Follow by e-mail

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Strange transmissions

This is a review of Father and Son (2003)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


11 February

This is a review of Father and Son (2003)


Sokurov is often referred to as Aleksandr, but is here credited as Alexander. In any case, his directing gives us a screen-world that mixes (as T. S. Eliot has it*), memory and desire, except that it is memory and desire and dream… Dreaming, though, where son can talk to father from outside it (and vice versa), and ask what it is like, which Russell Hoban prefigured by publishing Amaryllis Night and Day in 2001 (hardly uniquely, since it is likewise the stuff of Ursula Le Guin and Earthsea, which has its roots elsewhere).




In no way repeating Mother and Son (1997), but not disappointing those who watch Father and Son (2003) by the strength of the performances or the writing, Sokurov dwells on the awkwardnesses in life that bring us so close or so far apart (as Peter Gabriel puts it**) : British and Russian politeness / society are not poles apart, and changing the subject is just as much part of (Chekhov or) this film as is suddenly talking about the weather.

A delirious moment, of nigh-febrile intensity, begins the film, bringing us at once inside the physicality of Alexei and his dad’s life and love, both for others and for each other. To this kind of soldierly behaviour, not only Britishness may not easily relate, and so find in it the homoeroticism that Sokurov seems to have wanted to dismiss [NB link is to a review that mentions Sokurov's reaction], even if there is quite intentional ambiguity about so much in what we see.

So, in a beautifully crafted and cut-together scene, where Aleksei Neymyshev (Alexei) talks to Marina Zasukhina through, and around, the narrow aperture of a window, we do not even know for sure though we may surmise, since this is in a barracks why the window cannot be opened more widely, let alone who they are to each other, or why Alexei’s father (Andrei Shchetinin) has also come to visit. Later, the script has Alexei almost stumble upon an encounter that almost mocks, perhaps, Shakespeare’s balcony scene, yet at the same time bringing out the tension and sense of daring in wooing, as in any interaction.

To say little more, because the film needs to speak for itself and to a willing recipient, the dialogue, and Sokurov’s tight direction of scenes, both keep at the human level. Even so, the filming introduces visual distortions, say, with the tram, or has us impossibly trying to follow ‘the action’ of Alexei with, and in the company of, his fellow military colleagues, wrestling and struggling in pursuit of exercise and expertise in hand-to-hand, unarmed combat watching too closely, or trying too much to follow, and missing what else is in the film-frame.




If Chekhov is a struggle (because we cannot see, or relate to, what is unsaid in all that is said in, say, Uncle Vanya, or The Seagull), or if Pinter’s wordy silences seem awkward (which serve a similar purpose, at times, of making us aware of the underlying sub-texts to our lives and actions ?), that may disincline us to watch Father and Son. Yet one could still try it, but by giving oneself to 83 mins in the undiluted medium of cinema without trying to understand how the reimagined musical scores or its interplay with the soundscape work, or the heightening and lowering effects with light : so, surrendering, as to a dream-world that is another’s life, to what the camera shows us, chooses to show us.


End-notes

* In the very opening of Book I (‘The Burial of the Dead’) of ‘The Waste Land’ (although only a cursory look at the Faber & Faber facsimile and transcript that Valerie Eliot edited soon has one wondering whether it is Eliot’s poem, or that of Ezra Pound, to whom (in 1925) it was dedicated, and who is credited : Il miglior fabbro). Whilst we are contemplating Eliot, the fact that filming took place in St Petersburg and Lisbon has given something of the effect of his ‘Unreal City’ (via Charles Baudelaire) in Book III (‘The Fire Sermon’, heading the fourth block of lines).

** To quote the lyrics of the track ‘That voice again’ on the album So (or is it So ?).

*** Symbolically, does either desire it or, rather, to continue to peer through the crack, or through the bottom of the pane ? Cinematically, which is what is posing these questions to us, the effect caught is unnerving, electrifying, and perhaps infuriating both in and outside the action, as we try to address what we are seeing…




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

No comments: