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



Monday, December 31, 2007

Year End Post # 4 : Some Underrated Performances!


Here is some of my picks of the undervalued performances of the year.

Ranvir Shorey: Last year, the truly moving scene came from a comedy, Khosla ka Ghosla, it comes when Khosla sa'ab is put behind bars and Ranvir Shorey's 'Bunty' Khosla weeps saying "yeh sab meri galti hai", and asks his younger brother to go to US, away from all this trouble. Aaja Nachle has no good scenes but one, which comes from Shourie. Its a dialogue less scene where Ranvir Shorey's Mohan Sharma weeps (with a big red heart in background) when he learns that his bride has ran away from marriage. What Shorey does in that scene is to elevate Mohan from a poor guy to a poor guy in love. Similarly, he plays a just-married Gujju with required sensitivity, in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd whose wife runs off during honeymoon. In No Smoking, Ranvir Shorey's squint eyed Abbas is also a performance to watch for. Here again, his performance brings two aspects to Abbas - the unwilling cunningness required for survival and how people yield to it, and the frustration and helplessness of being in a situation beyond ones control. Also it is to director's credit that Abbas doesn’t just become a background character serving the main plot but a valuable addition to it.

Lara Dutta: I know I have soft corner for Lara Dutta and what ever she does, and I think she is a very good actress in mainstream Bollywood (In the star studded "Dewaanagi Dewaanagi" song from Om Shanti Om, she was only next to Tabu). In Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, she plays a French Hotel Manager and British-Indian Prostitute with the same verve and energy. Her performance surely adds to the guilty pleasure of the film.

Amisha Patel: It looks like Amisha Patel was born to play this. Although the character Pinky in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd, is of a dumb girl who has this romanticized view of marriage and love but she plays it so naturally and uniformly that her dumbness does not irritate, but becomes a part of her charm.

Sonya Jehan: Playing Ratanbala in Khoya Khoya Chand, a Bollywood star of 50s, was all about screen presence, few precise gestures and good diction, and Sonya Jehan gets it all correct. In a year when everybody is singing praises of Deepika Padukone (and to a extend she deserves it), Sonya Jehan's classic act went unnoticed.

Ayesha Takia: Like Amisha Patel's, Ayesha Takia's casting as the dumb and big bosomed secretary of John Abraham in No Smoking is a wonder of casting and concept. But her dumbness is not her natural trait, but a made up thing, may be to please her boss, or it is an image that her boss want her to be like. To her credit, she does not miss a single step. Every move is a delicious treat in itself and a wonderful parody of all the fantasy secretaries of the world.

Tisca Chopra: Tisca Chopra's Maya Awasthi (Ishaan's mother in Taare Zameen Par) is one of most heartfelt performances of the year. Her portrayal of Ishaan's mother has care for the child, worrying about the child and attachment to the child - the things inherent in mothers, alongside a feeling that she is not able to understand her son. Tisca Chopra's performance never cries for attention. There was a scene where she watches video tapes of Ishaan from his childhood, I just hope that segment was constructed as a series of memories she had of him. I am sure that would have been more powerful than the taped ones.

Mithun Chakraborty: Mithun Chakraborty’s performance as an idealistic communist in Guru is one of the few times in Hindi films when a Bengali or an oldman or a communist are not stereotyped. It brings back the memories of some of his better performances, especially the marvellous Shibnath from Tahader Katha.

Pankaj Kapur: It can't be said that Pankaj Kapur’s performance is undervalued per se, but it is surely undervalued in comparison to what people say about Abhishek's performance in Guru or Shahrukh Khan in Chak de India (for note, SRK is better than Abhishek, and Abhisek is much better in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom than Guru). At a time when we see simplistic performances in so called adult films, Pankaj Kapur gives a multi-layered and deeply-felt performance in a so called children’s film. The last scene where he tries to dance in a marriage procession is again an example of art, i.e. beauty plus pity.

Year End Post # 3 : Notes on Hindi films


I know I am late for Year End posts now, but to my excuse, I was keeping very busy for the whole last week (of course watching and catching up as much 2007 movies as possible, mostly Hindi films). Here are few notes on the Hindi films seen this year.

Aaja Nachle: Aaja Nachle is based on two major fantasies, and few minors. Major fantasies include - a small town girl marrying a good looking (preferably white) foreigner (but remember, this "myth" should be broken to make Indian male audience's fantasy alive that "their" women like them most, or on a broader level, Indian fantasy that matches in India are made in heaven, all others end up in divorces), second being the NRI fantasy . Minor fantasies are mainly about a small town life. Also, this film somehow suggests that the people who are born with and seen money for ages (rayees-jyade) are more honest than those who have seen it for the first time. But that is not the point; I am disappointed because it was hoping for a mad dance extravaganza, which it is not. For record, Shamli, where the film is set, is one of the town in the district of Muzaffarnagar, which is my hometown.

Jab We Met: A nice bubbling first half and a dull predictable second half (Imtiaz Ali's Socha Na Tha was better). This is one of those films where the proverbial irritating acting of Kareena Kapoor is put to good use. Shahid Kapoor acts best in the first scene, and from there its a downfall. The same self help gyan of the first half, look ugly in the second half when Shahid Kapoor "discovers" it and "implements" it in life and love. Kareena's happy go lucky charm of the first half comes partly from her youthful naivety and partly from her inherent happy nature. Shahid Kapoor's 'found' charm is straight from that monk-ferrari book.

The Namesake (Not a Hindi film, phir bhi): The Namesake has its heart at the right place, but only that does not make a right film. What keeps the film together, and at time moving, is Tabu and Irfan Khan. In whole of the film I was wondering how good an actress Tabu is. Think of this film without her or Irfan Khan, and it all falls flat. Also, the name thing doesn’t hold any water, it looks like a trick. Given that it means a lot to Ashok Ganguly, but as a narrative device its stilted and unconvincing. I know that most of the narrative flaws (like why Gogol's sister is nobody's concern) in the film will go back to novel, but on a visual level too it doesn’t break any new ground. Right from the first shot where camera shows a coolie carrying a suitcase with clearly legible name, A. Ganguly on it, even then the camera zooms on the name to let us read it more clearly. There are other such instances which are more guiding than required (when we have got the "message" that marriage does not necessarily work because of cultural backgrounds, Mausami says "It was not enough that we both were Bengalis"). Also, Mira Nair gets all the easy things right, but fumbles when something difficult, like identity crisis of second generation, is required of her. Kal Penn honestly tries but he has no screen presence (at least when Tabu or Irfan Khan are in frame). What is the point of acting when an itch or a disappointment can only be conveyed by saying it? But the film is worth watching for little emotional farewell speech that Tabu give towards the end, and for all the time she is in the frame.

Saawariya: Let me think what is good in Saawariya. There should be something. Actually there is even nothing bad about it. Its a tasteless, odorless, colorless, harmless, non-sublime liquid.

Taare Zameen Par: The usual theory that one should be extra careful while making a film about war is now extended to children too. War makes us overlook things because of its ugliness and gore, and it is exactly the opposite in case of children. The kid makes us overlook because of their inherent charm. So we need to understand and thus make a separation between the two facts - Is TZP a good film or Is the kid cute. One should be careful if, intentionally or otherwise, kid is used to mask the flaws of the film. This film too has that first half/second half problem. Good first half and reductive-didactic-simplistic-self-serving second half. Let’s talk about the first half only. There are many nice moments here where we are let inside the mind of a child, and they do remind us of their wonderful imagination (one of such sequences is directly lifted from Calvin and Hobbes, just that 'addition' changed to 'multiplication'). In other sequence, in which Ishaan bunks school and roams around is very effective in portraying the freedom and fearlessness of a young mind. It is shame that a film about understanding a kid's mind, turns into understanding about a particular disability (which many genius had in childhood), and worse, a quest to put them into mainstream like the "normal" children. However feel-good it was but it unfortunate that a film with a tagline "every kid is special", ends in a competition. The good thing is that this film boasts of one of the best performances of the year, which is not Aamir Khan’s, and which is except from Darsheel Safary’s Ishaan. Also there are some good lyrics.

Dus Kahaniyaan: After reading Saadat Hassan Manto who is master of twist towards end in his short stories, I felt that a real twist is not a narrative twist which makes us join threads of the story with an 'aha' feeling, but a twist that brings about something which is very delicate, which should be stored for an ending to make its impact, a touch of the realization that the character had at the moment. Its not a shocker, but a moment of contemplation and understanding (for readers and for characters). Most of the stories of Dus Kahaniyaan miss that point. The best is of the lot is Meghna Gulzar's Pooranmashi. Most of the others are passable but the real irritating one is Rice Plate, not because of story, but because of Shabana Azmi, who does such an absurd caricature of a South Indian woman (listen how she says 'pickle' a thousand times), that if there is any artistic conscience left in her, she should make a public apology.

