Friday, 23 July 2021

Yella [2007]

 It’s fascinating to note the remarkable consistency in Petzold’s filmography, both in his thematic choices – clinical, and oftentimes metaphorical, deconstruction of contemporary German past – and tonal palettes – detached, understated, downbeat and unsettling. In the viscerally troubling Yella, he crafted a subtle, intriguing mix of realism and allegory for decidedly mordant commentaries on capitalism in action, the conveniently one-sided popular representations of the two erstwhile Germanys, and the fault-lines that remain post reunification. The stunning, ambitious and self-assured Yella (Nina Hoss) decides to leave the sleepy former East German town of Wittenberge for greener pastures in Hanover to take up a lucrative job offer and in turn flee from her obsessed ex-husband Ben (Hinnerk Schönemann) who she’d left after his business venture went south. Her journey to the West suffers two consecutive blows – Ben, while dropping her to the station, drives the car off a bridge; and then, upon somehow escaping unhurt and reaching her destination, she finds herself that the man who’d hired her has got fired on corruption charges. Fortunately a new vista opens up for her when Philipp (Devid Striesow), a high-flying venture capitalist who puts the screws on vulnerable companies, takes her on board after she displays rare acumen for exploiting those vulnerabilities. Though they make for a fabulous pair for a while – armed with spreadsheets and gamesmanship, and living in identikit business hotels – things take an ominous turn when it emerges that the volatile Phillip is skimming from his firm for a dubious side investment, leading to a startling denouement. Hoss was striking and brilliant as the doe-eyed, canny, guilt-striken protagonist who glibly conflates a spare, bleak, over-sanitized atmosphere with the realization of her dreams.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Christian Petzold

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: German

Country: Germany

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Zegen [1987]

 Imamura made a riotous return to the films that best defines his signature artistic and political voice – the outrageous, impudent, cutting, subversive, cheekily modernist, tour de force works that he made from Endless Desire roughly till A Man Vanishes, examining the oddities, inconsistencies and sordid underbelly of Japanese history – with the late career gem Zegen. Sandwiched between the messy allegory of The Ballad of Narayama and the haunting brilliance of Black Rain, this had the maverick filmmaker in his familiar territory of gleeful irreverence and gallows humour with its ribald, farcical, lashing takedown of Japan’s dark history of imperialism, brutal expansionism and obsessive nationalism that industrialized both its prostitution rings (a subject that Imamura was endlessly fascinated by) and war machinery (which he clearly abhorred). Based on its protagonist’s memoir, the film followed the wildly amoral life of Iheji Muraoka (Ken Ogata), who rises from a penurious, bedraggled castaway to become a pimp, owner of a brothel chain and self-professed perpetuator of Japanese patriotic interests. While working as apprentice to a barber in Hong Kong he’s arm-twisted into going on a clandestine mission to Manchuria, and post that – taking to heart the hyper-nationalist advices of his pompous boss – he founds a bordello with immigrant Japanese women believing he’s serving his Emperor’s cause; and, before long, he expands his business to Malay too. His comical journey was made further eventful courtesy a smart, striking prostitute (Mitsuko Baisho) he’s cuckolded to. The sprawling narrative – which covered a wide temporal arc from the start of 20th century till WW2 – was filled with authentic zeitgeist, exuberant setpieces, mordant satire, and memorable performances led by a terrific, sleazy and darkly funny turn by Ogata.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Shohei Imamura

Genre: Black Comedy/Political Satire/Biopic

Language: Japanese

Country: Japan

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Music Box [1989]

