Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Mighty Heart

Considering the premises of the film, that is, the inevitable tightrope that a director has to perform when selecting a story with so much of political and racist connotations, the film can be considered to be well-made. For the director does walk the tightrope. But when I further grope in my cinematic sensibilities and find nothing much that excited me, or that thrilled me, or that touched me, or that provoked me, I am condemned to shut up any further.

As I said, it's a film which balances itself well among people of different nationalities and beliefs. But that is all what the film does. Yes, you are delivered the message at the end, as usual, that we will not be terrorized - but then what was the previous 2 hours of film doing if a dialogue was to be inserted just to say that, while the rest of the film looked some kind of a damage-control exercise? A conclave of journalists and editors from all over the world, thrown in with intelligence men like Irrfan Khan or assortments off liasion people, just go on meeting together, tracking leads and keeping tabs of the latest emails and news in papers, drawing a map of involved people on a whiteboard - fine, great, reminded me of Mountbatten's red pins at the time of partition of India - but, that's not the story, the substance, right?

The film's most fundamental failure is the lack of a story. But this is not the only one - a poor direction and a poor understanding of nuances in another one. To talk of smaller but bigger matters first, why is Irrfan Khan made to act as if he is reporting to the whole cavalcade of editors of Western newspapers? At the most, he can be sympathetic and will do his duty - but why will he, a Pakistani national and SSP(CID), continously act in almost a subservient capacity to journalists, who don't even know the terrain, the country? Probably a doomed attempt to show the Westerners as superior against Indians and Pakistanis (for Archie Panjabi has nothing to do except sort the emails and track the leads - for that matter, there isn't anyone in the film who is doing any going anywhere). Angelina Jolie is completely disappointing - she is looking like a journalist to me, that's all - but it's completely beyond my comprehension that someone like her is even deemed to be an 'actress'. When the lead of a film does not hold your sympathy, then that's the first step where a film fails.

Now to talk of bigger things which seem also bigger, nonlinear editing seems to be the in thing nowadays, just as the wording "in thing" is, but it's better to keep it in wraps unless you (1) need it and (2) have the expertise for it. The Constant Gardener is the only truly great film made with a nonlinear editing technique - and there, the whole story is itself edited nonlinearly. Which is again something to be borne in mind - if you are telling a straight sequence of yarn, then 99 out of 100 you are better off if you narrate also straight. Of course, what I call as "nonlinear" in this film is not really so - the story is continuous, I am talking about the strange camera cuts used. It reminded me of the daily-running Hindi soaps - after something impactful (or even without it), the camera shows each one of the persons' reactions standing within the earshot - so a camera, instead of following the action in a straight sequence, becomes the register - that when something and something happened, what was happening to each person. (That's why I call it nonlinear - for the instantaneous reaction of all the people present to an event is simultaneous, and not like person C waits for person B to get amazed, person B for person A to get terrified, etc.) Even more deterioratingly, the film doesn't even have any impacts in between - so you just have a camera which has got a mind of its own, which keeps on swinging from one to another person without rhyme and reason, probably just to leave with the viewer that see, all these persons are involved in this, all these are thinking about Daniel Pearl and where is he, all these are really about their job.

In the final analysis, what the film was missing? Pain. And tension. Karachi. The sea of hate in which a Westerner would be living there - that doesn't come across. The struggle to survive in the fundamentalist heartland - that does not. And Marianne Pearl's pain - that does not.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mina Tannenbaum

A multilayered story, at first glance it looks quite frivolous, and you tend to frown upon encountering such a film, upon getting conned into an experience which does not seem would be much rewarding. The childhood stories of the two girls on whom the film centers only tend to reinforce the undercurrent that both girls are not the favorites of the social world that includes their parents - so both are very lonely, left to their own thoughts (always a dangerous thing), and destined to meet each other one terrible day. But this does nothing more - the film flows on turgidly for the first half hour.
The little girls grow up into Mina and Ethel, two Jewish irreverent girls played by Romane Bohringer and Elsa Zylberstein. The first one is bespectacled, the other one is gawkingly plumpy. They don't seem to have much confidence of ever attracting boys. And in that adolescent age, they don't have many other ideas about how to live - they just want to be free. How? They don't know.

