Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My dinner with Andre

You must come yourself, you must not believe in fairy-tales,
the girl waits on, she is sleeping there, amidst roses.

(a translation excerpt from an old Czech song)

Shawn, who is having dinner with Andre, will rather have the GPS to do the finding of the girl, even if his reason-dominated self will admit, reluctantly, that the princess is sleeping somewhere in a bed of roses: he prefers the security of a nice book in hand, of a cup of cold coffee in which no cockroach has found his way, and of the order that science brings to his life, so he can know things he ought to believe in and things he ought not to. He is simple and he wants simplicity: even if it means being dead, being smug, being shut off to the possibility of visions, dreams and madness. He wants to pay bills and keep shuttling in metrolines so that he can have that simple sensual pleasure of a cup of coffee in early morning. Life is already abrasive, in that you have to wait for that cold cup of coffee and that inspirational morning, and then it's not always that a roach hasn't found his way in it: but that occasional, even rare, appearance of such a perfect morning is the electric blanket that keeps him happy, hardworking, struggling.

Andre is open to the romance, the adventure of life, or so he thinks; a bit too much happy with himself, one suspects. He wants to live every single moment, he wants to feel a lifelong thrill: and so he experiments with bizarre-sounding theatre techniques and New Age communities. He does see the electric blanket as that another instance of a technological product that has alienated man from reality; just like I find the same thing happening with numerous people who travel with earphones stuck in their ears, or even reading books and magazines on train journeys. I often wonder without these books and their mobile phones playing music into their ears, what would they be doing? Half of them, sleeping, which many are still, but the rest? But Andre is the active fellow: he wants to somehow live every moment thrillingly, with huge emotions, not realizing that in that case it is the experience of emotions that is being deadened - and that's why he already is numbed. Just like people are deadened to the sun and the wind and the trees and a true love, for it is there, forever. They scorn, 'don't you ever change? how can you love me forever? don't you see I have changed, so how can you now love me?'

Shawn thinks that for all his talk of alienation from reality, it is Andre who is going far from reality: isn't his coffee cup reality? Aren't those streets and shops with which hundreds of recollections are associated in his mind, aren't those his reality? For Andre, it's Shawn who's living in a mechanical, far-from-real world: he's going about in suburban trains without really thinking, he's chewing food without feeling the pleasure of every morsel. Somewhere in between, the coffee is merely being sipped, drunk: only when he is beginning that cup and when finishing it, for it is finishing, then he feels what all the coffee means to him. But, in between, he has slipped into the mechanical act of drinking. And, as per Andre, anything mechanical is dead. He wants to break the monotony of everything, including existing: hence, he would go and eat sand in the deserts of Sahara.

Almost a 2-hour-long conversation between two people unable to come to grips with modern Western society's alienation, increasingly becoming the norm throughout the world, as democracy, technology, and individualism take over (I place them in the order in which I think one has led to the other), the film doesn't delve into high-flying philosophical terms: it's not a Godard film, thankfully, but a Louis Malle film. There is no action, except the conversation happening between the two of them at a posh restaurant table: one does wonder what object does the conversation have. Andre is bent on praising himself, and he does not seem to be too receptive to Shawn's loud-pitched objections. The waiter is bent on doing his job with 'dignity', and he does a great job as the intermittent third actor in the film.

A stunning film, My dinner with Andre has often bore the criticism that no use of the cinematic medium is being made as nothing is happening except two people talking to each other and that anyone could just place a camera and direct this film: my answer is simply that, well, no one did, till Malle came along. Like Columbus' egg or Holmes' deductions, some of the simplest things are also some of the most ingenious and brilliant, often.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Life of Pi

When a film claims itself to be "spiritual," I often subconsciously compare it with Dreyer's works, in particular Ordet. Belief in God is not some wild frenzy, whereas in Life of Pi it seems to be always the case with all stages of Pi Patel, except maybe that of a mellowed Irrfan Khan (and not to be able to place the pulse on this mellowing in the film's story is an irritant). Is it indeed a spiritual film, or simply a showcase of what all can be done with computers?

If only this can be done with computers, then I am very disappointed: because even on the level of visual imagery, I much prefer animation shorts like Hedgehog in the Fog or Father and Daughter, rather than this sequence of ocean storms that fail to touch and move. Probably, for those who can't get enough of India, since outside of documentaries focussing on poverty there is not much material, not as much as India deserves, it's still satisfying to get some of Pondicherry and Munnar: but, as an Indian viewer, I have seen India in a much more satisfying way in many other films. Nishabd's is a story rooted in Munnar's tea gardens: an organic part of the whole. Frozen creates poetry from humans and the snowy, Himalayan space surrounding them. Kisna sparkles with the freshness of Gangetic rivers and valleys. In contrast, Life of Pi is such an utter disappointment: it fails to catch not only the Indian atmosphere, but also the Indian landscapes. And fails miserably. In spite of fine actors all over (except Rafe Spall playing the writer).

The film's greatest gift is the discovery of a brilliant actor, Suraj Sharma, playing the lead role. It remains to be seen whether he can go on now to build a fine acting career, but in this film at least he has given a stunningly good performance. Irrfan Khan usually overacts these days, but surprisingly in this film he has not, and also looks good, as does Tabu. Depardieu is brilliant in such a short role, though I was quite bitter to find him for such a short time. Both boys playing Pi have also done a great job - a more difficult task, considering that good child actors are always in paucity. And, yet, it's a pity, that given such wealth, the film has gone nowhere: most importantly, in its argument, if it is trying to make one.

