Tuesday 18 June 2024

Against the Tide [2023]

 Watching Sarvnik Kaur’s poignant and poetic documentary Against the Tide, one’s immediately transfixed by the exacting chronicling of her deeply moving subject, given the long and arduous shooting conditions that it must’ve entailed. However, what enthralled me most was her fluid blending of narrative storytelling – and therefore fictive elements – into the nonfiction form, and the formal elasticity accorded by that. It draws particularly fascinating parallels with fellow Jamia Millia Islamia alumnus Shaunak Sen’s masterful docu All That Breathes. The nuanced and evolving portraiture – over the course of a year – of two friends belonging to the marginalized Koli community and tirelessly striving to sustain their piscine vocations, brings to mind the powerful delineation of avian passions of the two ghettoized Muslim brothers. The story of this indigenous fishing community – whose lives and livelihoods have been pushed to the edges on account of displacements due to Mumbai’s reconstructed cityscape, and rapid depletion of stock exacerbated by industrialized fishing, climate change and marine pollution – is evoked through two fiercely intimate friends, albeit separated by class and pursuing contrasting routes. Rakesh lives an impoverished existence with his wife and mother, having opted to continue pursuing traditional fishing in the shallow seas in his frayed old boat with a seasonal crew; Ganesh has moved up the socioeconomic ladder and lives in the city with his wife, but is stuck in the vicious loop of raising capital to go deeper into the sea using expensive crew and equipment, and drowning in debt as a consequence. The brilliantly shot work, with its underlying theme of tradition vis-à-vis modernization, is hauntingly bookended by two births and imbued with stirring echoes through recurrent use of a plaintive dirge.

Director: Sarvnik Kaur

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film

Language: Marathi/Hindi

Country: India

Saturday 15 June 2024

Godzilla Minus One [2023]

 If collective national trauma emanating from Japan’s dark martial past, especially pertaining to WW2 and its aftermaths, informed Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, these were in the foreground of Godzilla Minus One, the smashing new entrant in this long-running kaiju franchise featuring one of Japan’s biggest pop-culture icons. The narrative begins towards the end of the war when, facing certain defeat, Japan notoriously deployed kamikaze pilots for suicide attacks. Upon letting pragmatism and survival instincts trump over the dated concepts of honour and valour – inevitably construed as shameful cowardice by his countrymen – Kōichi (Kamiki Ryûnosuke) feigns technical snags to make an unannounced landing at a small island, where we have our first sighting of the angry reptilian monster. Plagued by immense survivor’s guilt upon his return to a ravaged Tokyo after the war, he tries settling down with his found-family comprising of a woman who’s lost her family (Minami Hamabe) and an orphaned kid, but eventually joins a ragtag crew of fellow vets tasked with diffusing naval mines which are dark remnants of the war. Meanwhile, relentless nuclear tests by the US at Bikini Atoll have brought about deadly mutations to Godzilla, making it not just infinitely more massive and ferocious, with an ability to produce devastating heat rays, but nearly indestructible too. Consequently, when it starts causing massive damages upon reaching the Japanese shores, former weapons engineer (Hidetaka Yoshioka) devises an ingenious, if enormously convoluted plan, to defeat this primordial beast. Buoyed by spectacular visual effects, the director delivered a commendable mix of scintillating sequences, deliberately melodramatic human story, and a dismal historical setting reminiscent of Japanese New Wave films that added vital meanings to the proceedings.

Director: Takashi Yamazaki

Genre: Sci-Fi/Action/Adventure/Family Drama/Creature Film

Language: Japanese

Country: Japan

Friday 14 June 2024

The Boy and the Heron [2023]

 What immediately arrests one about The Boy and the Heron – the first film in a decade by legendary octogenarian Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, who came out of his retirement to make this, and the 25th feature production by Studio Ghibli – are its dazzling, painstakingly handcrafted and decidedly anachronistic 2D artwork. Miyazaki was heavily inspired by the 1937 Japanese novel How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshino (the film’s original title is, in fact, a direct nod to the book); he also self-consciously looked back at his own childhood days and filmography while conceiving this story, which made it semi-autobiographical and self-reflexive. It begun against the harrowing backdrop of WW2 as young Hisako loses his mother to a tragic fire accident. As the war rages on, he finds himself displaced to tranquil rural environs when his father, an ecstatic manufacturer of fighter planes for the military, marries his sister-in-law and relocates to her large estate. There, haunted by his memories and engulfed in debilitating grief, Hisako finds himself lost amidst his new mom and a group of eccentric old ladies, and becomes even more withdrawn upon facing bullying at the local school. That’s when he encounters a speaking, anthropomorphic Heron who mocks him out of his stupor and provokes him into a parallel world – filled with blazing phantasmagoria and outlandish creatures – where he must overcome fantastical obstacles to save his old and new moms. Wildly imaginative and heavily metaphorical – especially around its underlying evocations of past, present and future – the film took an uninhibited turn after having begun on a low-key note, which made it seem messy and overdone on occasions, its affecting mix of loss, melancholy and hope notwithstanding.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Animation/Fantasy/Adventure/Coming of Age

