Art, Music, & Film: August 2006 Archives

The Decalogue: IV and V


As I noted in the review of the first three films in this series, it is not always possible to sort out which parts of the decalogue are being dealt with in any given episode. This is particularly true of IV, but not at all true of V.

Film IV appears to encompass honoring your father and mother, not coveting your neighbors wife (husband), and not bearing false witness. In IV a Father leaves his daughter during a business trip. She discovers an envelop that has written on it "To be opened in the event of my death." And she considers opening it. Finally she does open it to find within another envelop, labeled in a different hand, "To my darling daughter." From this simple kernel, a plot of intrigue, deceit, false and real betrayal and reconciliation all spins out. By far and away one of the more complex of the series so far.

In V we get a simple admonition, "Thou shalt not kill." We see a young man who, apparently at random, decides to rob and murder someone. Everything possible is done to make the young man thoroughly unlikable. His counterpoint is the young attorney who is assigned to defend him and who does everything in his power to convince the court that capital punishment is not justice but institutionalized revenge. This is the summary speech that occurs at the beginning of the film and which only gradually begins to make sense.

I'm uncertain what feeling I was supposed to leave with. We have at the end the young attorney hammering on his car in a field and saying, "I abhor it. I abhor it." I don't know if he speaks for the director, for himself only, or for some other group. But I didn't find the appeal particular persuading in this instance. While I am sympathetic to the argument overall, this didn't strike me as a very strong entry in opposition to it.

Still, despite that failure on my part, it is enjoyable to watch. Most interesting are some of the cinematic techniques used to couch the whole story. And also interesting is the appearance of the young man, said by some to symbolize Christ or His Angels. He has appeared in every film to this point, always at key junctures. In IV he appears twice and seems to be the impetus toward reconciliation and redemption.

So far, the only thing close to a misstep in the series is # 3, and even that was supremely interesting. Highly recommended.

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Tetsuo: The Iron Man


My initial and stronger reaction was: "What the heck was that?" My secondary reactions follows. And my tertiary is the wrap-up.

Japano-bizarro vertigo-fest filmed รก la Eraserhead and Night of the Living Dead and owing much to the Cronenberg-Romero-Lynch triad. Grainy, jerky off-centered, over-exposed and jumpy. The story a teratological blend of cyberpunk and self- and other- loathing rarely, if ever, seen this side of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with a dollop of the frigid and horrifying eroticism of Tennessee Williams in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth. Then inflate it with the excesses of Cronenberg's Crash, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch.

What passes for a plot lumbers by mercifully undisturbed by such things as logic and sequence. And so the film speeds along like Koyannisqatsi on an overdose of caffeine and designer club drugs careening wildly from one oddity to another without ever pausing to smooth out wrinkles and attempt to make sense.

And in writing this I know I've told you nothing about the movie--and yet everything essential. Finally a film for hardcore fans of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.

In sum--far more unpleasant than the gestalt formed from blending all of the references above together and filming them in black and white. And weirdly interesting. Although only recommended for the hardcore Asian film fanatic or the collector of the odd and outré.

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Jules et Jim


Sometimes I watch films recommended by the critics and I understand the art and the beauty behind them. Perhaps I'm not aware of all the filmic techniques that went into making them, nor entirely persuaded as to the art, but I find them powerful, enjoyable, watchable, and perhaps even entertaining.

Not so with this highly recommended film by François Truffaut. Obviously I do not have the sensibilité Français, and, frankly, if this film represents either French or European sensibilities, I'm glad to be stuck in my American rut. It is an aimless mishmash of a ménage á trois that fails to entertain, amuse, enlighten, or even be nice to look at.

Jules and Jim are best friends; Jules is Austrian, Jim is French. In the course of the film they both fall for Catherine, a rather shallow, self-centered, vicious adulteress. At the start of WW I Jules and Jim are separated by their allegiances and Jules marries Catherine--a mistake if ever one was made. AFter the war the three reunite and carry on in a fashion unbecoming goats, much less human beings. Jules realizes that Catherine is about to live him and their daughter Sabine so he invites Jim to be her husband and live together in the same house. But, of course, Catherine tires of Jim and so the story goes.

