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After the hectic electoral campaigning in 2014 the polity has become so polarized that even intellectuals have taken sides rather than thought about what is happening in politics. Why has political identity rather than thought become so important today?
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Home > Contents > Article: MK Raghavendra
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The Engineered Look
The Film Festival Circuit and the Aesthetics of the Global Art Film
MK Raghavendra
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Academic film history has come some distance since the 1980s when film history was largely a matter of determining teleology based on existing/ expected technological advances, the notion of national cinemas, the compilation of a canon of great masters and masterpieces – due to the arrival of New Film Historicism. New Film Historicism, among other things, has tried to put an end to the special pedestal upon which masterworks are placed and draws attention to the context in which films are made 1). When film history was being compiled in the post-World War II era and understood in terms of masterpieces and masterworks, film historians began to depend on festivals and the most the important film movements – like Italian neo-realism, the Nouvelle Vague and New German Cinema – were registered by film historians when the early works of each movement won prizes 2). It has been, for instance, been demonstrated that the films of New German Cinema became part of the national film canon after they won recognition abroad at festivals 3. The exclusion of Soviet cinema from Western film festivals 4 may have been the reason for cinema from the Soviet Union in the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras not finding the place in film history that they merit.

Much of the initial research by New Historicists concentrated on early cinema and aimed to trace its development by examining the specific circumstances of early film viewing, production, and distribution. Instead of understanding cinema in terms of the genius of film-makers, attention shifted to conditions in the milieu which prompted the development of film aesthetics. The same approach can be followed now since film aesthetics may continue to be determined by the registering of individual films at film festivals – which are devised as spaces in which new tendencies are tested out: 

“…film festivals are temporary events of short duration, where films are shown in an atmosphere of heightened expectation and festivity…. The creation of the international film festival circuit has further strengthened its resemblance to the early cinema context as many films now travel from festival to festival in anticipation of (or preparation for) access to distribution in permanent cinemas.”5

The emphasis on the conditions of viewership determining the nature of film art makes it appear that authorship and art in cinema are more doubtful concepts than they were once thought to be. A work of art is no longer an untainted object the significance of which is to be speculated about but the product of a set of manipulations undertaken 6 before what is ‘art’ in cinema is determined; economic developments in the international movie industry influence the shape of the ‘normative’ in film art 7. Still, there is still a gap between developments in theory – trends in the academic realm – and the way films are received by the public; it is this public reception which often determines the way films are written about, or decides what films will be written about academically. Moreover, the reception of a film at a major film festival has consequences not only on the future of director and the film, which finds distribution through the permanent cinemas easier, but also affects the fortunes of a national cinema – and its global reception – an effect which cannot be wished away 8. The kind of films promoted at the biggest festivals today through important prizes could, hence, reinforce aesthetic tendencies in world cinema, and the proposition here is that the new tendencies can be understood through an examination of film texts.

This essay tries to look at three international films which are not alike thematically but which nonetheless exhibit comparable characteristics; all of them won top awards on a large number of platforms. The films are Michael Haneke’s French film Amour (2012) and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Turkish film Winter Sleep (2014), which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2012 and 2014 respectively and Richard Linklater’s American film Boyhood (2014) which won the Silver Berlin Bear for Best Director as well as the FIPRESCI Grand Prix in 2014. The films are from different milieus and have been deliberately selected to identify some current traits in art cinema and speculate about their significance. This is expected to help us understand some aesthetic characteristics of a category broadly identifiable as the ‘global art film’. Before I go on to examine the three films, however, it is necessary to understand how film festivals developed and where they stand. In Cinema Studies, critical reflections have generally taken the form of textual analyses, such as the formalistic readings of a body of selected films, or consisted of quantitative-empirical research using film industry statistics, or they have concentrated on representations of the power relations of race, gender, class and ethnicity or tried to grasp the ontology of the cinematic image 9. My tool is textual analysis since my purpose is to understand film art and its changed meaning because of the transformation of the sites where the value of each film is initially registered, i.e. film festivals. The factor of importance is that the process of awarding prizes to films by impartial juries constituted from all across the world assumes that the only issue of pertinence in the entire process is the film text – which is nominally insulated from all considerations/demands except that of being ‘artistic’. 

The film festival and its development
The film festival as a phenomenon cannot be grasped without a reference to Europe, where it emerged largely as a way of combating the reach of Hollywood. In fact, the film-going public across the world generally regarded Hollywood and European art cinema as representing polar opposites – Hollywood understood as mass entertainment, by thrills, stars, studios, private enterprise and public exhibition, European cinema identified in terms of elite audiences, auteurs and personal expression, state sponsorship and film festivals. Still, the European film festival arose out of conflict within the continent. The Cannes Film Festival as a joint initiative by France, Britain and the US emerged as a reaction to the Fascist domination of the Venice Film Festival which began in 1932, the year which also delineates the end of the transition period from the silent to the sound era. This transition is important because it has been used to explain the demise of the European avant-garde.

A fundamental aspect of the avant-garde 10 – apart from its political radicalism – was its cosmopolitanism. When sound arrived, the presence of spoken language made cinema more hospitable to nationalist agendas. The Venice Film Festival of 1932 was international but it played up to nationalism by inviting countries to exhibit their best work – which was contrary to the Communist-inspired internationalism of the avant-garde. Where the avant-garde – with its subversive agenda – agitated against the commercial film system and Hollywood’s hegemony, matching its political utopianism with alternative aesthetics, the Venice Film Festival exhibited contrary sides in relation to Hollywood. On the one hand, Hollywood was embraced; Hollywood’s trade organization the MPPDA, was accepted as America’s national representative alongside the various national film funds of the other participating countries and Hollywood stars were invited to the events. The glamour associated with the stars became an integral part of the festival formula. On the other hand films were not treated as mass-produced commodities but as national accomplishments, conveyors of local cultural identity and as artistic creations. If the festival had one foot planted in the model of avant-garde cinema, the other kept pace with market forces within the cultural economy – a compromise that the avant-garde had rejected 11. The film festival model also chose (nostalgically) spots like spas and beach resorts in which an elitist/ aristocratic culture had flourished before culture was ‘democratized’ by American commercialism and the choice continues to this day when festivals are held in Cannes, Venice and Karlovy Vary rather than in cities like Paris and Rome, which is where film culture actually thrives 12. Seen in another way, film festivals were also a development of the film clubs and societies founded in the 1920s by the avant-garde to directly interfere in film production by contesting the commercialization of cinema and to develop it for radical purposes. Film festivals took over this function by providing spaces or platforms (like the ‘Forum’ at the Berlinale) for the avant-garde as specialized thematic programming. 

The growth of film festivals produced, in the post-World War II era after 1954, art cinema made for international audiences 13. The characteristics of post-War art cinema have been studied and their particularities identified – particularities that show them to be quite different from cinema of the pre-war years. It has been shown that much of post-war art cinema has common traits – the chief of which is the foregrounding of the author as formal component in the narrative through the notion of ‘ambiguity’. What the film is ‘trying to say’ is then directed towards authorial expressivity 14 and this can be associated with the way the European film festival positioned itself against the dominant Hollywood mode – in which films were marked by the ‘invisible style’, i.e. the delivery of the narrative with the greatest clarity without authorial interference. One must not take this to mean that ‘ambiguity’ cannot be associated with cinema before the War or with non-European cinema. Complexity and ambiguity are kin in some way but post-War art cinema – in foregrounding the author – made itself ‘puzzling’ in a way that complex/ambiguous works like Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939) or Mizoguchi’sSansho the Bailiff (1954) are not.   

This notion of art cinema as a single identifiable category will perhaps be contested by the reader. Art cinema has been described as an ‘impure’ category because of the variety it encompasses 15 and this is undeniable. Still, the term ‘auteur’ as it was used in the 1950s and 1960s demanded an interpretive role from the critic and ‘ambiguity’ was the characteristic that led the critic to interpret the film text; it is likely that the valorization of cinema as personal expression through the post-War film festival produced the auteur 16. The 1950s and the 1960s may be regarded as the greatest period for art cinema around the world because of the number of film-makers (as auteurs) flourishing in the period and making their best-regarded works – Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, the directors of the Nouvelle Vague, Satyajit Ray from India and Kurosawa from Japan reaching the highpoints of their careers in these two decades. But if these film-makers were ‘international’ in their reach, they still contributed enormously to national culture and were held up as icons in their home countries and this could hardly have happened if their films had not addressed local issues and contributed to local culture. Where the pre-War avant-garde had been utopian – with the realization of their ideals mainly projected into the future – the post-War art film, which was promoted primarily as national cinema, was sensitive both to the cultural past and the political present 17. Art cinema fed on resistance to two ‘evils’ represented by Hollywood and indigenous commercial cinemas 18 of the countries from which individual art films came and therefore valorized a high local tradition debased by commercial cinema. This may explain the literariness of European films like those of the Nouvelle Vague as well as the tendency of art cinema to adapt literary classics. An important factor here is that since national culture is often preoccupied with carrying forward a past, dealing with the burden of the past while negotiating/contending with the political/ personal present is manifested in narratives as motifs 19. This attribute may be too broad to identify a category of films by but it becomes significant when we deal with the contemporary films that this essay is focused upon.

Alongside the growth of film festivals and the rise of the art film largely in Europe the avant-garde relocated from Paris to New York in the 1950s and 1960s because of America’s economic boom, newly found cultural confidence and desire to emerge from Europe’s shadow – after European modernism had been absorbed by America. This was the time in which radical movements like Abstract Expressionism in painting also emerged. The American underground film movement of the 1950s and 1960s challenged not only Hollywood but also the European art film. The avant-garde film-makers who emerged in this period include Maya Deren (who had already made Meshes of the Afternoon in 1943), Stan Brakhage Anticipation of the Night, 1958) and Jonas Mekas The Brig, 1964). Vogel was co-founder of the New York Film Festival in 1963 and MoMA also began to collect and exhibit avant-garde films.

But between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s cinema became implicated in a series of political projects initiated by the opposition to the Vietnam War. Film festivals were effective means within the political struggle to make underrepresented cinemas visible and Third World filmmakers heard. In Northern Africa, the biannual Carthage Film Festival (Tunisia) was established in 1966. The Pan African Film and Television Festival, FESPACO, in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) followed in 1969. In addition, from the late 1960s onwards, Third World filmmakers and their critical political cinema slowly found representation and received their first critical praise at the established European festivals. It was in this period that Jean-Luc Godard turned to radical politics. Godard’s leftwing ideas culminated in activist interventions in 1968, when he heralded the protests against the dismissal of Cinémathèque director Henri Langlois. The shutting down of the Cannes Film Festival in 1968influenced the position of the Pesaro Film Festival, which had been the major platform for both feature and documentary films of an experimental and invariably political nature and an alternative to the ‘First-world,’ established cinema of Hollywood and Western Europe 20. Pesaro in Italy had developed a radically new festival format with ample opportunity for discussion, lengthy publications and a productive combination of cinephile, political-activist and academic inputs. Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco, Milos Forman, Christian Metz, and Pier Paolo Pasolini were among the contributors to the famous Pesaro debates 21. Pesaro was able to respond swiftly to the Cannes crisis, which had an effect on festivals worldwide. Pesaro immediately dedicated the 1969 festival to ‘Cinema and Politics.’ Pesaro led the way toward a new type of programming. Festival directors and programmers began to adopt the Pesaro approach, selecting films on a thematic instead of national basis beginning in the late 1960s and continuing thereafter 22.

The film festival circuit        
The third phase in the development of film festivals commenced in the 1980s when their spread saw the film festival phenomenon becoming institutionalized and professionalized and not understandable as it had earlier been. The film festival phenomenon entered this historical phase when festivals began to spread and a film festival is underway every day somewhere in the world, estimated numbers varying from 1200to 1900 festivals each year. There are major international film festivals, regional film festivals, local film festivals, festivals dedicated to documentaries, animation and education as well as film weeks, and film specials. The mushrooming of film festivals worldwide led to the establishment of the international film festival circuit. The following are some characteristics observed with regard to the film festival circuit 23:

  1. There is fierce competition, distinction and emulation on this circuit and festivals cannot operate outside of it. The programs, the development and organization of each festival influence the position and versatility of the rest of the festivals.

  2. The interrelational dependency of festivals means that festivals are embedded within the global system of the film festival circuit. Their embedding is visible in many written and unwritten rules, such as the circuit’s giving great importance to the showcasing of world premières.

  3. Since film festivals both emulate and counter Hollywood, commercial cinema is not taboo at film festivals and many commercial films opt for their premieres there. Art cinema is therefore like a different product meant for a different segment but at the same market place.
  4. The competition for prizes has become one of the main focuses of press festival coverage, and festivals without prizes are less frequently visited and reported upon by journalists.

  5. The historical festivals have lost their exclusivity which may be interpreted as Europe losing its cultural hegemony in the global order. But this development also does not mean that every nation will have an equal opportunity on the circuit. The hierarchy of festivals remains intact.

  6. When, in the early 1970s, the selection procedures of the major European festivals were opened up, this was not only followed by an emphasis on individual artistic achievements, but also by a passionate interest in unfamiliar cinematic cultures. But sincere support for politically marginalized cultures has increasingly given way to a neo-colonial attitude: there being few new cultures to discover, festival audiences are looking for intimate (anthropological) encounters with unfamiliar cultures.

  7. The ‘national’ has returned in a new avatar. The cream of the national cinemas is presented at the top Western film festivals while festivals in the ‘Third World’ – e.g. Havana, Ouagadougou and Carthage – find it difficult to draw the best films even from their own regions. Indigenous film festivals remain subordinate within the circuit even as their ‘national cinemas’ prosper. 
  8. The ‘national’ is not associated with the ‘nation’ as it once was. It is more of a free-floating signifier used in film festival discourse to market new cinemas.
  9. This situation in which the ‘national’ is dissociated from the ‘nation’ also has its advantages, however. For example, when national film boards censor a controversial film, the international film festival circuit may offer opportunities for global exposure sidestepping the authority of the nation-state.

  10. As local differences are erased through globalization festivals, need to replicate each other. But, paradoxically, the notion of novelty is brought in to emphasize difference in another way.

  11. Festivals attract people by offering them new experiences in cinema. At present the public finds its way to festivals to see, for instance, the latest movie of a Japanese cult director, a program specialized in Sub-Saharan cinema, animation or, short films. The bottom line is that attending festivals has become an established cultural practice for a large public.

  12. While festivals give audiences a chance to see the smaller budget and niche films that are not made available to them in the commercial context, the success of the festival network has made it very difficult for many producers and filmmakers to find creative ways of becoming financially independent.

  13. Successful movements such as Iranian cinema and Dogme prove that different types of films can be sold globally, provided that there is a shared sense of coherence and outstanding value between films, i.e. a brand name in marketing terms. In art/world cinema ‘brands’ are predominantly formed of movements (stylistic and/or national) or authors. Sales representatives and companies recognize that film festivals are the places in which such ‘brands’ are made.

  14. When a small place like Cannes gains so much importance entirely for its festival, property prices shoot up as does the cost of living. It is therefore unviable for locals to live there and practice other professions not connected to the festival. Consequently, there is no local audience for the films shown and everyone in the audience is in the position of an international tourist. Phrased differently, those who attend the film festival are the true citizens of Cannes if only for a week or two every year. 

While many of these characteristics pertain to the politics of the film festival circuit it is also to be expected that some of them will influence the course of art cinema. As instances, there will evidently be films made which will appeal directly to festival audiences without passing through a local cultural filter in the home space. The ‘look’ of many films, it may be anticipated, will gain importance over the local (political/cultural) purposes that the films serve. A ‘look’ could also be engineered to simulate the ‘artistic’ in cinema, signal that the film is ‘art’. Film-makers from far-flung corners of the world may be tempted by the demand for ethnicity to ‘report’ on their own cultures to festival audiences, who are constituted differently from the way art film audiences once happened to be. The proliferation of film festivals keeps a class of festival-hopping film professionals busy throughout the year and this ‘public’ will have a large say in the impact of any global art film. If a comparison can be made with the older cinema, where the avant-garde addressed an informed and cosmopolitan cultural elite, global art cinema addresses film professionals like journalists and critics who are prone to judging cinema largely in terms of film trends – which they are more familiar with than the high culture that art cinema demanded some acquaintance with 24. Since a basis has now been created for enquiring into global art cinema I will proceed to examine the three films that this essay is focused upon. 

Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012) 
Amour begins with firemen breaking down the door of an apartment to find the corpse of Anna (Emmanuelle Riva) lying on a bed and adorned with flowers. It then shifts to several months earlier with Anna and her husband Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) at a piano concert. Both are in their eighties and they are former teachers of music. The pianist they have come to listen to, Alexandre, is Anna’s former student. The next morning as they are eating breakfast Anna breaks off in the middle of a conversation and is struck immobile. Although she recovers a few moments later it comes out that she has had a stroke. She is made to undergo surgery but the operation is a failure. When this happens Anna obtains a promise from her husband that he will not put her back in hospital. Anna’s condition worsens gradually and she suffers another stroke; she has to get about in a wheel chair and she loses her capacity for speech. Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) comes with her English husband Geoff (both of them musicians) and is shocked by her mother’s condition. When she tries to intervene, Georges pushes her away – she cannot take care of her mother but she can at least leave her parents to themselves. He gets two nurses and when one of them handles Anna too roughly, Georges sacks her. “You are a wicked old man,” the nurse says after getting her wages and Georges hopes that she suffer in her old age at the hands of someone just like her. Georges does his best to look after Anna on his own but she is in too much pain. Finally, after relating a story from his childhood to calm her, he smothers her with a pillow. He anoints her with flowers which he cuts from a bouquet, drives a wandering pigeon out of the window, writes a long letter to someone and straightens out the house. He imagines that Anna is washing dishes in the kitchen before the two of them go out. The last we see of Georges is he following Anna out by the front door.           

Being about sickness, people administering to it hopelessly and it ending with death, one cannot but compare Amour to Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972). The first aspect that comes to one’s attention is the absence of personal history in Amour, something which is conspicuous in Bergman’s film. By this I mean that Anna and Georges have lived together for over fifty years but there is no issue between them except that of shared decrepitude. A key motif in art cinema, as I proposed earlier, is negotiating with the burden of the past and in Bergman’s film there is deep acrimony between the characters which needs resolution; the same motif can be found in Patrice Chéreau’sSon Frere (2003), about two brothers one of whom is dying of an incurable blood disease. Georges and Anna are both musicians/teachers of music but their separate relationships with music is also not of significance to the narrative; this becomes clearer if we compare Amour to Claude Sautet’sA Heart in Winter (1992) in which the three characters are all associated in different ways with the violin, and music plays a part in their manipulations of each other.

Amour is over two hours long and if there is so little in it in terms of interpersonal dynamics, the reader who has not seen it may wonder how the duration is spent, what the director actually shows us. Most of the film is given to the minutiae of the everyday life of an elderly couple. The emotions it deals with are the anger and helplessness of the man as he is neither able to deal effectively with his wife’s illness nor enlist other people to assist him. There are long monologues from Georges one of which (a wryly amusing one) involves a funeral he has just attended. Some minutes are apportioned to Georges’s dealings with a stray pigeon which keeps coming into the apartment and a few more to a nightmare telling us of the dangers to old people living by themselves in Paris. Eva’s preoccupation with her financial worries also gets some attention. The musician Alexandre visits Georges and Anne and his pity at their condition becomes an occasion for some ire on Anne’s part. The film is set entirely indoors and this helps it to avoid any contemporary issues which might have otherwise found their way into the narrative. If the film appears visceral in its attention to the everyday details of old age it is nonetheless careful in keeping out the really ugly bits connected with illness – aspects that Bergman’s film confronted more unequivocally.

