Notes from the LFF: Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, USA/France, 2013)

American cinema, Blogpost, Film reviews, London Film Festival 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis feels like a meta-Coens film.

This needs some explaining, since the Coens have always made movies that are in part about movies – making their films a kind of meta-cinema that is about cinema and its influence on society (especially characters who go getting hair-brained scam ideas and who think it’ll work out as per the movies, but for whom things typically go amusingly wrong).

Inside Llewyn Davis, on the other hand, is not just meta-cinematic, but it feels meta-Coen-like. That is, it surveys and reviews Coen films from the past.

Small signs thereof: a cat that we discover latterly is called Ulysses, recalling O Brother, Where Art Thou? (UK/France/USA, 2000), a John Goodman performance that is straight out of The Big Lebowski (USA/UK, 1998), a long, silent car journey as per Fargo (USA/UK, 1996), and the general suffering of a central character that was crystallised by the Coens in their Job film, A Serious Man (USA/UK/France, 2009).

This does not make Inside Llewyn Davis a tired film. On the contrary, it is as ever a pleasant trip into Coenland, as we follow singer Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) from Greenwich Village to Chicago and back again for a week in 1961, surveying the folk music scene of the time (with a hilarious performance from Justin Timberlake as nice guy singer Jim).

Now, the Coens are not exactly without success, having won four Oscars between them, and having been nominated for various more. But Inside Llewyn Davis also seems like something of artistic statement from them.

By which I mean to say, the self-referentiality of the film leads the viewer to suspect that this is quite a personal project for them. Not personal in the sense that it is autobiographical (though I suppose elements of the film could be – not that I am interested/think it important to find out).

Rather, in the sense that the Coens may, like Llewyn, find themselves never quite seeming to make it, unwilling to sell out (except for Intolerable Cruelty, USA, 2003, and The Ladykillers, USA, 2004 – the equivalent of Llewyn’s singing with Jim?), and somewhat on the margins of the film industry in spite of some success (notably, even after the success of No Country for Old Men, USA, 2007, the Coens have had to return abroad – to France and the UK – in order to co-fund their projects).

It is striking that the film is really about Llewyn’s inability to move on from the death of his singing partner, Mike, whom we never see. Llewyn performs repeatedly in the film – and often very well. But his style, while appreciated, is not deemed commercially viable. And, indeed, he is told by those who do not know that Mike is dead that he should find a partner and/or team back up with him.

This is striking, because of course the Coens work as a pair, and yet neither has – and long may it be before such an event comes to pass – has passed away as of yet. And yet there is a sense that while the Coens, like Llewyn, put in some remarkable performances (including winning Oscars), they remain somewhat overlooked – perhaps like Llewyn they feel surrounded by mediocrity, and it is not that they are any better per se, but they are surprised about how everyone settles for mediocrity.

Except that Llewyn ends up playing the same old tracks the whole time – trapped as he is inside himself, as it were. For this reason, the film has a looping structure, which it is not too much of a spoiler to say.

Do the Coens also feel trapped in their own universe? Were it not for the self-referentiality, I would not feel at all inclined to read Inside Llewyn Davis in this way. But it does seem to be working there somewhere under the surface – like Llewyn himself, very honest, but deeply enigmatic for almost precisely the same reason.

It is a joyful journey through Coenland. But Inside Llewyn Davis also seems to be calling out, asking for something more. Maybe the Coens will go really crazy with their next project. Or maybe they are mourning the loss of something dear to them, and which keeps them stuck in Coenland, pleasant though it is to be there with them…

Notes from the LFF: Pardé/Closed Curtain (Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi, Iran, 2013)

Blogpost, Film reviews, Iranian cinema, London Film Festival 2013

A man (Kambuzia Partovi) arrives at a house with a holdall. He locks the door, closes the curtains, blacks out his windows and then pulls out of the holdall a dog. We discover that he is a writer and from the television that owning dogs is illegal – and that many dogs are being executed when found.

