Thursday 29 November 2012

The Passion of Joan of Arc [1928]

The Passion of Joan of Arc, Dreyer’s final silent film, is one of only handful of films that are de facto members of the elite group reverently referred to as “essential arthouse classics” – and like those that have made that qualification, it has been worshipped, beatified and canonized ad nauseum over the years. The film began with the epigraph announcing that it was based on recorded testimonials of Joan’s trials. But, quite obviously, subjective judgement and artistic liberty were freely employed by Dreyer in his depiction of her inquisition by a group of judges who consider her a heretic. The proceedings were memorably dramatized through the use of extreme close-ups, which unequivocally established the physical suffering and spiritual crises of Joan on one hand, and the hypocrisy and self-centeredness of the church tribunal, on the other. The torment that the 19-year old Joan faced at the hands of the old and morally corrupt cynics is bound to leave an impression on most viewers, though the religious blindness of the naïve, young girl, and Dreyer’s refusal to put some sort of leash on the overt religiosity of the contents, was tad off-putting for me. The film’s orchestral score or the technical virtuosity of the film, particular the disorienting camerawork, however, were not just beyond reproach, they were positively great – and not to forget, Renée Maria Falconetti’s startling and iconic turn, solely through facial emoting, as the wronged heroine (interestingly, this was her only movie role). The film was censored upon its release, and then thought destroyed until, in 1981, its original copy was found at, of all places, a Norwegian mental institution.

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Genre: Drama/Religious Drama/Biopic/Docu-Drama/Silent Film
Language: Danish
Country: Denmark

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Le Cercle Rouge [1970]

Most of the memorable heist films made over the years, almost as a rule, end on a bad note for their amoral anti-heroes; yet the charm, the cool, the fatalism, the existentialism and the seedy underbelly depicted in them, invariably make them fascinating. Jean-Pierre Melville had a love affair with caper films all through his life, and Le Cercle Rouge, his penultimate work and a terrific exercise in the genre, would easily rank alongside his finest works. Corey (Alain Delon), a laconic man and a lone operator who has just been released after 5 years in prison, literally crashes into Vogel (Gian-Maria Volonté), an escaped convict. They, along with a former cop (Yves Montand), who's a crackshot and an alcoholic, attempt a daring robbery – that of a high-end jewelry story with gargantuan security systems. Two roadblocks, however, throw their perfect plan to the dumps – the difficulty of finding buyers for the loots, and a mild-mannered, cat-loving cop (Bourvil). Instead of the cool and delectable stylishness of his earlier Bob le Flambeur, this was filled to the brim with incredible moodiness, visually and viscerally arresting atmosphere, and a strong sense of existentialism and doom; the near-silent and meticulously detailed heist sequence was highly reminiscent of Dassin’s Rififi. The film was also a wonderful character study of three lonely men who have fallen off the social radar, forever destined to be on the run from their pasts and their futures, and the brief but subtly affecting camaraderie that develops between them. Melville paced the story exceptionally well, and that, along with the filtered visuals, minimalist score and restrained performances, made this a gripping and a supremely engaging watch.

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Post-Noir/Heist Film
Language: French
Country: France

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Landscape in the Mist [1988]

Landscape in the Mist, the final chapter in Angelopoulos’ ‘Trilogy of Silence’, was both a political film and a personal one. This mesmerizing, heartbreaking and hauntingly beautiful allegorical tale was a poignant portrait of the perennial yet futile search for identity and a compassionate father figure by the people of Greece, a country tormented along the better part of 20th century by political turbulence and disillusionment. The story chronicles the journey of two kids – Voula (Tania Palaiologou), a prepubescent girl, and her little brother Alexandros (Michalis Zeke) – in search of their father who, they believe, is residing in Germany. For Theo the destination was far less important vis-à-vis the incredible leap of faith that these two kids take with hope as their sole driving force. Along the road they face moments of gut-wrenching tragedy, as when Voula is callously violated by a truck driver, as well as simple joy, as in their motorbike ride with a young, lonely actor named Orestes (Stratos Tzortzoglou), and profound catharsis, as when Voula, who had been maintaining an impassive demeanour till then, finally breaks down in the arms of the young guy. The film was, therefore, also a fascinating coming-of-age tale – a personal one for the kids, and a political one for the rootless, disenchanted generation they symbolized. Washed-out vistas of Greek countryside, marvelous long takes, and the evocative score, laced the layered, lyrical storyline with pathos and melancholia, as did the devastatingly brilliant turn by the young Tania. Interestingly, the theatre troupe of The Travelling Players made a brief return in it, perhaps signifying the inherently cyclical nature of both life and history.

