Shinya Tsukamoto, a film artist

Shinya Tsukamoto, more than a director, more than a scriptwriter, more than an actor, more like an artist; with a vast career in filmmaking, as well as acting, Shinya Tsukamoto is one of the most renowned names of the contemporary Japanese cinema. A unique and interesting figure, Tsukamoto maintained throughout his career his status as an independent filmmaker, avoiding to pledge his name to any of the big Nippon film companies, although his own company Keijyu Theatre associated with Third Window Films for digitalizing his earlier works captured on film.

Born on 1st of January 1960, Shinya Tsukamoto discovered his passion for films at the age of 14 when his father brought home a Super 8 camera. The possibilities of translating reality as well as depicting one’s fantasies, believes and inner world through the dynamic filmic medium, fascinated young Tsukamoto who instilled even his early amateur projects with a personal style which later became his trademark. He experienced theatre as well, by starting an independent theatre group, and worked for a television advertising company in the few years when he wasn’t making films.

Working independently, without outer founding, was and still is, for Tsukamoto and his usually limited crew a whole adventure, a difficult but exciting process of getting the best out of little resources. However, this approach of making films has its perks. Freedom; the exhilarating sense of freedom, the possibility of following one’s instincts, and impulses in an uncensored expression of self, is a privilege which Tsukamoto always indulged himself, and actually not only a privilege, but more a creed which moulded his cinematographic works. Working with young and inexperienced volunteers, when the budget did not permit to pay true professionals, reinforced Tsukamoto’s pathos from his earlier days.

Shinya Tsukamoto is definitely what one would call a film auteur. From his debut underground, cyberpunk, sci-fi, horror, cult film Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), Tsukamoto worked on every aspect of its films from directing to acting, to editing, to designing the costumes, building the settings and drawing the storyboard, his films are his own in the most denotative sense of the word. Filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto embraced all of these roles which for him are more than intertwined with the same thrills every time. Followed by 2 sequels Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer (1992) and Tetsuo 3: Bullet Man (2009), Tetsuo, might be the most resonant name from Tsukamoto’s cinematography. Based in an industrialising Tokyo, the director’s first 16mm film, conceived when the underground cyberpunk genre was shyly starting to flourish is an industrial horror, a nightmarish trip of guilt, lust, desperation, alienation, and acceptance. The relation between human and machine has been a topic of interest ever since Fritz Lang brought to the screen his mechanical Maria in the silent Metropolis (1927), but Tsukamoto’s approach of this idea was completely new. He does not create a robot. He does not show in his film an animated silhouette of metal made by some queer scientist, not even by far. Tsukamoto brings metal and human flesh together into an agonising hybrid of warm blood and screws, pulsating organs and hard steel, soft skin and iron, who returns to its primary instincts and urges while turning into the Iron Man. Often linked with David Lynch’s industrial nightmare, Eraserhead (1977), and David Cronenberg’s filmed metamorphose, The Fly (1986), Tetsuo: The Iron Man’s pace is much faster than the one in Eraserhead, which leaves the viewer with a feeling of not catching up with the film. Tsukamoto also avoids the Kafkaesque metamorphose of human into another breathing creature, while still maintaining the absurdity specific to Kafka.

The obsession of industrialisation, the fear of the city dehumanising its residents followed Tsukamoto ever since Tetsuo until his 2004 film Vital. Tokyo Fist, Bullet Ballet, the other 2 Tetsuo, all explore the effects of the urban environment, of the concrete blocks, of the skyscrapers, of the reflecting windows, of the cars, the factories, the computers, the routine of the hours spent in an enclosed office, of the underground train, and cemented alleys on the humanity of the metropolis’s inhabitants, and their romantic relationships. Tsukamoto is a master of alienation and rediscovery through a primordial violence. The city oppresses one’s most human, flesh desires, one’s sexuality, one’s rage, one’s love, and Tsukamoto’s films capture the struggle of being the only breathing organism between cemented walls. The violence in his films does not have a negative connotation, is a cry of desperation, a test of humanity, when the characters harm themselves they do not do it to die, but to feel alive; the proximity of death just makes them feel more alive.

This era of cinematographic creation had yet an end, and that end started with A Snake of June (2002), a project which haunted the director even before the first Tetsuo, and was marked by Vital (2004). Industrial elements specific to Tsukamoto can still be found in A Snake of June, but these are in contrast with natural and organic elements (rain, plants, snails) which enhance the whole sexual feeling of the film. A Snake of June was meant to be an erotic film, and while the erotic sense is conveyed even through the blue tint of the images, the film is also a piece on self-discovery, on self-acceptance through the embrace of the flesh, and the consciousness of death. Vital is also a route of death, love, eroticism, pain where the natural, the organic element is the human body itself as a counterpoint of the whole universe. Tetsuo 3 is a reminiscence of his previous era. Made for an American public, the film which was initially asked by Quentin Tarantino, aimed for a bigger public, and is his first English film.

