Thursday, December 04, 2008


Sophisticated brilliance: this was enough to turn the world of French and world cinema upside down, and catapult France from the New Wave to the Cinema of Look. Jean-Jacques Beineix's debut feature, Diva, started it all: cinema du look; and stories with preposterous settings, uncanny twists, unimagined camera angles, and unexplained monstrosities in the storyline came into being. But yes, all forgiven: once you have Beineix's Diva or Luc Besson's Nikita.

The film is not at all shallow in spite of being nothing more than a crime noir with not too great a story and no punches hidden in the screenplay. The cast, the camera work, and the director's vision and energy take you by storm before you realize anything else. The film is an interesting study on solitude, what I call the "fetish of personal", and how much right does the world have to infringe upon it, and how much right are we to deny that. How much of our space is ours? The film plot itself hinges upon two recordings: one of a singer's voice, who believes her voice, her emotions, her singing would be reified if recorded and hence is against it; the other which could incriminate and expose a respectable man who is running a ring of prostitution and drugs. A postman (Frédéric Andréi), a medium of people's voices and nothing more, is the hero who must take care of both these recordings. Quintessentially, the film remains the slow French film, in spite of being a crime thriller. So that even the long double chase sequence of Andréi, shot so stunningly by Phillipe Rousselot, remains a visual treat of slow motion; and the cast of Richard Bohringer and Jacques Fabbri itself gives some extra gravity to a film already reeling with some kind of dazed energy.

The visual spacing, the sets, lighting and colors, and the strange sort of unexplained knick-knacks of the story as well as the decor further add up to the message of privacy that should be violated. No one knows what is the exact relationship between Bohringer and 14-year-old Alba (played remarkably well by Thuy An Luu), nor what exactly Bohringer does: equally abstruse are the waves that balance in his large studio-cum-residence, nude photos of Alba hanging all round, and a bathtub right in the centre of the vast, vast dark expanse. And almost completely opposite, garish, and equally over-the-top is the garage where Andréi himself lives: not the least the means of access to it, which plays an important part in the climax. Beineix believes in going over the edge, and this is what he has done right in his debut feature: and we enjoy going jusqu’au bout with him. Life is a little more than simple black and white, simple and rigid ethics, a simple question of what’s right and wrong, a simple seen and unseen: which is why we have actions occurring in people’s sunglasses, we have a bright shining red helmet almost through the film, we have people’s shadows and silhouettes framed against artificial lights equally well as the sun, and we have a lighthouse coming in with equal ease as the Champs-Élysées. À voir absolument.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Danish Poet

How many times the romance of chance has been brought to life in stories, told, read, seen, and how often it always stirs the blood for unheard of possibilities, not simply the ones awaiting us in the future, but also which went by heeded or unheeded in the dense labyrinth of our lives! The Danish Poet, a Torill Kove traditionally animated film, is one such simple story, beautifully narrated in the slightly lilting voice of Liv Ullmann and subtitled with delightful little satires, pricks, and bits of humor woven in the story: the dog who found his mate also just because of a funeral, the doctor who gives a whiff of cigar smoke just before advising his patient for some fresh air, or the dog again who finally finds someone who does not kick him whenever he wants some affection.

The film’s basic premise is simple: how life is constructed of small chances, inasmuch as you might meet your future life partner on a journey which might not have been even at the stage of intent a few moments back. Liv Ullmann lends a delightful piquancy to the whole film, with her turns of dialogues, giving an anecdotal atmosphere to the whole film: which is what the film more or less is. It seems a delightful story that I would love my mother to tell me a cold night when the world would be sleeping, and yet the stars would be awake: when “seeds” would still be floating around. Far from stretched allegories, digital effects, or things that try to be above average by flexing your brain muscles, The Danish Poet is simply a refreshing romance, a kind of animation film which are now being made less and lesser, and a film which speaks to the heart: which simply touches you. The film deservedly won the Academy Award in 2007.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Velipadukal: Biography of a Sacred Cow

A rare film, made on something as selective as dystopia, and that has the temerity of asking questions about religion and cult, is Shahul Ameen’s Velipadukal. This Malayalam film, subtitled in English, was shot on a low budget of 4.2 lakhs (a running time of around 70 mins), and is yet able to force the viewer to reexamine many of the issues that he might have completely missed so far. The reason is its powerful script.

As with the usual films or literature on the subject, the film is not from the perspective of an outsider to a dystopian society, but from the insider’s (Lintu) who begins to question himself and the society. A society which follows a “scientific religion,” with the only divisions left now between “rightists” and “leftists.” Wherein ancestors are worshipped, to the extent that even the ancestor who made a chair is thanked before settling in it, and wherein women are only meant for sex and procreation: the religion believes in passing on ancestors’ attributes, even fleshly attributes, so that no one dies as such, but keeps on living through descendants. Thus, “eternity.”

An interesting premise, though I still do not understand why would such a religion get invented in the first place. Important, since for a fiction to work, it has to be as much believable as possible. In Shahul Ameen’s own words:

There are actually two storylines in the movie. One is obviously Lintu’s story. The second one is that of the creators and perpetrators of Scientific Religion, which goes like this – in the present times, majority of people who say they are religious are hypocritical, as they simply follow the rituals and do not follow the major teachings of their respective religions. In times like this, one clever fellow/a group of people devises the Scientific Religion. They use an innovative USP - that of surviving death and attaining eternity. Gradually, the religion spreads, and people start living more morally, with the aim of attaining eternity. Then, few centuries later, someone proves that the religion is wrong, and people go back to their innate sinful lives. The arbitrators of the religion are still satisfied that they were able to curb the entire human race at least for a few centuries.

Curb from what? Women at the beck and call of each and every man for procreation? The movie in fact fails to convey the second storyline, that of the creators of scientific religion, much effectively: the viewer very soon becomes obsessed with Lintu, and how he could fight such a totalitarian system, in which no one is ready even to hear him, forget understand him. Where people are already so much satisfied. Though in Shahul’s words, “I did not want the audience to develop so much sympathy for Lintu that they do not notice the satire, and I decided to use a nonjudgmental and objective camera language, avoiding close shots and shots parallel to Lintu’s eye-line as much as possible.” But, it does become a story of Lintu vs. the system, and maybe the film should have been treated more like an essay, a question.

Another one of my questions for the director and his subsequent answer were:

Me: If I might continue the discussion a little forward on religion itself, is it all really a totalitarian state, reducing human emotions to rituals? In spite of all the religions, I don't think so: and actually think it a necessary evil, if left to flourish only to some extent. For the simple reason that I've observed people being mad to find something to bow to: if you take away one thing, they will find some other thing or being. Even if your “scientific religion” won't be there, what would take the place of void? Can you suggest a society where people are not following any customs, any rituals, any religion? All religion proceeds from some of the primal instincts of man, like fear and sympathy and love for things one gets used to, or even a love of beauty. It isn't as detestable when one views it in this light, and believe me for a lot of people religion is more love (maybe not for people but for their own little habits and oddities) and habit. A cushion in a world where anyway they soon find out that even love is bought, sex is bought, and knowledge itself is bought, at least that knowledge which is apparent to the world. Religion affords to these people something of themselves that isn't bought by someone, nor did they buy it of someone. Yes, you would argue that they did buy it of their ancestors, but so did probably you your unbelief from your education, or even from whatever inspired you to dare to think existing things wrong.

Shahul: I agree that many people find solace in religious faith and rituals, and I don’t find any harm in it. And I myself am envious of people who are able to do that. But, many of those like me who start thinking think more objectively and critically as they grow up soon realize the flaws in the underlying beliefs, and hence become unable to find solace in those rituals/beliefs. Lintu himself initially tries to fight his doubts by trying to immerse himself in spiritual matters, and even attends another internalization with the hope that faith will gradually follow. He even asks the Psychiatrist whether all his problems are a result of his intelligence, and even tries shock therapy to get rid of the doubts he has about the religion. In one scene he looks at the ladies who find solace in The Book played in the stereo (though they do not understand a single word of what is being said), and slowly walks out, unable to share their pleasure. It is only after all these failed attempts that he comes out openly against the religion, first to his friend, then to the Principal, and then to the whole world through the TV interview. But, the world does not allow him his rights to not-to-believe. And exactly this is one of the criticisms of organized religions the script tries to make – those who find solace in absurd rituals have the right to do so, but unfortunately most of them don’t stop there, and start harassing those who see through it all.

Quite an interesting discussion, which I would like to carry forward one day with him and other people as well, maybe through some of my own work. Since work speaks the best. The film does disappoint on one or two scores of art direction and lack of an effective color scheme for such a subject, but then lack of budget also entails lack of extras, lack of several other small things each of which costs money when you finally add up those. Of course, the production quality is superb. You can read the director’s views and about the whole crew and the film on

The real pleasure that I had was that thinking is alive, and people are making films--here in India itself--which are not merely song & dance routines or high-stakes thrillers.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

16 Vayathinile

A truly great film, Pathinaru Vayathinile (or 16 Vayathinile) is about the vulnerability of a woman, and yet her strength: at the same time, she can change the life of a man through her love, and she can mar her own life by falling for the wrong man in the first place. The film’s charm lies not only in three brilliant actors, who were all raw at the time--Sridevi, Rajnikanth, and Kamal Haasan--but also in the minimalistic style the film has been directed.

The focus has largely been on the characters, there’s hardly anything else. And of course the film stands upon the shoulders of Mayil (Sridevi) for that: she can spit on Rajnikanth as disdainfully as she can laugh with joy on receiving a slap from Chapani (Kamal Haasan), thinking of how hard hit must be the vet doctor who jilted her. Set in rural Tamil Nadu, the film absorbs the landscape in the story, rather than extraneously focussing on the village scenes, as so often many films make the mistake of doing (for example, Paruthi Veeran). Which is why one moves in a continuity, one moves with the characters to the story’s climax. Speaking of which, it is again one of the rarest and best ever seen: maybe, much oftener seen in Tamil films. There is no sweet, contrived ending as so often in Hollywood or Hindi films; and yet, it has something of a hope left. Even if Chapani is maybe going to be sentenced to death, there was always that love for which Mayil would wait for ever; and nothing can discount that. One of the highlights of the film by the way is the lovely drawl in which Chapani takes Mayil’s name: mentally retarded, yes, but his intonation of Mayil’s name has that special quality; which is how probably you get the measure of Kamal Haasan.

One of the rare greats of Indian cinema, the slow yet tenuous movement of the film’s story reminded me of another great Indian film, Girish Karnad’s Cheluvi.

Azur et Asmar

Since most of the exposure for most people might only be to Pixar films in the sphere of animation, I would forgive them if they thought Azur et Asmar refreshing: of course, how many folklores are made today as films? And then, this is an “original folklore,” though this is where the film’s troubles start. Taking bits and pieces from various sources, like the old man sitting on Azur’s shoulders reminding one of Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights and the lion taking Azur flying through mountains of a similar Russian folk tale, does not always work: one has to sew everything into a wonderful whole. And then you have a princess Shamsa-Sabah who is suddenly too much of a Pixarish character suddenly thrown in this static animated film embellished with Arabic motifs and Arab language: static canvases don’t always work to make a film beautiful. For it is Azur and Asmar who are equally static; Asmar has actually not much of a role in except being mentioned in the title of the film! Concessions for being politically correct to an Arab?!!

The film starts again statically, but it does dissolve into a couple of beautiful scenes when Azur and Asmar fight as children, and get draped into mud, straw, tree branches, whatever. The animation here is delightful: both are like springs, seesaws, as if an elastic bond connects them in all their fights; also easier to animate this unrealistically, it’s also much more funny, and conveys the spirit of childhood. Asmar’s antics on the sidelines while watching Azur learn the crafts of noblemen lead one to believe that yes, the film will be really interesting, the story is going to be exciting when they both will grow up. But, the story and the film lose track, in trying to make things politically correct, and in maintaining the balance between everything French and Arabic, blanc and noir. Yes, Crapoux to some extent saves it, but then he is again a little jaded character brought from Pixar’s studio: he seems to be again the Edna of The Incredibles, reborn with a leaner role.

Maybe, part of the limited success that the film has met with, at least critically, has been due to the focus on characters’ faces. Though Azur and his nanny have not been assigned much variety of facial expressions, except closing and opening mouths and eyes, their faces have been rendered with much detail: Azur’s blue eyes seem really watery and pitiful, the texture and rendering artists have done a great job. Again, each of the novelties and delicacies of the Arab world have been focussed upon more: it’s OK if Azur’s stumbling when pretending to be blind for the first time looks very artificial, looks almost as if he himself is a stick rather than a human being; what counts in the director’s books apparently is to create quiet, serene background shots and frames. This is where Michel Ocelot errs: he should’ve selected a completely 2-D format in that case, right now it’s neither here nor there. Also, somehow people accept anything, even the most unreal things, when watching in 2-D; the same thing seems too much unreal or uncanny (yes, the uncanny valley phenomenon, as experienced by many in The Polar Express) in a 3-D format if you haven’t done your animation and dynamics properly. Using the 3-D medium yet the flat frames makes Azur et Asmar actually look very stupid: probably even most children won’t fall for it. And the purpose of any computer-generated animation, actually any film in itself, is to make the viewers fall for it!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Le voyage du ballon rouge

A film that seldom, seldom is made: where the film chooses to understate everything, only to lend greater force to the argument itself, only to not to indulge in any of dramatic ploys and just soak in a story of a lonely mother fighting for life and happiness and a little comfort and independence, only to gradually make the audience feel a part of sun-seeped Paris, of serene France, of so many colors and life everywhere, even puppets. A masterpiece from Hou Hsiao-hsien, the film has often been miscriticised for being too vague, too ambiguous, maybe the critics were not ready for a simple working mother and her child's story. I find only Manohla Dargis from NY Times doing rich justice to the film, so let me add another chapter to this grossly underestimated film.

