Sunday 30 September 2012

Judgment at Nuremberg [1961]

Stanley Kramer will always be known by his single finest achievement – the faux docu-fiction Judgment at Nuremberg. The film, a fictionalized account of the trial of four high-profile German men of law during the Nazi regime, was based on the Judges’ Trial, which was a subset of the Nuremberg Trials. Kramer resorted to mostly a matter-of-fact tone, with just the right amount of melancholia at various interjections, to direct our attention towards a number of complex issues deftly, and reasonably impartially, dealt with herein – can you punish a judge for upholding the law of the land or punish a soldier for obeying the orders of his superiors, or for that matter, hold the entire nation morally responsible for the acts committed by a few? The film’s spectacular all-star cast comprised of – Spencer Tracy as the mild-mannered chief justice presiding over the trial and the moral backbone of the story; Burt Lancastar as a revered intellectual and the most renowned of the four defendants; Marlene Dietrich as the widow of a former high-ranking Nazi officer striving to prove to the world that Germany isn’t a synonym for Hitler; Richard Widmark as an emotionally intense prosecuting attorney who would have indicted the entire nation if he could; Maximilian Schell as the shrewd defense attorney; and Judy Garland as a witness for the prosecution who had been used as a bait to punish a non-Aryan man she was close to as a teenager. The acting was uniformly excellent throughout, but the most unforgettable of the lot was Montgomery Clift as a deeply wounded and dim-witted man who had been sterilized for political reasons – he was implosive and emotionally devastating in his short role.

Director: Stanley Kramer
Genre: Drama/Courtroom Drama
Language: English/German
Country: US

Saturday 29 September 2012

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask [1972]

This early Woody Allen film (his fourth directorial venture and sixth as a writer), made before he attained stratospheric fame with Annie Hall and Manhattan, was a parody on the notorious bestselling book of the same name by Dr. David Reuben. The film, which was dived into seven segments titled after the chapters in the book (that’s where the similarities between the two ended), was quite uneven, and oftentimes too grotesque and bizarre. But, that said, it was also a highly original piece of work, and had its moments of creative brilliance and spark which, on hindsight, proves that Woody was still coming to terms with his genius for writing. As can be expected, nothing was held sacrosanct as everything from mundane to kinky came under the gleeful purview of this absurdist and unapologetically in-your-face film. Among the more memorable segments, one was about a mild-mannered doctor (very well played by Gene Wilder) who falls in love with an Armenian sheep; one was on a retro TV show (hosted by Jack Barry) where the viewers get to live their perversions; while another was about a middle-aged man with a closet fetish for cross-dressing. Woody acted in a number of vignettes, including what easily was the best and the most ingenious of the lot – the various organs of the body are enacted in the form of a state-of-the-art organization, powered by the brain which looks like NASA’s control-centre, and with Woody playing the role of one of million sperms trained to take a plunge into the unknown like a paratrooper.

Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy/Satire/Spoof
Language: English
Country: US

Wednesday 26 September 2012

The Unfaithful Wife (La Femme Infidèle) [1969]

Claude Chabrol, one of the founding fathers of the Nouvelle Vague, made The Unfaithful Wife at the midst of what possibly was the greatest creative phase of his career. The film, which ranks alongside the likes of Le Boucher and Violette Noziere, as his most renowned work, was, on the surface, a crime thriller. But, in essence, this psychological neo-noir was a fascinating study on bourgeoisie values, marriage, infidelity, and the morality associated with committing murder. Charles (Michel Bouquet), a plum, ageing, wealthy insurance broker, and Helena (Stephane Audran), his young and beautiful wife, on first glance, seem a happily married couple, despite their stark physical differences. But, before long, the director makes it obvious that all is not hunky-dory – she is having a surreptitious affair with Victor (Maurice Ronet), which her husband is already suspicious of, and soon enough confirms with the aid of a private eye. Things, however, take a dark and violent turn when he, unable to resist his curiosity, pays his wife’s lover a visit, and ends up murdering him on passionate impulse. Bouquet gave a quietly powerful and layered performance as the mild-mannered, loving husband who loses his sense of placidity when confronted that his wife is sleeping with another man; Chabrol’s muse Audran, too, was effective as the adulterous wife, though one could have done with a more simmering display of sensuality. Though the film wasn’t short of gripping suspense, very well aided by the great sense of moodiness and a discordant score, Chabrol’s basic intent, of course, lied elsewhere, and he bridged this dived brilliantly and with great subtlety, leading us a highly satisfying final.

Director: Claude Chabrol
Genre: Crime Drama/Psychological Thriller/Post-Noir/Marriage Drama
Language: French
Country: France

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Match Point [2005]

Match Point, his first film in the UK, remains by far his finest work since the anarchic Deconstructing Harry. This was a dark, disturbing and an deadly serious film – the kind he has always loved making once in a while in order to break the trend (Interiors and September come to my mind immediately). Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a former tennis pro who now works as a trainer in an upscale private club in London. There he befriends Tom (Matthew Goode), the son of an insanely wealthy businessman, begins a relationship with his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) – who he eventually marries, and even joins his father-in-law’s business. However, his smooth journey up the social ladder and his picture-perfect life gets on the verge of collapsing as he becomes increasingly infatuated with Nola (Scarlett Johansson), the seductive fiancé of Tom and a struggling actress. His life becomes incredibly complicated as he gets involved in a steamy and clandestine affair with her post her break-up with Tom, leading the film to a violent, unsettling, ironic and wonderfully devised climax. Enacted with immaculate restraint by the cast, especially by the highly impressive Meyers as a character caught between two extreme possibilities, the film was, on one hand, an incisive examination of class and how it changes the protagonist (for better or for worse) the more his station blossoms, while on the other it was a darkly cynical meditation on chance, fate and morality – thus making it a fine companion piece to his earlier Crimes and Misdemeanors. The only glitch – it’s difficult to imagine Tim Henman reading Dostoevsky between his matches.

Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: English
Country: UK/US

Monday 24 September 2012

To Rome With Love [2012]

Woody Allen, in continuation with his current romantic trysts with European cities (following Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris), chose the Italian capital for his latest destination for To Rome with Love. He filled the film with a host of neurotic characters with the city forming a vital backdrop to them (two of his archetypal traits); despite being neither intellectually off-balancing nor bitingly humorous like his best works, I found this light-hearted and mildly critical film a reasonably enjoyable watch. The ensemble, madcap film comprises of four parallel storylines about oddball Roman and American characters, and thus a subtle and charming dissection of what the historic metropolis represents. A failed opera director (Woody Allen) unexpectedly unearths a marvelous bathroom-singer while visiting, with his psychiatrist wife (Judy Davis), his daughter and her newfound love; a young and idealistic architect (Jesse Eisenberg) finds himself falling for his girlfriend’s pretentious best friend (Ellen Page), while being watched by his cynical and jaded older self (Alec Baldwin); an Everyday Joe and simple family man (Roberto Benigni) finds his average life drastically altered when he becomes a sudden celebrity; and, a naïve country-boy finds himself in a mess when he is forced to pass a drop-dead voluptuous hooker (Panelope Cruz) as his wife to his wealthy family, while his lovely wife enjoys a serendipitous tryst with a famous actor. Despite being quite uneven on the whole, the film did have its moments. The one featuring the old and young architect was brilliant at times, while Woody, in front of the camera after a long time, sure saved the best lines for himself.

Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Ensemble Film
Language: English/Italian
Country: US/Italy