Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The man who gave one of the most honest and daring TV series that I've ever seen in my life, Reporter, Vinod Pande, gives a scathing indictment of the Catholic religion and completely rips off the tabernacles, the crosses hanging in ostentation, and the mumbled formulae, features of a religion that induces belief by fear and superstition as much as an affected belief that every man is your brother, or father.

Sins is easily one of the most erotic films I have ever seen across a spectrum of all the world cinema: the sex is not muted but wild, not painted in the rehearsed smooches of a Hollywood film but rather garish in one man's bestiality and one woman's greed, and not apologetic but telling us that it's indeed pleasure. Pleasure, however, for a Catholic priest to that extent that he ends at murder and is unrepentant, as long as he can take vows and kneel before Mother Mary and takes the rosary in his hands. The Catholic Church did everything to prevent its release in India, but failed to do so. It's easy to see why they never wanted it to be seen, though they could've easily ignored it: made in English, how many people were anyway expected to see this film? More than two-thirds would anyway be bench-warmers to gape at the nude scenes: but then doesn't a religion, especially ones which strike terror and lay down rules, run on such people?

Apparently the story of a priest who lusts after a young girl and then does everything to retain her in his power, one could think that the most one could derive is a mud slinging on the priests, not supposed to marry. But the film goes beyond that. After every sin, his salvation lies in confession, attending masses, praying: confess and do the sin. You already lightened the burden, placed it on Jesus through the medium of Church and pitied yourself: now you are free to earn more sins, the Son carried the crucifix for your sins and will do so. Finely woven are motifs where a parishioner explains why isn't she has been attending the church with regularity: fear and upbraiding leading man to the Church and thus supposedly to God. One of the best critiques of an organised institutionalised religion, the film also derives its power through the stunning acting performance of its lead actress Seema Rahmani.

At first feeling pleasure and willingly sharing each wrong of the priest (Shiney Ahuja), she slowly begins to be afraid of him: she has bedded a man who has repressed himself all his life and she is the vent now for his carnal instincts, for in fact everything that wasn't allowed to him while he blessed people with smiles and soft voice on his face, a man who holds power and has eyes and ears everywhere. Now the love metamorphoses into a physically abusive relationship, and from the first she was always a doll in his hands: but she realizes this now. Soon she would find kindness in another man, soon she would beg and hate the same man: and her every expression, even during the sex scenes in the film, lends power to the film. Set in southern Kerala, the green paradise of the world, the film however doesn't at all use any of the backdrops: what it strangely does is to try to mix up some Malayalam accent in the English which was not nice an experiment. Making it in English anyway meant an international audience, and it won't know the different accents within India, so there was no point at all marring the dialogues. Shiney of course, as seen many times, is great with facial expressions but leaves a lot to be desired with his dialogue delivery; what the film does have is a background music score that matches the film beautifully, and takes on the tempo as the sex climaxes, lulls again, picks it up again with another bout.

The film, let me warn you, is sickening! It is brilliant and the story and theme warranted it: and it succeeds. It does not lend a good aftertaste: the gruesome end doesn't help either. Shiney Ahuja's character also is one of the best studies I've seen of a psychotic killer who still believes that he loved her: better than any serial killer movies, Hitchcock movies, or films made upon elaborately pinpointed themes in that kind. It is indeed sad that India doesn't recognise its own good films, but runs behind something that the West praised or they think will praise. Of course one needs to have the sensibilities in the right place!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Musik i mörker

Quite evident as the work of an early Bergman, Musik i mörker (Music in Darkness) is more raw and hitting on some of the themes that Bergman grappled throughout his life, just because the argument's just begun, as opposed to the continuation in his later works. Most early Bergman films had Birger Malmsten as the hero, and he is here again typecast as the overtly sensitive young man plunged into blindness caused due to an accident, not mitigated by the fact that that accident happened due to his love for animals and nature.

While the film overall is touching, the cast disappoints me just a shade. While Malmsten was perfect in Summer Interlude, I still reserve doubts over him in this film in spite of his looking so naturally a sensitive, sacrificing young man: he would have been a better choice in Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika) as the jilted lover. Malmsten doesn't look a proud accomplished, upper-crust Bengt Vyldeke calling Ingrid (played by Mai Zetterling) a "little wench" and nor later a very decided man. Though this also lends a shade of tragedy to the film which does not end on a too happy note: the lovers have married against society's odds and fighting their insecurities, but the future is still too uncertain and the viewer doesn't know who will break first, or will they last for ever. Zetterling herself in the role of Ingrid is wonderfully assured, and has a face of angels, and is dreamy which is difficult to bring out in a film: yet it is maybe the director who uses her as Hollywood used to use its heroines, just angels to save men or vamps to jilt them, with the god in creation being the hero even in a love story! One of the most Hollywood-esque scenes is when Bengt plays the music upstairs and Ingrid gets thrilled by it, and the camera just focuses on her getting thrilled for quite a long time and quite a strong unneeded light on Ingrid's face.

