Wednesday 28 February 2024

Léon Morin, Priest [1961]

 Léon Morin, Priest remains a fascinating anomaly in Melville’s filmography, considering that a secular Jew and left-wing atheist made this seemingly straight-faced work so heavily invested in theological and religious discourses. Yet, scratch the surface, and one finds its sly, ambiguous, enigmatic and roguish aspects aimed at subverting conventional spiritual portrayals. Adapted from Béatrix Beck's renowned novel, it additionally formed the middle-chapter in Melville’s famed trilogy on the Resistance, preceded by his austere debut feature Le Silence de la Mer, and followed by the exhilarating Army of Shadows. However, unlike the other two films, inquiries into the Occupation didn’t occupy the foreground here, even though they undeniably informed the context and proceedings. It’s centred on the tantalizing relationship between the eponymous pastor (Jean-Paul Belmondo, fresh of his smashing success in Godard’s Breathless, in his first collaboration with Melville) – a deadpan, charming and articulate working-class priest who’s persuasive in his job as a man of cloak, while also being aware of the impact he has on the women in the French Alpine town, as the men are either away or arrested or have died – and Barny (Emmanuelle Riva, who’d become a Nouvelle Vague icon through her engrossing turn in Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour), an atheist, sensual, cynical, politically engaged and unsatisfied single mother who’s vocally supportive of Communist rebels, dismissive of the church, and bold in her carnal desires. On an impish whim, she visits Léon to tease him, but ends up getting converted as well as attracted to him. Though not one of Melville’s greatest works, this luminously shot film, led by gripping turns by the two actors, made for an intelligent, nuanced and beguiling work in his canon.







Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Religious Drama/War

Language: French

Country: France

Saturday 24 February 2024

The Silence of the Sea [1949]

 It was only appropriate that Jean-Pierre Melville, who belonged to a left-wing family and adopted this nom de guerre during his involvement with the French Resistance, made his filmmaking debut with Le Silence de la Mer, an adaptation of the book by Vercors (nom de plume of Jean Bruller), who too was a member of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France. The book was secretly published and distributed, and became an influential underground text, which Melville eloquently acknowledged in several ways – the opening scene indicated its clandestine and dissident nature; he filmed in the same house in which it was written; and he’d agreed to pull the plug on the film, including destroying the negatives, if Bruller refused approval for release. This Bressonian film – that is to say, spare, austere, minimalist and poetic parable with a deep moral core – clearly presaged Melvelle’s formal and aesthetic signatures that he’d take to bravura heights in subsequent years. In what he’d ironically quipped an “anti-film”, it focused on verbose one-way exchanges – brilliantly shot indoors in heavily expressionistic B/W by Henri Decaë – involving just three characters. A German officer (Howard Vernon), with a gushing love for French literature, is stationed in a house inhabited by an ageing French man (Jean-Marie Robain) and his young niece (Nicole Stéphane). Over the next few months, the naïve lieutenant indulges in sentimental monologues every evening, while the French pair refuses to acknowledge his presence, leading to a solemn meditation on political naïveté and passive resistance. It ended with a powerful line, which is the uncle’s sole response to the German during his departure, “It’s a noble thing for a soldier to disobey a criminal order.”







Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/War

Language: French

Country: France

Thursday 22 February 2024

The Wonders [2014]

 Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher stitched together The Wonders with such deceptive simplicity, delicacy and lightness that it’s easy to miss the various elements interwoven into it. Balancing naturalism, lyricism, understated immediacy and observational approach with undertones of wry satire, social commentary and magic realism, she crafted a spare yet emotionally resonant coming-of-age story that unfolded against a fading way of life outside the grid. Her interlocking portrayal of familial chaos against a vividly sunny countryside, on the verge of violently unravelling, reminds one of such films as Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga and Carla Simón’s Alcarràs; hardly incidental that all were helmed by women filmmakers adept at complementing ferocity with nuance, and political underpinnings with evocative intimacy. This last aspect was laced with additional meanings through its semi-autobiographical touches. Rohrwacher was born to German beekeeper father and Italian mother. The film’s adolescent protagonist Gelsomina (exceptionally performed by Alexandra Maria Lungu) – the introspective eldest of four sisters – similarly has a German beekeeper father in the form of the brusque and irritable Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), who’s fiercely adamant of retaining their austere lifestyle and agricultural purity borne out of his deep distrust of modernization and consumerism, and a loving if frazzled Italian mother (played, interestingly, by Alice’s elder sister Alba Rohrwacher). Their rural summer, spent collecting and processing honey with steadfast rigour, gets ruffled on account of two arrivals – a troubled German boy who’s taken in as temporary help, and a stunning buxom beauty (enacted with self-mocking irony by Monica Bellucci) spearheading a kitschy reality TV show patronizing and fetishising local culture that Gelsomina is hypnotized by. Hélène Louvart’s terrific soft-hued photography – anachronistically shot in 16mm – impregnated rich authenticity into the proceedings.







