Posts Tagged ‘3D’

Once upon a time Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, but when he awoke he could no longer tell whether he was then a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or whether he was now a butterfly, dreaming to be a man. The story comes from an old Chinese proverb and nicely fits with the structure of Wim Wenders’ last work, Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez.

It’s a hot summer day in a countryside house in the surroundings of Paris and a lone writer is looking for inspiration. He sits before his typewriter and looks outside the window, when a lady and a man magically appear, sitting at a garden table right outside the house. We do not know whether the duo comes from the writer’s imagination, or whether the writer is a figment of their own.

Wenders does not help to solve the puzzle. Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez develops as a 97-minute long conversation between the couple (Reda Kateb and Sophie Semin), which the writer (Jens Harzer) observes and records. It is based on a play written by Austrian writer Peter Handke, with whom Wenders has worked on several occasions between the 1960s and 1980s, a fruitful teamwork that reached its peak in 1987, with the international success of Cannes’ Best Directing Award-winning Wings of Desire.

Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez marks the fifth collaboration between the two, and earned Wenders a spot amongst the twenty films selected as part of the official competition of the 73rd edition of Venice’s International Film Festival. Wenders chose to present it in 3D, a format which does not seem to add much to the film’s quality, for its strength does not come from its bucolic images, but from the couple’s conversation.

Sitting in front of each other, the two begin their chat by talking about love. He asks her about the details of her first night with a man. She is reluctant to reveal much, but when she does the conversation rapidly turns into a ritual ruled by a number of strictly obeyed laws: neither must answer the other’s questions with a yes or no answer, and no action other than dialogue must take place.

It is a long, somewhat abstract and philosophical conversation which spans from lovemaking to death, from memory to vengeance. The two recite their lines as if on a stage, to the point that one wonders whether Wenders adapted Handke’s play for the big screen, or whether he turned his own work into a play. It is the film’s greatest flaw: the dialogues, never mind how deep and rich their subtext may be, feel cold and overly theatrical, and fail to establish any degree of empathy with the audience.

At the end of Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez, one leaves the cinema with the feeling of having seen something that resembles the flowers that surrounds the two around the garden table, and which the both wax lyrically about: a beautiful and evocative tale, but one whose aura is sadly very short-lived, and fails to convey the emotions and drama which Wenders’ fans would expect from a director of his stature.

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Wim Wenders originally proposed the idea of making a film with dance choreographer Pina Bausch to her a quarter of a century ago. He told her it was an idea that they had to make; his only problem was he didn’t know how to film it, though he knew it required a special approach. It took Wenders until 2007 when upon seeing U2 3D at Cannes he recognised the technique he had been looking for all along.  He called Pina and told her that he had realised how to make the film and they set the ball rolling for the production, an art house dance film in 3D.

Tragically, just as Wenders, Pina and their crew were beginning production Pina was diagnosed with cancer and within a short time her condition worsened and she passed away. Leaving cast and crew devastated they halted production. Then came the realisation that they must reinterpret the project, this time as a tribute to Pina and her work. The result is a very personal goodbye to an extraordinary choreographer and as we learn an extraordinary person as well.

The film is structured around spectacular dance performances, juxtaposed with interview material with Pina’s dancers. Wenders had each dancer record a piece of speech in which they describe how Pina influenced them. Rather than using a conventional interview technique, Wenders plays back the audio to the dancers and then films them, as they listen to their own reflections on the late choreographer. This technique gives the interviews a poetic quality that juxtaposes appropriately with Pina’s unique and emotional choreography.

From the interviews we get a sense of the challenge and the liberation that Pina brought to her dance troupe. It is clearly evident that this is a quality unique to Pina. The dance performances confirm this. At times Pina’s unique form of choreography provoke the audience to question whether what they are seeing is strictly dance; however no matter what it is, it is evidentially powerful. Wenders’ approach to filming Pina’s choreography emphasises the poetry of the dance, as well as the sometimes gruelling, sometimes funny expressions created by the movements. The two artists come together perfectly.

