Saturday, May 28, 2016

La tortue rouge

I do not know much about Michael Dudok de Wit's interests and leanings, but every film of his that I have seen bears that strong stamp of timelessness and of cyclicality: and I shouldn't be saying "and" here, since what impression does cyclicality give if not timelessness, as if all times recur, are same, time has frozen? This is again the case with de Wit's first feature-length film, La Tortue Rouge ("The Red Turtle", though I would be more tempted to translate it as "The Red Tortoise" given de Wit's strong leaning towards Hindu-Buddhist themes of spirituality).

If you have seen de Wit's remarkable Father and Daughter and The Monk and the Fish, you know what to expect from the man: stunningly beautiful, fluid strokes of animation; a stillness like David Lean had with live action films; attention to seasons and little things going around us (which is an essential feature of good animation, to make us suspend disbelief); and exceedingly well-chosen, lovely music. Father and Daughter was remarkable in every way, but especially so for the extraordinarily realistic animation and immensely touching story; The Monk and the Fish was so for a hard-to-believe, wizard-like synchronisation between action and beautiful music; while La Tortue Rouge is for its spiritual message carried forth through a longer vehicle than the former two short films. All three films, however, carry a, and the same, spiritual message, though modulated on different harps.

Not all reviews of La Tortue Rouge have been kind: in the Age of Reason (or Cynicism), people want "I see, I get" stories unless they are told in advance that they are watching a gadget-ful, sci-fi movie, when most absurd things and characters will make sense for them since they know they had chosen the realm of absurd. But de Wit gives no such warning and treats what seems absurd to the reasonable with what seems real: this mixture is not just some experimental kitsch, designed to provoke or to thrill, as happens in many of those so-called sci-fi films. It is laced with deep meaning, for those who have the patience to feel life's, and the year's, seasons. All de Wit films remind me of two things: Test cricket and gardening. Things you can only enjoy with patience. De Wit should make Giono's "The Man Who Planted Trees".

Now to the film itself, not its reception. In some ways, maybe, the film is less ambiguous than The Monk and the Fish, because even if the hidden spiritual message is unable to be comprehended by all, there is the romance: a beautiful, heart-touching story of a man and a woman who are ready to sacrifice their all - their home, their skin - for each other. But the film also acts very much on a spiritual and even theological plane, as a life spirit continues through repeated deluge and destruction. That life spirit, across cycles of universe, is not just the red turtle bearing the universe on its back: it is also the essence of birds chattering, crabs running around, moon looking. This is where de Wit, incredibly, marvels: how on earth does he manage this timelessness in a film, that too an animated film? Needless to say, never has such a talented filmmaker been born, perhaps. I haven't see any, at least, so far. Animation is already very hard work, but to touch the core of an essence that most can dimly feel at some moments of their lives is not just hard work, not just talent, but insight and genius.

Being a feature-length film co-produced and made across continents, the film has a few blemishes though: the opening scenes has the man floating a bit, that is, his walk, his jump do not have the required weight. That is a bit surprising, as de Wit's films are spot on in terms of animation: but given that this is a big production, and his first of such a kind, that is understandable and anyway not that important in the bigger scheme of things. For soon de Wit will create a poetry, without using any words: just his magic, his renderings, his chosen music, his message.

In a world where Disney and Pixar and productions like LOTR or Harry Potter or Star Wars exist, thankfully, in such a world, there is also Michael Dudok de Wit and his vision. And the possibility to realize his vision.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Le sens du toucher

Jean-Charles Mbotti Malolo's animation short Le sens du toucher (English: The Sense of Touch) is, for me, one of the most remarkable romantic films in cinematic history: it is also an excellent lesson in the need of communicating, in not withdrawing into your shell. Animated with fluid strokes, the film plays with an easily accessible symbolism throughout, that does not lack in effectiveness just for being less abstract. Distances become small and large, and faces change Dorian Gray like, though this time not because of orgies, but because of anger and inability to accept another way of life. The film somehow also succeeds in drawing out the pain of the OCD-ish, introverted, clumsy guy: and it is painful to watch his struggle between love and desire, on the one hand, and the sway his habits hold on him, on the other. The film at the same time succeeds in drawing out the slightly vulnerable but ultimately stronger girl: believing in communicating and in her heart till the very last, but also knowing where to draw the line. When you give out hand, you can keep stretching it out, and that is as much as you can do: it's still up to the other to take it. But, one must not forget that to take someone's hand, even if stretched out in love, is not that easy always, not for all: this is what is difficult to come across on screen, and yet Mbotti Malolo manages to do it in the short space of a dozen minutes!

For the moment, the complete film can be watched here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Snezhinka

Natalia Chernysheva's short animation film Snezhinka (English: Snowflake) is not just extraordinarily beautiful: it is also marvellously heartwarming and multilayered at the same time. Set in stark whites, stunningly punctuated by slivers of colours and given life by the black boy, the film at first is celebration of curiosity and of imagination. That curiosity which has produced not just good but also bad in the world, for good and bad are inextricable: that curiosity which led maybe the earliest men to cross seas and straits and settle thus in other lands, and thus spread humanity, but which also led some of the adventurers to marry their lust of a fine name with bravado, their penchant for cruelty with burning ambition: to imperialism and its disastrous consequences, from which we still suffer. And Chernysheva's film celebrates both aspects of human curiosity: while the animals look on and shiver cutely, the boy brings the charming foreign element and then also has to banish it, has to live with and without it.

The film is not the story of a letter that brought tundra-like cold to an African landscape: but the film is also about an organic whole and how a foreign element, howsoever charming and innocent in itself, can often destroy that organic quality of an ecosystem, of a society, destroy existing balance and lead to mayhem. The film offers a lesson for all those who ape blindly any other society's mores: be curious and learn, yes, but also take heed that nothing can be introduced with innocent effect. The boy is wise: not only he recognises the unwitting evil he has brought for the denizens of this world and sacrifices his pleasure, but he also knows that, instead of hate or regret or anger or sulking, the best response to an appropriation is reappropriation, both not done in the spirit of appropriating, though: as he sends one of the elements of his world, it is the other world that either may be in peril or may know how to deal with the foreign element. At some point, of course, someone will break, that is, accept the foreign element: and thus, new cultures will be born, new knowledge, at the cost of much devastation. For the cycle of curiosity, of knowledge, makes the loss of innocence inevitable.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Mosaferan

Mosaferan (Travellers in English) is not just another beautiful Iranian film: it is also the most stunning film of faith that I have ever seen, surpassing Dreyer's Ordet. The fight of retaining faith, in a crumbling non-believing world, is any believer's true test, regardless of the age he or she lives in: faith, which means also trust, demands everything, life and spirit, without conceding an inch, except in the rich satisfaction itself of possessing it and the ensuing torture when it totters. Faith is also the mirror, the only mirror, reflecting a person: those who lack it, those who are bound by blindfolds of rationality, are unable to see themselves—their relation and their relativity. And that is why the mother waits for the mirror: faith has momentarily deserted the house of marriage and the house of death. Only the mother keeps it, and she has not simply faith for herself, but she has faith that it shall be brought to others, that others who want a miracle to happen shall witness one, shall see themselves in the dazzling, often-blinding mirror. For in the mirror of faith, one can see one's atman. See, yes, but not with a pair of eyes.

Bahram Beyzai's film is also a masterful execution of editing and camera work: even though it is only the latter half where the film is contained within one house, the whole film seems like a tight huis clos. Elements recur, constantly: automobiles, trees, old men, a suspense of driving on roads when one has already witnessed one such promenade ending rashly. Or, rather, not witnessed: for Beyzai does not show any accident. Can the viewer be also sure if the deaths did occur? The fourth wall is broken at the film's beginning, predicting deaths, but so what? Why to believe someone's word more than someone's actual presence? Why to put the first one in the realm of rationality and the second one in the realm of apparition? Everything in the film is rhythmic, not in the sense of beats that progress to a climax, but in the sense of concentric circles, in a sort of cyclicality. The circle contracts, then expands, then contracts; one is happy, then sad, and then happy; now it is marriage, then funeral, and now marriage; she says yes, she says no, and now she says yes. The circle expands in stages: the relatives, the dead, the policeman, those of the other dead, the drivers. Each time the circle contracts, before expanding, to the mother's faith, to the tottering of the bride's faith, to the family's desertion of faith. Life flows in the ebbs and tides of faith and its loss: like a pressure head created that would make water or electricity flow, or any natural phenomenon to occur, the mother's faith creates a pressure head, where was expected none. And hence a phenomenon does occur: something's got to give. Bayzai makes us feel the full, unbearable tension, as the circle keeps on stretching more and more while punctuated with contractions all the time: bringing us closer and closer to a deeper understanding, and not merely an imposed one, of life and faith. For when you look into the mirror, you know yourself.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Mandala (1981)

Mandala is, one could say, a variation on Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund: a rare film, poetically made, to be able to do justice to such a theme. It is about Buddha, the nature of Buddha: it is about dogma and freedom outside it, about respect and freedom outside of it. The film flows like a river, like the river in Hesse's Siddhartha, a river turning in and out with slow purpose, and Jisan and Pobun meet and lose each other and then again meet each other, just like Siddhartha and Govinda. However, Pobun is more Narcissus than Govinda, with no one person's distinct way superior to the other's. Pobun is tormented, but sure and steadfast and trusting and loving, and seeking to know himself through himself; Jisan is the rogue and can also be steadfast in his own way, but he is also tormented, lusting after life and knowing himself through others, like Goldmund's quest. Both men seem to stand on opposite extremes of religious mores and yet stand hand in hand in the spiritual domain.

Elegantly shot, the film's slow rhythm is beautifully punctuated by Buddhist chants, and some of the shots are a delight to watch for their patience, which lets the viewer be immersed in the film's environment. Pobun in particular is very well played by Ahn Sung-kee, and the remaining cast is doing well, though I feel that the most important character of Jisan could have been played better. Overall, Mandala is yet another deep, sensitive film from South Korea.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Tharlo

Pema Tseden's Tharlo is one of the most beautiful movies that I have seen in recent years: it reminded me of the little-known, equally intense and poetic Hindi movie Frozen, but it betters the Hindi movie by its beautiful camerawork, intelligent camera placement in particular, and brilliantly interwoven humour and tragedy alongwith a constantly running political commentary on the modern state of China and its meaning for different people, particularly those who live on the margins or even outside of them, as does Tharlo, the film's protagonist shepherd. Both the film's main actors, the famous Tibetan comedian Shide Nyima as Tharlo and the hairdresser, put in strong performances; like in Fúsi, it is very important for such a film in particular for the main actor to be very honest to his role, and Nyima does it to great effect. But it is also the camera which is the star here: placed mid-distance, often noting details of small life along with the story, not moving much, silently partaking of life's river.

