Saturday 30 June 2012

Back to the Wall (Le Dos au Mur) [1958]

Though made in French, Back to the Wall qualifies as a classic noir on account of earnestly adhering to its quintessential iconographies, be it the doom-laden storyline, the grim and fatalistic tone, the moody B/W cinematography, the themes of lust, jealousy, betrayal and crime, or the darkly ironic climax. Jeanne Moreau, who was one of the two leads in Elevatorto the Gallows, the fascinating post-noir by Malle, released one year prior to this film, reprised the role of a bored housewife married to a rich middle-aged man and embroiled in an extra-marital affair with a young guy. However, unlike in that movie where the husband gets bumped off in the classic first scene, it is the lover in a very dead state that it starts with. Once the protagonist, who turns out to be the husband, has disposed the corpse in the tension-filled opening sequence, the film shifts to a long flashback. The focus here is therefore on the husband who, upon becoming accidentally aware of his wife’s infidelity, plans to take revenge on her. However, what starts as a simple blackmailing scheme just to scare her, gets progressively murkier, and before long, things spiral beyond the point of no return – thus once again the world of film noirs resolutely standing by the adage that there’s no such thing as a perfect crime. Gerard Oury was good as the jilted, straight-faced husband trying to get even, as was Moreau as his incredibly beautiful wife caught in an odd situation. Music, which was used sparingly, laced the proceedings with a gloomy and tense feel in this engaging adaptation of a Frederic Dard novel.

Director: Edouard Molinaro
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Film Noir
Language: French
Country: France

Friday 29 June 2012

Sweet Lasting Revenge

(Cinemascope thanks Ms. Camiele White for this delectable peek into the dark and cold world of vengeance in cinema, using three films belonging to diverse genres to bring forth this fine and incredibly personal article)

Though it may be bad form to start an article with the ever fluctuating, yet astonishingly grammatically incorrect vernacular of the Twitter generation, I must preface this article with a very audible and heart-heavy *sigh*. This has been quite a month for me, dear friends, a month in which the reaffirmation of my susceptibility to being taken advantage of and betrayed has carved a mark in my psyche with full force and from all sides.

That over-dramatic, borderline Maudlin, peek into the sickly smudge that has been my life as of late segues perfectly into the post that I’ve wanted to write for quite some time. There’s no greater medium than cinema to vividly express those emotions that we audience members feel. Music is my life, poetry my livelihood. But I recognize the potency and immediacy of the moving picture as much as the next long-winded ghost-writer. One of the most important and visited themes is revenge.

The first time I ever experienced this rush of needing to slake one’s lust for vengeance was when I was very young. In fact, it is this film that triggered my necessity to write out my anger before some unfortunate bystander felt the wrath of my hypersensitive emotional state. The film Sleepers, though based on a true story, draws much from the ultimate revenge tale, The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s that poetic cadence, “sweet lasting revenge”, which drives the film and ultimately leads to one of the most elaborately planned revenge tales ever set on screen.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of the victimized – their lives left cragged and splintered by the pain of betrayal from authority figures. Sleepers pretty much set the pace for any revenge film that I’d see after it. The utter feeling of helplessness at the hands of men who are sworn to protect you and keep you out of trouble… try being a functioning member of society after being subjected to something that you’ve always had to bury within you, the scorch of the secret burning a pussing sliver into your soul. For John Rilley and Thomas Marcano, the life after being imprisoned in a stony-lined hell of degradation and abuse has not been kind. They kill at will or on command with no remorse, no real connection to life.

Their more fortunate childhood friends, Shakes and Michael, have managed to bury the past deep enough to move on. However, Michael has been festering in his anger, waiting for the perfect moment to exact his revenge and seek solace for his weary spirit. As a well respected young lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen, he’s ready to take his reputation and his skill and throw them into the gutter for the sake of getting his and his friends’ due justice, opening the closet door housing the bogeyman that did irreparable harm to their youth and their ability to grow up in peace.

This tale of vengeance and justice is ripped clean from the pages of Alexander Dumas himself and gives living colour to the bitterness that one must harbour in his very limbs every day of his walking life. It’s this heat and fire that gives this film its potency, thrumming with potential energy stored within every fibre of these young men’s beings.

