Sunday, January 13, 2008


Filmsick wrote in Thai about FATE (1994, Fred Kelemen). Here is my translation of what he wrote (with some added information). I translate it to contribute to the Contemplative Blogathon 2 at :

FATE (1994, Fred Kelemen, Germany, 80 minutes)

FATE is a graduation film of Kelemen. He directed it in 1994, and Susan Sontag, a famous writer, called it a wonderful film in her essay THE DECAY OF CINEMA.

The opening scene of FATE consists of many gloomy images of people on the streets. The camera leads us through the streets to watch old people, little children, vagabonds, some men and women. The camera seems to take us by the hand to guide us to watch human faces, before it pauses to stare at a man who is playing an accordion on a roadside. The camera stops wandering to focus on this man before it starts to follow him. This musician is hired by a guy to play an accordion in his private room, but the customer looks down on the musician because the musician is a Russian, and he forces the musician to drink vodka. The musician doesn’t fight back. He just leaves the customer’s room and walks into a glowing fountain to try to cleanse something which is inerasable. After that, he goes to see a woman, but the woman doesn’t allow him to get inside her room. He gets so angry that he breaks down her door and meets a male stranger in the room. He passes on his cruel fate to other characters. Then the camera shifts to focus on the woman, who wanders into the night with a half-naked body.

This film is shot on a video camera before transferred to 16mm film, so the images are very grainy and blurred as if it was shot long time ago. Some images look like pale shadows moving in the darkness, and darkness always embraces Kelemen’s films very tightly.

Kelemen usually made his films after long rehearsals with the cast, using just a rough script in the beginning. He let he cast share some opinions before the script was re-written in full details. After he was satisfied with the rehearsals and saw that the cast could take the film to the highest emotional point, he would start filming.

Kelemen said that he is against fast editing. In his opinion, an act of watching is not like watching a shot of a face, then a hand, then an eye. He thinks that an act of watching requires a long period of time, without unnecessary editing.

This 80-minute film only consists of twelve long scenes, and each scene depends on the power of the acting and the power of his expressionistic cinematography, while the camera rarely moves during a scene. Kelemen said that when you film a person in a room, if the person walks out of the room and you immediately cut away to another scene, then you treat that room as if it doesn’t really exist. Your film just presents the existence of human beings. But if you let your camera roll for a while to film an empty room, film it until the human atmosphere in the room fade away, you will start seeing that room as a real place, unconnected to human beings anymore. Human beings will become just something tiny in the vast universe. This way of filming is also a way to trace the marks left by human beings. It is like you sit on a chair, and then you stand up and walk away. If another person comes to sit on the same chair within a few seconds, that person will still feel the warmth in the chair, which is the result of your body temperature, though you have walked away from it. Kelemen tries to capture this kind of thing in his films. He intends to film an empty chair until the human warmth left in the chair fades away.

The situations in FATE are not unpredictable. The story seems to be very simple. It may look like a story told from an omnipresent viewpoint, with a satirical tone in the presentation of human failure. (Something in FATE may remind the viewers of some bad situations in Kieslowski’s films). But actually Kelemen’s point of view doesn’t focus on satirizing human weaknesses, but focuses on creating a universe of human failure. Therefore, human fate in this film is not a cruel joke of God, but it is the consequences of human’s own actions, the results of what we do to each other. This thing can be compared to the narrative strategy of FATE, which shifts focus from watching one character to another character.

Though FATE is full of pale, gloomy images, Kelemen said that he is attentive to every element of the film, including color which is a very important element in film. Making a movie is not just putting a camera somewhere to film anything, but you must choose very well for any color appearing in your films. FATE is filmed in color, but the technique of the film makes this film look like a monochrome film. This is not a black-and-white film, though it may look like one.

Characters in FATE don’t occupy spaces on the screen as if they are important people. The role of characters in this film is reduced to be just model of the movement of fate. This film doesn’t tell a sad story of a couple, but intends to show how a racist behavior of a man can lead to a serious assault of a woman, though that is not the end of everything. Men in Kelemen’s films are undependable, weak and try to cover up their weaknesses by being aggressive. Women in Kelemen’s films may look fragile and behave unreasonably, but they find a way to learn how to stand up on their own.

In the last scene of the film (the story of which happens in only one night), fate brings the main characters back together. The woman wakes up and doesn’t cry. She just puts on her clothes and walks on. We see her and the man walk further, being followed by a tractor which seems to be hungry for them. We see the couple and the tractor move out of the frame. The camera still doesn’t move. We begin to notice the movement of some dark shadows, causing by the clouds in the sky, in the pale, gloomy field. The couple never return into the frame. They leave the universe of unpredictable fate to stay on the screen.

--Filmsick also wrote a review of FALLEN (2005, Fred Kelemen, Latvia), but the review contains some spoilers. So some of you may want to read it after you have already seen FALLEN.

--The original writing in Thai can be read from the link below:


Noel Vera said...

Oy, celinejulie! Have you seen Frost? Haven't seen this one but that one was a four-hour masterpiece...

celinejulie said...