Director: Alice Rohrwacher

Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Coming-of-Age

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Monday 19 February 2024

Divorce Italian Style [1961]

 Divorce Italian Style – Pietro Germi’s magnificent first foray into comedy and a pioneering work in the “commedia all’italiana” or “Italian-style comedy” sub-genre, which derived its name from this very film – reminded me of such films from that decade as Buñuel’s Viridiana, Imamura’s The Pornographers and Herz’s The Cremator in how gallows humour, outré characterizations and a narrative seeped in grotesquerie can be audaciously employed for lashing satires on social mores, political happenings and human behaviour, and contain a moral core too. Its oily anti-hero, “Fefè” (Marcello Mastroianni), is a sleezy, lecherous and murderous louche, whose placid demeanour, facial twitches, Brilliantine-soaked hair and dapper suit amusingly informed his decadent aristocracy and machismo, and in turn the pervasive atmosphere of hypocrisy, male chauvinism and bad behaviour in provincial Italy. A smug and vacuous nobleman burdened by debts, living in a dilapidated house in a Sicilian town, he hatches an elaborate scheme to murder his overly fawning and clinging wife Rosalia (Daniela Rocca) – by luring her into the arms of her former flame, which will therefore earn him a lighter punishment as the patriarchal law, whose overt religiosity forbids divorce, would view it as a justifiable redressal of one’s honour – in order to satisfy his raging lust for his nubile, enticing and young cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli). The film was raucous, hilarious, unapologetically offensive, glorious filled with ironies and exaggerations, and cutting in its lampooning; idiosyncratically shot to amplify the farcical tone and sticky atmosphere; boasted of a fabulous comedic turn by Mastriano, who was courageously cast against type; and sly meta-commentary through references to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita where Mastriano, in a dramatically different persona, is seen seduced by Anita Ekberg.







Director: Pietro Germi

Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Social Satire/Marital Satire/Crime

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Thursday 15 February 2024

Riff-Raff [1991]

 After a difficult time in the 1980s when he struggled to have his works broadcast and distributed, Ken Loach begun blending ferocious political commentaries with narrative storytelling in the 90s, thus making them more palatable. He started with Hidden Agenda, a terrific political conspiracy thriller foregrounded on the Northern Ireland “Troubles”. Riff-Raff, his marvellous next film, set the tone for many of his subsequent anti-establishmentarian dramas centred on regular working-class people at the receiving end of governmental apathy. And, like the preceding movie, it too presented a lashing critique of Thatcher’s damaging reign. The film, interlacing infectious seriocomic tone with bleak social realism and bold left-wing politics, progressed from funny and boisterous to tender and poignant to furious and blazing in its depiction of a crew of construction labourers working without any physical or financial safety nets. They’re hired without background checks – thus enabling them to continue receiving benefits – and in lieu of that they’re forced to work in hazardous conditions, manage their own insurances and fired without any notice. Lending profound authenticity, it was written by Bill Jesse based on his personal experiences, while actors Robert Carlyle – in a smashing turn as Glaswegian jailbird Stevie attempting to walk the straight and narrow path – and Ricky Tomlinson – former union activist who gave a memorably gregarious turn while also serving as the film’s political conscience – too had experiences in this line. Ironically, the derelict North London hospital where work is shown happening to convert it into luxury apartments, anticipated what actually transpired. The raucous camaraderie and stirring class solidarity between the culturally diverse blue-collar workers was counterpointed with Stevie’s heartbreaking romance with fragile girl-woman and wannabe singer Susan (Emer McCourt).







