Thursday 31 October 2013

La Strada [1954]

La Strada was one of Fellini’s most celebrated movies and a seminal work of Italian Neo-Realism even if Leftist film critics attacked it for abandonment of classic neo-realist aesthetics. Wrought with innumerable production challenges and roadblocks, it was, like all his major works, imbued with deeply personal touches on account of his experiences with the circus. His affinity towards a carnivalesque, deliberately overdone and highly subjective style, which reached gargantuan proportions in his subsequent masterworks, can be traced back to the serio-comic, bittersweet, “realistic” and comparatively sedate earlier efforts like I Vitelloni and this. And, in its Chaplinesque protagonist played by his actress-wife Giulietta Masina, we had one of the most unforgettably expressive faces. It begins with Gelsomina (Masina), a naïve, gullible, dim-witted and soft-natured young woman being married off to the gruff and brutish circus strongman Zampano (Anthony Quinn) by her impoverished family. Zampano’s life is on the road, and she becomes his fellow-traveller as he moves around the country to display his strength. On the course of their lives as vagabonds, she meets the clownish high-wire artist “il Matto” (Richard Basehart) who loves playing a beautiful tune on his miniature violin which affects her profoundly. It deftly portrayed the lonely, lovable protagonist’s pathos, heartbreaks, craving for love and acceptance, and the few moments of joy in between, and what emerged was a movie filled with humanism, religious symbolism, spiritual crisis and poetic imagery, with the recurring and haunting theme music composed by Nino Rota forming the leitmotif for her tragic coming-of-age journey.

Director: Federico Fellini
Genre: Drama/Road Movie
Language: Italian
Country: Italy

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Boyfriends and Girlfriends [1987]

Boyfriends and Girlfriends (aka My Boyfriend’s Girlfriend), the final entry in Rohmer’s 6-film ‘Comédies et Proverbes’ series, his charming and melancholic examinations of matters of the heart and male-female equation among the urban French and the associated moral subtexts, quite easily had the most unconditionally optimistic ending of the lot. Nevertheless, the protagonist did have to traverse the quintessentially Rohmeresque path of craving, confusion, heartbreak and ultimately reconciliation with oneself, and was set against the backdrop of an ultra-modern Parisian suburb that subtly emphasized on the age-old nature of what the protagonist experiences and realizes. Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet) is a shy and emotional young lady working at the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and resigned to a life of loneliness. Her chance meeting with and befriending of Lea (Sophie Renoir), a vivacious young student, both heightens and resolves her crisis. Lea is in a relationship with Fabien (Eric Viellard), who has a conservative and serious disposition, while Blanche becomes infatuated with Alexandre (François-Eric Gendron), a dashing Don Juan. Blanche’s cute looks, boyish figure and introverted nature formed a striking contrast with Lea’s sensuous looks, svelte figure and bohemian lifestyle, thus making their seemingly preferred pairings bound to fail which in turn increased their dissatisfaction and inner complications; the gently swaying but essentially straightforward storyline thus told how they come to realize that they’re on the wrong boat and how circumstances lead them to switch places, thus leading the film to a logically understandable even if decidedly pre-determined finale. The final scene, where each briefly misunderstands the other before the convenient resolution, cheekily drove home the ironies that they had gone through.

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

Monday 28 October 2013

Germany, Year Zero [1948]

