Sunday, 29 January 2023

Sud (South) [1999]

 Sud might well be one of the most violent films in Chantal Akerman’s oeuvre, even if there’s no display of blood in it; the violence in it, rather, hung in the air – in its defiant gaze, discomfiting silences and understated expressions – like brooding and ominous ether. Akerman, inspired by her love for the writings of Faulkner and Baldwin, had travelled to the American South to film a meditative reflection on the land. However, the gruesome lynching and murder of a black working-class man called James Byrd Jr. at the hands of three white supremacists – who flogged him, chained him to their pickup truck, and dragged him for around five kilometres before dumping his dismembered body in front of a church frequented by the town’s African-American community – which had occurred just before she was supposed to begin filming, radically shifted her attention, as she instead decided to set her documentary completely in Jasper, Texas where this horrific incident had occurred, in order to present a dismayed inquiry into the historicity, manifestation, perpetuation and immediate aftermaths of a hate crime such as this. The interviews with the Jasper’s residents covered a wide-ranging discourse – solemn ruminations on centuries of oppression, violence and hatred that African-Americans have faced; description of the specificities of this very public crime; the disquieting machinations of organized right-wing hate groups; the Sheriff’s casual downplaying of the crime’s racist motivations by attributing it to economic factors instead – and these were alternated with a sobering church service in Byrd’s memory; melancholic observations of the place’s oppressive milieu through silent long-takes; and ending the work with an incredibly unsettling tracking shot of the entire stretch through which Byrd was mercilessly dragged.







Director: Chantal Akerman

Genre: Documentary

Language: English

Country: Belgium

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

The Leopard [1963]

 Luchino “Red Count” Visconti was defined by complex contradictions. On one hand he was an aristocrat, the son of a Duke and a Catholic, while on the other he was a Communist, member of the antifascist Resistance during Mussolini’s reign, a pathbreaker and a homosexual. He, in other words, represented the establishment and also defiantly rebelled against it. The Leopard – the lush, resplendent, sweeping, deeply ponderous tour de force and magnificently mounted 3-hour+ epic that’s considered as his greatest masterpiece – too beautifully evoked powerful opposing forces by portraying a proud nobleman’s reluctant acceptance of a new dawn upon realizing that “the times they’re a-changin’”, while lamenting the irrevocable passage of an era. The tumultuous and epochal transformations that Italy underwent during the Risorgimento around the 1860s was captured through Don Fabrizio (Burt Lancastar, in a display of commanding screen presence and majestic performance), an ageing Sicilian patriarch who epitomizes the old social order. Sensing that change is inevitable, he provides his blessings to his dashing nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) – who he loves like his own son – when he joins Garibaldi’s Red Shirts and thereafter pursues political ambitions, though he doesn’t formally join this change himself. Rapturously cinematographed by Giuseppe Rotunno in vivid colours and marvellously scored by Nino Rota, this melancholic meditation on radical social upheavals and generational transformations boasted of two extraordinary set-pieces – a spectacularly staged battle scene, and an absolutely unforgettable 45-minute ballroom sequence orchestrated through breathtaking mise-en-scène, fastidious art decor and enthralling choreography. In an interesting anecdote, Lancastar, Delon and Claudio Cardinale, who played Tancredi’s gorgeous nouveau riche fiancée, couldn’t communicate with each other on the sets, and acted throughout in English, French and Italian, respectively.







Director: Luchino Visconti

Genre: Drama/Historical Drama/Epic

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Sunday, 22 January 2023

Rocco and His Brothers [1960]

 Luchino Visconti’s gritty, poetic and tragic jewel Rocco and His Brothers splendidly exhibited neorealist themes, sensibilities and aesthetics that the director had himself co-created and launched with Ossessione – his stunning transmogrification of James M. Cain’s pulp noir classic The Postman Always Rings Twice – while also subverting the movement’s core rubric through use of professional actors and production designs. With its sprawling yet tightly structured tale of an earthy, closely-knit family that finds itself slowly but inexorably disintegrating upon migrating from the agrarian and rural “south” to the industrialized and urbanized “north” – with dreams of a better life in Milan – the film was at once timeless in its evocation of paradise, the false enticement of money and the corrupting influence of a metropolis, and representative of the post-War Italian zeitgeist. Though structured like a novel with chapters named after each of the brothers, and intricately weaved around the Perondi family that comprised of an overprotective matriarch (Katina Paxinou) and her five sons, it focussed primarily on the volatile and self-destructive Simone (Renato Salvatori) and the soft-spoken and idealistic Rocco (Alain Delon). The repercussions of their severely contradictory fortunes as professional boxers, and their doomed love affairs with Nadia (Annie Girardot), an alluring and fiercely independent prostitute, led them on a violent collision course. Delon, fresh off his sensational turn in Purple Noon which released in the same year, and Salvatori were both superb, while Girardot gave a smouldering and magnetic performance. Giuseppe Rotunno’s mesmeric, high-contrast B/W photography of Milan – with its cathedral, trams, foggy streets, laundromats and desolate outskirts – and Nino Rota’s melancholic score, added arresting dimensions to the film’s brutal and disturbing sequences that’d led to massive censorship challenges.







