Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lorna's Marriage

&   Liminality of life in Exile

          The Dardenne brothers are not immigrant producers; they are EU citizens born in Belgium who tell the story of an immigrant woman that goes through situations that happen to people like her perhaps more than to those living in material easiness; because of her social situation, she is ready to do things that other people would not, because they have no need to. 

  In Lorna’s Silence the Dardenne brothers sympathize with the reality that EU immigrants may be forced to go through to attain the dreams they attempt to reach, although the Dardenne film directors are not immigrants, Lorna’s Silence represents the cinema of diaspora and exile in many ways. They, as émigrés directors do, operate independently and their film does not neatly fit into generic or typological category of films. Lorna’s Silence is not a diaspora film in the sense of having been produced in exile, but it juggles thematically with central issues of displacement and with life, times and figures that are in exile. 
         Lorna’s Silence narrates the story of the in-vogue subject of the century; immigration as a cinema of despair. 

     Small-time gangsters contract Belgian heroin dependent Claudy (Jérémie Renier) to marry the Albanian immigrant Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) so she can become an EU citizen for then later divorce him, and marry a Russian mobster to become an EU citizen too, for then she can divorce him to finally marry his Albanian long-distance chauffeur boyfriend Sokol (Alban Ukaj) and live forever after in the for-to-buy snack shop. 

      It sounds effortless and a very good all-winners plan so far. Characters have its own good dream for a better life, they diplomatically agreed and coolly planned to use and vend each other for their own benefit and there’s collecting funds out of these playing-with-the-law transactions. 
         Lorna has the modest dream of opening this snack bar but the few obstacles she has will multiply and she’ll never get it in spite of hardening hearts because life wasn’t designed to be lived in a so selfish fashion. 

       At first, Lorna regards Claudy with polite contempt. Although she lives in his place, she treats him as an annoying tenant, setting down clear rules of separation. But she feels more sympathy for Claudy as he tries to kick his addiction when he becomes more a burden to her. She does everything she can to accelerate the divorce proceedings, banging her arms and head against a wall in order to file the case for domestic violence. But her accomplices plan to rush things up by killing Claudy with an overdose (Thom Andersen)
Hard men, indeed. 
      Then gangsters walk in her appartment as if they owned Lorna’s life and her destiny, and going over the deceased’s belongings like vultures on carrion split his personal effects.

     Lorna now in a round table with the gangsters and the Russian listens the instruction for the “meeting settling” arrangements for her next matrimony with arranged witnesses. But now is Lorna the one who became a problem; out of guilt she believes is pregnant of her deceased husband, and at attempting to find out whether the Russian would accept her in this condition or not, he cancels the contract. 
Furious gangsters and boyfriend redirect Lorna’s collected funds back to each other and  send her back automatically to her homeland Albania. Fugitive, she lives lost, insane and isolated in the woods. 
The freedom in Lorna’s story just means being your own boss. They lose their dreams, but Lorna discovers another kind of freedom in the woods outside Liège. 

         According to Naficy on his works on ‘Recurrent Themes in the Middle Eastern Cinema of Diaspora’, diaspora cinema is structurally contradictory because is both; oppositional and assimilionist. Lorna’s Silence is oppositional in its critique of the politics, policies and ideologies of the host societies; Lorna makes matrimony a commerce in order to get her freedom in the arrived land. Lorna deals with the marginalia of the host society to close her business; in this sense the film is assimilionist, if marginal, function as a cultural force within the civil society. 

      The Dardenne brothers, by producing film about exiles, intervene in the larger discourses and debates of their host societies and reinforce the prevailing negative representations of the EU as an elitist society. At the same time, according to Naficy, through this representation they help the community to identify and negotiate for themselves new individual and collective identities, facilitating their move from being ‘exiles’ to become ‘ethnics’. At the same time, by focusing on problems of living and working in the big cities, the film addresses to immigrant tensions and concerns participating in means of self-assertion, self-fashioning and acculturation (Naficy, 1995). 

      Differently to the immigrants to America at the end of the 19th century that came from Europe, where woman, barred from participating in the public sphere, worked at home and kept their families together, caring and nurturing of members creating ethnic linkages and networks with other immigrant populations, Lorna is attached to the petty ruffians that help her business. They rather represent an advanced stage of capitalist development; Lorna and her associates are all business: no small talk, no charm, no colorful lines, no philosophical speculations. There’s work to be done, and they’re doing it as efficiently as possible, with a harsh attention to detail. Even Lorna’s Albanian boyfriend Sokol (Alban Ukaj), a long-distance truck driver, is always preoccupied with some obscure criminal endeavor during their rushed encounters (Thom Andersen).

       Nothing about nurturing and cultivation mirrors Lorna: although her fake husband and heroin addict Claudy begs for affection in many ways and his longings are strengthened as he tries to kick his addiction, Lorna shows incapable to provide nurture, care, nor even sympathy because her chances of obtaining a divorce would be even closer if she became a widow. 

