Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Silence [2010]

The Silence is an assured and compelling crime drama from German filmmaker Baran bo Odar. Dark, grim and brooding, the film provided a discomfiting panoramic view of the varying, but permanent, effects of a gruesome crime on all those touched by it. It starts with a flashback sequence that immediately set the context for the rest of the film – the brutal rape and murder of Pia, a 13-year old girl, by a young man as his friend passively watches the crime from the car. Cut to present day, 23 years after the horrific event, as another 13-year old girl, Sinikka, goes missing and her bicycle is found at exactly the same spot, leading to speculations of murder and evocation of suppressed memories of the earlier crime. Thus begins a complex examination of all those connected with both the incidents – the guy who committed the crime 23 years back, his buddy who’s forever haunted by it even though he’s now leading a seemingly respectable life with his wife and kids, the retired detective who’d been assigned Pia’s murder and is obsessed with solving it, an emotionally vulnerable detective who’s investigating Sinikka’s disappearance, Pia’s distraught mother, Sinikka’s grief-stricken parents, the police bureau under sever public pressure to solve the mystery, and so forth. The plot might appear to be tad too complicated and labyrinthine, but the leisurely pacing ensured that sufficient time got invested on all the key characters and their shifting inter-personal dynamics, which ensured that it managed to be not just an engaging police procedural, but a gripping character study as well. The fine photography, low-key background score and excellent performances made this all the more attention-worthy.

Director: Baran bo Odar
Genre:  Drama/Crime Drama/Police Procedural/Ensemble Film
Language: German
Country: Germany

Saturday, 5 July 2014

I Am Curious (Blue) [1968]

Vilgot Sjöman had initially intended to make a marathon 4-hour film reflecting on the personal and the political in contemporary Sweden, but he ultimately edited that down to I Am Curious (Yellow). I Am Curious (Blue), the colours being a reference to Sweden’s flag, was carved out of the outtakes – unused footages, additional materials and re-shoots – of the former film, and was released a year later, thus making them companion pieces. Though, on first glance, this too was stylistically, thematically and formally marked by the satirical, self-referential, freewheeling, political, pop-cultural and cinéma vérité nature of the earlier film, tonally they were quite different, thus making a back-to-back viewing of the two films necessary as well as rewarding, even if Yellow, undeniably, was the superior and more original of the two. The political width here was far more focused, with the questions being largely limited to social inequity on account of society’s preponderance towards meritocracy, organized religion, and Sweden’s prison system. Further, in place of the jazzy and flamboyant style of Yellow, Blue was more introspective, personal and melancholic in nature, with the satire and humour dramatically toned down, if not dispensed with. Lena Nymann once again put in an excellent turn as she continually slipped in and out of real and reel, and her growing bond with a bearded professor (Hands Hellberg), the effects of her reel/real parents’ relationship, her friendship with a single mother, the social injustice and callousness around her, and her inner dilemmas, adding an affecting side to her character. For those who’ve seen Yellow are bound to be less surprised by Blue, and Sjöman put this together with that basic assumption in mind.

Director: Vilgot Sjoman
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Social Satire/Political Satire/Avant-Garde
Language: Swedish
Country: Sweden

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

I Am Curious (Yellow) [1967]

I Am Curious (Yellow) – the colour being a reference to Sweden’s flag – was the first film in Vilgot Sjöman’s experimental, self-referential, controversial and arthouse I Am Curious series. With its freestyle, rambling and loosely structured narrative, original idea, jazzy tempo, cinéma vérité  form, audacious blend of real and reel, lacerating sociopolitical critique of the country, brilliant evocation of 60’s zeitgeist in its exploration of such elements as leftist politics and movements, counter-culture, class systems, international imperialism, culture of protests and sexual liberation, and a marvelous dose of droll humour and subversive wit, this managed to be a polarizing watch upon its release and a delightful one for me. Called “obscene” upon its release by the puritans and constantly shifted from documentary to feature mode and back, the film-within-a-film had director Sjöman making a pseudo-documentary on Sweden’s socio-political standpoints and conservativeness with his lover cum lead actress Lena Nyman, a young college student, interviewing people at random on topics ranging from Martin Luther King’s endorsement of non-violence to Swedish tourists visiting Franco’s Spain to subjugation of women in the society to income disparities. In a parallel strand, it also covered Lena’s complex relation with her father (Peter Lindgren), her growing affair with Börje (Börje Ahlstedt), a suave car-dealer with a young daughter, her inner dilemmas, and her conflicts between conventionality and radicalism. The alternate Ten Commandments, were, in itself, worth its weight in gold for the lacerating and radical commentary on the “as is” and “to be” behavioral traits in its cocktail of socialism, freedom of choice and ethics. The excellent B/W photography, low-cost footages and hand-held camerawork added to its unique, bold and freewheeling nature.

