Friday, March 30, 2007

Jan Svankmajer’s Lunacy (2005)


“If I offer you hospitality, I have my reasons.”

The film opens on Jan Svankmajer himself, standing in front of a white background, plainly dressed, and addressing his audience concerning what they are about to witness in his latest release – Lunacy (2005). In his address he sets forth 3 models of control: absolute freedom, control and punishment, and the type which combines the worst aspects of the first two. He further describes this third type as “the madhouse we live in today.”

In order to depict the extremes of these three models, Svankmajer’s characters must be complex, tyrannical, gothic and insane. However, as the film progresses, the issue of sanity is played with a great deal. Before witnessing either the effects of adopting the philosophy of absolute freedom or that of control and punishment, we may not understand what the Marquis is attempting to do by bringing Berlot into his bizarre, sadistic, sexual world. We see him as a dark character, appearing to be just as mentally ill in his sadistic treatment of patients as the patients themselves are. We may question: “What is he getting at with all his talk of liberty that in reality does nothing but further oppress the patients he is supposed to be liberating?” It is important here to point out that absolute liberty cannot be liberty for all, since the ability to act however one feels and has the means to act toward others necessarily hinders the liberties of those who do not possess equal power. The Marquis offers Berlot his hospitality and gives the patients complete, unstructured “freedom” (though if they really were free, they would not remain in the hospital, obeying his every command) so that they will feel indebted to him – ready to obey his commands in exchange.

It can be argued that the Marquis and the original psychiatric doctor he overthrew are one in the same as far as where their logic about treating the mentally ill is concerned. The Marquis inflicts psychological pain by brainwashing his patients into adopting his views on the state of the world, which he uses time and again to justify the ways he exploits others. A good example of this in the film is the scene when Berlot tells the Marquis that he saw what he did last night – which he had considered to be sexually abusive/exploitative and blasphemous. The Marquis answers him by offering his logic on the non-existence of God and the idea that nature is evil and destructive and as a result, to be evil and destructive is more closely tied to nature than believing in a “mythical God to grant wishes.” However, I will argue that this use of the logic of destruction is no madder than the conventional doctor’s methods of inflicting bodily pain to weaken the body to return to a balance between the body and the mind. This flip- side to absolute freedom supports strict control over the flesh, using physical pain to condition patients to behave a particular way. Both approaches are, at the heart of the matter, concerned with molding others according to one set logic and idea of the way the world should be – that of whoever is currently in charge.

We can imagine, then, by thinking about the most horrific actions of both the Marquis and the original doctor, what a combination of both approaches would lead to – the absolute freedom of a select few to execute whatever control and punishment techniques, mental and physical, necessary to maintain “order”, perhaps? A survival of the fittest devoid of all aspects of what we consider “morality”? Complete chaos.

So, after considering all three options, which should we choose to avoid living in a societal “madhouse” and is it even possible to avoid any of the three, that is, to actually choose which approach to endorse? Is attempting to negotiate with such theories simply a game of choosing the lesser evil? These questions may never be answered. Indeed, they are not answered throughout the film. While Berlot was initially convinced that the Marquis was a madman and that the only way to restore order was to re-instate the original director, in the final scenes of the film he is horrified to witness the gruesome physical treatments the doctor performs. There is also a final irony – the doctor that Berlot literally set free and reinstated is precisely the man who now holds the power to limit his freedom to leave the institution, which he had initially entered of his own free will.

But it is not only the way we see Svankmajer’s actors showing us bizarre rituals and after-effects of bodily punishment that forces us to confront deeper philosophical issues about the treatment of the mentally ill and the power divisions of society, there is another important component of this film which I have left out of my discussion completely – all that meat.

