Monday, September 15, 2014

On the Independent Chinese Documentaries Distributed by dGenerate Films

In the 1950’s, during the so-called Hundred Flowers movement, in which intellectuals were encouraged by the Chinese government to air their grievances against the regime, and were subsequently persecuted when they did so, a young dissident named Lin Zhao was incarcerated for her convictions.  While in prison, she did not have access to paper, so she wrote her essays and poems—and she had much to say—on the cell walls.  As she did not have pen or pencil, she wrote thousands of words in her own blood.  She is the subject of Hu Jie’s moving documentary film, Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul (2004), which is distributed in the U.S. by dGenerate Films.
Some of the best documentaries I’ve seen in recent years have been brought out here by dGenerate Films.  Their subject is Chinese independent cinema and their catalogue encompasses both documentary and feature films.  What is especially striking about their documentaries is the amount of overt dissent that they show taking place in China.  Whether protesting against the illegal confiscation of their homes by the government and shady property developers in Ou Ning’s Meishi Street (2006) or preventable disasters in Xu Xin’s Karamay (2010), there is a remarkably amount of overt dissident activity taking place in China.  And this contradicts the narratives being advanced by both the Chinese government—which is terrified of its own people and seeks to present the façade of a harmonious, economically vibrant society—and the Western media, which tends to focus on a few causes célèbres like Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei, to the exclusion of much broader social movements.

Let’s take the case of Meishi Street.  Filmed in the streets of Beijing in 2005, the movie depicts the efforts of residents of the titular Meishi neighborhood to prevent their homes from being eminent domained to make way for the 2008 Olympics.  In protest at the injustice to which they’ve been subjected, the residents regularly put up slogans and protest signs on their property, decrying the corruption of the government and the real estate companies.  When the police show up and take down the signs, the protestors just put up new ones.  The main subject of the film, a restaurateur named Zhang Jinli, resorts to painting the slogans directly onto the walls of his property.  The courage on display here is remarkable and is something that I fear that most people would not associate with modern China.  And this isn’t to trivialize the real sacrifices made by people like Chen Guangcheng, or the Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo; rather, it is my desire to call attention to the broad spectrum of dissident activities taking place in China.
Xu Xin's Karamay (2010).
And now a word about Karamay, undoubtedly one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen.  In 1994, in the Xinjiang town of Karamay, schoolchildren were gathered at the town hall to perform for high-ranking local and regional party officials.  When a fire broke out, the children were told to remain seated while the party cadres evacuated.  Then they were left to fend for themselves.  325 people died, 288 of them children.  Their families felt that they never received proper restitution from the government, and they’ve been protesting at various levels ever since.  The film is remarkably austere in its conception: it consists largely of interviews in which the children’s parents sit facing the camera and talk at length about their experiences.  There is very little that could be considered overtly cinematic about the presentation.  And yet the depth of their sorrow, as it accumulates from one interview to the next, is transfixing and ultimately heartbreaking.  One gets the impression that these are people who are tired of not being listened to, and so the opportunity to speak freely and at length is something they relish.  And do they ever speak freely!  The parents name names of government officials whom they hold responsible for the disaster and they make it quite clear that they don’t care about the repercussions that could come from speaking so boldly, because they’ve already lost their children, and they therefore have nothing else to fear.

So I would strongly advise you to catch a dGenerate film if you have the opportunity.  A number of them are available on Fandor, as well as on Netflix and Amazon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

On Tian Zhuangzhuang’s The Go Master

The relationship between Japan and China has been so thoroughly blighted by animosity and distrust over the past, say, one hundred twenty years, that it is easy to overlook the rich cultural exchange that has obtained between the two countries for many centuries.  There is perhaps no figure who better embodies this conflicted relationship than that of Wu Qingyuan, aka Go Seigen, who is depicted in Tian Zhuangzhuang’s 2006 film The Go Master.

