Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Category: Week 7 Viewing

35 Shots of Rum Close Viewing, Chloe Marina

Chloe Marina Manchester

35 Shots of Rum Close Viewing

Eye of the Story

Due 2.19.16

Of Mongeese and Rice Cookers

 

I do not know what movies are. I do, however, know what books are. I am also familiar with the concepts of ambiguity and important details going almost completely unexplained. I would like to write here about rice cookers, incest, mongeese, narrative flow, ambiguity, family, and the parallels between Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

The first words spoken in the movie are spoken by Josephine. I took her to be anywhere from 16 to 26, though this could be because I am a terrible judge of age. She has just gotten off work and is picking out a rice cooker from a shop with many rice cookers in the window. This is probably not a rice cooker specific shop, nor is the rice cooker simply a rice cooker. As she removes the rice cooker, a white-to-pink one with flowers, from the shelf in the window, Josephine’s face takes the place the rice cooker used to occupy

. This is not an accident. Much like Ozu, nothing in Denis’ film is framed without purpose and thought. The whole in the shelf against the window, much like many things in Ozu’s oeuvre, exists to be a frame within a frame. To separate and emphasize Josephine from her surroundings.

Once she gets home, she puts away the rice cooker. There is no music playin in the house. There is almost never music playing in the house. I’ll get to that, and a few other places where music does not play, later.  As well as the only place music plays without a source.

This rice cooker means something. This rice cooker means a lot of things while really only cooking rice. This rice cooker is special because it is not the only rice cooker. Not just in the world, because that would be weird. But it is very specifically not the only rice cooker in Josephine’s life and in her apartment. This other rice cooker, which becomes the primary rice cooker, is red with flowers on it.

This other rice cooker is brought home by a man. A man of ambiguous relation to Josephine. That is until she says her first line since returning home, she calls him “Daddy.” if you lurk on the corners of the internet, this term of endearment does not clear the ambiguity. It’s intentional. It’s supposed to make you uncomfortable that you were so willing to accept that this man, Josephine’s father, was actually her partner. They have a close relationship and to some (me) this is an uncomfortably close relationship between a father and a daughter. Maybe this uncomfortability in the closeness between Lionel (the father) and Josephine was intentional, maybe not.

Maybe the discomfort I was sensing came from their own discomfort at their situation. Lionel’s concern about his eventual retirement and Josephine’s about her relationship with Noe. Coupled with both father and daughter’s very different though connected feelings toward Gabriel. Josephine and Lionel are both reaching opposing points in their lives when changes abound. Josephine entering adulthood, with the career and marriage that sometimes brings, and Lionel getting ready to close that chapter of his life and begin the final one. Without Josephine. The scene where Lionel is hungover and Josephine is taking care of him is especially pointed in that case. He tells her not to worry about him, not to take care of him. He tells her to move on with her life, in different and carefully chosen words.

The rice cooker too represents both the discomfort and the growing pains of the changes in their lives. Did Josephine buy the rice cooker because she assumed he would forget and then hide it when he remembered? Was her rice cooker intended to only be hers (and perhaps Noe’s) in her life away from her father? The last scene is one long shot of the red (Lionel’s) rice cooker on the counter in their apartment but then hands which we assume are Lionel’s place the rice cooker bought by Josephine at the beginning of the movie onto the counter as well. Is she moving out while he is making rice? Do they just really need a lot of rice? I honestly don’t know what it means, but I do know enough to know that it means something. Maybe it’s obvious. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s for the viewer to project their own thoughts and problems onto. Maybe it’s the three words that go unspoken by the mongoose in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

And now for the mongoose. I know there is no logical connection between rice cookers and little devilish snake eaters. I know this is not the reason these were chosen to be read and viewed in the same week. And yet.

The mongoose represents both the curse of the de Leon family and the saviour of the de Leon family. These things are not contradictory within the context of the lore of the story itself. The mongoose is what happens when someone is about to die, but really it is when they are about to be saved. The man with no face is something akin to the horse riding scene in 35 Shots of Rum. Something terrible is about to happen.

This connection between the rice cooker (for some change is both deadly and a savior) and the mongoose is at best, non existent. Maybe I think there is one because I don’t fully understand the role of either of them in the lives of the members of either family. There were a lot of “maybes” for me in week six, I think. There is a further connection between 35 Shots of Rum and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s not complicated, it’s just family. But then again, family is never not complicated. The only permanent things in either story is family. They are a set. They are a family. No matter how far they move or try to run away the de Leons will always be that set. They will always be that family. It is the same with Josephine and her father. Even though the dynamics of their unit may shift, they will remain that unit. Gabriel isn’t let in to the unit to be Josephine’s mother. Noe may marry into one segment of the unit but he will never be fully part of it. Family is the only constant. Family and rice cookers and mongeese.

I would also like to touch on the soundtrack of 35 Shots of Rum. The music remains diegetic through the entire movie with two notable exceptions. Whenever the camera is racing out over the train tracks from the train controller’s window is the most clearly noticeable variation from the solely diegetic norm. The other deviation occurs when Josephine and Lionel are in Germany on the beach.