Upon a first viewing, it comes as quite a surprise – there are tongues jerking across the floor, pieces of butchered meat performing on stage, ground meat hatching from eggs and a final view of a perfectly clean piece of meat being suffocated by its cellophane wrapping in the supermarket. The first time I viewed this film, I did not know what to make of all the meat. While many of the actions performed by the animated meat seemed to directly comment on the scene either directly before or after the particular interlude, some were more abstract and difficult to identify. And then there is the question of why meat was used at all – particularly the different types of meat shown. Perhaps the meat metaphorically represents flesh and the desires of the flesh to be free, to directly express itself and also, paradoxically, to be controlled (manipulated as stringed marionettes), but only so far as to maintain some illusion at least of autonomy. After all, the final, most horrifying depiction of the meat is that of it neatly wrapped, pulsating as if longing to break free. Perhaps the meat represents an ever present conflict between unbounded desires of the flesh and the need for control over the flesh so as not to bring it to complete destruction. There are, of course, other observations to be made and conclusions to be drawn about the film as a whole and what Svankmajer was attempting to make us realize, though from his interview, it seems he would be more fascinated by the possible differing conclusions to be drawn than attempting to explain the specifics of his vision and motivation for making this film.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

When Allegiance to One’s Country Contributes to That Very Country’s Erosion: Kusturica’s "Underground" (1995) and Tanovic’s "No Man’s Land" (2001)


At the heart of both Emir Kusturica’s Underground (1995) and Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land (2001), lies confusion and satirical comedy concerning the Bosnian – Serbian wars of the 1990’s and the history of political positioning of Bosnia and Serbia dating from WWII to the ‘90s. Neither film seems to logically explain the conflicts or give a clear depiction of the politics motivating the many states, including Bosnia and Serbia. Instead, we become spectators who see blatant corruption and bureaucratic incompetence, always skeptical of what knowledge we are gaining about the wars. Each film, after all, is likely holding back or deliberately working to shape a particular view and, with no direct experience to anchor us, we may be described as similar to those kept underground in Kusturica’s film – unable to know any other reality than that which readily appears before us in each film and unsure of what to make of much of what we see.

No Man’s Land specifically focuses on war turned into media hype and sensationalism, humanitarian organizations that seem to be more for show than action and the pointlessness of war, in particular warring ethnicities of the same regions. For example, the English reporter who seems so dominated by the need to “seek out truth” in many scenes, is also clearly catering to studio officials back home who are working to shape a particular view of the war through the footage she sends. She shows little real sensitivity to the situation, wanting to interview both the Serbian and Bosnian men in the trench about whether or not they are responsible for the conflict; both are insulted and unwilling to share any details of their involvement in the war as a result of her sensationalist and illogical approach at gaining answers. Perhaps the most infamous scene for illustrating the futility of the conflict comes early on as Nino and Ciki demand (at gunpoint) that each other admit that it was their group that started the war. Whoever has the temporary authority of the firearm has his way, until his rival’s opportunity to gain the upper hand (by possessing the gun, or knife) presents itself.

One moment in particular struck and intrigued me; it incited me to more accurately understand the isolation of every other group present, but outside the direct Serbian-Bosnian conflict. During a scene in which Cera’s situation on top of the bouncing mine is being assessed by the UN staff present on the scene, we begin to hear a strange musical soundtrack. It is one of the most clearly remembered instances of the long duration of the entrapment within the trench because it is the only moment that has a musical soundtrack accompanying it. Up until this point in the film, all we hear as soundtrack are the firing of guns, the sounds of tanks, or the bugs in the background. Perhaps at first we begin to pay extra attention to what we are viewing because the soundtrack signals to us that this is an important sequence. However, our perceptions are shattered as we see a UN officer remove his headphone and with it, the music disappears; the official could not have been more distant (and neither could nearly any of the UN officials with the exception of the one who first answered the call for aid) from the cause he was involved in – attempting to save a Bosnian life. I will not however, assert that No Man’s Land sides more strongly with either the Bosnian side, as we gain sympathy with Cera or the Serbian side, as there is no possibility of rescuing his life. It does not side with the media pursuing “the truth” nor does it side with the French UN officials who respond to the initial situation. It is a film which takes no sides and offers no hope for any involved, and yet it is also darkly humorous in many instances. Like Kusturica’s Underground, there is the sense that nobody really knows what is going on or why, yet everyone wants to be involved – either to assert that they are in the right, or to witness the senselessness.

