Saturday 30 March 2013

Blow Out [1981]

Inspired by the Watergate era and a homage to Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Blow Out was in the classic mould of a political conspiracy thriller. Unfortunately, despite this being one hell of a visceral, tense and engrossing ride, and possibly De Palma’s finest work, the American movie-goers’ tastes had shifted from anti-establishment films to escapist blockbusters by the time it released. John Terry (John Travolta), a talented sound engineer for Z-grade slasher flicks, becomes witness to a political assassination while recording outdoor sounds on a bridge one night. He manages to save Sally (Nancy Allen), a deceptively coy and cute looking girl in what appears to be a car accident, but not the man who, as it turns out, was a potential Presidential candidate. The ramifications are explosive, particularly when he realizes that he has inadvertently recorded the murder on tape. However, the more he strives for truth, the deeper he gets entangled into a murky and dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, with the police, on one hand, finding his claims fantastic, and on the other, a mysterious cold-blooded killer (chillingly portrayed by John Lithgow) silently stalking him and Sally, who too, interestingly, might not be who she seems. De Palma superbly complemented the feverish pacing, nightmarish suspense and the constant sense of paranoia, with bravura visual style. He didn’t just imbue it with a sleazy look, he also made tour-de-force and voyeuristic use of sight and sounds. The sheer range of camera angles, zoom lengths and depths of field used in the jaw-dropping nighttime bridge sequence brilliantly evoked here-and-now immediacy, and was reminiscent of the woodcutter’s walk through jungle in Kurosawa's Rashomon.

Director: Brian De Palma
Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller/Psychological Thriller
Language: English
Country: US

Friday 29 March 2013

Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish [2012]

Chitrangada, Rituparno Ghosh’s latest directorial venture, has dealt with the topics of homosexuality, gender identity and the freedom to choose one’s role in a deeply heteronormative and conformist society. The brilliant Arekti Premer Galpo and the competent Memories in March, hence, could easily be considered as companion pieces to this, and not just because he enacted gay characters in all the three. He used as his point of reference Tagore’s renowned dance drama of the same name which chronicled the Mahabharata sub-plot concerning the eponymous warrior princess, who has been brought up as a guy, wanting to transition into a female upon falling in love with Arjuna. Rudra (Ghosh) is a gay and effeminate director of plays, who is in love with a junkie drummer Partho (Jishu Sengupta), much to the dismay of his affluent parents (Dipankar Dey and Anasua Majumdar). Things become further complicated – from familial, relational and personal standpoints – when he decides to change his gender through surgery, more so when Partho eventually leaves him for a pretty female member of the troupe (Raima Sen). The film wasn’t without its pitfalls – inability to avoid certain clichéd tropes, not reining in on the melodrama on a few occasions, lack of suitable build-up to his dramatic decision to undergo sex change. But, it has also managed to be a sensitive, emotionally affecting, socially relevant, self introspecting and quietly semi-autobiographical film, with good use of a narrative within a narrative structure and regular fusion of dreams with reality. Avik Mukhopadhyay’s photography and Debojyoti Misra’s score stood out, as did performances by all, including Anjan Dutt’s as Rudra’s psychiatrist.

Director: Rituparno Ghosh
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Wednesday 27 March 2013

The Suspended Step of the Stork [1991]

Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, two of the biggest icons of European cinema, famously played a married couple in the Antonioni masterwork La Notte. It was a delight to see them coming together again, in the first chapter in Angelopoulos’ ‘Trilogy of Borders’. In the former she was experiencing deep existential crisis and the two were drifting apart emotionally. Here, the roles are reversed with the husband, once a rising Greek statesman and a respected writer, having left everything behind while at the height of his popularity. Alexandre (Gregory Karr), a journalist, while in a military outpost in the Greek-Turkish border in order to make a documentary on illegal immigration, inadvertently stumbles upon an destitute Albanian refugee (Mastroianni) who bears a striking resemblance to the missing politician. He leaves his current project and dives headlong into making a docu on the enigmatic man in order to determine what compelled him into making this inexplicable transition. He enlists the participation of his former French wife who, despite having moved on, still experiences a profound sense of loss because of his sudden disappearance. Theo wonderfully tackled the subjects of identify and rootlessness, which he did in quite a few films of his including The Beekeeper which too had Mastroianni in it, as well as the utter meaninglessness of a world divided by man-made borders and exclusionary politics, and the consequent plight of the homeless and the displaced. The film’s contemplative, mournful tone were nicely accompanied by the arresting, washed out photography, fine score, great acting and a series of beautifully realized vignettes including the enactment of a heart-rending wedding across the Evros River.

Director: Theo Angelopoulos
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Political Drama
Language: Greek
Country: Greece

Monday 25 March 2013

Calamari Union [1985]

Calamari Union, Kaurismaki’s second feature, was an absurdist, deliberately confounding and highly experimental film adorned with surrealistic splashes, filled to brim with his customary droll humour, and completely bereft of any conventional narrative structure or flow. The film begins with a group of men, members of the so-called ‘Calamari Union’, all of whom are known as Frank (with one of them played by Matti Pellonpää) assembled in an underground bar in Helsinki. They are all disgusted with the hell-holes they live in, and hence decide to embark on a journey to Eira – a mythical city which is devoid of problems and sufferings. Thus starts the gleefully unpredictable, deliriously idiosyncratic and wildly anarchist trip for this group of neurotic, offball characters, filled with a series of vignettes and bizarre, even outrageous, developments. The Bunuel-esque style, courtesy Aki’s subversion of the ‘normal’ and the ‘expected’, and coupled with the freewheeling narrative where everything and  nothing happen, would make this a darn interesting work for some, and a highly frustrating watch for the others. The sudden interjections anarchy, albeit displayed with disconcerting casualness, and the rambling conversations between the various Frank’s, would add to the absolute strangeness of this film. Yet, its underlying socio-political commentary cannot be missed, while the playfulness with form made this an intriguing, and even a quietly engaging, film. The sharp, resplendent B/W photography provided an immediate counterpoint to the social decay, moral chaos, existential nihilism and the collapse of all orders portrayed herein. The film had a thumping soundtrack as well to boast of.

Director: Aki Kaurismaki
Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Social Satire/Experimental Film
Language: Finnish
Country: Finland

Saturday 23 March 2013

The Affair (Joen) [1967]

Made in the form of an “anti-melodrama” despite the inherently melodramatic nature of the storyline, this brilliant and audacious Japanese New Wave film was an incisive, discomfiting, radically original, and well, bravura examination on the influence of a mother’s memory on her daughter, and how it shapes her relationships with the men in her lives. Oriko (Mariko Okada) has always had trouble accepting the fact that her mother was a promiscuous and liberated woman, resulting in her affinity towards judging her even after her untimely death. She is married to a well-to-do exec but her frigidity and her coldness towards him has compelled him to look for physical proximity elsewhere. When her mother was having an affair with Mitsuhara (Isao Kamura), a much younger man and sculptor, she had expressed her strong distaste for their relationship to him. Yet ironically, after her mother’s demise, she starts getting close towards him – more so when, after a rough one-night stand with a stranger who she had accused of raping a girl she knows, she becomes further troubled on account of her reaction and sense of guilt. Yoshida’s extraordinarily beautiful muse gave a startlingly layered turn as the complex and troubled protagonist in this dazzlingly (and expressionistically) photographed psychological drama that constantly moved back and forth in time. Interestingly, perhaps because of his own deep-seated sexual insecurity on account of his relationship with such an alluring lady as Okada, fidelity and potency (or their lack thereof) have recurred in quite a few films – particularly the ones during the period when her physical beauty and fame were at their highest. And boy does the camera literally love gazing at her!

Director: Yoshishige Yoshida
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romantic Drama
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan