Saturday 31 March 2012

La Belle Noiseuse [1991]

Jacques Rivette used to be considered as one of the most experimental among all the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers when that legendary movement had begun, and his continued love for narrative and stylistic experimentations and challenging subjects is clearly visible in La Belle Noiseuse. Creative processes can often be transformative as well as transcendental experiences, and that forms the principal theme of this fascinating 4-hour long arthouse classic. Edouard Frenhofer (Michel Piccoli) is an ageing but renowned painter who has lost the inspiration for creating any more great work of art, and whiles his time in an enormous mansion with his wife Liz (Jane Birkin). When his young protégé Nicolas presents his alluring girlfriend Marianne (Emmanuelle Beart) to pose for him, he decides to renew the titular work, a nude study, that would be his final masterpiece – a project that he had initially planned to do with his wife but had abandoned a decade back. Thus begins a detailed look into the long, agonizing and arduous execution of the project, with the process being often filmed in real time. Further, while Marianne had grudgingly agreed to it essentially out of anger, the headstrong lady and the eccentric artist forge a nuanced and complex relationship as they converse on various topics related both to art and life while her exquisite beauty and supple body are being transferred to the canvas. Brilliantly enacted, luxuriously photographed and leisurely paced, this deeply philosophical and rhythmic film comprises of a serene surface that just about masks the various turbulences within, making this a ravishing work despite its overtly cerebral nature. Rivette also released an alternate version of the movie, called La Belle Noiseuse – Divertimento.

Director: Jacques Rivette
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Avant-Garde
Language: French
Country: France

Baishey Shravana (Wedding Day) [1960]

Baishey Shravana, Mrinal Sen’s third feature film, was a simple and simply told human story where the protagonist’s emotional experiences cover the entire arc from happiness and bliss to pain and devastation. Priyanath (Jnanesh Mukherjee), the descendant of a rich zamindar family and resident of a small village in Bengal, makes his living by selling various items on the train. His loving mother gets him married to a nice looking girl (Madhabi Mukherjee in her first major role) who is much younger to him. Theirs becomes a happy closely-knit family with the soft-spoken Priyanath’s love for his demure wife increasing with each day. However, before long, tragedy strikes in the form of his mother’s death on one stormy evening while they were happily whiling their time at a local fair. The guilty-conscience that he starts suffering from starts affecting his work, and before long, courtesy a debilitating accident, he finds himself jobless, and soon enough penniless too. The film’s most noteworthy aspect was in being able to capture Priyanath’s changing nature and behavior, and the consequent disintegration of his marriage, once tragedies start taking its toll, has been nicely portrayed; Jnanesh Mukherjee gave a stellar performance to superbly capture the sad but inevitable transition. Though set at the backdrop of the setting in of the 1943 Bengal famine, that seemed rather incidental (and hence irrelevant) to the storyline vis-à-vis Akaler Sandhane which he made two decades later. Though at times the film appeared to be going through the motions, it does merit a watch as an early Mrinal Sen effort.

Director: Mrinal Sen
Genre: Drama/Rural Drama/Family Drama
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Friday 30 March 2012

The Arriviste [2012]

The Arriviste, the debut feature of Pascal Santschi, is an ultra-low budget Indie film – the director achieved the incredible feat of completing it within a budget of $10000, thus setting a record for the least expensive film shot on 35mm. Having had to work under such a paltry budget, Santschi didn’t just have to operate under various constraints (which obviously gets reflected in the film too), but was also compelled to don innumerable hats while making it and resorting to loads of ingenuity. The darkly funny, noirish and labyrinthine plot is about a young guy living in a cramped apartment who falls headlong into a murky affair concerning his elder brother with just a few days to go before his probation period expires. There isn’t any dearth of popular iconographies vis-à-vis quintessential neo-noirs, viz. corrupt cop, shady deals, double crosses, blackmail, and even murder. Though the rather vanilla photography couldn’t capture the inherent moodiness of the storyline (perhaps going the grainy B/W route might have helped in this regard), that was more than made up through usages of smart camera angles, a fine and low-key background score, and a breezy narrative that hardly lets one relax. Though the lead actor’s performance isn’t worth much writing about, those by some of the supporting cast – especially, the smart-ass cop and the desperate writer, were noteworthy. And the irony-laden climax was a highlight of the ingenious plot. Given the monetary constraints under which this was made, it would be a folly on my part to speak about the production values; but, that said, it did remind my about another low-budget, darkly funny and irony-laden Indie neo-noir debut by a filmmaker who has now become quite famous, viz. Christopher Nolan’s gleefully engaging Following.