Of course, as with love, revenge comes in many shades. The line between the two almost blur to a smudged sort of passion, indistinguishable emotions that carry all the heat and ire of broken hearts and shattered spirits. With love, the fire within the pit of your stomach for the object of your affection never dies, only billows like so many clouds of smoke. When for the sake of avenging those who hold the biggest portion of your heart, revenge is as ferocious as a rattle snake, sharp and biting, sticking its fangs in the bringer of your love’s pain and rooting out life until it’s a pulping mass of nothingness in a stagnant pool of water. Such was the case in the western Tombstone.

Barring the time period, the fact that he’s a historically iconic figure and peacemaker, Wyatt Earp and I have much in common. We both feel an unwavering sense of duty towards our families, our dearest allies are snarky drunks with wit sharper than a katana, and our younger brothers are the most important parts of our universes. Of all the things anyone could do to me, the only thing that pushes me past the point of reasonable thought is if any harm at all is inflicted on my younger brother. Thus when Wyatt Earp goes on his killing rampage of anyone resembling a Cowboy (the harbingers of all things destructive and callous), I easily justified it as an act of a man pushed passed his limits of tolerance. There’s not a body I wouldn’t exorcise of life if ever a hair on my brother’s head was harmed at the hands of another. Doc Holiday, Wyatt’s closest confidante, said it quite brilliantly, “Make no mistake. It’s not revenge Wyatt wants. It’s a reckoning.”

Then, once I fall back to a time that never seems to bring me anything accept heartache and a throbbing anger, the only film that can measure up is Carrie. Obviously high school was a bevy of experiences, ranging from the most incredible four years for some and some of the most tumultuous for others. If what precedes isn’t enough indication, my high school life erred on the latter side of the spectrum. Well, more it was lonely and full of falsities that even at that age I could sniff out and realize what they were. However, insecurity and loneliness allow you to ignore the obvious and hope that someone will willing reach out and be a genuine source of peace and, dare I say, happiness.

Carrie was a young girl sheltered and in desperate need of someone to take her hand and lead her into a new image of herself. However, her solace came in the form of learning telepathy, giving her autonomy over her life and its circumstances unlike anything she’d ever felt. The power coursing through her body gave her the confidence that maybe, just maybe, she deserved a bit of respite from the pain she’d suffered at the hands of her peers and her zealot mother. The moment she feels she’s finally been accepted, after winning the rigged prom king and queen contest, her world implodes, the rage manifesting itself in a massacre of her senior class.

The iconic prom scene that’s been etched in my mind as one of the most frightening, as also is one of the most resonant. I find myself easily able to slip inside Carrie’s walls, embrace the pulsating heat and pain within the confines of her fleshy albatross, and look deeply into those eyes, wide with bloody heat and anger. The last 20 minutes of the film are the most apt to my life leading up to this very moment because every wrong done to me, every lie and slap in the face is so calculatedly disassembled and left pulping in its own deceit. As such, Carrie remains one of the most frightening films I’ve ever seen as well as the sincerest reincarnation of everything that I’ve come to know in my life.

And that’s what this was about -- relinquishing the anger, exorcising demons, freeing my soul of an ever winding vice. These three films managed to take vengeance to a place that I’ve always been fascinated and wary of -- eyes wide, wildness prevailing where calm should reside. There’s a moment when somewhere inside all of us, laying dormant and waiting to bubble to the surface of our skin, in which the world stops and all we see is white anger, a burn that sears its way into your essence until it burns away every other part of us. Until that fire is allowed to spread itself through you and exhaust itself, you’ll always feel it clawing at you, begging for release. These three films showed us the extent of that escape, how it can manifest itself as a calm plan of justice, heated reckoning, or a flame licking expulsion of any and everything that’s ever done you wrong.

Camiele White suffers from too much film information. In order to remedy her psychosis she’s decided to write about it. Right now, she’s trying something a bit different and writes has her own blog called Madasa Writing. If you want to engage in a little conversation (at your own risk) she can be reached at cmlewhite at gmail [dot] com.

