Wim And Anderson

Film Rhythms

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

Important contemporary films keep returning to social and political issues. While films may have a consistent thematic core, the directors are dissimilar from film to film. Dramatic consequences spring from the internal passions of the related characters, and cameras traversing various locations with a buoyant mobile ease.

Wim Wenders
‘‘The Salt of the Earth’’ (France/Italy/Portugal, 2014, 105 mins, colour), directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, is a documentary on the photographer Sebastiao Salgado, who has been travelling through continents. Sebastiao Salgado’s life and work are depicted by son Juliano and Wim Wenders. Sebastiao uses light and space, with deep empathy for the human condition. The visual odyssey through the photographer’s career, is further fortified by Wenders’ monochrome footage and Juliano’s colour. Remembering the life of a photographer, the film pursues the photographs clicked by Sebastiao, who draws with lights, and writing and rewriting with lights and shadows. Brazil’s Sierra Belada mine unfolds the history of mankind, amongst pyramids, gold mines, and the conversations and sounds of labourers. The miners slide and climb small and big ladders. They carry sacks up mountains, where the only way to descend is by roping down. The photos are rectangular, but at different angles. They give impression of slavery, though there is not a single slave. There is a search for sacks of gold, and one kilo of gold is close to one’s independence. A photoportrait of a blind woman, has the woman’s head covered. The people are the salt of the earth. Putting many photographers together, leads to different photos, which are a manner of seeing.

Behind each mountain, there is a story, and many people to see. The film makers travel with Sebastiao. A small plane glides over mountains, and lands at Papua Highlands. Children with sticks and brooms crowd around. Adults gather, sing and dance with bare torsos. Sebastiao has a degree in economics, and a solid knowledge of global markets and industry. There are endless drains with iron ore washed by Rio Dorset, the sweet river and streams. The photographer by profession re-enacts his responses. Sebastiao married Leila, in the mid 1960s. Leila was involved in left politics. In 1969, Leila moved to France. A job in an international coffee organization in London, enabled Sebastiao to visit Africa. He clicked sports photos, and recorded the severe drought in Niger of 1973. Juliano, born in Paris in 1974, is part of family photos. As Sebastiao discusses his work, the master’s photographs are projected on to a semi-transparent mirror, that allows the viewer to see, both image and man. The talking head visuals are turned into a more interactive device, as Wenders teases out memories of various monumental projects like ‘The other References to Bible Americas’ (1977-1984). There is an architectural precision in the camera gliding over photos of mountains of South America, the Andes, revolution, and the landscape and community of Indians. Religious icons, police homicide department, and drunks in Guadaloupe possess energetic forms. Peasants in Mexico countryside, adore music. Sebastiao took exile in France, in 1969, after Brazil’s military coup.

The photographic essay on South America enabled Sebastiao to get close to his native Brazil, without crossing the border, until a return from exile in 1980. ‘‘The Sahel, the end of the Road’’ (1984-1996) explored communities suffering from deprivation, where he worked with ‘Doctors without borders’. ‘‘Workers’’ (1986-91) and ‘‘Exodus’’ (1989-93) recorded the displacement of populations through famine, war and economic deprivation, and the series coincided with the civil war in Rwanda and unimaginable horrors. Losing belief in mankind’s salvation after ‘‘Exodus’’, Sebastiao returned to Brazil, and with Leila set up an experimental programme of replanting. The ‘‘Instituto Terra’’ Project has now reforested parts of Brazil’s Mata Atlantica. Sebastiao’s recent project with son Juliano, encompasses parts of the planet, retaining their primeval aspect, from Wrangel island in Siberia, to the highlands of Papua New Guinea. In 1991, Iraqi troops withdraw from Kuwait, setting oil fields on fire. There was contagious hatred amongst Croats, Serbs and Bosnians in Yugoslavia of 1994-95. Sebastiao has a trained eye for striking compositions, and combines beauty with sensitivity to his distressed subjects.