Amour may be described as ‘humanist’ in that it shows concern at the conditions under which the old and the sick are required to live but the absence of psychological or political nuance leave the interpretative critic with little to work on. Great humanist works of the past – like Jean Renoir’s films or those of the neo-realists – always suggested enough to make audiences wonder at the portrayed relationships and the one between Ricci and Bruno in Bicycle Thief (1948), which was reflected upon by Andre Bazin 25, is an illustration. It is the banality of the three-way relationship between Georges, Anna and Eva 26 that makes Amour devoid of complexity and ambiguity. In characterizing the fourth among the seven types of ambiguity William Empson notes 27 that two or more meanings that do not agree can sometimes combine to make clear a complicated state of mind in the author, and this is arguably what auteurs in cinema sought to emulate. 

After what the film chooses not to do/show have been listed, what remains is the ‘look’ of the film. The film exudes gravity; the apartment is sumptuously appointed with oils hanging on the walls and tasteful/period furniture. There is a small segment in the film in which we are shown reproductions of landscape paintings for no ostensible reason except that Georges is studying them. The fact that Georges and Anna are musicians becomes reason for us to hear interludes of piano music – diegetic in its employment although the music played by Alexandre (AlexandreTharaud, an actual musician) at the concert continues on the soundtrack after the concert is over. Georges also plays on the piano a short snatch from Ichruf' zudir, Herr Jesu Christ by JS Bach which informed art film audiences will recognize from Tarkovsky’sSolaris (1972). The film casts Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in the lead roles although they are not given very much to do as actors enacting roles. They are old people and it is their agedness that the film is enlisting. These two thespians have important places in European art cinema. Trintignant has appeared in classicsby Rohmer (My Night at Maud’s, 1969), Bertolucci (The Conformist, 1970), Chabrol (Les Biches, 1968) and Kieslowski (Three Colours: Red, 1994) while Emmanuelle Riva’s presence was iconic in Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). Amour is therefore invoking high culture without finding legitimate places in the narrative for the artifacts it uses or alludes to; they are all perhaps there only on display to make it recognizable as film art. 

Nuri Bilge Seylan’s Winter Sleep (2014)
Winter Sleep tells the story of a rich man, a landlord named Aydin (HalukBilginer) who owns a hotel in Cappadocia and lives with his much younger wife and divorced sister. Winter is approaching and his hotel has only one or two guests. When the film begins he is seen from a distance and ruminating thoughtfully over a landscape. The same day Aydin and his helper Hidayet are driving along when a stone flung at their vehicle smashes one of its windows. Hidayet catches the culprit, the son of one of Aydin’s tenants named Ismail, who has been behind on his rent. A collection agency has already been to Ismail’s house and taken his television and refrigerator.  

At the centre of Winter Sleep is Aydin’s character, of which we get a sharp impression. He has inherited his wealth and spends his hours writing a weekly column for a local periodical which – his sister Necla(DemetAkbağ)asserts – no one reads. Aydin has just written a piece on aesthetic deprivation in Anatolya and its urban ugliness. He is not a practicing Muslim but he tries to stay clear of controversy by praising the religion in his journalistic pieces. Necla does little; she is obviously bored after her divorce and hates her surroundings so much that she is even contemplating returning to her ex-husband who is now much farther down the road of alcoholism since she left him. Aydin’s young wife Nihal(Melisa Sözen)also has little to do and tries to find meaning in philanthropy. Aydin himself has received a letter from a distant village asking for a donation.

Ismail and his family have been tenants of Aydin’s father for decades but Ismail is without a job after spending six months in jail and the family is being managed on the salary of Ismail’s unmarried brother Hamdi, who is also the local imam. Hamdi is less hostile to Aydin than Ismail is. Aydin imagines himself a rational person – and he certainly seems to be that. But he is not willing to exert himself or take a stand. As an instance, he can afford to be more generous to Ismail’s family but his affairs are managed by Hidayet and he does not want to interfere in Hidayet’s decisions.

The relationships in Winter Sleep are well-drawn because of finely etched performances but the slightness of the conflicts in it is difficult to conceal. Aydin and Necla come into conflict with each other but there is little deeper than the irritation of bored people with each other that divides them; there are, for instance, no property issues between them or issues carried forward from their youth or childhood that need resolving. Necla says that Aydin (a former actor) raised expectations of greatness within his family which he did not fulfill but what these expectations were are not spelt out; Aydin just seems the average, moderately intelligent person who is not up to anything very important or wrestling with deep personal issues. The conflict between Necla and Nihal is also due to some differences of opinion on ‘philosophical’ matters – such as how evil should be treated. Nihal resents Aydin’s money but uses it in her philanthropic ventures. Aydin treats these ventures as ill-thought-out indulgences and tries to render advice, but this is once again resented. The slightness of the conflicts may be judged from the fact that only one finds a conclusion – the one between Aydin and Nihal, which appears resolved when he brings home a conciliatory rabbit from a hunt – after a night when he was absent from home and out drinking with some acquaintances. Nihal, we are told, married the much older Aydin out of her own free will but details – why a beautiful young woman should have married such an old man or if there was ever someone else – are scrupulously avoided. The film is reportedly based on a story ‘The Wife’ written by Anton Chekov 28. The similarity rests in the protagonist of Chekov’s story being a rich man with scholarly ambitions being similarly approached through a letter from a distant village for material help. But the letter in Chekov’s story is brutally graphic in its portrayal of misery of the poor 29 while the letter in Ceylan’s film only makes a casual appeal. Yet, in spite of its narrative slightness, Winter Sleep exudes gravity like Amour – which is never justified.

Winter Sleep is over three hours long and proceeds deliberately. The location is Cappadocia in winter – a spectacular tourist destination which gives it an unforgettable ‘look’. Aydin owns a hotel but this detail is not of much significance to the narrative since the guests at the hotel play no part in it. It would have been adequate if Aydin had been a rich man with inherited wealth, but making him a hotel owner justifies the spectacular locale. Secondly, we have segments where characters are brooding but what they are brooding about is not clear. When a character stares out so pensively in film (as also in the opening scene of Tarkovsky’sSolaris – 1972) there needs to be some emotion or trauma – usually from a past experience – which comes later into importance but Aydin can only be thinking about his next newspaper article. Thirdly, there are long conversations conducted with great solemnity but which are essentially trite – as one in which Necla regrets the breaking of an expensive glass by the maid. In others Aydin, Necla and Nihal debate on intellectual issues. The reader will get a sense of the level of the debate if the most important one is described. Necla believes that evil can be prevented simply by yielding to it. If she went back to her former husband and asked for forgiveness, she believes, he would be shamed into giving up alcohol. This is said by Necla separately to both Aydin and Nihal and both of them (rightly) dismiss it as nonsense. But if this is nonsense, why should so much time and attention be given to the idea?

