Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Meyerowitz Stories [2017]

In his 2005 gem The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach had crafted an exquisite portrayal of marital breakdown and its effect on the couple’s two kids. Though not a sequel, The Meyerowitz Stories finds the three kids of an aged intellectual father with multiple divorces to his credit, still battling with themselves and with each other on account of having grown up in broken families. The film captured the intrinsically dysfunctional lives of the titular family through an episodic and wryly funny mélange – the narcissistic father Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a retired art professor and sculptor, who’s trapped in his own image even if the world outside doesn’t hold him on such a high pedestal anymore; the unemployed elder son Danny (Adam Sandler), a former musician and house husband, and his introverted sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), who care for their father despite the deep-set grouse they carry for having been neglected as kids and not achieving material successes in their lives; and Danny’s well-to-do accountant half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller), who, on the other hand, never liked the fact that he was never given enough space by his domineering father. When Harold falls seriously unwell, his siblings are compelled to come together, and that opens up their unreconciled memories and unresolved wounds. There was a fair bit of name-dropping of canonized artists, and also some expositional dialogues, which felt tad superficial at times. However, that aside, it was filled with whimsical and idiosyncratic scenarios, with an underlying naked wire that got exposed from time to time. Performances were good throughout; Hoffman was peerless in particular as the incorrigible but vulnerable old man, and Marvel a revelation as the deeply troubled daughter.

Director: Noah Baumbach
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Family Drama/Social Satire
Language: English
Country: US

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

The Handmaiden [2016]

Maverick Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s movies have always been about unhinged outsiders – be it men (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Cut) or women (Lady Vengeance, I’m A Cyborg but that’s Ok, Stoker) – who operate outside the conventional social dynamics, and invariably end up instigating violent, even operatic, chain reactions. In a fabulous continuation of that thematic trend in his filmography, The Handmaiden is a lush, gorgeously mounted, deliciously twisted and gloriously unpredictable tale with a script that progressively upped its delirious idiosyncrasy like a sumptuous orchestra; it also had Park’s quintessential signature all over in his penchant for gallows humour, shocking violence and outré in general. Adapted from the novel Fingersmith, but the setting transplanted from Victorian-era Britain to colonial-era Japanese-occupied Korea, the film also bristles with subversive political and stirring feminist subtexts, which made this more than just a thriller. The intricately structured gothic tale – where one sees moments from Chapter 1 in a diametrically different light in Chapter 2, before hell starts breaking loose in Chapter 3 – covers the scintillating relationship between the seemingly placid and immensely wealthy heiress Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a closet femme fatale whose life is controlled by her tyrannical japanophile uncle (Cho Jin-woong) whose grotesque perversions know no bounds, and the sassy Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), an attractive pickpocket hired by a conman (Ha Jung-woo) to masquerade as Hideko’s maid. The compelling tale of devious one-upmanship and forbidden romance between these two brilliantly etched and marvelously enacted women, in a rigidly patriarchal social construct, was complemented by elaborately designed set-pieces and sumptuous camera work. The hideous octopus, by the way, gleefully referenced the notorious octopus eating sequence in Oldboy.

Director: Park Chan-wook
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Romance
Language: Korean/Japanese
Country: South Korea

Sunday, 17 November 2019

5x2 (Cinq Fois Deux) [2004]

François Ozon resorted to an interesting use of reverse chronology – a device that has been popularly used in films like Nolan’s Memento and Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter – in his deconstruction of a marital breakdown. Instead of providing a linear account of the marriage, he chronicled that through 5 discrete chapters – with each chapter capturing a key event lasting within the space of a single day – that marked the genesis, strains and eventual dissolution of the relationship between Marion (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stéphane Freiss), albeit in reverse order. It was, therefore, ironic in the way mood in the narrative – from hostile and toxic to bleak and edgy to lively and hopeful – ran opposite to the way their relationship actually progressed, with subsequent framed 5 key moments in their relationship – their divorce proceeding and a self-destructive post-divorce liaison in a hotel room that made this an intensely disturbing opening gambit; a dinner party simmering with tensions on the question of fidelity; the birth of their only child where Gilles is internally struggling to accept this development; their buoyant marriage ceremony, and then, unbeknownst to Gilles, Marion’s casual fling on their wedding night; and the tentative  beginning of their affair which also, ironically, coincided with petering away of Gilles’ previous relationship. The elaborate fade-outs after each chapter were accompanied by lilting love songs that had love and heartbreak written all over them, while extreme close-up were often used throughout to portray how their facial expressions and body languages, and the underlying emotions they contain, transitioned over time. Both Tedeschi and Freiss gave noteworthy turns, as Ozon employed a mix of revelations and red herrings to portray their arc.