Language: Japanese

Country: Japan

Tuesday 11 June 2024

In Our Day [2023]

 Hong Sang-soo’s chatty yet deadpan In Our Day – made in his characteristically unadorned visual language, unassuming aesthetic grammar and the kind of radical cinematic purity that he’s obsessively internalized – comprises of two parallel threads with such a fleeting link that they might as well be happening at different points in time rather than simultaneously. However, the way these two mirrored each other – in their succinct structures, trio of characters that includes a weary former artist and a visiting young admirer, being steadfastly confined in an apartment, rambling conversations that hint at dwelling on the larger questions of life only to impishly pull back, and the way they ambled along – gave it the form of a wistful diptych. The first thread is centred around a retired movie actress (Kim Min-hee) who has put up at the apartment of an old friend (Song Sunmi) where she’s visited by a naïve cousin aspiring to become an actress. The second thread is set in the flat of an ageing former poet (Ki Joo-bong) – who’s been asked by his doctor to stay off alcohol and cigarettes and has suddenly attained cult following among young readers – is the subject of a documentary being made by a young film student (Park Miso) as part of her coursework, while a callow young guy visits him for insights into art and life. The film, typical of Hong’s love for locating existential truths within his miniature cavasses – oftentimes through wry digressions and ambling drifts – includes a lazy cat, a forgotten guitar, playing “rock paper scissors”, trying non-alcoholic beers, and most memorably, savouring ramen with chili paste. The poet, by the way, does eventually fall back on soju and smoke.

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Genre: Drama/Comedy/Slice of Life

Language: Korean

Country: South Korea

Sunday 9 June 2024

La Chimera [2023]

 Time and history are fluid, elusive and mysterious in Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, an oddball mix of whimsy, irony and melancholy, with burlesque splashes reminiscent of Fellini and Pasolini thrown in. The film’s roguish and eccentric anti-hero Arthur (Josh O'Connor) – an alternately disreputable and righteous British archaeologist of unknown backstory who’s involved with a group of boisterous tombaroli (grave robbers) who’re into scavenging antique artefacts that the Italian lands teem with, while being haunted by memories of a lost love – formed a sardonic embodiment of its seriocomic tone and temporal themes, as he’s continually switching between ancient and near pasts. As the film starts, he’s just been released from prison, and despite moral pangs, he rejoins the colourful gang and leads them using his preternatural abilities in locating the right spots to dig, while dodging the suspicious cops on their tails and scandalizing the locals through their sacrilegious defiling of sacred traditions. Shot by Hélène Louvart – who sumptuously captured the landscapes’ rough beauty, and made playful use of multiple formats and speeds – and accompanied by an earthy and bawdy texture that complemented the script’s sensuous undercurrents and magic realism, the film served as irreverent satire and elegiac meditation on human’s insatiable lust and profane greed. The arresting O’Connor spearheaded a fine cast comprising of Carol Duarte as the alluring Italia who’s drawn towards Arthur and hilariously teaches him Italian hand signals, Isabella Rossellini as the tough yet sentimental mother of Arthur’s lost lover, Vincenzo Nemolato as a gangly scoundrel, and Alba Rohrwacher as a smooth-talking shark. One of the film’s most captivating treasures was a rueful folkloric ballad that added wispy, offbeat and metatextual layers to the quixotic proceedings.

Director: Alice Rohrwacher

Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Adventure/Romance/Magic Realism

Language: Italian/English

Country: Italy

Friday 7 June 2024

Close Your Eyes [2023]

 What could be more meta and self-reflexive than a filmmaker directing a feature-length work after three decades, centred on a filmmaker who abruptly stopped making movies three decades back! Victor Erice, best remembered for his celebrated debut film The Spirit of the Beehives – an allegorical anti-Francoist parable that’s attained mythic position in the annals of Spanish cinema – directed one feature per decade for the next two decades, but hadn’t made any since 1992’s Dream of Light. Understandably, the anticipation for Close Your Eyes, ever since it was announced, was massive among cinephiles, and fortunately one isn’t left disappointed. It begins with the muted footage of a film within film from early-90s, titled The Farewell Gaze, around a wealthy old man hiring a former anti-fascist partisan to find his lost daughter. The leading actor, Julio Arenas (José Coronado), mysteriously disappeared midway – it was assumed that he’d committed suicide, but his body was never found – which led to its director Miguel Garay (Manolo Solo) – also a close friend of Julio’s – abandoning the film, quitting filmmaking, and retiring to a reclusive existence at a fishing village. However, when a TV show revives this old mystery by deciding to make an episode on it, Miguel is forced to revive faded impressions, old acquaintances and his lost love for cinema. Blended with melancholic meditations on memories and mortality, this solemn and decidedly personal work comprised of languorous storytelling, intriguing visual palettes, wry cinematic musings, and an absorbing reunion with Ana Torrent after half a century. As a then 6-year-old, she’d unforgettably starred in the director’s debut movie; incidentally, her screen name was Ana in both films, as well as in Saura’s devastating Cría Cuervos.

Director: Victor Erice

Genre: Drama/Showbiz Drama/Mystery

Language: Spanish

Country: Spain

Sunday 2 June 2024

About Dry Grasses [2023]

 Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s smouldering new epic About Dry Grasses was, at once, expansive and focused. On one hand, its grand vistas, runtime of nearly 3 ½ hours, and a slow-burn narrative with a temporal arc of few months imbued it with the touches of a Dostoevskian novel that gradually unravels, thus allowing unhurried evocations of a brooding atmosphere and undercurrents; on the other, with just four key characters, remote Anatolian outpost setting, and fiercely tense and ominous crux, it had the air of a moody and mysterious Chekhovian tale. Samet (Deniz Celiloğlu), the film’s rivetingly etched protagonist – an art teacher at a primary school who loves photography and is craving to relocate to Istanbul – is a quintessential protagonist in the Turkish maestro’s oeuvre in how he’s a bitter, petulant, complicated, misfit, borderline misanthrope with an artistic bent. Two intersecting strands define his last few months in this village that he deplores, even while capturing its harsh beauty and weather-beaten residents, which are demonstrated via stunning tableaux vivant. He has developed a close bond with fourteen-year-old female student Sevim (Ece Bağcı) – Ceylan avoids interpreting the relationship beyond what we see – that leads to charges of inappropriate behaviour being levelled against him. Meanwhile, he befriends Nuray (Merve Dizdar), a captivating art teacher at another school and Marxist activist who lost a leg in a bomb attack, who he becomes infatuated with when she starts getting close to his colleague and roommate Kenan (Musab Ekici). This magnificently shot and brilliantly enacted film – simmering with weariness and desolation – comprised of striking verbal encounters and a bravura single-take sequence where Sevim makes a temporary Brechtian detour from the movie frame into the adjoining sets.

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Genre: Drama/Rural Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: Turkish

Country: Turkey

Saturday 1 June 2024

Kaathal (The Core) [2023]

 Jeo Baby, with Kaathal, took a diametric turn from his magnificent previous film The Great Indian Kitchen, while also complementing it in interesting ways. Though lacking in the latter’s crushing power – replacing that, instead, with a palette that was low-key and perhaps even too subdued at times – it too touched upon a crucial yet underrepresented topic through marital collapse. The title attained significance in how the director peeled the outward layers to reveal an intensely intimate and socially uncomfortable core. His biggest coup was roping in Mammootty, the veteran superstar of Malayalam film industry, in the role of a married man, who’s been socially conditioned to suppress and deny his homosexuality, finally coming out, and Jyothika as his wife trapped in such a marriage. Mathew, the middle-aged husband and respected member of the community where he resides – along with his wife Omana, their teenage daughter, and his aged father – is chosen by the Communist Party for a local election. His campaign, however, starts on an awkward note as Omana decides, in parallel, to file for divorce. While the political parties try to use this development to their advantage – the Left to demonstrate their progressive intentions and the opposition to spew regressive sentiments – the primary focus here was the couple’s journey through their divorce proceedings. Baby, preferring nuance over theatre, portrayed their separation in an understated manner, and therefore bereft of any dramatic flareups or malice between the couple; that, however, made things appear too downplayed in how everything was so peacefully tied up, considering the complex emotions and repercussions that were at stake. These, fortunately, were partially addressed by the affecting moment of reconciliation, elevated by Mammootty’s restrained performance.

