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Archive for December 29th, 2021

by Duane Porter

A year and a half without theaters. So much time. What do we know about time beyond sunrise/sunset, the waiting for the release of a new movie or perhaps the next World Series, and those memories of parents or grandparents we have while looking in the mirror. Time is a mystery. I sit looking, doing nothing, listening to the flow of time. Ecological catastrophe, raging wildfires, spreading contagion are all around me. These things happen according to the order of time. One thing happens, then something else happens, and then this happens. This inexorable temporality is the result of the way we look at the world. Seeking the phenomenological reality that lies beneath all cultural constructs I turn to cinema.

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I. Days directed by Tsai Ming-liang

Rain is falling. The sound of rain dripping and splashing as wind blows the tree branches reflected in the glass of a large window where Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) sits quietly watching. After the rain the sky is full of floating mist and clouds. The sound of birds and insects is everywhere. Beyond a nearby tree the ridges of the horizon recede one after another into the mist. As the sky darkens lights appear one by one in the darkness below.

Non (Anong Houngheuangsy) is tending a stove, using tongs to move the pieces of charcoal, helping them to burn evenly. He is preparing lettuce and onions, carefully rinsing each piece in a pan of water. He dumps the water and refills the pan and rinses several cuts of fish. Dumping the water and adding more he rinses the fish a second time. A kettle sits simmering on the stove, with a ladle he tastes its contents and then adds salt.

Days. Our time is made up of days. Each day is made up of the things we experience. A great deal of this experience is lost because we are not paying attention. The banal everyday events slip by as we search for novelty. Slowing down, looking, listening, becoming aware of our perceptions, focusing on duration, a revelation of expectation, to be conscious of being conscious.

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2. Red Post On Escher Street directed by Sion Sono

Kiriko (Riku Kurokouchi) looks directly into the camera, her expression is one of intent and determination. She has decided to be an actor. Her husband who died in a car crash one year ago had wanted to be an actor. She will live out his dream. She cannot be dissuaded. She stands before a cabinet where sits a framed photograph of her late husband, sun on his face he smiles at her. Arrayed around the photograph, a brass vase contains sticks of incence, a white ceramic bowl sits empty, a brass candlestick holds a white unburnt candle before a small wooden monolith, and a beautifully ornamented brass chime stands silent. Kiriko puts the palms of her hands together closes her eyes for a moment and then gently strikes the chime. Tomorrow she will drop her audition application for director Tadashi Kobayashi’s new film in the red post box on Escher Street.

Yasuko (Sen Fujimaru) sits on the floor looking at her hands covered in blood. She leans back against the drapes that cover a sliding glass door. The curtains blow gently in the breeze coming through the partially open door. As notes of a piano melody float on the movement of the air Yasuka stands in the rain, blood from her hands washes over an envelope as she puts it into the red post box. The rain falls harder and the wind blows as she walks away. Her clothes are soaked, rain runs off the strands of her hair, she begins dancing about, her arms in the air. The piano is joined by an orchestra and as the music swells Yasuko swings around a light pole laughing giddily spinning faster in the heavy rain. The rain stops and the sun comes out. She looks at her hands in the sunlight and says, “In the end even the blood under my nails is washed away.”

Katako (Mala Morgan) is helping director Kobayashi (Tatsuhiro Yamaoka) with his script. Exhausted, he has fallen asleep at the table and Katako gets an idea. Standing in an open grassy field under the soft light of a white overcast sky, she looks at the script in her hands, tosses her head back, and throws it into the air. A big smile appears on her face as the pages swirl around her. A group of girls come into the scene laughing and chatting with each other. Now, Yasuko runs up with a pot of green paint and flings it at them and throwing her arms in the air she lets out a big cheer, “yah-ah-ha!” The girls are all laughing. Katako directs them to resume walking and then Kiriko runs up and throws a pot of mauve paint at them and jeers. The girls cower and shriek and Kiriko screams as another group of girls come running up with pots of pink paint throwing it up in the air. All the girls are screaming and laughing ecstatically as Katako turns and throws a big bucket of white paint over them all and then turns back to the camera and laughs maniacally. The girls continue dancing and waving their arms in the air as Katako says, “This entire world is ruled by concrete roads. But they’re not good, or evil. Only man controls other men.” She glares at the camera fiercely and then breaks into a luminous smile that almost makes everything alright.

