Tuesday, 25 February 2020

This is Not a Film [2011]

While Jafar Pinahi’s works have usually always been a reflection of his defiance, it surely reached gargantuan proportions with This is Not a Film. As a way to tamper his political outspokenness, he was sentenced to 6 years in prison, and a banned for 20 years from writing and directing movies, giving interviews and travelling internationally; therefore, in an act of fearless dissent, he illegally made this non-film with the help of Mojtaba Mirtahmasb – shot entirely inside his lovely Tehran apartment where he was under house arrest pending further appeals, and using a mix of a hand-held movie camera and an iPhone – and had this smuggled out of the country in a flash drive for a surprise screening at the Cannes. Yet interestingly, this pocket-sized provocation – right from its ironic title to its seemingly faux tone – was also surprisingly cheeky and rarely took itself too seriously despite the shadows of potential doom. Less a film and more a spontaneous video essay, it captured a day in his life stuck in his house, as he speaks to his lawyer, reminisces about his earlier works, discusses his latest screenplay which is banned by the government censors, recreates a sequence from his forbidden script, plays with his pet iguana, engages in satirical conversations with Mirtahmasb, briefly enjoys the Fireworks Wednesday celebrations, and builds a fleeting connect with the guy who collects their wastes while pursuing a university career in the arts. The wry conversations and musings on the absurd punishment and its potential loopholes, masking the seriousness and fatalism underneath, made this an exemplary work of political bravery – that too, without really comprising of any overtly political discourse or protestations within it.

Director: Jafar Pinahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Genre: Documentary/Diary Film
Language: Persian
Country: Iran

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Arabian Nights [2015]

Miguel Gomes’ eccentric and ambitious magnum opus Arabian Nights – spread over 6 hours and split into three volumes (The Restless One, The Desolate One, The Enchanted One) is a work of contradictory brilliance, borne out of anger, dispair and bitterness, and packed with absurdity, melancholy, magic realism and acrid humour; or, as another reviewer marvelously put it, it’s “the blind men’s elephant: miniseries and short story cycle, documentary and fantasy, proletarian and prohibitive.” It begins with reportage of two parallel events – the heartwrenching closure of an enormous shipyard, and a wasp plague. With these, along with the simmering rage at how a government bereft of social justice held a beleaguered Portugal hostage to economic austerity – which led to slashing of jobs, wages and pensions – begins a series of curiously fascinating tableaux curated by a team of journalists Gomes had tasked with finding stories from across the country from that devastating period, using One Thousand and One Nights as a framing device. The best of the nine episodes, along with the vérité style opening chapter, comprised of – the nasty account of a group of bankers willing to ease up on austerity in exchange for cure to their impotence; the powerfully bleak tale of individuals left unemployed by the crisis, invited for a rare moment of fun; a satirical public trial which starts with a trifle offence, becomes increasingly elaborate and crazy, until no one’s innocent; a deeply affecting tale of a dog in a huge apartment block whose owners keep changing; an intimate monologue of a Chinese immigrant girl set against videos of massive public protest; and, a dream-like, quietly enthralling and nearly dialogue-free montage on a disappearing group of birdtrappers.

Director: Miguel Gomes
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Black Comedy/Political Satire/Fantasy
Language: Portuguese
Country: Portugal

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Jojo Rabbit [2019]

Comedy (or humour), as the adage goes, equals tragedy plus time; and this does open up artistic and political possibilities in terms of deploying ironic, absurdist, darkly humorous portrayals of subjects that demand seriousness in the “present”. Furthermore, movies have also, over the years, chronicled horrors and devastations through the eyes of kids – from Germany Year Zero, Ivan’s Childhood and Cria Cuervos to Life is Beautiful, Pan’s Labyrinth and Turtles Can Fly. However, if this combination borders on flippant, shallow and simplistic, sacrificing complexity for cuteness and easy guffaws, and is filled with easy sentimentality and pat humanism, for a subject as dark and monstrous as the Holocaust, things can get squeaky and problematic, even if there’re loads of whimsy and playful ingenuity. That, in short, defines Taiki Watiti’s “anti-hate satire” Jojo Rabbit. That it was moderately engaging, had funny moments and was based on an interesting premise with a lot of potential, is beside the point. The film’s protagonist is 10-year old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a Nazi fanatic and member of the Hitler Youth living with her mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) during the last days of WWII. His mother is part of the Resistance and hence is mostly out; his father’s at the Italian front; he’s often bullied for his lack of ability to inflict cruelty; and he has an imaginary friend in the form of a goofy Hitler (Watiti). His rabid love for anything Nazi, however, hits a strange roadblock when he finds Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a 16-year old Jewish girl, hidden in their home; and, despite his preconceived notion about Jews courtesy the propaganda all around him, he starts developing a crush for her.