The difference is that, in Underground, the people kept (literally) in the dark do not know that they do not really know what is going on; they place complete trust in Marko’s reports back to them about the outside world. They are controlled by the only media they know – Marko – and they want to be involved in the fight against the Nazis by manufacturing weapons for his distribution. The ending of Underground is especially intriguing from a critical or theoretical point of view. Unlike No Man’s Land which ends with a final look at Cera, unable to be rescued, lying in the trench, Underground ends with yet another drunken banquet, albeit a much more reserved one than witnessed throughout the film, where everybody who has died or had a physical limitation has been restored. At last there is no corruption, it is a utopian existence. But, one cannot forget the final shot, guests happily chatting and dancing while the land they stand on literally breaks apart from the rest of the country, as if to say: these people have lived a lie and opportunistically betrayed one another and thus have no country, no national unity. Yet still, there is an inescapable need to look back nostalgically at the unity that once was, even if it was proven later to be false. As was stated in class, the country was a lie, but was still lamented and nostalgically idealized upon its destruction. Perhaps this is because dealing with being considered a non-nation may be one of the most difficult things to do, to have no national unity, no definition of oneself in terms of where one came from.

Perhaps the final similarity between Underground and No Man’s Land is that both comment on the need to uphold one’s particular alliance with one’s own kind against some other evil, whether perceived or real. This becomes tragic when the very principle of upholding ones nation is precisely what is tearing it apart.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Eastern European Women Directors - Discussion 1: Vera Chytilova - "The Fruit of Paradise" (1969)

Knowledge, Enlightenment and the Truth We Don’t Want to Accept: A Discussion of Chytilova’s The Fruit of Paradise


Vera Cytilova’s 1969 film, The Fruit of Paradise is complex and problematic to critics who attempt to view it from any particular vantage point while avoiding the analysis of it in other contexts. For example, though there are feminist (even if Chytilova would have never used that term to describe her work) overtones throughout the film, reading it in its entirety as thoroughly concerned with gender and the role of women would be too simplistic. In “Can We Live With the Truth?”, an article appearing in Central Europe Review, Daniel Bird reminds us that a major focus of the film is with truth and that there is no concrete evidence within to suggest that it celebrates a nihilism resulting from the knowing of a truth that we do not want to be able to comprehend or to believe is indeed the truth of our existence.

The Fruit of Paradise opens with a visually intriguing retelling of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. The first images we see are much more reminiscent of photographic slides quickly switched, juxtaposing a variety of plant imagery of various shapes and colors. Adam and Eve walk across, holding hands, and barely stick out with their almost transparent bodies merging with some of the plant textures. It is this sequence that may remind us most of Daisies – there are vivid colors, and the pace at which new images bombard us is overwhelming, almost assaulting. The climax of the retelling comes as the narration tells us: “And the serpent said to the woman: Ye shall not surely die!” Immediately, we are again shown various close-ups of plants, but they have a reddish cast to them, as if filtered. When Eve appears again, the narration of the serpent continues (or the narrative retelling of what the serpent said, rather): “On the day ye eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing both good and evil.” After this, “tell me the truth” is repeated as a chant, while we see Adam and Eve holding hands and struggling with one another – pulling each other forward, backward, side to side. The colors and textures of the background continue to change, forming a complete aesthetic “chunk” of material for us to process, along with the chant and intense (religious sounding) music.

The next big cut occurs as if to signal the fall as we see a gray, drab, deserted chunk of landscape before seeing an apple fall. Eva, sitting beside her sleeping husband under a tree, catches it. Now a more whimsical music plays and there is a shot reverse shot exchange between Eva and Robert, a man clothed in a red jacket as bright as the apple Eva seductively bites into. Eva asks her husband, “who is it?” and he replies by asking her what she is eating. In this scene, as in many throughout the film, Eva appears innocent, almost child-like in dress and mannerism. But after eating the apple, she becomes more inquisitive, seeking Robert out and observing him as he plays with various women. Robert, clothed in red and seductive, reminds us of Satan, or perhaps the serpent, challenging the women and appealing to their desires.

The pivotal moment of the film occurs when Eva notices a key, on the sandy beach of the resort or vacation destination, which has fallen out of Robert’s pocket. When he pays no attention to her signaling him about the key, instead continuing to flirt and play with the other women, Eva walks off with it, eventually using it to unlock a cottage. Once inside, she frantically searches; we do not know what she is looking for, but she opens several dresser drawers containing various items, including what looks like fruit, possibly pomegranate seeds (which could, according to myth, symbolize the forbidden fruit in itself, adding an element of temptation). After exploring the drawers, Eva finds Robert’s briefcase and opens it, finding a rubber stamp inside and stamping herself on the thigh with a red number six.

The scene of the discovery of the briefcase has an ominous, disorienting aesthetic to it. The camera movement is jumpy, as if hand held, which adds tension, along with the use of tilts and high and low camera angles. There are also alternating cuts between Eva exploring the cottage and Robert and the others of the resort on the beach – playing, flirting, and even searching for the lost key. It is also important to note that the color of the six is red and that six is considered the number of the beast. Once Eva stamps herself, she cannot rub it off, no matter how hard she tries. This may be symbolic of her gaining knowledge of evil and submitting to its seduction. What began as an innocent exploration and curiosity has grown into something more for Eva – it has led her to discover lust and evil. This becomes clear as we find out, when Eva returns to the beach, that there is a murderer on the loose who has been stamping his victims with a red number six. Literally, those who gain knowledge of evil die, as Adam and Eve believed they would upon eating the forbidden fruit, and indeed did in a sense as they became aware of evil and thus could not live the same, innocent life ever again.

It is also important to note that after begin stamped, Eva’s appearance and actions change dramatically. No longer dressed in white, she begins first to wear pink, and finally red, matching Robert, whom she continues to pursue, saying that she loves him. In one of the final scenes of the film, as Bird points out in his article, Robert tells Eva, “Everything is nothing but a dream. You are a lie.” While I cannot come to a definitive conclusion about the meaning of this sentence, it seems to signify that gaining knowledge goes hand in hand with losing the type of divine knowledge that may have been possible before there was knowledge of evil that clouds judgment and confuses human emotions and motives. Without the fall, the inner human crisis concerning salvation of the soul and the ability to distinguish between good and evil would not exist. Eva does not seem to notice that Robert is evil – he is seductive and intriguing to her. Eva lives as if in a dream, disoriented from her previous innocence, and not wanting to know the truth of evil that she has come into contact with and which has altered her. At the very end of the film, Eva tells her husband, “Don’t ask to now the truth, even I don’t want to know” after she kills Robert, and yet is not free from Satan because she has committed murder of him, who she had loved. Evil begets evil and cannot be eradicated; Eva must be expelled from paradise because she knows the truth of inherent human darkness.

I began this discussion with the assertion that there is no set reading that one can arrive at as far as the film’s thematic concept. This is because, though it is a story told to parallel the fall of man and the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, it cannot be summarized as a commentary on the deceptive qualities of women. Though at moments it seems this simple, such as when Robert tells Eva, “You’re the only one who came of her own free will”, we cannot overlook the role Robert, as a man portraying Satan, not a Satanic woman, plays in seducing her. We also must remember that Eva’s husband is portrayed as unfaithful to her, lusting after other women. In Eva’s relationship with her husband, she is not the only one unfaithful to the marriage, yet there is a double standard at work as her husband says, “Forgive me, I have sinned against you. But I did not know what I was doing.” Eva replies to his comment, “You’re my wife and I’m your husband” saying, “that’s not true” and is further questioned by her husband, immediately suspected of having someone else. There is a double standard at work here in that Eva is expected to forgive her husband, even though he cannot show her the same forgiveness. “You’re like him”, Eva tells her husband, “You’re all the same.” This statement directly compares Robert and Eva’s husband, and asserts that men in general have the evil of lust within them.

There are many more avenues to explore with this film; many more interpretations to test upon subsequent viewings. My analysis has only begun to touch on the themes Chytilova may have been considering. It is a complex film, and, contrary to her government’s belief that the film gave in to nihilism as a result of commenting on the inevitability of evil and the desire to keep the truth hidden so that the knowledge of this inevitability could not surface, the horror of truth at the end, and Eva’s expulsion from paradise clearly focuses on some moral framework; her end is not celebrated. As for a final comment on the feminist aesthetic, it too is conflicted – Eva is both empowered in her quest to actively seek out knowledge, yet is also a temptress and ultimately, an embodiment of evil (even if that evil equals that of every character portrayed, including that of her own husband).