Tsukamoto eventually changed to digital film, change which had a certain influence on his style. Kotoko (2012) is at a first sight nothing like his previous films. The subject is so utterly different, a psychologically disturbed woman’s struggle with her statute of being a mother might trick the viewer, but the violence as a proof of life, the contrasts, the cracks in the narrative, the nightmarish visions are all there. It is visually different, sound wise as well, but it revives the idea of dance and music as the perfect state of the human, first expressed in Vital, and it has the same acute intensity of any other Tsukamoto films. Maybe even more, as this film is of a special importance for the director due to his relationship with Cocco, the Japanese singer who played and shaped the main character.

His last film, Fires on the Plain (2014), also holds a particular meaning to Shinya Tsukamoto. Being an adaptation of the book with same title by Shohei Ooka (1951), Tsukamoto was deeply impressed by the tragic war novel, and pursuit his own research in regards to the Second World War, by talking with war veterans and traveling to the Philippines jungle to see with his own eyes the sites were the action of the book was taking place. It is a tragic, violent, grotesque story of war. Set in the wild and heavenly natural background of the Philippines, the film follows its protagonist descending into despair and madness, running from an unseen enemy and resorting to inhumanly deeds for survival. It might not be a beautiful film, but it is true and touching, like most of Tsukamoto’s films. War is not beautiful, it destroys with no purpose the very thing which makes humans humans, it strips people of their hopes, of their smiles, of their beauty turning them into cruel beasts. Tsukamoto wanted to represent the war, the alienation, the anxiety, the fear, the fury, and rage, the despair and the way the experience of war does not disappear when the event itself ends but haunts its protagonists forever like a suffocating shadow of memories, and he succeeded majestically. The film came at a certain point in Japan when the perception of war was changing, a moment which Shinya Tsukamoto felt was vital for the existence of his film.

Tsukamoto acted in the main role of Fires on the Plain, more out of financial necessity, but his career as an actor is also well known, especially after the last film in which he starred, Martin Scorsese’s Silence (2016). Scorsese being one of his favourite directors, among Akira Kurosawa, Ridley Scott, Shohei Inamura, Tsukamoto put his soul into his role, giving an exquisite performance, as he does in his own films, where the intensity of his characters pierces the screen.

After this short incursion in what is an impressive career of an artist, I can only end by stating that Shinya Tsukamoto’s films are not just cinematographic images unwinding on a screen, but experiences. With their bizarre imagery, the stop-motion frames, the expressionist and surreal touch, the vague narrative, the power of the actors’ performances, the contrasts between calm and violent, organic and artificial, the masterful soundtracks, Tsukamoto’s films are pieces of art, made not only to be watched but to be felt and remembered, not a storyline, but an emotion.

East Winds Film Festival after the curtain’s fall

East Winds Film Festival has been a long journey, sometimes rocky, sometimes smooth, but as all journeys, it had to come to an end. It has been a great opportunity for me to be a part of a film festival, as the film world is where I want to work in the future.

While East Winds Film Festival may not be Torino International Film Festival or the Cannes, it was the perfect start for me. I understand now, that one can only walk down the red carpet after one has already gone through the lions’ pit and swamps, metaphorically speaking, but the gratification is amplified by all the obstacles and problems one had to surpass. So when one, I, finally walked down the red carpet one feels like a true champion, looking over his triumph, but work, and nerves, stress and pressure are far from over. After enjoying a few seconds of glory in the flashes of the cameras,  every staff member has to run back to his/her “arms”, because even when everything is in its place, the week of the festival is the actual challenge.

