Monday 30 April 2012

Saat Pake Bandha [1963]

Ajoy Kar would forever be remembered for Harano Sur and Saptapadi, two of the most enduring romantic films that took the legendary Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen pair to its zenith in Bengali pop culture. Though Saat Pake Bandha might pale in comparison in terms of sheer popular success, this heart-wrenching examination of marital breakdown would probably remain as his greatest achievement; and, possibly Suchitra Sen’s too along with Deep Jwele Jai. The film begins with Archana (Suchitra Sen), a disillusioned lady on a self-imposed exile, taking the job of a teacher in a school. After coldly spurning the advances of a besotted young colleague, she starts reminiscing about her life. Thus, through extended flashback sequences, along with voiceovers to reflect her inner turbulence vis-à-vis her stoic demeanour, we are told about her falling for Subhendu (Soumitra Chatterjee), an erudite college professor, and their subsequent marriage. Unfortunately, post the initial bliss, their economic difference and the presence of her overbearing mother start making inroads into their happiness; and these, along with their own egos, take them beyond any chances of reconciliation. Though not a flawless film, this was nonetheless a realistic, nuanced, affecting and brilliantly enacted work, and comprised of a recurring and mesmerizing background score by Hemanta Mukherjee that managed to beautifully accentuate the movie’s themes of lost love, separation and one’s futile attempts at coming to terms with that. The masterclass slow overhead zoom-out shot of the emotionally imprisoned Archana lost in thought in her rocking chair with which the movie ends, with the haunting motif softly playing on the background, was a truly heartbreaking moment. The movie was remade in Hindi as Kora Kagaz.

Director: Ajoy Kar
Genre: Drama/Marriage Drama/Romance
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Sunday 29 April 2012

Laptop [2012]

Kaushik Ganguly, who showed his prowess at deftly and sensitively portraying the various layers of human relationships and emotions in the brilliant Arekti Premer Galpo that he made a couple of years back, has proved with his latest venture, Laptop, that he’s enjoying a particularly creative phase in his filmmaking career. The basic concept used in this film, viz. an inanimate object changing hands and lives in the process, has been used in such diverse movies as Mann’s superb psychological Western Winchester ’73, Bresson’s masterly L’Argent, the compelling Italian drama The Red Violin, among others. The concerned object here is, as the title suggests, a stolen laptop. It makes its way through various people with diverse social and personal backgrounds – a poor taxi driver (Rajesh Sharma) in need of money for his wife’s surgery, a simple middle-class man (Pijush Ganguly) and his young son (Gaurav Chakraborty) who falls for the pretty daughter (Ridhima Ghosh) of a wealthy man that ends with heartbreak, a blind writer (Kaushik Ganguly, the director himself) whose relationship with his typist (Ananya Chatterjee) might just be veering beyond the professional boundaries, and a divorced publisher (Rahul Bose) who takes a trip to meet the son of a wealthy tea planter (Saswata Chatterjee) with tragic consequences. Coincidences play an important role in all the human stories, with urban loneliness and crave for companionship being the dominant themes. Though, admittedly, some of the subplots are better than the others, Ganguly bound them with soft hands, with the splendid background composition playing a vital role in accentuating the film’s underlying pathos and melancholia.

Director: Kaushik Ganguly
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Ensemble Film
Language: Bengali
Country: India

The Expendables [2010]

Anyone who, as kids, grew up watching the slam-bam fist-pumping testosterone fueled action blockbusters that Hollywood loved dishing out during the 80s and 90s, would have given an arm and a leg to see Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, the two biggest action superstars of that era, battling the bad guys together. But such a coup was never brought about then. Consequently, The Expendables provided for a much belated realization of the wet dream for the child who possibly still resides in me to see Arnie and Sly sharing screen-space, albeit for a very short while – that Bruce Willis, another contemporary of the two now-ageing and hulking former larger-than-life stars, was also there, made that short scene even more memorable. A number of modern-day action stars are there in it along with Stallone in its all-star cast, including the likes of Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, among others. The movie’s plot, style and execution, too, are a throwback to (and a parody of) the aforementioned decades – a group of elite mercenaries, who operate miles outside the law, being given the clandestine task of liquidating the tinpot dictator of a South American country. Unbeknownst to them, the dictator is being backed by a rogue CIA agent; the group is on the verge of calling off this mission, but decides to go back nevertheless as Ross (Stallone), the group’s de facto leader, has developed a soft corner for the dictator’s rebel daughter. What follows in this no-brainer and hyper-explosive display of machismo is, to use a very mild descriptor, utter rampage. Understandably, watch it only if you grew up in the said era.