Director: Luchino Visconti

Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Family Drama/Ensemble Film

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Purple Noon (Plein Soleil) [1960]

 Purple Noon’s synonymity with Alain Delon’s magnetic persona, mythical allure, feline profile and eerily shapeshifting performance is both a testimonial to René Clément’s terrific adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s chilling and mesmeric source novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, and a potential trap for losing sight of its many attributes beyond Delon’s star-making turn. Whenever a masterful novel is adapted into an absorbing film, it’s as fascinating to note their alignments as their departures. Clément adroitly retained the complex essence of Ripley’s disturbing naïveté, unpredictability, chameleon-like nature and sociopathy, and also key elements of the book’s addictive plot; however, it transformed the book’s elegant narrative into a more jagged structure – manifested from the get-go by its abrupt beginning in media res –; replaced the book’s ambiguous finale to the film’s fatalist moral closure which Highsmith apparently disliked; downplayed Ripley’s homoerotic undercurrents while imbuing him with narcissism; and turned the character of Greenleaf (brilliantly played by Maurice Ronet) – who Ripley (Delon) is tasked by the latter’s millionaire American father to bring back from Europe – from a docile, drifting and contented guy to an abrasive, casually brutal and violently impulsive man who’s not averse to cruelly hurting his delicate, beautiful and loving fiancée Marge (Marie Laforêt) and humiliating, even punishing, Tom for his dalliances. Tom, who’s literally shoved himself into the couple’s personal space and is allured by Greenleaf’s entitled life, is himself not averse to committing murders, stealing identity, scheming, perpetrating forgeries and embezzlements, and manipulating or deceiving people, including the gullible Marge. The luscious, sun-baked photography of the luxurious Italian setting – from the majestic Rome to crumbling towns and sumptuous coasts – added sinister sordidness and moody atmosphere to this viscerally immersive thriller.







Director: Rene Clement

Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Psychological Thriller

Language: French

Country: France

Saturday, 14 January 2023

Histoire(s) du Cinéma [1988-1998]


 To say that Godard’s magnum opus Histoire(s) du Cinéma – the 8-part video essay conceived while he was on lecture tours during the 80s, 10 years in the making, and clocking at a massive 266 minutes – is a monumental treatise on cinema is stating the obvious. It’s a dense, daunting, discursive, digressive, deeply self-reflexive, incredibly metatextual, unabashedly polemical, and radical reimagining of what cinema is and can be. And in turn this freeform, kaleidoscopic and demanding work – filled with hyperlinks, reflections, juxtapositions, dizzying montage, and intricate interplay of images, sounds and words – manifested everything that Godard was and remains – viz. a pioneer, a pathbreaker, a prophet, a subversive pun artist, a romantic, a rebel, a staggering intellectual, a profoundly progressive critical thinker and someone for whom history (and story) of cinema – as the wordplay in the title alluded to – and its form and dialectics, were inseparable from the history, story, interpretation and politics of the 20th century. His complex and sprawling meditation on the medium, therefore, encompassed everything from the American studio system to Soviet montage, from Italian neorealism to French avant-garde, and from wide-ranging impressions of other artforms (literature, painting, music) to auto-portraiture. These in turn were overlayed with his wry and weary commentary on fascism, imperialism, capitalism, consumerism, tyranny, exploitation and devastating wars that the century was besieged with, along with stirring espousal of revolutionary ideas and melancholic elegy on cinema. While it was impossible to make note of the slew of films that he referenced – which led to inevitable copyright issues, though, ironically, Godard exempted his own work from copyright restrictions – I managed to count 65-odd films that I’ve watched, though I’m sure I missed a few.







Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film

Language: French

Country: France

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Black Girl [1966]

 Trailblazing Senegalese filmmaker, renowned writer and avowed Marxist Ousmane Sembène’s landmark debut film Black Girl – made just 6 years after his country’s independence from France – remains a ground-breaking work as much for its being one of the first films from sub-Saharan Africa to achieve global recognition as for being a simultaneously lyrical and lashing commentary on the ugly and still lingering yoke of colonialism, racialism and patronizing exploitation in post-colonial Senegal. That it was presented unequivocally and defiantly from the POV of its African protagonist made it all the more radical, powerful and political in that it gave a clear and articulate voice to the colonized – hitherto never the central piece even in the works of progressive Western filmmakers – and became representative of the broader continent that was in the process of regaining their rightful individual and collective identities. Adapted from a short story by Sembène himself – which, in turn, was loosely based on a real life incident – this was a stark, stirring and formally spare account of Diouana (devastatingly brought to life by Mbissine Thérèse Diop in her first and only acting turn), a young, gullible and dreamy girl who’s employed by a well-off French couple and brought from Dakar to the Côte d'Azur to be a nanny to their kids, only to realize that her job there’s that of a lowly domestic help for her “masters”. As this once carefree girl’s excitement of moving to France is crushed and her self-worth thoroughly dehumanized, leading the minimalist narrative – alternatively accompanied by jazz score and lilting Afro folk-music – to its harrowing and haunting climax, her oppressive “present” is juxtaposed with flashbacks from a freer, jauntier and more hopeful past.







Director: Ousmane Sembene

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: French

Country: Senegal

Wednesday, 4 January 2023

Decision to Leave [2022]

 Decision to Leave is one of Park Chan-wook’s most muted works – notwithstanding its arresting set-pieces, panache and controlled stylistic flamboyance – given its relative lack of operatic flourishes. But its theme of dark and self-destructive obsessions, along with its formal palette that was marked with extreme precision – with sprinkles of twisted playfulness thrown in – made this gradually unfolding neo-noir an intriguing new turn for the South Korean maestro. One might also credit that turn to The Little Drummer Girl, his compelling slow-burn adaptation to TV of John le Carré’s Cold War thriller. Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is an insomniac police detective in Busan in a tenuous marriage. His dull, workaholic and largely solitary existence experiences an electrifying jolt when he takes on the investigation of a retired immigration worker who’s found dead at the foot of a cliff that he loved climbing. His doubts about the cause of death – was it an accident or suicide or homicide – turn into an obsession when he meets Seo-rae (Tang Wei), the victim’s cold, enigmatic, enticing, impossibly alluring and significantly younger widow who’d illegally emigrated from China many years back, works at a centre for elderly care, and harbours tantalizing secrets. Though Hae-jun becomes convinced that Seo-rae has killed her husband, the brilliant but heavily repressed cop – reminiscent of Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct – finds himself inexorably drawn to this stunning woman against his best judgements. Despite some of its narrative contrivances and relatively weaker 2nd half, this moody Hitchcockian thriller – boasting of an absorbing turn by Wei, gorgeous production designs, seductive use of Jung Hoon-hee’s song ‘Mist’, and impish play on the slippery nature of languages – made this a gripping, addictive and oftentimes enthralling crime thriller.







Director: Park Chan-wook

Genre: Crime Thriller/Post-Noir/Romantic Noir/Police Procedural

Language: Korean

Country: South Korea

Tuesday, 27 December 2022

Mammo [1994]

 The scarring memories of Partition – displacement of millions; the macabre violence, irreparable loss and profound rootlessness that accompanied it; the absurdity of an imaginary line on the map and barbed wires permanently dividing people; the ensuing politics of prejudice – were hauntingly referenced in Mammo. The first film in Benegal’s ‘Trilogy of Muslim Women’ – which also comprised of Sardari Begum and Mammo’s pequel Zubeidaa, and all written by Khalid Mohamed based on incidents from his life – provided a powerful repudiation of the recently enacted citizenship law – alongside the right-wing populism, jingoism and otherization that catalysed its formulation – through a Muslim woman who’d been compelled to move to Pakistan but craves to return, as much because of the oppression that she faced there as a childless and dispossessed widow, as because she considers India her home. Riyaz (Rajit Kapoor), a writer who lives with his aged grandmother Fayyazi (the brilliant Surekha Sikri), chronicles this story from 20 years back when, as a moody 13-year-old kid – who, like Antoine Doinel, loves skipping school to watch movies in theatres – finds his and his grandma’s lives turned upside-down by the unannounced arrival of “Mammo Nani”. A person of extraordinary verve, vitality and exuberance, despite the gut-wrenching experiences she carries; fearlessly frank and opinionated; as well-read in Faiz’s poetry and Manto’s short stories as in the Quran; devout, while also harbouring stirringly progressive views; and played with extraordinary warmth, vivaciousness and delicacy by Faridah Jalal, Mammo Begum is ready to subvert political systems to be with her sister and nephew in Bombay. Alas, she can’t escape the vicious cycle of life and the devastating trauma of being forcibly evicted for a second time!







