Friday, May 27, 2011

How I argue with myself over CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS (2011, Rouzbeh Rashidi, 100 min, A+++++)

"I believe in invisible pictures. If you have two pictures cut correctly, that makes a third picture sometimes." –Alexander Kluge

What I'm going to write may not be exactly about the film CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS, but about my random thoughts concerning many other things after I watched this film. I'm sorry if my writing tells more about myself than this indefinable film.

Among the six feature films of Rouzbeh Rashidi that I have seen, CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS is the most challenging for me, partly because the film is so unique or so different from other films I have seen that I don't know how to deal with it, how to approach it, or how to think about it. It is also partly because I didn't know about how the film was made before I watched it.

CLOSURE OF CATHARIS consists of a man (James Devereaux) sitting on a park bench talking to the camera, while some mysterious scenes intervene from time to time.

On the surface, the film should be easier to understand than REMINISCENCES OF YEARNING (2011, Rouzbeh Rashidi) and ZOETROPE (2011, Rouzbeh Rashidi), both of which seem to tell no obvious stories. However, because I have seen a few surreal films and a few atmospheric films, it is easier for me to attune to the wavelengths of REMINISCENCES OF YEARNING, which is super-surreal, and ZOETROPE, which is extremely atmospheric, than to the wavelengths of CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS, which is unlike anything I have seen before.

After my first viewing of CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS, there are many questions left on my mind, including:

--How much of the film is planned beforehand?
--Is the monologue improvised, or scripted, or half-improvised, half-scripted? If it is scripted, who wrote it? Rashidi or Devereaux?
--Are the passers-by fictional characters or real people or both?
--How much of what is said is true or fiction? For example, did Devereaux really have a black-and-white TV?
--How many takes did Rashidi shoot for this film?
--Is all the monologue kept in the film? Did Rashidi cut some "meaningful talk" from the film to make the talk seem more meaningless? Or did Rashidi cut some "meaningless talk" from the film to make the talk seem more meaningful?
--What is the purpose of this film?
--If the film is scripted, are there any hidden meanings in the film, the mise-en-scene, the monologue, or the enigmatic inserted scenes? Are there any symbols or metaphors I need to decode? Do the dog, the squirrel, the public library, the black-and-white TV, or other things mentioned in the monologue carry special meanings?
--Is the film in black-and-white partly because a topic in the monologue concerns a black-and-white TV?

I watched CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS the first time on May 16, but I dared not write about it for fear that I might not understand some deep layers in this film. The film does not give us a conclusion, does not give us any obvious lessons, does not give me a climax or a catharsis. It is just a man talking about some events in his past, which seem to be unimportant compared to the events happening or talked about in most films. I felt that I didn't really understand the true value of this film. I thought that the film might be scripted and had some hidden meanings or some deep layers in it that I couldn't decode or fathom. I felt a little troubled by this film.

Fortunately, I just had a chance to read James Devereaux's blog on May 26. His blog post is about the making of this film:

After reading Devereaux's blog post, many questions I had about this film are answered. I now know how I should approach this film, think about it, or attune my wavelengths to it. I can watch the film for the second or third time with a liberated mind.

I use the word "liberated mind", because I feel very "free" when I watch this film for the second time. After I know that the acting and the monologue in this film are mostly improvised, I can really "enjoy" watching it. I can really enjoy watching the tiny movements on Devereaux's face, and not burdening myself with such questions as, "What does the director want to convey to the audience when James raises his eyebrows?" or "What is the director's MESSAGE when James moves a muscle in his face?"

Now I can enjoy the film and many things in the film without having to find "meanings" in them, without having to ask, "Is this thing significant or not?" I can sit back, relax, watch, listen to, and observe many things in the film with a free mind. Now I think of many things in the film as natural, real, life-like, or documentary-like things. If they are real, I don't have to find reasons to justify their existence in the film. If they are fictional, I feel the urge to understand why they are presented in the film.

