat cheap-looking light comedy with a really good ending.

Rocket scientist Jan has an evil rocket scientist twin brother, who chokes to death on a roll at the start of the film. Jan is hot for his brother’s fiancee (an attractive girl from a family of circus performers), so Jan pretends to be his brother (barely mourned at all, so you’d think he’s a pretty crappy brother even though the two lived together) and goes to work – not knowing that this was the day the deceased brother was to participate in an evil plot to travel back in time to 1944, the turning point of WWII, and deliver a briefcase-sized atomic bomb to Adolf Hitler so the nazis would win the war. Things get fouled up royally, both in the 1990’s “present” and in 1941 (where they accidentally end up, right after Pearl Harbor, instead of ’44 like they’d planned) but finally Jan straightens everything out (easy to do when you’ve got a time machine at your disposal) and has the baddies imprisoned before they can meddle in the past. How to solve the problem of his dead brother? Jan travels back to moments after the brother’s choking accident, incinerates the body and inserts himself in its place. Result: two happy Jans are living together, one of them engaged to the evil twin’s attractive fiancee.

The bunch of baddies (right) in ’41:
image

I thought it was a funny movie, but I was the only one laughing – the others found it a little tedious. Too bad. Delightful inventions of the “future”: time travel exists but is only used for tourism, dishwashing detergent dissolves the dishes instead of bothering to clean them, and a stun-ray gun turns people to green statues (they’ll recover just fine in a few minutes, unless someone tries to move them and accidentally breaks off a limb or two). Also, the A-bomb has been miniaturized to fit in a light briefcase and the military has stopped using such weaponry, so it can only be found in museums. That’s a pretty short time window (from 1977 to 1990) from weapon advancement and miniaturization to obsolescence and declassification. Or you’d think they’d disarm the bomb they put in the museum.

My Two Jans:
image

The movie’s writer (I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen and What Would You Say To Some Spinach?), the composer (Three Nuts For Cinderella) and the director (no other movies with funny titles) all died in the last decade. Three of this film’s lead actors also appeared in What Would You Say To Some Spinach?, which came out two weeks before I was born – will have to seek that one out. The actor who played Hitler died in ’84.
image

“Why sometimes do images begin to tremble?”

From the film:

1967 saw the arrival of a rather peculiar breed of adolescents. They all looked alike. They would immediately recognize each other. They seemed to posses a silent but absolute knowledge of certain issues but to be totally ignorant about others. Their hands were unbelievable skillful at pasting up posters, handing paving stones, spraying on walls short and cryptic messages which stuck in the memory, all the while calling for more hands to pass on the message they’d received but had not completely deciphered. Those fragile hands have left us the mark of their fragility. Once they even wrote it on a banner. “The workers will take the flag of struggle from the fragile hands of the students.” But that was the following year.

image

Watched the 3-hour 2008 edit with English narration. There are so many versions of this out there… maybe next time I can watch the 2008 or 1977 French with subtitles.

I thought I’d have more to say about it… three hours’ worth of Chris Marker’s most celebrated film, but I don’t really. Marker is mainly credited as an editor here, arranging others’ footage to show a bigger picture. There’s no wall-to-wall narration, just pops up occasionally. And I’m starting to notice a real sadness beneath many of Marker’s films… the same feeling in Chats Perches is present here. Glad I prepped a little by watching Sixth Side of the Pentagon and Battle of Chile, but I still had to check on wikipedia to see what exactly happened in Bolivia (Che Guevara killed Oct. 1967) and Prague (Jan-Aug 1968, attempted reform of Czech socialism led to 30 years of Soviet military occupation). The movie isn’t here to teach basic history of revolution – assumes you know something already, and since I quit reading The People’s History of the United States before it reached the 1900’s, I do not. Still, was able to follow the movie, thought lots of the footage was excellent, enjoyed watching and learned a little. Some segments have little gems of Marker wit in their editing or narration, but much of it is making connections between different scenes of revolution, both real and wishful, and thinking about what has been achieved, what might have been achieved. Really have to watch again sometime.

image

Either this was an early use of the electronic soundtracks that Marker would use in Sans Soleil and beyond, or the sound on my copy of the movie was pretty badly distorted. Or, more likely, both. The sound got worse during part two – there were some sections when I couldn’t make out any of the (English) dialogue.

