Urban stories thematic comparison student notes use this


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  • Although the films span 15 years & 2 continents, the context of the production in all the films occur during times of difficulty in the place or time they were made
  • All films are structured around two separate places that offer some kind of contrast , comparison or development
  • The City is represented as fast and energetic in As Tears Go By and Head On; the action occurs at night time and life is fast, powerful and hedonistic. In L’Haine, the city is represented as 2 conflicting characters; one that is enclosed, limiting and full of aggression and the other that is beautiful, artistic & serene. In Lilja 4-ever, the City is represented as a dying space; there is little sense of life or opportunity for the people who live there.
  • In all the films, the influence of the urban environment on the characters is huge. They are all effected by the environment they live in; from what they do, how they live, the actions they make, the consequences they face and their attempts at escape.The city & urban environment are seen to trap the characters – with the exception of Head On - they are born into the city and are part of it. The Urban Environment is more powerful than they are - so there is little chance of successful escape.In Head On, there is a sense that the characters use the city & what it offers to help them escape their problems, rather than the city using them. They are both able to escape at the end as they have been able to overcome their personal problems and no longer need the safety of the city to hide in.
  • Physical:In all the films, power is expressed physically. In As Tears Go By & L’Haine it is through physical violence and aggression, although in L’Haine the 3 characters commit few physical acts of violence and instead wield fear through the gun & fists. In Head On and Lilja 4-ever, there is also self-harming and sexual violence as ways in which physical power are represented.Authority:In As Tears Go By and L’Haine, the representation of power through authority is clearly seen through conflict between authority figures such as the police and the main characters. The power is ultimately held by those in authority. In Head On and Lilja 4-eva there is a less obvious representation of authoritarian power. Neither Cahit, Sibel or Lilja are respectful of authority figures they come into contact with and in Lilja forever, their power is questionable.
  • In all films, the representation of power through Gender is a key element in how power relations are expressed. Men clearly hold power in the films – in As Tears Go By and L’Haine the female characters are distractions and it is the relationships between the male characters that is powerful and absorbing. In Lilja the power is held by the men and there are repeated examples to show this – her mother’s ‘lover’, the ‘friends’ who rape her, Andrei, her ‘prisoner’ in Sweden and the men who use her. Even her aunt is represented as masculine, perhaps to justify the power she holds over Lilja. There is a contrast in Head On though – although it appears that the men hold the power, the women are able to manipulate them and in a sense are more powerful as they are able to do what they ultimately want to – with some compromise.
  • In all the films the characters find themselves in the positions they are in as a consequence of their social status and subsequent lack of power within wider society. In As Tears Go By, Wah and Fly as Triad gang members form an underclass. Whilst they climb their way up the hierarchy in the gang world to gain respect and power, they are ultimately killed by those in a superior social status to them – the police. In L’Haine, the characters social status is also reinforced by their ethnicity. They are judged by the police, middle classes and people they meet based on their age, ethnicity and class. In Head On, Cahit wants to be part of the underclass, he doesn’t want power or social standing but to disappear and in Lilja, her low social status reflected by her mother’s estrangement and her impoverishment make her a vulnerable target for those who hold power over her financially – Andrei showers her with material gifts and promises and that is attractive to her.
  • The representation of power through the family is represented in two distinct ways in the films. One – family is a brotherhood. It doesn’t have to include relatives but strong, powerful friendships which are supportive, show loyalty and provide support for each other. The sense of a brotherhood in As Tears Go By and L’Haine is a powerful concept and drives much of the action in both films. Two – family as suffocating and oppressive. This representation refers to family in a traditional sense – parents, aunts, cousins etc... where family tradition and expectations are important and hold power. In both Head On and Lilja the traditional family as suffocating is an important concept and the consequences of family wishes drives much of the action in these two films.
