HE (2012, Rouzbeh Rashidi, A+10)
Rouzbeh Rashidi never fails to amaze me with his films. His films always show me some creative ideas, which I rarely find in other films. HE is the 13th of his feature films that I have seen, and it also shows me something I haven’t found in other films, including his twelve feature films that I have seen.
Things I like very much in HE include:
1.How to tell a story about a suicidal man. Most films about a suicidal person tell what happens in the protagonists’ lives “visually”. But in HE, the story about the protagonist is told “orally” by the protagonist himself. So what do we “see” in this film? We see the protagonist talking, and we see scenes of the protagonist wandering in some dilapidated buildings, kicking things, searching for something, doing some senseless stuff, doing something in the kitchen, and pondering on drinking a suspicious glass of water. We also see a husband and a wife having a serious problem, because the husband has turned completely numb.
There are some films which tell their stories very powerfully by having the actors talk to us, for example, LUDWIG’S COOK (1973, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg), TEN TINY LOVE STORIES (2002, Rodrigo García), CLOSURE OF CATHARSIS (2011, Rouzbeh Rashidi). HE is also one of these. The protagonist of HE, played by James Devereaux, tells us about his thoughts and his life stories in a very interesting way. It is easy for us to visualize some scenes in our own minds according to the stories he tells. But HE is also much more than an oral tale, because HE also presents us some “ambiguous” scenes of the protagonist wandering in some empty buildings, and intercutting these scenes with the scenes of the protagonist talking. I say these scenes are “ambiguous” because I’m not sure what the real status of these scenes is. Does what happen in these scenes a dream? Or a representation of the mental state of the protagonist? Or things really happen in the life of the protagonist? I’m not sure.
What do we achieve by intercutting these ambiguous scenes with the scenes of the protagonist talking? I’m not sure I can describe it in words. Let me just say it creates some strange feelings, and I think it is something new or something I have rarely seen before.
Does this intercutting help the film delve deeper into the mind of a suicidal man? I’m not sure. And I’m not sure if it is the purpose of this experimental film or not.
However, this kind of “putting two things together to create something new” reminds me a little bit of BIPEDALITY (2010, Rouzbeh Rashidi). One of the most interesting things in BIPEDALITY is the intercutting between the scenes of the hero and the heroine talking to each other with the scenes of beautiful scenery. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between these two films. In BIPEDALITY, there seems to be no obvious connection at all between the talking scenes and the atmospheric scenes, while in HE, the talking scenes and the empty building scenes are linked by using the same actor.
2. I like the rapid editing (or intercutting) in several scenes in HE, though I’m not sure if the rapid editing works every time in this film. The rapid editing that I like very much is the one in the numb husband scene, the black cat scene, and the dialogue scene between the protagonist and his friend. However, I’m not sure if I like the rapid editing in the two monologue scenes or not.
I think it is interesting that the intercutting between the talking scenes and the empty building scenes becomes rapid from time to time. I don’t know what the meaning of this rapid intercutting is. Does it portray the disturbed mind of the protagonist? Anyway, I feel disturbed myself, and my eyes feel irritated a little bit to watch the rapid editing during the two monologues in this film. Am I fair to say something like this? Why do I complain about the rapid editing in HE, but not in THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012, Tony Gilroy)? I think there is much difference between the rapid editing in HE and in action films. The rapid editing in action films connects things, which happen in the same situation. The rapid editing in HE connects things, which happen in different dimensions—physical world vs mental world—or something like that. So the rapid editing in HE creates some very strange feelings, though I’m not sure if it is a pleasant one.
What I’m trying to say is that I wonder if the intercutting has to be as fast as that, or if the juxtaposition of the physical world with the mental world can also be achieved by the split screen, or by turning this film into a two-channel video installation instead. Anyway, if the rapid intercutting is meant to disturb the audience or to make the audience understand how disturbed the protagonist feels, I think it is successful.
But I really like the rapid intercutting in the second half of the film, especially in the numb husband scene. The rapid intercutting in the numb husband scene creates such a powerful feeling in me, and I’m not sure if it is because it can be explained easily or not. I mean I don’t see the “obvious reason” why the empty building scenes have to be intercut rapidly with the two monologue scenes, in which James Devereaux speaks very slowly. But in the numb husband scene, the empty building scenes, which are intercut into it, look like they come from a horror film, and there seems to be some obvious reasons why they have to be intercut rapidly into it. I mean the horror scene seems to suggest what happens in the mind of the husband, and the rapid rhythm of the intercutting corresponds very well with the shock of the wife. So I can say I love the rapid intercutting in this scene very much, though I’m not sure if it is because the rapid intercutting serves some obvious purposes or not.
As for the black cat scene, I love the rapid intercutting in this scene very much, though I don’t understand its meaning or its purpose at all. This rapid intercutting happens when the friend learns that the protagonist is contemplating a suicide. Then we see that the face of the friend on the left side of the screen is intercut very rapidly with the scene of a black cat on the right side of the screen. I don’t know what this intercutting means at all, but I think it is very funny, surreal, memorable, and powerful.