Shot in crisp black and white in the unforgiving landscapes of Qinghai, the film is an artwork in its truest sense: it makes you plunge in the routine of Tharlo the shepherd, of the city nearby, of the slow evenings where nothing much happens, of the police station. It makes you plunge like Gao Xingjian's novel Soul Mountain does: it makes you feel the place and the people. Along the way, the film makes wry, twinkling humour: without any bitterness, only with the full pleasure of observing irony.

Tharlo is a film whose scenes will continue to haunt you, for long, long after.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Le temps des aveux

Many Western directors have continued to Orientalize the Orient: some have still been worthy efforts, like David Lean's films, but some take the downright patronising path, as Régis Wargnier's Le temps des aveux (translation: The Time of Confessions). It is always a surprise to me how such films resonate with a large section of the Orientalized, too: have they absorbed so utterly the dominating colonial gaze?

This film inevitably led me to a comparison with Lean's Bridge on the River Kwai, a film which is around the same theme but a different setting and context and yet is very different in one thing: Kwai portrays Saito as the equal of Nicholson: just with different rulebooks. Lean's camera does not just focus on Guinness' patient, obstinate suffering; it also focuses on Saito's patient, obstinate wilfulness. This is the strength of Lean's masterpiece: it is an exercise in dialectics in a way, though one person's methods may seem to be more cruel than the other's. However, with Le temps des aveux, it is the usual picture: the heroic, stoic white man, the only one who has the knowledge and courage to follow truth, among a sea of puny, weak-willed, ignorant heathens. The film moves very fast at its beginning: stealing glances at a Cambodian girl to marrying her and having a daughter with her happens in a blink. For the character development of the girl never entered the director's mind: the film had to deal after all with Bizot's lone, true fights. Then there is Douch, that enlighten-able man, perfect material for missionaries in other settings and here for Bizot, which the Westerners have loved to put up on a pedestal since colonisation's time: the intellectual dummy who buys into the gaze, who is content to be looked at with the colonial gaze. The patronising rarely becomes so insufferable than in such films, where it is mixed subtly, like a dose of slow poison.

Is such a film, also noteworthy for the very white, sympathetic appearance of France as a "just" country, a film widely appreciated by French audiences, a revealing detail of the fabric of French social life? As long as films such as these continue to be seen widely, hope for Europe is dim: some can cling on to their dreams of power as they deem it, and yet the world will move on, knowing that knowledge is true power and not asking someone else to subscribe to your ideas, your world.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Tři oříšky pro Popelku

The magically beautiful, heartwarming film Tři oříšky pro Popelku (English: Three Nuts for Cinderella), a film that can only be told by Czechs, the greatest storytellers for me, has been finally restored by Norway and shown to audiences as Christmas approaches and snow has already started to beset home and hearth: in the celebration of this restoration of a fine, fine film, let us revisit it.

I have not been much a fan of Cinderella films and cartoons: most of them are insipid, cast the woman in too much of some dependent light for my liking, and use elements such as a slipper made from glass that turn me off in fact. Many employ a witch or someone of that ilk, and the Cinderella of most is too much of a letdown. This Czech version shines through not only a very beautiful cinematography, taking full advantage of my much beloved Czech countryside, but also through its twist on the characters' temperaments, in particular that of Libuše Šafránková's Cinderella: she is gentle but haughty, she has pride but good sense, she is expert but witty, she can countenance fate's highs and lows but she can also court good fate. She is beautiful, bold and audacious, and it is she who is the clear superior in the match. It is she more the princess than the prince the prince.

Shot in the Klatovy area of Pilsen region, which is streams, woods and snow, the film's story plays out in the thick of winter, with good cheer, hunting and youthful spirit pervading the film: it is hard not to feel hopeful after watching the film, hard not to feel yearning to explore the beauty of this world, hard to stay put at home, unless the home be in these woods, among these birds and trees. Fairy tales on screen are often given characters with strange noses, talking animals and girls with long braids or handsome princes: and they don't work. This tale has instead the beauty of nature and winter rubbing off its charm on us: it is a beautiful lesson in how there is so much magic to show and be inspired from in our life, without a need to import technology for that. Unless it be technology used to restore such wonderful films.

Note: I write however about the non-restored film. Non-restored prints have their own charm.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Taj Mahal (2015)

Nicolas Saada's debut feature-length film Taj Mahal is a work of art, framed by aesthetic sensibilities of leaving much unsaid; it is a pity that the film has been viewed by many critics uniquely through the lens of Mumbai terror attacks or dated postcolonialism. The film is in fact not about Mumbai terror attacks: the attacks are only a catalyst. The film is about a timid, unsure, not very courageous, slightly repressed girl Louise: it is her character's development, which will not climax to any satisfactory level with the film's end, that concerns us. On the face of it, the film appears to many as just another of those films of someone trapped in some dangerous situation, the likes of which Hollywood churns out in mass numbers. But the film goes much beyond that, in terms of both actual plot and what is implied. The film does not end at the girl's release from the tragedy: it goes on, to provide us vital clues to Louise' character. It is not a Hollywood hug-and-cheer ending. It ends indeterminately: Louise is still young, and she is still to discover herself, but the incident and the India trip have given her impetus and maybe a newfound courage. She can now ignore her slightly cold, domineering mother, she can now try to reach out to people whom her parents don't ask her to talk to, she can now say "I don't know" with surety, in a world where "I don't know" is not accepted as answer, where pretensions of knowledge are what you stake your reputation on.

