Saturday, June 23, 2007

scenes from a parallel life

Some notes on Sara Driver's Sleepwalk (1986):

An eerie, clambering sense of paranoia runs through Sleepwalk's progressively nocturnal space, making a somewhat surprising engagement with Cat People and Kiss Me Deadly (visually, Driver's film compares especially well with Tourneur's). More interestingly, is this, despite whatever technical modesties of 'the debut feature', the secret response of contemporary American cinema to the narrative traditions of Feuillade, Cocteau, and Rivette?

At least Rosenbaum, I think, has compared the film favourably to Duelle, and it's a fascinating alignment that is making Sleepwalk richer in memory by the passing day. In isolated events, such as the chilling scream that comes out of nowhere and shatters the silence in both films: Hermine Karagheuz in Duelle, and Ann Magnuson in Sleepwalk, the latter upon losing all her hair, just like the selfish woman in the ancient Chinese text that her roommate Nicole (Suzanne Fletcher) is translating till late in the night, alone in the run-down building that houses the print shop where she works, where lights and machines silently switch on and come alive when no one is around. In the fact that the characters in the two films are circling around an object that is desired for its supernatural powers, passed from one to the other in acts of confidence and/or subsequent betrayal.

There is also the context of the fiction resulting from the process of the engulfment of one narrative by another (cf. Duelle, where there is a progressive construction of the 'narrative' by goddesses after a magical gem that possesses transformative powers, directly controlling the actions of all other characters), as the events from the manuscript invade 'reality', and of the terror that is conveyed by this gradual dissolution of any difference between the reality of Nicole's daily life and the fantastic occurrences seemingly unleashed by the manuscript, the centre of which is the nightmarish sequence in the elevator, immediately followed by Nicole's long walk back to her downtown Manhattan apartment through dark, deserted streets and alleys that seem to be charged by her somehow-transformed presence.

Speaking about Rivette's Histoire de Marie et Julien, Michael J. Anderson says:

"Rivette structures his film not as a dream or a series of dreams, but instead eviscerates any distinction between dream and reality, establishing a logic present only in fiction – there is no distinction between consciousness and subconsciousness, dream and reality, life and death, but rather, all is fiction."

All is fiction. The smell of almonds, the bleeding fingers, eyes that glow green, the barking man, Ecco Ecco, the 'kidnapped' son and his feeble attempt to escape from the suitcase he's been zipped in.

I think I'll have some more to say about the film after another viewing, which I look forward to.


Blogger celinejulie said...

I have tagged you as THE THINGKING BLOGGER. The details are in the link below:

By the way, I like what you write about SLEEPWALK and DUELLE very much. I haven’t seen these two films, but I love Jacques Rivette, and think that any films that can be compared with Rivette’s must be worth watching.

I haven’t seen any films by Sara Driver, but my friend, Sonthaya Subyen, saw YOU ARE NOT I (1981, Sara Driver) and he seems to like it a lot.

Your writing makes me think about films which have overlapping layers of fictions. I think films in this category are very interesting. The ones that I like include:

1.OBABA (2005, Montxo Armendariz, Spain)

In this film, a woman tried to use her video camera to tell stories of some villagers, but she didn’t know that by doing it, she risked becoming a part of the stories.

2.AN ARIA ON GAZE (1992, Hisayasu Sato)

Synopsis from

“Surreal, semi-pornographic fantasy in the "pink cinema" genre, exploring serious themes of voyeurism, alienation and perversion. Former actress Kyoko is miserable in her cold marriage, ignored by her lover, and obsessed with filming and being filmed. The boundaries of real and imagined are blurred more and more as she starts experimenting with the impersonal sexual rituals and hallucinogenic drug that may have killed her sister.”

3.THE PEACH-BLOSSOM LAND (1992, Stan Lai, Taiwan)

Synopsis from

“Two drama companies happened to share one auditorium for rehearsal. Friction was inevitable. One of them played 'Peach Blossom', a comedy in medieval costume. Another played 'Secret Love', a sad story with contemporary setting. Though unreconciled in all aspects, they find themselves telling the same story: the story of Chinese people forced to leave home.”