  • Relationships are represented as a key source of power in all of the films; although the type of relationship differs the power presented by a relationship can be seen to be both positive or negative in the films. In all 4 films the key relationships are friendships. In As Tears go By and L’haine, the friendships are supportive and although their friendships lead to disastrous consequences, they are powerful and affirming relationships. In Head On, the physical and emotional relationship between Cahit & Sibel is powerful and destructive but offers a way out for both characters, which enables them to develop over the course of the film. They are kindred spirits and their relationship begins as friendship. In Lilja 4-ever, a number of different relationships are explored, which all hold different aspects of power. The most obvious power relationships are between Lilja and her mother, aunt, Andrei and her ‘prisoner’. These can all be seen as negative and leave Lilja as powerless. However, her relationship with Volodya is a positive representation and although she deserts him, it shows that friendship, although both powerful and fragile, is necessary to survive the Urban environments that the characters live in.
  • There is a sense of material poverty across all the films but in As Tears Go By, L’Haine and Lilja 4-eva, the material poverty can be seen as a consequence of where the characters live, their social status and the lives they lead. In Lilja we see a ‘hand to mouth’ existence where an uneducated Lilja turns to prostitution to pay her bills and buy food. In As Tears Go By and L’Haine, there is a sense of poverty based on the social status of the characters but they have some material possessions and Fly is driven by money and material gain. However, in Head On, Cahit has chosen material poverty – he isn’t a materialistic person and his material possessions only hold memories he would rather forget.
  • The representation of emotional poverty is only seen in Head On and Lilja 4-eva, although the two films themselves are very emotional to watch for the spectator. In Lilja, there is very little expression of emotion from any of the characters, which makes Lilja’s plight even more distressing; especially on the few occasions where Lilja is emotional. There is a sense that nobody feels anything – the environment they live in is dead and so are they. In Head On, Cahit is emotionally impoverished and suppresses his emotions with drink, drugs and suicidal tendencies. In contrast, Sibel is overly emotional and she awakens Cahit to his emotions and feelings and he begins to live again. In As Tears Go By and l’Haine, the characters are emotionally charged and much of the action centres around their emotional reactions to situations. However, they demonstrate their emotional response through violence and aggression.
  • With the exception of Head On, there is a sense of educational poverty in the films. The environment and social standing of the characters has a much bigger impact on their lives then the prospect of a good education. In As Tears Go By, Wah and Fly have been educated by the streets and in L’Haine and Lilja, a formal education appears to offer little value or appeal; it’s unlikely to open up opportunity for them as they are already assigned a life of unemployment, low paid labour or crime and they have no role models to aspire to or tell them otherwise.
  • There is a sense of a poverty of opportunity in the Urban Stories although the access to opportunity is different. In As Tears go By, L’Haine and Lilja, there are very few opportunities presented to the characters as a way in which they can develop or make their lives better. In As Tears Go By, Wah’s opportunity to leave Kowloon isn’t taken, in L’Haine, the characters and other young people have nothing to do – they are bored and few opportunities come along to take them out of the cycle of boredom and petty crime. In Lilja, the only opportunity that is attractive is the opportunity to escape, and even that is a false hope. However, in Head On, the representation of poverty of opportunity is slightly different. Sibel is denied numerous opportunities or experiences by her family whilst Cahit actively denies himself opportunities to live an enriching life. It is through their meeting that they create new opportunities to develop each others lives.
  • Representation of physical conflict is apparent in all of the films and is expressed through either physical or sexual violence – often the characters are in conflict with somebody who holds a position of power over them.The main characters in the films are complex and multi-dimensional. They all experience psychological conflict in some way – usually they want to do one thing but in the end they do something else, which often has bad consequences and makes situations worse for the character or others they are connected with.
  • Emotional conflict and the idea of feeling one thing but doing another is a central theme in the films and the main characters all suffer emotional conflict in some way. In As Tears Go By, Wah and Fly both really want to feel love but the loyalty to the brother hood and need for respect is what they know and therefore what they do. In L’Haine, Hubert and Vince are often in conflict because Hubert recognises Vince’s aggression comes about from feelings of inferiority, which Vince tries to hide. In Head On, the emotionally repressed Cahit is made to feel alive by Sibel, who then can’t see that he has fallen in love with her and he lashes out, killing Nico in an act of jealousy. In Lilja, although Lilja feels deep friendship with Volodya, she is so desperate to escape that her relationship with Andrei is a source of emotional conflict between them; Volodja is able to see that Andrei is fooling her but Lilja’s emotions are clouding her judgement.
