Sunday, 21 July 2019

45 Years [2015]

Depiction of something as banal, blasé and bourgeois as a seemingly successful marriage shaken to the core, and even shattered, by complex undercurrents – or, ‘crisis in relationship’ as one may classify it – can make for terrific cinema. Though it’s tough to surpass Bergman, Antonioni, Woody, Cassavetes, Farhadi, Rohmer, etc. on this theme, one can still expect to be left impressed by British filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s exquisitely chiseled and emotionally charged marital drama 45 Years. The ageing Mercers – Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) – are the ideal picture of a long, happy marriage; well-read, comfortably-off and contented in their space, their relationship is a perfect counterfoil to the serene Norfolk environ surrounding them. They’re also 5 days away from celebrating on a grand scale – tad unlike their unpretentious natures – their 45th wedding anniversary. The delicate status quo, however, is unsettled by an innocuous letter informing Geoff that Katya, his fiancée from half-a-century back, who’d died in the Swiss Alps in the summer of ’62, has been found due to a thaw in the snow. Geoff, through this unforeseen blast from his half-forgotten past, becomes erratic and reckless – he resumes smoking, attempts rekindles his former preferences, starts getting irritated by the hypocrisy in their friends, and even considers planning a trip to Switzerland; Kate, despite being an unflappable, prosaic and level-headed person, is profoundly ruffled, unraveling a rare vulnerability, by this sudden appearance of Katya’s ghost; more so, when she realizes while going through Geoff’s stashed boxes – something which is contradictory to her nature – that she might have been pregnant when she’d died. Rampling gave a stunning turn in particular as we see their heartwarming marriage on a potentially tragic freefall.

Director: Andrew Haigh
Genre: Drama/Marital Drama/Romantic Drama
Language: English
Country: UK

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Elle [2016]

Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven, always known for pushing boundaries, had initially planned to adapt Philippe Dijan’s novel in Hollywood, but couldn’t because of its incendiary script. Hence he switched to the original French setting instead, and the result was Elle, a work of such extraordinary assuredness and maturity – despite the theme of sexual violence, this was diametrically removed from his earlier brand of pulpy thrillers – that it heavily reminded me of Chabrol and Haneke. Admittedly, that was amplified by the presence of the irresistible Isabelle Huppert, in a performance blazing with icy demeanour and simmering sensuality which she so memorably portrayed in movies like Violette Nozière, La Cérémonie and The Piano Teacher; that she played such a daring role at the age of 63 speaks volumes of her audacity. Michèle, the proprietress of a risqué video-game company, is a woman who loves to be in control and exudes command in her relationships. At office, she’s both despised and fantasized by her male subordinates; outside work, she toys with the men in her life – her emotionally weak son (Jonas Bloquet), her melancholic ex-husband (Charles Berling), and the infatuated spouse (Christian Berkel) of her best friend (Anne Consigny) with whom she’s having an affair. And she’s haunted by memories of her mass murderer father incarcerated for life. The eerie and delicate placidity of her bourgeois existence, however, is shaken upon being raped by a masked man – the film starts with this disturbing sequence – and more so when, upon finding out that her rapist is her seemingly mild-mannered but twisted much younger neighbor (Laurent Lafitte), she embarks on an unsettling game of sexual one-upmanship with him which is sure to end horribly.

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller
Language: French
Country: France

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Neruda [2016]

Having earlier watched Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s fabulous ‘No Redemption Trilogy’ – the lacerating Tony Manero, the intensely disconcerting Post-Mortem and the incisive No – I, admittedly, was expecting in Neruda a work simmering with political vitriol; the Nobel Laureate, after all, was allegedly murdered – his death had formed the starting point in Jose Donoso’s masterful novel Curfew – by Pinochet’s henchmen for his left-wing affiliations. What Larraín created, instead, was a hypnotic, delightfully digressive and playfully modernist mock-biopic from an earlier period in the celebrated poet’s life – viz. the purges against Communists that the then government had initiated in 1948, which had forced Pablo Neruda, a firebrand and non-conformist Senator then, to go on the run and ultimately into political exile. Neruda (played with hyperbolic flourish and comic élan by Luis Gnecco) is presented here as a person with fascinating contradictions – his bent for decadence, hedonism, amoral preferences and supercilious air courtesy the effect that his poetry had on people, formed striking contrasts to his socialist ideals, doggedness and inner machinations which could produce such verses to begin with. The film’s other protagonist was Óscar (Gale Garcia Bernal in a muted, deadpan performance), a fictitious cop and the tale’s unreliable narrator who’s assigned the task of apprehending and arresting Neruda – his officious demeanour and faux self-importance, as he embarks on a near-mythic albeit hapless odyssey in pursuit of the poet, added wry humour and a deliberate sense of metafiction into the narrative, as he’s possibly a figment of Neruda’s imaginative powers. Mercedes Morán, as Neruda’s sensuous, melancholic wife, completed the triad in this fantastical, satirical, genre-bending and quietly anti-fascist road movie, filled with moody cinematography and a low-key score.