Talking about this topic, please let me digress from CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS for a while:

If I hadn't read Devereaux' blog, I might not have been sure how I should approach this film. I would have asked myself, "Should I deal with the monologue in this film as a story of real life like the stories presented in Raymond Depardon's documentaries?" "Or should I deal with the monologue in this film as a fictional tale like in TEN TINY LOVE STORIES (2002, Rodrigo García)?

Why did I assume wrongly that CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS might be scripted or fictional? It is mainly because I had misunderstood many fictional films that they were documentaries, including TEN TINY LOVE STORIES, which deal with ten monologues, some of which concern sad experiences like in CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS. When I first watched TEN TINY LOVE STORIES, I thought it was a documentary. I learned from a friend later that the film is fictional.

Many mockumentaries are also successful in making me believe for a while that they were documentaries. These mockumentaries include THE LOVE MACHINE (2000, Gordon Eriksen), WANTANEE RETROSPECTIVE ENCORE (2008, Wantanee Siripattananuntakul), PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007, Oren Peli), and THE FOURTH KIND (2009, Olatunde Osunsanmi). Moreover, TV news in Thailand, which should present us something real, is not actually trustworthy. All of these things make me unable to trust anything easily. So when I encounter some real things in CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS, I did have a great doubt whether they are real or not.

It is funny for me to think that when I saw some mockumentaries, I thought that they were documentaries, but when I saw CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS, I thought that many things in it might be fictional. Is it only me who can't separate reality from fiction, or documentaries from fictions anymore? Is there anyone else who suffers from the same problems as me? Hahaha.

Talking about this problem, I would like to add that I don't know if one of my most favorite films I saw last year is a documentary or a fiction. GOD IS AMERICAN (2007, Richard Martin-Jordan, A+++++) claims to be a documentary, but the story in this film is so weird that I can hardly believe that the film is a documentary.

My wrong assumption that CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS was fictional made me believe that the film might have some deep layers in it that I couldn't fathom. This problem of mine results partly from my recent experience with CERTIFIED COPY (2010, Abbas Kiarostami, A+). I like CERTIFIED COPY very much when I first saw it. After I saw it, I think the film has "something" in it that makes it stand above other films dealing with "problematic couples", but I couldn't pinpoint exactly what that thing is. However, after I had talked with Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke, a cinephile friend, for an hour, I began to understand another layer in CERTIFIED COPY, which makes me admire the film much more. This experience also emphasizes to me that there are many films I can't understand without the help from others. Thus, I was afraid to "interpret" CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS for a while, believing that the film might have some deeper layers in it.

I also asked myself why I felt the urge to interpret or decode CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS, but not other films which are obviously more difficult. I think it is because I felt that the hidden meanings in CLOSURE OF CHATHARIS might not be beyond my ability to understand. That's why I reacted to this film in a different way from such films as TAKE THE 5:10 TO DREAMLAND (1976, Bruce Conner), RUHR (2009, James Benning), and THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES (1969, Sergei Paradjanov). I love these three films very much, but I don't understand them at all, and I don't feel the urge to "understand" them. I think that TAKE THE 5:10 TO DREAMLAND and RUHR may have nothing "to be understood", so it would be a waste of time for me to try to assign meanings to things in them. I think that THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES has many things to be understood, but it is obviously beyond my ability to grasp their meanings, so it would also be a waste of time for me to interpret this film by myself. On the contrary, I assumed that CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS had something to be understood, and it might be within my ability to comprehend it, so I felt an urge to decode the film, if the film was fictional. I also felt something like this for UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (2010, Apichatpong Weeresethakul, A+). I wanted to decode the film after I had seen it, but after a while I gave up that thought.

