Thursday, 31 December 2009

Antichrist [2009]

Antichrist might not be Lars von Trier’s best movie, but it might just be the one he would like to be remembered by. This movie has world cinema’s enfant terrible at his most unapologetically and unflinchingly provocative – a movie that has divided the house right down the middle. Technically the movie belongs in the horror genre; but any work by the Danish provocateur never really sticks to any genre conventions, in the same way that he gives the feather to the fact that moralists love to scorn him, as here, for his disturbing, often shocking, and at times even outrageous display of explicit sexual content, violence, nihilism, and misogyny (the latter, quite inappropriately, always seems to be stuck to his movies). Yet, for all its detractors, the movie is also an audacious, angry, disturbing wildly inventive, and even deeply poetic exposition and unraveling of the darkest corners of the human psyche. In fact, the movie’s prologue, shot in slow-mo black-and-whites, was to me filmmaking at its most ravishingly beautiful and devastating. Charlotte Gainsbourg, as a woman inconsolably grieving her infant son’s death, and William Defoe, as a psychotherapist and her not-so-grieving husband who takes his wife on as his patient, are fearless and brilliant. As a reviewer rightly put it, Antichrist is a movie that is to be experienced rather than explained. And that, had Alfred Hitchcock been alive, he would have loved to make this movie himself.

Director: Lars von Trier
Genre: Horror/Psychological Drama/Religious Drama
Language: English
Country: Denmark

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Barking Dogs Never Bite [2000]

The refreshingly offbeat movie Barking Dogs Never Bite, by Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, has all those thematic and stylistic aspects, quirks and trademark tar-black black humour that would reach memorable heights three years later in his Memories of Murder. Like the latter, this darkly funny movie managed to make me laugh and cringe simultaneously by gleefully throwing sharp, pointed jabs at the darker aspects of human nature and society. With an aptly discordant yet snazzy Jazz soundtrack as accompaniment, the movie presents the ordinary-as-hell lives of a dog-hating university lecturer married to a nagging wife and hoping to someday find enough money to bribe his way to a long overdue promotion, and a neurotic young girl who spends all her days doing tidbits of community service in the hope that someday it’ll earn her fame and recognition. The director, through his whimsical comic placements, ironies and searing observations, has made these two otherwise utterly mundane characters – in essence fringe personas of the society – unique, distinctive and utterly commendable through generous interjections of idiosyncrasies in their personalities and in their interactions. And like Ameros Perros, I'd strongly advise dog lovers & PETA activists to stay away from this one too.

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Social Satire
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Talk to Her [2002]

Pedro Almodovar, who is oftentimes referred to as a women’s director, has for once made a movie for their male counterparts with Talk to Her. Almodovar certainly knows how to turn a tale of offbeat, curious relationships into a stirring, even haunting ode to love, longing and loneliness. The movie follows the development of an unlikely friendship between a male nurse and a journalist – the former in silent unidirectional love with a comatose patient he is taking care of with singular devotion and the latter in a burgeoning relationship with a famous female bullfighter which comes to a screeching halt when she gets maimed on one not-so-lucky day at office. The movie is difficult to explain, especially in the kind of concise reviews that I write, as it is less about what transpires on screen vis-à-vis what goes within, unsaid and implied. Hence, though we may be able to seemingly distinguish between the real and surreal, the two, in essence, blend and get juxtaposed quite fluidly, thus creating a dream-like world, albeit comprising of undeniably physical people. The acting is natural without going overboard, thus ensuring that the complex emotional quotient at interplay between the characters manages to be powerful in its silent impacts. And thanks to the classical structure of the movie, the pathos in the characters and their interactions are all the more somber and perceptible.

