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December 6, 2011

Breathless (1960) directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Les Productions Georges de Beauregard-S.N.C.

Filed under: Analysis Project # 2 — Daniel Min @ 2:17 am

“Breathless” Á Bout De Souffle is a delightful comedy about a restless young couple roaming in the streets of Paris. A loose structural of a narrative that is told through use of playful humor, improvisational theme of petty crime, small hysterical gestures of rubbing lips, exotic portrayal of young Parisians and grand composition of a spectacular night life in Champs-Élysées which is evidently the work of the Nouvelle Vague maverick film director Jean Luc Godard. A Godardian experience to witness such an exotic and entertaining film that mesmerizes us to reflect on the naivety and amorality of our youth. [1]

 

Formal Analysis: Patricia arrives at the airport wearing an expensive pinstriped dress recently bought from Dior for an important press conference with Mr. Parvulesco played by the well respected author/director Jean-Pierre Melville. It takes place at an airport where the interview is to be conducted by various reporters from different media outlets asking deep philosophical yet frivolous questions of modern society, his opinion between French and American women, the romanticism of modern women and his ambition in life.

The scene initially iris-out at the entry gate of the airport where Patricia tells her lover that the interview will only last for thirty minutes. A following shot ensues as she delicately walks up the stairs to the upper platform to which Poiccard calls out her name and continues to the shot where we see his mug at a close up. From there we see him wearing an aviator sunglasses and a fedora as he nonchalantly exhales the smoke from a loosely wrapped cigarette. Both of these characters are wearing sunglasses to look more cosmpolitanly cultivated and share similar taste of formal attire much like what Parisians wear as the camera cuts back to her with a close up. The camera cuts to a medium shot of Poiccard swinging his fist like a drunken boxer as he is standing behind the door to where Mr. Parvulesco walks out of the terminal. It then cuts back to Patricia with the same close up  to where Mr. Parvulesco is right in front of her as he walks up the stairs in the far distance of this shot. Lastly we see Poiccard at a close up exiting the scene as he rubs his lips with his thumb to show an idiosyncratic gesture.

 

The Interview takes place on the upper platform of Aéroport de Paris where the famous author discusses various topics on love and modern society. It begins with a close up shot of Mr. Parvulesco at a mid high angle as he’s mentioning about the prudishness of French literature critics after releasing his new novel titled “Candida”. It then cuts to another interviewer sitting adjacent to him asking whether if “one could still believe love in our time” to which Mr. Parvulesco replies with certainty that it is most relevant, “especially in our time”. The shot still maintains a continuous flow of having one interview asking questions to the next as it intermittently cuts from the media representatives to Mr. Parvulesco and Patricia.

Another close up shot to a different interviewer asks Mr. Parvulesco on his opinion about the great poet Rilke, if he was right to say that “modern life will increasingly separate men and women”. Afterwards the camera cuts back to Mr. Parvulesco at a mid angle to break off the continuity in order to be in the same level with the interviewee. Then the camera cuts to a close up shot of the female interviewer asking Mr. Parvulesco’s opinion whether if “French women are romantically different from the Americans” as the shot resembles a portrait to the left side of her face. The camera maintains a close up of Mr. Parvulesco as he answers the question to the interviewer on his left that French women are “totally unlike American women”. The camera is still fixated at a mid level to his face and instantaneously cuts to Patricia as she asks him “what is your greatest ambition in life?”, from there we see Mr. Parvulesco’s face except he doesn’t reply with an answer, instead the sound transitions to an off-screen sound as we hear more questions in the background about whether “if men are more immoral than women” and “if women are more sentimental than men?” The camera cuts back to Patricia with a close projecting the off-screen sound as we hear him reply that “Feelings are a luxury few women indulge in”.

 

The sound goes back to being in synch with the character as the camera cuts to another close up to a different interviewer asking Mr. Parvulesco whether if “there [is] a difference between eroticism and love?” The camera finally breaks off from a mid angle and goes back to mid high angle with a close up as he replies that “there is no difference [since] eroticism is a form of love and vice versa”. From this shot we hear a diegetic sound coming from an airplane as we get to see it taking off in the background. The camera then instantaneously shifts back to mid level at a different angle as we get to see the right side of Patricia’s face asking Mr. Parvulesco “[are] women are capable enough to play a role in modern society?”