A knock on the door, a couple enters who claim to be fleeing the police. The man (Hadi Saeedi) leaves, the woman (Maryam Moqadam) seems to come and go – as if materialising and dematerialising within the house at different times.

The house is raided, the writer and his dog hide. Then, as the writer leaves frame during one shot, Jafar Panahi walks into frame – and begins to fix up his house, the window to which has been smashed.

The woman and the writer discuss the fact that Panahi is forgetting them – and that they must make themselves enter his thoughts in order to remain alive.

A second woman (Azadeh Torabi) comes looking for her sister, Melika, who is the woman who arrived during the night and who is talking to the writer. Panahi, however, tells the second woman that he has not seen Melika, nor her brother, the man who came with her.

Workers come and go – and we get the impression that we cannot tell who is imagined and who is real in this movie that seems to be a defiant treatise on the creative process.

Jafar Panahi’s second movie made since his ban on filmmaking for 20 years (after In Film Nist/This is Not a Film, Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran, 2011), Closed Curtain similarly revels in interiors that are in fact an ‘externalisation’ of the imagination, and fictional characters that are the contents of Panahi’s head.

As the film progresses and as the seeming-fictional characters inside Panahi’s head decide that they do not wish to be forgotten, or die, as a result of Panahi not remembering them, we get the sense that filmmaking is almost an ethical duty.

That is, these people that the filmmaker – which we can expand anyone creative – has in head (and if we don’t like the idea of ‘people’ living ‘inside our head’, then we can simply call them ‘ideas’) have a life – and one owes it to them, as if they were real, to keep them alive. For, the life of the mind is as important as the physical realm in which our flesh circulates.

Indeed, Panahi’s film makes it clear that we cannot tell these apart: if Melika were simply imagined, why would her sister talk to Panahi? And if the writer were merely imagined, then why would he get into Panahi’s car at the film’s end and drive off with him with his dog (leaving Melika, sadly, in the house)?

Panahi contemplates suicide in the film – walking into the ocean and never coming back (shades of Darbereye Elly/About Elly, Asghar Farhadi, Iran/France, 2009). We see this happening, but then Panahi is back in the house. In a film, what is imagined and what is real are inseparable – and the power of film is to make us question precisely what is real, to encourage us to think.

And even though the Panahi character laments the fact that he cannot be as creative as he wants, ultimately, he must be defiant and carry on creating, since the life of the mind, those ideas that live in our mind, are as much us as our bodies – and we must realise these ideas by making films (the French verb for directing a film is réaliser).

The liminal setting of the seaside is important here: the ocean is our unconscious, with its unseen depths. And as much as Panahi (and Melika in her own way) are lured by the ocean towards death, one also gets the sense that all characters that we see, perhaps we ourselves, have come from the depths of the ocean, the unconscious, where ideas turn and flow in unseen fashion.

Images within images: Panahi filming on his iPhone, a camera crew walking into a shot – replaying a moment earlier when the writer lets in Melika and her brother. As Chuang Tzu says:

Once I, Chuang Tzu, dreamed I was a butterfly and was happy as a butterfly. I was conscious that I was quite pleased with myself, but I did not know that I was Tzu. Suddenly I awoke, and there was I, visibly Tzu. I do not know whether it was Tzu dreaming that he was a butterfly or the butterfly dreaming that he was Tzu. Between Tzu and the butterfly there must be some distinction. [But one may be the other.] This is called the transformation of things.

What is dream? What is reality? The time of the body and the time of the mind become indistinguishable. As, arguably, do Panahi’s films and those of his contemporaries.

I am thinking about oblique references in Closed Curtain to the work of Abbas Kiarostami, who recently has become a migrant filmmaker working in Italy and Japan.

In particular, Closed Curtain seems to speak to Five Dedicated to Ozu (Iran/Japan/France, 2003), a lyrical contemplation of the sea – driftwood on the waves, ducks walking along the beach, humans meeting by the seaside, with a brief lightning flash reminiscent of ABC Africa (Iran, 2001).

I do not think Panahi is offering an implicit critique of Kiarostami here, though potentially he could be. More, I get the impression that movies are memories, even those of/by other people, and that they constitute who we are. As is said in the film, in the end, life is memories.

Lyrical, melancholy but, as mentioned, ultimately defiant, Closed Curtain is another fascinating work by one of contemporary cinema’s finest filmmakers.

Notes from the LFF: Dast-Neveshtehaa Nemisoosand/Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran, 2013)

Blogpost, Film reviews, Iranian cinema, London Film Festival 2013, Uncategorized

I fell in love with the cinema of Mohammad Rasoulof when I saw Bé omid é didar/Good Bye (Iran, 2011) at the 2011 London Film Festival. For me this film was every bit as good, if not better, than the works by Jafar Panahi and Asghar Farhadi that caught most/more public attention in terms of films from Iran at around that time.

I was then fortunate enough to see the remarkable Jazireh ahani/Iron Island (Iran, 2005) and Keshtzar haye sepid/The White Meadows (Iran, 2009) during a retrospective of Rasoulof and Panahi’s work at the British Film Institute last year.

So it was with great expectation that I went to see Manuscripts Don’t Burn at this year’s London Film Festival. And in many respects the film does not disappoint.

The film is about a writer, Kasra, played by an anonymous actor – since all who took part in the film must remain anonymous, apart from the director, of course, as a result of the danger in which they will be for taking part in this film – who has written an exposé about the murder of various writers in Iran in the 1980s and 1990s.

His manuscript, entitled The Uneventful Life of a Retired Teacher, is to be published clandestinely, except for the fact that the authorities are on to him and are searching for the titular piece of work – in his house and in the houses of those who work with him (publishers, other writers, poets).

Interestingly, however, the film is told predominantly from the perspective of those who are carrying out the investigation into Kasra’s manuscript. To this end, we follow two hitmen, Morteza and Khosrow, as they carry out searches, abduct individuals, torture and murder suspects and the like.

Since Rasoulof is, like Jafar Panahi, serving a 20-year ban from filmmaking, Manuscripts Don’t Burn is by consequence an underground film, even if it predominantly eschews the handheld and improvised aesthetic of many ‘underground’ movies – such as Bahman Ghobadi’s Kasi az gorbehaye irani khabar nadareh/No One Knows About Persian Cats (Iran, 2009).

That said, while the film does often look controlled and elegant, rather than filmed in a rush, Manuscripts… opens with, and continues for quite a while to show, images shot with a high shutter speed, which lends to the action that we see a sort of ‘digital jitter’ that does in fact suggest a hurried, ‘guerrilla’ aesthetic.

There is a nod, then, to the clandestine manner in which the film was shot, but Manuscripts… is aesthetically interesting because it spans the two trends that seem to predominate concerning films coming out of Iran. These are namely underground films along the lines of Persian Cats and others – films shot without permits, often made on the fly and, in Ghobadi’s case, on the streets, and genre films, like Rafi Pitts’ The Hunter (Iran/Germany, 2010), more ‘official’/authorised films that seem to ‘hide’ subversive elements within more mainstream-seeming fare (suggestions in the muse-en-scène).

Manuscripts… is also politically interesting, because rarely will one have seen a film out of Iran that features such violence (even if still shot and carried out in a muted, unsensational tone), the drinking of alcohol, and, simply put, criticism of the authorities as they carry out their surveillance and torture in pursuit of the elusive manuscript.

The film is downbeat, pessimistic even, but also fearlessly defiant in this way. Even though, I have read, the film’s story is based on the real abduction of writers in 1995 (what unites many of the writers is their having all been on a bus to Armenia for a conference), Rasoulof nonetheless sets the film in the present: mobile phones seem ubiquitous and at one point a character, Kian, says that in the age of Facebook and Twitter no one is interested anymore in politics – a sentiment echoed when another writer, Forouzadeh, suggests that politics today means just living, the implication being that it does not mean protesting.

