Sunday, 16 June 2019

Chernobyl [2019]

The riveting HBO miniseries Chernobyl – which took off from Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl – had, at its core, a deeply haunting tenet that was not just relevant here, but is incredibly prescient across nations and eras – half-truths and lies that nation-states resort to in order to project a false veneer of itself to the world outside and to its gullible people within. And, in its gripping, multi-angled depiction of the Chernobyl disaster, the massive cleanup activities that followed in its aftermaths and, ultimately, its gargantuan human, environmental and economic costs, also makes this a frighteningly cautionary exercise on the ticking time bomb that nuclear energy is. The miniseries, comprising of five episodes, opened along the lines of a fatalistic Cold War thriller as we see the eminent Soviet chemist Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) – now a pariah of the State apparatus – performing his final act of dissent before hanging himself. The narrative then shifts 2 years back to 1986, starting with the catastrophic accident – which those in charge tried their best to downplay and even hide from the world outside – followed by the humongous job to first douse the meltdown and then limit its horrific impact. The task is led by the melancholic Legasov and the world-weary career politician Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård), and they’re joined by a dogged nuclear physicist (Emily Watson) hell-bent find out the truth. The moody, slow-burning and fabulously enacted show (the Harris- Skarsgård chemistry was especially memorable) compellingly portrayed the various players involved – the politicos, the KGB represented by its cynical Deputy Chairman (Alan Williams), the plant engineers helmed by the volatile Dyatlov (Paul Ritter), and the valiant aid provided by firemen, coal miners and countless other volunteers in this discomfiting endeavor.

Director: Johan Renck / Created by: Craig Mazin
Genre: TV Miniseries/Historical Drama/Political Drama/Docufiction
Language: English
Country: US / UK

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Open Tee Bioscope [2015]

The Bengali music band Chandrabindu wonderfully complements humour with nostalgic evocations that may be referred to as ‘Bangaliana’ (the pop-cultural equivalent of Americana, perhaps). The debut directorial venture of Anindya Chatterjee (one of the band’s prime vocalists and songwriters), Open Tee Bioscope, thus, as one may anticipate, is packed with flavours and memories of growing up in a milieu that’s distinctively ‘Old Calcutta’ – narrow meandering lanes, dilapidated colonial-era mansions, the co-existence of Karl Marx and lumpen proletariat, a love for football extending from “India’s Maradona” Krishanu Dey to Tele Santana’s Brazil, the ‘para’ (community) spirit, lamentations on ‘good ol’ days’ by the old-timers, and the act of growing up relived through tinted glasses. Understandably, it’s easy for a film like this to fall into the trap of sentimentality and clichés. While it does have these flaws, to the director’s credit he nevertheless managed to create ‘a simple tale simple told’ through a series of lovingly etched tableaus that made this enjoyable despite some of its unevenness. The coming-of-age tale’s protagonist is a troubled teenager (Riddhi Sen) haunted by memories of his dead footballer father and having a complicated relationship with his single mother (Sudipta Chakraborty) due to her potentially quid pro quo connection with a slimy local political leader (a top-notch Kaushik Sen). Three developments help in his transition – his friendship with a group of fun-loving street urchins; his falling in love with the girl who, unlike him, belongs to a ‘bhadralok’ bourgeois family; and his unlikely camaraderie with an ageing and volatile former football coach (Rajatava Dutta). The film comprises of quirky moments and characters, albeit tad forced at times, and an excellent soundtrack capturing both fun and melancholia.

Director: Anindya Chatterjee
Genre: Comedy-Drama/Buddy Film/Urban Drama/Coming-of-Age
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Made in USA [1966]

French iconoclast, avowed leftist and the French Nouvelle Vague’s most defiantly non-conformist auteur Jean-Luc Godard, in a burst of extraordinary creative burst, made a jaw-dropping 16 films in his 7-year “New Wave” period. Made in USA, in its self-reflexive modernism, gleefully oblique narrative, playful mix of pop-cultural references and anti-imperialistic discourses, and allusions to classic American noirs, had all the hallmarks of that dizzyingly exuberant period. Yet it also stood out in his cheeky inversion of archetypal hardboiled gumshoe tropes – a sunny and ultra-colourful ambience in place of moody B/W chiaroscuro, and a woman PI in vibrant and mod outfits (though she does don the archetype once in a while) instead of a Bogart in a trench-coat and fedora. And, in a nostalgic touch for cinephiles, this was his final collaboration with his effervescent muse and by then ex-wife Anna Karina. Inspired by Hawks’ adaptation of Chandler’s The Big Sleep and loosely based on the novel The Jugger – since the so-called adaptation was unofficial, it couldn’t, ironically, release in the US for over 4 decades – the faux-narrative follows PI Paula Nelson (Karina) who’s come to Atlantic City to investigate the disappearance and potential death of her former lover who was an outspoken Communist. And, thus begins a freewheeling series of events, including her murder of a hood who might have created trouble for her, and her being chased by two hilariously deadpan thugs (Laszlo Szabo and Jean-Pierre Leaud). Along with its trenchant political stance, digressive structure and deliberately cartoonish violence, it was also filled with references ranging from American noir (David Goodis, Hammett, Preminger, Aldrich, Bogart, Widmark), which Godard loved, to American foreign policy (MacNamara, Nixon), which he detested.