Based on the 1956 Lamorisse classic The Red Balloon, this film however turns things a little more in a direction not conventionally taken: the red balloon stands less for innocence, more for the frailty of life, for the unexpected trivialities that disturb the harmony of your life day in and day out. Juliette Binoche does it yet, yet again: another warm performance, another energy-filled one, and once again mainstay of the film. Fang Song gives in a brilliant performance as the Chinese film student, calmly watching this French family of Binoche's, her life with all her attendant grapplings with minor issues and neighbours, and of course Paris. She almost acts a critical element on Binoche's way of life: yes, her work with puppets notwithstanding, the delight and passion with which she independently stands on her own, is she right in continuing on with Paris and thus deal with a thousand other small issues, which do not even leave her enough time with her own son, Simon. The red balloon hovers around Simon, but only as a guardian angel? Or something which he is always unable to reach, which he cannot reach for: dreams which elude as soon as he would be awake, at most only an image of that dream the reality. It is this sadness, this gentle mournfulness which tinges the film throughout and makes the film stand out among the others.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Boy Meets Girl

A debut feature film, and Carax achieves heights of poetic prowess: light and shadow, duty and love, soul and body, smile and destitution, David Bowie’s song and a couple fighting a bitter trivial battle in a neighbouring apartment, yes all the clash is wrapped up, packaged in the story of self-search, of pain, of love that could never be between two people, victims of uptight, unimaginative, orderly people.

The story is simple: boy meets girl. It’s the same old pain with momentary relief, a flash of teeth of Mireille (Mireille Perrier) that Alex (Denis Lavant) can induce with difficulty, and then the inevitable pathway towards love and doom continues. Lovingly shot in crisp black and white, the film opens with absurd: skis out of the windshield of a car. Nay, even before, there’s that voice, that old voice, which almost reminds me of another very uncanny opening of a totally different kind of film, Mackenna’s Gold, another masterpiece. The film deliberates, thinks, stands on its feet too often, and lets you get sucked into it by this simple contrivance. Not hastily, but slowly, yet not in any order, the camera tracks the life-map of Alex behind the painting, and then today’s scrawl. Again, the father’s phone comes the next morning with a theatrical gravity and which strangely does not look uncalled for in this mockery of all ambitions, mannerisms and achievements compared to love – yes that’s what this film does convey. We have the Einstenian and Armstrongish men, obsessed with themselves, or objects, when something far more beautiful is going on: Alex and Mireille. We have the hostess who says at an arm’s length “Je vous laisse” when Alex is nothing in answer to “Vous êtes qui?” And yet the same hostess treasures a loved one’s cup: is she sitting too long over one memory? Should she have moved away? Is Alex any better for moving from girl to girl, a newer stab in his heart and life-map? Or has Alex finally met Mireille, who even if loin is of the same mauvais sang as Alex, the same dysfunctionality? Or are Alex and Mireille only extensions of the deaf and dumb man and his interpreter: the man has much to say but he cannot speak, the girl has voice but words of the old man since she has to interpret him, not herself? How much do we become extensions of the other when we love, how much should we become, and more importantly can we even determine this? Wouldn’t it be better in that case then to play pinball silently, with the electronic circuits doing all the noises? Occasionally the pinball machine will go wrong, and then we will correct the circuitry; occasionally the sex will go wrong and then we will ask how dry or wet we like it, or change our lover. Isn’t that simpler than love?

Monday, June 30, 2008


A minimalistic style, Robert Bresson makes you feel the power of human soul, human hands, human emotions – repressed emotions, rusting intellect, objectless love – and brings to life Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” on a smaller scale, but as intense as the book. And, in my opinion, also a little frivolous compared to the book.

Michel is the Raskolnikoff: he is the man who thinks he can take law in his hands, since he is “intellectual”, and he can do what he wishes to. He should at least be better than so many others he silently detests. What makes the novel and the film script diverge widely are the acts which Raskolnikoff and Michel commit: while the former commits the murder of an old woman, an usurer, the latter becomes a petty thief, a pickpocket. In the former case, it’s one act against someone taken symbolic for the world’s insensibility, and greed, and power. In the latter case, it’s an obsession against the world itself, and a chain of actions from which the perpetrator finds himself unable to extricate. Raskolnikoff’s redemption lay in the soul, in his being cured of anarchy, of being in love with the people as they are, with himself, with Sonia. Michel’s redemption, to me, lies more in getting the love that he always was hungry for, and which he could have got earlier if not for the fixated obsession. Of course, the book has a strong antithesis in the lawyer who confronts and plays the cat-and-mouse game with Raskolnikoff; while the film seems to have all its sympathies with the anarchist, and in fact has a brilliantly, erotically charged sequence of men being looted on a train, a sequence which I would have expected more in some film rendition of Artful Dodger (“Oliver Twist”) rather than here.

As a film, it stands brilliantly on its own, mainly because of the character played by Martin LaSalle – the brooding, nervous, obsessive character of Michel. The brilliantly choreographed robbery scenes and the vulnerable beauty of Marika Green add to the film, though to what and in which degrees depends on how much you can bear an anarchist interpretation of one of the greatest anti-anarchist arguments by Dostoyevsky. The character of the heroine in the film again leaves a lot desired for – while Marika Green certainly looks the vulnerable working class, she doesn’t look the girl to fire the spark of reform in a man, much less a man whose rot is more moral, more inner, more mental than most whose vices are more picked-up habits, extraneous. I did love the film for its minimal use of dialogues, its quintessential French-ness, and the erotic pleasure with which most scenes are shot (not only the robbery scenes, but also the final scene in the prison between LaSalle and Marika, where once again human hands are the focus). And I equally hated it for the lack of sincerity with which it was made: half-hearted character interpretations of Jacques (Michel’s friend) and the police inspector make serious flaws in the composition of the film.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Blanc (in English, White) is easily the film lacking layers in Kieślowski's Trois Couleurs trilogy. Though interestingly it is the film having the most rich storyline out of the three. Both Bleu and Rouge have stories that are simple if you consider a story by the number of events that happen and the number of twists that the tale takes. Yet, both are exceedingly rich in metaphors, in cinematic challenges achieved, in the psychological depths that they enter into through their characters and of their characters, and both are extremely thought-provoking.

Not so the case with Blanc. It is kind of a very black comedy, and a complete inverse interpretation of the old phrase, "Everything's fair in love and war". Instead of the camera hiding layers this time, it's the protagonist, the inscrutable, calm, seemingly coward but clinging-on kind of person, Karol Karol, the Polish hairdresser, who hides layers, who makes the viewer queasy right from the start that something is up in this brain, this is no ordinary person who will take his destiny lying down. And the object of his love and lust is so typically the Parisian dumb gorgeous model, Dominique Vidal, that you feel hate for Karol Karol for having a noble sentiment for such a woman, and at the same time you yourself would like to strike down that vindictive woman who is so fair otherwise, and to the world.