Director: Ken Loach

Genre: Drama/Comedy/Social Drama/Romance

Language: English

Country: UK

Sunday 11 February 2024

Bill Douglas Trilogy: My Childhood [1972], My Ain Folk [1973], My Way Home [1978]

 Scottish filmmaker Bill Douglas’ remarkable trilogy evokes irony as much for its cinematic legacy – criminally under-watched despite being celebrated British New Wave films – as for its formal and thematic interplay. The three films were relentlessly bleak, on account of their grubby and desolate industrial setting, grim portrayal of socioeconomic and familial impoverishment, and rigorously spare and grainy monochrome treatments with both aesthetics and narratives pared to the bones. Yet, in parallel, they possessed deep emotional lyricism, visual poetics, hope, tenderness and warmth. And, while it’s impossible to understate the trilogy’s eloquent working-class politics, it was, above all, an intensely personal work. Essentially a reimagining of Douglas’ own experience and memories of growing up amidst extreme poverty, hardships and estrangements in the mining village of Newcraighall, during and after WW2, the three slender films covered the childhood and teenage years of his alter-ego Jamie (played with taciturn impassiveness by Stephen Archibald, whose weather-beaten face belied his young age). Douglass, in fact, had found Archibald – a deeply troubled kid with whom he developed a life-long kinship – through complete chance at a bus stop. In My Childhood, 8-year-old Jamie – abandoned by his dad upon his mom’s internment at a mental institution – is seen living with his loving granny and elder cousin brother Tommy, while forming a close bond with a Germany POW. In My Ain Folk, Jamie goes to live with his difficult and neurotic maternal grandmother, where he becomes close to his aged granddad. And finally in My Way Home, post shuttling between foster care and barren home, he’s conscripted into RAF, and thereafter develops friendship with Robert – who has difficulty in understanding his thick Scottish accent – while stationed in Egypt.







Director: Bill Douglas

Genre: Drama/Film a Clef/Semi-Autobiographical/Coming-of-Age

Language: English

Country: UK/Scotland

Friday 9 February 2024

The All-Round Reduced Personality (Re-dupers) [1978]

 Helke Sander, who was a pioneering feminist activist, influential voice on the left and experimental filmmaker, existed in the overlapping intersections between cinema, politics and womanhood. Edda, her alter-ego in her brilliant feature-length directorial debut which she herself essayed, also had to similarly juggle between artistic impulses, political activism, low-paying job, economic survival, subaltern status as woman, and role as a single working mother in BDR. She works as a freelance photo-journalist that necessitates navigating through multiple assignments to make ends meet, wherein she mustn’t imbue any progressive political meanings into her stunning B/W images; she has a little daughter who loves clinging to her; she often has to work out of her tiny flat – which she shares with her lover and a friend – thus coalescing her personal, political and professional spaces; and she’s a member of a collective of politically minded women artists like herself. When they win a coveted government commission to create open-air photographic installations across West Berlin – a public album to further the city’s glamorous consumerist conception, and in turn undermine the socialist associations of their counterparts in the East – they decide to push the envelope by presenting a sardonic critique of the city’s self-image and subversive interpretations of the ubiquitous Wall. Unsurprisingly, their project elicits unfavourable reactions among the establishment and men. The film’s tone was one of tenderness and empathy, despite its spare aesthetics and stark monochromatic visuals, which were counterpointed by its mock-serious nature – wryly underscored by its ironic title which was a play on a communist maxim –, urgency, solidarity, and modernism. Its long tracking shots of the city, interestingly, reminded me of Akerman’s haunting News from Home from the previous year.







Director: Halke Sander

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Feminist Film

Language: German

Country: Germany

Wednesday 7 February 2024

State of Siege [1972]

 With State of Siege – the scintillating final chapter in his landmark trilogy, and presaged by Z and The Confession – Costa-Gavras resoundingly established himself as a transnational political filmmaker unafraid of cataloguing abuses of power across diverse geographic milieus. While the previous films were set in Greece and Czechoslovakia, respectively, he shifted his focus to Latin America here for a daring indictment of the US’ interventionism, wherein it used nefarious means to propel and strengthen brutally repressive right-wing leaders and military juntas, in their quest for ideological supremacy in that part of the world. Unsurprisingly, it riled American conservatives to no end. Incidentally, while it was based on Uruguay, he shot it in Allende’s Chile – a country that he’d cover 12 years later with Missing, his compelling inquiry into the CIA’s role in the coup d'état against Allende. It began on an electrifying note with Montevideo literally in a state of siege, audaciously orchestrated through a flurry of cuts and angles, and a bevy of actors, with Martial Law declared and a combing operation underway. The reason, as is soon revealed, is that the Tupamaros – a left-wing guerilla outfit which had challenged the country’s civic-military dictatorship – have kidnapped a U.S. government official (Yves Montand) who’s there to train the Uruguayan police in the use of torture and violence against dissidents. Co-written with Franco Solinas – best known for Salvatore Guiliano and The Battle of Algiers –, composed through a bravura use of flashbacks, and circling through a stunning array of characters – impassioned rebels, courageous journalists, draconian cops, zealous politicos, sanctimonious priests – the film interlaced anger, irony, urgency and politically engaged conversations into a brilliant work that was both thrilling and sobering.







