San Francisco Art & Film for Teens

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Free cultural programs for teens, including Friday night film screenings, Saturdays art walks and free seats to cultural events. Open to all Bay Area students, middle school through college. Established 1993. 

Filtering by Tag: tarkovsky prize

2019 Tarkovsky Prize Honorable Mention: Una Lomax-Emrick

Una Lomax-Emrick (18, Urban School)
The Racket of Consciousness: Three Colors: Red

            I recently listened to psychologist Kaern Kreyling describe the ways in which our minds are obsessed with maintaining constant inner dialogues in spite of the fact that silence dominates many layers of our subconscious. The brain and consciousness are vastly silent, she said, but we are often hypnotized by the small flood of doubts, mundane insecurities, philosophical musings, and “Did I remember to turn the stove off?” that crowd the top layer of our thoughts. Amidst our constant media inundations through the devices in our hands, we tend to forget the silence but are still desperately seeking it. We buy into the mythology of a spin class somehow destined to cure anxiety, laud prohibitively expensive “mindfulness retreats” when we could just as well follow a map to a stranger’s home or celebrate an oncoming storm. Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Red presents a stunning portrait of the power of silent human connection in spite of a superficial draw to noise. As Janet Maslin states in her 1994 New York Times review of the film, “Stories develop like photographs in a darkroom. They are sharply defined only in retrospect, when the process is complete.” Kieślowski examines love and coincidence with astounding poise, rendering the observer delightfully complicit in forming the relationships that arise and the hopes that spring in the face of a missed call, a wounded dog, and lost romantic connections. His characters are constantly seeking peace but are unable, until the film’s end, to find the silence that can truly bring them to rest and back to one another. His film is a tremendous testament to the power of connection and the ability of some beautiful, internal grace to guide people to the silence, if they will only pay attention.

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            The telephone, a central focus of countless scenes in Red is the only real antagonist in the film. It acts as a block between people, a shade attempting to disrupt truth love, and much beauty throughout. Voices become weapons. Valentine’s (Irène Jacob) boyfriend summons her to the perilous waters of the English Channel, and Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit) makes plans and loses the woman he loves through the off-white chord of his landline. Their relationships are superficial; Kieślowski implies again and again that in order to love and to understand, one must be physically with someone and, of course, one must be silent. The Judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) lives a solitary life in a tumble-down house; he is obsessed with the noise of others. Sitting alone in the dark, we watch his mind play out in the rising and falling of voices on his stereo screen. This man is deeply unhappy, not content with the musings of his own desperate mind, he must prey on the voices and feelings others to be satiated, and Valentine is similarly disgusted and enamored of his noise. The night outside is dark and silent. Rita, the sweet dog, is not moaning anymore, she is with the people who care for her and there is safety to be had in the assurance that they will love her. Yet, The Judge and Valentine are isolated. Their friendship springs from this night and the subsequent thawing of their initial icy self-righteousness. Much later on, when they share a drink in the stormy hall of Valentine’s show, there is psychological silence. A beautiful howling of the wind is the only sound amidst their hushed declarations of truth. Their friendship has allowed Kern to find solace in his own mind. He writes letters to his neighbors just as Auguste books passage on the ship to England; they are present, direct, and soulful. This is how the two men finally begin to emerge from the tumultuous cacophony of their heartbreak and into a silent comfort.

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Valentine, in many ways, embodies the kind of delicate self-possession that helps lead everyone back to silence, yet at the beginning of the film, we find her running her to the telephone, to a lover obsessed with the sound of her voice. She is trapped in the scene so brilliantly depicted in the opening credits, in telephones wires echoing across seas, in between walls, and underground. The telephone-world is a dismal place; we know that Valentine’s lover is all wrong, overbearing, jealous, but she sees him and her relationship with the distortion only her black telephone, perched perilously atop red table, can provide. Yet, though she is deceived by loud declarations of “care,” she is ultimately saved by her ability to sit comfortably with her own mind, and indeed, to quiet it down. In a truly spectacular scene, we see her entering the home of a man the Judge has been spying on with the intent to tell him that the Judge knows of his affair. Upon stepping beyond the threshold, she is met by his family and the loudness in her mind pauses, she reevaluates and leaves, understanding and finding peace with the simultaneous serenity and dangers of secrets. Valentine’s beauty doesn’t come from loud poetic declarations; instead, it appears in her ability to effortlessly blow a bubble without question and without laughter. She is not childish or pretentious, merely a woman who knows herself dancing and sweating in a crowded studio, or quietly consulting with a veterinarian in a dimly lit after hours clinic. She epitomizes growth in her melancholy; she ventures out onto the sea and finds quiet in the arms of another. She is human and deeply connected to her home: the little flat across the street from the place she buys a paper and the drive she learns to take in silence.

