L’Ennue & Red Sorghum : Film Meaning in Lockdown

L’ennui (boredom)

Film 1998

Lost in Paris

The lack of energy in a city renowned for its vitality is amazing even in the late nineties when this was made. The slow pace of Paris is contrasted with a frantic abusive controlling relationship with an older man “you can see a bed but not a personality” Cecilia (Sophie Guillemin tells Martin (Charles Berlin) as this is seen natural in a disarming drama of societies values and morals. It looks crude and ott with no good things on offer.

Moral – If your bored it’s your own fault!

Strange secrets

Mad and Bad

Martin is a mad philosopher behaving as a bully with fits of jealousy when he becomes infatuated with a young intelligent actress. Cecilia is making her skills work across her world. It doesn’t slow down their sexual appetites but intensifies it. A little death every time.

Empire review synopsis is almost perfect (later I raise some historical concerns) in its vision.

Self interest

From Empire Review this extract ‘As the philosopher who has almost eradicated sensibility from his life, Berling expertly combines curiosity, lust and despair as he loses control of his intellect. But it’s Sophie Guillemin who provides the truer portrayal, with a display of dispassionate adolescent volition that is almost capricious in its innocence.’ David Parkinson Empire 1998

Obsessions in different periods

There is also an observation of French films of this period being observed as obsessed with copulation.

It is what reviews ought to do and challenges through cinema self mockery the genius of our accepting art film as moral guidance while at the same time is obviously a dark morose triangle, at times voyueristic. It’s a surprise there is so much sex but souls are also bared. Also obvious is the lack of guile in the young woman who is confused and unable to reject the enabled freedom she is locked into.

This review https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/lennui-review/

Conclusions

It’s a functional fast moving film with few surprises navigating an earlier time, and almost provides an obsession philosopher/psychiatrist R D Laing would love, as it becomes in mood a retreat to the streets where in the 19th and previous centuries a large part of the female population were forced into being sexual objects satiating a powerful male run society. Their is even a crudely placed appearance of that industry with unreal and contrite conclusions. It leaves the screen with Cedric Khans Cecilia lost.

The David Parkinson Empire Review has insightful parts though even it is caught in the sexual prominence the film uses. This for example, …..

‘Initially baffled by how such an unprepossessing kid could have enslaved so cultured a man, Martin is soon besotted with her, too.’ He passes on the ‘use’ the ‘cultured man’ has made of a vulnerable girl.

He also has habits of the time with this extract.

A Parisian professor becomes sexually enslaved by a monosyllabic teenager.

These words are vile and judgemental for any reviewer to summarise the complexity of youth.

David Parkinson arrives at the same rating

3###

Red Sorghum a story from 1919

The way this ancient story deals with love and betrothal is again with the women of principle young girl auctioned off by her family to a wealthy man nearly four decades her senior and he is riddled with leprosy.

Traditions

Opening scenes introduce us to the girl she travels enclosed in a red sedan with four bearers who lead by a paid bodyguard. They make the journey jolting her on her way and along with six singers pipers, are going through the red Sorghum fields. Tall reeds of corn stalks conceal the imported grains secrets. Wine is made from the gluten free Jowar grain.

The fields stretch beyond the horizon and huge blue skies dominate the curvature of the Qingshako province removed from the cities and relying on this highly nutritious food.

Twists of fate and government control shapes how they live.

Director Zhang Yimou on set

Plant with healing binding properties

Little wonder its benefits allow for some diversions. Rich in protein iron and copper, this gluten free grain has been known to play a crucial role in cellular function and repair. The rich quantity of potassium and phosphorous helps lower cholesterol and manage high blood pressure. Jowar grain is rich in fibre and hence should be part of your daily diet.

Sorghum field

A cup of jowar has 22 grams of protein.

Jowar has essential vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. It is loaded with good amounts of calcium, copper, zinc, phosphorous, potassium and cell-building B vitamins.

Red Red Wine

The young girl believes she is ill. The community tell her “Sorghum wine kills all germs”.