Director: Costa-Gavras

Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller/Film a Clef

Language: French

Country: France

Saturday 3 February 2024

The Confession [1970]

 The Confession, Costa-Gavras’ follow-up to his pulsating masterpiece Z, couldn’t be more dramatically contrasting in form, tone and milieu. Yet it was bound to the preceding smash hit as well the electrifying next film State of Siege, in that this formidable trilogy catalogued judicial overreach and abuse of power by the state against those it construed as political dissidents, and was bolstered by Yves Montand’s charismatic presence. Harsh, harrowing and disorienting, and yet also gripping and darkly irony, this edgy and compelling film made no bones about the filmmaker’s disdain for Stalinist totalitarianism and excesses despite his steadfast leftism. This crucial nuance was also underlined by association of multiple other people on the left in different capacities – actors Montand and Simone Signoret, writer Jorge Semprún, Chris Marker who served as still photographer during production, etc. – even though it inevitably evoked sharp political reactions. Based on Czechoslovak communist veteran Artur London’s memoirs L’Aveu, it chronicled his sudden arrest, long stretches of dehumanizing torture and deliberate manipulation into self-incriminating confession – on charges of Trotskyism, Titoism and Zionism – and thereafter the Slánský show trials he was made to stand along with many others; these, despite his past involvements in Spanish Civil War and French anti-Nazi Resistance, his internment in Mauthausen concentration camp, and his long-standing party position. Montand’s remarkable performance – he lost twenty-five pounds for the role – was matched by Gabriele Ferzetti as a hideously cunning interrogator, while the film’s bleak mood and claustrophobic spaces were impressively captured through washed out images by Raoul Coutard. Gavras’ political voice was matched by his narrative brilliance, in how he often jumped back and forth in time, invoked collective memory and demonstrated the underlying farce.







Director: Costa-Gavras

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Historical Drama/Biopic

Language: French

Country: France

Tuesday 30 January 2024

Hands over the City [1963]

 Hands over the City, Rosi’s electrifying follow-up to his dazzling Salvatore Guiliano, firmly established him as one of the greatest practitioners of political cinema, whose left-wing defiance for unearthing murky governmental collusions, corruptions, criminality and cover-ups through investigative filmmaking made him a powerful comrade to Costa-Gavras. While Sicilian polity served as the canvas for his landmark previous feature, he trained his lens here on Naples. Through an arresting blend of social realism and baroque stylizations – thus both leveraging his apprenticeship in neorealism while also transcending it – Rosi delivered a blistering exposé on how real-estate speculations and constructions were making a mockery of due processes, and in turn violating the city’s architectural character and the interests of its working-class population, through rotten hand-in-glove complicity with the political establishment. His use of architecture as political and existential inquiries, therefore, drew interesting parallels to Antonioni’s Red Desert, Godard’s Alphaville, Tati’s Playtime, etc., despite their formal disparity. When an old residential building collapses with tragic consequences, the city council is eager to bury the incident – not least because Nottola (played with imposing heft by Rod Steiger), a wealthy real estate shark who’s part of the right-wing party that’s in power and with which he has a quid pro quo relationship, is potentially to blame for it. Communist party member De Vita (passionately enacted by real-life council member Carlo Fermariello) is the only person who raises his voice and even propels a futile departmental enquiry. Shot in stunning B/W and punctuated by a pulsating brassy score, it was filled with fury, ferocity, urgency, and bleak irony, as sealed by the riveting sequence where the politicians operatically call out in unison, “our hands are clean!”