Another reason for my wrong assumptions on CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS is the play A ZOO STORY, written by Edward Albee. Something in CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS unintentionally reminds me of A ZOO STORY, which is about two guys talking to each other on a park bench, and their talk also concerns a dog like CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS. In A ZOO STORY, the talk is "meaningful" or has something "to be interpreted". The dog in A ZOO STORY is not merely a dog. It can be interpreted as a symbol or metaphor for something else. That's why I suspected for a while that the talk and the dog in CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS might carry special meanings, too.

Apart from what I have written above, other things I like in CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS include:

1. It gives me such a unique experience. It unintentionally makes me learn a new way to approach a film.

CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS doesn't give me "enjoyment" in the same way as most films. Like what I have written above, the film does not give us a conclusion, does not give us any obvious lessons, does not give me a climax or a catharsis. What do we "learn" from Devereaux's experiences? Maybe nothing. What do we learn from watching this man and the park? Maybe nothing. What is the climax of this film? I'm not sure.

I'm not even sure what "closure", "catharsis", or "closure of catharsis" mean, so I have to look them up in Wikipedia. I think that the film may offer "closure" or "catharsis" to Devereaux, because the film lets him speak about a traumatic event in his life, so that he can bring it to a closure. Wikipedia says that catharsis can also mean "experiencing the deep emotions often associated with events in the individual's past which had originally been repressed or ignored, and had never been adequately addressed or experienced.", which I think is what Devereaux might have experienced while talking in this film.

However, I think the film is unique because it doesn't offer me the usual "emotional conclusion" or the usual "catharsis" (an extreme change in emotion, occurring as the result of experiencing strong feelings ) found in most films. It presents Devereaux's talk as it is. The film doesn't try to give a nice conclusion to it. The film doesn't try to make us draw some profound lessons from it. The film doesn't try to make us cry for his dog, and doesn't try to give us some big truths. No matter what Rashidi's intentions actually are, the film presents us something in our real life, something which can be either meaningful or meaningless, but this kind of thing is always underrepresented in most films.

In a way, I like CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS for the same reason as RUHR and ZOETROPE, because these three films present us something which is not always presented in most films. RUHR and ZOETROPE present us long, static, landscape shots. CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS tells us some events in a man's life, and these events may seem unimportant to some viewers. CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS also lets us observe a man while he is thinking. This is in contrast to most films which let us watch a person only when he is talking or doing some meaningful things, not when he is sitting in silence. Thus the first seven minutes of CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS is simply wonderful, when we see nothing except Devereaux sitting in a park in silence.

CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS unintentionally makes me realize how I may be too attracted to "emotional conclusion", "climax", or "catharsis" in most films. CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS helps make me realize that in reality, or in our real lives, we can't draw conclusions on everything, everyone, or every event. Life goes on. Some events occur in your life. It may make you feel a little bit sad, but you can do nothing about it. The event may not drastically change you, but it is a part of your life. One day you might recall it when the wind blows through your hair on an ordinary day. You think of it for a while, then life goes on just the same.

CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS may remind me a little bit of such talky films as
MY DINNER WITH ANDRÉ (1981, Louis Malle) and LUDWIG'S COOK (1973, Hand Jürgen Syberberg), though CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS is still unique in my eyes, because the monologue in CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS seems to be less concerned with important things and less coherent than in the other two films.

I think my earlier problem with how to approach this film reflects my "need for closure" or my "need for definite understanding of a film". I thought that if I found the hidden meanings or the deeper layers of the film, they would lead me to a real understanding of the film, or a catharsis, or a kind of conclusion. Now I understand that I should get rid of my "need for closure", and embrace the film as what it is: a film about an ordinary man talking about some arguably unimportant events in his life on an ordinary day. The absence of conclusion and catharsis for the viewers of this film makes ithe film more unique and more lifelike.


While most films present us coherent stories and coherent talking, CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS denies us these things, but the film is still enjoyable. I like three kinds of interruptions in this film very much. They are:

2.1 Topic interruptions. Devereaux talks about many things which seem to be incoherent, or things which are not obviously connected to each other, such as Vodafone, his fear of boring old life, black-and-white TV, a public library, and his dead dog.