There are children with lanterns chanting and I tried very hard to not be creeped out by the fact that there were children with lanterns chanting. But more than that, there is a song play over their chanting from no onscreen source. It is as if this moment is the straw that breaks the non diegetic camel’s back. After that point there are more songs and more sounds that come from no available on screen source. In the final scene with the two rice cookers, there is also a radio playing a song. One final  diegetic source, perhaps to make room for the credits to roll?

In any case. Never have I ever paid more attention to rice cookers in my life, nor will I ever be able to see a mongoose without thinking that I am about to die.

 

2/18/16 – Mike Pezzillo – Mask and Ass

Mike Pezzillo

Eye of the Story

2/18/16

Mask and Ass:

A Close Viewing of Masculin Feminin

Robert’s theoretical capability of executing complete revolution:

“Take a piece of complex machinery, for instance. You’re given raw material and the design showing what it should be like when finished. There’s no time to lose so you must be capable of exceptional precision in thought as well as gesture, visualizing at once not only how to do it, but each stage in the operation. You have each stage clearly in mind, even before you start. You take it up and you know exactly what you have to do. And as you work, your mind can see what must come next. You already have foreseen the necessary tools and Phases. This is known as a revolution; this, too, is the revolutionary spirit.”

The essential problem in Robert’s theory of the Complete Revolution is his notion of “raw materials”. Were human beings as consistent in their behavior as the materials he would build with, there would be no problem. Raw materials rarely show the kind of intention-thwarting capabilities that human variability represents. As Paul says after his little experiment in the cafe, “…to put yourself in his place doesn’t make you understand someone,” and without understanding the material, one can not hope to reliably build with it.

“A philosopher is a man who pits his awareness against opinions.”

Because opinions are essentially just value judgments, the closest approximation to objectivity we can manage is “To be aware,” and, in doing so, “…to be open to the world.”

To be, essentially, unbound in time, to be unbeholden to a specific time and place for meaning, is, to Paul, the only objectivity. And yet, it is only a measure of objectivity, as humans, as value-judging creatures, that we are able to achieve. True objectivity, or as Paul puts it, “…to act as though time didn’t exist,” is beyond our capability, at least within the bounds of society. Perhaps if one were a hermit the “insincerity” of a temporal focus wouldn’t have the same gravity it naturally has in society, would not cause the same rift between observation and judgment. And yet, to return to Paul’s answer to Madeleine’s question, “Do you think one can live alone? Always alone?”…

One may speculate, at the end, that perhaps the riddle of Paul’s death finds some clarification in his response to Madeleine’s question: “No, I don’t think one can, it’s impossible. Without tenderness, you’d shoot yourself.” It may be that, the gulf between he and Madeleine, the gulf between questioner and answerer, between objectivity and value judgment, are represented perfectly in the dialog between Madeleine and Paul in the bathroom at the office of the magazine:

M: What is the centre of the world for you?

P: Love, I suppose.

M: That’s odd. I’d have answered: Me.

When Robert tells Catherine that he loves her, she replies, “Well, if it’s not mutual, it’s egotism on your part.”

So, what really killed Paul? Was it actually, as Catherine says, “just a stupid accident”?

In a poetical sort of way, one can infer a context here that extends the meaning of Catherine’s judgment to include the idea that Paul very well did take his own life, that the “stupid accident” she is referring to is actually Paul’s involvement with Madeleine, the entirety of their life together, and the depths of despair that such a life, together yet apart, engendered in Paul. In some ways, a lack of tenderness killed Paul. In some ways, a lack of objectivity killed Paul. In some ways, society killed Paul.

Paul’s Paranoia Laundromat:

“Guess what happened. I hear running footsteps. What is it? I wonder. I turn around. And a bloke says: ‘Did I frighten you? Do forgive me.’ I wait.

But when I go on, so do the footsteps. The guy say: ‘Did I frighten you? Do forgive me.’ All very courteous, but I realize it’s a different man.

I go on.

This time the footsteps go past. But the guy stops just in front of me. I look at him, and its not the same guy. I mean, it’s a third guy.

‘You’re not the same one,’ I say.

He looks at me and says: ‘Maybe so, but the point is you thought you were being followed. Who by doesn’t matter. If I’d run faster you would have been afraid. But I didn’t and you weren’t.’

‘Listen,’ I say to this guy, ‘if that’s your idea of a joke, I don’t think much of it.’

He looks at me and says: ‘Do you really think it’s a joke? Well!’

‘You just haven’t understood,’ he says.”

Something is chasing Paul, something faceless, or maybe something that wears every face. He is on the cusp of understanding it, but he’s not there yet.

“Poor Paul,” Elizabeth says to him, “We’re not the sort of girls for you.”

The relationship between Paul and Madeleine is explicative of the relationship, expressed by Robert, between skilled laborers and the greater bourgeois society. Madeleine, in a voice-over narration, says, “I’m glad Paul is in love with me; I’ll sleep with him eventually. I hope he doesn’t become a nuisance.” In much the same way, society at large values its skilled workforce as a somewhat fulfilling amusement, one that is enjoyable, but not entirely necessary. Madeleine is bourgeois society, Paul is the proletariat. Madeleine is Coca-cola, Paul is Marx. Madeleine is opinion, Paul is philosophy.