As I said, a lot is unsaid in the film. The embrace of Louise and the Italian woman is tight and warm, both enjoying human warmth after being trapped in an inferno. Giovanna is a woman which Louise's mother is not: it is telling that Louise prefers always to talk to her father when distressed, contrary to usual expectations. Giovanna has brought her intimacy, love and promise in one embrace, which Louise had been searching for all her life, which makes her so diffident. Giovanna is someone whom Louise could have loved passionately, if not torn apart without any addresses to exchange. But she finds only the cold, unembracing world like Pierre or her mother; the people who cared for her, the man who offered her the footwear, the room service guy, Giovanna, all are lost in time and in India. The world of India is the world where Louise steps into youth, struggles into it: she finds Paris meaningless, colourless, she finds her life sucked, tucked into a microcosm: that incident, that trip. It is not painful or an adventure for her: that world is a cocoon in which she was tightly wrapped, a sequence of life events that have changed her, that have suddenly given her something new, made her a bit more known to herself.

And how does Saada manage to achieve it? First, by selecting a fine cast, especially Stacy Martin's not very expressive face, which works wonders for the film. Then, by getting great cinematography and lovely use of tones: Paris is bleaker and colder, toned down, and Mumbai is brightened. The sound recording itself is a treat: in both Mumbai and Paris, outdoors' noises are heightened, the world of exterior collides with Louise's inward personality, ready to go into her shell. The interior world, whether it be Louise in the cafe in Paris or in the plush hotel Taj, is depressingly quiet, a troubled peace, like still water beneath which much lurks. One could accuse Saada of some things: that he didn't put a bereaving or distressed Indian family beside the French family when Louise was trapped in the hotel; that Giovanna is another European instead of an Indian. But would it not have violated the aesthetic purity and the integrity of the film? For me, it would have. Louise's world is small: it is she who sees, it is she who is feeling this world. Will she see the Indian family? Will she not find a lot of affinity with Giovanna? In this world of political correctness, we have forgotten people themselves. Thankfully, Saada sticks to his vision, not of those for whom everything is a ledger.

And to those critics who dismiss the movie as a story of some rich white girl, ignoring many others, I don't know what to say: are rich white girls not human beings? Should stories revolving around them be not made just because they are a minority in a particular milieu? Do not be deterred by critics: go and explore the several deep layers of an apparently simple film.

Friday, December 04, 2015

La Glace et Le Ciel

La glace et le ciel (int'l title: Ice and the Sky) is a disappointing film on many fronts, in spite of its Antarctic background: the most notable disappointment is that the film is a biopic, giving little by way of science, and focusing on idolising a glaciologist. It is not that a biopic is a bad idea: but it is a bad one when you make viewers expect that they are going to discover secrets and plunge into nature's mysteries; when the film is made in a heavily preachy style, with a continuous narration killing of any feeling of connection with the scientist or with science itself in spite of the extensive archival footage used; when the film uses a camera rotating for long periods of time around the glaciologist as the pivot; and when the whole film is just the story of a man's passion and struggles with nature but yet suddenly you are handed over an already-ripe conclusion that climate is changing for sure: but on what basis? Because the glaciologist tells you, with some ice cores thrust in suddenly to make that feel justified. But shouldn't that have been the whole point to develop, slowly and surely? There is a severe lack of science or philosophy or any kind of deep thought in the film: it is the complete opposite of the marvellously made The Expedition to the End of the World. A clue to how the film would be is right at the very beginning: an intense snow-white shot of Antarctica. A terrible way to begin a film which is about Antarctica anyway: wouldn't it have been better to start with a context-setting shot, which is neither a snowy landscape nor burning trees? Or, if a snowy landscape, then get it right and aesthetic? For cinematography is a major weakness in this film: something hard to believe for a film made in such a stunning locale.

The film though has its moments: notably with archival footage materials, especially that of the Charcot base. And the context being Antarctica, there will inevitably be moments where you start thinking and wondering, even though the film is too light on that and also says too much, is silent too little. In many ways, the film is very similar to the kind of films that the French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand makes: speaking too much, too often. Let the winds talk, let the coldness speak, let the snow fall, and float, softly: the special effects used sometimes in the film or the continuous narration can probably never be the voice of these elements. Such potentially great material, such great stories of human courage and will to fight and win, but such a waste: how is it possible to make a film on science that lacks in poetry? For isn't all science a most noble attempt of composing poetry?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Darjeeling Limited

If Moonrise Kingdom is quirky, Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited is quirkier: but Anderson's signature style is quirkiness. What many forget, or overlook, amazed or awed by the oddballs peopling his films, is Anderson's sensitivity to a place, an age or a character. In this story of three brothers, who may have come across as dysfunctional if not for the occasional leaps of goodness they also make, like the saving of children, the star is India: and Anderson is the only director I have seen till now who understands India. (A note is in due order here that I have not seen Louis Malle's documentaries; I love Louis Malle, and I think he might be another of that rare breed who understands India.) This film, made by an American, is a far cry from British films and TV around India, from the Marigold Hotels and Indian Summers. It does not patronise India, nor exoticises it: it rather jumps into the love-hate relationship that a non-Indian person finds him/herself in when coming to India, especially for the first time. And it does so with aplomb, through three characters whose craziness beats India's own craziness. It is no wonder that the three return from the airport, and continue on in their India and self-exploration: for where else there is such absolute liberty without encroaching on anarchy if not in India? And freedom does not lie in banners proclaiming liberté, égalité, fraternité; rather, when it is present, it is of no name, for why would a free society talk of freedom? It is the joy of life, of doing what you want, of sweet lime with snakes, and spirituality that does not divide itself into orders and yet implicates elaborate rituals of how to blow a peacock feather. It is the freedom for madness, when madness is routine.

Set to beautiful music, from various sources, especially the lovely theme from an evidently inspiring little-known Merchant-Ivory film Bombay Talkie, the film's strength lies in its cinematography and the three principal actors. It could have been a bit tighter, though: I personally didn't see the point of introducing physically the mother, but then, yes, it did bring them, especially Francis, closure, as did the death of the boy for Peter: closure from a want to belong to someone, father, mother, lover, child, world. In the end, they are happy to abandon their suitcases-sized father, and ready to embrace life, and India, and themselves as they are, and each other. For there is always another sweet lime, as Jack now knows: maybe he also achieves his closure for his ex-lover whom he hadn't been able to forget (Natalie Portman, in the short film Hotel Chevalier acting as prologue to the film, though I'd advise to watch it after the main film). Maybe he doesn't even need a sweet lime now. Their joie de vivre is now not so much strange, not so much out of place, not so much quirky.

En kärlekshistoria

En kärlekshistoria (A Love Story, better known as A Swedish Love Story) is a beautiful film; highly charged with the eroticism of innocence, without needing its actors to drop clothes, it is also a film that is sedimented with several layers of life lived: Pär's grandfather, who has lost all hope and is bitter; Annika's father who tried to make a meaning of life through money and career and failed miserably; loveless Eva and Annika's mother, women who need another to stand by them but have none; the protagonists Pär and Annika, who, though strong and innocent their love is now, one fears, will one day end up similarly; and, finally, the dog, the babies, the insensible ones, who are yet to journey. The film's title can mislead some: it is not a romantic film in the mould of Love Story: this long, slow film gives a lot of time to characters other than the lovers, to people and contexts around them, and that remark is valid throughout till the end of the film, not just for build-up of the romance. At the same time, the love story is the only whiff of fresh air in a decaying, crumbling society: there are generational tensions, and there is an evident class tension (urban/rural, middle-class/peasant, piano/motorcycle) that informs the film throughout. The film is more a keen observation of society: and the love that can bloom in spite of such harsh conditions, like a flower in a desert. This love is trapped in bubbles, in a world segmented into conflicts not created by Pär or Annika, and yet which affect them and will do so even more: but the two defy those bubbles, by creating a bubble of their own, in the form of their love for each other.

A Love Story is a grim film: it crucifies Pär and Annika, their innocence, for even though they are busy celebrating their love, trying to find an escape from the sordidness around them, it is inevitable, though not shown, that they and their love will be affected and influenced and changed. The bubble will be pierced one day. And hence it is a relief, a struggle to continue hoping, that that will not happen: that their love will continue to take root in each other's delight even after the film ends, as if Pär and Annika were real. And aren't they real? The beauty of Roy Andersson's film is that you relate to them, their love, for many of us have had or have dreamed of such a love, the very first full bloom and make-believe, which changed and scarred us for ever and yet remains a fond memory, which made us grow as a human and yet left a vulnerable child in us, thus preventing us from becoming stones or insensibles: maybe, even Annika's father loved thus once, though now so far, and maybe that's what helps him keep his sanity. Andersson's film is a celebration of our this very vulnerability: when we seek love and find it, and when we want it with all our heart and believe in it completely, the time standing still and eternal, when we can cry and not be ashamed. For when we love truly, without a past or future, we have the taste of eternity in this life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fúsi

What Dagur Kári's heartwarming film Fúsi (with a very disappointing international title: Virgin Mountain) does best is to avoid the numerous clichés of modern films, and rather tell a story straight and sincerely, dictated by the intensity of Gunnar Jónsson's performance as the title character Fúsi. If Jónsson brings a rarely seen honesty to his performance, reminding me of Kher in Saaransh in that respect, then Kári has the soul to listen to that, change his film and come up with as true a film as Jónsson deserved.

Fúsi is not an easy film to make: it is deceptively simple but provokes a lot of memories and thought, and it makes you immerse in a world of a man whom many would not have taken to at first sight. It is also the story of the travails of growing up, here for a man: in a world hoarse of feminism, too often one forgets what a man goes through when he does not suit the macho or adventurous image that the society expects from someone of the male sex. At the same time, the seemingly baby Fúsi is much more a man than those around him: he lives and loves with truth, and society's pressure or usual reactions do not faze him from what he thinks is right. The beauty of this film is its restraint: in the hands of a Hollywood director, this film would at best have become a Forrest Gump and have lost its shining honesty and attention to detail; thankfully, Kári is a master of his craft and believes as fervently in his story and his own struggles of feeling having "grown up," as does Fúsi in the film. At the end of the film, you are left wondering how intertwined are our struggles in our works, and how we attempt to heal ourselves through our creations.