It looks like the futile verbal diarrhea of year end posts might spill to the next year too.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Year End Post # 2 : Italian Cinema


Italian Cinema

It’s baffling to see the difference in the richness of Italian cinema of 60s and 70s, and the current dry days. This year I discovered some of giants and genres of Italian cinema.

Sicilian Comedies of Pietro Germi

I saw two films (Divorce, Italian Style and Seduced and Abandoned) by Pietro Germi at Gene Siskel Film Center, both are excellent. Lots has been said about they being comic-satiric masterpieces, which they surely are, but one cant help but appreciate the sensual aura of heat, passion and lust that Germi creates. It looks as if the Sicilian weather (the way characters constantly perspire) resembles Indian June, and I wonder how similar Indian society is to theirs, just that our films treat the stories of 'Family and Honor' way too seriously, and are therefore turn themselves into monotonous and boring stuff. The death scene of Don Vincenzo in Seduced and Abandoned is a masterpiece in itself, as if in the whole film of farce, satire and comedy, Germi, who definitely loves his characters, pulls ups something very basic about a patriarch. Germi brutally satires his Sicilian society but his crime can be pardoned on two grounds - firstly its a crime of passion, and secondly he is intimately married to the society he deflowers.

Master Killings by Dario Argento

Lighting in a film is all about bathing the visuals and the characters into some mysterious light. Sound is to surprise or evoke the hidden. Color is a motif in whatever form it comes - Red Rose, Red Wine or Blood. There is no fun in reality. Background in a frame is more important than the foreground. Background can be used effectively to create fantasy and defy the reality. Only a coward artist resists silliness. A scene is noticeable only when Sound and Image are little off. Discontinuity in sound and image puzzles the mind, mystifies the narrative. Don’t shy away from explaining the unexplainable; it makes anything into fairy tale. Horror is anticipation. If killings are done so elaborately that they look unreal, that becomes art. Adherence to realistic conventions of killings in films makes them look ugly and monotonous. Women look more beautiful than men on screen, especially when being brutally killed. Blood in art is redder, screams are shriller, delirious exteriors mimic the state of women in danger and murderous hands are of an artist. These are few assumptions on which films of Dario Argento are based. As you can see, they do require some amount of leap of faith.

Movies like Suspiria at least try to mask off shams like Innocence. Made from the same source material, one might see the difference of approach between a filmmaker and wanna-be intellectual (of Formulative French Flavor). Suspiria does not bloat itself with pretensions of big meanings, while Innocence, in its marvelous aura building exercise, promises a ocean but ends up in a tiny fountain. The end sequence of Suspiria is the most beautiful sequence I saw this year, it looks like something that Lynch thought but Almodovar directed. And the music by Goblin is awesome.

Great in its own right but Deep Red is lesser masterpiece than Suspiria because it somehow rests on plot twists and turns rather than director's art. I mean to say that if the same script were directed by someone else (except the killing scenes which only Argento could do the way they should be), it might have been the same film. What I liked a lot about Deep Red is its gender awareness and how it plays with audience banal psychological knowledge that relates sexuality and violence when it comes to track down the murderer. Music, as usual, is great.

Each of these Italian films comes highly recommended from me.
Pic: Screenshot from the end sequence of Suspiria.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Year End Post # 1


In Guy Maddin's Tales from the Gimli Hospital, patients are shown puppet shows during their operations to distract them from their immediate pain. Both tragic and funny, as Maddin's most sequences are, this one says much about our affair with entertainment. They distract us from something immediate, painful or boring. A good film uses that distraction for something worthy and a bad film wastes these moments. As one of the character in Yi yi says, "we see films because we can live three times as much in films as we do in normal life", we must also acknowledge that this extension is as imaginary as life, or as other character in Yi yi, who takes pictures of people from behind, says, "I am just trying to help you to see what you can't by yourself", films exists as a perspective of life which we might miss but for them. There can be several such arguments to support why I see films but nothing will be more honest a reason than smug escapism. I say this because I enjoy in a film what I abhor in real life. It caters to my need to observe from outside, on some higher platform but never get myself dirty. It is as passive as it comes. Yes, it’s a year end post and I should move in that direction.

I keep on fixating on the number of movies seen in a year (ostentatiously putting the year-wise list on side bar of the blog) but, as we all know, it really does not matter. What matters is the increase in the level of understanding and appreciation of the film art. On that criterion, this year was a failure for me. Not only did I not enhance my understanding, but most of the times, I felt confused after seeing the films. There were less and less Fat Girl or 3 Women or Weekend or Body Double moments where you knew that the film is a masterpiece as you saw. I know on one level it is a struggle between what you want to admire (based on accepted highbrow opinion) and what you really love, and on the other - between, what you understand/sense and what you don’t. Griffith's Intolerance only worked for me in pieces, not as a whole. In its worst moments, I felt it was preachy and propagandistic and it definitely lacked the charm of Silent Era. And I found some films like The Mist and Music and Lyrics good, may be because I had set too low standards for them (The Mist is directed by the same guy who directed super-shit Shawshank Redemption, which is the second worst movie of all time, the first being Benigni's unbeatable master-piss Life is Beautiful). A rather lesser known silent film, Tod Browning's The Unknown worked greatly for me, which I thought was well ahead of its time. When I saw No Country for Old Men, I was baffled a bit but gathered myself (and the film) after the end sequence of Sheriff's meeting with his Uncle. Later I felt both ways - The last sequence as a bravura film making which beautifully pulls all the loose ends without any awkwardness, and also - a sense of easy closing by an insightful scene. I felt same about Redacted too (but I have a higher opinion of film than most of people). May be, unable to drawn any clear cut conclusion about a film say not only about oneself distrusting his own tastes (which I believe one should, at least one should be critically aware of ones tastes) but also trying to align them to someone else' and may be, a late revelation that end result doesn’t matter to the extent we assign importance. Whatever it may be, it’s lesser and lesser that I eat with eye, i.e. enjoy films the way I feel one should.

Following posts will be small, random and insubstantial notes on films seen this year and some related topics which are written along the year, mostly on train. I wanted to make them a single consolidated post but opted for this serialized version.



Pic: Maya Deren looking out of window in Meshes of the Afternoon. Nice description of the image here (in first para)

Clip: Full Bollywood in one song. Palti kamar hai from Raj Kapoor's Barsaat.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Year End Post(s) will come before the year ends. As of now, making list of films seen, directors discovered, some cinematic highs and lows, things read and things past. It seems that I have seen about 150-160 movies this year, three more weeks to go and with some holidays in hand, I am planning to touch 200. Lets see !

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Absence of Soul !

An extract from the important yellow book, Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America : Five Centuries of Pillage of a Continent. Added few links for starters like me.

Ideological justifications were never in short supply. The bleeding of the New World became an act of charity, an argument of the faith. With the guilt, a whole system of rationalizations for the guilty consciences was devised. The Indians were used as beasts of burden because they could carry a greater weight than the delicate Ilama, and this proved that they are in fact beasts of burden. The viceroy of Mexico felt that there was no better remedy for their "natural wickedness" than work in the mines. Juan Gines de Sepulvedam a renowned Spanish Theologian argued that they deserved the treatment they got because their sins and idolatries were an offense to God. The Count de Buffon, a French naturalist, noted that Indians were cold and weak creatures in whom "no activity of the soul" could be observed. The Abbe De Paw invented a Latin America where degenerate Indians lived side by side with dogs that couldn't bark, cows that couldn't be eaten, and impotent camels. Voltaire's Latin America was inhabited by Indians who were lazy and stupid, pigs with navels on their back, and bald and cowardly lions. Bacon, De Maistre, Montesquieu, Hume and Bodin declined to recognize the "degraded men" of the New World as fellow humans. Hegel spoke of Latin America's physical and spiritual impotence and said the Indians died when Europe merely breathed on them.

In the seventeenth century Father Gregorio Garcia detected Semitic blood in the Indians because, like the Jews, "they were lazy, they do not believe in the miracles of Jesus Christ, and they are ungrateful to the Spaniards for all the good they have done them". At least this holy man did not deny that the Indians were descended from Adam and Eve: many theologians and thinkers had never been convinced by Pope Paul III's bull of 1537 declaring the Indians to be "true men". When Bartolome de las Casas upset the Spanish Count with his heated denunciations of the conquistadors' cruelty in 1557, a member of the Royal Council replied that Indians were too low in the human scale to be capable of receiving the faith. Las Casas dedicated his zealous life to defending the Indians against the excesses of mine owners and encomenderos. He once remarked that the Indians preferred to go to hell to avoid meeting Christians.