Director: Francois Ozon
Genre: Drama/Marriage Drama/Romantic Drama
Language: French
Country: France

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Still Life [2006]

Few filmmakers have perhaps chronicled and critiqued the sweeping sociocultural transitions in their countries, with such brutal honesty, as Jia Zhangke has over his career. The enormous Three Gorges Dam’s construction on the Yangtze, despite its promised collective benefits, led to the displacement of over a million people through submersion of towns and villages. His powerful yet nuanced masterpiece Still Life provided for an extraordinarily minimalist, profoundly affecting and deeply melancholic exploration of the devastating human cost of development and progress. Set in a small town on the banks of the river – a section of it is already lost into the river, and preparations are underway for the next round of flooding – the film chronicled lives of the displaced, the disaffected, the disenfranchised and the marginalized through the tale of two individuals. Sanming (Han Sanming), a coal-miner from Shanxi province who’s come down in search of his long-lost wife and daughter, takes the job of demolishing buildings like the other migrant workers, while hoping to be reunited with them; Shen (Zhao Tao), on the other hand, has come down for a couple of days, also from Shanxi, hoping to seek formal separation from her estranged husband. The understated style, contributed by Jhangke’s rigorous visual aesthetic and the forlorn body language of the two brilliant principal actors, laced the film with a haunting sense of loneliness, pathos, lyricism and disquieting inevitability; Zhangke’s bristling political angst, too, was palpable by his microcosmic representation of China’s so-called “floating population”. The film’s breathtaking visual canvas, achieved through masterful framing of shots and how the desolate backdrops tell as much a story as the characters, added haunting dimensions to its poignant beauty, depth and eloquence.

Director: Jia Zhangke
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Political Drama
Language: Mandarin
Country: China

Monday, 11 November 2019

The Magic Gloves [2003]

Comedies rarely come drier or more deadpan and melancholic than Martín Rejtman’s wry and sardonic third feature The Magic Gloves, which seemed like Jarmusch meets Kaurismaki in Buenos Aires. If Silvia Prieto gave indications of Rejtman’s stylistic and thematic choices, and in particular his love for aimless and hapless intertwined people stuck in an existential stasis, they achieved a full bloom in this septic urban existential comedy. The characters in this ensemble film aren’t just mostly depressive and stuck in endless loops, but also are often so hilariously pliable that just a gentle nudge is required for them to make surprisingly radical changes to their habits and lifestyles – Alejandro (Vicentico), a lonesome cab driver who wears only solid colours, is given accommodation in return for free taxi rides by Piranha (Fabián Arenillas), a bossy businessman obsessed with his home sound system that invariably lead the recipients of the experience to ear doctors; Piranha is convinced that Alejando and his brother Luis, who’s a pornstar in Canada and exercises all night long, were schoolmates, even if neither can recognize each other; meanwhile Piranha’s equally bossy wife Susana (Susana Pampín), who categorizes everyone into those suffering from either organic depression or emotional depression, takes Alejandro’s morose ex-girlfriend Cecilia (Cecilia Biagini) under her wings; Cecilia becomes so convinced of Susan’s psychological analysis that she goes on anti-depressants, and before long Susan is depressed too; and, not least of all, Piranha pulls in Alejandro and Luis into a ludicrous business proposition that’s bound to end in financial disaster. Short takes captured with a largely static camera, and interspersed at times with elaborate fade outs, complemented the bland monotony of the characters’ gloomy lives.

Director: Martin Rejtman
Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Social Satire/Ensemble Film
Language: Spanish
Country: Argentina