Sunday, September 09, 2012

HE (2012, Rouzbeh Rashidi, A+10)

HE (2012, Rouzbeh Rashidi, A+10)

Rouzbeh Rashidi never fails to amaze me with his films. His films always show me some creative ideas which I rarely find in other films. HE is the 13th of his feature films that I have seen, and it also shows me something I haven't found in other films, including his twelve feature films that I have seen.

Things I like very much in HE include:

1.How to tell a story about a suicidal man. Most films about a suicidal person tell what happens in the protagonists' lives "visually". But in HE, the story about the protagonist is told "orally" by the protagonist himself. So what do we "see" in this film? We see the protagonist talking, and we see scenes of the protagonist wandering in some dilapidated buildings, kicking things, searching for something, doing some senseless stuff, doing something in the kitchen, and pondering on drinking a suspicious glass of water. We also see a husband and a wife having a serious problem, because the husband has turned completely numb.

There are some films which tell their stories very powerfully by having the actors talk to us, for example, LUDWIG'S COOK (1973, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg), TEN TINY LOVE STORIES (2002, Rodrigo García), CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS (2011, Rouzbeh Rashidi). HE is also one of these. The protagonist of HE, played by James Devereaux, tells us about his thoughts and his life stories in a very interesting way. It is easy for us to visualize some scenes in our own minds according to the stories he tells. But HE is also much more than an oral tale, because HE also presents us some "ambiguous" scenes of the protagonist wandering in some empty buildings, and intercutting these scenes with the scenes of the protagonist talking. I say these scenes are "ambiguous" because I'm not sure what the real status of these scenes is. Does what happen in these scenes a dream? Or a representation of the mental state of the protagonist? Or things really happen in the life of the protagonist? I'm not sure.

What do we achieve by intercutting these ambiguous scenes with the scenes of the protagonist talking? I'm not sure I can describe it in words. Let me just say it creates some strange feelings, and I think it is something new or something I have rarely seen before.

Does this intercutting help the film delve deeper into the mind of a suicidal man? I'm not sure. And I'm not sure if it is the purpose of this experimental film or not.

However, this kind of "putting two things together to create something new" reminds me a little bit of  BIPEDALITY (2010, Rouzbeh Rashidi). One of the most interesting things in BIPEDALITY is the intercutting between the scenes of the hero and the heroine talking to each other with the scenes of beautiful scenery. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between these two films. In BIPEDALITY, there seems to be no obvious connection at all between the talking scenes and the atmospheric scenes, while in HE, the talking scenes and the empty building scenes are linked by using the same actor.

2. I like the rapid editing (or intercutting) in several scenes in HE, though I'm not sure if the rapid editing works every time in this film. The rapid editing that I like very much is the one in the numb husband scene, the black cat scene, and the dialogue scene between the protagonist and his friend. However, I'm not sure if I like the rapid editing in the two monologue scenes or not.

I think it is interesting that the intercutting between the talking scenes and the empty building scenes becomes rapid from time to time. I don't know what the meaning of this rapid intercutting is. Does it portray the disturbed mind of the protagonist? Anyway, I feel disturbed myself, and my eyes feel irritated a little bit to watch the rapid editing during the two monologues in this film. Am I fair to say something like this? Why do I complain about the rapid editing in HE, but not in THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012, Tony Gilroy)? I think there is much difference between the rapid editing in HE and in action films. The rapid editing in action films connects things which happen in the same situation. The rapid editing in HE connects things which happen in different dimensions--physical world vs mental world--or something like that. So the rapid editing in HE creates some very strange feelings, though I'm not sure if it is a pleasant one.

What I'm trying to say is that I wonder if the intercutting has to be as fast as that, or if the juxtaposition of the physical world with the mental world can also be achieved by the split screen, or by turning this film into a two-channel video installation instead. Anyway, if the rapid intercutting is meant to disturb the audience or to make the audience understand how disturbed the protagonist feels, I think it is successful.

But I really like the rapid intercutting in the second half of the film, especially in the numb husband scene. The rapid intercutting in the numb husband scene creates such a powerful feeling in me, and I'm not sure if it is because it can be explained easily or not. I mean I don't see the "obvious reason" why the empty building scenes have to be intercut rapidly with the two monologue scenes, in which James Devereaux speaks very slowly. But in the numb husband scene, the empty building scenes which are intercut into it look like they come from a horror film, and there seems to be some obvious reasons why they have to be intercut rapidly into it. I mean the horror scene seems to suggest what happens in the mind of the husband, and the rapid rhythm of the intercutting corresponds very well with the shock of the wife. So I can say I love the rapid intercutting in this scene very much, though I'm not sure if it is because the rapid intercutting serves some obvious purposes or not.

As for the black cat scene, I love the rapid intercutting in this scene very much, though I don't understand its meaning or its purpose at all. This rapid intercutting happens when the friend learns that the protagonist is contemplating a suicide. Then we see that the face of the friend on the left side of the screen is intercut very rapidly with the scene of a black cat on the right side of the screen. I don't know what this intercutting means at all, but I think it is very funny, surreal, memorable, and powerful.

