Sunday, 4 September 2011

Let Me Join You

He is shouting at the audience.  But they are only listening to the drums and guitars.  He shouts about the violence, he quotes poets and writers, but the crowd is only interested in the music; and his weird antics.  He is a circus show, that is how they see him, in town to waste their time for a few minutes; a short break, a welcome rest, between the usual drudgery at the market stalls.  He tells them of their own violence; the nastiness of this community; he screams out at the oppression of carrots; how they provoke you, so blatant in a woman’s basket.  Carrots!  It is now that he begins to lose his audience; the band will quickly follow.  Carrots just a little too close to earthy reality; a symbol, it seems, for wifely availability, when husbands are out at sea.  He couldn’t, perhaps wouldn’t, pay the price; so a local woman accuses him of rape. 

It is a fantastic scene: after her rejection the camera closes in on the woman’s face, her anger shutting down her expression like a shutter a shop window.  The camera then pulls away, and we see her lying on the floor, convulsed in what looks like an epileptic fit – our hero goes towards her; but he is helpless, not knowing what to do.  Then suddenly she jumps up, rips off her blouse and bra and runs away into the market shouting rape.  The whole community comes out; and runs after him…

So here he is, on his tiny traffic island, after the beatings and a night in a Southern Gothic jail, telling the crowd some town truths: violence exists in their community, hiding behind respectability, dressed up in nice skirts and pretty blouses.  Corruption pervades the social order…  Is only he free?  Yet he has paid the band to play, exists by mugging and stealing; is a parasite on the villages he passes through.  He talks too much, and people find him boring, as he stands shouting from some local observation point, or telecommunications mast, in the middle of a traffic island.  Slowly the crowd evaporates.  He is alone again once more.

It is lonely being an outsider.  To be an outcast from society can be dull and boring – there is no one to talk to.  He has left the big city, Tokyo we assume, and is travelling around the provinces, obstructed in his progress by the hostility of the old-fashioned locals.  He is, it is later intimated, escaping the youth scene, its drugs, the roll and rock lifestyle, and its own social pressures, although of this we can only guess.  He is a drifter, in the best American fashion, although this is not some ordinary road movie: the characters mostly walk, take buses, steal the occasional truck, and hardly touch a fast paced car.  They are not rebels against the law – they try to avoid trouble rather than create it.

There is plenty of Jean Luc Godard to tip the film over into art…

Ko is lonely.  Nobody wants him, and yet he can be so friendly, always talking, he never stops, talking always, always invading another person’s space talking as he goes.  He has stuff he creates for himself, and there are things he quotes; the film itself is regularly interrupted with aphorisms: there are times it feels like a silent movie.  Ko has so many words to give away.  No one wants to listen.  It reminds me of Williams Carlos Williams in his autobiography: he knew right from the beginning, from the first pages he wrote, that few people would read him.  Unlike our young hero he accepted this, and constructed his life accordingly: the urge to write and talk and tell the world about itself protected by his profession; his medical career a kind of sturdy desk to put his papers on.  His words became free from the moneymen and corporate influence; existing for themselves alone.

Nobody wants our young cowboy.  This is not surprising for such an odd character in these small and very conservative towns and villages.  In the first scene our friend is almost run over by a bus.  A little later the market crowd beat him up; as do the police in the jailhouse; and so it goes on, until towards the film’s end a group of young locals throw stones at him.  How they hate his differences; symbolising immorality and evil, for people who never meet the odd and eccentric, and for whom foreigners are always bad.  Certainly his behaviour can be dodgy and petty criminal.  So of course he raped a woman.  In a battle of words he will lose out to his appearance and his foreignness; his sentences too weak to climb the high walls of prejudice that surround him.  And on top of that wall the stories will start: this man saw him ripping her clothes off, that woman saw him forcing his victim to copulate…

Yes he is a rogue.  Yes he does steal.  Ko is no Jean-Paul Belmondo; a charismatic criminal taking on the law; a metaphor for all our rebellious fantasies.  Our hero steals because he has to, simply to survive, and because he wants to hurt those who reject him.  So lonely!  Thus he mugs a couple who do not want him, forcing them to remove their trousers and skirt; her long knickers reminiscent of a previous century; of Marie Antoinette; so long and frilly, so rococo they look under her modern office clothes. 

Flying over the bridge they are freeze-framed before they drop into the water…  Something mundane turned into something mythic, a skirt into a bird, a film roll turned into a still photograph.  Throughout this movie such techniques are used; creating a touch of unreality, where images, because concentrated, become exaggerated.  These effects are achieved in many ways.  Some scenes are put into soft focus – his pole vaulting on the beach – to suggest the dreamer, someone living on sentimental memories; a young man who has yet to accept his mundane reality; the present his past has become.

There is a wonderful scene on the sands.  Long wide beaches turned into a busy road as cars drive up and down it; and a bus coming towards us; the incoming waves close to its wheels.  A man and a woman are in its way.  Unlike with Ko earlier the bus slows down and goes around them.  And suddenly we are inside amongst the passengers, a crowded lively scene, with our hero packed in tight.

One day he sees a couple performing in the street as human statues.  He follows them, shouting and talking; trying desperately to get their attention.  They ignore him completely.  Fed up, after the usual fashion, he threatens them with a knife.  The man punches him out.  Ko thinks this marvellous!  He continues trying to befriend them.  After a while he realises they are deaf and mute, and they can only convey through touching; mostly through rough sexual intercourse.  Oh how his loneliness increases!

But he has found a community, of the alienated; for they are outsiders too, who the villagers occasionally attack.  One night local quarry workers invade the dilapidated house where all three are staying; and the couple are making love.  They kidnap the girl presumably to rape her. 

Over time a relationship develops.  At first suffering him, the couple later tolerate, and finally accept his presence.  When they do they enter a sort of apocalyptic landscape: an abandoned American Army shooting range.  Though still he is not part of them, even if he sleeps with the girl one night.  When he first realised they were deaf he gave up his usual talking for mime: mimicking an executed man; an excited chimpanzee.  The man thought him a fool, or simply could not understand him.  The girl, finally, found him funny.  This was his foot between the frame and a barely opened door.  As the film progresses he forces the gap to grow wider and wider, but he will never open it completely.  He will not enter that silent room where the two of them will always live together without him.

There is one final assault by the locals.  A group of youths attack the bunker in which the three are staying.  Ko, to escape a beating, is on the roof abusing them.  They chuck stones at him.  In pain he looks at his two companions, just a short distance off, and a little to the side.  Suddenly he realises the truth: he talks too much.  Language alienates and separates.  He turns mute; and the relationship becomes closer.

There are interludes; a carnival scene; a comic chase, a getaway in a truck; the cops arrive and tell the life story of his two friends; and finally there is the local army testing their chemical weapons…

The Nouvelle Vague is exhibiting in the cinemas of Japan.

Fake Blind!  Fake Dumb!  Flash up on the scene.  It takes me back to my early twenties, to Godard and to Dennis Hopper; to the latter’s The Last Movie; another product of that Soixante-huitard moment: the counter culture trapped in a small town in Mexico.

After the army testing the three of them become one family of the blind, deaf and dumb.  We see how they all fall out of a bus together.  Although our hero is pretending…  Fake Blind!  It is the closest he will ever get to a community; but always he will remain apart.  The alienated intellectual?  Ummm!  Rather, the lonely student, shy and diffident behind all that theatrical bluster, all that talk; and all that unprocessed knowledge; all his callowness.  He is a sad student, separated by his education from the society of his family, and by his personality from the fashionable crowd; thus his refusal to rejoin his friends, when he meets one on the beach.  He is a true outsider, a rare event in the 1960s. And he is lonely.  Let me join you!  Please!  How true this film is: you cannot fake the sadness of the lonely man. 

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