I could discuss how film festivals are what keeps cinephilia alive in an era of films at a click distance, enable meetings between film lovers and film artist… or between star lovers and their idols, about how the last category seems to be taking over the film festivals, thus putting the famous actors in the spotlight and leaving the films in the corner, or how both categories are essential for the life of a film festival; about how a film festival transforms cities in touristic areas, helps the development of certain regions by being major cultural events, or raise employability, at least for a certain period. There could be a whole discussion around the fact that, while film festivals, are or should be about films, they promote and help to establish stars which are mainly actors, in some cases directors, thus reinforcing the false idea of films belonging to certain actors or front faces. Cinematography might just be one of the most complex arts but is also a collective art in which some names might be more resonant than others, but everyone from the director to the cameraman, from actor to set and costume designer, from the soundtrack composer/s to the editing team are playing a very specific and, why not, equally important role in the making of a film, but in many cases, due to the media and film festivals, actors or directors are crowned as the most important figure in a film. Even so, in the end, film festival are about films and the way they were made to be experienced, in the dark of a cinema hall, not on the tiny screen of a computer or even worse a cell phone screen (about which, by the way, David Lynch has a pretty vehement opinion). As an on-point example, there is the latest debate from Cannes 2017 about Netflix and films which are only streamed online, and which in the opinion of Pedro Almodovar, the jury president of this year, should not be admitted in a film festival. The whole argument led to a change in the festival’s rules.

And as every festival out there, no matter it’s scale, what East Winds Film Festival tries and succeeds to do is to present films on a grand screen, to bring popular Asian cinema to a European public, to the heart of the United Kingdom. I take myself as an example, being a film lover, and I still knew close to nothing about Asian cinema, except a few major films which broke the borders and the renowned film master Akira Kurosawa. I do not dare to say everyone is as ignorant as I am, but I did encounter, at least from my friends, mixed reactions; the one which surprised me the most was: “Asian cinema? But that is such a niche”. Is it? When only the Chinese population is over a billion, or is it just us being a bit narrow-minded? With such a multicultural audience as Coventry offers, thanks to Coventry University, the festival has a propitious development environment. While still a growing event, what makes East Winds Film Festival unique is the fact that it is run by students, but it is not a student festival, with a 7 years tradition and 5 editions its development is astonishing when considered that besides the director and co-director, the people running the festival don’t have much experience with film festivals. Doing, the festival is more than a film showcase or a display of stars, but an educational mechanism, which trains students to become professionals. I remember now an interview with Shinya Tsukamoto, who also works mostly with (inexperienced) volunteers, because of monetary concerns, but also because he is interested in the ideas of fresh and “taintless” minds could bring to the table, and of course the enthusiasm and passion of volunteers, and I believe that the involvement of student works pretty much the same way for East Winds Film Festival.

This year was our (Communication, Culture and Media MA students) to shoulder East Winds Film Festival 2017. From my own experience, I can only say it is an incredible opportunity, not only to be a part of the “behind the scenes” group, and to see what makes a festival tick, and actually make it tick, but also to be confronted with different issues of teamwork and their not so pleasant outcomes. I found out, which was not much of a surprise, that the concept that sums up all the efforts behind an even of such amplitude is “teamwork”, because no matter how much an individual strives, if the rest of the team does not share the same passion and dedication, efforts are in vain. For my team, that being Communications, it was slightly easier, as we had to deal with written pieces, which were, pretty much, individual tasks, but when only 2 or 3 (at the best) in a team of 8 accomplish their tasks on time and of a good enough quality to be made public, those few “good workers” end up doing all the work, especially when other teams are counting on each other.

Time was, of course, against us, but the worst enemy of the festival was, at times, ourselves, and our lack of professionalism. The fact that the festival was embedded in a module was both an advantage because, besides the evident outcome of an event, we were juggling with our grades, and a drawback when not everyone was as passionate and as involved, and when grades seemed more important than the actual event. But then, a successful festival was to be rewarded with some good grades anyway, and with the joy of having accomplished something more than just a high number. This approach, as if it were a “school thing”, could be seen even in the number of mobile phones lights in the cinema hall during films.

All in all, East Winds Film Festival did run smoothly, or at least it looked like it did from the outside. With a history of 4 previous editions and a short break, it was more than the usual challenge of standing up to the previous years’ standards. It was about the reinventing and relaunching a festival that seemed dead for the last 2 years and the revival had to outshine the previous editions. If it did, I could not exactly say, as I had not been present to the previous editions. There is also a place for improvement, for more, and better, and this is how it should be. There are always things which went wrong when they should have gone well, there are always mistakes that could have been avoided with little more effort or attention, but on the other hand, there are always things that went perfect, that were exactly on time, and to the highest possible standards, but that could have also gone terribly wrong. Most important, as I have learnt after hearing this more than a few times and experienced it on my own skin, is that: “if (and I may add when) you fail, fail fast” (Thamu Dube, 2017) and get back on your horses because the world does not stop for you to lick your wounds.

EWFF: climax!!

15-21 May, East Winds Films Festival was back to Coventry, and Birmingham this year.