Aydin is subjected to some bitter attacks by the women (Necla calls him ‘selfish, spiteful and cynical’) and one might see the influence of Ingmar Bergman in this interpersonal rancor 30. But one cannot help finding the venom incongruous since there is nothing that Aydin does that merits it. As a gesture to help in her philanthropy Aydin even gives Nihal a large sum of money (‘enough to buy a house’) but she sees it fit to go over to their tenant Ismail/Hamdi’s place and hand it over. This seems like a kind gesture on her part and Ismail using the money to pay off her husband might have resolved issues. What happens instead is that Ismail feels insulted and drops the money into a fire and allows it to burn 31. My implication here is not that it would be unlikely for poor people receiving the money they badly need to burn it but that gestures like these are easier made in fiction than in real life. Aydin reiterates that it is not his fault that he is rich and other people poor, and the film does not hold this viewpoint as unreasonable. This being the case, we wonder how to judge Ismail’s belief that the money Nihal them is offering is on account of her ‘guilt’. The film is non-committal politically and hardly puts it across as a given that the rich are inherently ‘guilty’. Since Ismail intended to be a sympathetic figure one can see little purpose in this episode except to lend the story some intensity – which might appear otherwise lacking.   

Another observation has to do with the film’s use of metaphor; a striking motif in the film relates to the capturing of a wild horse. This capture takes place immediately after Ismail’s rebellious son is brought to Aydin by Hamdi to apologize (kiss Aydin’s hand) and the boy promptly faints before he can do it. The capturing of the wild horse takes place immediately thereafter. Similarly, Aydin lets the tethered horse go free when he feels that his attitude towards Nihal has been too constricting. This may be symbolic but the images are too strong on their own – in relation to the occasions on which they are used – to serve as honest metaphor. Another strong image which is inserted with little reason is that of a dead dog in the snow outside the railway station. A concluding episode in the film deals with the killing of a rabbit by Aydin and we are shown the rabbit gasping in its final moments. This is reminiscent of the last few minutes of Bresson’sMouchette (1967) when the encounter with the dying rabbit happens just before the girl kills herself. Here the rabbit becomes Aydin’s peace offering to Nihal and is meant to be eaten – more evidence that Ceylan uses images because they might be affecting rather than to serve a legitimate narrative purpose.      

The literary/ film influences cited when one deals with Ceylan are usually European – Anton Chekov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Robert Bresson, Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman – which suggests that his is more a cosmopolitan sensibility than that of most Turkish film-makers before him. The music he uses in Winter Sleep is also the same segment from Schubert’s Piano Sonata No.20 in A Major used by Bresson in Au HasardBalthazar (1966) and this gives the film a more melancholy air than is justified by the narrative 32. But the issues and the motifs that his film works with are deliberately less political than those of Chekov (as the segment of the letter from ‘The Wife’ will indicate) and evoke milder emotions than those evoked Bresson and Bergman. In fact, the earlier Turkish films which were not so ‘cosmopolitan’ – not only those of YilmazGuney who spent a large part of his life in jail but also films like Zeki Demir kubuz’s Masumiyet (1997) – are not only more political but elicit stronger emotional responses because they engage much more deeply with local issues. Both Guney’sYol(1982) and Masumiyet are about people coming out of jail for crimes they have been punished for and the sense of an oppressivepolitical past shines through in their work, a sense of the past that Ceylan’s film – which has the appearance of serving Turkey’s push into the European Union – does not provide. A film which is attentive to local experience may ultimately be more universal than one that strives straightaway for universality as Ceylan’s film does. Perhaps the global art film needs to be local/national first because:

“In (a) sense, the national canon is determined by judgments based on universal values and often pronounced outside the geographical boundaries of the nation.” 33

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014)
The narratives of both Amour and Winter Sleep are played out over a small period of time and both appear set in an unchanging present – since little changes in the condition of their characters except those brought about by the advance of age and decay. Georges expends himself on his sick wife without a transformation in his condition and we do not expect Aydin’s household tensions to end with his gift of the rabbit to Nihal – regardless of the half-smile on his lips and she lowering her gaze. Both films are about retired people, and they are similar in that neither has a discernible ‘before and ‘after’ a critical event or set of events – either in the story as it is played out in the present, or a disturbance in the ‘prehistory’ of the story – which is a narrative strategy employed by art films like Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957) or Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar (1958). Richard Linklater’sBoyhood is a different kind of film because it is about a boy growing up between the ages of six and eighteen. Its innovation lies in its having been actually filmed over twelve years with the same actors playing the roles; we see the actual advance of age and maturity.   

Boyhood is, as may be anticipated, filmed in several segments – ten in all. It begins with Mason Evans Jr (Ellar Coltrane) six years old living with his divorced mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Their father Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) is an affectionate father and a well-meaning liberal who has not been able to settle down to anything, and has left his former wife to care for the kids. Olivia works hard to make both ends meet and the only way she can do so, she feels, is to go back to college to get a degree and find a better job. She therefore moves to Houston with the children, close to where her mother lives. In Houston she comes into contact with a psychology professor Bill Welbrock whom she flirts with and eventually marries. This is situated at the moment at which Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince appeared in book form, i.e. around June 2005. Bill Welbrock has two children by an earlier marriage and all four children live with him and Olivia. Welbrock reveals himself, gradually, to be an overbearing father and addicted to alcohol. Things get from bad to worse – more so for his own children than for Mason and Samantha and, when he starts getting violent, Olivia leaves him and moves away to another place with her own children. 

In the next segment Mason and Samantha are older and assisting their father when he is canvassing for Obama against McCain in 2008. Samantha is approaching eighteen and Mason Sr cautions her against teen pregnancy – as happened to Sarah Palin’s daughter. Mason is also getting interested in girls now. It is at this time that Olivia meets a former member of the Army National Guard who was in Bosnia and Afghanistan and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Jim seems a nice person and acknowledges that, to locals in Iraq, oil was what the war was about. A little while later Olivia is married to Jim, but he soon gets to be over-fond of alcohol like Bill Welbrock, conservative and bad-tempered – especially to Mason who is now into adolescence. Olivia has been doing well in her career and she and Jim have been living in a lovely house but the children will soon have to go to college and staying in a house so expensive to maintain may not be sensible. In the next segment Jim is not to be seen, having been divorced by Olivia. Mason Sr, now married to Annie and with a baby, is however in touch and there is bonhomie. The last few segments are about Mason getting interested in photography, his planning college at the University of Texas at Austin, his girlfriend Sheena, who cheats on him and his moving into a dorm at Austin with a new girlfriend as a possibility. Olivia, who has brought up her children as best she can, gets Mason Sr’s acknowledgment for what she has done. Just before Mason leaves for Austin to study in college, she breaks down at how quickly life has passed her by and how little is left for her – perhaps only one more milestone, her death and funeral.      

