Friday, January 23, 2009

The International Film Festival Rotterdam

Yesterday afternoon at the International Film Festival Rotterdam I was reminded once again that I'd rather be at Sundance, which is a film festival in Utah that runs about the same time as Rotterdam. Can't be two places at once.

Last year I really enjoyed myself at the Rotterdam festival, seeing something like 25 films. It was pretty relaxed. I got my tickets on time, and didn't run into any problems.

This year I don't really have the drive to go there. There seem to be fewer films I really want to see. I wrote two different short articles for two English language publications here in the Netherlands in anticipation of a great time. But of course, you can never repeat anything. Life is in constant flux, so there's no going back to a better, happier time. Maybe my spirit will change, and I'll get excited about this year's festival.

It took me over an hour yesterday to get my tickets and collect my Tijgerpas, which gives you a discount on films. First I stood in the wrong line for twenty minutes before some nice old Dutch woman informed me that I needed to be in the other line. So then I went to that line and waited for another twenty minutes. Then I went back to the original line, and waited for another twenty minutes. The staff told me that I should've come earlier if I wanted to be on time for my film, and wouldn't refund my ticket.

By the time I got to the film I went there to see it was halfway finished.

"Everybody Dies but Me," is the title of the film by the 24-year-old Russian film maker, Valeria Gaïa Germanica.

Perhaps I missed all of the more humanistic, character building bits in the first 45 minutes. What I saw was an exercise in deflation.

My original motivation for going to the film was to reflect on my own early wild teenage years of drinking and getting into trouble. It made me realize that the rocky times I experienced as a teen were really quite sweet and quaint in comparison to what many girls are experiencing today.

The first word that pops into my head is "crass." The characters are harsh, hardened and mean at a very young age. The only tenderness or glimpse of vulnerability the film maker lets us see of the main protagonist is at the very end when she breaks down in sobs. Even here she draws away quickly, and the film ends.

I got the impression that the film maker was reflecting her own experience, and that it was probably too painful and confrontational for her to show the pain of her characters. That's one of the the problems with using your own unpolished material as the stuff of narrative. You can't face the pain yourself, and so you block it out, and that comes out in your work. There's always something missing that you intentionally leave out as a self-protective mechansim.

Perhaps it's the youth and inexperience of the film maker that prevents her from portraying any nuance in her characters. She strips them down to their base motivations. One of the actresses has a cute kind of vulnerability to her. She seems to be portraying herself in this case, and not to be playing a role. The other two girls are thin, young, and precocious in their short, tight pleated minis.

I did enjoy seeing shots of Russian youth walking down the hallways of their school in jeans. That was about all I enjoyed in this film. The young extras walking or racing past in their new clothes. It gave me a glimpse of what kids are like in Russia, just regular kids going to school.

When I walked into the film one of the girls (the one who cries at the end) is undergoing disciplinary measures by her parents, who are pushed to the brink of their neurosis by their only child. I'm pretty sure the father says something like, "Your not hanging out with those sluts anymore.... I'm not even going to hit you....," whereupon the girl starts banging the floor, "Daddy, don't hit me! Please!" she shouts.

In an attempt to save their daughter from becoming a single mother and a high school dropout with no future, her father starts escorting her to and from school. This is a source of mortification for the young woman, who's concerned that her image is being tarnished.

She isn't too far off the mark, since it is for this very reason that her two best friends dump her, and make plans to go to a disco on their own. The two girls are concerned with impressing a group of cool older girls, and don't want to be hampered in the process by their uncool friend. "They'll smash our faces in if we're seen with HER!" is their rational for dumping their girlfriend.

Under lock and key, the outcast girl is determined not to miss the festivities, and schemes to escape her father's watchful eye. To this end, she decides to use and abuse the kindness of a "nerdy fat girl."

The two are depicted in an empty high school lunchroom. "Why weren't we friends before?" asks the nerd, while finishing off her meal of gooey mashed potatoes and gravy and fried liverworst. "I've never eaten here," exclaims the other.

On the afternoon of the disco, she has the nerdy girl divert her father by ringing their doorbell. As the nerd is explaining that the errant young woman had forgotten her textbook, the girl, determined to leave the house, jumps out of the window of their ground floor apartment in her pajamas. Frantically, she changes into some tight, ripped jeans, and a T-shirt in between two large green garbage dumpsters, and runs off to the party.