Another disappointment turns out to be the loose screenplay: the incidents of the hotel where Malmsten worked, the railway station where he almost gets crushed, the thief and subsequent confrontation with the hotel proprietor are all meant to show Malmsten's decline through society as well as in his own character, yet each of them is an end left untied, leaving an imperfectly wrought film. It is as if Bergman is just putting one by one all the arguments in a list that he means to, and not elaborating on them, not even indicating why to have here such an argument. Aunt Beatrice's conversation on suicide is a pertinent example: it has no precedent or follow-up in the film, despite considering the atheist views as well as suicidal tendencies of the hero.

As a story and as a visual, the film works. As much accomplished as Bengt was and is, he still doesn't have the love that Ingrid overflows with, and a faith in humanity and God, and it is almost as Raskolnikov and Sonya that they start now their married life: all might go awry, yes, but a tincture of hope is there that Bengt might finally be able to love people and thus himself. It is only then that he can truly love his most prized possession and treasure: Ingrid.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tunes of Glory

An interesting study of not only two men on the extremes of temperaments--one a whiskey-drinking, self-pitying, darling of men, chummy, able officer (Sinclair) who leads them through the war in an acting capacity but successfully, the other (Barrow) who was born into the regiment and sees its successful command as the salvation of his life, who tries to make men his own models, a strict disciplinarian, living by the rule-book--but also how a great film is usually made not through directorial tricks, but the best actors you can gather and a good enough screenplay, is Tunes of Glory. Editing unnecessarily and having montages of flows in an obvious aim to obfuscate the viewer and make his spidery brain tick has become the norm of the game today: it's high time we return to a game in which high tricks win the game and not bluffing.

The greatness of Alec Guinness lies in that he was approached for the role of Barrow, since he was most naturally suited to the role through his own persona, plus Barrow was yet another variation on the Col. Nicholson played so adeptly by him in the David Lean masterpiece The Bridge on the River Kwai. Guinness refused it and instead offered for Sinclair: on the simple grounds that he is an actor only if he can step out of his own skin and play someone else, since an actor "pretends." His word, as of any man good in his craft, was enough weight, and thankfully the director Ronald Neame took him on board as Sinclair and then cast John Mills as Barrow, another casting coup of sorts since Mills never used to play an aristocratic crusty gent. As Neame himself said, the beauty of Mills' performance was that if any other actor had played Barrow, it would've been easily overshadowed by Sinclair; but now the film has two counter-magnates, each of whom the viewer sympathises with in turns and still not commit wholeheartedly to either. Guinness of course was simply amazing: to change himself so completely, his whole personality, even how he walked and sat and everything about him, would have been nerve wracking, and it would have been impossible for him to go back to the real Guinness till some time after the film was shot.

The supporting cast is excellent, with Duncan Macrae as the pipe major and Susannah York as Sinclair's pretty daughter Morag especially good in their limited screen times. One of the most interesting things is of course the screenplay in itself; the balance between the two characters is finely etched out, the short effective punches of Mills alternating with the long rants of Guinness and in between the rest of the regiment, like hung on a thread between the two and not knowing what to do. Dennis Price (playing Battalion Executive Officer Charlie Scott) tries to sway the thread and disturbs the equilibrium, hastening the inevitable tragedy at the climax. It is unfortunate indeed that the tunes of glory are so often rung out when the moment is already past: and man only knows to see truly in retrospect.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Berni's Doll

I saw Yann Jouette's short 3-D animation film Berni's Doll months and months back, and it still haunts me: putting aside the amazement that how could one man (i.e., Yann, the maker of that film) could achieve so much almost single-handedly, what even stunned me more was the dark story and how effectively the dark story is translated onto the screen without being pessimistic: it's just highly bitter!

On a cursory look, the film is a highly believable fiction about times to come when humans will also be assemblable, but with a shocking aftertaste of even assemblable humans acquiring a soul and will of their own (which really differentiates Yann's film from those of others strutting out on the same theme); and when I asked Yann about where did he get the whole idea of the film from, he only humbly replied that he got inspired from today's world where people are more and more being used like tools. But this was a typical really humble answer and Idontseewhatsallthisfussabout answer from a typically great artist; the film itself operates on several levels, including several subtexts--all pointing one pointed forefinger to the increasing alienation of humans not only from other humans, but themselves.

On the face of it, the film shows a disillusioned man (Berni) who has no life but work at the assembly line the whole day and come back home and watch TV. And then to construct the woman of his dreams by ordering spare parts. Why he orders unmatching spare parts is another mystery: somewhere a Caucasian, somewhere a Negroid, is this simply the exotic imagination of Berni, or a deliberate intention of Berni to make something which as a whole no one will like and hence who he will be always secure of, or simply a snidish political comment, is difficult to determine: either interpretation (and you don't have to take only one!) it fascinates. And now, after having constructed the whole, he wants to fuck her in peace: but a victim of mechanization elsewhere, could he play with one toy over whom he thought he had power?

The film has won numerous awards, including a special mention at Annecy. Yann did all the visuals: characters, backgrounds, lights, rendering, and composition, besides being the man responsible of course for the story itself and direction; he worked with 2 animators and 2 musicians, and took 21/2 years for making the film. The slick grey textures, the drabbled rainedout set, and that movement of the spare parts woman slowly becoming a real woman--staccato of a decapitated torso and yet the sway of the woman--everything is perfection itself, and it's a pity that in a world dominated by Pixarish movies, animation has lost the plot, especially 3-D that has so, so much potential.

The film website is here: