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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

3 Films by Altman

For those who like country music, this film might not serve their purpose, although it has several great songs, especially I'm Easy. Those who are interested in politics, this film may look rather glib. For those who want strong characters, they have nothing heroic to see here. Those who believe in free-form, here they go. Underneath the web of huge ensemble cast lies a beautifully free film. Nashville is free from the tight structure, conventional character studies and formal narrative. Nashville is a work of an artist with a camera wandering in Nashville (it may be some other place) and is allowed to film some of the public events and even allowed to flick some private moments. In the song I'm Easy, which is shot in a bar, the song is a public event but the look on faces of all the four enticed women is very personal. That's what Nashville is all about, the relation with celebrity and the public, the connection between stardom and politics, the obsession and the its influence, music and the business, culture and the capital. Altman said once that he views his films as a mural which he need to fill in and the picture that would emerge is even unknown to him beforehand. When different object on the mural with brush and touch, a picture might develop. Nashville, likewise, brings a picture of hopes of people, their dreams and crossed lives caught in propaganda, venal promises and intentions, an mosaic of minuscule images but pointing to something universal. The first song, Keep A'Goin, which is also performed in the last act turns into to a classic irony of the hopes amidst the confused state of affairs that Altman is trying to point out.
Trailer of the film here.

Gosford Park

The setting of the film might not be what Altman would have liked a lot (consider this setting vs the ensemble cast of Nashville and Shortcuts). There are clear demarcations and a very thin/formal interaction between the two classes, one upstairs and the other downstairs. But what must have intrigued Altman is the tension in both the halves, and the subtle similarities and differences between and within the both sides. Altman, master of deftly handling huge casts, must have wondered how the hell to deal with the English upper cast, in all their flair and whims (One of my friends says that he is in love English culture and etiquette, I think he should immediately see this film and if he still want to hold the wine glass in some pre-conceived Anglo-way, I must request Maggie Smith's remarkably vicious Constance Trentham to help him take a tour). As usual, the British cast is excellent both up and down the stairs. To ruthlessly enumerate plot points of the film, its a gathering for a shooting party, a murder and its investigation. The part beauty of the film lies in its satire of these events, flooded with witty dialogues and mannerisms. Given, its an Altman's film, the characters are not representative, they are quite unique and distinct, not to be - as they say - different, but because they are themselves, and also a part of world they inhibit. If we find glimpse of some stereotypes upstairs, its lot to say about those characters. The other part of beauty comes from what is sand witched between the plot of upper and lower crust, there is something bittersweet and humane embedded. The actions upstairs are so secret, nasty and manipulated that we look up for warmth downstairs, which at the face of it, is absent there too. Busy catering to their masters, and in fact known by their master's name downstairs, they are entrapped in the hierarchy as their masters. The young ones seems uneasy with this, but the old servants have mastered the art of servitude. Replying to "What about your life", a head housemaid quips, "Didn't you hear me? I'm the perfect servant; I have no life". As the film progresses, a bundle of secrets unfolds, we see a warmth seeping downstairs, while the upstairs is too busy being a bitch. Towards the end of the film, there is an amazing little scene between two old sisters, and such scenes are for actors (In recent films, other such scene that comes to my mind is from Kinsey done amazingly by Lynn Redgrave, she even says "Prof. Kinsey, You saved my life" and every word of it sounds true), no director can rescue them, if actors don't spark. Two amazing British actresses (Helen Mirren and Eileen Atkins), pull up such a restrained melodrama that it fills the screen with some sort of catharsis.
3 Women

Its a tale of 3 women as the title suggests, here goes what we can understand. Pinky (Sissy Spacek) wants to be what she thinks Millie (Shelley Duvall) is and she thinks that Millie is what Millie wants to be, but Millie is not what she wants to be, she wants to be someone from the women magazines, which she reads. Millie utterly fails but Pinky pulls it up in what they both want to be. Millie and Pinky live in same apartment and work in same resort and in fact have same names. Millie is near perfect in her attires and according to her, known for her dinner parties. Apart from these two women, there is one more, Willie (Janice Rule), who paints weird murals, is pregnant, and has beautiful dark eyes. Enigmatic part includes the skirt of Shelley Duvall which never fits in her yellow car, her Mrs. Dalloway-type ill-fated parties, look on her face when she sees parents of Pinky make love when their daughter lies in coma, the eerie twins at resort, the murals which Willie paints, the birth of a dead boy and that eldritch dream sequence. The way Millie walks around people has that die-hard mix of confidence, caring and caution, that is needed to be a good social-bee. The reason why she is not observing that no one listens to her or takes notice, does it bother her or she go on and on with her recital of recipes and that spooky 'Hi Tom' greetings to Tom, who is ever-coughing, just to avoid going out with her. May be, Millie is a dead person but not aware of it. The infatuation of Pinky with Millie ! She admires her perfection to P. Does she ever notice or take seriously, the indifference that other people show towards Millie or the way Millie go about talking to them fascinates her, the way she is trying hard to dis-alienate. Why is Willie painting those naked bodies, where oracular female form is tortured by the male form. Does her philanderer husband symbolise that cave-male, male from cowboy movie shooting his guns. Why does Willie puncture her ghostly painting with bullets and why no one ever talks to her and she to no one. Several such things occur repeated in the film just like a dream, and its a spiral of all-too-fast unexplained events, that the sleeper wants to get out from, just like a dream.

Unlike other filmmakers, Altman try to give an explanation of it all this mixing of identities and roles, but that does not look to be the point. The point is somewhere between what is perceivable and puzzling. Its is more than tempting to start defining films myriad symbols, but such temptations are fruitless and vain, they are more on the lines of what I understood than what the director wanted to do. Males in this film are either horny (Willie's husband), or indifferent (Pinkie's father) or Dead (Willie's son and possibly Willie's husband too), its a misandrist's dream come true, but Altman doesn't leave his women scotfree, they are shallow and obsessed and engaged in power plays, but at any given point, they are either more human or more interesting then their male counterparts.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Boss Of It All

Most of the problems in the world arise due to the fact that everyone likes to be loved even if they are more or less horrible people, and everyone has his unique definition what it means to be loved. If we translate this to a corporate guy, his definition of being loved may well be the straightest one. He wants to be loved and held in high esteem and integrity even if he has to pose what he is not, which comes very close to the definition of being loved by a normal person too, just that a corporate person is bound to a corporation, and in a way detached to what he does. The basic problem that all of these smiling, smart and sophisticated corporate people face is to manage and rule and at the same get the love of their subject, make them feel cared when they are being used. We have faced and we have used the big management D, the deference, which in this case means the deference of the responsibility of anything bad to someone else. The only glitch in that is, eventually it goes to a physical person, and that person may not get the love, may not be in the pool of the loved ones, and in that case will be unhappy corporate boss, which is not at all an admirable situation. There is heaps of self-help for both the loved ones and the lovers in the corporate world, but eventually the loss of innocence of the lovers happen and they all get the bitter truth about the loved ones (as you can see we are here taking a sort of ideal situation, the sycophant-gene is altogether neglected, but that can be neglected as its always good for the boss, which is our main concern here). There should be a better solution; there should be a better and easy world for our bosses. The Boss of it all gives that fine solution.

The owner of a Danish IT firm, Ravn, has that terrific idea. He hires a failed actor Kristoffer to pose as a made-up "boss of it all", and makes him responsible for making all the sensitive decision of the company and finally the decision of selling the company to an anti-Dane Icelaner and firing all of the six company's founding members except Ravn. But this foolproof plan has a small but basic problem, the problem that hired actor also wants to be loved. For an actor, the act of getting love is to please by his performance, to get the attention, for a director, it is a approval that someone got jolt and kick by seeing his stuff, which makes him feel something, something similar to being loved. What can be more dangerous than an artist who wants to be loved?