And yet, the deliberate digital jitter that we see so overtly for the opening section of the film (potentially it remains, but my eyes began not to see it anymore as the film progresses) suggests that this overtly political film is a result of the digital age, the age of Facebook and Twitter. And so Manuscripts… seems to be more upbeat than its characters about the possibility of and for change in the contemporary era.

Nonetheless, it is a guarded ‘upbeatness’ – for the film also ends in a loop, taking us back to the beginning of the film where the government hitmen run away from the scene of one of their murders.

The moment triggers several thoughts: is what I have seen real, or a hallucination? What takes place when? Have I utterly misunderstood the film? This hallucinatory quality suddenly instils a kind of fear or vertigo in the viewer, bringing out the feverish urgency, perhaps, of Rasoulof’s movie. It also unsettles our understanding of what is real and what is not, or of what happens when. This suggests the malleable nature of truth in societies that control all media outlets that help to form the consensual hallucination known as ‘the truth’. And it also suggests a sense of entrapment – for both the victims and the perpetrators of state crime.

What is more, the film ends with one of the hitmen walking away from the camera and into a crowd of people (before the credits tell us that no one is to be credited). This is the territory of Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio de Sica, Italy, 1948).

But where in that film we see Ricci merge with the crowd to suggest that life is tough for people on the streets in post-war Italy, here we have a sense of conspiracy: whom can we trust if anyone on the streets might be coerced, for financial if not for ideological reasons, to become a murderer for the state?

Rasoulof’s film sets us in a panic, then – and we are not even sure that we have watched a ‘film’ proper because no one is credited. Manuscripts may not burn, but Manuscripts Don’t Burn burns passionately – and yet it seems indestructible, even if its life is mainly a digital file mainly to be pirated. Unafraid of complexity, Rasoulof has delivered another excellent, relevant and profound film.

Notes from the LFF: Soshite chichi ni naru/Like Father, Like Son (Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan, 2013)

Blogpost, Film reviews, Japanese Cinema, London Film Festival 2013

Kore-eda Hirokazu is for me one of the finest filmmakers in the world today. He makes splendidly and subtly crafted films about everyday characters plunged into slightly extraordinary situations – and although I have not seen all of his films, those that I have seen are always fascinating and humane.

Like Father, Like Son is no exception. It tells the story of a family that discovers, six years after living with who they believe to be their child, that their son is in fact not their son, but really the child of a different family – whose presence in their home has come about as a result of a mix-up at the hospital where the children in question were born.

The film is in part a moral tale about how money is not necessarily the best thing that one can provide for a family, since love and time are perhaps two unquantifiable commodities that nonetheless might help not only to bring and keep a family together, but also might create the conditions to raise a child that is better suited (ethically?) to the world in which we live today.

However, while beautiful – and while ultimately very moving – it is not this aspect of the film that I would like to discuss briefly now – even if Hirokazu manages to make a moral film seemingly unmoralistic, which is no mean achievement given (I could not help thinking how uneven this film would be if the same story were told by, say, Mike Leigh – which I do not wholly intend to serve as criticism of Mike Leigh, whose films I also like).

*Spoilers* (though it will not spoil the emotional impact of the film).

What I wish briefly to discuss now is the fact that wealthy businessman Ryoto Nonomiya (Japanese singer, songwriter and actor Masaharu Fukuyama) realises that he cannot abandon his adopted son Keita (Keita Ninomiya) when he finds on his digital camera pictures that Keita has taken of Ryoto while he has been asleep in the build-up to the big child swap (the families decide to raise their own genetic children rather than to raise children that are not their own).