First off, a word about
go for those not in the know.  Go is played on a 19x19 grid.  Two players, one armed with black markers, one with white, place their markers on the points of intersection; the objective is to surround the other player’s pieces, which permits one to remove them from the board.  The player with the most pieces on the board at the end of the game is the winner.  I did not become aware of this until I read Yasunari Kawabata’s novel The Master of Go (which, despite the similar title, is not connected to Tian’s film, although it does include several fleeting references to Wu).
The Go Master presents us with the life of Wu Qingyuan, one of the greatest go players of the twentieth century (some would say the greatest, although I’m not in a position to judge that evalutation).  He was a child prodigy in his native China and in 1928, at the age of fourteen, he immigrated to Japan, then the center of the go world.  Here he resided for the rest of his life, including the bloody Second Sino-Japanese War that carried on into WWII, pitting his country of birth against his adopted homeland.  These divided loyalties, between countries and between the art of go and the exigencies of politics, are at the heart of Tian’s film and they play out with great restraint and ambiguity.  The role of Wu is played by Taiwanese actor Chang Chen, who presents a picture of dignity and aesthetic refinement but provides few points of entry into Wu’s character.  Tian’s portrait of Wu is deliberately opaque; we see everything in his life at a remove, filtered through go and through grander historical narratives.  In the end, one if left distinctly dissatisfied, as Wu’s motivations remain persistently elusive and the great questions of his life unanswered.  As he begins to suffer something of an emotional breakdown, and is drawn into religious fanaticism, one finds oneself at a loss to understand his actions.  They appear arbitrary and little of what came before in the film can be said to have anticipated them, let alone explained them.
Chang Chen as Wu Qingyuan.
As something of a side note, I would like to mention that this film contains something that I’ve very rarely seen in cinema (and surprisingly so, now that I think about it): a depiction of the explosion of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.  On August 6th, 1945, go masters Kaoru Iwamoto and Utaro Hashimoto were playing a game in a house on the outskirts of Hiroshima.  Midway through the game, as depicted in unflinching detail by Tian, a blinding light flashed through the house, followed shortly thereafter by the force of the blast itself.  The house was damaged and those present injured but, dedicated as they were to their art, they resumed the game and finished it that afternoon.  Hashimoto was the victor.

Wu Qingyuan, better known as Go Seigen, is still alive in Japan.  He is one hundred years old.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On Some Morally Troubling Historical Inaccuracies in the Films of Aleksandr Sokurov

Let me start this off by saying that I hold Aleksandr Sokurov in very high esteem.  I think he is one of the greatest living filmmakers and I am especially fond of his so-called “power tetrology,” consisting of Moloch, Tauris, The Sun, and Faust.  Or rather, I’m fond of three of them, as I have unfortunately not been able to see Tauris, as it is not available on Region 1 DVD.  Alas.  Anyway, with the exception of Faust, these films tell the stories of some of the twentieth century’s most notorious world leaders: Adolf Hitler in Moloch, Vladimir Lenin in Tauris, and Emperor Hirohito in The Sun.  They are very beautiful films, rich with detail and shot in the uncanny, vaguely flattened style which distinguishes so much of Sokurov’s oeuvre.  But there are certain interpretations of history in Moloch and The Sun that run counter to a lot of modern historical thinking and which raise vexing moral problems and I would like to discuss them each in turn.

First, let us examine Moloch (1999).  Set at Hitler’s Berchtesgaden retreat in Bavaria, the film follows a few days in the lives of Hitler and his entourage in 1943.  Sokurov’s approach to his subject is resolutely non-moralizing; much as in 2004’s Downfall (directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel), Sokurov refuses to depict Hitler as a monster.  And I think that’s just fine.  If Hitler is a monster, then it becomes easy to explain away his actions as the sort of things that a monster would do.  His actions become far more problematic when we view them as those of a human being like ourselves.  Hitler doesn’t become any less evil if we see him doing mundane things, like dining and chatting with his girlfriend, which is where Sokurov places his focus.  So, all is well and good until we get to an exchange about midway through the movie, when one of Hitler’s underlings (I think it was Goebbels, but I don’t recall exactly) jokingly threatens to send another one (Bormann?) to Auschwitz, and Hitler says, “What’s Auschwitz?” And then the underlings become uncomfortable and brush off the question and change the subject.
Now, what Sokurov has presented here is revisionist history at its most pernicious.  There has been a movement afoot for some time now which asserts that Hitler didn’t know about the death camps, and that this was something that lower-ranking Nazis—Himmler and Eichmann, etc.—organized without ever bringing Hitler into the fold.  The notion that Adolf Hitler—the architect and instigator of the Nazi party’s vicious anti-Semitism and its accompanying policies—didn’t know about the existence of Auschwitz is patently absurd, and it also serves to exculpate Hitler in a way that no amount of cinematic humanization could do.  I can’t imagine how or why Sokurov latched onto this piece of revisionism, but his casual insertion of it into Moloch is deeply morally reprehensible and mars an otherwise excellent film.