Red Sorghum wine becomes the source of goodness for the community as they revive the winery. The cooperative practices the rest of society lacks is found in abundance selflessly. It is out with the old and in with the new.

Zhang Yimou examines the future,

In a way as this film was made while the renewal of China and the course taken since, it forms revalue the optimism this period that had gone along with imperial imperfections that were to suppress the Chinese later.

Almost a replication of the revolution. The time China is now in as a fascist undemocratic is far removed from the filmmakers writers vision of the true meaning of Communism or his providing expression of what might be.

His vision as a filmmaker is within a culture devoid of a revolution, and he shows a community is basically only as far as the horizon and that’s all it need be and visitors would be neighbours not family.

Zhang Yimou sees the power structures in the world and shows us the character of the girl Little Nine becomes an equal in her new environment and circumstances. She comes with qualities unfamiliar to the men in the community. This is a rebirth not just of the cooperative and communism but a lesson in human values base and real.

Tiananmen Square

Known as a Fifth Generation Director, Zhang Yimou was seeing a wave of predetermining Maoism, that would follow the eventual defeat of the Japanese. The Fifth Generation he belonged to suffered from the forced outcomes that came from the Chinese tragic and inexcusable massacre in Tiananmen Square, of their own, among them student’s, women, elderly and children. I know I’ve seen the unaltered pictures in the Royal Destival Hall.

When this was made it won the Berlin Film Festival Award in 1988 one year before the wall came down. Did it inspire that long awaited act?

Won the Golden Bear at the 1988 Berlin International Film Festival.

Royal Festival Hall had extremely disturbing images of the massacre in 1989 on its first floor out of the usual public view, routes. Seen on the way to performance.

As Germany was to take down the wall thus became a symbol as Tiananmen Square symbolised with it’s bloodbath suppression the opposite direction China was heading.

Within the film there is the exploitation by a militia gangster element who know no morals and act as a barrier to the freedoms asserting themselves within the community. The Sangou are against liberty and intimidate by spoiling progress.As Angela Merkel planted her Eastern German feet in the liberal capitalist machinery of West Germany she ritualised the false premise of wealth gathering as the epitome of human endeavour.

Red Sorghum makes a story of nature’s abundant giving, when respected. Becoming a catalyst for harmony but the ceremony of seasons are trivialised by the love lorn former bodyguard who demolishs all goodness in a feature of brokenness. The triangle is of a young girl, her betrothal to a much older man, the uncirculated jealousy. Meanness from a the bodyguard initially paid to protect her is met by her rejection of his base and controlling ways.

Fixed

Just as L’Ennue was full of poor treatment of women this again goes into the barbed relationships routinely faced. French films had their sojourn in the ‘69 spawning of tales of revolution, wild ambition alongside female intuition were contests then. Here is another such battle, and a decade or so on the French have abandoned that for ‘the philosophers angst’ and a base treatment of women as this reflects the ‘eighteen mile hill’ high above the plains in China so a community in isolation is not safe from its own inherited demons. One brutality is followed by more and the red becomes a symbol of occupation, oppression and waste.

This story really concerns the imperialism of neighbours devouring hope. It’s as if the brutality is customised by race. Here the Japanese destroy thousands and show bitterness divides. The combination of evil and oppression is mirrored across red lines.

Zhang Yimou has as the Empire review link below – this interpretation – ‘The disease-ridden winery owner (to whom Jiu’er was exchanged for a mule) clearly represents the corrupt Ching dynasty that was toppled in 1911, while the emphasis on collective action suggests the nation’s predetermination for the Maoism that would triumph just five years after the vanquishing of the Japanese.’

Zhang Yimou

Making such a film debut with writing and concepts that are politically charged is astonishing when you consider the interrogation of an emerging China within a global context.

Author Hóng Gāoliáng Jiāzú; lit.: ‘red sorghum family’) is a Chinese language novel by Mo Yan. Published in 1986, it was Mo’s first novel and remains one of his best-known works.

Stunning scenery

There are times when the cinematography reverts to a tonal black. When silent compliance under a form of penitence or servitude is embarked on. The contrast are raw in ceremonial playing out of the forbearance, of their kin, like a stage drama. A dance in a non existent universe.