Gangs of Wasseypur [2012]

The 5-hour epic based in the badlands of Wasseypur (part of the Indian mining town of Dhanbad), of which Gangs of Wasseypur is the first half, is designed to be the magnum opus of maverick filmmaker Anurag Kashyap. Though a gangster film with its principal motifs being power, revenge and lust, Kashyap endowed its scope with epic proportions by making this also a sprawling saga about the rise and evolution of gang violence on the backdrop of historical and political changes over half a century. When Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia), the nouveau riche owner of a colliery murders his principal henchman Shahid Khan, on being apprised of his gargantuan ambitions, it sets into motion a tale that would take shape years later – in the form of Sardar (Manoj Bajpayee) who has vowed vengeance to avenge for his father’s death. While on one hand this is a chronicle of how he becomes a feared gangster by taking on Ramdhir, who is now a powerful politician, along with a butcher cum local goon, it is also a tale of his unconventional family life – balancing his foul-mouthed first wife (Richa Chadda) and children, with his blind attraction towards his brazenly voluptuous mistress (Reema Sen). Piyush Mishra, with his unique vocal style, acts as the film’s narrator and moral backbone. Though highly entertaining on account of the no-holds barred language, wacky humour, over-the-top filmmaking and fine performances, its over-ambitious scope and Kashyap’s extreme self-indulgence did some damage to what this labour of love could have been. As a result, despite a nice first half, it suffered from being overlong, repetitive and distracting in the rather dull second half.

Director: Anurag Kashyap
Genre: Crime Drama/Gangster Film/Black Comedy/Epic/Ensemble Film
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Harold and Maude [1971]

Harold and Maude, only the second directorial effort of Hal Ashby after a successful stint as an editor, remains one of the most eccentric romantic movies ever made. The fact that a film, which can be surmised as a budding love story between a twenty-something youth obsessed with death and a freewheeling lady who shall become an octogenarian soon, and with such an idiosyncratic point of view, whimsical nature, jet black humour, absurdist tone, morbid undertones, and the audacity to thumb its nose at societal conventions with such scathing glee, could even be made, leave alone attained the status of a cult classic, speaks volumes of the decade in which it was made, viz. the 70s – one of the greatest in the history of American cinema. Irrespective of what one’s preconceptions of the movie might be, the transcendental tale of friendship and unlikely love between its two oddball characters – Harold (Bud Cort), a glum, insanely rich and deeply lonely young man with boyish looks who keeps staging bizarre suicide attempts in order to seek attention from his hilariously detached mother (Vivian Pickles), and Maude (Ruth Gordon), a flagrantly anti-establishmentarian, mischievous and perennially optimistic 79-year old lady who is punch drunk on life – is both charming and bittersweet. The series of wacky characters were wonderfully portrayed, including Charles Tyner in what a parody of pompous, Vietnam-era army men; the profundity and universality of the script was exquisitely counterbalanced by the deadpan wit, wicked humour, and loony histrionics; and the soundtrack comprised of a string of marvelous Cat Stevens compositions, including the immortal “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out”.

Director: Hal Ashby
Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Coming of Age/Buddy Film/Romantic Comedy
Language: English
Country: US

Monday 25 June 2012

Hiroshima Mon Amour [1959]

Hiroshima Mon Amour, considered a seminal arthouse classics of world cinema, established Alain Resnais, a documentary filmmaker until then, as one of the most original filmmakers to have emerged during the French New Wave. Alternately an intellectually challenging and an emotionally invigorating work, this near-oblique, aesthetically complex and deliberately paced avant-garde film was a Tarkovskian meditation on time and memory. The movie’s central protagonists are, a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) who is in Hiroshima to be part of an anti-war documentary, and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) with whom she has become involved in an extended one-night stand during her stay there. Both the nameless characters, despite their seemingly mundane lives, are still recovering from emotional scars suffered during their respective pasts – she, the ordeal of occupied France during World War II, and he, the devastating aftermaths of the dropping of ‘Little Boy’ by the US in 1945. The movie begins in a non-descript hotel room one night, and over the course of the following day and night the viewers are apprised of the losses and ensuing disillusionments that have shaped the lives of these two deeply melancholic and lonely human beings. The circular narrative alternately shifted between past and present, and between reality and dreams, with hypnotic monologues as accompaniment, thus making this beautifully scored and photographed tone poem an audacious demonstration of the techno-philosophical capabilities of cinema.