It cuts back to Mr. Parvulesco at mid level just like before however this shot is contrast with the other ones because this is a frontality shot, he is looking into the camera as if we’re engaging a conversation in which he replies to Patricia “If they’re charming and wear striped dresses and dark glasses”. The camera cuts to Patricia’s initial response of being flattered as we get to hear more interviewers from the background in which it instantaneously cuts to the person on Mr. Parvulesco’s right about “how many men can a woman love in a lifetime?”. It cuts back to mid level close up of him giving him the answers by counting his fingers and eventually ends up displaying his whole hand to show that they will go through more than that in their lifetime. Afterwards he responds that there are “two things matter in life. For men it’s women, and for women, money”.

 

The camera cuts from Patricia to the interviewer and back to Mr. Parvulesco at a high angle with a close up but instantaneously shifted 30 degrees to the right as we no longer see the plane taking off in the background. It shows his face with the cameraman reflecting on his aviator glasses as he is stating that“If you see a pretty girl with a rich man, you know she’s nice and he’s a bastard”. It cuts back to the cameraman with the same close up however you could notice one instance of a jump cut as he is readjusting his lens. It cuts back to Mr. Parvulesco at a mid level close up back to the original angle where we could have seen the airplane taking off in the background. The camera then cuts to a woman who is walking toward his left asking him whether if he likes the musician Brahms, afterwards it straight cuts to the cameraman’s equipment while we’re observing a reel tape mechanically reeling in as we hear the off screen replies of Mr. Parvulesco saying “like everyone, no” and “[listening] to Chopin, makes me want to puke!”.

It cuts back to Patricia asking Mr. Parvulesco on “What’s [his] greatest ambition in life?” as she readjusts her hair where it does another instance of a jump cut, much like the other one with the cameraman when he was readjusting his equipment. Lastly the camera cuts back to Mr. Parvulesco with a close up as he takes off his aviator glass and replies “To become immortal, and then die.” Finally we see a close up of Patricia taking off her sunglasses by staring into the camera with looks of concern as we get to hear non-diegetic music by Miles Davis coming in as this shot dissolves into a different scene.

 

This particular scene presents an empathetic allusion to the work of Jean-Pierre Melville who was known to have directed some of the most outstanding films during the era of Nouvelle Vague. Although he wasn’t necessarily part of the movement, he already established himself as a talented film director belonging to a generation of resistance member that heavily fought against the occupation during the war and went on to release numerous of successful films that clearly demonstrated his creativity by fragmenting observation into minutes as the actions are played out in real time (which is evident as he advised Godard to do some unconventional editing for Breathless). [2] A mutual collaboration in which he is the big brother giving advice to all these young directors coming out of France (Francois Truffaut wrote the screenplay for Breathless as well as Claude Chabrol who took part as the technical advisor). Part of Godard’s editing is incredibly diverse in terms of materiality, the scene starts off with a round opening mask that “irises-in”, next comes  a “following shot”  of Patricia climbing up the stairs as we get to observe the daintiness of Jean Seberg, much like some of the other scene where she walks around Champs-Élysées selling papers for New York Herald Tribune. Godard also displays each close up shots in a different angle to give us a sense of discontinuity however he doesn’t necessarily disorients us, instead he does this with an editing known as “jump cut” in order to maintain the logicality by compressing time.

Godard is a versatile director who knows how to diversify his editing with multiple techniques. This particular scene encapsulates all of his skills in a random disposition yet it reasonably connects itself seamlessly as it emphasizes the ilk (spirit) of the Nouvelle Vague. According to Godard it is “the sort of film where anything goes” in which “[he] also wanted to give the feeling that the techniques of film-making had just been discovered or experienced for the first time”. [3] It is perhaps a bold statement against conventional mainstream cinema as they’re (Rivette, Truffaut, Rohmer, Godard) violating the rules that strictly adheres to continuity editing, coherence of the narrative and the practicality of working within a tight budget in order to confront against the conformity that is brought upon by France during its era of socio-political stigma set forth by de-Gaulle.