The moment is moving in a way that – inevitably but perhaps also lazily – recalls Roland Barthes’ concept of the punctum – the idea that certain images can pierce/traumatise us so much because they bring the person depicted in the images to life, even though they of course technically absent (or, in the case of Barthes who devises the concept in relation to a photography that he sees of his mother, dead). I say that this is a lazy link, because death, irretrievability, and a real family bond seem key to punctum – and so while Ryoto arguably has a punctum in the film, we do not and cannot necessarily have one, because we are seeing fictional characters. Nonetheless, some aspects of the punctum remain relevant.

What is more noteworthy, though, is that Ryoto chooses to abandon Keita after six years as his father basically because Keita does not have his genes – and he’d like to sire a child that continues his blood line (Ryoto is something of a snob, unlike his counterpart father, Yudai Saiki (Lily Franky), who runs an electronics store in the countryside).

And so when it is that Ryoto reverses this decision as a result of seeing photos that Keita has taken of him while asleep, we get a sense here not simply that time with someone is what creates a family bond – but that images, photographs in particular, create a stronger bond between humans than do genes.

The ramifications are numerous, though I shall mention only two: no wonder we find CCTV synonymous with the notion of the Big Brother; maybe Facebook friends are an ersatz family for those who use Facebook and who tag themselves in photos with other people.

Photos seemingly are our memories – the photos jogging Ryoto in such a fashion that now Keita truly is his son (even though Keita is not in the images; he just took them). Furthermore, photos do not simply show that which is within their frame; they also show the intentions of those who take them – as Ryoto realises as Keita’s love for him becomes clear in these images. Finally, photos are not objective records of events, but they are invested with emotions and they touch us in a fashion that extends far beyond simply our eyes.

To suggest that the digital – because manipulable, deletable, reproducible – somehow eludes the photographic, because unlike an analogue photograph, a digital photograph does not necessarily have what is often termed an ‘indexical’ link to reality (digital images are made up of numerical code and are not necessarily the direct impression of light on polyester/celluloid film, such that the image is proof of what was before the camera at the time of the image’s taking), would be to misunderstand the digital.

Indeed, it would be to misunderstand the digital on a variety of levels – of which I shall name two.

Firstly, it would reduce to the digital alone the possibility that the world is not a fixed thing ‘out there’ but something that is in fact dynamic and undergoing constitution at all points in time; in fact, even analogue photography was always only ever mummifying change (to borrow a phrase from André Bazin), which in turn leads us to understand that change is perhaps the chief characteristic of reality – but not necessarily a change that happens ‘out there’, but in/with which we are entangled and in/with which we take part.

Secondly, to separate analogue from digital photography would be to lose how photography is the concept that unites the two, and that it is – to continue with the biological discussion that Like Father, Like Son evokes – a meme of sorts that evolves. That is, photography has migrated from analogue to digital; it has changed in the process – as all things evolve; but the digital has also allowed photography to prosper even more than analogue ever allowed it to.

As a result, we have photography transcending its ‘genes’ (it will evolve via digital if it has to), just as Ryoto realises that family also transcends genes, with photography playing a key role in gluing a family together and making it what it is, above and beyond the genetic link that yokes father to son.

In this way, Like Father, Like Son is not only the most moving film that I saw at this year’s London Film Festival, but it is perhaps also one of the most profound.

Notes from the LFF: Electro Chaabi/Electro Shaabi (Hind Meddeb, Egypt/France, 2013)

Blogpost, Egyptian Cinema, Film reviews, London Film Festival 2013

Hind Meddeb’s documentary is about a group of Cairo-based musicians who have pioneered and cornered as their own the genre of ‘electro shaabi’ – a fusion of hip hop, electronic music, protest songs and Middle Eastern and Indian sounds.

Over the course of the film, the extended group begins to splinter, in particular as two of their number, Oka and Ortega, gain commercial success and begin to appear on television, in films, and elsewhere. Of course, they drop their long-standing collaborators like a stone – as per the story of commercial success from indy roots that has been told so often.