Indians were assigned or given in encomienda to conquistadors and colonizers so that they could teach them the gospel. But since the Indians owned personal services and economic tribute to the encomenderos, there was little time for setting them on Christian path of salvation.

Indians were divided up along with lands given as royal grants, or were obtained by direct plunder: in reward to services, Cortes recieved 23000 vassals. After 1536 Indians were given in encomienda along with their descendants for the span of two lifetimes, those of the encomendero and of his immediate heir: after 1629 this was extended to three lifetimes and, after 1704, to four. In the eighteenth century the surviving Indians still assured many generations to come of a cozy life. Since their defeated gods persist in Spanish memory, there were saintly rationalizations aplenty for the victor's profit from their toil: the Indians were pagans and deserved nothing better.

The past? Four hundred years after the papal bull, in September 1957, the highest court in Paraguay published a notice informing all the judges of the country that "the Indians, like other inhabitants of the republic, are human being". And the Center for Anthropological Studies of the Catholic University of Asuncion later carried out a revealing survey, both in the capital and in the countryside: eight out of ten Paraguayans think that "Indians are animals". In Caaguazu, Alta Parana, and the Chaco, Indians are hunted down like wild beasts, sold at bargain process, and exploited by the system of virtual slavery - yet almost all Paraguayans have Indian blood, and the Paraguayans tirelessly compose poems, songs and speeches in the homage to the "Guarani soul"

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Morality

There is a road named A-B Road, which goes neither to A nor to B. If one considers it even worthy of being a problem, there can be two basic solutions to it. First and the practical one is to change the name of road (may be to where ever it goes). Second and more convoluted solution is to bend the road and make it to go to A and B. In real life, first one is the only solution. In art, first one is absolute no. Thinking of the second solution and finding hurdles might be the one way. Thinking that some crazy person might implement the second solution, and to imagine the outcome of that may be other. Art may give impression that the first one is a better solution but its aim is not to give it. Its aim is to show what happens when right ways are not followed for what ever reasons, who are effected, how they are affected, why such things happen again and again. Yes, it all sounds moralistic, and it is too. I feel all art is deep down moralistic. It is the heart of it, which makes it alive. Art, for one, is a way to communicate, share and resist solitude. Art, for two, is to create. Art, for three, is to imagine and hope for a better world. We imagine a lot, we use some of it to create, and we communicate only some of what we create. What we consider worthy of communicating and sharing as art has some basic quality. That basic quality is artist’s idea of morality. Do not think of it as a stepwise filter as I made it sound like, it’s instinctive. A real artist don’t create a patchwork of morality, he does whatever his instinctive morality guides him to do. That is the intrinsic personal part of his creation. Art is one which tells us how people confuse between gardening (of the type generally practiced by bourgeoisie house wives or retired husbands) and ecology, and at the same tell us something basic about the ennui of those city-gardeners. It does not prison itself; it observes freely and reports morally. Even in a devil-may-care creation, artist cares (I think that’s why people feel safe in hands of certain artists). Even if there is no morality in the text, morality lies in the judgment of selecting things which an artist wants to communicate. Here also selection is not a conscious act. That’s why some of the follies in what and how an artist want to communicate do not amount to an error in judgment but to collapse of his entire human faculty.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Jeanne Dielman: Second Day Report


I started to watch Jeanne Dielman 2 days back, after dinner. Jeanne Dielman is about the daily life of a widow living with her teenager son and is supposedly one of the greatest feministic works. Its 3 hours and 13 minutes long. First day I completed just above one hour and slept while it completed itself. The second day, I started earlier so that I can complete it fully. I couldn't but after 2 hours and 20 minutes, it has started to take its shape. It’s still about an hour from finish though but I am quite sure that it’s a masterpiece in itself. It does what I expect from great writings, to make a language and world of their own.

The perfection of Jeanne's activities, perfect multitasking of her daily jobs, the static schedule of her chores is reflected in the perfection of static framings, camera placements and most orderly editing. Camera is still and voyeuristic, strategically placed and observant, never interfering but always watching.

The film is justifiably 3 hrs long. The first half of the film is definitely an exercise to accustom the viewers to a certain pace, and this pace is not due to any technical or stylistic reason but is tied to the pace of Jeanne's daily world. As we become involved in its pace, we start noticing every detail. We notice that the sweater which Jeanne's son is wearing is small for him and the new sweater that Jeanne is knitting is to be made longer because Jeanne's son likes it so. Not to say that these details are important to understand the film or such observations will benefit us to understand the film better at a later point in any way, but to say that we become attentive and start to connect minute things. We observe the light switches turned on and off very carefully and wonder if they have something more than their usual function to light a particular part of house. Also there is some rhythm in all this, kitchen on, living room off, and so on. As camera follows Jeanne, light precedes her. Next time when she will leave an unwanted light, we will be the first one to notice and wonder what this slight break in routine might account for or amount to. We notice when Jeanne accidentally leaves one of her coat button open and we feel immensely relieved when she notices it and promptly buttons it up.

On the second hour (her second day) things starts to go slightly off the pattern they followed the previous day, successful multitasking which was on expert display yesterday go slightly wrong. The dinner is late, the potatoes burn. We slowly feel the tension due to this turbulence just because we have watched the first hour perfection.

There is a moment of absolute beauty in the second half, a moment which might have gone unnoticed or might have been overemphasized elsewhere. After the daily routine of Jeanne goes off the track and to confirm this, potatoes burn, Jeanne goes out to buy more potatoes, comes back, sits in her kitchen on the usual place, weary and little confused and anxious how today things are going out of her deft hands, begins to peel potatoes with a resigned face. Once she is done with one potato and is midway through the next, something happens, and her pace increases. She doesn’t cheer up, but her hands starts moving faster. A mild burst of physical energy betraying her mental state owing to her responsibility as a homemaker. It is a short moment where she mentally decides that she needs to complete her work. This is an unsung collapse and rise by our heroine - momentary and unvoiced.

Jeanne Dielman is amazing because it is so religiously straight but its effect is quite non-linear. As we begin to see the second day, first we try to compare it with the last day and while observing the differences, try to sort out something out of normalcy of Jeanne's life, and in a way, some of this tension is released when potatoes burn. It is, in all its modesty, as big an event as eruption of volcano in a Hollywood blockbuster. Now we smell there is something wrong under the surface.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Small Notes on Few Hindi Films


Jhoom Barabar Jhoom: It is Jaan-e-mann minus the child and associated sentimentalities, also minus some of the Salmaan-only (self-bashing, self-referencing stuff, although Abhishek Bachchan tries it meekly) sheer fun, but is a logical follow-up to it, unapologetic dip into fantasy, fun and dance. And Lara Dutta is as brilliant in the film as Amitabh Bachchan is irritating. Also Gulzar comes out of fake-poetry mode (Geela paani (Satya), Geeli Hassi (Saathiya)) and rhymes France and Baans ("Tu raani hai France ki, main baasuri baans ki, apni society mein yeh chalta nahin"). He did the same excellent job when he rhymed Shaayari and Diary in Jaan-e-mann ("tooti phooti shaayari mein, likh diya hai diary mein"). Also last time, I smelt oral sex in a song; it was Namak ishq ka from Omkara ("Jabaan pe laaga laaga re, namak ishq ka"). Gulzar has finally found his calling. I used to like Gulzar as a child and still find some of his lines great but his clever wordplay is very thin in meaning. Meandering "sust-kadam raste, tez-kadam raahein" cannot stand the piercing directness of "Koi yeh kaise bataye ki woh tanha kyon hain", neither do his better lyrics on assortment of past, memory and romance like "Ek sau solah chaand ki raatien, ek tumhaare kaandhe ka til" age better than agelessness of "Tumhe yaad karte karte, jayegi rain saari, tum le gaye ho apne sang neend bhi hamaari". On gut feeling, his lyrics look artful, rehearsed, discontinuous and showy (see I know a word called "marasim" too. One heavy word in the shallow sea of trite letters. Its just one step better than those who translate Hindi to Urdu by replacing "Main" by "Hum"). Coming back to the film, I found it a very interesting entry in the new-wave Bollywood-musicals, where logic is sacrificed for songs and narrative is told through them, and director confidently makes such a mess.