References

[1] http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20030720/REVIEWS08/307200301/1023

[2] http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/melville/

[3] Godard, Jean-Luc “From Critic to Film-Maker”

 

November 22, 2011

La Jetée (1962)

Filed under: Film Comment — Daniel Min @ 12:27 am

Chris Marker the ultimate media artist and what Alain Resnais would refer to him as the “prototype of the twenty-first century man” [1], created one of the most intriguing circular narratives into an eloquent photomontage consisting of black and white optical photo prints. La Jetée is an extraordinary installment of the science fiction genre that inspired contemporary artists into creating such works of art by reflecting the ingenuity of Chris Marker.

 La Jetée depicts France in a post apocalyptic nuclear war zone. Underneath where the survivors inhabit in their own dwellings. A soldier is picked amongst the mass to become their test subject traveling to the past and future in hopes of saving mankind. Dreams of the future where the soldier see himself at the Orly Airport meeting the hands of death and the woman who will be his significant companion during his time travel. Every shot has a meaning and every piece of artifact becomes the subject of such illustrious photo that conveys such incredible depth of beauty, especially during their visit to Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. A mesmerizing work that left me in a state of awe when I first saw this, La Jetée is ahead of its time and will influence later generations of prospective film makers and photographers over the next millennium.

Chris Marker is by far the most mysterious out of all the left bank directors associated with La Nouvelle Vague. He has worked with a full spectrum of technological medium that experimented with computers, photography, television and films (including an interactive CD-ROM “Immemory” that deals with the concept of perception and reality of memory). A former Resistance member of the Free French Forces and the U.S.A.F. Pararescuemen (rumored), Chris Marker dedication to anti-war fully developed around the time when Algeria seceded from France for its independence (A very painful reminder for the French since they lost the war on colonialism and is heavily brought up in films such as Resnais’s “Muriel”, Godard’s “Le Petit Soldat” and Pontecorvo’s documentary) and the student protest of May 1968. Throughout his career he has traveled all over the world documenting the obscurity and beauty of our planet yet it leaves me to speculate why there are very few interview or articles about him (his hermeticism is quite amusing because he often leaves a picture of a cat upon request for interviews). [2]

 Note: Last film I’ve seen directed by Chris Marker was “Level Five”. A semi documentary about a French video game programmer who is assign to recreate the battle of Okinawa, it is told through haunting memories of the Imperial Japanese soldiers and the lost memory of the Information Technician with her past lover. Unlike most well known directors his films are very difficult to acquire and hard to find online (Thank God for youtube because I can finally see his documentary on Akira Kurosawa for free).

References:

[1] http://soma.sbcc.edu/users/davega/FILMST_118/FILMS/La%20Jetee/La%20Jetee.txt

[2] http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/marker/

 

 

November 10, 2011

Psycho (1960)

Filed under: Film Comment — Daniel Min @ 11:27 pm

 

Alfred Hitchcock whom I consider the doyen of all horror film directors (maybe except for the founder of the Giallo horror genre, Dario Argento) created such an abhorrent picture that not only did I found disturbing, but outright appalling. An Englishman with a mentally maladjusted sense of humor who can properly utilize such distinctive features throughout his body of work, using countless images of birds, voyeurism, overtly sexual portrayal of women and underlying sadomasochistic male behavior. His most famous work “Psycho” definitely has all the elements to frighten the audience however some might see this film as inferior to all his other works (An argument that I would like to support had if not been Anthony Perkin’s remarkable acting).

One scene that I found displeasing was Norman Bates being in the same room with the prospective murder victim as she’s having a snack, discussing about the trials and tribulation of the human existence, falling into the traps of insanity that society deems unwelcome thus having to establish a mental institution for the mentally insane. A mad house consisting of cries and agonies of the individual such as Norman Bates who happens to be one of many ideal subject of psychoanalysis. The human imprisonment described by Bates made the audience fully aware that he himself is sick much like the distraught relationship with his mother.

