Tuesday, 4 March 2014
Iluminacja, one of Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi’s earliest features, had strong social and personal content that I could identify with. However, the content was filmed in a highly experimental and deliberately distancing style that made it an interesting, incisive and intellectually stimulating watch, and also a dry and tad laborious one requiring some efforts on the viewer’s front. The film’s loosely structured narrative focused on a few years in the life of an intelligent and nerdish young man called Franciszek (Stanislaw Latallo) – his enrollment in the Physics department at the Warsaw University, his love for the sciences, his falling for and eventual marriage to the beautiful Agnieszka (Monika Dzienisiewicz-Olbrychska), the struggle to meet ends financially that forces him to quit studies, his growing existential crisis that nearly tears the small family apart, the tragic death of a friend, his getting back to studies, and so forth. He was so central to the film that, in a wryly humorous decision, it began with his detailed physical examination, and it ended with a potentially life-altering prognosis by a doctor that, ironically, might just help him to lead his life more freely than ever before. Zanussi, while telling the guy’s story – his journey in terms of emotional development, intellectual growth, increasing maturity, internal crises and coming to terms with himself – interspersed the narrative with interviews, real-life studies, tidbits and statistical information, philosophical ruminations, etc., that imbued it with documentary realism, cerebral tone, socio-political consciousness and distinctive formalism. Through the protagonist’s story, the director attempted at diving into the innate crises and struggles that lead to identification and understanding of oneself.
Director: Krzysztof Zanussi
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Marriage Drama/Experimental
Sunday, 2 March 2014
Mademoiselle is a relentlessly disturbing and violent portrayal of sexual obsession, sociopathic behavior and provincial xenophobia. Its themes of sexual repression and sadomasochistic tendencies of a seemingly respectable lady, along with its stark visuals, static camerawork and lack of non-diegetic sound, make this an excellent accompanying piece to Haneke’s The Piano Teacher; the added angle of veiled criticism aimed at Catholicism, along with the stylistic aspects, also reminded me of Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar; further, if the protagonist’s gender is to be reversed, Chabrol’s Le Boucher also comes to mind. The titular “mademoiselle” (Jeanne Moreau) is a strikingly beautiful lady working as a schoolteacher at a village. The urban-rural divide was underscored by the way she keeps her distance from the crowd, while the folks are either in awe of her or lust after her. She, however, is attracted to the dandy Italian woodcutter Manou (Ettore Manni), and her inherent mix of repression and frigidity makes her secretly indulge in nefarious and destructive activities, which causes havoc among all. The suspicion of the villagers, expectedly, falls on the Italian man because he’s a foreigner and, to add insult to injury, he’s easy with the women. The lady also treats the Italian’s alienated son with utter disdain, even though he’s infatuated with her. The bravura climactic sequence, with she copulating with animal passion with Manou all through the night in the fields, with the villagers searching for him like hungry wolves, took the film to a raw visceral crescendo. Moreau was magnificent as the icy, incredibly alluring and pathological beaut, and her emotional isolation was brilliantly juxtaposed by the film’s exquisitely reined intensity and the arresting expressionistic B/W photography.
Director: Tony Richardson
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Rural Drama
Wednesday, 26 February 2014
In Noite Vazia Brazilian filmmaker Walter Hugo Khouri provided a marvelous exploration of existential crisis, alienation and hedonism among the urban affluent. The distancing tone, spare style, searing portrayal of detachment and ennui, and the observations on class and gender roles, made this criminally underrated film highly reminiscent of Antonioni’s renowned ‘Alienation Trilogy’ in general and La Notte in particular. The sparkling B/W photography with the city’s sinful nightlife providing a terrific juxtaposition to loneliness, identity crisis and collapse of relationships, with a fine jazz score accentuating the existential dissonance, further added to its mood and atmosphere. Set over the course of a night, two Sao Paolo men – Luis (Mario Benvenuti), a wealthy, cynical and bored married man forever looking for sexual trophies, and Nelson (Gabrielle Tinti), his soft-spoken, depressed and handsome younger buddy, hop from one pub to another in the hope for conquests. They finally take the services of two prostitutes – the older Regina (Odete Lara), a ravishing, weary and distrustful blonde, and the young and sensitive brunette Mara (Norma Bengell), with the remaining two-thirds of the film focusing on the complex and shifting interactions between them at Luis’ sprawling apartment. They swap partners, watch adult videos, drink, argue, reminisce and even coax the 2 ladies to have a go at each other. While the brash Luis meets his match in the strong-willed Regina, the anguished Nelson finds a kindred soul in the fragile Mara. The film ends in discomfiting daylight which further highlighted their hollow existences and directionless lives, with the rambling dialogues, wry humour, bleak outlook, fine characterizations and deglamorized depiction of sex adding enervating layers to its delicate balance between hope and emptiness.