Chatri Chor: A film that shows how love for a thing and desire for it can be mixed into good-evil madness, and how it (love + desire) quite never dies. The end of the film is quite Shakespearean. It would be too much to see the entry of a beautiful Umbrella in a small village both as an object of desire/lust for the simple folk and also as an object of foreign infiltration into simple lives, but one could not help himself making both the comparisons at some point. It doesn’t hurt till the scrutiny of human nature which seems to be director's main concern remains to the fore. Nice return to sublimity, unforced humor and right mood by Vishal Bharadwaj. There is an ingenious sequence where our heroine kills a snake and becomes Devi, and how the news runs fast through the small village. Its story telling, humor, montage and myth rolled together.


Johnny Gaddaar: Good, but lacking the atmosphere of the films it draws from. And who casts Rimi Sen as love interest. The lead actor is good, but I must say that he is too self-conscious, I mean he acts little too much in limits, in the end I dont know what I felt for him, which may be the exact feeling that director wanted to evoke but we need to feel something for a person portrayed as an evil doer without an evil heart. I also felt little uneasy when dead man's girlfriend was tortured, because I was never able to figure out what the director wanted out of it (may be some Tarantino stuff homage, may be, but the girl was so innocent and so in love that it was not funny at all). Cut the fricking finger!


Chak De India: Good reworking of all of sports clichés (and few others too), and a final embrace into fantasy that we won. A politically correct fairy tale meant to inspire and please. One might rightly argue that girls from each state don’t really represent their state but are symbols of North Indian stereotypes of those states (One girl from whole South like a Sardar can be used in a Tamil movie to represent the whole North India) including North Indian states (Bimbos from Chandigarh, Sector 16). But it is fun. If we see the last half an hour as fantasy and add a last scene where Kabir Khan loses again and returns to his old home, we can have our latest Bollywood noir hero :)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Two Films: One Good, One Horrible.

François Ozon's Time to Leave is an effort to create some moments or to reveal some essence of life, which, as one discovers soon, is a failed effort, but this is not the reason why it fails as a film. This film is pretentious counterpart to its many heterosexual siblings. Do you know how illness mellows down a person and he/she tries to find a meaning to what is beautiful in life, he dies or he lives, either makes for a rewarding climax. This is just a recipe but what extra can Mr. Ozon add to this. Make the protagonist gay. Now there is something pseudo intellectual about it, which is not pretentious on the surface but ultimately a dip into clichés from both sides, the illness-death-new-life metaphor and the gay-outsider-exotic stereotype (add little spice up of self esteem, self pity, alienation and why-me stuff). There is one nice moment in the film when the father and son are sitting in the car and the son moves near the father (as if to kiss him), as his father moves slightly back, he asks - are you afraid of me. This is a scene which succeeds in drawing an invisible line between Romain and his family, just because of his sexuality. Other things are quite trivial like Romain's love affairs which play like a teenage naivety at times and I-need-to-move-on adult pretension rest of the times. To fill in one more cliché - let the gay man have a child, Ozon makes one woman and her sterile husband have a Ménage à trois with Romain ( doesn't it sound like a answer to a overblown heterosexual fantasy of two girls and a guy) in order to have a child (what a wish fulfillment !). The film end with a "message" that Romain has accepted his death, but in the end it just seems like a bourgeois guy accepting a horrible thing with the help is smug director and good cameraman. This film is a melodrama which is afraid of being so, which may very well classify as the worst sort of cinematic pretensions.

Patrice Chéreau's Son Frère (His Brother) is the story of two brothers, Luc and Thomas. Luc is gay and Thomas is straight. Thomas gets a dangerous disease and asks Luc for help. So the premise again can be stripped down to - Family (brothers, responsibility), sexuality (difference, acceptance) and illness (death, meaning of life and relationships when faced with death). Son Frère succeeds in maintaining a melancholy of physical and emotional distance and desire of human connection (both emotional and physical) throughout in a very unsentimental, yet in a compassionate way. We know that Luc cares for his brother but he is also aware of the past when he was not accepted by his brother (probably when he needed him most). There are tiny gestures that remind us that Luc is caring for Thomas more as a fellow human than as his brother. Both brothers have suffered and suffering, and in their human ways have let and are letting the other suffer. Luc has suffered a rejection in past from a brother whom he loved. His brother, now nearing death, has to deal with not finding a brother's warmth in Luc. One, who rises above the past wronging, is a better human being, but the one who doesn't let his real venom of past wounds out might just store them in to poison the whole body. May be, that's why, Luc decides (or rather shows) to help his brother as a human being not as a part of his filial responsibility. There is an excellent scene between Luc and Thomas' girlfriend where they kiss out of pure asexual love, may be an exercise of sharing and alleviating pain they both are going through. It is great how this scene works on a level of human connection far from any sexual flare. There Chéreau finds an unpretentious moment of transcendent bliss, a kiss relieving all the tension of the frame. Likewise when Thomas’ body is shaved by two nurses for operation, Luc, standing on a side, watches his naked body. Again there is no sexual attraction in the moment (although we have the knowledge that Thomas is the first guy Luc experimented with). There is only – a caring brother, a decaying body and pain on both sides. What we see is the pain of dilapidation of body of a beloved through Luc’s eyes. Here is a film that relentlessly probes into the minds of brothers, who are dealing with past and present. For one, it is a preparation of death, alongside knowing his brother afresh whom he dismissed years ago, for other, it is all sort of questions, a complex puzzle. Unlike Time to Leave, which condenses illness and death into one man quest to come in terms to it, Son Frère shows how illness effects a family – a relationship, how it brings the past to the fore, how illness is a metaphor for need and human dependency and (re)connect, how illness is not only a precursor to prepare for death, but a way to look at life as it eventually dies down, an alarm to revisit what we had done, a time to think back.

Monday, October 22, 2007

No Country for Old Men


No Country for Old Men is a film that belongs to a specific geography - the wide expanses of Texan landscapes. Film starts with few shots arranged as if a montage from the Western films, hues of orange, barren lands bookmarked by mountains, dry and sunny, windy. The montage is supported by a monologue by Tommy Lee Jones (who plays Sheriff Ed Tom Bell), which tells us about the wrong and ruthless times we live in, laced with nostalgia of better old days. In the next scene the film jumps to introduce a cold-blooded murderer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who is on some mindless mission of mayhem. The third scene cuts to Vietnam war Veteran, Llewelyn Moss (an excellent Josh Brolin), who while hunting stumbles upon a place where a gruesome killing has taken place before ("a deal gone bad" as a cop later sums it up). Intrigued by the dead bodies lying (A dead dog lies along with the humans as if to visually say "people died like dogs"). He finds the drugs loaded in a van whose driver is just about to die and nearby finds a bag with money, which he takes home. He, as a man he is, at night realizes to make bigger out of it and goes to the place of shooting again, but this time gets ambushed by Anton Chigurh (who is hired to kill the person who got away with the money). Moss somehow escapes from there, but without respite as he is hounded by psychopath Anton Chigurh everywhere he goes. Ed Tom Bell also starts investigating the case, contacts Moss' wife to get hold of him because he is aware of the lunatic killer Chigurh. Moss, who is a tough one too, like a noir hero (not fully though), gets deeper into the spiral of chase of death.

As the film starts with the barren, lonesome and inhabited Texan plains with an eerie tension of evil lurking from sides, it also suggests a no morality land, a corroded place where violence and chaos are the rules. Anton Chigurh, who kills anybody in his way with shocking dispassion (he doesn’t even seem to enjoy all this), in a shocking way drains all the morality of the situation, suggesting everything is valid, anybody can be killed for nothing (each brutal killing made the shocked audience to burst into laughter which they duly contained in seconds out of embarrassment). The violence in the film firsts shocks you, then you expect it, laugh at it, and finally, it takes some strange existential meaning with chaos, randomness, unpredictability and immorality everywhere and people who expect that things will make some sense in moral framework are invariably disappointed.



Moss on the run to save his life and to get the money, is just a partial noir hero, as the film moves he hands over the baton to Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who is growing old but trying to solve the case and stop the killing with his own methods which he is fully aware wont work for people like Chigurh. There is a moment later in the film which is reminiscent of the ending of Chinatown. Chigurh is an evil force that defeated the good this time too.

In the film’s final scene, which makes this film oddly meditative and which slowly builds on you, Sheriff has a conversation with his uncle, who is older and more experienced. Sheriff says "Age will flatten a man". For a moment we think, it will flatten Chigurh too and break him to become more human, but for the next moment we realize, it’s just a cycle.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Guy Maddin's Cowards Bend the Knee


The beginning of this film is the re-enactment of that popular forwarded mail (by far the best!), where the loser in you is consoled because at one time, long ago (do you remember!), you were the fastest sperm (Success is sweet!). Its a cinematic foray of an over imaginative naughty kid (cute!) into psychoanalysis (hidden, sexual, shhh!) using outdated but fascinating gadgets (Be careful!). Inspired by silent films (inter titles!), German Expressionism and Eisensteinian montages (too much!), this film language is totally new (It's joy, joy, joy to meet someone new!).