  • The representation of conflict through material objects or gain is evident in 3 of the films. In As Tears Go By, Fly wants material status symbols to show his success as a Triad brother but it costs him his life and Wah still has to help him complete the assassination. In Lilja, she resorts to prostitution which, although enabling her to afford basics such as food, it also makes her vulnerable to sex trafficking, which like Fly, leads to her downfall. The gun as a material possession is also a source of conflict in L’Haine as it masks Vince’s feelings of inferiority and Hubert sees this. Similarly to Fly and Lilja, the material is also a source of Vince & Hubert’s downfall. In Head On, there is little conflict or interest in material possessions – Sibel uses the wedding money to do up Cahit’s flat but this is quickly destroyed, and then mended, by Cahit. Ironically, they are the only characters from the case study films who are able to escape their environments.
  • The Social / Cultural position of the characters presents a source of conflict in each of the films. In As Tears Go By and L’Haine there is a clear social conflict. Also in L’haine, and in Head On, Cultural conflict is evident as more than one culture comes together and collides, the characters find themselves having to adapt to both cultures or facing racism. In Lilja, neither her social status or cultural difference have an impact on her development in the film – she has no social status as a slave and the city she is in is irrelevant; she could be anywhere, even America.
  • Relationships are represented as a key source of conflict across the films and it is the conflict between the different characters and their relationships that contributes to much of the action in the films. The conflict felt in the relationships by each of the characters leads (often indirectly) to a negative outcome as in As Tears Go By, L’Haine and Lilja all the main characters die. In contrast, where the conflict between Cahit and Sibel’s relationship in Head On drives the film, there is a relatively happy ending and although they end up apart, there is the sense that any conflict is resolved.
  • The family represents an important source of conflict in As Tears Go By, Head On and Lilja. Although the ‘family’ is surrogate in As Tears Go By, Wah’s escape to Lantau island is jeopardised by the conflict created by little brother Fly. In Head On and Lilja, it can be argued that family conflict is crucial to the narrative of the films; without the consequences of family conflict, neither Sibel or Lilja may have made the decisions they felt forced in to. In contrast, L’Haine represents a warm, secure family unit. Although father figures appear absent, the interaction within the families is caring; which suggests that although there is great cultural and social conflict, the characters can depend on families and friendships for support.
  • Urban stories thematic comparison student notes use this

    1. 1. FM4 – WORLD CINEMA Urban Stories Thematic Comparison
    2. 2. Themes to Compare• Context of time and place – Production – Film• Representation of the city – The city as a character in itself – The influence of the urban environment on the characters• Representation of Power – Physical / Authority / Power / Gender / Social Class / Money / Family• Representation of Poverty – Material / Emotional / Education / Opportunity• Representation of Conflict – Physical / Psychological (of the mind!) / Emotional / Material / Social & Cultural / Family & relationships
    3. 3. Context of Time & Place• Production – where and when it was made – As Tears Go By • 1988, Hong Kong – East meets West / MTV Culture – L’Haine • 1995, Paris – France – Social unrest & rioting in Beaulieu – Head On • 2004, Germany / Turkey – European Union & Turkish Immigration – Lilja 4-ever • 2002, Estonia / Sweden – high levels of unemployment / Former Soviet Union
    4. 4. Context of Time & Place• Film’s setting – where and when it is set – As Tears Go By • Late 1980s Hong Kong • City streets & bars of Kowloon contrasted with Hotels & spaces of Lantau Island – L’Haine • 1995 – Paris – set over 24 hours • Action cuts between life on the estates outside the city of Paris and an afternoon / evening / night in the City – Head On • 2004 – Hamburg, Germany & Istanbul, Turkey • Begins with life in Hamburg and then grows and develops to show life in Istanbul – Lilja 4-ever • 2002 – Estonia & Sweden – cities appear irrelevant • Begins with life in Estonia – bleak & dismal but with hope of escape • develops to life in Sweden, equally bleak & dismal, with no hope of escape