The mother and son relationship that was brought forth to conclusion left me puzzled when I first saw this movie however the second screening left me curious as to whether if Hitchcock had shared the same experience that Norman Bates suffered. Overall everybody have their own reason to express some aspects of human misery from the past however society can justify for those who murder and those who don’t.

The last film that I’ve seen with Anthony Perkins is Franz Kafka’s the trial. An alluringly spectacular eye feast that left me deeply attached to his acting that became even more apparent in his portrayal of Norman Bates. His unsettling calm look will certainly unease the audience’s comfort zone and will furthermore lead us into the dark places where we choose not to look. Psycho is masterfully crafted from the hands of Hitchcock. I will be looking forward to watching the rest of Hitchcock’s works later on, especially his take on Patricia Highsmith’s enigmatic novel “Strangers on a Train”.

 The Eye of the Voyeur. . .

October 13, 2011

Early Summer (1951) directed by Yasujiro Ozu, Schochiku Co, Ltd.

Filed under: Analysis Project # 1 — Daniel Min @ 7:09 pm

“Early Summer” (Bakushu) is an immaculate work and the embodiment of such fine cinema to come from postwar Japan. A complex familial study that have subtle pain beneath, yet aesthetically graceful in its own right. We examine the relationship of Noriko a brilliant young independent woman of such elegance between her friends, family and co-workers. An ensemble drama broadly depicting her as a strong productive working woman (very rare due to such evolving nature of feminist issues and woman’s suffrage as women are newly assimilating into society with equal rights and quality of life in postwar Japan)[1] as the last swallow of the family’s bird nest, getting ready to leave the household in order to marry an agriculture businessman almost twice her age.

Scene Analysis: Taking place in Mamiya’s residence, where the family is scolding Noriko for making a promise to Kenkichi’s mother on marrying her prospective husband.

We see an elderly couple kneeling next to each other on top of the sleeping mat that is geometrically placed like all the other furniture in their room. A bookcase is secured to the left along with a lamppost to their rear behind this shōji less room as we see Shukichi smoking. It starts off by a “Medium Shot” as he inhales the smoke and instantaneously shifts to a “Close Up” as he exhales the smoke while asking if his daughter is back.

 The same “Close Up” shot from a kneeling position is reversed and directly proportional to Shige which she replies “I heard her come in a few minutes ago”.  Both of these two “Close Up” shots are in “Shallow Focus” then it cuts back to “Deep Focus” with a “Medium Shot” as we see the opposite side of the room.

This “Medium Shot” is still fixated from a low angle, Fumiko the wife of Noriko’s older brother Koichi comes to the scene advising her parents-in-law to go downstairs. Wearing a collar shirt with a neatly striped kitchen apron attached to her conservative skirt which is culturally in contrast to the kimonos that the elderly are wearing. The costume connotatively signifies a strong cross cultural relationship between the young and the old. As they leave, we get to observe the premise but with a reverse shot from where it starts off.

It cuts next to a “Medium Shot” from a low angle as the elderly walks downstairs, passing by the kitchen in the far distance with every utensil being well organized and geometrically situated.

The elderly walks into the Washitsu with tatami flooring [2] as they join with the rest of their adult children. A “décor” is displayed with the same “Medium Shot” from before, a lamp on top of the ceiling is centered at the apex of this shot, much like some of the other scene that took place in the Mamiya’s residence. Again we see another contrast of the cultural and socioeconomic context between the western world and the orient due to Noriko’s cashmere sweater. The elderly come into the scene asking what happened as they kneel down onto the mat which is precisely placed in parallel to the table for family conferences.

Shukichi – Ichirô Sugai

Koichi – Chishu Ryu

Shige – Chikage Awashima

Series of “Close Up” shots with “Shallow Focus” display each of the family members as they discuss about Noriko’s proposition. It starts off with Koichi telling Shukichi that his younger sister will soon marry Yabe, then it straight cuts to Shukichi’s reaction asking his son if that person is Kenkichi to which Koichi reply “Noriko promised Kenkichi’s mother that she will soon marry the widower” and another “Close Up” shot of Shige saying Kenkichi is leaving for the rural prefecture of Akita tomorrow.