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Silence is Kieślowski’s surprising and absolutely necessary choice for a film entitled Red. There is no screaming in this film. The Judge is no crazed professor, merely a lonely man with a void in his heart and the voice of others dominating his mind. Auguste is loud only in action; boldness and racket only echoing in his agile clambering up a balcony and subsequent confrontation. The telephone does not ring like in some 1950s nightmare film, sounds buzz and tinkle, but never yell. Red is every part of this film, and Kieślowski’s brilliance is in allying such a crimson with a kind of gentleness hardly captured on screen. He explores the lower part of the mind, the kind hypnotized by simple beauty instead of by fear. Soft words exchanged in lamplight and the curve of a narrow drive are the backbone of his picture. Three Colors: Red is a testament to relationships, to subtlety, and to silence.

2019 Tarkovsky Prize Honorable Mention: Nicholas Buckwalter

Nicholas Buckwalter (17, Berkeley High School)

The Subjectivity of the Human Experience in Schnabel’s THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY


Beyond simply offering entertainment, film can open the mind to new ways of thinking and illuminate the subjectivity of humanity in a way unique to the medium. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Julian Schnabel uses the immersive nature of cinema to communicate the interior world of someone who has lost almost all exterior communication. The film centers around Jean-Dominique Bauby, an editor of a French fashion magazine, who suffers a stroke which leaves him paralyzed from head to toe, leaving him stripped of everything but his senses and the ability to move his eyes. Over the course of the film, Jean slowly writes a novel through blinking as someone reads aloud the alphabet.

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The film touches on themes like family, love, and loyalty, but primarily deals with the subjectivity of the human experience. Large parts of the film are seen from the subjective point of view of Jean. This not only allows the viewer to better understand the protagonist's position, but also to reflect on the individual nature of their own experience. While as humans we have a basic understanding of each other, we can never escape the subjectivity of our mind and our own personal experience. Similarly, Jean is unable to escape his condition. The extensive continued POV shots reflect what life is: one long experience continually filtered through our own point of view.

The characters Jean interacts with further illustrate how our perspective colors our existence. While at the hospital, Jean is visited by his old friend, Roussin. Years earlier, Jean gave up his seat on a plane for Roussin. The plane was hijacked, resulting in Roussin becoming a hostage for four years. While at first it may seem like Jean was lucky for avoiding the plane, his condition of being “locked-in” (essentially, held hostage in his own body) in the end seems far more unlucky. The friends’ relationship indicates the futility of comparing human existence, as in the end we are all “locked-in” to our own perspectives. Regardless of what we choose, we may get on a plane that is hijacked or suffer a paralyzing stroke. Roussin gives Jean the advice to “hold onto the human inside of you.” Jean achieves this through memory which frees him from the prison of his physical limitations.

Memory is possibly the most subjective experience a human has. Different people can remember the same experience differently. Jean idealizes the past and frequently flashes back to happy memories of relationships from before he was disabled. He also holds onto his humanity through dream or fantasy. Through flashback, Jean sees himself shaving his father, a memory of a time where he had more control of his life and was in a position of being a caretaker. However, Jean also often sees himself in his wheelchair on an isolated plank on the beach. Even though he often tries to use memory to escape his experience, even his own mind draws him back to the limitations of his condition.

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The story of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is personally intriguing to me. When I was four years old I had a seizure on my Mom’s birthday. At first the doctors thought I had hydrocephalus. This meant I would have frequent seizures and fluid would slowly build up in my brain until I lost all muscle control and eventually all brain function. I would have also lost all memory, essentially losing all aspects of humanity. The doctors were wrong and I simply had a febrile seizure. However, I often think about the experience and realize how little control we have over our lives. No one can control even their own body or health. Just as Jean was locked-in his body, we are all “locked-in” in to our destinies. But at the same time, Jean’s story also illustrates how much control we do have. Although he was stripped of almost all bodily function, through the simple act of blinking Jean is able to take control of the humanity he does have.

