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Andrei Zvyagintsev's second film "The Banishment," if evaluated
closely, could arguably be as interesting as his first film The Return,
if not better. Both relate to related concepts "Father" and
"Love/Absence of Love." In both films, there are few words spoken.
To evaluate "The Banishment" is like completing a challenging crossword puzzle. You would know this unusual situation if you have seen "The Return." To begin "The Return" was not based on a novel. This one is. That, too, a William Saroyan novel"The Laughing Matter." Yet the director is not presenting us with Saroyan's novel on the screen. He develops the wife as a woman "more sinn'd against than sinning," while in the novel she is mentally unstable. Understandably, the director decides to drop the Saroyan title. Thus the words "I am going to have a child. It's not yours" provides two utterly distinct scenarios depending on whether the woman who speaks those words to her husband is a saintly person or a mentally unhinged woman. The change in the character of the wife by the director opens a totally new perspective to the Saroyan storya tool that contemporary filmmakers frequently use, not to wreck literary works, but creatively revive interest in the possibilities a change in the original work provides.
Those viewers familiar with the plethora of Christian symbolism in "The Return" will spot the painting on which the children play jigsaw is one of an angel visiting Mary, mother of Jesus, to reveal that she will give birth even if she is a virgin. This shot is followed by a black kitten walking across the painting. And the forced abortion operation at the behest of the husband begins on Vera, the wife in Zvyagintsev's film. By the end of the film the viewer will realize that the director had left a clue for the viewernot through conventional character development using long conversations.
"The Banishment" is representative of contemporary cinema provoking viewers to enjoy cinema beyond the story by deciphering symbols strewn around amongst layers of meaning structured within the screenplay.
As usual, the cinema of director Zvyagintsev is full of allusions to the Bible. This is the third famous film that refers to a single abstract chapter in the Bible on love: 1 Corinthians Chapter 13. In "The Banishment" the chapter is read by the neighbors' daughters. In Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Blue", set to the musical score sung towards the end of the film a choral musical piece sings the words "If I have not love, I am nothing" from the same Biblical chapter commenting indirectly on communication breakdown between husband and wife and the slow and painful reconciliation with the husband's lover. Bergman's "Through a glass darkly" is a phrase on taken from the same chapter of the Bible, a film also on lack of communication and love between father and son, husbands and wives.
The banishment alludes to the banishment of Adam from the Garden of Eden represented in the film by the anti-hero's tranquil family house, far from the inferred socio-political turbulence elsewhere. Soon after the wife's proclamation we see her children playing with the jigsaw puzzle depicting an angel appearing to Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, that she will bear a child. These clues indicate to the viewer that wife was innocent. In the movie, these are but a few of the dozens of symbols and metaphors that extend even to the selection of classical music. As usual, the cinema of director Zvyagintsev is full of allusions to the Bible. The banishment alludes to the banishment of Adam from Eden represented in the film by the anti-hero's tranquil family house, far from the inferred socio-political turbulence elsewhere. A black kitten crosses the jigsaw puzzle and tragedy follows. These clues indicate to the viewer that wife was innocent. In the movie, these are but a few of the dozens of symbols and metaphors that extend even to the selection of classical music Bach's Magnificat or the "Song of Virgin Mary". There is washing of the brother's bullet hit arm, reminiscent of Pilate washing his hands in the Bible.
While the story and structure of "The Return" is easier to comprehend, "The Banishment" is more complex. The first half of the film entices the viewer to reach the wrong conclusions. The Father is correct, the wife is wrong. The second half of the film surprises the viewer as all assumptions of the viewer made from the preceding episodes are turned topsy-turvy. Men are arrogant, egotistical and father children without love. There is no love in the silent train journey of the family while the wife is looking at her husband with love. Like Kieslowski's "Blue" the woman appears stronger than the manand in an apt epilogue its women (harvesting a field) who are singing a song of hope and regeneration.