God isn't to be proved or disproved, pertinently not through miracles: especially when those miracles are created on a computer. The effect is like watching all those Santa Claus films with a Western teen audience, wherein the teens are enjoying the film as some 'fun', even if they poke fun at the Santa legend. The most crucial difference between Life of Pi and Ordet is that whereas in the latter it is the believer who is pushed out of society, a mad man, in the former it is the man standing for reason (Pi's father, well played by Adil Hussain) that is cornered: when this is done, inevitably Belief stands in the dock. And how can Truth ever defend itself? For defence itself means coming inside the ambit of Reason, means accepting the duality of white and black, true and false, whereas Truth lies not somewhere there.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Palwolui Christmas

What, finally, do we leave behind? More importantly, what do we think we are going to leave behind: is it permanence established and enshrined through concrete, famous acts; or is it a seed floating in the air, in memories of someone who cherished you, who loved you, who could not live without you, but now is living, surviving you, maybe has forgotten you mostly, and yet through whose unconscious shapings of destinies, a merest flutter keeps living - as if one were the wind, with no name and yet everywhere? It is with this timeless pondering of men that Palwolui Christmas (int'l title: Christmas in August), a beautiful film from S. Korea, and Asia, deals with: but not philosophically, nor discursively; but poetically, through a beautiful romance that even if will not be fulfilled will never be called doomed, that even if never uttered will long survive all the vociferous pulsations of men and women - like a river that will flow on, as the seasons change, wilt and bloom.

Photographers, equally those that take passport-size photos as those that capture lands and people, have long held my imagination: often, I have thought of this tribe, who are so sensitive and so much at peace, yet. Han Suk-kyu as Jung-won, a small photographer, plays the role to a poignant perfection: he has long ago accepted the inevitable but he has held on to his character, his patience and his goodness through it all; and through it all, he understands and cares for the people who come to his shop or whom he meets, even if the contact would be a moment's. Every moment can carry great significance; the old woman has a long family to remember her, but Jung-won's desire to have his memorial portrait taken is not absurd even if he has no one he's leaving behind: he will be rather immortalised through the portrait of the girl, who loved him over all the other smart, macho and more ready men, for whatever he is. The girl whom he could carry with him to his sleep: a love that was beautiful for being only felt, in little intimacies, in stolen instants, under umbrellas in rain.

He leaves, and yet she is stronger; he is not, and yet she will always know he is.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Zabriskie Point

Even if not for Antonioni himself, Zabriskie Point would be a shame to miss for Daria Halprin’s voluptuous beauty: which, surprisingly, seems to have been a neglected feature given how the film is universally panned. Her male counterpart, Mark Frechette, also doesn’t do a bad job: and slips in his role with perfect ease, particularly since Frechette’s own life paralleled the role he’s playing in the film. It’s an irony of sorts though that director Antonioni has apparent sympathies placed in no camp: rather, from consumerism to the hippie movement and the counter-culture that swept through America in the ‘60s, he views all of that as nothing more – and nothing less – than a product of ennui, that has usurped human lives once belief disintegrated or decayed.

Zabriskie Point is a continuation of the exploration of the modern condition by the master director: and he does so brilliantly well, using the locales of Mojave desert in a stunning manner (Antonioni would once again situate human barrenness in desolate landscapes in The Passenger, to be written about later). In the tight canvas of the film, there is no hope anywhere: except in inviting death. Antonioni’s films have always been analyses of the decadence of the Western society, but here for the first time he is crisper, more concrete: a specific society, a specific time and a specific location. The desert orgy scene is brilliantly conceived, though I could have wished for more extras: how the anti-establishment wave would soon transform into free sex, free love and little more. Antonioni gives no clue in the film itself whether he views it as degeneration or celebration, which makes the film reach a greater height. It is as if a dispassionate analysis, an observation of all that is happening: the viewer who can think is free to draw his or her own conclusions.

The film raises fearful questions, just as Dostoyevsky did with The Devils. Today’s Western, in particular American, society has many of these hippies in the role of the older adults; today’s West has consumerism and counter-establishment as its God and Devil, whichever side one may choose – as its genesis. To where does one go from here? Technology has enabled man to forget his moral chasm: till when can this be supported? Till what time will a myriad of games, from philosophies to gadgets, keep diverting man away from his basic inability to love and to believe? Until when can man make himself forget that he’s now contented to be a coward?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Luce dei miei occhi

Great actors putting in beautiful performances; some suitable, unobtrusive music; beautiful cinematography ... and yet, the ultimate strength of Luce dei miei occhi (int’l title: Light of My Eyes) is its fleshing out of every major character: Antonio, Maria and Lisa. I have seen even the best of films getting away with loose character development: that seems to be the job of books; but here is a film that slowly but surely comes home, that is not concerned with anything flashy but the eyes of Antonio, full of questions and reprising the role of “il viaggiatore” (the traveller). And yet the film leaves also a thousand questions in the air: through shots of people’s faces, crumbs of their conversations, flakes of people’s lives here and there, all as much real as the dreams in which Antonio moves: those stories are still to be made or getting somewhere made. That this world of immense possibilities exists, where travellers come, care for and leave, is established right at the beginning: when Antonio becomes a part and parcel of a family’s daily life. That even if a prime number, he can learn the ways of those on this planet is established, when he gets away blackmailing a man whose job this was so far to do (Donati as a lower-key version of Zhivago’s Komarovsky, and played by Silvio Orlando with as much guts as was done by Steiger).