It has been the busiest week of this year so far, enthusiasm, nerves, fatigue, and films lost and lost of Asian films, and I have been there from the first film to the last. Horrors, comedies, romantic comedies, thrillers from the far East all in need of reviews.

Communications tasks for the week were:

  • 500 words film reviews (positive and professional), for every film until the next morning
  • short interviews with the audience members

I wrote 5 reviews, one each day for Sword Master, Bliss, School Tales, Kitarajanipon, Village Of No Return. For 3 of them, I had already written the synopsises, but this did not necessarily make my job easier, and with all the fatigue which piled up during the week, I struggled a bit to maintain the same high standard for each and every review, and I am not that sure I entirely succeeded. As everyone, I had my personal preferences, and I admit I resonated more with some films than with others, which made insist on writing the review for Bliss. But, because I had attended every film, I ended up being somewhat the backup writer, for the films which no one was writing about.

I tried to maintain a positive and complimentary tone, but rereading my work, at least from my point of view, my personal preferences and affinities clearly transpire from my writing style. Also, having to write reviews daily, made me realise that I have the tendency to use some of the same phrases or constructions, even when discussing different films, which otherwise would not have been visible. So, I tried, as much as possible, to avoid that, and to make my reviews similar in style, but different in actual content, or better said in the choice of words.

EWFF: week 10-11

And the ball started rolling.

There were meetings with every group, and I can just smell the pressure and fervency of everyone trying to get the last bits and pieces in place. If I was complaining about the lack o briefs in the last journal entry… oh, the saying, “be careful what you wish, it might come true”, served me well. We had our share of tasks, 15 pieces to be specific in no more than 3 days while working on lots of different other things.

Communications had to write the synopsis for every film in the programme. With 8 members and 15 films, one could have thought that it would be a piece of cake. Nothing more false than that, the ideal idea that everyone could write 2 synopsises was just that, an idea.

I wrote 5 film synopsises. I started by choosing films I thought I could adapt my writing to like Grace and Bliss, both thrillers with a concept that appealed to me. I also chose the romantic comedy One Day, not to dive too deep into the realm of torture, blood and psychological games, but ended with 2 more films on my plate: School Tales and Kitaranijipon. I started by watching the trailers which were easy to find, but I struggled to find other information in English for some of them. I read a few reviews from other festivals as in the case of Bliss, amateur reviews from IMDB and other sites regarding cinema, and when and where I could find, viewers’ comments, impressions and discussions to see how the films were received by the public and which would be the main points I would have to touch on my short texts to make these films appealing to the public. I tried to avoid concentrating too much on the storylines, not to reveal too much of the plot and give any unwanted spoilers, but mostly because I did not see the films in advance so I did not want to make any kind of mistake. I chose to go for the atmosphere and what these films try to express in term of experiences more than stories so that my short texts would stir the readers’ interest without giving away the plotline.

On Our Way to Happiness

The search for happiness has become our number one job, the activity we can never escape. Happiness is no longer a feeling, an emotion, but a must. Happiness was transformed into a myth, a sort of modern Valhalla, to which one only has access if one lives one’s life right, the land of all promises.

There are maps to happiness, checklists, instructions, steps to follow, annual charts with the happiest countries, self-help books, happy pills, therapy, online love, McDonald’s even has a Happy Meal, and Deichman is always there to take care of your happy feet, and yet, a part of the world is starving, for another, the infernal and terrifying noise of the falling bombs just became the soundtrack, a few are still under tyrannic dictatorial regimes, some are slaves on their own lands, and what remains of the world, the “happy ones”, the ones who eat happy meals, drive happy cars, live in happy houses, watch happy films, read happy books, work happy hours, take happy pills are depressed. Depression is the disease of our century, and it is so because depression is convenient for the current power owners.

Sugar, spice and everything nice! A bit of romantic, monogamic, heterosexual (if and when possible white) love, stability, safety, dreams, hobbies, family, freedom, a few years of hard work, and that’s the recipe of a perfectly baked and tasty slice of happiness.

But we forget that, as a quote from The Beach (2000, Danny Boyle), bases on a book by Alex Garland, says, Heaven is not a place, but a moment, and so happiness is not a state of being but a second, in a whirl of other constantly changing feelings, emotions and experiences which weave one’s existence. We were not born to be happy, we were born to live. Happiness became a required life condition when it started making money.