    5. 5. Representation of the City• The city as a character in itself – As Tears Go By • Seedy streets / Mah-jong clubs / dark alleyways / rundown apartments / TV screens / neon lights / night clubs & bars / x rated cinemas – L’Haine • High rise blocks / enclosed / dark streets / train stations / police stations / graffiti / gym / art gallery – Head On • Graffiti / late night bars & night clubs / empty dark streets / rundown apartment / blocks of flats / dark • Wide open spaces / mostly light – Lilja 4-ever • Dark, dreary / proliferation of high rise blocks / run down & decaying / schools / basic grocery shops / pentagon / night clubs
    6. 6. Representation of the City• The influence of the urban environment on the characters – As Tears Go By • Sense of entrapment by & addiction to the environment • Presents a continual cycle of consequence • Can never fully escape – the city is what they know & where they belong – L’Haine • Sense of entrapment by their environment but also a sense of community & belonging • They want to be a part of the ‘beautiful’ environment of the City & enjoy it in the same way as the middle class but are ‘apart’ from it. • Can never fully escape – tied to their place in terms of social class / ethnic status & where they ‘belong’ as result. – Head On • Sense of entrapment & addiction to the environment & the escapism from reality that it can offer • They are able to escape at the end as they use the urban environment for their own personal means, rather than it using them – Lilja 4-ever • Sense of entrapment & despair – they try to escape through leaving or drugs • Decaying environment reflected in the banality of their lives – limited choices or opportunities in terms of who to live or what to do • Only one means of escape
    7. 7. Representation of PowerPhysical – As Tears Go By • Gang warfare and violence – L’Haine • Rioting of youths and physical violence of the police – Head On • Anger & aggression – physical harm offers a release • Sexual power & use of sex to gain a feeling of power – Lilja 4-ever • Sexual violence - rapeAuthority – As Tears Go By • Big brothers, Godfathers & police – hierarchies in levels of power through authority – L’Haine • The police / middle classes – Head On • Psychiatrist / Law (prison) – Lilja 4-ever • Teachers / social workers – the power of their authority is ?
    8. 8. Representation of Power• Gender – As Tears Go By • Men & hierarchy of power between men – the brotherhood • Women seek marriage / love to gain respect – L’Haine • Male characters represented as important • Women represented as mothers, children or sexual objects – but isn’t a film about women (or for women?) – Head On • Male family members appear to hold power • Women actually hold power – Sibel , her mum & cousin are all powerful in their own way & are able to manipulate the men & different situations to their own advantage – it isn’t without some compromise though – Lilja 4-ever • Men – they use women sexually for their own gratification – physically & financially
    9. 9. Representation of power• Social class – As Tears Go By • Triad gangs – they are the underclass but there is a strict code of status within the gangs • Wah has power through his social status in the gang as a ‘big brother’ but Fly lacks power and is intent on working his way up the hierarchy to gain it. – L’Haine • 3 main characters represent 2nd generation working class, ethnic minorities – Algerian, Jewish, African • They are shown to be powerless against the police & working class – who are of superior social status to them – Head On • More about ethnicity than social status • Cahit’s social status is unclear but he chooses to live & look like he’s part of the underclass & he doesn’t want the power associated with being middle class – Lilja 4-ever • Social class is identified by material possessions and who can earn money – whether it be through sex trafficking or prostitution. People with money or access to it hold power
    10. 10. Representation of Power• Family – As Tears Go By • The ‘triad’ family is a powerful bond – loyalty of brotherhood – L’Haine • Bond between the three friends is powerful, the rioting is sparked by the death of their friend – a brotherhood – Head On • The traditional Turkish family exert power but Sibel (and Cahit) feel repressed by this. Sibel’s instinct is to rebel. Cahit is respectful but opposing. – Lilja 4-ever • Lilya’s Aunt is able to exert power due to ideas about respect and tradition but Lilya is repressed by this and lacks a voice.