4.LA LECTRICE (1988, Michel Deville)

Synopsis from written by Michele Wilkinson

“A multi-faceted film based on Raymond Jean's novel "La Lectrice". Constance (Miou-Miou) reads the novel aloud in bed to her lover. Inspired by the story of Marie, a woman who advertises her services as a reader of literature, Constance decides to do the same. Here the film takes on a kaleidoscopic effect as the lives of Constance and Marie become merged, making it hard to distinguish what is real and what is fantasy. This structure is further complicated when the lives of Constance's clients become tangled with the stories she reads. The film is interspersed with readings from well known literary sources as diverse as, amongst others, Baudelaire, Duras, Tolstoy, Lewis Carroll and de Sade's "120 days..."” video BACHELORETTE by Bjork

--My friend told me that LA PURITAINE (1986, Jacques Doillon) presents some interesting relationships between a play and the characters’ lives. I think this film is worth checking out. It was shown in Alliance Francaise in Bangkok several years ago, but I was busy on that day, so I couldn’t go to watch it.

Synopsis of LA PURITAINE written by Jay Seaver from

“Renowned theater director Pierre (Michel Piccoli) has just received a letter saying that his daughter Manon (Sandrine Bonnaire) is coming home and will meet him at the theater the next day. His next move, therefor, is obviously to call in all the actresses in his troupe, assign some representation of his daughter to each of them ("you will be Manon's eyes... you will be her voice... you will be her hand...") so that he can figure out how to speak with her upon her return. In the meantime, Manon arrives at the theater, lets herself in the back way, and observes this whole exercise, occasionally talking to one of the actresses or her father's assistant Ariane (Sabine Azéma) before finally speaking to her father.”

5:16 PM  
Blogger dave said...

Great piece; I'll add Sleepwalk to my list.
I haven't seen any of the films that celinejulie mentioned, but I have read Bernardo Atxaga's book Obabakoak that Obaba used as source material. I'm not a big fan of Montxo's work but I would like to see what he did with this... the book is very good.

3:17 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Thanks, Jit and Dave!

Jit, you mention Hisayasu Sato - lately I've been meaning to explore his work a little further. I've only seen the Pasolini-obsessed Muscle which I like a lot. Do you have any more specific recommendations?

And when was the last time Bjork made a good music video? Pagan Poetry?

1:36 PM  
Blogger celinejulie said...

--DAVE, I’m not sure if you will like OBABA or not. OBABA is the only film by Montxo Armendariz that I have seen. I like the film a lot, but what I like is the structure of the story, which consists of many small stories. So I’m not sure if what I like in this film results from the talent of the director, the screenwriter, or the novelist.

--Mubarak, I envy you because you have seen MUSCLE. I have seen only one film by Hisayasu Sato—AN ARIA ON GAZE. I can’t find any other films by Sato in Bangkok, His films are hard to find here.

I think FILM COMMENT once compared Sato to Alain Robbe-Grillet, and I agree with it. AN ARIA ON GAZE’s storytelling structure reminds me of Robbe-Grillet’s films, because the viewer won’t know for sure

1.if the scene is really happening

2. if the scene is just a dream

3.which character dreams that scene

4. if the scene is just the character’s imagination

5. if the scene is just a part of the character’s novel

6.if the scene happens in the past or present

--There are two other Japanese films that I like very much and I think they have very interesting storytelling structures:

1.KOKKURI (1999, Takahisa Zeze)

2.A SNAKE OF JUNE (2002, Shinya Tsukamoto)

--Talking about this kind of storytelling structure, I also think of some
Thai films, including:

1.PLOY (2007, Pen-ek Ratanaruang)
Reality and dreams are merged into each other very well in this film.

2.BUS-STOP (2004, Tosaporn Mongkol)
This is a gay short film. I think the DVD of this film can be found in Bangkok. So if you are interested in watching this film, you can e-mail me and I can send you the DVD.

3. JIM (PUSSY) (2005, Tosaporn Mongkol)
Since the structure of this short film is so complex, I think I had better not try to describe this film. It’s the kind of film that anyone who has seen it will say, “I don’t know what happen.”

6:37 PM  
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8:01 AM  

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