2019 Tarkovsky Prize Honorable Mention: Jessica Schott-Rosenfield

Jessica Schott-Rosenfield
(14, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts)
Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels


Fallen Angels
is a 1995 drama film set in Hong Kong, written and directed by Wong Kar-wai. The film follows two separate stories, which overlap only by chance, and very rarely. The viewer is first introduced to a hit man by the name of Wong Chi-Ming, and a woman who acts as his partner, cleaning his apartment, and faxing him blueprints on the areas he is meant to hit. They have almost never met throughout their three years of working together. Throughout the course of the movie, Chi-Ming finds that the killing business has lost its allure, and eventually decides to quit. He does not know that his partner is in love with him, and when he separates himself from their connection, she puts out a hit on him, taking revenge on the realization that her dream of love is impossible. In another part of the city lives Ho Chi Mo, a young mute man still living with his father, and earning little money with his hobby of sneaking into businesses at night and running them. Often in his midnight revels, he runs into Charlie, a woman recovering from a breakup, who cries on his shoulder and takes him along in a search for her ex-lover’s fiance, Blondie. Kar-Wai uses symbolism, a musical tone, and limited dialogue to create a pair of love stories which are both visually stimulating and thought provoking. Fallen Angels a uniquely beautiful and unusual representation of love.

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The plot lines’ tones differ greatly from each other, an aspect which might be expected to have the result of chaos in transitions between them. However, the use of sound separates each character and tone from one another, pacing the film. Wong’s story is far more crime-centered and dark than that of Ho’s, and so he is given dark and ominous theme music. This puts the watcher back into Wong’s story, after seeing Ho’s more comedic and romantic scenes. In addition to the music, the fact that the cinematography is so flashy, using bright color as a constant medium, it can be difficult to distinguish set design or physical context, and so the soundtrack assists the watcher by creating a stability to the ever-changing camera angles. Since music plays such a large role in the establishment of the mood, the effects of silence or dialogue are heightened, abruptly causing the watcher to start to pay closer attention. It is an effective technique in hooking the watcher, and clarifying a change in the storyline.

The symbolism in Fallen Angels arises mainly in one character called Blondie, who represents the enemy of every woman who has gotten her heart broken. Blondie appears first as a woman who meets Wong at a fast food restaurant, and encourages him to return to her home with her. Here, she is an onscreen presence, a real character. She next appears as the unseen fiance of Charlie’s ex-boyfriend, and the object of her hate. Charlie and Ho embark on a hunt for Blondie, never finding her. The theory that Blondie is a symbol for the adversary of every heartbroken woman is confirmed by a scene in which Charlie and Ho sit in a restaurant, and suddenly hear someone referred to as “Blondie.” Charlie whirls around, along with every other woman in the restaurant, and all begin to attack this person as one, despite the fact that he is, in fact, a man who could not possibly be the “other woman” they are looking for. These actions display the frenzied and invalid vengeance of Charlie, as well as every woman who has lost their love to her.

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Much of the movie is comprised of silent imagery, with a distinct lack of dialogue, which requires the complete focus of every person experiencing the plotline, at the risk of missing an important subtlety. In the first few scenes, there is little backstory in words, but much of it is shown through images. The watcher first sees Wong’s partner climb the steps of a bus station, and enter a dingy apartment, which she cleans thoroughly in a club dress and then leaves. The watcher then sees Wong climb the same steps and enter the same apartment, but do nothing except go to sleep. These movements show in detail the working dynamic of two characters, without explanation through dialogue. This aspect of the plot is important to a watcher’s understanding of the film, and so demands a stark concentration.

Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels is unusual in its portrayal of love, in that it maintains a theme of heartbreak and negativity. No character’s dream of love is ever fulfilled, but throughout the film, each one learns something about themselves, or another person, in getting past their brushes with unrealistic infatuation. With technical skill and unique storytelling, Wong Kar-Wai creates an experience which is not easily forgettable.

2019 Tarkovsky Prize Third Place: Sofi Orkin

Sofi Orkin (14, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts)
Three Colors: Red

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Red has a simple plot but is filled with intricacies that, while complicated, are never confusing. Valentine, a young woman living in France, runs over a dog, and when she goes to return it she meets Joseph, an old judge who she discovers is eavesdropping on his neighbors. Joseph, moved by Valentine’s insistence that he is doing something wrong, turns himself in, and this sets off a chain of events that leads to Valentine and her neighbor, Auguste, who she has never met but who the reader sees is perfect for her. Through the use of a motif of broken glass, a story about a book, and the color red, Kieślowski connects these three characters so deeply that, although none of them have known each other for long, or even face-to-face, there is a clear path that they are all taking towards one another.

