Friday, September 28, 2007

Vivre sa Vie

I read somewhere an analogy being made with blocks - that one of the techniques to distance the viewer from the film that Godard has used in Vivre sa Vie is 'cutting' up the film in blocks. Yes, of course, I agree - but should this kind of filmmaking exist? Questioning a great master - it might seem heresy, but should not a great master indulge in beautiful sequences rather than presenting us with sharp trills and sharp basses, flats of the prostitution statistics, and crescendos as when Nana (played by Anna Karina, Godard's then wife) picks up a man from the street.

The film is about a girl who starts with an ambition to become a cinema actress, and ends up becoming a prostitute, a drifter. But, the film's too crisp, too sharply pain-giving. It does not allow you to dwell on a frame, even though the pace of the film is so lethargic; an unbounded flood of ideas, a nerve-wracking pace! Some of it is due to the chopped up effect of the film and the chopped up reality of the story. We do not know for ever why is it that Nana leaves her husband and child, even though her husband is evidently in love with her. We do not even get a good look at the husband's face; he doesn't mean anything in the time span shown of Nana's life shown in the film. How is it that she drifts into prostitution? OK, probably she sold herself to the man who professes to send her pictures to agents, in order to be in a film, but why did she continue the downfall? What was that compulsion that prevented her coming to a poorish, good enough family? And finally, why does Raoul suddenly try to sell her off instead of continually milking her, and why is Nana an unwilling yet silent party to all of this, only screaming when her death in all this shady business is imminent? Yes, you grapple with these questions, and at the same time the film is moving.

Now, mind you, most films move, really move; here, sometimes dialogues flow, and sometimes even they don't. When Nana talks to an old philospher about the meaning of silence and words and the artifice needed to erect a communication between your persona and the society, the breakwater that surrounds you, and love, dialogues flow - the old man's words, probably not all comprehended by Nana, and Nana, probably completely not comprehended by the old man. But, most other times in the film, there's not even the relief of dialogues - it's as if you are on a tight strain, a leash; almost all the frames are filled up with Nana's close-ups, and if not hers then of something else. Yet, Nana is there in almost every frame, she pervades all of it. Her face, the study of her face, if you can say that, that's the film. Interleaved is all kinds of talk, including Poe's poem and a lot of statistics about prostitution in Paris, and guidelines, and a moving tragedy occurs before our eyes for which Godard does not even allow us to cry, in fact does not wish us to cry. The film's too sharply painful.

Interestingly, the film, Nana, reminded me somehow of Maugham's Of Human Bondage, a book that was again painful for me till half-way, for I hated that waitress whom Philip had fallen in love with, and yet I could not tear away myself from why was she like herself, from the reality that who is the greater sacrificer, Philip or that waitress, who inspite of feeling no love or attraction for him, plays up to him only for want of money and something better.

It's a great film, but not necessarily a film that can give you pleasure. But, yes, it will give you fodder for thought - too much of it. A brilliant acting performance from Karina, plus a beautiful Paris, crisp monochrome, deftly handled camera, the usual unconventional shots of Godard (so that instead of getting sucked up into the story, you remain at a distance, at a tight distance, and keep on thinking) - all make the film a masterpiece.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jean de Florette

I begin on a more personal note. The film rushed back for me memories ranging from Zola to the rich tapestry of Monte Cristo - there was so much plot, there was so much earth, and there were so many parallel-running strands in the film. As I write this, I have still not attained the climax - the accompanying part, in which the daughter is to take revenge, is still remaining. But already, there is much to chew upon.