Since Boyhood was filmed over twelve years with the same set of actors, Linklater may have been uncertain about how his actors would turn out and these uncertainties could have infected his story. The closest film relative of Boyhood is Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel cycle of five films (1959-79) which all starred Jean-Pierre Léaud. The actor’s persona as a boy is very different from the way it turned out when he became an adult and the later films suffer after the dazzling 400 Blows (1959). Linklater may have wanted to avoid Ellar Coltrane’s development taking an unforeseen direction and affecting the film adversely and he does not delineate his chief character as strongly as Truffaut does Antoine Doinel in 400 Blows. But despite these doubts it is still possible to say a few things about the conception of Boyhood. Olivia and Mason Sr are the most agreeable adults in Boyhood and they are the only ones seen throughout the length of the film. The casting of the film’s only two stars – Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke – as Mason’s parents suggests that Boyhood is intended as a paean to the model American family. We see the two fighting in the first segment but we are deliberately kept from hearing the words spoken – which might have made us judge them adversely 34. Although Olivia and Mason Sr are divorced, we are still persuaded to pair them off in our minds. The good-natured Annie is also correct in her conduct but the film is ambivalent about her parents who are from the Bible belt, committed to evangelical gatherings and present Mason with a shot gun on his eighteenth birthday, which his father takes away 35.       

While the individual events were probably thought out over time and the whole story may not have come to the director before he commenced shooting, there are aspects of Boyhood which need comment. This has to do with there being no visible teleology in the narrative, each crisis not determining the development of the children and no psychological residue being carried forward from each experience. Every happening in the narrative does not always happen on-screen and one wonders why some psychologically determining events could not have been placed off-screen – in case they could not be filmed. There are some potential crises in the narrative 36 and one is struck by none of them leading anywhere to actually threaten – and shape – the children.  In a sense the children are generic constructs corresponding to people going through ‘normal childhood’ and belonging to a ‘model American family’ in which the parents are mindful of their duties while also being conscious of needing to be individuals – to serve as models for their children. That the parents are divorced only suggests that parenthood as an ideal is distinct from marriage, which has its own logic driven by another set of needs and responsibilities, and that each of the roles – parent and spouse – needed to be attended to separately. The constant reassurance provided by the father works against the divorce representing a past trauma, which might have been psychologically determining in another story. 

Childhood and growing up are, by and large, not common motifs in American cinema – apart from films specially meant for children – and the reason is, arguably, the high degree of generic differentiation. Many popular genres – like the western, noir, the gangster film, the horror film and science fiction – find it hard to accommodate children in focal roles, exceptions being films like Shane (1953). But when one does encounter such a film the transition out of childhood is crucial and caused by a key event. In Citizen Kane (1941), the boy Kane’s childhood is interrupted when his mother comes into wealth and decides that her son’s upbringing should be entrusted to the lawyer Thatcher. It is therefore his lost childhood (signified by his sled ‘Rosebud’) that the dying Charles Foster Kane recalls.  Bicycle Thief, 400 Blows and Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol (1948) are other art films which culminate in transformational experiences for the child as individual.  Hence, Boyhood is like Amour and Winter Sleep in that there is neither any past burden to overcome nor a moral crisis in the present – with a resolution positing a new awareness in the protagonist(s). A moral crisis divides the narrative into a ‘before’ and ‘after’ and the films do not include such an event. To demonstrate what I mean through an alternate scenario, in Boyhood Mason could have been indifferent to politics until he was actually shot at by the Southern redneck (who only threatens him in the film) during the Obama campaign and hence became a convinced liberal. This would have created a ‘before’ and ‘after’ around a climactic event and provided Mason’s evolution with a rationale. 

The three films dealt with hitherto have flat narrative trajectories resulting from there being no transformational experience either in the narrative or its prehistory. This might have been frowned upon in the past but all three films have been phenomenally successful with critics now. On scrutinizing their ‘flatness’ and reflecting upon the absent climactic/critical event, we are led to ask how such an event should be selected. It would seem to me that the climactic/ critical event would need to be designated in such a way that social/ political conditions specific to the milieu are implicated in it. If we look at the films cited earlier all of them do this; Citizen Kane, for instance, implicates the American dream of abrupt wealth – and is taken up with how sudden, enormous wealth could alienate one from his/her own past. 400 Blows implicates the French penal system for juveniles, and in Bicycle Thief the transformational event is the child witnessing his father’s public humiliation for trying to protect his job. None of the three recent films provide us with critiques of the social milieus in which they are set. Boyhood may appear different but while the ‘look’ of the milieu is captured authentically, there is little in the film implicating social institutions/ practices in Texas or the USA. Events like the Obama campaign, woven into the narrative, amount only to period detail – like the release of the Harry Potter book. The underlying story in Citizen Kane is politically American as the one in Boyhood is not.

While dealing with Amour and Winter Sleep I noted how the films positioned themselves as art cinema by invoking high art – music, painting and art films of the past. Also conspicuous in Winter Sleep is philosophical conversation reminiscent of the talk in Eric Rohmer’s films – Ma Nuit Chez Maud (1969), Le Rayon Vert (1986) and Pauline at the Beach (1983). Both films deal with the cultural elite but Boyhood, which deals with an average family in cultural terms but still positions itself as an art film, needs to signal its positioning and does this through the reflective conversation. Much of this conversation is ‘meta-conversation’ i.e. rather than simply communicating, it is acutely conscious that it is fulfilling the need to make philosophical/abstract conversation.  For instance, parents talking to their children about the compulsions of parenting instead of instructing them to do this or that. Here is a small illustrative exchange between Mason and Sheena which shows how the conversation is intended to be especially ‘reflective’ – as would be appropriate in an art film:

Sheena: How long have you been here?
Mason: I don't know. Awhile, I guess.
Sheena: Awhile?
Mason: I just feel like there are so many things that I could be doing and probably want to be doing that I'm just not.
Sheena: Why aren't you?
Mason: I mean, I guess it's just being afraid of what people would think. You know, judgment. Yeah. I guess it's really easy to say like, "I don't care what anyone else thinks," but everyone does, you know? Exactly.Deep down. I find myself so furious at all these people that I'm in contact with just for controlling me or whatever but, you know, they're not even aware they're doing it.
Sheena: Yeah. So, in this perfect world, where no one's controlling you, what's different? What changes?
Mason: Everything. I mean, I just wanna be able to do anything I want, because it makes me feel alive. As opposed to giving me the appearance of normality.Whatever that means. I don't think it means much.
Sheena: You're kinda weird, you know that?