Director: Taika Waititi
Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Political Satire
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Tabu [2012]

Miguel Gomes’ offbeat, poetic and ravishingly beautiful Tabu is a delightfully lavish exercise in melodrama – a genre rarely associated with arthouse rigour and minimalism. And, it’s also a meditation on old age, an infectious love story, an ingenious exercise in formal audacity and, crucially, a striking commentary on the dark heart of colonialism – including, the shallow romanticization of it in cinema. And these, in turn, made this delightfully old-fashioned and yet impishly modernist. The movie started with a dreamlike non-sequitar sequence of a Portuguese explorer in Africa surrounded by the suffering continent’s slave natives and haunted by his dead wife. At this point the main narrative kicked off, structured into two dramatically different halves (stylistically, spatially and temporarily). Part 1 (“Paradise Lost”) was centered on three Lisbon-based women –soft-spoken Human Rights activist Pilar (Teresa Madruga), her neurotic and aged neighbor Aurora (Laura Soveral) and the latter’s African immigrant housemaid (Isabel Muñoz Cardoso) who regularly faces racist insinuations from her senile employer; Part 2 (“Paradise”), told in a long flashback, and set somewhere in Lusophone Aftica just before the Portuguese Colonial War began, chronicled the scorching, illicit affair between a younger Pilar (Ana Moreira), married to a wealthy colonial settler, and a rakish young musician (Carloto Cotta) fleeing from his debobair past. The restrained chamber drama of the first half made for a fascinating contrast to the gloriously sweeping and swashbuckling second which, interestingly, almost played out like an old film with a voice-over narration replacing onscreen dialogues. The elegiac piano score that the film began and is interspersed with, peppy pop songs and rich, grainy B/W photography marvelously complemented its quirky, impressionistic and emotionally enthralling tone and texture.

Director: Miguel Gomes
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Adventure
Language: Portuguese
Country: Portugal

Friday, 14 February 2020

Little Women [2019]

Going by Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s previous directorial venture, Little Women seemed a dramatic departure; yet, on closer look, they aren’t such poles apart after all. Both are jubilantly spunky works, comprise of stirring feminist subtexts, filled with unwavering exuberance despite the interpersonal conflicts, and feature ferociously independent-minded protagonists. An adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic semi-autobiographical novel, albeit with some artistic licence in merging the book and its author, the film focused on the multi-layered camaraderie of the March sisters – Josephine aka Jo (Saoirse Ronan), a free-spirited, rebellious and confused girl-woman with a gift for writing; Amy (Florence Pugh), a complicated, conflicted and yet resolute wannabe painter, with a love-hate relationship with Jo as much for her natural talent and carefree demeanor as for the fact that their wealthy neighbor (Timothée Hal Chalamet) she’s in love with is besotted with Jo; Margaret aka Meg (Emma Watson), whose love for fashion and the stage are contrasted with her desire for a conventional family life; and Elizabeth aka Beth (Eliza Scanlen), the most sensitive and warm-hearted of the lot with a passion for the piano. And then there’s their incredibly charitable and affectionate monther, Marmee (Laura Dern), who is the anchor to their lives and whose character was based on the author’s own mother. In an interesting artistic choice by Gerwig, the film is chronicled using a non-linear narrative structure, which made it tad tricky to follow at times, but nicely enhanced the film’s lush emotional quotient by smartly juxtaposing moments of joy, fun and elation with sorrow, pain and loss. The movie was uniformly strong in the acting department, with Ronan being the most memorable of ’em all.

Director: Greta Gerwig
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Romantic Drama
Language: English
Country: US