Director: Jeo Baby

Genre: Drama/Marital Drama/Social Drama

Language: Malayalam

Country: India

Sunday 26 May 2024

A Brighter Tomorrow [2023]

 Nanni Moretti’s funny, whimsical and delectably messy A Brighter Tomorrow is as much a return to the wry, verbose and self-reflexive films of his past – it’s filled with infectious references to his greatest hits like Dear Diary, April, etc. – as a self-deprecating expression of his being out of sync with the world around him and his inability to fit in anymore, leading to both professional and existential crises. Furthermore, aside from its metatextual elements, ironic self-critiques, impish personal absorptions and unabashed self-indulgences, it’s also a loving evocation of his left-wing political ideals. Giovanni (Moretti’s quintessentially neurotic, cantankerous and chatterbox filmmaker alter-ego, played by himself) is shooting a film around the tremendous moral crisis faced by a L'Unità’s editor (Silvio Orlando) upon being urged by his defiant secretary/fiancée (Barbora Bobulova) to show solidarity with a traveling circus troupe in response to the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, which ultimately leads to the Italian Communist Party’s forging a new path. He’s constantly distracted, however, because of multiple reasons – his luminous wife (Margherita Buy), who’s produced all his films so far, is planning to divorce him, as he sucks the oxygen out of the room; his lead actress keeps improvising to his chagrin; he’s heavily tempted to make a rom-com and an adaptation of John Cheever’s “The Swimmer”; and the arrest of his dubious French producer (Mathieu Amalric) has left him in a lurch. The film is filled with hilarious digressions, including Giovanni halting the shooting of an action-thriller movie for an all-night diatribe on its problematic display of violence, and his riotous tryst with Netflix. The elegiac finale, one hopes, isn’t indicative of Moretti’s plans to walk into the sunset.

Director: Nanni Moretti

Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Film a Clef

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Friday 24 May 2024

The Delinquents [2023]

 Argentine filmmaker Rodrigo Moreno’s beguiling and enthralling anti-heist film The Delinquents seemed like a piquant blend of Godard’s radical and subversive flourishes, Rohmer’s freewheeling and enchanting levity, and Jarmusch’s seriocomic existentialist fables. This playful, languorous and intoxicating inversion of the classic crime caper – overturning genre conventions and sidestepping viewer expectations over its leisurely 3-hour runtime – also threw ironic jabs at corporate drudgery, work-life balance, midlife crisis, stifling urban monotony, the futility of meticulous planning and how the desire for escape doesn’t always exactly translate into one. Morán (Daniel Elías), who’s stuck in a dull and tedious clerical job in a bank in Buenos Aires, hatches a ludicrous plan in his defiant pursuit for freedom. He exploits a fortuitous scenario to steal $650,000 – just enough to compensate earnings until retirement for two persons – and slyly convinces his colleague Román (Esteban Bigliardi) to hold the loot, in lieu of 50% share for effectively doing nothing, while he serves what he expects to be a reduced prison sentence. Life, however, never follows a linear path, as Morán encounters the brutish prison boss Garrincha (Germán de Silva), while Román faces an equally torrid in office thanks to their vindictive boss (de Silva, in a dual role), a tough insurance investigator (Laura Paredes), crumbling domestic life and anxiety. To complicate things further, both are in love with the vivacious and carefree Norma (Margarita Molfino). The film’s many delightful attributes include Morán finding solace through Ricard Zelarayán’s hypnotic longform poem “The Great Salt Flats”; absorbing use of jazz, blues and tango scores; quirky conversations and digressions; elaborate fades and dissolves separating its gorgeously photographed sequences; and anagrammatic names, doppelgängers and such eccentric gestures from Moreno.