Director: Shyam Benegal

Genre: Drama/Political Drama

Language: Hindi/Urdu

Country: India

Sunday, 25 December 2022

Mandi [1983]

 Mandi, or physical marketplace, manifests market economy, interplay of demand and supply, and flow of capital; it’s a place, therefore, marked by bedlam, greed, jealousy, Machiavellian manoeuvrings, and even exploitation of labour, while also championing coexistence, camaraderie and community. Shyam Benegal’s bold, chaotic, satirical, mesmeric, compassionate, and, I daresay, Feliniesque film – set in a raucous and throbbing bordello in Hyderabad – triumphantly embodied and embraced all the afore-mentioned traits. That it so marvellously avoided male gaze, voyeuristic impulses and sensationalism despite a subject such as this, and didn’t whitewash anyone even while humanizing the intensely ostracized field of prostitution, underscored this maximalist tale with nuance, delicacy and seriousness. Rukmini Bai (played with commanding brilliance by Shabana Azmi in one of the finest performances of her career) is the madam and matriarch of the afore-mentioned brothel, which she runs with intelligence, grit, cunning and flair. She cares for the place and her girls, is fiercely protective of their agency, and is especially fond of Zeenat (Smita Patil) who’s getting trained in classical singing. Their seemingly harmonious co-existence within the neighbourhood’s ecosystem, however, comes under attack on account of wealthy businessman Gupta (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) who’d like to have the land cleared, and a shrill moral policing City Councillor (Gita Siddharth). The magnificent ensemble cast comprised of a slew of stalwarts of the then “parallel cinema” movement – Naseeruddin Shah in a terrific turn as Rukmini’s volatile factotum Tungrus, Om Puri as a leery photographer, Soni Razdan as Rukmini’s sharp-tongued colleague, Saeed Jaffrey as Gupta’s reluctant ally, Amrish Puri as a bombastic Sufi cleric, Satish Kaushik as Gupta’s unctuous assistant, Neena Gupta as one of Rukmini’s girls, Pankaj Kapoor as a phony activist, etc.







Director: Shyam Benegal

Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Social Satire/Ensemble Film

Language: Hindi

Country: India

Wednesday, 21 December 2022

New Delhi Times [1986]

 Serious and meaningful films on journalism in India are as rare and elusive as serious and meaningful journalism in India – which, of course, isn’t unsurprising given that what passes off as “journalism” in this country, barring a handful of exceptions that can be counted by the fingers of one hand, is a manifestation of the grotesquerie that Wilder presented in his trenchant media satire Ace in the Hole. Films like New Delhi Times and Writing with Fire, therefore, are exceptions that prove the damning rule. Directed with here-and-now gusto by Ramesh Sharma and eloquently written by the great Gulzar, it fearlessly focussed on the unholy love triangle which has become even more conspicuous now than it was then, viz. government-corporate-media nexus. The story is centred on Vikas Pande (Shashi Kapoor), a middle-aged, upright and respected executive editor at the eponymous newspaper, who’s immensely committed to his work and isn’t afraid to speak truth to power. A criminally negligent hooch tragedy and the murder of a politician at a town in Uttar Pradesh catch his attention. And, as he starts digging into these two seemingly unrelated incidents, he ends up uncovering a murky political conspiracy that goes all the way to the state’s Chief Minister who’s embroiled in a grimy power struggle with a brash and ambitious MLA (Om Puri). The dogged and potentially perilous investigative journalism that he conducts, strains his marriage to his lawyer-wife (Sharmila Tagore), earns him the acute displeasure of the politicos, and even sets him at loggerheads with the scion (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) of the ageing industrialist who owns newspaper. His friendship with Anwar, a cynical but fearless photo-journalist, added an interesting layer to the proceedings.







