Wednesday, 31 March 2010


The swing is the pendular rhythm of a heartbeat, describing the emotion of those who sit on it in the speed and length of its movements.

It is romantic when it swings far and free...


Wings of Desire

Letter from an Unknown Woman

It is a child's game and a symbol of childhood or innocence lost or retrieved.

It is melancholic when it is slow...


Stone Wedding (Nunta de Piatra)

When it is empty it is sad and disturbing, sighing and creaking, telling us of something just gone or of a malign horrific presence invisible as the wind. The swing may lullaby one's fears to sleep or indulge and intensify them.

The Happening

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Gallery is Open - Accepting Submissions

[Update Wed 31/03 A new image from Fearless]

Here it is; a gallery of images chosen by you to stand for so much of what makes Cinema such a rich and exciting medium.

I hope this is just a beginning. New submissions will be added at the top of the gallery and there will be a permanent link in the sidebar to this post. Most of the images can be viewed enlarged if you click on them.



chosen by Bob Clark

"A short, stray observation, but a keen one. A plane crashes in a fiery wreck and many of its passengers die, yet somehow a single bottle of champagne rolls unharmed. An eloquent piece of movie lyricism, expressing all the untold grace and anguish over the miracle of staying alive surrounded by so much death-- a kind of cinematic shorthand for survivor's guilt."

Dust Fall

Taste of Cherry

chosen by Carson

"An image of aching poetry: the mournful Mr. Badii projects his shadow over billowing dust and rock, an all-too frightening foreshadow of his later decision to bury himself."

Two Boys and a fire


chosen by Carson

"Tarkovsky's magnum opus is loaded with extraordinary textures, lights, and reflections, and this is one of the most touching. The camera glimpses two young boys through a mirror standing on their porch and gazing at the fire outside."

Giant Face

Inglourious Basterds

chosen by Ronak M Soni

"Few films I've seen have used colour as well as Ingourious Basterds. This is most strongly seen here, a big black-and-white face being burnt out by bright yellow fire; all the softness that is generally entailed by black-and-white is literally being burnt out by the hard colour under it, making it -- along with the content itself -- a profoundly disturbing image."

The Sleeper

Woman of the Dunes

chosen by Bob Clark

"Besides being a noted example of cinematic existentialism and art-house adventurism, Teshigahara's film is also one of the most erotically charged pieces of international cinema from the 1960's. What makes the film's sexuality so profound, however, is that it is never used cheaply. In moments such as this, where Kyoko Kishida's plain and plainspoken widow lies asleep, naked save for a cloth over her head, we see some of the film's most essential themes-- isolation, identity, and a very primal, human physicality."

Boy and a jar of milk


chosen by Stephen

"Floating silently through a windswept room we rest on this image, seen through a mirror of a boy hidden away in the dark, sipping from a jar of milk. It is stunning."

Ella and Averill

Heaven's Gate

chosen by Bob Clark

"This snapshot, from the tail-end of a whirlwind roller-skate dance-hall sequence-- perhaps the movie's signature tour-de-force set-piece-- only sums up a small amount of what I love about the film...With the lovers' silhouetted forms, the rustic printed wallpaper and the sepia tones, we get all the lyricism and nostalgia of a tender, long-ago romance, yet none of the bitter aftertaste of sentimentality. It earns so much of the tragedy that follows."


Diary of a Chambermaid

chosen by Bob Clark

"...Thanks to evocative, yet restrained imagery like this, he [Bunuel] is able to express the ugly truth of what happens to an all-too-young girl, while at the same time sparing us the grisly details. Snails on a girl's legs-- it says everything we need to know without showing us too much to bear."

Balthazar before Dying

Au Hasard Balthazar

chosen by Carson

"One of the most wrenching images in all of cinema: a final moment of peace before unfair death."

