Saturday, June 25, 2022

Contras' City / City of Contrasts (2021 The Film Foundation / World Cinema Project restoration)

Djibril Diop Mambéty: Contras' City (SN 1968).

Senegal 1968. Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty. Scen.: Djibril Diop Mambéty. M.: Jean-Bernard Bonis, Marino Rio. Mus.: Djimbo Kouyaté. Int.: Inge Hirschnitz, Djibril Diop Mambéty. Prod.: Kankourama. DCP. Col. 15 min
    This restoration is part of the African Film Heritage Project, an initiative created by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, the FEPACI and UNESCO – in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna – to help locate, restore and disseminate African cinema.
    French and Wolof version with English subtitles.
    From: The Film Foundation, Filmmakers for Film Preservation.
    Restored in 2021 by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata and L’Image Retrouvée laboratories. Funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. The 4K restoration of Contras’ City was made from the internegative as well as the original sound negative provided by Teemour Mambéty and preserved at LTC Patrimoine. A vintage print of the film was used as reference for color grading.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022: Cinemalibero.
    Introduced by  Cecilia Cenciarelli e Elena Correra
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Chiara Belluzzi et al. at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, 25 June 2022

Aboubakar Sanogo (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022): " There is hardly any better way to enter the world of Djibril Diop Mambéty than through Contras’ City, his 1968 manifesto-like city symphony classic. In it, he literally offers the theory of his cinema and his theory of cinema: “The cinema is the art of making the contingent necessary, essential, inescapable, incontrovertible.” Indeed, Roland Barthes would have defined it as “The Cinema of the Punctum”, discernible primarily through the casting of the irreverent, playful and poetic gaze on the real. "

" Contras’ City is cast as an impressionistic and dialogical tour of Dakar, Senegal’s metropolis, in which Mambéty paints the contradictorily plural identities of his city through its arch tecture ([neo]classical colonial European through Islamic), hints at its politics caught between legacies of colonialism, reigning neocolonialism, and aspirations to emancipated subjecthood, reveals its cultures shaped by the forces of Negritude, Christianity, Islam and modern, secular and cosmopolitan worldliness. Like Dakar, the film is a tour de force, which carries multiple identity papers, partaking at once in registers of the poetic, the observational, the reflexive, the ironic/humorous/comedic, the interactive, the subjective, the class-conscious, in short, the essayistic.
" Aboubakar Sanogo

AA: A lovely, inspired, irreverent city symphony of Dakar, based on playful associations, satirical observations of the clash of cultures, and an irresistible joy of life conveyed in vivid colour and a panache in the soundtrack.

Ples v dežju / Dancing in the Rain

Boštjan Hladnik: Ples v dežju / Dancing in the Rain (YU 1961)

YU 1961. Director: Boštjan Hladnik. Sog.: from the novel Črni dnevi in beli dan (1958) by Dominik Smole. Scen.: Boštjan Hladnik. F.: Janez Kališnik. M.: Kleopatra Harisijades. Scgf.: Niko Matul. Mus.: Bojan Adamič. Int.: Duša Počkaj (Maruša), Miha Baloh (Peter), Rado Nakrst (Anton), Ali Raner (suggeritore), Joža Zupan (Magda), Arnold Tovornik (autista), Janez Jerman (direttore del teatro), Janez Albreht (cameriere). Prod.: Dušan Povh per Triglav film. 35 mm. 98’. Bn
    Print from Slovenska Kinoteka, courtesy Slovenski Filmski Center
    Slovenian version with English subtitles
    Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022: “Tell the Truth!” – A View Into Yugoslav Cinema.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, 25 June 2022

Nerina T. Kocjančič: " In 1961, a peak year for European film modernism, and as Jean-Luc Godard was enjoying great success with A Woman Is a Woman, director Boštjan Hladnik also delved into the world of a woman and a love triangle in his debut Ples v dežju. "

" The film was first presented at the Pula Film Festival, Yugoslavia’s leading event dedicated to showing the country’s cinema and equally committed to championing the achievements of its constitutive republics. "

" Hladnik had shot the film after returning from Paris, where he had assisted Claude Chabrol and frequented the Cinémathèque. He stated that his film had been “made in a creative atmosphere similar to the one in France”. "

" Yet the atmosphere Hladnik found when he returned home was dark and pessimistic. This was perhaps the main reason he chose this novel by Dominik Smole – Črni dnevi in beli dan (Black Days and White Day), an impossible love story with no happy ending. The director himself called Ples v dežju a kind of “black melodrama”, involving a number of unhappy love relationships."