Director: Ramesh Sharma

Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller

Language: Hindi

Country: India

Friday, 16 December 2022

Coup de Torchon (Clean Slate) [1981]

 There’re two kinds of memorable cinematic adaptations of literary texts – those where the filmmaker imbues their vision and signature while retaining the book’s narrative details; and those where s/he radically supplants its location, context and period, and even laces it with politics specificities of its own, while retaining only its thematic essence and narrative barebones. Bertrand Tavernier’s caustic, unsettling and brilliant neo-noir Coup de Tronchon – like such other fabulous examples as Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, Godard’s Band of Outsiders, Kurosawa’s Ran, Bharadwaj’s Shakespeare Trilogy (Maqbool, Omkara and Haider), etc. – emphatically belongs to the latter category. In this fascinating rendering of Jim Thompson’s pulp novel Pop. 1280, Tavernier transplanted the tale from the American Deep South of 1960s to Senegal under French colonialism in 1938 with WW2 lurking round the corner. As may therefore be guessed, he added lashing commentaries on the horrors of colonialism, along with racism, moral rot and human corruption, into this story of violence and sociopathy. Lucian (Philippe Noiret) is a seemingly good-natured but simpleton cop in a dusty shantytown who’s cruelly humiliated by two local pimps, lampooned by his boss, scorned by his peers, pitied by the locals, and cuckolded by his sensuous wife (Stéphane Audran) who’s even kept a lover at home. However, upon being gradually pushed to the precipice, he finally snaps with stunning brutality. In parallel he starts a racy affair with a saucy, nubile widow (Isabelle Huppert) who he’d been lusting after for long. The sun-washed visuals, terrific jazz score, compelling use of single-takes and grimy atmosphere marvellously interplayed with pitch-perfect performances, tar-black humour and scalding political overtones in this work filled with macabre energy, hilarious absurdity and manic unpredictability.







Director: Bertrand Tavernier

Genre: Black Comedy/Crime Comedy/Neo-Noir

Language: French

Country: France

Sunday, 11 December 2022

The Son's Room [2001]

 Loss and grief, as subjects, can be both oppressive and liberating, and different directors, therefore, have tackled them in remarkably diverse ways. Nanni Moretti, in his Palm d’Or winning film The Son’s Room – which transformed his position from a maker of cult, idiosyncratic movies to more mainstream recognition – covered these with nuance, simplicity, and a delicate mix of levity and solemnity, while steadfastly side-stepping sentimentality. The film, interestingly, can be roughly broken into two very tonally divergent halves. It commenced with a charmingly joyous family – Giovanni (Moretti), a well-off psychotherapist, is happily married to the loving and lovely Paola (Laura Morante), and has two loving and lively teenage kids, son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice) and daughter Irene (Jasmine Trinca). The easy-going camaraderie that they share is immediately evidenced when we see the parents supporting Andrea – and even joking about it – upon his suspension for allegedly stealing a fossil from the school’s chemistry lab, and that’s accompanied by vignettes of Giovanni’s deadpan counselling of his neurotic patients. Their perfectly balanced world, however, collapses when a devastating tragedy strikes, and everything starts going recklessly haywire – Giovanni becomes beset with severe guilt, his calm deneanour starts crumbling, and he starts becoming disinterested in his job; the vivacious Paola becomes crushed and distant by grief; and the spunky Irene becomes angry and helpless. The disintegration of this perfect family, fortunately, gets a sliver of hope when they become aware of a girl (Sofia Vigliar) with whom Andrea had begun a platonic friendship. Moretti deftly donned dual hats – like he’s done throughout his filmography – in this superbly acted drama where a therapist and his family, ironically, end up in a bad need for therapy themselves.







Director: Nanni Moretti

Genre: Drama/Family Drama

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Paris Belongs to Us [1961]