The rapid intercutting which follows in the dialogue scene doesn’t disturb me as much as in the two monologue scenes, and I’m not sure if it is because I have adapted myself to the rhythm of this intercutting or not. Anyway, the rapid intercutting near the end of the film is extremely powerful.
3.The performance by James Devereaux is great, especially in the first monologue scene. I like his eyes in that scene very much. His eyes in that scene have some undeniable power in them. I also think that “the performance” in this film is not the same kind of performance as in most narrative films. Performances in most narrative films require that the actors perform the characters convincingly or as realistically as possible. But in HE, I think it is more about “the powerful presence” of the actor than the “realistic portrayal of the character”. And Devereaux really creates a powerful “presence” in this film.
I also like the performance of the numb husband very much.
4.I also like the slow speech of Devereaux in this film. It is unintentionally reminds me of Deborah Kara Unger in TEN TINY LOVE STORIES, because both Devereaux and Unger don’t tell their stories fluently, but tell stories as if they are disturbed by the stories they tell. It is as if every word coming out of Devereaux’ mouth in this film has gone through a lot of emotions before it comes out. The emphasis on “how the actor speaks” in HE also unintentionally reminds me of CORNEILLE-BRECHT (2009, Jean-Marie Straub + Cornelia Geiser).
5.I also like the blurred quality and the colors of the empty building scenes during the first monologue very much. The blurred quality makes these scenes dreamlike. I also think the colors in these scenes are very beautiful, especially the scene in the green and purple room. The colors near the end of the film are very beautiful, too.
6.The scenes of the protagonist wandering in empty buildings unintentionally remind me of some apocalyptic films made by Teeranit Siangsanoh, such as THE LIGHT HOUSE (2011). I like this kind of scenes very much. It tells no story, but it is very atmospheric. It turns everyday scene (dilapidated buildings) into a highly imaginative fictional world.
7. As in many films made by Rashidi, the ambiguity is one of the most interesting things in HE. There are a few things I’m not sure about in this film. Most importantly, I wonder about the relationship between the numb husband and the protagonist. Are these two the same person?
8. One of the things that make me like the numb husband scene very much is because it is easy to identify with him. I mean the character portrayed by Devereaux is specific and full of details, while the numb husband lacks details, so one can identify oneself easily with the numb husband instead of the protagonist.
One of the things I think while watching HE is that there are thousands of reasons to commit suicide, and each suicidal man is different from one another. The protagonist of HE comes from a family which is too much addicted to television, while some suicidal men among the audience may come from families which are too religious and don’t allow their children to watch game shows on television, or something like that. So while I think HE is a great film about a suicidal man, I don’t think that every viewer with suicidal tendency can easily identify with the protagonist. Some viewers can, but others can’t, I guess. As for me, I can easily identify myself with the numb husband, because there are some instances in my life in which I just want to stop doing everything, talk to no one (except my teddy bears), and go to sleep. Because the film doesn’t give us any obvious reasons why the husband turns numb, so some viewers with different reasons to turn numb can easily identify with this character.
In conclusion, what I like very much in HE is that it presents a ”new and interesting” way of telling a story and presenting the mind of a suicidal man.
APPENDIX: My favorite films with suicide in them
1.THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (1977, Robert Bresson)
2.THE FIRE WITHIN (1963, Louis Malle)
3.GILLES’ WIFE (2004, Frédéric Fonteyne)
4.HE (2012, Rouzbeh Rashidi)
5.THE INGRATITUDE (2005, Setthawit Punpeng)
6.JERICHOW (2008, Christian Petzold)
7.LETTERS FROM THE SILENCE (2006, Prap Boonpan)
8.LITTLE LIFE (2009, Rungkarn Keawsuwan, animation)
9.NO PLACE TO GO (2000, Oskar Roehler, Germany)
10.THE SEVENTH CONTINENT (1989, Michael Haneke, Austria)
11.SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982, Alan J. Pakula)
12.SUICIDE PARADISE (2010, Vatanyu Ingkavivat)
13.SYLVIA (2003, Christine Jeffs)
14.TASTE OF CHERRY (1997, Abbas Kiarostami)
15.THE UNINVITED (2003, Lee Su-yeon, South Korea)
16.WHITE MISCHIEF (1987, Michael Radford) I like how the film presents the activities of Alice de Janzé (Sarah Miles) before she commits suicide very much. We see her singing happily. We see her waking up in the morning and saying something like, “This is such a beautiful morning.” And then she commits suicide. And it is based on a true story.
- Jit Phokaew is a Bangkok-based cinephile and writer of the blog Limitless Cinema.
Originally publish HERE
Redolent of their improvised, ostensibly meandering yet finely structured collaboration ‘Closure of Catharsis‘, actor-director pair James Devereaux and Rouzbeh Rashidi’ s new feature ‘HE’ starts of with a man dressed like an astronaut sauntering through a corridor perhaps looking for something. This exemplary oneiric sequence is characteristic of the dreamlike imagery that abounds intermittently across its running time. With regards to plot and narrative structure the auteur is far more generous this time; we encounter the protagonist who is contemplating suicide, an act seemingly stemming out of some unexplained absurdity of his existence. This is a theme that has frequently been explored by several auteurs in albeit traditional ways, from Louis Malle’s bleak investigation into the desperation of clinical depression in ‘The Fire Within’ to Haneke’s virulent attack on bourgeois complacency in ‘The Seventh Continent’. While every Bresson film yields itself to readings of death and redemption, he made atleast three explicit films on suicide namely Mouchette, The Devil Probably and A Gentle Woman, each significantly in contrast with the next. What Mr. Rashidi however offers us here, is a look at suicidal consciousness at the level of dreams rejecting every banal device.