Director: Alain Resnais
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romance/Avant-Garde
Language: French
Country: France

Friday 22 June 2012

Girl with a Suitcase [1961]

Italian filmmaker Valerio Zurlini’s spellbinding wartime romantic tragedy Estate Violenta and its immediate follow-up Girl with a Suitcase make a great double bill. Though there are major departures between the two, they also share the basic storyline of a guy falling for, against societal conventions, with an older woman. The guy here is Lorenzo (Jacques Perrin), a 16-year old boy belonging to a wealthy family. When his elder brother Marcello ditches his girlfriend with callous irresponsibility, he meets Aida (Claudia Cardinale), who is homeless and penniless on account of having left her job as a singer and fled with Marcello. Though Lorenzo’s initial intent was to lend a sympathetic shoulder to her, almost immediately he gets enamoured with the ravishingly beautiful and melancholic lady, and before long he is head over heels in love with her. Though Aida becomes aware of the young lad’s growing feelings for her, displayed not just by the enormous attention he starts giving her (at the risk of getting into bad books with his stern aunt-cum-guardian) but also by the surreptitiously arranged money he starts showering on her, she continues to keep him at an arm’s length. Though, unlike the earlier film, this was largely devoid of political subtexts and consequent undercurrents, the bittersweet relation that the lonely Lorenzo develops with the equally lonely Aida managed to be both uplifting and tragic. Gorgeously shot in B/W and comprising of a lovely score (two more traits it shared with the earlier film), the fluid narrative, the non-intrusive and non-judgemental treatment, and matured performances by the two leads, made this a memorable depiction of first love and first heartbreak.

Director: Valerio Zurlini
Genre: Drama/Romance
Language: Italian
Country: Italy

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Interrogation [1982]

The Polish film Interrogation, like so many movies made in the Eastern Bloc under draconian regimes, was banned immediately upon its release. Ryszard Bugajski, who has made it by borrowing money from his friends, resorted to underground distribution of its copies as it got a proper release a good 8 years after it was made. The film remains, to this day, one of the most harrowing portrayals of imprisonment, and the subsequent dehumanizing torture, both psychological and physical, of an innocent victim, by the state police, in order to extract a false but convenient confession; its theme and content remain disturbingly relevant even to this day. The aforementioned victim is Tonia (Krystyna Janda), a promiscuous cabaret-singer who, after binging on alcohol one fateful night, finds herself waking up locked up in a dingy cell with inmates as company and no reasonable explanations forthcoming. From that point on her seemingly carefree life gets irrevocably altered for the worse, with her desperate pleas, over the course of next several years, slowly getting transformed into rebelliousness, civil disobedience, and finally acceptance of what is left of her thoroughly shattered life. Though Janda’s performance seemed a tad over the top in the first one third of the movie, by the time the credits rolled I was left spellbound by her incredible portrayal of her character’s frightening and heartbreaking transformation. Adam Ferency gave a marvelous supporting turn in the complex role of her interrogator with whom, over the years, Tonia develops a strange bond. This unflinchingly bleak and deeply political film remains a devastating account of one of many horror stories in Stalinist Poland.

Director: Ryszard Bugajski
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Prison Film
Language: Polish
Country: Poland

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Prometheus [2012]