I could see neither the directorial brilliance of Truffaust (which, honestly eludes me with every film I see by him) nor the value of the film that earned rave reviews from several major critics. I couldn't believe that anyone would put up with the nonsense dished out by Catherine or would choose to live their lives in such an unstable and unsettled fashion. The cinematography did not enchant and the endless odd angels of railway stations, the Eiffel Tower and whatever other object happened to fall under the camera's scrutiny was enough to induce vertigo. What we have is a amoral mishmash that winds up in a tragedy that leaves the viewer heaving a sigh of relief that the film is finally over. Why I watched the whole thing, I do not know. I suppose I thought something might happen that would redeem the hideous spectacle that was playing out before my eyes. I don't know what I was supposed to have gotten from this film--but all I was left with was a sense that I would think very carefully about watching another Truffaut film. (This despite the fact that I did enjoy L'enfant Sauvage and Fahrenheit 451

NOT recommended unless required by your local film department and then, please be so kind as to tell me why anyone thinks this film is magnifique.

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Breakfast at Tiffany's

Capote, that is.

Perhaps it is memories of Music for Chameleons, lingering traces of story and prose, moments that come back every now and then that convince me that Capote was a writer of enormous potential and great power. Unfortunately, for the most part, that power and potential were wasted in work that rarely surpasses the level of gossip in an apartment stairwell.

Take Breakfast at Tiffany's, one of the works he is most well-known for, in large part due to the movie based upon the book. I've never been able to sit through the movie despite the enormous talents of Ms. Hepburn, and I find that the reason lay not in the film itself, but in the source. Perhaps there are layers and layers of meaning and character and idea all imbedded in this tale of Ms. Holly Golightly who is, for lack of a better term, a prostitute. Although Capote is not so crude as to call her that in the course of the work, and his job is to get us to sympathize and collaborate with Holly in her goings-on, for this reader he failed utterly. And he didn't fail simply because the matter is immoral--so are the basics of the plots of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. The difference is the prurience and the gossip that seem to pervade Breakfast at Tiffany's. As you read the story you are told about Holly by many different characters, each whispering in the hallway, wondering what has happened to her.

In Cold Blood the real masterwork that made his name, is much of the same tone. A "non-fiction novel," which, as one commenter has pointed out was more a marketing ploy than an innovation--(witness John Hersey's Hiroshima and Walter Lord's A Night to Remember as examples in Capote's recent past that did much the same thing. In Cold Blood takes on the same persona of endlessly unwinding tales out of school and rumor and gossip. Of course, that is how a murder story would evolve in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, so in some sense the tone is justified. But the work still suffers from the pervasiveness.

Reading Summer Crossing a recently discovered "unfinished" novel from very early in Capote's career, I realized what flaw linked them all together. Or perhaps what flaw made many of them charming and interesting. In his writing, Capote could never leave Capote at home. He's always there, always commenting, always churning, always getting things moving, always starting the conversation, always seeking information, always sharing half-truths--or perhaps more correctly Truman's version of the truth. This flaw enters all of the works. You cannot read Capote without hearing him talk in that strange mixture of hoarseness and lisp. And while that could be all very find, Capote himself is such a conflicted person that you can't trust his narrative or his voice.


The movie, to my great disappointment, was about the writing of In Cold Blood. I'm told that Philip Seymour Hoffman delivered a superb performance. And on one level that seems true. He seemed very much like Capote. But the movie failed for me and it failed precisely at Capote himself, and perhaps its failure is inevitable given its subject. Capote, even at this point is an empty shell of a human being, casting about endlessly for support, love, and meaning. This new book is to make is meaning and his mark, and he sets about its creation with a firm purpose and resolve that would have done the founding fathers proud.

But the endless need weighs on one as the film progresses until, finally, one is bogged down under the weight of it and turns the film off. There are too many great things in the world of books and cinema, and its no sin to say, "I've given this the time to engage me and it has failed to do so." I gave Capote an hour of my life and it was far too much.