 Politics of memory, slippery nature of identity, familial loyalty and guilt were the dominant themes in Costa-Gavras’ murky, discomfiting and emotionally fraught Music Box. The Greek-French director focused on the harrowing topic of Holocaust through a compelling and tantalizingly structured courtroom drama that played around these themes, including the manipulative, deceptive games that some people play – through denials and obfuscations – to stay on the right side of history. Mike Laszlo (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is a Hungarian immigrant who’d fled to the US many decades back, ostensibly on account of his anti-Communist ideology. His daughter Ann (Jessica Lange) – who was once married to the son of a wealthy scion of a powerful legal firm – is a top-shot defence lawyer herself, and loves her dad who, in turn, is close to her young, impressionable son. Their close-knit family, however, comes in for a jolt when Mike is accused by an attorney with the Office of Special Investigations (Frederic Forrest) – upon declassification of incriminating UN documents – of having been the brutal, notorious Nazi ringleader of a vicious SS Death Squad. This, if proved, will lead to the revocation of his citizenship and deportation to Hungary to face war crime trials, and hence Ann decides to defend him assuming this to be a simple case of mistaken identity. However, as the trial progresses – and horrifying, macabre anecdotes of grotesque, violent massacres that were committed, start coming forth – the truth starts appearing far removed from the carefully constructed narrative of his past. Costa-Gavras walked a fine line while gradually unfolding this macabre Pandorra’s Box – by filling the proceedings with ambiguities and shifting perspectives – and was ably complemented by assured turns by Lange, Mueller-Stahl and Forrest.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Costa-Gavras

Genre: Drama/Legal Drama/Holocaust Drama/Mystert

Language: English/Hungarian

Country: US

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Salvador Allende [2004]

 It’s truly ironic that Chile – which perhaps had the longest run at democracy, among all Latin American countries, over the 20th century – experienced its most egalitarian, inclusive, pluralistic and progressive President as its last elected head of state, before it too succumbed to the horrors of repressive, right-wing dictatorship. That Allende was a life-long Marxist, socialist and revolutionary – albeit, one who preferred the electoral route as opposed to armed rebellion – and emphatically anti-imperialist too, arguably hastened the demise of his life and Presidency. And yet, despite the short-lived tenure, he helped the working-class, peasants, leftist activists and intellectuals dream of a utopia and even briefly experience the euphoria of one, before it was violently destroyed from within and without. Guzmán formally marked the culmination of his 3 decades’ exile with this disquieting, elegiac and multifaceted look into the life and times of the revered gentleman politician who was enormously loved by the people, while disparaged by the bourgeoisie, reactionaries and the US government. The film – which was as an integral companion piece to the director’s landmark Battle of Chile, and reflective of his deep admiration for the man – covered Allende and the coup along multiple lines. We get to know about his political journey, personal facets and final moments from his daughters and friends; we hear about his legacy, audacious agrarian reforms and nationalizations, virulent oppositions he encountered and what perhaps he ought to have done differently, from former Popular Unity militants; we unequivocally learn about the American government’s noxious involvement from Edward Korry, the then US Ambassador to Chile; and these were juxtaposed with priceless documentary footage, and accompanied by an affective score and Guzmán’s wry, mournful voiceover.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Patricio Guzman

Genre: Documentary

Language: Spanish/English

Country: Chile

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Chile, Obstinate Memory [1997]

 Guzmán marked his profoundly complex homecoming, after 23 years in exile, with Chile, Obstinate Memory. Made as a loosely connected sequel to his seminal documentary Battle of Chile – which, unsurprisingly, was banned by Pinochet’s right-wing dictatorship, but surprisingly continued to remain unscreened even after that – this was a haunting, disquieting, disarmingly powerful, eloquently observed, understated and unforgettable mix of the personal and the political; from that perspective, it presaged his recent essay film The Cordillera of Dreams, the stunning final chapter in his devastating Chile Trilogy which also comprised of Nostalgia for the Light and The Pearl Button. Memory – individual and collective – and the associated acts of forgetting and remembering were its pivotal themes. Akin to how he’d smuggled his landmark docu out of Chile – where he’d chronicled the brief but rousing Popular Unity period under Allende, and the violent coup d'état by fascist forces – he secretly brought it back for privately screening it to people belonging to two contrasting generations. He got in touch with those from his own generation – old friends, lost acquaintances, relatives, repressed intellectuals, family members of former political activists, those who experienced the coup and Allende’s final moments first-hand, and those who featured in his famous earlier work and thereafter helped him in getting it out – who’d witnessed the destruction of the dream and the traumatic aftermath in the form of extrajudicial deaths, mass detentions – Guzmán himself faced that in Estadio Nacional – forced disappearances and years of disillusionment. And, alongside that, he also showed it to university students – who’ve lived under censorship and propaganda, and thus unaware of their history – and the outpouring of suppressed emotions that it evokes was deeply revelatory and moving.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Patricio Guzman

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Diary Film

Language: Spanish

Country: Chile