A Song of Two Humans

‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ – F. W. Murnau – (With actors George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor)

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Silent films had a language of their own;
they aimed for the emotions, not the mind,
and the best of them wanted to be,
not a story, but an experience
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~ Roger Ebert on ‘Sunrise’ (film critic)

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Life is relationship. No matter what. We are always engaged in a relationship with an apparent ‘other’. Should we be left alone in the world, with no other humans, life would remain an encounter with the other — any other being — be it the sun, the wind, the rugged stones on our path, or our very own self. Our life is always a song of apparent duality. And the success of any relationship, which is the coming of intimacy and love in our life, is always the road taken from apparent separation to the realisation of our shared being. Life is one. But that needs to be fully seen.

I was put on these tracks by watching the 1927 silent movie ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ by German director F. W. Murnau. The film is a splendour. Although an overly simple love story, the title suggests that its lessons are of an universal nature. And the finesse and poetry of its making renders it as an archetypical manual for everything that a relationship can bring or teach. The story can be summarised in a few lines: a country man has become weary of his relationship with his wife, and has started a love affair with a passing woman from the city. His new lover convinces him to kill his wife while being on a boat trip on the lake, a plan which the man, overtaken by remorse, fails to execute at the very last moment. The rest of the film is the story of his winning his wife’s forgiveness and the return to a dazzling feeling of love and happiness between the two.

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Discover the lessons contained in this masterpiece of the silent era… (READ MORE…)

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Diary of a Country Priest

’Diary of a Country Priest’ – Robert Bresson – (With actor Claude Laydu)

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I try to catch and to convey the idea that we have a soul
and that the soul is in contact with God.
That’s the first thing I want to get in my films
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~ Robert Bresson.

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Robert Bresson is a unique film maker in the history of cinema. He has developed a very personal way of filming that wholly tends towards one thing only: conveying truth. This is achieved by means of the right use of cinema language. As the French master said in the newspaper ‘Libération’: “The true language of cinema is that which translates the invisible. I am trying to convey feelings rather than facts or actions. I am trying to substitute an internal movement for an external movement.” This is particularly well shown in his 1951 film ‘Diary of a Country Priest’, where Bresson, slowly, relentlessly, and above all with simplicity, is scanning the interior life in everything, in the dialogues, the lights, the camera movements, the acting. But this simplicity is here to serve an utter precision. The film is crafted. A skilful surgeon is here at work. And we make silence.

‘Diary of a Country Priest’ tells a simple story based on the novel of the same name by Georges Bernanos, published in 1936. A young priest arrives in his first rural parish where he and his faith will be met with misunderstandings and challenges, both from his parishioners and his declining health. The film opens with these simple lines in his diary: “I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong in writing down daily, with absolute frankness, the simplest and most insignificant secrets of a life actually lacking any trace of mystery.” In the first scene, we see the young priest appearing behind the bars of a gate, signifying that we are about to see the story of an imprisonment. The film is the description of his total dedication to his duty, which will prove to be an ordeal. We are always in a prison, when we are locked in the belief in being somebody.

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Learn more about this movie by French director Robert Bresson… (READ MORE…)

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A Ballet of Life

The Ballet from ‘Robert le Diable’ – Edgar Degas, 1876 – Wikimedia

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See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!

~ William Shakespeare in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Prince 5.3)

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Tonight I’m out to see a ballet for the first time. Not any ballet, but one of the prestigious classical ones, namely ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev created in 1935, based on the play by William Shakespeare. As I entered the shell like old royal theatre of Copenhagen, my eyes scanned the prestigious room, with the four golden balconies circling over our heads, one above the other, and the spectacular royal lodge down on the left, close to the stage. In front of us, hidden in the orchestra pit, the musicians were already according their instruments, and enveloped our expectation in a soft and pleasant cacophony.