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Genre: Action
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday 28 April 2012

Bad Luck [1960]

Andrzej Munk, who had made his debut with Man on the Tracks, which is considered as one of the best Polish films of the decade, reached the zenith of his maturity, talent and artistry with his third (and final completed) film, Bad Luck. Unfortunately for the world of cinema, he died shortly afterwords in a tragic car accident while in the middle of his fourth movie. Narrated in flashbacks, this incredible political satire had at its forefront the tragicomic tale of Jan (incredibly played by Bogumil Kobiela who’s in every frame of the film), an unremarkable and slightly stupid Everyday Joe whose chronic bad luck ridden life coincides with and forms a mirror to the turbulent contemporary history of Poland from 1930s to 1950s. He is a dangerously apolitical character whose sole intent in life is to earn fame, riches and the various ladies he falls in love with over the years, and thus his existence seemed hilariously anachronistic given the politically charged and dynamic times he lived in – be it World War II or Stalinist Poland. Munk brilliantly blended delectable humour with sulfurous jabs and pointed political commentaries, and made marvelous use of whimsical plot developments to carry the seemingly improbable faux-autobiography forward. The final result was not just a freewheeling tale of perennially being at the wrong place at the wrong time, it was also a deeply subversive (despite the refreshing sense of humour the superbly written script was filled with), darkly funny, and quietly disconcerting and melancholic piece of work. Jiri Menzel borrowed the template for his late-life gem I Served the King of England, as did Robert Zemeckis for the poignant Forest Gump.

Director: Andrzej Munk
Genre: Comedy/Political Satire
Language: Polish
Country: Poland

Friday 27 April 2012

September [1987]

That Woody Allen was a huge admirer of Ingmar Bergman is something every cinephile is well aware of. He remade Scenes from a Marriage into the equally brilliant Husbands & Wives, albeit in his own irreverent style. However, he also made two overtly Bergmanesque films as homage to the Swedish Master – Interiors, which was a terrific nod to Cries & Whispers, and September, this time possibly a nod to Autumn Sonata. The story is set in the idyllic location of a quaint summer house in Vermont; unfortunately, the state of affairs of those present there are anything but peaceful, as guilt, anger, hopelessness and unrequited love occupy their minds and lives. Lane (Mia Farrow) is an extremely vulnerable girl-woman forever haunted by her traumatic past, and shares a deeply complex relationship with her mother Diane (Elaine Stritch), a once-famous actress whose strong personality and gung-ho nature are completely antithetical to that of her emotionally fragile daughter. Meanwhile, the gathering in the house is also witness to a complicated love quadrangle involving Lane who has feelings for Peter (Sam Waterston), an ad-exec and a wannabe writer, who in turn is attracted to Lane’s married best friend Stephanie (Dianne West), while Howard, a mild-natured and middle-aged professor is silently in love with Lane. Though lacking the stark and pristine beauty of his earlier Interiors, this sensitive, heart-wrenching, brilliantly enacted, wonderfully scored and gracefully paced chamber drama remains as another of those rare but memorable ‘serious’ Woody Allen films.

p.s. And there goes my 700th movie review here at my humble blog called Cinemascope, and what better way to reach this milestone than via a movie by one of my favourite filmmakers.

Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Psychological Drama/Ensemble Film
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday 26 April 2012

Killer's Kiss [1955]