It's a shame, because Capote is charming in his own way. He has to be because he isn't seeking so much fame and glory through his writing, although that too is part of his ambition; he is seeking acceptance as a broken and not particularly likable man who was too firmly made in the image of the women who brought him up. Flamboyantly gay, he came of age at a time when being gay might make you a character, but still earned social opprobrium and disdain. To some extent the same is true today, and will always be true, because there is some streak in those who are not gay that resists the charms and allures and recognizes the transgression of natural law and, unwarrantedly, uses that as a bludgeon, sometimes literally. While one must not endorse the gay "lifestyle" or "way of being," the person who is gay is a person first and must have the respect, love, and acceptance that any person needs to survive. Truman attempted to get this through ingratiating himself to others with his gossipy ways, and with his attempts at being the modern-day Oscar Wilde. This attempt ultimately undermined him and deprived him of nearly all associations until is long, slow, suicide culminated in his early death at the age of the age of 59.

He was iconic and he was provocative, and he was in his time important. Whether that will continue to be true after the generation that knew him personally is gone, remains to be seen. The difficulty is that he did write marvelously well. The prose he composed was such that one is almost compelled through the unreadable by sheer force of his voice and storytelling. Almost, but not quite--as it was in his real life, so it remains in much of his extant writing. And that really is a shame.

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Thérèse (1986)

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As promised, I got and watched the 1986 production of Thérèse--a film in French celebrating the life of St. Thérèse, and by far and away a better film than the more recent production, although it does have several cinematic austerities. Interestingly enough, for this viewer the austerities work to the improvement of the overall feel of the film. There were no full "sets," only furniture against a constant backdrop of grey-brown. There was no music, only the ambient sounds of the actors and their movements. The entire motion of the film is a series of vignettes separated by dissolves or wipes, one moment not necessarily carrying clearly from the next. One of the difficulties of the film was keeping all of the women straight in my head. I often found myself wondering who was who as the action continued. While disorienting, it served also to emphasize the singularity of Thérèse herself.

Everything about the production was quiet, subdued, and intimate, inviting the viewer in to the intimate life of Thérèse herself. And of this intimate life, one got far more of an impression that with the other film of the same title. There is much more sense of Thérèse as a fully rounded person--Thérèse as impish, young, and terribly dedicated.

The Hairshirt and the Celice

There were some moments in which Thérèse had slightly the wrong emphasis, or a tweak in the wrong direction--not because what was depicted was incorrect but because it was not modified by what we now understand of Thérèse. Most notable among these is a scene in which Thérèse is preparing for the day. They show three different devices for mortification--a hairshirt, and two toothed or spike straps or belts--one for around the upper arm, one for around the upper leg. We see Thérèse putting these on and smiling her little smile. As noted, this is not an error--Thérèse was an obedient child of her time and observed the practices of the Carmelites at the time; however, Thérèse was one of the first to observe that these practices were utterly unnecessary. Indeed, part of the emphasis of the little way is that life itself brings mortification enough in the course of the day, one need seek out no more.

And this is well demonstrated by another scene in the film during which Thérèse falls asleep during the reading of scripture before the meal. Mother Superior tells her to go and lie on the floor before the refectory, and the nuns proceed to (mostly) step over her.

Je souffre. . . De mieux

One of the more dramatic moments in the film is a dialogue between Thérèse and one of her sisters. Thérèse is near the end of her life and talks about her suffering. She says Je souffre, and at first her sister responds Non.

Je souffre . . . Non
Je souffre . . . Non
Je souffre . . . Non
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux

So the dialogue goes getting faster and faster. The sister's later response is translated in the film as "good" but a better translation might be, "For the better."(Good is merely bien, something subtly different is being said here. Not that suffering is good, but that it is for the better). But the real point is that I had failed to notice up until this moment how similar the French Je souffre and Jésus are. Toward the end of this interchange it sounds as though Thérèse is speaking the name of Jesus over and over again. This is notable as nearly the only time in the film where the name is spoken, Jesus is referred to under a number of different names, but rarely spoken of by name.