A supposed major flaw noted by critics is the lack of character development. In this film, Zvyagintsev develops characters using silent journeys (lack of communication) and misconstruing of reality ("child is not ours"), very close to the storyline of the director's first film. Actually, Zvyagintsev progresses in this second film by extending the relationship of "Father and children" in the first film, to "Father and wife" in the second. In the first film, children do not understand the father; in the second, the father does not understand his wife. When he does it is too late, just as the kids in the first film of the director. This is a film that requires several viewings to savor its many ingredients of photography, music, and screenplay writing. Zvyagintsev is not merely copying directors Tarkovsky, Bergman and Kieslowski-he is exploring new territories by teasing his viewer to "suspend his/her belief" and constantly re-evaluate what was shown earlier.
It is fascinating how the horrors of World War II continue to spark off
good, intelligent cinema around the world even after a gap of over half
"Emotional Arithmetic" based on a novel by Matt Cohen (a Jew?), begins with an astounding remark "If you ask me if I believe in God, I am forced to answer does God believe in us?" The film is not about atheism. It reflects on the terrible scars left by war on orphans, on individuals who stand up and protest when wrong is done, on relationships forged in times of stress, pain and loss.
The charm of Paolo Barzman's film rests considerably in the hands of the capable actors-Susan Sarandon, Max von Sydow, Chistopher Plummer and Gabriel Bryne-all who have a maturity to carry off their parts in the film with grace. Ms Sarandon has matured into a formidable actress in recent films and this one showcases her talent.
Screened at the 12th International Film Festival of Kerala, India, the film forced this viewer to compare the contents of "Emotional Arithmetic" with those of a Swiss documentary "A Song for Argyris" also shown at the festival. Both films underlined the difficulties in forgetting tragic events in our lives and moving on. Both films indirectly discuss the bonding of survivors of tragic events.
As I watched the film I could not help but note the growing interest filmmakers in family bondsin "Emotional Arithmetic" it is merely a subplot balancing a "virtual" family that suffered during the Nazi rule with that of a real family comprising three generations living in idyllic conditions in Canada.
This film would offer considerable material to reflect on for the viewer, beyond the actual events shown on the screen.
Though there is no mention of a divine presence, the use of the vertical crane shots of the dining table and the car at interesting junctures in the film seem to suggest this debatable interpretation.
This Canadian film provides eye-candy locations that grab your attention from the opening shot. Mesmerizing crane shots are part of the film that provide an unusual charm to the high technical quality of the film, which becomes all the more apparent on the large cinemascope screen. So is the competent editing of the sequences that make the viewing process delectable. Like another Canadian film "Away from her" shown at the 11th edition of the festival, Canadian cinema has proved capable of dealing with serious subjects with the help of international actors, without resorting to the commercial gimmicks of mainstream American cinema, and employing high standards of craftsmanship in the true tradition of the famous Canadian filmmaker Claude Jutra!
War does not merely kill and maim--it can shatter families. Here is a
Russian film based on a short story "The Return" that examines with
considerable entertainment the chances of good men and women to cheat
on their marriage either to survive or even as a result of altruism.
The film also brings to the fore how in the absence of the father, young boys mature into responsible adults.
Director Solovov's cinema is not exceptional but it captures the various tremors a strong family suffers, when one leading member of the family is away for a long while. If we forget the war, the film is of significance as we can reflect on how good men, women and children are affected by a long absence of a pivotal member of the nuclear family. The father is not flawless, he is human, but more importantly the father has to be responsible to lead his family (as a captain would lead his soldiers under his command) All the performances are credible and laudable especially those of the children. Solovov chose an interesting subject to film and he does it with elan. The photography, though not intrusive, is able to capture the cold, bleak post war Russia.
The film was shown at the 12th International Film Festival of Kerala, India. This film underlined the growing use of children by directors to explore complex issues around the world. It also underlined the growing interest of filmmakers in reflecting on the importance of building strong family values.
While most of the world believes that the horrors of the Nazis targeted
only Jews, this documentary provides the viewer first hand narration
from Greeks, some who now have Swiss citizenship, of the incredible
sadistic acts of the German army as they mutilated and tortured
hundreds living in a Greek village called Distomo before killing them.
None of those killed were Jews, they were all Greek Orthodox
Christians. Swiss director Stefan Haupt proves the incredible power of
documentary cinema, with the use of old photographs, music, fine
narration and seamless editing.
