No other actor has ever mastered the art of the smile to the same extent as Setsuko Hara (1920–2015), a celebrated star and highly regarded idol who was one of the outstanding actors of 40s and 50s Japanese cinema. Her radiant smile floods whole scenes and at times cautiously undermines the expectations made of her in coy, ironic fashion. Yet her smile's impressive range also encompasses its darker shades: Hara's delicate, dignified, melancholy smile with which she responds to disappointments, papers over the emotions churning under the surface, and flanks life's sobering realizations. Her smiles don't just function as a condensed version of her ever-precise, expressive, yet understated acting ability, they also allow the very essence of the films they appear in to shine through for a brief moment, often studies of the everyday, post-war dramas which revolve around the break-up of family structures or the failure of marriages. Her performances tread a fine line between social expectation and personal desire in post-war Japan, as Hara attempts to lay claim to the autonomy of the female characters she plays – frequently with a smile.
Between 1935 – her brother-in-law helped her land her first role at the tender age of 15 – and 1962 Setsuko Hara acted in more than 100 films, of which those that emerged from her creative partnership with Yasujiro Ozu are the most well known, a collaboration which started with BANSHUN (Late Spring, 1949) and ended with KOHAYAGAWA KE NO AKI (Early Autumn, 1961). We are happy to present four films from this collaboration while also taking the series as an opportunity to broaden the view of this great actress, who died last September. We are thus showing her performances in films by Mikio Naruse, Keisuke Kinoshita, Akira Kurosawa, Kozaburo Yoshimura, and a German-Japanese co-production by Arnold Fanck, most of which are seldom screened in Germany.
Film’s ephemeral, eerie, and uncanny nature takes shape in the fleeting form of shadows, ghosts and doppelgangers, coherent and unstable in equal measure. Ghosts of history, cultures, and myths, shadows ranging from those cut out of paper to those created by moonlight, and the dark sides of protagonists often brought to light by the figure of the doppelganger all foretell the uncanny, the strange, and the unknown. In the darkness of the movie theater, we encounter the shudder as the original principle of cinema, just like how it plays with time, identities, perception, and disbelief, as we perhaps also sometimes feel something of our own shadows in these projected, imaginary images. This month’s Magical History Tour invites viewers to attend 17 very different encounters – with magical rites, restless ghosts, illusionary shadows, and doppelgangers on the loose.
Ida Lupino was born into a London showbiz family in 1918 and first appeared on camera at the tender age of 13, going on to receive a five-year contract from Paramount just two years later. With the studio system having been subdued by the production code, Lupino initially had little opportunity to show off her talent, given her preference for playing sensual, somewhat crazy characters. It was only the rise of the film noir in the 40s which gifted her a series of classic roles, including the memorable femme fatales she created for Raoul Walsh in HIGH SIERRA and THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT. By industry standards, Lupino had reached the highpoint of her career.
Yet these glamorous leading roles and the film star fame that went along with them did not satisfy her artistic ambitions. In the second half of her career, which stretched from the late 40s to the late 60s, she dedicated herself primarily to producing and directing for both cinema and television. As a woman, she had to found her own company so as to be able to move from before the camera to behind it. Together with her husband Collier Young and screenwriter Malvin Wald, she produced nine films in quick succession from 1949 onwards under the banner of "The Filmmakers", five of which she directed herself. NEVER FEAR (1949) was the first Hollywood film since Dorothy Arzner's "First Comes Courage" (1943) for which a female director was responsible.
The difficult conditions women were (and continue to be) confronted with in the director's chair are reflected in The Filmmakers productions: They often focus on women who face considerable resistance, primarily from themselves, as they struggle to find their place in the world. The Filmmakers films are not, however, just largely forgotten classics of feminist cinema, but also outstanding examples of the new, independent B-films which had by the 1950s begun to supersede the classic Poverty Row productions. While many stuck to tried and tested genre formulas, Lupino took risks, shooting films about rape (OUTRAGE), sadism (THE HITCH-HIKER), and adultery (THE BIGAMIST). Anyone expecting the sort of sensational exposés that could easily lurk behind such titles will be surprised by the tender, deeply humanistic view that Lupino takes of her characters.
The film series is curated by Hannes Brühwiler and Lukas Foerster and connects both sections of Lupino's career, presenting five of her works as an actress and five as a director.
Edgar Allen Poe describes the flaneur as a man amid the masses, absorbed by the city around him. Charles Baudelaire celebrates the flaneur's ability to retain his anonymity in urban space and stay an individualist. For his part, Walter Benjamin liberates the flaneur from the widely-cited tortoise metaphor, a being linked only to posing and attitude, characterizing him instead as the “central figure of the modern era”, a highly sensitive soul capable of deciphering the city, wandering the streets, and viewing the urban surroundings with the same mixture of attraction and repellence with which he himself is also seen. An archetype key to the literature of the last two centuries, the flaneur has also echoed through film history since the 1920s in a variety of different forms. In July, the Magical History Tour presents the first generation of city wanderers and those that followed them both before the camera and behind it, expanding the concept to encompass its female equivalent and bringing together ambling documentary and essayistic works – meandering strolls through urban spaces, decelerated observations and conquests of urban structures, explorations of the streets and the crowds that populate them, and reflections on the conditions of modern existence.
The summer Tarkovsky retrospective is a tradition that has grown dear both to us and our audiences for more than 25 years now. In July and August, we are showing the seven feature films and one mid-length graduation film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky (1932–1986), whose monumental oeuvre exerts a lasting fascination.
We are showing the film KATOK I SKRIPKA (The Steamroller and the Violin, USSR 1960), with which Tarkovsky graduated from the state film school, together with his last film OFFRET (The Sacrifice, Sweden, France 1986, 8.7. & 26.8.). KATOK I SKRIPKA shows one day in the life of the thoughtful Sasha, who prefers his violin to playing football, leading his schoolmates to mock him. A solitary, isolated island forms the setting for OFFRET: 50-year-old Alexander's birthday celebrations are in full swing when news of an atomic strike stops the party guests in their tracks. Tarkovsky's vision employs striking images and dialogue to connect a poetic film language with a philosophical religious discourse.