The film once again belongs to Luigi Lo Cascio as well; seldom is that gentleness seen on an actor’s face repeatedly, in film after film (I have in fact never seen that before on the face of any male cinema actor after recognition). Because of Lo Cascio and the film’s more than outlined characters, the film is not merely some domestic or sentimental drama, some obsession with stories of here and now, as is common in a lot of Hollywood as well as certain sections of European cinema, too: rather, the film rises above them, partly on account of the science fiction analogy too running throughout the film, and raises several questions about our existence, our reactions, our emotions and sentiments, and how much it means for us to be blindly in love, to blindly believe, to want to do that. The loser is not the one indulging in unrequited love: love is its own reward. The loser is the one who could not accept to be loved, even if this everything be seen in victor and loser terms. Though, there is never any victor, never any loser, except in the eyes of a world which measures every action in terms of “getting her to bed”; everyone is grappling with own dreams and fears, with own insecurities and reasonings. Can you go beyond yours to understand those of others?

Sunday, September 30, 2012


With beautiful acting performances, a straightforwardly told tale of the ages-old story of fathers and sons is given an even greater depth through elements of man's struggle with and often victory over nature, left-unexplained mystery, and the inscrutable workings of fate which can even transform a person into something else. Vozvrashcheniye (int'l title: The Return) is an organic film: the story is all humanity's and yet every turn of event and every alternation between excitement over the fish caught and loathing of the man who seems coarsened to the end, and running through it all a deep-seated admiration for the man's manly jobs and strength and resourcefulness, seem to have been born of the scenery surrounding them, the rains which come and go, the weed-overgrown dunes which seem to have never budged an inch, and the mud, clay, and grime that cakes everything that can rust, as everything can. The film's greatest strength is its remarkable ability to show differences of characters between all its notable characters, most importantly the two brothers, Andrei and Ivan.

It is a tough enough job to delineate two characters who don't dramatically differ from each other yet are different in temperaments, and yet again have a deep love for each other, to draw such characters through dialogues and screenplay. But it's a rarer thing to find two such actors who can completely be in their roles and hardly look anything else than them, whose eyes can speak more than their mouths do. Initially, one would think Ivan Dobronravov's character, playing his namesake, to be the central character of the film, not least because it is common to find films showing the growing up of some young boy. But this is no Hollywood film to stick by the same trick. Slowly, while Ivan never loses his primacy, Vladimir Garin, playing Andrei, comes into being, slowly his character gains more and more sympathy from the viewer, not just as the elder brother or as a necessary cog in the film's plot, but slowly it dawns on the reader that the film is about the two brothers, both of them. Of how where that one who can see things more penetratingly or can reason more can be more obstinate, but won't lose or gain more in understanding of life than that one who is hero-worshipping but only so for receptivity, who can love and forgive but who can also think, even if hiding that behind no ideas to stick to. The contrast and the love between Ivan and Andrei is fascinating, which is only the more and better exposed by their different reactions to their father and what they think they can learn from him.

The film shines in its honesty to its narrative. There are no voice-overs, there is no one recalling the incidents of those 7 days, except the diary and photos if you choose to view them so. There are no attempts to alleviate what all shall always remain mystery: where was the man for those 12 years, why has he come back, what was hidden in the pit, and does he have a dark past or even present that he has been fleeing from and that has made him the man he is, unable to warm up to his own blood? For in the photos before he left, he seems a usual family man: what must have happened that he left? In the frame of such questions that remain open, two boys struggle to find meanings of manliness and how important it is to be a man: in a society where plunging from as high as possible into water is done to show that you are not a chicken, these questions not only are for the boys, but even for the man, who keeps reminding the boys how little the men they are that he is. Victims all, there is still hope in the silently suffering mother, for she still runs to her child when he is standing up there grappling with the question, to jump or not.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Barfi! treads where few films do: into the realm of irreverence, recalling the days of Buster Keaton and the hidden little heartwarming scenes of Jacques Tati: however, the wonder of Barfi! is that it also combines with all this the cheerful boisterousness of India with its attendant chaos and liberty. Genre-slotters will be hard-pressed to call this film a comedy, a musical or a romance, and even further stressed to note that the film excels in every one of these areas.

The film’s strength is its ability to keep the viewers laughing endlessly through to the end: and its greatness goes even beyond this, for it does not try to whip up any sentimental air of fighting against all odds, as is common with every film featuring a deaf-mute or blind person as its central protagonist (cf. Bhansali’s terribly degrading Black): rather, it even pokes fun in the traditional way (munna mute hi aansu bahaye: “the baby sheds tears in mute mode...” being one of the lines of a song that can come only from India) and thus lifts the character out of the zone of charity and snivelling – rather it is Ranbir as Barfi who is poking fun at you at every step of the film. The film does falter at the very end, doing a Kisna-like act, wherein variegated characters are waiting outside the sick room, and then we are shown unneeded scenes from the old couple’s life: why not leave to the viewer to imagine how did Barfi and Jhilmil live together? These are not the only faults of the film, a very curious editing of the narrative being another: but all is forgiven for the sheer joy of living that the film manages to inspire, evoke and feel. The film does copy several scenes from many Keaton and Chaplin films, but adds many new ones to the repertoire: so all in all it doesn’t grate much, and Ranbir anyway gives it all a new zest.