The main narrator is Argyris Sfountouris, who was a Greek child orphaned in the brutal massacre. His house was set on fire. Overnight he lost all. As he was found to be intelligent among the hundreds of other orphans he was picked by the Swiss Government along with few others to grow up in Switzerland. Today he is an astronomer and a scientist. One of his statements is "When will reconciliation begin and hate end? How can one forget what we experienced and forget those who died? When will we learn to forget our memories and move on?" The strength of the pivotal narration is its low-key account, honest but sad. Argyris is confounded that a country that produced the soothing music of Beethoven could centuries later produce savage brutes.
Another narrator is the famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis of "Zorba the Greek" fame. He recalls the German soldiers were interested in art and Parthenon. Yet the same soldiers would break the arms of hungry Greek children stealing bread. These are some of the contradictions in human behavior, the Swiss director Stefan Haupt highlights with remarkable effect.
Theodorakis also recounts a horrible account of the Greek Orthodox Priest and his family being stripped naked, mutilated in a horrible manner, forced to do unthinkable acts and then killed.
The more jarring facet is that when the Greek village survivors appealed for compensation from Germany, the German government refused to acknowledge guilt until a few years ago when the German Ambassador to Greece finally visited the village and apologized. Even today the German official stance is that Germany and Greece are now NATO allies and compensation is therefore ruled out. To compensate Distomo victims would mean compensating many others...
Argyris tries to forget his loss and hate by working for the underprivileged in Somalia, Nepal and Indonesia. But can one forget what one remembers in childhood?
This film is powerfulonly Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's "Hitler-A film from Germany" was superior to this on a linked subject. The award winning film was screened at the 12th International Film Festival of Kerala. More people need to see the film so that similar horrors are not perpetrated elsewhere in the world. The film also offers open-ended solutions to deal with personal grief.
This is an unusual film, but not a film that can be considered a major
work of cinema. The Iranian film is shot on Afghan locations very close
to the spot where the fundamentalist Muslim Taliban destroyed the
centuries-old rock hewn gigantic statue of Buddha. Had it existed
today, it could have been a modern wonder of the world. Hence the
title--"Buddha collapsed from shame". The film location probably has
not a single Buddhist--at least officially. It is habited by gentle,
peace loving Muslims terrorized by fundamentalist Muslims. Women are
forced to wear burkhas--to cover their hair. If the women use lipstick,
they are brutally punished, even stoned to death, after being given
water to drink before they die! Girls are not allowed to attend school,
while boys are. The film begins with the documentary footage of the
destruction of the Buddha statue.
The film is an interesting film for several reasons. It is directed by a 19-year-old girl--daughter of a famous Iranian director. Like Sofia Coppola, her family must have encouraged her at every step.
The movie is equally interesting because a Muslim director is criticizing the Taliban.
The most valuable part of the film is that the criticism is indirect as perceived from a child's perspective. The entire story is told by a lovely, persistent, young girl child who yearns to learn to read and attend school, and makes intelligent use of her mother's lipstick and four eggs taken from her home to attain her aim in life. Her mother is away, working. (I guess here shades of director Hana Makhmalbaf's personal aspirations are mirrored, though she led a much better life than the Afghan girl.) The film is a wonderful example of use of kids in world cinema. What credible performances!
Yet there are problems with the film. Many sequences seem to remind you of "Lord of the Flies". There is a sequence where the girl child ties a baby with a rope and leaves for school--but this scene is never followed up. There is another scene where the girl rings the school bell, and no one in the school seems to notice her action. Humour takes its toll on credibility. Yet Hana needs to be commended for her brave and intelligent work.
The film opened the 12th International Film Festival Of Kerala, in India, today
It is unfortunate that this remarkable work is never recalled by many
while listing major works of Indian cinema. To me, it is India's answer
to Bergman's "Winter Light." M T Vasudevan Nair, like Bergman, wrote
and directed a film on a religious man questioning God. In one film the
individual decides to take his life after spitting at God, in the other
he continues his vocation with a questionable spirit of renewed faith.
Nirmalayam won the top national honors but unfortunately never made the international marquee mainly because of the subject ("Winter Light" also never won awards, though it was Bergman's personal favorite until he made "Fanny and Alexander"). It deserved better marketing as its content is universal in a wider sense of secular religious sensibilities.
The film is gripping because of its endearing performance (theatrical realism in contrast to sophisticated subdued realism of the Bergman players) that a majority of Asian audiences prefer. Yet, the theatrical performance was not over the top and the late PJ Anthony won the acclaim in Kerala more than across India for a performance that was gradually forgotten.
The film is equally remarkable for its screenplay (with an unforgettable ending), its use of sound and the art direction. It was a fine debut for a filmmaker but unfortunately this achievement has been eclipsed by better marketing by less talented Indian filmmakers.
"Winter Light" is simply stunning cinema. Ingmar Bergman realized this
was the film (with the arguable exception of "Fanny and Alexander")
that satisfied him most among his entire body of work. And this was not
a casual remark made by a director to promote his film soon after he
made it, it was instead a written statement he made 25 years after the
film was made. Viewing the black and white film a few days after
Bergman died, I could not but agree with his view. It is a great film
from a great director. It is a film that average audiences might never
appreciate. Even Bergman's wife (at that time) found it dreary. It
would make sense to viewers familiar with theology (Bergman was the
rebellious son of a Lutheran priest) and much of the gravity of the
film will be lost to those unfamiliar with the issues presented in the
film. Yet it is film that would provide adequate material to atheists
and believers alike in equal measure. It's a thinking-person's film.
Most critics bypass this particular work of Bergman for good reasons. It is totally devoid of music, if you discount the church bells and the organ played in the church. It does not have the hypnotic visual allure of "The Seventh Seal" or of "Sawdust and Tinsel." It has unusually long sequences of actors speaking into the camera. Its actors are all ugly, anti-heroic, and stunted (even the beautiful blonde Ingrid Thulin appears here in major role as a homely brunette destined to remain a spinster).
It's a film about suicide, about physical suffering, and about cold Scandinavian winters. Like David Lean's "Ryan's Daughter" and John Huston's fascinating adaptation of Tennessee Williams' "The Night of the Iguana", this film too is populated with anti-heroes, cripples and losers. Finally, the film is overtly theological. All these are facets of cinema that rarely makes viewers sit up these days.
Why then is this movie stunning?
It has an absolutely flawless structure for its screenplay. It begins and ends with a church service. The number of worshipers seems to diminish towards the end of the movie but the few believers are stronger in faith. The scene after opening service and the scene before the final service are both in the vestry. The middle sections take the action out of the church. This structure would have pleased the ancient Greek playwrights and Shakespeare alike.
Every scene, every sequence is carefully created. You remove one and the whole film collapses. The use of light and shadows is awesome in each scene. Each scene provides fodder for reflection. Take the scene where the priest and his lover stop at a level crossing. The line spoken by the priest is that he entered priesthood because his father told him to become one. An innocent statement if you do not know Bergman was the son of a priest and that "Through a Glass Darkly" the previous work in the trilogy ended with a crucial conversation on God between a father and his son.
The spoken words throughout are intense and often interlink this film with Bergman's previous film in the trilogy "Through a Glass Darkly," where the leading lady having a nervous breakdown has visions of God as a spider. In "Winter Light," the connection is made with the words of the priest: "Every time I confronted God with the realities I witnessed - he turned into something ugly and revolting. A spider god, a monster. So I fled from the light, clutching my image to myself in the dark."
Similarly the link to the next film in the trilogy "The Silence," is made by the words: "When Jesus was nailed to the cross -and hung there in torment - he cried out -"God, my God!" "Why hast thou forsaken me?" He cried out as loud as he could. He thought that his heavenly father had abandoned him. He believed everything he'd ever preached was a lie. The moments before he died, Christ was seized by doubt. Surely that must have been his greatest hardship? God's silence."
Doubt about the existence of God is the underlying theme of the Bergman trilogy. It is not a coincidence that the main character is called Rev. Tomas after Thomas the doubting Apostle who refused to believe in Jesus resurrection until he put his finger in his Jesus' nail wounds.
The film's end offers both a comforting interpretation to non-believers and another one to believers. When Bergman wrote the script, he was rebelling against his father who was a devout believer. The end of the film was crafted by Bergman after he saw his old father insisting on all the prayers said in a church when the regular priest was too ill to say them.