Like other films by Lars von Trier, this film is also an irony, and he spares none (von Trier believes that a film should be like a stone in your shoe :)), just that this time the mood is lighter, the camera is more playful, there is more air to breathe. This breezy irony, plays with the intentions of viewers, as if director is improvising against it, and a comic voice over always keeps things in a light mood and its director's simple way to say that its just a film, and that too a comedy, a irrational one. Film in its goofy irrationality and absurd setting, also examines the relation between the actors, directors, camera and the related ethics. Like the philosophical fool of Dogville, the actor in this film is also director’s doppelganger in particular, and artists and intellectuals in general. As a good satire is only on oneself (otherwise its bitching or criticism, and that is why Altman's The Player is an excellent satire), a good comedy becomes true only if the better jokes are reserved for oneself. Film’s end in which an actor shows what he is good at, is a potent joke on the creative urge and the related admiration that might follow from the performance, because whether it is a corporate cow or a creative crow, its all about being loved.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


As we all know that there is a thin line between a great excellent film and a masterpiece. The thin line is that is transcendence, to use a cliché. It’s the line where the images coerce themselves into one whole and go beyond. We feel free. A film that makes us feel free is itself utterly independent and fearless, of the people who want to kill it with the censorship of the so called profane, or to neglect and ridicule the so called trivial and also those who want to limit it to the worship of so-called good, moral and "useful".

Ordet is so fiercely austere and heart rending. Not a film has moved so much as this one in long time, both emotionally and intellectually. The impact of few films is so deep and elemental that writing about them becomes a clumsy clichéd exercise. This film does not particularly try to express the human condition and expand the human conscious, the prime theme of the film is faith, but it’s not the half-boiled, half hearted faith, but a mad magical love. Since here, even faith has true passion, the things which we might have thought to be slight and stupid, become both lifelike and magical. I, myself, have wondered the way people "use" faith, as one of the way, not "the" way, which defies the very notion of it in spirit. We all have seen, and we all have been, sometime or the other, fearful of faith, but still use it as and when required (As the film patriarch Morten Borgen puts it "But I prayed only because it was worth trying.").

Ordet is a story of Morten Borgen, owner of Borgen farm, and his family of three sons, Johannes, Mikkel and Anders, and Mikkel's wife Inger. They are all dealing with their faiths. The link between them is Inger, who keeps the house alive. The film starts with the scene where each of the family member go out to search for Johannes, who has again ran out from home, thinking he is Jesus. Johannes, who according to Mikkel has gone mad not because of love, but because of Soren Kierkegaard, enters the leaves the frame like the wavering faith of the characters. The way he speaks is prophetic and terrifying. The most terrifying of all is the scene where Johannes sees the beam of headlights of departing car and envisions the death. It is also very excellent use of lighting as a thematic element. Mikkel has lost his faith totally, but according to Inger, he has faith because he is good at heart. Morten, played wonderfully with a mix of old snobbishness and aged wisdom by Henrik Malberg, is also having problem with faith, especially because his prayers for Johannes are going unanswered. Anders is in trouble because he is in love with the daughter of the tailor, who has a different faith.

The main difference between Ordet and films of Bergman, especially Winter Light, with which is frequently compared is essentially the difference between the one still looking for any possibility of faith (faith in faith) and the one who has looked and found nothing, and how to come in terms with it. Actually, it quite unfair to compare the two, in spite of the common theme, because although they seem to be on same continuous line, but it requires a "leap of faith" or a "retract to reason" to jump between the two. Ordet is exemplary in its refusal to reason and rationality because it doesn’t look premeditated. One more film, Ordet is often compared to, is Breaking the Waves, primarily due to its final sequence, but to me Breaking the Waves tryst with faith is like an ironical kiss, but in Dreyer's Ordet, it is a full carnal affair. [Spoilers Ahead] In one of the most striking end scenes ever, as Inger wakes up and passionately kisses Mikkel, we can see the line of Inger's saliva that sticks out from Mikkel's cheek, gloriously celebrating the bodily resurrection along with the soul, and hence when Inger speaks “Life.. Life”, it’s a sensual feeling, not particularly a spiritual one. [Spoilers End]

Dreyer's film is as much about the nature of and our relation with faith, as it is about the limitations of rationality. The vision of Dreyer, as it comes of the film is neither of a cynical nor of a devout. The film, in the end does comfort, but that comfort owes the great burden, the burden of pure and unflinching faith.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Dancer in the Dark.

Last night, I saw Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark. I am still confused which one I liked better, this or Breaking the Waves, I will see Breaking the Waves again soon. Dancer in the Dark has some very sublime moments. Its more emotional but less depressing than Breaking the Waves. I plan to write about it later in detail. For now see this video of the song titled 'I've seen it all' by recording star Björk, who stars as all-good Selma in the film, which is the part of the von Trier trilogy where the heroine remains innocent and saintly despite her actions.

In the DVD, we got to see two more versions of this song, one with longer cuts and the other one with very rapid cuts (especially towards the end). For me long shots work better. Also, this song is filmed using 100 cameras which are fixed at different spots and with few handheld cameras for close-ups and the quality of the later being better than the 100 digicams, was digitally distorted to match with that of digicam's. Lars von Trier talks in a documentary called '100 Cameras' that this experiment didn't work as they expected and explains why. Although this is not the best song of the movie in my opinion, but the most popular one and available online. I liked the 'next to last' song better, I need to see the film few more times to settle on my favorite though. I longed and longed for a song on 'Mum's the word', an idea which is so pivotal to the film as the basic motif of faith and goodness.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Titicut Follies

I read in a brief essay on John Houston's The Misfits by J.M. Coetzee , that the amazing thing about films is that the images that you see on screen actually existed in some time and space. He talks this not entirely from the perspective of actors who hold hands, kissed and sat together, but more from the perspective of horses who were supposedly ill treated in the film. I think he took horses as an example not because they are more animal than us in our worldview , but because they didn't know they are being filmed and thats why they never acted. Whatever is captured on screen is, nothing but, once-filmed-reality. The point I am trying to reach here is not the morality of such act (if that would be the case, Lars von Trier should be convicted first of all), but the immediacy, truthfulness of such imagery and the knowledge that it really happened at least once, which is at least one thing that the best of literature can't claim. This preciseness of imagery, to some extent, acts both as the power and powerlessness of cinema. And here we get the bifurcating thin line between films and documentary too. In The Misfits Marilyn Monroe was acting in a film but the horses were in a documentary, and thats why their pain looks more real and more harrowing.

Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies is a 1967 documentary about the treatment of patients/inmates at Bridgewater State Hospital in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. It was banned in US from 1967-1992 because it violated the patients' rights to privacy. It is widely considered an essential piece of work for its direct cinéma vérité style and the issues it raise.

Titicut Follies opens with a stage performance by inmates of Bridgewater State Hospital, in its stark black and white photography camera moves from one seemingly happy or blank face to other, who are performing some sort of chorus songs with props (Its like sad song sung by some happy or blank faces). The title of the film is taken from the title of this stage show. As it progresses, we meet other inmates of the hospital. We try to find whats wrong with them and invariably find out that they are either too happy or too sad or too talky or too silent by "normal" standards.

In the middle of Titicut Follies, a naked old man dance thumping his feet in his "prison" cell, I felt almost ashamed of watching something that personal, which is not owing to the nudity, but because it has really happened and it is an honest expression of a person's illness. We fear that someone might enjoy it, laugh at it or someone can even generalize this behavior to madness. Titicut Follies treads in such delicate terrain, that raises it moral responsibility. One of the important properties of sincere documentaries is that they don't comment/remark themselves, they show what they saw without rigging the moral fulcrum. Titicut Follies does the same and hence it comes out clean as an honest document, not just any biased or illiterate humanistic propaganda.