Killer’s Kiss, Stanley Kubrick’s second feature, provided enough signals of the young filmmaker’s propensity for splendid visual storytelling, and formed a noteworthy precursor to his brilliant film noir followup, The Killing. Made on a shoestring budget, the movie had the simple one-line premise of most romantic film, viz. ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl’; but, like most noirs, things didn’t ensue in such a simplistic manner. Told completely in flashbacks, it deals with Davy Gordon (Jamie Smith), a washed out boxer, who silently observes and has fallen for the resident in the opposite facing apartment – Gloria Price (Irene Kane), a nightclub dancer. He gets serendipitously acquainted to her when he runs down to her place upon hearing her shrieks. As it turns out, Vince Rapallo (Frank Silvera), her thuggish boss, is not just enamoured, but also obsessed with her. Davy and Gloria quickly fall in love, and they plan to leave New York City for a quieter town where they can escape their failed lives, but unbeknowest to them, the vicious Rapallo has other plans for them. The performances by the actors were quite stilted, while the dialogues and the vanilla narrative too were mediocre at best. However, despite its various flaws the movie had its moments – the foot chase over rooftops sequence and the brutal faceoff between Davy and Rapallo at a mannequin warehouse, were wonderfully done. The most memorable aspects about this crisply timed film were its exquisite expressionistic B/W photography and visual detailing; the scene where Davy’s manager is murdered in a dark alley made for a truly striking and visceral moment.

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Thriller/Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Gangster/Romance
Language: English
Country: US

Claire's Knee [1970]

Claire’s Knee, the penultimate film in Eric Rohmer’s legendary ‘Six Moral Tales’ series, ranks as one of his most renowned works. Though it comprises of a deceptively simple plot, the themes of sexual politics, morality and one-upmanship make for a gleefully delectable watch, and manages to appeal as much to the senses as to one’s intellect. Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy), an upwardly mobile and well-read diplomat, is on vacation at his picturesque summer retreat in the French countryside. He gives far higher priority to his brain as opposed to his heart, and this trait has made him decide to get engaged to a lady he likes spending time with despite not really being in love with her. During the vacation he reconnects with an old friend Aurora (Aurora Cornu), who is an author, and meets Laura (Beatrice Romand), a capricious teenaged girl who develops a crush on him. He whiles his time by engaging in long intellectual conversations with Aurora and at times casually flirting with Laura. However, these all come to a halt upon the arrival of Claire (Laurence de Monaghan), the ravishing half-sister of Laura. He immediately gets attracted to her, and develops a strange fetish – that of caressing her knees; the fact that unlike most women she doesn’t think much about him and is rather engrossed with her brash boyfriend, takes his intense longing to the level of obsession, even though he carefully cloaks that in front of Aurora as well as to his own sense of morality by resorting to pseudo-intellectual banter. Nicely enacted, wonderfully paced, and comprising of deft observations, humour and irony, this ranks as one of the most assured, perceptive and captivating films in Rohmer’s oeuvre.

Director: Eric Rohmer
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Language: French
Country: France

Monday 23 April 2012

Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned) [1950]

Los Olvidados is considered as one of the greatest Mexican films ever made (personally, I loved The Exterminating Angel more) – a curious anecdote given that it was made by a Spanish man in a self-imposed exile in Mexico. But what made this quite unique was that, unlike most of the masterpieces the great Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel is known for, this fell in the domain of social realism, to some extent in the footsteps of Italian neo-realism, and thus bereft of his trademark idiosyncracies, iconoclasms and trenchant satires. This gritty B/W drama had as its focus a group of juvenile delinquents living squalid existences somewhere in the poverty-stricken edges of Mexico City. The narrative gradually centres on Pedro (Alfonso Mejia), a young kid yearning for love and acceptance from his mother. Though he seems just another spoilt brat, eventually he turns out to be one of the few people in the film one starts caring for; nearly everyone else – the psychopathic gang leader Jaibo who commits savagery without so much as a blink, the blind musician (Miguel Inclan) who earns our sympathy initially for being tormented by the sadistic gang but eventually reveals his ugly and grotesque nature, Pedro’s voluptuous mother who allows herself to be seduced by the vile Jaibo and is forever distrustful of Pedro, etc., do not possess any redeemable qualities. Bunuel presented an unflinching peek into a cruel world where people, who are essentially good-natured, either die young or become homeless or lead naïve existences – they hardly ever get the rewards out of life that they deserve. The movie is violent, disturbing and deeply tragic, and comprises of excellent turns by Mejia and Inclan among others.

Director: Luis Bunuel
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Coming-of-Age
Language: Spanish
Country: Mexico

Sunday 22 April 2012

Blow-Up [1966]

Blow-Up was Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language feature and the biggest box-office hit of his career. Though the initial third of the film might seem removed from the kind of movies he was known for on account of it being based during the Swinging 60’s in London, by the time it ends one would realize it wasn’t too different after all. This was the tale of Thomas (David Hemmings), uber-rich fashion photorgrapher living an ennui-laden life of vacuous excesses, who might just have stumbled upon a murder while on an impulse photo-taking tryst at an idyllic looking park – strongly reminding one of the Hitchcock classic Rear Window. The slow-burning sequence where he develops the photographs and brilliantly unscrambles the jigsaw initially based on his hunch and later on his instincts and eye, followed by the fear and paranoia when realization sets in, made for compelling watch. However, though a psychological crime thriller on the surface, in essence the film’s underlying focus was denser and more complex. Antonioni thus used the murder mystery angle as a springboard to probe into his favourite themes, viz. urban alienation, societal detachment, and existentialism, along with commentaries on easy gratification and voyeurism. Thus, though it had some excellent plot developments, by the time the movie ended, plot had taken a complete backseat, leading us to a surreal, intriguing and strangely gratifying finale. Hemmings did a fine job as the movie’s emotionally alienated protagonist, as did Vanessa Redgrave as an enigmatic lady desperate to get hold of the photo-reels.

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Crime Thriller/Mystery/Existentialist Thriller
Language: English
Country: UK/Italy

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Kahini (Fiction) [1995]

While watching a film, viewers expect a formal beginning, a middle section and a clear ending where all the complexities get neatly resolved. Malay Bhattacharya’s debut feature Kahini, like a number of arthouse films that have worked outside the aforementioned ‘system’, didn’t just challenge that notion, it dealt a fine blow to it as well. The end result, consequently, was as confounding, intriguing and understandably discomfiting, as it was strangely engaging and gratifying too. The deceptively simple storyline has two parallel strands – in one we have Rajat (Dhritiman Chatterjee) who, while rummaging through old letters and worn off photographs, remisces about his life, the myriad experiences that he has had and the various people he has come in contact with (narrated as if being read out from his personal diary); in the other, Rajat, a brusque taxi driver, and a mild-mannered poster artist have kidnapped a child, and have hit the road where they come across a number of curious characters. Despite the harrowing consequences of the inexplicable kidnapping, the director’s intent was clearly in portrayal of the journey as opposed to leading us to any sort of denouement. Though the director never confirms regarding the veracity of either of the two threads, courtesy a sly plot twist (that might be easily overlooked by viewers who aren’t observant or attentive) the latter thread might just be playing out in Rajat’s mind – perhaps a recreation of his memory as a child. The film’s metanarrative and its blurring to the point of indistinguishability between past, present, reality and alternate reality, reminded me of another Bengali film, viz. Bappaditya Bandopadhyay’s Houseful.

Director: Malay Bhattacharya
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Experimental Film
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Sunday 15 April 2012

Nashville [1975]

Robert Altman loved making movies with large ensemble casts, and Nashville, his brilliant satire on obsession with celebrities and a fascinating ode to country music, might easily be the greatest of ’em all, and one of the finest American films of that era. This epic film, which follows nearly two dozen characters in its nearly 3-hour length, is set over 5 days in the titutar country music capital of the country. The movie is filled with characters that cover an incredible gamut of personalities, types, backgrounds and alliances – iconic legends of country music, upcoming and failed stars, wannabe singers, blood-sucking journalists, political lobbyists, music aficionados, and common everyday folks – and Altman used this varied crowd to present a brilliantly engaging commentary on popular cultures, societal hypocrisies and human dynamics. The film’s sprawling structure, kaleidoscopic nature and freewheeling narrative arc, which continually shifts from person to person and across a plethora of stituations both funny and poignant, succeded in capturing the mood and nostalgia associated with the zeitgeist of the particular era, and thus managed to be a heart-warming time capsule. Yet, on the other hand, it was also an indictment against the self-serving behavior, hypocrisies, blind obsessions and publicity mongers that are inherent in any society. The drone-like words of a political demagogue that continually interject the various occurrences, and the ironic climax, added layers of astute sociopolitical commentary to this exhilarating masterpiece. This superbly enacted movie boasted of bravado filmmaking, and comprised of a series of wonderful country songs.

Director: Robert Altman
Genre: Drama/Social Satire/Musical/Ensemble Film
Language: English
Country: US