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3. The Woman Who Ran directed by Hong Sangsoo

Chickens in a pen. A red rooster and several brown hens are gathered at a feed trough. The rooster pecks at the feed in between raising his head to look around. Two of the hens are feeding from the trough while the others peck around at the ground. Birds chatter in a nearby tree and a dog’s distant barking can be heard. Gamhee (Kim Minhee) has come to visit Youngsoon (Seo Younghwa). Youngsoon lives with a roommate, Youngji (Lee Eunmi), in an apartment complex on the edge of the city. Once close, they haven’t seen each for several years. The evening passes with catching up, laughing, eating, and talking for hours. Gamhee rises early and opens the sliding glass door looking out at the sky as it gradually lightens. The cock crows once and in a little while he crows again. Later, the three of them take a walk out behind the building. They carry umbrellas and Hong’s piano theme accompanies them as they pass through a garden of raised beds and small potted trees, and then climb a gentle slope on a path made of stepping stones. Gamhee wants to see the chickens. The chicken pen is under some trees. Beyond is a ridge of mountains and behind them another ridge can be seen in the hazy distance.

These same mountains can be seen from the window of Suyoung’s (Song Seonmi) apartment. Gamhee also hasn’t seen Suyoung for years. As she makes her way to Suyoung’s she passes under a power pole and a crow perched atop it calls at her. At Suyoung’s they have coffee and spend some time catching up in between admiring the mountains through the window. Then for lunch they sit across from each other at an elegant wooden table near the window eating noodles and drinking wine from long stemmed glasses. As they finish they are interrupted by someone at the door. Suyoung goes out to deal with a young man she is not happy to see. It takes some time for her to get him to leave and when she returns she explains to Gamhee that he must be crazy. Suyoung leaves the room and Gamhee goes to the window. She opens the window and looks outside. All is quiet until the crow calls to her, “Caw, caw, caw,” and Hong’s piano theme is heard again as Gamhee says goodbye.

Gamhee walks down the narrow little street, hands in her pockets, huddled under her umbrella. She notices a tiny movie theater and goes inside and finds a seat where she can be alone. On the screen the film being projected is of the sea gently lapping on the shore. The silhouette of someone looking for a seat passes across the screen. The sea continues to lap on the shore. I take a pleasant comfort in the profound banality of this delicate film, as director Hong might say, I just liked it very much.

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4. Siberia directed by Abel Ferrara

Clint (Willem Dafoe) runs a bar located somewhere in the snow at the edge of a forest. As the morning light reflects off the snow through the window of the room where he sleeps, Clint wakes, looks around, and reaches for a coat. Putting the coat on, he looks around the room and sees that the fire in the fireplace has almost gone out. He kneels down to blow on the dying embers and the fire comes back to life. Standing, he moves to the window and looks out uneasily as he hears the barking of his dogs. He goes to look in the kitchen. Soft light from a window falls across a tray of dishes left sitting on the counter. He looks at the dishes, he looks at the stove, he goes from the kitchen into the empty barroom and walks over the old wood plank floor past the silent video slot machine to an open trap door in the far corner of the floor. Standing, looking down into the cellar, he softly calls out a name. He descends the stairs and again calls out the name when suddenly the room disappears and he is standing on the ledge of a shear vertical cliff face. The wind is howling, he loses his balance, slides down the cliff and lands in a heap at the bottom.

Wandering in the dark, Clint hears the opening strains, the tinkling piano, of Del Shannon’s Runaway, “As I walk along, I wonder what went wrong with our love, a love that was so strong.” He finds the source of the music, a 45 rpm record spinning on a portable record player like the one he had when he was a boy. He bends down close to see the record label and swinging his arms, he begins to sing along. Bouncing up and down, waving his arms, he is now singing at the top of his lungs, dancing in circles, pumping his arms in the air, “Why, why, why, why, why . . . my little runaway.” Whirling round and round to the music, he finds himself transported to a sunny field of green, running and skipping among a playful group of children, all of them holding onto long colored ribbons attached to a maypole, “run, run, run, run, runaway.”