Director: Francesco Rosi

Genre: Drama/Political Drama

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Friday 26 January 2024

Salvatore Giuliano [1962]

 In the annals of landmark political filmmaking, Salvatore Guiliano – the scintillating film that established Marxist and post-neorealist filmmaker Francesco Rosi as one of the most electrifying voices of post-War Italian cinema – remains a work of piercing analytic brilliance, formal bravura and blazing ferocity. Having earlier assisted Visconti on La Terra Trema and Senso, he combined visceral realism, remarkably dialectical approach, and uncompromising diagnosis of historical artefacts into a thrilling piece of investigative journalism that provided a scalding examination of the rotten state of affairs perpetuated by the government, army, police, Mafiosi, feudal class and law – foregrounded in Sicily’s gritty sociopolitical landscape – that first led to the titular outlaw’s phenomenal rise in power and popularity, and thereafter the massive manhunts that eventually led to his death and posthumous trial. Instead of a classical approach, Rosi adopted a dazzling multi-perspective form – reminiscent of Citizen Kane, Rashomon and Peruvian writer Llosa’s magnificent novel The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta – for a powerful inquiry into corruption, complicity and expediency, and in turn deconstruction of the Sicilian bandit’s life, death and myth. Rosi crafted this complex, clinical and non-linear mosaic, and forensic diagnosis, with a mostly non-professional cast – as desperado, partisan, hired-hand, fugitive – and filmed in the same locations where Guiliano’s meteoric persona unfolded, through magnetic B/W palettes that evoked a striking sense of here-and-now. In a fascinating artistic choice, we hardly ever see Giuliano; yet, the enigmatic desperado’s shadowy presence pervaded every episode, including his enlisting for Sicily’s secessionist ambitions, his repute among the poor for his antagonistic persona vis-à-vis the oppressive carabiniere, his noxious participation in the massacre of Sicilian communists, and the power structure’s turbid, tangled and malleable links to him.







Director: Francesco Rosi

Genre: Drama/Historical Drama/Biopic/Docudrama

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Out 1: Noli Me Tangere [1971]

 Jacques Rivette eschewed time and narrative, and deconstructed the experience of making and watching movies, in Out 1, his grandest and boldest experiment. Often considered one of the "holy grails for cinephiles", it remains an audacious, enigmatic and baffling work, what with its staggering 13-hours’ length, wildly freewheeling structure, extraordinary exercises in improvisation, and unavailability for many years. It began with exacting and bemusing dives into the immersive workshops of two avant-garde theatre collectives rehearsing Aeschylus’ plays – a rigorously analytic troupe led by the avuncular Thomas (Michael Lonsdale) and an idiosyncratic one led by the spirited Lili (Michèle Moretti) – whose outré drills and heavy improvs metatextually mirrored the film itself. Two neurotic outsiders, meanwhile, provoke a parallel thread – one of paranoia, subterfuge and conspiracy reminiscent of Paris Belongs to Us – presented as a cackling anti-thriller. On one hand there’s Colin (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a shapeshifting, harmonica-playing drifter who becomes drawn into a quixotic investigation to uncover a sinister secret society linked to Balzac and Lewis Carroll; on the other there’s Frédérique (Juliet Berto), an alluring hustler and vagabond who too loiters into an analogous quest. Packed with extraordinary long takes – including a bravura one following an increasingly manic Léaud through the Parisian streets – the film also had Françoise Fabian as a crafty lawyer, Bulle Ogier as the proprietor of a shady joint, and the great Éric Rohmer as a deadpan Balzac scholar. Claustrophobic interiors were juxtaposed with radiant exteriors in this wry, dazzling and monumental opus often interpreted as an expression of post-May’68 disillusionment and malaise. Rivette, interestingly, cut a four-hour version which he called Spectre – or “ghost” – as opposed to this longer version’s subtitle which ironically means “touch me not”.







Director: Jacques Rivette

Genre: Avant-Garde/Experimental/Social Satire/Black Comedy/Mystery/Mini-Series

Language: French

Country: France

Sunday 21 January 2024

Four Days in July [1984]