The three recent films, it would seem, engineer a ‘look’ for themselves which implies milieu specificity while signifying socio-political conditions too nebulous to be locally pertinent; they also attempt ‘high mimesis’ – i.e. give the everyday the appearance of high culture – and these strategies, arguably, owe to conditions created by the global film festival circuit. 

Simulating a local look
The three films which have been the focus of this essay are all from milieus which festival audiences will be familiar with and therefore do not allow much room for exotic appeal. Winter Sleep could have been different because it is Turkish, but instead of foregrounding ethnicity it presents itself more as a European film through cosmopolitan concerns. An association is that the film represents the new European image of Turkey. This could also explain why Chekov’s brutal description of Russian misery does not find a place in the film; a similar description of Turkish poverty might have been inconvenient to its European aspirations.  All three films engineer ‘looks’ for themselves which suggest attention to the milieu but socio-political discourse specific to it are nonetheless avoided. This strategy, while useful for a spaces understood as cosmopolitan, cannot be useful when dealing with cultures known to have strong socio-political undercurrents – such as those in Russia, China and Iran – and film-makers from these spaces need to adopt other strategies for the film festival circuit. It will be helpful to conclude this essay with a few comments about the films of an Iranian and a Russian director which have attracted notice.    

Asgar Farhadi, the Iranian film-maker, is best known for two films About Elly (2009) and A Separation (2011).  About Elly won the Siver Berlin Bear for Best Director in 2009 while A Separation won the Golden Berlin Bear in 2011. Both films have won numerous other awards and A Separation received the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2011. Both these films use a single effective strategy which is to posit a social situation involving gender – but in which all the pertinent facts and social issues are not made known at the outset. About Elly is constructed around the disappearance of a young woman Elly on a picnic she joins and the facts held back are that a relationship is being engineered by the heroine Sepideh between Elly and another young man Ahmad. Elly is already engaged to someone else but is trying to break it off and the film is relying on the surprise likely to be felt by audiences at the complications arising out of the strict conditions laid down for heterosexual bonding between unmarried people. The observation is that the norms for such bonding and the consequences of violating them will be startling only to non-Iranians. Locals would know them and anticipate the social consequences, i.e. the element of surprise that the film relies upon could hardly enchant them.

In A Separation, the wife wants to migrate to the West with her daughter and since her husband is unwilling to join her – he has to look after his incontinent father – she is asking for a divorce. As part of the solution the husband appoints a female nurse to look after his father and the film uses the surprise likely to be felt by audiences at the conditions laid down with regard to a female nurse’s handling of a male care, even one as physically helpless as the protagonist’s father. Also introduced into the film are elements like the role of religious instruction and the husband’s place in such arrangements, which are all instructive on socio-political conditions in Iran. Both of Farhadi’s films can be read as veiled criticism but their intricately constructed plots and the complicated sense of social conventions to be obtained from them are primarily meant for the cultural outsider to wonder at 37. In the introduction I argued that ‘difficult’ films demanded film-literacy rather than familiarity with local culture and the implication was that social experience, while not the same across cultures, is still understandable as variants of something essentially ‘human’. AsgharFarhadi’s films are not ‘difficult’ but they attempt to render the local experiences embedded in them unfamiliar; an issue to be resolved, hence, is whether they are not undermining the unity of human experience – and the plurality of the social meanings attached to them.

If social norms determined by religion are the key in determining the look of Farhadi’s films, the corruption of the Russian state is the key local element imparting its look to AndreyZvyagintsev’sLeviathan (2014). Zvyagintsev is the best-known Russian film-maker in the film festival circuit; he won the Golden Lion at Venice for The Return in 2003 and Leviathan was nominated for the Palme d’Or and won the prize for the Best Screenplay at Cannes in 2014. If Leviathan has attracted controversy for its unsparing portrayal of corruption in Russia 38, a scrutiny suggests film festival aspirations rather than an incisive social critique. The film is about a simple working-class man losing his land to the local mayor through a questionable legal process. One would suppose that such a theme would give a film-maker the opportunity to examine how the structures of power function in his society but the only demonstration Leviathan makes is of drunken politicians using violence to secure their interests. The sense that the political situation is ‘hopeless’ in Russia may not be invalid as much as unusable, because it neither illuminates nor even informs. This is evidence of art cinema refusing to address those inhabiting the milieu it is describing, catering to audiences elsewhere and calling upon them to judge the same milieu – not based on insights nuanced enough to be convincing but entirely on the basis of diatribe. What can such a hopelessly one-sided prognosis do, one wonders, except win prizes at film festivals, in which what matters is the look of a film rather than the local insights it offers?

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For an overview, see Allen, Robert, C. and Douglas Gomery, Film History: Theory and Practice, New York: Knopf, 1985.  

Rosselini’sRome Open City (1945) won the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1946, Truffaut’s 400 Blows (1959) won Truffaut the Best Director prize in 1959 and Alexander Kluge’s Yesterday Girl (1966) won several prizes at the Venice Film Festival in 1966.

Elsaesser, Thomas. New German Cinema: A History. London: BFI/Macmillan, 1989.

The Berlinale was founded as a way of showcasing the culture of the democratic West inside the East (since Berlin was located inside East Germany) and until 1974 Soviet films were not shown in the festival. The East responded with a festival of its own at Karlovy Vary in which no major film from the East was denied a prize. For an examination of Cold War politics in the film festival arena see Marijke de Valck, Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp 54-7.

Ibid, p 21.

Stephen Greenblatt, ‘Towards a Poetics of Culture’ from H Aram Veeser (ed.), The New Historicism, London: Routledge, 1989, p12.

For instance see Janet Staiger and Douglas Gomery, ‘The History of World Cinema: Models for Economic Analysis,’ Film Reader 4, Northwestern University Press,1979, p 42.

An instance would be Iranian cinema which was later transformed by the global reception to some earlier films. See SaeedZeydabadi-Nejad, The Politics of Iranian Cinema: Film and society in the Islamic Rep, London: Routledge, 2010, pp 138-61.

Marijke de Valck, Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia, p33. The author draws on Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, New York: Harvey Wheatsheaf, 1993, pp 5-6.