For anyone who would be interested in reading more from the article I have cited in my analysis the address is:

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Simultaneous Social And Scientific Advancement - Ildiko Enyedi's "My Twentieth Century"

Ildiko Enyedi, My Twentieth Century (1989)

Ildiko Enyedi’s first feature film, My Twentieth Century (1989), is both cinematically beautiful and intellectually thought provoking and troubling. As mentioned in our class discussion, the film does not rely heavily on a linear plot as much as it expresses themes through juxtapositions and episodic portraits of situations that comment on each other. In isolation, any single “episodic part” would not tell us much about the messages and themes of the film as a whole; these themes are compounded through their repetition within different contexts. For example, the theme of freedom is perhaps the most prevalent throughout the film. It is depicted in terms of animals and symbols as well as through the freedom each of the twin sisters have or strive to possess.

As the film opens, we are reminded of the progress of Edison as he ushered in a new way of life with the invention of the light bulb. Bright bulbs fill the dark screen and we see a new freedom for mankind as he will continue to make technological advancements. Yet, at the end of the scene, the camera focuses in on Edison looking blankly into the dark, star lit sky. Voices are heard, telling him not to be sad, but to look toward, Europe – Budapest. There is a cut to a mother giving birth across the globe. As she holds her twins, we see a different, yet perhaps even more astonishing miracle, that of childbirth. The twins’ names appear below them: Dora and Lili, but any feelings of hope for a future full of possibility are complicated by the next, fated scene of the twins as young girls selling matches in the street. They fall asleep and chance has it that they be separated to grow independently from one another, exerting different levels of freedom and operating under different conceptions of femininity in their opposite environments.

We do not see the girls again, until the turning of the century when they both board the Orient Express and we notice that Dora has grown into a materialistic and sexually manipulative woman while Lili has devoted her life to political activism and blushes at the glance of a man. The two women could not be more opposite, but their opposition does not fully speak to the furthering of the freedom of women because it only represents two notions of women – as either virgin or whore, while a truly free and independently meaningful woman would be a complex combination of both.

The sequences/episodes of the dog being tested and caged all of his life and then set free and of the monkey fascinated with man’s grimace, who is captured comment on the lives of the twins who have, by chance been caged within certain parameters by being defined as either virgin or whore. After hearing the Weininger speech, Lili illustrates how deeply women can be trapped within their own lives, questioning whether they are anything by their own nature, totally absent from men or living according to a man’s influence. It is almost as if they opposite lives of the twins is an experiment in finding the nature of woman – they each deal with men and independence in different ways, but ultimately, neither possesses the freedom they seek; Dora cannot be free because she depends on using her sexuality to manipulate men and economically support herself; Lili is not free because she devotes herself entirely to politics and wonders whether women do have any identity of their own or if it is true that “the absolute woman has no self.” The end of the film suggests that the true woman embodies aspects of both virgin and whore and that this realization is just as necessary to the progress of mankind as any new technological advancement.

The final statement of the film is a bit troubling to me. We return to the shots of Edison, asked to talk about the telegraph and one statement in particular stands out: “The world, which was created by God, is magnificent. And man, who has learned to shape it, is also magnificent.” The fact that this comes directly after Z’s realization that he desires a woman who is both virgin and whore seems to suggest that man has learned that woman is not capable of being rigidly classified, or at least has begun to notice that she has a nature of her own and that his perception of her must be shaped according to that reality. However, the statement relies heavily on “man.” Man is responsible for shaping his world, while woman continues to hope for new possibilities in future generations (suggested by the return to the twin birth scene from the beginning of the film), according to an alternate reading of the statement.