This has been the defining characteristic of their earlier venture. While large parts of ’Closure of Catharsis’ consisted of a tenuous improvised monologue by an actor with a mise-en-scene almost anti-Wellesian in its foreground background dynamics, the most gripping moments came when vacillating images from a seemingly discordant video diary- of a Jonas Mekas kind suffused through it. Those images form counterpoint to the sere monologue, which at times seems like an experiment in excess of the Cassavetesian or Rivettian nature. Like the introductory extended theatre improvisation that we encounter in Out1 (which I positively assert is extremely crucial to the entire film), the monologue inexorably sets up the crucial theme of the film, that being the subconscious mental-image. This study of the mental image in the case of a suicidal protagonist treads into territories that ordinary filmmakers can never encounter or create. The interspersing of the monologue, the duologue and the dream like imagery help form a distrait mise-en-scene where in the character struggles between self-revelation and disillusionment. I am reminded of Kracauer and his essay on photography, especially his emphasis on the relationship between the photographic image and the mental-image. Among the images, which a human being recollects, the ones that pervade across millions of potential snapshots that present themselves to the memory system, what qualifies those selected images to be representatives of the collective truths of certain periods? Surely it has to do with the truth, the essence that has been liberated through suppressed layers of consciousness or been forcefully shunned out of it. The memory image might fail to stand up to the technical precision of the photographic image, which is concerned, with the moment of the snapshot and the spatial coordinates presented to it but it sure is omniscient across the vast temporal continuum that lies in memory. This peremptory choice of memory cannot be obviated. Several of the images here convey the same omniscience that magically encapsulate the ‘history’of our protagonist (to borrow again from Kracauer). In one remarkable action-reaction sequence during the duologue, the camera captures the protagonist’s friend and the protagonist in his dream state alternately. This has consolidated the character with his mental-image, the present with the history. The chains of temporal context have been broken. These images might certainly seem out of order, just as very often our mental-images have sought emancipation from the social context that inhibited them from innocent clear synthesis. Once this immurement ends, only clarity remains and verity shines through.
Providing momentum to the plot so that the viewer is not disinterested unfortunately has since always been high on the filmmaker’s agenda. To achieve it lesser directors introduce plot twists, peripheral characters and irritating deus ex machinas, while certain conniving self proclaimed intellectuals resort to metaphysical contrivances that lack a trace of veracity. Rashidi achieves the same almost effortlessly through intelligent manipulation of sound and imagery. The titular character’s introductory monologue merely shows a noirish b/w face while we get glimpses of his condition. Later once the surreal imagery is incorporated regularly into the run time, the subsequent part of the monologue shows him in color but out of focus, a putative acceptance of the inherent disparity in seeing less despite seeing more. The background score works wonders when we encounter sharp bursts amid the somber attentuated ambience. Emotions and awareness are both heightened for the viewer, as they ought to be for the character himself. Every single gesture becomes monumental. Nothing is insignificant. Incoherent stills of a couple and the absence of communication both physical and verbal between them, provide ground to what the monologue conveys.
Another key purpose the inchoate imagery serves to achieve is to develop an abstract framework of the character involved. Something that full-blown specificity quite often falls short of accomplishing. The three aspects of the film (the monologue, duologue and dream imagery) give us fleeting insights into the life of the protagonist. This is very different from the bordering on legerdemain, post-modern brechtian V effect which godard and others strove to achieve. This abstraction is essential and it functions in a style completely in conflict with the post-modern approach. The unabashed distancing is replaced by an unabashed refusal to complete acquaintance. An Abstraction towards the mental image. This is the same abstraction that makes Ozu’s films universal and independent in essence from the stringent political situation of his country or Rohmer’s films escape the french sensibility that seem to engulf them. In the great Indian filmmaker G Aravindan’s masterpiece ‘Esthappan‘ we see the titular character lead a Christ-like life balancing between fact and fiction. The fiction is created by the inhabitants of the fisherman town while the fiction in ‘HE’ is predominantly created by the actor while he is absorbed in his monologue. Both tales might not seem satisfactory for the spoon-fed hard-boiled viewer but it is this breezy nature of the plot that helps the receptive viewer coil right to the essence of both characters. Esthappan is only seen as a free floating silhouette, yet is a fully developed mystical character and by eschewing particulars and embracing the mental-image HE manages to create a rich silhouette of an existential end, something hackneyed mainstream cinema can only achieve by obliterating itself.
- Richie Abraham is an Indian cinephile and occasional writer who lives and works in Gurgaon.
- Contact Richie Abraham on firstname.lastname@example.org
- Originally published HERE