I hope Anurag Basu keeps on making films in his beautifully fluid style: every one of his films that he has written as well besides directing has been at least worth watching, with Gangster and Barfi! being the standout exceptions of Hindi cinema. With Kites, even though the film was good, I felt a danger of him succumbing to big stars, big money, as happened with Bhansali; but here he avoids that: now all he needs to be alert to is not to go for over-stylization and glamour, as Barfi! relies heavily on it, but in a Tati-like film wherein stunts and slapstick play a huge role that is a strength rather than weakness.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sans toit ni loi

If you have seen Sandrine Bonnaire only in Secret Défense or Au coeur du mensonge, then you haven’t seen anything yet: the much younger Sandrine gives a lesson in virtuous acting in Agnès Varda’s powerful observation of that meaningless rootlessness that is often confused with freedom, Sans toit ni loi (literally: ‘without a roof or rule’; int’l title: Vagabond), often a direct result of sans foi ni loi (without faith or law). The film is not at all about Bonnaire’s remarkable combination of vulnerability, lack of discipline and idleness masked as rebellion; rather, it is a sweeping canvas of French countryside and French life, including the immigrants, men and their objectified desires, and the banality of lives framed in this frame: lives ranging from that of some big-shot professor to that of an immigrant who prunes the vines and is too abject to even keep the girl he wants. The film is remarkably similar to Gogol’s novel Dead Souls, not just because of the variety of human characters thrown up in a chilling moral landscape, but also because that the main character here, Mona, is not very heart-warming yet does not excite apathy, just like the rascal Chichikov.

The film in its structure and rhythm is very much a Varda film: segments of film intercutting; characters talking to the spectators; humor and poignancy so frequently butting into each other, that there is hardly space to laugh or cry; and a female character being the central character. Mona Bergeron is indeed living the wandering life of a shepherd (bergère), but without a flock to take care of: and that makes all the difference. Without discipline or responsibility, freedom is a myth: as the shepherd predicts, it ultimately leads to self-destruction, not simply physically but also morally. However, it is not easy to turn away or back from the route one has taken, for discipline requires an elevation of spirit, not just of intelligence: and how many are willing to embark on that sacrifice? Too easy it is to scorn the world, to say I’m my own (wo)man, and pretend (even to oneself) liberty: too easy it is to give a wild, brilliant spurt here and there but not channel forth into a great river.

There are some excellent supporting performances all throughout the film, most notably by Yahiaoui Assouna and a young Yolande Moreau. Dialogues are a key to any French film, even if they are few in number, so if you understand French, it would surely make you appreciate the film much more. The lasting impression that the film leaves is that of the transitoriness of human life: the words that came at the beginning still resound in you, when the narrator wonders if those people who were in contact with a younger Mona still remembered her.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


One of the finest films I have ever seen, Paruthiveeran holds you spellbound by something that even the best of cinema lacks in general: how genuine it is. Interestingly, no film from the realist genre has seemed genuine to me, and yet here's a film simmering with violence, loud music and chunks of melodrama coming across as so real, so Indian, so Tamil - and so much a human story.

Even though every actor has acted remarkably well in the film and fits his or her part, the film would have been nothing had director Sultan not found the perfect locale to fit his story. Tamil films are often shot in paddy fields or in bustling metros with their squalid settlements, if not in some foreign location with gigantic steel and glass makedos signifying 'style'; a far remove from all that, the film is set in the almost-barren locales around Madurai, with perfect plains surrounding every human movement, easily discernable but also easily apt to be missed, for one can be dazed by so much heat, so much monotony and so much intensity to live.

Music also plays a key role in the film: the very opening sequence of the film sets the tone, with a marvellous introduction to that unique land that is Tamil Nadu. Set to pulsating beats and typically dirty lyrics, for which Indians have been fond of since time immemorial, a Hindu festival and an inevitably accompanying celebration and market introduce the viewer to a mind-boggling variety of senses: of all the five kinds. One won't even know when did the element of romance got introduced in the film, so integrally is it woven into the story, until how did it all start happens: in sepia and black-and-white. Priyamani's acting is faultless: her arrogance and yet her obsession for Paruthiveeran, her streak for indiscipline and yet her patience to everything that she suffers not only at the hands of the society but Veeran, are beautifully and expertly combined all together in one character.

Paruthiveeran is a story from India: with its heart. People who cannot appreciate stories and human lives as they are but rather must call themselves feminists and liberals would probably want to give a miss to it: for their reactions to a finely crafted story and film would range from shock and scorn to pity and sympathy, or, worse, to analysis. But those who can see the same human foibles and the same human greatness in every man and woman, who have learnt to recognise the universality of love, will be charmed by this comprehensive film, so true even in its melodrama, so gritty in its ability to see life in its eye.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Before the Rain (1994)

This beautiful tale in three parts has only one major weakness: the most beautifully shot and told part comes at the very beginning, and the viewer is left struggling to reexperience the classic tale of thwarted love in the remaining, as the story slowly evolves into a political statement, even if made so poetically, so indirectly.

Also known as Pred dozhdot (in Macedonian), the film's strength lies in its visuals and its rich, stunning music: so even if the film falters on scores of an irrelevant second part and a longer-than-needed third part, all is forgiven, since one is still mesmerised by what happened in the first part: magic between and by a Macedonian novice and an Albanian untamed girl, played memorably by the French actor Grégoire Colin and the Macedonian Labina Mitevska - any praise for the two would be less. The film reminded me of several classic Uzbek love stories, stuff on which I grew up and which probably influenced me into becoming greatly into what I am: however, director Manchevski's intentions are beyond a love that bloomed for a day. His intentions are that "the circle is not round": that instead of a man's past catching up with him, it catches up with others, and thus misery extends "like a virus". One man's misdeeds may lead to an unforeseen chain reaction: which is what the film's story is in a nutshell, though here the perpetrator is faceless, rather it is the stupid humanity which can poke out "twenty-eight thousand eyes", quite a spectacle, isn't it?