Director: Theo Angelopoulos
Genre: Drama/Road Movie
Language: Greek
Country: Greece

Monday 26 November 2012

Innocent Sorcerers [1960]

Celebrated Polish filmmaker Andrjez Wajda had explored the devastating effects of WWII on the country’s youth in his much acclaimed ‘War Trilogy’. In an interesting cinematic choice (which some had considered a major departure for him then, which I disagree with), he followed them up by focusing on the aimless, rootless and emotionally detached post-war generation – those who reached adulthood in the 60s – in the breezy, freewheeling, and delicately balanced, but largely under-watched film, Innocent Sorcerers. Bazyli (Tadeusz Lomnicki), a young, jaded doctor and drummer in a jazz-band, makes acquaintance with an alluring young lady called Pelagia (Krystyna Stypulkowska) at a smoky bar. Though a womanizer, he tends to lose interest in girls who reciprocate his advances too easily; consequently, the enigmatic and independent-minded Pelagia catches his fancy. And, when after a night of intellectual and sexual one-upmanship in his tiny apartment, she leaves all of a sudden, he realizes that he’s fallen for her, and this compels him to wander around Warsaw hopelessly searching for her. Wajda brilliantly captured the mood and style of the youth, and zeitgeist of the era, through Bazyli, existing in a state of flux without any sense of direction, and his hip, cool, jazz-loving friends (which included Zbigniew Cybulski and Roman Polanski) who are interested in living only in the moment. Consequently, Pelagia’s arrival turns out to be a near life-alternating moment of truth for him. Electric chemistry between the leads, atmospheric photography and the jazz-based score excellently complemented the movie’s energetic yet existential tone. The ‘strip matchbox’ game that they play in the film, became a rage among those who watched it, including in Calcutta.

Director: Andrzej Wajda
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romantic Drama
Language: Polish
Country: Poland

Saturday 24 November 2012

Like Someone in Love [2012]

Abbas Kiarostami, arguably the most towering figure to have emerged out of the Iranian New Wave, provided a string of sharp yet subtle observations on the idiosyncrasies, absurdities and ironies that mark human interactions, in this delightful dramedy. Like Someone in Love, his second feature film made outside Iran due to political reasons, is set in the city of Tokyo. Made in the form of distinct acts in the tradition of stage-plays, it was about the darkly comic ménage à trois between Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), an ageing, pleasant-natured, and lonely professor, Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a pretty and spunky young girl working as an escort in order to fund her education, and Noriaki (Ryo Kase), her hot-headed and puritanical boyfriend who is unaware of her profession. Akiko, sad over not being able to meet his grandmother (the scene where she silently sits in a taxi watching her loving grandmother waiting and hoping to meet her, was really melancholic), is wary of any emotional commitment; Takashi, despite his uncomfortable but failed attempts to win Akiko, finds himself developing platonic feelings for her; and the loquacious and perennially suspicious Noriaki, mistakenly starts thinking Takashi to be Akiko’s grandfather and starts pestering him for her hands. The quirky and whimsical film, elegantly shot and paced – the night sequences were particularly luscious and memorable – was filled with both underhanded humour and understated poignancy. Very well enacted and brilliantly written, the film’s sudden and open-ended climax, however, might leave some scratching their heads, though I personally loved the cheeky playfulness and the resultant fodder for thought.

p.s. Watched this as part of 2012 Kolkata International Film Festival (KFF) - and this rounds up my modest coverage of the event.

Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan