June 2018, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – Light in Film

BARRY LYNDON, 1976

In the beginning, there was light – a concept inextricably linked to cinema. The projection beam passes through the film strip and the lens, makes its way through the glass pane of the projection room and into the auditorium, hitting the screen at the speed of light as the film begins. The radiant glow of a high-wattage projection bulb is like a shimmering echo of the fundamental subject of film and cinema: light. It’s impossible to even shoot a film without daylight or artificial light, key or fill lighting, soft light or floodlights, to say nothing of the work of the camera and lighting team who design the lighting and position it on set. Lighting forms an essential artistic resource for the director, capable of telling stories or affecting how they are told, creating moods and unleashing different emotions. The 12 films showing in the Magical Mystery Tour in June give an idea of the huge diversity of working methods and effects linked to both light (and shadow).

STELLET LICHT (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany 2007, 1. & 3.6.) The "silent light" that gives the film its title and provides it with its leitmotiv appears right at the very beginning of this parable-like love triangle. The first scene shows how day slowly dawns, with the incipient sunlight unleashing a symphony of colors ranging from dark grey to golden yellow and white. But the elemental sounds of animals and nature penetrate this silent light, providing an atmospheric undertone for the love story between Marianne and Johan, two members of a profoundly religious Memmonite community in Mexico. Shot in Low German with non-professional actors from this religious community of German origin, Reygadas creates a tragedy of guilt, punishment and redemption that feels entirely out of time.

OUT OF THE PAST (Jacques Tourneur, USA 1947, 2. & 7.3.) There is hardly another film genre so closely linked to lighting and shadow as film noir, the American stylistic movement of the 40s and 50s. "The best film noir artists made the whole world into a studio by directing artificial-seeming and expressionistic light onto realistic sets." (Paul Schrader). In certain sequences, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca turns Tourneur's noir classic starring Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas into a veritable study in lighting: areas of black that appear almost two-dimensional, individual light sources, hard shadows and silhouettes. Making his way though this setting is a former private detective  (Mitchum) now running a gas station, one of his former employers, the gangster Sterling (Douglas), and his lover (Jane Greer).

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Wong Kar-wai, HK 2000, 5. & 9.6.) The bygone world of Hong Kong in the 1960s is enveloped in yellow, red and green shadows. Wong and cinematographer Doyle's swan song to a past era is grounded by the story of the failed love between two neighbors (played by the terrific Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung), who realize that their respective partners are cheating on them. The hesitancy of the protagonists is reflected in the tentative way in which the narrative moves forward, with the lavish production design, complex visual compositions and masterful lighting design often coming to the fore as a result.

PLEIN SOLEIL (Purple Noon, René Clément, F/I 1960, 8. & 12.6.) The young, penniless American Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) goes to Italy after a millionaire asks him to bring his son Philippe Greenleaf back to the US. Tom befriends Philippe and develops a liking for his luxurious, carefree lifestyle. Then he hatches a plot and kills Philippe in order to steal his identity. The bright Mediterranean sunlight is in stark contrast to Ripley’s cold lack of scruples and his sordid nature.

YEELEN (Souleymane Cissé, Mali 1987, 10. & 25.6.) "Das Licht" (The Light) is the German title of YEELEN one of the most important films of African cinema, the predominating color of which is the sun's glister. Light is consequently the focus of the film on various levels. Set in Mali's pre-colonial, Bambara culture, the film narrates an initiation drama and a father-son conflict. Young Nianankoro is on the threshold of adulthood and to acquire the knowledge of the Bambara so as to preserve it and pass it on. His father, however, is a powerful magician who wants to prevent his son from becoming his equal and even intends to kill him. His mother therefore flees with him and makes it possible for him to learn the skills enabling him to confront his father.

DUNKIRK (Christopher Nolan, GB/NL/F/USA 2017, 12. & 15.6.) Some 400,000 British and French soldiers were surrounded by German troops in May 1940 on the coast at Dunkirk. The film portrays the large-scale evacuation process and breaks it down into three strands of plot - land, water, air - and units of time - an hour, a day, a week. The experience of the struggle for survival and time that never stops ticking are conveyed to the viewer in an almost physical way; this also lies with the choice of 70-mm, which lends the image an “immersive quality” (Christopher Nolan).