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Royal Tenenbaums [2001]

The Royal Tenenbaums is Wes Anderson’s ode to oddball characters and a surreal poetry in motion. Quirky, irreverent, whimsical and mordantly witty, the movie’s humour content is remarkably intelligent and darkly funny, but it never borders on cheap parody. Rather, by infusing in subtle yet palpable layers of humanism and pathos at just the right places, Anderson has shown his remarkable gift at entertaining and insightful storytelling. The movie, which is about a dysfunctional family comprising of an outrageously idiosyncratic bunch of members (played with deadpan brilliance by its ensemble cast spearheaded by Gene Hackman, and including the likes of Angelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gweneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson, with able supports from Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Danny Glover), which breaks apart, almost irreparably, when the family’s patriarch Royal Tenenbaum announces his separation from his wife. Now, 20 years later, he decides to do some damage control, resulting in hilarious gags as well as moments of soul-searching beauty. The movie, like the equally oddball The Darjeeling Limited, also boasts of a terrific, nostalgic soundtrack.

Director: Wes Anderson
Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Black Comedy/Ensemble Film
Language: English
Country: US

Monday, 21 December 2009

Avatar [2009]

Despite returning from a long hiatus – 12 years to be precise since he made Titanic, James Cameron has yet again shown his unsurpassed ability in making larger-than-life blockbusters with Avatar, a project that had been gestating for quite a long time. The movie is of epic proportions, and it screams to be seen (and preferably in 3-D), though it should not be taken as seriously as the director perhaps intended it to be. Cameron certainly hasn’t forgotten how to enrapture his audience, even though the visual extravaganza and technical virtuosity of the, well, preposterous end product, surpassed its intellectual or artistic merit or the pseudo-emotional content by a very long distance. This Matrix­-meets-Last of the Mohicans­-meets-Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World-meets-Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Avatar, which is about power-hungry plutocrats trying to colonize a far-off plant named Pandora and its indigenous inhabitants called the Na’vi, and which could easily be seen as a political allegory to George Bush’s annexing of Iraq for oil, albeit in the name of ‘war against terrorism’, is a stupendous spectacle that one will enjoy despite its wafer-thin plot and shallow script.

Director: James Cameron
Genre: Sci-Fi/Action/Fantasy
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Head-On (Gegen die Wand) [2004]

The epithets that might closely define Fatih Akin’s Head-On are, in my opinion, grimy, brooding and bare-assed. Akin completely stripped off any sugar-coatings while displaying human frailties and loneliness at their rawest and most naked – both literally and otherwise. The movie concerns the unlikely emotional connect that develops between two severely self-destructive Turkish immigrants residing in Germany – Cahit, an angst-ridden, hard-drinking 40-something widower living in a state of perpetual disarray, and Sibel, a suicidal young girl whose free, rebellious spirit is at complete odds with her restrictive and conservative family – both roles passionately and fearlessly performed. Despite its content of intense emotions, the movie never plays out as either sentimental or exploitative; rather, it is disturbing, downbeat, provocative and unabashedly erotic. In fact, by using a Turkish folk-song as a motif and to loosely divide the movie into various chapters, it seemed to me structurally quite similar to Lars von Triar’s devastating masterpiece Breaking the Waves. And by mixing punk and grunge rock tracks with exotic Turkish numbers in the score, Akin has managed to be unflinchingly brutal yet surprisingly humane in nearly every frame of the movie.

Director: Fatih Akin
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romance
Language: German/Turkish
Country: Germany/Turkey

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Squid and the Whale [2005]

The Squid and the Whale is one of the most incisive looks into the breaking-down of a marriage and its various repercussions. Yet, despite the topic being a ready-made recipe for a deadly serious tone, or a pungent black comedy for that matter, Noah Baumbach managed to do the near impossible by seamlessly traversing a fine middle ground. The prime reason for his being able to do that, and in managing to infuse sensitivity and humanism and not just sharp wit, might be the semi-autobiographical nature of the story – the director’s parents too went through a similarly acrimonious divorce proceeding when he was in his teens. The movie revolves around the gradual disintigration in the marital relationship of an erudite once-famous writer and his wife, who, to his dismay, has grown in popularity as a budding writer (they are the intellectual equivalents of an aristocrat and a nouveau riche, respectively), and the damaging effects on their two kids – a teenager who has taken after his intellectually-inclined father, and a 12-year old who, declaring himself a “philistine”, (not so subtly) sides with his mother. The standout performance in the movie belongs to the surprisingly brilliant Jeff Daniels, while the kids and the ever reliable Laura Linney, too, are quite exceptional. The movie also boasts of an exquisite pop-soundtrack.

