Sunday, November 18, 2007

Brazileirinho Mika Kaurismaki

Mika Juhani Kaurismäki (born September 21, 1955 in Orimattila, Finland) is a Finnish film director.

He is the elder brother of Aki Kaurismäki.

Mika Kaurismäki has lived in Brazil and has made several Brazilian-themed films, including Amazon, Tigrero, Sambólico, Rytmi and Moro no Brasil. His latest film is Brasileirinho [1], a 2005 musical document about traditional Brazilian choro music.

Choro (IPA: ['ʃo.ɾu], literally "cry" in Portuguese, meaning "lament"), traditionally called chorinho ("little cry" or "little lament"), is a Brazilian popular music style. Its origins are in 19th century Rio de Janeiro. Originally choro was played by a trio of flute, guitar and cavaquinho (a small chordophone with four strings). Other instruments commonly played in choro are the mandolin, clarinet, and saxophone. These melody instruments are backed by a rhythm section composed of guitar, 7-string guitar (playing bass lines) and light percussion, such as a pandeiro. The cavaquinho appears sometimes as a melody instrument, other times as part of the rhythm.

Arrangements for piano of famous chorinho works (like "Carinhoso") often appear in e.g. TV shows.

Structurally, a choro composition usually has three parts, played in a rondo form: AABBACCA, with each section typically in a different key. There are a variety of choros in both major and minor keys.

Concha Buka

Much of the success of this style of music came from the early days of radio, when bands performed live on the air. By the 1960s, it had all but disappeared, being displaced by Bossa Nova and other styles of Brazilian popular music. However, in the late 1970s there was a successful effort to revitalize the genre, through TV-sponsored nation-wide festivals in 1977 and 1978, which attracted a new, younger generation of musicians. Thanks in great part to these efforts, choro music remains strong in Brazil. More recently, choro has attracted the attention of musicians in the United States, such as Mike Marshall, who have brought this kind of music to a new audience.

The cavaquinho

The cavaquinho (pron. /'ki.ɲu/ in Portuguese) is a small string instrument of the European guitar family with four wire or gut strings. It is also called machimbo, machim, machete (in the Portuguese Atlantic islands and Brazil), manchete or marchete, braguinha or braguinho. It is frequently and fondly called cavaco in Brazil.

Musician with cavaquinho minhotoThe most common tuning is D-G-B-D (from lower to higher pitches); other tunings include G-G-B-D and A-A-C#-E. Guitarists often use D-G-B-E tuning to emulate the first four strings of the guitar.

Valdir Azevedo (born in Rio De Janeiro in 1923 and died in São Paulo on 21 September 1980) was a choro conductor and performer. He wrote 130 compositions during his lifetime and played the cavaquinho. He is considered by many to be the first Brazilian cavaquinho shredder ever.

The origins of this Portuguese instrument are not easily found. Gonçalo Sampaio, who explains the survival of Minho region’s archaic and Hellenistic modes by possible Greek influences on the ancient Gallaeci of the region, stresses the link between this instrument and historical Hellenistic tetrachords. The author holds that the cavaquinho and the guitar may have been brought to Braga by the Biscayans.[citation needed]

There are different kinds of cavaquinho. The cavaquinho minhoto, associated with the Minho region in Portugal, has the neck on the same level as the body, and the sound hole is usually in the raia format (raia is Portuguese for batoidea).

The Brazilian cavaquinho, associated with Brazil, as the cavaquinhos associated with Lisboa and Madeira, differs from the minhoto in that its neck is elevated in relation to the body, and the sound hole is traditionally round; thus it is more akin to the traditional guitar.

In Spain there is a similar instrument to the Portuguese cavaquinho, belonging to the family of the guitar, called the requinto, which also has four strings, a flat bridge, cover and ten fret wires, whose tune is D-A-C#-E from low to high pitches. Jorge Dias believes it was imported from Spain too, where the guitarra, guitarrón, or guitarrico are also found, along with the Italian chitarrino, saying: "Without setting a date for its introduction, we must acknowledge the remarkable honour that the cavaquinho achieved in Minho thanks to traditional music of a popular character, its joyful songs, its lively dances... The cavaquinho, as a rhythmic and harmonic instrument with its own vibrating and cheerful sound, is one of the fittest instruments for accompanying viras, chulas, males, canas-verdes, verdegares, prins."

It is a very important instrument in Brazilian music, especially for samba and choro. The standard tuning in Brazil is D-G-B-D (although D-G-B-E and the mandolin tuning E-A-D-G are also used for soloing). Some of the most important players and composers of the instrument's Brazilian incarnation are: Waldir Azevedo, Henrique Cazes, Paulinho da Viola, Luciana Rabello, Alceu Maia, Mauro Diniz and Paulinho Soares. The samba cavaco is the connection between the rhythm and harmony sections, playing the rhythm comping. It is played with a pick, with sophisticated percussive strumming beats, unlike the picture above.

The cavaquinho is also found in other places where the Portuguese left an imprint, namely Cape Verde and the USA (especially Hawaii), and became an important part of the popular music of those places.

The Hawaiian Islands have an instrument similar to the cavaquinho called the ukulele, which is thought to be a development of the cavaquinho, brought to the island by Portuguese immigrants. Actually during the 15th Century the four-course cavaquinho reached Africa as well. The Hawaiian ukulele has four strings and a similar shape to the cavaquinho, which was introduced into Hawaii by Augusto Dias, Manuel Nunes, and João Fernandes in 1879.

Henrique Cazes

A contemporary Brazilian master of the cavaquinho is Henrique Cazes (b 1959) from Rio de Jainero. The above and following info is quoted from his official website (click headline):

Born in a family of amateur musicians (his father was a guitarist and composer; his mother a singer), he started to play the guitar when he was six years old. He gradually went on to play cavaquinho (a four-string soprano guitar similar to the ukulele), mandolin, tenor guitar, banjo, twelve-string "caipira" guitar and lately the electric guitar - all self taught.
His professional debut came in 1976, with Coisas Nossas (Our Stuff), an ensemble that reveled in Brazilian music of the 20s and 30s. In 1980 he joined Camerata Carioca, where he worked together with two musicians who influenced him enormously: mandolinist Joel Nascimento and famed composer Radamés Gnattali. With the Camerata Henrique recorded the albums "Vivaldi & Pixinguinha" (FUNARTE 1982) and "Tocar" (Polygram 1983). Working regularly with singers Nara Leão and Elizeth Cardoso, Camerata traveled all over the country and toured Japan in 1985.
In 1988, Henrique started his career as a cavaquinho soloist, recording his first LP "Henrique Cazes" (Musicazes). The same year he published the instructional book "Modern School of Cavaquinho" (Lumiar Editora), which is still the most respected music book on the instrument. Still as a soloist, he released "Tocando Waldir Azevedo" (Kuarup 1990), "Waldir Azevedo, Pixinguinha, Hermeto & Cia" (Kuarup 1992), "Desde que o Choro é Choro" (Kuarup 1995) and "Relendo Waldir Azevedo" (RGE 1997). In 1997 he wrote the book "Choro, do Quintal ao Municipal" (Editora 34), a history of the 150 years of Choro music.

He founded and leads the Orquestra Pixinguinha, which since 1988 has performed and recorded Pixinguinha's original arrangements, with CDs also released in Europe and Japan. Considered the best cavaquinho soloist today and certainly one of the most active, Henrique Cazes developed a parallel career as record producer (with numerous record awards), in addition to his work as a composer of film, theater and television soundtracks.

Friday, November 16, 2007

John Psathas

John Psathas was born in 1966 and grew up in Taumaranui and Napier. He left high school early to study composition and piano at Victoria University of Wellington, supporting himself partly by playing regular gigs in a jazz trio. Studying with composer Jacqueline Fontyn in Belgium before committing himself to a career in New Zealand, John now lectures in the School of Music at Victoria University and continues to fulfil a busy schedule of commissions.

John Psathas (born 1966) is a New Zealand composer.

He has works in the repertoire of such high profile musicians as Evelyn Glennie, Michael Houstoun, Michael Brecker and the New Juilliard Ensemble, and is one of New Zealand's most frequently performed composers. He has established an international profile and receives regular commissions from organisations in New Zealand and overseas.

Psathas grew up in Taumarunui and then Napier. He left high school early to study composition and piano at Victoria University of Wellington. He supported himself as a student partly by playing up to nine gigs a week in a jazz trio.

Psathas studied further with composer Jacqueline Fontyn in Belgium before returning to New Zealand, where he has since lectured in music at Victoria University and continued to fulfil a busy schedule of commissions.

Early success came with Matre's Dance in 1991, a maximum-energy duet for percussion and piano that has since made Psathas' name internationally through having been taken up and championed by percussionist Evelyn Glennie. This work and Drum Dances are fast becoming standard repertoire for percussionists throughout the world.

According to his publisher Promethean Editions, a new work by John Psathas is an individual, unique entity, and his music is like that of no-one else. His 'sound' is difficult to define – the harmony and improvisational feel of jazz, the compelling rhythmic drive and excitement of rock music and the sustained repetitive textures of minimalism are apparent as influences, yet they combine and intermingle with something else more intangible. This undefinable quality is partly what makes his one of the most original voices in the arena of contemporary classical music in New Zealand.

Psathas' relationship with Evelyn Glennie has been a particularly fruitful one for them both. Her performing repertoire includes Matre's Dance, Drum Dances, Spike, Happy Tachyons and the double concerto for piano and percussion View From Olympus. She has recorded Matre's Dance on her CDs Drumming and Greatest Hits (BMG), and she continues to commission new works.

A highlight of 2000 was the premiere of the Saxophone Concerto at an outdoor concert (before an audience of 8000 people) at the 2 Agosto Festival in Bologna, Italy. This work was tailored to the particular improvising talents of tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker.

A retrospective concert of Psathas' chamber music was given in the 2000 New Zealand International Festival of the Arts, culminating with the premiere of the specially commissioned Piano Quintet. In the programme to the concert, he described the process of creating his music:

"When I write music, it's not a sense of inventing I experience, as much as it is a sense of finding something that exists at the remote periphery of what I know. It is like seeing things – that aren't really there – in the corner of one's eye, but not spinning around to view them, because then they would simply cease to be. It is a case of being aware of a thing in one's peripheral vision and, while staring straight ahead, trying to decipher, without looking at it, the true nature of what it is. What one is finding is exactly the right thing for any given moment in a musical work."

John Psathas is not only one of New Zealand's most frequently performed, but also one of the finest amongst the younger generation of composers in this country. Internationally, John made his name in 1991 with Matre's Dance. A maximum-energy duet for percussion and piano, it was taken up and championed by world-famous Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie. John's collaboration with Evelyn Glennie has been a particularly productive one-fruitful for both of them. Her performing repertoire includes John's Matre's Dance, Drum Dances, Spike, Happy Tachyons and the double concerto for piano and percussion, View From Olympus, and she has recorded Matre's Dance on several of her CDs. With his work now featuring in the standard repertoire of such high-profile musicians as Glennie, John has established an international profile and receives regular commissions from New Zealand and overseas.

Career highlights are numerous, for example in 2003 John had his work performed and recorded in Greece, Bulgaria, Germany, and America. A new CD, Fragments was launched to rave reviews. In the Listener, for example, Ian Dando celebrated John as "the best of our younger composers", enthusing that "his originality lunges" at you".

Notable performances of 2004 included the premiere season of Zeibekiko, a major commission from the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble (NBE), which invited him to create an entire programme based around the theme of 2500 years of Greek Music. This collaborative work was performed by the NBE throughout Holland and at the Bath Festival (UK) and will be (was) performed at the 2006 New Zealand International Arts Festival. John's Piano Concerto, commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, (for solo piano, percussion, harp and strings), was premiered at concerts throughout New Zealand by Stephen Gosling with the NZSO under James Judd.

The principal highlight of 2004, however, was the exposure John received as the composer of the music for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. John commuted several times between Wellington and Athens to work on the music and supervise the rehearsal process. His music included a number of fanfares and processionals to accompany the arrival of the IOC President, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron and preceded the Olympic oaths, and he was responsible for the soundtrack to the entire flame sequence of the ceremony. John also arranged the National Anthem of Greece, the Olympic Hymn and music by Shostakovich, Debussy and the foremost living Greek Composer Mikis Theodorakis that accompanied other parts of the ceremony. His compositions also featured during the fireworks at the Games closing ceremony.

John's View from Olympus is now travelling the world with the LA Philharmonic the latest orchestra to perform the piece. Internationally renowned soloists Evelyn Glennie and Philip Smith performed John's double concerto for percussion, piano and orchestra, with conductor Michael Christie in May 2005 and a recording of View from Olympus is underway. In November 2005, at the Wellington Michael Fowler Centre, the NZSO recorded the title track with soloists Michael Houstoun (piano, NZ) and Pedro Carneiro (percussion, Portugal), conducted by Marc Taddei. The production, undertaken by New Zealand art music label Rattle Records, has just begun. The end result, a combined CD/DVD package featuring 3 concertos traversing a massive stylistic and emotional range, is to be released late 2006.This project is the biggest orchestral recording to take place here to date and has been supported by Creative NZ, Victoria University and, more recently, Wellington City. For more information visit, or

Reflecting on his creative career, John says, "Composing for me is essentially a continual re-travelling of a journey that begins with 'any conceivable thing is possible at this moment' and concludes with, 'it couldn't be anything but this.' "

Manos Achalinotopoulos

Manos Achalinotopoulos was born and grew up in Athens he lived with his Asia Minor origin parents. At the age of 9, he started learning to play the flute and clarinet. After finishing high school, he studied Education and then Political Science in Athens University. Since his young age he participated in traditional music performances collaborating with many musicians specialized in this kind of musical idiom, like: Tassia Verra, Chronis Aidonides, George koros, Aristidis Moschos e.t.c. In 1987, he is awarded with the prize of best soloist at the festival of Ithaca, while in 1986 he participates with Greek group at the Pan-Mediterranean Festival of Folklore Music at Valencia in Spain and at Corsica.
In 1991, he was chosen as the best soloist in clarinet to participate at the East - West Musical Meeting and Tour with Peter Kowald, Charlie Mariano, Okay Temiz, Radi Abou Khalil, Daily Ross and others. In 1993, together with composer and lyre player Elias Papadopoulos, he creates the musical group "Ellispontos" and that way organizes various activities (recordings, television and live performances) in Hellas and aboard. Manos Achalinotopoulos has traveled playing clarinet, cawal, shawm and flutes I more than 35 countries all over the world, while participating in concerts and Festivals of a great prestige.

Since 1994 he studied and graduates the Department of Theory of Music and Musicology at the Faculty of Philosophical School in Athens University while at the same time he occupies himself with a lot of research. At the same time he studies Byzantine music, as well a High Studies in Theory of European Music with Michalis Travlos. As of recently, he participated in recordings of the group "IASIS" while he also appeared with them, forming a background music, with his traditional wind instruments at many of their concerts.

He cooperates as a musical and composer:
1. With singers such as: Ch. Alexiou, G. Dalaras, D. Galani, El. Arvanitaki, El. Tsaligopoulou, Nana Mouschouri.
2. With composers and singers such as: D. Savopoulos,Th. Mikroutsikos, M. Theodorakis, Th. Antoniou, N. Drellas, G. Andreou, Chr. Nikolopoulos, N. Portokaloglou and others.
3. With foreigner music composers, musicians and internationally famous singers such as: Ara Dinkjian, Goran Bregovic, Arto Tukbojancian, Okay Temiz, Sushela Raman, Arief Darvish, Peter Kovalt, Ch. Mariano and others.
4. With traditional musicians and singers such as: Ar. Moschos, G. koros, T. Verra, Ch. Aidonides, Artists Vasilaris, P.Loukas-Chalkias and others.

He takes part in concerts all over the world, in more that 35 countries as well as in festivals such as the top Jazz festival of Montreaux (twice in 1999 and 2002), the sphinx Festival of Belgium, the Woomad Festival of P.Gabriel (In London, Spain and elsewhere) in the Jazz Festival of Istanbul, etc. He also wrote music for the theater and the cinema (Kyr, Katsourakis).

In August 2004 he interprets with his clarinet, music of the famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis in the opening and closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games of Athens.

Manos Achalinotopoulos is announced by critics, composers and musicologists as the best new generation performer of the Greek clarinet as well as of the clear tradition style and its special idioms thereof as of the Jazz, Balkan Ethnic style with the effects of the West Music.

"I was given the Greek language"
Odysseus Elytis

Hyacinth in the ancient myth became a flower in order to continue being for ever alive in some form of life. In the same way the musical language of this country from an experience common to all, alive in everyone’s dialect, it has gradually been transformed to a flower -similar to a talking fountain for the artists-. Not everybody nowadays want to cultivate this flower, but all long to smell it, enjoy its odour, because they know that it pertains something that is theirs, something that is ours. This significant something, derives from the odour and the ways of this country.
Well, the community is still alive! So is the language, with its ornamentation and its songs, maybe changed but living, in the same way clarinets and agile singers are still alive and singing.
Music for this cd was composed in this language style. Unpretentiously, in the same natural way a folk traditional rhyme maker from Crete creates verses in Greek and not in Portuguese.
I don’t defend some kind of nation - centered Hellenic character, I don’t know if this way of expression is Greek, or whether its roots come from Byzantine or ancient Greece, and I don’t car. Simply, this is the way of expression given to us like our mother tongue, this strange sound that came into existence by the soil and the water of this country. Apart from any limits or boundaries, this language is like music. It is called Hellenic period common Greek language. It is widely spoken in multicolored variations from Tunis to India and from Rumania to Egypt.
I don’t know what the term "folklore" means. I don’t understand what the world “ethnic” signifies; neither do I know if artful style originates exclusively from the West and the folk style from the Orient.
Tradition, as I first came to feel it (as a child of 9 years), was given to me by grand father when he was teaching me how to play the clarinet (during that period this kind of musical expression was chased). To me this traditional musical language is not an "old lover's passive sprinter that raises her threatening finger like an old time teacher". My feeling about traditional way of musical expression is exactly the opposite. It resembles a young girl full of juices pleased and sorry, vivid and loving, that dances barefoot on the ground; as being taken by desire to sin, but then again she repents it. Later she falls in love, wishes to break the rules so to live and breathe freely. No concrete use of instruments, any formal orchestration, or particulate musical formation can ensure her essence.
I came to know many traditional instruments players."old wolves" they played even "black eyes" (=traditional Russian song) with clarinet, accordion and guitar, that part of tradition also. Now the herd of the "old wolves" is hiding and the musical style they used (and then was chased) today has become “IN” probably due to the prevailing tendency to like "ethnic" music as well as the general trend to like whatever it is considered "exotic". Without bringing anything new, without any complicated combination of east and west and south. Alexis, who sings two pieces in he present cd, is only 26 years old and not at all exotic or strange. He sings in the musical idiom his parents (that came from Pontos) taught him, wherever he is asked.
The same stands for Christos, who is a cantor in orthodox church music, he is only 27 (has had a long training in Mount Athos) and chants in the aristocratic, artful Greek cosmopolitan way.
These two musicians, like the others of the group are a live example of opinions and attitudes states above. Well, both these musicians were taught mainly by means of oral tradition as it still continues to exist while expressing the people‘s emotions. They both are persons, not individuals.
They express themselves using the living musical idiom of the country not at all foreigner or unfamiliar: this musical idiom exist to give way to a human communication between loving persons: i.e. the truth expressed by the Word of Gods that is not to be forgotten. As Hyacinth derives from his communication between loving people, he loves to infuse sounds that are given the grace to exist by the light, the sun as well as by the particularity of this country. Evenmore, he loves to break the rules (but not the law), and the artistic continuation of language as we perceive it through our senses, our life, our personal experience. Therefore, the garden is still flourishing. Language is alive, person express their truth singing about love, crying, joy, sorrow, deriving, directly from the heart. Anyway, our morals don’t permit us to have any confidence to individualistic artists: we believe in human relations. We believe in exclamations like oh! or aman! That are ours, warm and in the same time familiar, we believe in the language of sabah, and hicaz, (or the second plagal mode, if this relaxes some people), of ragas and of macams. As it seems in the years to come such a musical language may prove to be needed or even considered as a therapy.

The Feast

Tuya's Wedding

In the 2007 Berlinale Golden Bear laureate “Tuya’s Marriage” director Quanan Wang voices a poetic homage to his mother’s native land, where lives are endangered and age-old customs are brought on the verge of disappearance by the rumbling modern world.

In the vast steppes of North-Western Mongolia where the Chinese industry has devoured even the rural areas, the government forces shepherds to give up nomadic life and settle down in cities as farmers.

The Golden Bear, the top award given at Berlin each year, was won this year by Tuya's Wedding, a Chinese film set in the remote high desert of Mongolia. I don't know how many people will see Tuya's Wedding when and if it is ever released in the U.S. I would guess the audiences will be smaller than those who watched the Berlin Festival's biggest public-private moment, widely circulated on the internet. Sharon Stone, nursing a cold, was at the festival for her role in the German-produced film by Ryan Enslinger, When a Man Falls in the Forest. She also hosted a benefit called Cinema for Peace. Perhaps you could write off her behavior to cold medication, but she was caught on camera in a bizarre, surreal moment. First she shushed the audience and then called them “You naughty little Germans. Naughty, nasty little Germans,:” an unscripted monologue not warmly embraced by those present.

Yu Nan, who plays Tuya in Tuya's Wedding is perhaps less glamorous than Sharon Stone, but more stable - she hauls water, rides a mean camel and horse – skills and virtues which Sharon Stone might embrace. In remote Mongolia, Yu Nan plays a hard-working and tough sheep herder with a disabled husband and two kids. This is not a life without problems—water must be carried from far away, and it's obvious Tuya can't manage forever. The one-stop solution seems to be to get a divorce, re-marry, and have the new husband take care of the disabled ex.

Tough, hard-working, pretty women with a sense of humor are hard to find not only in Hollywood but in inner Mongolia as well. The word that Tuya is available spreads quickly and a procession of suitors ensues. Some are genuine losers, but soon the knight in shining armor, who turns out to be Tuya's former classmate, arrives by getting his Mercedes stuck in a rut in the road. Baolier is now a wealthy oil man and with the resources to solve Tuya's problems. The ex-husband is going to a private nursing home, the kids and Tuya with the new husband to the city. Unfortunately if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and Baolier turns out to be both selfish and more than a little insensitive in the bedroom. But have heart: the film does have a happy ending.

Director Wang Quan'an dramatizes Tuya's Spartan life, her resilience and her stoicism with a deadpan, positive slant. The film is set in the stunningly beautiful Mongolian mountains—a landscape to which the characters, unlike the audience, never react.

Tuya's Wedding was an odd film to win the top award in Berlin. It's engaging but conventional. It's ethnographically rich but psychologically thin. But even stranger was the jury's award of the Silver Bear, the second prize in Berlin, to the Argentine-French-German feature by Ariel Rotter, El Otro, or The Other. The middle-class main character here is the mysteriously tortured soul of Juan Desouza, a lawyer whose pretty wife is pregnant. On a business trip to a small town to settle a real estate deal, out of nowhere, he assumes the identity of a man who dies sitting next to him on the bus. Juan is clearly running away from and in search of something, but you'd never know what he was looking for watching this movie. At the dead man's funeral, he meets a woman with whom he has anonymous sex in his hotel room just before—equally puzzlingly—he takes the bus back to Buenos Aires. The best thing about El Otro is that it's just 83 minutes, but even this seems an eternity. El Otro, the story of a confused man's search for something is a confused movie that's full of pseudo-intellectual pretentiousness.

The mystique of discovery of anything new and exciting in film was missing in this year's miserable Berlin weather. But then the best German film of last year, which just won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award – Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others, was rejected by the Berlin Film Festival last year. The Lives of Others had to claw its way to through the market of the Berlin Film Festival's biggest competitor on the Festival circuit, the Cannes Film Festival.

La jeune Tuya (Yu Nan) vie avec son époux berger et ses deux enfants en Mongolie intérieure, au nord de la Chine. Un environnement d'une beauté sublime et d'une grande exigence envers sa population. Car les conditions de vie dans la steppe ne tolèrent pas de négligence quant aux tâches journalières. Une vérité qui frappe Tuya de manière d'autant plus douloureuse lorsque son mari Bater est immobilisé après un accident. Alors qu'il voulait creuser un puits proche de la maison pour faciliter l'accès à l'eau, élément d'une telle valeur au milieu de ces plaines immenses, Bater s'est blessé à la jambe de manière irrémédiable. Une catastrophe pour la famille et un lourd fardeau pour Tuya, qui se voit maintenant contrainte de subvenir toute seule aux besoins de ses enfants et de son mari infirme. Ramener du foin, garder un immense troupeau de moutons et effectuer trois allers-retours auprès d'une source d'eau lointaine, voilà seulement quelques-unes des corvées qui constituent les journées de travail interminables de la jeune femme.

Pour garder la famille intacte, Tuya et Bater ne voient qu'une solution : Elle doit se trouver un autre mari. Une solution radicale, dont le pragmatisme n'arrive guère à cacher les problèmes. Car d'un côté, les candidats, comme Sen'ge le voisin ivrogne, s'avèrent peu attrayants, et d'un autre, Tuya est toujours amoureuse de son époux, qu'elle compte garder auprès d'elle.

Avec Tuya's Wedding le réalisateur chinois Quanan Wang veut rendre hommage à la terre natale de sa mère et à un mode de vie dont il déplore la disparition en faveur d'une violente expansion industrielle encouragée par l'État. Alors que la fascination du cinéaste pour la Mongolie se ressent dans chaque plan minutieusement mis en scène, la dimension politique intervient de façon beaucoup plus indirecte. Le pèlerinage intense de prétendants auprès de Tuya, témoignant d'une majorité d'hommes, suite aux avortements fréquents de filles dans le cadre de la politique de l'enfant unique mené par la Chine et les pâturages asséchés par la demande en ressources des nouvelles industries, ne sont que quelques indices des dangers qui menacent la culture mongole.
C'est la vie quotidienne qui domine ce long-métrage et qui lui donne son rythme lent. Dans une région où chaque course et chaque transport nécessitent le parcours de distances énormes, la patience et l'endurance sont des qualités nécessaires. Tuya's Wedding n'est pourtant pas un film ennuyeux. Au contraire. Ce monde et ses usages nous sont tellement peu familiers que l'on en savoure chaque détail. Les chants, les habitudes culinaires et les habits traditionnels dont les couleurs intenses symbolisent la joie de vivre inébranlable en plein milieu d'un environnement hostile nous font oublier le temps. L'absence de décor et de personnes finit par purifier tout. Les idées, les relations et l'amour.
Incarnation de la persistance et de la franchise, Tuya accomplira un chemin périlleux avant que ces paysages rudes et impénétrables lui fassent comprendre que l'on ne peut échapper à ses sentiments.

