{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Monday, February 28, 2005


This weekend I saw two movies, almost diagonally apart. One is Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher and the second is the Giuseppe Tornatore's classic Cinema Paradiso. The Piano teacher is about female psyche and the unearthed sides of it and Cinema Paradiso is about a romantic affair of a boy with movies. One is dark and disturbing, other light and heart-ringing, but made a good cocktail and I still have a pleasant hangover. I feel I should write about The Piano Teacher first.

The Piano Teacher is a compelling and psycho dramatic portrayal of a woman in her late 30s, and her darker chambers. The Piano teacher is a movie where you see the mind of 'Erika' peeled off layer by layer. The otherwise plain and almost pious looking Erika has her dark sexual fantasies that are more sado-masochistic than sexual. Erika wants to take the reins of desires in her hand and took pleasure out of it. There are several points in the movie where Erika do the things we could hardly expect from her if we believe her saintly appearance. The episode of putting broken glass pieces in her pupil's coat is nerve-chilling to see, closely followed by it is another shocking display of sadism in a brilliant scene in lavatory with one of her good-looking and talented student, Walter. Here she behaves more like a typical male and try to take control of the situation in whatever way she likes.

Erika doesn't have a sweet relationship with her mother and her father is in asylum. The relations with her students is almost coldly sadistic, we never hear her praising any of them. She was sexually starved but not in a straight way but distorted to a level that we discover in a multi-page letter that she writes to Walter. Walter who longed for her soon starts loathing her after reading the letter and announces her to be 'sick' and try to give her what he calls 'a deserved punishment' in the penultimate scene of the movie for apparently messing up with a 'man'!

Isabelle Huppert as Erika gives a solid performance where she enters into unlit alleys of Erika's mind with laser-like intensity. Her portrayal of a woman with unnaturally hindered emotions is honestly moving and truly believable. We don't feel any true sympathy for her except in last few sequences. Benot Magimel as Walter is impeccable as a man in love to a man in hate, loathing and disgust. Both of them shift gears easily when they exchange the roles of the tormentor and the tormented.

There is one more important component of the movie and that is Piano, it serves as the pain-generating machine through out the movie, standing on the thin lines between chilling music, agony and madness. The music lessons seldom generate any warmth or peace but they generate an unsettling disturbance that Erika lynches her students with.

The last scene is difficult to assimilate or rather difficult to watch. Here Erika's pain and self-loathing are so evident that it hurts. The Piano Teacher is not about any moral fool-talk. Its infact a terrific character sketch of a woman with confused desires, bizarre fantasies, one who tries to make her rules of love, one who finds brutal rape more pleasurable than tender love making, a slap more satisfying than a kiss.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Fun and self destruction, painting and filing, clinging and letting it go are some of the choices we take on day today basis and we start realizing that they matter to us more than we might casually think. The choices to decide which side of the thin line we should fall, takes much of our lives. Life is too hard a topic to comprehend, so easy to write off and too very tempting to invite a nasty comment every now and then.

Seeing life with purple glasses or with blue filters do make it different but its very nature of a lover-bitch remains the same, its tempts you and messes with you, and you don't mind it to an extent that can check you from messing with it again or it with you. Its not so funny game but life keeps us going. We get in terms with the life so many times that it looks life is almost static and we are the one who are moving with no tangible purpose or force and punching the blameless life like a sandbag. This is not to restate that life confuses us, but it is to restate the other obvious thing that life interests us, intrigues us, tempts us to a level that we become almost involved to its unbearable loss of control. It may be regarded as a fine puzzle or a bizarre game but that will be underrating it.

Life is a pursuit to find something, life is to survive, life is to evolve but life is also to understand it. It is just like a Guinea Pig trying to find out which experiment he is subjected to and more importantly why. This possibility interest me, the possibility of knowing life as it would have been if I am not a part of it sure is tempting. 'Life is a mystery' may be regarded as the most true cliché but saying it do puts life in a Ph.D. zone, I would like it to be a mandatory subject at our schools provided nobody teaches us and we mark our own sheets.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Eternal Sunshine

Today's Valentines day. Not that I care but I must take this opportunity to write about an unique movie that is set on Valentines day and makes decent fun of it.