Ridley Scott made Prometheus as a prequel of sorts to his groundbreaking outer-space horror film Alien; however, its scope wasn’t limited to just that as Scott designed a much broader canvas for it. Consequently, it was alternately similar to and divergent from the earlier sci-fi classic – both thematically and aesthetically. A group of people with diverse skills, based on a discovery by a pair of scientists (Noomi Rapace being one of them), have boarded a humongous space ship in order to undertake a fantastic voyage to a far-off planet in some far-off galaxy in search of the origin of humankind. But, upon reaching the said planet, they do not just get apprised about their evolutionary secrets, but also get attacked by a brutal and a nearly undefeatable extra-terrestrial species. Giving them company are, an icy blonde (Charlize Theron) who represents the company sponsoring this voyage, and a straight-faced robot (Michael Fassbender) whose intents might not really be straightforward. The film had its share of fine moments and noteworthy traits – it began well with an impending sense of mystery and doom, the scenes involving the aliens were chillingly accomplished, the frosty dynamics between the ‘employer’ and the ‘employees’ was very well established, and the 3D graphics was praiseworthy. However, its biggest undoing lied in Scott’s over-ambitious attempts at turning it into something overtly grand, perhaps stemming from his latent desire to emulate the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, instead of restricting it to the cold-blooded chills of Alien with the right proportion of philosophical undertones.

Director: Ridley Scott
Genre: Thriller/Sci-Fi/Horror
Language: English
Country: US

Monday 18 June 2012

Shanghai [2012]

43 years after Vassilis Vassilikos’ novel was made into a scorching movie of the same name by Costa-Gavras, viz. Z, , it has once again been adapted for screen – this time by Indian filmmaker Dibakar Bannerjee. The fact that potent political thrillers could be conjured from the same source novel over a gap of four decades and in different geographical settings (the story here has been transplanted to India), speaks volumes about the prescience of the book as well as the relevance of its theme, viz. affirmation of the adage, “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. When Dr. Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee in a Hindi film after a very long time), a leftist university professor who has returned from the US to protest against the building of an SEZ that would displace loads of poor people in order to make way for the rich, gets killed by what is made to look like a road accident, lives of two men get irrevocably altered. Joginder (Emraan Hashmi), a sleazy videographer, and Krishnan (Abhay Deol), an upright but meek civil servant, get inadvertently involved in the murky affair, and gradually, courtesy a young lady who was besotted by the professor (Kalki Koechlin), they direct their attention towards getting to the root of the all-pervading corruption, which goes right till the very top. On the acting front Kalki has turned out to be the sole disappointment as nearly everyone has given noteworthy performances, while the fine photography and pacing helped in good mood creation and gripping portrayal of the filth, grime and corruption in every echelon of society, with SEZ politics acting as the springboard for that.

Director: Dibakar Bannerjee
Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Sunday 17 June 2012

Short Cuts [1993]

After a long period of critical and popular hiatus, Robert Altman hit the jackpot with ThePlayer, and that, along with the following movie, viz. Short Cuts, begun the final, and second-most fruitful phase of his illustrious career. Employing the similar complex and sprawling structure he made fascinating use of in Nashville, he adapted a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver for this trenchant, textured and incisive examination of the intersecting lives of 22 Los Angeles inhabitants over the course of a few days. Altman made excellent use of a non-intrusive, minimalist style and meditative tone (again, reminiscent of his 1975 masterpiece) to portray its motley characters – a wealthy TV anchor (Bruce Davison), with whose drone-like voice the film begins), his mild-mannered wife (Andie MacDowell), young son, and guilt-ridden estranged father (Jack Lemmon); a rich doctor (Matthew Modine) and his liberated painter wife (Julianne Moore); a beautiful housewife (Madeleine Stowe) and her philandering policeman husband (Tim Robbins); a promiscuous divorced mother (Frances McDormand) and her jealous ex-husband (Peter Gallagear); a depressive waitress (Lily Tomlin) and her alcoholic husband (Tom Waits); a lonely middle-aged jazz singer (Annie Ross) and her cellist, self-destructive daughter (Lori Singer); a smooth-talking make-up artist (Robert Downey Jr.) and his besotted wife (Lili Taylor); a docile man (Chris Penn) and her vivacious wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who earns a few extra bucks through phone sex; a self-employed man who loves fishing (Fred Ward) and his fragile wife (Anne Archer) who works as a clown; et al. Brilliantly acted and comprising of a terrific soundtrack, this rich tapestry of diverse and myriad interconnected lives, was a disturbing, cynical and darkly funny critique of such themes as family, love, guilt, infidelity, loneliness, broken dreams, and loss.

