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The soul of cinema

Two classic films on art by Collective Chaos left the audience hungering for more



STARKThe film doubles as the unfolding of a 15th Century icon painter's life and a parallel commentary on a turbulent Russia

COLLECTIVE Chaos has done it again. Time after time, this relatively youthful film club has provoked Bangalore's film buffs out of their comfort zones. On August 27 and 28, it was a repeat performance with two classic films on art in society — Hungarian veteran Istvan Szabo's Taking Sides and Russian Andrei Tarkovsky's brilliant classic Andrei Rublev.

Szabo's Franco-German 2001 co-production was the more accessible of the two. Linear, narrative-based, its cinematic values emerged through the tension-fraught tale of how the liberating Allies tried to crucify celebrated German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler as a Nazi. At its crux lies the fact that his tenure at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra coincided with Nazi glory.

Was he, then, one of the Reich? Or was his personal and artistic integrity unblemished despite his status as Hitler's favourite? Our dramatic engagement with the plot emerges from a no-holds-barred interrogation of Furtwangler (Stellan Skarsgard) by the hard-nosed Allied colonel (Harvey Keitel).

Popularly known for his Oscar-winning Mephisto (1981), Szabo's 32-film oeuvre is distinguished by a blend of personal stories with a political background. The stellar main performances are juxtaposed against the more humane approach of the interrogation assistants, to whom Furtwangler is a demi-god. Intelligent camerawork — predominantly brown — enhances the inherent tension, buoyed by Beethoven and Schubert's mood-perfect music. The film emerges as an intensely human cinematic document.

Though couched in the cinematic idiom, Taking Sides opts for occasional theatrical devices through camera angles, combative postures and tableaux. That leads to the online discovery that Szabo is equally lauded for his operatic productions in Paris, Leipzig and Vienna.

Layered telling

Tarkovsky, with his magnificent individuality, is a legend most cineastes worship. His 1965, 205-minute Andrei Rublev doubles as an unfolding of a 15th century icon painter's life and a parallel commentary on a turbulent Russia, with its warring princes and Tatar invasions. This cathedral-like paean to man's spirituality, more than a conventional epic, echoes the director's seven other films in 24 years — where the spiritual becomes the very plot, not a mere element of it.

Fragmented, unfolding through seven episodes riddled with biblical references, where the painter often functions more as a mnemonic device rather than a physical presence, the film's final version is undoubtedly enacted in the viewer's mind, rather than onscreen. As if painting with light, with a thought-imbued brush, Tarkovsky's pulsating rhythms and breathtaking long takes haunt us through poignant faces charged with seeking, with action sequences that reverberate with life, with an irrefutable truth underlying his breadth of vision. A masterpiece of cinematic metaphor, the stark black-and-white film begins with a balloon-launched monk from a medieval Russian cathedral, and concludes with an alluring colour montage of Rublev's surviving icons.

All this is in consonance with Tarkovsky's statement in his book, Sculpting in Time: "It is only possible to communicate with the audience if one ignores the 80 per cent of people who for some reason have got it into their heads that we are supposed to entertain them."

Was the filmmaker a messiah? Was he a fundamentalist? It hardly matters to the dazzled viewer, soon a convert.

Beyond words

Evoking within us a yearning for special moments beyond words, this Tarkovsky film lingers on indelibly. Especially through the tale of the poor boy who pretended he knew the secret of bell making. His belief in this impossibility, on the wings on a prayer, allowed him to intuitively create the greatest bell in the land. His passion, his innocence, his wonder haunt us. For, his faith brought Rublev back to painting.

Threaded through the unconventional film are still racking questions. What is art? What is life all about? How spiritual a being is man? Must a creative soul be a slave to his patron in order to exist?

To answer these, most viewers have a request to Collective Chaos. Could we possibly have a Tarkovsky festival one day?

ADITI DE

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