Saturday, 18 April 2015

Naked Childhood [1969]

Maurice Pialat’s startling directorial debut, Naked Childhood, provided a clinical and subliminally devastating examination of the tragic social and psychological detachment of an orphaned kid exacerbated by an overburdened foster parenting process. As a stark yet affecting portrayal of troubled childhood and complicated relationship of a young boy with those around him, it is bound to evoke memories of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, and throw an effective light on the filmmaker’s frugal but mercurial career. The movie begins with François (Michel Tarrazon), under care of working-class parents (Linda Gutemberg and Raoul Billery), showing discomfiting glimpses of anti-social behavior like stealing money, taking peek at his sister suggesting his sexual awakening and killing their pet cat. These acts, coupled with his foster parents’ financial plight, force a change in his address. Despite the rather warm treatment he gets from his elderly new caretakers (Marie-Louisse Thierry and René Thierry), his behavior starts growing even more erratic, with recurrent flashes of violence, thus displaying his increasing disconnect and abandonment with accepted social norms, as a combination of his innate inability to form emotional bonds, deep identity crisis and the nature of his nurture on account of him being an “other” without a sense of belongingness. The film’s austere tone, further assisted by the excellent, unobtrusive photography that gave a “here and now” feel to the proceedings, and key asides to the central narrative, imbued a strong dose of poetic realism and a bleak sense of desolation. The mostly non-professional cast, led by the marvelous Tarrzon, was pitch-perfect in capturing the film’s blue-collar milieu, socio-political context and thematic essence.

Director: Maurice Pialat
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Childhood Drama
Language: French
Country: France

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Children of Heaven [1997]

Irrespective of where one stands with regards to appraising the film, there’s little denying the fact that Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven possibly remains as Iran’s single-most well-known movie export. A charming, poignant and tragi-comic children’s film, it chronicled a simple but tender tale of innocence, heartbreak and triumph, apart from being an affecting account of an impoverished but closely knit family living in the socio-economic fringes of the society. Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian), a young wide-eyed kid, while fetching grocery for his family, inadvertently loses the recently mended shoes of his little sister Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi). Fearing the anger of his gruff but loving father (Reza Naji) and the potential effects on his ailing mother (Fereshte Sarabandi), Ali devises a cumbersome way to keep the loss a secret, even though he’s aware that such a scheme can’t go on for long, and not to mention Zahra’s embarrassment for having to wear his brother’s shoes to school. Hence, when an inter-school marathon competition is announced at his school, he decides to grab the opportunity and help get a new pair of shoes for his sister. The simplicity of the film’s premise and plotting is bound to strike an immediate chord with its viewers, along with the portrayal of the deep bond that the family members in general, and the young siblings in particular, share. A number of deftly devised sequences – the mad pursuit by Zahra to recover Ali’s shoes after it accidentally falls into a running sewer, Ali trip with his father to the posh and upscale section of Tehran looking for gardening jobs – lovingly captured the otherwise morose existences of its empathetically etched characters.

Director: Majid Majidi
Genre: Drama/Childhood Drama/Family Drama
Language: Persian
Country: Iran

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Man of Marble [1976]

Man of Marble, the 1st of 2 ‘Solidarity Films’ made by Wajda in support of the burgeoning trade union movement in Poland, would rank as one of the most important works in his oeuvre, for both political and aesthetic reasons. On one hand, it provided a compelling indictment on the kind of political exploitation, opportunism, manipulation and corruption that the Soviet Bloc was a witness to, while on the other, it projected “reality” through multiple view points, akin to ‘Rashomon Effect’, as a means for deconstructing history. The premise concerns Agnieszka (Krystyna Janda), a brash, young film student, making a controversial documentary as her graduation project on Mateusz Birkut (Jerzy Radziwiłowicz), a once famous bricklayer who had become a Stakhanovite symbol of an over-achieving worker but, somewhere along the line, has fallen into complete obscurity and anonymity. As she watches archived film clips, and, with the help of her tiny team, records the versions of a successful director (Tadeusz Łomnicki) who had shot Mateusz’s superlative feat of laying 30,000 bricks in one shift, a state agent (Piotr Cieślak) who had witnessed Mateusz’ transition from a celebrity to a provocateur, his close comrade (Michał Tarkowski) who’s now been “reformed” into a businessman, and his wife (Krystyna Zachwatowicz) who’d denounced him after his political incarceration, what emerged was a fascinating but bleak and troubling account filled with wry humour and irony. The film’s documentary realism and stance as an agitprop, through potent narrative mix of pseudo-newsreel footages (in grainy B/W), on-camera interviews in present (shot using hand-held camera) and recreation of the past (in subdued colour palettes) added to its bravura formalism.

