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

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.