A Pivotal Meeting


chosen by Drew

Janos walks down the street

Werckmeister Harmonies

chosen by Carson

"This shot, from a long tracking shot watching the main character Janos walk down the barren street of his small Hungarian town, probably registered the strongest emotional response of any individual image from all of the films I've seen. Combined with Mihaly Vig's lilting score, it's an eerily sublime moment that anticipates a stellar film. "

Torment, fear and faith

The Passion of Joan of Arc

chosen by Sam Juliano

"In the age of silent cinema Falconetti's stylized facial expressions, accentuated by Dreyer's compelling use of close-ups, are the spiritual (and cinematic) essence of this staggering masterpiece."

Map in the Sand

The Hidden Fortress

chosen by Ronak M Soni

"There's so much ambiguity in such a sharp image"


Mulholland Drive

chosen by Ed Howard

"...a very resonant image from my favorite scene in one of my favorite movies."

May the force be against you

Star Wars Episode III : Revenge of the Sith

chosen by Bob Clark

"Taken alone, these hands would appear to be reaching out to one another, perhaps belonging to a friend seeking to rescue the other from some terrible fate. From a certain point of view, they are, but more immediately, they belong to friends at war-- Obi-Wan and Anakin, dueling in the midst of the volcanic planet Mustafar, each channeling the Force to attack the other with all their Jedi might"

A Lonely-looking Sky

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

chosen by Adam Zanzie

"This particular image, photographed with the help of Academy Award-nominated cinematography by Jack Couffer, beautifully illlustrates the solitude of Jonathan, who- as an ambitious seagull banished from his unforgiving flock- dares to take on the natural beauty of the world all by himself, beginning with a brisk flight above the calm ocean, and across that lonely-looking sky."

A corridor of candles

La Belle et la Bete

chosen by Coffee Messiah

Sugar Cube

Trois Couleurs Bleu

chosen by Ronak M Soni

"In our sadness, we seek refuge in mundanities, for mundanities are the most prevalent things in our lives. In Trois Couleurs Bleu, the woman has lost her husband, and it is only because of this horrific event that she sees this image of transcendental beauty; a fact as life-affirming as just about anything else in cinema."

A City of Boxes

Citizen Kane

chosen by Stephen

A woman's eyeball about to be slit

Un Chien Andalou

chosen by Just Another Film Buff

"An eye, a slit, a cut, agenda! Possibly the most provocative image in all of cinema, Buñuel and Dali’s literally eye-popping creation is the poster boy for surrealist filmmaking and a statement by the master director announcing that his cinema isn’t going to be just eye-deep"

Fire at the Jedi Temple

Star Wars Episode III : Revenge of the Sith

chosen by Bob Clark

"Earlier in the film, Natalie Portman's Padme looks out from the balcony of her penthouse apartment to watch as the Jedi HQ is attacked by Republic (soon to be Imperial) Stormtroopers, fearfully remarking "you can see the smoke from here!". It's the sort of thing practically everyone with a good view of lower Manhattan either said or thought on the morning of September 11, 2001, and by invoking that tragic day with this, perhaps his most loaded and potentially dangerous act of cinematic imagery, Lucas raises up not only the specter of global terrorism, but also sinister hints of political paranoia in the aftermath of legislative follies like the Patriot Act or the war in Iraq."

Princess Yuki

The Hidden Fortress

chosen by Ronak M Soni

"Has there ever been a more effective image of the completely universal conflict between responsibility and personal happiness?"

Opening Shot

Sin City

chosen by Ronak M Soni

"Noir is the expression of male mistrust, a mistrust of the world around you whose cherry on top is the mistrust of women. What better way to illustrate this than a white-coloured woman in a red dress in front of a black city?"

Sabers in the smoke

Star Wars Episode I : The Phantom Menace

chosen by Bob Clark

"Oh, if only this were the first glimpse we saw of the fabled Jedi weapons! So perfectly framed by the battle-droids and circular door, and so evocatively shot through the misty fog of deadly poisoned gas, those glowing blades of neon light cut quick to the audiences' eyes, enough to bring a grin to anyone's those who claim that the magic of "Star Wars" vanished with the Prequels, I can only point to this shot, and all the gleeful play of battle that follows."