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Red: the color of love, but also of pain. The color of passion, but also of fear. It is the color that is starred in the movie, and Valentine and Auguste are both literally and figuratively connected by red. In a figurative sense, they are surrounded by it, suggesting that they themselves are very similar. There is red in their houses, on their clothes, Auguste has a red car, and they both have red names. They are connected in their love for the world, especially Valentine’s caring nature, but also in the pain and fear they have. They fear their partners do not love them, and they hurt because of it. Red also has a more literal importance to the story. It represents Rita’s blood after Valentine hits her, and how Rita’s injuries eventually connect Valentine and Auguste. Upon returning Rita, Valentine discovers Joseph’s habit of eavesdropping on neighbor’s conversations. They develop a friendship and Joseph eventually turns himself in. In court, where his whole neighborhood has gathered, Karin, Auguste’s girlfriend, meets a man who she ends up choosing over Auguste. Hurt and angry, Auguste decides to travel for some time, boarding the same ferry as Valentine.

Glass, and specifically broken glass, is a motif that ties Auguste and Joseph together in a sideways fashion, making it seem as though Auguste is like a second Joseph, living Joseph’s life over again but this time correctly. The primary example of this takes place first in a bowling alley, where Auguste’s glass is shown broken at the top but still full of beer and upright. A while later, a scene in Joseph’s house shows a glass full of beer that is blown over by the wind. Its contents pour out of it but the glass remains unbroken, the exact opposite of Auguste’s glass. These similar but different endings to a tipped glass mirror the similar but different paths that their lives are taking, even before either of them is shown to be very similar.

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To strengthen the connection, Kieślowski shows Valentine cleaning up broken glass from the judge’s floor, which has a double meaning. She is simultaneously cleaning up his house and caring for him, but it is also referencing Auguste’s own broken glass, suggesting that Valentine, with her caring nature, will help both him and herself be fixed after the ferry sinking.

The idea of the similar but different paths of Joseph and Auguste’s life is shown once again by a book. Towards the beginning of the movie, Auguste is crossing a street when he drops one of his schoolbooks on the ground. It falls open to a page on which a question that could potentially be on his exam has been underlined, and he is later shown studying that question. After his exam, Auguste’s then-girlfriend Karin asks him if they asked the question and he says no. Later in the movie, this experience is echoed when Joseph is telling Valentine about his past. He describes how he had dropped his book and it had fallen open to a question that he had not yet studied. But when Valentine asks if he was assigned that question, the judge says yes, showing the difference once again in he and Auguste’s experiences. A similar journey, but a different ending.

Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Red is a beautiful almost-love story full of coincidences that are just barely within the limits of possibility. Be it books, glass, or the color red, Kieślowski gives the viewer an experience that is both nuanced and moving throughout, despite the many motifs. There is not a single moment where a line of dialogue or facial expression appears unnatural or contrived, and because of that I, at least, felt as though I was watching real life, and was therefore fully invested in the story all the way to the end, leaning forward in my seat until it was proven to the viewer that Valentine and Auguste were safe.

2019 Tarkovsky Prize Second Place: Scully Randlett

Scully Randlett (18, Lowell High School)
The Noise of Le Samouraï

Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï is a complete movie. What is meant by this is Melville not only successfully executes in every aspect of film (composition, theme, character development, etc...), but also manages not to rely on any single element in the creation of this work of art. For each of these elements there is an essay to be written, but there is one through which this film marks itself as truly special. The use of noise is this defining factor. For my purposes, noise is, in a film sense, the sounds in a movie that are neither a part of the soundtrack nor dialogue. Traditionally, film has been considered, above all, a visual art. Tarkovsky himself regarded reliance on sound, especially music, to be detrimental to the narrative created by what is on the screen. Yet he also acknowledged the power of noise to create an atmosphere complementary to the optical aspects of the film. Le Samouraï goes far beyond this in its use of noise however, masterfully curating a listening experience able to dictate the tone of a scene, create sound signatures for different settings, and turn specific sounds into symbols.

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Merely on the strength of the acting of Alain Delon and others, the film manages to fulfill much of its storytelling duties visually. This dynamic both frees the sound channels from dialogue and necessitates the tone of the film be infused by other means. One need not look any further than the opening of the film for evidence of this. It takes nine minutes and forty five seconds before a single word is uttered, and this is not in the absence of plot movement either. To establish a distant, secluded context to its classic noir protagonist, the opening scene make exceptional use of noise, blending light rain, passing cars, and the ever-important chirping of a bird. The theme of the film, composed by François de Roubaix, then surges as the viewer is introduced to Costello as a criminal. Before Nathalie Delon breaks the “silence”, another well-crafted scene unfolds. After he pulls his stolen car into an unmarked garage, an entire series of interactions between Costello and an unnamed man take place, while the viewer is kept on edge with the sounds of the turning of a screwdriver, the clanking of plates, light switches, and their shifty movements highlighting the tentious nature of the encounter.