2.2 Monologue interruptions. Devereaux's monologue is interrupted from time to time when he turns to focus on the passers-by.

2.3 Scene interruptions. Devereaux's scenes are interrupted from time to time by strange scenes, which may or may not be logically connected to the monologue scenes. These inserted scenes help making this film less stagey.

3.Though some topics and some scenes are not logically connected, I think they are "imaginatively" connected. I mean they are connected if the viewers use their own imaginations to connect them together. For example, I imagine that the topics of the dead dog and the television sets are connected by the comparison between the sister's possession and the man's own possession when he was a little child. The reason why the topic of the dead dog and the TV sets unexplainably came up successively in his mind might be because he thinks about his sister's owning of a better TV set and a strong dog, while he had an inferior TV set and a weak dog at that time. This is just my own funny imagination towards a character in this film, anyway. I don't presume that the actor actually thinks like this in his real life. Though the film portrays some real things, I think the viewers also have the rights to imagine some fictional things by using the film as a springboard for their own imagination, as long as the viewers don't confuse between their imagination and reality.

Another imaginative connection of mine is the one between the scene in which Devereaux nearly finishes talking about his dead dog and the scene in which a young man puts up a suitcase over a bridge railing or something like that. I imagine that the connection between these two scenes is the feeling of throwing away the burden. By talking about his dead dog, Devereaux is cleansing some burdens out of his mind. By throwing the suitcase into a river, the young man get rids of some burdens in his life.


I quote Alexander Kluge in the opening of this post, because CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS and BIPEDALITY (2010, Rouzbeh Rashidi) unintentionally remind me of something in Alexander Kluge's films. In many of Kluge's films, scenes which are not logically connected are juxtaposed together, resulting in "the third picture", "the invisible picture", or "the picture in the viewers' head". In BIPEDALITY and CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS, we also see the juxtaposition of scenes which are not logically connected to each other, resulting in "puzzlement", "thought provocation", "unexplainable feelings" or "invisible pictures" from time to time.

For example, after we see a scene in which Devereaux talks about his dog getting sick, we see a scene in which a middle-aged couple with arguably unhappy faces sitting in a train, holding a newspaper with the word NURSES printed on it. The juxtaposition of these two scenes results in "a third picture" in my head. It's the imaginative picture of that couple visiting their small son suffering from a disease in a hospital. This "third picture" is inspired by the sadness Devereaux had because of his sick dog and the image of that couple.

If I have to vote for "a climax" in this film, I might vote for this scene of the middle-aged couple, because the sadness for the dog which has been built before that scene seems to arguably reach its climax in this scene with the help of my imagination.

However, after we see that couple, we see an old man eating a donut in the train or something like that. How is this image connected to the whole story? I don't know. But I like this unexplainable quality very much.


Apart from "the third picture", I also like the use of offscreen space and imaginative space in this film very much. I mean:

5.1 The offscreen space: The passers-by, the big dogs, and the squirrel are offscreen in this film, but their presences are very important to the story. The viewers must use their own imagination to visualize these figures, based on the reactions Devereaux has towards them.

5.2 The things which Devereaux talks about, such as his sister and their dogs. The viewers also have to use their own imagination to visualize these figures, based on Devereaux's memory.

5.3 Most importantly, the things Devereaux does not talk about, but think about in silence. There are a few minutes in the film in which Devereaux is thinking about something. I love these moments, because they are not presented in most films. The viewers must use their own imagination to guess, or maybe freely imagine, what Devereaux has on his mind in those moments, based on tiny movements in Devereaux's face.


The use of offscreen space is most effectively used in the invisible gangsters' scene. I mean the scene in the minute 50 or so, in which Devereaux seems to fear some people who pass nearby, and we hear some footsteps, but we never see the owners of the footsteps or the clear faces of the gangsters (if I hear what Devereaux said correctly).