 It goes back to a low angle “Medium Shot” with “Deep Focus” in reverse as we get to see the backyard of their household. Family members encompasses around Noriko with looks of disapproval. The elderly couple are sitting adjacent to their son and daughter. Shige from the right of the screen asks her daughter if “this is an important matter?” and ponders if Noriko has given such decision careful consideration. Koichi who is directly opposite of Noriko tells her that Kenkichi has a child and questioned her to why didn’t she at least tell her father and mother about such matter.

Noriko – Setsuko Hara

The camera cuts to Noriko with “Shallow Focus” and a “Close Up” shot on the same level with the family member. In contrary to all the other “Close Up”, the camera focusing on Noriko is a lot different because she is mildly bowing her head down whereas the rest are looking directly into the camera as if it’s a “frontality”. It generates this atmosphere of guilt and shame which is very common in Japanese cultural anthropology of social control.[3]

The dialogue ensues as it intermittently cuts from “Medium Shot” with “Deep Focus” to “Close Up” with “Shallow Focus” as they’re discussing with Noriko how much hardship she will endure by marrying a widower and going from a city girl to a rural wife. Noriko is certainly brave yet unreasonable with her decision, not only this scene expresses true form of feminism however it conveys such a deep human understanding of reconnecting what was lost. (e.g. The scene where Kenkichi’s mother crying and overjoyed with emotions after hearing from Noriko about marrying Kenkichi, will certainly give the audience a subtle yet clear observation on the pain of losing a spouse).

Lastly the “Medium Shot” is no longer in reverse as don’t get to see the backyard anymore, Shukichi and Shige both get up from their seating and the same shot follows them to where we originally left off. From the shot where we see the kitchen to the shot where we see their room. The camera is still fixated from a low angle giving us a connotation of the Japanese culture as we are entering the household of respect and sophisticated courtesy.

Yasujiro Ozu had done such a phenomenal job creating a delicate work of art. This scene possess all the elements of establishing an effective mise-en-scène due to carefully installed furniture that are placed throughout the household in a very systematic manner as it demonstrates the efficacy of calm and elegant vicinity within the Nipponese society. A mild low key lighting is present as each actor performs their best to display imperturbable yet emotional behavior, especially Setsuko Hara a wide-eyed talented beauty who played Noriko with such extraordinary skills. Again this scene expresses true form of feminism because it is Noriko’s own decision to marry without her family consent, Noriko understand that she will most likely sacrifice the privilege of living in the city in order to be with her childhood lover and become burden with a child that is not her own.

References:

– [1] http://www2.gol.com/users/friedman/writings/p1.html

– [2] http://www.pitt.edu/~natrooms/countries/japan.html

– [3] Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, 1946.

 

 

September 22, 2011

Citizen Kane (1941)

Filed under: Blog Challenge — Daniel Min @ 5:16 pm

Love! You don’t love anybody! Me or anybody else! You want to be loved – that’s all you want! I’m Charles Foster Kane. Whatever you want – just name it and it’s yours! Only love me! Don’t expect me to love you   – Susan Alexander Kane [1]

An extraordinary cinematic endeavor that expended and pushed the movie production to its limits, a film that was beautifully crafted by Toland, Mankiewicz, Hermann and the renaissance man Orson Welles. Citizen Kane is a remarkable yet alluringly strange film that established the highlight of Welles’s career and its technical superiority.