Director: Robert Altman
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Family Drama/Existential Drama/Ensemble Film
Language: English
Country: US

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Witness for the Prosecution [1957]

It might be a matter of debate as to which film has been the best cinematic adaptation of Agatha Christie’s whodunits, but the courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution might easily be a candidate for the most popular. Adapted by Billy Wilder from a hit stage play by the ‘Queen of Mystery’, this was an entertaining film from start to finish, with its concoction of situational humour and a lurid murder mystery. Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton), a renowned British barrister, who is recovering from a heart attack, agrees to defend Leonard Vole, an unemployed and seemingly good-natured man (Tyrone Power) who has been accused of murdering a wealthy widow for her money, against the vehement protestations of his overtly protective nurse (played by Laughton’s real-life wife Elsa Lanchester in order to take care of the ailing actor during the film’s shooting). Things however take a complicated twist when Robarts gets acquainted to the icy femme fatale Christine (Marlene Dietrich), Vole’s wife of German origin. The film begins with a request to the audience from the makers not to reveal its ending as the wildly swinging script is filled with one spectacular twist after another in the final 30 minutes or so, and was nicely enacted by its all-star cast with Dietrich stealing the show for her marvelous double-do. Though engaging for its strong adherence to the topsy-turvy plot, the banter between Robarts and his nauseating nurse, despite being funny at times, did disservice to mood by diluting the grittiness of the storyline – an edgier storytelling would have made the film far more memorable.

Director: Billy Wilder
Genre: Drama/Courtroom Drama/Mystery
Language: English
Country: US

Monday 11 June 2012

Estate Violenta (Violent Summer) [1959]

Italian auteur Valerio Zurlini remains a rather obscure filmmaker outside Italy – a shame if his remarkable second feature Violent Summer is anything to go by. An intimate and evocative portrayal of a doomed love affair at the backdrop of World War II, this is one of those rare movies that are easy to appreciate and fall in love with. Carlo (Jean Louis Trintignant), a young guy largely apathetic about the devastating war around him and who has been successfully dodging being drafted in the army courtesy his father who is a high-ranking fascist, whiles his days in mindless hedonism with his equally apolitical bourgeois friends, at a small beachside town in Mussolini-ruled Italy. His unspectacular life and his blasé attitude towards the turbulence surrounding him, however, take a dramatic turn when he meets Roberta (Eleonora Rossi Drago), the alluring and much older widow of a war hero and mother of a little girl who lives a subdued life with her domineering mother. Carlo, who is always slightly detached from his frolicking friends despite hanging out with them, is immediately attracted towards her, and before long, the soft-spoken lady too starts reciprocating – thus beginning a potentially dangerous affair that starts distances them from their closed ones. And, with the rampaging war threatening to devour around him, a “happily ever after” climax can safely be ruled out. Gloriously photographed in luscious B/W and set against a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, this wonderfully enacted gem of a film remains a heartwarming, melancholic, psychologically affecting and very well realized work of art, with just the right dosage of political content to add layers to the tragic love story.

Director: Valerio Zurlini
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Psychological Drama/War Drama
Language: Italian
Country: Italy

Sunday 10 June 2012

The King of Marvin Gardens [1972]

Coming right off his terrific examination of existential crisis and alienation Five Easy Pieces, Bob Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens shared number of observable resemblances with the former –thematically, tonally and stylistically. Its themes of urban disillusionment, ennui and homecoming, along with its downbeat mood, leisurely pace and under-dramatization, harkened its viewers to the earlier movie which had become a cornerstone of 70s arthouse American cinema – possibly one of the reasons for the rather unfairly diluted response it gathered upon its release. Jack Nicholson gave another measured, layered and brilliantly restrained performance against his type here in his startling portrayal of David, a late-night radio solo-talk show – an introverted guy whose repressed alter-ego comes alive when alone with his headset, who goes to Atlantic City, against his good judgement, to be part of a sandcastle plan of his gregarious younger brother Jason (Bruce Dern). Over the next few days in the city of big and hollow dreams, he gets to mend his strained relationship with Jason after many years, and gets acquainted with two ladies with strikingly opposite personalities always accompanying Jason – Sally (Ellen Burstyn), a former beauty queen with a shallow and vulnerable personality, and her pretty but subdued stepdaughter Jessica (Julia Anne Robinson). The overtly ambitious dream that they become part of, and the complex and uneasy dynamics that the four share, inevitably lead them to tragic consequences, with David returning to his morose and lonely existence with his grandfather in Philly. Despite its depressing content, the exquisite camerawork that made the two cities seem alive, and fine performances, made this a surprisingly liberating watch.