Conjuring tricks evoking thoughts like babettes feast are played out, or the last supper. The wine brought to the table as a cure for all ill. Another memorial is recalled.

In a local Church a wall ‘viamold’ sculpture by Rosamund Praeger shows a man in non military attire with a snake at his feet looking across a valley to a a large house hill as the Church remembers the two world war victims. The belief is Rosamund Praeger got the image from the Irish image of the famine, a sketch with a hovel where the solider stands and across a valley on a hill the landlords house.

natural corona eclipse

The embossed text reads ‘Press on’ words that are repeated in the film. Like the future a corona eclipse sends us the message the laws of the universe are to be obeyed. It appears in the film as a visual reminder of higher things and beyond horizons that must be returned to.

A reviewer stuck in recent boredom (L’Enneu again) thought two recent pieces he’d read, Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem and Bill McKibbens’s Falter, explored if we are “hard-wired” (somehow) for empathy/altruism.

The book Babettes Feast holds a community around the one table with outsiders among the gathering.

Martine the convent caretaker says, “Now you will be poor the rest of your life“,Babette replies, “An artist is never poor.” It is set in Jutland in 19th-century Denmark. Again an isolated community.

Written in 1950 post ww2 it examines humanity – “And it happened when Martine or Philippa spoke to Babette that they would get no answers, and would wonder if she had even heard what they said Orshe would sit immovable on the three-legged kitchen chair, her strong hands in her lap and her dark eyes wide open, as enigmatical and fatal as a Pythia upon her tripod…..”

You couldn’t get more isolated than a convent and here the symbolism of a women’s retreat is evoking simple rules for simple pleasures.

Isak Dinesen the writer of this short story had been a five star chef in Paris, having sought political asylum in Denmark.

Open palms. The resurrection as a film is simultaneously in the period when the Berlin Wall came down, when Red Sorghum was made.

Cinema seeks to capture the zeitgeist of one period through another and act as a unifier of our perceptions and thoughts stimulated by instant immersion. The immediacy is without an instance, until this form of review or after film discourse takes place, and often carrying the plain speaking superficial meanings around at the time. Or like my own choice of best ever film, Ordet, untangles a whirlwind of thought and discovery.

Conclusion

Through this period of forced reflection during the Covid 19 epidemic it has thrust us forward into needing reference points evaluating what we know, what really is and how the future is part of our own making.

Red Sorghum is seen in a wide lens also. The table is a constant source with wine central to the sharing and its properties are teased in so many processes just as life’s forces. The intoxication taking over and many succumbed to its altered energy.

Zhang Yimou is a Chinese film director, producer, writer and actor, and former cinematographer. He is part of the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers, having made his directorial debut in 1987 with Red Sorghum.

The Empire review below sums up the political point here –

‘But it represented life and death, birth and renewal, and the physicality and humanity of the villagers as much as it did the Party’ – is how the Empire review sums it up as a forceful political essay.

From the Empire review –

https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/red-sorghum-review/

is this extract –

By setting the story in the barren wilderness around the north-eastern Gaomi Township, Zhang departed from the lush southern landscapes that Beijing preferred to see extolled on screen. He also depicted his protagonists in a far from idealised light, as he permitted them to indulge their basest instincts, right down to urinating in the wine vats (which, ironically, improved the flavour). Moreover, by allowing the only avowedly Communist character to perish at the hands of the invading imperialists, Zhang also suggested that the workers resisted their tyranny through their own innate heroism, just as their own labour and ingenuity had revived the fortunes of the winery.

https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Geography_of_China.html?id=tfVN0Gwx67YC

5#####

John Graham

30 June 2020

Belfast

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This was reviewed after seeing the films again on a domestic screen and still the magic of Cinema creates feelings never touched on by the ingenuity of the creative community. The genius of Cinema is often traumatised by badly conceived forms and weird unrecognisable scripts. But story and the human psyche is a minefield of conflicting ideas. Tread carefully and Be Safe.

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