       So, while waiting for the divorce letter, the minute that Lorna gets to her living place she closes every window and lacks herself in the bedroom. Claudy, sick in a never-ending rotation of helpless misery, burning his money-share in drugs, starves for attention and care. Attempting to kick the drug habit becomes a problem when he reaches an edging desperate need. It’s not that he grew affection for her or anything but it’s more that she has what he lacks; a plan, hope, that freshness when she passes by, so healthy and desirable, so alive... and at the same time so selfish, so careless, unsociable and inhuman that at some point you may feel you hate her. She tries to stick to the original business plan and “helping” was not part of the contract (he received €5000 for marry her and will receive the double to divorce her). That will be all. 

       They live in a den where minimal furniture and white washed walls has nothing to say but that its tenants are not building a home there. Theirs is and interior den where they can’t get out. They force to live a miserable life, victims of themselves. All characters will live a life when they reach their dreams; meanwhile they're just wrecked people that wait to get there. These are the signs of homelessness that characterize the lives of exiles that find a way to escape from pressures dreaming with ‘another place’ yet to achieve. 

      Potentially liminal spaces are mobile entities such as buses, tracks or trains that transit between homeland and other destinations in the films of diaspora, as in Lorna’s boyfriend waits to obtain EU citizenship works as a long-distance truck driver and assures to Lorna that will meet her in her homeland after stopping in Milan, when she’s being sent to Albania. These transitional and mobile sites are potentially liminal and highly suggestive of the exile condition. 

     Nothing is referred in the film about the place where Lorna and her associates came from other than they came from Albania, and nothing is referred in the film addressed to an integrative cultural struggle in the host society because the global media has taken care of that ahead of time. Bizarrely enough, the novel immigrant of the 21st century will struggle for assimilation and acculturation way after they have obtained their citizenship and not the way around; that they’re granted citizenship after they become assimilated and integrated to the new society because the acquirement of this social status is the first step in the only path to integration. This is reflected during the first seconds of the film when Lorna interacts with a bank clerk asking for the loan to open the snack bar saying ‘I’ll be Belgian soon, so I can do it’ (1:15). 

      One similitude of these two types of immigrants if nothing is said about their affective relationship with their home country (although negation is anyhow rejection) it is their devotion to the new country; the minor-league hoodlums will do anything to advance their schemes. 

       The immigrants that the Dardenne brothers portrait, are somehow more related to the second wave of immigrants America had around the 1960 which came from Third World and the newly industrialized nations. They had a higher level of education, skills and capital and a desire to neither give-up the ‘old ways’ nor completely embrace the new ones. The only way that Lorna shows that she has not given-up ways from her homeland is when she desires her Albanian boyfriend Sokol; her desire of building a new life in Belgium with him is a desire to extend her Albanian way of life in the new land. And the way Lorna shows that she has not embraced the new ways of life is the ways she connects with her environment; except for the nurse that helps her to declare her self-inflicted bruises to the police, other surrounding people from her workplace, hospital, streets, pharmacy, bank clerk and detectives are unidentified, anonymous and vacant to her life. She is cut-off from her environment that is indifferent to her presence; she only performs. 
      The liminality of exile necessitate a stress on nature and the natural order; In the absence of the native habitat the exiles seek what only nature is capable of providing: wilderness, timelessness, boundlessness, reliability, stability, and universality. Many exiles in cinema consider wilderness to be a sacred space of uncontaminated spirituality and safety: during Lorna’s final escape from her masters, a hint of realism is introduced when she comes upon an abandoned cabin in the forest, as well as a bit of music. This space is contrasted with the profane and insecure spaces of culture and civilization. In the forest, all of a sudden Lorna regain her woman nurturing nature; there she remembers how was to be maternal and to take care of someone, but is late because Claudy is dead and out of guilt she has a psychological pregnancy.
Then there is a profound sense of loss; the dead and the lost dream are symbols of an unattainable life. The wilderness in Lorna’s also represents a space of liberation and reconciliation. 

      In the liminality of diaspora and exile, the boundaries between self and other, female and male, inside and outside are often blurred and must be continually negotiated (Naficy, 1995) . The spatial configuration in Lorna’s Silence is driven by structures of identification and alienation. In the exilic films as Lorna’s the enclosed claustrophobic spaces as her bedroom and place of residence represents a prison expressing anxiety and fear about life in exile. These phobic spaces perceived as representations of an hostile, oppressive social order are often opposed to the spaces of immensity of the wilderness. Strategies to create such spaces in Lorna’s include tight close-ups, closed shot compositions, tight physical spaces, barriers in the mise-en-scene and the shot that impedes vision such as car passing by while she walks on the streets, a net-metal curtain between Lorna and the pharmacist, dialogs inside cars while characters deal large quantity of cash, etc. And a lightning scheme that creates a mood of constriction such as the lightning in her apartment, her rushes through the night and the all-cloudy days during the exteriors daytime locations.