Director: Pablo Larrain
Genre: Biopic/Political Drama/Road Movie
Language: Spanish
Country: Chile

Thursday, 11 July 2019

You Were Never Really Here [2017]

Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, who made a terrific debut with Ratcatcher and immediately followed it up with Morvern Callar, hasn’t been very prolific thereafter – We Need to Talk about Kevin followed 9 years later, and then, after another 6 years, she made You Were Never Really Here. A moody, atmospheric and visceral crime drama – and adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ neo-noir novel – laced with simmering anger and violence, it was an engaging genre exercise, albeit pumped with psychological elements and preference for tonal buildup that differentiated it from more mainstream takes on similar storylines. Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a troubled war veteran, haunted by his past – memories of his abusive father and the violence during his stint with the military, and plagued by suicidal tendencies. He is also a hired gun for rescuing kidnapped girls, and is known for his penchant for brutality; yet, in an interesting reversal of the laconic loner prototype, he resides with his elderly mother (Judith Roberts). And, in what was reminiscent of the unforgettable corridor fight sequence in Oldboy, his weapon of choice is hammer. His life, however, collapses when he accepts a high-profile job to rescue a Senator’s abducted daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov). He, in rescuing the deeply scarred girl, faces the wrath of an organized trafficking racket of underage girls involving a pedophile Governor with state machinery at his disposal. Though the film’s length was perhaps too brief to do full justice to Joe’s damaged soul and the ambience of this mood-piece, by having to restrict just to glimpses and allusions, it still made for compelling viewing – especially thanks to Phoenix’s enthralling and immersive turn, ably complemented by the assured Samsonov.

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Crime Thriller
Language: English
Country: UK

Saturday, 6 July 2019

The Gleaners and I [2000]

Made by Agnès Varda, the Grande Dame of the Nouvelle Vague, at the ripe age of 71, The Gleaners and I, with its disarmingly self-reflexive digressions, playful ruminations, self-deprecatory humour, left-wing irreverence and deceptively steadfast defiance against incessant consumerism, served as a fascinating crystallization of all her distinctive hallmarks as a filmmaker. It began with the conventional explanation of “gleaming” using Millet’s famous oil-on-canvas painting as a motif, viz. the practice of picking up agricultural harvest predominantly by women (now defunct in France, but, ironically, still very much in vogue in a country like, say, India); however, as one might expect, she used that as a springboard and a point of departure as she expanded her canvas to explore and browse through multifarious interpretations and implications of gleaming. Despite its crisp length, therefore, it managed to cover an incredibly wide spectrum as Varda crisscrossed France with a hand-held camera capturing engrossing vignettes – the impoverished and socially marginalized in urban and rural settings rummaging through discarded potatoes and various other food wastes (both agricultural and from supermarkets); wealthy farm owners who allow gleaning and those who don’t; folks who go about scavenging for abandoned household objects; artists and amateurs for whom random scraps and junks comprise their art; a man who lives on trashed food not because he can’t afford but because he considers such systematic wastage unethical; a highly educated urban gleaner who spends nights teaching immigrants; a gourmet chef who personally gleans the ingredients for his restaurant. Filled with quirky wit, whimsical charm, and alternately affecting and lacerating observations, this boldly political video essay also ultimately demonstrated Varda too as a life-long gleaner – of images, stories and memories.

Director: Agnes Varda
Genre: Documentary/Essay Film
Language: French
Country: France