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

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, 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 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.