Interestingly, except for their common inferior complex (let's give it that name for the time being), the two 'friends' have not much in common. Mina is crazy for arts, and has always been very good at imagination and drawing; whereas Ethel is just brash, not much talent in tow, just looking out, peering the world. It's funny that it's Mina who's the self-assured one in her glasses. The art instructor is rude and pricks her to the heart, yet Mina has the courage to answer that to place a nude among clothed does not require courage. Inspite of Mina already disturbed by her first crush.

The teen crushes of Mina and Ethel being got over with, the film then really takes on a headlong dive into layers of wit and irony and revelation of characters and the world in general - it is then that the film takes flight, soars high, and in the end burns itself in its greatness - a beautiful end.
As they grow up, their lives begin to get more entangled, mostly a result of their own thwarted desires and ambitions. Mistrust grows, especially as they are still not much sure about their charms on men. Mina falls for an art dealer, who conceals his dirty mind and dealings behind a brash, businessmanlike behaviour - even more than Ethel's final carving up a life for herself which has no Mina, it was the art dealer's dirtyness, I think, in the final analysis that made a lasting pessimistic impact on Mina, killed her off art, and led to the final end of the film. Of couse, in parallel Ethel became quite street-smart, misused Mina's name to further her own ends, and finally did make a comfortable home for herself, with a good career. The vacuum of Mina was only to be realized if she met you at the street-corner - but it's no vacuum if you forget it so very soon after in the arms of another. Probably, if Mina would have made some right choices or would have had some luck, Mina also would have been the same - but, she remained the forlorn, and hence she had no one now to fall back upon except her oldest friend, her only friend, Ethel.

Many critics have not approved of the tragic end of the film, but to me this was inevitable - Mina was Mina. To show something else would have made her very ordinary in the final say - any other end would have knocked her and the film from the pedestal.

Again, superb acting by Romane Bohringer after L'Accompagnatrice with good performance from all the other actors, especially the art dealer. Unconventional, crisp camera angles, and a good lighting usage make the film something to study.


Usually, French films haunt you by their atmosphere, by their lethargy-inducing pace, by the thick rings of smoke and philosophy that encircle you. But in The Accompanist it is the eyes of the protagonist, Romane Bohringer, which fix you in their grip, which haunt you for long after you're done with the film, which trouble you with questions about a woman's role in the subplots of this world.
The film is a story about an accompanist, Bohringer (playing Sophie Vasseur), to a rich, famous, selfish singer (Yelena Safanova playing Irene Brice). Coming from a poor background, and having an intelligent and quick brain, Sophie soon makes herself indispensable to Irene, utilizing the latter's many love affairs to her advantage. But the resentment of not having had all this never leaves Sophie - she feels herself the better, the more intelligent (and more talented as well?) woman, one who should have had the kind of pampering Irene gets, one who should have got the love of the young revolutionary Jacques Fabert, more of her age than Irene's, one who has to learn bows from Irene though her whole life is nothing but a series of bows. Is it a right that you were given from above? asks Sophie directly to Irene, in one of the best scenes of the movie - a moment, when it did come out of Sophie.

The film's rock pillars are the tour de performance by Romane Bohringer and the tragic beauty of hopeless, unrequited love in two aspects - that of Charles Brice for his wife, Irene, and that of Sophie for the world for which she does not exist, unless she flirts or unless she becomes famous or rich. Brice' love is, simply said, heroic - it reminded me of the love that Gabriel Oak bore to Bathsheba in Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, the book. And in that perspective, the double-cross of Irene and Fabert becomes very despicable. In a curious role reversal to the usual film fare, it's the businessman Brice here who holds the viewer's complete sympathy against the revolutionary. The tragedy of the film was inevitable - Charles Brice had loved more like a woman than a man. He had loved truly - that is only for once. Let the glass be dashed to pieces before drinking from any other.