Director: Rodrigo Moreno

Genre: Crime Comedy/Existential Drama

Language: Spanish

Country: Argentina

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Kidnapped (Rapito) [2023]

 Marco Bellocchio’s baroque and magnetic film Kidnapped – made in the grand tradition of operatic and opulent historical melodramas – is a ferocious retelling of an unsettling true story from mid-19th century papal history. Through this recounting of a very specific event – that of the abduction of a Jewish kid by the Vatican, under the direct order of Pope Pius IX, to raise him as a Christian – the Octogenarian Italian filmmaker captured as much that historic Italian milieu which was about to be radically transformed by the forthcoming Risorgimento, an event that’d received its most unforgettable cinematic representations in Visconti’s Senso and The Leopard, as a portrayal of theocratic tyranny, discrimination against those deemed subhuman and their ghettoization by those with political might, which remain even more violently topical and relevant today. The story begins in 1858 when Edgardo Mortara (played by Enea Sala as kid and Leonardo Maltese as young adult), the sixth child of a well-off Jewish family from Bologna, is forcibly taken away by the church and relocated to Rome as, seven years back, a maid had ostensibly baptised him in secrecy. The “Mortara Case” mobilized the Jewish community and gained international attention thanks to the relentless efforts of the devastated parents (magnificently played by Fausto Russo Alesi and Barbara Ronchi). The baleful Pius IX (enacted with slimy and feral brilliance by Paolo Pierobon), however, is unmoved, and ruthlessly ensures Edgardo’s continued indoctrination, which leads his growing up as a heartbreakingly conflicted young man who’s doomed to be neither here nor there. Filmed with stunning audiovisual and aesthetic flourishes, this rich and complex tapestry reached a feverish crescendo in Bellochhio’s hands before ending on a deeply poignant note.

Director: Marco Bellocchio

Genre: Drama/Historical Drama

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Sunday 19 May 2024

El Juicio (The Trial) [2023]

 1985 was a momentous year for Argentina – and a beacon of hope for her Latin American comrades – since just 2 years out of an exceptionally repressive right-wing military dictatorship, its judiciary put the junta’s top brass, including Jorge Rafael Videla, on trial for their ghastly crimes – one that’s drawn comparisons with the Nuremberg Trials for its significance and breadth – and that too in civil court. Though televised for posterity, the recordings unfortunately remained largely unseen. Ulises de la Orden took help of the human rights group Memória Abierta and the Norwegian Parliament to access the magnetic tapes, and then spent a decade sifting through 530 hours of footage and rendering them into 3 hours of immensely powerful and profoundly sobering memorialization that attests to collective resistance through remembrance. Structured into 18 chapters – each touching upon specific aspects of the state-sponsored violations that occurred during the “Dirty War”, from the grotesque to the baroque, including such events as “Night of the Pencils” and “Night of the Ties” – this collage of analogue videos, its historical vitality and political immediacy aside, made for a surprisingly engrossing work purely through an archival assemblage. While maximum screen-time is accorded to victims, survivors and relatives recounting their horrific sufferings and loss, it also regularly peeked into all the present stakeholders, viz. the heroic prosecuting duo of Strassera and Ocampo; the obnoxious and indifferent defendants; the morally bankrupt defence attorneys; the weary judges; and the emotionally invested attendees. The eruption that breaks upon Strassera’s stirring closing argument, where he turned “¡Nunca Más!” (“Never Again”) into a rallying cry of protest and defiance, leaves a lasting impression. Mitre’s engaging film Argentina, 1985, incidentally, chronicled the same subject.

Director: Ulises de la Orden

Genre: Documentary/Political History

Language: Spanish

Country: Argentina

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Menus-Plaisirs - Les Troisgros [2023]

 The 50th directorial effort of legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman – and his fourth exploration of French cultural institutes, having delved into the fabled theatre Comédie Française, the famous Paris Opera and the risqué Parisian cabaret Crazy Horse – is a pleasantly immersive and painstakingly detailed observational study into the Troisgros family’s acclaimed restaurant “Le Bois sans Feuilles”, which has held onto its Michelin 3-Star certification for over 50 years. This rigorous examination of the myriad aspects that go into its running – from locally sourcing its diverse ingredients, planning its eclectic menu and ensuring readiness to cooking at its massive kitchen, exquisite plating and serving blockbuster dishes to its patrons – made for a complete contrast to the frenetic and hyper-competitive shows that dominate reality television. With a mammoth runtime of 4 hours, culled from around 130 hours of footage shot by stationing himself here for 3 months, it didn’t just peek into this exclusive establishment of gourmet cuisines located amidst tranquil surroundings in Roanne, it also wandered into associated establishments that feed into it like beef cattle farms, cheese ageing units, vineyards, etc. Its central protagonist is the genial and ageing paterfamilias Michel, a well-known chef and third-generation proprietor who’s transitioning this culinary legacy to his stolid eldest son César. We’re also introduced to his wife Marie-Pierre who manages a boutique hotel and his younger son Léo who leads a sister joint. The film’s most captivating sections silently observed the unflagging upholding of their creative standards, be it the three Troisgros men engaged in restrained brainstorming on ingredients, preparations and flavours – thus elucidating their distinctive styles and preferences – or collaborative involvements behind the scenes or regaling the guests with anecdotes and recommendations.