A romantic comedy has three step formula, boy meets girl, girl breaks up with the guy, boy gets her in the end. There is even lesser you can put inside it. Therefore some of us disregard them as uninspired mushy stuff which most of the times they are. But there are times when a so-called romantic comedy get on your nerves. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind do exactly that. What do your memories mean to you, What if you like to forget the stuff you cannot get over, What about connection between Heart and Mind, what rules over what. Can bitterest of the memories have sweetest bit. Can we get over someone easily. Can love be erased altogether. Eternal sunshine don't answer any of these questions but raise all of them all the time.

Most of proceedings of the movie take place in minds of unassuming Joel and beautifully uninhibited Clementine. You get in and get out their heads and all those sequences are crafted with millimeter perfection. The inventive non-chronological way of storytelling looks made for the narrative. You go back and forth, in and out, from beach to frozen river.

Intentional loss of some specific memory forms the base of the movie. If you are not able to forget someone you loved, then Lacuna's services are just made for you. Clementine gets 'it' done and Joel goes for it just to realize that those bitter memories are too sweet to loose. And we see his tussle to cling to the faintest of the memories that are getting ripped off one by one. And here all the magic takes place.

I am always interested subplots given they are cleverly done, here also there is a brilliant subplot of Mary and Dr. Howard which give Eternal Sunshine a wider perspective.

What makes Eternal sunshine so rewarding is the fact that it is unlikely any movie I have seen, leave aside the romantic comedy genre. Eternal Sunshine do fit in the 3 step formula of a romantic comedy but rips everything inside it and we enjoy this mind-blowing carnage.

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd.

Alexander Pope, "Eloisa to Abelard"

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Wild Strawberries

After watching Fellini and Kurosawa, I wanted to open Bergman's account. Wild Strawberries was not my first choice to see the first Bergman movie. It was Seventh Seal but for unknown reason it is missing in DVD shop till date. I read a brief synopsis of Wild Strawberries before I rented it, I was not impressed by a story of a retiring Professor Isak Borg's journey to get an honorary doctorate. Like many of us, we tend to disregard old age and mock at our mortality. Watching Wild strawberries was just an exercise to watch Bergman then but it turned out more rewarding than expected.

From the opening lines, Wild Strawberries is hard hitting in its uniquely straight voice. Prof Isak's voice over says,

One's relationship with other people consists mainly of discussing and evaluating one's neighbor's conduct. Therefore I have found myself rather alone in my old age. This is not a regret but a statement of fact.

The film at once holds you with its voice of truth

This voice over continues and us tells little more about Professor and his little likes and dislikes which is followed by a strange dream about a handless clock and broken cart, then we move to professor's journey to Lund to get an honorary doctorate.

WS is not about old age and its perils but about life as such. It’s a nostalgic introspection of past and coming in terms with present. There are characters from old to very old, young to very young, all those depicting different Isak's. Isak is not an endearing person, having a bitter relationship with his son and daughter, his wife is no more and his relation with her was also not pleasant when she was alive. We come to know more about Isak, his childhood, his first love, his failed marriage though flashbacks in which the old Isak 'peek' through. There are other characters which board Isak's car. Notable are Sara and her two friends in love with Sara, this 'love triangle' was strikingly similar to Isak's own. In the journey, Isak gain some respect and love. All this look realistically empathetic because of the truly moving performance by Victor Sjöström. Although, it may be argued that Isak doesn't look as cold or as distant in present as he is referred in his past but it may be seen as a transformation that Isak has undergone with time.
Towards the end, when Isak has reached Lund and received his Doctorate and he was going to sleep, his voice over says:

Whenever I am restless or sad, I usually try to recall memories from my childhood, to calm down. This is the way it was that night too, and I wandered back to the summerhouse and the wild-strawberry patch and everything I had dreamed or remembered or experienced during this long day.
This pretty much sums the movie. WS is a life seen after its lived. We may try to go back and put a brick here or there, may be paint some walls differently, may be give more warmth to some portions or eat some wild strawberries sometimes. Its a reflection of past on present. Its the emotional train we board when we see the same around us that we have gone through.

This film is like a thick piece of bread with almost no butter, people may call it bland and almost suited as a textbook for film schools, but don't listen to this crap. This bread has delicious pieces of strawberries inside, if you can find them.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Lynch and von Trier

Last month, I saw two movies, One by David Lynch and second was by Lars von Trier, my first experience of both of them and it opened new gates of cinema that is brutally harsh but unique.