Sokurov’s treatment of Hirohito in The Sun (2005) is just as vexing.  Set in the final days of WWII and the first days of the American occupation of Japan, The Sun adheres to the widely accepted narrative in which Hirohito was largely a passive figurehead who had little direct involvement in the running of Japan’s imperial wars and who, when he finally stepped up, only did so to bring the war to its conclusion.  This version of events was convenient to the authorities of the American occupation, who found the cooperation of Japan’s much-revered emperor to be invaluable.  However, over the decades and especially since Hirohito’s death in 1989, there has been a tendency to re-examine his role in the conduct of the wars, and scholars have increasingly been coming to the conclusion that the emperor was deeply involved, from the invasion of Manchuria in 1931 to the surrender in 1945.  Under the Japanese constitution, Hirohito was the sovereign ruler of the country and the supreme commander of the Japanese military.  He was in close consultation with the military and political authorities throughout the war and gave personal authorization for numerous atrocities committed by the Japanese army, including the use of poison gas in China.

Now, as I’ve said, the Americans were interested in suppressing the extent of Hirohito’s power during the war and the Japanese establishment, for obvious reasons, shared in this interest.  So there are plenty of people who would see Sokurov’s depiction of Hirohito in The Sun as uncontroversial.  That said, it’s not like this information about Hirohito’s crimes is hidden away somewhere.  This is public knowledge and it’s been part of a public debate, both in international academic circles and in Japan itself.  One is forced to come to the conclusion that, beautifully elegiac though The Sun may be, it is largely a work of fantasy.  And when you’re dealing with events that impacted so many people so catastrophically, and the ramifications of which can still be felt today, I think such falsification of the facts is morally unacceptable, in the same way as Hitler’s purported ignorance of the existence of Auschwitz is unacceptable.  From a man of Sokurov’s evident compassion and intelligence, I would have expected better.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hipster Vampires: Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive

There are certain filmmakers who lay such a heavy emphasis on style and atmosphere that they tend to overlook making “things” happen in the richly textured worlds they’ve created.  The best example of this approach is the oeuvre of Bela Tarr, whose intensely atmospheric, ghostly films rarely find a subject matter to match their richly stylized settings (the great exception being Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), in which the “action”—if his movies can be said to possess action—finally meshed with the style such that they complimented and enriched each other).  On the American front, the foremost practitioner of this type of cinema is probably Jim Jarmusch. 

From this 1979 debut Permanent Vacation through to the present day, Jarmusch has specialized in stylish films where very little “happens,” at least externally.  This is certainly the case in his first supernatural outing, 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive.  The film takes us into the lives of British expat vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a reclusive rock musician, and Eve (Tilda Swinton) a much more cheerful, extroverted kind of bloodsucker.  The world they inhabit is as richly textured, in its own way, as any Bela Tarr film.  Adam’s house in Detroit is full of musical gear, old pre-21st century recording equipment and classic guitars.  When Eve leaves her abode in Tangiers to join him, his musical paradise becomes an ideal sanctuary for the two lovers to retreat from a world in chaos and decline.  Jarmusch has always been fond of depicting deserted cities and post-industrial Detroit affords him ample opportunity to do so.  One can hardly blame Adam from seeking escape from its desolate streets and the “zombies”—the vampire term for “normals”—who roam them.
Aside from our protagonists, there are relatively few people in this movie, but there are two supporting players who add a great deal to the film.  First, there’s Eve’s sister, Eva (the names are deliberately confusing), played by a spirited Mia Wasikowska (for whom I came to have a deep regard after seeing her in Park Chan-wook’s Stoker).  Eva’s arrival on the scene in Detroit is the catalyst that sets the film’s minimal plot into motion.  Eva is a disruptive force who cheerfully up-ends Adam and Eve’s quiet lifestyle.  There’s also, waiting in the wings, the figure of Christopher Marlowe—the Christopher Marlowe—played by John Hurt and whom we find out was a vampire and who survived by several hundred years the knife-in-eye incident that conventional history tells us led to his death.  Marlowe is a benign paternal figure waiting in the wings in Tangiers, casting his benevolence throughout the vampire world (I guess; the film provides remarkably few details on vampire society, as we only meet a bare minimum of its members).