Récompensé avec un Ours d'Or au festival du film de Berlin 2007, Tuya's Wedding est un film qui se focalise sur l'expression par l'image, et par là, sur l'essence même du cinéma. Portée par la talentueuse actrice Ju Nan, qui n'a pas échappée aux regards des producteurs américains et que l'on retrouvera dans un petit rôle de Speedracer des frères Wachowski, cette histoire d'amour dramatique est aussi belle et impitoyable que cette Mongolie qui lui sert de décor.

Mother of two children, strong-minded and beautiful shepherd Tuya refuses to leave her land, opting for taking the responsibility of making a living for the family in the steppes. She also resists her disabled husband Bater’s good-willed insistence for a divorce, which can free Tuya from a part of her burden. One day, after an illness descends upon her, Tuya decides to reconsider the divorce, seriously, at least to be able to find a husband who can look after Bater. However, none of her suitors desire to take on Bater, except Tuya’s old classmate and oil worker, Baolier. Baolier brings Tuya and the children to the city. But Bater, unable to withstand being away from his native land and family, attempts to kill himself. Now it’s time for Tuya to act.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Alexander Sokurov

Alexander Nikolayevich Sokurov (b. June 14, 1951, Podorwikha, Irkutsk Oblast) is a Russian filmmaker from St Petersburg who has been hailed as successor to renowned director Andrei Tarkovsky. His movies are said to represent an ultimate challenge in contemporary intellectual film making.

Sokurov was born in Siberia in the officer's family on June 14, 1951. He graduated from the History Department of the Nizhny Novgorod University in 1974 and entered one of the VGIK studios the following year. There he made friends with Tarkovsky and was deeply influenced by his Mirror.

Most of Sokurov's early features were banned by Soviet authorities. During his early period, he produced numerous documentaries, including an interview with Solzhenitsyn and a reportage about Grigori Kozintsev's flat in St Petersburg.

Mother and Son (1996) was his first internationally acclaimed feature film. It was mirrored by Father and Son (2003) which baffled the critics with its implicit homoeroticism (though Sokurov himself has criticized this particular interpretation). Sokurov has also filmed the first three installments of a planned tetralogy on prominent 20th-century rulers: Moloch (1999) about Hitler, Taurus (2000) about Lenin, and The Sun (2004) about Emperor Hirohito.

Sokurov is a Cannes Film Festival regular, four of his movies having debuted there one by one. Although he has been somewhat reluctant to cast accomplished actors in his features, the Russian Film Academy awarded several Nika Awards to him. His most commercially and critically successful effort to date has been a semi-documentary Russian Ark (2002), acclaimed primarily for its visually hypnotic images and single, unedited, shot.


By Gabe Klinger

Alexander Sokurov is in a slump. It remains to be seen whether the recent decision to bring his films to the high-profile glamour of Cannes was a mistake; Moloch (1999), his first film to surface at the festival, opened the 50 year-old Russian director for serious consideration, but the praise came from David Cronenberg's artier-than-thou jury, which commentators still consider one of the events' biggest blemishes. Sitting in between one writer from Vogue and another from Paris-Match at this year's Rotterdam Film Festival, I mentioned the day's films I had seen, and one of them happened to be Taurus (2001), Sokurov's second film to compete in Cannes.

"I haven't seen it, but I can't stand his films!" exclaimed the reporter from Paris-Match. It was only at this point, late in the festival year, that I realized the mainstream press had already begun to ignore his films. At least now we have two groups, and few directors can so easily discern their viewers: those who can't even drag themselves to his films out of professional duty; and then those who keep seeing them because they truly admire what he's doing.

Susan Sontag. Paul Schrader. There aren't as many fervent Sokurov supporters as there are for Hou Hsiao-hsien and Abbas Kiarostami, arguably the two other greatest discoveries of the last two decades. Critics as well as audiences have responded wearily to his work. When Mother and Son (1997) was released commercially in the U.S., Roger Ebert refused to review it, instead duly passing along to a second-stringer, who wrote a glib, 100-word summary along the lines of, "still-life doesn't work in a movie."

Though far from being Sokurov's most accomplished work, Mother and Son served as an introduction to his painterly aesthetic, his use of colors using a paint-brush technique and bent glass to stretch-out the image. Mother and Son, like all of Sokurov's films, is slow-paced and depressive in tone. Sokurov is protective of his timing; this is especially apparent in some of his videos, which have been meticulously subtitled in a way that has the letters fading in and out rather than popping onto the screen whenever someone begins to speak. His films can be long but they're never self-indulgent; in fact, most of the chapters in his famous "Elegy" series are timed at just under an hour, and each feel as richly detailed as a novel. On the other hand, his ambitious and rarely-screened 6-hour masterpiece Spiritual Voices is a demanding film when shown all together.

Even when he's working in a political mode, one suspects that for Sokurov, the visual comes first and the meaning comes second. Like Andrei Tarkovsky, he was punished for ambiguity in the Soviet days. Unlike Tarkovsky, his films are ambiguous in intent; for instance, one doesn't know if the first two films in his autocrat series, Moloch and Taurus, are expressions in banality (Moloch was unfairly subtitled "the banality of evil") or studies in latent humanism--or something else entirely. In most of his video work (which are mostly documentaries) Sokurov's objective seems to be to capture naturalism, filming people who fascinate him in their natural surroundings. Those surroundings, however, are manipulated, directly and indirectly by light, mirrors, paint filters, and other on-the-set production techniques (Sokurov does not change his images in post-production). It would be wrong to say Sokurov is two parts impressionist and one part storyteller, just as it would be wrong to label the intent of any of his films.

That's not to say Tarkovsky's films should be labeled. For the sake of comparison, Sokurov seems much less conflicted about the existence of god than his predecessor. As a result, Tarkovsky's style has the feeling today of being self-conscious, his symbolism unmistakable (even if the effect is always profound). In Sokurov, the murky (visual and otherwise) amounts to a calculated transcendence. One can also see that Sokurov's protagonists are not in a spiritual purgatory; from the boy in The Second Circle (1992) to the old woman in A Humble Life (1996), their roots are buried deep in the ground below them. Tarkovsky's characters - from Ivan to Rublev to the stalker - have formal cinematic traits; their road to certainty is open-ended.

It was Tarkovsky's letter of recommendation to Lenfilm Studios that jumpstarted Sokurov's feature film career. From his very first, The Lonely Voice of Man (1978), to the very latest, all of his films have the involvement of Lenfilm (at one point Troitsky Most Studio). From the amount of work he does, Sokurov stands alongside many of the prolific filmmakers working in Japan (where he's encountered funding for several videos); he's even a celebrated television personality in Russia, much like Takeshi Kitano and Nagisa Oshima in Japan. His films couldn't be further from this reality of course.

Anyway I couldn't even begin to scrape the surface of what Sokurov's films are really about, nor do they invite connections from other periods in movie history (except historically). It doesn't help that this director is largely non-cinephilic; maybe I can see some isolated moments from other documentary films: the images of defeated countrymen in the Evening Sacrifice (1984), the feeling of tourist alienation (to put it crudely) in Oriental Elegy (1996), the rapid montage of family photos in Dolce (2000), the empty road and unseen narrator in Elegy of a Voyage (2001). The last thing I'd like to note is that Sokurov stubbornly prevails as a filmmaker artist, not because he is uncompromising and doesn't care about the commercial aspects. It's because he likes to paint and if he's good at that (and he is), then it will give all his films some consistency. In a recent debate with a friend, I tried to separate the descriptors "masterwork" and "work of of a master." We agreed the "masterwork" is the film that seems to function on all levels of cinema, and that the "work of a master" will always be merely esoteric. Lucky for us, Sokurov is a champion of the last genre.

Every Man for Himself


Directed by
Alexander Sokurov

By Fred Camper

In one of my favorite jokes connecting Russian pessimism with a failure of imagination, two Russian fishermen catch a golden fish. It offers them three wishes if they'll spare its life. The first fisherman says, "I wish that the hold of the boat be filled with cases of vodka," and his wish is granted. The second says, "I wish that the entire ocean be turned into vodka," and they lower a bucket and start drinking. Then the fish reminds them that they have a third wish. They look at each other, scratch their heads, and the first says, "I guess we'll just take another case."
Alexander Sokurov's 218-minute video, Confession, manages to elevate this theme to the level of art. Considered by many Russia's finest living director, he's created a madrigal to melancholy, a hymn to failure, in which an apparently gay naval commander lacks the courage to act on his desires. Set in the cramped space of a nondescript ship amid barren arctic snowscapes, it consists mostly of the sailors' repetitive actions and the commander's lugubrious narration. The few possibilities for happiness or meaning hinted at hardly offer convincing ways out of the gloom. Stan Brakhage includes a line from Louis Zukofsky's poem "A" -- "Raise grief to music" -- in his 1967 meditation on war, 23rd Psalm Branch. Sokurov may be said to have raised melancholy to music in Confession, being shown at Facets this Sunday at 12:30.