Director: Noah Baumbach
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Coming-of-Age
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Fulltime Killer [2001]

Fulltime Killer is Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To’s unabashed expression of his love affair with the action genre. In fact the movie abounds in scenes and sequences that pay homage to a range of thumping contemporary action flicks like Terminator I & II, Heat, Desperado and Assassins, as well as earlier-era masterpieces like Rear Window. Further, it is a decent blend of stylish action sequences and fast-paced editing, and Adrian Lau’s turn as a psychotic killer is really fun to watch. However, despite the plethora of references and the reasonably entertaining watch, the movie certainly falls short of any lasting impact. By trying to aim at too many things, the director has failed to make any of the subplots of this kinetic take of one-upmanship between two assassins (a laconic, unparalleled hitman, and his younger and brasher rival) and their vying for the attention of a shy, beautiful girl, anything more than just about moderate. The movie, quite unfortunately, has followed a downward curve – it starts off really well with the look of an existential and fatalistic tale of contract killers, perhaps something like Le Samourai or A Bittersweet Life, but by the time it ends, it is hardly any better than the over-the-top, farcical climax.

Directors: Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai
Genre: Action, Thriller
Language: Mandarin/Japanese
Country: Hong Kong (China)

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Son (Le Fils) [2002]

Dardenne brothers’ The Son is a difficult movie to classify, and hence assess in a few words as I do here. A complex and quietly unsettling character study, the movie is about revenge and catharsis – only that, like Revanche, the revenge never happens, and the catharsis is muted to the point of silent implosion. Oliver Gourment, a regular in the Belgian siblings’ movies, has given a deeply layered and restrained, yet undeniably breathtaking performance as Oliver, a middle-aged and laconic carpentry instructor who, incidentally or accidentally, comes in contact with a young apprentice who in turn, many years back, was responsible for his son’s death. The fist half of the movie is about his growing albeit fidgety obsession with the boy, while the second lies in his trying to come to peace with his own mind, once and for all. The camera movement, which continually follows Oliver from his back, makes watching the movie a deeply disorienting and onerous experience; yet, strangely, it paves way to a feel of immediacy and passive attachment to the withdrawn protagonist who might not have been as accessible to the viewers otherwise. This arthouse movie might thus be relentlessly bleak, disquieting and demanding, but the end product is a powerful, layered and enriching work of art laced with grim realism, religious symbolisms and metaphors.

Director: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: French
Country: Belgium

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Ratcatcher [1999]

-->Ratcatcher, Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s exceptional debut feature film (she was earlier into making award-winning short films), is an exceedingly bleak yet hauntingly lyrical coming-of-age story of a 12-year old resident of Glasgow. Set during the 1973-strike of garbage-workers, working-class Glasgow here is a picture of squalor, decadence and grunge. And amidst a plethora of rats and an equally filthy group of hooligans resides James, a frail, socially inept and emotionally withdrawn boy (more so because of his role in the accidental death of a neighbourhood kid), who lives with his parents and siblings, forms an unlikely platonic-relationship with an older, troubled girl, and dreams of moving into their new house in the countryside. On one hand, the movie might not be easily palatable for its grim subject matter, and disconsolate, dreary and disturbing portrayal of poverty, juvenile delinquency, broken homes and self-destruction; on the other, it boasts of moments of absolutely stunning visual beauty that is almost heartbreaking in its candid depiction of the world through a child’s eyes. The movie isn’t so much about its plot as it is about its imagery and characterizations. And in its daring (and at times, even poignant) portrayal of not-so-innocent children, Ramsay kick-started her tryst with cinema in quite memorable fashion.