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5. Undine directed by Christian Petzold

The sound of traffic, the bustle of Berlin, fills the air. Undine (Paula Beer), sitting at a table in the cobblestone courtyard of a little coffee shop, looks troubled, her gaze cast downward as a delicate breeze plays with the loose strands of her hair. A bell chimes the hour from somewhere above and she looks upward momentarily. She puts her hand over her mouth and a tear runs down her cheek. Wiping away the tear she looks across the table at Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) and says, “If you leave me, I’ll have to kill you. You know that.” She stands and walks away, the sound of her footsteps on the cobblestones blending with the plaintive piano notes of Bach’s “Concerto in D minor” floating along behind her.

Undine walks in darkness, the sound of crickets accompany her footsteps. She lowers herself into the lighted swimming pool and swims quietly toward the other end. Johannes is resting with arms on the rim of the pool, sensing her presence he turns just as her head rises out of the water. Water flows from her hair over her face, her eyes wide open staring as in a trance, she takes hold of his head and forces him under. Leaving the pool, water running from her clothing, she vanishes into the darkness. Making her way through underbrush and parting the branches of trees she comes to the edge of a lake and walks into the water deeper and deeper until her head disappears leaving only ripples. Bach’s concerto, eternally timeless, plays over the surface of the water as the ripples fade into the night.

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6. The Salt of Tears directed by Phillipe Garrel

Betsy (Souheila Yacoub) and Luc (Logann Antuofermo), this is how it happened. Spotlights roving about the darkened room, the gentle rhythm of Fleur de ma ville by Téléphone flows over the crowded dance floor. The dancers are all raising their arms and turning in circles. Betsy, as she turns, waves her arms about her head in an undulating motion, the light catches her expressive hands as they pass across her face. Luc dips down and taking her by the waist lifts her up in the air turning and turning and returning her feet to the floor. They spin apart holding onto each others wrists. She twirls and passes beneath his outstretched arm as he pulls her back taking her in a firm embrace with her back against his chest. She smiles as he buries his face in her hair and they sway together gently. The music punctuates and she pulls free from his grasp, facing each other they begin pumping their arms frantically in the air. Becoming lost in the increasing chaos of the dance floor Betsy rotates through a series of other partners. Taking each other by the hands all the dancers form a circle and joyously bounce and skip about the room. Betsy breaks away and disappears into a dark corner and then rushes back across the floor jumping into Luc’s outstretched arms, he lifts her up over his head and twirling she waves her arms in the air. Holding onto each others hands they whirl recklessly before falling into unison with the other dancers briefly forming a line and then breaking up into couples again. Luc and Betsy, holding hands, wave their arms up and down in a crescendo of ecstatic motion and as the music comes to a close they fall into each others arms, her head on his shoulder, his hand caresses her hair.

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7. I’m Thinking of Ending Things directed by Charlie Kaufman

The camera’s eye floats over an expanse of Victorian floral wallpaper, green leaves and orange flowers, red leaves and yellow flowers, a curtain rustles over a drafty old window, and the narrator (Jessie Buckley) begins in voiceover, “I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays, it sticks, it lingers, it doesn’t go away.” The camera descends a twisty old stairway gliding close to the bannister and looks down upon an entryway made up mostly of glass, a multi-pane door with sidelights and a transom overhead. Outside a rusty old swing set sits in the greyish-green yard. Beyond it a row of bare branched trees stand against the wintry sky.

Jake (Jesse Plemons) is taking his new girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) to meet his parents who live in an old farmhouse far from the city. It is beginning to snow as she looks out the car window at the passing power lines and tree branches. “I’m thinking of ending things,” the thought continues in her head. Jake says, “Huh, you say something?” “I don’t think so,” she answers. The thought comes again, “I’m thinking of ending things.” He looks at her and slightly shakes his head and then looks back at the road. He turns on the radio, flipping through the stations, he stops at something familiar. “Why should a woman who is healthy and strong / Blubber like a baby if her man goes away?” She laughs at the incongruity of this song at this place and time. “It’s from Oklahoma!,” he tries to explain. “Many a new face will please my eye / Many a new love will find me.”

