Monday, January 13, 2014


In addition to Ferreri, recently I have been focusing on Aleksei German, having only seen Khrustalyov, My Car! before. I missed the opportunity to see his work on the big screen when it came to Chicago in 2012, I've had to settle for digital files. But the effect remains stunning. These films are just massively great.

(I still have yet to see My Friend Ivan Lapshin and, of course, I eagerly await Hard to Be a God.)

To give just one tiny, fractional glimpse of what kind of lively formal play pops up in the films, look below at these two shots from Check-up on the Roads (1971). The first, taken roughly from the vantage point of the men in motorcycle and sidecar, is composed as a serene shot. Here's this visitor on a calm horizon; visibility seems "high."

But the quasi-reverse shot is not from the vantage point of the walker, but rather of a pair of men from sniper range further back. We can't spot them from the first angle, nor does it even look like they have a place to hide. They are "invisible." What's fascinating to me is how the reverse angle, aside from conveying important narrative information, is also compositionally very different from the first. The view bears downward; nestled between two mounds or snow banks, the snipers both form a triangle, flanking the walker and the motorcyclists. There are woods in the background (no horizon). Slow on either side obscures invisibility. Threat is invisible (if imminent) in the first shot; the pictorial vision of the second shot is like tunnel vision, allowing us to see nothing else but this threat.

Then there are touches like the one below, where an active gun has fallen into the snow and its hot barrel steams violently. Literally, these are only tiny details, but imagine a huge number of them imbuing every frame and moment and scene of these films with such texture and richness. Each Aleksei German film I've seen has been (1) funny, (2) deeply nostalgic and yet, I think, also aware of the complications of such nostalgia, (3) profound - not in a way that can be mocked or brushed aside, but actually profound because merely even perceiving the gravity of the issues requires that one let up a little on the superegotism of snark, (4) ramshackle like an old Army vehicle [or rather gives the calculated appearance of being ramshackle; this isn't lazily "demonstrative" production design but a lively and holistic approach to mise-en-scene, blocking, and cinematography], (5) beautiful to listen to, and (6) unpredictable.

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