Manchevski employs certain tricks very close to Kieślowski: I don't think they necessarily work here. The structure of the film itself is not simply "non-linear": it is neither circular. It is rather, what I would say, jagged: and parts of it don't make any sense to me. How does Anne have the photos of Zamira's killing, unless that is the most latest chronological piece: and if it is, what purpose does it serve, even if I ignore that it is sandwiched in between older chronological segments in order to only confuse the viewer? Kieślowski used to employ jagged storylines often, but much more cleverly. There are also the recurring motifs like the cat and the same music on radio that Trajce and a stranger hear, and of course there is the strong emphasis on cinematography of Kieślowski. What Manchevski is not able to do with those motifs that he is unable to create intuitive links between their occurrences: for Kieślowski, there were unseen connections across time and space between events, between people and between periods, hence the recurrence, but here the same seems to be belaboured and simply a trick.

Regardless, it was the first-ever feature of Manchevski, and a very ambitious one at that, so it's understandable: the greater the experience, the greater the refinement will come. In the end, what he's done is that he's given us not just a sublime film but sublime poetry, illuminated at the very start by words of foreboding, of Meša Selimović.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

À tout de suite (2004)

The much-underrated film À tout de suite (int’l title: Right Now) came as a major surprise to me: luminous and intense throughout, the film is a completely different take on the often-shot theme of bank robbery in French cinema. The film is rather all about the young girl who’s fallen hopelessly, and for ever, in life-changing love with a sensitive bank robber. It’s completely her story, that of her life, her emotions, her releases, her attempts to keep living: and the robbery and even her love are in the backdrop or serve only as props to that. Needless to say, the actor playing such a role needs to be superb and come across as vulnerable, exposable - beautiful Isild Le Besco as Lili gives one of the finest performances of French cinema.

I saw the original version in which Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” is used: I’ve heard that there is another version with some other music. “Shine on You” punctuates the film brilliantly (it’s another matter that the same music serving to bolster the story’s pathos kept me reminded throughout of Buongiorno, Notte). The decision to shoot the film in black & white serves also well the film: Le Besco seems more beautiful than she may have looked otherwise, the nude scenes seem artistic and voluptuous instead of crude as often the case is otherwise, and the film gets the grainy look of a life lived among raw emotions, not some color canvas expertly prepared for delicious consumption.

The best praise that I can think of the film is that it can give Carax’s Boy Meets Girl a stiff competition and worthy company.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Les arpenteurs

Les Arpenteurs is one of those rare tongue-in-cheek films that do more for cinema than all of Salvador Dali's so-called surrealist works: it's a dark comedy without being dark and a feminist lookout without being committal to feminism, but above all the film is a surreal study in art of conversations, relations and human desires. The thing worth noting here is that it is not the morsels of conversations that are surreal, nor does the film belong to a Dali-esque movement that is supposed to juxtapose together odds and ends in a self-mocking attempt to create, an eyeball of one creature with the ear of another: no, it is the study, of human society, that is surreal here, where topics of conversation or musings range from a hat's make to in which or in whose bed did you make love and where was it.

The film of course works much more if you know French, for no amount of subtitling can help absorb in their immediacy the fine nuances of double entendres and reinforcing by way of rhyming, for which French is a gifted language. The title "Les Arpenteurs" itself does not simply mean the surveyors, but also those who stride with long paces a space: here the space of a field to be surveyed as much as human hearts and homes, crushing what lies beneath their feet regardless of the texture of the trampled upon. Which is why it's a stupid folly to sell the film in English as The Surveyors - better not to translate the title in such a case. (Not to mention that the "The" is completely off here: only "Surveyors" is the sense!)

On the face of it, the film is strongly feminist, with two female protagonists, Alice and Ann, though the chief protagonist is a man, Léon (played expertly by Jean-Luc Bideau). The roles are projected to be stereotyped, but there is always a certain lingering self-derision at these stereotypical characters all through the film, as if the director Soutter is washing his hands off any kind of interpretation yet only amusing himself in your attempts to interpret and reinterpret. In a way, the film repeats the "liberty to women" kind of message, where liberty is held to mean that if men have been fucking around, why can't women do the same and break men's heartless hearts, men being nothing but driven by lust? Where women are "free" to express themselves through their bodies and not just submit to the old argument that man's bodies they must explore, but even each other's they "should/must?" (preach, preach, preach). Where mere wantonness is celebrated as "we are not afraid/shy/repressed" and where every argument turns around the phallus and thus the order needs to be subverted. The usual feminist trash. However, the message is so stalely given forth by Soutter, as if he's asking the validity, that well, is that really any kind of liberty? Or did we only try to emulate the man, and thus keep living in a world defined by men?