So nothing much happens in
Only Lovers Left Alive.  Adam and Eve move languidly through their vividly realized world, exchanging witticisms and being effortlessly cool (Tilda Swinton is the living embodiment of cool; she couldn’t not be cool if she tried).  It’s a very charming affair and it’s a pleasant setting in which to luxuriate, but I don’t feel any particularly desire to return to it.  I’ve always had mixed feelings on Jarmusch and the kind of cinema he represents, and although this is certainly one of his stronger outings, I can’t help but feel that it could have been far more satisfying if he’d found action to match his atmosphere.  I feel the same way about Joyce’s Ulysses: “Wouldn’t this be delightful if he actually had an interesting story to tell? If his exalted style wasn’t wasted on drab realism and banality?” Now, admittedly, there’s nothing drab or banal about hipster vampires, but come on, they’re hipster vampires, give them something to do.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Repugnant Type of Beauty: A Survey of the Films of Kim Ki-duk and, to a Lesser Extent, Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke

A filmmaker can have appallingly bad taste and still make good movies, even if only from time to time.  Take, for instance, Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk.  Kim, much like his contemporaries Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier, is widely reviled for the tastelessness and deliberate attempts to offend and disturb that pervade his films.  With von Trier especially, he shares a predilection for torture and mutilation, including a willingness to depict genital mutilation and unsimulated violence against animals; von Trier killed a donkey on the set of Manderlay (2005), while Kim—although he’s never killed anything that big, to my knowledge—has tortured a number of fish and reptiles in his films, especially The Isle (2000).  Haneke, to his credit, has never killed anything.

Kim Ki-duk.
The subjects of Kim’s films run the gamut of unpleasantness: loan sharks torturing debtors, teenage prostitution, abused housewives, deranged soldiers murdering civilians.  But he is also capable of depicting episodes of remarkable tenderness, like the loving relationship between the monk and his ward in Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (2003) or the courtship between the silent wife and her equally silent lover in 3-Iron (2004).  He also sometimes tempers his more troublesome narratives with great visual beauty, although there are noteworthy exceptions to this: 2002’s Coast Guard is one of the ugliest movies I’ve ever seen, and 2012’s Pieta is quite willfully as cold and repellant as its psychopathic protagonist.
There is a similar inconsistency in the films of Lars von Trier.  The cinematography for Antichrist (2009) and Melancholia (2011) is quite unabashedly gorgeous.  Now, some of his other films—specifically, the so-called “Dogme 95” films—don’t look as nice, but they’re not supposed to.  And Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005) also required a certain Brechtian austerity in their treatment.  But what excuse, pray tell, is there for the unrelenting grime and ugliness of Nymphomaniac (2014)? I get that it’s set in modern England, which is just asking for a bleak approach, but still, there’s no need to luxuriate in squalor.
Lars von Trier, seen here demonstrating maturity and good taste.
I can’t speak as well to the films of Michael Haneke, as they don’t have as much appeal to me (the despair on display here is just too much and too unredeemed), but he seems to have shifted his visual palette from the garish ugliness of The Piano Teacher (2001) to the austere but nonetheless elegant atmosphere that reigns in films like Caché (2005) and Amour (2012). (Of course, The White Ribbon (2009) was quite beautiful, but it was in black-and-white, how could it not be beautiful? As von Trier would say, Haneke cheated).

