Monday 28 February 2011

Cutting It Short (Postriziny) [1980]

Jiri Menzel is a master at making movies that delight his viewers thanks to the light comic nature of the plots, as also make them think courtesy the utterly palpable socio-political commentaries. Cutting It Short, unlike his Closely Watched Trains, Larks on a String or I Served the King of England was decidedly low-key insofar as searing critiques or subversive humour go; nevertheless, the simple fact remains that it is a charming, whimsical, delectable and pleasantly erotic situational comedy with subtle social observations thrown in for good measures. Based on a story by the famous Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, the fable chronicles the curiously funny events leading to his birth. Set in a small and peaceful Czech town, it tells the tale of how the idyllic life of a mild-natured man (Hrabal’s father), who’s a manager at a large brewery, and married to a beautiful, luscious young lady with a wide-eyed curiosity for life, gets tossed out of the window upon the arrival of his earthy, motor-mouth brother who has an incorrigibly loud voice and a penchant for ribald jokes. The film’s climax does have a socio-political subtext, albeit too subtle for non-Czech viewers; however, that apart, what truly stands out for the film is the sense of nostalgia for a time lost in space. The acting is marvelous throughout, bringing forth the idiosyncrasies of not just the characters, but also of the place and the era that the story is set in.

Director: Jiri Menzel
Genre: Comedy/Situational Comedy/Social Satire
Language: Czech
Country: Czech Republic (erstwhile Czechoslovakia)

Friday 25 February 2011

Ride the Pink Horse [1947]

Set completely in the locale of an impoverished New Mexican town during the occasion of an exotic annual fiesta, the memorably titled Ride the Pink Horse is an interesting noir, though not as widely known as many of its contemporaries. At its essence, this is a hardboiled story about revenge and personal vindication, where the line between good and bad often gets blurred to the point of invisibility. Robert Montgomery, who also directed the film, starred as Gagin, a laconic and bitter ex-GI, who, in order to get even with the vicious, hard-of-hearing mobster who killed his pal, starts blackmailing him; but things, as expected, do not turn out as he’d planned. On the way to his self-destructive path, the loner Gagin befriends a naïve but pretty and petite Mexican girl, a rotund and gregarious merry-go-round operator, and a world-weary FBI guy who too wants to get the guy, albeit through legal means. Though the film starts exceedingly well, it is somewhat undone by its tad soppy and uneventful climax. However, where it lacked in a powerful plot, this mood-piece more than made that up through distinctive style, evocative atmosphere and moral ambiguity. The film was also helped by good acting and fine photography.

Director: Robert Montgomery
Genre: Crime Thriller/Film Noir
Language: English
Country: US

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Ghare Baire (Home and the World) [1984]

Ghare Baire belongs to that phase of Satyajit Ray’s life when his health was fast deteriorating and his movies began to be clubbed by the moniker “Lesser Ray”. Yet this movie is proof enough that even a “lesser Ray” was better than the best works of most filmmakers. One of the fellow bloggers, in his exceptional review of this film, compared Ghare Baire with Charulata, the movie Ray qualified as his personal favourite, and I completely agree to the points made. Adapted from a novel by Rabindranath Tagore, a ‘Renaissance Man’ with few equals, the story is based with the political turmoil surrounding the partition of Bengal (the then-hotbed of independence struggle) in British-ruled India forming the vital backdrop. And, in a state of fierce upheaval as this, brews a psychologically complex love triangle between Nikhil (Victor Bannerjee), a rich and mild-mannered landlord with mindset way ahead of his times, Bimala (Swatilekha Sengupta), his bold and liberated wife, and Sandip (Soumitra Chatterjee), a staunch nationalist, firebrand speaker, and Nikhil’s childhood friend. The film, that was supposed to have been Ray’s debut feature, boasted of a trio of memorable performances, with Soumitra Chatterjee absolutely outstanding as always as the enigmatic and morally ambiguous Sandip. Ray also made great use of Kishore Kumar’s voice in this otherwise verbose and volatile film.

Director: Satyajit Ray
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romance/Political Drama/Historical Drama
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Sunday 20 February 2011

Scarlet Street [1945]

Fritz Lang was a master of making film noirs, and Scarlet Street, Lang’s adaptation of Jean Renoir’s highly controversial film La Chienne, was his bleak and disconsolate view of life. A brilliant work from start to finish, the film follows the inevitable fall from grace of a weak man in a cruel society. Edward G. Robinson, in one of his most towering performances, played the role of Christopher Cross (ironically aka Criss Cross), a lonely, middle-aged, mild-mannered, cuckolded man, working as a cashier and trapped in a bad marriage with a domineering wife. Painting is the only thing that brings him joy. And, right from the time he finds himself falling for a luscious, duplicitous, gold-digging femme fatale (who takes this golden opportunity to con the gullible elderly man along with her scheming boyfriend), his fate down the road to double cross, lust, jealousy, murder and self-destruction gets confirmed beyond all reasonable doubts. The film, in its grim portrayal of sordid side of city life, painted a truly unrelenting picture of a world gone horribly wrong. Not just Edward G. Robinson, even Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea gave splendid performances. The narrative is intensely gripping, and the visuals play a major role in accentuating the mood and fatalism of the plot. Cross’ paintings, which lack on the “perspective” front, form a vital motif and driving force for the film.

Director: Fritz Lang
Genre: Crime Drama/Film Noir
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday 19 February 2011

Husbands [1970]

Husbands might not make the list of John Cassavetes’ best works, yet it does merit a watch for the presence of elements that made Cassavetes a darling of the indie circuit. The film is a distressing, scorching and daring look into mid-life crisis. Harry (Ben Gazzara), Archie (Peter Falk) and Gus (John Cassavetes) – New Yorkers, best friends, and all in their mid-30s – are seemingly living the American Dream, even though their lives are essentially hollow within. When one of their common friends suddenly dies, they suddenly find their definitions of life falling apart, and out of a sense of severe guilt and helplessness, they spend the next few days after the funeral doing everything they wouldn’t normally do – roaming the streets, getting drunk, hopping a flight to London, gambling, spending night with hookers, in an attempt to regain freedom. Archie and Gus, however, eventually decide to get back to their mundane lives, leaving Harry behind. The film is flawed, no doubts about that – most of the scenes suffer from being overlong, making it a difficult watch for most viewers. The film lacks a sense of direction too, but that might very well be a reflection of the lives of the three protagonists. What makes the film really notable, though, are the captivating, improvised and unbelievably natural performances of the three lead actors. For all its flaws, it still remains an important film in 1970s American Independent cinema.

Director: John Cassavetes
Genre: Drama/Existential Drama
Language: English
Country: US