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Ferenc Moldoványi: The Way

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While in the 50s, the documentary was being torn to pieces by a growing linguistic consciousness in film-making, today the proliferation of the electronic media is doing the same. This genre, balancing on the insecure borderline between likeness and reality, has always been in trouble when faced with more philosophical questions, e.g. what reality really is. This same insecurity was further increased if the question was “what is truth?". Of course, some situations are clear-cut for the documentary: first of all, the perpetualisation of the past, the archiving of the memory. As films, however, these moving pictures become troublesome as early as the elementary editing of materials. Because the location of the camera, the “drawing of the framework" carries immediate connotations with itself, and “objectivity" is violated as soon as recording starts by the inevitable question: “why exactly then?". This was the lesson drawn by the documentarism of the '50s, - taking into account antecedents like Vertov - which gave rise to a number of films experimenting with the limits of the method. In Hungary, these were films made mainly by the Budapest School. By the '80s and the '90s, primarily as a result of global television, the value of documentaries underwent a radical transformation. Today, the question no longer seems to be the subjectivity of the pictures of a documentary. It is the images of reality that are acquiring the characteristics of moving picture and television. A televised sports event, - but increasingly even a war or the eruption of a volcano, - is as it is for the sake of the cameras that are directed at it, - they conforming to our visual expectations. What is more, even perhaps to program time. The issue is no longer the editedness, the subjectivity, the “fiction" that is inalienable from the documentary. The issue is the fictional character of the facts of the world, i.e. the subject-matter of the documentary. Which is why, after having fictionalised real-life situations, the documentary is now experimenting with giving fiction a documentary character. This, obviously, creates a rather ironic situation, where the credibility of the world created by the moving picture must be questioned. A good example is the Czech phoney-educational Oil-Devourers, or Szilveszter Siklósi's fake-documentary entitled The Real Mao. The playfulness of these films is convincingly proved by the impossibility of their categorisation either as feature films or documentaries. Or, to be more exact, any attempt at categorisation would immediately unmask them. In The Way , Ferenc Moldoványi takes a way that is different from the playful reversing of documentarism, although he certainly transgresses the rules of both the genre of the documentary and the feature film. He experiments with a new form. The film makes us listen to the reflections of an aged Chinese professor, living in Budapest, on his life, his relationship with his son and with women, his ideals, his own way, and “the way". This confession-like, philosophical narrative is accompanied by documentary pictures taken from episodes of his life. A journey is inserted into the motionless time of reflections: the professor returns to China, meets his son, and through a marriage-advertisement, a young woman. The camera records this latter event with a more or less regular cinéma direct method, while the relationship with the son is elaborated - in addition to the pictures - through a correspondence, i.e. a double monologue. A great emphasis, then, is put on the narrative, which in this case is narrative proper: monologue, reflections, confessions. Consequently, the greatest challenge the makers of this film had to face was finding the images suitable to this narrative. Cameraman Tibor Máté endeavoured to visualise the silence, the resignation, the maturity of the thoughts, the wisdom gained by experience, the formation of the Way (Tao) into silent merit. (Composer Tibor Szemzõ had the same goal, but he naturally started from an easier position.) The functional visual material of the life of the protagonist, (the rented apartment in Pest, the "Chinese quarter ", the market of Józsefváros, and the moments of the journey) have been deprived of their sociographic significance primarily with the slow, swimming movements of the camera, creating thoughts-cases. The re-tyings, that in fact make up the larger part of this film, stand in fruitful tension to the abstractedness of the thoughts. Because the meticulous craftsmanship of this film merely tries to distance the viewer from the specific, without cutting him away from it. We see the trashiness of the Eastern-European market, the false radiation of the line of restaurants, we can even draw some sort of a conclusion about Chinese life-style, yet this is not the focus of attention. Attention is directed at the thoughts of a human being; and the pictures are no sociograhpic auxiliaries to his portrait - much rather anecdotal paintings, i.e. pictures from real life. Objects, events, the facts of the experimental world are obviously a part of that, yet the essential is a growing internal distance from them, not by abandoning the world of objects but by transforming it. This is the way the camera is trying to follow, - as the likeable Chinese protagonist is going along a similar spiritual path. If required to define the genre of The Way, I would perhaps call it a confession, in which thoughts held about life and the world are expressed through the facts, events and turnings of a life-time. Seen from this perspective, Moldoványi has undoubtedly found a rich and interesting personality. The question is what he, as a film-maker, could add to this confession; how much his presentation, in addition to the fact of having discovered the protagonist, facilitates the unfolding of a personality on screen. It is a trivial yet unavoidably important fact that we continually see the owner of these thoughts, - the likeness, the portrait, the face and the body of a man more and more sculptural through his words. This is more than the self-explanatory visual presentation of the interview situation, when bodily presence serve to verify what is said. The film especially stresses physical presence, - think of the numerous close-ups, the highlighting of the details of the face at the hairdresser's and the barber's, or of the bath-scene. At the same time, this avoidance of the classical interview situation also visually separates the body from the mind: The man who is talking to us on screen is at best chatting, conversing, talking about his past, while all his deeper reflections are voiced through internal monologues, as if physically separated from any specific deeds. Physical presence, then, verifies on one hand, while on the other, the absence of the connection of physical and spiritual presence emphasises the independence, the importance and the superiority of the latter. (The selection of the very theme of the film does the same on a meta-communicative level, as a Chinese person living in Budapest is approached not from the sociological or political angle, but from the openly philosophical. The film does not even mention the social, economic or political connotations of the presence of the Chinese in Hungary.) In addition to the face, the other main character of this film is the environment, i.e. the relationship between the environment and the thoughts expressed. As mentioned, the main objective of the depiction of the environment, as well as of theme selection, is to take a distance from the specific. And that distance is best recognised in the poetic nature of the depiction of the environment, rather than in the content of the pictures. The mode of depiction that characterises the entity of the film loses its balance twice, in two different directions, once calling attention to the dangers, then to the merits of the method. There are a few pictures that untie the vision from the specific with more than just the invisible threads of form. As if being somewhat suspicious of mere formal solutions, these pictures attempt to directly connect the content of the pictures to the audible narrative. A peacocking and empty symbol-creation is certainly far-distanced from the confessions of the protagonist. But the long, realistic, almost naturalistic scenes, sometimes made with the method of cinema direct, contribute all the more to the portrait drawn. These scenes are glowingly and movingly honest, credible because of their roughness, helplessness, “superfluousness". Such are the two “head-works", the one at the Budapest hairdresser's in preparation for the journey to China, the other at the Chinese street barber's. Both these scenes empty a dramaturgically contentfull situation, allowing ample space for the viewer for silent meditation. And it should be noted that the most beautiful moment of this film is attributable to the classic method of situational documentarism. I am thinking of the confused yet peculiarly intimate encounter between the protagonist and his new beloved, who may perhaps bring him emotional and sensual peace, and I am especially thinking of the moment, when, upon the request of her suitor, the young woman is singing a Chinese folk song by the busy road. A wise, old man and a beautiful young woman stand face to face in China, cars are rushing by and the woman is singing.... This scene is perhaps a logical consequence of the fate of the characters, while the picture that turns this scene into an event is a product of the camera. As if at this point The Way would rehabilitate broken documentarism. Could it be that a “re-cleansing" of the documentary can only be done in this way, by a diversion route?

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