It was in the building of Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek in Berlin where I really discovered the world of film. I paid a visit to the library by pure ‘coincidence’ – in search of some literature for my thesis. The sight of library members queuing with piles of DVDs was enough incentive for me to become a member and a regular visitor. What an amazing discovery that one could rent unlimited number of DVDs for free! At first, I got carried away and tried to blend in with crowds walking around with their huge DVD selections. Very quickly, I became a bit more realistic and conscientious – take as much as you can genuinely watch and spare some consideration for other library members who might be finding out for the third week that the film they were after wasn’t available yet!
This heaven of any film buff wouldn’t have been as much exciting if it wasn’t for the grand selection of films that the library was able to offer. One can imagine that I never saw its full collection, other than in the online catalogue, but among brilliant titles that I was able to grab, I’ve found myself on a self-guided cinematic journey that held no rules or limits. As I travelled through time and space, I was taken into the vanguard cinema of Bresson, surrealism of Buñuel, existentialism of Bergman through to social documentaries of early Kieślowski. It was a cinematic indulgence that further dived into minimalistic storytelling of Kiarostami, Tarkowsky’s long takes, daring cinema of Teshigahara… In no time, I felt as if I’d travelled half of the world and all of a sudden I was booking my seat for Opening Night.
It was the first film by John Cassavetes that I watched, but it was clear to me that on my journey I would see many more. It might have been that moment of perfectly timed experience, but this film has completely taken me in – I was on stage with actors fully involved in their theatrical dramas, face to face with the fear of aging and death, through creative obsessions of the main character and her crisis at the end and peak of stardom… How different that was to anything else I’d seen before as I followed the first instance of comparison for any American film-maker that starts and ends in Hollywood. In case of Cassavetes this was pretty straightforward since his film-making is everything that Hollywood he is compared to isn’t – bold, rebellious and uncompromising. As he stripped the film-making down to the realistic style of documentaries, he has created a natural environment for the family of actors he has constantly worked with. Relentless in his approach and with the full control over production funding, he has made some of his best films such as A Woman Under the Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. In a way, his uncompromising trait brought Cassavetes closer to Bresson who equally made no compromises to his life and art. How rarely do we see that nowadays and how often do we turn to it in search of artistic distinctiveness…
If you fancy some cinéma vérité, don’t miss the film that has set Cassavetes back on the track of his independent film-making after his debut with Shadows. Released in 1968, Faces gives Cassavetes’ reflection on human relationships depicted in the story about a dying marriage. With its black and white setting and non-improvised spontaneity unique to the director, the film gives a raw immediacy to the burning subject of personal fulfillment and happiness that is current in these modern times as much as it might have been in the 1960s.