A Young Poet and Fluttering Words

The Colour of Pomegranates

chosen by Drew

"A gorgeous, prophetic image of our young poet at perfect peace with an array of fluttering words and ideas encompassing him"

Anakin and Padme marry

Star Wars Episode II : Attack of the Clones

chosen by Bob Clark

"...Lucas tightens his usually epic scope to focus on Skywalker's skeletal mechanical hand being held, tenderly, by his new bride... Like films past, it expresses the old man/machine conflict, but in a much more positive emotional spectrum, as Padme accepts her husband for who he is, prosthetic limbs and all. But it's also a nicely haunting bit of foreshadowing...It's a poignant sci-fi spin on the old motif of Death and the Maiden, as the bride lovingly clasps the same metal hand that will one day strangle out her life without even touching her."

The Death of Juanita de Cordoba


chosen by Stephen

"As she falls she seems to collapse into herself. Emptied of life, her dress becomes a pool of blood. On the chessboard floor the Queen is, shockingly, taken by the King."

An overwhelmed point of view

Black Narcissus

chosen by Doniphon

"Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger are fascinated by the nature of color in Black Narcissus, especially how it is experienced and interpreted by the individual. This culminates in an extraordinary point of view shot (photographed by the peerless Jack Cardiff), flashing red as the overwhelmed character faints. She wakes blue."

Operating on Darth Vader

Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith

chosen by Bob Clark

"I love the way that they floor-lights around him form the Empire's six-pronged symbol, turning him into a political figure like Patton before Old Glory"

Satsuki inside the Catbus

My Neighbour Totoro

chosen by Stephen

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Gallery of the Cinematic Image

I have decided to open and curate a new museum in honour of the cinematic image. I am asking for anyone who wants to to provide a link to a screenshot of their favourite image(s) in cinema or, if you do not have a favourite, images that show for you the power and beauty of the medium. The criteria used for selection are entirely down to you.

I would be grateful too, if you want, if you could write a little on why you chose them. I hope that we can soon have an extensive gallery of striking images that celebrate Cinema and provide a kind of portrait of the writers, thinkers and readers of the blogosphere. Everybody is welcome.

Thank you.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Dekalog Review

What is most beautiful about the Dekalog is its plainness.
It does not even assume a pose of artlessness. Not realism, not cinema verité, not a film easily categorised except on the basis of its staggering quality.

Even wonderful, human films like Au Hasard Balthazar and Pather Panchali seem to let their gaze wander, if only a little, from the characters and onto themselves, satisfied and preoccupied with maintaining their style, grooming the auteur's reflection. The humble Dekalog wins out over the more gilded works.

The Dekalog doesn't moralise or pontificate. Kieslowski takes potentially sensationalist material (incest, murder, adultery) and, without artificially exaggerating the drama, brings us closer to the people involved. He gets closer than anyone to keeping what people do and what may define them separate. The justice system cannot fully distinguish. It cannot show properly in its gestures that it hates the sin and still loves the man. As Jacek in Dekalog V says to his lawyer:

"They're all against me"

"Against what you did"

"It's the same thing"

The Dekalog is Old Testament law and ideals seen through the prism of New Testament compassion. The most important commandment within the Dekalog is the newest : "Love one another as I have loved you". The Dekalog glows with that love.

Kieslowski depicts a murderer as vulnerable and fearful without diminishing the horrifying and abhorrent act that he has committed. He makes the struggles of the people involved natural and universal. I was never made to think: "All this tragic spectacle in one block, eh?". The Dekalog could have been set in any one of the identical blocks that surround it, or on anyone's street:

"You know the doctor and the patient you heard about at the university live in this block"

"An interesting house"

"Every house is interesting"

The worst moments of Dekalog are shocking because they remind you that it is a film like any other, when that is precisely what it is not. It is uniquely simple and powerful and moving. The fade to black at the end of each episode that invites contemplation, as a Priest might when intoning "let us pray", left me awestruck with thoughts and feelings, uplifted by sadness shot through with hope.

It made an impact on me like no other. I consider it, for now, the best film I have ever seen.

* * *

A couple of miscellaneous notes:

Little Red Riding Hood (Dekalog VII): Ania (above) dreams of wolves and wakes up crying and screaming almost every night. The wolf is the future, her mother (who is in fact her grandmother disguised as her mother) and her real mother Majka, who takes her off into the lush green woods and far away, splitting the family in two. Dreams feature in almost all of the episodes, always with something of the truth to them.