Titicut Follies is not recommended to all (If you wish to ignore, read its tagline first!), many a times in this documentary, one involuntarily takes his eyes off the screen, and even start questioning about its awkwardness, but the strongest point that Titicut Follies raises is the nature of mental illness (one patient, who was supposedly suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and was asking for his release, was so logically persuasive and questioning that you feel jarred) and even more importantly the nature of such institutions, even though it doesn't portray such institution in any bad made-up light. They are doing their job (which in some ways inherently includes indifference, gentle ragging and bullying/forcing too [there is a scene where an inmate is force-fed, this scene is inter-cut with the scenes where other inmate is laid out for burial and we feel some comfort while watching the later]), there are no evil, sadistic wardens. We know, Wiseman is honest enough to show the better and lets you ask for yourself, is it any good.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Godard's Weekend

In fact, after watching Contempt, I thought of Godard as an academic film maker, not a film maker of ideas. Contempt remains one of the most bizarre films that I watched last year, if we look at the cinematic style, which is not brilliant because it makes a style of its own, as several fine films do, but it breaks down the conventions of film making which we usually accept as rules, thus helping us to see film making in parts, as a brick work of those raw materials. Contempt breaks several existing rules in the book and it tells us that there is no limit to creativity and visual imagination - the imagination in mixing the moving images, the sound and the ideas and the worldviews. Contempt has all what one will expect from a film maker who is known to break into and jump over fences. But Contempt should not be Godard's introductory film, as it was in my case. Its like an infant meets enfant terrible. Kid cries and listens to commentary track. I think what Contempt lacks is the flow of ideas. Although there is Brecht peeking in every frame but that alienation is not used to give us thoughts which Brecht talked about. Contempt has all the masters tricks but does not have much use apart from their display. The commentary track tells us about all those esoteric references and all those rules that are broken in front of our eyes but a normal viewer will think why they are broken, where is that greater good that is achieved by breaking them. I am undoubtedly confused when I saw Contempt. And yesterday that doubt is cleared when I saw Weekend, a film by Jean-Luc Godard.

A couple makes a mysterious plan to inherit the money from their parents and they leave their home to accomplish the mission. After some time, the questions like whether they will succeed and who will get the money (The couple even plots to murder the each other after getting the money and each of them have lovers, they are all in all bad people, but they are not some one off case, they are caricature, metaphorical and representative) and the whole narrative thrust of "what will happen next" becomes so insignificant that only the couple thinks about it but the film takes it own course. Its funny to see film not going where the main characters will like it to go. The film is denying them any heroic or anti-heroic significance. There is not much to talk about what happens in this film, but there is lot to talk about how it happens and how the expectations of the viewers are crushed again and again, and what he gets is, as one early inter-title says, a film adrift in cosmos. It may look as if different parts of this film are scattered but as the film progresses, it takes a shape of ideas that the film wants to convey. Distancing the viewer from what is shown on screen to what director wants to say. The film is polemic and very direct in that way. We hear monologues on Marxism and Maoism (which is criticised by some critics as didactic and over the top), and we hear French revolutionary Saint, narrate us the ideas of liberty.

In a delicate episode, a piano player remarks something that is so profound. He says about Mozart, "Mozart is too easy for beginners and children, too difficult for virtuoso". These types of episodes are particularly dear in the way they are crafted, free and without any text book format, camera pans leisurely to show people standing and sitting as the piano man plays Mozart, the way it is placed next to the car-chaos of cities and highways. Mozart music relates to the serenity of the place. The look on the faces of the village people listening to music and the couple, as insensible as they are shown, could not care less and look immensely bored by it. They want to move on, and the director wants to show another such episode. Beautiful conflict, that Godard uses to bring across his idea of industrial imperialism and bourgeoisie sham, to name a few. All those time tested plot tactics of sex, murder and deceit, that Godard show in the beginning, lead us nowhere, and Godard takes us to an absurdist journey hopping into bourgeoisie, Marx, slapstick, satire, literature, philosophy, civilization, class society, music, pop art, parody, politics, activism and cannibalism.

Cinematic conventions are twisted in each frame. The sound and image are almost always incoherent. The background score becomes gloomy, it heightens and it dissolves for apparently no purpose. There are inessential details, like the time, its Saturday - 10 am, another five minutes have past, the kms in the speedometer etc, as if viewer will want to keep track of it. It has the shadows of commercialization everywhere, and cars becoming a big symbol of it. Anything that uses oil and moves is ridiculed by Godard, including humans. The very famous, 8 min tracking shot of a traffic jam shows us a view of Parisian life, blood, dead bodies, animals, daily life conflicts and different sizes of cars. In an accident, a lady screams that she has lost her designer purse, in a very interesting episode, the lead couple burns Emily Brontë because she is not giving answer to their question, in the same scene, Brontë asks them GMAT type questions. The discussion between a young rich girl and a tractor driver is directly out of Communist manifesto's first chapter, the Bourgeoisie and the Proletarian. Towards the end, the hilarious orgy which was narrated earlier in the film (see the narration of this orgy scene in contrast to that of Bergman's Persona), is actually performed, but in a very unexpected and hellish way, and the film moves from bourgeois houses to countryside to guerrilla jungles and amidst all this chaos, Godard's version the living hell emerges. Unlike Contempt, this film fills those detachment gaps with solid ideas and radical thoughts.

For me, this film became a unique experience. After watching Weekend, I rushed to see Munich, and it is such a contrast in approach, although its unfair to compare both, but you cant help it when you watch them back to back. Weekend looked like a 'View source' of Munich's pretty HTML page, to put it in a slapstick way. I have starting feeling contempt for all those high risk saving scenes (the one where the Arab ambassador's daughter was saved in Munich) after watching Funny Games and Code Unknown (there is similar scene in Code unknown where a toddler is saved while his parents frolic in swimming pool, that scene has an ultimate concoction of sex, skin show, family love, hyped excitement, hope and happy ending). Munich manufactured everything in detail while Weekend deconstructed every detail. Munich used emotions to take its point across and Weekend used mechanical monologues and chaotic imagery. In Munich, every act of violence is regretted with heroic closeups, in Weekend, there is no remorse when the rabbit of Monsieur Flaubert is killed. Before sleeping, I gathered what was Munich all about while traffic cars honked endlessly, a cyclist thrown off pavement by a honking car, car ran down by big truck and so on.

Weekend took a step further in what I thought movies like Code Unknown can do. Code Unknown episodes have reality, they are even emotional. But Weekend, at times, looks unreal, but like a near future of our civilisation - its end, it horrifies and jolts. Weekend is unapologetic in being prophetic. Weekend is meant to irritate and to frustrate, it may look insane to people, it is actually a caustic, mean film, grotesque, as some may say "what the hell is going on". It is all that and more. It is angry and aggressive. Some people will hate it and I think that's what director wanted. Its not easily ignorable, as a bunch of undeniable ideas, as the view of urban hell, and also to know cinema as an art form of infinite possibilities

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bresson's Mouchette

Q: What's this film all about?
A: It's about a girl, a sad story of a girl.

Q: Did you like the movie?
A: Yes.

Q: What did you like?
A: The whole film.

Q: Anything specific...
A: Yes, there are lots of things I liked. The scene in the carnival bumper car, the one where the girls sing at school, the one where a neighbor offers Mouchette coffee, the one where Mouchette sings for Arsene and many more. Actually, Mouchette's last morning has some very good and incisive episodes.

Q: Why is this girl suffering?
A: No reason is given. It's like everyone suffers.

Q: Has her plight some deeper meaning, the plight of humanity etc.
A: I think so, and thats why it is gloomier than it seems.

Q: Are there some metaphors here.
A: I thought the first shot was a metaphor - the one with the bird and the snare, but later I thought I was wrong.

Q: Are the performances good.
A: They are really good. I liked the mother; she has some God-like presence. She is horrifying at times.

Q: Why do you think so?
A: Actually it's because of the opening lines she says and because she is always ill, not caring or not able to care.

