Sunday, April 17, 2011
ONLY HUMAN (2009, Rouzbeh Rashidi, Ireland, 72 min, A+++++++++++++++)
I think this film should be screened together with ZOETROPE (2011, Rouzbeh Rashidi), because both of them observe daily or mundane activities, but while ONLY HUMAN pays attention to human beings, human communications, and the moon, ZOETROPE pays attention to the atmosphere and the sun.
Things I like very much in ONLY HUMAN include:
1. It never attempts to create too much drama out of these characters' activities, which surprises me. At first I thought there would be some dramatic things happening to these characters, or all the characters would be obviously connected in the end. But the film doesn't try to do that. The audience can only observe these characters' slices of undramatic lives.
2.The faces of the characters, which show some unidentifiable emotions, or show some strong, unexplained feelings. I use the word "unexplained", because the film doesn't tell clearly why Dean Kavanagh looks unhappy both before and after he calls someone, or what the woman who uses the sewing machine really feels, etc. The camera closes up on these characters' faces. Their faces look very intense. We can feel that these characters must have something in their minds, but the film never tells what they are thinking, what makes they feel like that, what happened to them before we see their faces, or the past of these characters which must be the reasons why the characters make faces like that.
By explaining nothing, the film doesn't reduce the lives, the past, or the histories of these characters into simple cause-and-effect. The film doesn't tell the audience, "Because the incident A happened, the character B feels like this". The faces of the characters become enigmatic, though they are not blank because they show some unidentifiable emotions. And these faces with unexplained emotions make me feel that these characters are real. These faces make me feel that these characters really have their own past, their own unsaid stories. These faces make me imagine that there must be many stories happen in their past, and that makes them who they are today. I feel that these characters are "human", because their faces are humans' faces, which shouldn't be easily defined by simple words, such as happy or sad.
ONLY HUMAN is dedicated to Jean-Pierre Melville. I have seen only several films of Melville, so I can't say which parts of ONLY HUMAN are linked to Melville, except the two films of Melville excerpted in this film. However, the unexplained feelings on the faces of the characters remind me a little bit of the faces of some characters in UN FLIC (1972, Jean-Pierre Melville). UN FLIC impresses me a lot with the faces of Catherine Deneuve and Alain Delon. Deneuve's face in UN FLIC is very cold. Delon's face in UN FLIC gives a very intense feeling, but it doesn't show easily-identifiable emotions, unlike faces of heroes in other films. The expressions on Delon's face in UN FLIC defy definition like those of the characters in ONLY HUMAN.
If I have to rank faces in films on the "identifiable emotions" scale, faces in melodramatic TV series might be "5" for their overexpressiveness. Faces in dramatic films might be "4" for their expressiveness. Faces in ONLY HUMAN and TIME WITHIN TIME (2009, Menno Otten) might be "3" for their unexplained expressions. Faces in UN FLIC and some films by Aki Kaurismäki might be "2" for their underexpressiveness. Faces in Robert Bresson's films might be "1" for their inexpressiveness. This scale doesn't connote how good or bad a film is, though.
I think this kind of faces is one of Rashidi's signatures. In LIGHT AND QUIET (2008, Rouzbeh Rashidi), I like the face of the protagonist when he is showering very much. At that moment, his face shows some intense emotions. I think the protagonist is feeling sad at that moment, but what is interesting is that the film lets his face show only "a fragment" of his sadness, not all of his sadness.
3.One of the faces in ONLY HUMAN that I like very much is the face of the guy who watches UN FLIC. I think the helicopter scene in UN FLIC is one of the most exciting moments in the film, but the face of the guy who watches it shows no excitement at all. All the excitement he may feel is kept inside, not showing on his face. I think this is very realistic. Some viewers really react like this while watching films. I'm glad that ONLY HUMAN chooses to show an action film of which the viewer react like this, instead of showing an action film of which the viewers react like cheering an important football match.
4.The sound of the rain, which can also be found in an early scene in LIGHT AND QUIET, and in BIPEDALITY (2010, Rouzbeh Rashidi).
I think the sound of water is a recurring motif in Rashidi's films. I also like the sound of shower in LIGHT AND QUIET and BIPEDALITY, the sound of faucet in BIPEDALITY, and the sound of water from unknown sources in REMINISCENCES OF YEARNING (2011, Rouzbeh Rashidi), which reminds me of a scene in BELLE DE JOUR (1967, Luis Buñuel), in which we hear the sound of unknown water, too.
5.The sound which is separated from its origin. I think this is also one of your signatures. In LIGHT AND QUIET, we hear many cars, but we don't see them. We hear the protagonist do something after shower, but we only see the black screen. In ONLY HUMAN, we hear the Asian girl speak a sentence near the end of the film, but we only see her face "before" and "after" she speaks it, not when she is speaking it. We also hear some screams in an early part and near the end of the film, but we don't see the screamers. We hear some footsteps, but we don't see the walkers.
6. The loneliness of the characters. It seems the characters in this film try to communicate with or connect to someone, but their attempts bring no satisfying results. A couple of teenagers try to get intimate with each other, but fail. The sewing woman can't reach Sara on her phone. Dean Kavanagh's character doesn't look happy after he talks to someone on the phone. The video game guy lies to someone on the phone. The face-to-face conversation in the restaurant ends badly. A woman tries to reach someone in an apartment, but fails. This loneliness is dealt with in a realistic way, not in a romantic way like Wong Kar-wai's films, not in a comic way like Tsai Ming-liang's films, and not in a cold way like some Austrian's films.
7.Some moving images which are so motionless that they look like still photos. There are some scenes of Dean Kavanagh which resemble still photos, because his face does not move for many seconds in these scenes. There are many landscape/atmospheric scenes in BIPEDALITY and ZOETROPE (2011, Rouzbeh Rashidi) which look like still photos, too.
8.The landscape shots which are inserted into some parts of the film without explanation how they are connected to the story. These include the scene of a group of people on a boat, which comes after the scene of Dean Kavanagh on a train, and the ending sequence of the film. This technique is used much more fully and interestingly in BIPEDALITY.
9. ONLY HUMAN is very different from other films I have seen. I think the duration that the film spends on each character is one of the things that make the film different. If the film focuses on the slice of life of only several characters, such as the Asian man and woman, the film might be a little bit closer to JACKY (2000, Hu Fow-Pyng, Brad Ljatifi). If the film focuses on the slice of life of many more characters, the film might be a little bit closer to SOMETHING MORE THAN NIGHT (2003, Daniel Eisenberg). Anyway, I'm glad that ONLY HUMAN is like this. It has its own charm, while other films also have their own charms.
You can watch many short films by Rouzbeh Rashidi in his Vimeo channel: http://vimeo.com/rouzbehrashidi/videos