" We have the downcast painter Peter (Miha Baloh), unlucky theatre actress Maruša (Duša Počkaj), who loves Peter but is not wanted by him, and the shy, anonymous Prompter (Ali Raner) in love with Maruša. The fourth figure in the film is Mr Anton (Rado Nakrst), Peter’s elderly flatmate, who constantly spies on him. Present in the background is a young couple who perform the dance of ‘ideal’ lovers throughout the film. "

" The novel rejects convention and is written almost entirely in the associative manner. We can begin to appreciate how the text lends itself to Hladnik’s typically modernistic treatment, which elegantly interweaves the real with the imaginary. By further complementing the modernistic approach with classical film language, Hladnik shows his mastery of film art and confirms Ples v dežju among the unique works of cinema.
" Nerina T. Kocjančič

AA: Distinctions of Ples v dežju / Dancing in the Rain include striking imagery, a compelling dream mode, engaging performances by the actors, an appealing sensuality and vivid scenes of Slovenian life (school, theatre, the bustle of a big city, Ljubljana?). As indicated by the title, this is a rain movie, and the cinematic, oneiric possibilities of rain are fully understood. A basic tension arises from the fact that Maruša (Duša Počkaj) is a more mature woman, and the artist Peter (Miha Baloh) is having a hard time relating to that. The beginning of the film is exciting, but it does not proceed very much from the initial surface excitement to deeper and richer revelations.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Babi Yar. Kontekst / Babi Yar. Context

Sergei Loznitsa: Бабин Яр. Контекст / Babi Yar. Context (NL/UA 2022).

Бабин Яр. Контекст / Babi Yar. Context
    NL/UA 2022. PC: Atoms & Void / Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center.
Sergei LOZNITSA Director
Sergei LOZNITSA Script / Dialogue
Tomasz WOLSKI Film Editor
Danielius KOKANAUSKIS Film Editor
Sergei LOZNITSA Film Editor
Vladimir GOLOVNITSKI Sound
    A compilation film about the Holocaust in Ukraine.
    In black and white with some colour in Academy (1,37:1).
    121 min
    Languages: Ukrainian, Russian, German, Polish.
    Festival premiere: 11 July 2021 Cannes Film Festival
    Russian festival premiere: 12 Oct 2021 Moscow Jewish Film Festival
    Finnish festival premiere: DocPoint online 31 Jan 6 Feb 2022.
    Version with English credit sequences, intertitles and subtitles viewed at Lapinsuu, Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä, 16 June 2022.

Synopsis (Cannes Film Festival):

"On September 29-30, 1941, Sonderkommando 4a of the Einsatzgruppe C, assisted by two battalions of the Police Regiment South and Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, and without any resistance from the local population, shot dead in the Babi Yar ravine in the north-west of Kiev 33 771 Jews. The film reconstructs and visualises the historical context of this tragedy through archive footage documenting the German occupation of Ukraine and the subsequent decade. When memory turns into oblivion, when the past overshadows the future, it is the voice of cinema that articulates the truth."

AA: The more I read and watch about the Holocaust, the harder it gets.

Sergei Loznitsa's Babi Yar: Context is the strongest work I have read or seen about the massacre near Kiev in September 1941. The film is based on original documents. There are distant views, panoramic shots and tracking shots that document the epic scope of WWII in Ukraine. When Nazis occupy Kiev, Soviet partisans detonate much of the city centre. In revenge, Nazis organize a massacre of the Jews in Babi Yar.

Nazis attempt to erase all signs. Loznitsa conveys the massacre via several ways: the void itself, a montage of colour photographs of remaining objects, and documentation of a parallel massacres in Lviv and in Lubny (in Poltava) on 16 Oct 1941; those photographs are extraordinary. We get to read from Vasily Grossman's "In Ukraine There Are No Jews". We see the report given to American journalists after the liberation of Kiev. Most movingly we see witness statements from the actress Dina Pronicheva, one of the rare Babi Yar survivors, and one of the executioners, SS private Hans Isenmann. Like in Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, the voice testimony of those who were there makes us feel the presence of the unimaginable. There is a stunning sequence of the public hanging in Kiev of war criminals including Isenmann.

Besides Shoah, Loznitsa's film is equally about the context: the pervasive and persistent antisemitism in Ukraine and Russia. The persecuted Jews were not convincingly protected, and after the war, the Soviet Union tried to erase signs of the massacre. But: "The past is never dead. It's not even past" as William Faulkner wrote in Requiem for a Nun.

I have seen the first Babi Yar movie, Mark Donskoy's Nepokoryonnye / The Unvanquished (SU 1945). The Soviet Union was the first country to make films about Nazi death camps: Maidanek (about Lublin, 1944) and Auschwitz / Oswiecim (1945), both in Poland. Donskoy was the first to make a film about Holocaust in the USSR. These movies belong to the anti-fascist continuum in Soviet cinema, including films such as Professor Mamlock and The Oppenheim Family (both 1938) covering anti-Jewish persecutions in Germany. The trend had been launched during the earliest years of Soviet cinema. For instance Dziga Vertov in his early newsreels had documented anti-fascist slogans in the First of May demonstrations of 1923. But there were macabre reversals, particularly during the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and from the end of WWII till the death of Stalin.

Babi Yar was covered by bold poets like Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1961) and Ilya Ehrenburg (1944 / 1959) but not by film-makers. Mikhail Romm's Everyday Fascism (1965) was a key film of the Thaw in this respect, one of the Trojan horses of Soviet cinema: while officially about Hitler, it was equally about Stalin.

Sergei Loznitsa's movie contributes powerfully to the uneasy coming to terms with the past in Ukraine and Russia.

In a sidenote about Finland, Finnish volunteers in the Waffen-SS entered the front in 1941 and early 1942, in units of the SS Division Wiking. In July 1941 they participated in Operation Barbarossa in conquering Ukraine in Ternopil, along the Dnieper River, north of Rostov-on-Don, and along the Mius River. Having fought on the Caucasus front and Stalingrad they retreated across the Don back to Ukraine.

The official view in Finland during the Cold War was that Finnish SS men knew nothing, saw nothing and did nothing related to the Holocaust. There is even a Finnish SS movie, Aseveljeyden sankarit ([Heroes of the Brotherhood in Arms], FI 1943, free online on Elonet) which portrays Operation Barbarossa as warfare as usual, including in Ukraine in Husiatyn / הוסיאַטין‎ (Ternopil Oblast), Kremenchuk, Dnipropetrovsk, along the Dnepr and in Zaporizhzhia.

But for instance Heikki A. Reenpää (19222020), a giant in Finnish culture, reports in his memoirs Pojanpoika (1998) that he heard already in 1942 in a report on Ukraine from a Finnish SS veteran about mass executions, destructions of villages and houses in which inhabitants were burned alive. Images that we see in SS home movies in Loznitsa's film.


PS 24 June 2022

More about the context: from correspondence with a friend:

" The historical context of this massacre includes the horrific pogroms in Ukraine after World War I that killed at least 100,000 and inured the local population to genocidal violence against Jews. "

An article in The New York Review of Books this month covers three recent books on the topic:
Magda Teter, Rehearsal for Genocide 6/9/2022

Magda Teter: " Approaching the history of World War I and its aftermath from three different vantage points, Bemporad, Granick, and Veidlinger each conclude that the shocking anti-Jewish assaults of 1918–1921 help to explain what would take place a generation later. The “unprecedented” scale of destruction and “the performativity of violence against Jews” can now be seen, Granick argues, as a “bridge” to the Holocaust. According to Veidlinger [Jeffrey Veidlinger, In The Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918–1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust], the pogroms and what they stood for became “an acceptable response to the excesses of Bolshevism,” leaving a heritage of social tolerance for killing Jews. In 1941, therefore, when the Nazis invaded the territories of what is today Ukraine, they were able to mobilize the local population to do their dirty work, since it “had become inured,” he says, “to bloodshed and primed to target Jews in ethnic violence.” Furthermore, the connection between Bolshevism and Jews, as well as the nexus of anti-Semitism and opposition to Soviet rule discussed by Bemporad, made the atrocities of World War II less shocking. "

" In the end, of course, the Nazis did most of the killing, but it was in Ukraine and Poland that they first grasped (Veidlinger again) “that the physical extermination of the Jewish population need not remain a utopian fantasy but could actually be realized.” On September 29, 1941, Germans shot to death nearly 34,000 Jews in about thirty-six hours in a ravine in Kyiv called Babyn Yar (more commonly known by its Russian name, Babi Yar). The site, which as a lieu de mémoire has been claimed and contested by many groups, was damaged by a Russian missile on March 3, 2022. "
" The stories Bemporad, Granick, and Veidlinger tell in their very different books remind us how much our world is an heir to the violent legacy of World War I. Yet they also show, as the war in Ukraine underscores, that perhaps we do not have to be trapped in this past. Slava Ukraini is no longer a slogan of the perpetrators of anti-Jewish violence; it is a slogan of a country defending liberal democratic values, whose president is a descendant of Holocaust survivors. "


