2016年4月2日 星期六

Oscuro Animal ( 朦朧的獸)

Since the sound track was first added to black and white films in 1929, dialogue has become synonymous with cinematic films. We've become so used to it that it really comes as a great shock if ever we were to see a film without any dialogue at all, as if the film were a mime. When watching such a film, we just keep hoping, without really having to think about it, that soon, the main characters in the film would somehow start to talk to each other. At least, that's my state of mind when I watched the film late yesterday afternoon. But I was disappointed again, again and again. By the middle of the film, I had given up and just concentrated on the mostly static and obviously carefully composed images on the cinematic screen. But though there was no dialogue,  that doesn't mean that that was no sound at all. After all, it was not a silent black and white film with written dialogues or brief narratives or titles projected on to a little screen on the left or right of the main screen, the kind of thing which was habitually done in the cinemas in Hong Kong in the early 1950s. The sound consisted of merely background sounds: heavy rock and roll or and rap music in which the singers keep incessantly firing a random string of phrases which rhyme with each other but which are otherwise totally disconnected and almost as if they were just meaningless sonic components forming part of the all important dynamic rhythm of the music, sound for the sake of sound, sound for the sake of that paramount rhythm and that rhythm as the sonic embodiment of the movement of life itself. There are of course other sounds:the sound of insects, birds, the gurgle of running stream water, the sound of hands grating the metal sheets in dark urban slum dwellings and the sound of gun fire, of loud banging of rifle butts against the side of a coach etc. What am I talking about? It's a most unusual film called  Oscuro Animal (2016) written and directed by the Colombian script-writer-cum-director Filipe Guerrero, a film nominated for the Tiger Award at this year's Rotterdam International Film Festival. "Oscuro" is a Spanish word meaning variously hidden, dim, shadowy, indistinct, dark, murky and gloomy. In the Spanish language, one usually places the adjective after the noun but one can also put it in front of the noun. When one does that, that means the author wishes to give special emphasis to that adjective. In a film without dialogue the way the director creates the title of such a film the placement of that all important adjective takes on a special meaning.

It's a film set in the small villages, shanty towns, rivers, streams, bushes, pools and jungles of Colombia. Actually we don't even know where exactly such places are located. Neither do we know the names of any of the characters because we never hear them speak to one another. The almost static camera captures various tableaux in the lives of three unnamed women ranging from teenage to middle age, running for life. They all share a common fate: they had to face strong men with pistols, automatic rifles, machine guns: men in military uniforms, some with camouflage coloring, some without, some dark skinned, some fair skinned. Such men seem like different versions of petty tyrants, dictators, slave masters, the embodiment of physical and psychological violence, subjected to sudden, inexplicable, unpredictable yet implacable, turbulent and imperious whims who demand instant sexual satisfaction and the will to dominate women which will never allow any form of resistance, no matter what their official political ideology may be. The source of their power? Just brute violence or the threat of violence.

We see the numbing fear, the silent anger, the sense of impotent desperation and yet beneath all that that primitive and quiet determination to survive and to escape from what appears to be their fate, their little gestures of kindness to each other, a kindness which no amount of brutality and violence of war can completely erase. One of the women took under her protection another little girl whose widowed mother died during one of the bouts of senseless violence against the occupants of a coach perpetrated by a group of uniformed para-military. They trudged through hot humid overgrown tropical jungles, dusty roads, step by step, alone, without anything, completely destitute. They stopped by a roadside bench where a middle aged or another older woman were sitting, awaiting passing trucks or lorries which would take them to their destination, their eyes staring vacantly ahead of them into empty space. They barely noticed the arrival of the two newcomers. Yet when one of them sitting on the further side half turned her head and caught sight of the newly arrived pair at the corner of her eyes, without a word, she reached her hands into her tacky shoulder bag, slowly took out a bun, passed it to the younger woman sitting next to her to her right hand side. The woman in the middle took  the bun and without looking in the direction of the first woman and the child, passed it to the child, who looked at it, also in silence, split it into two halves and then passed one half to her unknown guardian before she started taking a bite. They knew what it meant. Words seem totally unnecessary.

In the middle of the film, we see the black teenager sneaking into the run down kitchen of a metal hovel, discover a pot of rice and some left over vegetables on a plate beside the pot, reach her hands into the pot and slowly take a few mouthfuls. In the next shot, we see another little girl standing at the door to the kitchen, three feet behind her, silently observing the stranger eating. The young black teenager reached her hands beneath her corduroy hot pants, took out one of her naked plastic dolls, her only psychological and emotional companion in the world, and passed it to the little girl. Shortly before the film ends, we see the same black teenager collapse in front of the metal gate  of one of the local vegetable markets of Bogota. From the brightening slit beneath the metal gate, we know that morning has come. Next we see another black hand reaching towards the figure slumped into a pile on the rough and dirty floor, pick her up, had the one arm of the limp figure over her own  shoulder and took her home, placed her on a plank bed, placed a towel over her head and another over her stomach and then we see them peeling some tarot in front of the market in the next shot. When the film ends, the second woman with the child was found in a social centre, writing some words on a piece of white drawing paper with a felt tip marker, the little girl looking on curiously. And the third woman was seen mopping the floor at the back of what must have been a small bar or restaurant because we hear some loud music playing.

It was a very powerful film. A dialogueless but not soundless film which most eloquently  indicts the senselessness and cruelty of violence and the needless(?) pain and suffering caused by such physical, emotional, personal and and institutionalised violence. I like the way the way Filope Guerrero uses symbols: the three plastic dolls lying on the floor of a jungle hut,  which seem to be
the very image of the three women in the film, the image of the natural river at the start of the film where the men can take off their military uniform and bathe sans souci, and the image of the stream where the black teenager could wash off the mentrual blood from her soaked pad and obtain a measure of relief and the final ending image of the film of one of the three women using water to mop up the dirty floor to the sound the loud contemporary music and wringing the soiled water from the mop with which she patiently cleaned the floor and emptying it into her bucket. Water seems to suggest that it's the only the element in our world of violence, desolation, of general misery with which we could clean off a bit of the dirt and grime of violence and into which we may obtain a bit of  consolation, however ephemeral and the sound of running water seems to suggest the natural passage of time. 

And what is the "animal" in the title of the film? Perhaps it's the animal nature in the masculine gender of our race, or the ineliminable traces of aggression deep in the primeaval psyche of the human race itself, something which needs redemption,  a redemption which can only be provided by women, by their quiet endurance, their indomitable will to survive despite the direst physical and emotional hardships and their sense of cariño, their congenital sense of caring for each other? ?? Whatever the truth may be, it's a film that sears one's heart and one's soul. It's also a film about the quiet courage and determination of the "weaker sex". A film which makes us feel not a little guilty about our nit picking and petty complaints about the so-called "dissatisfaction" of our life in such a peaceful and prosperous Hong Kong: a silent film which silences all our urges to complain any more.