Director: Frederick Wiseman

Genre: Documentary

Language: French

Country: France

Monday 13 May 2024

Occupied City [2023]

 Steve McQueen’s shattering “city symphony” Occupied City is a powerful act of remembering, and rigorous preservation of cultural memory of Amsterdam during Nazi occupation. Based on “Atlas of an Occupied City, Amsterdam 1940-1945” – the encyclopaedic tome by Dutch historian Bianca Stigter, who’s also McQueen’s wife and creative partner – the British filmmaker shot a staggering 36 hours of footage capturing all the 2000-plus addresses recorded in it, which he then edited into this mammoth 4-hour documentary covering 130 of those sites. This extraordinary memorialization of that grotesque period was made particularly haunting by its juxtaposition of ghosts of the past – catalogued by Melanie Hyams’s eerily neutral narration – with images of present-day Amsterdam that he shot in 35mm through the pandemic and beyond. The voiceover chronicled anecdotes of execution and deportation, collusion and betrayal, desperation and survival, and even defiance and resistance; the visuals, conversely, ranged from freewheeling depictions of people engaged in activities unsettlingly incongruous to what had transpired at those locations, albeit separated by time, to present-day demonstrations, including dissenting against lockdowns, acknowledging Dutch slave-trades, climate justice rallies, and solidarity  with immigrant and Palestinian rights. These, in turn, were interspersed with couple of hypnotic tracking shots of night and daytime streets. While McQueen’s avoidance of archival footage has drawn comparisons with Lanzamann’s monumental Holocaust treatise Shoah, I found it formally closer to Perel’s scalding docu Corporate Accountability – a cutting exposé on how corporations enabled repression and enforced disappearances during the military dictatorship in Argentina – in their smashing of past and present. The director, incidentally, came to know during the filming that the schools that his daughter and son attend were once the SS headquarters and a Nazi-run prison, respectively.

Director: Steve McQueen

Genre: Documentary/Political History

Language: English/Dutch

Country: Netherlands

Saturday 11 May 2024

Our Body (Notre Corps) [2023]

 Claire Simon’s courageously conceived and audaciously mounted documentary Our Body is bound to draw parallels with Wiseman’s works for its deeply observant and quietly kaleidoscopic recording of a multi-hued institution, fly-on-the-wall approach, and expansive length. The aesthetic and formal resemblances notwithstanding, it was vastly different in its profoundly intimate and defiantly feminist foregrounding on women’s body – the personal, the collective and the political – and the associated aspects of health, agency, vulnerabilities and unavoidable bodily changes portrayed with the radical empathy of female gaze, and therefore shorn of both sexualization and stigmatization, as opposed to a Wiseman-esque exploration of the medical institution in which it unfolded. And, in what carved an especially singular space for it, Simon even trained the camera on herself like she did on others upon being diagnosed with breast cancer during the course of its filming, and both physically and emotionally bared herself in a manner that unequivocally established her extraordinary dare and moral strength. Set in the gynaecology ward of a public hospital in Paris, it covered – over the course of its nearly three-hour runtime, and by progressing from the very young to the heavily aged – a staggering breath of intensely personal medical consultations, diagnoses, procedures and caregiving. The topics included unplanned teenage pregnancies and abortions, trans-men and trans-women both planning for and having undergone gender changes, coital difficulties, natural and C-section childbirths, fertility and postpartum treatments, detections of and surgical interventions for cancer and other maladies, prognoses that’re both hopeful and dire, and illnesses that’re curable as well as terminal. Admittedly, though, it’s difficult to ascertain to what extent the interactions were influenced – consciously or otherwise – by their unravelling in front of Simon’s camera.