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Genre: Crime/Political Satire/Avant-Garde
Language: French
Country: France

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Promise Me This [2007]

Promise Me This, Kusturica’s follow-up to the magnificent and farcical political satire Life is a Miracle, can almost be considered as a companion piece. He further upped the madness, boisterousness and absurdist quotient in this deliriously crazy, cacophonic and carnivalesque film; however, unlike the terrific anti-war fable that the latter was, the political aspects here were largely incidental, and hence not central to the narrative of this amusing, uneven, over-the-top and deliberately ludicrous film. It opens at a remote village in the Serbian countryside whose tranquility is in contrast to the characters living there – a neurotic old man (Aleksandar Berček) with a love for weird tricks, his grandson Tsane (Uroš Milovanović) who loves peeping at his buxom teacher when she bathes, and who in turn is trying to seduce the deadpan grandfather while also being pursued by a man obsessed with winning her. Suddenly feeling that he’s about to die, the grandfather sends Tsane to the city with three tasks – sell their cow, buy an icon, and find a bride for himself. The last task, however, proves darn difficult for the naïve and bumbling teenaged kid – while he immediately falls in love with a matured young woman – the pretty, sassy and spunky Jasna (Marija Petronijevic), he also gets unlikely comrades in the form of a pair of wacky, gun-toting brothers who couldn’t be more unlike physically (one of them played by the director’s son Stribor Kusturica), and antagonizes an absolutely lunatic gangster (the fabulous Miki Manojlović – he’d appeared earlier in Kusturica’s When Father was Away on Business and Underground) who runs a massive brothel with his demented gang of thugs and dreams of bringing the World Trade Centers to Serbia.

Director: Emir Kusturica
Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Romantic Comedy
Language: Serbian
Country: Serbia

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Subarnarekha (The Golden Thread) [1965]

Ritwik Ghatak was forever haunted by the memories of the 1947 Partition; that, combined with his defiant Marxist lens, meant that the uprooted, the displaced and the dispossessed formed a recurring motif in his filmography. His ‘Partition Trilogy’ comprised of three radically and ferociously beautiful masterpieces, viz. Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komal Gandhar and Subarnarekha, and the latter remains the most unforgettable of the lot. Ishwar (Abhi Bhattacharya) and Haraprasad (Bijon Bhattacharya, a doyen of left-bank Bengali theatre), refugees from the erstwhile East Bengal, join hands to rehabilitate a refugee camp in Calcutta; however, to his friend’s utter dejection, Ishwar takes up a conventional job (courtesy a schoolmate, a typically philistine petit-bourgeois businessman) and, along with his kid sister Sita (Indrani Chakraborty), relocates to a remote village on the banks of the Subarnarekha river; he also takes along the orphaned Abhiram who, unbeknownst to Ishwar, belongs to a lower caste. His tranquil, secured life, years later, takes a debilitating hit when the adult Sita (Madhabi Mukherjee) defies his commands, borne out of selfishness and prejudice, and elopes with Abhiram (Satindra Bhattacharya). And it gets shattered a few years later when, upon getting reconnected on a fateful night with the now-irrevocably disillusioned Haraprasad and after a night of uncharacteristic revelry – captured with Felliniesque dash – he has a tragic chance encounter with Sita. Ghatak was mesmeric in his infusion of harsh realism and melodramatic bursts while portraying the elusive quest for home and thus roots, and the accompanying loss of innocence and idealism; that, along with Ustad Bahadur Khan’s stirring Classical score, and incredible cinematographic compositions – the abandoned airstrip sequence was especially memorable – made this a lacerating, haunting and brutally poetic cinematic experience.

p.s. This is a revisit. My earlier review can be found here.

Director: Ritwik Ghatak
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Family Drama
Language: Bengali
Country: India