    11. 11. Representation of Power• Relationships – As Tears Go By • The most important relationship is that between the ‘brothers’ of the gang members – this is a powerful, if destructive, relationship. • Nghor is a distraction – she represents a way out for Wah but it isn’t enough for him. – L’Haine • The key relationships are between the 3 friends and their sense of duty towards their murdered friend. • This is a powerful relationship and their friendship is what drives their actions. – Head On • The love affair between Cahit and Sibel is powerful, destructive and addictive. The film is centred around their relationship, it’s development and how each character is changed by it. – Lilja 4-ever • A number of relationships are addressed in the film; mother and daughter, friendship and romantic relationships – Andrei. • Relationships are shown as fragile.
    12. 12. Representation of Poverty• Material – As Tears Go By • Material possessions are what drive the brotherhood • Fly has few and is driven by a need to be materially successful. • Wah is successful but has no obvious material wealth. – L’Haine • Material possessions are used to identify the 3 different characters & their social status. • They live in a run down estate and there is some sense of material poverty . – Head On • There is a sense of material impoverishment with Cahit. His apartment is a wreck – but this is something he chooses , he prefers to spend his money on drugs and alcohol. – Lilja 4-ever • Abject material poverty is present throughout the film from the representation of the environment to where Lilja lives, the clothes she wears, the drugs they take and her most treasured material possession is a picture of the Madonna and child – a clearly spiritual reference.
    13. 13. Representation of poverty• Emotional – As Tears Go By • Emotionally charged rather than impoverished. All of their actions are linked to an emotional response in some way. • Their emotion is mostly channelled through violence. – L’Haine • Emotionally charged rather than impoverished. Their quest for justice for their friend is centred around emotional , rather than rational action. • Their emotion is channelled through aggression. – Head On • Cahit is emotionally impoverished. His need for drink, drugs and his sense of destruction can all be seen to be a reaction to his inability to express his emotional pain. – Lilja 4-ever • There is little emotion from Lilja’s mother, aunt or friends. • The only emotional reaction we see in the film is Lilja running and screaming as her mum is leaving and the cutting of her hair when imprisoned. • There is a sense that there is no point to emotional reactions, you just have to get on with life.
    14. 14. Representation of Poverty• Education – As Tears Go By • Their education is the street & the hierarchy of the Triads. – L’Haine • Education doesn’t get them anywhere and therefore isn’t valued. – Head On • They appear to be educated and knowledgeable but Sibel seeks other experiences and Cahit is too depressed to care. We know that he is educated about music though. – Lilja 4-ever • Lilja leaves education; she isn’t valued by her teachers and she knows that an education is unlikely to get her a job where she lives.
    15. 15. Representation of Poverty• Opportunity – As Tears Go By • Very few opportunities are offered – Nghor offers the opportunity for Wah to escape his Triad life but this is overshadowed by the opportunity for Fly to kill for honour. – L’Haine • Very few opportunities – Hubert has lost his gym with little opportunity to rebuild a new one. They are resigned to going back to the estate after their night out in Paris, there’s nothing for them to do at either place. – Head On • Sibel is denied opportunity to express herself by her family and Cahit denies himself opportunity to feel alive / have fun. Through meeting they are able to create new opportunities that help each other. – Lilja 4-ever • Very few opportunities for Lilja in the environment that she lives. There is mass unemployment and a sense of pessimism. The only opportunity that appears attractive is the opportunity to escape.
    16. 16. Representation of Conflict• Physical – As Tears Go By • Conflict & violence between Fly, Wah and other Triad members – L’Haine • Conflict with the police & the skin heads – Head On • Conflict between Cahit & man at bar, Marienne, Nico and himself. – Lilja 4-ever • Sexual violence & Conflict• Psychological – As Tears Go By • Wah wants to escape but wants to protect Fly – can’t leave – L’Haine • Vince wants to kill a policeman for justice but is too scared. – Head On • Cahit wants to hate the world & die but ends up loving Sibel & wants to live – Lilja 4-ever • Lilja is desperate to escape from her situation but she wants to be there for Volodya too. Is she repeating the conflict her mum may have felt?
