Archive for April, 2009

Kieslowski Week: Red

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI WEEK ON FICTION DAILY

The last of Colors Trilogy, Red, gives us an almost unbearable look at human fragility. It explores the lonely life of an older man, who we learn was once a judge … along with the life of a beautiful young woman.

Of course, the color red gives everything a heightened emotional complexity, and brings a sense of anticipation that is absence in, say, blue, which is more about the inner life, and white more about the outer life.

Red brings them both together, in some ways, the inner and outer life. Yet in the end, the private life determines our outer life, in so many ways. (Red takes as a starting point the French “fraternite,” fraternity or brotherhood, presented by that color in the French flag.)

Valentine is played by Irene Jakob, who also starred in The Double Life of Veronique, an earlier Kieslowski film. It also features writing by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and music by Zbigniew Preisner, his long-time collaborators.

It’s interesting to not that Mr. Piesiewicz is a lawyer. White features a very likable lawyer named Mikolej, and of course this film presents us a judge.

To avoid giving away the plot elements, which are sparse, I’ll say little else about it.

Red (Rouge, Czerwony) was the last theatrical release by Kieslowski. He died in 1996.

Yet I was just in time: Red was my introduction to Kieslowski when, in 1994, I drove myself to Raleigh to see it. (Back in my single-girl days I would often go to Raleigh to see films).

I’ll never forget the experience of seeing the large red scarf blowing in the storm, or the overall power of Kieslowski’s images.

Within 18 months, I was living in another Slavic country in Prague. I attended the Karlovy Vary film festival that summer (1996) where I was among a tiny audience that screened a documentary on Kieslowski. It was in Polish without subtitles!! Who cared. I loved the man. A great artistic romance was born within me.

It’s been 5 years since I’ve seen a movie in a theater, and I will probably never again see a movie on the big screen. It’s partially because of too many bad experiences — focus wrong, gum on screens, talking people.

I just can’t bear those places. Can’t bear the mentality that cheapens the film experience. Can’t bear the feeling that I’ve been abducted by a malevolent force that wants to overwhelm my senses, and deaden my emotional response.

So when I write about Kieslowski, I’m also mourning a bit the innocence he represents for me and for us all. There was a real childlike quality to his filmmaking, tied not a little to the Communist regime’s control.

These days, I watch on my computer, at home, with the dogs and cats. It’s a much saner world here.

At the same time, I wonder what films Mr. Kieslowski would be making if he were with us?

FICTION DAILY RETURNS NEXT WEEK!

Kieslowski Week: White

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

KIESLOWSKI WEEK: WHITE-BLANC-BILY

Today we arrive at the central piece of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Colors” Trilogy, and my favorite of the three.

White. (French, Blanc and Polish, Bily).

As “Blue” featured the serene Juliette Binoche, “White” features an exceptional Julie Delpy.

Ms. Delpy is also know for her “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” with Ethan Hawke, as well as “2 Days in Paris” with Adam Goldberg. She is a firebrand, but beautiful, and her own inner engine is critical to the extraordinary and unrelenting emotional tension of the film.

White also brings together a pair of Polish actors who starred in the final Dekalog, X: Zbigniew Zamachowski and Jerzy Stuhr.

Where to start with “White.” This is a film that shows us the innocence and imperfection of Kieslowski’s inner creative life, as a metaphor for the human condition. White represents the color blanc of the French flag, and represents the concept egalite, or equality. It is only a loose springboard, however, for a larger exploration of justice.

We meet Karol Karol (Zamachowski), whose beautiful French wife (Delpy) no longer desires him. Karol Karol is such a pathetic man, he can’t even speak for himself when she testifies against him at their divorce hearing.

What happens next just sends him further down: he is smuggled back to Poland in a suitcase, which is stolen, and he is beaten and left in the middle of a Polish industrial wasteland.

Here is where the movie begins its magic. Karol has a plan. We see this man build himself from the inside out, and it is marvelous.

That’s merely plot, however. And with Kieslowski, plot is a small part of the emotional life of a film. With “White,” we have images that erupt, like suns exploding into white heat. Julie Delpy’s porcelain skin and blond hair, and Zamachowski’s own Slavic pallor are both white (blanc), as are the snows of his homeland.

Indeed, throughout the Three Colors, each shade appears throughout the film, shading it with the hue’s mood and emotion.

Scenes of their wedding will take your breath away — the sunlight, white columns and doves flying away are transcendent.

This short post does little justice to this film, but then again, what can words add to such a masterwork.

TOMORROW: Three Colors: Red

Kieslowski Week: Blue

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

KIESLOWSKI WEEK RESUMES

Last week I took a look at the Dekalog, the series of one-hour programs created for Polish TV by the gifted director Krzysztof Kieslowski (27 June 1941 – 13 March 1996).

He’s probably best known, however, for his Three Colors Trilogy. Two are primarily in French, one in Polish. They are noted this way in those languages:

Trois couleurs: Bleu (1993)
Trzy kolory: Biały (1994)
Trois couleurs: Rouge (1994)

The films also intended to evoke the three principles of French independence as represented by the flag: blue is liberty; white is equality; red is fraternity.

Blue

The film stars Juliette Binoche as a woman who loses her husband suddenly in a car accident, and has to discover what has meaning once he’s gone.

He was a music composer, and she finds his scores and we realize she played a larger role in his creative life than she was credited for.

But Blue is not driven by plot. Rather, it is a thoughtful study of a woman’s inner emotional life.

This rich, complex inner life is where Kieslowski shines. He manages, with images, colors and music, to construct a mood, a feeling, that he carries throughout the film. Yet it’s not manipulated, or perfect, a la Hollywood. Rather it is organic, imperfect, and human.

Because in the end, for Kieslowski, emotions are larger than life.

BLUE. Krzysztof Kieslowski, director
screenplay by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Music by Zbigniew Preisner

Miramax.

A Word Before Leaving…

Friday, April 24th, 2009

FRIDAY FOLLOW-UPS

A few words before leaving … I am going out of town today to see my niece who turned 5 years old this week … but wanted to note a few items related to yesterday’s Tech Thursday.

First, in a move that is shocking … shocking … because it should never have been needed, Apple apologized for approving the Baby Shaker application.

Just to be clear, the application was not created by Apple, only approved by it. The app (some call it “game”) was created by Sikalosoft which has said nothing about the public outcry. Bad company. Should be shaken until its eyes turn into red Xs.

Next is word that Microsoft posted the first-ever decline in its quarterly profit … from $4.39 billion to $2.98 billion.

Now before we get out the hankies, let’s remember … this is Microsoft (boo, jeers) … but after all, it’s a giant American company, built in the old-fashioned way … with a combination of brilliance and thievery … and therefore deserves our, at least hedging, support. I don’t want to see MS sink anymore than I want the president to fail … (wait a minute, who would want the president to fail? Oh yes, Rush Limbaugh).

Meanwhile, the greedy people keep filing lawsuits against us hoi polloi. This lawsuit, being judged by the man who took down Napster, claims DVDs copying software should be banned. Hello? If I own it, I should be able to copy it.

Last, in a somewhat sad note of apathy, Facebook users failed to respond to a request to vote on the new terms of usage. After the big brouhaha over the new terms earlier this year, only about 1 million showed up to vote on the new ones. That’s from the 200 million who use it every day.

That would be me. But I didn’t vote. I’ll let someone else figure out if it’s worth getting my karma in a wad, then vote. For freedom of speech, freedom of choice.

But first I have to harvest the potatoes and wheat on myFarm.

HAPPY WEEKEND FROM FD … SEE YOU TUESDAY!!

(S)Mac-down

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Strange news for Apple users today. In two unexpected chinks in the company’s otherwise impervious armor we have a report of a virus that’s targeting Apple operating systems.

So far, the hack only targets people trying to download pirated Mac software (and some may say therefore, they deserve it). But as an open-source gal, I believe if you can find a pirated version and are willing to work under the radar, you deserve to get away with it. Still, these are the breaks when you choose lawlessness.

For Mac users, who generally have a certain smugness us PC-ers find unnerving, it’s a dark time. They’re used to being the skateboarders and surfers of the computer world — the creative types who make their own rules because they *just that good.*

So for us plodding PC-ers out here, we’re feeling a little less, well, plodding now that Mac has gotten a little mud on their shoes. (It brings to mind Harrison Bergeron, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut set in a future, when dancers are required to put stones in their costumes to make everyone equal.)

