Farocki’s father

I recently read Quinn Slobodian’s book Foreign Front, which I was reviewing for the TLS. It is mainly about the role that students from Africa, Asia and Latin America played in the West German New Left in the 1960s and the complex relationship between intellectuals in the West and revolutionaries in the Third World. But it also includes a discussion of the early work of the German filmmaker Harun Farocki. I was familiar with Farocki and knew he was of Indian origin. But until reading Slobodian’s book, I hadn’t realised that his father was a supporter of Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian nationalist leader who went to Berlin during World War II and formed an alliance with the Nazis. That fact makes Farocki a particularly interesting figure who links the story of Germany’s 1968 generation  – the subject of my book, Utopia or Auschwitz – with the story of the Indian independence movement.

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I’ve been a fan of the movies of Powell and Pressburger since watching A Matter of Life and Death in a film studies class in high school. Last weekend I went to the National Film Theatre in London to re-watch another of my favourite movies of theirs, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), which has recently been restored and re-released. Martin Scorsese – another of my favourite directors – is a big fan of the film and says it becomes “more resonant, more moving, more profound” every time he watches it. For Scorsese, the film is about time, memory and loss. According to the BFI, it’s also “probably the greatest study of ‘Englishness’ in the cinema”. But, as I watched it again last weekend, I found myself wondering whether it’s also about Powell and Pressburger themselves.

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Pen and sword

I just watched Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Paul Schrader’s strange 1985 biopic (if it can be called that) of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, who committed seppuku, or ritual suicide, in Tokyo in 1970 after a failed attempt to inspire an uprising against the post-war state by the Japanese army. I’d wanted to watch the film for a long time, mainly because I am a big fan of Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver has been one of my favourite movies since watching it in a film studies class at school) but also because Mishima is such an interesting figure. Mishima was a real-life Schrader (anti-)hero – lonely, ascetic, tortured and ultimately self-destructive. But this is also a film about the struggle to reconcile life and art – or, as Mishima put it, to achieve “the harmony of pen and sword” – which is why perhaps critics see it as Schrader’s most personal film.

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