The rapid intercutting which follows in the dialogue scene doesn't disturb me as much as in the two monologue scenes, and I'm not sure if it is because I have adapted myself to the rhythm of this intercutting or not. Anyway, the rapid intercutting near the end of the film is extremely powerful.

3.The performance by James Devereaux is great, especially in the first monologue scene. I like his eyes in that scene very much. His eyes in that scene have some undeniable power in them. I also think that "the performance" in this film is not the same kind of performance as in most narrative films. Performances in most narrative films require that the actors perform the characters convincingly or as realistically as possible. But in HE, I think it is more about "the powerful presence" of the actor than the "realistic portrayal of the character". And Devereaux really creates a powerful "presence" in this film.

I also like the performance of the numb husband very much.

4.I also like the slow speech of Devereaux in this film. It is unintentionally reminds me of Deborah Kara Unger in TEN TINY LOVE STORIES, because both Devereaux and Unger don't tell their stories fluently, but tell stories as if they are disturbed by the stories they tell. It is as if every word coming out of Devereaux' mouth in this film has gone through a lot of emotions before it comes out. The emphasis on "how the actor speaks" in HE also unintentionally reminds me of CORNEILLE-BRECHT (2009, Jean-Marie Straub + Cornelia Geiser).

5.I also like the blurred quality and the colors of the empty building scenes during the first monologue very much. The blurred quality makes these scenes dreamlike. I also think the colors in these scenes are very beautiful, especially the scene in the green and purple room. The colors near the end of the film are very beautiful, too.

6.The scenes of the protagonist wandering in empty buildings unintentionally remind me of some apocalyptic films made by Teeranit Siangsanoh, such as THE LIGHT HOUSE (2011). I like this kind of scenes very much. It tells no story, but it is very atmospheric. It turns everyday scene (dilapidated buildings) into a highly imaginative fictional world.

7. As in many films made by Rashidi, the ambiguity is one of the most interesting things in HE. There are a few things I'm not sure about in this film. Most importantly, I wonder about the relationship between the numb husband and the protagonist. Are these two the same person?

8. One of the things that make me like the numb husband scene very much is because it is easy to identify with him. I mean the character portrayed by Devereaux is specific and full of details, while the numb husband lacks details, so one can identify oneself easily with the numb husband instead of the protagonist.

One of the things I think while watching HE is that there are thousands of reasons to commit suicide, and each suicidal man is different from one another. The protagonist of HE comes from a family which is too much addicted to television, while some suicidal men among the audience may come from families which are too religious and don't allow their children to watch game shows on television, or something like that. So while I think HE is a great film about a suicidal man, I don't think that every viewer with suicidal tendency can easily identify with the protagonist. Some viewers can, but others can't, I guess. As for me, I can easily identify myself with the numb husband, because there are some instances in my life in which I just want to stop doing everything, talk to no one (except my teddy bears), and go to sleep. Because the film doesn't give us any obvious reasons why the husband turns numb, so some viewers with different reasons to turn numb can easily identify with this character.

In conclusion, what I like very much in HE is that it presents a "new and interesting" way of telling a story and presenting the mind of a suicidal man.

 APPENDIX: My favorite films with suicide in them

1.THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (1977, Robert Bresson)
2.THE FIRE WITHIN (1963, Louis Malle)
3.GILLES' WIFE (2004, Frédéric Fonteyne)
4.HE (2012, Rouzbeh Rashidi)
5.THE INGRATITUDE (2005, Setthawit Punpeng)
6.JERICHOW (2008, Christian Petzold)
7.LETTERS FROM THE SILENCE (2006, Prap Boonpan)
8.LITTLE LIFE (2009, Rungkarn Keawsuwan, animation)
9.NO PLACE TO GO (2000, Oskar Roehler, Germany)
10.THE SEVENTH CONTINENT (1989, Michael Haneke, Austria)
11.SOPHIE'S CHOICE (1982, Alan J. Pakula)
12.SUICIDE PARADISE (2010, Vatanyu Ingkavivat)
13.SYLVIA (2003, Christine Jeffs)
14.TASTE OF CHERRY (1997, Abbas Kiarostami)
15.THE UNINVITED (2003, Lee Su-yeon, South Korea)
16.WHITE MISCHIEF (1987, Michael Radford) I like how the film presents the activities of Alice de Janzé (Sarah Miles) before she commits suicide very much. We see her singing happily. We see her waking up in the morning and saying something like, "This is such a beautiful morning." And then she commits suicide. And it is based on a true story.


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celinejulie said...

I think there is also an interesting matching between the talking scenes and the surreal scenes in HE, for example:

1.The first monologue scene talks about romantic relationship. It is intercut with scenes of a man walking in a dreamlike, colorful, deserted factory.

2.The second monologue scene talks about mother and father. It is first intercut with scenes of a man walking in a place which looks like a deserted hotel. Later, it is intercut with the scenes of the dreamlike factory again.

3.The numb husband scene is intercut with grainy scenes of James Devereaux. The grainy surreal scene here looks like a horror film.

4.The scene of a dialogue with a friend is intercut with the kitchen scene and the sofa scene.

I'm not sure if there are any meanings behind this matching or not. Does it imply that marriage is like a dreamlike, colorful factory, parental home is like a hotel you once stayed and had to leave later, etc.?