We search for happiness in commercial merchandise, we attach happiness to objects as if a lifeless thing could come with a feeling as if a feeling could be universal and invariable. We search for love online, in sex shops, on dark shady alleys, as if sex would be the exact synonym for love, and the other way round, because friendship is not good enough (or commercial enough), and physical intimacy is the highest form of intimacy. We search for freedom in Lana Del Rey’s songs, as if being absolutely free would be riding in an expensive car and living the American dream. As if all of our dreams could be bought with money, as if a paper bill would be the ticket for our ride back to our souls, and fear, exhaustion, alienation would only be the tests set up, for use to prove that we deserve to be happy. But there’s a petty trick to it, they never end, which only means we are always failing.

It is time to be happy, not because we earned it, but because happiness is a simple and deep emotion, as is fear, as is sadness, as is hope and it is in the human nature to feel it, to lose it, to desire it, to feel it again and lose it again. It is the time to stop buying and start feeling, it is time to stop pretending, and start loving. It is time to stop mistaking obsession with need. It is time for us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to understand fear as an emotion and fight it, to accept beauty, without looking for the stereotypes and patterns. It is time to allow ourselves to make mistakes, to fail, to fall, to cry and to scream, to be tired and to rest. But there are mistakes which are not allowed to continue, which should not have ever been allowed to exist: the wars, the famine, the exploitation, the inequalities and inequities, the racism, the homophobia. The Western world is so eager to get to happiness that on its way annihilated everyone else’s chances of being happy.

We need to accept that happiness is not universal and invariable, that as many individuals there are, as many different kinds of happiness. That what makes you happy, might not make me happy as well, That one might love and be loved without being happy, that another might be happy without having a family, that happiness comes in different forms and shapes, and that freedom, more than happiness is a right and should be a necessity. And we need to understand that our feelings are our own and that we are or we should be in charge of our emotions, not society, not some happy pills, or some happy meals.

P-p-p-precarity and the Art of Uncertainty

We are walking on trembling ground, our whole world turned into an endless compound of quicksands. Our lives from the beginning to the inevitable end are under the mantra of instability. The only constant is inconsistency, the only given is precarity, the only certainty is uncertainty. We’re mobile, we’re flexible, we have the elasticity and skills of a saltimbanco, of a trapeze artist with no safety net, who never comes down. The most practised skill of the contemporary worker is maintaining his/her equilibrium on a continuously turning ball.

In spite of all the pseudo-spiritual ideas that we preach as the utopic state of happiness and freedom combined in a perfect harmony, of  the idea of a burning and soul-uplifting love, which defies everything and anything, the reality check that we have to make in the morning when opening the fridge in search of the bottle of milk, is reminding us that in the end, it all comes down to money, in the most trivial and instinctual way: no money, no food. So we put aside our fanciful ideals and go out into the world to make the money needed for the fridge to be reasonably full and the rent to be paid for the next month so that we don’t end up sleeping under a bridge or in a cardboard box, as those social pariahs, who failed so miserably to juggle with the “good life”. But the world has changed and is constantly changing, in a succession of economic paradigms since the Middle Ages. Agriculture made place for industry and modernity, which stepped back to leave the place open for postmodernity and its process of informatization. So nowadays we don’t work with the soil anymore, not with the machines, but with people. Smiles recommend good workers, it’s the tertiary production that is most valued.  This of course on the privileged side of the globe, the rest can still bury their arms up to the elbow in the dirt as long as they provide cheap labor, and can be constantly blamed for wars and other sins, like invading the western world and stealing the jobs from under the nose of the white, entitled individual, who would not have lowered himself to do those jobs in the first place. But so it is, one only notices something and starts missing it, when that something is taken by someone else, isn’t that one of the first lessons love teaches us? You only love her, when you let her go.

The fact is, that immigrants come to America or Europe not out of a caprice but because they were driven away from their own homes, and they come in search of a better life, of the stability and safety they were missing in their own countries. The problem is that not even the western world can provide the stability and certainty of the next day so desperately desired, and it cannot because a worried and busy human constantly trying to ensure a good life, has already too much on his/her plate to notice the global issues. Rosalind Gill’s article on the practice of freelancing specific to the area of new medias, as a counterpoint for hours spent between the four walls of skyscraper’s office, highlights that even such a new and open environment cannot escape the defects of race or gender discrimination. And while she makes sure to emphasise the fact that only 3 out of all the freelancer interviewees from Amsterdam noticed that new media is mostly an area for white people, not even the white, middle class, male freelancer’s situation isn’t as bright as it is made to be in the adverts.

Work has been taken out of the factories and offices and sheltered in the private space of one’s home, where working hours cannot be measured because what one’s doing in one’s home is a private matter, isn’t it? But payment must be made somehow, and it is, by project, which by no means offers the security of a monthly wage. Work is no longer a way to live, but a way of living. Zero hour contracts, the frightening possibility of not finding enough projects to make enough money to cover the rent and student loans, part-time poorly paid student jobs, never ending work hours are the price one has to pay for flexibility, mobility, creativity.