The real charm that Kieślowksi manages to weave into the movie is the absolute "whiteness" of the character Karol Karol. He doesn't seem to ever have any semblance of dignity. He happily becomes a beggar, is packed in a trunk, beaten up by thugs, beaten up by the real estate scamsters later, and fakes his corpse; and has impotent sex with Vidal; and yet, he never fails, he just moves on. The lack of dignity does not bother him at all, he has accepted it already as part of his bargain. Except an inordinate lust for Vidal, he does not show any emotions on his face, and just cooly bargains through everywhere - whether it be the number of heads he has to do, or the plot to sell to the scamsters. Spotless white, even though he crosses borders with fake passports. He makes a lot of money, maybe from something illegal, but he uses it all not for himself, but for a very 'white purpose'. Many people search for the "whiteness" in this film in the same way they have looked at Bleu's blue and Rouge's red. But instead here we have the stunning reclining figure of Vidal in red silken sheets, the neon sign that blazes happily for a new Poland though the village seems to be as sleepy as it ever must have been (brilliant political satire by Kieślowski over the failure of any good times turning up in the aftermath of cold war), and a lack of any uniform color scheme if you except the drabness. And yes, it strikes me then, except Vidal, everything in the film is so very drab. The village, the hairdresser pal who takes Karol in, the enigmatic friend Mikolaj who wanted to kill himself (is he a toned-down version of the Judge of Rouge?), the railway station where Karol begs or the railway station where Karol meets by appointment to take the life of Mikolaj, the prison to which Karol slips in at the end - yes, the whiteness is in the drabness, the single-minded intents of all the characters. Karol is after revenge, Vidal after easy money and easy men, Mikolaj after forgetfulness that never comes, and the hairdresser pal after customers. White of purpose!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Krótki film o milosci

The best thing about Krzysztof Kieślowski's Krótki film o milosci (A Short Film about Love) is probably that it shows an aspect of love which is very, very less understood, and is able to demonstrate that love has myriad forms, takes myriad sentiments as its ways of outpouring, including those banned by society to be even thought of: cases in point being incest, voyeurism, lust itself (and not as something distinct) and a sadistic desire and search for pain. Different people, different attractions, different names, but each one of them is "love", since each one of them is the search of a human being for something reciprocal, which sometimes he tries to find in himself through the other or which sometimes he tries to beget in himself through the other, or which sometimes he tries to destroy in himself through the other.

The film on its surface is a simple story about an adolescent falling into an intense love affair just by being a voyeur, just by watching the past-middle-aged artist who lives opposite and has a slew of sexual encounters with men, presumably agents to whom she is trying to convince to sell her artwork. The men of course take full advantage of her willingness to sell herself but probably never actually do buy something; at least, she is only a struggling artist, an unknown. But when you try to reflect on what does the story mean, on why certain things happen, and what else could have happened, it is then you tend to get absorbed completely in never thought-of issues.

One of the most striking things, established well at the outset of the film, is the sympathy placed on the voyeur. So while the same society which calls a voyeur a pervert watches this same film already anticipating their sympathies towards the voyeur. And the director doesn't fail them; he shows a sensitive boy, for company only his friend's mother, a secretive boy, and a boy who moves away his telescope when the woman opposite actually starts having sex with the man in her apartment. Later on, the boy confesses to the woman that he used to watch the complete ritual, but in any case this is never shown in the film. And we don't know whether the boy has only made this up to the woman in order to hide his sensitivity or he really used to see everything. After all, there are contradictory accounts of the origin of the telescope itself - while the boy claims that this was given to him by the friend in whose apartment (and with whose mother) he is living now and instructed to see the nice body opposite, the friend's mother later on in the film tells the woman that this is the boy's own contrivance. A doubt obviously ensues over how much the boy used to see. And considering the whole film, I think he saw "everything" but only once, and he was revolted by it.

This is essential to the film, in order to understand the hypersensitivity of the boy, who lives in his dreams, and creates his own pain. It's his friend's mother's teaching that when you've got a toothache press a hot iron to your shoulder, in order to forget the lesser pain against the greater pain. So in fact you just delude yourself into another pain, but all the while the consciousness burns inside you that why did you press the hot iron! Quite an extraordinarily suicidal teaching for a sensitive soul! It is against this backdrop of the fresh, virginal soul of the boy that this worldly woman who has sold herself to countless people but who does not enjoy any of those and keeps on somehow struggling for art, it is against this canvas the story unfolds of the boy who cannot bear that the woman whom she adores from distance breaks down, even if in private, that she cries! But unfortunately by calling her to the post office twice on false pretext only makes the woman unhappier, more bitter, and a butt of society's jokes on a lonely, poor woman.

The most interesting part of the film is the woman's reaction to the boy's confession that he watches her. It is almost never shock, except for the very initial moment; she's too tired for that, as if she's saying that ok, this was one joke yet to be played on me. But it is disbelief, of something as absurd as love itself and that too from a boy who doesn't even know her. Believing it to be just a passing stage of adolescent lust, which should be best relieved, she makes every effort of seducing the boy. And unwittingly strikes at the soul of the boy; he loves her pain and her heroic effort to not to show her pain, more than being excited about her body. It is only when he is now beyond her reach, she realises that love does exist in the world, even for a "fallen woman". The painful interlude has now probably taught each of them new things, things each of them were in need of: the boy has now been scratched, there will never be that fresh soul, he has stepped into manhood; the woman has also stepped into womanhood, she knows now that love exist, she knows now that beauty exists, and she has greater things to live for now. Maybe she is not going to seduce shady agents any longer.

The film's composition is the remarkable feature which makes the film riveting for the viewer. The film is always from the point of view of the boy, except the last part when it completely shifts to the woman. So there's no third observer in the film, no third eye. The boy's room is never shown in much detail, is not glossed over much; and most of the film goes as if one is watching the film itself through a binocular. The characters chosen are remarkable, especially the mysterious, sadistic old woman who is the boy's friend's mother and the bestial lover of the woman who is best seen peering through keyholes. It's an interesting aside to note that the woman does not have any charming, suave lovers; the most carnal instincts which prompt men to her door are compared against the platonic instincts of the boy which prompt him to even become a milkman at her door.

I only wish Kieślowski would have made Nabokov's "Lolita" and Dostoyevsky's "Poor Folks", he was so perfect for these neglected masterpieces.

Monday, May 19, 2008

La guerre est finie

The William Faulkner of cinema, Alain Resnais through La Guerre Est Finie ("The War Is Over") does not only a brilliant psychological study of the revolutionary but also of the resistance itself. The spirit, the anger, the disjointedness, the weariness, the inspiration, the mechanical, the loss of charm, the loss of ideology with the gain of further knowledge, the loss of innocence in more ways than virginal: how often do you find a film that can catch all this?

Inspirational cinematography, designed to capture the soul, the subconscious, titillates the viewer, provokes the viewer, and finally absorbs the viewer. In this one respect, Resnais differs largely from Godard, in that all his unconventionalities only draw in the viewer further, only make the viewer feel a narrow constriction at heart even more. La Guerre Est Finie stars Yves Montand, Ingrid Thulin and Geneviève Bujold, all actors whom I can call 'choicest', 'hand-picked'.

Montand is the centre of the film; it is through him we get an interior view of an intelligent revolutionary who loves his country, and probably from that love is losing his ideology, seeing now, in his 'retirement' age, the futileness of it all. Some more will die, will anything change? Is that the way to go about it? Yes, the Spain of legends and bull-fights is sold to the tourists, and people enjoy and go away, satisfied that all is well with Franco's Spain. But would killing off tourism and civil war be the way out? Wouldn't those same scatterbrained people then go elsewhere and 'enjoy their lives'?

Long and short dollies, finest editing and cinematography I've ever seen in my life, and an equally ingenious way of making acquired passions of a man impersonal - all make the film a masterpiece. Let's get down to each one in detail.

Dollies and intercutting shots serve only to make the film more Montand-centric. As Montand is living a revolutionary's life, going places, struggling with his reactionism and what he sees now as the truth, and what is going to happen, something is happening somewhere all the times. There are so many people connected, networked, underground. Someone is waiting to apprehend someone, slip in someone quietly behind doors that might never issue forth that one person; someone is waiting patiently for that someone to come home and reclaim her. Some of these are things not real, only in Montand's imagination and dread of future, or his foresight. Some of it will happen in the film in the ensuing scenes. Some of it has happened before. But, suddenly, in between a Montand scene, you get these different images of different people, going about quietly, unquiet events happening to them quietly, and then you are back to the Montand scene. So now you are seeped in the subconscious of Montand's soul, you are now the disturbed revolutionary who has so much to achieve and so little means to do so.

