A rocky trucker singing O sole mio in out of tune Tibetan while driving across the desert plains of the Kekexili Plateau at more than 5000m of altitude, and transporting a bloody dead sheep on the front seat next to him, would be enough to intrigue anyone. The opposition of a second protagonist – who has the same name as our trucker (Jinpa) – who is resolved to kill his father’s killer after ten years of hesitation, and the dissimilarities between the surprisingly pious and sensitive character of the rocky Jinpa and the surprisingly bad manners of the other Jinpa, who is still dressing in old-fashioned and traditional clothes, are just some amongst the many ingredients that make this film so exotic. “Instagrammed” images, both highly exposed and with deeply saturated colours, add an aesthetic flavour from the Seventies; together with rare, sententious dialogues, they define a cinematic style longing for epics.
Pema Tseden clearly likes the atmosphere of Sergio Leone’s films, and we should remark that the Western genre seems to be à la mode in recent Chinese film productions – I refer to a genre that has to be distinguished from the wuxia genre; see for example Qungshu Gao’s Wind Blast (2010), Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land (2013) or Liang Sung’s Kill the Shadow (2017). In order for an epic style to be effective, strong personal or collective dramas should sustain the epic rhetoric. Now, despite some timid reference to the practices concerning the respect of karmas, Jinpa sinks us into a foggy narrative, where potential metaphors reduce themselves to vague allusions, and our expectations are largely deceived by the very few pieces of information. Many plots become possible, which waters down the cogency of the drama; the urgency in which a hero is made remains suspended at unintelligible implications, thereby becoming fanciful.
Jinpa is probably no more than an atmosphere, and it challenges us with the discomfort and pleasure of open meanings, yet the highly connoted Western aesthetic still communicates a well-defined eulogy of the individualist outsider – rigorously male – and this makes us reflect on the transformation of a society – both the Tibetan and the Chinese – that has long been very far from the (very cinematic) world of cowboys.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
Jinpa | Film | Pema Tseden | CHN 2018 | 86’ | FIFF Fribourg 2019, Black Movie Genève 2020
Best Screenplay at Orizzonti section at Venice Festival 2018
My Life Is a Gunshot
”My life is a gunshot”, when said by the Swiss artist Joke Lanz, can mean at least two things, the first being that his life was determined, for better or for worse, by the gunshot with which his father killed himself. Marcel Derek Ramsay dedicates a large part of his film to this traumatic episode in the life of the young Lanz, whose consequences still weigh on his life today, mostly in terms of consciousness of the suffering and of the need for freedom and liberation from the societal conformism. This theme, which is connected partly to his relationship to Switzerland, recurs obsessively in My Life Is a Gunshot, but not as frequently as the image of Lanz’s face, which appears to be Ramsey’s own obsession. These two obsessions actually work as ballast to balance an explosive, high-paced and high-spirited filmic journey into the amazing world of an artist who is able to transform anything into an occasion of expression and creation.
Here is the second meaning of “my life is a gunshot”; referring to the volcanic mode of creation of Joke Lanz, for whom the matter of sound – music and noise confounded – is in perfect continuity with the matter of humanity and the matter of the world. Lanz’s fundamental intuition is that the shout of suffering can be seen as, heard as or transformed into the cry of a newborn baby – and that is why his life-long project is named “Sudden Infant”. The destructive power of a gunshot therefore becomes more than just liberation from a hostile world; it is a regeneration that gives a narrative form to the seemingly shapeless shout.
In this, Ramsay’s formal choices for the film are brilliantly coherent with Lanz’s art and philosophy: thanks also to Peter Bräker’s impressive sound editing, Ramsay was able to manage a huge amount of material, blending an explosive and fast rhythm with a narrative structure that alternates the emotive moments with the informative ones. When form matches content in cinema, a stronger experience is guaranteed –experienced here with the discovery of a highly original sound artist or, better, sounding artist.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
My Life Is a Gunshot | Film | Marcel Derek Ramsay | CH 2019 | 91’ | Solothurner Filmtage 2019
It's not a masterpiece and it’s slightly too long. I took issue with Al Pacino's screen-filling over acting, while Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, who has never been that brilliant, is frightening. He is a form of power that tends to vanish in plain sight, becoming more and more silent, while silencing his counterparts. Real power makes itself invisible. As a complete anti-nostalgic analysis of different types of bodies of power, the film could not be better.
We have four bodies of power: a silent power (Pesci/Bufalino), a power that counts on physical presence & aura (Pacino/Hoffa), a petit bourgeois executive power that tries to do a good job and to protect his family (De Niro/Sheeran), and also a crucial – albeit withdrawn – counter-power, a counter-shot: the perspective of Frank Sheeran’s daughter Peggy (Lucy Gallina/Anna Paquin), realizing the normality of violence. A class struggle that is taking place in the mafia. Frank Sheeran, who was part of the so called “Killer Division" in WWII, continues the killing in the name of the mafia, teaming with the “Teamster International” President Jimmy Hoffa, the employer of his future hangman. It’s a film about the banality of evil, about receiving execution-orders while re-filling and eating cereals.
Scorsese’s characters never change, they go in circles, loops: repeated ice-cream, repeated cereals, repeated killing, repeated cigarette breaks (on the way to the killing). Like U.S. Marshal “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo D Caprio) in Shutter Island, the Irishman re-enacts the WWII-killings physically. Habitus is a lazy shifter. De-Aging technology is the curse of repetition: every face looks like Silvio Berlusconi, while the tired body repeats what has been (done) and will have been (done). At the end, there is no shame, no regret, but only fear of death: Please leave the door open, Ma, just a crack, as always. My paradise is the audience. I scream, you scream, we all scream, for ice cream. Oh, and cereals. I love Scorsese’s “cerealism”, so full of details. Of course: nothing new, but including some crucial differentiations and shadings. The scene in which De Niro calls Hoffa's wife to tell her about Hoffa's assassination is a little diamond of “experimental stutter poetry”.
After working through everything in such a profound and sober way, Scorsese should be through with gangsterism now, and make a little comedy next. I can't think of a director who so consequently has dealt with toxic masculinity like Scorsese. Maybe only John Cassavetes, but they have a lot in common (as is well known).
Text: Matthias Wittmann
The Irishman | Film | Martin Scorsese | USA 2019 | 209’