The film, however, remains with Wiza, Figo and others, especially MC Sadat, who continue to eke out an existence on the streets as performers at birthday parties, weddings and the like. Their music is often pirated (they tell a story of being ripped off by one of Egypt’s biggest film stars); and they rarely/barely see a penny for their creative endeavours. But, Oka and Ortega perhaps aside, making money is not what motivates them; telling their story is their raison d’être.

This seems also to be Meddeb’s rationale for making this film; the film has an evidently low budget, features much ‘crude’ handheld camera work, and yet captures the vibrancy of the Cairo streets.

The film culminates in MC Sadat and friends observing a march against Mohamed Morsi. It is not my place to judge these actions; Morsi may have been the first democratically elected President of Egypt, and to have had him deposed by the military may seem to an outside observer a worrying sign of anything but democracy – but however odd such events may seem to the outsider, those on the march evidently are against Morsi. And the reason that I raise this is because on the march, MC Sadat explains that those marching are ‘the people’ – and he asks how can the people be considered enemies of the nation. And yet protestors are (often) considered enemies of the nation because they do not conform to the image of that nation that someone else – typically in power – is trying to impose.

The reason that I mention this sequence is because an interesting distinction seems to be drawn here by MC Sadat, one that is perhaps enlightening beyond Electro Shaabi, and which is arguably ‘philosophical’ in nature. By in effect saying that the people and the nation are separate entities/phenomena, we gain a sense of how the people perhaps always eludes the nation.

That is, the nation is a top-down concept that is imposed upon various humans who, for whatever reason, happen to live within certain geographical boundaries during a certain period of history. The people, meanwhile, cuts across those temporal and spatial boundaries – in a fashion that cannot entirely be defined.

For so long, thinkers and politicians have tried to characterise the people according to nationality; the concept of the nation was a means to contain the rebellious libido of the people. And yet now we seem to have a sense – from MC Sadat’s interpretation of contemporary Egypt at least – that the people cannot be contained, and that the nation might well be a concept that needs refining and redefining, even if MC Sadat is referring (paradoxically) to a uniquely Egyptian situation when he raises his question about the people and the nation.

Nonetheless, what we can glean from MC Sadat in Electro Shaabi might have significance elsewhere: the people always exceeds (perhaps even disappoints) the nation, or those who seek to apply a rigid definition to what constitutes a (particular) nation at any rate. It is this excess that is their power, their source of hope, that potential for change. Long may it elude definition…

A final aside: the film definitely embraces the utopian potential of digital technology, with musicians using free software to make their music, and online video sites to share their music. Although the story of Egypt is far from finished, there remains hope when we know that people like MC Sadat are still out there, and that they will not (they say) be nullified by the bright possibility of becoming light, of becoming cinema, as happens to Oka and Ortega.

Instead, MC Sadat and friends elude the ‘cinematic’ in the sense of glossy, beautiful/beatified images, and instead belong to that other aesthetic that is ‘cinema’s’ necessary but neglected twin, the non-cinema that is low grade images, low grade sound, but all the more real because achieved in a guerrilla fashion. An intriguing film.

Notes from the LFF: Taşkafa: Stories from the Street (Andrea Luka Zimmerman, Turkey, 2013)

Blogpost, European cinema, Film reviews, London Film Festival 2013

Taşkafa: Stories from the Street is ostensibly a film about street dogs in Istanbul. It consists of interviews with residents of the city – who talk about the role and meaning that the street dogs play in their lives – as well as the reading by John Berger of extracts from his novel, King, which, in Zimmerman’s own words, is ‘a story of hope, dreams, love and resistance, told from the perspective of a dog belonging to a community facing disappearance, even erasure.’

Made for a tiny budget, Taşkafa is a wonderful example of what we might call democratic filmmaking. That is, the film seeks to explore the ways in which human society – in this case the city of Istanbul – often seeks to exclude from its reality – here, dogs – that in fact are a core part of that society’s ecosystem.

