Monday, September 2, 2013

"The Burmese Harp" and "Closely Watched Trains"

The 1956 black and white Japanese film "The Burmese Harp" directed by Kon Ichikawa is a spiritual observation of the horrors of war. Like the Buddha who renounced the material world in search of eternal happiness after seeing a dead body, Japanese soldier Private Mizushima gets an opportunity to behold piles of corpses of his fellow countrymen getting no proper burial during the end of the WWII in Burma. An autodidact harp-player, Mizushima is an emotional person and war's brutality shakes him to the core and he embarks on the path of spiritual enlightenment by adorning the robes of a Buddhist monk and joining the path. His fellow soldiers love him unconditionally and want him to return to Japan but he refuses. This lyrical movie (asserting the power of music) is one of the best anti-war movies to come from world cinema. Acting, cinematography, musical score all are perfectly blended to make an ever relevant movie not to be missed by serious film viewers.

The 1966 black and white Czech film "Closely Watched Trains" directed by Jiri Menzel is a sex-comedy set in WWII context. Milos Hrma joins the rail service in small town in Czechoslovakia to kill time. He longs to break his virginity and become a man but is unsuccessful to do so with a train conductor because of premature ejaculation. Out of frustration, he tries to commit suicide. Egged on by train dispatcher Hubicka (who stamps a woman's buttocks in a beautifully shot erotic scene), Milos finally manages to go inside a woman and gets a sense of manhood and act for his country. This absurdist movie was difficult to understand and it demands repeated viewing to get its fuller meaning. But I liked the idea of the movie, strictly adhering to individuality midst the larger context of a big war.

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