Use your Brains!

By Fernando Ganzo

(leer en castellano)

New encounter with Apichatpong:, his new short film also available in The idea, as Weerasethakul himself explained in the introduction, was to shoot something with a new camera that Mubi lend him. The result: an experimental film in the nicest sense of the word; that is, to integrate the camera in the shoot (and with it all the mishaps, ups and downs that it might find/create) instead of shooting against it; that is, trying to hide it and keeping it safe, which is the standard procedure in non-experimental cinema. He therefore joined forces with his new toy avoiding the common threat that looms over every filmmaker that wants to do something other than a purely mechanical film (a film-machine): namely, that his film may become so aesthetically thick that it will be inscrutable. The challenge and virtue of Ashes, as with Mekong Hotel, is to create a welcoming film. This has also been achieved because the colour and the shape of the film (one very dear to Weerasethakul) is by now familiar turf for us: different brush, same hand. A boy and a dog, a dusty path, youths in the countryside, a bonfire…; all pieces from his well-known scrapbook. In a way it is like a twenty-minute walk in a different corridor of the same cave that he used for his earlier project, called Primitive. Weerasethakul is a better balladeer than poet, and since poetry is almost the unavoidable soul in a film like this (which is anything but prose), that shows. His struggle to master the new tool is often a beautiful and enjoyable one, but he doesn´t win out entirely, and has to rely on a certain narrative, without which the film would eventually sink. And so we are told by the narrator that the first half of this film it´s a dream, a drawn one; film as mental image.

Bearing that in mind, I saw the restoration of The Ring, a film by Alfred Hitckcock. It is a film about gestures and the interpretation of those gestures. Let me explain myself. Jack, a boxer who earns his living fighting challengers in local fairs, is going to marry a girl that works at the fair. One day he is defeated by a guy that seduces his girlfriend too. He marries her anyway, but by then she is in love with “the new champ”. Jack decides to go back to professional boxing, so he can become successful there and win his wife´s heart in the process. But let´s go back to the moment in which Jack has just been defeated in the fair. With the money he´s earned in the fight, the winner buys a bracelet for Jack´s girl and slips it into her arm. He does it as if he was branding cattle; she belongs to him now. She tries to cover the bracelet with her other arm, and that keeps her from shaking hands with her new “owner” in front of Jack. Jack sees that an misinterprets it: he thinks that she is so much in love with him that she doesn´t even want to touch the other man, however triumphant. We go from one man´s body to another man´s brain. Something goes wrong in that path, though. Let´s not forget Hitchcock´s trademark: to join an intense physicality (climax of the film: Jack fiercely rips his wife´s dress and her underwear and body are exposed) to a suffocating psychological identification. Jack ends up discovering the bracelet, but he is so naïve that he takes it for his own present and tries to fit it as if it was the ring; although it´s obvious that she much rather have the bracelet. (Was I to write this review for a Spanish college I would probably go into the symbolic elements within the scene and how it all deals with who´s got a bigger penis).

The gesture of enlarging and contorting has an equivalent in the way space is dealt with in The Ring: very much like a set of concentric circles. Hitchcock sets up the perimeter of each circle, in which everything can be broken down into minor entities. All the shots relate to one another, and their field is present in every shot. But there is always something or someone present in an adjacent field that provides the tension for the scene: the girl watching the fight from outside the ring, Jack being outside the dancing hall where his rival is sweet-talking his wife. In short: the emotion of the contender or the emotion of the person who is trying to break into a circle that he can´t be part of.

Anthony Mason was a player in the NBA, a few years ago, that stand out not only for his physique, but also for his playing style. He always kept close to the basket; and as everybody knows, the task there is to dodge the defenders in order to reach the backboard. His beginnings were so disastrous that a coach once told him: “In this game you have to think with your brains and push with your butt; and you are doing the opposite”. And so in this film the lovers push with their bodies (their bottoms) as they enter the dancing-hall, where they are free to gesture their affection; as opposed to Jack, who pushes with his head. His obsessive jealousy (of Buñuel-esque proportions) is shown with mental images: distorted visions of the lovers kissing, the bracelet set on every piece of furniture in his house…

Are mental images a way of approaching cinema pushing with the head? Arguable. Hitchcock tries to avoid it sometimes; for instance, when Jack looks off camera to express his wife´s absence; she is in not there, so she cannot enter the frame and share that space with him. Furthermore, mental images are always negative in this film, and associated with a sense of derangement (jealous or not): something is not working as it should, they seem to say. The other character that suffers them is that of a comedian prone to drink excessively (he is played by a feverish actor that Mr. Hitchcock clearly enjoys tremendously). We should not be surprised. Let´s think of Vertigo or Under Capricorn, a pivotal film in the usage of mental images; as in that film the mental image was outlined by one of the characters in order to torment the Ingrid Bergman character (seemingly imported from Gaslight) and make her believe she is delusional. What becomes apparent in the end, when Jack defeats his wife´s lover in the ring, is that his opponent only sees a bracelet when she rejects it, so his love for her was a fake one, and therefore her absence doesn´t generate any mental image. Quite simply, he is alright when she abandons him. Summing-up with a question: is love something good? While I was watching the short film by Weerasethakul, I kept thinking whether a filmmaker always films the world the way he dreams it should be. The world in The Ring is far too undesirable to be a dream, and after the laughter it provokes bitterness surface

Translated from Spanish by Hugo Obregón

Special screening
THAILAND. 2012. 20’
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Script: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Cinematography: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Editing: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Music: Chai Bhatana, Nakarin Rodput.
The cast: Chaisiri Jiwarangsan, King Kong,
Article 112 (Lese Majeste Law) political activists.

Cannes Classics
UNITED KINGDOM. 1927. 109’
Director: Alfred Hitchcock.
Script: Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Eliot Stannard.
Cinematography: John J. Cox.
Music: (accompaniment) Stephen Horne.
The cast: Carl Brisson, Lillian Hall-Davis,
Bon Corby, Forrester Harvey.