Sunday, 13 October 2019

Parasite [2019]

Consummate Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has a penchant for alternating trenchant, darkly funny gems like Memories of Murder and Mother with metaphorical, big-budget extravaganzas like The Host and Snowpiercer. He didn’t just make a triumphant return to the immediacy of South Korean milieu after a decade, but also a fabulous one to the former category – suffice it to say, the one which I’m particularly fond of – with Parasite. He crafted a searing, eccentric, absurdist, pitch-black satire on the unsettling implications of thoroughly inbred class differences and the brutal potential consequences of ensuing class conflicts – a theme that’s universally relevant. The Kim family – slacker father (Song Kang-ho), grumpy mother (Lee Jung-eun), foxy daughter (Park So-dam) and sensible son (Choi Woo-shik) – live in a cramped basement apartment in a working-class Seoul neighbourhood, and eke out a basic survival through a mix of industriousness and street-smart. Hence, when fortuitous chance allows them a toehold into the lavish, modernist bungalow of the affluent Kim family – icy industrialist (Lee Sun-kyun) who deplores the “smell” of poverty, his naïve and gullible wife (Cho Yo-jeong), and two kids – what follows is a simmering home-invasion tale that eventually and inevitably escalates into shocking mayhem. The allegorical representation of those who stay above the ground and those residing in the underbelly, and their fragile co-dependence, was reminiscent of Altman’s Gostford Park. Exquisitely enacted by the ensemble cast (Song was especially magnificent), the film was telling in the way the seeds of the eventual disaster are sown through societal complicity and normalization (linking the climactic outburst with Capote’s devastating masterwork In Cold Blood), and also in its glib portrayal by the media as just another act of senseless violence.

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

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Non-Fiction [2018]

Is the publishing industry at a tipping point wherein digital will eventually turn its offline counterpart moribund? Does the convenience of Kindle outweigh the satisfaction of reading physical books? Can blogging be taken as seriously as writing, or is Twitter akin to modern-day Haiku? The quintessentially self-conscious, opinionated, articulate and casually philandering world of Parisian intellectuals formed the setting for Assayas’ Non-Fiction, a amusing, warm-hearted, playful and Rohmer-esque verbose chamber comedy-drama filled with restrained charm, deadpan humour, cheeky meta-elements and self-deprecatory zeitgeist. The film’s plot comprised of existential dilemmas, intellectual musings and interconnected extra-marital relationships of 5 characters – Alain (Guillaume Canet), the well-known chief executive of an influential publishing house who’s initiated strong steps of going digital, despite being deeply ambivalent about it at a personal level; his wife Selena (Juliette Binoche), a middle-aged actress who wants to get off the policier TV series she’s in which is more suited to binge watching over NetFlix and do something more meaningful in-sync with her real-life personal; Leonard (Vincent Macaigne), a talented writer of thinly veiled autobiographies masquerading as fiction, or auto-fiction, on his ex-relationships which many finds scandalous and even dishonest; Leonard’s wife Valerie (Nora Hamzawi), a passionate if didactic political strategist whose leftist naiveté contrasts others’ cynicism; and Laura (Christa Théret), an ambitious millennial who’s leading the digital transition of Alain’s firm; meanwhile, the straight-faced façade of stable marriages is counterpointed with Leonard’s and Alain’s affairs with Selena and Laura, respectively, though, ironically, there’re always casual suspicions which never really boil over. The brilliantly enacted and scripted film’s most engrossing aspect lay in its tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition of seemingly opposing themes – permanence vis-à-vis transience, conservatism vis-à-vis progressiveness, analogue vis-à-vis technology.

Director: Olivier Assayas
Genre: Social Satire/Marital Drama/Romantic Comedy
Language: French
Country: France

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Joker [2019]