Especially striking is the scene when Montand has just come to a café, depressed after being told to stay put and that he is growing old, he should rest and 'be convinced'. The images that flash in the telephone booth this time not only include all those involved underground but also Bujold, daughter of a resistance sympathiser and whom he is having an aimless affair with. It's a striking image, one of innocence, Bujold's eyelashes drooping, a virginal image. A guilt on freshness and virginity lost? But on what all counts? It also foretells in a way Bujold's own involvement, on a different and much more radical and destructive and foolhardy scale, in the underground movement. Also, an 'acquired taste'?

Bujold is French, not Spanish, and so are her friends. Theirs is a different case than Montand, who plays Domingo, a Spanish man. But they are obsessed with their youth, and they give it the names of internationalism, Leninism, and truth. A case of acquired tastes when you are intelligent, want to do something but you don't have proper outlets, and you have money or are well-to-do. Not only through such characters but also by way of using narrations in different voices (and not those of the actors) does the film make its point across of ideologies speaking. It is most prominent when Montand argues with other resistance leaders about the inevitable failure of the coming strike. There are two to three voices, not Montand's, not the other leaders', which take up this discussion. It is as if men have become impersonal here, they have been taken control of something higher than themselves, they have become just 'voices' and 'ideologies' and that's their identification, their brand. They will die one day, even their ideologies will be forgotten, at least as attached to them. There would be just the murmur of those voices on the wind.


The film ends in inevitability. Thulin, the mistress whose devotion sometimes makes Montand uncomfortable yet at peace with himself, learns Montand is going to be sucked into a trap, and she starts out to let him know and save him from crossing into Spain. The film ends here, yet there's a shadow of death over it. Either Thulin will not be able to save Montand, or she will be able to save him and Montand will quit this life and spend the remaining part of it trying to make peace with himself and his country. Death, in one case of Montand the physical entity, in the other case of Montand the man of ideals, dreams, revolutionary potentials. That’s why Montand could feel the ‘shadow of death’ through the narrator in the penultimate scene.


To say a simple thing, yet beautifully, yet effectively, to show a story which hadn't had to use far stretches of imaginations, except the most inspiring ones of what happens between a young man and a young girl when they are in love with each other, and when it's first love for both of them, to do all this you not only require a director of the calibre of Ingmar Bergman, but you also require an actress like Maj-Britt Nilsson. She is so natural, so much the Marie, the playful, winsome ballerina she is playing in the film, you don't even realise that these are actors and this is a film. More crucially, Bergman has stuck true to the title (literally "Summer Games"), so the film is a long sequence of youthful love which you don't otherwise get at all in films.

Usually, there is at the most a scene like the montage scene in Eric Segal's Love Story, but why a montage? Why a brief moment, when your whole film is about love between two people? Are you lost of ideas, or do you feel shy and insecure that your film is a celebration of love? This is the place where Bergman excels, he has given full scope to his characters in the degree they require. So while there's that old woman all in black walking in front of Marie, no one knows whether foreshadowing Marie's lonely old life or just being a placard on old life in general, she just strikes a terror in the heart, she just forebodes what is to happen in the film afterwards. There is no attempt of variegating the example or extending the analogy. There is again, much later in the film, a much direct reference to what the viewer can expect soon, through the moustachioed aunt of Birger Malmsten (playing the hero, Henrik) talking about death and legacy. And finally there's the magician, who is more the mirror for Marie rather than the one they are both looking into. The magician incidentally reminded me of the philosopher of Godard's Vivre Sa Vie, almost doing the same role of letting realise the protagonist the punctum in her life.

The cinematography of the film is stunning. And even more so the choice of locale by Bergman. It looks fit for those two young lovers, wanting to be free birds, Marie and Henrik. They both look a part of that world and part of each other when they are on those sharp rocks jutting out on the sea, they both look lost in the world and to each other when they are seen in company, in that world where there is more piano, crockery, ballet, Uncle Erland. The film goes on to show how actors who fit into their parts are essential for a film, especially if it aspires to rise to the heights of "sublime", which Sommarlek (Summer Interlude) does easily.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Bleu (in English, Blue), from the Trois Couleurs trilogy of Krzysztof Kieślowski, is all about the pain of love. In many ways, the film reminded me of the Italian masterpiece Cinema Paradiso, but both films take completely different aspects of the same theme. While Cinema Paradiso is about the pain of unrequited love, unfulfilled love, Bleu is about the pain of love that is lost, love that seems never to wash us again, love that seems to have filled up our life with its suffocating scent for ever.

This film could never have been possible, at least for me, without Juliette Binoche. The acme she has reached in this film with her acting is something to be wondered about—I have rarely seen so beautiful "underdone" acting in my life. Add to that the beauty, the kind smile, and the scornful smile, the grace, the dignity, the pain on Juliette's face, and rest is completed by a brilliant director, who knows his craft, who knows his colours, and who knows his moments of silence. The whole film is like, Julie (character played by Binoche) is looking in your eyes, she does not want to ask anything, it's just that you don't have the answers.

Silence plays an important part in Bleu. The film has sparse dialogues, and the dialogues that are there are too crude, too simplistic (especially considering that it's a French film). It's the silence or the background blurry noises that dominate the film. Even when Julie splashes around the swimming pool, the water's sound is subdued, and yet the unwelcome noises, like that of children in red dresses coming in the bustle of a new life to the pool one such evening, those noises are heightened in contrast. It's a beautiful sound editing scheme which brings out everything in the film too well.

Blue, the color of memories

It's the blue glass chandelier, it's the blue candy. Things associated with Julie's memory, the memory which she wants to rub off in her desperation to get rid of her pain, are all blue. So, even the notes of the music her husband composed are blue. But the world which jars her, or which is in her present state of mind, is sepia, is too yellow, is too much not blue. In a beautiful scene, Julie is eating in the café, the scene is in sepia, then the music comes, similar to the music her husband had composed, and when she finally turns, we are introduced to the beggar, playing against a blue bespattered wall. Sepia and blue are in a fight with each other, liberty desired and being chained to old memories. But what is liberty?

Blue, the color of liberty

Does liberty mean to be free from memories? To get rid of memories, and then to start afresh? Yes, you will be liberated definitely, but would that liberty be worth living for? Do you envy the liberty that now Julie's mother, suffering from Alzheimer, has? It's a brilliant analogy drawn by Kieślowski, and there are so many hidden layers in each of his scenes, with so much stationarity, that allows you to think all this. Julie's mother is watching a man sky-diving, just hanging by a rope tied to his legs, and spiralling downwards in the vast air. Is it Julie's mother's condition? Aimless? Bien sûr. But does it reflect more of Julie? No support in her life now, no love in her life now, anything which she has or had she has already been rejecting. Just a slender string of memories to connect her to life, to God, to people, and which she wants to cut. Yes, she would be then completely free in the air, but to crash down? Would that be liberty?

It’s this struggle that the film concerns itself with. Julie still cannot leave it all. There’s a man being beaten up in the streets below, her interest is aroused, no matter how indifferent she tries to become. When she is locked outside in the night, she is afraid. She has to take help of the prostitute downstairs when she is afraid to go back to her home for fear of the rats, the infants, that the cat might have killed. Note the color scheme that plays up on Julie’s face when she is listening to the sounds of night when the man is being beaten up outside: blue light playing on her face, behind the frames are yellow (even though it’s a night scene).

Blue, the color of desire

Dialogues are very rare between Julie and her husband’s assistant, Olivier, who always loved her silently, and now continues to does so, again silently but shrewdly and very delicately. Julie asks “Vous m’aimez?” (and the response, “Vous êtes sûr?”) while inviting him for sex, as if trying to destroy her body from the memories. But, it’s never been “tu” between them, the formal “vous” exists, and yet they silently drop their encasings in front of each other. Each knows why the other is doing it: and each does it unquestioningly, without knowing if there will be any other time. Even much later in the film, when Olivier has succeeded to some extent in being closer to Julie, the dialogue is “Vous me manquez?”

Julie herself seems so desirable when she asks with such a definitive closed fashion anything. She is so sure of herself, although she is so much at struggle inside. Her questions don’t allow anything except a “Yes” or “No”, no, not even that. Her questions only allow what she wants as a response. It’s a shock that brings you closer to her, when you see her running after Olivier’s car, to know of her husband’s mistress that she knows of only now. When Julie is locked out and she rests on the staircase, the shot is from below, from her legs upward. It’s a scene which most directors would have missed or would have overdone similar instances in the film: a scene which highlight’s Julie’s desirablity, she’s only 33, her vulnerability, and by this contrast, her strength, her resolve to fight the grief, the pain. Yes, the solution that she has got now is to run away from the grief, but she is thinking, she is fighting, and she is allowing herself to see Olivier, to see and to compose the music her husband left unfinished, to see the young man with the cross.

Blue, the color of darkness

Julie gives back the cross, it’s a simple enough scene. But is there something more to it? Is Julie also trying to reject God out from her life? This cross probably changes the young man: we’re going to see the aimless young man who we saw in the opening scenes playing with a ball, pensive with that cross in the end credits. Crosses can be passed on, a life of beauty can be passed on, isn’t it? The prostitute touches the blue chandelier in one of the most touching scenes of the movie, when Julie imperceptibly becomes a tigress, she does not want anyone to touch her memories, her one memory that she has decided to linger over. The prostitute says she had one like this in her childhood. So, what’s sacred to someone and special to someone, might be just something that “someone had also.” The blue chandelier is maybe the blue of innocence for the prostitute, now lost in the blue of the world of sold desire she “willingly” inhabits. Is that chandelier too a cross which Julie is unwittingly passing on to the prostitute. Or can that never happen? There can be no innocence now, there can only be pain. When the sick beggar has gone for some days to a hospital, he has still left his flute. Music lives, soul lives, deeds live, rest might go. The same music is invented by her husband and by the beggar. How could they have the same ideas? A connection of beauty, imagination, life that exists among people? And hence is transmissible? The film here achieves a Dostoyevskyan beauty, very hard to achieve always.

What do rats signify for Julie? She cannot yet be rid of her fears, her old fears. Try as she might, she is still the old Julie. And there’s one rat, the others are newborns. Tender life, new life, while Julie is grappling with the pain of death. Life, which is so hopeful right now, which is unknowing of what is to come, which is happy in its squeals and movements. The fadeouts: Julie is lost, disconnected, from the present, and is gone back into the world she does not want to be in anymore. But every thing reminds her of it, every thing pursues her relentlessly to not to let her forget.

Blue, the color of love

When Julie finally says “Je viens,” the demons are slayed. Memories are kept alive, but life is not led subjugated to them. No. Memories only serve to make the life more beautiful. The adjunct of pain only makes it more variegated, and makes any present happiness more blissful. One of the most beautiful end credits I’ve ever seen, all the people connected directly or indirectly in the film are shown somehow connected to that one incident: the car crash.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane

One of the best "little" movies ever made, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane rakes up several complex issues in the mind of the viewer. How much independence does a child really have to live his or her own life? Especially if the child be "different" from others, if he or she has other tastes. Jodie Foster stars brilliantly as the thirteen-year-old girl Rynn Jacobs who dares to dream big and then dares to implement them, a bit ruthlessly. A girl who loves Emily Dickinson, a girl who can understand the intentions of a young, pervert man, a girl who does not bow down to the landlady in spite of all her threatening and her extraordinarily proprietary, insolent air and who responds in as insolent, as audacious a manner, and a girl who could understand why her father wanted to kill himself and why now she has to make the best of her life without compromising with anyone.

The film's strength is its cooped-up atmosphere of the scene being almost always centered at almost one place: the drawing room of Rynn's home. The location's the same whether it's the pervert son (played by Martin Sheen) of the landlady trying to force or blackmail Rynn, whether it's the Italian police officer who's again intruding Rynn's privacy, or whether it's something concealed, something only hinted at by circumstances. Your suspense builds up until Rynn tells the whole story to a young boy who she begins to trust and love, and it's only then that relief falls in place. I still don't know whether Rynn is true in her part of the story about her father, or is there something more? Is Frank Hallet, the pervert, just that, or does he represent something more? Maybe, there's a body yet to be found!

It's this Saki-esque tone of the story that leaves you so much on tenterhooks. Jodie Foster plays her part to perfection, cool, composed, and collected - you ever can't tell whether she's telling truth or not, even though you've got the benefit of being the third party, of being the viewer. The whole room, the house bristles with warnings, dangers, as if screaming that here another pervert lives, and there's no guarantee who's going to have the almond-tasting tea next! Martin Sheen brings a new dimension to the film, that of the pervert whom everyone knows as the pervert. So he has got to fight on his way in the town, somehow try to deny his tattered reputation, and yet always be on the lookout for damaging it anew, for again getting attracted to where the world would call him a pervert.

Based on Laird Koenig's novel of the same name, the film won two Saturns in 1977.

La Spagnola

An unconventional film, it's another one in a line of those films which somehow only succeed in showing a woman helpless, in showing her in need of a man always. La Spagnola is for me the Australian version of Merci, La Vie. It's interesting that while both films show men always lusting after women, as lechers, yet it's the women who probably show up in a poorer light than men themselves - the unresisting, whimperous, confused beings that women are shown to be. While I would like to say a lot about the portrayal of women in these films and in general in the media, this, a film review, is not a proper place to do so.

The film, simply put, is brilliant. In spite of my reservations with both this film and Merci, La Vie for what they are trying to show, it has indeed to be said that both are designed to provoke thought. Which in itself is a good thing - for when you think, it is not a given that you're going to think only what the film-maker intended, you might very well run in an opposite direction. Opening with the shot of an un-Australian looking, un-charming teenage girl covering up the screen and the flat Australian barren landscape behind, the film sets its tone in the opening moments itself. While the husband is leaving the wife and house, and the wife is bickering and not at all ready to give way, the daughter is calmly looking, "contemplating" to use the right word, at the scene. As if she's not involved in it. Or, as we get to know her better, she's too sure of the outcome, and her love for her father and her hate of her mother's bickering ways are too strong to involve herself further in this scene in which she knows each will play out her part for sure, the father of leaving responsiblities, the mother of bickering and making herself a whore, the daughter of contemplating, self-discovering, and finally learning a woman's part in life.