Spoilers ahead (Beware!). A drop of Sperm (with capital S!) is placed under the microscope to find out the Players inside it. What is revealed (under the microscope!) are the crucial moments of an ice hockey match for the Winnipeg Maroons team, whose star player, Guy Maddin, along with his buddy, Shaky, help win the match (Success is sweet!). But in an dramatic inter cut of match, dressing room, men shower (naked!), a peep hole and close ups of hands and faces, we soon discover that Guy's girlfriend, Veronica (short hair, dark eyes!) is pregnant, who has to be taken to Liliom's (White face, white hair, dark heart!) Night Clinic (Beauty salon by day, Bordello by night!) for an abortion (shhh!) to be performed by old and evil looking team physician, Dr Fusi (Team Spirit!) who wears a corset and smokes pipe during the operation (Operation Veronica!). While holding Veronica's hands (hands!), Guy eyes on Liliom's daughter, Meta (Long hair, great breasts), who is licking sugar (sugary, syrupy, sweet!). He is instantly seduced by her (It was joy, joy, joy to meet someone new!). Even under the expertise of Dr Fusi (Team Physician!), Veronica dies, definitely not from the abortion (shhh!), but lost love (tsk, tsk!). Here Chapter 2 ends (10 chapters in total!). The story has just begin (attention please!).

We get a peek into Meta's Bedroom (wow!), where Guy (Meta's guy) try to touch her (her great breasts!) and Meta reveals that she won't let anybody touch her till she avenges her father's death (Family girl!) whom she loved so much (love thy father!), who was killed by her mother (Lady Liliom!) and Guy's Buddy Shaky (Shaky loves the lady!) and after killing him, father's hands (both!) were cut off that Meta saved in a jar. With the help of Dr Fusi (the expert!), Meta (Lady Meta!) drugs Guy (Guy in love!) and asks him to transplant her father's hands (Blue hands of jar!) to Guy's. Dr Fusi tricks Meta (father's poor girl!), throws away hands and does a transplant (fake, fake!) by painting Guy's (drugged!) hands to blue. Meta asks Guy to touch her (her great breasts!) by her father's hand (Love thy father!), but Guy's hand (fake but new!) can't (father's hands, daughter's breasts!). Disappointed but vengeful, Meta asks Guy to shampoo her mother (in the night clinic, by night!) and kill her with her father's hand (blue hands!). As Guy touches Liliom (Meta's mother!), memories (of hand, of honeymoon!) return, and Guy (Guy in new love!) makes love (with hand!) with Meta's mother (Liliom!). Veronica's Ghost (long hair, white clothes!) returns (meanwhile!). Guy's father (older guy!) comes to the Night clinic (Beauty salon by day, Bordello by night!) to give the news of Guy's mother's (old lady!) death, and meets (It's joy, joy, joy to meet someone new!) Veronica's Ghost, and hugs (tightly!) her (Love thy in-laws).

In the turn of events (too many!), Guy returns to the arena to play against Russians (tough commies!) where Veronica's Ghost ( Guy's old love, father's new love!) and Meta (dark eyes, dark lips, fuming) watches him (two gals, one guy!) and when prompted by Meta (vengeful!), he kills Shaky ( Liliom's old love, Meta's enemy!). Guy's hand (murderous hands!) takes control of him and when Dr Fusi (Family Doctor!) try to do abortion (again!) of Veronica's Ghost (Ghost's Child) as planned by Meta (Lady Meta!) and when stopped by Liliom (old love of Guy's new hands!), Guy strangles (murderous hands!) her, which confirms to Meta (inside the abortion room!) his love for new girl (Veronica's Ghost) and in her rage and fury, she demands her father's hands (loving hands!) back and Dr Fusi (the expert!) does the job (hand job!). Guy (with no hands!) can't hold hockey (and other vital things!) but returns to the arena one final time for the climax (shocking) which one should not give away (no, please!).

Monday, October 01, 2007

Pere Portabella's El Soprar

Gene Siskel Film Centre is showing some films by artist, filmmaker, producer Pere Portabella, who is famous for producing Bunuel's Viridiana, which marked the return of the exiled director to Spain and an outrage by Spanish dictator and Catholic Church who thought Bunuel would make something pleasant and in good spirit(although Franco asked Bunuel to make whatever he likes), when invited with open-arms and freedom (of course of dictator type). Pere Portabella himself made few experimental films but most of them, made during Franco's censorship never saw the light of the day and were circulated as underground films. This Sunday, I went to see one of his films Nocturnal 29 (title refers to 29 black years of Franco's regime), but I will talk about a short which was screened along with it.

It is shown along with a short El Soprar which was excellent, I have not seen anything like it. According to Pere Portabella, the short film is about the state of political prisoners under dictatorship, but the film is definitely much more than that. Five political prisoners meet and start a discussion about the validity of the hunger strike by the political prisoners. The argument starts with an accusation that hunger strike is a passive weapon; it’s a act of submission, not an assertive or resistive action that one should take as a political prisoner. Also, if you expect any sympathy or something in return by this act, it is definitely silly. Experiences show that. Is it really an act of desperation? Talking about it as a desperate act, it also brought to the discussion when does a person do that. Is it done as a last recourse of resistance or just as an act of giving up? Is it justified either way? If it adds to the cause then it can be justified. So there should be a connection between the inside and the outside of prison, and the efforts of the political prisoners inside should fuel the movement outside, so in that case, hunger strike is perfectly justified because it helps leaders to give their message to the outside world and help keep the activism alive. But inside the prison, a political prisoner's main aim is to demand a better life, to resist the prison authority from treating them like a criminal. In that case, what good a hunger strike can do. The discussion went on as viewers are more and more allowed to enter the mindset of the people in the discussion.

The discussion moved to the effect of prison life on the person involved and eventually on the movement. Will a prisoner, after release, like to continue with the type of activism and resistance, he was associated to before. Does prison life breaks the will or in some ways (as one of the person says that in such hostility and repression, one becomes more sure that one has to continue to dissent with the status quo, and with all the time by himself there is more time to rethink and clarify the purpose of the struggle) enhances the passion. It is observed that lesser years in prison tend not to break and dissolve the passion that the cause they are fighting for is worth it, but longer years (like one of the person in the discussion group who served 20 years in prison was severed from his family life, and he told, as per his experience, that some of people who serve long sentences feel isolated and left out by the current development in the movement) may kill the flame. The best way, as one suggests is to keep in touch with the outside world and try to live in reality, not in a fantasy that we are fighting for a great cause (to know and have "Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will" as they say). The discussion slowly moved to the aim of the enemy (Franco & Co.) which they try to achieve by imprisonment, and were they able to achieve it. The beauty of the discussion, as always, is the set of people it has, which are all for the same cause, but have different ways to look at it and were allowed to do that. This is bunch of passionate people trying to think logically, not to arrive at any conclusion, but to see things more clearly. The best of them was a woman, who brought an altogether new perspective to the prisoner issue when she, in her very balanced solid voice, raised the issue how the female political prisoners are treated like the subordinate to the male counterparts, and how their experiences of prison are more traumatic for them and the a left out after-life even more, and when a fellow activist tried to use some cliché like we are correct and they are wrong then she positively blasted him for deviating from the point. In the last part, she gives a small powerful speech which leaves everyone speechless including the viewers (A thinking woman gives one hope, as Fassbinder once said, I know Fassbinder was bit satirical in saying that, but I am not).

This visually simple (extreme and medium close ups in black and white with cigarette smoke as a special effect) short is essential because more than the issue it tackles (my post leaves many of the interesting points and arguments, I must take notes in future), it shows an argument in the way it should be done - facts, rationality, openness and passion. The heated discussion, as it was, was never overblown or redundant or simplistic. The heated discussion, as it was, made few of us viewers to enter into it and (literally) speak out. Is it not what they call activism, may be at least the seed of it?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This Weekend

A sad one, if I may say so. It was not boring though. But it had the heavy feeling that one experiences when one sleeps all day and wakes up at night - thirsty, hungry and alone. Not particularly sad though. But film wise, it was quite good. I saw almost 10 films. Here we go:


Two films, The Knight and Glass Lips, my Lech Majewski: All my fears came rushing back. Too serious and too masturbatory, although still better than Theo Angelopoulos' onanism, I tried a lot but none of them worked, except for few set pieces. I hated the sound in Glass Lips, it was like a RGV film. When the film finished, the person sitting next to me, clapped alone and said "Very Polish". It was like the laughing track during the Rabbit soap in Inland Empire.