Yevgeny Yevtushenko: Babi Yar (a poem, 1961)

Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933–2017). Photo:

PBS Auschwitz Learning Guides (2005): "Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a Russian poet born in 1933, wrote this poem in 1961 in part to protest the Soviet Union's refusal to identify Babi Yar, a ravine in the suburbs of Kiev, as a site of the mass murder of 33,000 Jews on September 29–30, 1941. Dmitri Shostakovich's “Thirteenth Symphony” is based, in part, on this poem."

" Source: The Collected Poems 1952–1990 by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Edited by Albert C. Todd with the author and James Ragan (Henry Holt and Company, 1991), pp. 102–104. Used with permission of the author.

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.
I am afraid.
            Today I am as old in years
as all the Jewish people.

Now I seem to be
                         a Jew.
Here I plod through ancient Egypt.
Here I perish crucified on the cross,
and to this day I bear the scars of nails.

I seem to be
The Philistine
             is both informer and judge.
I am behind bars.
                        Beset on every side.
             spat on,
Squealing, dainty ladies in flounced Brussels lace
stick their parasols into my face.

I seem to be then
                         a young boy in Byelostok.
Blood runs, spilling over the floors.
The barroom rabble-rousers
give off a stench of vodka and onion.

A boot kicks me aside, helpless.
In vain I plead with these pogrom bullies.
While they jeer and shout,
                                          'Beat the Yids. Save Russia!'
Some grain-marketer beats up my mother.

O my Russian people!
                                    I know
are international to the core.
But those with unclean hands
have often made a jingle of your purest name.

I know the goodness of my land.
How vile these antisemites—
                                                without a qualm
they pompously called themselves
the Union of the Russian People!

I seem to be
                            Anne Frank
                            as a branch in April.
And I love.
                            And have no need of phrases.
My need
                            is that we gaze into each other.
How little we can see
                            or smell!
We are denied the leaves,
                                                         we are denied the sky.
Yet we can do so much—
embrace each other in a darkened room.

They're coming here?
                                    Be not afraid. Those are the booming
sounds of spring:
                                    spring is coming here.
Come then to me.
                                    Quick, give me your lips.

Are they smashing down the door?
                                                            No, it's the ice breaking . . .
The wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar.
The trees look ominous,
                                    like judges.
Here all things scream silently,
                                                and, baring my head,
slowly I feel myself
                                     turning grey.

And I myself
                       am one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here.
I am
           each old man
                                   here shot dead.
I am
           every child
                                   here shot dead.

Nothing in me
                                   shall ever forget!
The 'Internationale,' let it
when the last antisemite on earth
is buried for ever.

In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
In their callous rage, all antisemites
must hate me now as a Jew.
For that reason
                        I am a true Russian!

Surprising Beginnings: Reading 1.4. Copyright © 2004-2005 Community Television of Southern California (KCET)

Ilya Ehrenburg: Babi Yar (a poem, 1944)

Pablo Picasso: Ilya Ehrenburg, "pour Toi mon ami", 29 août 1948. From: Rupert Moreton, at Lingua Fennica, 10 Jan 2018.

What use are words and what’s a pen,
When on my heart this rock is weighing,
When like a convict’s ball and chain
Another’s burden I’m conveying?
I used to be a city-boy,
And life for me was full of pleasure,
But now in deserts without joy
The graves I dig are all my treasure.
Now every deep ravine I’ve seen,
And home to me is each ravine.
I have become this woman’s cherished –
Whose hand I kissed once years ago –
And yet on earth before I perished
This woman then I did not know.
My dear one! See my scarlet blushes!
And all the kin I cannot count!
Your screams my ears assault in rushes
From every pit their echoes mount.
Our strength we’ll gather, then ascending
With rattling bones we’ll start to knock –
Where breathe, with bread and fragrance blending,
The cities where still people flock.
Turn out the lights. Pull down flags’ dressing.
It isn’t us – ravines are pressing.


