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

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?