Sifting through a myriad number of films that have been produced till now can be a herculean task and if I were to leave it on chance to find films that I would enjoy then I would be getting to see the gems once in blue moon only. Today only I was discussing this with a friend of mine that there are millions of things that have to be done, millions of books to be read, places to be visited, songs to listen to, movies to watch, emotions to express and experience, will one lifetime be enough for that?
I knew about Filmstruck for a long time and decided to have the trial version of the same for the 14 days before I would start my work-related travel again. I watched Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs Bleu, A French classic – Une affaire de femmes, a couple of Swedish ones namely Together and the famous – I am curious Yellow. I had kept Stalker – the 1979 soviet sci-fi in my watch list and was I delighted to watch it?
When I started writing this post I thought I would write a review for this masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky but in between I have changed my mind and my propensity is towards the instruments and film theory Tarkovsky resorted to while he directed this one. There is not an iota of question that the film is a strange one, not easily digestible, set in a post-apocalyptic world, talks in ciphers and cryptic language. The medium is terse and esoteric, talks philosophy, and focuses on single frames for a long time, at times as long as 4 to 5 minutes. Such lengths make people uncomfortable. Why? May be it makes them bored. Boredom is quite magical, it makes you do things that you wouldn’t have done otherwise even if it means jumping from one task to the other aimlessly. But the question is – Is this movie meant for everyone? May be not. Soviet state committee pointed out that the film isn’t immersive but alienating the audience and is slow. Tarkovsky replied it is the way it should be.
The arrogance and obstinacy is what is attractive here. Tarkovsky was assiduous, arduous, and audacious in one of his final attempt. So was Bertolt Brecht, the man who coined the concept of Verfremdungseffekt, popularly known as alienating the audience. Most of the movies that we see these days rely on CGI for the grandeur or the emotional manipulation of the audience. In layman terms, you identify with the main character of the film and go on an emotional roller coaster with that character. You laugh and cry in unison, one such example is Roman Holiday in which people can start relating themselves to princess Audrey Hepburn and l’ordinaire journalist Gregory Peck. To Brecht, emotional manipulation meant vile and scrupulous like a lie that steals your right of knowing the truth. This concept cuts chords with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.
At this point, Brecht decided to alienate audience than immersing them in the film watching experience. They would be looking at the characters, film, the plot, the props as an outsider. The audience won’t become part of the emotional experience but will be a self appointed critique. The end goal was to distance the viewers so they can take a rational decision on the plot, events, and the actions of the characters. Tarkovsky used this method well to create a radical, surprising, and a critical product – Stalker. The art practice no longer remains a bourgeois and lofty one but can assimilate with the audience without manipulating them emotionally. Another film that follows the similar path is Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. I was thoroughly bored when I watched it for the first time and anticipated ‘something’ will happen but after 3 hours 45 minutes, the film just ended and I felt deceived. I was naive. After watching Stalker that belongs to the similar genre, I felt challenged. The film challenged me to remain bored, to maintain the static nature and then observe my surroundings. It challenges us to try and take a step away from the buffet of dissipation and profligacy and visit the mysteries of the zone. It is inline with Brecht statement that sometimes it is important to be human than to have good taste.
PS: Today I had a mathematical model’s delivery at work and while wrapping up the presentation I asked my clients to be devil’s advocate while checking the model or if we talk in film theory, I would like to alienate my audience so they can take a rational decision on the final product. We all had a hearty laugh.