 Mike Leigh’s final television film and the middle chapter in his terrific trilogy on Thatcher’s harsh regime – sandwiched on either side by Meantime and High HopesFour Days in July remains a remarkable, albeit criminally underrated, work in his canon. Like the two other films, it too was a defiantly political film, filled with rousing left-wing solidarity and radical compassion. Its tone, however, wasn’t one of anger or disillusionment; rather, it was enveloped in understated warmth, fragility and melancholy, which made it even more touching and eloquent. Set in Belfast at the peak of “The Troubles”, the turbulent Northern Ireland conflict provided a politically-charged backdrop, informing the characters and their personal stories, but rarely overshadowing the intimate tale of two couples – at opposite ends of political and religious divides – expecting their first children during the 12th July “Orange Marches”. The gregarious, warm-hearted Collette (Brid Brennan), and the withdrawn, soft-spoken Eugene (Des McAleer), who’s been crippled by bullets and shrapnel, are Catholics and republicans quietly hoping for a free Ireland. Leigh’s kinship, unsurprisingly, was steadfastly with this unassuming couple that was magnificently brought to life by the two actors. Their gentle banters with similarly humble and memorably portrayed neighbours – deadpan window-washer (Stephan Rea) and modest plumber (Shane Connaughton) – added nuanced undertones to their milieu. The other side of the spectrum was represented by the brash army officer Billy (Charles Lawson) and his unsettled wife Lorraine (Paula Hamilton), who’re Protestants and unionists. Two exceptionally stitched sequences especially stood out – Collette pensively singing the haunting IRA ballad “The Patriot Game”; and the two new mothers, in adjacent hospital beds, realizing their divides by the fundamentally contrasting names they’ve chosen for their babies.







Director: Mike Leigh

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Marriage Drama

Language: English

Country: UK

Tuesday 16 January 2024

High Hopes [1988]

 The title of Leigh’s High Hopes – the third film in his so-called “Anti-Thatcher Trilogy”, which was preceded by Meantime and Four Days in July – wasn’t just ironic and sardonic, but quietly mournful too, and with a tinge of bitterness. It pointed to the vacuous, self-centred “high hopes” that the nouveau riche associates their class mobility and entitlements with. Conversely, it also underscored the despair and disenchantment that come for a progressive and conscientious person for harbouring high ideals, or “high hopes”, and the futility thereof. Made with a cheeky mix of parody, humour, pathos and anger, this seriocomic film had at its core one of the most delectably whimsical, lovable and infectious married couples in cinema – Cyril (Phil Davis), a Marxist working-class man who’s become profoundly disillusioned with Thatcher’s England and the glib upper-class around him who he observes with scorn and befuddlement, and Shirley (Ruth Sheen), an affable woman who shares her husband’s left-wing beliefs, bohemian outlook, love for the pot and disdain for the then British Prime Minister, while still retaining a streak of optimism – who live an unassuming life in their little flat in King’s Cross, North London. The philosophy with which they live their lives, unsurprisingly, is at complete odds with that of Cyril’s shallow, neurotic sister (Heather Tobias), who’s unhappily married to a wealthy, philandering clown. Meanwhile, Cyril’s taciturn widowed mother (Edna Doré), suffering from dementia, lives a distanced existence at one of the last council houses in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood, as sharply accentuated by her smug, upper class next-door neighbour (Lesley Manville). If some of Leigh’s caricatures were broad, that’s how he probably intended, in order to demonstrate which side he’s on.







Director: Mike Leigh

Genre: Drama/Black Comedy/Social Satire/Political Satire

Language: English

Country: UK

Sunday 14 January 2024

Meantime [1983]

 Often considered the pinnacle of Mike Leigh’s acclaimed work in television, and the first chapter in his searing trilogy foregrounded on Thatcher’s Britain – it was followed by Four Days in July and High HopesMeantime presented a blistering portrayal of the economic degradation and existential disillusionment of the working-class during her cruel premiership. Crafted using a combustible mix of anger, despair, irony and cutting humour, the filmmaker’s profound empathy for the disenfranchised and the marginalized shone through above all. An impoverished and dysfunctional blue-collar family of four – middle-aged couple Frank (Jeffrey Robert) and Mavis (Pam Frier), and their two adult sons Mark (Phil Daniels) and Colin (Tim Roth) – who’re living a grubby existence in a shabby, cramped flat in London’s working-class East End, has been hit hard, like numerous others, by recession and widespread unemployment. Consequently, all three men in the family are unemployed, and therefore compelled to depend on the meagre dole distributed by the council office and Mavis’ menial job in order to meet ends. The film’s primary focus was on the two diametrically opposite brothers having a complex love-hate relationship – Mark is cynical, bitter and alienated, while Colin is naïve, gauche and vulnerable – which made it an interesting precursor to Life Is Sweet, which too had featured a similarly complicated relationship between two contrasting sisters. Leigh loved dealing in pointed class juxtapositions, and that manifested through Mavis’s sister Barbara (Marion Bailey) who’s unhappily married to a well-off man (Alfred Molina) and lives in suburban comfort. The marvellously enacted film, which also featured a bare-knuckled turn by Gary Oldman as an unstable skinhead, was filled with gritty locales that brilliantly counterpointed its bleak mood and sardonic tone.