Non-believers will argue that in the final scene of "Winter Light," the priest who knew he could not honestly help a man about to commit suicide, lamely continues his vocation without conviction. Believers will interpret the same scene to mean that the wretched priest realizes that silence from God does not mean that God does not exist but that he has to toil and suffer with added conviction and begin once again with a single worshiper to populate the near empty church. We can surmise that the priest will marry again because his new wife will now not be struck by his "indifference to (his) Jesus Christ" and that the crippled sexton finds a new supporter for his viewpoint that physical pain is easier to bear than loneliness.
Either way, the film offers considerable option for a sensitive, intelligent viewer.
Several aspects of the film startle you. Unlike usual Hollywood works
on the Bible, this one indicates that population in the Holy Land was a
lot less than today--only European director Pasolini's "Gospel
According to St Mathew" came close to this fact. While the film is
faithful to the text in most places (including art direction of David's
first glimpse of Bathsheba), the film's veracity crumbles with the
death of Absalom--whose death was linked to his long hair--shown in the
film as merely being hit on the forehead by a low branch.
Continuity is s problem too. Joab's attempt to attack the Jebusite fort (later called Jerusalem) is depicted to gain David's favor. Soon we find he won David's favor, What happened in the interim is not shown.
Note: Michal and Abigail are played by two different actresses not one. A reader, Clayton Slaughter, of this review pointed out to me that the final film was the amalgamation of two films (one shot in Israel, the other in Spain) by two directors, which explains this oddity.
I prefer Bruce Beresford's "King David" with Richard Gere that has received more brickbats than bouquets. It had fine performances, good direction, and intelligent camera-work--although it took artistic license with the the story.
This film's title is taken from the Bible: "For now we see through a
glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then
shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Cor 13:12).
The film is a major work of cinema and a major work of Bergman. If one looks at the body of Bergman's films he was probably approaching his peak of artistry, which he would achieve in his next work "Winter light", a film that Bergman himself called perfect. The reason most viewers do not grasp the importance of the magnificent "Man-God trilogy" or "the Silence trilogy" or "the Dark/Faith trilogy" (three films: "Through a glass darkly", "Winter light", and "the Silence") is that the trilogy deals with the theological question of God's existence. It is essentially a thinking person's film. If you can reflect on what you see, these three films are a treasurea treasure that influenced major directors several decades later, specifically Kieslowski who made "Three Colors: Blue" also almost entirely based on 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, Tarkovsky who seems to have borrowed some ideas like the sudden baptismal rain from this film that he employs in "Solyaris" and "Stalker" and finally the exciting new talent from Russia Andrei Zvyagintsev (director of "The Return", also taking a leaf from the Bergmanesque sonfather relationship). All these films seem to have been influenced by this seminal work of Bergman.
To those viewers, who are not spiritually inclined, the film could be reduced to the obvious action of Harriet Anderson's character Karin insisting on wearing goggles as she steps out of her home to live the rest of her life in a hospital. It could easily be interpreted as a study of mental illness, a film that gives credence to the theory that god does not exist. The film can equally be interpreted as a film on mad people who feel they are in communion with god, who at other times are slaves to dark forces (voices).
On the other hand one can argue the intensity of the light is a metaphor for a sign that God existsthe basic question that troubled Bergman, the son of a priest, in real life. Even the young Minus kneels down to pray to God as the rain (baptismal?) falls suddenly. A keen viewer will note that there is no sign of rain on island or of rain drenching men in an open boat soon after the event. Only Karin's hair is wet. All three films seek an answer that God exists from a silent, "inscrutable" (to quote a word from this film) God to whom millions pray. "Through a glass darkly" opens with a shot of the almost still, dark waters of the sea mirroring the sky. The film ends with several references of light. For the cynical, Bergman was disillusioned and felt that God was a "spider" (the intriguing image for the DVD covers of the three films), a reference to Karin's outburst towards the end of the film. If Bergman, was truly disillusioned, would he have added the final epilogue where the father tells his son "God exists in love, in every sort of love, maybe God is love." These last words make the son say my father has "talked to me" the penultimate words of the filma seemingly spiritual response even Jesus on the cross wanted ("Father, father, why hast thou forgotten me?") before he died.
It would be ridiculous to see this work merely as a film seeking answers to God's existence. Like "Three colors: Blue", this is a film on love. There is the undiluted love of an atheist husband (shades of Bergman?) for his ailing wife (note the film is dedicated to Kabi, Bergman's wife at a point when divorce was looming large). There is love of a father for his daughter, son and son-in-law triggered by a failed suicide attempt (only recalled in the film). There is love between siblings.
The film is also about marriage. Visually, the film emphasizes the wedding ring in the scenes involving husband (the camera captures the wedding ring on the finger several times) and wife (she puts it on after she washes her face). The son asks with an innocent cockiness of the father who has recently divorced his second wife Marianne (never shown on screen) if "he has lost all stability, spiritually"? Structurally Bergman doffs his cap to Shakespeare by adding a one act play within the film on the lines of "Hamlet" to drive home a point to the father and his illusion of love for his perfect work of art at the expense of depriving love for his near and dear.
In more ways than one, this is a thinking person's film. After viewing the film several times, one is in awe of this filmmaker so prolific, so perfect and so sensitive. What he has written for cinema can be compared to the output of great writers like Tolstoy and Shakespeare. He was truly a genius. I do agree with Bergman when he avers that the three films in the trilogy are not connected and are stand alone films. The only common link among the three films is Bergman's personal quest for a response from a silent God that his father believed in and in whom Bergman was brought up to believe in. These are not films of an atheist but works from a genius "flirting with God" to quote from the film itself.
Many years after he made the film, Bergman was uncomfortable with the final scene. The doubting Thomas in Bergman had resurfaced. Yet he never reworked on the film. The film has much to offer for a student of cinema: it is made of fine photography, art direction, acting, scriptwriting, editing and sound (Bach plus the horn of the lighthouse). Undoubtedly one of Bergman's finest works, it anticipates the perfect "Winter light," the next film that Bergman wrote and directed.
I have seen "Whose life is it anyway?" (1981) and now "Mar adentro"
(2004). I loved both films while they unspooled their entertaining
sexist jokes in the morbid background of a male quadriplegic requesting
euthanasia. Evaluated for their witty content, the American film wins
outright over the other. Evaluated for philosophical content, the
Spanish film is an outright winner in contrast to the Hollywood
product. The American film entertained for the duration of the film;
the Spanish film entertains you by requiring you to reflect on the
various segments of the film, long after the film ends.
People who know Spanish aver that the correct translation of the title would be "Into the sea". If you have seen the film, the deep philosophical, theological and social undercurrents of the screenplay make the less accurate title "The sea within," more appropriate.
What were the aspects of the film that made me reflect on it? The unflinching support of a small family to care for a cripple for 27 years is unusual in Western society. This is powerfully understated throughout the film. The viewer is witness to mute actions of love from the family for the quadriplegic but only on a few occasions is the subject discussed.
This brings up the strengths of the awesome screenplay (Amenabar and Mateo Gil) that reverts time and time again to the hills visible from the quadriplegic's bed while the memories of the quadriplegic are those of the sea. The sea is within the mind of the quadriplegicand quite appropriately the first shot is of the sea, which is soon replaced by the hills.
Suicide is theologically a no-no for many. A repentant Judas is not forgiven by the Church because he commits suicide, while all other repenting sinners the world over are supposed to be absolved if they repent. The film, set in Catholic Spain, takes a bold step in including the loud debate between two quadriplegicsone a priest who wants to live and another, a lay man, who does notseparated literally and figuratively by a floor.
The power of media is underlined: the role of TV programs and publishing of books. Yet the real outcome is nurtured through love between individuals through direct contact. The end of the film would not be the same in the absence of love. The bonding between the sick and the crippled (physically with Julia and psychologically with Rosa) are contrasted with bonding of the physically whole near familyManuela and Gene.
This is my second Amenabar filmthe first was "The others." While "Mar adentro" deals with a thought provoking subject, the brilliance of the young director is underlined in "The others"--a fabulous ghost story, elegantly told. Amenabar and Andrei Zvygintsev ("The Return") are the most promising and talented young filmmakers (both Europeans) today. Amenabar has proved that he can direct great movies, elicit great performances from his actors (Javier Bardem, here. and Nicole Kidman in "The Others"), write good music and pick fine appropriate music of established composers (Puccini, Beethoven, Mozart and Richard Wagner). Like good cognac, the film is best appreciated by reflecting on all its attributes after the repast of viewing the movie.
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