The most omnipresent sound throughout the film is the sound of walking, and despite its sheer volume, its importance lies in its ability to remain subtle. There are a plethora of excellent examples of this, the best executed of them being Jef’s journey from the police station to the train station where he is shot. On his way to collect his reward, lengthy sequences dominated by Delon’s measured stride contrast heavily with the scenes of action surrounding him, further cementing him as the eye of a hurricane that has just begun to form. The seminal scene of the movie comes as two policemen break into Costello’s apartment and plant a bug. The scene is told through the interactions of three sounds: the pacing and shuffling of the first detective, the jangling of keys and wiretap by the second detective, and the nervous fluttering and chirping of the bird. On a backdrop of very intentional silence, these three sounds create a choking fear which leaves the viewer incapable of anything but experiencing, paralyzed, the terror of the bird.

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The noise throughout Le Samouraï is set on creating an intense, cold environment, and by all means is successful. On a more minute level, noise also manages to create distinct cues that are specific to an environment. Most notably, Costello’s apartment is immediately recognizable; which is as much a product of the bird’s chirping, the noise of rickety drawers, and the infrequent rumbling of a passing automobile as it is of the shots of the shabby chic decor, foggy windows, and dark atmosphere. Serving as a sort of escape from the city, the garage provides a unique atmosphere of relative peace, while maintaining the sense of foreboding central to the picture. This unique atmosphere is produced by a specific palette of sounds, such as the turn of a screwdriver, the barking of a dog, the rattle of license plate, the buzz of a solitary light bulb, and the rumbling of a train passing overhead. An equally well constructed soundscape is the one that engulfs the jazz club, Marty’s. Marty’s audacious jazz numbers and loud crowd chatter deeply contrast the rest of the film’s relatively barren soundscape. Not only does this distinguish the club from anywhere else, but also gives it its own life as the heart from which the film’s conflict flows. It is also important to clarify that, because much of what makes this setting’s atmosphere stand out is the jazz played by the pianist (Caty Rosier) and her band, the music played does technically qualify as an element of the soundtrack; however, it being performed on screen allows it to function as noise as well. Another enigmatic sound signature is that of the police headquarters. The police headquarters in actuality includes several distinct locations, such as the interrogation rooms, the lineup room, and the commissioner’s office, each with their own sound signatures. However, an overarching aural concept is presented throughout: an overwhelming lack of noise. While there is distant chatter and the sometimes-audible hammering of typewriters in the background, these scenes serve as a foil to the more common strategies of the rest of the film. While the majority of the film creates a veneer of silence by highlighting noise, the actual absence of noise in the headquarters is filled with dialogue, switching the narrative duties over to sound and conceding tone creation to vision.

In its depth of tone and setting, Le Samouraï clearly demonstrates a seldom-paralleled mastery of expression. What truly elevates this film to its deserved status of genius is the inventiveness of the concepts expressed within this mastery. This genius is Melville’s creativity to recondition noises, one of the most neglected component of filmmaking, into symbols, some of the most impactful of filmmaking’s components. The first symbol would be the sounds of vehicles, so ever-present throughout the plot. Whenever it be automobiles, trams, or trains, there seems to be no reprise from the noise of mass transit, and this is quite intentional, as these vehicles are symbolic of the outside forces which tear at Delon’s character. As the opening quote from the Bushido states, “There is no greater solitude than that of the Samurai...” and this rings especially true for Costello. In this lies the central conflict of the film, the struggle between Costello’s structured coolness and the outside world’s demanding chaos. This symbolism manifests itself nicely, with the loudest transit coming when Jef seems most embroiled by external affairs (being followed on the tram, hastily crossing a busy street, etc...) and being heard far less while he is being reclusive (his apartment, the garage, etc...).

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The other aspect of this contrast would then be the symbol for Jef Costello himself, and, incredulously enough, that symbol is: the bird. More specifically, the noises the bird makes are reflections of Costello’s thoughts and emotions. This relationship can first be noted when Costello, after being shot, returns to his apartment to much less chirping that in the opening scene. This represents Costello’s emotional depletion after the whirlwind of events the previous day. Even more symbolic is how, after bandaging himself, he goes over to the bird and feeds it, symbolizing the nourishment he needs, which, unsurprisingly, is followed by the bird resuming its normal frequency of chirping. However, this is a far cry from the intricacy of the metaphor which occurs once Jef returns from his interaction with the pianist. On entering the apartment, both the viewer and he can immediately hear the frantic calls of the bird, and upon realizing the bird has been losing its feathers, Jef begins to search for the listening device, during which the bird never ceases in its frantic cries. The depiction of the bird’s state perfectly captures the internal decay within Costello, as the world seemingly folds around him. Beyond that, the bird’s frantic chirping and fluttering also serves to represent the anxious dialogue Costello is having with himself as he stays on constant alert against his surroundings; and as is seen the next time he is in his apartment, this is for a good reason.