      In Lorna’s Silence, the security that the confinement of her apartment offers her, although violent and degrading far outweigh the external world of the host society, which remains a threatening presence. This is shown in how she looks at strangers in the street throughout the film and the fear she feels at seeing police officers passing by and when addressing to the pharmacist; as if she wouldn’t feel with the full right of being there. 

      Another key of most exilic filmmakers of the accented cinema is that they are multilingual, as Lorna speaks French with society but Albanian with her boyfriend Sokol, who at the same time speaks Italian with his associate for language, serves to shape not only individual identity but also regional and national identities prior to displacement (Naficy, 2001)

      Common elements of exilic films that are found in Lorna’s are keys, that close and open different worlds and represent immigrant’s opportunities to succeed, huge amounts of cash movements that represent unsettling since citizens don’t need to carry so much cash, police, panic to doorbells, the closing of curtains as protection from the external world and isolation in the new land, the nearness to death, the fear to be continually under surveillance, visits to hospitals, close spaces and frequent moving as when after Claudy died Lorna moved quickly to her former flat. 
      According to Deleuze, in the cinema of the “action-image”, “perception is organized in obstacles and distances to be crossed, while action invents the means to cross and surmount them.” In the modern cinema “perceptions and actions cease to be linked together.” A link has been broken, and the character can no longer act effectively. But Lorna is not a neorealist character; her perceptions lead her immediately to actions; there is no dissociation between them. Against the tide of neorealism, the Dardennes insist that action is character.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lawrence Of Arabia:

                                       ~  The Lyrical Abstraction Of David Lean

    Lawrence of Arabia(1962) by David Lean, a mastery of the British epic cinema, narrates the ‘civilizing mission’ of colonizing Africa motivated by a desire of pushing back the frontiers of ignorance, disease and tyranny through a warrior’s passion to unify Arab tribes. 
    The film evolves through a colonialist discourse in its representation of ‘the other’ over all non-western territories and cultures which are viewed from an imperialist and white supremacist ideology of a colonizer’s perspective. It under-girds the traditional colonial binarisms such as order/chaos, activity/passivity, devolves into idealized symbolic hierarchies that embrace class such as ‘lower class’, ‘high culture’, non-European worlds as less luminous, African people as belonging to a ‘dark continent’, rationality/light versus irrationality/darkness ‘Sight and vision are attributed to Europe, while ‘the Other’ is seen as living in ‘obscurity’, blind to moral knowledge’ (Shohat/Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism). The binary logic of imperialist establish relations of dominance (Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, Post-Colonial Studies)

    In the short scene of torture (2:51) are exemplified the underlying traditional imperialist narratives at work. Lawrence, who until the date lives naively facing the colonized Arab world as an unruly land in need of discipline, intends now to ‘pass as an Arab in the Arab town’ (2:50) of Deraa. After being halted by a Turkish brigade, he is beaten and released. This fact will dramatically affect the course of the narrative and the life of Lawrence. 

     During the exposition of the dramatic structure Lawrence is presented unchanged since the beginning of the film ‘locked in his whiteness’ leading his revolutionary Arab revolt with this ‘White civilization’s attitude’ (Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks) of mastering the uncivilized. The raw floor, washed walls and highly geometric image composition of the interior of the Turkish headquarter anticipate abuse of power and coming discipline to the still too naïve Lawrence while he is lined up and scrutinized along marginal detainees. 
A raising action is quickly triggered in stages by the emotional weight that the General’s asthmatic coughs add denoting internal conflict when addressing Lawrence after other criminals are dismissed. While the General Turk leisurely approaches him we are immersed into a deep religious significance through the image composition of naked walls, simple wooden furniture, brown tunics, cloth belts and oppression resembling of that of the European medieval monasteries where clergies were punished. Altogether bring a recollection of all of those moments where Lawrence has compared himself with the Biblical Moses throughout the film, such as wishing to offer ‘his people’ freedom through the war, be driven by heart and faith, asking ‘his people’ to walk through water with him (2:45) and asking them to do only-miraculously deeds and the like (like the legendary ‘Prince of Egypt’ he wears royal Arab garments). Here the first evident culture collision is made explicit by Dir. Lean by the following dialog descriptive of Lawrence’s complexion with the first purpose of meaning ‘you are different and vulnerable here’ and the second purpose of breaking his strength by forcing him to recognize it. 