The Devil Came on Horseback: An American marine captain, Brian Steidle, was sent to Sudan as an official military observer. He observed a horrible genocide of black Africans being orchestrated by the Islamic government using an militant army called Jangaweed (meaning " devil on a horse" in Arabic) taking place in the western part of Sudan, Darfur. Steidle send many reports to the UN and US govt, as a part of his job, which described the situation that was clearly a genocide but no action was taken. He quit the job and came back home with all the pictures he has taken of devastation and released them in press. Visually and aesthetically, there is nothing new in this documentary but it gracefully raises itself above the savior-white-man domain, because the Steidle's efforts are that of a passionate activist who understands the situation, not of a saviour hero. Read more about the film here.

Cinemania: Wrote about it here.

The Navigators: Ken Loach's comedy about the working class. Five men working in railway maintenance discover that now they are employees of a private company (East Midland Infrastructure), as the govt has privatized the railway maintenance. New set of rules come into play (cost cutting, working hours, redundancy etc), and the work and the personal life of the workers is affected drastically, leading to unfortunate events both at professional and personal level. The great part of the film is way it captures the effects of shortsighted changes, and the way Loach is able to portray how human core are emotionally and morally effected by them. A nice companion film to Human Resources.

The School of Flesh: A simple film raised considerably by Isabelle Huppert's performance (especially when she weeps through her glass eyes, it looks as if she is washing her face off any left emotion. Her face looks "cleaner" after that). An elder fashion designer, Dominique, falls for a young good-looking hustler, Quentin, who has an abrasive life. Her obsession for his flesh (he also knew that he got a rich woman because he looks great. In his moment of insecurity he asks Dominique if she would love him if he were ugly or maimed), drains her emotionally as she tries to connect to him on a non-physical level. Slowly, it becomes clear that the things wont work. The last scene is a cliche of sorts but it works. Lovers, married and with kids, meeting after long time, exchanging glances and few words, is something that always works for me.

The Best Way to Walk: In a French summer camp, a slender, beautiful music and theatre teacher, Marc, enters into child-like game of confrontation and humiliation with the virile sport teacher, Philippe, when he, by chance sees Marc cross-dressing. Philippe stereotypical masculinity takes a surge and he starts humiliating Marc at every possibility. Marc, disturbed by Philippe's behavior, calls his girlfriend to the camp but is enable to make love with her, which further presses him down. The humiliations increase and in his display of extreme machismo, Philippe throws, physically weak Marc in the swimming pool and later beats him hard. The story which is essentially a children's story (weak kid and the school bully), is quite consciously set in a kids summer camp where the adults still have the stereotypical ideas of sexuality, while the kids are still discovering it. The game ends in a costume party where Marc dressed as a Spanish dancer, invites Philippe, dressed as a knight, to dance. Philippe, obviously scared by Marc's daring of display(Marc even kisses him), acts weird and tries to run away. They later meet, years later, and it seems that they all are now grown up. A sensitive and funny look at inflated notions of male sexuality. The title of the film comes from a French camp song, "The best way to walk, after all, is ours...", which is sung by the young kids of Philippe's class

Careful: A very interesting film by Canadian auteur Guy Maddin. Planning to write about it, in detail.

Whisky: This one is awesome. The weekend best. Its rightly called comedy, even though it has no comic lines and you never laugh. It just warms you up. As economical as a film can be. Highly recommended. Will write about it more.

Other than these, saw about 3/4th of Cría Cuervos (stopped in middle because it was too good to handle, I ration good films to myself) and 1/4th of Platform. Will try to complete them soon.

Note: Picture from the "Whisky" moment from Whisky.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cinemania


Cinemania, directed by Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak, is a delightful little documentary about five people (Jack, Bill, Harvey, Eric and Roberta) living in New York, who have obsession of watching films, to a rather extreme level. All of them schedule their life around their film watching schedule, or more or less don't have a life except films. They talk about how to maximize the number of films that one can watch. They have elaborate mechanisms to plan their visits to theatres and schedule them with Subway timings. They have an average of 2-3 films a day. Some of them usually have constipatory diets so as not to get themselves disturbed during the film screening (One of them changes his underwear before the film so that there is no itching, and the other one make sure that he washes his specs and keeps a sweater in case he might feel little chilly, along with pills for headache, backache etc). One of them is thrown out of MoMa because she behaved badly with an attendant (grabbed her by neck and threatened) when she tore her ticket (needless to say that she has kept all the tickets of the hundreds of thousands films she had been watching since she was 15), later she tried to enter MoMa with a wig and weird makeup but was unfortunately caught doing so. One of them was put in prison for hitting a fellow audience because she came late and disturbed his movie watching experience (He completed the film after hitting her, because it would have been a betrayal to cinephilia if he had left in between the screening. In the end, he got arrested). The other has all the trivia about the character actors, the running time of films (different versions, director cut and all, he reports the curator if a scene from a film is missing), of the stars and related stories. Some of them are collectors of obscure items, brochures and cups etc. One of them is particularly enthusiastic about European cinema (mainly French cinema after the new wave) and thinking of putting a page length ad in a dating service to get a cinephile girl from Paris. Some of obsessives think that the others are rather deep in the obsession and few of them rather have a bad taste in films. In one of the scenes (or was it in deleted scenes, anyway don't forget to watch the deleted scenes, they are about 40 mins of fun), one of them jokes about Schindler's List (which is other ones' favorite film) as anti-Nazi propaganda, also they talk about some other Holocaust film that is so moralistic and backing the Jews that it forces the audience to sympathise with Nazis ;) The love life of younger lot is expectedly quite bad, since deep down they don't think they are normal (they discuss this too in one scene, defending that being normal means being similar. "In a prison, what is normal, rape or murder ?"). One of them once said to her date that it is very important to "act" that you are quite normal that left her rather amused. He says that he has only three things to talk to a woman - film, world affairs and his life events (like how he went to jail), and not many of them seem interested in them. He thinks he wants to make love to Rita Hayworth but only in black and white. Colors might disturb her shiny gray lipcolor. Apart from this, its a nice guide of the film viewing opportunities in New York, which are of course more than a "normal" person can devour. Although these people are not crazy and they see films because they like them (They cry during films, one of them said that he cried for few blocks after watching The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the other cried when she realised that the lovers didn't meet in the end because the guy loved the girl more than the God, who killed her simply because the cruel god could not bear it, others claimed that they discovered life through films), there is a definite bent of escapism to this, and their everyday loneliness and disconnect from "normal" society fuels their passion to obsession, so in some ways the documentary left me empathetic and scared!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lech Majewski's Angelus


How much I say that images make a film and one need to "eat with eyes", my top most fear with experimental, surreal, non-narrative films is that, at the end of it all, it might go no where. It is not much a feeling of waste of time and effort (we know both are anyway wasted), but that primitive feeling of getting lost in a jungle where although every image is unique, unseen and with a periodic potential of dazzling the senses, but it all ends up in confusion. Also like a jungle trip, it looks like a brave but aimless and once in life time adventure. May be owing to my inability to comprehend such an experience, they may seem aimless, with so many madly imaginative threads but no core. What you are left at the end of it is a sea of images, disconnected and wordless. We are human beings so we long for political, thematic or narrative insights in an experimental work and try to judge the true value of a documentary by the way images are composed, as they say, the keen eye for people and landscapes. How much we say that we don't like masala films, and how much we redefine word masala (like balanced, well-(g)rounded, congruous etc), we are sucker for them, we want everything there. Although a gentle dose of such films do condition us, as they say one acquires "taste", for what to expect and how to sense, but in the end such films are just temporary filmic experience. My second biggest problem is a feeling of self important artistic masturbation (can't you see how beautiful and serious this composition is, you phucking philistine !), that comes at times (pl. see Theo Angelopoulos' self-indulgent poem Ulysses' Gaze to get that exact feeling). This feeling is more excruciating and one does feel wasting time and effort.

This month, Gene Siskel Film Center is organizing a retrospective of the works of Polish writer, director, painter, composer and poet, Lech Majewski. As I read briefly about him, his films looked like all what I am afraid of. Surreal set pieces, ultra-exquisite frames, weird imagination, but something was quiet intriguing about them, the painterly compositions and the wry humor, and plots of some of his films are like folk lores. So I decided to try one of his films, Angelus, which inspired by events that happened in Silesia, a part of Poland located near Oder and Vistula rivers. The Silesian tale is about a commune (of painters and artists) whose master, while dying, foretells three things - The Great war, The Great plague and The annihilation of earth by a mushroom shaped death ray from Saturn. The first two prophecies comes true as World War and Communism, but the members of the commune, determined to save the earth, are worried more about the third prophecy. The most intelligent man of the commune, who likes to work in extreme cold (he even keeps his books in fridge, and sleeps with windows open on a snowy night), works out some calculations and finds out a way to save the world. They need to put a naked virgin boy as a sacrifice on the top is the communist head quarters. Need not to say about the fate of their plan.