It is on these three strengths: the ability to create a vast tonal atmosphere, to provide iconic soundscapes for particular places, and to harness the broader themes of the film into rivaling sounds, that Le Samouraï harnesses noise to realize its full artistic potential. It is truly impressive how Melville has both something original to express, and the ingenuity to express it clearly. However, it is Melville’s skill in expressing himself using both the commonplace techniques of film and his novel use of the proverbial road not taken that catapults this film into something beyond merely impressive. In a medium as expansive as film, there is so much room for innovation, and for as excellent as the traditional elements of this, and any other, film might be, experimenting with techniques old and new is what keeps film as an art form as wonderful as it is.

2019 Tarkovsky Prize First Place: Sebastian Kaplan

Sebastian Kaplan (16, Lowell High School)
Hiding Behind Sunglasses in Fellini’s 8 ½

 

 8 ½, directed by Federico Fellini is a landmark film, it is a circus, it is theater, it is a dream, and it is all very, very liberating. The idea that the imagination liberates us from the entrapment of life’s absurdities is expressed throughout in dazzling ways.

It begins with a dream of liberation, and quickly breaks the rules of neorealism that Fellini once ascribed to , separating himself from his earlier work- ala The White Sheik (1952) La Strada (1954), and in turn opening himself up to criticism from such men as Guido Aristarco, prolific dean of Marxist film criticism and founder of  Cinema Nuovo (who resembles well the film critic from early in the film). The Camera immediately makes itself known, panning through a traffic jam. Our hero, Guido, played by Marcello Mastroianni is introduced from the back, through the rear view window of his car, in fact we will not see his face at all until the films next sequence  So far few clues are presented to suggest we are in a dream. From the beginning the sound is odd, as if off, lacking car horns or noise except for faint drum, suggestive of a heartbeat. Next  fog spews from the dashboard of the car and an off-putting shot of a busload of people with their arms out, heads covered, might tip some over the edge and into the understanding this is a dream.  After seeing Carla, his ‘fat assed, small headed- placid’ (as described by Fellini himself ) mistress being pleasured by an unknown older man - Guido, promptly looks to those around him in other cars for help as he cannot seem to escape his car,  Guido manages to liberate himself from his vices and tensions, and more importantly the car by climbing out of the roof. Arms outstretched, Guido glides over the cars and Fellini presents us with a very dynamic  image. Guido, freed from the traffic is now free to fly, advancing toward rapidly moving clouds. (Fully in the air I can’t help but think of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph Of The Will, the gorgeous shots of the sky, and plane that holds Adolf Hitler.) Guido, flying high, looks to escape the world below, discovered by Claudia's press agent, who promptly yanks him down- sending Guido from his unconscious mind back into the possibly more confusing reality of his life.

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Although it is dangerous to equate the film completely to Fellini’s  life- it’s hard not to at points. Obviously he didn’t pull the idea of a director who has trouble with his latest film out of thin air, he went through it!  Fellini, began his career as an assistant and writer to Neo Realist director Roberto Rossellini and after making the mad sprawling high life dramedy La Dolce Vita,  expected to be on his feet for his next work. Instead Fellini felt the horror of an inspirational void. Fellini had been fixated for a while now on the idea that a director only lasts ten years before he begins to repeat himself, pointing towards what he deemed exhibits A, Rene Clair, B, G.W Pabst, and C, Jean Renoir for reference. Fellini was panicking when he should have been celebrating and it created an obsession that he decided to make the subject of his new movie. Although the original intent was to have Guido the lead, be a writer struggling to write, Fellini could not decide how to clearly depict this  and so found the idea reborn with the struggle of the director.

After his Neorealist period Fellini found in his hands Carl G. Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963) by the fault of Jungian psychoanalyst Dr. Ernst Bernhard. There is no doubt that Carl Jung’s work has found itself into 8 ½ and many of his later films to come, especially the daring Fellini/Satyricon. The most prominent aspect of Jung I found to surface in 8 ½ were Jung's theories on dreams, the Anima and the Animus.

