Frameland’s Favourite Cinematic Moments of 2021
Another year of stress, hurt, loss, fear and confusion. But throughout, cinema still meant the world to us, because of moments like the ones below. Moments that blew us away, scared us, amazed us, reflected us and/or lifted us up, from all around the world and the year round. Or more than just moments, we got a little creative with this category this year.
West Side Story (2021) – America
West Side Story is 2 hours and 36 minutes long, plenty of moments in there pick one. I’m being flippant but it’d be tough to zero in on one element over another. There’s the shot of Tony standing in a puddle that explodes with light under his feet. There’s the way time stops during Tony and Maria’s first meeting in a way that improves on the moment in the Robert Wise/Jerome Robbins original, one of its strongest passages. But maybe it’s “America,” because it’s the number that seems to be conversing most with what has happened to Musical theatre in the intervening years between the first adaptation and the next. The movie is of course a mirror of today in a hundred ways, but Steven Spielberg and Janusz Kamiński make a number to rival the uplifting vibrance and cultural specificity that defines much of modern musical theatre and they outdo anything in its league, with every corner of the frame, every incidental noise, every extra, every cut, every spin and weave of the steadicam. I was in heaven.
Drive My Car (2021) – Impromptu Dinner
A film as expansive and quietly complex as Drive My Car offers numerous inroads into Hamaguchi Ryūsuke’s central concerns. One of the more understated yet fitting ones comes almost exactly halfway through the three-hour runtime. It arises, like many of the encounters that Kafuku (Nishijima Hidetoshi) has throughout the film, almost by sheer happenstance, after a reveal that Yun-su (Jin Dae-yeon), his dramaturge, is married to Yun-a (Park Yu-rim), one of the actors. This sets the tone for a set of dinner conversations that, as much as any scene in the film, is equally delightful, moving, awkward, and insightful, with Kafuku’s driver, Misaki (Miura Tōko), present as a silent but palpable counterpoint.
Misaki’s taciturn nature exists almost as the inverse of Yun-a’s own physical muteness: where the former keeps to herself, slowly opening up as the film moves along, the latter’s expressivity and passion emerges with forceful poise from her very first scene. While often present, she is given a handful of true showcase scenes, each seeming to tilt the entire film’s sense of equilibrium on its axis. And it is here, the only one where the words are her own and not Chekhov’s, that it comes most fully into being — though of course she is still being interpreted by Yun-su, as he renders Korean Sign Language into spoken Japanese; characters are fittingly never free from mediation in Hamaguchi’s films. Talking about her past and her decision to start acting, her clarity of thought and reason shines all the brighter in the face of the conflicting emotions present elsewhere. The ability to move on from past traumas and find a better tomorrow is one that each character is seeking in their own way, and Yun-su’s role in this, and her totally generous description of how she got to it, is as cathartic and beautiful as the many other brilliant scenes of more forthright understanding. And it ends, crucially, on Misaki, whose final actions reverberate with entirely unexpected profundity much further down the road.
The upside-down shot
This year it isn’t one shot or sequence that pops up in my head when thinking of my favourite cinematic moment, but a more general stylistic choice. It made me realise I love cinema partially because it gives the viewer the possibility to watch the world from a different perspective. I am talking about the upside-down shot. There are three movies I saw on the big screen that made me hold my breath when the camera tilted: Happy Together (1997), The Green Knight (2021) and Shiver (2021). It might be just a cinematic trick, but after sitting at home for six months I’ve started to appreciate the grandeur of stylistic flourishes even more. The shot in Happy Together is the most narratively motivated, as Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s character wonders about how Hong Kong would look upside down. Before seeing the movie at the cinema I’d watched it twice at home and it was magical seeing it in a theatre, especially because Happy Together grows on me upon rewatching, making me understand the story and relationships in a different way every time (Happy Together was re-released in Dutch cinemas as part of a Wong Kar-Wai retrospective). Of all the movies I saw this year The Green Knight has probably succeeded most in taking me to a magical world. Shiver was the biggest surprise though. I watched it purely because it fit in my Camera Japan schedule, but it managed to immerse me in these music performances perfectly balanced with impressive imagery of nature and the musicians (For more on Shiver, see our Frameland Recommends article).