The film has a very strange construction, which helps in the lack of a definite interpretation for every viewer. While all throughout brilliant comedy, which is not through some Woody Allen kind of wit but by classic French props of comedy such as facial expressions, whimsical dialogues and slow pace (yes, a slow pace gives the same flavour - some claim only colour and nothing more, though - to a comedy as oak barrels from Limousin give to cognac), the film is almost throughout filled with the broad and huge frame of Léon, but in a sudden shift of balance of power, which could leave a viewer or two feeling betrayed, it's the two women, in turns Alice and Ann, who come to occupy the central place in the film, just as the looming shadow of an arpenteur's work also brings in a tint of impending tragedy but possible greater - or truer, depending on your choice of opinion - liberty in the women's life. However, the final image, that of Alice as a school teacher supervising children, leaves much to ponder and much unresolved: is it the future, once the houses have been demolished, or is it a wait? Is it the life Alice wanted or is it a compromise? A compromise for what?

The strangest thing is not however the construction but the images used throughout the film. One of the most striking is that of the cello case: while I usually am not fond of seeing things as symbols, to me at least the cello case of Eugène, the gentle, patient lover with whom Alice plays mercilessly, functions as the vagina: waiting to be penetrated. It's a strange image to use with a man, as if Alice, even if in the body of a woman, has donned the mind of a man, whereas Eugène has the mind of the woman. When Eugène invites Léon to bring the case till his car, his woman mind is inviting the man-mind man Léon over in a sexual manner, as if dejected of getting Alice, he will make do with the non-gay (mentally) gay (physically) option of sleeping with Léon. Of course, when I talk about the man mind and the woman mind here, I am talking of the classic hypothesized images of man and woman, on the exploitation of which all feminism, in all its forms howsoever diverse, thrives. After all, the vagina need not await penetration by some phallus, the modern feminists would claim: the earlier feminists said why couldn't the phallus wait, but now they say why couldn't a vagina be content with another vagina and artificial penetrations through sex toys? Or, rather, not be dependent on any of them, just keep "expressing" through your body: simply keep soaking physical pleasure as you will. Just as the men have been doing it. Full circle, anyone?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Így jöttem

Jancsó’s stories seem to emerge from the vast, deserted landscapes he films them on: just as much as the spaghetti Westerns. However, in the case of the Westerns, men seem to be driven by the nature to lust and violence; in the Hungarian or East European landscapes of Jancsó, though, men and women seem to be the rightful inheritors of mad rushes for power and for meaningless liberty.

Így jöttem (English title: My Way Home) is a film that however focuses less on the intoxication of power and the consequent madness, than it does on the fragility of human relationships. With beautiful cinematographic movements and adding detail little by little, we get to understand - very slowly - the character of Jóska, so lovably played by András Kozák. It is a testament to the massive acting ability of Kozák that he could play two so diametrically opposite roles in Silence and Cry and My Way Home, even when there is no melodrama involved to distinguish between the two shades of men he is representing. For Jóska is gentle, seeking, not angry, forgiving and seeking to understand; he is yet a child and still he has the understanding of a valuable friendship and not to turn away his back on it. He is at once the rebel in not seeking safety, and at once the submissive docile who maybe even would like something to occupy his thoughts in a labour camp rather than being set free. Not the István that is angry and for whom justice is more principle than love, more idea than natural.

The film in its second half does become more or less the story of a friendship that does not need words between two men, and it’s a beautifully portrayed relation, a friendship that can exist only between men and that is as much comradeship as friendship (akin to what is seen in the landmark Hindi film Sholay). It’s a difficult art to build a story that has no real plot except the ordinary details of life: My Way Home does it through some beautiful shots and sequences, for example, when the two friends are out hunting the nude-bathing girls and are finally themselves the hunted ones. It’s one of the most beautiful sequences I’ve seen in cinema till now, rivalling all the best cheetah-chasing-deer shots of the National Geographic.

Another compelling film from Miklós Jancsó, because of its more warm nature and overall lack of tensions between characters, even if the intricacies of Hungarian politics during the War are a bit difficult to understand at first unless you knew them beforehand, this is one of the more accessible films from the European cinema.

Oslo, 31. august

Rarely are films based on burning issues like drug addiction are so well made as Oslo, 31. august (international title: Oslo, August 31st): the film goes beyond addiction itself and rather explore what each man searches, the quest for some kind of meaning to one’s life, a quest that is present in the lives of each of us and which takes different forms of different addictions. Some are put into a corner or a cage by the society, and others aren’t.

The film is lit up by a stunningly brilliant performance by the lead actor, Anders Danielsen Lie as his namesake. Relying heavily on close-ups, the central question over today’s society, the Western society in particular, occurs somewhere in the middle, when Anders recalls the life he grew up to, a home wherein “liberty” becomes another religion, where the bywords are “free” and “artist,” and where the new rule is to not to have rules. Anders stands as an accusation to all the society: that where ethics and principles are often confounded with rules and attack on liberty. The only other solution that he finds is to become like them, which he would refuse to, finally gaining true freedom in his final act.

The film reveals beautifully how deceptions are unmasked and when they are unmasked, we realize how we would have liked to be remaining duped always. Everyone else has got something - that is what Anders thinks. But on encountering them, he will only realize that they are only bluffing at living life: what they are living is only lives. But they are as lonely and as angry as Anders is, and tired, for unlike Anders they have accepted contentment with being hollow.

In a world where ideas have taken the place of love, Anders and the puppets surrounding him are only inevitable.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Exit through the Gift Shop

It matters little whether Exit through the Gift Shop is about reality or is hoax: because the moral of the story remains as it is, since street art has become fashionable, just as most other things do nowadays very quickly, leading to the instant killing of art, unless practiced in solitude. Art on large scale, from literature to paintings, was often always “brainwash” and now is even more so: the more popular an artist, the more the reason to be wary of brainwashing. More importantly than the message, the film also traces how something is erected to the scale of brainwashing, and if the film is indeed by Banksy, then there is no lack of self-ridicule in the film.