Q: What is the opening line.
A: What will they do without me?

Q: You are again thinking about symbols and metaphors, are you wrong again ?
A: May be.

Q: Is Mouchette an endearing character ?
A: No, she is not. She has some mixture of vulnerability, ferocity and innocence. She shows some gestures of compassion, but she is not endearing. And that has lot to say about our narrow definition of being endearing.

Q: Is she pitiful.
A: Yes, I think so.

Q: Is she human.
A: Definitely.

Q: What do you think of the rape scene?
A: It was very meticulously done. The way Mouchette puts her hand on the rapist's shoulder is particularly heart breaking. I liked the scenes preceding the rape scene very much, the way Mouchette starts caring for Arsene.

Q: Did you watch the film alone.
A: Sort of, my friend slept off

Q: What about the last scene
A: Mouchette commits suicide. Its staged as if Bresson is doing rehearsal for the shot.

Q: Why she commits suicide ?
A: I think their can be very personal answers to such questions. Director doesn't give you one. There are two animal sequences in the movie, and if you want to draw some analogies of battle of survival or misery of existence, in which we eventually succumb, you can.

Q: What's your answer for it?
A: I will again resort to metaphors and stuff and I will be wrong again. I think labelling metaphors and symbols reduce the directness of the art. They help at times, but not always.

Q: What do you think is the theme of the film?
A: I think it about suffering and indifference of one person to the suffering of others.

Q: That's a big theme, don't you think you are giving a vague answer.
A: Actually, I think it's about suffering and if we try to associate any big metaphors to it, it will remove the immediacy that this movie has. 'Everyone suffers like Mouchette did' may seem to be the right thing to say but will put the whole effort at a distance and in indifference.

Q: But Bresson himself said "Mouchette offers evidence of misery and cruelty. She is found everywhere: wars, concentration camps, tortures, assassinations."
A: Yes, he said. But Mouchette just becomes a testimonial and evidence, not an image of plight. No one can say that young girls always suffer or orphans always suffer. One can say, there is suffering in the world. Its an acknowledgement of suffering, not its trivialization.

Q: I think you are contradicting yourself .
A: May be.

Q: Is Mouchette doomed by her own actions of hatred.
A: I don't think so. In a potentially happy scene (it reminds me of a scene of Bresson's "Diary of Country Priest" where the young priest go on for a motor bike ride) it is shown that if given the situation/chance Mouchette can really enjoy. She wants to be happy. Her actions are almost immaterial to the surroundings, nobody cares. In a way, her desire to connect to any human being, even a stranger, leads to her rape.

Q: What would have helped Mouchette?
A: What's provided in the film, it seems she is doomed to be unhappy. May be after the motor ride, if she would have talked to the Youngman, she could have found some temporary happiness. But the film is not about Mouchette finding happiness.

Q: I mean, she being good to the people around him. Caring more and stuff.
A: I don't think so.

Q: What good a film is, if it shows just a picture of doom.
A: It shows it exists, and that's its strength. It shows it exists and doesn't give any reason, it shows its universality.

Q: I think you are contradicting some of your previous statements.
A: It's difficult to be consistent. Consistency is overrated.

Q: Will you write about on your blog.
A: I will try, do read it.

Q: Sure. Is there a spiritual current in the film, Bresson is called a Catholic artist.
A: You are again pushing me to contradict myself. I sometime think Bresson want to say that amidst all this selfishness, there is some goodness and that can save the humanity, but we are always brutally raping that goodness, crushing its spirit. And he shows 'Good' suffering like the Christian God, but it ultimately finds grace. I believed this statement more strongly before watching Mouchette.

Q: Tell one cliché you would like to say honestly now.
A: This film is a masterpiece.

Q: Will you recommend the movie.
A: Yes, there is no reason not to. Even if you don't like it, you will think about it.

Q: Your friend slept off in between...
A: Should it matter?

Q: Did you find it depressing
A: It's not depressing but it has a feeling of doom. It seems everyone and everything is going to die, it's like a cold hell.

Q: One last question, do you feel Mouchette is saintly.
A: Yes, the film and the girl, both.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Killing

The Killing, Stanley Kubrick's film noir is about making, execution and failure of a heist plan. No doubt, it is perfectly planned and executed by Kubrick and the also by the bunch of tough guys on screen. But unlike the plan of tough guys, Kubrick succeeds brilliantly in his. It might well be the best of Kubrick's film I have seen (I might be saying this because I have seen it just half an hour ago and still title menu sounds are playing about the seventh race, and also because I found it a small tight film, not like the later opulent ones). What's most interesting thing about the film is its use of precise timing as a very intelligent way that seems to say in way that we are exactly following the film script, like the characters of the film have the tight grip of the plan, so as the director of the movie. At one point it says the we are running 15 minutes late, it generates so much tension as if the worst has come, because somehow we all know that its all going to fall apart, and just waiting for it, holding our breath. Director has taken a close control on character's doomed destinies, but we feel partly fate and partly fiendish femme fatale are responsible for the failure of this precise plan. The outcome of the film is like the line said by a character early in the film, 'This unique system of betting will more than likely result in a loss'.

In the classic case dim husband and prim beauty, George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.) tells the secret plan to to his wife, Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor), who in turn involves her love interest to back stab her husband. The end of the couple is pretty sad in the film and as Sherry remarks, "This is a bad joke without a punch line". But this episode adds the flair of doom in the film, we now know that all can not be happy and we also know that plan can not work out, so we know the inevitability of a lose-lose situation. It, along with other sneaky brief touches of characterization, also points out that the robbery didn't fail because of the flaw in plan, but because human beings were involved in it, so were their desires, dreams and intentions, which both drove and doomed it.

The ending of The Killing is just great. It is not great the way dollars fly in air but how a little doggy runs for them. The last scene is a perfect killing, where no blood flows, its a killing of fiscal dreams. It is brilliant how enervated Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden, the eccentric Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper of Dr. Strangelove) surrenders, saying " Nah, what's the difference". Its the moment he stops dreaming, a moment of no hope.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!

I missed first 15-20 mins of Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. It all started with the trouble to reach the theatre. The listing that I checked showed 66th and 3rd Ave but it was actually 11th and 3rd (it is another story how I figured out that, in short it was not easy). When I reached panting, it was already 3:15 pm for a 2:50 pm show (I hope in the beginning they showed trailers of usual Bollywood crap like Dostana which was playing next door). All the trouble was worth it. I was just sad that I was the only one in the theatre, when the Dostana screen had so many people. No Kidding, it was sad.

Lets start with a customary one liner plotline. Lucky, the charming, (an astonishing Abhay Deol) is a superchor, who along with his childhood friend, Bangali (Manu Rishi), works for Gogi Bhai (Paresh Rawal), but owing to his oversized charm and intelligence, he outsizes Gogi bhai and along the way he finds fame and notoriety, falls in love ["Jugnu rehndi sheeshe paar"] and hopes for a happy family life ["jugni hasdi ve hasdi, ke dil vich basdi"]. In this standard storyline, the first and foremost thing that director Dibakar Banerjee does is to literally add Delhi(same as he did in Khosla ka Ghosla, remember quick rajma recipe ["main kenni rajma chawal chadha de, ke do di vajai chaar citeeyaan vaja de, vich thoda soda paade, kal kenda ni si khada khazana waala"] in the opening scene). So a standard scene of seduction translates to that marvellous scene where the girl says "by god, main touch ho gayi" and a dinning table conversation translates to something even more marvellous [ "yeh show piece hai aur yeh khana"]. What is more amazing is that it all happens without a single stereotype, if I can say so (and I mean it as appeciation), they are all humane caricatures written with lots of sympathy for them. One way to explain this is through one of the song in the film soundtrack "Tu Raja ki Raj Dulari", a soulful Haryanavi Ballad (raagni). With raw traditional voice and lyrics, the song is true its spirit but the techno beat (which never tempers with voice and lyrics) is the indication of the milieu where it is used. Our hero is not someone who will write and sing that song, but the one who feels the same emotion (and may be in the same language) just because of the fact that he has grown listening to such sound and music. It is an excellent way for a film to connect to roots of its characters and fly, never giving an impression that such music is "used" for just creating the impression of Delhi like shots of Chandni Chowk to India Gate are cheaply used as "establishing shots" for Delhi in much of Yashraj-Brand Filmmaking.