The Anima is most clearest perhaps in what is my favorite segment in the film. About 35 minutes into the film, as pressure mounts on Guido to begin filming, as he won’t even tell actors their roles, he retreats into the comfort of Childhood Memories. We are escorted to a whimsical land of children and mothers in a scene at Guidos Grandmothers, off screen, a woman is humming the “Ricordo d'infanzia” theme. This voice and this music persist through much of the sequence, along with a pattern of notes soothingly played on a guitar. All the women here are bizarre, yet loveable creatures held in great esteem by Guido. As the many children are tucked into bed by seuxalized Nannys  we can look to a quote by Jung selected by Albert Benderosn in his book Critical Approaches To Federico Fellini's 8 ½ ,“His aeros is passive like a child’s. The son hopes to be caught by the mother, sucked in, enveloped and devoured”. Specifically a young Guido is tucked in and embraced with a long kiss by a Nanny in White as the Camera tracks closer, letting us in on the slightly perverse, if not relatable moment.

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The women here are very innocent seeming and kindhearted, and don’t give off the impression of wanting to bud anything sexually in the children. Saraghina, is the sort of archetype of woman on the fringe of society, witch, the anima projection responsible for the emergence of Guidos sexual deviance portrayed later on, who nests in a small hut on the beach. Jung in Man and His Symbols  describes a Siberian tale which illustrates the dangerous aspect of the Anima. One day a lonely hunter sees a beautiful woman emerging from the deep forest on the other side of the river. She waves and beckons him to her, singing of embracing him, that her nest is near. He swims to her only for her to transform into an owl and the hunter drowns in the water. The Anima here symbolizes an unreal dream of love, happiness and maternal warmth. When Guido is young he and his schoolmates visit Saraghina, she dances, beckoning him over, they dance only to be caught by Priests, dragged away, similarly to when he is dragged to the press conference towards the end of the film. Interestingly the priests Guido is then brought before are played by women with odd complexes (The only reason, Fellini claims, was that they looked the part). Later Gudio visits his Saraghina, and the scene is accompanied by a final zoom on Saraghina, an odd sort of objectification of her.

 Later in the film, as the line between his life, his film and his fantasies have become so blurred, we wonder if Guido has any life at all outside of his own film. As Carla sings and dances with his wife Guido is serendipitously transported back to La Fattoria Della Donna from earlier in the film, “Here he comes” says his wife as she takes a boiling cauldron of steamy water off the fire. Guido enters bearing gifts to many wonderfully shaped women, the ones who bathed him as a child plus a whole array of wife type archetypes and participants in his sex life. Carla comes from downstairs, a very dangerous place because that is where you’re put after you turn 30 (how wonderful!?). The Cinematography here by Gianni Di Venanzo has incredible depth and eccentricity, as something is always fluttering past the lense of his camera, always moving, like a young man's eyes trying not to be caught staring as beautiful women surround him. The Ramba plays as a Hawaiian girl dances for Guido as he begins to prepare for his maternal bath. It’s a wonderful comic scene, I’d never seen anything like this before-- such a capturing of a rampant teenage, and apparently middle aged mind pulsing with sexual thoughts. Ana Nisi Masa. Memory and fantasy merge as the Nanny in White appears for a brief moment and then he is wrapped in a sheet, perfect male fantasy of regression. Saraghina appearance in the scene reinforces this as she says upon seeing Guido again, “Such nice, thin legs.” and another woman adds on “Straight like when he was a boy”. It’s hilarious and very disturbing but I found myself not being able to say I wished I was where he was, (or did I?).

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A showgirl bargains not to be sent upstairs and flaunts herself proving she indeed has a “tight little ass”, later “Look at my chest!”. But Guido, in the fashion of the decadent Roman Emperor (Caligula? Nero seems the better comparison reflecting on Fellini/Satyricon) sentences her upstairs. Saraghina interjects with an infantile high pitched moan and begins to ignite a rebellion against their patriarch, soon the Hawaiian girl shouts “Down with the tyrant! Down with Bluebeard!” as Wagner's Valkyrie creeps in. the women rebel against the god. The lighting here intensifies through use of a technique of pulling on lanterns and swinging them around, the camera work is equally eye catching. As Guido draws a whip the scene goes into full swing- a woman when whipped lets out an “oooh Delicious”, perverse enough? Yeesh.  

This scene for myself, and many others was so wild and inventive, i’d never seen anything like this. This surreal sequence continues and the showgirl is allowed one last song. It’s rather, degrading, embarrassing and depressing in comparison to the fun at the crack of Guidos whip.

 Reflecting the last scene, we fade to a scene of Guido watching Screen tests. Much mirroring here as we see how similar some of the footage is to his life. The film ends soon after.