Director: Mike Leigh

Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Social Drama/Black Comedy/Social Satire

Language: English

Country: UK

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Teorema [1968]

 Teorema – a work of stunning bravado, intellect and force – remains amongst the most politically and formally radical films in Pasolini’s oeuvre. It posited, with smouldering fury and elliptic allegory, such an inflammable discourse on the existential barrenness of the bourgeoisie – a class for which he had profound disdain – that it evoked a sharp furore upon its release. While its cutting Marxist dialectics troubled conservative audience, its subversive religious subtexts enraged the Vatican to no end. And, in what can only be called unintentionally ironic, advertisements in the American market exploited its unsettling minimalism by promoting it as having only “923 spoken words.” The eerily magnetic parable was hinged around a strikingly enigmatic “visitor” (Terence Stamp) – a god or a devil or a mix of both – who comes to stay for a few days with a Milanese bourgeois family, in their decadent mansion, comprising of wealthy industrialist and paterfamilias (Massimo Girotti), his wife (Silvana Mangano), their daughter (Anne Wiazemsky, who was nudged by her then boyfriend Godard to work with Pasolini), son, and middle-aged maid (Laura Betti). All five get seduced by him – which he gladly partakes in – before departing as mysteriously as he’d arrived. Their sexual union with him take their lives towards breathtaking repercussions. While the impact is positive for the maid as she gets bestowed with miraculous abilities, it's one of devastating desolation for the family – the son becomes a manic artist (presaging, interestingly, Warhol’s “piss art” by a decade), the daughter becomes catatonic, the mother starts picking up younger men, and the father abandons literally everything. The film’s desaturated visuals and idiosyncratic soundtrack – which segued from Morricone to Mozart – complemented its feral tone and modernist palette.







Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Mystery

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Friday 5 January 2024

The Gospel According to St. Matthew [1964]

 The Gospel According to St. Matthew was a great conundrum as much for the inherently contradictory context surrounding it, as it was for the fierce work that it was. The towering Italian poet, filmmaker and intellectual Pasolini was an avowed Marxist and steadfast atheist; he’d received a suspended prison sentence for his short La Ricotta from the previous year – part of the omnibus Ro.Go.Pa.G. – as it was deemed “blasphemous”; and, one would be hard placed to find something more outrageously ribald, sacrilegious and subversive than his extraordinary Trilogy of Life. It’s therefore astonishing that he made such a faithful, and almost reverential, adaptation of a religious text and unironic inquiry into Jesus’ life and myth. Furthermore, the film’s unflinching neorealism, visceral force, bleak austerity and spare minimalism – and the political readings into Jesus’ radical humanism – placed it at singular odds to the bombastic genuflection in conventional cinematic representations of the Bible, thus drawing parallels to Caravaggio’s blazing, unsettling and violent Biblical paintings. Heading its non-professional cast was Enrique Irazoqui – 19-year-old Economics student and Communist activist from Spain who’d go on to become a computer chess expert – whose searingly intense enactment of Jesus reminds one of El Greco’s paintings, while such intellectuals like Natalia Ginzburg, Enzo Siciliano, Alfonso Gatto, etc. played various supporting roles. Made with the rigorous touch of cinéma verité, shot in grainy and unsparing monochromes, filmed in gritty Southern Italian towns to mimic Palestine and Galilee, comprising of an incredibly eclectic soundtrack that ranged from Western Classical to African-American gospel blues and Congolese hymns, and evoking Renaissance-era paintings, it covered the preacher’s life – right from his birth, through meteoric rise, till death – with cutting and desolate ferocity.







Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Genre: Drama/Religious Drama/Historical Epic

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Friday 29 December 2023

The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant [1972]