To return to Kim Ki-duk, it is difficult for me to chart his more recent progress, as most of his films since 2006’s Time have not been made widely available in the U.S.  Prior to Time, his filmography is pretty well represented on DVD, but of the seven features he’s made since then, only two of them—Dream (2008) and Pieta (2012)—have appeared here, streaming on Netflix.  I am especially interested in seeing 2011’s Arirang, which appears to be a documentary in which Kim, shamelessly narcissistic, airs his personal and professional problems to the world in full confessional mode.  Every critic I’ve seen discuss it seems to hate it, but that didn’t stop it from winning in the un certain regard category at Cannes.  In fact, even at his most tasteless, Kim’s films—and von Trier’s, and maybe to a lesser extent Haneke’s—are always worth seeing.  They are not always worth seeing again, but they’re worth seeing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Love Among the Ruins: On Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds

I have spoken in the past of J. M. Coetzee’s
The Life and Times of Michael K (1983), a singularly unpleasant novel which has nonetheless had a considerable impact on my moral thinking, as it suggests—to me, anyway—that a person has every right to “resign” from history.  Historical forces are cruel and impersonal and if a person wants to escape from them, one can hardly blame him or her.  In the novel, the titular Michael K is a borderline mentally impaired, mixed-race man trying to escape from a civil war that has broken out in his native South Africa and Coetzee charts all the horrors and indignities to which Michael K is subjected as he tries to evade forces that he can neither understand nor control.
I had Michael K in mind as I watched Polish director Andrzej Wadja’s Ashes and Diamonds (1958).  Widely considered one of the greatest works of Polish cinema, the film follows a young anti-communist partisan named Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) as he attempts to assassinate a communist official in the immediate aftermath of WWII (its action takes place mostly on May 8, 1945, the day of the German surrender).  Now, Maciek and Michael K are not perfect analogues.  Maciek is not mentally impaired and he signed up voluntarily for what he’s doing, but as the film progresses, he begins to have significant doubts about his mission.  Following the opening sequence, in which he and his superior, Andrzej, murder two factory workers whom they mistake for the communist official and his assistant, Maciek and Andrzej set up shop at a hotel where Szczuka, the communist, will be attending a banquet.  Now, although Maciek has been tempered in the forge of war—and the war was bloodier in few places than it was in Poland—he is still a young man, prey to the enthusiasms and exuberance of youth, and so he quite naturally falls in love at first sight with the pretty bartender, Krystyna.  And he certainly can’t pursue a long-term romance with Krystyna if he kills Szczuka, and anyway, why kill Szczuka? Haven’t they killed enough people already, including innocent people?  Even if he signed up for this, is Maciek still obligated or duty-bound to his partisan group?  If a person’s conscience changes, can their loyalties change accordingly?

One of the things that distinguishes Ashes and Diamonds from its predecessors is a much lighter tone.  Which isn’t to say that it’s not a serious movie—Maciek’s moral and personal stakes couldn’t be higher—but Wajda and co-writer Jerzy Andrzejewski sprinkle the movie with humor and romance, which don’t detract from the grim matters at hand, but rather place them in the context of a much wider world.  The banquet that occasions Szczuka’s presence plays out with the absurdity of Miloš Forman’s Fireman’s Ball (1967) and Maciek shares the stage with several background players pursuing their own interests while largely oblivious to the assassination in the offing.

Ashes and Diamonds
is the most morally ambiguous entry in an informal “war trilogy” that Wajda directed in the mid-fifties, starting with A Generation (1954) and continuing with Kanal (1956).  A Generation follows a group of naïve young people (including a not-yet-famous Roman Polanski) as they join the Polish resistance and become exposed to the grim realities and moral exigencies of war.  It depicts the sacrifices made by the Polish people with great sadness and pathos, but it never doubts that these sacrifices were fundamentally noble and justified.  The mood has changed when we get to Kanal, which has to be one of the bleakest films ever made.  Set during the general uprising in 1944, the film follows a group of doomed Polish partisans as they attempt to escape the Nazis by fleeing through the sewers of Warsaw.  The movie opens with a famous voice-over which intones: “Watch them closely, for these are the last hours of their lives.” There is no room for heroism in Kanal, just the desperate, thwarted will to survive, as the partisans are picked off by the Nazis, incapacitated by the sickening miasma of raw sewage, and overpowered by despair.