A magnificent film, its one single flaw is the choice of the main actress: the character of Sjöfn could have been played by an actress with slightly more screen presence in my opinon. However, the towering screen presence of Jónsson, something very much compulsory for the film, does not let you notice it all that much, and accompanied with good music and cinematography, the film lends itself easily to repeated watching.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Love (2015) (3-D)

Gaspar Noé's Love is a film that goes nowhere: except in a world that makes you want to throw up in disgust, nausea and amazement at the obsession with sex (and its conflation with "love", the title of the film) in the West, especially when it comes to directors of Latin American origins or influences. When a film doesn't make you think, doesn't touch you, is it a work of art? Watching Love is an uncomfortable experience: it doesn't even titillate you, as the sex is too much set up and devoid of realism. It makes you as uncomfortable as it does in a Tinto Brass film: and the similarities do not end there. Plot is as much non-existent, characters are as much bored, and acting is as much bad. Watching it in 3-D makes for an even worse experience: one feels trapped in a world where humans translate all beauty into the highs they get (or do not get) through their sexual activity. The modern world is a world where pervertedness and sickness are celebrated: we have had Brass himself, we have had films such as The Last Tango in Paris, we have had directors such as Polanski, and now we have films such as these. It is as if we have started celebrating the decadence of the human world, that we have consigned modern humanity and its future to doldrums of boredom and glitz.

I say glitz, also because Love is often tastefully shot: the green-dominated scene when Electra and Murphy sit in some kind of a cafe is very artistically shot, to take an example; there are many other amazing shots in the film, not necessarily of sex. The all-grey scene in the Père Lachaise cemetery, a fast tracking shot of the couple again, is also a marvel to watch. And yet art for art's sake does not make for art: without substance, style is wasted and even criminal. Without an aim, the film's main character, Murphy, may ramble on, in and out of women's vaginas; however, a film, with no aim to its making, is nothing but an exercise in pleasing one's own ego from the filmmaker's part, and Love as a film comes across as much a jerk as does Murphy.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Koan de printemps

Life is often about learning, and learning is often about journeys: the decision to set out on them, and the readiness to profit from the encounters on the way. Those encounters are not just with other sociable human beings: they are with the tree and the snow, the bandits and the birds, the sun and the silence. Koan de printemps (in English: Koan of Spring) is a beautiful film with its own poetry derived from Asian spirituality and the flowing motion of Sino-Viet martial arts: it tells us to look and appreciate, feel and absorb, know well and proceed. The more you do it, the more open your mind is, the more you can be generous, secure and ready: for a sword or for a flower, for every destiny that befalls you. For though you may not know what shall befall you, you will know yourself, through everything else outside you. And isn't that everything, to be able to fulfill yourself, profiting from every richness given externally to you but with the corresponding fibre in you so as to notice it and appreciate it?

Lovingly shot in Vietnam and France (though the film is set in Vietnam), with shots of beauty enhanced through special effects (not something amiss in this film), the film has by and large able actors and a lovely silence interspersed with wit and humour at times. The music of the film is also a treat, as are the martial arts on display.

For the Zen concept of koan, a quick read is here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Filosofi Kopi

Filosofi Kopi starts and continues at a lighter level till midway, before it takes an unpredictable and welcome plunge into deeper meanings of life, raises questions and becomes a film to remember. As its name suggests, the film revolves around coffee: and hence the freshness, the love and yet the bitter undertones of a good cup of coffee. Coffee is the constant metaphor for life in the film: coffee is also the mother for Ben, the mother who, he thinks, is rejected by his father, the mother whom he tries to recreate all the time, like Bates did in Psycho, though with a much less disturbed mind than Bates'. For Ben has the love of Jody, and so he does have understanding: what he lacks is home, which he keeps searching in a coffee, a mother that can once again seduce his father, whom he has abandoned, that can unite the family. And yet Ben is to learn the lesson that in acceptance is union, in future are secrets of the past, in love lies the secret of good coffee.

The film's two major characters, Ben and Jody, are played admirably by Jerikho and Dewanto: their, in particular Ben's, good looks don't come in the way of the roles they are playing, and that is not what every good-looking actor can manage. However, the film is certainly marred by some of the most stilted acting I have seen in a long time, that by the actress Julie Estelle playing El: thankfully, though not a minor character, she is still not all that important. The film does suffer though because of this blemish. The camerawork is also a bit strange: unsteady at times for no apparent reason, and getting tempted by landscapes of tea gardens at another. However, it is Ben who captivates you, and if you follow his story, then there may be rich rewards in store for you. In spite of a final, make-people-happy ending that I did not like much.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Kat en Muis

In sickness, one can only turn to oneself: the night is never-ending and dense, any effort to communicate your fears and your pain will inevitably fail, and as memories of life cling to you, there is nothing left but exhaustion, attempt to forget, and a final hurtle: breaking off the bonds of loyalty to that very night, for after all it did nurture you even if like a child of demon, and rushing in wild, cruel joy to day's embrace. For somewhere, on some horizon, surely, there must be day?