Director: Vilgot Sjoman
Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Political Satire/Experimental/Avant-Garde
Language: Swedish
Country: Sweden

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Red Desert [1964]

Red Desert makes for a strong case of requalifying Antonioni’s ‘Alienation Trilogy’ as a Tetralogy; it masterfully propounded the themes of alienation, ennui, shallow relationships and existential crisis in a modern world, as did L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse, and had his muse Monica Vitti in the lead – only that, unlike the three films preceding it, it was not in B/W. The Italian maestro’s first foray into colour filmmaking, it provided a harrowing portrait of “progress” – a bleak and haunting look at how relentless industrialization and uncontrolled technological growth might be accompanied with spiritual desolation and widening of gaps between humans instead of bridging them. The beautiful and enigmatic Giuliana (Vitti), wife of Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), the manager of a generation plant, and mother of a kid son, is suffering from depression and malaise, ignited by a car accident in the past, and subliminally exacerbated by her ravaged surroundings. The devastation caused by the plant’s unapologetically polluting nature, and the incessant strikes and conflicts between the plant’s management and workers, formed a key juxtaposition to her emotional estrangement, increasingly erratic nature, formation of irreparable marital fissures, and her growing bond with dandy and emotionally impregnable British engineer Corrado (Richard Harris), who’s come to recruit low-cost labour for a project in South America. The dour, grimy and barren landscape, and the monster-like plant’s belching smoke and poisonous detritus, was brilliantly captured by the breathtaking colour photography, with its grainy images and shallow depth of field.

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Marital Drama/Existential Drama
Language: Italian
Country: Italy

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Angel Face [1953]

Preminger’s superb romantic-noir Angel Face provided a dark and discomfiting peek into Freudian jealousy, obsession and sexual insecurity. And Jean Simmon’s Diane Tremayne ought to rank amongst the most self-serving, duplicitous, alluring and brilliantly etched femme fatales along the likes of such iconic characters as Ava Gardner’s Kitty Collins in The Killers, Jane Greer’s Kathie Moffat in Out of the Past, Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity and Mary Astor’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy in Maltese Falcon – so much so that she even managed to outshine a top-notch Robert Mitchum. Frank Jessup (Mitchum) is a two-bit ambulance driver in a relationship with the loving Mary (Mona Freeman); an untimely halt at the house of the Tremaynes for a seemingly regular case of gas poisoning, however, kick-starts his journey downhill. He makes the acquaintance of Diane, a sad, beautiful and lonely 19-year old girl whose alluring looks mask a dangerous and sociopathic core. She plans to get rid of her wealthy stepmother (Barbara O’Neil), in order to be the sole companion of her novelist father (Herbert Marshall), and teasingly engages the dour-faced and world-weary Frank to that effect – and boy does he make him dance to her tunes even when he realizes he’s being taken for a chump! Preminger marvelously alternated quieter moments with harsh and brutal sequences, and laced the proceedings with cynical edge and fatalism. And in Diane we have a thoroughly inscrutable and unpredictable damsel who just doesn’t have a moral compass or conscience. The fine B/W photography and terrific organ-based score formed the perfect foil to the film’s moodiness and bleak atmosphere.

Director: Otto Preminger
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Drama/Psychological Drama/Romantic Noir
Language: English
Country: US