Tuesday 27 August 2013

Diary for My Children [1984]

Directed by Márta Mészáros, one of the foremost women filmmakers, and former wife of Miklós Jancsó, Diary for My Children was the sublime first chapter in her autobiographical, coming-of-age and criminally obscure ‘Diary Tetralogy’ (it was followed by Diary for My Lovers, Diary for My Father & Mother and the prequel Little Vilma: The Last Diary) – chronicling the turbulent period between the end of German occupation and the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. A profoundly melancholic, haunting, lyrical and heart-wrenching masterpiece, such seamless mix of the political and the personal is a rarity in world cinema. It is 1947, and the sweet, soft-spoken and vulnurable teenager Juli (Zsusza Czinkóczi), the director’s stand-in, returns from the USSR to war ravaged Budapest with her loving grandfather, and is placed under the guardianship of Magda (Anna Polony), a fast rising Party member who places enormous value on authority and obeyance, making her home a microcosm of the regime itself. The lonely girl, tormented by recurring memories of her father, a sculptor and victim of Stalin’s purges, and her deceased mother, finds a father figure in Janos (Jan Nowicki, who played the dual role of her father), an engineer and former partisan fighter. The compassionate Janos and the stern Magda, lovers during the days of the Resistance but now irreconcilable politically – she is a loyal Stalinist while he is disillusioned of the Russian dictator’s draconian rule, become the two principal agents in Juli’s life. Meanwhile, in order to escape her dreary present, she takes refuge in cinema, reminiscent of Truffaut’s alter-ego Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows. The film, which was shot in grainy B/W, sprinked with real footages, comprised of superb, naturalistic turns by the three leads, and had a fabulous score that memorably complemented its delicate, heartbreaking tone, was withheld for 2 years before being allowed to release.

Director: Márta Mészáros
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Psychological Drama/Film a Clef
Language: Hungarian
Country: Hungary

Monday 26 August 2013

Full Moon in Paris [1984]

Full Moon in Paris, the fourth installment in Eric Rohmer’s charming 6-part series ‘Comedies & Proverbs’, was, like the other members of the series, a wryly humorous, cerebral and quietly pondering take on the complexities of urban relationships. And it had a quintessential Rohmer heroine as its protagonist – she’s naïve, impulsive, whimsical, likeable, confused, self-obsessed, and at times even alienating, and she just doesn’t know what she wants in terms of matters of the heart even though she thinks she does. Louise (Pascale Ogier) is a frail young woman who works as a trainee in a design firm and is lives in the suburbs with her boyfriend Remi (Tcheky Karyo), an architect and amateur tennis player. He is introverted, asocial and follows an overly disciplined regimen, while she loves being at late night parties during the weekends and leading a carefree life in general; that, in conjunction with the fact that he’s possessive of her and her wish for freedom and personal space, makes her decide to maintain an apartment in Paris. She convinces him that this is what will keep their relationship alive even though, internally, she plans to explore whether she indeed loves her; however, by the time she realizes where her heart truly lies, it turns out to be, predictably, too late. Meanwhile, a neurotic and married writer (Fabrice Luchini in a dryly comic turn) is obsessed with her even though, despite his valiant and even desperate attempts, she doesn't consider him anything beyond a good friend. Shot using deceptively long takes using an unobtrusive camera, this bleak morality tale was nicely juxtaposed against gray, wan concrete Parisian landscapes and cramped, impersonal interiors.

Director: Eric Rohmer
Genre: Drama/Romantic Comedy/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama
Language: French
Country: France

Sunday 25 August 2013

Summer Hours [2008]