Going to the Cinema again for the first time again
I always loved going the cinema (if not, what would I be doing creating and running this publication?). But over the years, I had started to take it for granted, without really realising it. When the year started, my country had been in full lockdown for a few weeks, the second one after the first in March-May of 2020. It wouldn’t end until June, lasting almost a full 6 months. It made me realise just how much I loved going to the cinema, and how much I had taken it for granted. And how much I missed it during that long period of no cinema. Online festivals couldn’t hold a candle to the real thing, and new releases no longer came with any urgency (in case of whatever was anointed by Oscar nominations last year, I suppose that is a good thing, but otherwise…).
I’m not a religious person, but just being able to go to the cinema again this past June felt like what I imagine a religious experience to be (my only other point of comparison being Bruce Springsteen concerts). In The Heights (2021) surely is a flawed film, it might not even be any good at all. I didn’t care. Just being in a cinema hall again, experiencing film, the lights, the colours, the music, the movement, etc. A big-budget musical, with big numbers, dancing and what at the time felt like decent songs, was just what I needed. Now we’re in lockdown again here. Fittingly, the last film I saw in the cinema for what might be a long time was Spielberg’s West Side Story (2021), which was actually a great film, a glorious goodbye for now.
Kaj van Zoelen
Charlie Chaplin Retrospective
How excited I was when I heard about the full-length Charlie Chaplin films being restored and distributed in cinemas again! During the fall, I travelled through the Netherlands to see these ten films and it was wonderful to see that this retrospective did not only attract retired people (I would like to point out here that I myself am in my late twenties), but teenagers and (grand)parents with children as well. The fact that they all laughed about that little Tramp and his naughty tricks proves that Chaplin’s films are timeless. Most of them don’t have that slow pace you see in many other films from the era he worked in, and his jokes still work because the timing and choreographies are so well tried out. And yes, I write tried out here, because Chaplin didn’t write scripts, he tried out everything on the set right before the recording camera. This, in combination with his perfectionism, made Chaplin probably one of the hardest directors to work with, but all the effort made him one of the best known figures of cinema history worldwide.
Seeing all his films in a row makes you aware of Chaplin’s impairment though, something he himself was aware of. The self-reflectiveness in films like Modern Times (1936) and Limelight (1952) shows that the transition to “talkies” didn’t fit him so much. He was one of the greatest mime artists, not a good talking actor. At first, he dared to ridicule the talkies, but later he realised that his career had come to an end. Chaplin as an old man (2K/4K-restoration is not beneficial for wrinkles!) says goodbye to his character that made him famous, though he can’t resist playing the clown from time to time. If I have to choose one film as my favourite, I would choose City Lights (1931).
Lisa van der Waal
Rehana (2021) – Door
In his sophomore full-length feature, Abdullah Mohammad Saad limits the cinematic space to the walls of a hospital building. For almost two hours we are locked in an environment full of LED panel lights, narrow corridors, small offices, and cramped dorm rooms. We see the world through the eyes of the overworked university professor, Rehana. She is in many ways in a difficult position in society – a widow, a woman in academia and the only breadwinner for her family – she is constantly on guard and ready for counterattack. When one day she overhears noises in front of her male colleague’s office and soon sees a female student storming out from it trembling, Rehana instantly commits to seeking justice. However, the vicious circle of violence is not so easy to escape from.
Her story starts, develops, and ends with the closed door which is the main motif in the film. It simply but brilliantly reflects the limited knowledge one has of the world. The fear and uncertainty this quiet realisation ingrains deep within, builds irresistible suspense that only keeps growing until this last scene. Rehana’s daughter wants to attend a school performance, but Rehana forbids her because she knows her kid can do so only after apologising to a boy whom she attacked for bullying her. The girl puts her hand on the door frame to her mother’s office so as not to be locked inside. Until the very last moment we do not know how this will end, if Rehana will smash the door on her little daughter’s hand or if the girl decides to let go and be pulled inside. The fear of being locked in a room is very intense in childhood and the scene made me think of the time when as a 5-year-old I fell asleep in a hotel room and my parents went downstairs to a club. I woke up in the middle of the night and did not know where they went. The room was locked, and I started to panic, screaming and banging on the door. Hysteria is a natural response to feeling mistreated without knowing a reason. In the end, whether older like Rehana or younger like her daughter, no person deserves to be locked inside of a room.