Friday, March 2, 2007

"Decalogue: Five" and "A Short Film About Killing" - Similarities and Differences in Perception

Krzystof Kieslowski, A Short Film About Killing (1988)

Even though, or perhaps even because Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing (1988) deals with so many simultaneous and opposing themes, such as ethics and revenge, darkness and love and the question of who is responsible for any action a human being makes during his lifetime, it is also one of the most striking and beautiful from a cinematic viewpoint. The colors are surprisingly vivid, even in their greenish, yellow or grey cast due to what appears to be an extensive use of filters throughout the shooting of the film. There is dark shading around the frame, a shadow that looms over nearly every character we are introduced to, initially unaware of how their fates will intertwine. There seem to be symbols everywhere, though it is unclear if any of them really “mean” anything. I do not say this to argue that Kieslowski has carelessly placed a single object, but, rather, to point out that he leaves it up to the individual to interpret what he places within the frame for themselves; it all has a kind of random feel to it, as if these are just random, chance objects to be found in the everyday lives of those portrayed. Looking from this approach, we cannot rely too heavily on a devil’s head hanging from a taxi’s rear view mirror for too many clues.

In addition to special lighting conditions and the use of filters and shading effects, Kieslowski also shoots with dramatic camera angles and camera placement to frame and give a feeling of darkness or inner conflict to his subjects. I found it easy to compare the techniques he uses in A Short Film About Killing to photography. Jacek’s face, often filing the entire frame, and shot using a low camera angle and dim lighting conditions, appeared the perfect portrait of sadness and isolation from the first shot we see of him until his agonizing last facial expression.

All of these things seem even more dramatic when comparing the short, one hour version, Decalogue: Five, to the feature- length A Short Film About Killing. In the latter, we are given a greater depth and allowed to make a more emotional connection, though only from a distance as Kieslowski makes no attempt to give us enough information, in either version, to psychologically diagnose or make complete sense of the situation. Decalogue: Five employs few filter effects and contains less music and dramatically drawn out sequences. It also contains some dialogue and use of voiceover where A Short Film About Killing creates a similar effect solely through the use of visuals, allowing the viewer to decide more for themselves what to conclude rather than giving them a tight moralizing statement.

Subtractions from the early version to the later are most noticeable in the film’s beginning and ending sequences. In Decalogue: Five, a voiceover occurs as the film begins – “The law should not imitate nature; the law should improve nature. People invented the law to govern their relationships. The law determined who we are and how we live. People are free; their freedom is limited only by the freedom of others. Punishment means revenge, in particular, when it aims to harm, but does not prevent crime.” As this voiceover continues, we open on a shot of Piotr in front of the mirror, preparing for his interview to become a lawyer. In A Short Film About Killing, instead we immediately see a dead mouse and a hanged cat, standing out against a vile green background. We immediately get the feeling of sickness and perversion; the scene appears evil and as we begin to see each of the film’s characters for the first time, we get an eerie feeling, perhaps even suspecting that they will all be portrayed as disturbing, sick, perverse characters.

Similarly, during the final shot of Piotr in the field in his car with the door open after having lost Jacek’s case and witnessed his hanging, Decalogue: Five gives us a summation of his inner dialogue/outlook. Piotr leans out of his car, gripping the door and crying out: “I abhor it!” repetitively as the camera zooms in on him just before the final blackout. A Short Film About Killing makes up for the omission of the “final [verbal] statement” by leaving us simply with the image of Piotr in conflict with himself. Rather than hearing Piotr’s voice, we have only the haunting music, which has added tension through its calm melody throughout the film, to guide our perception of the events we have witnessed through his eyes.

Comparing the two versions of the same basic story proved to accentuate the differences, particularly those that altered my perception with each viewing. Examined closely, each seems to actively prepare the viewer to see capital punishment in basically the same light, yet at the same time, to view it while keeping subtly nuanced differences in mind. A Short Film About Killing is much bleaker, much more disturbing and much more initially perverse and repulsive than its predecessor. Kieslowski may have been attempting to work through ways to present his theme between versions and to have ultimately decided that greater power lies in less framing of character and directly conclusive statements. During viewings of both films, the same themes came through, just in different ways, the biggest difference being that A Short Film About Killing was less verbal and more open to the viewer to access through imagery that was often made to speak more dramatically than the words it may have been standing in for.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

A Commentary on Tensions Reaching Revolutionary Power - Provincial Actors (1979)

Agnieszka Holland, Provincial Actors (1979)

I found Angieszka Holland’s Provincial Actors (1979) to be one of the most difficult films, out of the selection we have drawn from in the past, to access. There are many complex and interesting tensions at work which are somewhat lost on me, even when applying what I know about the political situation in Poland in the 1970s. Initially as I watched the film, I attempted to compare what was going on between the provincial actors, conflicted over the way “Liberation” should be performed, with the Solidarity movement.

