Tag Archives: movie

Poetry on the screen

28 abr

Yesterday I visited the dusty part of my bookshelves and scavenged the books about Anglo-American literature, a subject I taught at Federal University of Paraiba for so long. I took out the dust and reopened the pages of William Carlos Williams, a major poet I so much admire.

The one responsible for this late and guilty visit is actually the moviemaker Jim Jarmusch, with his “Paterson” (2016), now showing at a local theatre. I am familiar with Jarmusch´s short filmography, but this movie came to me as a surprise, not to say it caught me. It is a gracious “mimetic” homage to William Carlos Williams, very well done.

Would it be possible to make a movie the same way William Carlos Williams made poetry? Jarmusch faces the challenge and comes out quite well, very well indeed.

In the same objectivist style of the poet (“Say it, no ideas but in things”), the movie tells the simple life of a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, and does it on seven days of the week, from Monday to Sunday. Having the same name of the city (and, don’t forget, also the same name of William Carlos Williams´ famous collection of books), the young driver leads a life without surprises, with his young wife and an English bulldog. Driving during the day, taking the dog for a walk during the evening, and having some beer at the corner bar – these are repeated actions… So repeated they remind us of the Portuguese title of an old movie by Japanese moviemaker Ozu: “Routine has its enchantment”.

The enchantment in Paterson´s routine consists of writing poetry on his secret notebook. It all begins descriptively with the vision and remembrance of a match box, and then grows on and on, to “explode in a ball of fire”. As he writes on his notebook, his handwritten words are transported to the screen, as if the screen were a page on the secret notebook.

Between Paterson and his wife, Laura, there are no conflicts. She cooks cupcakes and longs for a guitar, but this is no problem. On the bus, driving, Paterson listens to the strange conversations of the passengers; at the bar, he witnesses melodramatic scenes among the customers, but nothing does alter his routine. On Friday, the bus breaks, but this is not the end of the world. To be frank, this would be a movie completely without conflicts, if it were not for the denouement, when the family dog, assuming the villain role missing in the story, simply tears up Paterson´s poetic notebook, which makes him deeply sad.

The poetic license comes up in the shape of a Japanese gentleman visiting the city, a reader of William Carlos Williams´s poetry, who, mysteriously and providentially, gives Paterson a blank notebook, possibly for a new poetic adventure, to take place some post-screen time.

A bus driver who writes poetry? Well, when his wife says he should publish his poems, Paterson asks her if she is trying to scare him. The modest sincerity of such reaction is, however, doubted when we see, all over Paterson´s room, the amount of literature books he has – from Baudelaire to Poe, and, quite visible, William Carlos Williams´ among them.

I mentioned poetic license about the apparition of the Japanese gentleman, but, actually, the whole film is a big and delicious poetic license, in which banal things mix up with fantastic ones, to bring to the whole the lyricism the author seems to aspire. And all this without much care for verisimilitude.

On second thoughts, that teenager who recites her poem about the rain while waiting for her mother and twin sister on the sidewalk, had already something of a poetic license. The repetition, by various characters throughout the movie, of the expression “explode in a ball of fire” has this same effect, as well as the apparition of twin brothers or sisters all along Paterson´s everyday comings and goings – all motivated by a dream his wife had had.

This audio-visual procedure of mixing simple things and fantasy comes, evidently, from the poetics of William Carlos Williams, a poet who, by his turn, was deeply engaged in Paterson (I mean, the city) whose streets, buildings and landscape he eternalized in his books.

I wonder if the moviegoer who is not familiar with William Carlos Williams´ poetry – or who is not particularly fond of poetry – may lose part of the pleasure in viewing “Paterson”. I hope not. And, probably influenced by Jarmusch, I here risk the “critic license” of supposing that this moviegoer, after seeing the film, will get interested in poetry.

If, by any chance, this was your case, please come to me, and I will lend you some of my William Carlos Williams anthologies, the ones covered with dust and guilt on my bookshelves.

Ida (English version of the previous post)

27 mar

A Polish friend of mine once told me that, in communist Poland, the most revolutionary thing for young people to do was to get married in Church, with veil, wreath, nuptial hymn and all. The country being, by tradition, deeply Catholic, the communist regime imposed, by force, an atheism which was not welcome at all.

So, in the fifties and sixties, as juvenile rebellion, in the capitalist world,  consisted of drinking, smoking, playing rock´n´roll, and eloping, in Poland church wedding was the great gesture of extreme courage for young people who were dissatisfied with the status quo.

But, why am I talking about this?

The reason is I´ve just watched “Ida” (2014), the Polish movie that received the best foreign film Oscar this year, and, which, somehow, has something to do with the situation once evoked by my friend.

ida 1

In 1962, in this faraway convent, there lives this novice Anna who, together with other novices, will soon take her vows and become a nun. Before this happens, she is sent to town by Mother Superior, to stay some days with an aunt she had never seen, nor known she existed, for, according to her novitiate documents, she was an orphan who had no relatives whosoever.

Open-minded and libertine, Aunt Wanda shows to a surprised Anna some pictures of her parents, Jews who were killed during the war. It turns out that Anna – now identified as Ida – is convinced by her aunt to go for what was left of the family, an old house in the rural area, nowadays occupied by strangers.

It is in the cow barn of this house that Anna will see the stained glasses which – her aunt so said –  her mother had put in the windows, so that the cows could feel happier. A small detail that gives the girl an idea of who her mother was, probably an artistic and anti-conventional soul and a person full of life.

Aunt and niece suffering together

Aunt and niece suffering together

Questions asked all around, the two women are finally led, in the middle of a humid, dark forest, onto a painful truth which I prefer not to reveal to the reader who hasn´t seen the movie yet.

Let me just say that, back in the Convent, Anna  realizes she is not yet ready for the vows. When she returns to town, for her aunt´s funeral, she decides she must for a moment try life as it is. She puts on her aunt´s dress and high-heel shoes, she smokes and drinks like her aunt used to do, and gives her body to a boy they had met on their way to town.

While still in bed, the boy suggests they should elope, and she asks “And next?”. The boys says they could get married and have children; and she asks again: “And next?”. Not knowing what else to say,  he says: “Whatever, life”.

All these “sins” committed, Ida/Anna puts back on her veil and heads back for the Convent, to lead a life of religious reclusion forever. And the movies ends up with a frontal take of her face, clearly determined not to have the “life” the boy had mentioned.

Without the novice veil

Without the novice veil

This ending considered, it might look a bit ironical – or doesn´t it? – that the movie is called “Ida”, and not “Anna”.

Anyway, it must be stressed that, in this movie, we are very far away from any kind of manicheistic schedule that might separate the two entities, Anna and Ida. That´s why, in the previous paragraph, I was careful enough to use quotation marks for the word “sins”.

I guess that, watching “Ida”, makes one recall “The nun´s story” (1959), a movie with a similar issue, where the nun Audrey Hepburn hesitates between faith and the world. In Fred Zinnemann´s film the choice is other, but, anyway, similarities persist.

Except for Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polanski and krzysztof Kielowski, the Polish cinema is hardly known amog us. I recently  wrote about Wajda (See my post “Walesa”), and, as to the other two, they are far more active outside their country, than inside.

“Ida” is directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and the young actress Agatha Trzebuchowska is very good as the main character. I call attention, however, to the beautiful black and white cinematography (by Lucasz Zal), a chromatic choice that, very appropriately, causes the viewer to bring to mind the many shades of grey of the European art cinema shot more or less at the fictional time of “Ida”, late fifties, early sixties. I mean films like “The 400 blows”, “Breathless”, “Rocco and his brothers”, “La dolce vita”, “Persona”, and so many others…

P.S: This article is dedicated to my Polish friend Jack Slosky, at present living in the United States.

The actress Agatha Trzebuchkowska as the protagonist.

The actress Agatha Trzebuchkowska as the protagonist.