Doing what you like does not even feel like a job, agree, but it should be paid like one, and it should provide the facilities that a full contract offers. Too much work to have time for having children, for having a relationship, to exercise, to eat healthy, to have enough hours of sleep, to read inspiring books, about how to live a perfect life, and all this could still be fine, if the image of a perfect life would not have been imprinted on our brains, which only transforms us into stressed, tired, depressed, anxious and frightened puppets searching for the Holy Graal of the contemporary world, stability and safety, which seem to be only a myth.

Of Power and Other Demons

The whole world revolves around the concept of power, of what it means to be in charge, to be the ruler, to have power over others. There are always a few who want to rule and more who are more than willing to follow. The human being has an incredible capacity to fool itself, to falsely ennoble oneself with the thought that freedom is the ultimate state that one desires. When asked what one wants from one’s life, the answer is usually “I just want to be happy”, followed by “I just want to be free”, but these two states can barely coexist with one another at the same time if we do not consider freedom as just not being incarcerated in a cell or suffocated by debts.

Happiness is much regarded as safety and the certainty of a settled future, in our contemporary society when safety and stability are such precarious concepts, while freedom is anything but stability and safety, the only constant of freedom, is freedom itself. With freedom comes not only the liberation of all constraints, but the whole crushing responsibility of one’s well-being, of one’s happiness, of one’s actions, and it is, isn’t it in the human nature to find scapegoats for almost anything that goes wrong. So we settle with different forms of power and allow them to be the frame within which we lead our existences. As Dostoevski’s Great Inquisitor from The Karamazov Brothers so majestically described, man is only free as long as there is no one to offer him food, once he senses the smell of food, he is willing to give up in the blink of an eye his freedom in exchange for the commodity of not having to hunt for himself, in exchange for safety. And by giving up his freedom, he not only receives in return the assurance of tomorrow’s meal but also the possibility of having someone or something to blame, other than himself, if there is no food on the table the next day.

 

We step consciously and by free will in the cells of a metaphorical Panopticon, and swallow the stereotypes, the injustice, the lies, the unnecessary infamies because the cell is almost comfy. Not enough, to actually feel comfortable, but enough to, just like the Orwellian character, survive. Orwell’s 1984 would contour the perfect panoptical society if the constant following would not have been true, but as proven by the main’s character’s fate, no one could escape from the glance of the Big Brother. Our society, on the other hand, is another kind of reenactment of the Panopticon. We are not followed by any more or any less than our own expectations of a good life, and the fear of not obtaining it, or of losing it. We settle with gender stereotypes, with jobs that we hate, with dreadful companies, with ideas that are not our own, with compromises that wound our souls, that undermine our intellect, that discredit ourselves as humans, we run in circles with no direction whatsoever like beheaded chickens over things, situation, statutes that would most likely not satisfy us, but that would grant us the title of a complete, happy and respectable individual in the common conscience. We accept. We blame ourselves and are made to blame ourselves for every little mistake that jeopardises the fulfilment of the American dream, but we close our eyes in oblivion when it comes to the fact that half of the world if stuck in a Kafkaesque reality, while the other half is confronted with the most horrid nightmares. We take our insignificant share of goods, thrown to us by the 1% of the population who hold and manage most of the world’s riches and totally ignore the unjust power and wealth balance. We channel our fear into over mediatised figures or concepts, like terrorists and crimes, and we are happy that the war is on the other side of the globe. But who are the terrorist for the victims in Siria? Who are the oppressors of the children dying in the coltan mines? Who are the tyrants who value money more than the people’s lives in the Foxconn factories? We are.

We don’t want to take the blame, the crushing guilt, so we leave power in the same murderous hands, and we fall once again into the trap of electing the same kind of individual, of supporting the same kind of company, of blaming ourselves for our failures instead of blaming the society, and we blame the system for the downward path the world has taken, indifferent to the fact that we permitted the creation of a system which thrives from the destruction of our world.

