Monday, 31 August 2015

Disco and Atomic War

Disco and Atomic War is an Estonian documentary - with some amusing later renactments, (so I suppose it is a documentary-drama, but a comic drama, if that).

In the film, Jaak Klimi, who is the director, tells of how his childhood in Tallinn - and that of most of his playmates, and their parents - was greatly enhanced by being able to watch Finnish television. The authorities try to stop them, but ingenuity wins out, so that each time some new jamming method is introduced, the citizens work out a way to get around it. The scenes showing the various subterfuges that are thought up and how they are put into practice are very funny.

Similarly amusing is the plot line that runs through the film about Klimi's relatives from the south of the country, where Finnish television is not accessible. One holiday they come to stay with Klimi's family in Talliin and join them in their weekly viewing of Dallas. After their return to the south, he has to write weekly letters to keep them up to date with developments on the programme. These are read out to ever larger groups of country people, the Dallas addiction spreading like wildfire, even without access to the moving screen

Meanwhile, the Soviet goverment and its proxy in Talliin tries to mitigate the influence of Finnish television, unsuccessfully. In an interview towards the end of the film, the former Soviet puppet leader of the government, who now lives in Moscow and has not set foot in Estonia since his downfall, blames Finnish television more than anything else for the end of Communist rule in the country. The illogic of this argument does not seem to strike him - or any of the other stooges we see, in clips taken from footage filmed down the years, blaming the West for its propaganda, rather than noticing that the state of affairs they have created is the problem, the existence of a better life in the West merely the perceived solution to that problem for many of their citizens.

The film is wonderfully wry and very charming. It made me feel old, seeing footage of events during the Cold War and realising that it all looks a very long time ago. I don't feel anything like nostalgia for those days, but I do wish things had turned out better since everything changed.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Le Petit Amour/Kung Fu Master

I watched this film because I'd seen Agnes Varda speak at the Frieze Art Fair in London some years ago, and her talk had made me interested to see her films - clearly not desperately interested since the time that elapsed between seeing her and watching one of her films was quite lengthy, but nevertheless interested enough when the opportunity arose.

In all honesty, I was momentarily disappointed when I realised Jane Birkin was the lead actress in the film but, once I got over an initial mild nausea provoked by her fey way of speaking,I realised she wasn't actually too bad.

She plays a woman who lives alone with two children - a fifteen-year-old daughter and another of about three. The woman falls in love with a friend of her daughter's - a rather small adolescent boy, also fourteen or fifteen, whose parents have gone away and left him with his grandparents. The boy's main interest is an arcade game called Kung Fu Fighter, in which the player must rise through various levels to free a maiden trapped at the top of a house.

The film wasn't made so terribly long ago - 1988 - but I doubt a film about an adult falling for a child would be made at all these days. We have become unable to look at relationships between the generations without fear. In Varda's movie, morality scarcely enters into the story, which in any case is about a love that is barely sexual, (possibly that is not the best choice of adjective I have ever made, in the context - I should point out that there is absolutely no nudity in the film). Our judgment is not invited and Varda provides none of her own.

This did not surprise me since at her Frieze talk the director came across as gently tolerant of the oddness of humanity, and this film plays out in a similar tone. There is a sad charm to the whole affair. The film seems to be less interested in portraying a transgressive relationship than in providing a glimpse of the bumbling nature of human loneliness and the clumsy attempts to find and give love that sometimes result.

Clearly, the viewer knows from the start that no good will come from Birkin's character's odd attraction, but, so far as one can tell, apart from to herself, no real harm results either. Perhaps this is a wicked impression to create in a film - today, I suspect that might be the general opinion. However, watching the movie, I was persuaded that connections that are out of the ordinary need not be depraved or profoundly damaging, provided they spring from love and kindness and a wish to make a connection between two unhappy souls, rather than from a purely physical desire to corrupt young flesh. As I write these words, I feel I am pushing against a sea of horrified reaction. I doubt if anything I say will persuade anyone that there can be nuance in this sphere. I'm not even sure if there can be. All I can say is that the story is somehow innocent and the film is not without charm.

Looking backward afterwards, I also realise that the opening sequence, which is my favourite in the whole film - you can look at it here - pretty much sums up the entire film. For both characters, the episode in their lives that brings them together is really just a time when they are finding someone to love. Oddly, even in this uneven relationship, it is the woman who is somehow the weaker party.