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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Jia Zhangke's PLATFORM, Fatih Akin's EDGE OF HEAVEN... and Cucurrucucu Paloma

The preparation of a new screenplay is filled with challenges, and tiny little joys.

The past two days, in order to get into the right mood to write a new story, I was watching films that are relevant to what I intend to do.

Two days ago, I finally caught Jia Zhangke's monumental PLATFORM (2000). I was overwhelmed by its ambition and scope, its execution and style reminded me of the earlier works of Theo Angelopoulos (THE TRAVELLING PLAYERS and ALEXANDER THE GREAT came to mind, I think Angelopoulos shifted styles after VOYAGE OF CYTHERA as his stories became more intimate and more focused on one protagonist).

I realized I have never seen that many of Jia Zhangke's works. A few of his short films, and maybe just his later film, THE WORLD (2004). But I still keep this 2010 photo of myself with his muse (now his wife) Zhao Tao because of the Jia Zhangke photobomb.

With Zhao Tao and Jia Zhangke

Now that I look at it, the year 2000 was an amazing year for Chinese cinema. Wong Kar Wai's IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, Edward Yang's YI YI, Jia Zhangke's PLATFORM, Ang Lee's CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON etc. Regardless of what you think of these films, they have all left a mark in history, influencing filmmakers and the film business in ways beyond description.

Last night, I decided to watch Fatih Akin's EDGE OF HEAVEN (2007), I was too tired during the last 30 minutes of the film, so I went to sleep, woke up, and continued the rest of the film just now. The intersecting stories of the few different characters in the film made my heart flutter. It was a tale of forgiveness and reconciliation, despite its restrained manner of filmmaking, and despite me actually knowing most of the story already, I found my eyes welling up a little towards the end of the film, during this exchange, when Nejat tells Susanne of a story that terrified him in childhood. The story of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, to show god his obedience. (Moved by his gestures, God sent him a lamb to sacrifice instead)

Nejat Aksu: I asked my dad if he would have sacrificed me as well.
Susanne Staub: And what did he say?
Nejat Aksu: That he would even make an enemy of God to protect me.

It's an amazing feeling, it's amazing, the power of cinema.

For some reason, perhaps due to some slight similarities between the films, the late night viewing of EDGE OF HEAVEN suddenly reminded me of a similar experience I had in Perth 7-8 years ago when I popped in Pedro Almodovar's TALK TO HER (2002), hoping to watch something before I go to sleep. I ended up being so absorbed and captivated by the film that when it ended, my vision was blurry, all I noticed were the first shafts of light from dawn, piercing softly through my curtains.

I didn't get to rewatch TALK TO HER since then, and sometimes, my memories of the film were becoming hazy, and all that was left were images of it.

A few years after that, I watched HAPPY TOGETHER by Wong Kar Wai for the very first time. That was already after 2046 and MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS and I noticed that HAPPY TOGETHER was the only film in his oeuvre I have yet to watch.

Although the entire film was brilliant, what really made my jaw drop was that scene of the majestic Iguazu Falls that came after the prologue. The combination of the scenery and the hypnotic voice of Caetano Veloso singing "Cucurrucucu Paloma" absolutely KILLED. It's a marvelous marriage of visuals and sound.

This brings me back to TALK TO HER. Having not seen the film for so long, I couldn't remember anymore what was it that left me so very enthralled, until I was reminded that "Cucurrucucu Paloma" (and Caetano Veloso himself!) appeared in a scene of the film too. Different context, different use of the same song, but both films left a major mark in my soul. Such coincidences are unexplainable.