Orson Welles has done a remarkable job playing such a self-centered character who talks to people with a condescending manner, a character that I honestly had no sympathy for, yet the intricacy of Kane’s life was mysterious and it was depressing because such human beings can exist without regard for others. One particular segment that strikes me the most is the domestic dispute between husband and wife during an enormous picnic. A spectacular event where a boar is spit-roasted on an open fire, hundreds of people are present to dine in and listen to bebop jazz, such a glamorous evening that was all for the sake of Charles Foster Kane’s second wife, Susan Alexander. Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore) an opera singer who suffered through enough tumultuous experiences due to her poor performance in the opera house of Chicago, had enough of Kane’s selfish ways as she was complacent about how there is no empathy from him.  All he ever does is buy her things for compassion and love, however she doesn’t acquire any of it in return. Afterwards Kane slaps his wife across the face which Susan replied that she doesn’t want any of his remorse, but cruelly Kane didn’t intend to. This particular scene where we hear some woman abhorrently cries and screams in the background as the camera is still fixated on Susan Alexander after she was hit, truly disturbed me the most.

What is the purpose of that particular scene? Is it because it was the director’s intention to provoke strong emotions from the audience? We could hear the horrendous aural cues that were synchronously intact with Susan’s initial reaction after she was hit, it left me to contemplate the hysterical cries were not necessarily from outside of the confines, however the pain and violent agony within Susan.  Orson Welles handled this scene phenomenally well yet delicate in its own aesthetic achievement.  That scene is truly effective and couldn’t been accomplished any better, had if it not been Susan’s stoic reaction and the cries of distress in the background. It is as if Orson Welles wanted us to examine the immoral aspect of being human.  Citizen Kane is a mysterious film that requires repeat viewing, not only because we can’t pin it down with a few interpretations, but examining their skills in creating an extraordinary film with the limited amount of technical options that were made available to them.

References: 

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033467/quotes

September 11, 2011

The Lady Eve (1941)

Filed under: Film Comment — Daniel Min @ 5:33 pm

       Preston Sturges’s Lady Eve is a delightful comedy that I thoroughly enjoy from the beginning to the end. The backdrop of an elegant cruise ship and the opulent mansion of New England were definitely vulnerable to the perpetual state of audacious adventure.  Barbara Stanwyck who played “Jean Harrington” the leading con lady of such wit and gregarious charisma (almost a resemblance of Catherine Keener) established herself as a force to be reckon with, her seductive prowess made it easy for her to manipulate the heart of the snake enthusiast [1] “Charles Pike”, played by Henry Fonda, a stoic yet somewhat of an innocent man that knows how to play his cards right (maybe).

On the S.S. Southern Queen traveling from South America, one marvelous scene that caught my eye was Jean holding up a mirror to spy at Pike, scrutinizing and performing a commentary by doing voice over for their fruitless attempt on persuading him. A scene of such caliber by Preston Sturges made me ask myself, why haven’t I watch any of his films before (except for half of “Sullivan’s Travels”(1941) on TCM during one of many endless nights, suffering from insomnia and paranoia). Jean finally caught the attention of her new lover/victim, they’re overwhelmed in each other’s arm and became infatuated with the idea of true romance, well maybe except for Jean whose goal is to swindle some of his money.

Cards are drawn from the poker deck and the game is on between Pike and Jean’s father, Colonel Harrington who is an assertive man that can operate at a higher level on the scheme of convict, demonstrated some of the most innovative ways of manipulating the winning hand, a remarkable performance by Charles Coburn that left a huge impression on me. After this pithy diversion of playing tricks, Jean felt it wasn’t right to trick Pike out of his pocket, since she is head over heels for him, thus reinforcing her father to cease from taking Pike’s loss. Meanwhile Muggsy (William Demarest) a condescending minder, found some unsettling photos of Jean discovering that she is a gold digger of a con-artist and only wants Pike for his money.

They go about their separate ways from having to hurt each other’s feeling, only to be reunited during a social gathering. Except the woman that Pike still had strong feelings for wasn’t Jean, it is Lady Eve Sidwich, a glamorous socialite with a distinct English accent (I couldn’t even distinguish between her English accent and an American one, I guess is because my ear is somewhat familiar with different variety of Anglophone). Sturges’s way of using characters to role-play, has certainly led me to believe his artistic craft in provoking excitement from the audience and flaunted some of the most extraordinary skills by creating an elaborative slapstick of a classic comedy, especially the scene with the horse (I’m no equestrian, however the way Fonda tamed that horse was hilarious).

