Thoughts and other trivia...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The pretty sounds of silence.

Unlike a lot of people, I'm not too fussy about watching films on anything other than the big screen. Sure, watching on the big screen is great and, if possible, I wouldn't have it any other way myself but that's not how it always works out, does it? Therefore, I've thrown fuss out of the window and make do with almost anything that comes my way...VCD, DVD, cable, whatever. This is something I'm quite willing to make a compromise on.

So, anyway, my Sundays are threatening to never be the same again, what with the film club and all. This week it was another Iranian film, Sokout (The Silence) by the great Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It turned out to be one of those films, which, when they're over, you continue sitting in your place and thinking about. It may not be about any issue that the film has raised, if any, or even the 'story' but it could simply be some images from the film that keep coming back to you. In this one, it is the sheer lyricism.

The film revolves around a young blind boy, Khorshed, who is about 10-12 years old. He works as an apprentice in a music shop, where he is in charge of tuning the musical instruments. His father, we're told later, went to Russia and never came back, leaving Khorshed and his mother to fend for themselves. His salary isn't nearly enough to sustain mother and son and, as a result, they live in a near impoverished state. Then, there is Naderah, a young girl, who is Khorshed's constant companion at work and acts as his eyes around the place at most times.

The film opens with the loud pounding of their front door, as we learn that Khorshed and his mother have only five days in which to pay the rent for their house. Failure, of course, will result in eviction and a life on the streets. It's a desperate situation and Khorshed's mother asks him to request his boss for an advance on his salary so that they can pay the rent. Now, Khorshed is but a boy and given to child-like frivolities and a short attention span, which, I think may be the bugbear of my existence as well. Anyway, being blind, he has a highly heightened aural sense and is amazingly alive to the sounds and smells of the world around him - the smell of freshly baked bread that pretty young girls are selling by the side of the road, the touch of luscious apples and juicy cherries, the buzzing bee. Endearing as all this is, his enhanced sensitivity to sound often lands him in trouble as well...because Khorshed has been known to get off the bus that he takes to work to follow a "pretty voice", and, as a result, lose his way. Therefore, he has to be constantly reminded to block his ears so that he isn't distracted by any beautiful sound. But he cannot help himself and is invariably late for work...because, each day, he finds a new distraction to follow. First, it's a couple of schoolgirls on the bus, who're trying to memorise a verse, then there's this flamboyant but really good musician, who sings and plays music for money on the bus. The boss doesn't take too kindly to this and is perpetually upset with Khorshed, discouraging the boy from asking for the money they need so desperately for the rent. In the end, Khorshed loses his job and, at home, the landlord evicts them from the house.

We're not told what becomes of the little boy and his mother but that's okay because, frankly, it's not something that bothers us too much. And, it seems, that's pretty much how it is with the little boy as well...what matters most for Khorshed, instead, is his association with music and sounds in the here and now. In the end, then, the film is not a comment on the social or political reality. It is, perhaps, only about the boy and his near obsessive fascination for music or, at any rate, about musical sounds. Maybe it is this that translates into the almost lyrical feel of the film.

Then, there's little Naderah, Khorshed's guide at his place of work. Attired in colourful, vibrant and traditional clothes at all times, with two long pleated tails running down the sides of her face, the beatific Naderah loves to drape cherries around her ears, to use as earrings, and colourful petals on her nails as nail polish. Then, as Khorshed sits down to tune the instruments, Naderah sways to the rhythm of that music...which is so surreal and fascinating.

What is also fascinating is how the blind boy describes things and people in such visual terms, like a "pretty voice", etc...not a good or deep voice, but pretty voice.

The opening frames of the film - the unseen and unheard landlord banging on their front door and the buzzing bee that Khorshed releases from the glass jar - suggest the importance of sound and music in the world that the film inhabits. The title of the film, therefore, seems mystifying at first, even ironic...The Silence. Because Khorshed is able to find music in even the most mundane, everyday sounds...the banging of the door, the hammering of the pots and pans in the market, everything! And, not just any music...he is able to translate the four staccato knocks on the door into the four opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony! When he passes little boys working on copper pots and wooden musical instruments, hammering away and beating them into shape, Khorshed stops to instruct each of them to follow a specific beat, which, when those simple folks can understand and implement, adds up to Beethoven's masterpiece. In the grand finale, after Khorshed and his mother have lost their house, the little boy walks into the marketplace and conducts an impromptu performance of the Fifth's an uplifting moment for the viewers and, obviously, for Khorshed as well. It's a moment of triumph, as he walks away from the camera, with the 'musicians' lined on either side, flailing his arms about like a pro and conducting his piece. It does seem as though everything up to now has been leading to this emotional and musical crescendo and yet it is also about living in the present, in the here and now...about the triumph and celebration of living in the moment.

It is perhaps a coincidence, or maybe it isn't, but it seems oddly fantastic to me that in both these Iranian films, Dayereh last week and now Sokout, we find simple, everyday people, who have had absolutely no exposure to high art...and I mean the fine and performing arts...can identify with it so completely, without feeling any sense of alienation that is perceived on their part as a result of such interaction. Be it Vincent Van Gogh in the first film or Beethoven in the latter, their works are cross-cultural in the truest sense, eliminating any differences that can arise out of time, distance, cultural relevance, education, awareness or exposure. Perhaps that it what all Art is meant to do...connect with people at their levels.