    17. 17. Representation of Conflict• Emotional – As Tears Go By • Wah wants to love Nghor but his feelings of loyalty to Fly & his triad life run deeper. • Fly wants respect from the Triads but this is just a substitute for the love he wants from his Mother – L’Haine • Vince wants to avenge his friend’s death but his anger is a reflection of his anger at his position in society & lack of voice. Hubert recognises this and this is a source of conflict between the two. – Head On • Sibel wants to lead her own life and encounter new experiences but doesn’t want to bring shame on her mother or family for fear they will kill her. • Cahit wants to help Sibel but he doesn’t want a relationship, although he finds himself falling in love with Sibel, she is oblivious to this for a while and this emotional conflict is a source of pain for Cahit. – Lilja 4-ever • Lilja loves Volodya and values their friendship but emotionally she has already left Estonia and is desperate to escape to another country no matter what. It isn’t until she goes to Sweden that she realises her mistake and tries to put things right using her imagination.
    18. 18. Representation of conflict• Material – As Tears Go By • The need for material objects to identify status is a source of conflict for Fly and leads to his downfall. – L’Haine • The material object of the gun is a source of conflict throughout the film – it gives Vince some status but is ultimately used to kill by Hubert. – Head On • Cahit shuns all material possessions and Sibel just wants experiences. Neither of them have material conflict – the conflict they experience is physical and emotional. – Lilja 4-ever • Lilja has few material possessions and the only way she is able to afford material items is through prostitution. Although this means she is able to buy food, pay her bills and buy Volodya the basketball, it is a source of conflict as she has gone against her morals in prostituting herself for material gain.
    19. 19. Representation of Conflict• Social / Cultural – As Tears Go By • They are the underclass and conflict occurs when Fly tires to increase his social status within the brotherhood. – L’Haine • Social unrest between the rioters and the police. • Main characters as working class conflict in their interaction with middle classes in the Gallery sequence. • Cultural / ethnic status– the racism they feel is reinforced by the sequence where they conflict with the police & the Skinheads. – Head On • Cultural conflict is evident – Sibel wants to live a western life but her parents practice Turkish traditions. • Cahit “threw his Turkish away” but ironically finds peace at the end when he goes back to his roots. – Lilja 4-ever • Cultural difference between Estonia & Sweden is irrelevant – each big city is the same and her place as a slave is the same in each.
    20. 20. Representation of Conflict• Relationships – As Tears Go By • Wah’s relationship with Fly and Nghor are in conflict. – L’Haine • Said, Hubert and Vince’s relationship is both supportive and conflicting at the same time. They are friends but constantly argue and fall out. Said is positioned between Vince and Hubert, and he is the only one who lives at the end. – Head On • Sibel & Cahit’s relationship is a source of conflict – they are in flux of wanting each other but not being able to be together at different stages of the film. The film is driven by their desire to be together but it ironically ends with them being apart. – Lilja 4-ever • Lilja & Volodya’s friendship is in conflict when Lilja begins a relationship with Andrei. Volodya can see through Andrei’s deception but Lilja’s naivety, need to be loved and desire to escape see this is a direct attempt by Volodya to stop her through jealousy.
    21. 21. Representation of Conflict• Family – As Tears Go By • Wah’s family is the brother hood and he is in conflict with Big Tony as a consequence of Fly’s recklessness. • He has little respect for family values, suggested by his relationship with Nghor. – L’Haine • Said, Hubert and Vince’s family backgrounds are warm and secure – Vince’s grandmother jokes, Said argues with his sister and Hubert wants to please his mother. There is little sense of conflict between family in contrast to the social-cultural conflict experienced by the characters. – Head On • Sibel’s conflict with her family is what drives her – without the conflict (and fear) with her father and brother, she wouldn’t have asked Cahit to marry her and their relationship would never have happened. – Lilja 4-ever • Lilja’s conflict with Aunt Anna is key to the plot. Although it is seen by Anna as disobedience, Lilja feels that Anna is depriving her of what her mother has left her – not only has she lost her mother but also her home. If Aunt Anna hadn’t forced Lilja out of her home, then maybe she wouldn’t have had to turn to prostitution and would never have met Andrei.
    22. 22. Thematic Comparison• Task... – Look at the following images for each film. For each image, identify which theme they could be use to illustrate.