Milk or milk bottles, I believe, appear in all ten of the episodes. It is, I think, being used as symbolic of nurture and nourishment and, whether it is sitting on a sideboard (VIII), poured (IX, II), frozen (I), gleefully delivered in cartfuls (V) or spilt (V, above) it indicates or reflects a certain emotional or spiritual state. Isn't heaven said to be "overflowing with milk and honey"?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Chance and Control in the Dekalog

Fate and coincidence are hallmarks of Krzysztof Kieslowski's films, from the doppelgangers Veronique and Weronika in
La Double Vie De Veronique to the sea disaster in Three Colours Red that brings Valentine and Auguste together. The question of whether there is a hand at play behind the scenes, manipulating people as puppets, is up for debate but the effect of such events on the people themselves is unmistakeable.

The men and women who live in the Warsaw apartment block of the Dekalog are, in some ways, helplessly swept along by the course of their lives. They have control over their choices but not necessarily over the circumstances that create them. Now and again we see them try to assert a modicum of control over their surroundings if only to salve their existential angst. In Dekalog II Dorota pushes a glass off a table to watch it smash on the ground. Her very own inevitability. In Dekalog V Jacek flicks a rock off a bridge down onto a motorway causing a crash. In the same episode the man he goes on to kill honks the horn of his car with the sole aim, bound to be achieved, of frightening a couple of dogs. 

They all need to feel that they are directors as much as actors.

What is interesting is how Jacek's act leaves room for chance. This is because, no matter how powerless they feel, some of the people of the Dekalog face decisions so demanding and intractable that they are compelled to call on chance to act on their behalf. They abdicate part of their responsibility and comfort themselves with something that cannot be argued against - luck, fate or whatever one wishes to call it.

The majority of the Dekalog films feature Game-Playing. Tomek and Magda in V decide whether to go home together by seeing if they can catch the bus as it prepares to leave. In IV the dying flames of two candles decide which of Anka or her father Michal will be able to ask a potentially life-changing question of the other. Majka, the real mother of Ania in VII, initially reframes her 'kidnap' as a game, turning into hide-and-seek from her mother (the child's grandmother). In III Janusz accelerates his car straight at a tram, playing chicken with something that can not change its course, teasing fate with the opportunity to wrest the wheel of control from his hands.

On the surface, yes, it is fun, the frisson of a coin flipping in mid-air, but these characters are fearful too. They want to have the freedom to control their own destiny but they also want to have those decisions made for them. If they have Free Will they want to be able to suspend it, if only for a second. They want God to let them go without letting go of their hand.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Dekalog IX and X - Greed, Mistrust and Acceptance

Dekalog IX
("Thou Shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife") and X ("Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods") show people wanting more and guarding jealously what they already have. Perhaps the word greed is too strong but it is the closest there is, nevertheless, to the mot juste.

A husband in IX is terminally ill and unable to continue a sexual relationship with his wife. She assures him, reassures him, that their marriage is strong enough to survive. But she begins an affair and he begins, rightly, to mistrust her (though not certain of anything). He eavesdrops on her phone calls and spies on her. It torments him and threatens to tear them apart as they regard each other through a glass darkly. They ride the elevator and each is alternately lit with the other in oblivion.

A man dies in X and leaves his extensive and extremely valuable philatelic collection to his sons. Worried that it may be stolen, they turn what was already a Fort Knox into something like a prison, with bars and alarms and a vicious dog. They themselves are caught within that trap, both literal and moral. They fret and sweat over their inheritance and covet the one stamp that will unlock yet more riches by completing an extraordinarily rare set. In order to secure it one of the brothers goes so far as to donate a kidney to a dealer's daughter.

* * *

In the end it turns out that the dealer had hoodwinked them and used the brother's stay in hospital as an opportunity to break into the apartment (guarded by a dog that coincidentally is the same breed as his own!) and make off with the stamps. At first the brothers suspect the other committed the crime and thus greed gives birth to mistrust. When the culprit is unmasked the brothers accept the truth. They gladly accept each other and acknowledge that what they have (a new collection begun the very same day) is enough. They count their blessings. They no longer covet but cherish.