In a one sided love affair, beloved always fares better than lover. Were society, with its bourgeois focus, its Pepsi-generational outlook, to actually lose its skilled workers, as Madeleine herself loses the father of her unborn child, it would realize its dependence on them, and when asked, as Madeleine is asked, what it will do now, would likely answer in kind:

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

F____in.

Cydney Garbino – Masc/Fem

Paul lights his cigarette

though smoking seems awkward and forced

thinks he’s so cool like he knows something we all just happen to miss

but he’s just a baby, only 21

on the threshold of manhood

cute, not quite handsome

perfect smooth complexion you can almost feel

 

Paul has this air of confidence and poise

he fills whatever room he enters

he owns the space, even if he’s not in frame

 

Madeline is very clearly charmed by him

but she’s too cool to swoon over some boy

he can tell from her smile and the way she tousles her hair

that he’s inches away from having her wrapped around his finger

 

Like Paul and his unfitting habit of smoking, Madeline shrouds her youth beneath casual illusions

simple tricks of the hand to distract those who watch

so as not to be truly seen

but to portray an ideal image of oneself

 

In a way, that’s sort of what youth is all about

it’s a game you’re just learning how to play

a magic show

a social experiment

take it all in and examine

look in the mirror

manipulate tweak scratch cut smoke

be somebody

 

Try something new

try to get laid

and once you think you have it all figured out

the game changes

when it all comes down to it, there are no rules

 

He’s a bad boy intellectual

She’s a talented beauty with a hypnotic smile

but it doesn’t really matter

since we’re all just playing pretend

or maybe it does…

 

 

 

 

 

35 Shots of Rum – Moving Foreword – Cooper Rickards – 2.17.16

In the Film 35 Shots of Rum, directed by Claire Denis, there is an heir of mystery around each character. Each character is carefully constructed to build their unique slice of Paris, coming together to form a small community. Lionel is a train conductor and a father. The viewer has to make their own decisions about his past. His job is an important part of his character. All day long he moves foreword, continuously, on the tracks laid before him. Throughout the film he is featured consistently driving trains, starring blankly ahead. He rides his motorbike home at the end of the work day. The only time the viewer actually sees Lionel riding his motorbike, he picks up his daughter from work and she rides home with him. She says “I like riding like this.” He replies, “me too.”

The film is a constant struggle for Lionel. He has always been moving foreword. He struggles to accept and adjust to the upcoming changes in his life. His daughter cannot stay at home forever. At the beginning of the film, Jo, his daughter, purchases a rice cooker. She looks happy buying it. When she arrives home, the rice cooker is hidden away. Maybe she was waiting for Lionel to get home to surprise him, however he walks in the door with a rice cooker of his own. She is pleased, saying “so great you remembered.” The audience does not see the original rice cooker until the very end of the film, when Lionel arranges both rice cookers side by side. The image of the rice cooker is a strong one, and is central to this film.

The rice cooker is Jo’s self sufficiency. By buying it, she is effectively one upping her dad, expecting him not too. She anticipates Lionel forgetting, and so she takes matters into her own hands. When he arrives home with one as well, she never reveals her own device. At the end of the film, after she marries, Lionel takes the second rice cooker out of hiding and places it next to his. He fiddles with the lid, stripping off the wrapping. The film ends leaving the viewer looking hard at these rice cookers, begging an inquiry. Lionel can finally accept his daughter moving on in the world, moving foreword. Throughout the film Lionel struggles to grapple with life moving foreword. He fantasizes about moving freely throughout time and life.

While driving his train, he says “when I have dark thoughts, I think of my daughter.” There is a brief image of him and his daughter riding a horse on the train tracks. The camera is boisterous, bouncing over the horse’s head. The smile on Lionel’s face is radiant as Jo clutches to him and they ride all over the tracks. To the left, to the right, foreword in whatever manner they please. This is a crafted image to depict Lionel’s wish, his urge to take life on his own time. But this is not the reality. The ‘dream state’ he imagines is a direct contrast to the regular. The camera follows Lionel down the tracks continuously throughout the film. Long, continued shots fly down the tracks as the trains truck away. This is his life, moving foreword, forever and ever.

His work is a contrast to Gabrielle, his neighbor and who knows what else. She is a major part of Lionel and Jo’s lives, although the context of their relationship is never stated. She drives a taxi cab. This is a artistic choice to compare to Lionel, driving trains. She is a minor control freak, and the taxi can go wherever she pleases. She drives left, right, forewords and back. She constantly has a new destination. While she runs around the city frantically, her life moves forewords in a slower, confused mess of traffic. Lionel’s train keeps rolling on, endlessly forewords.

The rice cookers at the end of the film represent his acceptance of where his life is and where it will be going. He is sad to loose the company of his daughter, but he is glad for the progression of her life. This is the movement of life that cannot be stopped, and it’s inevitability is what makes it acceptable to Lionel. These are how the tracks are laid, and he must drive the train.

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The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

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