The film's extraordinary charm lies in the success of the director to make an ordinary, everyday story transform into an unearthly phenomenon. Nothing seems real in the film, even though nothing is operating in the realm of fantasy or allegory as was the case in Merci, La Vie. Here, except one or two dream sequences, everything is rooted in the barren, desert landscape, everything in the stillness that surrounds these beings of a different culture in this inhospitable oasis. The hints are barely dropped at: there's just a school scene in which migrant children are being beat into "Australian dignity." And yes, most neighbours who La Spagnola consorts with now seem integrated very much in Australia, it's only La Spagnola who looks very much Spanish. And yet it is she who counts herself as Australian and has no professed sentiments for Spain, for it's "Australia that's feeding us." Beyond this, the film proceeds more on the tension between mother and daughter: tension created due to men, due to middle-class ennui, due to strikingly different natures of mother and daughter. A harsh camera and lighting arrangement, or an excess as for example when the mother's lover tries to seduce the daughter, makes the film even more disturbing. Silent studies of the daughter's contemplative face, taking in it all, and equally silent, relaxed, reassured movements by the daughter herself (brilliant acting by Alice Ansara) - all lead to this silent boil, for which we don't know where to put a finger on. On this heat and desolation? On lack of cultured or charming men? On their being migrants? On middle-class life? Or simply on their being women?

The two really striking things are in themselves are so small and yet so impactful. One is that the mother is always La Spagnola for everyone ("the Spanish woman"). It's strange that although the dialogue proceeds in Spanish, although she has relatives, so obviously there are other Spanish around, it's she who gets referred to as "the Spanish woman," the director probably pointing out to her lack of integrability to Australian lifestyle. The other is the strange bilingualness (or rather, multilingualness, for there are other languages too) of the film. The mother asks the question in Spanish and the daughter answers it sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English. And a very heavy, lazy accented English. The film's bilingualness throughout works wonders, it does not let the viewer settle down in a zone, it keeps him on the edge. It is another of the several unpredictabilities associated with this film. The film in its climax again probably gives out the message that women must accept life as it is and thank life for as it is, for life even as such is something to be lived for. This might be a truth for many women. Yet, who dares to teach woman "acceptance"? It's here that I don't agree with both Merci, La Vie and La Spagnola, but yes I would recommend anyone to watch these films for sure. They will open a world of thoughts and a world of cinematic possibilities in front of you.

The film was the official entry from Australia for the Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film category. This was in itself strange, insofar as it's a predominantly Spanish language film.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Nuovo cinema paradiso

Many years back, when I had seen the film L’Armeé des Ombres, I had thought I would never see such a film again. But I was young, the mind was fickle, I had not seen the world and experienced first-hand the emotions, and I only remember the impression that I got, not the film, I only remember the smell of the paint, not the paint.
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, the film I watched only last week, was a different experience. That film taught me “love,” if it is something which can be taught and as far as it can be taught. The film was such a beautiful poetry, a logical whole for that feeling called “love.” Love for life, that it was, yes, toujours.

First there is the mother – waiting. Why is she waiting? And then we see a middle-aged, worldly-wise-looking man, whose face is never properly focussed upon, who but we still guess is only sleeping with a woman who isn’t much to him or he to her. And there’s a mother waiting...

We could never’ve guessed that what a heart-rending, beautiful story lies behind, what a soul behind that calm facade of that man, a man who is still waiting, who never left hope in spite of life. He never left Alfredo’s side – so persistent, so charming! He had to learn all his tricks, he had to immerse himself in all the wonder, in all the love that he felt, without caring for the world. The films mystified him, and he could never see them as the others saw them – they were not just “reels” and “business” to him. This is the whole essence of Nuovo Cinema Paradiso – hope. The soldier who waited in rain and snow and cold nights 99 times did not wait for the hundredth time – yes, you can say that he was not hopeful, who will be in such a hopeless case as love for a princess? Yet, he had the audacity to tell the princess. And he had the wherewithal to keep the hope alive, to always think that the princess waited for him. This is the essence of the film, the movies themselves.

Cinema is not just entertainment, meant for you to take your girlfriend just to spend time with her or your kids just to give you some relaxation and sense of realised power. No; it’s so much more. It’s the means of hope, the means of having illusions and nightmares, something through which we can really escape reality. It’s the virtual paradise – paradiso.
Yes, Toto was born with the vitality of hope and love, which is seldom there in people (even if originally present, it gets lost somewhere down the line). Toto would also have lost it, if not for Alfredo. It was the theatre projectionist Alfredo, who in the way he understood best, took hold, complete hold, of Toto’s (Salvatore, from now on, let’s call him) life. Stopping not short of anything, Alfredo even became the villain of the romance, just so as to inject a pain in Salvatore’s life which he could never forsake, and hence which would always prompt him for searching, for greater things, for finding love and meaning in life. Yes, Salvatore in that search became a great director, but he never was successful in his search, finally. He had loved too deeply, he had loved truly for once.

Salvatore would never leave his first loves throughout his life. All those scenes cut out by the parish priest and now bequeathed to him by Alfredo, those scenes he half-hidingly knew in his childhood, the scenes he enjoyed when the audience was shocked to find them cut – he loves them more than any of his own films probably, scenes in themselves worthless, mere snippets of kisses and nude bodies from various sources brought together, but laden with so much baggage of remembrances, with so much loving memory.

As is the usual case with French & Italian films, Nuovo Cinema Paradiso is a film lovingly, caressingly shot, to every frame of which the director seems to cling to up until the last moment, a film shot with so much detail. Witness the scene when Salvatore returns from his unfruitful watch outside Elena’s window; the gaiety elsewhere brings out his pain so sharply – bottles crashing out of the windows to dark streets where Salvatore is the lone, dejected walker.
The director’s cut is a 173 min version, and rightfully so. It brings out the film as it was meant to be: it gives ample scope to Toto the child and Salvatore the man. The man who always brimmed with energy and daredevilry, and still does so, the man who could charm an audience, a princess, and even a projectionist.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jules et Jim

Long after seeing it, I hazard to review it – it's not an easy film to review, to judge. Most of the times you tend to get absorbed in the film's story, flow with the emotions, and judge accordingly – but not so with Jules et Jim (in English, Jules and Jim). Another one of those French films which keep you at a distance, which is in fact quite surprising given the warmth with which Truffaut has shot it, a warmth I disapproved of when I first saw the film.

I prefer to call it the film of the butterfly. My definition of course regarding a "butterfly" is different from Elizabeth Taylor's Butterfly 8 – not the girl who flits from one man to another in vapidness, in search of giving meaning to her life, in search of a looking glass when finally she can look at herself and relax, no, not this definition. The butterfly is so independent, so wilful, so intelligent - all the flowers are but slaves to her, ready to give their pollen to her, ready to unravel their choicest of juices, only for her. She is the queen, how do you expect her to be "faithful"? The word "faithful" itself when applied to her misfits. A man who can be her equal, who she cannot be bored with, such wit, charm, intelligence, kindness, and understanding - probably both Jules and Jim have these combined together, but maybe no single man can have.