In the end, they’re reunited just as they met before, only she is no longer Eve but Jean as Pike remembered. Sturge’s Lady Eve is a top notch screwball of a classic farce yet sophisticated in its own way, one film that I might consider on par with Sturge’s work is “Va Savoir+” (2001) directed by Jacques Rivette. Both represents the idealistic pageantry of the pratfall genre and does not come out as contrived as one would probably expect (maybe except for prospective action film directors).

 References:

[1] http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/80626/The-Lady-Eve/ – http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-lady-eve,17866/

August 28, 2011

M (1931)

Filed under: Film Comment — Daniel Min @ 11:45 pm

          M is for Mörder. The letter M that was written on the beggar’s hand which was later stamped on the murderer’s back, the letter M that attracted the underworld to take justice into their own hands. An interpretation of the ambiguous meaning between the letter M that was stamped behind Peter Lorre’s back and the one written on the beggar’s hand as if Fritz Lang wants us to examine society, that ordinary citizens of the Weimer Republic were not so much different than the actual child murderer.

The opening scene show children playing along in the backside of the alleyway singing cruel nursery rhymes as they’re getting yelled at by the elderly upstairs due to the subject matter. It juxtaposes the scene where the innocent can sing something horrible yet be unaware of the imminent danger in the post Great War era. Audience may grasp that something repugnant is bound to happen, the plot was considered horrendous during the latter production of the silent film era therefore anything dreadful involving with children must have been loathsome. The victim is a little girl by the name of Elsie who was unfortunate enough to come across the murderer (Peter Lorre). Yet we don’t know who exactly the character is because there was no glimpse of his face except for the sound of his voice until later on in the film, a feature that made a phenomenal impact on cinematic experience for Fritz Lang’s first talkie. [1] As Elsie goes missing there were series of haunting scenes of unoccupied item that can leave the viewers an impression that exemplify Fritz Lang’s extraordinary skills in the aesthetic of film.

          The manhunt had begun and Berliners have heightened their awareness including the criminals. It had gone so far that city officials were accusing each other while dispatching more policemen throughout the city. The policemen’s action can be quite tedious at time using futile techniques apprehending the murderer as if the authorities are the rightful heir to the dominant group of society whereas the civilians were nothing more than servants. Was Fritz Lang’s implication toward Germany which succumbed to the Third Reich, made it intolerable for him to produce his pictures during its era? Was he angry at Germany for permitting itself to become the victim of the advent of Nazi politics? [2] I sense that by looking at some particular scenes like the murderer getting caught by the beggar, all because of his whistling and being fervently chased down by group of thugs along with the police anticipating for some bloodthirsty justice, presents an interesting view on the moral query of human nature. Especially towards near the end of the film, when he ended up in a cellar and was surrounded by group of criminals, policemen, lawyers, mothers etc with stares of disapproval, another wonderful take from Lang’s innovative camerawork.

        The murderer testified as being the victim of mental illness and could not help himself from committing such atrocious act. A psychopathically insane child killer  no society could understand nor recognize was immune to capital punishment because of his illness. Depressingly enough, this debate is still present even in this day and age. Peter Lorre had done such a fine work delivering the murderer’s behavior as if he himself was the victim of some sort of persecution. (The result of his image for this movie was unsparingly used for anti-Semitic propaganda during the peak of World War II). [3]

         In a nocturnal city like Berlin, a city that looked so provocatively haunting, reminded me of another movie that took place in the same setting, Wim Wender’s “Wings of Desire” (1987). Unlike Wender’s work, the city is not divided and there are no angels looking overhead however both of the film shares the same melancholy black and white view of the city that subtlety remind the viewer how Berlin had gone through so much turmoil. It was a pleasure seeing “M”, this is my first time watching a movie directed by Lang and I consider him the pinnacle of such talented film director to come from Austria (Haneke being the other).

 

References:

[1] http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/feature/fritz-lang-in-hollywood/249

[2] http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19970803/REVIEWS08/401010339/

[3] http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000048/bio


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