Director: Walter Hugo Khouri
Genre: Drama/Existential Drama/Urban Drama
Monday, 24 February 2014
Doubt, adapted by the director from his own Pulitzer Prize winning play, addressed the issue that has been plaguing the Catholic church more than anything else, viz. the rampant allegations of child abuse by its priests. However, instead of tackling a situation that is in black and white, it focused instead on, as it generally happens, a matter in gray and shrouded in smoke, and the ensuing question of how suspicion can be a stronger force than certitude. However, more than anything else, this was a master-class in acting with 4 powerhouse performances to boot. Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic priest at a Bronx church, is popular on account of his jovial nature, friendly disposition towards kids and liberal mindset. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the stern, orthodox-minded and disciplinarian principal of the adjoining school, however, has unfounded suspicions surrounding Flynn, and when Sister James (Amy Adams), a naïve young teacher in the school reports a seemingly odd encounter between the Father and the school’s sole black student who’s finding it tough to get adjusted, Aloysius becomes convinced of Flynn’s guilt and pedophilia. The fact that his nature and religious philosophies are in direct contrast to hers, provided the fuel to her steadfast crusade to get him removed from the place, with the emotionally fragile James torn apart in the complex turbulence that ensues on account of the war of wills. Even if the proceedings seemed tad theatrical at some points, one can’t help but be emotionally invested in this grim and slow-burning but gripping drama. Both Hoffman and Streep gave tour de force turns, while Adams, too, was good; Viola Davis, as the young guy’s working-class mom, shone in her brief role.
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Genre: Drama/Religious Drama
Sunday, 16 February 2014
Depiction of nostalgia and regret for all the things that could have been but never was, yet avoiding the pitfalls of cloying sentimentality, is a difficult job, and that’s what Argentine filmmaker Eliseo Subiela achieved in Wake Up Love which, at many levels, reminded me of the Sautet masterpiece Vincent, François, Paul & Others. And the strong political undercurrents that he added to this otherwise personal tale made this eulogy to a lost generation of men and women a powerful work. Ricardo (Juan Leyrado), known as Elvis for his love for the King’s music, has decided to hunt down his old buddies in order to celebrate 25 years of graduation. One of those he calls and meets, is Ernesto (Dario Grandinetti), once his closest buddy despite their contrasting natures. While Ricardo was always the happy-go-lucky kind who’s danced his way through life, Ernesto is a Leftist intellectual and an amateur poet who identified with the struggles of common men during the country’s political upheavals during 60s and 70s. More importantly, Ricardo is now married to Ana (Soledad Silveyra), Ernesto’s sweetheart during their college days, and has a 20-year old son who, ironically, wants to be a poet championing the oppressed around the world. As old memories, forgotten wounds, repressed flames and deep regrets surface, the characters try hopelessly reconciling with their present in their own personal ways – the scene featuring a former friend who is now employed at a small railway crossing was particularly memorable. The narrative kept alternating between the present, represented as drab and mundane, and the past, captured in vibrant colours, while the fine performances, poetry and score added deep melancholic layers to this beautiful film.
Director: Eliseo Subiela
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romance/Reunion Film