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Coming-of-Age
Language: English
Country: UK (Scotland)

Monday, 23 November 2009

Hit List [2009]

Hit List, Sandip Ray’s first foray outside “Feluda” movies (adapted from stories written by his late father Satyajit Ray) since the wonderful Nishijapon, has yielded, at best, mixed results. The movie was touted as a thriller, and it opens quite spectacularly with a murder that is almost Hitchcockian in its fine buildup. However, it would be more prudent to consider the movie as a psychological drama reminiscent of lowbrow film noirs – yeah, those iconic low-angle shots are there in plenty. The executive director of an advertising agency, on unraveling a corrupt deal by four colleagues of his, get bumped off and his body disposed such that his death looks like a case of drunken driving. However, as the saying goes, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, his lovely wife (played with surprising élan by Koel Mallick), who is bloody pissed off, decides to get even-steven with the scot-free culprits. The acting is decent throughout if not spectacular; Saheb Chatterjee was especially impressive, though Dhritiman Chatterjee, in my opinion, was wasted. Perhaps a whodunit structure might have worked better as the similarly styled (though far superior) Shubho Mahurat, by Rituparno Ghosh, did. Agreed, the movie didn’t manage to match our high expectations – in that sense it’s a disappointment. However, despite a few loopholes here and there, I wouldn’t be so highbrow as to call it a failure.

Director: Sandip Ray
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Mystery
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A Short Film About Killing [1988]

An expansion of the fifth episode of his legendary ten-part miniseries Decalogue, Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing is based on the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. I have seen my fair share of disconcerting movies, but rarely one as incredibly dark or as immensely disturbing as this one. Like its companion piece A Short Film About Love, the movie's basic premise is simple – a young, mysterious and eerily psychotic drifter , for no apparent reason or provocation, brutally murders a middle-aged cab driver, and thus ends up getting sentenced to death and executed by the Polish state despite a valiant attempt by a young, idealistic and neophyte lawyer. The movie starts off with the shocking and deeply foreboding images of dead rats and a cat hanging by the neck – a brilliant yet subtle indication of the story ahead; thus, by the time we have been introduced to the three main players of the story, we know they are on a collision course (though not necessarily destructive). Kieslowski took a direct stance against capital punishment here. However, one doesn’t really have to endorse his strong socio-political views in order to appreciate the thematic relevance, artistic excellence and technical virtuosity of this powerful movie.

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Crime Drama
Language: Polish
Country: Poland

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

El Crimen del Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro) [2002]

El Crimen Del Padre Amaro is on a topic that is as complex as it is controversial. The movie concerns with the subject of the fundamentalist and sanctimonious nature of religious (here, Christian) pastors and priests, and this, despite the hypocrisy, corruption, power politics and moral decadence within the Catholic Church. Mexican superstar Gael Garcia Bernal has starred as a young priest who is sent to a small ultra-religious town as part of his training. There he falls for the nubile daughter of a lady, who in turn is having a secret affair with the ageing Padre under whose tutelage he has been placed. The director certainly had the guts to tackle such a subject head-on without diluting any of its contents. However, where considerable subtlety and a more matured storytelling was of utmost essence, the director opted for an overtly brazen approach to ensure that his polemic doesn’t get lost on his viewers. Thus, even though the movie was reasonably engaging to watch, and the social milieu of Mexico too was quite well captured, for me it failed to be the thought-provoking movie capable of creating a lasting impression that I’d eagerly hoped it would be. The acting, too, was mostly amateurish, with the exception of a handful of the older members of the cast.

