Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vodka Lemon

I watched this movie a couple of days ago. It just blew me away! It is about the harsh life in a post-Soviet Armenian village. It shows a good example that a great movie can be so simple: simple setting, simple story, simple dialogues. This simplicity is achieved through the director’s artistic sensitivity and complex thinking: thoughtful repeated themes, well-designed camera angles, and good amount of sense of humor. What is more interesting to me, the film provides some insights on how people use space.

Outside In

The movie presents to us a sketch of Kurdish life: the nomadic lifestyle and the closeness to nature are rooted in their culture. In spite of the harsh weather condition, people don’t seem to be bothered, rather act as being inside. Exterior space gets internalized. They take their furniture with them, just liking moving inside the house.

At the beginning of the movie, we see an old lying in bed sliding down the snow

People often bring their chairs to sit in front of the house, as their "backyard"

Wedding is also held outdoor

The bitterest moment of moving furniture is seen in the following: this old man carrying a huge wardrobe from home to town fair in order to get money.

Frontal Image

A sense of flatness is prominent in the filmic space. With either the vast and empty snowy landscape, or the blank and deteriorated interior, there is only foreground (people) and background (environment), nothing in between. The camera takes advantage of this intrinsic flatness by showing us front elevations.

For instance, in one of the “waiting for the bus” scenes, we observe a couple sitting back to back by the wardrobe they bought, almost like an everyday episode inside a house, or a Chinese witty skit (小品) put on the road rather than a stage.

My favorite scene, also a poetic one is the following: daughter playing piano (in her back elevation) while mother appreciating the performance in the other room (in her side elevation) - Isn’t the framing of space in this image reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s paintings? Although the characters are framed and isolated within the space, music flows beyond all the boundaries, bridging the distance in between, touching the souls with warmth.

The Living and the Death

In the film, the old man and women go to the cemetery everyday to visit their lost partner. Different from most cultures, the portrait of the dead is printed on each gravestone. A powerful repetitive scene is: wiping off the snow from the gravestone and gradually seeing the face of the beloved one. Such a touch on the portrait has an incredible symbolic meaning to the living person.

The lonely and somber feeling portrayed in the film reminds me of two other great movies: Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine and Distant.

No Tears, only Laughter!

It is not a tear-jerking movie, rather from time to time it makes you LAUGH. It blends bitterness with gentleness, hope, and optimism – the true flavors of life. The ending scene is witty and heartwarming in a surrealist way: after deciding not to sell the piano anymore, the old couple start playing and singing cheerfully together. As the camera rotates, we finally see them moving towards the end of the road…

P.S. I saw some other great movies from the “forgotten” places in the world, such as Maria Full of Grace (Colombia), Paradise Now (Palestine) and Tsotsi (South Africa). Exploring world cinema is like experiencing the world through the third eye, the camera. It does change my views upon the world, upon the people, upon my own life.

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