Not to put the film in any disadvantage of over-expectation, I think Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! is even better than Khosla ka Ghosla (although I have see Oye Lucky! at least one more time to say anything concrete), and one aspect where the film clearly exceeds is performances (I think for the kind of films Dibakar Banerjee is making, he knows how important the performances are). I did not find any of the performance weak (I only wish that the triple role of Paresh Rawal can be distributed among more actors just in the hope of finding more of Richa Chaddas and Manu Rishis, also I did not find any reason (logical or illogical, something like Ayeshia Takia playing both wife and secretary to K in No Smoking) why they are played by same actor. May be something happened in first few mins that I missed). Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye ! is a treasure trove of performances. A performance like Richa Chadda's Dolly is great by any standards. It is not a central role but its pivotal in a way any character role can be. It is not by chance that when I gave two examples before of how similar situations are translated to Delhi lingo, I quoted both lines said by Dolly, it is because she gets it perfectly right all the time, little here or there would have made those scenes little funnier but much more dispassionate. If Neetu Chandra's Sonal (excellent by the way) is girl next door, Dolly is definitely girl few doors away, a more cinematic entity, a more vibrant character.

The romance between Sonal and Lucky starts with Lucky's usual charm but the director plays with it for Lucky's need to have a family and with the excellent glass door motif, without overemphasizing, he conveys the fragility of this love, and also the emotional distance between lovers. Every visit and every opening of the glass door is a new beginning for the lovers. In few beautiful shots we see Neetu Chandra standing in front of the glass door, both fearful and waiting to open the door. It looked as if the director touched the cornerstone of romantic love.

I should not forget to note the first rate and large-hearted humor of the film which makes it such an entertaining fare. I was time and again amazed by the clever use of Hindi/Punjabi/Haryanavi (remember the first meeting of Special branch cop with Gogi Bhai and his flip to Haryanavi). And do you remember why Bangali is called Bangali? And how can one forget the "Lady Doggy" sequence - the funniest celebration of canine love. It is so heartening to see that even if director is dealing with something dark at the core, but he never raises "its serious cinema" flag. It is heartening to see someone trust his audience that they will understand the void in Lucky's life amidst the flourishes of his adventures and his zest for life.

A word about music, although I have touched it before. I am a minority of the people whom I know who think that Punjabi language and music has an unparalleled emotional power and much of it is wasted in similar-sounding bhangra beat numbers. I still remember the days when I first heard real Punjabi music in a Spic-macay concert at my college, it was amazed how soul-stirring it was. This film gets its music and the tone right and how songs are used without interrupting the narrative and how the mix of folk and funk is just suited for it.

One way to show the life of Lucky Singh is to realistically portray every twist and turns of his adventures and the other way to mythologize (not idolize) it. I personally like the later approach especially when it is used for something where it should not be used in popular culture, partly because its deviant, risky and interesting, but more so because it rescues the film from the typical struggle between good and evil, inspiration and rebuke but puts its in the realms of storytelling and about the passion of the protagonist. I felt that Lucky does not have passion for stealing (although to his credit he never differentiated between big and small, stealing everything with equal love) but a skill for it. His passion was his aspirations (if he were good at anything else, he will use it to pursue his aspirations) which the director beautifully uses to reveal different aspects of society which he interacts with. To the distant, he is a notorious celebrity of India's Most wanted list, and for the near, he is much more complex, evoking awe, love, hate and envy at equal measure, to us film goers he is sort of a middle class myth and director does something in the last shot of the film [a pixelled black and white close-up of Lucky] which comes close to mythologizing him.

To tell the truth, I was little scared before I saw the film. It is usual scare a cinephile experiences when he goes to see the second film of a director whose first film was really good. It was the similar scare which I had when I saw No Smoking, and it will be the same when I will see the next film by Navdeep Singh. It is more than the feeling that the director may screw it (he has all the freedom to screw) but it is a feeling that what ever you so dearly liked about the film was something of a byproduct (may be a fluke) not director's main concern, he does not think the way you thought he does. A second good film reassures all that. Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! does that.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys

In a perfect introduction to the film, children play a mime game where a girl acts out gestures but her classmates are not able to decipher it properly. There is an unknown code to communication, as there is an unknown code to identity, past, history, races and societies, the code to interdependence and code to fear and conflict. All these codes are not only unknown but also elusive, the more we try to figure them out, the more we know about their complexity. Haneke captures this idea in this brilliant and essential film.

Code Unknown is a series of fragments from the lives of its main characters. But unlike movies where these characters meet at the end, different stories join themselves in one crucial plot point; Code Unknown establishes that connection in the very first fragment. It might be because the film is not telling us about coincidences and the lives of different people crossing each other but other more important points. The first shot where we meet four different characters is quite brilliant in that way, it's very unsensational, it's very everyday and that's where Haneke makes the point that these interactions are so common to be ignored and the societies have become so complex in terms of identities and connections that any full communication will not only be insufficient but misleading to understand it and like any half truth, it will do more harm than good. That is why Haneke shows just fragment of interactions and communication, like the way we deal them in our lives, without knowing what happening to the person in between the interactions and what is the history behind any gesture and any act.

Anne (Juliette Binoche), who is an actress, lives in Paris with her war-photographer boyfriend Georges (Thierry Neuvic), who is in Kosovo. Georges teenage brother, Jean (Alexandre Hamidi) who lives with her father in countryside works in a barn but Jean wants to get out of it. In the first establishing shot, Jean, who has run away from his father's house meets Anne on a Paris street asks for the new entry code to her apartment, while walking he throws a crumpled bag in the lap of Maria(Luminita Gheorghiu), a Romanian illegal immigrant who is begging on the street. Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke), a teacher of deaf children, pulls an argument with Jean for his behavior and in a turn of unfair events police arrests Amadou and Maria. This first shot builds the connection of the incomplete fragments (as the name suggests, Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys) that we are about to see.

To talk about those disconnected yet surprisingly narrative sequences are beyond my scope, but we can talk about some of them and more importantly why such fragments are necessary to build a big canvass of interdependent realities and their simultaneous outcomes. All the fragment end with no sense of closure, its like actors still acting and camera still rolling, there is a few second black out between the sequences, which might be thought as the elapse of some time or a detachment technique, to show that its all staged (in fact one of the fragment gives us just a fourth wall view of a stage performance, a woman laughing hysterically), or a thematic tool to show that all these communications are incomplete, unless we look them all in one picture. It too puts onus on its viewer to weave the fragments as they like, and we know that when it comes to trusting the viewers, Haneke is very bighearted. His movies are direct opposite to Hollywood spoon-feeds and audience-pleasers. In some of the episodes/fragments, we see Anne on her acting assignments, which are Haneke's tool to show how thrill can be easily faked, and how popular culture defines our emotional conscience.

There are several sequences which are particularly intense and economic in the way they say things to the viewers, one is where Anne hears the cry of a child and worries about the child but not able to do anything and that particularly sad scene where Maria feels ashamed of herself. There is an extraordinary long shot in train where an Arab kid insults Anne, where Juliette Binoche gives a powerful performance.