The woman (Hanka) in IX wants everything. She wants the loving husband and she wants the lover, regardless of her husband's apparent complicity and regardless of how such actions may nevertheless have hurtful repercussions. Slowly, realising the pain she is causing, she accepts that what she has is enough. No, it is more than enough.

At first Roman does not know of the resolution his wife has come too. Devastated by his wife's infidelity and embittered by mistrust, he attempts to kill himself, riding his bicycle off an unfinished overpass. Fortunately he survives and the two are reconciled. They do not covet any more what they cannot have because it poisons what they do have.

Roman had struck up a friendship with a patient at the hospital where he works - a young woman. She wanted to be a singer but now, due to a heart problem, she cannot pursue her dream. She has joy in her heart and often gently hums along to the music of her favourite composer Van Den Budenmayer (Zbigniew Preisner). She is hopeful and she is thankful. She says "mother wants me to have everything,but all I want is..."

Dekalog: God in Man

The word was made flesh and God was made man to celebrate the joys and endure the scourges of human life. In summation, to
show the way and to empathise. However, God is not only present incarnated in Jesus but is said to be immanent in all of us. That is, God suffers with us and through us.

Within the
Dekalog there are gleamings of God within man, experiencing life as Man and alongside Man. In Dekalog VIII (Henceforth I will refer to each episode by their numeral alone) the Professor talks of how her son is "quite simply far away from me". In II the Doctor is asked "Do you understand what it is to have a child?" to which he responds mournfully: "I do". In I, the painful separation of God from his only son is enacted by a wretched Krzysztof on his walkie-talkie: "'s father...over". When Krzysztof weeps at his son's death and rebels against God (thus acknowledging him for the first time) an icon of the Virgin Mary weeps too with tears of falling wax. Kieslowski echoes God's experience through these characters and brings Creator and created into a cycle of shared living.

V the man murdered by Jacek bleeds as though punctured by a crown of thorns and in VI Tomek cuts his wrists and wears bandages as if healing wounds made by nails. They live his passion.

Characters routinely project what they see as Godly traits onto others. In I Irena invites Pawel to feel God in her loving embrace. In II Dorota sees God's callous disinterest in the attitude of her Doctor. Consider too the recurring phrase "Don't be afraid" or "Do not be afraid", used liberally in the course of these ten hours (especially in VII to pacify the little girl Ania). The motherly/fatherly comfort is God's in miniature. At the conclusion of IX Hanka, upon hearing Roman's voice (whom she feared dead), exclaims: "You are there. God, you are there". This is not for emphasis alone, an inconsequential blasphemy. She sees his survival as evidence of God's working through and for her husband

* * *

The teacher of VIII explains to Elzbieta how, in the way many take God to work, she tries to help her students "discover themselves" rather than tell them "how to live".

What then can be made of the stranger who appears in all Dekalog episodes? He is, I believe, best thought of as an angel. When, in VI, the stranger is seen with a suitcase in hand, perhaps ready to relocate, he is dressed all in white. He no longer needs to blend in. He is a messenger. He is concerned with the decisions we make (present at moments where significant moral choices are taken) but unable to intervene. The eyes of God, perhaps. Or an intermediary. In I he sits on the far side of the lake that separates the housing estate from the church. Waiting.

Where the Dekalog as a whole may pose questions of moral uncertainty, the Angel poses ones on the role of God himself. In I his eyes tell us that he foresees Pawel's death (implied in the flash-forward). This makes us think. Is it predestined and if so is it predestined by God? Did his fire melt the ice? Is there meaningful freedom after all or is this a punishment to awaken a spirituality through brutal lessons? Kieslowski talks of "the God of the Old Testament" who "leaves us a lot of freedom and responsibility, observes how we use it and then rewards or punishes" with "no appeal or forgiveness". It is possible that God is ready and waiting yet it is also possible that he has pushed the father Krzysztof to him.

