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

Saturday, May 30, 2015

35 Shots of Rum

Claire Denis' tone poem observes a father-daughter duo, with the knowledge that she has grown up and will leave. Denis films the routine of their lives so precisely that this upcoming transition is almost a new world order for both. Characters talk about trifle but images talk otherwise. In the films finest scene, in a rainy night four main characters end up in an Afro-bar and start to swirl to the tune of music. Dance, like alcohol is a cinematic equivalent of x-ray in the hands of able artist. So not only we get little under skin of each of them, but also the insight of ethnic-urban tensions of the scene. An excellent visualist, Denis works her way though daily life short sketches up to a roadtrip (before her going out, they both should go together) and earns the emotional power of the their bond. The final shot of two rice cookers might be the most economical image of the whole year (Ozu did the same with the ending image of old man peeling a fruit by himself in Late Spring, inspiration for 35 Shots).

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bergman's Hour of the Wolf

Hour of the Wolf is a film, which falls in the category where you can't decide anything from reviews whether they call it a minor effort or masterpiece if you don't see it yourself, its just too personal to let anyone decide for you (Fellini calls it Bergman's 8 1/2). Hour of the Wolf has the same mix of intense personal and critical thoughts (which are invariably brutally-honest in a Bergman film) about art, artist and his space, like those about God, faith and followers in Winter Light, only that it doesn't have that dour and austere look, its more visibly horrifying. But we don't know for sure, is it a horror film, or a surrealistic document about the existential dread, or about the inescapable trauma of an artist in trouble (about past-demons, creativity, sexuality, genius, madness ?) or about the swamp of an artist's relationships with his/her surroundings and the loved ones. The film changes shades as we view it from the eyes of Johan (Max von Sydow) or Alma (Liv Ullmann). Here is what Bergman has to say about about his film and why it is so, and as usual, he is little hard on himself.

[..] the whole picture is half-spoken sentences (the last unfinished dialog
here). It is ... an unsuccessful attempt. [..] She (Alma) is infected by him.
She is really an earth mother, but she becomes infected and will never return to
her former self. [...] The difficulty with the picture is that I couldn't make
up my mind who it was about. Had I made it from her point of view it would have
been very interesting. But, no, I made it the wrong way. After it was finished,
I tried to turn it over to her; we even reshot some scenes, but it was too late.
To see a man who is already mad become crazier is boring. What would have been
interesting would have been to see an absolutely sane woman go crazy because she
enters his world of unreality, and that infects her. Suddenly, she finds out
that she is lost. I understood this only when the picture was finished.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015


Although a good sci-fi is about a sci-fi concept, but it usually tells about the human experience in the wake of it. Its like changing a parameter in the equation of human existence and then dipping a human fish into those waters. It sinks, it swims, it flaps or it survives because it evolves. But as we know them, human needs and emotions are much more complex and the human equation is unimaginably elaborate. And wait, what about dreams and memories - the signposts of being. A good sci-fi movie can tell us the privilege of a deceptively simple human experience by altering these variables. Moon takes place in future when earth power sources have run out and a company (appropriately named Lunar Industries) sets up a base on Moon to extract Helium-3 there and bring it back to the earth. Sam (Sam Rockwell in an great solo(?) performance) is on 3 year contract to look after the base leaving behind his wife and daughter on earth. The good news is that his contract is ending in few days and he will be back to earth, but there is more he should know before it should get happy about it. Sam experiences a new reality, and acts in its wake. Moon is not a bleeding style sci-fi. With all the moon stations and gadgets, it does not look much different present reality, Is it saying that future is same, but just little more out of our control.

A Serious Man

A Serious Man starts with a quote - "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you", but our luckless hero (Larry Gopnik - Michael Stuhlbarg in an absolutely brilliant performance) dares to ask what if he does and still be miserable, and yes, our poor hero is text book miserable kind - with his student black mailing him, his son is smoking weed, his daughter stealing his money for a nose job, his jobless brother living with him and getting in trouble and to give an extra kick, his wife having an affair with his best friend and asking for a divorce because its the "reasonable" thing to do. Given this unusually downbeat plot, its a wonder how Coen brothers keep it up so strongly that there is not a dull moment. A Serious Man can be easily mistaken for a smart guy making fun of somebody in utter despair, but for the Coens undeniable empathy for Larry and their sincere quest to find an answer to his misery gives this film both its soul and its humor. Although there are no answers to our hero's plight, but Coen's lends a hand of understanding and reflection to their bleakest comedy (their beautiful vision of God expectorating on us). After Larry's search, is he wiser now or is he more hopeless (because he is wiser) is Larry's new dilemma. He should, as a rabbi advised him, "Accept the Mystery".