In more Apple news, a rare misstep. Someone thought it would be funny to create an app, or application, for iPhones called “Baby Shaker.” The phone would make noise that sounded like a baby crying. The way to stop it? Shake the phone. As a result, an image of a baby with red Xs over its eyes appears. The game’s tag line? “See how long you can endure his or her adorable cries before you just have to find a way to quiet the baby down!”

Bad idea. Bad, bad idea. Whoever developed that app should be, well, shaken until red Xs appear over their eyes.

Fortunately, Apple has dropped the app. Should be sent to the corner and taunted for the rest of the day for this one.

As for me, the news in PC land is that in an unexplainable phenomena, updated drivers just tend to fail. Perhaps in an upcoming Tech Thursday we can look at why, oh why, these updated drivers fail, fail, fail.

Many apologies for the absence of Figuratively Speaking Friday tomorrow. I’ll be out of town visiting my niece.

Fiction Daily returns next week … when Kieslowski Week resumes

Pulitzers

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

KIESLOWSKI WEEK RESUMES NEXT TUESDAY

We here at Fiction Daily apologize for iterrupting Kieslowski week. In recognition of the new Pulitzer Prizes, we feel it’s only fitting to spend a few words in honor of W.S. Merwin, who yesterday received his SECOND one.

I admit I am unfamiliar with his works. But as a rule, whenever a writer has a Pulitzer, he or she becomes a no-questions-asked selection. That was how I found “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck.

It’s worth having a look at the entire list of winners this year. It’s notable that many of them are related to uncovering abuses perpetuated under the Bush administration.(We can hope for more light and corrections in years to come.)

Modern Library also has a valuable list of its 100 Best Novels. “Under the Volcano,” by Malcolm Lowry is number 11, and that’s how I found this quirky, but deeply rewarding novel. Hang with it for as many pages as you can stand … worth the ride, but difficult.

But back to the poet Merwin. If you haven’t read his works, you can probably bank on an outstanding reading experience. Dip your toes in online here … but be sure to visit your local independent book seller and buy copies for yourself.

Krzysztof’s Kommandments

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

KIESLOWSKI WEEK AT FICTION DAILY

After finishing the Dekalog (Ten Commandments, or Decalogue) by Krzysztof Kieslowski, it seemed time for a closer look at the films of this Polish director.

Among those 10 chilling short films, made for Polish television in the late 1980s, one of them alone could easily claim a week’s worth of FD entries. A Short Film About Killing, made to illustrate the commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill” is beyond any filmmaking, whatever the cost, location or political system.

His oeuvre also includes the widely admired Trois Couleurs (Three Colors), a trilogy on the colors of the French flag — Blue, Blanc, Rouge. Later this week we’ll take a look at those films. Kieslowski worked for a long time in his homeland, and after the Eastern Bloc opened, came to Paris to work.

The Dekalog was filmed for Polish television and aired in 1988. It’s hard to place these times politically, since they were certainly not the same as the hopeful days of 1968, when it seemed the old regime would tumble. Yet the late 1980s in Poland were a time of hope. How can we forget Solidarity and Lech Walesa, whose shipyard activism finally succeeded in challenging Communism in a way no one else had.

So there was a ray of light perhaps in those days, and Kieslowski slipped through.

For many years he had worked in Polish film, mostly in documentaries but also with short films. His early documentaries were Workers 71 and Station. The first was heavily censored and the second was also a source of trouble, since some of its footage was used in a court base. Bez konza (No End) was also an early film. This idea of konca, or end, comes up quite a lot in his work.

The Dekalog is also when he begins working with long-time collaborators, the screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz and the composer Zbigniew Preisner. Their work comes to full blossom in the trilogy.

The Dekalog is unlike anything before. Each takes a winding route to its point … whatever the commandment is. The route is so unexpected and human, that the final message is an emotional one, a message you feel. Kieslowski so easily could have made these commandments exercises in Communist doctrine, or even lessons on right behavior. Instead, he uses them to show the complexity of human life.