Germany, Year Zero, the concluding chapter in Rossellini’s renowned ‘War Trilogy’, was possibly the bleakest of the lot, and that’s saying something given that neither Rome, Open City nor Paisan were remotely optimistic or uplifting. Despite its crisp length, it succeeded in painting a harrowing and disconsolate picture of the devastating social and human damage caused by WWII. Set in war ravaged Berlin, as opposed to Italy in the preceding 2 films, it focused on the last few days in the tragic life of mature-beyond-his-years 12-year old Edmund (Edmund Moeschke) and the kind of choices that the prevalent environs force him to make. Faced with unprecedented destitution, unemployment, uncertainty and crisis of essential items, he lives in a cramped and dingy room with his ailing but righteous father (Ernst Pittschau), his elder sister (Ingetraud Hinze) who is on the verge of becoming a streetwalker, and his elder brother (Franz Kruger), a former Nazi soldier who hides all the time in fear of prosecution, and wanders around the city in the hope of collecting whatever money and food he can without fear of law and social embarrassment. During one such sojourn he bumps into his former teacher, Nazi indoctrinator, currently black marketer and possible pedophile (Eric Guehne), who quite literally represents the netherworld, and that hastens his irrevocable downward spiral. Rossellini made haunting use of harsh documentary realism, amateur actors and such neorealist archetypes, as his young protagonist became an embodiment for the country’s economic plight, moral plunge, guilt, scarred existence, human corruption and lost innocence.

Director: Roberto Rossellini
Genre: Drama/War Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: German
Country: Italy

Saturday 26 October 2013

Before Midnight [2013]

In Before Sunrise, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) were youngsters filled with hope and idealism; in Before Sunset, when they bumped into each other 9 years later, cynicism and maturity had set in; and now 9 years later in Before Midnight, we find that their connect has taken the logical course towards matrimony. Linklater, in a masterstroke, divided the film into diametrically opposite halves from tonal standpoints – a ‘happy’ first half, and a ‘bitter’ second – and in the process brilliantly portrayed the complex relationship between love and marriage. In Greece on vacation, we see the couple enjoying a lovely light-hearted day with friends, and, having closely followed their journeys, we feel that these two independent minded people, who had displayed such instant chemistry in the earlier films, are in a state of conjugal bliss. However, as soon as they are alone in a hotel, things start going south, the indications of which had been actually provided earlier, albeit subtly. Her indecision about a job prospect and his guilt conscience on account of missing out on his teenage son’s growing up lead them towards increasingly ugly and vitriolic arguments. Even though the film ended on a heartwarming note we realize that their marriage has possibly reached its expiry date. Both Delpy and Hawke hit all the right notes as her emotional vulnerability and deep-rooted insecurity, and his coldly logical nature and regret for past failures, reach blistering loggerheads. The superbly written script imbued the protagonists and their interactions with profound and tragic depth that was deeply affecting. I sincerely hope that the incredibly ambitious and memorable ‘Before Series’ gets a final chapter 9 years later.

Director: Richard Linklater
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Marriage Drama
Language: English/French
Country: US

Friday 25 October 2013

Fireworks Wednesday [2006]

Farhadi’s ongoing fascination with the various interlinked facets associated with troubled and crumbling marriages, particularly among the upper and upper-middle classes, can possibly be dated back to his third film Fireworks Wednesday. Most interestingly, the film was set on the day of Persian New Year, in order to contrast the celebrations outside with the characters’ conflicts, as well as to subtly stress upon the truism that life simply goes on. Further, anyone who’s moderately acquainted with the Iranian filmmaker’s style would be aware that he prefers infusing elements of mystery in the form of surprising revelations and even twists rather than having a simple, linear narrative. Roohi (Taraneh Alidoosti), a sweet and naïve would-be bride belonging to the society’s lower economic status, takes a housecleaning job at the high-end apartment of a bickering upscale Teheran-based couple (played by Hamid Farokhnezhad and Hedye Tehrani). The seemingly paranoid wife suspects the husband, who appears to be the more practical kind, of cheating on her with their divorced neighbor, and the young lady finds herself in the middle of intensely heated and ugly arguments that they engage in leave the, and even ends up becoming an unwitting participant in them. By the time the day ends, Roohi is a much more matured person. In a smart storytelling choice, the narrative’s focus kept shifting between the three characters, thus allowing us to be apprised of the day’s proceedings through each of their points of view. And hence, with conclusion of each sequence, we knew more than what they collectively know, and our perceptions kept evolving. The matter-of-fact, non-judgmental tone and naturalistic performances were also worth noting.

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Genre: Drama/Marriage Drama
Language: Persian
Country: Iran