Thundering typhoons! With Tintin and Me
(Denmark, 76 min.) Anders Hogsbro Ostergaard has crafted a fascinating and intriguing documentary about Hergé, the Belgian artist who invented Tintin (and Captain Haddock, and Professor Calculus, and the Thomson/Thompson duo, etc.) for a Catholic magazine in 1929 and wrote adventures for his youthful hero right up until the 1970s. I used to read these comics all the time when I was a kid -- and my dad seized the opportunity to educate me by explaining all the references the characters made to things like Sing Sing, etc. -- and watching this film made me want to go back and read them all over again. Scott McCloud notes in his book Understanding Comics
that Hergé used a fascinating combination of iconic art (in the ultra-simple, ultra-cartoonish faces he gave his characters) and realistic art (in the ultra-detailed environments in which he put those characters), but I hadn't realized until I saw this film just HOW out of his way Hergé went to ensure that he was depicting authentic settings as accurately and realistically as possible. The film gets into some interesting political and biographical territory as it explores the influence that a certain right-wing Catholic minister had over Hergé's life, hiring him to create a cartoon in which a strapping young hero would defeat Communists around the world, etc., and even marrying Hergé off to his secretary; when Hergé left his wife for another woman many, many years later, he apparently felt a great deal of guilt over this, until he evidently set aside certain ideas about "sin" with which he had been raised. Hergé's association with this minister, and with a newspaper that the Nazis had assumed control of at the beginning of WW2, also led to him being arrested as a "collaborator" at the end of the war, even though he had written anti-fascist stories before the war (one story takes place in a country overseen by a dictator named Musstler -- half Mussolini, half Hitler) and had kept his Tintin adventures strictly neutral during the war (lots of buried-treasure stories!). One of the film's sadder subplots concerns a Chinese man whose advice on The Blue Lotus
helped Hergé to move out of the stereotypical and propagandistic mode of the earliest Tintin stories; this man disappeared early on, and Hergé apparently spent his entire life looking for him, even going so far as to base an entire story, Tintin in Tibet
, on the character's search for this Chinese man's comic-book namesake; and what's really kinda bittersweet is the way this man was ultimately found just a very, very short time before Hergé died, and the way the reunion of these two men was treated like a major media event -- you can't help wondering if Hergé had really meant as much to Tchang as the idealized quest for Tchang had meant to Hergé. Amazingly, Hergé, who was interviewed by the director (or by one of the interviewees, it wasn't clear to me which) at some length in the early '70s, professes to be happy with only two panels in his entire ouevre; they are good panels, to be sure, but man, there's a lot more than just those!
I caught that film on Monday night, between two Israeli films -- both of which, by some odd coincidence, concern single mothers with daughters who may or may not be getting the sorts of reputations that women generally don't like to get. On Sunday, I saw Campfire
(Israel, 95 min.), which does a PERFECT job of capturing the look and mood of the early 1980s; the widowed mother in this story, name of Rachel (Michaela Eshet), is thinking of joining a new "Religious Zionist" settlement in the West Bank, and Tami (Hani Furstenberg), the younger of her two daughters attends a Jewish youth group, and the kind of music they sing, and the kind of activities they have, totally brings to mind the kinds of things I experienced at church functions way back then; the fact that my upbringing was Christian, not Jewish, doesn't make much of a difference here because there was a definite philo-Semitic tinge to the churches in which I was raised, and that was the era in which a lot of Christian choruses were starting to be written in the style of Hebrew praise songs. One OTHER thing this film does perfectly is capture the exuberance of what it feels like to be a 15-year-old in love, especially when the object of your affections seems to be returning your feelings. And I really liked the amusing blind dates that Rachel goes on. Those who have seen Broken Wings
will recognize Maya Maron, who plays the sulky older daughter (if memory serves, this actress could be in danger of typecasting) who reacts to her mother's desire to move by sleeping with a young soldier. Tami's story in particular takes an unsettling turn once it reaches the titular campfire, but I think the film retains its humanity throughout, and while some might say the film ends on a slightly-too-neat note, I myself was grateful for the way the film affirmed, more strongly at the end than it did in the beginning, that, on some levels at least, happiness really is a choice.
Then, late Monday night, Or (My Treasure)
(Israel/France, 100 min.), the Camera d'Or winner for best first feature at this year's Cannes. Ronit Elkabetz (the female lead in Late Marriage
) stars as a Tel Aviv prostitute whose 17-year-old daughter, Or (Dana Ivgy), keeps badgering her to stop hooking and get a real job; meanwhile, Or works multiple jobs to bring in a little cash of her own. Alas, one can't leave the, um, profession all THAT easily, and it seems the neighbours believe either that all those men who go up to the apartment are there to see Or, or, when they are speaking to Or's mother, they just pretend that the men are going to see Or; either way, Or's efforts to strike up a romance with one of her neighbours are threatened by what his mother thinks is going on in that apartment, and the possibility that the mother's sins might be visited on her daughter somehow does hang over the story. A very different sort of film from Campfire
, but very compelling, in its own way.
And what would a film festival be without a Kiarostami film? 10 on Ten
(Iran, 83 min.) is a series of ten short lessons on digital filmmaking, delivered by Kiarostami as he drives around the outskirts of Tehran. Interestingly, while I have not seen that many of his films, I HAVE seen the two most crucial films that come up in his discussion here -- A Taste of Cherry
, which ended with a bunch of digital behind-the-scenes making-of footage because the original ending, shot on film, was ruined in the lab; and, of course, Ten
, the first film Kiarostami shot "deliberately" with digital cameras, and the film which provides the template for this one. I could quibble with a number of claims that Kiarostami makes -- e.g., digital cameras "allow artists to work alone again" (no casts? no crews?), digital cameras capture reality as it is (but what about all those kids acting up for the digital cameras in ABC Africa
?), etc. -- but I loved his observation that putting a composer's music into one's film is "a bit like an arranged marriage -- you blindly go ahead with it." (I happened to see this film just after watching Empire of Dreams
from the Star Wars
DVD set, and I was struck, while watching that, to realize how very, very, very late in the filmmaking process John Williams came along -- can you imagine that film without that music? can you believe people made that film not having a clue that that music would carry the film along? And yet, nearly ALL films are made like this, of course; I can remember making a short silent film in university, and then asking a friend of mine who had a way with the piano to make something up for it on the spot -- and now, I can never think of my film WITHOUT that music.) I was also struck by the way he said he avoided word-for-word scripts because he didn't want his "non-actors" to become "real actors". "Real actors". Now THAT'S an interesting term. I also liked Kiarostami's occasional dry humour. Worth seeing, especially for fans of Ten
and for those who like films that resemble the more thoughtful and philosophical DVD bonus features out there.
And then, after that, Male Fantasy
(British Columbia, 78 min.), the film in which my sister has a bit part; my comments are in the thread devoted to my sister and/or this film.
And then, today -- no VIFF films at all! Alas, work got in the way. My first day of abstinence since the festival began six days ago. But no worries -- I'll be at it again tomorrow!
Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 29 September 2004 - 11:16 PM.