The structure of Pina may at times prove difficult for some viewers; it feels closer to a letter than a story. For this reason it is important to view this film as a message from close friends, as they say goodbye to someone who touched them deeply. Join them in this and Pina will no doubt be a powerful experience.

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Last night a sold out audience at the National Film Theatre in London had the privilege of listening to Bernardo Bertolucci, director of The Conformist, Last Tango In Paris, Novecento, The Last Emperor and The Dreamers talk about his life and work.

Now 70 Bertolucci talked energetically about his career and said that he intends to return to directing soon, after almost 10 years of back surgery which has resulted in him having to use a wheelchair.

He expressed great enthusiasm for James Cameron’s Avatar as well as Wim Wender’s 3D dance film Pina and said in his return to directing he will “use a new technology”, that technology being 3D. Like his art house peers Bertolucci intends not to use 3D for sheer spectacle, but instead to tell a story of adolescent love in an adaptation of the Italian novel Me and You by Niccolo Ammaniti.

He also pondered what it would be like to witness a Jean-Luc Godard film in 3D and reflected on what it was like to make his first films in his early twenties. Though 50 years on, it was easily apparent that Bertolucci is as young in spirit as he was when he directed his first features back in the early 1960’s.

Photo by Chiara Capponi

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Towards the end of his new 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams Werner Herzog interviews a scientist. The scientist recalls a tale of an ethnographer who, while in the presence of an Aborigine came across a historical rock painting. The Aborigine, sad to see the rock painting beginning to fade immediately began to repaint the fading lines. The ethnographer, surprised by the man’s decision to repaint this historical artefact asked him why he was repainting it; to this the Aborigine replied with something to the effect of: “I am not painting it; it is the spirit that is painting”. This exchange between the western ethnographer and the Aborigine illustrates the essential question in Cave of Forgotten Dreams: How should we as human beings interpret the history of our species and how should we deal with the markings man has made in the past?

It is precisely this question that motivates and justifies Werner Herzog’s decision to use 3D to shoot his documentary charting the Chauvet Caves in France, the site of the oldest cave paintings known to man (dated around 30,000 years old). Herzog ventures to give the audience the opportunity to look upon the oldest man made illustrations with as great a sense of authenticity as possible, as entering the cave is a hugely exclusive privilege. Though there has been some scepticism as to the ability of 3D technology to create a realistic experience Herzog’s film comes very close, as we are given an opportunity to truly perceive the shape of the caves and the way the paintings sit on the walls.

However, ‘realism’ is not the true reason why Cave of Forgotten Dreams is successful as a film. The film provides us with an opportunity to look upon the oldest form of manmade representation (that of cave paintings) with the technology of the immediate present (3D cinema); Herzog uses 3D to drive the main questions of the film. By looking upon these ancient images with such a contemporary technology we are provoked to recognise the “abyss of time” (as Herzog puts it) that stands between the images being painted and Herzog’s filming of them. The film makes us recognise not only the extraordinary opportunity to look upon such seminal images (images which Herzog relates to the “birth of the modern human soul”), but it also gives us the opportunity to understand the films place in this extraordinary human history. It is not just these ancient paintings that are intriguing, but it is just as extraordinary that someone should be filming them, in 3D no less 30,000 years on.

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It is a strange coincidence that Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, internationally famous auteurs and central figures of the 1960’s film movement the New German Cinema (which Herzog does not consider himself part of), have both made films in 3D for release this year.

It is also interesting to note the distinctly different approach that each director has taken to 3D. Herzog has shot Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary deep under ground in the Chauvet Cave in France (the site of the oldest known cave paintings), while Wenders has made Pina, a dance film dedicated to the late dance choreographer Pina Bausch.

It is a testament to the maverick spirit of this generation of German directors that both Herzog and Wenders have embarked on these projects. Perhaps their interpretations of 3D will bring something truly special to this often debated technology.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (dir. Werner Herzog) trailer:

Pina (dir. Wim Wenders) trailer:

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