Jean de Florette is a wonderfully made film - all the actors play their parts so well, the camera is so much well-balanced, the rural character of France is so vividly brought out, and the music that backs up the film is so beautiful, poignant, and, for once, so unobtrusive in the story. The film's story is about that all-pervasive French theme - land. Desire for land takes the centrestage as brilliant acting performances stringed around it make it a wholesome experience. Yves Montand (playing Le Papet) plays a sucker of an old man, and a man with very deep brains for hatching plots - plots that succeed. This time, it's for land for his nephew (Daniel Auteuil, playing Ugolin), so that the Soubeyrans, of whom he and his nephew are the last, continue their stock and money. And, it's Gérard Depardieu (playing the title character) who becomes the victim of both the plotters.
Spurred on by his sometimes impracticable ambitions, especially when you consider that Jean's background in the film was that of a tax collector, knowledge based on books and 'statistics' (his farming plans and his all money are based on the monthly average rainfall that the books tell him!), a hatred of his being hunchbacked and at the receiving end of people always, and an inordinate capacity to see the bright side of things, make him a very, very lovable character, and one that moves you when you put in shade the schemes that the uncle-nephew duo have put in action to deprive him of water and, consequently, the farm. The film ends in tragedy, with Jean dying in another of his wild schemes. He never realises that the man whom he has put his all trust into, and who his wife and ten-year old daughter do not like, that Ugolin is the man who's ruining him, slowly killing him, and desiring even his daughter.
No, I am not running ahead into the second film. There are several unpicked threads in the film. When Ugolin encounters Manon (Jean's daughter) for the first time, inspite of the latter being a child, he is struck vehemently and stares for half a minute or so at her, forgetting everything else. Of course, the rest of the thread is to be picked in the second film, "Manon des Sources." Why is Ugolin, otherwise a man who is guilty to some degree over his ruining Jean (in contrast to his uncle, who is totally heartless), attracted to her, a child? Is it because Ugolin is uncouth, not educated, and still knows to be amazed at education (as he evinces so many times when confronted with Jean's bookish knowledge; "the othentics"), and in front of him is a charming girl, with firm grounding in education, not bombastic like her father, but cool and, you feel, more pragmatic? But, in order to grow flowers (Ugolin covets the land as his ambition is to grow carnations), he has, unknowingly to himself, already driven out the flower in his life! There's something else in the film which struck me forcibly - why does Jean de Florette hate the city life so much, when to all accounts he had a good salaried life there? Is it because he was born and bred up, as a hunchback, in an urban set-up, and has all the taunts in-drilled in him? Or, even more importantly, he wants to be "self-sufficient" - a rural farmer's life, based in his homestead, where he has minimal contact with fellow men, where he can live the way he wants and raise his family, where his being a hunchbacked does not matter?
The film has been beautifully shot. I could feel the hot perspiration on myself when I saw Jean toiling in the hills for trickles of water - this is always a litmus test for any beautiful film. You know then that the director has caught the moment.

The Blue Umbrella

Much has been, as I've been reading on the Internet, already said about Blue Umbrella, and surprisingly, not very much in favour of, many times. Now, for me, it was not only a refreshing film, but a great film - especially for any intelligent child. Of course, any good book or film meant for children is always par excellence for adults.
The film showcases Himachal Pradesh like I've never seen it before in any film. And, more importantly, the director has never strayed where it would have been so easy - it's basically just the opening and closing shots of the film which really allow you to be in awe of the Himachal. Otherwise, the focus is always on Pankaj Kapur, Biniya, or the umbrella, whether blue or red in between.
Of course, the film's real strength lies in two things - Pankaj Kapur's brilliant acting (and his best, in my opinion, minus Maqbool, which I've not seen) and not much experimentation by Vishal Bharadwaj in any of the things, whether it be camera, music, or editing. It's Pankaj Kapur who provides all the innovativeness. Complete from a different accent to his whispers to himself, especially after his downfall, he has everything to give that an able actor can give. His every intonation, every movement (watch him, his head especially, preparing his tea after Biniya has 'accepted' him and bought biscuits from him), every dialogue renders him personality - and rarely we have such a fully developed character in cinema, and even more rarely through the actor rather than director. I understood everything that was to be heard and understood in the film - of course, for that you have to have be from north India or you must have lived there. Though if you have not, maybe for such a person the film would be even more enjoyable - it's a completely different mindset and culture up there from rest of India.
Interestingly, I was more touched by the concept of real power as presented in this film than through Schindler's List, bemusing though the comparison seem to be. Of course, there's the climax, in which Biniya accepts Pankaj Kapur, the umbrella being the token, and both Pankaj Kapur and Biniya have learnt something new very, very well - that love and forgiveness are the real power, there's nothing beyond that. But, if you watch the song in which Biniya is dancing with her umbrella with a little more care, you will find a very interesting half a minute of frames or lesser - out of the umpteen uses of the umbrella, Biniya also uses it to shade an old woman while grazing the cattle. It really lays the groundwork for the climax of the film to me - the child's character is very much evident there. Most children wouldn't even allow to touch something that they are crazy about (and which, I think, Biniya also would do in most cases), but for a poor, old woman, the heart upwells, and the umbrella is there!
And, for all non-Hindi speakers, the film is anyway subtitled in English, and done well too. So, doesn't leave an excuse not to see the film after this, at least after my review, does it?