Saturday, June 11, 2016


Looking back, I can’t find a post where I wrote about “Flamenco, Flamenco”, but I remember writing phrases and making links, so maybe I did.  What I was trying to get to — and the point of the film which has no narrative except a sequence of performances — was that Flamenco dance is the product of the history of a place, in fact, a history shared with Europe and even with Britain, in a distant way.  But much harder and more unique because of being occupied by the Moors for so long and because when the people threw over that domination, the result was the Christian Inquisition, which we seem to be approaching again and which may be at the root of the Holocaust in some subtle way.   Insistence on freedom invites violence from those who object. 

I once heard a talk by Vine Deloria, Jr., in which he held up a book of Inquisition torture machines to demonstrate to us how cruel Europeans are, that it is possibly their essential nature to be demonic and destroy others, particularly the indigenous American people.  Hard to muster up an argument against unmoderated evangelism and proselytizing, the drive for domination.

And yet these forces were all rooted in the same Abrahamic trinity: Christianity, Islam, Judaism.  Flamenco is hard, percussive, vivid, sexy, plaintive and defiant.  Not just “macho” but also the female equivalent: a fire, a force, a consuming consummation.  The land created the culture, the invading culture invited challenge, the resistance shaped the people into defiance.  Still does, but I need to read much more.

In the meantime I just watched a film with a totally different aesthetic that is nevertheless guided by a kind of cultural structure of belief.  The Asians do not think of compensation through salvation in a future Heaven, but rather accept loss and tragedy as part of life that is best seen through resignation and aesthetics.  Bittersweet doomed relationship based on longing is a valued story theme.  “Zhou Yu’s Train” responds to that by exploring a young woman who paints porcelain: beautiful, fragile and vulnerable — but rigid.  She wants her own way: that is the controlling railroad underneath her train, but she never comes to a real destination, because she turns around and goes back, circling.  Even the train conductor loves her and tries to help her.

She wants an intense relationship but can’t choose a final one, so she is always shuttling between two lovers:  a poet, a danceaway man who lives in a library (his head) until he goes to Tibet, versus a practical, located person who is a veterinarian.  He’s a doctor, but an animal doctor.  The choice of lovers is split between the ethereal spiritual man, and the fleshly healing man.  Normally this is a Western philosophical problem.   (You know "Summer and Smoke"?) 

It’s narrated by Zhou Yu’s sensible friend, who is played by the same actress (Gong Li), which confused the hell out of Roger Ebert and made him impatient with the whole story.  But he had to admit that it was intensely beautiful.  Across the marvelous unfolding of mist, land, and lake, the railroad imposes repetition and limitation.  It’s part of the point.

“Spring,Summer,Fall, Winter…and Spring”

This is not a Chinese film, but a Korean one — also Buddhist like “Zhou Yu’s Train,” so with the same acceptance and beauty.  This story is all our stories, learning in the main stages of life.  Kim Ki-Duk, the director, has previously been criticized for his films of violence and misogeny, so perhaps this is to show his range is much wider, or maybe it’s a product of repentance.

Confronted with the problem of his young charge passing through the gate of sexual desire into murder (Fall), the monk brings from elsewhere a pale cat, whose tail tip he uses as a paintbrush to ink sutras of meditation.  The cat objects but is overruled.  One review tells me that cats in Korea are seen as having the power to cast out lasciviousness.  In childhood I cherished the story of the boy who drew cats everywhere, and once covered the inside of a temple occupied by a monster.  The cats protected the boy by killing the monster.

The arc of this story surprises Westerners by teaching a small boy compassion in the most direct way, by allowing the healing of a young women with sex, by transforming the rage of a young man and the stoniness of the cops that come for him with the hard work of painting and then carving and then coloring the figures of the sutras, and then comes back-story of ice and partial rescue, that explains a small boy growing up with a monk on a floating monastery.  It’s not just an arc — it’s a circle.

“The Mother”

This film is English but it is a foreign country emotionally:  that of the older woman (Anne Reid) who may be overlooked but who can be set free by a physically generous man — not just any man but one whose essential nature is a refusal to accept boundaries. (Daniel Craig)  This rather shocking story is easier to accept if one has watched the series called “Last Tango in Halifax” with the same actress getting married as an "old lady."

Anne Reid and Daniel Craig

This interview linked below, in which Anne Reid explains why she never married a second time, quite sensibly also explains the end of the film.  The film does NOT turn away from sex, but illuminates the anguish of having to accept the loss of something found late and adored, but impossible.

I suppose that the feminist explanation of why the Mother’s two nasty children turned out that way — narcissistic, insatiable, control-freaks — is that the father imposed his values and illusions on all three of his family members.  They are his beloved love objects but they don’t seem to have satisfying lives of their own.  Nor did he teach them to love their mother, whom he did not treat well himself.

But the radical alternative, the Daniel Craig character, is not all that helpful either.  A wife he won’t divorce, an autistic son, an inability to handle rage, and a hint that he is a calculating rotter as well as alcoholic.  He’s impossible.  Merely irresistible.  But the other alternative is an over-educated old poseur like her husband.

The "Way" is not easy to find.  One is sometimes compelled to go off on one's own.  In spite of disappointment, the world is a big, beautiful place.  The Mother does not leave on a train but on an airplane.  I hope she went to Catalonia to learn to dance the Flamenco.  There even the old women pick up their polka-dot flounced skirts and rap their heels on the boards.

If you can't afford the fancy dress, just flaunt your apron. 

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