Friday 29 April 2011

Ardh Satya (Half Truth) [1983]

Govind Nihalani is renowned for infusing realism in cinema (which some like calling "parallel cinema") – a rare trait among makers of Hindi movies, and Ardh Satya ranks among his most well-known films. Based in the mega-city of Bombay, the movie, which derived its name from a terrific poem that is recited in one of the most memorable scenes, is gritty, hard-hitting and deeply existentialist in nature. The film’s protagonist, Anant Velankar (exceptionally played by Om Puri), wanted to pursue literature. However his father (played by another doyen of Hindi cinema, Amrish Puri), was a constable, and literally forced him, through his towering and abrasive personality, to become a cop. A no-nonsense person by nature, the Anant refuses to take shit from anybody, and hence it’s only a matter of time before he goes into head-on, self-destructive collision with a powerful local mafia (another tremendous performance, this time by debutante Sadashiv Amrapurkar). Meanwhile he also starts developing a touching relationship with Jyotsna (delicately played by Smitha Patil), a soft-spoken lecturer in Literature. The film is not without its flaws, but it has the kind of vitality and energy rarely on display in Hindi cinema. It benefited heavily from great performances by everyone in the cast, including a fine cameo by Naseeruddin Shah. Interestingly, one of the scenes in the film, which shows Anant climbing up a staircase, was heavily reminiscent of a similar scene in Ray’s Seemabaddha.

Director: Govind Nihalani
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Police Drama
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Let Me In [2010]

Let the Right One In wasn’t just one of the best movies of the last decade, it would also rank among the finest horror/vampire films ever made. Fortunately, despite the kind of dismay and anger that was generated when it was learnt that it was soon to be remade (as usual) in the US, for once cinephiles weren’t disappointed by the American version… on the contrary, most, including me, would even agree that, remake or not, Let Me In is a damn good film. Set during an especially harsh winter in a small town in New Mexico, during the Ronald Reagan-era US, this immensely moody film, like its predecessor, is about the unlikely friendship that develops between a frail and lonely 12-year old boy who’s severely bullied at school, and a mysterious, fragile girl (apparently of the same age) who’s moved in next door with an older man. However, as those who haven’t watched the Swedish original would soon come to know, she is a blood-sucking and ageless vampire who can take to the streets only at night-time. The superbly paced film boasts of incredible performances by the two young actors. And, the brilliant cinematography, along with the bass-heavy score, managed to create an amazing atmosphere that is at once oppressive, bleak and melancholic. It lacks the subtlety, ambiguity and poeticism of the original; this one is perhaps the more brutal, chilling and decidedly less revisionist of the two.

Director: Matt Reeves
Genre: Horror/Psychological Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday 24 April 2011

Fanny & Alexander [1982]

Fanny and Alexander was the majestic penultimate film of Swedish maestro Ingmar Bergman. This semi-autobiographical film by Bergman, about the joys and pains of growing up, is filled with deeply-felt melancholia and heart-warming nostalgia. The film’s protagonist is a young boy called Alexander Ekdahl growing up, with his younger sister Fanny, in a large, aristocratic family mansion in turn-of-the-century Sweden. However, upon the death of his theatre-loving father, the lives of the two young souls take a drastic turn for the worse when their mother decides to marry a harsh and cold Bishop, and decides to move in to his austere home. The lack of material comforts, however, turns out to be the least of their problems, as they are thrown into a life that is unloving and unforgiving. The most memorable portion of the film undoubtedly remains the extended opening sequence where the distinguished Ekdahl family is shown having a grand and boisterous Christmas celebration. Filled with a host of neurotic and wonderfully etched characters, the party is a scene of joy and mirth. Gorgeous photography and interior set-pieces play important parts in showing the arc, from resplendence to bleakness to back to one of contentment, that the film traverses. This episodic film boasts of extraordinary performances, not just by the kids, but by its entire ensemble cast, especially their affectionate grandmother (Gunn Wallgren), beautiful mother (Ewa Froling) and brutal step-father (Jan Malmsjoe), among many others.

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Psychological Drama/Ensemble Film/Period Film
Language: Swedish
Country: Sweden

Friday 22 April 2011

Through a Glass Darkly: Exploration through Animation’s Lens

(Cinemascope thanks guest contributor Ms. Camiele White for her latest contribution. This insightful article is on Studio Ghibli, renowned for making one acclaimed animation film after another. More details on Ms. White may be found below the post)

For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. Holy Bible; 1 Corinthians 13: 12

It’s a known cinematic fact that those things that would be considered boundaries in life are all but limitless in animation. Starting as early as the 30’s, animation has had the distinct honour of transcending the scope of filmmaking and giving light to truly astonishing feats of cinematic genius.

As regards animation, it’s my contention that some of the best storytelling comes from Japan and France; however, in American film culture, there are a few animators who’ve taken thematic content about sex, drugs, religion, and the ubiquitous Big Brother, and forced the have viewers into a sort of transcendental meditation.

