Archive for June, 2010

Ponette (1996)

June 10, 2010
Victoire Thivisol was four years old when she played Ponette, a girl struggling to understand her mother’s death in a car accident. The range and depth of emotion she displays makes me a little worried about what director Jacques Doillon did to coax the performance out of her. Thivisol became the youngest actress to win Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, an honor for which Doillon gave her a puppy, as well.
At her mother’s funeral, Ponette’s young cousin Mathias tells her that her mother cannot come up from her grave because “they put a heavy cross on you to keep you in.” He adds, “Only zombies can come out.” As we watch Ponette try to adjust to her shattered world, it becomes clear that she has a heavy cross to bear herself.
Intending to comfort her, Ponette’s aunt Claire tells her the story of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. What the girl hears, though, is that she needs to sit and wait and not play until her mother comes back to life. Later, a Jewish girl at Ponette’s school leads her through a series of trials, such as traversing the ground they are pretending is made of lava, so that she can become a “child of God” and persuade God to listen to her prayers.
Doillon films many of Ponette’s scenes from a child’s eye perspective reminiscent of the “tatami level” point of view Yasujiro Ozu used in his films.  This camera placement, as well as the extraordinarily articulate performances of Thivisol and the other child actors in the film, gives their scenes a disconcertingly adult feel, an effect Doillon uses to emphasize the similarity between Ponette’s questions and those adults continue to grapple with their entire lives.

Rashomon (1950)

June 2, 2010
Taking shelter from a torrential rainstorm in a demon-haunted temple, two men struggle to comprehend the story of a murder. They have witnessed crimes before, but something about this one has left them shellshocked. One of them laments, “This time, I may finally lose my faith in the human soul.”
What follows in Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is perhaps the most famous example of point-of-view storytelling in cinema, as four witnesses to the murder recount their wildly different, contradictory versions of the crime. The conflicting point-of-view narrative device has also been used in movies such as Harakiri, Hero, and Vantage Point.
Most point-of-view films use the device to gradually reveal the true events obscured and distorted by each teller’s version of the story, but Kurosawa uses it differently here, because with each version of the crime, the truth only becomes murkier. As one character says, “The more I hear, the more confused I get.”
All of the versions agree on a few points: Some articles of clothing and a rope were left in the forest; a wife and husband were attacked by Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune), an infamous bandit; Tajomaru forces himself on the wife; the husband is killed. Beyond these basic facts, though, the stories become so convoluted and sordid it seems the real truth may never be known.
In Rashomon, Kurosawa is not seeking to simply solve a mystery. Indeed, it is difficult to say whether the mystery is ever solved at all. Instead, he paints a picture of hell: “If men don’t trust each other, this world might as well be hell.” When we cannot definitively know the truth, what is there to fall back on? Is there any way to trust people who might be lying to us?
In the end, Rashomon provides a sort of resolution, but as with the rest of the film, it all depends on interpretation. It might be an act of God, or it might just be a change in the weather.