One of the most compelling characters in popular comic universe received a fascinating origin story in the gripping and visceral Joker, the gold standard for which so far was the Alan Moore - Brian Bolland graphic novella The Killing Joke. Anarchistic, subversive, nihilistic, unsettling, incessantly bleak, politically provocative and undeniably daring, with an incendiary stance against neoliberal capitalism and right-wing populism, and filmed with the arresting zeitgeist of 70s Hollywood seedy urban grit and existential angst, the film brilliantly worked even as a standalone without overt references to Batman and his arch-nemesis. Joaquin Phoenix, with the arduous challenge of not getting bound by Heath Ledger’s iconic turn in The Dark Knight, gave a magnetic performance as Arthur Fleck, an unfunny stand-up comedian and psychologically unstable loner who pops seven different pills to keep a frail check on his insanity, and uncontrollably cackles up due to a neurological disorder as opposed to, ironically, being happy. His job as a party clown, his frail mother (Frances Conroy) who he takes care of, the alluring next-door single mom (Zazie Beetz) he’s attracted to, and a popular talk-show host he admires (Robert De Niro, in a reversal of his turn in The King of Comedy) are the threads holding together his tenuous stability; but, they soon snap and his spectacular meltdown gets juxtaposed with the increasing anti-rich sentiments in the city, making him, inadvertently, the face and symbol of the raging and militant antifa protest movement. Along with Scorcese’s films, influences of Moore’s V for Vendetta (Guy Fawkes replaced with the Clown mask) and the rise of populist authoritarianism across the world were also perceptible in this audacious, moody and fabulously photographed film with a striking here-and-now feel.

Director: Todd Phillips
Genre: Drama/Crime Drama/Psychological Thriller
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Broken Embraces [2009]

Broken Embraces, a stylish fusion of melodrama and noir, had the unmistakable stamp of Almodóvar – vibrant colour palettes of the visual stylist, string of meta and self-referential elements, and meditation on a multitude of themes (obsessive passion bordering on insanity, voyeurism, homophobia, guilt, and, not least, the medium of cinema itself). While influences of three cinematic masterpieces, viz. Buñuel’s El, Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Powell’s Peeping Tom, were most prominent, direct nods to classic noirs also abounded – Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows starring the irresistible Jeanne Moreau, Viscontini’s Ossessione, Jules Dassin, etc. Mateo (Lluís Homar), a former filmmaker who became a scriptwriter with the phony alias of Harry Caine after losing his eyesight many years back, and taken care of by his agent and former lover Judit (Blanca Portillo), reminisces on an episode he’s never escaped from upon being informed that notorious Chilean millionaire Ernesto Martel (played with sinister deadpan by José Luis Gómez) has died. The common link between them was the stunning and alluring Lena (a remarkable and ravishing Penélope Cruz), an ex-call-girl who’s become the mistress and subject of dangerous obsession for Ernesto. Upon learning of her decision to act in a movie being made by Mateo, he finances it in order to have full control on production, including using his son (Rubén Ochandiano), whose sexuality he despises, to spy on Lena with his camera. When Mateo begins a sizzling affair with Lena, things, therefore, take an expectedly bad turn for all. Ironically, the film within the film turns out to be a rehashed version of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, with Almodóvar’s former muse (Carmen Maura) replaced with his then current one.

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Genre: Drama/Romance/Post-Noir
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Silent Wedding [2008]

Romanian theatre artist and filmmaker Horațiu Mălăele’s Silent Wedding had little overtones of the kind of deadpan politically charged black comedies that the Romanian New Wave is most renowned for; the more prominent influence here, instead, was Kusturica’s boisterous signature style and grandiloquent splash. A bucolic farce that gradually, and in darkly funny ways, escalates into a grim tragedy, this is a fantastical fable centered on a rambunctious, gregarious, closely-knit village where – as Bohumil Hrabal would’ve said – time stands still, which gets converted into a ghost town due to the village folks’ inability to dampen their joie de vivre and carefree defiance. Set in 1953 in a lively little village that loves to eat, drink, fight, fornicate and be merry, and is glibly unconcerned with the political forces of the world outside, prepares for a raucous wedding of a young couple – who’ve been romping cacophonously everywhere from open farms to secluded sheds – with music, leery jokes and a grand feast. However, on the day of the wedding, they are informed that a week of national mourning has been announced on account of Stalin’s death and hence any celebrations during this period would be treated as high treason. The villagers, therefore, plan for the titular silent wedding in the middle of the night – an elaborate gag that is bound to end in disaster. Chronicled through flashbacks, wherein the dull, drab, gray present was juxtaposed with the magical, overblown past shot in saturated colours, the film, with its ensemble cast, was enjoyable for its madcap, risqué and oftentimes hilarious comedic elements, albeit tad limited by its simplistic morality, tone bordering on caricature, pastiche of Fellini’s masterful Amarcord and over-the-top goings-on.

Director: Horatju Malaele
Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Political Satire/Ensemble Film
Language: Romanian
Country: Romania