I would like to note that I have no idea how a movie like this—with its willingness to treat anti-communist militants as complex, sympathetic human beings—could have been made in communist Poland.  Perhaps we can attribute it to the Khrushchev thaw and de-Stalinization.  Whatever the circumstances of its production,
Ashes and Diamonds presents us with the same grand question raised by The Life and Times of Michael K: are we not within our rights to resign from the inhuman and destructive processes of history?  Can Maciek fall in love and go back to the normal life of a young man, or is he morally obligated to kill Szczuka, in accordance with his commitments to his partisan group?  Are our consciences free to change, or must we be forever bound by our decisions once we’ve made them?  I know how I’d answer these questions. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Calm Surface and a Raging Current: On Mikio Naruse’s Scattered Clouds

If you ask someone to name the three greatest filmmakers of Japanese Golden Age cinema, they will almost certainly say: Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Yasujiro Ozu, maybe not in that order, but those are the names that almost all of them will mention.  But a few lone rebels, drunk on the audacity of their own iconoclasm, will include Mikio Naruse.  And you will be hard-pressed to argue the point either way, because if you’re an American, chances are you have had very few opportunities to see Naruse’s films.  On Region 1 DVD, the fine people at the Criterion Collection have released When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) and an Eclipse Collection of several of Naruse’s extant silent films, but that’s it as far as DVD’s are concerned.  And just in the past few years, if you have Hulu Plus, you can access a more generous helping of Naruse films to which Criterion evidently has the rights but which they have not (yet) released on DVD.
Kurosawa—whose position in the Holy Trinity of Japanese cinema some would like to see Naruse usurp—famously said of his rival’s films that they were “like a great river with a clam surface and a raging current in its depths.” The surface of these films is the domestic melodrama; in this respect, they are like more eventful variations on Ozu’s cinema.  In their focus on the plight of women in Japanese society, they recall Mizoguchi (they are both some of the greatest feminists in Japanese cinema; if the greatest feminists in Japanese cinema are men, this is a sad reflection on the egregious sexism in cinema in general and Japanese cinema in particular).  Naruse’s films focus on women, often of the working class, trying to elevate their positions in society or just trying to get by.  Or, if he’s in a more Ozuesque mood, he depicts middle-class women in unsatisfying marriages.  This is the case in Repast, starring Setsuko Hara, and The Sound of the Mountain, adapted from the novel of the same name by Yasunari Kawabata.  And speaking of adaptations, he frequently drew from the work of Fumiko Hayashi, whose writing often shares Naruse’s concern with working-class women.

Naruse on the set.
Naruse’s career spanned the silent era to the late 1960’s, and although many of his silent films are lost, his oeuvre is still vast, and the patchiness of its availability in the US has made my exposure to it both limited and rather scattershot.  So I’ve seen all his feature-length silent films—No Blood Relation, Apart From You, Every-Night Dreams, and Street Without End—and then I’ve seen about five or sex of the dozens of sound films he made.  And one does not need to see too many Naruse films before one picks up on one of his favorite melodramatic plot devices: the car accident.  Naruse’s women, or their children, or their husbands, are constantly getting hit by cars (woe to the heedless pedestrian in a Naruse movie!)  There are enough car accidents on display here that J. G. Ballard himself would say, “Whoa, dude, ease up on the car accidents.” But the car crashes are not gratuitous—or not just gratuitous; nobody can deny that a good car crash is a great way to shake up a story—but, like the car that strikes Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, they are messengers of the universe, demonstrating to us the reign of random chance and its utter indifference to us.

This was amply on display in
Scattered Clouds (1967), Naruse’s final film and the only color film of his that I’ve seen.  Something of an old-fashioned throwback upon its release—bearing in mind that Naruse was now a contemporary of Nagisa Oshima and Yoshishige Yoshida—Scattered Clouds follows the tribulations of a woman, Yumiko, whose civil servant husband is struck and killed by a car shortly before he was to begin an assignment at the Japanese embassy in Washington.  So there’s chance for you.  But it strikes again when Yumiko begins to have a series of random encounters with the driver who killed her husband and, wouldn’t you know it, they begin to fall in love.  Now, this may sound like a melodramatic and one could even say exploitative story, but not the way Naruse tells it.  Remember, this is a “great river with a calm surface.” Everything is calm and understated, like in a Kawabata novel, the pacing of the movie leisurely and the colors a subdued mix of pastels and earth tones  The second great theme, along with the role of chance, is the capacity for forgiveness.  I recall that Evelyn Waugh said of Brideshead Revisited that he wanted to depict “the operation of grace” and I think a similar operation is on display in Scattered Clouds, where two decent people whose lives have been upended find the capacity for love and compassion in the most unlikely of circumstances.