21 October 2008


It's such a joyful experience to watch Zizek! At first, I expected it to be a very difficult film with Slavoj Zizek talking non-stop from beginning to end. Of course, the Slovenian theorist talks a lot and you will not be disappointed if you want to hear him talk. In fact, his talk will cover about 98% of the whole film, while 1% sees him fidgeting and the other 1% is spent on the landscapes of various places, including Buenos Aires and New York, where this globetrotting theorist makes a visit.

This is not a difficult film and somehow I can understand his thoughts here better than reading his dense books, which of course are entertaining. Throughout the 71 minutes we can catch a glimpse of the witty man, whose mental stamina never flags and sometimes viewers just wonder whether this guy ever feels tired, thinking or just surviving. Of course, my feeling for Zizek is more of respect as I'm absolutely in awe of his dedication to philosophy at the expense of other aspects of life as a human being. Of course, what can I say when he claims that even being 'human' is one of the most well-hidden ideologies of all times! That's why he has no qualms about being a 'monster', one whose interest is in the rather insular sphere of modern-day intellectual theory. (I think this really sounds familiar!)

However, it's exactly this point that I beg to differ. Throughout the film, we begin to see that there's something behind his beautiful (some would say obscene) mind and his rather gauche personality. There's this need to be recognised, a strong, passionate determination to get his opinions across. (Once he even ran for a presidential election in his home country!) This is what perhaps becomes a paradox of the film: while Zizek himself declares that being human is just an ideology, he can't help but reveal, though inadvertently, this human side himself in the film. Or perhaps is this just 'my parallax view' of his image? Or perhaps does Zizek himself allow some space for this self-contradiction? Or should we take what he says seriously? There's a sense of joviality that belies seriousness, and at the same time there's a sense of gravity that belies play. We can never be sure how to deal with what he says. This is Zizek's style that blends humour with intellect, perhaps to show the absurdity of our search for the impossible real.

There's one scene you should not miss: Zizek (half-) naked in bed philosophizing about something I can't even remember. Perhaps I was too shocked at the time, never expecting to see him in such an intimate setting. Perhaps he tries to blur the private and public spheres, symbolizing his use of psychoanalysis (a tool for the private sphere of human mind) to analyse the public sphere of global capitalism. If so, this scene is really ingenious.

For me, this film is good. How can I evaluate the success? I don't really know how to explain, but after watching it I just want to read his books. Perhaps less to find fault than to see how he 'enjoys' life through his verbal performance.

19 October 2008


Serbis, a new film from the Philippines, is about a family who runs a soft-porn cinema. It's self-reflexive, beginning with a naked girl (unwittingly) seducing viewers with her repeated phrase "I love you" and ending with a couple trying to negotiate in a sex trade. Of course the whole film is about lust and unfulfilled desire among the cinema's own clientele, but it undoubtedly plays upon the film's philosophical status as a desire-generating machine, turning viewers into voyeurs whose desire remains held in abeyance.

The Pineda family who runs this cinema, strategically and ironically called Family, suffers various plights: the Matriarch Nanay Flor loses her court case against her estranged husband; Alan, one of her nephews, makes a girl pregnant whilst having no wish in getting married; and Flor's daughter Nayda, though married with a son, finds herself in love with Ronald, a relative. One may be right to claim that the family members are struggling to hold themselves together, but one may be wrong to claim that they are giving up hope. What I find refreshing in Serbis is perhaps the fact that life's just like that, with moments of despair and hopelessness, but these are not occasions to give up. Despite all these, Nanay Flor continues to fight the ups and downs of her fate with pride and dignity. Her old age should not blind us to her grace and determination, something that has yet to pass on to the next generation, who are generally portrayed as being subject to uncontrollable desire or resigning themselves to fate.

(On this count, I couldn't help but compare this family to the Buendia in One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which Ursula the matriarch tries to hold everything together.)

I particularly like the fact that throughout the film we are led into the nooks and crannies of the cinema, as if we were led into the labyrinth of desire (if we take this Family cinema metaphorically as the production house of desire) of the Pineda family. Of course, we have Serbis boys who are ready to satisfy the cinema clientele's sexual needs, but we also realise that the lives of the Pineda family themselves are perhaps even more salacious. However, watching their family romances does not create a soap opera feel, but rather something more primitive and sordid, yet universal, like a sexual act itself.

Even though I'm sure a lot of people out there would certainly reject this kind of place, branding it as a place of ill repute, the Family cinema in Serbis is more like a haven for some people who are lost or marginalised by the outside world. We see some touching images of those people who loiter in this unholy ground, yet they are happy chatting away and making friends among themselves.

Perhaps this cinema is like a goat that appears in front of the screen -- it is used as a scapegoat when the authorities need to mete out a punishment. They shut down bars, brothels, and of course soft-porn cinemas like the Family, but they never seem to take enough time to think about the real cause why people frequent this kind of place in the first place. Of course the film does not reveal the root of all the problems, but rather dwells on a temporary solution devised by the marginalised. So temporary and fleeting, yet for some it's beautiful and brutal at the same time.

07 October 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

It's time I reviewed The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, one of the most beautiful films that I've seen this year. It's a pleasant experience to watch such an uplifting film when my life is shit: 300 papers and 12 reports to mark and another academic programme to look after. Yet I'm still alive and face all this turmoil with bravery, especially after I've seen what Jean-Dominique Bauby underwent in the film ...

Even though he suffers from a stroke that has eventually rendered all parts of his body except an eye paralysed, Jean-Dominique Bauby (or Jean-Do as he would like people to call him) still finds his conditions not totally hopeless and even feels inspired to write an autobiography, an act of courage that very few can actually face up to in that situation.

What's beautiful in Jean-Do's storytelling is that he manages to look at his tragic fate from another perspective. He doesn't feel like a victim, but more a sacrificer whose suffering enables other people around him to understand more about love and communication. Thus, more than once we see him metaphorically in a diving bell (probably representing his suffering from the so-called locked-in syndrome) but spreading his arms out as if he were Jesus (probably representing his condition as a sacrificer for other people's happiness). His suffering brings his family together, becomes a cause for his therapists to have faith in life. Thus, he can no longer afford to die, as his life and death means too much for people around him.

Perhaps what this film wants to say is that we are not alone. Our act always has consequences, wittingly or not, for people around us. No man is an island and everyone is connected with another. Jean-Do's suffering, though paralysing him as if he were put in a diving bell, becomes a way for people around him to understand life. For his secretary Claude Mendibil, Jean-Do becomes her 'butterfly' as his imagination actually frees his life and paradoxically his life is thus less restrained than hers.

Perhaps what this film wants to say too is that the purpose of our life is not for us, but for people around us. Before the stroke, Jean-Do's life so far has been self-centered and careless. However, after the stroke, he learns to live with the locked-in syndrome with grace and understands the value of life if it can bring about the others' happiness.

I know this is really another cliche, but I've been thinking about it and trying to interpret my life along that line. Perhaps this is the reason why I've chosen to be a broke brainwasher. Perhaps just for now ...