DAYS OF HEAVEN (Terrence Malick, USA 1978, 14. & 20.6.) Violet, red and orange tones are the cornerstones of the color spectrum in the short phase before and after sunrise and sunset known as the magic or golden hour. Malick and his cinematographers Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler largely did without artificial light for DAYS OF HEAVEN and shot all the more frequently during the magic hour as a result. The unusual lighting moods make a major contribution to the impressive visual quality of the film, which is set at the beginning of the 20th century. Whilst fleeing from the police, Bill, his sister Linda, and his lover Abby find board at a spacious farm in Texas. The allegedly terminally ill farmer falls in love with Abby, who is not against getting married to him given how little time he has left. But the farmer proves to be more resilient than expected.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (John Ford, USA 1940, 15., 23. & 28.6.) The Joads are driven from their farm in Oklahoma. They make their way to California full of hope. Tom, who has recently been released from jail, his siblings, parents and grandparents hope to find jobs on the fruit plantations. But the new homeland turns out to be a place of exploitation and injustice. In his adaptation of John Steinbeck’s socio-critical novel about the Great Depression, John Ford translates the despair and misery of the time into scenes that are so realistic as to almost seem like documentary with strongly stylized light/dark sequences. He later said about his cameraman: “Gregg Toland did a great job of photography there – absolutely nothing but nothing to photograph, not one beautiful thing in there – just sheer good photography. I said to him, ‘Part of it will be in blackness, but let’s photograph it. Let’s take a chance and do something different.’”

LE JOUR SE LÈVE (Marcel Carné, F 1939, 16. & 27.6.) A film of competing currents: the inexorably dark ending is placed before the day that breaks at the beginning of the film, with the plot progressing in three comprehensive movements backwards, as a room becomes the center of love's explosive centrifugal forces. Interwoven with a complex structure of light and shadow and countless shades of grey, the story revolves around worker François (Jean Gabin), his unhappy love affair   with Françoise, his on and off involvement with Clara (Arletty), and his attempts to get even with the slimy, overbearing Valentin (Jules Berry). Made shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the film creates a climate of desperation, disillusionment and disappointment.

BARRY LYNDON (Stanley Kubrick, GB 1976, 17. & 30.6.) A historical drama set in the 18th century about the rise to the highest social strata and fall into poverty and insignificance of the soldier Barry Lyndon. Kubrick reconstructs this bygone era in such painstaking fashion that he only uses candlelight to light the interiors. This does not create a path into an unknown world but makes the distance that separates today’s viewer from the 18th century even more visible and lends it an unbridgeable alien quality. ”Surprisingly, the result of this effort to create authenticity is not realism, but a strangely unreal, floating lighting mood that, like the patina on an old oil painting, becomes an 'objective correlative' of the temporal distance that separates us from the filmed scenes." (Thomas Allen Nelson)

FONTANE EFFI BRIEST (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany 1974, 24. & 29.6.) None of the numerous other Effi Briest films stayed as closely to its literary antecedent or emphasized the fact that it had been adapted for another medium more than Fassbinder's film adaptation of the social novel. Despite how loyal the film remained to the original both in terms of text and production design, it's still "a film about a lost time from our perspective", Fassbinder's own personal interpretation of the novel, and at the same time a film about "Fontane, about a poet's stance towards his society. It is the stance of someone who sees through the mistakes and weakness of his society and also criticizes them, but still recognizes this society as being the one that applies to him" (RWF). Framed and divided up by gleaming fades to white, which seem to allude to both ossification and resolution in equal measure, the film follows the fate of the young Effi Briest (Hanna Schygulla), who marries the 20-years-older Baron von Instetten (Wolfgang Schenk), but finds no love in her marriage and flees into an affair.

HÖHENFEUER (Alpine Fire, Fredi M. Murer, CH 1985, 26. & 30.6.) A remote mountain village in the Uri Alps, a father, mother and two children - Belli who wanted to be a teacher, but was not allowed to by her parents, and her brother, who is referred to only as “the boy” and has been deaf since birth, have an intimate relationship. Youthful recklessness and the rejection of their parents lead in the isolation and confinement of the mountains to a catastrophe, from which there is no escape. Pio Corrado’s camera adapts to the sparse conditions of the magnificent mountain landscape, using natural light in the exterior scenes and artificial light in the oft sparingly lit interior spaces. Far from a supposed Alp idyll, Fredi Murer creates a universal story of archaic force that could “take place anywhere between Iceland and Japan” (F.M).

arsenal cinema: „To risk everything to express it all“ – John Cassavetes

07:00 pm Cinema 1


Gloria

Gloria USA 1980
35 mm OV/GeS 123 min

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour - Montage

08:00 pm Cinema 2


Tengoku to jigoku

Tengoku to jigoku High and Low
Akira Kurosawa Japan 1963 With Toshiro Mifune
35 mm OV/GeS 143 min

arsenal cinema: „To risk everything to express it all“ – John Cassavetes

09:15 pm Cinema 1


The Killers

The Killers Don Siegel USA 1964
With John Cassavetes, Lee Marvin,
Angie Dickinson, Ronald Reagan
35 mm OV with Spanish ST 95 min