It is remarkable that a film largely constructed on footages and interviews could be at once revelatory, hilarious and a story: there is a hidden powerlessness in the film about the society; faced with more and more technology, where once art was perfected for years, it is possible to become an overnight artist now, since too often adulation and fame will win over the artist from what he could have loved doing. Of course, Guetta is no artist: he has maybe an artist’s temperament and passion, but not the skills, not the mind. But the larger question is, whether it is Guetta’s fault, or rather those of people like Banksy who produce signatured pranks, who court controversy and attention, and who think meaninglessness is art. When counterculture starts itself becoming culture, do we need to go back to culture, either embracing it as what we ran away from or trying it as a new “counter-counterculture”? And in all this, we forget why is meaninglessness so important to an increasing number of people today? Is this fondness for meaninglessness a reaction, and if so, then to what? Are we too informed with meanings and symbols all round? Or is it in fact beyond semiotics, is semiotics itself a semiotic game? Rather, do we live in a more and more heraldic world, with concepts and ideas serving now as heralds, instead of herbs and fauna?

A brilliant film, Exit through the Gift Shop will keep asking questions from all shades of consumers: tourists to art collectors, from those who find meaning in Cézanne to those who strive to create. The most disturbing question shall be: can we create anymore? Or, can we only copy and trick à la Guetta (urf Mr. Brainwash)?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Si le vent te fait peur

A rare beauty that explores romantic and sexual tension between two beings without being sensual, a feat difficult to achieve (Rohmer has done that in an attempt to banalize desire; Emile Degelin does it here in a better way, by using an interpretation of love wider than mere desire), Si le vent te fait peur (English title: If the Wind Frightens You) is on apparent looking a story of incest, or rather one of incestuous thoughts. However, on getting lost in the story, you find you are confronted with Adam and Eve. Not the Adam and Eve. Because the beautiful Elisabeth Dulac and the modern, a bit intellectual Guy Lesire only represent Adam and Eve for being alone not in a world, but in a civilization: this is a land where they cannot desire each other, where every thought is marked by a fear of condemnation, and more importantly the fear of what will happen to their love in the fallout. It is that that they fear, more than the condemnation, they who know each other so well, whose love for each other is so pure, who are the first born, the first couple, since the other lovers will only later, suddenly emerge from the waves, nymph-like. But they have always known each other and loved each other’s company, and yet they are not to love each other.

Degelin has selected and used the Belgian coastal landscape wonderfully: it is as if the land has given birth to this story, these monstrous two human beings, monstrous in their capability of laughing, of cocking a snook at others, of daring to think of love each other, and it is as if in these shimmering sands, they are the only two living, the only two loving. The two who think what will the other’s lot be when they will be condemned, not that they will be condemned, the two together alone in this vast world of sun and youth. There are others who will make occasional appearances: the thief, the lover, the debonair, and the two sisters. But they all seem dead, they have forgotten what loving is, what desiring is: they are too ready with their tongues and yet laughter has forsaken them, and only little intrigues and desires to be quenched in a moment engulf them. It is apt that it is the debonair with his mock-play of love who rouses the slumbering passion in Dulac for her brother: confronted with the lover from outside who could have been equal to his brother, she prefers the known rather than the unknown who will vanish like the wind.

This is not a story that talks of the tortures of desire, like most literature or film does; rather, love here is companionship, mental and physical, love here is ease, and love here is fidelity that will be everlasting. Fidelity to self, for the other is the complementary self of myself here. It goes beyond what Melville's Les enfants terribles could. The cinematography is beautiful, and unlike a Polanski or most modern directors, instead of a continuous building up of tension, here we have a more natural flow with spurts and ebbs throughout, a film closer to life and the story it tells. Most importantly, both Dulac and Lesire, the former in particular, have been wonderfully captured, and the film is like an ode to their beauty, something which is fitting to the story the film tells. As if it is but natural that both should fall in love with one another, slowly but inexorably.

Csend és kiáltás

Miklós Jancsó’s Csend és kiáltás (int’l title: Silence and Cry) is a film that takes some time to warm to: even if you knew the Hungarian history. However, more than the Hungarian history, if you knew the Hungarian landscape, you will eventually not only appreciate the film but also love it: watching the film brought to me several memories of little scenes I had almost forgotten, even if my memories of Hungary are not too old by any means. Nature plays a large role in this film: the desolate-looking land also reflects the country’s hopeless political climate, and the sterile lives of all the protagonists of the film.
The Hungary of today is not so very different: even if there are not secret police everywhere, life is still marked by the same barrenness, and the same bleak landscape foretells everything.

There is hardly anything left for me to say after this fine entry here:

However, I do wonder whether Jancsó has left lots of untied ends in his film as a deliberate measure, in a way of saying that tying or untying them does not matter, or is it a matter of loose direction; it’s difficult to say this for me, especially since I don’t have access to all Jancsó’s films preceding and succeeding this particular film. I did dislike the ending of the film, however: it was difficult to imagine for me that István did not know about the poisoning before. I would have also liked to see some kind of exchange between István and Károly, the former being the adored one of the two women and the latter the scorned one. Probably there is no exchange worth a name, since István is completely indifferent about Károly: but why should an idealist who prides himself over being one be so utterly heartless to all that Károly has to go through because of him? And if he’s not an idealist in the real sense, then why would he go and do the final act? Or is István merely a tool in the hands of the two women, who exploit his need to hide, while István in turn also sees them in the same light and hence feels a latent brotherhood with the farmer Károly, even if feeling him not enough a rebel? In that case, why does István not kill the women in the final act, which would also inevitably lead to his denunciation?

