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?