The presence of invisible danger in a real situation like this is very thrilling. It reminds me of a scene in the documentary DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND (2002, Lucy Walker), in which the filmmaker and her crew suspect some killers or bad men might be outside the house of an interviewee, and a scene in the documentary HUNTING THE LION WITH BOW AND ARROW (1967, Jean Rouch), in which the filmmaker and his crew ran for their lives to escape from a lion.

Another thing I like very much in the invisible gangsters' scene is the fact that in most fictional films, a man like Devereaux, who looks very strong, doesn't always have a chance to show his fear for big dogs or gangsters strolling in a park, but this film shows it, and it unintentionally points to how dangerous our real world is.

Another scene I like very much in CLOSURE OF THE CATHARSIS is the scene of the schoolgirls. I think it is the most cheerful scene in this film.

7. The excellent performance of James Devereaux

The film hugely depends on the performance of Devereaux. If he had done the job badly, the film would have been utterly boring. However, his presence in the film is never boring. I like observing the movements in his face very much.

8. The similarities and the differences compared to other films by Rashidi

I think it is interesting to compare and contrast CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS with other films by Rashidi. Structurally, the film reminds me a little bit of BIPEDALITY, in which the main talking scenes are also interrupted from time to time by some enigmatic shots.

Another thing which reminds me of BIPEDALITY is the repeated talk of Devereaux. He talks about Vodafone twice, and seems to repeat some sentences about his TV and his dog. It reminds me of the third act of BIPEDALITY, in which some sentences seem to be spoken twice.

However, what makes CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS different from other feature films of Rashidi is that the film doesn't give me "visual pleasure" as much as ONLY HUMAN (2009), BIPEDALITY, REMINISCENCES OF YEARNING, and ZOETROPE. I think the visual beauty in CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS is as much as the one in LIGHT & QUIET (2008). Both of them are cinematographically satisfying, but the cinematography in ONLY HUMAN, BIPEDALITY, REMINISCENCES OF YEARNING, and ZOETROPE is in the level of "extremely stunning".

Though CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS is very different from other films of Rashidi I have seen, there are some small similarities among them, such as the use of static shots, the sound of birds, and the playing with sound: we see someone blow a musical instrument in CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS, but we hear no music. This reminds me of LIGHT & QUIET and REMINISCENCES OF YEARNING, in which we see some characters speaking, but we don't hear their voices. There are also some strange electronic noises near the end of CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS.

9.The visual effect used in the inserted scenes to make the characters move jerkily. This visual effect is very haunting.

10. The stunning opening shot. The first shot of this film lasts 30 minutes before the first cut appears in the film. This is as stunning as the opening shot of AUTOHYSTORIA (2007, Raya Martin).

11. As for the monologue, the topic I like the most is the boredom of life. Devereaux says that he doesn't want to live until 95, going through the routine every day until that time. This part of the monologue unintentionally reminds me of one of my most favorite scenes of all time from THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (1977, Robert Bresson)

--There's one thing I'm not sure I like in this film or not: it is the use of the extreme close-up near the end of this film. I like it a little bit because it is very strange. I rarely see an extreme close-up like that. But I'm not sure if I really like it or not, because it makes me feel "uncomfortable". I'm not sure if this uncomfortableness is what Rashidi intends or not. I'm not sure if this uncomfortable effect will still be felt by the audience or not when the film is shown on a big screen. I'm not sure what the intention for the use of extreme close-up in this film is. Does the move from close-up to extreme close-up in this film correspond to the move into the deeper part of Devereaux's mind?

--If I have to screen CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS with other films, I will choose to screen it with WHEN THE MOVIE LISTENS (2007, Tulapop Saenjaroen, Thailand, 11 min), which shows a man listening to something.The showing of these two films together might cause a funny effect, especially if it is done like a video installation in a gallery. One film speaks, the other film listens.


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