A key film-maker from the avant-garde of the 1920s still remembered today but more for his later films was Luis Bunuel who was a Surrealist. His two key films of the period were Un ChienAndalou (1929) and L’age d’Or (1930). Other key films were by Fernand Leger - Ballet Mecanique (1924) - and Germaine Dulac - The Clergyman and the Seashell (1928).

Marijke de Valck, Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia, p 24.

Ibid, p 25. Berlin originated in another impetus owing to Cold War rivalries.

See Thomas H Guback, The International Film Industry, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969.

David Bordwell, The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice, from Leo Braudy, Marshall Cohen (eds.), Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings (5th edition), New York: Oxford University Press, pp 717-20. 

Rosalind Galt, Karl Schoonover, ‘Introduction: The Impurity of Art Cinema’ from Rosalind Galt, Karl Schoonover (eds.), Global Art Cinema: New Theories and Histories, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp 3-27.

The ‘Auteur Theory’ which valorized the personal vision of the director was annunciated by Francois Truffaut in 1954, around the same time as the birth of the international art film.

Marijke de Valck, Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia, p 25.

Dyer, Richard, and GinetteVincendeau. Popular European Cinema. London: Routledge, 1992, p8.

Here are some art film classics of the 1950s and 1960s that this observation is especially true of: Godard’s Le Petit Soldat (1963), Fellini’s 8 ½  (1963), Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), Rivette’sParis Belongs to Us (1961), Truffaut’s 400 Blows (1959), Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957). The summoning of past events as a burden to be negotiated with is much less common in popular film narratives. An explanation is that mass art (which includes commercial cinema), being a product of industrial society and relying on technology as a means of dissemination, is intended to be consumed by people divided by great distances who may not respond equally to an over-delineated past. See Noel Carroll, ‘The Ontology of Mass Art’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 55 No.2, Spring 1997, pp 188-9.

Nowell-Smith. Geoffrey. ‘Introduction’ to Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and Steven Ricci (eds.) Hollywood & Europe: Economy, Culture, National Identity 1945-1995, London: BFI Publishing, 1998, p 3.

Marijke de Valck, Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia, p 28.

Don Ranvaud, ‘Pesaro Revisited’ from Framework, no. 18, 1982, p34.

Marijke de Valck, Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia, pp 68-74, 112-3, 118.

To provide examples from the Nouvelle Vague, Godard uses lines from Jorge Luis Borges’s essay ‘A New Refutation of Time’ in Alphaville (1965), Rohmer has a long segment with a discussion around ‘Pascal’s Wager’ in My Night at Maud’s (1969), Rivette is constantly invoking theatre – as Shakespeare’s Pericles in Paris Belongs to Us (1958).
Andre Bazin, What is Cinema? Vol. II, (trans. Hugh Gray), Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972, pp53-5.

There are, for instance, none of the emotional conflicts induced by old resentments in the film that mark Mark Rydell’s On Golden Pond (1981), also a film about an aged couple and their daughter and starring Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, two legendary actors.

William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity, London: Chato and Windus, 1949, pp133-54.

The film is based on two Chekov stories: The Wife and Excellent People. See  Accessed 24th January 2015.

Here is a passage from the letter: “Not far from you -- that is to say, in the village of Pestrovo -- very distressing incidents are taking place, concerning which I feel it my duty to write to you. All the peasants of that village sold their cottages and all their belongings, and set off for the province of Tomsk, but did not succeed in getting there, and have come back. Here, of course, they have nothing now; everything belongs to other people. They have settled three or four families in a hut, so that there are no less than fifteen persons of both sexes in each hut, not counting the young children; and the long and the short of it is, there is nothing to eat. There is famine and there is a terrible pestilence of hunger, or spotted, typhus; literally everyone is stricken. The doctor's assistant says one goes into a cottage and what does one see? Everyone is sick, every one delirious, some laughing, others frantic; the huts are filthy; there is no one to fetch them water, no one to give them a drink, and nothing to eat but frozen potatoes. What can Sobol (our Zemstvo doctor) and his lady assistant do when more than medicine the peasants need bread which they have not? The District Zemstvo refuses to assist them, on the ground that their names have been taken off the register of this district, and that they are now reckoned as inhabitants of Tomsk; and, besides, the Zemstvo has no money.”AntonChekov, The Wife and Other Stories, The Project Gutenberg,     Accessed on 24th January 2015.

The New York Times describes the dialogues as ‘Bergman-esque’. See  Accessed 25th January 2015.

The sequence is reminiscent of the one in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot in which Nastasya Filipovna drops the money with which she has just been bought into a fire and dares those who are wooing her for her money to pull it out. Ceylan cites Dostoyevsky as an influence also. See   Accessed 24th January 2015.
Ceylan has declared his intent as producing the same melancholy in viewers that Chekov produces and the legitimacy of using music to achieve it instead of humanist concerns needs examination.  See  Accessed 25th January 2015.

Dimitris Eleftheriotis, Popular Cinemas of Europe: Studies of Texts, Contexts, and Frameworks, London and New York: Continuum, 2001, p34

It is impossible for there to be a violent disagreement with both parties being in the right. Showing us the fight from behind a closed window pane prevents us from taking sides with one of them against the other, thereby taking away from the ideal qualities of the family – in which no one can be seriously wrong in his/her conduct/attitudes.
I propose that we are meant to read this in conjunction with the episode in which the McCain supporter threatens to shoot Mason and Samantha for trespassing - when they try to plant an Obama poster on his lawn. The director could be seeing the church and the gun going hand-in-hand in the South.

As instances, Mason being bullied by other boys in the school he is put into, a party in which the boys smoke marijuana and their host promises that they will be later joined by prostitutes (which does not materialize) and the older boys picking on a smaller Mexican boy at this same party. Mason being bullied by the boys is reminiscent of a similar scene in David Cronenberg’sA History of Violence (2005) in which the consequences are catastrophic.

It is significant that settling abroad is being considered by the woman protagonist and this can be seen as covert discourse that only immigration to the West can alleviate these social complications for an Iranian citizen. A complaint voiced in Iran is that film festivals dictate the shape of Iranian art films although this is not universally voiced. See Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad, The Politics of Iranian Cinema: Film and society in the Islamic Republic, New York: Routledge, 2010, pp 152-4.

See Neil McFarquhar, ‘Russian Movie Leviathan gets Applause in Hollywood but Scorn at Home,’
The New York Times, 27th January 2015.  Accessed 30th January 2015.

MK Raghavendra is the Founder-Editor of Phalanx

Courtesy: Amour Film
Courtesy: Winter Sleep
Courtesy: Boy Hood

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