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Defending Dancer in the Dark

Selma, a Czech emigrant works in a factory and is raising her son alone in America. She knows that she is going blind from a hereditary disease, but tries to hide it to work and save as much money that is required for her son's eye operation, who is also effected by the hereditary illness, but he does not know about it. Selma loves musicals because nothing bad ever happens in them, and slips into the musical-mode while working or while walking down to her little trailer.

As the film begins, the real and the imagined are mixed but not like a film of Buñuel, where you can not figure them out. They have their marked territory here as the color saturate with the song but as the film moves on, the things get blurred, Selma's world becomes more of a musical, her only respite from the downward spiral she is into. It may be called delusional but its all in the character. The movie remains sane.

The films looks artificial, but it is so by design not by laziness or lack of skill. The language that the people speak is English which is not the mother tongue of many of them, they are trying to make a living in an alien land. They live in America but they don't feel American. The film is melodramatic, and I can't understand why we are so afraid of melodrama, it like a handicapped child whom no one wants to own or hide under sheets when their high-brow guests come to dinner. Why such a contempt. This film can boast of some of the most honest melodramatic scenes, I have ever witnessed, give it to the Dogma rules, or to the director or to the lead actress Björk. And then follows our dear logic (in most cases 'logic of plot' or as they call it 'loopholes') to support the contempt, and we ask why only on 13th birthday of the boy, he should get operated, as if it is the point which Lars von Trier is trying to make. So what the point. One point may be to see the world from somebody else' point of view, which may be stupid or shallow but that is the world of her fantasy and escape from real. But we are so consumed by judging the character that we have no time to understand her (sounds cliché but its true at times).

And on a closer look, none of the character in the film is evil, they are all good, whether it is the shop floor supervisor or the jail attendant, may be except lawyers, which are shown as the part of the legal system they are working in. Even America is not ridiculed. They are all good because eventually they are part of a musical, Selma's own world, who kills Bill as an act of sympathy, even after his betrayal. The characters are shallow because they are seen from the musically blind eyes of Selma.

The choreographer, Vincent Paterson, wanted one of the final songs (107 steps) to be filmed more darkly, as he describes in one of the DVD specials, with more dramatic effects, nude prisoners caged pitilessly in small cells, but the final film doesn't has that, because it would have betrayed the whole point of musical, where nothing bad happens, at least in the eye of Selma. In that song, Selma moves ahead singing and meeting other prison inmates lovingly, because that what Selma is.

One of the chief motif of the film, which is criminally ignored by each critic, the point of keeping a secret. When Selma's neighbor Bill says Selma 'Mum is the word', it meant the pact of human morality, and none of them betrays it, none tells anybody else each others secret. They are both good in their own right. Bill did the evil act but it was not against the pact, but forced by his circumstances. He didn't betray Selma in that respect, but rather her good friends did it. Selma, who once says that she likes to play her little games when she has problems, was helped mercilessly by her friends (Cathy and Jeff) who didn't understand that 'Mum is the word'.

The best of all the allegations is about the banality of whole effort, to some it seems parody of American musicals, to others its pretentious and manipulative. Probably they confusing experimental simplicity with silliness, or rather their cinematic rules are too stringent to allow any experiment with cinema. I really fail to understand what is so banal in this film that is sufficient to curdle milk in 10 km radius. It may be confusing, or rather its difficult to mark its territory. Is it a melodrama or a musical or a fairy tale ? What ever it is, but it mixes and redefines all three with its experimental originality. All throughout the film there is a beautiful tussle between the a musical trying to survive in the hands of a sadistic director.

The last sequence is the testimonial of all this, where amidst all the people who are going to execute her, Selma smiles as she enters are imaginary world of music. Here is a piece where handheld realism is mixed with flights of fantasy. May be its Selma's naivety that results in her suffering, may be if she were more calculating and made her 'little games' bit brainy and without loopholes, she would have led a happier and longer life, but one can not blame Selma for musically messing her life. Eventually, Selma dies but in a way she was happy towards the end, as in a musical, and in this tale of goodness, naivety, their horrors and their need, a bigger picture emerges where beauty is crushed eventually on the podium of logic, which is neither as moving, rational, directly against capital punishment, exacting to certain cinematic standards, as certain critics wanted it to be.

Saturday, May 02, 2015


Well, its easy to say that Julia excels because of Tilda Swinton titular performance, but if we feel that our flawed heroine eventual loss after several failed attempt to gain a fortune in a kid-snatching scheme is not a compromise but a genuine transformation, it is as much for Swinton's brave performance as it is a nod to film's engaging narrative structure and its emotional power. Erick Zonca's Julia is both a mediation on Greed in this post-moral world and a search for something admirable in heart of a incorrigible person.