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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Meandre (Meanders), a Movie by Mircea Săucan

(click here for the Romanian version)

I was in my early twenties when I saw Meandre first time. I was passionate for Polish and Czech movies, considering Wajda, Kawalerowicz, and Forman as my absolute references. It was the epoch of Ashes and Diamonds, Mother Joan of the Angels, and Loves of a Blonde. I hadn't yet seen Polanski's Knife in the Water, while I already knew its subject, from a friend. I had read about the  French New Wave, without having the opportunity to see any of their movies, except for L'année dernière à Marienbad and Hiroshima mon Amour. I watched them one Saturday evening in a student club. Unfortunately the screening conditions were very bad, or maybe I was too tired, something didn't fit, and I wasn't able to enter their atmosphere. Ironically, Meandre of Săucan could be considered firstly in relation with the movies of Resnais.

I visited Prague in 1967 and the spring of 68 was already in the air. I was gained by what I saw there, by the iconoclastic and open ways of youngsters my age. Back in Bucharest, I had my soul full of Prague.

I read about Meandre in a cultural weekly that I was buying each Friday, my gate into the universe of Bucharest intelligentsia. The chronic of Meandre was on a whole page. I felt that this movie was somehow the answer for all I had lived in Prague, and I decided to go to see it the same day.

It was played in only one theater  (as it had only one chronicle in the whole Romanian media): a theater dedicated to non-commercial movies, with an audience of a very special kind, people interested  in cinema as an expression of art, or of political courage, or both. A theater for the happy few, as that journal was also for the happy few only. Curiously enough, this theater survived to our days, while so many others went out of business.

I bought a ticket and went in. The auditorium was half empty - and by the end only a quarter of the seats were still occupied. In the following days I saw the movie two more times. The same lack of attenders: half empty at the beginning, the auditorium was loosing another quarter till the end. The extreme difficulty of Meandre was discouraging even the happy few.

Against all odds I enjoyed enormously this movie, it remained in my heart. I waited for other new movies by Săucan to come, after a couple of years it was 100, then nothing else. Meanwhile the relative openness of the political regime was over and everything became increasingly rigid. Obviously there was no more room for an artist the kind of Săucan. After a long period of being practically banned from making other movies he emigrated to Israel in 1987.

A couple of days ago I watched the movie again, this time on youTube (uploaded there by Marian Sorin Radulescu, who also authored two very good books about cinema).

So, a time frame of more than forty years, almost fifty. I had been in my early twenties, I am now in my late sixties. I had in front of me a whole life that I was populating with my dreams, I am now contemplating a life that had good times and bad times. What I haven't lost was the interest for courageous, modern art.

Again I enjoyed the movie: despite its severe minimalism it is flowing beautifully in front of your eyes.

I would liken it with some other movies that came much later. Let's say, Millennium Mambo of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, or Elephant of Gus Van Sant. It's about similarities in style, not in content.

Forget about a plot, and forget about any temporal order. Something has happened in the past and maybe is going on, the details are scarce. Two architects, one having a successful career, the second a looser. It's pretty clear that the first played dishonestly and destroyed the career of the second. A woman between the two, balancing their convoluted relation. She loves the failed guy, while being married with the dishonest one. Maybe she understands them both, as each of them can have his own points and his own vulnerabilities. The son of the successful architect is pitiless in judging his father and is admiring the other one. Will he remain rebellious and uncompromising? Or will life tame him in the long run? Will he fail, like the architect he now admires? Or will he follow the ways of his father? After all, what are the options in a closed political system?

But all this is somewhere in the background. What we see on the screen is an analysis of  states of mind, moods undergoing unexpected meanders. Instead of a plot with beginning and end, what we are offered in Meandre is a number of scenes that come again and again, obsessive leitmotifs. Each of these scenes contain some weird element that brings the thing to surreal. You'll never know whether these repetitive scenes happen in the present, or are memories of past situations, or just imagining a nebulous future. And what relevance should have time anymore?

Minimalist music works this way. Philip Glass, or Arvo Pärt, for instance. Or John Adams. A number of musical structures coming again and again, creating in the listener an obsessive, hypnotic halo. Instead of a melody, a mélopée

Meandre was perceived as a radical message against the system. Actually its making had been possible only because the political regime in Romania was in a period of relative relaxation. Still, such a movie was too much, even for that period. I was told that the director was forced to change the movie ending several times till it was considered acceptable by the censorship.

Many observed that Săucan began by being a convinced communist to end by being excluded by the system. I don't know whether it's relevant. He could very well remain faithful to his political convictions, while it was his artistic iconoclasm that was radically anti-system. Many observed more or less sarcastically that he had studied the movie art in Moscow, the homeland of communism. Well, maybe that's relevant in the sense that he had Parajanov among his colleagues there, and their life and artistic destinies have shared some similarities. I was thinking at that while watching in Meandre the sequence of a monastery restoration.

Just a few words about the scenarist, the distinguished playwright  Horia Lovinescu. He continued the collaboration with Săucan for his next movie, 100. Which again calls in my mind the movies of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, also the result of a fruitful collaboration with an exceptional writer, this time Chu Tien-Wen.

(Mircea Saucan)



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