There is little discussion of Sebastiao’s working methods and artistic influences. Wenders’ narration asserts that ‘‘he looked into the heart of darkness’’. The black and white in Wenders’ depletion is exceptional, and Juliano’s colour lensing abounds in sweep, light and reflection. Sebastiao’s original photographs are in black and white. Wenders’ choice of black and white does not interfere with Sebastiao’s black and white photography. Juliano and Wenders filmed separately, shot different kinds of footage, but then worked together in the editing room, as if it were one single source.

Roy Andersson
Roy Andersson’s ‘‘A Pigeon sat on a branch, Reflecting on Existence’’ (Sweden/Norway/France/Germany, 2014, 100 mins, colour) comes after ‘‘Songs from the Second Floor’’ (2000) and ‘‘You, the Living’’ (2007). This new collection of deadpan sketches by the Swedish absurdist, announces itself as ‘‘the final part of a trilogy about being a human being’’. A young girl and an old man view a museum of stuffed birds and animal carcasses. There are birds on tree barks and leaves. Enter three meetings with death. At Death no 1, there is a man at a dining table and a woman in the kitchen. The man growls trying to open a bottle of wine, and falls on the floor unconscious. Meeting with Death no 2, presents an old man in hospital. An old woman and son enter, and the old man clutches a handbag. The bag contains the woman’s jewellery, and the old man and old woman keep pulling the handbag, as if to carry to heaven. Death no 3, presents a man lying on the floor of a restaurant. He is attended by other restaurant staff. There are shrimp sandwiches and draught beer, forever. The patient had failed to pick up food from counter. A man with a ball is sitting in a crouched position, in a gymnasium. A girl is bent forward. Others join in. A woman teacher gives lessons in Spanish flamingo dance. The 18th century Swedish monarch Charles XII visits a modern bar, in period dress. It is the same restaurant, and the same sufferings, in 1943. People smile and laugh. Many pockets are without shillings. Men rise to the refrain of the anthem ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’. Soldiers and sailors pick up drinks from the bar woman at the long bar. Children are playing on the floor, A little girl Wilma, reads a poem ‘‘A Pigeon rests on a tree branch, reflects and files off home’’, on a stage. The audience applaud. There are masks, as rock music ‘‘Shake baby shake’’ is turned down. Two armed guards enter the restaurant. All women patrons are driven out by a woman on horse back.

The king steps out of horse, on backs of soldiers overturned and bowing. His highness demands sparkling mineral water. The army of Charles XII marches with long spears. At a river side an old woman, with a child in pram, sits on a bench. Only tenants have access to an apartment building. A woman and a man are denied access. Sellers in town, have not closed monthly sales revenue figures. A salesman claims ill health and injuries from accidents. At an open window of a building, a man and a woman share a cigarette. Three soldiers enter the restaurant, along with a horse, with the king slung over. The king limps to the toilet. Half of the kingdom is lost, and the Russians have armed themselves in secret. A man, a woman and a dog are sitting at sea beach, and the man caresses the girl. At a railway yard, one man empties a brief case of all items on the road. Another man collects the strewn items. Small tables adorn an open courtyard, adjacent to a restaurant. Vampire teeth are sold for half price. People chat and laugh in the restaurant. Lights are put off, but the droning music continues. A woman is busy on a cell phone. Slaves enter, and a woman is whipped. A fire is set in a cauldron. One salesman who has dreamed something horrible, wants people to have fun. Out on a pavement, a man and a woman, wait for a bus. The camera tracks a dog, alongwith the song ‘Shake me down, shake’.

The novelty salesman Sam (Nils Westblom) and Jonathan (Holger Andersson) provide a continuity in the form of a comedy duo. The camera of Istvan Borbas and Gergeley Palos captures the self contained comic vignettes, in detail. Andersson highlights the poetry of the mundane. Most of the characters are adults, and none seem to truly appreciate the gift of living. The film recognises that there is no cheating mortality, particularly in the ‘‘meetings with death’’. The characters wear white face make-up, to enhance their pallor.  The young couple seen necking on the beach appear to be hugging in slow motion. There is not a single dull frame in the entire film, even though the colours are dreary, and the characters numb. The films were screened at different international film festivals in India, during October 2014 to December 2014.

Autumn Number, Vol. 48, No. 14 - 17, Oct 11 - Nov 7, 2015