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 All in all this oneiric film guides us to view it in the perspective of dreams. Many films do this; Scorsese’s After Hours . Kubrick’s The Shining and most everything by David Lynch… Though Fellini ensures that the lines between dream, reality, fantasy and memory remain blurred, the audience is forced into a deeper level of involvement. Honestly, I still don’t understand the film. It’s still as much a mystery to me as when I first saw it. I’m serious--  this film is very shaking, it grabs you and slaps your silly face. If you’re afraid of the world around you, afraid of women, afraid of vulnerability, afraid of being disappointed, and afraid of being a disappointment slip on your sunglasses.

Folks, this film is bananas. Everyone should go see it!

2018 Tarkovsky Award 2nd Place: Nicholas Buckwalter

Nicholas Buckwalter (16, Berkeley High School)
The Beauty of Sadness in Kieslowski's BLUE

While a good film draws the viewer into the emotions of the characters, a great film helps the viewer explore his or her own emotions in new and deeper ways. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue” does exactly this. “Blue” is the first film in Kieslowski’s “Three Colors Trilogy” and possibly the most influential. The film centers around a woman’s response when tragedy overtakes her life. The protagonist, Julie, is overcome with sorrow and depression after her husband and daughter die in a car accident. She responds first by attempting suicide, then by erasing her old life, moving to Paris, and selling all the belongings attached to her now-deceased family.  While the plot is straightforward, the characters are complex, the imagery is profound, and the execution is skillful and precise.

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The film, which takes place primarily from the point of view of a sorrow-filled protagonist, struck a chord with me because I personally have struggled with depression. While I drew comfort from relating to Julie’s feelings and perspective (despite our very different circumstances), “Blue” ultimately helped me understand my own emotions in a different and deeper way.

Juliette Binoche’s masterful performance and Kieslowski’s skilled direction work together to pull the viewer into a world of depression and sadness that lingers even after the film closes. Binoche perfectly embodies the depressive state of mind. Her stare penetrates deep into the viewer’s darkest places. Through small details like Julie’s fixation on the sugar cube in her coffee or her obsession with the blue chandelier in her neighbor’s apartment, Kieslowski demonstrates her focus on her inward world and the isolation that engenders.

The visual aspects of the film—cinematography, lighting, setting—are also central to its power. Blue light shines and drips around the protagonist, evoking the haunting past she cannot escape. Many images in the film seem to convey a message in and of themselves. The exquisite composition of the shots and settings reveals that sadness itself can be beautiful.  Images like the blue-lit swimming pool or the glistening chandelier drip from the screen, creating a powerful visual atmosphere. Many of the shots are so perfectly composed that they could stand alone as paintings.

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Music also plays a critical role in “Blue”. Julie’s husband, a composer, leaves her with an unfinished composition which plays throughout the film in revealing ways. In one scene, as Julie stares at her late husband’s piano, the composition plays in the background. When Julie shuts the piano, the music abruptly stops playing. While this is not inherently logical, it perfectly fits the dramatic tone of the scene and demonstrates Kieslowski's directorial genius. This same composition plays throughout the film in different ways, haunting the protagonist and the viewer alike. The music serves as a reminder of the past that Julie cannot erase. In the film’s closing scene, the composition plays in full for the first time, offering an auditory sense of closure even as visual images of the people who have affected Julie throughout her life flash by.

The multiple facets of Julie’s character play out through her various relationships, most powerfully in her interactions with her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. In one sense, Julie’s mother represents liberty in its purest form, free from all form of human connection, memory and thought. As Julie sees this, she comes up against the furthest extreme to which isolation can take you, and is forced to question just how far a person can take the quest for freedom and still remain human.

By contrast, when the stubbornly independent Julie calls her neighbor Lucille in tears asking for help, we see Julie’s more vulnerable side—the part of her that is still open to connection.  Julie’s romantic interest, Olivier, initially helps to reveal Julie’s deep sense of isolation after they spend a night together and she promptly makes him leave. Her later acceptance of Olivier and entrance into a relationship with him reveals her newfound hope in life.

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While the various technical aspects of “Blue” contribute to its greatness, the authenticity of the characters, relationships and themes left the deepest impression on me. I have often struggled with depressive thoughts. As I entered adolescence, they have grown more frequent, and I often find myself fixated on the negative aspects of life. Sometimes I feel like the blue light that haunts Julie follows me around in my life as well.

Both visually and thematically, “Blue” reveals the unexpected beauty in sadness. The artistry with which Kieslowski renders this complex emotional state helped me understand my own darker aspects in a new way—not as a failure to be overcome or hidden but as a necessary, if difficult, part of being human.