The stunning Dutch film Kat en Muis (int'l title: Cat and Mouse) is a brilliant study in human darkness: born of guilt and love, incomprehension and wish to correct things, morality and functions. Laced with erotism and incestuous brooding, the film traces the story of a girl who lost her brother in her childhood because of her possible negligence and carries in herself the resultant guilt and probable accusation by others. It is worthwhile to compare here for a brief while the very opposite counterpart of it in the realm of cinema though with the same basic kernel: Bhansali's Khamoshi the Musical. But whereas Annie in the latter film possesses one tool—her voice—to overcome her condition (for the exact same reason) as well as a deep, unending joy of life imparted to her by Mariamma, Belle is in herself the cat and the mouse, and struggling joylessly to find some glimmer of joy and love. And yet, as she plays with the mouse, she also knows the nature's rule: that the cat will kill the mouse. And so must she, to get out of the closed world she is trapped in. But it is not suicide that she contemplates: for she also loves intensely this world, glimpsed barely in those moments when she is cycling or wanting love and appreciation from Max. But it is the murder of the child Belle: to poison her milk, to kill her, to kill uncertain memories. What happened in childhood through negligence she must now do it with deliberation, and relive the feeling: to know who Belle is through Belle, and not through her dysfunctional parents or a tricky memory or fantasies of being the caged mouse. She must discard thoughts and come to action: for else, she would go mad or be dead or be a drugged-and-raped discard of her parents' house of horror. An action that, though deliberate, brings no guilt and carries no accusation: a cleanly done act, that only brings light and peace to soul, and maybe a better, more certain knowledge of the past.

An expertly edited film with very few dialogues and a heavy use of symbolism as well as wind-drenched landscapes, the film could have done though with an actor for Belle who looked a bit less "sunshine", even if the director's intent was that the audience feels empathy for her. However, that still does not come in the way of enjoying such a great psychological masterpiece, and the film is one of those which stick in your memory for a long, long time.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Borgen (TV) (2010-2013)

If Chanakya is more about political thought, the Danish TV series that wowed the world Borgen is more about the seamier side of politics and media (and their marriage); while Chanakya had hardly any major woman character, Borgen is one of the rare works that humanity has produced that is not concerned with gender, reflecting Nordic societies: the lovable woman protagonist of the series, Birgitte Nyborg, has as many faults and virtues as any other human being. There is no attempt to pity her, glorify her or to see her through the lens of her being a woman: even if the story has to deal with issues of man and woman, as in her failing marriage with Philip, in the go-getter attitude of Katrine, partly you would suspect fueled by society's patronising, or in the fiery feminist Hanne, sadly relegated to sidelines as the series progresses. But not getting trapped in feminism or otherwise is not the sole strength of Borgen: the major strength is its authentic, rich plots, as if coalition politics were streaming live into our consciousness. There is no attempt to view the viewer as dumb: episodes like the prostitution one (Season 3, Ep. 5) are not afraid as well to take a very debatable line in any society. The typical spectrum of political parties in Europe, especially the Nordic countries, is present, mirroring not just Denmark: for countries such as India and the United States, big democracies but with no left wing to speak of, this is something to learn.

A democracy is healthy when voters have a range of options to mix and match, and know who stands for what: Kruse's fall also indicates that some principles never ought to be compromised on; Nyborg's choice to not use non-politics-related information to dent rivals (Season 1, Hesselboe's credit card issue; Season 3, Kruse's drunk driving history) reflects how in mature democracies, it is good politics that wins, not good mudslinging; and Nyborg's combination of charm, charisma, sincerity but guts tells you what is needed to be a good politician: she may be the leader of small parties, but she is certainly the best politician in Denmark. As the creator of Borgen, Adam Price, has himself said, Sidse Babett Knudsen as Birgitte Nyborg brought this combination of vulnerability and strength at the same time: the perfect embodiment of what the audience would look for, would connect to. There is an idealism running in Borgen: our cast-iron images of politicans, moulded in disappointments and broken delusions, like Pernille Madsen or Benedikte Nedergaard, whores ready to sell themselves or the state at the earliest best opportunity; Troels Höxenhaven or Jakob Kruse, a deadly combination of cowardice, lack of talent and inordinate ambition; or Anne Sophie Lindekrone, a big-mouthed firebrand—all these are mercilessly trampled about with their true (lack of) worth exposed: the audience roots for the practical idealism of Nyborg, and not for the less idealistic realism of Bent Sejrø, nor for the idealistic world that Bjørn Marrot or Erik Hoffmann live in and find themselves trapped in, lacking more practical tactics. Borgen is however equally a story of the media world: and the same counterparts, in less incarnate forms, play out.