Thérèse et Thérèse

This 1986 film gives a much more realistic, much grimmer look into the last sufferings of Thérèse, and it does not candy-coat the dark night. In addition, it feature one of the most revolting episodes committed to film, and reinforces my allergy to the notion of self-administered mortifications--it strikes me the that are often a perverse form of pride--taking upon ourselves what is more properly the realm of God. However, this beautiful little film does portray a Thérèse who is at once girl and Thérèse--who accepts the everyday realities of life even as she struggles to grow closer to Jesus.

Overall, a much more satisfying and fulfilling treatment of similar subject matter. Be forewarned that there is much more here that is more difficult to take that in the more recent production of Thérèse. And as a result, the film emerges as a truer, more intimate portrait of Thérèse. (Also, it doesn't hurt that it is in French, so some of the more saccharine things said, don't sound nearly so bad nor so French school-girly.

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Well, I'm relieved to say that this wasn't nearly as awful as I had been led to expect from the previews and trailers. Not a masterpiece--and if you didn't like Thérèse before, this isn't likely to make you think more of her. In addition, things were taken out of context or recontextualized to make journal entries be something that is spoken in the course of the film. But apart from that kind of fiddling, what's here is true to the story.

Part of the difficulty is that it is very hard to sympathize with a poor little rich girl who had every advantage in the course of her upbringing and whose insistence upon early admission to Carmel must just as easily be viewed as headstrongness as it is desire to serve the Lord.

The movie tries to give us the whole of Story of a Soul and that may be in itself another difficulty. The book was not composed as one coherent history, but as at least three separate manuscripts. And there is much tha tThérèse said and thought that did not make it into Story of a Soul. As a result the film is episodic and depends upon the viewer to fill in many of the blanks. In addition, the director of the film has chosen to leave out those things that Thérèse accounts that might make both her and the film more palatable--her sudden temper tantrums, her own stubbornness and selfishness, and the interior of what hid behind the smile given to one of the more acerbic nuns. We are left with the outward drippings of piety and devotion, and this can make long work of a short story.

And when at last we come to the long dark night of Thérèse, it seems like another trip to the park. This most important aspect of Thérèse and her spiritual life is reduced to the level of one of her comments about dolls. Once again we get the pietistic Thérèse, suffering a minor discomfort rather pettishly.

I can say that I really enjoyed the film score tremendously, and despite the shot-on-video look of most of the film, it had some beautifully done moments.

Recommended for Thérèse-admirers only. I wouldn't recommend showing this to people who you want to get to admireThérèse, it really doesn't do her the justice needed for that kind of work.

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Soon to be known, probably far less effectively, as Pulse in an American Remake.

The central concept--the Internet is populated by ghosts. That's it. They're there and they cause a lot of problems. No, more than that, they bring about an apocalypse that starts in Tokyo.

The film is quiet and horrifyingly effective with very little of the trick photography or the overt horrors of many lesser works. This film works because of its suggestion. It also works because it has more to say that most horror films. It asks questions about death and eternity that it doesn't dare answer or even really suggest answers to--but it asks them in a most disquieting way.

The imagery of the film is odd and suggestive. People disappear into shows of themselves left imprinted on the walls. Those in turn "pixelate" and vanish. But it is interesting that Kiyoshi Kurosawa has chosen this imagery for the disappearance of humankind, most particularly as it is the haunting imagery of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and of the Katsuo Oda short story "Human Ashes."

Be forewarned, the story never really goes much of anywhere--the film is almost entirely about atmosphere and about the loneliness of the human condition--both points conveyed superbly. And it does provide a few creepy moments and some surprising jolts.

Understated, elegant, and thoughtful--for those into the Asian Horror Movie field this is a superb entry. High Recommended for adults.

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The Decalogue I-III

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In 1987 Krzysztof Kieslowski did a series of ten films for Polish Television. We might refer to it as a mini-series; however, it differs in that while some characters show up in the films that feature others, there is no continuity of story and no strong connections between them. These are short stories, short films, to be viewed each as a separate piece. Kieslowski employed ten different cinematographers so that there would be a distinct visual style with each one.

So far I've seen the first third of these films and all I can say is that if television were like this even 10% of the time, it would be worth watching. They are superbly acted miniatures, each dealing with the dilemmas and problems that come from violating the commandments. Roger Ebert points out that there is little purpose in trying to determine which film is linked to which commandment, as many are linked to more than one, and some are obscure.

For example, in the first film, a young, brilliant professor and his son work together to devise a program that will calculate when ice will be thick enough to safely skate on a nearby lake. The results are disastrous. It appears that this might be "I am a jealous God , thou shalt have no other gods before me." But it's difficult to say. The second of the three is somewhat easier--"Thou shalt not commit adultery." But it presents us with a profound moral dilemma of the type "you will not do evil that good will result."

What follows has spoilers, although I'm uncertain that these films can be spoiled. A young woman consults her husband's doctor to find out if her husband is going to survive after an operation. She loves her husband but she had been seeing another man and is pregnant by him. If her husband will survive, she will abort the baby--her only chance of having a child because her husband is infertile. But if he will die anyway, she will carry the child to term. In the Poland of this time, there appeared to have been restrictions with regard to the term during which one might have an abortion and she is at the very limits of that term. Anyway, the problem is resolved because of a lie the doctor both manufactures and supports with false evidence and another doctor's opinion. The husband will survive after all and the end of the movie shows the husband thanking the doctor for the lie that will preserve the child he and his wife are to have.

Thus, this film deals not only with adultery, but also with false witness--a pair that seems to go together rather naturally. Believe it or not, even with this spoiler, there is tons of other stuff going on, both subtle and overt, that make this film worth watching over and over.


The third of the three I've seen so far has been the weakest and least conclusive. It covers "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." It features a woman who at one time had an affair with a man and now, on Christmas Eve, seems to be seeking him again.

The films are instructive in another sense. We see in them the elite of Polish society--a musician in an orchestra, a Doctor, a Professor. We see also the conditions in which they live, which, while not absolutely squalid, are bleak. The hospital the husband is recovering in has a leak in the ceiling and down the walls and the paint is peeling off and flaking, the Doctor's offices are tiny uncomfortable cubicles. We have here a chronicle of just post-Soviet Poland and the bleak grayness to which communist policies reduced everything.

So far these films have the very highest recommendation. They are short, taut, brilliantly conceived. They are to cinema what Chekhov or deMaupassant were to literature--brilliant miniatures connected by theme and recurrent characters, but each an individual film.

As I view the remainder I'll keep you updated.

Tonight we'll do the Swedish Film, Fanny and Alexander, supposedly an autobiographical film by Ingmar Bergman. Also on the agenda are possibly a Thai film found at the local public library, a post-invasion/war Iraqi film Turtles Can Fly and François Truffaut's masterpiece Jules and Jim. I'm getting quite the film education this summer. It helps when there's ironing to do.

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Tonight's Agenda


Originally I had scheduled two short Polish films (the Decalogue II and III) and Franny and Alexander which is a three-hour long Swedish film. (Linda asked me if I would be speaking English by the time she got home.)

But I think I'll probably watch the two short Polish films and a surfing movie, perhaps Step into Liquid--it's been a while since I've seen it. And except for the surfers, the scenery is spectacular.

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Variously translated Spiral or Vortex, Uzumaki is yet another one of those Japanese Horror films that is disturbing or odd and at some place inaccessible to western Audiences. It provides the same mysterious non-explanation of events that haunts films like Ringu and Gu-on and so the film comes off more as a nihilist dadaist exercise in film-making. Indeed, as I watched it, the Dadaist classic, Vormittagsspuk which I saw in a short film festival with Un Chien Andalou.

The film centers on the obsession of first one character and then many others with spirals and spiral patterns. The real infection in the film is this obsession which gradually turns people into giant snails and sends the smoke from their cremations into the atmosphere in anti-tornadoes.

I don't know what the point of this film was or what I was supposed to derive from it in terms of horror or even sense. However, that said, I did enjoy it on its own terms. There was a kind of surrealist/dada sensibility to it that permeated it in a far more profound way than anything since the 1930s. The events make no real sense, and yet they are compelling and interesting to watch and the film plays out to an inconclusive conclusion that is its beginning.

While not particularly frightening, it is eerie and unsettling, and perhaps on some level even thought-provoking.

Recommended for fans of Japanese Cinema, Horror Movie Completists, and Dadaist/Surrealists. Wouldn't recommend for anyone younger than teens.

For additional comments on films mentioned in this review:




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Trois Coleurs: Rouge


The third, and perhaps the best of the trio, Rouge is the story of doubles and a kind of romance. The story really gets underway when our heroine accidentally runs into a dog. She picks up the dog and takes it to her owner who turns out not to care much. It is the relationship with the owner that causes things to get interesting.

The owner is an ex-judge. He spends his time listening to the phone calls of others, spying on them. This judge is double in many particulars of his story by a young man who is taking his exam to become a judge.

It was in the course of this film that I realized that the enlightenment trinity Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité has actually, in the course of the three films been transmuted into the three theological virtues Faith, Hope, Love.

In Bleu, the young woman has lost everything that she lived for, she's lost all sense of self and all desire to continue an existence and yet cannot find itself in her to end her own life. So she decides to live a life without connections. It is her belief and her inner strength that brings her back to the real world, to an attempt at communion with humanity, to love and charity. In the Blanc, the man getting a divorce hangs on perpetually to the hope that his ex-wife really does love him. Time after time this hope is dashed, but ultimately it proves itself in unexpected ways. And finally, in the most compassionate of the three, the young heroine in Rouge brings life to an old man and to those around her through her simple compassion, love, and humanity. At the end of this film the three virtues are united and they stand alone in an odd juxtapositioning.

The three films are well worth seeing and they must be seen, for full impact together or at least in close proximity. I'm glad that I wasn't waiting a year between films when these came out because the freshness and the meaning would not have come through as clearly as it does watching them all within a week or so.

High recommended for ADULT audiences. Some of the finest film-making I've seen in a while.

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Trois Coleurs: Blanc


I found this segment of the trilogy interesting, engaging, but a bit more problematic than Bleu. Blanc (White) is the second of the three and stands for the second in the Enlightenment French trinity--&eaucte;galité. The thematic color is white, from the statue the hero steels to the snow-dusted polish fields, to the (literal) climax of the film--white predominates until at the end, it becomes mixed with red portending the next and last of the three, Rouge.

Karol is a Pole living in Paris. His wife decides to divorce him for a number of reasons, among them the lack of consummation of the marriage. But Karol believes that Dominique still loves him.

He meets a fellow Pole in the train station and schemes to go back to Poland. He packs himself in a trunk and goes as part of his new friend's luggage. Upon arrival the bag is stolen and when the thieves open it and find only poor Karol they thrash him.

Karol was a successful hairdresser in Warsaw and all the ladies are glad he is back. But he is not content and starts to make a new life for himself.

Okay, enough of the plot because once again this is an intimate film turning on very small moments and to say too much would be to ruin the surprise of the film. But to the problems of the film. It is an interesting paradox, the film is big-hearted and small minded or small-hearted and big-minded. Or perhaps it is Karol who is big-hearted and terribly confused. Whatever it is, the &eaucte;galité when it domes is &eaucte;galité in smallness, in pettiness and in revenge that ends oddly and interestingly.

I don't quite know what to make of the film except that I really enjoyed every moment. Not so simple and clear as Bleu., Blanc will reward multiple viewings with, I think, both depth of meaning and depth of feeling.

Highly recommended to all ADULTS. A rewarding, interesting, fascinating film with enough substance to be appreciated time and again--and enough to think about to keep you thinking for days to come. Excellent.

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The Subtle Art of the Subtitle


An example from Blanc:

Actual Line: Dites-moi quelque choses.
Translation: Say something (or several things) to me.
Subtitle: Say anything.

Actual line: N'importe quoi.
Translation: It doesn't matter what.
Subtitle: Anything.

The art of the subtitle is to try to get across the essence of a spoken passage without tiring the viewer by having him or her read the entire script/spoken part of the film. But sometimes the compression goes too far, and something is lost. Fortunately, in French films, I am less reliant on the subtitles than I am in other foreign language films. Blanc, however, is in French and Polish, so I'm only halfway home.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Art, Music, & Film category from August 2006.

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