Director: Andrzej Wajda
Genre: Drama/Political Satire
Language: Polish
Country: Poland

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Hannah and Her Sisters [1986]

Eight years after he made the bleak and discomfiting Interiors, Woody returned to the exploration of the divergent arcs taken by the lives of three sisters with the delectable and bittersweet Manhattan mosaic Hannah and Her Sisters. Made in the vein of a novel, the film exquisitely delineated the underlying anxieties, regrets, failures and foibles of an otherwise close-knit set of sisters. Bound on either side by the family’s annual Thanksgiving tradition which served as both a terrific introduction and a warm parting note for the ensemble cast, the episodic middle-section chronicled over a period of 2 years the lives of Hannah (Mia Farrow), the serene eldest sister who has given up a successful career on stage post her marriage to Elliot (Michael Caine), an art-loving banker who has become bored with his staid marriage and intensely infatuated with Hannah’s ravishing younger sister Lee (Barbara Hershey), who is in a relationship with Frederick (Max von Sydow), a misanthropic and reclusive painter; Holly (Dianne West), the neurotic 3rd sister, is a struggling actress who’s always in financial crisis and hankering for male companionship, and had once dated Mickey (Allen), a hypochondriac TV producer searching in futility for life’s meaning and Hannah’s ex-husband; the ensemble was capped by the loving yet bickering parents of the sisters (Lloyd Nolan and Maureen O’Sulivan). Woody made fabulous use of this broad canvas, interweaving narrative structure and the motley beautifully etched and enacted characters, for his alternately light-hearted and pointed, but always witty, funny, intelligent and affecting, observations on love, marriage, infidelity, family, religion, and existential crisis, and in turn a memorable ode to the myriad shades of his sweetheart, New York.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here.

Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Drama/Comedy/Urban Comedy/Social Satire/Ensemble Film
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Crimes and Misdemeanors [1989]

Crimes and Misdemeanors, one of Woody’s most ambitious and haunting works, was a marvelous blend of his life-long penchant for witty and humorous dramedies on urban neurosis, with his growing interest in dark, bleak and chilling examination of morality and existence borne out of his admiration for Bergman. It comprised of two loosely-connected, inter-weaving stories each of which could have been expanded into full-length features – Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), a wealthy, ageing family man who’s renowned as an ophthalmologist and a philanthropist, is secretly plagued by his emotionally unstable mistress (Anjelica Huston), thus forcing him to take assistance of his brother (Jerry Orbach), who has contacts with the underworld, in order to be released of the quagmire, only to be left deeply troubled by the moral consequences of what follows; Cliff Stern (Allen), a documentary filmmaker struggling to complete his pet project on a little-known philosopher (Martin S. Bergmann), reluctantly agrees to direct a profile on the successful but incorrigibly smug and pompous brother (Alan Ada) of his wife (Joanna Gleason), with whom his marriage has hit rock bottom, whereupon he meets and starts falling for a lovely and intelligent TV producer (Mia Farrow) on account of their shared interests and tastes. The rich tapestries and emotional profundity of the two contrasting and yet mutually reinforcing storylines – brilliantly photographed and incredibly enacted by the ensemble cast – powerfully touched upon such themes as crime and punishment, guilt, redemption, personal reconciliation, disillusion, marital breakdown, unrequited love, existential dilemma, and crisis of faith.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here

Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Drama/Comedy/Crime Drama/Psychological Drama/Existential Drama/Social Satire/Romantic Comedy/Ensemble Film
Language: English
Country: US