It's a beautiful story, that reminded me of Thomas Hardy's long story, "A Pair of Blue Eyes" (though Hardy has stretched the point a little too far, maybe in zeal of experimentation). It is also an interesting study of shades of personalities. On one side is the quiet, reserved, more intelligent, kind, and considerate Jules the writer (Oskar Werner), but who lacks the spark that usually attracts a woman, or upholds her interest – he is too much like a curled up cat in front of a good fire. On the other side is Jim (Henri Sierre), lanky and awkward in figure, but vivacious, having a way with women, flirtatious, but ready to play second fiddle when he realizes that Jules his friend loves the same woman he does – Jeanne Moreau performing brilliantly her role of Cathy. It is only when Cathy is not able to have her way with someone, she could pine for that person. So when Jim, after the ménage à trois arrangement arranged by Jules in hope of retaining Cathy also collapses, distances himself, Cathy is distraught, nevertheless carrying on other affairs. For her, each moment is to be lived, has to have something for her, some joy or sadness for her – she can’t take it when the child by Jim’s dead, Jim seems not to care for her or the dead child, and there’s no more “fun” anywhere, with Jules in her servility for life and no challenge there.

I don’t know why Truffaut had that girl in the film, at the start and then at the end, who used to flirt with everyone, and mimic a train engine all through. But what it did seem to me, she was another Cathy. She had her springiness and stupid mimicry of an engine with which men could be so easily enamoured, Cathy had her ready wit, her resourcefulness, and her illusions of invincibility – which finally lead her to the premature end of a gloriously lived life, a life always tried to be lived on her own terms. Both die – one marries an undertaker and her will is defeated, finally subdued, the other does so more physically rather than see herself with a broken will, with patchy, fragmented desires.

Yet, I was disappointed from the film, primarily Truffaut’s direction and how he has visualized the film. The one thing really good that he has done is that he has given full play to all three of his major actors, especially Jeanne Moreau; but there are several other things I am not so enthusiastic about. Granted French films or literature are witty by habit, but the wit part was overdone in the film. Let Moreau have had all the witty scenes, but if the commentator behind is also putting his spoke in the wheel, the story tries to become a farce. It’s such a lovely story, with so much feeling, then why introduce a farcicial element? Through wit when you ask sharp questions every now and then, when you reflect on something philosophically now and again, you begin to cease to impress the viewer, to impact the viewer, and finally you begin to freeze-frame the viewer. My other cause of concern was the extraordinary warmth in the film; yes, Jules, Jim, and Cathy are always good friends, in spite of the tensions between them, but yes, the tensions are there, isn’t that so? How could you have so much warmth in the atmosphere? The best illustration is probably when Cathy sings “Le Tourbillon de la vie” (“Life’s whirlpool of days,” a beautiful song) – everyone is so uncomfortable, even Cathy who is only singing like a cat purring, yet why is the lighting so comfortable? Why is everything so evenly lit, such a lack of shadows, why is everything like they are all gathered for a comfortable tea? Yes, they are, but each one’s mind has something on it – and when the actors, the good actors always, don’t show it too much by way of acting (otherwise it would be melodrama, a Hindi film), you’ve got to back it up imperceptibly by some other means in the viewer’s mind, you can’t let the viewer also be comfortable.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Paris, je t'aime

Unlike Dus Kahaaniyan, this film does not fall flat because the films are not good, but it does so since the title is probably inapt. One goes to expect the spirit of Paris, the beauty of Paris, the life of Paris reflected in the film, but it is a rare film or two that does satisfy you on that account, most somehow failing in that respect. I saw this film long, long ago, but it was only after watching the hapless Aesopian Dus Kahaaniyan I thought to write about Paris, je t'aime ("Paris, I Love You"), a much better anthology.

Some of the films in the movie are outstanding, the prominent ones being Tuileries, Loin du 16e, Place des Victoires, and Faubourg Saint-Denis. Tuileries is a film that I would put in the same category as Lemony Snicketts' A Series of Unfortunate Events (hope I got the name right!), a film not just giving you sharp humour, but also giving some real solid advice when in Paris. It's not a farce actually, the series of events that can unfold on you if you don't avoid eye-contact with strangers. The real interesting thing is the flatness that has been brought about in the camera angles, so it's a flat lonely metro station with one elderly tourist on a bench right at the center of the screen, making him look real lonely and disconsolate. Loin du 16e and Place des Victoires are probably the most touching films that one can expect in so short a time, especially the former. The film is only about a working mother, and shows her daily routine (see image), from one train to other, from her baby to her employer's. And in only this much, no effects, no histrionics, no music, just a lullaby, the film touches you. That's called a film, that's called a story. It's also a film that probably touches Paris, besides the opening film Montmartre. Place des Victoires is another film which tugs at your heart-strings, a film about a woman who lost her young son and is trying to come to terms with it. Juliette Binoche is at her best here. Faubourg Saint-Denis is a beautiful film about love - and with better twists in the tail than most twist-inserters do manage to. I say "twist-inserters," since I have recently seen the Hindi film Dus Kahaaniyan, where the sole purpose of writers and directors seemed to be giving a twist to the tale, be it something as absurd as a woman shielding a boy from a rioter by seducing him or a woman who finds that she had been wrongly blaming an opposite religion's man all along, with he being more of a sufferer (sounds good here, but when it's all about a rice plate, it seems very, very farcicial, not helped by some more farcicial, stereotype acting by protagonists Shabana and Naseeruddin). A blind man, a beautiful girl into drama and music loves him - how could he be not insecure? - that's the stuff, the simple emotional fabric, the rubric that great stories are made of, not some preachy rice plates or balloons.

Paris, je t'aime has three more excellent films, Tour Eiffel, Pigalle, and Place des fêtes. Tour Eiffel is about mime - much better than Raj Kapoor's hours-long ordeal Mera Naam Joker, it succeeds in giving the message that a mime artist's heart is in giving happiness to the world. The film has an interesting ending, which seemed to be inspired from the beginning scenes of Mina Tannenbaum (a film I reviewed here some time back). And importantly, it's a hopeful ending, though I was expecting the converse for such a film - something which pleased me, for it's very easy to drift into melancholic endings just to make seem a work of art greater than it is indeed. Only a courageous person or a person whose audience is mainly popcorn-munching - only those two kinds of persons hazard a happy ending. Pigalle is a very amusing film - a husband (Bob Hoskins) and a wife, both aged now, trying to sex up their married life, by the husband pretending to be aiming for a prostitute. It's the dark corners of the film which keep you interested - I mean literally, the dark camera corners. You have to see it to know what I mean. And then there is Place des fêtes, a film more like an American film than a European film. It's a film that presents you quite another perspective of love - love at first sight, and courage to abide by it, just by it.

In Gurinder Chadha's Quais de Seine, it's another love at first sight, crossing religious and tradition's boundaries, but we don't know whether the boy has the guts to abide by it or not - it's a charming story, but not worth being made into a film. Or even if you want to make a film like that, then I would have picked the Champs-Elyseés for that film instead of a quai, and a colder day, maybe from autumn, with a strong wind. These things matter - if you are not into such a loop, why are you a director? The other films do not do very well (in total, there are 18 films in the movie, total running time 2 hrs), but the two worst films, that lead you to even wonder why did you come to see the movie (for they come early in the movie), are the Sino-Australian film Porte de Choisy, a film I couldn't make head or tail of, and Quartier de la Madeleine, the usual vampire dose in an anthology.

Overall, a movie that has a couple of great films, some good films, and the rest average or not quite there. That's quite good from an anthology, n'est-ce pas?