Such is the incessant flow of consciousness through the brain, memories, regrets, daydreams. What is this miracle that allows us to be aware of our surroundings and to experience feelings, emotions, love? Neuroscientists have mapped out the brain and defined many of its activities but they still have very little understanding of the nature of consciousness. We may never know for sure what consciousness is or where it comes from. The only thing we know for sure about consciousness is that it exists. Exists with a vital immediacy in the feeling of being alive.

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8. Never Rarely Sometimes Always directed by Eliza Hittman

Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) must go to New York. Her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) will go with her. Together they leave the house in the early hours of the morning bundled up in coats and hoodies. Pulling their belongings in a rolling case they make their way down a deserted street toward the bus stop. Standing in melting snow they watch as the bus driver puts their baggage in the luggage compartment. Seated by the window, Autumn puts earbuds in her ears and tries to relax. Skylar turns and looks at her with a barely perceptable reassuring smile. The familiar buildings of the town pass by through the windows of the bus, some in shadow, some obscured by sun-glare on the glass. Leaving town, industrial landscapes turn to open fields and wooded hillsides as Autumn gazes out the window. Skylar pulls the hood of her coat over her head and rolling over in her seat she goes to sleep.

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9. She Dies Tomorrow directed by Amy Seimetz

A woman’s eye fills the screen. The eye is closed. There is a barely audible humming rumble and then a soft flash of red light. The eye opens. The light flashes blue and then green and then red again. She speaks in voice-over, “I didn’t know you very well. We only knew each other for a short time, but it was a really nice time. That time we spent together, it was a really nice time.”

Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) puts a record on the turntable, lifts the tone arm and sets the needle in the groove. The “Lacrimosa” from Mozart’s Requiem in D minor begins to play. She turns, lifting her arms slightly, and sways gently as the choir sings. Turning back, her hands moving back and forth, she stops, puts her hands over her face and shakes her head slowly. She steps closer to the wall, presses the palms of her hands and the side of her head and then the tip of her nose against it. Her hands and her face move over the wall as the music continues to play. She pulls back, looks upward, her hands slide up and then back down, again she presses the side of her head against the wall. The needle reaches the inner groove and the music stops. All is quiet for a moment until she moves the needle back to the outer edge of the record and the mournful “Lacrimosa” begins again.

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10. Tenet directed by Christopher Nolan

The Protagonist (John David Washington) and Neil (Robert Pattinson) are walking the streets of downtown Oslo. The streets lined with paving stones and buildings made of glass and steel rising high on both sides forming a canyon where people sit at outdoor tables enjoying the weather. Neil is explaining his somewhat dramatic plan to break into the Oslo freeport. He then asks the Protagonist, “What are you hoping to find in there?”

In a hotel room over coffee, the Protagonist leans back on the couch, the city spread out through the windows behind him, he explains, “There’s a cold war. Temporal. Technology that can invert an object’s entropy.” Neil smiles slightly and raising an eyebrow responds, “You mean reverse chronology. Like Feynman and Wheeler’s notion that a positron is an electron moving backward’s in time?” The Protagonist takes a drink of his coffee and looks directly at Neil and says, “Sure, that’s exactly what I meant.”

All the relevant laws of physics are symmetrical, anything that has happened can be reversed, in effect time does not exist. This is true except in the case of entropy, the universe’s tendency toward disorder, where the probability of reversal is so remote that it has never happened. This unidirectional change in the universe is what we experience as the flow of time.

What if it were possible to reverse entropy? What would that do to our perception of time? Would time cease to exist for us? Just something to think about.

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Runners-up – limited to ten and listed in alphabetical order:
Beginning directed by Dea Kulumbegashvili
City Hall directed by Frederick Wiseman
France Against the Robots directed by Jean-Marie Straub
Kajillionaire directed by Miranda July
Lovers Rock directed by Steve McQueen
Malmkrog directed by Cristi Puiu
One Night in Miami directed by Regina King
On the Rocks directed by Sofia Coppola
Promising Young Woman directed by Emerald Fennell
Time directed by Garrett Bradley

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