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“Perfect Days” and the greatness of grand scales

What materials make up a life? What role does maturity, experiences, memories, and stimuli play in building a world in which one will spend the years given to them? How does one choose what is worth it from the infinite possibilities of experiences? How far does fear and insecurity go for the potential failure of one possibility, which is equivalent to fulfilling another? This is just a general description of the theme that unfolds for about 2 hours in the cinematography of a probabilistic routine, in Wim Wenders’ “Perfect Days”.

The artist builds a world to speak to us, a world and a character that are very easy for us to understand, so that we don’t get lost in small meanings and can focus on the grand scales. As for the world, he chooses classical harmony, without stripping it of the characteristics of our modern life, avoiding falling into naturalistic aestheticisms. He goes to Tokyo, the heart of classical harmony, which is nestled within the fluid metropolis, the most titanic of this planet. He uses an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 to show the harmony along both dimensions of the projection, selects spaces that allow for the division of the image in a perfectly harmonious way, to focus on the content that thus comes more forward and closer to the viewer.

Within this harmonious and necessarily simple world, there exists a correspondingly simple protagonist. In order to eliminate the unnecessary, the creator resorts to an eternal technique of literary narration. The hero is a “nobody,” an invisible person in the rest of society, whose contribution to it is not even perceived; he lives and offers to it in a way that is considered mechanical. This is not the first time a creator has resorted to this solution of redemption to focus where they want. The creation of the “nobody,” whether as redemption or salvation, is known from the Homeric epics, but it is a motif that is repeated in folk legends, religious stories, and of course, contemporary masterpieces.

There is a reason to dwell on the choice of the “nobody,” because it is easy to be a subject of criticism in the presentation of the theme. If one superficially examines the narration of the personal story of a poor person, they may come to the hasty conclusion that there is an attempt to romanticize poverty, an acceptance of the exploitation of humans as tools in the productive process of a capitalist superpower, living within the corresponding social construct. However, the creator (director along with the co-screenwriter) chooses to show us that they are not concerned with how the central hero ended up there, but rather to show that it is part of his choices to live in this world that he himself created, as a possibility, which is neither necessary to glorify nor to judge. It’s simply a possibility; it’s not the grand scale. The fact that the film takes the right moment to give a glimpse of this approach, closing the particular “gap” that could mislead, is an element of coherence.

The other major element of the narration and directorial perspective is the contrast between the harmony of the classical and the fluidity of the superficial and opportunistic world. The way it is offered through the characters can easily be interpreted as a generational contrast, which certainly serves, as it responds to one of the timeless dubious ideologies of the superiority of the new generation over the more traditional predecessors. However, if one listens to the creator, then they understand that it is not about such a thing. The contrast between the older protagonist and his colleague is not just a generational contrast. Certainly, the absence of experience in the latter helps him lose control, to consider a fleeting opportunity as the event that will change his life, in a deterministic interpretation of the process of existence. Certainly, the same lack of experience leads to the underestimation of the value of material goods and their exchange for one and only one thing, money, which is hailed as the regulator of all relationships.

However, the narration also provides an answer to this superficial interpretation of the contrast. It’s not a contrast between generations but a contrast between worlds. At some point, during a bike ride with his niece, the protagonist explains that there are many worlds that exist in parallel, and many worlds never meet. In a moment when the connection with the younger generation is much deeper than the one he has with his own generation, his sister, who chose a different path to create and live in a world that doesn’t intersect with his. The protagonist’s niece didn’t exchange her experiences for money; she could take the same photo with both the product of modern technology (the smartphone) and the film camera, she read the same stories in her uncle’s literary treasures and identified with his heroes, facing with it her own way the fear and anxiety that the absence of experience creates.

However, the contrast between classical harmony, which can and does surpass probabilities, compared to the unrestrained fluidity forced to turn into an opportunistic and thus dubious determinism, is the central theme of the film. At the forefront of the narration, the more prêt-à-porter type of art, music – and specifically the pop constellation – assists. What defines the classical? Many nowadays, and not incorrectly, answer that it is what withstands the test of time. But what is defined as classical in art is what contains harmony, where all pieces fall into place in a way that seems “natural” to compose the product of artistic expression. The protagonist finds this classical harmony in the music that inspired his generation. Not his own generation; it was made by a previous generation to inspire his own. Patty Smith, Nina Simone, Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, The Animals are the materials with which the generation of the protagonist was inspired and shaped in adolescence, in its molding. These classical materials are capable of inspiring always, even to the point of demolishing the world of the fluid certainty of the younger generation that suddenly discovers its emptiness through the discovery of the grand scale.

This elevation of classical harmony, which is apparent through the cinematography visually and the choice of music auditorily in the film, is not the glorification of the old. Every generation has its own materials. My generation, the millennials, if we were to listen to the classic rock of the 90s and the turn of the century changes today, we would understand the same things, with the perfectly harmonious rhythm of 4/4, with the melodic line that serves as introduction, baritone, bridge, and accompaniment to the chorus. What the above are for the protagonist of a film can easily become the cassette tapes with Nirvana, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cranberries, … and whatever else you want to add. It is the classical imprint of each era that constitutes a grand scale.

This level of understanding is necessary to accompany the viewer as they walk alongside the creator in the central question: What materials shape a life? Where are the great dimensions found? In the film, these elements need to be isolated in literary works of one dollar and in tapes carefully stacked in a material playlist that modern technology attempts to reproduce. However, in everyday life, the question is whether everyday experience has this great magnitude that leads to feelings, to laughter against life. He who knows how to pass through it and how to face it, he who even its end is a source to make decisions and not to hide behind the difficulty of the unknown outcome.

Life shapes dreams, and experiences shape the continuation of this inspiration. Work can alienate and take back inspiration, contact with great dimensions, the essence of life itself. For this reason, when time is short for literature, for photography, the protagonist must react so as not to let another day pass with his dreams blurred. This is his entire wealth, a wealth that is missing from many others, who get lost in the fluidity of seeking an opportunity to enter a world they have never known and probably will never know.

Life is about observing the world of others when it comes into contact with your own world and being able to give value to every part of your world that builds the next part of it. This is the answer to the existential dilemma that one may need to become a “nobody” to find the cause of existence of all things around him, which in reality constitute his own cause of existence and lead him to be somebody.

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