      The dramatic tension rises at the pulse of the General’s coughs; the added detail of the General raising heals while undressing Lawrence has colonial overtones at differencing race levels; from an imperialist/Eurocentric point of view this fact implies that ‘the Turks are at a lower level than the British’ even in disadvantaged situations, signifying that the race blood does not mind physical appearances, since some ‘Black” people are lighter than some “White” people (Shohat/Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism). In fact, one of the Turks has also light eyes as Lawrence’s but still he’s being counted among ‘cattle’. 

        While Lawrence’s tunic is being torn, an unattractive weak and numb body uncovered then gleams such as the images of the desert sand; virgin, conquerable, feminine, luscious and desirable through the inspecting General’s eyes. The General’s tough breading resembles those same blind desires claimed by Mayotte Capecia in her book I am a Martinican Woman where she declares that all she wants is having ‘just a touch of whiteness in her life’ following the reasoning of ‘One is white, so one is rich, so one is handsome, so one is intelligent’ (Fanon). 

    The General is puzzled: Lawrence is an embodiment of contradictions, a confusing zone in which a culture of an imperial power clashes with that of its victims; his is not entirely British, nor entirely Arab; he is trapped between both the ‘modern’ and the ‘traditional’, he is ‘almost an Arab’ (3:05) therefore, reduced to a half man. 

   The pale and luminous spaces enhancing the brilliance of whites resembling spirituality as Lawrence’s complexion and garments signifying a ‘White man of God, of Good and of Virtue, a true man of choice and of moral’ as an ambassador of a puritan empire juxtaposed to the colonized that is placed in a situation which no longer allows him to choose, a ‘creature of evil’ (the general compares himself in being in the dark side of the moon, 2:53) make Dir. Lean’s cinema a representation of Lyrical Abstraction where the choice is not defined by what it’s being chosen but by the power that it possesses to be able to start afresh through scarifies; therefore, a spiritual determination (Deleuze, The Movement-Image)

    This binary logic of imperialism of religion/sex, pure/impure, impotence/power, conqueror/captive, civilized/primitive, good/evil, teacher/pupil, refinement/brutality, superior/inferior is crystallized in the Deleuzian affection-image of the close-up of the militant’s lips glittering of admiration and desire making it a cut off from the lineal time-space bringing the narrative to a climax. 

      Then we realize that the General has started a revenge against colonialism in sexual terms such as Mustafa in Salih’s Season of Migrations to the North, where he appoints himself the mission to inflict suffering and pain to British women taking the war at a personal level using his intellectual power as a weapon to conquer white women both mentally and physically as a way to throw back colonialism to the colonizers becoming ‘a heartless machine’ (Salih, 25). 

    All of a sudden the naïve, innocent and wounded colonial Lawrence, from a prophet is raised to the category of that of a saint foreseen a religious leader who must suffer and be sacrificed for his people and cause by bestial ignorance, according to the imperialist discourse; he is being raped and wounded as the colonizers have being raped and wounded by the violent forces of the British empire. 

      Due to the greatest damage caused by this close encounter with the colonized has been done psychologically in a way that it can’t be restored, consequences will reverberate in the following decisions that Lawrence will take, causing his detachment from the war. 

     Lawrence is now a mature man aware that his unchangeable ‘epidermic color’ (Fanon) decides his destiny. 
          From the hero who thought that ‘a man can be whatever he wants’ because 'Nothing is written' and that was willing to make the war just for passion, he decides first to go home to become an ordinary man to do an ordinary job alleging ‘personal reasons’.

     A culturally overdetermined geographical-symbolic polarity North/South, East/West axis when Lawrence decides to ‘go North’ as a going home and returning to his people, while South and East is metaphoric reduced to desert, dreariness and a return to barbarism, like Marlow goes South to conquer the ‘unknown’ in Conrad’s Hearth of Darkness, Mustafa in Season of Migrations to the North, who moves from Sudan to Cairo and London to ‘civilize’ himself and as in Naipaul’s A Bend in the River compares the people of Africa as boys that after ‘coming out of a bush’ came late into a ready-made world. 

      But as this task is impossible since Lawrence has never been an ordinary man, he decides to return to the desert as a greedy man full of revenge, (as a heartless machine) who will fight for money along gathered murders and mercenaries that know nothing of the Arab revolt and prophesies (2:23). Now his enemy has an identity; Turks. 

      Now, that he has received a dose of his own poison, he’ll return it back to the colonizers by satiating his thirst of revenge obliterating a column of wounded Turks that slaughtered an Arab village, that happened to be in their way to Damascus (3:22). The sensitive Lawrence that once felt guilt for the death of one, now feels pleasure spreading blood becoming as ‘barbarous and cruel’ as his colonized enemy. 

    The cinematic production of Lawrence of Arabia is representative of ‘Third World Cinema’ as well every time its narrative weights the recognition and exploration of the Arab world raising awareness of the anti-imperialist, or First World/Third World struggle for domination, although it was made by U.K., a First World nation.