Short story about fear

‘Fear is at its most fearsome when it is diffused, scattered, unclear, unattached, unanchored, free floating, with no clear address or cause; when it haunts us with no visible rhyme or reason, when the menace we should be afraid of can be glimpsed everywhere but is nowhere to be seen. ‘Fear’ is the name we give to our uncertainty: to our ignorance of the threat and what is to be done to stop it in its tracks’ . (Zygmunt Bauman)

 

Modern life, modern love, modern fears and modern liquidity, the concept that binds all of them together, and which defines through, the characteristics of a liquid substance, the core of the nowadays world: mobility, their particles are not fixed and rigid and can move freely past each other, lack of shape, and the power to erode. Old institutions turned into new ones, old concepts were exchanged for new values, old forms of power reinvented themselves and became the power of constant fear. It was shown throughout history that with fear comes caution and obedience, but fear always had a form, be it Gods, a tyrannic dictator, or a horde of possible invaders. It had a face or a name. But today it’s the feeling itself that cripples the human kind and is embedded in the functioning mechanism of a capitalist and globalised society. The constant fear, the constant feeling that something’s always there, waiting to happen, and not in the dark, but in the broad daylight.

The Western world is continually haunted by the fears of those living the nightmare on the other side of the globe. The western fear has no tangible object. Of course, governments give us terrorists, new diseases or maybe a meteorite that might hit the Earth at some point, but a new president or prime minister will surely save us from that too. If it’s not Al Quida, then it’s Isis, if it’s not Isis then it just might be Goldstein, any name is a good enough reason for war. Because war isn’t it, became, just as George Orwell predicted in his political novel, 1984, not a way of conquering new territories or protecting the borders, but the most profitable and prompt ally of power. The war in Vietnam, Iraq or Afganistan was not for territory, the war in Siria is not to maintain our borders safe, is to maintain the western power over the western world, and the ones who rule over the western world, rule over the whole world. If there’s a war then there’s a reason for our most beloved governments to keep us safe, to assure us a propitious ground for us to attain and live a good life, and it also gives something to distract us from the true great fear of the 21st century, The Fear of Failure, and from the rotten inside of the juicy red apple that the western society is so eager to hide. The only thing that is asked of the western individual is to live a good life, in a world that provides everything that is needed for living a good life… or does it? So, if our life is not good enough, doesn’t fit the standards, is our own fault, we failed.

It’s the pressure of the good life that suffocates the western world, just like hunger and war destroy its counterpart. War might never get to us, but it’s the war within ourselves that erode our souls. The war between what is expected, of what we have been taught to expect from ourselves and our futures: a degree, a job, a career, a house with a beautiful garden, a lovely family, a fairytale love story, happiness, and what we really want. If you don’t get a degree, you’re not smart enough, and why aren’t you smart enough when society had provided you such a great education? If you have a degree, but no job, then it’s your own fault for not being able to harness the seeds that society gave you in the form of your diploma. If you have a job, but no friends, is your own inability of bonding with people, as your company surely organised at least twice a year some sort of team building activity. And if you have no friends how would you expect to have a lover, but if you have friends, then how comes you don’t have a partner when all you’re friends are getting married or waiting for their firstborn? Yes, something is wrong with you, but don’t worry there is therapy for that, and online dating, and ordering a bride over the mail, so even though you don’t meet the standards, society still comes to your rescue. If you have a job, and a partner and no house, then the moment to make a huge loan to buy one, was yesterday. If you have all of these and still are unhappy, then you’re depressed so take a pill, or two. And if you have all of these, then you’re terrified at the thought of losing them because they are all you’ve dreamed all your life, and you can’t live your dream, because just one tiny mistake might cost you your job, and with no job, you won’t be able to pay the house mortgage. Of course, mistakes are human, you’re allowed to make them, that’s what all the media says, what it doesn’t say is that you are allowed to make them, but in another life maybe. But what if the mistake that might ruin your good life is not even yours but your partner’s or your boss’? Oh, the worries never end, the fear is just increasing with every single thing you add to improve your life, and this fear is the fear of the unknown, of failure, of everything and of nothing, is the curse of cruel optimism.

The world is full of lovers. We don’t need anymore

“Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.”

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

You know that film… Revolutionary Road, with the unhappy American white, blonde couple, living the American dream, the good life, big house, beautiful garden, happy energetic children, corporatist husband getting a promotion? Nothing could go wrong, but then it does. The American dream not realised, but almost. All goes terribly wrong. Well, that’s what would have happened if Jack would not have died on the Titanic, but luckily he did, and then Rose had a nice romantic love story to tell. Marriage, house with a garden, kids, Lassy, grandkids, a few romantic trips to Paris, or Venice or Verona, they’re quite near to each other anyway, and actually who exactly cares? Both Italian cities starting with a V; a few sunsets on the beach and the annual kiss under the mistletoe, oh, love!