I found my seat, and my gaze landed on a quote placed right above the curtain. It said in Danish: ‘Ej blot til lyst’, which means ‘not only for pleasure’, stressing that Theatre as an art was also created for learning. It reminded me that in India, the theatrical experience was created as a fifth Veda, for the humble people to whom the old religious texts could not be transmitted orally as was the tradition in these times. On both sides of the saying were two faces in relief. The one on the left was a sad one, and the other on the right was laughing. The ballet that was about to start could have adopted this passage from the ancient Indian treatise ‘Natya Shasta’, where the nature and purpose of the performing arts are described as follow: “Sometimes the law, sometimes gambling, sometimes wealth, sometimes peace, sometimes laughter, sometimes war, sometimes passion, sometimes violent death… Showing the ways of law, glory, long life and grace, strengthening the mind, this theatre will be a source of instruction for all.” As the room acquired silence and the lights slowly dimmed, I was ready to both enjoy and learn, maybe laugh and shed a tear, and if grace allowed, strengthen my mind. The curtain was raised.

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Some reflections on seeing Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet ‘Romeo and Juliet’… (READ MORE…)

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A Room with a View

‘A Room with a View’ – James Ivory, 1985

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A crystalline voice broke amidst the many murmurs of tourists, between the walls of Roskilde cathedral. A young woman had come to practice her singing here, accompanied by a pianist. I recognised the song immediately. It was Puccini‘s aria ‘O mio babbino caro’, and it sent a wave of delight through me. I recognised it because it is the opening piece and musical signature of the film ‘A Room with a View’, which I have just seen recently. A most curious movie really. A light British romance made in 1985 by the American director James Ivory, based on the 1908 novel of the same name by E. M. Forster. But the film is more than it seems. I encourage you to watch it, for I have a theory about it. The film — and therefore the novel — has been secretly made as an allegory for the seeking of truth.

The film opens up with Lucy arriving at the Pensione Pertolini in Florence, with her cousin and stiff chaperone Charlotte. This is a place where many British citizens come to spend their holidays. We are at the beginning of 1900s, with upper-middle-class characters steeped in the repressive culture and morals of Edwardian England. They come here to have a taste of the more wild and unconventional atmosphere of Italy, along with the beauty of its culture and landscapes. Of course, this film is not specifically about a spiritual search. It is a love story. But not frankly so. It lingers on the edge, giving us some food for thought. Behind the conventional clothing of a delightful romantic romp, it leaves a whole collection of little pebbles in its trail that points to a reflection on life that is both profound and open to interpretations.

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A playful journey into James Ivory’s movie ‘A Room with a View’… (READ MORE…)

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The Wrath of the Lamb

Anatoly Solonitsyn (the Writer) – ‘Stalker’ by Andrei Tarkovsky

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Keep awake, keep awake, artist, 
Do not give into sleep…
You are eternity’s hostage
And prisoner of time
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~ Boris Pasternak

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The film ‘Stalker’, made in 1979 by Andrei Tarkovsky, is an absolute wonder. As usual with Tarkovsky, every shot in it is unique and intrinsically harmonious. As usual with Tarkovsky, you will have your breath taken away. And you will be bored too. And puzzled. Searching for a meaning that will elude you. For his cinema is not about entertainment, plot, revelation, or resolution. His cinema is about poetry, beauty, and the search for bringing forth art’s ultimate purpose, which is the uncovering of the core and substance of our being. With ‘Stalker’, you will feel what it is to be locked in a maze. And as usual with Tarkovsky, amidst the shallow words are pearls. And amongst the mud and the stagnant waters is the eternal truth.

The Stalker is a simple man living with his wife and his little girl in an undetermined country. His job is to guide people who want to enter into a mysterious place called ‘the Zone’, protected by barbed wires and police forces. This is a green, lush, deserted land where stand some vestiges of settlements. Maybe this is the consequence of a fallen meteorite. We don’t know. There is a place, concealed in the Zone, where desires come true. But as one of the protagonists finds out, “it is not merely a desire but one’s most secret desire that is granted here. Here will come true that which reflects the essence of your nature. It is within you, it governs you, yet you are ignorant of it.” As a result, many people want to reach this place in the Zone called the ‘Room’, and they need guides to lead them to it. This time, the Stalker is on again for a new trip with two men called the ‘Writer’ and the ‘Professor’. 