Director: Claire Simon

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Feminist Film

Language: French

Country: France

Wednesday 8 May 2024

Coup de Chance [2023]

 Woody Allen, who’s long pared down his craft to a stupefying obsession that’s quite rare in the history of this medium, undeterred by even the cancel culture that’s relentlessly hounding him, has reached the phenomenal milestone of 50 films as writer-director with Coup de Chance. His 1st film that’s wholly made in a non-English language is an enchanting revisit of two themes that the 88-year-old filmmaker has previously explored – masterfully in Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point, and compellingly in Cassandra’s Dream and Irrational Man – albeit made almost in a self-mocking vein, viz. getting away with murder and the arbitrariness of existence. Harbouring the quintessential Woody touch of a jazzy, free-spirited air overlayed on a tightly scripted base, it begins on a captivating note when, while walking along the Parisian streets to the art auction house where she works, the stunning Fanny (Lou de Laâge) runs into Alain (Niels Schneider), an aspiring writer and an old acquaintance carrying a torch for her since long. This chance encounter awakens a repressed freewheeling side in her, and the two begin a passionate love affair. She, however, is married to Jean (Melvil Poupaud), a debonair and super-wealthy man. He, unfortunately, has a shady past, a sinister side and is insanely possessive of his wife. Murder, inevitably, is on the cards. Though far from being among Woody’s best efforts – his finest hour, for us who’ve so deeply loved his works, is indisputably in the past – it was still a delectably wry, self-aware and luminously photographed film. If this turns out to be the swansong for this great artist who’s fast losing his desire to continue, it’s definitely a commendable way to go out.

Director: Woody Allen

Genre: Crime Thriller/Romantic Comedy/Marital Comedy

Language: French

Country: France

Saturday 4 May 2024

American Fiction [2023]

 Rarely have I postponed the viewing of a film to read the book that it’s based on; rarer still is “discovering” an accomplished author in the process and then going on to admire the film as well. In his excellent 2001 novel Erasure, which I read last month, Percival Everett had served a wickedly funny satire on commodified representation of subaltern experiences by the cultural landscape in order to pander to white/liberal guilt, along with an elegiac portrayal of a man traversing through personal, professional, familial and existential crises. American Fiction, Cord Jefferson’s incisive and crackling directorial debut, mirrored the book’s themes, tones, wit, irony and underlying sense of being lost, while also carving its identity. Its richness was displayed through both its conscious convergences and playful departures. Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is an African-American writer and literature professor whose life’s in a precarious state – his editor is unable to have his erudite books sold as they’re lacking in “Black Experience”; he’s forced into sabbatical for alienating his students; his mom is slipping into Alzheimer’s that necessitates expensive care; his sister has unexpectedly died; his brother has just come out as gay; and he’s getting to know his late father’s extra-marital secrets. When an African-American woman achieves significant fame for a book that, Monk feels, is exploitative and stereotypical, he too decides – as an expression of his anger and disgust – to pseudonymously speed-write one; contrary to his wildest imaginations, however, it becomes a smash hit. Led by Wright’s stunningly layered performance and commendable support turns, and accompanied by a captivating jazz-based soundtrack, the film was especially striking in its impishly brilliant and metatextual reworking/extension of the book’s finale.

Director: Cord Jefferson

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Social Satire/Family Drama

Language: English

Country: US

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World [2023]

 Radu Jude reaffirmed his position as a defiantly radical and daring filmmaker with this dazzling and damning work that combined cutting satire, outrageous humour, dizzying metatextual references, scalding political commentaries, and subversive neo-Marxian dialectics. These, along with its multi-segmental structure and anarchic experimentations, made this a striking follow-up to his fabulous previous film Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Angela (Ilinca Manolache) is an underpaid, overworked production assistant who drives around Bucharest auditioning victims of workplace accidents, for a dubious corporate documentary sponsored by an Austrian organization. Filmed in low-fi B/W capturing her gig employment, this strand is frequently intercut with two seemingly dissonant threads – parodic and inflammatory TikTok videos, shot in saturated colours, that Angela makes as a side hustle, using a sleazy, trash talking, misogynistic, neo-Nazi alter-ego called Bobiță; and snippets from the feminist Ceaușescu-era film Angela Moves On, shot in glorious retro colours, featuring a lonely woman taxi driver (Dorina Lazar). They ultimately coalesced into the bleakly funny final segment – a bravura 40-minute single-take static sequence – showing how a wheelchair-bound man is craftily coerced into presenting a false narrative in the said promotional movie, wherein the blame is conveniently shifted from the employer to him, and his agency too is stripped in the process. With references ranging from Goethe and Lumière to Godard and Dylan, this 3-hour epic comprised of deadpan detours – as in a rambling conversation with a corporate exec (Nina Hoss) that segues into a silent tracking shot memorializing vehicular casualties – and dealt with neoliberalism, exploitation, discrimination, media manipulation, cultural toxicity, war, fascism, etc. The film, interestingly, featured self-reflexive cameos by hack director Uwe Boll and Lazar reprising her role from the referenced film.