It’s no surprise that one of the most powerful films to come out of America was based on a science fiction graphic novel by the ever introspective Phillip K. Dick. 2006’s A Scanner Darkly took the notion that we are nothing more than slaves to our own paranoia (therefore thrusting ourselves into a police state whenever the acid trip of life becomes too close to the skin) and painted a landscape that was equal parts psychedelic and uncompromisingly cerebral. The street drug “Substance D” (“D for death”) distorts the reality of the mind, blanketing it in a multi-faceted array of colours and shapes that spring forth right in front of our eyes. With the magic marker of Richard Linklater, the audience is crashed into, and forcibly invaded through every sensory organ until we’re unable to tell whether our reality is really there or if we’ve been completely trapped in a cyclic daydream.

Linklater tapped into something very primal in our human parade: the fear of a complete abdication of autonomy over one’s self and his actions, and then, in turn, being punished for this inherent lack of control. The animation is boundless – no lines to speak of, no singular colour palette, and no real sense of depth perception. This brand of animation, most commonly known as “cell shading”, comes in many different forms, the ultimate result being detailed facial features. When used to a certain extent it allows for cartoon characters to be more expressive; however, when coupled with a live-action base, it renders the images hyper-active – facial feature atop facial feature until the line between what the mind perceives as normal responses to stimuli becomes frighteningly distorted.

Of course, with the advent of CGI, illustrators and animators have become the new puppet masters. For my part, I think a great deal of CGI is overblown, pretentious, and soulless. However, there are those big-budget studios that’ve become more than just catalysts for box office success. Pixar, for instance, has created some of the most successful animated films of all time. But, if you actually dig deeper, you find that their brand of animation only further heightens the abstract notions of love, loyalty, betrayal, and heartbreak. They’re a studio that, no matter how much you want to hate them, you simply must be in awe of their artistic approach to capitalising on the children’s animation genre. Films like Ratatouille were able to take a very real problem – prejudices based on upbringing, culture, and ethnicity – and make it very children friendly, using a rat as the universal symbol for the proverbial “judging a book by its cover”.

In France, there’s been a very long history of augmenting the naturally outrageous through animation. Films like Les Triplettes de Belleville and Renaissance take a very interesting look into “mob-related” activities and give them depth and perspective. Triplettes was an acute look at the disparities between French and American culture (while the former is obsessed with the Tour de France, the latter is obsessed with Vaudeville and hamburgers), sensationalising the physical attributions of its characters with a very traditional ink and paper technique that saw a great deal of maturation in the form of Sylvain Chomet. Renaissance took the cell-shading technique and painted it on top of the physical expressions of its actors. Director Christian Volckman (along with writers Alexandre de La Patellière and Mathieu Delaporte) created the perfect landscape to portray an abundance of human trafficking (in order to, essentially, harvest youth and beauty) in Paris in the year 2054. A classic black and white noir with a twist, Renaissance took much the same approach as many Japanese animators and let the story dictate the animation rather than the animation being the leading force of the story.

Animation has that multi-dimensional aspect that makes it so intriguing to children and adults alike. You’re transported between time and space and given a massive playground in which to express yourself. In the instance of 2004’s Ryan, you’ve got James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist with a bit of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey in the form of Canadian animator Ryan Larkin --who saw fame come and go with his eccentric style of storytelling, a style that garnered him an Oscar for best animated short film with his 1969 film Walking. The story is both compelling and visually spellbinding, allowing the viewer to literally look past the shell of a man that Larkin has become and see the genius for the sinner. The intricacy with which the film’s director, Chris Landreth, tells Larkin’s story is notable. He manages to take the abstract ideas of hopelessness, genius lost, and emotional damage very visceral to the point where the audience is able to reach out and touch Larkin’s hollowed visage.

Animation has been and will remain one of the most honest renderings of the human experience ever put on celluloid. Going back to Fantastic Planet – in which we explore the segregation of races based on caste system and supposed mental superiority – to Heavy Metal – in which we’re taken on a journey of sexual and pharmaceutical exploration-- to A Scanner Darkly, the audience is able to see more and more of itself through the animated glass.

The line of scripture preceding Paul’s declaration of seeing through a mirror blindly, is the infamous “When I was a child, I spake as a child.” Animation is this glass through which the audience sees themselves darkly. As we grow, we’re able to capture a glimpse of who we were and what we’ve become. It’s a way in which we are forced to become aware of ourselves and our imperfections and embrace them. Animation takes the boundary off of such fallacies and forces us to ponder those darker things within us that have shaped our understanding of the world in which we live.

I have a keen interest in all things that shed light and colour in this dark and, at times, uninspiring world. I love film, all film --ranging from Japanese and Korean horror, to nonsensical action films. The one qualification is that it must, must entertain me. As much as I love watching film, I love even more to write about it. Right now, I get my jabberjaw jollies writing for Star costumes. If you want to give me a buzz, I can be reached at cmlewhite at gmail [dot] com.