Season 3's continuing focus on Torben Friis is a bit puzzling at first: slowly, especially towards the end, the reasons, or the parallels, become more clear. He is the much less likeable counterpart of Nyborg, but he is, like Ulrik, only now learning the value of sticking with his principles, even in the face of adversity. Nyborg also loses a lot of joy in life and work post her separation with Philip and as she lets the work pressures submerge her personality (in Season 2): so does Torben in Season 3. Both are regenerated when reminded of life's transience and simplicity: for Nyborg a lump in a breast, and for Torben a kink in his marriage. Both try to deny and go down; and then they admit the futility of denial, Nyborg to her children and Torben to his wife, and both are reborn, in work and life. The journalists-spin doctors duo of Kasper and Katrine continue to search for meaning in life and a meaning outside love for each other: and yet, Katrine may have found some peace in Ravn, but what about Kasper? He is the most lovable, enigmatic, magnetic character of Borgen, surpassing even Nyborg herself, and one big fault of the series is the lack of role for him in Season 3. Episode 6 of Season 2 is for me the best episode of Borgen: when we know why Kasper is what he is, though we have been given hints of that right from the beginning. And finally, there is the regeneration, both in series and in character, of Ulrik himself: a journalist and fashionable TV presenter always envious of Katrine in Seasons 1 and 2, and with limited screen time, he emerges out Katrine's and Torben's shadows and is able to hold his own, in Season 3, with a hefty amount of screen space: not only as a top-rate presenter and journalist, but also as a man ready and confident enough to take a stand on what he believes in.

It is surprising to read that many viewers and critics have not liked Borgen's Season 3 that much. For me, Season 2, except Episodes 6 and 10, was the weakest season of all: it was a bit undefined, with no narrative. Just a box of chocolates: some issue concerning the ruling party becoming the theme of the episode. Also, I found the foreign policy episodes in poor taste, with shallow depth (Season 2, Ep. 1, 7 and 8): not something found otherwise in this series. For me, Season 1 was the best, and Season 3 was not much far behind, though giving so much screen time to Pia and Alex and sidelining Kasper and Hanne is certainly something that very much went wrong. Performances are great, the opening credits and quotations are excellent and already set the tone for each episode in most cases, and the series is not just a TV show, but a solid beginning in understanding coalition politics, especially for those who are not used to it (e.g., those from the United States). It is also a great tool to start understanding European, in particular Nordic countries', politics, electoral systems and electoral behaviour, as well as the weddedness of politics and modern media in countries where information is consumed—and spawned—at a very high rate.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Janala

Janala, meaning "The Window," is not just about a window or idealism carried too far: it is also a window into Bengali and Indian society, giving us beautiful bountifuls of lives carried on in dreams, fostered with courage amid squalor, corruption, poverty and lack of recognition of privacy. Janala is an astonishing film from India: for its underlying comedy, and not bitterness, even as it deals with hopeful people living in a hopeless system.

The canvas of the film is not as widely cast, but it still catches fish of variegated hues: supported by beautiful music, adequate performances and landscapes of wide expanses of Bengali land, the movie is yet another feather in the cap of Bengali film industry. Editing could have been tighter, but thankfully at least there are not too many scenes of the old-age home: it's a dried-and-dusted topic in Indian cinema, and would have distracted from the theme of this film. For the theme of this film is freedom, free like the two birds of the window: but which is so rare and yet so dreamt of. Even in a bus or a train, anywhere, there is an eavesdropper always; the protagonists are trapped by their lack of guts (Bimal) or by their lack of kindness (Meera); and the only one who is free is the Thief: a non-functioning system provides liberty only to those who cock a snook at its mores and regulations. And yet, Bimal's window is not useless: it has probably saved three lives and certainly changed a man (the truck driver) for the better.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Felicia's Journey

Felicia's Journey is one of those rare, powerful films that grow, that creep on you: they haunt you. You find yourself brooding over it, over its scenes, over its characters, over its worlds, over your life and your worlds, over the diversity of human experience. The film is a horror film: but not in the sense of cold chills. There was ample scope for that to happen: but thankfully, the horror treated in this film is of sickness, of loneliness, of dashed hopes, of lack of love, of a lot of love to give. It is a beautiful and authentic psychological study of the pathology of and from loneliness, and an equally marvellous study of the goodness of human heart, at times.

I have seen many Hitchcock films in my life, and though I have appreciated greatly a couple of them, the director in my opinion is highly overrated. And here Atom Egoyan, though he himself may be inspired by Hitch, gives a proof of how it ought to be done: Egoyan makes a film of another Psycho dimensions, but by rendering it a human touch, he elevates it from the often-popcorn entertainment of Hitchcock to art: for art touches, interrogates and disturbs. And haunts. This film would of course not have been possible but for the remarkable acting performances by Bob Hoskins and Elaine Cassidy, but it would also not have been possible if not for the editing and direction: the (mis)synchronicity of sound and image and direction is an especial delight, which adds to the depth of the film.

The film also illuminates true faith. Faith is not found in the shouting, itinerant preacher, who does not know what to do when faced with error. But faith is maybe found in the faithless, who does not mind her killer, for she knows why he kills, for she can empathize now with his loneliness, with his desperation. And it is thus that he shall receive, finally, love. And it is thus that man dwarfs the giant urban landscapes he traverses.

Astonishingly shot, the film is imbued with a typical British touch in that a lot of urban and factory environment establishes the film's setting. The soundtrack of the film is also a treat: relevant and melodious. And more than everything, it is the build-up through back-and-forth editing, but not some software-happy editing of the modern times, that makes the film a desirable and difficult watch. Difficult because you keep squirming in your seat, as you really believe in Hoskins and Cassidy, you find yourself in the middle of tension, of nervousness, of fear, of the desire to cry out and warn Cassidy. And that is why the end is so special: the being full of love never has the need to fear.