The Dekalog makes one think of the relationship between Man and God's teaching. More deeply, it elucidates the relationship between Man and God unmediated by institutionalised doctrine.

Dekalog III - A Dialogue through Light

Dekalog III is based, nominally at least, on the third commandment. This commandment states "Honour the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy"...

With Christmas Eve night as their backdrop, Krzysztof Kieslowski
illuminates the lives of those who are without a home, lacking the warmth of familial love. Dekalog III, as all the parts of the Dekalog do, appears to call not for strict adherence to rigid, non-negotiable and potentially contradictory laws, not for acts of faith as much as acts of good faith in the spirit of what God and the Bible teaches. The Sabbath day is kept holy not by prayer and ritualised solemnity alone (we see the protagonists at Mass) but also the practice of compassion.

Ewa is alone on a Night meant for sharing, a night that is defined by family. It is her Saint's day too. She calls on Janusz, a married man with whom she once had an adulterous affair. She is seen looking through the window of his home as he, dressed up as Father Christmas, brings gifts to his children. She talks to him on the phone. She lies. She tells him that her husband, from whom she is in fact long separated, is missing. He, reluctantly but with sympathy, agrees to accompany her.

Gradually they discover the truth b
ehind this night and the truth of what had passed between them many years ago. They accept and rebuild a bond. It is a pact sealed before and through God in the breaking and sharing of a wafer-like disc of bread in Ewa's apartment.

* * *

What passes through the doors and the windows that separated Ewa from others is light.

Reflections on the inside of night-blackened windows appear to place lamps and fairy lights outside on the streets. There are many instances of reflections that offer a pathway in through a spilling out. A welcome and a call. Street lights come in too, reflected on the outside of windows. Blinding light punches through the multitude of doors that are closed in the characters' faces. Barriers that isolate are pierced and dissolved.

In out (above top); Out in (above bottom)

The entire city, on this night, is decorated as if a sprawling concrete Christmas tree. Kieslowski and Cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski's shots distort light. They blur it, magnify it and flare it through their lens. Ewa and Janusz are garlanded by strings of lights, wreathed in orbs of gold, haloes of white and red, as if protected by heavenly souls.

Kieslowski chooses to place stress on the colour Red in particular (image below). He employs it as a means to intensify danger (pursuit and capture by the police), passion (Ewa licking her finger to salve a cut on Janusz's forehead), fraternity. Counterpointing such haemorrhages of colour is the white light in which calm, truthfulness and safety is doused.

Ewa is desperate in her loneliness. She tells Janusz how she was prepared to kill herself, showing him the pill in her coat pocket. Her plan was to get through the night with his help. If she could get to 7:00 AM, to the break of dawn and, significantly, new light, she would be ready to face the world again without fear.
Daylight, even more than artificial light, is the source of benediction in Dekalog III.

Years ago their trysts took place in the evening. By bringing their relationship into daylight they cleanse the pain and sorrow that their 'dark' acts had caused. They overcome the despair together. This is now a friendship, albeit one that can have no future. The symbolic significance of light in their relationship is emphasised by their farewell. Seated in their cars, facing each other, they flash their lights:

Perhaps this is a way to say 'I love you' but they do it, chiefly, just to connect. They do it in a way that is unspoken, the way in which they will continue to be a part of each other's lives; not speaking, not seeing, but knowing and feeling. Light is everywhere about them, surrounding them and guiding them. You cannot touch it or talk to it but it is there showing you the way. It is God-like and for Ewa and Janusz on this Sabbath day it is a salvation:

"I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark; they will have the light of life"
John 8:12

Janusz returns to his wife. She knows of the affair and now she hopes and prays it will not resume. He sees her sleeping, her face half in shadow* - the mouth. Waiting for news, she cannot give words of comfort or love but she can receive. She awakes and asks:

"Will you be going out again in the evenings?"

" I won't"

Christmas morning has broken with white light. These men and women had room in the inn. They had a place to stay all along. Now they have found a truer and more lasting place in each other's hearts. A real home.

*The Dekalog is full of incomplete faces, obscured and hidden. It is full of people struggling to connect with others.