These are questions that are not really resolved satisfactorily in this ménage-à-quatre story (or should I say cinq, considering that Kémeri does get some sort of satisfaction by knowing he has the women - and István, since the possibility of Kémeri and István being former lovers cannot be ruled out - in his power), a story of power struggles all round; however, the cinematography and the overall fluidity of the story bound in a rigid plot make anyway for an enriching viewing.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Le mani sulla città

One of the best films I’ve ever seen, Le mani sulla città (the insipidly translated UK title being Hands Over the City) goes into the uncharted territory of a film not having any representative characters: instead of characters that one could love or hate, instead of the rise and fall of one man or family or group, this brilliant film explores the nexus between politicians, law-makers and builders on a broader scale but constructing its gripping story around one particular incident: the collapse of a residential building in a poor, crowded area, coveted by those for whom deaths and misery are calculated in terms of profits and losses. While watching the film, there were times when floated through my mind certain scenes, subplots or ways of filming particularly from Z, La battaglia di Algeri, and Dilip Kumar’s Mashaal, and yet it is a testimony to this extraordinarily tight (but not sparse) film, that it stands head and shoulders above the three cited ones, gems in their own right.

One of the surprising and best things that director Rosi does is not to let have Rod Steiger, in whom the corruption is seen to be invested ultimately, a lot of screen time; neither does Steiger have many dialogues or even much acting to do, except keeping moping his brow all the time and looking tense. In many ways, he reminds me of Richard Burton here, who used to have a very similar acting method. The film is rather kept on the edge by a bunch of non-professionals, with Carlo Fermariello playing the stellar role of De Vita - the leftist politician who rejects (or who doesn’t see any profit in supporting) Steiger till the end. Interestingly, it is not De Vita’s character but Balsamo’s, who also happens to be a doctor, that seems the only disinterested one amid a stinking bevy of dignitaries, who only serve to fatten themselves and their art collections at the expense of people.

The discordant music, recurring throughout the film whenever the city “buildscape” is presented to the viewer, reinforces the double image of a residential complex, crucial to the film’s understanding: profits for Steiger and his like apparently, but what we have to imagine is that there are people living and growing there. Even in the case of the building collapse, there is no focus on the human suffering or fear in the aftermath: Rosi leaves that for us to imagine, since similarly for all his political characters, except that of Balsamo, the living beings there are no more than votes - to be used at the time of elections, but otherwise to be disposed of as profitably as possible.

The film is also something very relatable for people from countries like Italy and India, with their high amount of civic corruption. Both countries also have a strong presence of mafia, an area which this film chooses not to explore (on the contrary, Mashaal does that but in doing so, forgets the politicans; Z has all the bases covered, but instead of mafia, it is just local hitmen who are used to “silence” a political opponent). Le mani sulla città is one of the rare flawless films, not least for its clear-headedness about what to include and what to exclude.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Slnko v sieti

When a film takes more than one dimension and gives forth several layers of coherent meaning, it is already a worthy one. Slnko v sieti (int’l title: The Sun in a Net) not only does that but also produces several visual and aural metaphors, serving also as reference marks for emotions and for the other undescribables throughout the film. The film is sort of a collection of several little stories interacting with each other: the story is more like the tributaries of a river when they have not yet joined in with the river. We only have a sense or an anticipation, which successfully works as suspense, that there will be a river, that these stories mesh with each other. To write such a screenplay and thereafter to translate it onto the screen are the toughest things I can imagine, and I can only marvel at the skill of Štefan Uher, the director, and Alfonz Bednár, the writer. Both would have been nothing had it not been for the wonderful black-and-white cinematography of Stanislav Szomolányi.

It is hard to define Slnko v sieti: the title says it all, and just as the sun in a net is not so tangible after all but only a fleeting joy, so does the film talks of all such fleeting impressions, which slowly build and create a man’s character, his or her persona. If the film were only about Fajolo, a bereft teen with an obsession of photographing hands, it could have been probably called as one of those “coming-of-age” movies. However, while Fajolo is always learning and discovering the world, so is his romantic interest, Bela, and so is Bela’s blind mother, and so is Bela’s little brother, amidst the lies that he excels in creating.

The central question of the movie is contained in one line uttered during a soliloquy: “Who hurts us?”
It is the black sun that is hoped to be more revelatory than the white sun they daily see and fail to catch in the nets, the black sun that comes only once in 120 years. The black sun is like the messiah for the modern world: where you say “tyranny,” but you don’t even know how is it the very word that tyrannizes us, that dominates us to the extent that we are nothing outside of it, that we are not able to do anything than mumble “tyranny, tyranny.” And in such a world there are also Peto and Jana, who have decided to live under the white sun, for whom waiting for the imagined does not exist; on the other hand, Bela’s mother has also never waited for the imagined, but because she has also lived in the imagined: in those yarns created by Bela and her brother and in her own fears and love. Between the tensions of these two worlds exist Fajolo and Bela: Fajolo is the poet with his camera, for whom imagination has taken the proportions of a despot and he disregards what is there (Bela) for what all he imagines, he is ready to wait another 120 years even if cursing himself for it; Bela is the poet with her love to give, who only waits to escape this battle between sun and darkness, who hates but does not know what or whom she hates. She doesn’t know who hurts us.