 The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant established a radical and decisive shift in Fassbinder’s cinematic form and grammar – from austere, low-budget, experimental films to the kind of flamboyantly conceived, lusciously mounted and heavily stylized melodramas that he’s associated with. During an eight-month hiatus that he took from filmmaking after making a staggering 10 films between 1969 and 1972, he devoured Douglas Sirk’s movies and even met the then retired filmmaker at his residence in Switzerland, which catalysed this transition. It also searingly mirrored his left-wing politics and homosexuality, alongside an intensely auto-fictional evocation of his own relationships with actor Günther Kaufmann and his assistant Peer Raben. The resultant work, consequently, combined formal exactitude, sensational stylistic flourishes and fervid passions with sharp political subtexts – on power, privilege and class – and stirring self-expression, thus making this a ravishing, complex and turbulent accomplishment. Adapted from a play written by RWF himself, it manifested the theatre through its structure – viz. four acts and an epilogue – and by rigorously setting it entirely within the confines of a single room, which interlaced both artifice and claustrophobia into the emotional upheavals demonstrated by its stunning all-female cast. The film’s three central characters were the eponymous heroine (Margit Carstensen), a haughty and famous fashion designer recovering from yet another marital break-down; a strikingly captivating, nubile and icy ingenue (Hanna Schygulla) who the older woman falls crazily in love with; and Petra’s silent and suffering assistant (Irm Hermann). This ferocious chamber drama, that provoked controversy upon its release, was further underpinned by its gorgeous cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, resplendent ensembles, idiosyncratic props, campy dialogues, evocative use of music, and a giant print of Poussin's Midas and Bacchus.







Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romantic Drama

Language: German

Country: Germany

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Dear Diary (Caro Diario) [1993]

 Nanni Moretti’s delightful, drifting and self-deprecating rendition of his ironic and neurotic protagonist – part actual self, part alter-ego, part satiric depiction – in his wry, idiosyncratic and infectious gem Caro Diario, is bound to remind one of the celebrated self-representations by the likes of Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, Woody Allen and João César Monteiro; yet, for all the supposed similarities – even if these were parallels to be proud of – this was a distinctively and uniquely Moretti creation. The loosely structured triptych, filled with deadpan sketches, worked along multiple overlapping forms – an intimate and self-reflective diary film; a disarmingly mordant and subversive satire on vacuous consumerism, market forces and politics (no wonder, there was a stirring nod to Pasolini’s murder); a rich self-referential examination; a freewheeling city symphony and road film; and quirky notes on cinema, pop-culture, friendship and mortality. The 1st chapter, titled “On My Vespa”, sees an impish Moretti riding through the different quarters of Rome on the iconic scooter, observing diverse architectures, quipping on gentrification, making incongruous conversations, lambasting shallow movie trends, and expressing a goofy love for Flashdance. In the 2nd chapter, titled “Islands”, a deadpan Moretti and an austere intellectual friend – who deplores television, only to become obsessed with American soap opera – decide to hop from one oddball island to another, including Rossellini’s Stromboli, in the futile hope of working on their art bereft of urban distractions. The final chapter, titled “Doctors”, sees a flummoxed Moretti visiting a series of conventional and alternative “doctors” trying to get an irrepressible itchiness cured, only to learn – fortunately, before it was too late – that he’s become inflicted with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and the chemotherapy treatments that he must then endure.







Director: Nanni Moretti

Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Social Satire/Film a Clef/Anthology Movie

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Friday 22 December 2023

A Wedding Suit [1976]

 Can social observations be piquant and compassionate in equal measures? Can there be immersive storytelling with the frailest of plots? Can something carry heft despite being outwardly slight? Abbas Kiarostami’s gently ironic third film A Wedding Suit – at 3 minutes shy of an hour, it’s either feature-length or not depending on whose definition one subscribes to – provided a fascinating early peek into the Iranian maestro’s extraordinary ability to turn a seemingly commonplace scenario into something that’s beguiling and singular. It also demonstrated his love for training his lens on kids and adolescents, which he’d began with his debut feature itself and would pursue almost exclusive for around 16 years via both fictions and documentaries. Its three pint-sized protagonists are teenage working-class boys who, while being employed in low-wage employments at an age where they ideally ought to be in the school, pursue a common fleeting dream of transitioning into “respectable” men. Ali, with his impassive demeanour, works as an assistant to a veteran tailor, and he continuously crosses paths with the talkative Hossein, with whom he’s relatively closer, and the roguish livewire Mamad, who both kids view with considerable suspicion, as they all work in the same trilevel complex. When Ali’s employer takes the order of making a suit for a well-off boy of similar age, both Hossain and Mamad vie for it in order to wear this fancy dress for one evening – something they couldn’t ever afford otherwise, thus representing an impossible dream for them – before it’s handed over. Kiarostami, through this simple premise, crafted a deadpan, satirical and tragicomic examination of class boundaries, along with a poetic slice-of-life portrayal of adolescence, wishful longing and life in Tehran.







Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Slice of Life

Language: Persian

Country: Iran