The beauty of this tale is that it has a great historical resonance. It is as much a film about stupid but honest efforts of the unsung people, and as it is a tableaux of history as done by a surreal painter with wry humor. In certain ways this film broke my biggest fears about non-narrative, experimental and avant garde cinema. Here the dissociated set pieces are somehow joined by the undercurrent of both, history (factual, narrative) and its mystery (artistic, irrational). The way it shows the historical figures like Hitler and Statin are so loaded with irony and dark humor that they doesn't remain one person, but point to all idiotic rulers and dictators. The way it shows people dealing with censorship and repression is at once funny and filled with concern for them. There are moments of pure pleasure like a old woman dancing and singing, and the sexually over-active couple which is talk of the housing unit. One of the most beautiful examples of colored imagination is presented when Polish men fantasize of American beaches with nude women. Even in their fantasy on the beach, their imagination and women, with an exception of a black woman just for the exotic touch, remain essentially polish. There is also a portrait of a guy who has just discovered the power of a gun, and in the most funny scenes he uses that power on his children and wife. And there is one person who is not yet convinced that the war has ended, lives in a trench and is building a bomb. An obvious cold war metaphor, but its done such a absurdist style that it looks very interesting, and it also doesn't go on to imitate the full cold war pattern, its just a metaphor that happens to fit. Also the mushroom shaped bomb metaphor has shadows of Hiroshima in it, but it is not played like a trump card. The guy who is chosen for the sacrifice is the narrator of the story and is a ghostly presence, a young, almost expressionless guy with a melancholy demeanor. His love story with a very beautiful girl is so downplayed that it almost hurts when we come to know he has to die a virgin, again a symbol of love sacrificed for "greater goods" of the world, and again quite understated.

The visually exquisite surreal set pieces work here because they are not forcibly serious and they doesn't impel us to "see". They doesn't take themselves too seriously, but the pain of people is not anyway belittled or undermined. As young Angelus walks towards his fate, it is a solemn moment that director understands. It is quite early to say the Majewski is a master on the same lines as Sergei Paradjanov or Fellini, but he is quite a discovery for me. I plan to see as many of his film in the retrospective now. There is one at 8:00 pm today.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Vanaja

Vanaja is the story of 15 years old eponymous heroine, who due to her desire to learn dancing starts to work in the household of rich land lady, becomes enamored by landlady's America-returned son, who, after few misgivings, rapes her, which is as much a punishment, as it is a token of his male and caste supremacy over Vanaja. The film is better than I expected it to be. With all its flaws, its is not devoid of any merit, and that should be highlighted. An attack on caste system and a cry for position of women in society, Vanaya is not altogether stereotypical or simple minded, but it is definitely weak in its melodrama at times, may be because of the oft-used situations (specially the ones with Vanaja and her father) or the guiding background music. The best part of the film is that it improves at it progresses, and there are at least two strong points in the film. One comes early on. When landlady's son arrives, Vanaja, partially burdened from the charm of the his status and partially attraction to the opposite sex, first sets eyes on him. It dismantles two things which are celebrated in Indian films as a rural legend, one that the innocent village belle never ever has any sexual feelings, and more importantly the man from outside is a pervert casanova. So when Shekher rapes her, its is not at all a sexual act, but it is an act of aggression and supremacy, and also Vanaja is not shown at fault for being more free with her sexuality than she is supposed to be. In an excellent scene, she gets the shit out of Rambubu -the postboy, while little Yadigiri threatens them both. The second good thing is the end. Its a semi-fantasy. Vanaja is promised something by the land lady and her son, which we are told wont happen in future, its a false promise. Also, since we know more of Vanaja now, we can assume that she too has the knowledge that it is a false promise but she understands that at the moment this false promise seems a best compromise. Since the film does not end where Vanaja is in "safe" arms of Rambabu or Shekher or in the protection of Landlady with her son in her lap, or with a weeping face with the question "who will marry me now", or as a weeping victim whose child is taken away from her or a tale where little Vanaja wins the big battle - it seems a nice end, slightly comforting that she is back to childhood, but not sugary or melodramatic. The dances sequences are quite good, but my only point is about the composition and camerawork during dance sequences. In the last dance sequence, Mahishasur Mardini, the director was busy capturing the angry closeups of Vanaja as a metaphor of her rage, which is not only a big cliche for those who have seen such Durga dances of rage, but its uncinematic and too guiding. In dance sequences (and in some other sequences) what one needs is compositional camerawork, not narrative a camerawork, wide angles, long shots, not the emotional closeups. Also when it comes to locales, dances and culture, director need not show off, but relax because there is always a danger that it all becomes a export of exotica from a far off land.

Monday, September 10, 2007

मंटो की कहानी 'खोल दो'

मंटो की विवादित कहानी 'खोल दो' आप यहाँ पढ़ सकते हें।

१ अनेक ,२ उमड़ता , ३ बूढ़ी , ४ गायब , ५ शुन्य , ६ लटका हुआ, ७ मस्तिष्क, इज़ार बंद = कमरबंद

Saturday, September 08, 2007

List From Lists

Alok's Top 25 Non-English Language Films post, prompted few of us to post our lists too. My affection to these type of lists (a function of time and taste) -which are at best when most personal - is more as an information source than as a part of consensus on the status of classics, or inclusion of all type of films to make a representative list of film canon across the globe with restrictions like one-director-one-film etc.

So, out of these five list, here I choose one from each list that I should see soon. Most of these films are either new to me or neglected by me for a long time. Jai's list has a nice pick of French films and Vidya's inclination towards Chinese melodrama are the things which make their list both personal and informative - that is - the best one can get. Here my list from lists goes.

Since Otar Left - Julie Bertucelli (Vidya's list)
The Battle of Algiers - Gillo Pontecorvo ( Alok's list)
La Belle Noiseuse – Jacques Rivette (Jai's list)
The Adventures of Prince Achmed - Lotte Reiniger (Cheshire Cat's list)
Memories of Underdevelopment - Tomas Guttierez Alea (Space Bar's list)

If some wants few more or something else to be picked from their lists, please let me know. Its like, if someone picks Late Spring from my list (and I know (s)he has seen Tokyo Story (or any thing by Ozu), but has not seen anything by Jan Svankmajer, I would recommend him Little Otik).

Here and here are some nice compilation of Top 10s.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Random Respite : Sum of Parts

As I look back, I smile at my mother's intelligent ways to tease my father, me and my sister in the same sentence, or rather tease her in-laws, with me or my sister as a weapon. The comments were of varied degree, from "aalsi to apne papa jaisa hai", to "gussa to bilkul dadi ka aaya hai isme". Some times, insults were more ambiguous and artsy, as my mother would say seeing my hindi handwriting, "chalo, papa ki ek to achchi aadat aayi", or when I will hit my sister, my mother and father will show occasional unity to scold me, and my mother, while slapping me, will even sentimentalize the matter by saying, "kal chali jaayegi, tak yaad karega" and I will murmur, while being slapped, "usse to koi kuch nahin bolta". I am used more often for this inheritance comparative study than my sister because she once wept inconsolably when her greed for sweets was compared to a distant relative, and that too in front of my Dadi, who hated that relative and attributed every wrong in the world to her.

Whatever be the case, my Dadi always took my mother's side, her only regret was that my mother is "saawali" (a bigger regret was that none of her fair son got a fair wife and like a family joke, none of her fair/dark grandsons got either. She had no hope from the few unmarried grandsons, as she says "saaro ko saawali hi pasand aave"). Her way of throwing sweet insult was saying "Saawali hai, par photo achchi aati hai", that statement used to take an extra dimension when she will comment so while seeing my parent's marriage album, and will hold the statement till we reach the page where the pictures of my mother and father, which were exchanged before marriage, were pasted. But the best part was to ask my Dadi about the reaction of whole village when she came there after marriage. She knew that we had asked that a thousand times, but her every reply had the same exactness of detail and pride. Ours was supposedly a village that has never seen someone so fair. According to her, she never worked in sunlight, till my dadaji was alive, lest she might get dark. She is always in praise for her mother-in-law who cared for her more than her own mother, who married her in a far off village (none of her relatives were even in the same district, she always regretted that she didn’t go to her mother’s place at her first Holi). She used to say "agar tere dada hote to yeh karte, woh karte", my mother would quip "aap hi bhatera laad karti ho, phir to pata nahin kitne bigadte", hearing this, my fair Dadi will look up to her saawali bahu with an old-worldly praise and pride while stroking my hair and asking my fair sister not to play in sunlight.

