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Letters from Lockdown #4: Maja Korbecka

Replying to Savina from Taiwan, Maja talks about film as a source for soul searching and more...

Dear all,

Our correspondence caught me in the middle of moving house, it is the second time since the pandemic started and the eight since summer 2018, but now I find myself in the same place I have set off from: Taiwan. Savina’s words on homeliness moved me a lot, because I feel conflicted inside as rarely before, split between three places and lives: work in Berlin, family in Rzeszów, Poland, and partner in Taipei. I know I am neglecting so many things, but I cannot seem to keep up with the rhythm the world around me changes, the simultaneous rapidness and stillness of reality during the pandemic is extremely confusing. Rodrigo mentioned that this year turned him into a different person, I feel 2020 made me see clearly some of my drawbacks which resulted in recurring impostor syndrome. Meeting you all during Berlinale reminded me of all the things I have been missing, in life and in cinema, as I realized I did not avoid ignorance that sometimes comes along with specialization. I am forever grateful for the days we spent together in Berlin, all the conversations off as well as online, and now, these end of the year letters.

I only now realized that all my favourite films of 2020 I watched after the pandemic reached Europe. Like Adina, I also had trouble focusing for a while, but eventually I settled back into my workaholism. I remember when at IFFR I heard echoes of the outbreak: Diao Yi’nan, whom I really wanted to interview, was not able to attend the festival because of the lockdown in China. Now I think, maybe A Cloud in Her Room would not resonate with me so much if I had watched it in the cinema at IFFR as originally planned? In the opening sequence of the film a young woman walks through an empty apartment, jumps the rope in the hallway, looks out of the window when the windshield suddenly falls out of the frame. I was spellbound by these images as I watched the film on my bed in the middle of the day. I took the laptop under the blanket to take pictures of the screen since Festival Scope blocks screen capture. I just had to save the stills to document one of these perfect coincidences when the film and life align, one of these moments in which cinema makes me feel that I am not alone.

A Cloud in Her Room was not the only film that made me go soul searching. I was moved by the way Sometime, Sometime captures the everyday life of the teenage main character and his mother. Visits at work, driving lessons, dinners together, walks in the evening, buying groceries at the local supermarket, all these scenes reminded me of the times I did the same things with my mom. In Sometime, Sometime the son and the mother care about each other so much that they have to pretend otherwise, because, ultimately, to love somebody is to set this person free. The Girl and the Gun brought back some other memories: uneasiness while walking home alone at night, the growing anger each time I heard sexist remarks and gender stereotypes while growing up in Poland, where now the disregard for women’s rights on account of catholic church and the government has finally struck the limit. The Girl and the Gun encompasses all these feelings in the most perfect way, under a disguise of a young woman in the suburbs of Manila, dressed in a red hoodie, carrying around a gun. In the film she takes to the streets by herself, but the truth is, she is not alone.

On a lighter note, this year cinema also offered me refuge and many opportunities to lift up my spirit and forget for a bit about the roaming chaos. I watched Classmates Minus several days after the end of my two-week quarantine in Taipei. The film, just like Huang Hsin-yao’s previous work The Big Buddha +, reflects some elements of Taiwanese reality so sharply I keep recalling both films and smile each time I see election posters or a fruit calendar hanging on a wall of a security booth. The last film I chose as one of my 2020 favourites is a title I have been looking forward to watching for a very long time. I first heard about Tiong Bahru Social Club while chatting with the producer Huang Junxiang at the Taiwan Cinema Night during 2019 Berlinale. My imagination was immediately electrified by the idea of the film about a Millennial white-collar office worker who on his 30th birthday decides to go on an early retirement and resettle to Singapore’s oldest public housing complexes, Tiong Bahru. The film turned out to be everything I had hoped for and more. The absurd atmosphere soaked in saturated technicolour, confusion with ever-progressing modernity reminded me so much of Jacques Tati’s films. However, there is not much of Monsieur Hulot’s lightheartedness in Tiong Bahru Social Club. It seems Millennials have already given up on the idea they have control over anything in their life. Art deco environment infused with high tech software is both of the past and the future, the present is lost somewhere in between. Or maybe it only appears so?

Not surprisingly, this year I have also been catching up on older titles, random discoveries as well as films I have been wanting to watch for a long time. Similarly to Savina, catching up was also motivated by teaching a class, but instead of Mizoguchi and Ophuls I devoured classics of Maoist cinema and 1930s Chinese cinema. The latter brought me my biggest love and cinematic obsession of 2020: films directed by Sun Yu. It is strange how the images recorded almost 100 years ago can feel so contemporary, innovative, full of life, still relevant. There is so much to learn, so many ways to interact with people via cinema, listening, speaking, sharing. The ways of building and sustaining the community will change and evolve as the film art does too, but the core idea survives.

Missing you all and sending my love in the last days of apocalyptic 2020,
Maja