Director: Bob Rafelson
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Family Drama/Existential Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Le Feu Follet (The Fire Within) [1963]

Adapted from a novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, which had left a deep mark in Louis Malle’s mind, Le Feu Follet is generally regarded as the French auteur’s greatest masterpiece, and remains as a cornerstone in French cinema. A deeply affecting and an incredibly fatalistic piece of work, this is a bleak and downbeat chronicling of the last 24 hours in the life of a man grappling with profound and debilitating existential crisis. The protagonist in question is Alain Leroy (magnificently portrayed by Maurice Ronet), a 30-something alcoholic writer recovering from his addiction in a private rehabilitation clinic. Though his recovery is being paid for by his wife, the two are both physically and emotionally separated – she resides in New York, while he’s having an affair with her best friend. His doctor feels that he has been fully cured and is ready to leave, but he is still afflicted with depression and has been contemplating with thoughts about suicide. While on a one-day trip to Paris, he meets up with a former girlfriend (Jeanne Moreau), one of his best friends who is now comfortably settled in his bourgeois family life, and some of his former acquaintances who invite him to a lavish party, and during this he reassesses his dysfunctional life and comes to terms with the vacuum, hopelessness, and in turn, utter meaninglessness that define his existence. Brilliant B/W photography, exquisite vignettes of Parisian streets, the splendid and evocative score, and the wonderfully constructed narrative arc, added rich strokes of aesthetic beauty to this minimalistic, melancholic and humanistic examination of human frailty and loneliness.

Director: Louis Malle
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Existential Drama
Language: French
Country: France

Monday 4 June 2012

Alpine Fire (Höhenfeuer) [1985]

Alpine Fire was the first feature film by documentary filmmaker Fredi M. Murer, and my first tryst with Swiss cinema. The director deserves kudos for displaying considerable restraint and maturity in dealing with a challenging subject matter – that of a dangerously intimate relationship between two siblings against an ironically claustrophobic backdrop. The aforementioned family, comprising of a laconic father (Rolf Illig), his ailing wife (Dorothea Moritz), and their two children, viz. Belli (Johanna Lier) and her younger brother (Thomas Nock) referred simply as “the Boy”, live in a quaint and remote location in the Alps. The Boy, who has been deaf from his birth, spends his day silently involved in laborious tasks assisting his father. His inability to communicate, however, leads to sudden displays of agony and violence, and this becomes an especially stiff obstacle in his path when faced with his oncoming puberty which he finds increasingly difficult to deal with, and therein begins his growing emotional and physical closeness with his loving elder sister, whose naivety too is at odds with her precocious physicality on account of residing so far off from human civilization. The director employed an oft-used technique by juxtaposing the psychologically dense and disturbing content against breathtakingly beautiful surroundings, and though the dialogues were the weakest link in the film, he made deft usage of long moments of silence, along with leisurely pacing and gradual narrative buildup, to create a strongly palpable sense of mood and tension. Upon the inevitable discovery of the forbidden liaison, while the mother reacts with calmness the father does so with fury, thus leading this finely enacted film to a deeply elegiac climax, and the siblings to a sudden process of growing up.