A few words about Dekalog V, which became in a slightly longer version, “A Short Film About Killing.” The intensity of this film combines with artful composition, a deliberate pace and authentic characters to give us a chilling reminder of why no one in fact should kill.

A young thug takes the life of a cab driver and for this crime, he is sentenced to death. No detail is spared in showing us what it means to kill … both as the young punk kills the man without provocation, and as he is also killed, by strangers, in an act that degrades them all.

You can imagine where a soulful, haunted romantic man like Kieslowski will take such a concept. Indeed, the film was so intense, the script so honest, that the actors only rehearsed it once before filming. Kieslowski later related that it was unbearable for them.

It is a moving indictment of self-righteousness.

The other film that stands out for me is Dekalog VIII, Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness. It is a moving story of a Jewish woman who survives the Holocaust, but wants to understand why a family chose not to give her shelter.

The Dekalog
is available on Netflix.

Elusive Meanings

Friday, April 17th, 2009

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKINGG

Today I had to dig my dictionary out from beneath my Urgent-To Do pile, which was crowned by my cat’s food bowl. That tells you a lot about the week I’ve had, since one of my cardinal rules is to NEVER place anything atop my dictionary. It should be easily reachable … to encourage, and never discourage this sometimes lazy writer, me to consult it.

So I’ve moved that Urgent-To Do pile to another location. And Yes. Today, I’ll get through it. (Sure I will ….)

Meanwhile, it’s Friday, my favorite day of the week here at Fiction Daily, and a chance to take a whimsical journey from one word to the next.

ELUDE … ALLUDE … ELUTE … ILLUDE … DELUDE … EXUDE

ELUDE takes us from a bad situation, and is a transitive verb that means to evade or escape, typically in a skillful or cunning way. I think of Bugs Bunny avoiding Elmer Fudd.

Elude also gives us the sense of something that is just outside of our reach, verbally, something we can’t grasp or remember. The meaning of his speech eluded me.

It also refers to someone who avoids penalty. Though he was convicted, he eluded his punishment by leaving the country.

It comes to us from the Latin eludere, “ex” meaning out, away from and “ludere” to play. It also gives us “elusive,” as in The elusive answer to his questions about the meaning of life.

ALLUDE, on the other hand, is a reference to something; a suggestion. He alluded to his work only briefly, as he was modest. It also comes to us from ludere to play, plus “ad” toward.

DELUDE also comes from that Latin root, but combines with “de” in the sense of “with pejorative force” to give us a word that means to impose a misleading belief on someone, to deceive or fool.

ILLUDEis a mostly poetic word that means to trick or delude, but comes from a different origin. It is taken from the Latin illudere, to mock.

ELUTE is a word that found some vogue in recent years when attached, wrongly, to a medical device known as a “drug eluting stent.” In fact, elute means to remove an absorbed substance by washing with a solvent. It is usually used in chromatography, a chemical process that separates substances in a mixture.

And should not be confused with EXUDE, which means to discharge (in the transitive sense) or to be displayed by someone (in the intransitive sense). Transitive: He exuded a strange odor we believe was related to his time in the Amazon. Intransitive: Our displeasure was exuded.

Exude comes to us from the Latin exsudare, from ex, out and sudare, to sweat.

So let not a doctor delude you when it comes to describing those stents. I’d rather have a stent that exudes a healing drug, than one which is performing a chemical operation inside me. Then again, I’d rather elude the whole stent thing altogether.

FICTION DAILY RETURNS ON TUESDAY!

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY RETURNS NEXT WEEK!

Showers

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

A quick post this morning before leaving for an out of town meeting. The spring rains have continued and it’s so good to see them after last summer’s drought. The grass will take some work, however, as the plush centipede has been overrun by clover, chickweed and dandelions that took hold once the grass was weak. Not to mention the other clover that seems to be everywhere else … along with other green things that are crawling all over my gardens and backyard like something from a science fiction film.

This weekend I hope to take a day or so to get outside and work in the dirt, pulling up the unwanteds and giving my flowers room to grow, multiply and seed. The Chinese forget-me-nots are about to peak and their seeds need places to land; likewise, the daylilies will need clear beds to shine when they start opening.

So the rain is a gift, like the flowers and even the weeds it brings.