 Rivette’s exhilarating debut feature Paris Belongs to Us – the film’s emblematic title could serve as a slogan for the Nouvelle Vague in how the city played such an absorbing role in it, even if it ironically began with the quote “Paris belongs to no one” – should’ve been one of the first works of that extraordinary movement. However, chronic funding, postproduction and distribution challenges meant that by the time it saw the light of day, both Truffaut and Godard had made their legendary debuts, and as a result it was relegated to their shadows. At once expansive and close-knit, freewheeling and compact, and luminous and idiosyncratic, this fascinating co-existence of antithetical facets was mirrored by its arresting tonal diversities too – especially in the way bonhomie, melancholy, angst, idealistic fervour and paranoia were intermingled across its sprawling narrative. Anne (Betty Schneider) is a naïve and lonely literature student whose staid life is irrevocably disrupted upon becoming enraptured by a group of non-conformist and radical bohemians, thanks to a party she attends on her elder brother Pierre’s (François Maistre) invitation. There she learns about Juan, an anti-Frank rebel, who's mysteriously died; meets Philip (Daniel Crohem), a Pulitzer-winning journalist on the run from McCarthyism, who’s convinced of a sinister global conspiracy; befriends Gérard (Giani Esposito), a passionate theatre director struggling to stage Shakespeare’s Pericles; and becomes mystified by Terry (Françoise Prévost), a femme fatale who was earlier Juan’s fiancée and who the doomed Gérard is now bewitched by. The luscious B/W photography of Parisian cafés, hotels, streets, corners, desolate exteriors and cramped indoor spaces, and the jazz-based score, accentuated its ominous moodiness and evocative zeitgeist. The film also boasts of a sardonic cameo by Godard.







Director: Jacques Rivette

Genre: Drama/Urban Drama

Language: French

Country: France

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Lal Darja (The Red Door) [1997]

 Reality, dreams, memories, and fantasy coalesced quite freely in Lal Darja, with its mystifying title referring to the potential path to freedom, escape and happiness, as well as – ironically – something that's destined to remain hopelessly unattainable. However, despite what its intriguing premise might suggest, it was also a film seeped in bleak realism, existential crisis, and despair. In this seeming dissonance – between its subtly grand formal crux and downbeat lyricism – and the heavy use of allegories, lay its strength as well as relative blemish, especially the weightiness and tonal unevenness in this otherwise wry, understated and melancholic work. The movie’s protagonist is Nabin Dutta (Subhendu Chatterjee), a dreary and increasingly withdrawn middle-aged dentist who’s in a clear state of quandary – the relationship with his wife has collapsed irrevocably, his teenage son refuses to speak to him, and he’s even started making some rather silly errors at work. His gloom and acute loneliness are manifested by an inexplicable disease that’s causing impotency and plaguing his emotional stability – and for which he visits a gaggling doctor (Haradhan Bandopadhyay) who possibly doesn’t exist –; sardonically juxtaposed by the sense of perplexity he continually experiences on account of his  easy-going chauffeur who’s happily married to two women, including the coquettish and alluring Maloti (Indrani Haldar) – something that could just be a figment of his imagination as well, even if that isn’t explicitly established –; and alleviated to some extent by his regular falling back to his memories of growing up in the tranquil environs of Cherrapunji when he believed that he had the power to open the eponymous red door, on the other side of which lay the answers to all his wishes.







Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: Bengali

Country: India

Saturday, 19 November 2022

Tahader Katha (Their Story) [1992]

 The understated palette, languorous pacing, and moody poetic realism in Dasgupta’s haunting and eloquent film Tahader Katha, were strikingly counterpointed with its bristling undercurrents of fury. It formed a fitting companion piece to the director’s next work Charachar, in that the protagonists of both films were fragile and eccentric outsiders – a disillusioned and tormented former freedom fighter, and a passionate bird-lover, respectively – who’re at complete odds with the society for being square pegs in round holes. Shibnath (Mithun Chakraborty), finally released upon India’s independence after having spent eleven years in prison during the British Raj, has been left utterly broken both physically and psychologically – he even spent three years in a mental asylum and still carries the ravaging scars of PTSD – on account of relentless torture, harsh conditions and solitary confinement. Further, the horrors of partition – during which his wife (Anashua Mujumdar) and kids who were forced into becoming refugees from East Bengal – and the pervading human corruption that he witnesses as he’s finally reunited with his family – manifested in particular by his former comrade Bipin (Dipankar De) who trumpets himself as a great patriot in his efforts to become an elected politician, despite minimal contributions – leaves him angry, cynical and disenchanted… so much so, that he alienates everyone around him and withdraws into a melancholic shell. Buoyed by Mithun’s alternatively muted and ferocious turn, and the sublime portrayal of rural Bengal – through long takes, gentle pans, sublime vistas and disarming 360-degree camera turns – its circular arc reminded me of Angelopoulos’ devastating tour de force Voyage to Cythera, where too a former rebel finds himself stranded in an alien land upon returning home after many years in political exile.







Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Existential Drama

Language: Bengali

Country: India

Sunday, 13 November 2022

Charachar (Shelter of the Wings) [1993]

 Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Charachar – adapted from a Prafulla Roy novel, and made in a phase when he was crafting one acclaimed arthouse film after another – is a tender, understated and poignant parable on the existential crisis of an eccentric, misunderstood man – a misfit and an outsider, like most protagonists in his oeuvre – who’s finding himself unable to reconcile to his livelihood. Lakhinder (Rajit Kapoor), a young and simple guy residing in a tiny hamlet with his wife (Laboni Sarkar), earns his living as a bird-catcher. He spends his days with the middle-aged Bhushan (Sadhu Meher) – whose beautiful teenage daughter (Indrani Haldar) has a soft corner for the dreamy Lakhinder – in uninhabited fields and forests in order to cater to a local dealer. He, however, has developed such a deep love for birds, that he’s finding it increasingly difficult to accept them confined within cages, and hence keeps releasing them. As a result, his debt and therefore impoverishment are constantly on the rise, which in turn has taken his marriage to the brink of collapse, as his intensely frustrated wife has secretly started an affair with another man (Shankar Chakraborty) who bestows gifts on her. As he keeps sliding into an alternate world unencumbered by practical expectations and daily rigmarole, that transition gets permanently sealed upon a trip to Calcutta, in order to sell their birds to another dealer (Manoj Mitra) at a higher price, that ends on a devastating note for this sensitive guy who was already teetering on the edge. The film is filled with marvellously photographed vistas of rural Bengal and a lonesome, poetic atmosphere, thus ironically making it an incredibly benign counterpoint to Hitchcock’s The Birds.







Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Rural Drama

Language: Bengali

Country: India

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Grihajuddha (Crossroads) [1982]

 The sub-genre of paranoia/conspiracy thrillers – covering political corruption, institutional malfeasance, sordid machinations of large corporations, covering up of inconvenient truths using compromised agencies, and unravelling of the rut, amidst an atmosphere of secrecy, disillusionment and fatalism – was incredibly relevant to the political zeitgeist of the 50, 60s and in particular the 70s. Buddhadeb Dasgupta, rooted to the Bengal/Calcutta milieu, but surely well-aware of this genre trend, amalgamated its facets into the backdrop of Naxalite movement and its explosive face-off with the industry-government nexus, into his early film Grihajuddha. Quite atypical to his oeuvre, it was gritty, confrontational, discomfiting, and defiantly positioned to the left in its bristling critique of the state, big business, and complicity of those aspiring for class transition. When a senior labour union leader, who’s stumbled upon some murky information involving the steel giant where he’s employed, dies under mysterious circumstances – ostensibly in an accident, but possibly murdered by his powerful employer – and firebrand union leader Prabir gets beaten to death by lumpen elements thereafter, lives of three people get transformed irrevocably. Nirupama (Mamata Shankar), the latter’s soft-spoken but morally resolute sister, is arm-twisted into relocating and forced into taking a job in the same organization due to severe financial stress; Bijon (Anjan Dutt), once an idealistic guy who followed Prabir and had a relationship with Nirupama, is compelled to go into hiding, but returns completely changed into a cynical guy who’s decided to move on; and Sandipan (Goutam Ghose), a journalist who’s committed to uncovering the conspiracy despite his slimy boss’ stonewalling. The film’s production and post-production aspects were rough, even stilted, at times, but its political and moral compass were fierce, uninhibited, and unwavering.

Note: My earlier review of this film can be found here.







Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Genre: Thriller/Political Drama/Conspiracy Thriller

Language: Bengali

Country: India

Friday, 14 October 2022

Pierrot le Fou [1965]

 The anarchist, non-conformist, prankster, satirist, cynic, romantic and mad genius residing within Godard were all on dazzling display in Pierrot Le Fou – his exuberant, impudent, goofy and crazy gem. He took the template of outlaw lovers – or, in his words, the “the last romantic couple” – on crime spree, and deliriously punched into that pop-art aesthetics, wacky humour, comic-book violence, idiosyncratic genre subversion, sardonic class commentary, hilarious satire on consumerism, lacerating indictment on militarism, and a whole lot of manic fun, thus making this a dizzying mosaic packed with political, cultural, cinematic and literary references. That his marriage to Anna Karina was falling apart, added a poignant touch to their fifth and penultimate collaboration. Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) – a media exec leading an unfulfilled bourgeois existence filled with ennui, domesticity and shallow social circles, and married to a well-off wife (Graziella Galvani) who’s consumed by vacuous consumerism – takes off on a whim with Marianne (Karina), his ex-girlfriend and member of an underground racket on the run from OAS gangsters. They steal cars, commit murders, swindle, and engage in subterfuge as they ride drive Paris to Côte d’Azur in search of escape and idyll. Along the way they encounter dwarf criminals, perform a couple of infectious musical sequences, make buffoons of American GI’s through a parodic agitprop street theatre on the Vietnam War, etc. Belmondo as the deadpan and philosophical Ferdinand, and Karina as the enchanting and impulsive Marianne, made for an unforgettable pair in this zany work flamboyantly photographed by Coutard. American filmmaker Samuel Fuller, in an ironic cameo, mentions “cinema is like a battleground”… Godard emphatically espoused that maxim here, and made it his raison d'être over his radical career.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here.







Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Drama/Black Comedy/Satire/Road Movie/Musical/Avant-Garde

Language: French

Country: France

Wednesday, 12 October 2022

Vivre sa Vie (My Life to Live) [1962]

 Vivre Sa Vie – with its desolate realism, melancholy and pathos – possibly ranks among Godard’s most solemn, understated and restrained works. Yet, it was also splendidly suffused with wry ironies, socio-political jabs, Brechtian technique, metatextuality, detours and dazzling narrative ingenuity – and this interplay between aesthetics, form, structure, themes and political undercurrents made this a work of rare beauty, depth and bravado. Broken into twelve tableaux – each beginning with an intertitle reminiscent of pre-20th century literature – it chronicled the life of the lovely and lost Nana (anagram of Godard’s muse and the film’s effervescent heroine Anna Karina), who wishes to escape from her dreary existence. She therefore breaks off her marriage and quits her job in a record store, dreaming of becoming a movie actress, but ends up as a prostitute on the streets of Paris. Godard interspersed her poignant, edgy and doomed journey with sublime moments, droll interludes, rich literary allusions and bravura filmmaking. In an iconic scene Nana is captured in a heart-breaking close-up as she watches Falconetti in Dreyer’s The Passion ofJoan of Arc; in another unforgettable sequence, she lets herself loose through a carefree dance to a pulsating jazz score in a pool room; the murder of an Algerian protestor being shot at by the French police is juxtaposed with a bravura jump-cut montage; the film’s elegiac score is often stopped without a cue; French prostitution laws are detailed in a deadpan voice akin to an educational newsreel; Truffaut’s Jules and Jim is shown playing at a Paris cinema; Baudelaire’s translation of Poe’s writing being read out by Godard’s voiceover; a long sequence where renowned philosopher Brice Parain answers Nana’s questions on language, love and whatnot.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here.







Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama/Avant-Garde

Language: French

Country: France

Sunday, 9 October 2022

Le Mépris (Contempt) [1963]

 Godard’s breathtaking, sensuous and fierce masterpiece Le Mépris was packed with cinematic references and straddled multiple dichotomous facets. Adapted from Moravia’s commanding and ferocious novel Il Disprezzo, this smouldering examination of marital disintegration, artistic integrity, and filmmaking was simultaneously suffused with decadent classicism and blazing modernism – aesthetically, thematically and formally – while positing commentaries on modernist interpretations of classical texts, cinematic grammar – interlacing the lush, sensorial and opulent melodrama of Old Hollywood with deconstructive, subversive and radical avant-garde elements –, and overlaps between truth and artifice. Coutard’s resplendent cinematography – delineated with bold primary colours, interplays between intimate close-ups and sumptuous wide-angled frames, and glorious tracking shots –, Georges Delerue’s deeply elegiac score, and co-existence of immaculate mise-en-scène with montages, likened it to the Greek tragedy that formed here – as in the source novel – the focal point for both the plot and broader thematic explorations. Paul (Michel Piccoli), once an independent playwright, has been lured by easy money from writing movie screenplays – ostensibly to provide a luxurious life for his ravishing wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot), but essentially manifesting his self-delusion, hypocrisy and artistic decomposition. Things get dramatically complicated when he takes a job from vulgar, overbearing American producer Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rework the great Fritz Lang’s allegorical adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey into a mainstream costume drama. Meanwhile, the couple’s marriage unravels over the three-act structure, as the underlying malaise and disaffection reaches irreconcilable proportions during the brilliant mid-section staged within their apartment, and gets sealed during their trip to Capri where the filming is underway. This mesmeric work – right from the voyeuristic opening sequence drooling over Bardot’s body to the fatalistic climax – was therefore at once exultant, ponderous and disquieting.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here.







Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Drama/Marriage Drama/Showbiz Satire/Avant-Garde

Language: French/English

Country: France