Yes, I just saw FROST this November. There was a Fred Kelemen’s retrospective in Bangkok in November, showing KALYI, FATE, FROST, NIGHTFALL, and DESIRE (a videotape recording of his stage play), while his latest film--FALLEN (2005)—was shown in the World Film Festival of Bangkok in late October. Kelemen’ retrospective is certainly one of the best things ever happen in my life. Kelemen also came to the retrospective to talk with the audience.

I’m glad you call FROST a masterpiece. I think it is, too. In my opinion, I think FROST is more accessible than FATE. Though FROST is much longer than FATE, seeing characters moving across a vast landscape in FROST is hardly anything boring for me. Maybe it is because I like images of vast landscape. The story of FATE happens in a town and gives a much more claustrophobic feeling than FROST. As for comparing the different feelings I get from watching FROST and FATE, I think it is a little bit similar to the different feelings I get from watching the first three hours of HEREMIAS and watching the youth-drug scene in the eighth hour of HEREMIAS. FROST is a little bit like watching the first three hours of HEREMIAS—slow, but very comfortable. FATE is a little bit like watching the youth-drug scene in HEREMIAS—depressing and very uncomfortable.

Kelemen is also a director whose films are beyond my ability to describe. Though I love his films very much, I find it is too difficult for me to describe the feelings I get from his films. I hope some great critics would write about his films as much as Bela Tarr or Chantal Akerman.

One thing I like about FROST very much is the ending. In most films, the characters try to improve themselves and have some progress in the end. But in FROST, we cannot escape from the fact that some people may try to improve themselves, but they will never succeed. It is sad, but true. While most films try to evade this sad truth, FROST, along with many of Claude Chabrol’s films, dare to show us this truth.

I was very glad that Kelemen gave a Q&A after this film. His talking made me realize that there were many things I overlooked while watching FROST. For example, in the scene in the church, the boy screams out loud and runs away. Some audience and I didn’t know why the boy acts like that. Kelemen explained that it is because the boy mistook the figure of Jesus Christ on the cross as a real corpse. The boy is frightened because he thinks he sees a real corpse. And that indirectly shows the background of the boy. It shows that the boy is raised in an atheist family (we know that his family comes from East Germany), and has no education, or else the boy would have known Jesus Christ.

The characters in FROST give me some ambiguous feelings, which is a good thing. I don’t know if I should love or hate this mother and son. I can say I hate the father in this film, though he shows some warmth in the opening scene. As for the mother and son, I think FROST gives me some unresolved feelings. I ask myself if I were the mother, what would I do? I think I may do the same thing as her. I would leave my husband immediately. But how can I avoid her tragic fate? I don’t know. In most films, some characters make a mistake, and the audience know that we can avoid the tragic fate of those characters if we don’t make the same mistake. But in FROST, the mother meets her tragic fate, but I can’t figure out how to avoid her tragic fate. It is another sad truth in this film. Some people really don’t have many choices in life. They have done the best things they can do, but our universe, our world, our society may not let them escape from their tragic fate.

As for the boy, his obvious mistake is that he calls his father near the end of the film. If he hadn’t called his father, everything would have been much better. But it is not the kind of mistake resulted from evil. The boy decides to call his father not because he has some evil desires, but because of other reasons. Therefore, what the boy does gives me ambiguous feeling. I feel bad that the boy calls his father, though I can’t hate him just because he makes this mistake.

Another thing which makes me feel very ambiguous for the boy is that his existence seems to cause his mother great suffering, though it is not his fault. It is just the fact that he exists. If the boy doesn’t exist, his mother would have been much happier. One scene that makes me feel very strongly about this is the scene in the church. In that scene, I feel a great pity for the mother. She has walked for a very long time. She is extremely exhausted, and really needs a place to rest for a while. She finds a church. She just wants to rest in it by pretending to be one of the churchgoers. But then the boy ruins everything. His scream and his running away from the church means that the mother cannot rest anymore. She must keep on walking. If I were the mother in this scene, I think I may just lie down on the snow and decide to die. I don’t have the strength to walk any more.

I think the presentation of the boy as the unintentional cause of great suffering for his mother is a very interesting thing for me. This thing doesn’t make the boy gain much sympathy from me, and lets me look at the boy with some distance, instead of making the audience love and care for him very much as what most filmmakers will do. At the same time, I cannot hate the boy, because he doesn’t do anything wrong at all. The great suffering of his mother is caused by the mere fact that he exists. FROST doesn’t make me love the mother and son, nor does it make me hate them. FROST just lets me look at them in a much more truthful way than in most films.

A film which should make a great double bill with FROST is THE POLICEWOMAN (2003, Joaquim Sapinho, Portugal, A+), which is also about a mother and son traveling in an extremely hostile world. However, I think it is much easier to sympathize with the mother and son in THE POLICEWOMAN than in FROST. The mother and son in THE POLICEWOMAN don’t give me as many ambiguous feelings as in FROST.