Director: Carlos Carrera
Genre: Drama/Religious Drama
Language: Spanish
Country: Mexico

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Katalin Varga [2009]

Katalin Varga, my second (and possibly my final) movie viewing at the ongoing Kolkata Film Festival, is a well-made, brooding, near-Dostoevskian tale of revenge and redemption from Romania. The bleak yet emotionally resonant exterior, art-house flavour, and distinctly folksy/old-world feel, belie the fact that this is the debut feature of Peter Strickland, who, interestingly, happens to be British by birth. A good revenge story isn’t necessarily one loaded with an ingenuous plot and high-octane thrills. Katalin Varga, which is about the eponymous lady’s bid to get even with a couple of men from her past, lies in the domain of such movies as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Revanche, where violence lurks just around the corner, ready to explode at the first given opportunity. In fact, the fate that Katalin finally meets reminded me about the climax in the Park Chan-Wook work, while its philosophical undertones were reminiscent of the Gotz Spielmann film. The luscious Hilda Peter, in the role of the wronged woman out to seek justice, has brought in the right mixture of sexual undercurrent, motherly care and latent anger in her layered performance. Agreed, the screenplay could have been more gripping; however, the crisp length ensured everyone hung in till the movie’s strong and satisfactory finale.

Director: Peter Strickland
Genre: Drama/Revenge Movie
Language: Romanian
Country: Romania

Kærestesorger (Aching Hearts) [2009]

A few critics have accused Danish filmmaker Nils Malmros' Aching Hearts to be a mere recreation of his most famous work Trees of Knowledge. I haven’t watched the former movie, and hence (or perhaps, in spite of that), I found Aching Hearts, which I watched at the ongoing Kolkata Film Festival, to have the credibility to stand on its own. The movie, about a group of adolescent, high school students in 60’s Denmark, has been presented through the eyes of a teenager named Jonas. A nostalgic coming-of-age tale (the movie might very well be semi-autobiographical) has been presented through his complicated relationship with a young, confused girl and fellow student name Agnete, and through his friendship with a couple of guys who too have their lives complicated for reasons of their own. The lilting score added to the various emotions at play here, ranging from teenage angst, confusion and jealousy to finally coming to terms with one’s life. Though the movie dragged a bit towards the end, the director was quick to get things back under control for a well-crafted climax. The movie’s most redeeming feature is that Malmros never seeks to sort out his characters’ complications, thus managing to present a fairly evocative picture of high school life.

Director: Nils Malmros
Genre: Drama/Coming-of-Age/Romance/Teenage Drama
Language: Danish
Country: Denmark

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Spirit of the Beehive [1973]

-->Spanish director Victor Erice, like his American counterpart Terrence Mallick, is a deeply enigmatic filmmaker (he has made just three movies in his entire career!). However, for me, the similarity doesn’t end there; his legendary debut feature The Spirit of the Beehive, through its incredible visual beauty, ravishing silhouettes, dreamy landscapes, sparse dialogues and languid pacing, heavily reminded me of Mallick’s spellbinding first film Badlands. Set towards the end of Franco’s iron-hand reign, a turbulent period that continues to be the source for such powerful films like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, the movie is a lyrical lamentation on lost innocence. Ana and Isabel (amazingly performed by Ana Torrent and Isabel Telleria, respectively) are two young girls who happen to watch James Whale’s Frankenstein at a traveling film show. The movie casts a profound impact on young Ana’s mind as she gradually gets enmeshed in a make-believe world far separated from reality. Meanwhile their parents, too, dwell in their own severely cocooned existences, oblivious of the world around them. This movie still continues to be one of the most moody and haunting depictions of that wondrous yet painfully short-lived time in one's life called ‘childhood’.

Director: Victor Erice
Genre: Drama/Surreal Drama/Fantasy
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain

Saturday, 7 November 2009

This Is It [2009]

Compiled into a behind-the-scenes kind of documentary from over 100 hours of footage filmed during rehearsal sessions for his last planned world tour, This Is It perhaps comprises of the last few popularly released shots of Michael Jackson prior to his shocking death. At that particular stage of his life, he was presumably no more than a battered man driven, in his personal life, to the edge of sanity and nearly his last penny. Yet we see MJ literally belying his failing health and age through undiminished passion and strive for perfectionism. The fact that a person like him, who has been doing shows since he was a kid, getting so engrossed in the rehearsals and ensuring that every nuance and angle of the upcoming shows are covered to the last detail, is truly something to behold and applaud. Of course, we also get glimpses of the creepier side of his complex persona from time to time, like when he explains with graphic detail how the sound is hurting his “inner ear”. But, despite all our preconceived notions of the man, he comes off as a rather mild-mannered and soft-spoken individual, and a self-appointed Messiah of sorts. What was also interesting to note was his being surrounded by a bunch of sycophants trying really hard to please MJ with their overtly servile behaviour, and genuflecting to his every whim. The “film noir” sequences and MJ dancing to his enormously popular numbers were also fun.

Director: Kenny Ortega
Genre: Documentary/Music
Language: English
Country: US

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A Short Film About Love [1988]

An expansion of the sixth chapter of his legendary Decalogue miniseries, Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Love, though on paper a cinematic recreation of the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”, is far more profound than that. It is a poetic and emotionally enthralling exploration of themes ranging from voyeurism and teenage obsession to loneliness and unrequited love. The crisply timed and leisurely paced movie is about a young, shy and mild-mannered postal office worker and closet Peeping Tom, Tomak, who spies on the love life of an older lady, Magda, through his telescope, and has eventually fallen in love with her. His infatuation towards the sexually active and philandering Magda has grown to silent worship. However, his world comes crashing down with devastating repercussions when she lets him know in the most blatant way possible that she believes there’s no such thing as Platonic love – all that really matters is the act of making love. The evocatively photographed and scored movie is as hauntingly beautiful as it is emotionally powerful, despite its beak exterior. The understated psychological depth of the movie (the silent yearning for love in an increasingly cold urban jungle) would later be propelled to stratospheric heights in his masterwork Three Colors.

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama/Romance
Language: Polish
Country: Poland

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Firemen's Ball [1967]

The Firemen’s Ball was quite an event in the career of Milos Forman, who would later become a darling of Hollywood what with his One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. It was his first film made in colour; but more importantly, it was his last movie in his native Czechoslovakia before he headed for America just in time to escape Prague Spring. The movie, which got banned in the country, is about a disastrous ball hosted by a group of middle-aged firemen in honour of their old retired chief. The crisp length and hilarious gags belie the movie’s immense artistic worth. It is a brilliant, anarchic, genre-bending classic whose comic timings would leave everyone laughing out loud, but whose subversive humour and satirical insights into a society behind Iron Curtain would not escape even those unaware of the then political turmoil surrounding the country. The actors, mostly non-professionals, did a remarkable job in bringing forth the farcical events that ensue over the course of the evening (interestingly, a number of members of the cast were repeated from the movie that preceded it, Forman’s delightful comedy Loves of a Blonde). The fact that Forman could infuse even the boisterous proceedings with a few moments of deep pathos and subtle (yet pinching) observations made the movie one for the ages, and along with a similarly subversive socio-political satire by Jiri Menzel, Closely Watched Trains, forms a cornerstone of the Czech New Wave.

Director: Milos Forman
Genre: Comedy/Political Satire/Social Satire/Black Comedy
Language: Czech
Country: Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia)

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Jerichow [2008]

German filmmaker Christian Petzold’s Jerichow is a modern-day variation of James M. Cain’s classic pulp fiction The Postman Always Rings Twice, albeit minus the hardboiled content that gave the source material its iconic status. The movie is about a penniless, laconic war veteran who, through a string of coincidences, gets employed by a reasonably wealthy middle-aged Turkish man (performed with great effectiveness by Hilmi Sozer) married to a bored, philandering, blonde adulteress screaming to get laid. The movie has been pictured without the kind of stylizations or disorienting camera angles that defined film noirs; rather, it is grim in tone and filled with dramatic realism and socio-political insights that belie the genre’s archetypal conventions. Further, even in the movie’s fatalist climax, there is more an element of absurdism than the kind of bleak nihilism that typified classic noirs. The movie is certainly not without its flaws – some of the plot contrivances seem too obvious, and the drifter’s character has not been as well delineated as the other two protagonists, for instance. However, having said that, this deceptively simple fable and revisionist neo-noir does deserve to be paid attention to.

Director: Christian Petzold
Genre: Drama/Neo-Noir
Language: German
Country: Germany

Sunday, 18 October 2009

A Hard Day's Night [1964]

Producers of A Hard Day’s Night, in all probability, had one thing alone in mind when they conceptualized the movie – to cash in on the intense hysteria and mass frenzy surrounding the Fab Four. But, in the surprisingly jaunty hands of Richard Lester, the movie turned into a freewheeling, satirical and humorous cult classic, combining the peppy feel of early Beatles music with French Nouvelle Vague filming sensibilities. And in its circuitous, whimsical and delightfully irreverent portrayal of a fictitious day in the lives of the four iconic Liverpudlians – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard Starkey (aka Ringo Starr), all playing themselves, the movie managed to present a definitive zeitgeist of a time that has since been immortalized with the moniker Beatlemania. Shot in dazzling black-and-whites and based on a madcap script with an abundance of self-deprecating humour, the movie is filled with idiosyncratic characters like Paul’s amusingly eccentric granddad, comical managers, and an uptight TV producer. The movie is peppered with such legendary songs like the title track “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “She Love You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)”, among others. A fascinating blend of avant-garde narrative, brilliant (and at times, surreal) music videos, and cinema verite techniques, the movie, made in the form of a mockumentary, feels remarkably fresh even after nearly five decades of its release.

Director: Richard Lester
Genre: Comedy/Satire/Showbiz Comedy/Musical
Language: English
Country: UK

Monday, 12 October 2009

Repulsion [1965]

Repulsion wasn’t just Roman Polanski’s first English language feature, it was also the Polish master’s first great masterpiece. Universally hailed as a cornerstone in the genre of psychological thrillers, and often placed in the same pedestal as Hitchcock’s Psycho, the movie is about the terrifying journey made by a young Belgian manicurist, living in London with her elder sister, from being a shy, introverted person to a criminally-insane psychopath. Hauntingly shot in moody black-and-whites, the movie is a brooding, disturbing and a brilliantly executed study of emotional alienation and psychological disintegration, and an eerie look at the delicate link between sexual repression and raging lunacy. The movie alternates between jazzy exteriors and claustrophobic interiors, interspersed with disconcerting surreal imagery on one hand, and shocking, albeit sparingly used, violence on the other. Catherine Deneuve (only 22 at the time!) brought to screen the frigid and emotionally distant protagonist with a seemingly pleasant demeanor, with astounding power, and her nubile, delicate beauty made the emotional impact of her portrayal that much more devastating. Though the movie might appear fatalistic, harrowing and even misanthropic to many, the story’s latent humanism wouldn’t get lost to those willing to delve deep.

Director: Roman Polanski
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller
Language: English
Country: UK

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Mother of Mine (Aideista Parhain) [2005]

Second World War was a bad time for children to grow up in Finland, as nearly 70,000 Finnish children were displaced and sent to neutral Sweden. Mother of Mine tells the story of Aero, one such Finnish child sent to Sweden and placed under the care of foster parents, against his wishes. Told in flashbacks by a much older Aero, this is a moving account of a child at complete odds with his otherwise idyllic environment, which to him is far more hostile than his war-torn homeland. Finding it exceedingly difficult to adapt and only begrudgingly accepted by his foster mother (who takes it upon herself to hide letters sent by his mother), Aero grows up to be a lonely man neither in touch with his foster mom nor able to rekindle the relationship with his real mother, and hence with a deep sense of abandonment, alienation and cynicism. Aero survives the war, yet for him his life is a great tragedy, and justifiably so. This is a fine, lyrical and an honestly made anti-war movie and a heartfelt tale told by a very sympathetic director of one of the many personal tragedies and disasters of life during the times of the war.

Director: Klaus Haro
Genre: Drama/War
Language: Finnish/Swedish
Country: Finland/Sweden