Sunday 28 April 2013

Viridiana [1961]

One can only be amused at what prompted Spanish dictator Francisco Franco into inviting Luis Bunuel, who had been in exile for over 2 decades in the US and Mexico, to make a film in his homeland, because ironically the movie that he made so severely displeased the conservative Franco regime and outraged the Catholic church that it was immediately banned. A powerful and vitriolic critique of organized religion, Catholicism and Christian traditions of charity, as also a deeply disconcerting peek into the essentially vile and malevolent nature of human beings – irrespective of which class they belong to, this remains one of the greatest works of the polarizing surrealist. The titular Viridiana (Silvia Pinal), a young and ethereally beautiful novitiate, is invited by her wealthy uncle Don Jamie (Fernando Rey) to his baroque mansion just before she is to take her vows. As it turns out, his suave uncle sees the image of his dead wife in her, and plans to consummate with her, one way or the other, using the help of his loyal maid (Margarita Lozano). The second half took a dramatic tonal shift when the young lady, not wanting to be a nun any more, provides shelter to the local poor and outcasts, only to almost get brutalized in the process. The grotesque side of humans was incredibly captured along with the inevitable corruption of purity. Brilliantly shot in expressionistic B/W and enacted by all, it comprised of a number of memorable moments, but the most unforgettable would easily be that of a group of degenerates gleefully impersonating The Last Supper in one of the most iconic freeze frames in the history of the medium.

Director: Luis Bunuel
Genre: Drama/Religious Satire/Black Comedy
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain/Mexico

Arth [1982]

It’s been over a decade since Mahesh Bhatt has directed a movie, and the ones that get produced from his stable have come to be mostly frowned upon by the purists; but there was a time, particularly during the 80’s, when he made a few sensitive human dramas that won appreciations. Arth, where for the first time he donned the hat of not just director but writer as well, was laced with strong autobiographical touches. The story revolves around four characters – Inder (Khulbushan Kharbanda), an independent minded filmmaker, Pooja (Shabana Azmi), his loving wife, Kavita (Smita Patil), a famous actress Inder is having an affair on the sly with, and Raj (Raj Kiran), a talented musician who Pooja befriends after moving out of her house upon learning of her husband’s infidelity. Though, given that the first three characters were straight out of the director’s life, with Inder being a stand-in for Bhatt himself and the story an allusion to his extra-marital affair with actress Parvin Babi who, like Kavita, would go on to be afflicted with Schizophrenia, the principal protagonist turned out to be the hurt but proud wife. The platonic friendship that she develops with the penniless do-gooder musician provided the film with some fine moments. Unfortunately, the movie on the whole severely lacked in subtlety, and was often guilty of resorting to stereotypes and moral conservativeness. The histrionics too ought to have been kept under a tighter leash. Nonetheless, the rewarding and maturely dealt with finale, noteworthy performances, and a couple of blissful ghazals composed and sung by Jagjit Singh, did make it worth a watch.

Director: Mahesh Bhatt
Genre: Drama/Marriage Drama/Romantic Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Saturday 27 April 2013

Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses [1994]

Made 5 years after the incredibly popular Leningrad Cowboys Go America, the sequel, though not necessarily bad, failed to match the refreshing and riotous fun of the former. Members of the titular rock-and-roll band from Siberia have now settled down in Mexico after having made the Top 10 charts. The band size, too, has shrunk on account of alcoholism. However, when they suddenly get an offer for a gig in the US, the surviving members, some of whom have even embraced Mexican lifestyles, decide to give a visit to Uncle Sam. But, once there, they meet their former manager Vladimir (Matti Pellonpää) who had disappeared, and has now been ‘born again’ as Moses. Under the command of Moses, who has become even more tyrannical and self-serving, the band embarks on an eventful and comical journey back to their homeland. While they seamlessly break a plethora of national and international laws and regulations during their rambunctious road trip, they are also being hunted by a CIA agent (André Wilms) as they have stolen the nose of the Statue of Liberty. Unlike the earlier film, which was an exercise in sheer deadpan comedy, here liberties, in the form of slapstick, were taken at places. The tale of these oddball characters and their anarchistic antics was also infused with surrealism, strong politico-religious underpinnings and outlandish plot developments, while the number of musical performances were significantly cut down, thus making this a far bleaker and a more grimy film in comparison. The band, which had become very popular in Finland by then, would make another return to celluloid in the concert film Total Balalaika Show.

Director: Aki Kaurismaki
Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Religious Satire/Musical/Road Movie
Language: English/Finnish
Country: Finland

Innocents with Dirty Hands [1975]

A young, beautiful lady, in a loveless marriage with a rich, older man, seducing a younger guy to kill her husband in order to inherit his riches, is a plot synopsis perhaps as old as cinema itself. Claude Chabrol, like so many filmmakers before and since with interest in noirs, too made use of the iconic template, and the result, even if slight and not anything path-breaking or unique, was a heady and delicious concoction of lust, jealousy, infidelity, double crosses, blackmail and murder straight out of a pulpy James Hadley Chase novel. The very first scene set the tone for the rest of the film – a drop-dead gorgeous lady (Romy Schneider) sun-bathing in the nude, very well aware of the effect it is having on the guy (Paolo Giusti) ogling at her. As it turns out, his wealthy husband (Rod Steiger) is not just 18 years older to her and alcoholic, but is impotent as well, which, the young writer of trash novels is anything but. What followed was a labyrinthine and twist-filled ride that is sure to keep one guessing right till the smartly conjured end. Chabrol didn’t just maintain his typically distant approach while filming the ménage à trois, he also infused the film with wry humour by making use of two cops investigating the crimes – a slow-thinking local detective (Pierre Santini) and his disarmingly smart Parisian friend on vacation (François Maistre), in a sly take on the country bumpkin-suave city dweller stereotype. Schneider was an eyeful as the icy femme fatale, while Steiger and Maistre were also very good. The husband’s “resurrection” – both physically and in terms of his libido, might just have been an inspiration for Kieslowski in his brilliant black comedy, White.

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

Tuesday 23 April 2013

The Snowtown Murders [2011]

The gritty and brutal Ausie kitchen-sink drama The Snowtown Murders is an intensely harrowing tale of a real-life serial-killer. The film’s protagonist is Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), an introverted teenager living in urban decrepitude with his working class mother (Louise Harris) and his brothers. When the pudgy, friendly, charming, outspoken and seemingly upstanding John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) arrives in their lives, the shy and soft-spoken Jamie immediately gets drawn to him. And when he muscles a closet pedophile out of the neighbourhood, he becomes popular too. But, as it turns out, beneath his cheerful veneer, he is a cold-blooded murderer who, with the help of a couple of low-lives and using his venomous desire of ridding the society of its slimy underbelly as a moral defense, satisfies his hunger for blood and a right-wing social order. His vigilante system of cleansing the society’s dirty linen was akin to Tavis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Though we never get to know who he really is, the film somehow managed to get us acquainted with this frightening individual, chillingly performed by Henshall. By the time the impressionable Jamie begins to realize what he has unwittingly become a part of, it is, as it usually always is, too late. The brilliant photography, using a combination of extreme close-ups and stunning panoramic shots, nicely juxtaposed the bleak socioeconomic environ and the disturbing content. The gradual manner in which the so-called moral line is blurred, and eventually shattered, made this a compelling, if tad alienating, watch. Though tonally and stylistically very different, it could serve as a companion piece to Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine.

Director: Justin Kurzel
Genre: Drama/Crime Drama/Biopic
Language: English
Country: Australia