Amidst of the chaos and gloom, Haneke puts the fragments of children from all races playing some African beat on drums, a surprisingly hopeful montage of cultures coming together, co-existence and compassion. In the penultimate sequence we see Amadou and his white girlfriend playing drums with the children and that sound spills over to the last dialogue-less sequence. The last scene of the film again shows a child making gestures (more difficult to guess than those shown in the beginning of the film) probably to say to the viewer, see, now that you have seen these fragments, incomplete as they are, can there be any easy answers, can identities be labeled that easily, can a society be graded, classified and categorized that plainly, how a single experience can not justify an act of the society, how much we are interconnected, and how much we deny that fact. In all its chilly long shots, meandering through several incomplete interconnected stories, Code Unknown, at times seems to touch that evasive slice of truth, a code to existence and co-existence.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Grizzly Man

It is the third film by director Werner Herzog, that I saw. The earlier two (Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo) and this one, make me believe that the favorite theme of this director remains an enigmatic mix of wilderness, civilization, passion, obsession, life and death. To tell it more clearly - on the risk of being too definitive - his films remains a document of clash of wild and civilization (here both are equally brutal and murderous), the descent of passion into obsession, and the game of life and death (game of survival). And when we look more closely and read more about the director, these are his ways to understand people - and again to put it more definitively - to explore the darkness of human nature.

This film is a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, who lived with Grizzly Bears for 13 summers in Alaskan peninsula and on this last expedition (along with his girl friend Amie Huguenard), he was devoured by one of the bears. Its an irony of sorts at the first look. The man who came to save them was killed by them. But as the film progresses we came to know that its not that simpleton.

Most of the film is actually shot by Treadwell himself, who shot above 100 hrs of footage when he stayed with the wild bears. What Herzog did is to edit them, mix them with some interviews with Alaskan natives, geologists, officials and Treadwell's friends and provided an evocative narration. Herzog's voice is non-condescending either to the bears or to Treadwell, I found the narration superlative. Even when Herzog draws some conclusion and personal insights, we know that he is not giving a conclusion or general simplistic view. His commentary shows that he knows and respects the people and situation, he is dealing with.

Treadwell's courage and his obsessive desire to bond with the wild bears tells us as much about him as about the concepts of courage, bonding, communication and obsession. On Treadwell-ian scale, I am an extremely timid person. Also there is one more point that I am not sure of. Can courage accrue ? What are it limits ? One of my friends, who drives his bike at neck-break speeds says that he does not feel a bit scared doing that stunt. He says that this courage builds up. When asked whether he will try to test his limits, he replies, I don't drive alone, there are people on the road that can not cope up with my exploits. This is the whole point of being in a civilization, there are limits that you think you can cross but are not justifiable (the other way to look at it may be that he lacks courage). He goes to remote areas to drive like crazy, without knowing that it doesn't take two to kill, when you race a bike. Probably that why Treadwell resented civilization and spent so much time with the bears, and wanted to be like them. The point he probably missed is that wild is no better than civilization, in the end they are both same, and in the wild, although there are not written rules, nature rules. The delusional hope that he will bond to bears better than the human proved fatal for him. Treadwell knew bears were wild, film shows two male bears ferociously fight to court a female, and a baby bear is killed by his own father to stop the female to lactate so that the male can fornicate her. Treadwell accrued the courage to move nearer and nearer to the wild, but there was no such communication back from the wild, except in the mind of Treadwell. One point, from Treadwell perspective, is why he did that. The justification he gave for this is to protect the bears but reasons and justifications are seldom same. This documentary tries to explore some reason for the passion that turned to obsession, and gradually delves into his mind and psyche, which is both horrifying and compassionate.

At one point, Treadwell says "Everything about them is perfect". That sentence reminds me of people, who are quite amused by the nature and its beauty. This is not to deny the natural beauty but they loose the sight that beauty has its horrors, and we should respect both. Although not related to this post, I also don't understand what amusement people get when a natural place is turned into a luxury resorts. First they take a natural beauty, make it artificial and advertise and claim how near to nature it is. Do we all really have any desire to go near nature, but can not go near if its too natural, or its just another gimmick to make money and satisfy some residual unsatisfied desires. Its always fun to see how people call the others who come to such places as crowds. We belong to a funny species with some hollow sense of self-importance.

Coming back to the documentary, Herzog also brings two more very important characteristics of Treadwell and where as a filmmaker (and especially the one who has worked in wilderness and with the wild [I am referring to Kinski, no pun intended]), he could relate to him as a person shooting in the face of death and danger. Herzog discovers a filmmaker and an actor in Treadwell. There is a footage of Treadwell acting for himself with his camera on a tripod, where he acts in a film in which he plays some sort of forest ranger to protect bears from poachers. I think the absolute fantasy of an actor is to find someone who can write complex stories and he can act them. His fantasy is to charm everyone with his acting, and its sort of an obsession too. Treadwell made these tapes of himself with the wild bears and showed them to the world. For him, he was the person who wrote heroic parts for himself, the roles of a savior hero. All alone, away from civilization, he thought he was the hero. Also there is an intimacy in those films (especially where Treadwell goes to confessional mode). As a filmmaker, Treadwell compulsively shot in the wild and took some amazing footage of the wild nature, at times taking as much as 20 retakes for perfection. One of my favorite shots in films is where there is a background (think it as a lane where it is raining and no one is there, its evening), the actor comes, acts his/her part and goes away, leaving the empty background, camera stays there for a while. There are several such shots in films by Ozu. In one of the tapes, Treadwell do exactly the same. The background was thick forest with wild winds blowing, he comes to the frame, speaks his lines and leaves, and camera stays there looking at the trees and the wind that sways them, that Treadwell had left behind. I thought there is a certain beauty and a solid metaphor in that.

Although its a documentary and if there is a plot we know it beforehand (Treadwill will be killed by the bear), but like a narrative film, Herzog builds the character of Treadwill with small stokes and we go on adding bits to our cliched understanding of him as the film progresses. At one point of time where some persons reject Treadwell as a freak, Herzog speaks in the narration that he don't think so. But the whole effort was not to justify what Treadwell and all the people like him do and are doing, but its to understand them. To draw a distant analogy, we may think the Emma Bovary as selfish and petty woman but Flaubert tries to understand her in all her flaws and let his readers do that. Its not about whether the person is good or bad but its about to translate them to the audience and readers.

Read the Sensesofcinema profile of Werner Herzog here. Its added in the 41st issue.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Thanks to Alok, on Sunday evening, I saw 2046 on big screen. Although I was tired from two days of night out, I pushed myself to the screening so that I may go though the experience of visual and sound, two things which Wong Kar-wai seems master in fusing so well with each other, and thus creating the often talked about 'mood', which warrant a big screen viewing.

When I saw 2046 for the first time, I approached it with infinitely high hopes and as a continuation to Kar-wai's masterpiece In the Mood for Love. My first expectation was not fully fulfilled but it did wonders in being a continuation to In the Mood for Love. It had similar themes; it had its sublime moments of deep eroticism accentuated by great music and searching visual and most importantly the devastating power of unconsummated smoldering love.

The newspaper man (Chow Mo Wan, Tony Leung Chiu-wai reprises his character from IMFL) of In the Mood for Love has moved to Hong Kong, is writing erotic novels, lives in Hotel Oriental and now having a playboy sort of living, lots of one night stands, but is never able to get over the past. He comes in contact with three women and they are in one way or the other related to his past affair, an affair which is too deeply felt and too brutally truncated that he is not able to make any new connection, any new memories, always traveling on a train to reclaim his past memories, an effort that keeps him away from making new memories. But as the life goes, people come to your lives and the past rumbles up and down, although eventually you are lost in memories which are all about past, recent past and irrecoverable past. This ghost haunts our hero, in the hotel rooms and alleys, in the curves of women, in any contact he wants to make.

