This weekly series discusses the cultural and artistic implications of a selected foreign film.
If you watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, you will have, if nothing else, an experience. Yours might be revelatory or painful or, like mine, a bit of both. Based off of Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel of the same name, Solaris has, perhaps too often, been thought of as the Soviets’ response to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odessey. Although both films use the sci-fi genre to explore outer space frontiers as well as existential ones, Tarkovsky’s themes are much more personal and spiritual, and gravitate toward the loneliness and fragility found in humanity.
The entire plot is tensioned over the emptiness of the unknown. Set in the unspecified future, psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris to check up on the two crew members there. He discovers that the planet’s oceans cause the station’s inhabitants to hallucinate, and he ends up seeing visions of his dead wife, Hari (Irma Raush). These visions haunt him until he must make the decision whether to return to Earth or descend into the desire realm of Solaris.
With glacial tracking shots and a running time of 165 minutes, watching Solaris challenges your attention span for sure, and the film’s understated acting and dialogue takes some getting used to. Honestly, I literally lost consciousness and fell asleep while watching this movie at least two times. But strangely, the cinematic aftertaste of Solaris is rich and rewarding. To me, the entire work felt more like music than cinema, eschewing narrative for aesthetic and feeling. After a while it’s easy to succumb to its languid, hypnotic rhythm.
Despite the movie’s pessimism, it evokes some breathtaking images of nature with a palette of earthy hues and filters. Tarkovsky takes advantage of the 2:35:1 aspect ratio, whether he fills it with surreal underwater plant life, foggy atmospheres or a sprawling metropolis.
Solaris is now considered a sort of masterpiece and one of the director’s more accessible films. Tarkovsky’s influence can be seen now in auteurs like Lars von Trier and Terrence Malick, whose Tree of Life shares the backdrop of the cosmos to explore human interiors and relationships. Also, in 2002, Steven Soderbergh made an American remake (don’t bother).
Perhaps most surprising is Tarkovsky’s ability to cull such an intimacy from the sterile reaches of outer space, and the way it leaves its final question unanswered — is it possible to fall in love with the concept of a person or life instead of the actuality, and is this enough?
Documentaries about photographers have the difficulty of making still photographs hold our interest in a medium that is about — obviously — moving pictures. The contemplation and meditation that successful still photographs elicit tend to get lost when your eyes and brain are trying to keep up with something traveling at 35 frames per second. It's like trying to admire an elegant home from a speeding train.
A recent (and very good) film about a photographer, Finding Vivian Maier, solved that problem by turning the story of why she was so overlooked in her lifetime into a mystery.
The current film The Salt of the Earth, about the questing, humanistic Brazilian-born photographer Sebastiao Salgado and directed by Wim Wenders with Salgado's son, Juliano, may be the best documentary about a photographer ever.
Salgado deserves it, too — his years-long, book-length projects chronicling the hardships humans endure in their search for work (Workers) and safety from war and famine (Migrations), as well as his elegiac images of the earth itself (Genesis), mark him as one of history's most important photographers. And he's still active at age 71.
Mariemont Theatre has just announced the film will be held over for a second week, starting tomorrow (Friday).
The Salt of the Earth accomplishes its profundity by beautifully melding the best traits of film — tracking shots, close-ups, essayist commentary and interviews presented as monologues, color cinematography, music — with deep feeling for the subject and his work. Wenders presents Salgado's monumental black-and-white photographs superbly. He slowly shifts between them and his own filmmaking. It deserved the recent Academy Award nomination it received.
Wenders is the German director of some classic narrative films (Wings of Desire, Paris, Texas) who, with his documentaries Pina and Buena Vista Social Club, showed he could find inventive and life-affirming ways to depict on film the work of other artists he respects.
Wenders in The Salt of the Earth can be solemn when it's called for — Salgado's work at times makes you wonder if the human race is doomed to cruelty to hardship. But it's also optimistic, as when chronicling how Salgado has restored to health his parched, dying family farm in Brazil.
We're fortunate that the Mariemont has elected to hold this film for a second week. I saw it last Monday and the crowd was small, so many of its intended audience might not yet be aware of it. It really deserves to be seen on a big screen. and it's rewarding for all those who take film and photography seriously.
The nominees for the 84th annual Academy Awards were announced this morning. Local-boy-done-very-very-good George Clooney, as expected, is up for this year's Actor in a Leading Role trophy for his work in The Descendants, while The Ides of March scored Clooney another nod for best Adapted Screenplay (the only nomination for the largely-locally-filmed flick). Below is the full list of noms. So — who's winning an Oscar this year?
The Emery Theatre is finally on its way back. After years of dormancy, the 100-year-old Over-the-Rhine venue is in the midst of a restoration that will allow artistic endeavors of varying stripes to grace its stage.
The Emery Center Corporation Board and The Requiem Project — the nonprofit brainchild of Tara Lindsey Gordon and Cincinnati native Tina Manchise, a duo intent on restoring the Emery's historic legacy — announced over the weekend that the Emery has secured two architects to take on the renovation: locally based John Senhauser Architects, and Cleveland-based Westlake Reed Leskosky, a firm that specializes in opening closed arts venues.
It's the void that was left when the Movies Repertory closed. That was our local art house cinema once upon a time, in case you can't recall.
Iris BookCafe has video rentals at $1.50 a night beginning this week. The titles look to be mostly art films, foreign cinema and obscure cult classics. Think Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch and Ken Russell. I'll bet Jason Gargano will become a regular customer.
"There's some fluff in there, but mostly it's stuff you wont find at blockbuster," says Mike Markiewicz, one of the owners.
The local multimedia festival celebrating of the life and legacy of Beat poet Gregory Corso, dubbed "I Gave Away the Sky," culminates this week with two events.
From 7-9 p.m. Thursday is “The Nightest Night: A Reading Honoring the Poetry and Posey of Gregory Corso” at the Reed Gallery in UC’s DAAP building. Among those taking part is local poet Matt Hart, who was gracious enough to let CityBeat publish his tribute to Corso on our Web site.