I revolted much later to these ancestral comments but by then I had the realization that its more for fun and sarcasm than for any hurt to anyone, and by then I would team up with my father and sister to invent sly comments on my father's in-laws, which my mother resisted by saying "bacchche bigaad ke bahut khush ho rahe ho, bilkul apni maa pe gaye ho". But the hell broke when I commented on my mother's treasured possession, the sewing machine, which she brought with her as marriage dowry. It must have been one of those occasions when my mother was again telling the story how my Nanaji did research to get her the best sewing machine in the whole town and when my father came that night, I proudly announced "aaj phir machine-chaalisa thi ghar mein" and my sister giggled sinking her head in my father's lap, but to our utter surprise, my mother started weeping in the most silent way (and that meant she meant it, in this particular kind of weeping she will keep on working her chores while weeping and we all knew this is the danger zone), and although we were little and immature, we knew for sure that no talking will undo what we did, so my sister and I, half thinking and half instinctively, started sobbing and slowly changed side moving near to my mother. Getting the signal, my father, to fill in a lighter mood to an all-weeping scene, softly said, "ab bachche majaak bhi na kare kya?", and getting the signal back, half-thinking and half instinctively, we both started weeping more freely, as if little relieved that the father spoke for us. My mother got up without saying a word, leaving the exhausted weeping kids behind, went to the kitchen to make dinner. When she came back, we had slept, but not fast enough not hear my father say "Dekh bhukhe hi so gaye", but fast enough not to hear my mother's reply.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Amores Perros - Lucha De Gigantes

I like this song a lot. If I remember correctly, one of the lines translates to "paper monster..."



(NOT safe for work)

Movie Amateur Talk #1

I have tried, but failed to understand films as just the sequence of images, carefully shot and put together, which, I understand, a film - in flesh and blood (and bone), if not in spirit - actually is. Bresson said that a pianist presses specific keys (don't confuse this pressing with the emotional/sensual button pressing that Haneke brilliantly spoofs in the family pool sequence of Code Unknown) at right moments, for right duration, very precisely, without any emotions, but the music thus created, brings forth extraordinary sensations to us (This goes with his theory that says ‘Let feelings bring about events, not the contrary’). When someone says that the beauty of this shot was its length (Look, such a long shot !), I feel rather stupid to not even notice that simple thing. At times, I try to figure out why it is elongated or truncated thematically, but not so much so philosophically (Long shots brings truth and integrity, do they ?) and technically (how many times did they rehearse it, how the camera moved, how difficult it would have been to achieve this).

I mean to say that I have lot of times felt that the camera should have stayed there for few more or few less seconds. But the decision was purely to enhance an ‘expression’ that has emerged so beautifully at the moment that any hurry or delay might crush it like a soap bubble. At times, the decision was more of the type where I wanted the director to trust me, not to show the obvious or more importantly, not to show just only the obvious. Technically, I only find myself, to certain extend, understanding only few things, like when a switch should take place between shots. I recently saw Beau Travail where I found all the switches were as if I supervised them (please don't laugh :), actually I found the film very poetic (I am planning to write about it for a month but its becoming is more and more difficult with time). The switch between scenes, as I think of it now, is also a very strong thematic element, the choice of images that you want to sit near each other, interact and talk. There is a scene in Kinsey where after the kiss between Kinsey and his male friend, scene cuts to Kinsey's weeping wife, which is surely more of a narrative decision than anything else, but there are times where the cutting is purely artistic (I cant think of a singular good example, but Color Trilogy has a lot of interesting artistic cuttings).

Other than switching/cutting, another thing I really appreciate is composition, yes, compositions like those in Ozu's films, but again too much of it is really off-putting. Ozu's Floating Weeds (in color) was too perfect in composition that it is really distracting. Ozu didn't care about the continuity when it comes to composition (things moved from left to right in consecutive shots, and than replaced duly back to their original position so that the composition is just perfect), which is just fine, but too much of it sucked life out of the backgrounds. Also, when I talk of style it is not to do entirely with inventiveness or frenetic pacing (like Snatch or Lock Stock films) laced with unsubtle glibness, often forced. But it is something on the lines of Far from Heaven, aligned to theme, like the chaotic style of Weekend married to its theme of upcoming apocalypse, like Chungking express, free and flowing. I saw Yi yi recently where apart from the glass reflection photography, I was not even interested in any other technicality or camera work, and which is not to say that it was any bad, I was more engrossed in the film and was just not interested in camera angles.

Other movie, that I recently saw, Rebel Without a Cause, is something of a surprise to me. Actually in Rebel I noticed both, the very elegant visual design, the repetition of themes and the repetition of similar shots of the three teenagers, blend together very well visually and conceptually. But eventually I was more busy drawing parallels between Jim Stark and Travis Bickle and Jon Rubin (I felt that the character played by De Niro in Hi, Mom!, is the younger version as Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver, I think of him as a budding-Travis. Jon Rubin in Hi, Mom! is still not disillusioned, but we come to understand that he soon will be. Similarly, after watching, Rebel Without a Cause, I felt that the James Dean's Jim Stark is the teenage version of Travis Bickle, and to certain extent explains his rage, his anger against order, and his repressed sexuality too. This disillusioned male, alienated and absurd, unsure of everything, ready to try everything, rising and falling without cause, is possibly the our modern day Greek hero, the most cinematic male character).

Apart from this, I never get the grammar of long shots and the short ones, what should be used when and why. I have tried to think about few scenes as to what they might look in long shot or short shots or wide or close up, but I was not able to make any considerable judgment of one better than the other. I have considered the fast-cut introduction scene of Catherine in Jules and Jim, in long shot, but it does not give me any clues, though I liked the fast-cut sequence for its obvious show-off-y-ness and a point of highlight that our femme fatale has arrived but not so much for its technical brilliance. Also, I feel 'tricked' if I notice a long shot for its longness (correct usage: length), or a close-up shot for its closeness, as if I was forcibly made to do that. As old-school as it sounds, I am more for those ancient concepts of gentleness and neatness of an artistic expression, and as hippy as it may sound, I find myself admiring slaughter of any imposed modesty, good-nature and political correctness. As much I admire Beau Travail for its poetic beauty, I admire it more for its lack of interest in showing-off its style coda. Actually, Beau Travail is so unique because it doesn't do away with narrative cinema by rebuking, disregarding or dismantling it (there is a story in place and its not any meta-story), but by soaking the film in poetry of images that the narrative, although there, takes a comfortable backseat. And when you are into style and inventive film language, and when your preoccupation is not to prove that style works or to prove that narrative cinema is dead, film expression comes out in its natural bloom, as it comes in films like Beau Travail. Also the visual mastery of Rebel is not anti-narrative, but over-and-above-narrative, so the films works both for a novice like me and a film buff, and definitely helps an interested novice to see Nicholas Ray's stylistic genius in his strong visual power that gives narrative an extra dimension. Like wise films of Wes Anderson have a great story-book look and feel which enriches the narrative tremendously.

Aleksandr Sokurov’s Mother and Son, which, according to him is his effort to dismiss the fraud of third dimension in cinema because cinema screen is essentially two dimensional, is a very interesting film. He intentionally flattened the images to look like 19th century Russian paintings. The effect is mixed, sometime extraordinary, especially in the end sequence (note the muscles and veins of son's neck stretch in pain as mother's throat dries out for eternity) and sometimes stilted as in the places where Sokurov forcefully trying to stop the moving image to fit it in his premise of two-dimensional canvass and staying in one frame till sine-die, long after we have seen and duly acknowledged its beauty or purpose. One aspect is to work within constraints and one is to put in constraints - Sokurov seemed to try the later in few scenes - to my stone-age mind, style is not putting constraints but finding a language that suits the film. A stylistic decision (or the director's own patent style) must not force an artist to shoot a film on war or sex or spirituality the exact same way (although it interests me immensely what will be the result of such efforts, but the point is that an artist must not be a slave of style, although we know several of the greats were and are)

But to me, what stayed of Mother and Son is a thematic undercurrent of love, care, past and pain between the mother and son which is so well established in the opening scene where the son describes a dream to his ailing which she also dreamt - the common dual dream, like sharing the same mental space. It is a point where magic of the uttered word and the associated emotions overpowers the flattened images and the associated style, same as the choreographed military dances of Beau Travail that subtly gleam over narrative without any hollow spectacle of avant-garde or ostensible declaration or display of cinema as visual art, but by a heart-felt and soul-filled, may be even illogical or absurd (I am tempted to refer to Bollywood musicals here, Jaan-e-mann and the likes :), celebration of that very fact.