Assayas’ Summer Hours was a serene, rueful and deftly executed tale of three siblings who must come to terms with the mortality of their septuagenarian mother, the sole link between them and their shared past. The elegantly paced and scored film begins on a pitch-perfect note with Frédéric (Charles Berling), an economics professor who still resides in France, Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), a successful designer settled in the US, and Jeremie (Jeremie Renier), a corporate executive who is about to move to China for professional reasons, and their respective families, getting together at their family mansion in order to celebrate the 75th birthday of their mother (Edith Scob). The brilliantly staged prelude, through casual conversations and subtle observations, introduces us to each of the disparate characters, including the mother who is in a dilemma as to what shall happen to her invaluable collections courtesy a renowned artist she was a muse to. The sequence closes with the aged matriarch reminiscing about her life, and in a marvelous narrative choice, her death quietly occurs off-screen. The siblings must now make the tough choice of what to do with her possessions – Frédéric wants the place and its belongings to be kept for the memories they house, Jeremie wants them sold off as he needs funds for his relocation, and Andrienne, with the casting vote, sides with her younger brother as she has no plans of coming back. Berling gave a top-notch performance – his silent reaction when the decision to sell off is taken, was heart-breaking, while Scob too was terrific in her brief role. The inevitable passage of time was nicely captured in this gentle and non-judgemental observation on the French upper class.

Director: Oliver Assayas
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Ensemble Film
Language: French
Country: France

Body Double [1984]

If anyone ever had any doubts or misgivings about Brian De Palma’s love for Hitchcock’s oeuvre, Body Double is enough to put it to rest. This was a direct homage to not one but two Hitchcock classics, viz. Rear Window and Vertigo, albeit liberally adulterated with his own personal dose of sleaze, plot convolutions and world-view. The result was a grotesque, provocative, and interesting in parts, but otherwise inconsistent film that attempted tackling too many things to its own detriment; and not to forget, it created quite a scandal among the moralists and conservatives upon its release. Jake (Craig Wasson) is a struggling actor in schlock films. When his affliction with claustrophobia costs him his job, and simultaneously the shock of finding his girlfriend in bed with another guy leaves him homeless, a seemingly amiable stranger (Gregg Henry) offers him a luxurious place to stay, with the added bonus of being able to peep on a beautiful neighbor (Deborah Shelton) while she undresses, using a telescope. He becomes obsessed with her and eventually ends up witnessing her murder. However, when he meets a cute porn star (Melanie Griffith) who bears a striking resemblance to the slain lady, he realizes that he might just have been set up. The labyrinthine storyline veered on the verge of absurd on account of a number of rather implausible plot developments and heavy reliance on coincidences; but narratively it was engaging and the visual style interesting. Griffith was particularly memorable on account of the vulnerability she brought into her character – the scene where she spells out what she does and doesn’t do, was easily the film’s best moment.

Director: Brian De Palma
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Post-Noir/Mystery
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday 24 August 2013

Veronika Voss [1982]

Veronika Voss, Fassbinder’s penultimate film, was the second edition in his celebrated ‘BRD Trilogy’, sandwiched between The Marriage of Maria Braun and Lola, although, sequence-wise, it released after the third film. Though, on first glance, it seemed to be inspired by Wilder’s caustic masterpiece Sunset Boulevard – though tonally they would place on the opposite ends of the spectrum, in essence, it was influenced by the tragic life and death of German actress Sybille Schmitz. Set a few years after the culmination of WWII and collapse of The Third Reich, the titular Veronica, magnificently played by Rosel Zech, is a once renowned star who has now been shunned by all for her purported closeness to the Nazi fraternity. She has now become a Morphine-addict, further fuelled by her doctor (Annemaire Duringer) in order to have control of her wealth. She has become susceptible to erratic mood swings making her impossible to deal with, trapped in her past as she still thinks of herself as the diva she once was, severely lonely, utterly helpless and a complete non-entity to the world around her. A brief glimmer of hope and solace arrives in her life in the form of middle-aged journalist Robert (Hilmar Thate) who she befriends in the film’s marvelously staged opening sequence that brilliantly introduced both the characters – she thinks she’ll be mobbed if people see her, but the befuddled Robert doesn’t even recognize her initially. Rich B/W photography and an evocative score laced this bleak, elegiac and melancholic film that perfectly captured the protagonist’s tragic arc while also providing a dark and harrowing peek into the corrupt and apathic underbelly of post-WWII German society.

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Showbiz Drama
Language: German
Country: Germany