Originally made in 1998 in five parts of 52 minutes each for television, the video was cut to its current length (by Sokurov) a year later. The title for each part has the same subhead -- "From the Commander's Diary" -- and is followed by a disclaimer calling the plot and characters "a fantasy of the author." And in some ways the video is structured as a diary: the commander is heard in voice-over, and most of the shots represent his point of view, even those in which he appears.

But we also get many details of the sailors' lives -- as the commander sees them. Life onboard is an endlessly repetitive routine: washing the deck, dressing, undressing, cleaning oneself without benefit of a shower, washing one's clothes while showering. Swirling snow in the surrounding landscapes rhymes with the sailors' busy movements, making their condition seem a natural -- if hopelessly random -- state. It's not that Sokurov transcends any of this by providing hope. Rather he creates a tremendously moving portrait of despair and its causes through imagery that's both sensuous and confined, giving his repetitions a strange beauty. As the work gradually unfolds, we also come to understand what entraps these men, particularly the commander, even if they don't.

In some cases the commander has set an activity in motion: sailor after sailor is asked to disrobe during a medical exam he's ordered. In his pseudophilosophical narration, the commander appears to speculate -- insofar as one can infer from subtitles -- about whether he could have a relationship with any of his men, but then acknowledges that it couldn't last because the sailors come and go: "I am beach and they are water." Though he spends a great deal of time viewing his subordinates shirtless, the ship's tight interiors and the glacial pace of the men's labors seem to drain them of vitality. Not especially lively and rarely playful, they appear a fantasy of male flesh divorced from any inner life.

The landscapes are even bleaker than the ship: rocky ridges laced with snow against dull gray skies, or tiny settlements against snow, including one village the commander describes as having been built "stone by stone by slaves." In one long scene the sailors unload coal, bag by bag, in a place that appears to be just a few old buildings. At first their movements seem mechanical to the point of abstraction, but gradually the camera moves in, and soon there's a close-up of the coal, whose blunt, gritty presence offers one example of the way the video alternates between mournful distance and banal physicality. Some scenes emphasize various kinds of entrapment. In one, the camera slowly pulls back from a stooped sailor cleaning a confined area of the ship, framing him in the narrow passageway to suggest a man imprisoned by architecture. But as the camera continues its pullback, we see another sailor doing the same thing in the foreground, which transforms the image once again: now it's the identical, monotonous work that dehumanizes them -- at least as much as the commander's gaze.

The commander quotes briefly from Chekhov's short story "Gusev," which is set in the tropics. Inspired to write the piece after he witnessed two burials at sea, Chekhov includes a startling account of the fish that greet the protagonist's corpse as it sinks beneath the water's surface. The creepy physicality of that description is reminiscent of the beefcake and dead lands of Confession -- as it is of a man's almost comically inept attempts to deal with his father's corpse in Sokurov's 1990 film The Second Circle.

Near the end the commander confesses his "bitterness" that nothing will come about in his life: "People will not change because they can't or they don't want to." The "nothing" perhaps represents his ongoing failure to consummate his desires; indeed, one guesses he's a virgin. But he also seems to refer to a more general failure of imagination -- he's one of those who "can't change."

Sokurov's images, which constantly collapse in on themselves, emphasize self-enclosure -- the compositions in many of his films and videos have a curiously warped feel. The light source in the shower scene is sometimes at the edge of the frame, sharpening and appearing to limit it. And an outdoor night scene toward the end includes an open fire near the center of the composition, but rather than illuminate the surrounding darkness, the flame seems about to be smothered by it.

The video portrays a dullness of mind so opposed to change that it finds only copies of itself in the world outside. The shower scene, for example, shows a clothed sailor looking lasciviously at his nude comrades, smiling. But he's less a separate character than a projection of the commander's desires. Ultimately Sokurov explores the way human consciousness can become a prison, walling off the self from visual, emotional, or physical contact. When the sailors watch TV, it seems to reflect their life rather than offer an alternative: they see only a few snippets of divers in bathing suits, a joke on their own alienated relationship to water.

There are few hints of escape. The commander speculates that the arctic would be a good place to read "thick" books by "old" writers, losing oneself in literature. And Confession includes a brief dream, a cut from a sleeping sailor to images of swimming and gathering berries. But these are far outweighed by the story's various tombs -- the arctic, the ship, the commander's vision. Near the end he looks out at yet another snowy landscape and speculates, "The serfs of the 30s were looking at this terrifying beauty." But we learn nothing of serfs or of the 30s. Instead, when he says, "I am looking at it too," we see his hand out of focus in the foreground, superimposed on the landscape. Inevitably the filtering effect of individual consciousness prevents the commander from truly connecting with another time, again locking him in the trap of the self.


The Changing Man
Nuri Bilge Ceylan the great Turkish filmmaker of Uzak and now Climates speaks about marital discord and the movies.

‘I was on holiday with my wife Ebru, and we were discussing ideas over lunch for a film about a marriage. We went to the beach and did some test shots with ourselves playing the parts of a husband and wife. I liked our performances so much in these tests that I decided that we should take the lead roles, and I went away and wrote the Climates script for the two of us.

‘Ebru didn’t need much persuading to be in the film. She knows the kind of minimalist acting that I prefer. I’d tell her the general guidelines - “Don’t act big, keep things small!” - and that was enough for her. People in Turkey were surprised that I wanted to direct and act at the same time, but I thought “why not?” And I decided that I would act the part of Isa by relying on my intuition.

‘Climates is the first film on which I’ve used a director of photography, because I usually operate the camera myself. Now I think it’s better to work with a cinematographer, because as the director

I can use the monitor to concentrate on the acting and the framing. And this was also the first time that I’d used digital video. I really like the sharpness of the images you can get from high-definition cameras. Celluloid is like vinyl: after several showings there are already scratches. You can try out far more things on digital, and the editing is more creative. I shot seven times more footage for Climates than I did for my last feature Uzak.

‘With Isa, I wanted to show the weak side of man. To me, though, women are more stable emotionally and more content than men. In my films the landscapes connect the characters to a sense of something cosmic. I try to recapture those moments in life where you suddenly feel that connection to a wider universe.

Sound too is very important to the way I create a particular atmosphere, more so than music. The sound, for instance, of dogs barking in the distance at night creates lots of feelings for the viewer. Of course our ears are very selective - we don’t hear everything. That’s why in the post-production process I add whatever I want to the sound mix.’

Uzak by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Uzak tells the story of Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak), a young factory worker who loses his job and travels to Istanbul to stay with his relative Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir) while looking for a job. Mahmut is a wealthy and intellectual photographer, whereas Yusuf is illiterate, uneducated, and unsophisticated. The two do not get on well. Yusuf assumes that he will easily find work as a sailor, but there are no jobs, and he has no sense of direction or energy. Meanwhile, Mahmut, despite his wealth, is aimless too: his job, which consists of photographing tiles, is dull and inartistic, he can barely express emotions towards his ex-wife or his lover, and while he pretends to enjoy intellectual filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, he switches channels to watch porn as soon as Yusuf leaves the room.

Mahmut attempts to bond with Yusuf and recapture his love of art by taking him on a drive to photograph the beautiful Turkish countryside, but the attempt is a failure on both counts. At the end of the film, Yusuf leaves without telling Mahmut, who is left to sit by the docks, watching the ships on his own.

Since winning the Grand Prize at Cannes in 2003 for DISTANT (Uzak), Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the ‘Lone Wolf’ of Turkish cinema, has been critically acclaimed for his spare and unaffected style of filmmaking, inviting comparisons to Tarkovsky, Bresson and Kiarostami. Humorous and masterful, his is a cinema that spans the modern experience: examining rural life, relationships, masculinity, and urban alienation. Often operating as writer, director, editor and cinematographer, and usually casting members of his own family, Ceylan's style is unique because it is so personal.

Ceylan was born in Istanbul in 1959 and was brought up in the rural region of Antelonia. After initially studying engineering, he changed track and studied filmmaking at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul. An accomplished photographer, he was first noticed for his 1995 short film, COCOON (Koza) which was selected to play in competition at Cannes. His first feature, THE SMALL TOWN (Kasaba), was shot in black-and-white in the town where he grew up, with a team of only two (Ceylan included). His two following films, CLOUDS OF MAY (Mayis Sikintisi) and DISTANT (Uzak) were selected respectively for the Berlin Film Festival in 2000 and Cannes in 2003. DISTANT won the Grand Prix and Best Actor prize at Cannes.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan (born in Istanbul, 1959) was brought up in the country. After gaining an electric engineer diploma from the prestigious Bosphorus University of Istanbul, he lived in London, made long trips (one of them to the Himalayas) and returned home with hundreds of black-and-white photos. He was first noticed with a 20-minute film, "Koza-Cacoon" selected for Cannes' short films. His first feature, "Kasaba - The Town" was shot in black-and-white in the very town where he grew up, with a team of only two, including himself who also wrote, shot and edited it. Very small crews and a very artisanal way of making films would become his trademark. His two following films, "Mayis Sikintisi - Clouds of May" and "Uzak - Distant" were chosen respectively for Berlin 2000 and Cannes 2003.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a unique director in the general panorama of the Turkish cinema. The 'lonely wolf' of the Turkish cinema insists on staying outside the 'system', writing, directing, shooting and editing all his films, filming only his family or friends. His is an essentially documentary style, but shaped and refined with long shots, careful camera movements and a precious editing which allow the young filmmaker to recreate life as he sees it in every new film. A constant rhythm and a faithful approach to reality, but each time with a different taste left in our mouths, a taste of the turkish cherry, one is inclined to say, thinking of the great Iranian cineaste whom Ceylan declares one of his masters, next to Bergman, Antonioni and Tarkovsky. All of his films have had a very positive critical response. Such as: "An exquisite orchestration of monochrome cinematography and sound" (Sight and Sound, for The Town), "A miracle of sensuality and poetry..." (Le Monde, for Clouds of May). " Uzak is in the tradition of Joyce's urban paralysis, Eliot's Wasteland, the cruel vaudeville of Waiting for Godot and, perhaps most importantly, the pained silences and the expressionist, dessicated landscape of Antonioni" (Cinematographer, for Distant).

Artificial Eye have released a 2 disc set of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's early films Kasaba (The Small Town, 1997), and Mayis Sikintisi (Clouds of May, 1999). The release makes perfect sense as a combination, as the two films compliment each other, but mostly it gives those who have been impressed by the Turkish director's 2002 Cannes Grand Prix winner, Uzak (Distant), and last year's Iklimer (Climates), a chance to see the early development of this highly rated film-maker.

While the director seems to be getting stronger with each new film he makes, the two films on offer here are nothing short of beautiful. The photographic sharpness, focus on humanity, and the themes of restlessness, urban drift, and life choices, which shape the later films, are also featured here.

Ceylan came to film from practising photography and the eye has developed filters through to his cinematography. If these films were albums of single shots of wide foreboding skies holding threatening clouds, the wind dancing through fields, the play of shadows on fairgrounds, and the grooved lines on aging faces, or the yearning look in the eyes of children, they would warrant repeated viewings in their own right. What makes these films superbly shot films work as moving pictures is the combination of framing, pacing, and storytelling, of a very natural and human kind.

The feel of these films is reminiscent of early films from Wim Wenders, such as Alice in the Cities, or Kings of The Road. There is a sense of realism in the exploration of human interaction, and internal desire, of hope, and of memory that is reminiscent also of the Free Cinema films of Lindsay Anderson, such as Thursday's Children, O Dreamland, and Every Day Except Christmas.

The interaction of actors and landscape, the focus on passing moments, rather than a movement through an obviously devise audience-pleasing plot structure, reflects the films of Tarkovsky, or Ozu. As in Ozu films, families talk about the past, the present and the future, and the camera is often set at about waist level to capture the action, or conversation in unobtrusive medium to long shots, with little tracking. The result for the viewer is one of feeling that you are sitting and experiencing the situations with the immediate presence and opportunity to observe the finest details of the scene offered by still photography.

Clouds of May carries a dedication to Anton Chekhov, and it is more than the concern over an orchard, that carries the Russian writer's influence in the work of Ceylan. The notion of urban drift, of the possibilities offered by the metropolis over the limitations of the provincial small town, which manages to keep a magnetic pull over the characters, as it contains family history, is a strong feature of these two films. This theme is further developed in Uzak, which explores the eventualities of the young escaping the parental town for the independence offered by Istanbul. The conversations in the film echo those from Chekhov's work, wherein generational aspirations, memories, and disappointments, are laid bare.

As with the sheer brilliance of the photography enhancing but not overwhelming Ceylan's work, neither do the aforementioned, and other various influences on his work, prevent these films from containing a unique and flowing cinematic voice. There is a strong sense of the autobiographical in these films and notably, Clouds of May features a plot line based on the filming of an earlier film, Kasaba. It seems inevitable that Ceylan will go on to make even greater films in his career, but these films on their own are more unique and beautiful than mere starting points.

A Quick Chat with Nuri Bilge Ceylan
By Jason Wood

Jason Wood: Could you begin by commenting on the fact that on Uzak, you multi-task: shooting, editing and directing. Where did you learn so many different skills?
Nuri Bilge Ceylan: I was a photographer before. I started photography when I was fifteen years old. And I have the kind of personality that likes the technical things actually. And also I am an electrical engineer so...

But it's not because I don't trust anybody - I have ideas about all these things and I know things that I don't need. I don't like many people around during the shooting so that's why I do as much as I do. I keep the crew very small. If I find a cinematographer he will want an assistant and many lights which I also don't like. I work with very few lights, available light mostly.

Did you study at Film School?

After finishing university I wanted to study in London and I came here but it was very expensive and so I went back to Turkey to study cinematography for two years. It was actually a four year course but after two I left because I think the actual process of filmmaking is more important in terms of gaining an education.

The central character in Uzak is a photographer. Had you always wanted to make a film that dealt with this subject?

Well, it was for practical reasons, because I shoot shutter film in my house and there was a studio there, so I could use it if I made the character a photographer. It could have been something else, it wasn't that important.

So you actually shot in your house?

Yes. And also I used my car. I thought, why not? And it was cheaper that way.

You must be a producer's dream because you keep costs to a minimum. You do everything yourself and even use your own location and props! How did the idea for Uzak come to you and how did you begin to map out the two central characters in the film, Mahmut and Yusuf?

Actually at first I wanted to make a film about two photographers, because these kind of problems happened to me ten years ago. But to be able to shoot the character of Mahmut better I decided to put an opposite, younger character in. This is Yusuf.

Your first two films – Kasaba and Mayis Sikintisi – are set in rural locations. Uzak begins in the country before moving into the city. How did you find the differences in filming in the rural areas and the more urban landscape? Did you like the different themes that this introduced?

For me it's not a big difference. The only difference is that in the city there are more people walking around so you have to tackle this problem. It was also cheaper to film in the city because I think everybody was staying in their own houses.

Also there is the difference between someone from a small town and someone from a bigger city because the character of Mehmet was originally from this town, and he's kind of changed, his ideals have kind of altered. Was that something you wanted to explore by having Yusuf come and show him how to change?

Actually most of the people living in Istanbul are originally from the country. There is a huge migration to Istanbul because everything is there; all the money, all the business, everything. So everybody's dream, every young person's dream, is to come to Istanbul to find work or to find a better life. So the subject matter is quite typical for Turkey. It happens to everybody.

There is a line where Yusuf says, 'This place has changed you.' Are you saying that living in a city and in an urban metropolis can have a kind of corrupting influence on people's characters?

I think so, because in life you have to help each other because of the conditions. They make the school together sometimes in the villages, and also the Mosque. But in the city, if you have the opportunities and if you earn enough money you begin to be reserved. Firstly, you don't like to want something from others and in return you begin not to give anything to others. So you start to live in your own apartment like a prison.

The film highlights the harsh economic realities of their situation. The factory in their town has closed down and entire families have lost their work, hence the move to the city. Was it important to you that you did address the economic realities of life in Turkey?

Well that was not my first interest actually, but I needed a reason for the young boy to come to the city. In those days there was a future crisis in Turkey and it influenced everybody's life, not only the poor people but the rich people also. I am interested in the inner life of the people but this fact came as a result of the background of Yusuf.

The moment where Mahmut rediscovers the silver watch he believed Yusuf to have stolen is pivotal.

He wanted to take advantage of this situation in the relationship because he wanted Yusuf to feel guilty. By means of that Mahmut can be more powerful.

Mahmut seems to be paralysed by apathy and there's a great sequence where he is on a shoot and sees this perfect photo opportunity with the sun and mountains, and he asks Yusuf to set up the camera but then says, 'No, fuck it'.

I think this scene illustrates the type of character that he is. I know this situation very well because I was a photographer. When you are in your car in the countryside you always see something to shoot but the motivation or the urge, that's the degree of your love of your art and it determines whether you stop and shoot it or not. I wanted to show that the distance between his ideals and his real life is growing. So this scene would help me to do that whilst also typifying photographers.

This moment also hints at the film's humour, as do the moments where Mahmut becomes stuck in his own mousetrap and when he switches from pornography to an arty Tarkovsky film to avoid detection.

It's not an intention to be humorous, it was more a reflection of how I see life. Even in the most tragic situations I see humour. Humour can underline tragedy better if they are together; they are like a sister and brother. I also stepped in this kind of mousetrap but I never laughed at it. When you look from outside it is funny and I think with our life, if you are living alone in a house for a long time, habits and our obsessions begin to be funny because of the type of society we live in. In the house we relax and we live without masks.

We've touched on the reference to Tarkovsky in Uzak. Is he a major influence?