image

Video and audio footage by: Pierre Lhomme (Mother and the Whore, Le Joli Mai, Army of Shadows), Etienne Becker (The Spiral, Le Joli Mai, Malle’s Calcutta), Michele Ray (Latcho Drom), Francois Reichenbach and his crew, Harald & Harrick Maury (The Owl’s Legacy, Day For Night, In the Year of the Pig), Théo Robichet (Band of Outsiders), Pierre Dupouey (Silence… on tourne), Raymond Adam (Jodorowsky’s Tusk), Paul Bourron of the Dziga Vertov Group, Willy Kurant (Far From Vietnam, Masculin-Feminin, Pootie Tang), Peter Kassovitz (Jakob the Liar), Paul Seban (Welles’s The Trial), Michel Fano (Rivette’s The Nun), Fernand Moskovitz (Last Tango in Paris), Yann Le Masson (Je t’aime moi non plus), Mario Marret & Carlos de los Llanos (À bientôt, j’espère), Jimmy Glasberg (Sans Soleil, Shoah), Robert Dianoux (Africa, I Will Fleece You), Jean Boffety (Thieves Like Us, Je t’aime je t’aime, Adieu Philippine), Robert Destanque (Joris Ivens’s The Threatening Sky), Hiroko Govaers (Terayama’s Fruits of Passion), Michel Cenet (Celine and Julie Go Boating), and an excerpt from Volker Schlöndorff’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. That is quite a list of collaborators, though you never hear anyone talking about them.

image

English voices: Jim Broadbent (Brazil), Cyril Cusack (Fahrenheit 451), Robert Kramer (dir. Ice, Against Oblivion), Alfred Lynch (The Hill), and numerous British 1970’s TV actors.

“You can never tell what you might be filming.”

Quotes and other reactions:

Icarus Films calls it an “epic film-essay on the worldwide political wars of the 60’s and 70’s: Vietnam, Bolivia, May ’68, Prague, Chile, and the fate of the New Left.”

image

J. Hoberman: “Marker begins by evoking Battleship Potemkin, and although hardly agitprop, A Grin Without a Cat is in that tradition—a montage film with a mass hero. Unlike Eisenstein, however, Marker isn’t out to invent historical truth so much as to look for it. (The untranslatable French title, Le Fond de l’air est rouge, is a play on words suggesting that revolution was in the air but not on the ground.)”

Paul Arthur: “In its rhythms and editing structures, Grin tries to embody the very shape and textures of historical transformation, rendering the abstraction of change as an amalgam of rapid, plurivocal, uneven, and, at times, contradictory forces aligned in provisional symmetries encompassing past, present and future perspectives.”

image

Y. Meranda: “The editing de-emphasizes the narrative structure and instead stresses the poetical interrelationships of the sequences by putting almost all of them out-of-context. … Paralleling the visual editing, the sound editing is more based on poetical considerations than on intellectual ones. … Because there is very little attention paid to the intellectual arguments and because the style goes beyond making statements about a political ideology, A Grin Without a Cat becomes much more than a left wing documentary about the left: It achieves to be a poem about revolting against the system (and not just the political system), the conformity and the order. It suggests that it is an eternal struggle that is supposed to fail (as was in the case of the New Left) most of the times. This universality, achieved by Marker’s distinctive style, is what makes the film great.”

image

Excerpts from the Lupton book:

“Marker explicitly pitched the film against what he saw as the historical amnesia surrounding the period promoted by its treatment on television, where ‘one event is swept away by another, living ideals are replaced by cold facts, and it all finally descends into collective oblivion.'”

Movie is partially composed of outtakes from other projects. “Introducing the published script, Marker wrote that he had become curious about all the material that had been left out of militant films in order to obtain an idealogically ‘correct’ image, and now wondered if these abandoned fragments might not yield up the essential matter of history better than the completed films.”

“As a groundbreaking work of visual historiography, Le Fond attempts nothing less than to give cinematic form to the chaotic and contradictory movement of world history during the tumultuous decade that it covers.”

“The reappearance of cats, even in this thoroughly politicized context, is a signal that Chris Marker was beginning to re-emerge from the anonymity of unsigned militant productions and to reintroduce into his work the familiar tokens of his own distinct presence.”

image

Chris Marker:

Scenes of the third World War 1967-1977

Some think the third World War will be set off by a nuclear missile. For me, that’s the way it will end. In the meantime, the figures of an intricate game are developing, a game whose de-coding will give historians of the future – if they are still around – a very hard time.

A weird game. Its rules change as the match evolves. To start with, the super powers’ rivalry transforms itself not only into a Holy Alliance of the Rich against the Poor, but also into a selective co-elimination of Revolutionary Vanguards, wherever bombs would endanger sources of raw materials. As well as into the manipulation of these vanguards to pursue goals that are not their own.

During the last ten years, some groups of forces (often more instinctive than organized) have been trying to play the game themselves – even if they knocked over the pieces. Wherever they tried, they failed. Nevertheless, it’s been their being that has the most profoundly transformed politics in our time. This film intends to show some of the steps of this transformation.

More images:

image

image

The Chairman:
image

Funeral in Prague:
image

Last footage ever shot of Salvador Allende:
image

Allende’s daughter, who would commit suicide in 1977:
image

Fidel in Russia:
image

Enormous cats (no owls):
image

Nixon looks on:
image