Director: Fredi M. Murer
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Family Drama/Coming-of-Age
Language: Swiss German
Country: Switzerland

Sunday 3 June 2012

The Long Goodbye [1973]

Robert Altman, an iconoclastic and one of the most fascinating filmmakers to have come out of America during the 70s, made a string of brilliant movies that challenged Hollywood and genre conventions with bravado. The Long Goodbye, his tongue-in-cheek adaptation of the renowned Phillip Marlowe novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler, was an irreverent take on and a terrific deconstruction of the film noir tradition. The convoluted plot deals with the iconic private eye, played by Elliot Gould, getting entangled into a bizarre situation when his friend is reported to have murdered his wife, disappeared with a stash of hot money, and later killed himself in a small Mexican town, and he ends up being hounded not just by the police, but also by a colourful and smooth-talking gangster (Mark Rydell). Meanwhile, he also gets acquainted to an enigmatic and strikingly attractive platinum blonde (Nina Van Pallandt) and her gruff and alcoholic husband (Sterling Hayden), and before long Marlowe starts getting the feel that the two threads are somehow connected. Gould gave a crackling and an immensely enjoyable turn as the chain-smoking, wisecracking, cat-loving gumshoe living a hilariously anachronistic life. Aided by fine acting by the cast and a lovely, lilting score, Altman created this wonderfully paced and scripted movie filled with off-kilter wit and deadpan humour, that served as an exquisite critique of its legendary central protagonist with his rather odd demeanour and completely out of sync with his changing times, as well as the city of Los Angeles where all the action takes place. Look out for a non-speaking, blink-and-you-miss early appearance by a young Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the hoodlums.

Director: Robert Altman
Genre: Crime Thriller/Mystery/Detective Film/Post-Noir
Language: English
Country: US

Grihajuddha (Crossroads) [1982]

Grihajuddha, directed by the eminent Bengali filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta, is a gritty political thriller set at the backdrop of the violent Naxalite movement in 70’s Calcutta. The storyline revolves on, to what lengths big business can go to eliminate factors that aren’t good for its bottom-line. Consequently, it might count among its inspirations such cult paranoia-laden political and conspiracy thrillers as The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor. A giant steel company, which has its tentacles spread across various spheres of the society – police, newspapers, thugs, and whatnot, has eliminated Prabir, a popular labour union leader, by making his death look like an accident. This doesn’t just leave his family in tatters and in constant fear, Bijon (Anjan Dutt), an idealistic young associate of his, who was in a relationship with Nirupama (Mamata Shankar), Prabir’s smart and independent-minded sister, is forced to abscond leaving her in emotional disarray. In a parallel angle, Sandipan (Goutam Ghose), a young journalist, who has been given the task of doing a report on the incident, starts doggedly putting all the pieces together, leaving the powers that be in grave discomfort. Meanwhile, when Bijon finally returns to Nirupama’s life, much to her sadness he is now a disillusioned and cynical man comfortable in his well-paying job – and this starts creating a moral gulf between the two. The changing relationship between them as been portrayed with great maturity and subtlety, with the lovely Mamata Shankar turning in a nuanced and affecting performance. However, despite the powerful subject matter, the film too suffered a bit on account of ordinary editing and stilted flow of the narrative.

Note: My recent review of this film can be found here.

Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta
Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller/Conspiracy Thriller
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Friday 1 June 2012

Apollo 13 [1995]

One of Ron Howard’s favourite subjects possibly is “triumph over adversity”, and he has made a number of popular movies based on that theme with Apollo 13 being arguably his finest moment under the sun. Though the ‘Space Race’, one of the most spectacular offshoots of the Cold War, is a thing of the distant past, the film did a fine job of harkening us back to that fascinating era; this also managed to be a highly engaging movie with the ability to captivate its audience despite it not being a thriller, or for that matter, how the movie ends being already known beforehand to all. Astronaut and team lead Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), lunar module driver Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and module pilot Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) – the latter a last minute replacement of Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinese) – take off for the moon in what was supposed to be the third manned lunar landing for NASA. However, due to some unforeseen technical glitches, they are forced to abort the mission midway, and now must find a way to return home safe – which becomes an incredibly challenging task given the fast depleting oxygen and electricity in the spacecraft and the chance of their being burnt alive while entering the earth’s atmosphere. Though stuffed with technical details, the movie was never overbearing, with the pulsating human drama, coupled with restrained performances by the ensemble cast and great production designs, ensuring that the whole – in this case a tense and uplifting tale of human courage, team spirit, and the willingness to fight till the very end – was far greater than the sum of the parts.

Director: Ron Howard
Genre: Drama/Historical Drama/Docu-fiction
Language: English
Country: US