I am the sum of everything that has influenced me in my life. My observations, my own life, other films, everything. Tarkovsky is one of the filmmakers that has influenced but even more than Tarkovsky I would cite Ozu. Not only with his films but also with his decisions. As a filmmaker he became more and more sophisticated and in his final films reduced things such as camera movement to the bare minimum. The subject matter also narrowed and this kind of attitude especially influenced me. Also, I think Ozu has a great amount of compassion for his characters and for people in general.

Is the editing process one that you particularly enjoy? Most directors I talk to find it to be so.

It is the same for me, because it is here that I can really be alone. You have to deal with many kinds of people during shooting. In the script you are also alone but I am not very successful with that, it is the most difficult part for me. In editing it is real joy. I can also work at night; I like it the most.

Did the film drastically change during the editing process?

Yes, it changed a lot. Actually there were many more scenes that I found unnecessary in the editing stage.

What sort of scenes did you cut?

There were more about the relationships of the characters. For instance, there was a small nephew and a birthday scene. There was also a murder in the apartment upstairs. It felt like something from an action movie and didn't suit Uzak at all. What this sequence did do however was provide the motivation for Mahmut and Yusuf going together on the photography trip. Now they go without any specific reason.

The film is beautifully composed. I've never seen Istanbul in snow. I was reminded of Kiarostammi in the way you position your figures within their landscapes.

I don't plan these things that far in advance. For me, you get in a car and then begin to search with the actors and the crew the best way to shoot a scene. I improvise where to put the camera depending upon the locations and am not specific in this regard in the shooting script. I try to find a focal point for the camera and then begin to rehearse.

There are not a huge amount of close-ups: you allow the camera to simply observe and allow things to unfold. Is this something you like to do?

In my first film there were many close-ups, but with time I instinctively began to like them less. I think you should have a good reason for close-ups. If I can do it without a cut I prefer to do it without a cut, but I am not obsessive about not cutting and so the scene should be a master shot. Again, I decide these instinctively and on location, not beforehand in the script.

I did like the cut to a close-up of the keys Yusuf returns. It was such a melancholic moment. You get the sense that something has passed between these two people that will never be regained.

Actually, I wrote it and shot it more after he leaves the house but in the editing I think the keys were enough and if it's enough you don't need other things. I prefer to tell the story in the most minimalist way.

For me I think the overriding feeling of the film is one of sadness. Do you see it this way?

I put a little hope in the last scene. Mahmut smokes the cigarette that he refuses to smoke when offered it to him. His smoking again can mean maybe again he is ready to change and perhaps has the potential to do so. Perhaps this is a sign of hope.

I also found Mahmut's relationship with his ex-wife to be quite poignant. He follows her to the airport prior to her departure for a new life and then can't bring himself to actually say 'goodbye'. There's a wonderful shot where she spots him hiding behind a pillar and he jumps back behind it. Did you think he was aspiring to any kind of reconciliation?

Actually, he left his wife because he thought much more interesting things were going to happen in his life and she began to appear as an obstacle to him; I think many men in Turkey and in the world are like this. It's a kind of hope for him, but if they come together again it will not work out, I'm sure. He will be the same man.

Are there autobiographical elements to the film?

Of course, yes. It's perhaps the most autobiographical film of mine. About 40% of it is autobiographical. The script came out of my own experience and also my observations of my friends.

Your wife also is in the film. How did you find working with her?

My wife is from film school and is also a short filmmaker. Actually, someone else was going to act that part but there were some technical problems and we had to change it.

Were the two phenomenal lead actors – Muzaffer Özdemir and Mehmet Emin Toprak – ones you had considered or was there a long audition process?

These were actors who I also worked with on my previous films. I know them very well, but on this film I wanted to work with different actors. I wanted the character of Yusuf (Toprak) to be younger at first and I put an ad in the newspaper and I tried many more people for that role. And for the photographer (Özdemir), I wanted to use someone else and made many test shots.

Do you enjoy working with a combination of professional and amateur actors in this film?

Yes. In this film there are professionals as well, which is something I wanted to try, as I've infrequently worked with trained professionals. The ex-wife for instance, the janitor and also the lover of the photographer are all professional actors. But I think I prefer amateurs. Their responses are very good and they give themselves to the subject very seriously and with a lot of energy.

And do you allow them to contribute moments of improvisation to the script?

I don't show them the script as I want to see what they can do first. I show them the situation and what kind of things they should talk about, and in the rehearsal I like to see what kind of things they can do, where they can imagine something I couldn't, and if I don't like it I begin to change things. We try to find another balance in the scene and we come to a conclusion together. But I think amateurs can create a very nice style that you never imagine.

How did the tragic death of Mehmet Emin Toprak affect you personally and did you see the major award he received for acting as recognition of his acting talents?

He was not only my actor but also my cousin and that increased my suffering in those days. After he received the prize in Cannes it was even more poignant.

And of course, Uzak also won a major prize in Cannes in its own right. As a filmmaker who is beginning to attain a reputation on an international level, how important are these festivals in bringing your work to a wider audience?

Actually I don't like to talk about my films too much, but of course the festivals help a lot with regards to selling the film. This is especially true of Cannes. For this kind of film, festivals are the best place for recognition and no one would even hear about the without a festival as a platform. Cannes is a very strong festival, even if you don't win, because everyone is there. Also, more producers take interest in your work and you can find funding much easier.

Do these festivals and awards bring compromise? You strike me as someone who likes their independence.

I've always produced my own films and I always put the money up myself without asking anyone else. But fortunately because I make low budget films I always make a profit so I've never had a problem. There are more offers now to co-produce and things like that but I'm not sure. I am thinking about that. I finish the script and then decide what I can do.

Would you consider working outside Turkey?

I am sure I want to make films in Turkey only.

One sequence in Uzak that I particularly wanted to talk about before we conclude is the dream sequence where you play with the film speed. It stands out from the rest of the film.

Yes, there is one dream sequence for Yusuf where he sees a light in the room - also I manipulated the sound. It's not exactly a dream. There is a time between dreaming and waking where you don't understand what is happening, but of course I shot this scene with half the frames per second. Something strange is going to happen. I wanted to add some kind of mystery to the scene because I wanted to separate it from the film. And I wanted to use only the objects in the room to express a sense of mystery.

This may seem strange but the two central characters stayed with me after the film and I'm trying to work out why that happened. Are you able to speculate as to what will become of these characters?

I don't know, but I don't believe Yusuf will come back to this village, and I believe he will find a solution but this will be a good place for him. For Mahmut, I believe nothing will change, as I personally don't think much changes in life. If this was a Hollywood film I am sure they would contact each other, but I don't want to alter the reality of things.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan: The action man
Nuri Bilge Ceylan writes and directs his award-winning films. He also produces, sells, edits and stars in them. Jonathan Romney meets the hardest-working man in Turkish showbusiness
Published: 11 February 2007
Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has always put a lot of himself into his films - right down to his flat, his car and his Puffa jacket. In interviews, he might play down the autobiographical aspect to his work, but the clues are there. His first feature Kasaba (aka The Small Town, 1997) is about a rural community like the one Ceylan grew up in; its follow-up Clouds of May (1999) is about a director returning to his home town to make a film about it. His third film Uzak (Distant) put Ceylan on the world map when it won the Grand Jury Prize in Cannes in 2003. It's about a photographer living in Istanbul - like Ceylan, who maintains a parallel career in photography - and his cousin from the country, played by the director's own cousin. Uzak's hero wears Ceylan's jacket, drives his Smart car and lives in a flat which was Ceylan's at the time (it's still his office). Perhaps these are just canny ways to reduce the props budget, but you can't help raising a sceptical eyebrow when Ceylan insists that his heroes shouldn't be mistaken for him.

Things are even closer to home in the extraordinary Climates, released this week. This time, Nuri Bilge Ceylan (pronounced "Bil-geh" and "Jey-lan") steps in front of the camera, together with his wife Ebru Ceylan, as an unmarried couple who separate after an explosive falling-out on holiday. At times, the Ceylans' presence together on screen leaves you feeling almost intrusive: a dinner scene early on, full of barely muted rancour, is guaranteed to make you grind your teeth (probably because you've been there yourself at least once). It's fiction, but you can't help wondering whether there's some domestic acting-out going on between the Ceylans: when Bahar and Isa worry about their age difference, there's no disguising the fact that Nuri really is 47, Ebru a decade younger. But ask the director whether the Ceylans are in any way portraying themselves, and you get much the same answer that most film-makers give: "Woody Allen acts in his films," he shrugs. "Maybe everybody thinks Woody Allen is really like that." (Oh, but everyone does.)

Ceylan has spiked his on-screen character with imperfections: his Isa is indecisive, dishonest, somewhat brutish. The director himself is a relaxed, affable man, saturnine and soft-spoken, whoserusty English can make his comments sound high-flown. Asked why there's such a strong continuity between his films, Ceylan says, "It's because of my soul, I think: there is an urge to tell the same kind of stories, the same kind of melancholy. I always want to make something entirely different, but it comes out as the same." As for Ceylan's apparently masochistic casting of himself as Isa, a man at once sympathetic and rebarbative, "I'm the kind of person who asks himself really cruel questions. I try to be as realistic as possible when I live these kinds of things. If someone does something bad to me, I don't blame them, I look at my own responsibility."