The late 70s was a time during which struggle and pride coincided in Poland. The Solidarity movement grew out of the need for Poles to better their conditions and to assert a national pride in the midst of communist occupation. When Chris asks, as the director continues to cut his lines in the play, “What’s ‘Liberation’ without the Polish cause?” he may be commenting on the need to remember Polish history and keep the cause for freedom alive. Chris in general struck me as a character embracing high ideals of liberty and freedom, especially concerning how Poles define themselves and “their Poland.” Though Holland completed this first feature film the year before the Solidarity movement gained its most monumental following, it seems as if Chris is anticipating the need for such a widespread following; his ideals seem like they could have been the base of the movement; his main goal, to put an end to the censorship of the theatre director and to convince the others, most importantly his wife, of the importance of banding together and fighting for artistic expression, which he feels has been completely drained from “Liberation.” Part of the overall tension and conflict in Chris seems to stem from the fact that others seem to support his views but will not speak up to change anything. As we pointed out/observed in class, the bickering tension between the actors never seems to pay off; there is no end triumph.

The Solidarity movement officially began in Poland in the shipyards of Gdansk in 1980. The workers went on strike, locking themselves into the shipyards and members of the Solidarity movement rejected better personal treatment from the government until they could be assured that there comrades elsewhere were treated equally well. Shortly before the shipyard strike in Gdansk, strikers in the same city had been killed by police of the Communist regime. As the movement spread, the regime was forced into negotiations. However, in 1981 (December), martial law was declared. This was indicative of the loss of control the regime was subject to, as the only way to subdue the movement was through militaristic force.

Chris, by reciting lines that had been cut, embodies a similar spirit of rebellion and revolution, refusing to give in to censorship, apparently due to the need to please the “cultural department”, even though even his wife cannot understand why the role he plays is so important. It is as if he is setting up a revolution which nobody recognizes or responds to. This point is reinforced when the director tells Chris that he notices what he is doing, saying the cut lines, but that it does not matter because nobody else has even noticed.

Also interesting is the role of women within the film. First off, from the beginning, it seems as though Chris’s wife, Anna, does not subscribe to the same politics that he does. When he complains about the play and what it is becoming, she suggests that he quit/leave it if he does not believe in it anymore. She does not seem to be as sensitive to the political implications behind the rendering of the play that is allowed to be shown. At the same time, she is also a troubled character, ready for revolution yet trapped as a woman. Anna is often referred to as an intelligent woman, yet the only job that we see her doing (and possibly only because he husband is an actor) is playing a crow in a children’s puppet show. She is expected to obey her husband, and it goes unnoticed (or at least uncommented on) when they begin a feud and Chris slaps her on the cheek. By considering Anna’s social position as a woman, we may begin to see her in much the same light as Chris, but without the belief that liberation really exists. Perhaps her comment that “there’s no truth in it,” used to counter Chris’s frustration stems from her realization that for women, liberation is a more complex issue, as, even when liberated in the social sphere, the domestic situation for women did not reflect the same spirit of liberty.

One final point that I would like to make is that the suicide of the old neighbor is of major significance in beginning to think about the political implications of the film as a whole. I see his death as commenting on the entire system and as a representation of the end which all Poles who passively subscribe to it will face. His suicide comes directly after a scene in which he is describing the take-over of the militia in the town; symbolic of loss of liberty. He seems to embody desperation and loss of hope, whereas both Chris and Anna speak to the need to stop “towing the line” – Anna when she threatens to leave Chris and Chris both when he is finally able to reveal to her how much he loves and values her and when he refuses to abide by censorship.