Saturday, 22 January 2022

Azor [2021]

Andreas Fontana, in his directorial debut itself – based on a screenplay jointly written with Mariano Llinás, who made the gargantuan masterwork La Flor – created an ominous, viscerally unsettling, impeccably designed film, on a politically sordid and morally murky subject, with Azor. This superb conspiracy thriller addressed two facets from Argentina’s macabre “Dirty War” period – the grotesque, fascist civic-military dictatorship during which extermination of left-wing intellectuals, journalists, students, unionists and political dissidents was so rampant, that even a false word – even by someone who’s affluent and well-connected to the establishment – could get one disappeared; and, the odious role played by Swiss banks in perpetuating the murderous neoliberal junta, under the guise of “neutrality”. Yvan De Wiel (Fabrizio Rongione) is a Swiss private banker – he’s one of the honchos of a firm, co-founded by his grandfather, that discreetly manages finances of the super-wealthy – who’s come from Geneva to Buenos Aires to retain their most elite clients after his partner René – a flamboyant, charming and enigmatic man – has mysteriously disappeared, possibly into “some Argentinian basement” like so many other dissenters. He’s smooth and appropriately low-key in his demeanour, proficient in multiple languages, always conservatively dressed in expensive suits, comfortable amidst lazy and plush elegance, and is accompanied by his alluring, savvy wife Inés (Stephanie Cléau) who’s his confidante and co-conspirator. As he navigates into ranches, villas, exclusive clubs and secret outposts, with measured steps and eerie calm, to retain his prized clientele, he gets drawn into the rotten core of evil. That he displays implacable willingness to participate, despite becoming increasingly aware of the monstrous repressions around him, made this gorgeously photographed and scored film all the more riveting, sinister and frightening.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Andreas Fontana

Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller/Conspiracy Thriller

Language: Spanish/French

Country: Argentina

Saturday, 8 January 2022

Spencer [2021]

 Two different creative personas – with strikingly different preferences and palettes – have come to inhabit Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín. One, who makes movies in his native language and country, is bold, brilliant, subversive, provocative, vociferously political and artistically dazzling; the other, who’s just ventured for the second time into English, is more sedate in his approach, more classical in his form, and despite the occasional bursts of political implications and undercurrents of provocative jabs, has so far preferred sombre, reflective, tightly-knit psychological dramas. Suffice it to say, I love the first Larraín; however, while I had mixed reactions to Jackie, I couldn’t help but start feeling some admiration towards his latter avatar as well upon watching his second tryst, Spencer (though, admittedly, the gap is unlikely to ever be bridged). Interestingly, both films steadfastly focused on emotionally wrangling and definitive episodes in the lives of two famous women who were also pop-culture icons. It chronicled an intensely personal odyssey of Princess Diana over three turbulent days during the winter of 1991 – Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day – where she must battle through intense self-doubt,  near nervous breakdown, loneliness, claustrophobic environs, intrusions into her personal space, and frosty-beyond-repair relationship with her royal husband and mum-in-law, for undergoing self-discovery and in turn breaking free. Despite a few clunky moments, the film was noteworthy for Larraín’s willingness to not be bound by either historical realism or puritanical propriety, and arguably more so thanks to the enchanting Kristen Stewart’s fabulous turn in the titular role of the fragile, troubled and fiercely alive protagonist. And now one wonders which famous and alluring woman Larraín will focus on next to complete his purported trilogy.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Pablo Larrain

Genre: Drama/Biopic/Historical Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: English

Country: UK

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Ankur (The Seedling) [1974]

 Shyam Benegal’s prescient, evocative and simmering debut film Ankur operated at the intersection of various hideous social evils – patriarchy, caste discrimination and class divides – within an oppressive feudal structure. Abuse of social capital, fragility of women’s agency, and brazen inequities at play at every stratum – and in turn, various permutations of power imbalances, on account of the three variables of caste, class and gender – were at the forefront of this disarmingly lucid and lyrical tale. The various observations and indictments, however, were organically enmeshed into the proceedings such that the pointed social commentaries only gradually and progressively simmered, until the gut-wrenching finale leaves one scalded with its fury. Interestingly, it started off on a simple note as Surya (Anant Nag), who detests his overbearing father’s mistress and wishes to study further, is compelled to take administrative charge of their lands in a nearby village. Thereafter it transitions into a complicated love story as he, while waiting alone for his wife to reach puberty, becomes attracted to and boldly begins an illicit relationship with Lakshmi (Shabana Azmi), a penurious Dalit woman married to a deaf-mute man (Sadhu Meher) who’s taken to alcoholism upon losing his pottery trade and exacerbated by his inability to impregnate his wife. Things, however, take bleaker turns as Surya’s seemingly demure young wife (Priya Tendulkar), upon eventually joining him, immediately develops an open dislike for Lakshmi; and then, upon Lakshmi informing that she’s pregnant, the unequivocal revelation that Surya’s earlier persona was essentially a sham. Azmi, in her debut role, was terrific as an exploited woman who refuses to go down silently despite being at massive disadvantage on all three parameters, viz. gender, caste and class.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Shyam Benegal

Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Rural Drama

Language: Hindi

Country: India

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Sang-e-Meel Se Mulaqat [1989]

 Ustad Bismillah Khan was to Shehnai what Ravi Shankar (or Vilayat Khan) was to Sitar, Alla Rakha was to Tabla, and Ali Akbar Khan (or Amjad Ali Khan) was to Sarod – viz. not just an exponent of Hindustani Classical music, but also someone who was synonymous with the instrument he played. But, despite his unparalleled mastery of Shehnai – the notes of which, as Tagore so unforgettably wrote in Kabuliwallah, sound as if one’s heart is weeping – his existence wasn’t limited to this prowess alone. Goutam Ghose, in his poetic and mellifluous documentary Sang-e-Meel Se Mulaqat, provided a rare peek into the life, thoughts, love and experiences that shaped this extraordinary artist. His passion and excellence, of course, were at the very forefront of this deliberately paced work, and which was further amplified by a number of absorbing “live” performances – both solo and with his troupe. And, what made it further interesting were the depiction of his all-consuming love for classical music; anecdotes recounted by him that brought forth his immersion into and journey with this form; his ascetic life; his incredible bond with the city of Benaras which he called home; his penchant for singing – which he expressed quite a few times – and his love for “Thumri” which, unfortunately, is viewed rather pejoratively by many; his ever-smiling and jovial disposition; and, in perhaps the most fascinating display of the maestro, his syncretic, broad-minded and secular mindset, while still being deeply rooted in his faith and culture. All these facets were captured through leisurely conversations, and were regularly interspersed with beautifully shot vistas of the teeming ghats, ancient mansions, winding lanes and the unmistakable atmosphere of Khan Sahab’s beloved city.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Goutam Ghose

Genre: Documentary/Musical/Biopic

Language: Urdu/Hindi

Country: India