And so, after the film is over, you take a deep breath and just sit there, fascinated...maybe even with a silly smile or look on your face and you wonder...


Blogger austere said...

No words.

11:32 am  
Blogger Spazsim Chasm said...

thank goodness :)
i was hoping that it wasn't serious. Forgive me, I went into panic-attack mode.
Thanks for stopping by anyway :P

10:45 pm  
Anonymous Alexander Barnett said...

Since you are interested in Vincent’s life and work, you might want to look at the Notes section on I am the writer and director of the new independent film on his life.

6:49 am  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

glad you're getting some time for silence :-)

11:36 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

AUSTERE: That's very kind. Thanks :-)

SPAZSIM CHASM: Phew! Glad that got sorted out. Maybe now I ca stop watchig my back! :-) But, completely my fault...sorry again.

ALEXANDER BARNETT: Thanks! *Rushes to check the site*

TR: Oh, actually it's a bit more than I need :-)

12:31 pm  
Blogger Ricercar said...

sounds nice. funny - reminded me of home and the "old life" - watching Abbas Kiarostami's "Bad ma ra khahad bord" at the film club after work on a friday - enchanting visuals, delicately sketched relationships - but no overwhelming story. i loved it. havent seen anything good in a while. though i did see Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love" and they also got in Maggie Cheung for a talk. It was lovely!

1:32 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

RICERCAR: What coincidence! I'll be watching that Kiarostami on Sunday at our film club screening! :-)

Thanks for the link.

6:05 pm  
Blogger Blue Athena said...

That's a verry neat description, I have to admit. You must be having tons of fun watching all the movies, am sure. :)

I guess anything that really manages to touch us despite any constraints of language/culture or age/mind sets has to transcend across all these limitations.

11:11 pm  
Blogger iz said...

Good read! You also make me feel quite illiterate!

1:40 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

BLUE ATHENA: Lots of fun with these films...yes! But, after the coming Sunday, sadly, there run of these Iranian films comes to an end.

Absolutely! In fact, they just drive home the point that, basically, we're not very different.

IZ: I'm not sure you'd be saying this if you'd read some of the other posts :-)

1:21 pm  
Blogger oliver said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:38 pm  
Blogger oliver said...

isn't it such a most wonderful feeling that you don't have to be anything high or mighty to be the subject of art?

life is more fascinating than structured knowledge i always tell...

5:41 pm  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

Can't decide whether I should envy you or be in awe of you :) But glad to see you inspired and writing again.

9:11 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

OLIVER: And, you're always telling correct! :-)

Yeah, I agree completely. I have my own problems with the elitist and esoteric stuff.

M(TREAD SOFTLY UPON): So good to see YOU writing again :-)

And, I don't mind if you envy me the films :-)

10:07 pm  
Blogger aapka_babusingh said...

This is not really a comment on your post. It's a personal message. I'm sorry to have posted it here but then I couldn't find a better place for a quick reply. I was reading you comment on a blog by someone names Shivangi. The blog I'm referring to, talk about Siddharth Kak. In that comment you have said that you met him once. I just wanted to know if you have any contact no. / email-id of his. I'm desperately trying to find some way of contacting him. It would be great if you can tell me the same. You can mail me at madhukarATcmiDOTacDOTin
Thanks in advance

9:34 am  
Anonymous Shripriya said...

Sounds like a great movie. There seems to be so much fabulous stuff coming out of Iran - time for me to load up the Netflix queue with them!

10:03 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

AAPKA BABUSINGH: Wow! Man, I must've left that comment a really long time ago! Months ago, maybe? I'm curious, how did you even find that comment? :-)

Didn't you do a search for him on Google? That's where I got the following details from:

Siddharth Kak
Cinemavision India
Tel: 22 2626 5946
Fax: 22 2636 6642
501 Adarsh Nagar, NHB Colony
New Link Rd
Bombay 400 102

Anyway, sending you the mail as well...

SHRIPRIYA: You bet...both, it was a wonderful film and great stuff is coming out of Iran. Last week I watched Majid Majidi's 'Baran', about which I'm planning to write, and tomorrow I'm going to watch a Kiarostami! :-)

12:08 pm  
Anonymous Shripriya said...

I know I am a new reader of your blog and so I hardly have any rights to be making demands and all...

But where be the updates?? Waiting to hear about Baran and everything else you've watched as well.

5:47 am  
Anonymous chandni said...

where's the review??? remember i threatened to write one instead if you dont come up with it real soon :)

and i am missing all the sundays...have been out of town :(

12:34 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

SHRIPRIYA: :-) Sorry, got caught up with some things...shall be posting very soon.

CHANDNI: You had your chance and you blew it! :-) Shall post in a day or so.

You did miss two really good ones - a Kiarostami and Pan's Labyrinth. What is more important, work or films, eh? :-)

7:11 pm  
Blogger sattva said...

really enjoyed reading this.

12:43 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

SATTVA: Thanks. Are you going to vanish on us again? :-)

7:01 pm  
Blogger Naj said...

:) this blogsphere is such a fascinating place. I was reading a friends expression of the film Silence, that I recommended to her, and she reported to me how similar her feelings were to yours ...
I think Silence and the Age of Innocence (naan o Goldoon) are Makhmalbaf's best works.

do drop by my place if you like Iranian stuff.


6:16 am  
Blogger Naj said...

forive me, "A moment of Innocence" not and Age of innocence. :)
thanks to this review that I came across, as I am reading Furgaia's comments on the film

6:23 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home