Au revoir a l'été
Some sort of graduation
Writer-Director Koji Fukada’s romantic drama Au revoir l’été is a refreshing portray of a young Japanese girl trying to set sails in her life; set in the light of late summer against the background of the aftermath of Fukushima’s nuclear power plant accident.
When teenager Sakuko spends a week with her aunt at a relative’s house at the Japanese coast close to Tokyo in order to prepare for her university entrance exams, she finds herself in an environment where everybody carries their own little secrets that centre on relationships that delicately shift between friendships, difficult family bonds, burgeoning love affairs and the ambiguous ties between long ago lovers.
Without losing its grounding in the character’s every day life, Au revoir l’été brilliantly plays with the idea of different what-if scenarios and the question each of the characters faces in either or the other way: “What will be coming next and where will I go?” It is precisely in this abeyance that the film gains its depth, nonetheless through the highly nuanced performances by the actors who terrifically play out these in between states in which everybody simultaneously mirrors and projects the struggling of someone else. It is also through the camera perspective that remains in a half distance, close enough to approach a character but never to close to allow the viewer to fully monopolize but rather embrace them.
When Sakuko leaves, it is a good bye in many ways, but none that feels like the final end as each of them will take something away from that week between August and September, when summer slowly turns into autumn; some sort of growth, if not some sort of personal graduation.
The Brick and the Mirror
In Retrospect: A good lesson
Yesterday’s screening of Ebrahim Golestan’s The Brick and the Mirror (1965) shows why retrospectives at festivals are more than a nostalgic engagement with classics in black and white - they teach us how to read a film.
The discovery of an abandoned baby in the back of his car forces a taxi driver into a nighttime journey through Teheran’s suburbia; and, in the end, to take the baby with him. His girlfriend considers the baby as an angel that came to reunite the couple; preventing them from falling apart. She puts all her hope in raising the child themselves and feels deeply disappointed when he brings it to an orphanage. She insists on being taken to the orphanage herself in order to find the baby girl, lecturing him that the question one needs to ask oneself in such a situation is not whether there is good or bad but how one responsibly deals with it and that ‘his tomorrows’ are nothing more than a coward escapism and procrastinated todays. The taxi driver’s response is just a sarcastic: “A good lesson!”
Besides the characters individual story, intentions and motivations, the film is a piece of cinematic wisdom that indeed teaches us a good lesson. In order to recon its cinematic and socio-political value that might not immediately unfold, films like The Brick and the Mirror need to be placed in a contemporary discourse. When it first came out in Iran in 1965, Golestan “had to deal with a lot of stupid critics who didn’t understand the film at all. One of them even said: ‘What a bad movie; almost as bad as one by Rosselini!’, as he says right after the screening.
Referring to his specific realist cinematic language, Golestan goes on saying, “I wanted to write the images in one sentence which is why I shot every scene from only one camera perspective and not from different angles in order to pick the best one afterwards. I wanted it to be straight forward“. Sometimes it is easier to read these sentences and what they hide between the lines with some temporal distance. Retrospective screenings are therefore an essential part of film festivals as they give meaning to the very heart of their endeavor: Honoring film.