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Review: La Jetee (1962)

In Matter and Memory, French philosopher Henri Bergson posits an implausible notion – the pure present: “The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory.” Since time is a movement, an unending progression, there is not a definite point as that of a present moment, Bergson seems to suggest, but an admixture of the past and the future, the has-beens rapidly encroaching on, and eventually subsuming, the what-ifs. In a sense, and as absurd as this may sound, the present is ever elusive to our consciousness: what we perceive of the now, at the very moment in which it is being registered, is already relegated to the realm of the past. The past seems, therefore, the only reality we have really experienced; the reality that we are predestined to never possess.
Chris Marker’s La Jetee (1962) envisages a future in which man finally discovers the means of triumphing over time’s irrevocable logic: experiments are conducted to s…
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Review: Early Summer (1951)

In Yasujiro Ozu’s film, and as in our lived experience, the passage of time is made palpable when loss, either in the form of a severance of bonds or simply the irrevocable departure from one period to the next, is imminent. To submit to the volatile nature of time, and thus to accept that there are limits to men’s power, help mitigate our anxiety in the face of the inevitable. In Japanese culture, such is the commendable attitude when it comes to loss and death: fear and grief, as long as we are humans, may not be suppressed but may be transcended. As a lifelong exponent of Japan’s traditional ethos, Ozu, in his post-war films especially, endorses implicitly the transcendence of human emotions as the optimal response to life’s vicissitudes and, above all, the physical and psychological ravage of war. On the cusp of an immense societal change, the Japanese public did not react favourably to Ozu’s philosophy, whose emphasis on the primacy of quietude was invariably misconstrued as a re…

Review: Magnificent Obsession (1954)

Douglas Sirk once considered the essential elements of cinema: “Cinema is blood, is tears, violence, hate, death, and love.” In brief, cinema is everything with life; a life that is, nonetheless, constantly verging on the limits of human life. Such extreme case of existentialism that Sirk posits in his film is rather a point of departure for a more pressing concern: the feverish pursuit for self-autonomy, which is invariably negated by the primacy and the necessity of staying content within one’s own assigned space. A common trait with Sirk’s characters is this seething rebelliousness, either against the societal prejudices or one’s inner demons, that rages beneath an outward show of sense and urbanity; occasionally they are driven to the brink of despair, but always to be saved by their strength and an incurable sanguinity for the future. The state of defeat is rarely the conclusion to which they bow easily, regardless of how inevitable the circumstances have unravelled, and yet, too…

Review: Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Youth is a bitter mystery even to those who have outgrown the initial perplexity of being young. We thought that being young was synonymous with staying ever at the moment. To the looming presence of time we imparted the same significance as we did the cautious words of our harrying parents – we habitually chose to ignore the warning of an imminent storm, the vague but approaching sound of thunder we pretended not to hear. We told ourselves: what may come will come inevitably; so long as the sky is still vaulted over our heads, we always survive.
But survival is invariably an occasion for painful remembrances, from which we are less likely to release ourselves without certain lasting agonies or scars. Dimly we began to notice the flight of time, and we read James Joyce’s words in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with a premature forlornness: “Time is, time was, but time shall be no more.” Time shall be no more but time also etched in us indelible imprints that, many years late…

Review: Breathless (1960)

Jean Luc Godard’s first feature feels oddly like a swansong: in many respects the film seems a self-mockery of what it ostensibly celebrates – the new, the bold, the reckless; the 60s zeitgeist that resurrects the anguished ghosts of the 1920s, who, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, grow up to “find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faith in man shaken.” For the children of the ‘60s, their wars are of a kind in which the opponents constantly change roles: sometimes they are the unmerciful authorities bent on making miserable lives out of their inferiors; in other times they are the society at large, weeding out in its insidious and devious way the errant law-breakers. They all seem to be donning the same masks, through which the warriors recognise themselves.
This fight with one’s inner demon necessarily evokes concerns of mortality and death - timeless concerns that acquire an added pungency in the 1960s: would a dangerous, unheeding spell of hedonism finally defy life’s incontrove…