К чему слова и что перо,
Когда на сердце этот камень,
Когда, как каторжник ядро,
Я волочу чужую память?
Я жил когда-то в городах,
И были мне живые милы,
Теперь на тусклых пустырях
Я должен разрывать могилы,
Теперь мне каждый яр знаком,
И каждый яр теперь мне дом.
Я этой женщины любимой
Когда-то руки целовал,
Хотя, когда я был с живыми,
Я этой женщины не знал.
Мое дитя! Мои румяна!
Моя несметная родня!
Я слышу, как из каждой ямы
Вы окликаете меня.
Мы понатужимся и встанем,
Костями застучим – туда,
Где дышат хлебом и духами
Еще живые города.
Задуйте свет. Спустите флаги.
Мы к вам пришли. Не мы – овраги.

Ilya Ehrenburg, 1944, first published in Novyi Mir, this is the later version published in 1959. Only the later version was titled "Babi Yar".
Translation by Rupert Moreton, at Lingua Fennica, 10 Jan 2018.

Vasily Grossman: Ukraine Without Jews (1943) quote in Sergei Loznitsa: Babi Yar. Context

Vasily Grossman with the Red Army in Schwerin, Germany, 1945. From: Wikipedia. Source: Keith Gessen "Under Siege" (The New Yorker, 6 March 6, 2006). Fair use.

" In Ukraine there are no Jews. Nowhere—not in Poltava, Kharkov, Kremenchug, Borispol, not in Iagotin."

"You will not see the black, tear-filled eyes of a little girl, you will not hear the sorrowful drawling voice of an old woman, you will not glimpse the swarthy face of a hungry child in a single city or a single one of hundreds of thousands of shtetls. Stillness. Silence. A people has been murdered."

"Murdered are elderly artisans, well-known masters of trades: tailors, hatmakers, shoemakers, tinsmiths, jewellers, housepainters, furriers, bookbinders; murdered are workers: porters, mechanics, electricians, carpenters, furnace workers, locksmiths; murdered are wagon drivers, tractor drivers, chauffeurs, cabinet makers; murdered are millers, bakers, pastry chefs, cooks; murdered are doctors, therapists, dentists, surgeons, gynecologists; murdered are experts in bacte-riology and biochemistry, directors of university clinics, teachers of history, algebra, trigonometry; murdered are lecturers, department assistants, candidates and doctors of science; murdered are engineers, metallurgists, bridge builders, architects, ship builders; murdered are pavers, agronomists, field-crop growers, land surveyors; murdered are accountants, bookkeepers, store merchants, suppliers, managers, secretaries, night guards; murdered are teachers, dressmakers; murdered are grandmothers who could mend stockings and bake delicious bread, who could cook chicken soup and make strudel with walnuts and apples; and murdered are grandmothers who didn’t know how to do anything except love their children and grandchildren; murdered are women who were faithful to their husbands, and murdered are frivolous women; murdered are beautiful  young women, serious students and happy schoolgirls; murdered are girls who were unattractive and foolish; murdered are hunchbacks; murdered are singers; murdered are blind people; murdered are deaf and mute people; murdered are violinists and pianists; murdered are three- year-old and two-year-old children; murdered are eighty- year-old elders who had cataracts in their dimmed eyes, cold transparent fingers and quiet, rustling voices like parchment; murdered are crying newborns who were greedily sucking at their mothers’ breasts until their final moments. All are murdered, many hundreds of thousands, millions of people."

"This is not the death of individuals at war who had weapons in their hands and had left behind their home, family, fields, songs, books, customs and folktales. This is the murder of a people, the murder of homes, entire families, books, faith, the murder of the tree of life; this is the death of roots, and not branches or leaves; it is the murder of a people’s body and soul, the murder of life that toiled for generations to create thousands of intelligent, talented artisans and intellectuals. This is the murder of a people’s morals, customs and anecdotes passed from fathers to sons; this is the murder of memories, sad songs, and epic tales of good and bad times; it is the destruction of family homes and of burial grounds. This is the death of a people who had lived beside Ukrainian people for centuries, labouring, sinning, performing acts of kindness, and dying alongside them on one and the same earth.

Vasily Grossman: "Ukraina bez evreev" ("Ukraine Without Jews"), Eynikayt 25 Nov + 2 Dec, 1943. Translated by Polly Zavadivker, Jewish Quarterly 58, 1 [2011], p. 13. Quote in: Sergei Loznitsa: Babi Yar. Context (2021).