The thing that I most adore about Wong Kar-wai is his thin stories and how they come to life with flair and the mastery of cinematic medium. Wong Kar-wai is a master in making references to the past in the ways few can even attempt. The choice of symbols are too elegant, of all bigger things Kar-wai chooses the number of the hotel room to keep as a reference to the lost love. The material things of the consumer world gets the shape of love objects in his hands, whether its the tinned pineapples with a particular expiry date, or a 10 dollar bill paid at every visit to the lover, or the cards that are played between lovers, or the heaps of martial art books that the lovers exchange, or the fishes in a lover's apartment or the place where the lovers meet, the wall behind and the flicking bulb in a romantic rain. These all becomes the portals to the past; something very personal sticks to them. This concept is too thin to make any art out of it, but Kar-wai does it, and that too with such a style which somehow transport you to that lonesome town where all the lovers in Kar-wai movies reside, amidst the blazing neon lights and never stopping and chattering crowds.

2046 has a bigger canvass than In the Mood for Love. The three stories are connected to IMFL beautifully. The story of a prostitute, Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), has the connection to the hotel room where the couple stayed in IMFL, The story of Wang Jing Wen (Faye Wong) is related to her common love for Kung-fu novels with the hero, who tried to write such novels with his lover in IMFL. The third story is about a mysterious gambler, Su Li Zhen (Gong Li), who has the same name as Chow's lover in IMFL (Maggie Cheung). And along with all this there is a futuristic tale of a train which people board to regain their lost memories, but they never come out of it. In all this meandering narrative and brilliant visual, Kar-wai tries hard to give his patent mood, mood of loss, mood of sexuality and mood of regret, mood of secrecy, sex and love.

An important quality of his movies is the way he blends music to visual. This mastery is even seen in the title sequence of 2046, as the array of Chinese letters flash and fade on screen, music come and goes, as if assisting their movement, matching their rhythm. I particularly like IMFL for this reason, the audio-visual treat that it offers, without losing the right note to synchronize camera to music, Su Li Zhen's every ascent and decent becomes an act of love, an act of art of love, her curves, looking back at stairs and her wiping off the rain drops from her forehead becomes such a profound experience that remains with you long after she has reached her small room and finished eating the noodles.

2046 lacked such a trance, at least in story of Li Bing, an oh-so-beautiful prostitute, who falls in love for our hero. Wong Kar-wai has a way with actors, which he seemed to have lost in one of the stories in 2046. Xiang Xiyi is so beautiful and I think a good actress too, but I think she didn't realize that in a War-kai movie you don't 'act' but just be. Her story, which is longest of all, has a touch of conventional acting which Kar-wai actors only show when they are in crowd but with their lovers they become all so muted, all too intense. All the talk and all the rough sex in this story can be muted, can be made more painful and so is the emotional/dramatic impart that Li Bing go though when the relationship does not work out. It becomes a sort of melodrama that we don't expect from Kar-wai. In a Kar-wai movie, tears don’t reach the chin, they are wiped out, with ruthless secrecy, on the cheeks itself. Here the tears reach the chin, several times.

I loved the other two stories too much. The one with Faye Wong in love with a Japanese man, learning an alien language, and writing Kung-fu novels, and the painfully sad and deeply sexy story of a gambler, played by Gong Li, who is trapped in her memories, a female version of our hero. Both the actresses in these stories are exceptionally well. Faye Wong as a love-lorn teenager and a loving android, does such a magic that makes her lost Japanese love, ooze out of her emotionless android body. Gong Li gives a very mature performance with little dialogues and an extremely potent gait in the gloom of her hidden loss. After seeing Gong Li as Su Li Zhen, I thought she is even better than Maggie Cheung of IMFL, who missed a string or two in her performance. A small but extremely efficacious role of Su Li Zhen sizzles the screen with a powerful kiss towards the end, with melancholy music, red lipstick smeared out of the lips as if she just allowed herself to be raped by her present lover, with past carefully keeping a dreadful watch, she walking down the stairs like a fallen goddess.

The film also engages in a good old cliché, 'The Lonely Christmas Cliché', which could have been avoided given the past inventions of ennui by Kar-wai, all those beautiful inventions to refer to hole in the hearts of lovers that merge reality to fiction, producing a modern fantasy. There are some minor problems with editing which a casual watcher like me could also point out, but on a second thought I always question myself, was it meant to be like that, especially in case of masters of medium like Kar-wai, who don't care much for schedules or budget. One more problem with 2046 is its dialogues. As is the case with War-kai's stories, they are either so everyday that no mushy flamboyant communication will go with it, or they are so passionately intense that no communication in words is required at all. Characters will talk about ties and purses, but never about love and how they feel about it. 2046 has some notoriously naive dialogues which, at times, makes 2046 looks like a love child of IMFL and a mushy hallmark card.

But I must say, there is no denying the fact that its a potent sequel to In the Mood of Love, it broadens its canvass, it takes further the similar themes adding the sublime theme of regret and it is as beautifully crafted as IMFL. 2046 opens the memories whispered in the tree hole, and we find out that the wound is still bleeding and Kar-wai captures all that gore and dressings with love and understanding. For me, who so loved IMFL, and somehow want to remain in that realm, in that train of past, 2046, with all its flaws, knocks me down at least in parts and will linger for long.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I completed Decalogue by Krzysztof Kieslowski and I must say what an experience. And I must also say that Kieslowski now came close to being my favorite director, just standing next to Bergman. There is more to speak about Decalogue as a whole than in parts. And its what I will be doing here. I will try to touch each of the ten episodes briefly but talking about entirely of the great effort. For me biggest question about life and humans still remain the moral questions, the questions like what is more important to us- love, freedom, quality or anything else. Decalogue addresses these questions brilliantly.

One more thing which I really appreciate about Kieslowski is his choice of topics and his sense of awareness about people in general. In one way or the other Decalogue seems to say that we all have histories, we all have some past if not interesting but worth contemplating. All the Decalogue stories happen in the same polish apartment and characters of other stories crisscross at times. In Decalogue, Kieslowski has essentially generated a world of his own, which is infact very universal. There are other things which occur in all parts which try to link the stories in a very wholesome way. One of those is a young man who is just a mute observer in all the parts and camera focusses on him at the most crucial hours of the episodes, the points where the characters are just about to go in a dilemma which is most of the time relate quite precisely to the commandment that episode is addressing. Now since we have come to the commandment thing, I don't consider them to be the driving force in each of the episode, lot of times one episode touches on more than one commandment and you feel more resonated by other questions raised than those by the commandments. One doubt which I had before watching this ten part tour-de-force is its tone, I may assure you with all my contemplation that it not religious or anti religious or irreligious. There is more, much more to them, than the one liner commandments. Most of the times you see coincidences, miracles, odd situations, moral dilemmas on screen which are infact amongst Kieslowski's favorite themes. and all this one hour drama have the trauma of being a human, the pain or pleasure of being in a world which is not predictable, the suspense of our so-called mundane lives.

Moving on this, I find one more interesting thing about Krzysztof Kieslowski, he usually takes a risky road, most of the directors usually have in mind some very basic judgments like God doesn't exist and there is nothing like miracle. Kieslowski doesn't fear from any of these, he presents lots of situation which compels us to think the either way and more importantly with almost equal force. He takes the risk of such type of situations and let the viewers decide for themselves. Decalogue is such important artistic and philosophical document because of this reason also.

One more thing which is constantly becoming a very fertile source of thinking for me is the influence of others on you. I am not talking about the usual bad and good influence, but how life of others influence us, This is one of the constant theme in all the episodes of Decalogue and the factor that glues each of them in a unique fashion. Decalogue seldom takes stands but through the faces of characters which makes them stories rather then documentaries and we feel the versatility of the art of story telling in all its flair, power and youth.

I will move on a brief on each of the episode and what it generated out of me.

Part 1: This is a story about a mathematician father and his very brilliant son. Its a story about fate, unpredictability and human helplessness in the hands of nature's randomness. If I ever forced to pick one episode that I found very close to myself, it would be this one. There are questions about God to questions about death. I started with this episode and I had to wait for about an half to move for the next one.