Asked why he and Ebru decided to act in Climates, Ceylan remains vague. "There are many reasons. I thought we could act these characters well. And like everybody, I wondered about myself, I wanted to see who I am and what I am. I was afraid of that, and if I'm afraid of anything, I go into it more, I push myself." Besides, it seemed to make the job of directing simpler. "Sometimes it's difficult to tell actors what you want if you're not sure. Knowing I was going to act made the writing easier. I didn't have to finalise the dialogue, I could handle it in the shooting. When I'm writing, I'm never sure of anything. People who are sure of everything seem to me a bit stupid, you know?" Ebru also played a big role in the writing process; she should have shared the script credit, Ceylan says, but declined.

There's a long tradition of male film-makers making lyrical, obsessive films about their real-life partners, but few have exposed their domestic life to conjecture quite as teasingly as Ceylan does in Climates. Still, the director insists that Climates is not about him and Ebru. "Of course, I have painful memories from many relationships - they left a mark on me, and those marks made me make this movie. But my relationship with my wife is not like this." The material for Climates, he says, came from other relationships, a previous marriage and the lives of friends.

Climates is arguably Ceylan's most introspective film yet, with a chamber-drama intensity to match Ingmar Bergman. But visually, it's also a sublimely crafted film. Not only does its High-Definition digital photography seem to expose its characters' emotions with forensic transparency (in an early close-up of Ebru as Bahar, the shadow of a frown warns us that something's about to snap), but also it offers an extremely striking essay on landscapes and weather. You might also recognise a Ceylan trademark, a moment when a character finds himself framed in a landscape that echoes his emotional state - notably, a shot of Isa standing on a bridge under looming clouds. There's a simple reason why Ceylan favours these images. "In real life, it happens to me all the time. When you're an introvert, you don't see anything. Then suddenly, you realise there's an atmosphere around us, a landscape and the sound of birds and suddenly you feel this mystical connection between yourself and the universe."

You can sample more of Ceylan's exteriors in his current photography exhibition at London's National Theatre. The pictures are part of a series he shot around Turkey on a digital camera, featuring street scenes, faces, rural panoramas, all given a formal twist by the Cinemascope format. At first glance they are exercises in stark poetic realism, but many, on further inspection, reveal a degree of manipulation, heightening echoes of Brueghel's mythically-inflected landscapes.

Ceylan was born in Istanbul in 1959, then moved at the age of two to the western province of Çanakkale, the inspiration for Kasaba. Returning to Istanbul at 10, he went on to study engineering there, then headed to the Himalayas to mull over his future, and decided that it lay in the military. Languishing in an army camp in Anatolia for a year and a half, he spent most of his time reading, until Roman Polanski's autobiography suddenly suggested a more promising vocation. As a result Ceylan came to London to learn film-making, although he seems to have spent most of his time devouring triple-bills at Kings Cross's much-missed art-palace the Scala.

By the time his third feature, Uzak, hit Cannes in 2003, his work already had the mature stylistic confidence that denotes a full-blown red-carpet auteur. I tried to interview him there that year, but it initially proved hard to pin him down to a meeting: the usual case, I assumed, of a film-maker caught up in the festival's media feeding frenzy. When I finally caught up with him, he explained what had been keeping him busy. He had been running up and down the Croisette personally handling the sales of his film, which he had also shot and produced himself. (He brought in another cameraman on Climates, although he edited it himself.)

Ceylan has been hailed by some as heading a renaissance in Turkish cinema, along with such names as his friend Zeki Demirkubuz, who made a mark with his Camus adaptation Fate, and Reha Erdem, whose Times and Winds - likely to reach the UK this year - is a vintage rural epic. Ceylan himself isn't convinced that there's a Turkish resurgence as such: "I'm not in a position to see it. But we are living in an era of communication, everyone is in better contact with the world, and being local is more difficult." Nevertheless, he certainly agrees that the international prominence of Turkey's literary Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk is giving the country's artists new confidence.

Unlike Pamuk, however, whose novel Snow shares an eerie ambience with the wintry last half-hour of Climates, Ceylan has not yet addressed the tensions in contemporary Turkey between the secular nation and Islam. Ceylan says, "In Turkey, I am a Westerner", and his particular terrain has been to depict the everyday angst of Istanbul's cosmopolitan intellectuals. But one day, he says, he'll probably have to address Turkey's social changes: "Yes, this kind of tension I also sometimes feel. Everybody is choosing their position and that makes the different positions sharper."

Both the Ceylans are extremely impressive on screen in Climates, but neither, Nuri says, has any plans to act in the future, in his films or anyone else's. He did, however, get one prestigious offer in the wake of Climates - to direct and star in a biopic of another Turkish screen icon, the late Kurdish director and actor Yilmaz Güney, best known for The Herd and Yol. He politely declined.

"Before I got a prize in Cannes, people in Turkey didn't pay me any attention at all - I was like a child for them, playing his own games. After that, they tried to put me someplace." He shrugs. "But where to put me?"

'Climates' is on general release; Climates: Turkey Cinemascope, National


Allies at sea. Rivals ashore.

In 1963, Antoine Cassendi (Grégori Derangère) is wounded in the Algerian war and arrives at the small island of Ouessant to join the team of lighthouse keepers. The locals feel the job should have gone to one of their own, and Antoine is not only a stranger but also a novice, and struggles to fit in. Easygoing and good-humoured despite the animosity directed toward him, Antoine slowly bonds with sullen, unfriendly Yvon Le Guen (Philippe Torreton) during their periods of extended isolation in the offshore lighthouse. Worse for Antoine is that he is unable to disguise his deep attraction to Yvon's wife Mabé (Sandrine Bonnaire) and this threatens both of them.

L'Equipier (The Light)

L'Equipier is a movie set in the 60's, about a man named Antoine, played by Gregori Derangere, who comes to small town in Brittany to take up an open position as a lighthouse keeper. His interactions with Yvon (Philippe Torreton), another lighthouse keeper, and his wife Mabe (Sandrine Bonnaire), form the core of the movie.

The story is framed by scenes set in the present day, with Yvon and Mabe's grown daughter returning to the town to sell the family home after the recent death of her mother, and the death of her father 10 years previous.

Like other movies at the festival this year, the film looks at an outsider coming into a close-knit community and the effects that has on the people, and the prejudices that are stirred up. The film portrays the Brittany coast breathtakingly, with dramatic shots of storm-battered lighthouses. The story involving the main characters is gentle and understated, and the characters themselves feel real. They are not simply stereotypes nor are they drawn to make the decisions they take in the film easier. Because the leads are all sympathetic characters, it makes their actions all the more poignant.

Philippe Lioret appeared to give a Q&A session after the movie:

- All of the roles in the film were cast after the screenplay was finished, with the exception of Sandrine Bonnaire. Lioret had contacted her while he was writing the script. At one point, tired of writing, he stopped and turned to another movie, Mademoiselle, which he wrote and directed. The play within that movie is actually the story of L'Equipier.

- The dramatic shots of the storm-battered lighthouse were real, with the exception of two shots which had to be animated by computer. The real shots were taken in the autumn and during winter storms.

- Lioret is not a Breton himself, but believes that wherever you are, the problems are the same, that it is difficult to enter into a microcosm anywhere in the world.

- The film took about 5 years total to write, and about 10 weeks to shoot.

- The first draft of the script took about 1 year, 6 months to write, and then he spent time adjusting it. Two things he doesn't want in a movie are for the audience to feel that a script is there or that a camera is present. He worked on the script to remove scenes so they weren't too literary or had the feeling of a writer behind them. When shooting, he focused on the characters' faces so that you don't realize that you are watching a movie.

- Shooting the sea was difficult, and sometimes the weather was too good.

- Forget the sea, forget the love, the movie says something about our parents and friendship. It asks who are our parents, and that the memory of our life is mainly in the houses where we were born or where we grew up.

The following Q&A items contain spoilers, so stop reading here if you haven't seen the movie:

- When asked why he limited the interactions, especially the physical ones, between the two leads, Lioret replied that it was because the relationship was taboo for them. They had feelings that were stronger than themselves and impossible to realize. But the more they avoid them, the stronger the feelings become.

- A question was asked about the cannery owner, and his decision to reveal his knowledge of the affair. Lioret was asked if there was more to the cannery owner's story, and in response, he gave the character's back story, which was not in the movie. The cannery owner and Mabe had been together at school since he was 8, and from there through his teens he had admired her from afar. He was ready to make a move at 18, but then Yvon moved to town and beat him to her. He couldn't accept that he had lost her; he thought he had an inalienable right to her since birth.

- The characters are fictional, but many attributes are taken from people Lioret knows, including the cannery owner.

- Lioret was asked about his decision to have Antoine torture Algerians in his past. He replied that France's actions in Algeria was a subject not talked about until the last 10 years. Lioret found it a troublesome period, and his way of dealing with it was through this film.

- In the first draft of the script, Mabe did try to contact Antoine after, but Lioret said that he likes it when you see a film, it can be something else, or open (to interpretation).