That the dogs form a core part of Istanbul’s ecosystem is made clear by the testimonies of many of the city’s dwellers. And yet, as we hear from numerous Istanbulites, we get the impression that these humans, too, might be on the verge of exclusion. In other words, what is true of dogs and other animals – that some humans seek to exclude them from their lives for the sake of a ‘sanitised’ (bourgeois?) existence – seems also to be true of people.

In other words, while ostensibly about street dogs, then, Taşkafa is really about the drive to exclude certain ‘undesired’ aspects of society from our spaces – and all in the name of ‘progress’.

As such, the film is a passionate defence of what we might term ‘the people’ – but with people here extended into the realm of people and their confederate animals, with whom we share our existence.

Given its emphasis on people and a desire to include that which is otherwise excluded, it is important that Zimmerman’s film gives voice to people – and gives screen time to dogs – who can tell their own story or show their existence.

Zimmerman has written about how films should be collaborative and communal – a perspective I tend to share. This means that her work is not far from Gilles Deleuze’s understanding of ‘modern political cinema’ – a cinema comprised of ‘intercessors’ – people who come in and tell their own story, with or without embellishment and/or exaggeration, and who thus shape the film with, perhaps even instead of, the so-called auteur.

And thus, since time is the focus of Deleuze’s study of modern political and other ‘time-image’ cinemas, we can understand that Taşkafa is also really about time. It is about the need for the world to allow people to live at their own pace, and not to be coerced into leading their lives following the beat of a particular (for want of a better generalisation, capitalist) drum.

A film made under the dictates of profit and production value is always already taking part in this ‘capitalist’ process of homogeneising time, of making all humans march to the same rhythm (this militaristic image is intentional). And so it is also important that Zimmerman is working outside of the confines of the film industry qua industry.

There are nonetheless some issues. These centre around the question of ‘where do we stop?’ By which I mean to say: one of the Istanbulites in the film says that we should do no harm to plants or ants – in addition to dogs. Or rather (for my memory is not exact), if we cannot but occasionally do harm to plants and ants, then we should at least recognise their part in our ecosystem, the importance that even these overlooked elements play in our lives.

And yet Taşkafa seems to stop at dogs (and cats) – and we are not asked (not specifically, at least) to reflect on the provenance of the meat that we see some people offer to the dogs. Is to eat meat to be harmful? Or is it that – beyond good and evil – we can eat meat, but we should be respectful of where it comes from? That is, we should give thanks to life – in all of its forms – meaning that we are now on ground similar, in the smallest type of film, to the ‘lesson’ offered in James Cameron’s Avatar (USA, 2009), the biggest type of film.

(Perhaps it is okay to like Avatar, but the issue is whether you can get beyond its insistent fast pace and its high production values and learn also to love Taşkafa, for the latter forms an equally important part of the mental, cinematic and perhaps material ecosystem that is our world. And if you cannot love Taşkafa, too, then you are potentially lost.)

And if we opened up our inclusive love for the world to ants and plants, then surely we must also to air, that which helps sustain and constitute us, and also then to mere matter for it is that from which we are composed, and thus also to antimatter, for antimatter is also real, simply it ‘exists’ at a different rhythm to matter itself. We need to push as far as we can go – this is my argument in Supercinema – in order to lead an ethical existence based on what we might call ‘withness.’

Finally, given his own views on the cruelty and indifference of nature, I wonder what Werner Herzog, to whom Zimmerman makes reference in her essay on Open Democracy, would make of Taşkafa? Does it romanticise its canine brethren (too much)? I’d like to think not, but I am interested nonetheless.

Taşkafa is a beautiful film – about much more than street dogs, as this blog post has hoped to suggest (and this is without going into the specificities of its being a film made and set in Istanbul, for which oversight on my part, apologies). It is wonderful that the LFF chose to programme it. It would be great to see more films like it…