p.s. Mr. Pascal Santschi was kind enough to contact me and send me a screener copy of this movie, which he plans to self-distribute. I humbly wish him a great Indie and filmmaking career ahead.

Director: Pascal Santschi
Genre: Thriller/Mystery/Post-Noir
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday 29 March 2012

Akaler Sandhane (In Search of Famine) [1980]

Akaler Sandhane possibly ranks, along with the likes of Padatik and Khandahar, as Mrinal Sen’s most internationally celebrated film. Like Satyajit Ray’s harrowing Ashani Sanket, this too was based on the devastating 1943 Bengal Famine. However, unlike the Ray film, where the story was set during the famine, this movie was more self-referential in nature, stylistically challenging, and idiomatically experimental – reminiscent to some extent of his more avant-garde efforts like Interview, Chorus, and Chalchitra. The movie is about a film crew, led by its director (Dhritiman Chatterjee) who is clearly a representative of the urban intelligentsia and a stand-in for Sen himself, which has come down to a small village to make a film about the aforementioned famine. All seems to go fine until one of the actresses, who was to play a crucial role, is dismissed on account of her tantrums. Getting her replaced, however, puts the entire shooting in crisis as the character seems to pinch the village folks at somewhere very deep, reminding them of the sordid sides of the famine that they’re desperate to cloak under their veneers of civility. Meanwhile, the tragic life of a poor village servant girl starts blurring the lines between reel and real, as also, past and present. The story of the dying former zamindar, which formed another thread, provided for a poignant detour. The movie’s dark humour and trenchant socio-political commentary might be distressing for some viewers, but its theme, content and execution are sure to leave one impressed. Noted filmmaker Rajen Tarafdar was outstanding in a key role in the movie. Chatterjee and Smitha Patil were also highly commendable.

Director: Mrinal Sen
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Avant-Garde Film
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Agent Vinod [2012]

Sriram Raghavan made an interesting debut with Ek Hasina Thi, and followed that up with the absolutely delectable Johnny Gaddar – the two movies had shown his knack for and prowess at darkly comic thrillers. Unfortunately, he chose the big bonanza route for his third feature film, and the end result is a disappointing mish-mash, more so given the promise that he’d shown with his earlier two efforts. The movie stars Saif Ali Khan as the eponymous Agent Vinod, India’s reply to the James Bond’s and the Jason Bourne’s of the world. A super-agent of RAW (Research & Analysis Wing), he is sent on a globe-trotting mission to save the country from nuclear attack by terrorists. As expected, he can effortlessly hop from one country to another (his destinations here include, Russia, Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey) and beat the hell out of the bad guys without so much as breaking a sweat or getting a crease on his impeccable attires. With a mysterious and voluptuous belle (Kareena Kapoor) in tow, he thus goes about saving the world. The over-ambitious production, the predictable and meandering storyline, the inconsistency of approach (it initially appeared to be a comedy-action film, but the comic tone suddenly disappeared midway without a trace), etc., all added to make this a forgettable experience. There was just one truly memorable aspect about the film – in an audacious bit of filmmaking, there is a beautifully choreographed action sequence inside a hotel, with a blind lady playing on the piano, which has been shot in a single take. Unfortunately, that bravura sequence was drowned in the preceding and ensuing ocean of mediocrity.

Director: Sriram Raghavan
Genre: Thriller/Spy Thriller/Action
Language: Hindi
Country: India