There’s nothing more beautiful than young love, isn’t it? Prince Charming arriving in his blue chevy nova, the young, innocent, Marylin Monroe wannabe, with her blonde wavy hair, red lips, and white dress sneaking out in the middle of the night. His dark eyes, her mysterious shy smile just in the corner of her lips, such a wonderful life awaits them. A great love never grows old, not even when there’s a pile of laundry above it, a house mortgage, dirty dishes, and an unemployed partner, a kid to be supported through college, old ill parents, no, love never dies, and guess what saves it? Yes, that cheesy Valentine dinner, and that pink heart-shaped Valentine card with a random quote about love “I love my life because it gave me you, and I love you because you are my life” – or something like that.

What would one do without the little love gifts? How would love survive when confronted with the ordinary little miseries of life? But does love make life better, or it just piles, even more, insecurity, fear and in the end misery on top of the house mortgage, student loans, stress and just daily worries?

I might sound like a cynic, but don’t worry, even cynics get struck by love at some point, sooner or later, because nobody can escape it. No one can escape the attraction, the desire, the crave, the lust, the disappointment, the suffering, the insecurity, and jealousy, the fear, because love is as Eva Illouz describes it her article Why We Don’t Celebrate Friendship With the Same Fervor as Lovedemocratic – good and bad people can feel it (almost everyone has felt love in their lives). And it’s the non-discriminatory feature of love that makes it universal, and its inevitability that makes it profitable, makes it commercial. Our whole lives are polarised around the notion of love. I need to get a degree, have a good job, find a man, fall in love, marry, have kids and be happy. Our whole world revolves around the things, situations, people that we want and hope to have in our lives, and once we have it (whatever that it might be), we are too afraid of letting it go even if it harms us, it suffocates us, it makes us deny our own freedom, our own soul.

And here my photographs come into the picture. Taken 3 years ago in the Little Paris, as Bucharest was called before the communist era, I considered them perfectly fitted to represent the cruelty of optimism, the cruelty of love, by the juxtaposition of the word love (followed by a whole palette of meaning) with something as trivial as a garbage bin. It is almost ironical how Paris is the city of love, and then Bucharest, its smaller sibling, after a “short” encounter with communism, and of course with its family values and abortion banning, decided to throw love into the garbage bin. And the second one… is just the outcome of a love that ended differently than how it was supposed to end. It’s the American dream gone wrong, the Prince Charming who went to work, had an affair with the secretary, the unhappy Marylin Monroe trapped in a dreadful marriage, but too comfortable, and too afraid to leave. It’s the norms, the rules, the “you must”-s and “you have”-s in a relationship failing, the Valentines cards and fancy dinners that won’t play their magic anymore. It’s the optimism of a happy ending, of the dream of the good life, meeting reality, it’s the ugly side of love. And this ugly side of love only appears when love is made the highest expectation, and not love in general but a certain kind of love, the monogamous, heterosexual, based on a sexual relationship kind of love. We idealise love so much, and at the same time advertise it so much, that it became one of the most common and trivial feelings. It is a must, but then it is an ideal too. The perfect lover, the soulmate, the other half is hard to fine, but then, why are you single? You should never let the loved one go, you should fight for it, but then, that loved one might at some point be the exact reason that you’re suffering. Love has been turned into a paradox and the “love” and the garbage bin is the image of this ironically and sad charade.

EWFF: week 6-9

Paris, study leave and back again. I have been waiting for new tasks since the minute I have set foot on British ground again after the Paris trip, it was not for long though as I have left for Romania in the next 3 days. We were promised (threatened with) new tasks for the festival, and as I have not written anything in a while, it seemed like the perfect occasion to work on some articles during the study leave, but new deadlines and briefs were late to appear.

I am back in Coventry now, the festival is knocking at the door and the enthusiasm amplifies. I did a bit of reading about international film festivals, watched a few more Asian films as: Vital (Shinya Tsukamoto), In the Mood For Love (Kar Wai Long), Dolls (Takeshi Kitano) to get used with the Asian cinema and reread my previous articles to remember the tone, just in case some new article are awaiting me around the corner, but with no actual tasks there was nothing more for me to do, so I consider this post somewhat pointless.

With the festival so close, it starts to feel less and less like a hypothetical plan and more and more like an actual event on the verge of happening. I am excited and a bit nervous that the ball will start rolling soon and we will have to run to catch up. With a few other deadlines, unrelated to East Winds, on my mind, I am afraid of the work I will need to do !fast! for the festival and of which I do not know yet. But then, there are always enough sleepless nights to get something done minutes before the deadline, and this is how I always worked. I only start ticking when the bomb starts ticking.