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A reflection on the qualities of Andrei Tarkovsky’s movie ‘Stalker’… (READ MORE…)

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The Flowers of St. Francis

Brother Nazario Gerardi – ‘The Flowers of St. Francis’

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Praise be to you, O Lord, and to all your creatures. 
Especially Brother Sun, through whom you light our days. 
He is beautiful and radiant and resplendent, 
and derives all meaning from you
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~ Canticle to the Sun

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The deepest realisations and expressions of truth in Christianity have sometimes come from words and understanding, as was the case with Meister Eckhart, but it is, by far, not the most common path. Many a man or a woman have come to embrace God’s being through the expression of profound love and surrender. Such a path was trodden by Francis of Assisi, and has been splendidly shown in Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 film ‘The Flowers of St. Francis’. And if all one knew of Francis of Assisi was through watching this supremely elegant film, one would know what needs to be known, one would meet the essential — the essence — of this man’s life, of anybody’s life when it is lived from love and humility. One would know of the pure joy of being, of trust in life’s bounty, of care and attention for every beings on earth.

Showing only a moment of Francis’ life, the film is more a parable on the qualities that were emphasised throughout his life and teachings, than the real description of his life’s journey. Through a succession of simple vignettes, we are exposed to a panoply of Francis’ various expressions of love. We are shown a man who lived with his heart, and a life that has been made into a prayer to god. We are shown that prayer is but an act of love. We are shown people coming together around a common faith in God, their daily life and turmoils, their behaviours. Francis of Assisi encouraged his disciples to access or express god’s being by being oneself an example of the presence of god. And by making this presence shine in all their daily activities, so that the brightness of god can be harvested by everybody around. These expressions are in the film like the little flowers of St. Francis. A whole bouquet of them.

Praise be to you, O Lord, 
for Sister Moon and all the stars, 
which you cause to shine clear and bright
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~ Canticle to the Sun

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A homage to Francis of Assisi through Roberto Rossellini’s movie… (READ MORE…)

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The Word

‘Ordet’ – Carl Theodor Dreyer – A/S Palladium

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Ordet is a difficult film to enter. 
But once you’re inside, 
it is impossible to escape
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~ Roger Ebert 

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There is a beautiful line in the film ‘Ordet’. This is when Inger answers her husband who is complaining about his lack of faith. “It will come. Just you see how warm you will feel then. And how happy. It’s nice to be happy, isn’t it?” How revealing that she equates here faith with happiness. For faith in God is usually meant to be a deeply ingrained certainty or belief, something artificial, made up, sustained. Serious spiritual seekers will tend to abandon the word, in favour of the search for — and ultimately abidance in — something that is our natural and inborn identity, always present in and as ourself, never at a distance. But there is indeed a kind of faith necessary for the discovery of this hidden identity. This is better called the love of truth, or a deeply ingrained eagerness to find the truth, an earnestness, a fervour that starts and fuels the journey towards the understanding of ourself. 

Faith and the lack of faith are at the centre of the Danish film ‘Ordet’, meaning ‘The Word’. This is a film of iconic dimension, that has been celebrated the world over for its perfect craftsmanship and its deeply religious subject. It was made in 1955 by one of the greatest film director in history, Carl Theodor Dreyer. Watching Ordet, you are shown to what degree of elevation a film can be subject to in the hands of a true artist. Watching the film, you are slowly grabbed and lead to unforgettable artistic and spiritual heights. Dreyer, who thought deeply about his art, once said: “There is a certain resemblance between a work of art and a person. Just as one can talk about a person’s soul, one can also talk about the work of art’s soul, its personality. […] Style is not something that can be separated from the finished work of art. It saturates and penetrates it, and yet is invisible and undemonstrable.”

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A reflection on faith with Carl Dreyer’s masterpiece ‘Ordet’… (READ MORE…)

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