Part 2: This is a story about a women whose husband is on death-bed and she is carrying a child of another man. She goes to the doctor to ask whether her husband is going to die, Doctor answer will decide who will live, Child or the husband. There are two big questions posed in this episode, first is the role of Human as God, doctor in this case. The second which is ever bigger is the morality issue. The tone of this episode is very somber. This may be regarded as one of the most intense part of Decalogue. Krzysztof Kieslowski always uses figurative to depict the situation of character. This part also has images of an insect struggling for its life in which it miraculously succeeds.

Part 3: Before watching this one, I was thinking how Kieslowski is going to show something like 'Honor the Sabbath day'. This is the story of a married taxi driver who meets his ex-lover on Christmas eve, that unfolds lot of things. The tone here is not particularly playful but has the tension of intimacy. This part conveyed something that is very remote to honoring the Sabbath day, it shows how such days segregate the happy and the lonely, and our basic desire of human contact.

Part 4: This episode is most bold in its theme and content. Here is a story of a young girl who finds a letter by his father titled 'To be opened after by death'. The opening of this letter changes the equations by opening up some secrets inside and outside the letter. This part is must-see for brilliant relationship portrayal and the impact of our hidden past on us.

Part 5: This is a gem. This about killing and its implications. This part shows two killing, one of long, brutal and raw and second one is short and systematic. This episode starts with very straight dialogues that argues 'Punishment is revenge'. Its a story about a killer getting a death sentence and getting killed. This particular part is very disturbing and one of the few that doesn't end in any hope.

Part 6: This one is about love. Can there exist love in some pure form that doesn't need any other special effects to kindle. Is there love devoid of anything we usually associate as depiction of love. Can love sustain without any contact. Do contact corrupt love. Here is a story about peeking Tomek, who watches a beautiful woman, Magda through his telescope, and his pleasure lies in just seeing. There are questions about voyeurism that are also raised in Red but in very different context. In the later part we see Magda do the same to Tomek, do we become the person we love (This was the question that was raised by Liv Ullman character in Bergman's 'Hour of the Wolf').

Part 7: This part is more about the question of ownership than stealing. Here is a girl whose daughter (born when she was a teenager) thinks that her grandmother is her mother. This part searches morality with in the characters and they finds them struck in their own situations. Can you steal something that belongs to you ? The last scenes of this episode is quite heart-breaking and ends with a brilliant close-up of the little girl.

Part 8: This part is most direct in its voice. This raises the questions of morality and circumstantial behavior in very clear voice. This is a story of a old professor who teaches at University. One day a Polish decendant girl comes to Poland and attends her lecture. In that lecture she tells a story about a Jewish girl at the times of war that pulls out some old strings. This episode has very direct reference to part two.

Part 9: This part about an impotent husband who spies on his wife and her lover. When his wife learns about it, she tries hard to save her marriage. This part meanders on the thin lines between sex, love and morality. This episode tries to explore love. There is dialogue which goes it's "in one's heart, not between one's legs"

Part 10: This part is the lightest of all. Its a story of two brothers who gets a treasure of rare stamps after their father dies. This is sort of a black comedy that shows how money brings in complex liabilities and we tend to tar the long old relationship for greed of money.

The themes mix and match in all the episodes, but the common aura has lingering questions of morality that encompass all the parts and that's where we relate to them. Kieslowski never tries to guide us through the rules rather here we see the weaknesses of human heart and mind, and effect of these on our lives and can we ever 'use' these rules to lead a morally perfect life.

Decalogue attains something that may be only a far dream for others. Seldom can moving images have such impact on us and you wonder how much can be said in just ten hours.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Son's Room

Kieslowskian blue grief has turned white. A family losing a block and readjusting the newly found grief into their settled lives. A missing block leaves space, filled with grief instantly, heavy sadness. A stanza taken out of a poem and the poem trying to shuffle words and get a life. A vacant room filled with undiscovered memories, life refusing to let them go or let you out.

Nanni Moretti's (known as Italian Woody Allen for his comedies) Palme d'Or winner, The Son's Room is an honest contemplation on loss and grief associated with it. It bends objectivity, the endgame of giving easy solutions till the pebbles under the viewer's heart start rolling and breaks it. A reason to the grief, the questions like 'why me', different ways to come to terms with loss give way to an acceptance and filling in of the empty spaces, mending the broken time.

Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) is a middle aged psychoanalyst who is good at giving easy answers and some solace to his clients, but like his clients, he do share the fact that he is not doing them full justice. His beautiful wife Paola (Laura Morante) works in an art publishing house and is the mother of two teenage children, Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice) and Irene (Jasmine Trinca).

Film starts by showing the family where everybody is friendly and open, and everybody has some secrets, in short a healthy happy family where there are chuckles at the dinner table and father and son go for long walks. All this calm and light family atmosphere is contrasted by the patients at Giovanni's clinic and the way Giovanni listens to them, always calm, almost uninterested, and very objective, giving comforting placebos to them. Giovanni deals his family with more compassion, an unassuming bourgeois happiness. The grief and illness of his patients and his inability to connect to it and his objectivity that every problem has a solution, strikes back at him, later in the film.

Here the tragedy strikes the family. The shot preceding the tragedy are in Keislowski's tradition. Each member of family is shown nearly missing an accident except for the son, Andrea, who happily boards a scuba diving boat, all geared up and smiling but actually gets into an accident. Unprepared, the family is pushed into a death zone. Giovanni, along with grief, struggles with some guilt because he canceled a run with his son to go on an appointment to his hypochondriac client. He also tries to find out the reason for his son's death, fault in the equipment, gas running out but a slight mystery surrounds and more than that it doesn't give him any comfort from the encompassing grief. As objectivity eludes Giovanni and he is more and more consumed my his own grief, he decided to leave his practice. Irene vents her anger with pulling up a fight at her championship game, which result in her month long suspension from the team. Paola finds other ways to fight it, by talking about Andrea but trying to shut the chapter, it too doesn't help. There are signs of family breaking since the happiness has faded away, sorrow pushing the family member to disconnect, pushing them to weep in bedrooms, changing rooms, all alone, secretly. They do the rituals, they organize a funeral mass to shut the doors to grief, but it tickles into closed chambers, tickles out of the sealed coffin of Andrea, into closed rooms, through some unknown letters, some new pictures, some old secrets, fossilized grief lives.

With surface simplicity, without ringing forced, the film moves to the family's coming to terms with Andrea's loss. They now know that memories will keep coming back, unlike Andrea. Its so cliched to write it but the film manages to do it without any unexpected twists and turns. There is a small indication in the film about the externalization of grief and how it helps the family to accept the loss like a healing, a therapy.

There are some brilliant scenes in the films. Lots of the scenes are at Giovanni's clinic where patients tell their stories and their funny fetishes. After Andrea's death, when a patient tells a happy story of her husband and her kids, Giovanni bursts into tears. The scene where Irene asks to see Andrea for the last time in the coffin. The scene where Giovanni goes to a carnival park to forget or rather vent out his grief, feels isolated and left out in the colorful happiness. The scene where Giovanni finds out that every thing in his home is broken, the fact that he never noticed or even cared in the happier times. One more thing to note in the film is its background score, which compliments the films so beautifully that you seldom consider it out of it. The song in the last scene where the family stands near the sea, although a bit mushy, sounds solacing to the ears.

The film is a tear-jerker without intentionally trying to be so. There are so many muted emotions, repressed grief that the viewer comes forth to drop the tears for the family, be a part of the their grief, their catharsis, moaning for Andrea without knowing him but by knowing what he meant to the family, a missing block in the puzzle of happiness and a cavity for eternal memories to come where we try to cave in, like his family, his friends.

The Son's Room, with all the sorrow and grief, shows how the dead never dies, and how we continue to live with them, manages to be subtlety bright and uplifting. For the sentimental types, its highly recommended but for the emotionally glaciated, its a must see.