There's a scene of the nerdy girl waiting for her at a street corner. Of course, she doesn't show.

Meanwhile, the two other girls are drinking and smoking, all dressed up and on their way to the disco in their silver car with a red interior. When they get there, they meet the cool older girls in a dingy school bathroom. The older girls encourage one of them to chug glasses of wine while taking drags from a joint. Predictably, one of them winds up passing out on the floor while the older girls jeer at her and take photos with their mobile phones. While her friend is in the process of getting hammered, the third girl goes off to find her stud.

She spots him in the hallway of the school disco going off with her jilted friend. We already know he's a rake, since we see him the hallway of their school biting the hair of a girl, while the third girl looks on longingly. He ignores her, but she is undeterred, he's so dreamy.

The conversation goes, "Would you like to go outside.... Would you like to smoke.... What is it like being alone.... Well, you know, it sucks.... Let's go to our place.... What if I don't like it?.... You can leave."

Our place turns out to be the dank basement of an abandoned warehouse. The young stud has a special place there where young girls let him see "their naked pussies." The rejected girl goes along with him. He undresses himself hastily, then pulls of her pants. Before she knows it, she's not a virgin anymore. "How was it?" "It was never like that before," she struggles to hold back her tears, but she's a real tough girl only looking for a little acceptance from the rake, and that's that.

Her parents intercept her at the disco, but she runs off anyway, only to get the shit beaten out of her by the rake's girlfriend. "Did you fuck that whore?" the girlfriend asks the prized youth. A group of teens standby, including the rake, jeering while the girlfriend repeatedly kicks the recently deflowered girl in the stomach. They take photos with their mobile phones, and shrug their shoulders and walk away when it's all over, "Come on. The fight's over."

The nerdy girl finds her fake friend beaten to a pulp on the ground, and tries to help, uttering kind words, and helping her up. It's a wonder she can walk after being so badly beaten, but she stands up anyway and she can walk. While the nerdy girl makes attempts at soothing her, she tells her to sod off and calls her a fat cow. This is the final scene for the nerdy girl in her tight green crochet dress.

There's a scene of third girl making friends, getting high, and then making out with a new guy. They're laughing and having a good 'ol time. In fact, with her curly blond hair, slightly paunched belly, little nose, sparkly eyes, and girlish laugh, she appears to be the one redeeming character in the original trio of friends. She might just have a future. In her last scene we see her making out rather innocently on a bench in a park.

There's another, earlier scene of the wasted girl being discovered by her friend, "Come on. I saw her with him. Let's go get her!" She throws up, and passes out, gets discovered by security guards, and is ultimately carried off by her father.

The jilted girl is shown at the dinner table, snorting and scarfing up her potato salad. Her parents "Daddy will take you to the shops tomorrow, and buy you something new.... Why don't you wash up those wounds with vodka, you could get an infection.... We still love you." The daughter: "I don't care about an infection.... I hate you...." She runs off. The mother, "I think we should board up her window tonight. Do we have any wood?" Then, a scene of her crouched down, crying on her bedroom floor closes the film.

Girls are in big trouble in the Russia, and I'm sorry for them.

Monday, January 19, 2009


by Samuel Beckett


why not merely the despaired of
occasion of

is it not better abort than be barren

the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives


saying again
if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love

the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love love thud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words

terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending

I and all the others that will love you
if they love you


unless they love you

Monday, January 12, 2009


There is a general sense of discomfort when you refer to yourself as "me," which is a very subtle discomfort. We usually don't acknowledge or notice it, because it is so subtle, and since it is there all the time, we become immune to it. There is a certain basic ambivalence there. It is like dogs, who at a certain point begin to relate to their leaches as providing security rather than imprisonment. Animals in the zoo feel the same thing. At the beginning they experienced imprisonment, but at some point this became a sense of security. We have the same kind of attitude. We have imprisoned ourselves in a certain way, but at the same time we feel that this imprisonment is the most secure thing we have. This me-ness or my-ness has a painful quality of imprisonment, but at the same time it also represents security rather than just pure pain. That is the situation we are in at this point. Every one of us is in that situation.

The Path is the Goal
The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa