Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The Mirror and Black Dahlia
Couple nights ago I saw Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror (1975) maybe for the seventh time. I've been lucky enough to have seen it more often on a screen than on a television, even though it makes quite a punch even on a tube. What's the most surprising thing about Tarkovsky's film (which is to me his best) is that it makes a different impression every time. It's a very beautiful film, but now I thought it was a horror film, the horror coming out from the past that is always out there, haunting us, cursing us. (And there are also some conventional horror elements, such as an apparition, a ghost woman whose real identity is never explained).
The Mirror is also best seen many times. Some films you grasp at one viewing and you can live all your life without even thinking about seeing them again. The Mirror just won't leave you alone. There's always something you haven't noticed before. And the story arc (if I may use the word in this context) is a very difficult one, but now, after seven viewings I think I could say I understand what happens in the movie.
I also understood now why the ending is so powerful, even though there's nothing much happening: an old woman, possibly a grandmother, is escorting two little kids across the field and at times we see a young woman, a mother of the kids, thinking about something with a wishful smile on her face. The scenes with a woman are set in a different time, before the kids are born. (Or then it's after the war, but the woman seems to be too young for that.) There's a crucial scene somewhere in the film after which we see everything absolved. The sins, the past, every crime, every misdeed, have been forgiven and all we have is the future and the love. That's why the ending is so powerful: the granny who takes care of the children is the embodiment of the future and love.
I just have to detect the crucial scene. I think it's the scene near the end in which Tarkovsky's alter ego releases a bird from his hands.
(And a bit in Finnish: en ole ikinä huomannut kenenkään mainitsevan sitä, että yhdessä kohtauksessa nähdään suomalaisia kirjoja kirjahyllyssä. Mustavalkoisessa takautumassa, jossa Tarkovskin alter ego ja tämän ex-vaimo, Margarita Teherova, keskustelevat Ignat-pojan hoidosta, nähdään lyhyen aikaa pieni pätkä, kun Teherova seisoo pää vinossa kirjahyllyn edessä. Hyllyssä ovat vierekkäin Dalton Trumbon Sotilaspoika ja 60-luvun alussa julkaistu Tsehovin kaksiosainen Suuret kertomukset! Näiden lisäksi hyllyssä näyttää olevan kaksi venäjänkielistä kirjaa. Tarkistakaapa heti, kun teille tulee mahdollisuus!)
And then something completely different: I saw Brian De Palman's The Black Dahlia recently. It's been receiving lots of negative reviews, and I was as perplexed as those anonymous and pseudonymous commentators at IMDb. It seems that the film's got only one person to understand it: Tapani Maskula, of the Turun Sanomat magazine, his review is here. (It's understandably in Finnish, but he gave it three stars out of five.) He likens the film to Hawks's The Big Sleep from 1946 and says that the film must've seemed as baffling as De Palma's more recent effort. He promises, therefore, that De Palma's The Black Dahlia could still rise to the status of a classic.
I found the film intriguing. It kept me baffled and I was utterly disappointed at some decisions. The most baffling thing about the film was that there didn't seemed to be enough scenes, i.e. there was always something missing. Lots and lots of stuff got away unexplained, some of them crucial to the plot and psychology of the characters. This makes the film seem more clumsy than it really is. Maybe I should seek this out in, say, 2015 and take a fresh look.
This is the case with many of De Palma's films. There seems to be something missing, especially in his Hitchcockian suspense films, like Body Double (1984). The same goes for some of his later big-budget efforts like Snake Eyes (which is visually great) and Mission To Mars (even though I really liked the first part of the film). Even some of his most mainstream work is baffling at some level. Take, for example, a look at The Untouchables: you never get to know what's really behind all the broughaha and especially what makes Eliot Ness and his men tick. There's great vitality to the film, but that's all there is. There's nothing in De Palma's films to love, you can get interested in them and their themes, and you can admire them for De Palma's techniques, but that's all there is.
It may be of help to notice that De Palma makes more mistakes when he's doing film from other people's screenplays. The Black Dahlia was written by Josh Friedman, Mission To Mars was written by a lot of different folks, Snake Eyes by David Koepp, The Bonfire of the Vanities by Michael Cristofer, The Untouchables by David Mamet, etc. etc. His most satisfying films seem to be those he wrote himself (Carrie, Raising Cain, Blow Out, his early suspense thrillers).
The same goes for, by the way, William Friedkin. There's always the same sense of unfulfillment in his films, as if he really didn't know what his themes are. Take a look at Cruising. You never know what's happening there, and you don't think anyone else knew, for that matter. His most fluent films are those without any special resonance: The Exorcist, Wages of Fear.
PS. Lots of work done lately and the same will continue for a month or two, so necessarily there's not much blogging in the near future.