April 5, 2015 § Leave a comment
As the camera gently drifts outwards and upwards until the sunset sky begins to impart a pinky orange hue on the cluttered skyline of a low-rise city district as though revealing the soul of urban Japan, it become startlingly clear how perfectly this closing shot somehow manages to almost summarise/encapsulate the preceding two hours that were spent in the rightfully hallowed directorial hands of contemporary maestro Hirokazu Koreeda. Not only does this moment highlight the fact that Koreeda’s cinema lives and dies on framing and pacing more than perhaps any other techniques available to him, it also echoes the way in which the stately modesty and surface simplicity of “Like Father, Like Son” gives birth to a narrative far more psycho-emotionally complex than a film this tender has any right to be. By this I mean to say that the film quietly, gently burrowed its way deep into the heart of its themes so much so that I found myself blindsided by a ton of profundity and emotional resonance three-quarters into the movie. Even the title which sounds like a pun, film unseen, reveals itself to be far richer, being ironic in one instance while a painful affirmation of poor paternal legacies in another. Premiering at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and wowing jury president Steven Spielberg so much so that it nabbed that year’s Jury Prize and Spielberg himself purchased the rights to a US remake (for those unable to read subtitles), “Like Father, Like Son” – without any indulgent foreshadowing or attention-seeking histrionics – sets up the story of two families burdened with the news that a grave error was made in a certain hospital nursery and that for the last six years they have been raising another couple’s son as their own. A more conventional film would most likely have featured not one but two pairs of discordant father-son pairings so as to ‘balance’ the centre of emotional gravity. It may also have overplayed the socioeconomic disparity factor, which I suspect the US version might very well do, post-Occupy and all. But this original iteration of the picture has its eye on deeper familial and social dynamics, and while Keita Nonomiya, played by the most adorable little boy this side of anywhere, may be too much of a meek, underachieving six-year old in the demanding eyes of Ryota, his workaholic architect father, their counterparts in Yukari and Ryusei Saiki display no evidence of discord; at least nothing worth centring a narrative around. Now this may very well have everything to do with the fact that the Nonomiya trio – mother Midori, father and son – is Koreeda’s main focus as a writer. But this lop-sidedness feeds into some of the movie’s prime concerns i.e. (a) the importance of the hereditary ‘blood’ link in determining the depth and tenacity of a relationship, (b) how socioeconomics impact one’s fitness for fatherhood (and parenthood in general), (c) how one’s own upbringing influences their parental philosophy, and (d) the curious timeworn phenomenon of the mother-son connection. I find that I cannot quite wait for my next encounter with Koreeda.
May 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
After the initial giddy feeling inspired by the geeky, cheeky last shot of Jim Jarmusch’s newest picture, I immediately began to wonder if the white-haired iconoclast had unwittingly undermined the preceding two hours of his movie or whether he was making some kind of a statement with this image of married vampires Adam and Eve approaching the camera, fangs drolly bared, coming in for their close-up, for their kill.
This drily romantic movie infuses Jarmusch’s aloof, absurdist style with moments of sensual expressiveness that I can’t remember seeing much of in his previous work. Considering the movie’s setting is entirely nocturnal, source light plays a key visual role in all its forms, from dull glows indoors to effervescent streaks and pulses out on the streets; this somehow provides an ambience that suggests both a sense of nostalgia for the past and a zest for the present. Adam is fed up after being exposed for centuries to the eternal foolishness of mankind (though there is a strong possibility that he is just as equally fed up with himself), but Eve, on the other hand, seems to lack Adam’s misanthropic depression; she has soul, a love of literature and knowledge (hence the biblical namesake?) and the ability to marvel at a breed of fungus and quote its binomial nomenclature. The one thing they do seem to share unequivocally and in equal measure is a love for blood, which they acquire illegally, lap up from little crystal chalices and respond to as if it were grade-A heroin.
So when Eve travels from Tangiers to Detroit to once again free her reclusive rock god husband from his Cobain-as-portrayed-in-Gus-van-Sant’s-“Last-Days” style melancholy, one could be forgiven for expecting Adam to gradually – perhaps painfully – gain a newfound appreciation for life and all its wonders. But being a Jarmusch film, this isn’t quite the case, and though there is a moment towards the end when Adam seems to experience awe for what may be the first time in decades if not centuries, the truth is that when life is stripped down to its bare scaffoldings and they are forced to reconsider their priorities, the only thing that either Adam or Eve seem to give a shit about is blood. Five hundred years ago they would have feasted on the necks of victims; today they acquire screened blood from dodgy doctors. But in the event of a shortage of good sangre they are willing to abandon their modern, civilised methods to get their juice of choice. Even Adam, a man who is practically suicidal, will kill to live. Funny.
Getting back to that final shot: I wonder if Jarmusch is suggesting that human endeavour and human values are ultimately subservient to our innate desire to survive, to simply exist as living beings at the very least. While we are here on this rock we may seek knowledge, expression, love and companionship, pleasure…but above all we just want to breathe. Perhaps this is the irony of Adam’s disdain for mortal men whom he nicknames “zombies” assumedly on account of their (our) mindlessness and their (our) being relative slaves to their basest and most basic instincts. But isn’t Adam, he who is the only living true Renaissance man, just as much of a zombie as the next warm-blooded individual when it comes to his utter dependence on his crimson life force? And isn’t Eve, who seems to think she is Gaia incarnate, no more than a junkie with a predilection for reading and music? Perhaps Jarmusch is gently ridiculing his creations while adoring them with his camera (an approach that scores of film artists over the decades have taken), though I will say that he clearly admires Eve’s considerable verve.
I still think there is more to “Only Lovers Left Alive”, or would at least like to think that there is, but am not quite sure what this would be. This movie’s final image is either loaded with subtext, or it is Jarmusch saying “hey, it’s just a vampire movie after all – this is what they do, is it not?”
* As an aside, I wonder if “Only Lovers Left Alive” would make one half of a fitting immortals-living-amongst-us double-feature when paired with Wim Wenders’ magnificent “Wings of Desire”, if only to contrast Damiel the angel’s desire to become human and to feel human in the latter with Adam’s sheer disdain for mankind and everything it stands for in the former, though one could argue that the very thing which Damiel envies about humanity is precisely what Adam feels our species has lost or perhaps never did have and that Damiel is in for a nasty surprise. But then again, Eve represents much of what Damiel romanticises about the human experience, and she could very well be seen as an analogue of Marion, the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds-loving trapeze artist with whom Damiel falls in love and who is as much a muse to him as Eve clearly is to Adam.