Monday, 6 April 2020

Bacurau [2019]

The Brazilian film Bacurau, at once a pulsating thriller, a mood piece and a sharp political critique, is two films stitched together – a deliciously atmospheric and slow-burning neo-Western in the first half, and a hyper-violent, campy invasion / revenge flick in the second. Consequently, its echoing and subversion of generic conventions accentuated the filmmakers’ outrage against neofascism. The opening scenes, where a woman and guy drive in a ramshackle water truck towards the titular, godforsaken outpost village – a small, arid, closely-knit community – in order to attend the funeral of a much loved matriarch, while discussing about a rebel who’s taken up arms against the local government, set the context for what followed. The opening half was made exquisitely gripping by the deliberate pacing, portrayal of the weather beaten residents – where doctors (Sônia Braga) and teachers live at par with pimps and prostitutes, with a common disdain for the unctuous local politician –, and a beautifully elegiac tone – established through moments of silence, mournful funeral processions, slow guitar strummings, haunting folk songs and a stirring sense of impending doom. Things start taking an eerie downturn, however, when their village is suddenly erased from the map, all mobile signals get jammed, the water tank gets punctured by bullets and a bunch of ranchers get brutally massacred. And then, in a gleefully lurid turn, a bunch of vicious bounty hunters, led by a racist, arrogant and psychotic leader (Udo Kier) take siege of the village, with the intent to kill for fun. The filmmakers, interestingly, deployed a number of flamboyant stylistic choices, from zooms and wipes to split screens and campy electronic scores, which counterpointed the sense of realism.

Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles
Genre: Thriller/Neo-Western
Language: English
Country: Brazil

Saturday, 4 April 2020

The Act of Killing [2012]

In 1965, a gruesome coup d'état was carried out by the Indonesian armed forces that led to the fall of the Sukarno government and establishment of Suharto’s military dictatorship. This was accompanied by genocide and mass killings – along with tortures, rapes, disappearances – of grotesque proportions, carried out against Communists and Communist sympathizers, and in turn extended to intellectuals, ethnic Chinese and essentially anyone construed as “anti-nationals”, by the army, paramilitary forces and death squads. In his acutely harrowing, formally daring, hugely provocative, and extraordinary documentary The Act of Killing – made over 6 years, and executive produced by the likes of Warner Herzog and Errol Morris – Joshua Oppenheimer powerfully tackled this ghastly chapter in a manner that blurred the lines of documentary film-making, and crafted “a supreme testament to the cinema’s capacity for inquiry, confrontation, and remembrance”, the potential ethical trappings notwithstanding. In an outrageous artistic choice, he managed to get former perpetrators of extrajudicial massacres – members of death squads fashioned along the lines of Hollywood gangster cinema and the country’s noxious right-wing paramilitary organization Pancasila Youth – enact their horrible acts from half a century back in the form of lurid film sequences. The slender Anwar Congo, who alone killed over a thousand people, and the rotund Herman Koto, formed the key real-life antagonists here, coaxing perplexed civilians to participate, revealing their preferred murder tools and gloating over their revolting pasts. Yet, in unforgettable candid captures, these stagings – despite being mock enactments – end up having intense impacts on people, as evidenced by the profusely crying kids post the hideous performances, and on the seemingly cool Anwar too, whose dreadful retching at the scene of his brutalities the docu ends with.

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer & Christine Cynn
Genre: Documentary/Political Documentary/Agitprop
Language: Indonesian
Country: Denmark

Friday, 3 April 2020

The Club [2015]

Pablo Larraín’s The Club formed an interesting follow-up to his astonishing trilogy on Pinochet’s repressive regime (Tony Manero, Post Mortem, No) – in that, its thematic departure aside, it too served as an indictment of Chile’s dark and complicated politico-religious milieu. Stark, intense, seething with anger and deeply disturbing, this is a lashing portrayal of the brazen and serial culpability – right from perpetuation to denial and cover-ups of grotesque crimes – of organized religion in general, and the Catholic church in particular; suffice it to say, the movie wouldn’t have earned any brownie points from either the establishment or the ardent faithfuls. The events take place in a cloistered place located in a remote coastal town – essentially a comfortable but secluded place off the official maps – housing priests accused of monstrous crimes like pedophilia, child trafficking, etc. and hence temporarily banished from regular duties in order to undergo faux penance.  Four such retired priests (Alfredo Castro et al) live there, taken care of by a creepy former nun (Antonia Zegers), watching TV, drinking wine and training their grayhound for dog races. Their cocooned and largely tranquil existences are punctuated by three developments – suicide of a new arrival accused of child abuse, arrival of an emissary (Marcelo Alonso) to investigate the scenario, and their being hounded by a severely damaged sexual abuse victim (Roberto Farías). The blistering and topical subject, the grim portrayals – their stunning sense of entitlement, refusal to even acknowledge the consequences of their deeds, the compromises made, etc. – the somber and moody atmosphere, excellent performances, and an especially brutal sequence involving dogs near the end, made this more than just another pedantic film, despite its in-your-face stance at times.

Director: Pablo Larrain
Genre: Drama/Religious Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: Spanish
Country: Chile

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Infinite Football [2018]

Sports movies have rarely had common grounds with auteur driven cinema, despite exceptions like Raging Bull or The Hustler or Offside, etc. Porumbiou’s dry, idiosyncratic and self-reflexive documentary Infinite Football – laced with existential, philosophical, personal and political ruminations – indisputably serves as an example of that rare overlap. The Romanian filmmaker’s childhood friend Laurențiu Ginghină was a promising football player in his youth; however, his playing days ended upon receiving a nasty leg injury during a bad tackle; and, it relapsed while working at a now defunct plant on one dreary New Year’s eve leading to the Revolutions of 1989. That propelled a life-long obsession for him – the desire to conceptualize a new variant of the beautiful game where the teams and the field are divided into parts in order to restrict agglomeration of players, and hence potentially avert injuries; and, in order to ensure that the play is smooth, the ball keeps moving and the offside rule is suitably addressed, he’s kept coming up with new versions ever since. Though his idea never really took off, and despite multiple potential gaps in it – as pointed out by a local football coach, and also Porumbiou himself, who’s present throughout with his chuckling and skeptical nature – Ginghină has never stopped believing. Meanwhile, his life continued to be a series of ironic “what could have been’s”, as the 09/11 prevented his plans of moving to the US and he ended up becoming a mid-level government functionary, helping local residents get back their seized lands. The film’s deceptive simplicity and matter-of-fact style, along with its wry tone, realism and nods to his country’s contemporary history, made it yet another quintessential Porumbiou work.

Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
Genre: Documentary/Sports Movie
Language: Romanian
Country: Romania

Sunday, 29 March 2020

An Elephant Sitting Still [2018]

Novelist Hu Bo made his movie debut with the formidable 4-hour fable An Elephant Sitting Still; hence, it’s such a tragedy that his life was curtailed by suicide right after he completed it, reminding one of the likes of Andrzej Munk (Bad Luck, Eroica, Man on the Tracks), Jean Vigo (L’Atalante), RW Fassbinder (too many to recount), Cristian Nemescu (California Dreamin’), etc. whose dizzying potentials were cut short by untimely deaths. An ambitious work, and a bleak, disorienting and visceral viewing experience – further heightened by the interplay between intense close-ups and a steadycam incessantly following the characters on their backs, along with long takes and a blue-washed colour palette – it provided for a study in despair, disillusionment, familial dysfunction, existential crisis, lovelessness, and the juxtaposition of societal decay with loss of personal equilibrium; the last point made for an ironic counterpoint to the metaphoric title referencing a mythic elephant unfazed with the happenings around it. Drenched in fatalism and nihilism, the leisurely paced movie chronicled a really bad day in the lives of four crisscrossing individuals residing in a grungy city in Northern China – a school student (Peng Yuchang) with an unemployed, embittered father, who goes on the run after fatally injuring a bully by accident; a lonesome girl (Wang Yuwen) who’s emotionally distant to her working class mother and has been inappropriately seduced by her school’s well-off administrator; a local mobster (Zhang Yu) plagued with guilt upon witnessing a friend’s suicide with whose wife he was having an affair; and an aged man (Liu Congxi) whose daughter and son-in-law want him to shift to a glum care home to make space for their daughter in their cramped apartment.

Director: Hu Bo
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama
Language: Mandarin
Country: China