David Lynch is a master of lynching the audience. You may feel anything but good after seeing a 'Lyncher'. You enter his world but you are not allowed to leave it at will. Some of it stays with you, his movies can best be described as 'necessary evil'. They are necessary as a bitter medicine and are evil for all other reasons. You don't become fan of this guy but his movie stay with you like some distorted painting, which you will like to erase but it is not easy getting out of it. I will not recommend a Lyncher to anyone as most of you may abhor it for obvious reasons. For me also, I am not planning to see any of his films, one in a month looks an overdose to me. All this is not to scare you but to warn you, Mulholland Drive is surrealism at its fullest, and it may be too much for some of us. But the interesting thing about it is that the look and feel of the movie is not at all bland or depressive, it has rich style, hue and colors, pretty faces but all is distorted with precision till you cannot see any prettiness what so ever. Mulholland drive is not a horror film but it horrifies you. It was my first Lynch movie which made me think all this but they say its his style. One more thing if you attempt to get the film you are starting with no hope, Mulholland Drive is loopy and any attempt to fully understand it as a linear movie is sure to fail, what you take away from this movie is unique and bitter-sweet fuzziness. How can ringing of a phone sound so different, what is a volte-face, what if you were what you wanted to be not what you are or vice versa, what if dreams were real and reality were dreams, how can red color be so horrifying, ask David lynch about these questions because you will be having them once you dare to watch Mulholland drive.

Lars von Trier is another one of this lot of filmmakers who don't try to pretty up the picture. All the things are done to their raw details so that they hit you deep somewhere. In Breaking the waves, he breaks every rule in the book associated with the basic emotions of love, faith, sacrifice and redemption. Breaking the waves is an anti-rule, anti-religious, anti-society testimonial about love, faith and sacrifice in their naked rawness. Breaking the waves is endearing if you 'somehow' believe in what is shown, if the 'stupidity' of Bess looks real to you, if the demands or desires of Jan look unselfish and true, if you like to see love that is anything but lovely, if faith and sacrifice can make you believe that love can take a course that Bess took. All these things are hard to see and harder to believe but von Trier makes you watch it and believe that love is love in whatever raw form it must exist. Breaking the waves could have been reduced to a 'stupid faith' movie but it is not so. Its an unsettling yet interesting journey of Bess from love to faith to sacrifice.

Saturday, February 05, 2005


Last night, I saw Black. Black may be dark, but it is not at all gloomy. Black is a good movie, one of the best in the recent Indian Cinema. It takes a while to gel with the movie but you gel well. Black interests more because it is unusual Bollywood fare. Bhansali has come a long way from styled grandeur and deep dramas of Devdas and HDDCS. But, Black is a big-small movie. It takes place at a small place but has its largeness intact. Bhansali should be applauded for keeping his affection for songs and dance aside. I cannot remember any other big budget big banner movie without songs. Black may be more sentimental and more verbose at times than you wished it to be but such occasions are not too many to saturate you. The overall film impresses you. If you leave the where-when-in-the-world setting, there is nothing much you can complain about. Rani orchestrated walk at times irritates you but her me-happy dance makes well for it.

Black is a movie about disabilities, conquering them with the right and timely help and being 'independent'. I particularly liked the rather unapologetic approach and handling of emotions with tender touch, not going over the top. There is no cry for sympathy. There are subplots of sibling dispute and attraction towards the teacher, both are handled deftly, although latter gets an edge of better performance over the former.

There are several places in the movie where you feel elated or emotionally charged. But what stands out it the kiss between Rani and Amitabh. This scene is simply fulfilling. Indian film makers should learn how just a touch of lips can spark the screen. Black should be appreciated for that 'forbidden' touch. Black would have lost an extra dimension without it.

If we talk about performances, four performances stand out. Little Michelle, Michelle, Michelle's mother, Michelle's teacher. But the best of the lot is Ayesha Kapoor as Little Michelle McNally. You need to watch this performance to believe it. Amitabh is reliable as always with good support from understated Rani and graceful Shernaz Patel.

After watching this movie, Bhansali looked standing between Ram Gopal Verma and Karan Johar. Before it was more towards the mushy Johars but Black seemed more balanced and therefore more satisfying.