Director: Radu Jude

Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Political Satire

Language: Romanian/English

Country: Romania

Saturday 27 April 2024

The Plough (Le Grand Chariot) [2023]

 Love, family, friendship and the passion for one’s craft were the overarching themes in The Plough, another delicately textured entry to the quintessential Garrelian universe, with its interplay of melancholy and sensuousness, delineations of bohemian artists and drifting lovers with intimate brushstrokes, romantic entanglements and infidelities (portrayed with restraint, the messy repercussions notwithstanding), understated elegy to the irrevocable passing of time, and, most importantly, the inherently self-reflexive form. Autofiction has been a running thread in his filmography – stringing together tapestries informed by intensely personal facets from his life – which his latest work embraced with understated ardour. The minimalist narrative is centred on a family-run puppeteer troupe – adored paterfamilias (Aurélien Recoing); his children Louis (Louis Garrel), Martha (Esther Garrel) and Lena (Lena Garrel); and aged grandmother (Francine Bergé) – who’re bound to this charmingly antiquated artform. When the father suddenly dies, however, the group starts drifting apart – Louis quits to pursue career in acting; Martha, unable to move on, decides to run the show along with the politically active Lena despite the acute financial woes; Peter (Damien Mongin), Louis’ mercurial friend who’d joined the group, renews his self-destructive tryst with painting; and the eccentric granny, a left-wing nonconformist, starts slipping into dementia. Garrel’s first film in colour since the exquisite A Burning Hot Summer, it gently nodded to his late father Maurice who was a puppeteer before becoming an actor; furthermore, the siblings were played by his own children; Aurélien’s father Alain, meanwhile, was Maurice’s colleague during their puppeteering days. Mortality was a recurring motif too; aside from the two onscreen deaths in it – captured with wry equanimity – renowned screenwriter and Garrel’s frequent collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière died during the scripting stage.

Director: Philippe Garrel

Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Film a Clef

Language: French

Country: France

Thursday 25 April 2024

Kayo Kayo Colour? (Which Colour?) [2023]

 Most films that attempt to demonstrate the experiences of marginalized communities have a propensity for depicting them as either angry or exploited “victims”. The more authentic, meaningful and nuanced representation, however, might instead be to delineate their lives in their mundaneness, ordinariness, vulnerabilities and everyday emotions. Such an approach – formally and politically – brings to mind such gems as Bresson’s Mouchette, Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, McQueen’s Lovers Rock, etc. Shahrukhkhan Chavada – who was born in the year of DDLJ’s release and named as such by his mom who’s a fan of the Bollywood superstar – opted for that quietly radical approach, perhaps as an expression of personal and collective resistance, in his remarkable debut feature Kayo Kayo Colour? Shot using long static takes in austere monochrome, on location, resorting to minimalist faux-vérité aesthetics, echoing restrained humanism, and employing a non-professional cast consisted of real-life couples and siblings playing as such onscreen, this film bore hallmarks of Italian neorealism, Iranian cinema, Lav Diaz and observational documentaries, thus revealing not just the filmmaker’s social and political consciousness, but his eclectic cinematic influences too. With its title indicating a children’s game – ironically, one that involves spotting colours – it portrayed 1 ½ days in the life of a working-class Muslim family, comprising of Razzak (Imtiyaz Shaikh), who’s hoping to purchase an autorickshaw, his wife Raziya (Samina Shaikh), who manages household chores, daughter Ruba who’s craving for an aerated beverage, son Faiz, and Razzak’s aged parents. They stay at an overpacked ghetto in Ahmedabad and bear scars of the 2002 pogrom, even though these get only fleetingly mentioned, and the day – that would witness a despotic governmental proscription – devolves into a bleakly consequential one for them.

Director: Shahrukhkhan Chavada

Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Family Drama/Political Drama

Language: Gujarati/Hindi

Country: India