Wednesday 26 February 2014

Noite Vazia [1964]

In Noite Vazia Brazilian filmmaker Walter Hugo Khouri provided a marvelous exploration of existential crisis, alienation and hedonism among the urban affluent. The distancing tone, spare style, searing portrayal of detachment and ennui, and the observations on class and gender roles, made this criminally underrated film highly reminiscent of Antonioni’s renowned ‘Alienation Trilogy’ in general and La Notte in particular. The sparkling B/W photography with the city’s sinful nightlife providing a terrific juxtaposition to loneliness, identity crisis and collapse of relationships, with a fine jazz score accentuating the existential dissonance, further added to its mood and atmosphere. Set over the course of a night, two Sao Paolo men – Luis (Mario Benvenuti), a wealthy, cynical and bored married man forever looking for sexual trophies, and Nelson (Gabrielle Tinti), his soft-spoken, depressed and handsome younger buddy, hop from one pub to another in the hope for conquests. They finally take the services of two prostitutes – the older Regina (Odete Lara), a ravishing, weary and distrustful blonde, and the young and sensitive brunette Mara (Norma Bengell), with the remaining two-thirds of the film focusing on the complex and shifting interactions between them at Luis’ sprawling apartment. They swap partners, watch adult videos, drink, argue, reminisce and even coax the 2 ladies to have a go at each other. While the brash Luis meets his match in the strong-willed Regina, the anguished Nelson finds a kindred soul in the fragile Mara. The film ends in discomfiting daylight which further highlighted their hollow existences and directionless lives, with the rambling dialogues, wry humour, bleak outlook, fine characterizations and deglamorized depiction of sex adding enervating layers to its delicate balance between hope and emptiness.

Director: Walter Hugo Khouri
Genre: Drama/Existential Drama/Urban Drama
Language: Portuguese
Country: Brazil

Monday 24 February 2014

Doubt [2008]

Doubt, adapted by the director from his own Pulitzer Prize winning play, addressed the issue that has been plaguing the Catholic church more than anything else, viz. the rampant allegations of child abuse by its priests. However, instead of tackling a situation that is in black and white, it focused instead on, as it generally happens, a matter in gray and shrouded in smoke, and the ensuing question of how suspicion can be a stronger force than certitude. However, more than anything else, this was a master-class in acting with 4 powerhouse performances to boot. Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic priest at a Bronx church, is popular on account of his jovial nature, friendly disposition towards kids and liberal mindset. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the stern, orthodox-minded and disciplinarian principal of the adjoining school, however, has unfounded suspicions surrounding Flynn, and when Sister James (Amy Adams), a naïve young teacher in the school reports a seemingly odd encounter between the Father and the school’s sole black student who’s finding it tough to get adjusted, Aloysius becomes convinced of Flynn’s guilt and pedophilia. The fact that his nature and religious philosophies are in direct contrast to hers, provided the fuel to her steadfast crusade to get him removed from the place, with the emotionally fragile James torn apart in the complex turbulence that ensues on account of the war of wills. Even if the proceedings seemed tad theatrical at some points, one can’t help but be emotionally invested in this grim and slow-burning but gripping drama. Both Hoffman and Streep gave tour de force turns, while Adams, too, was good; Viola Davis, as the young guy’s working-class mom, shone in her brief role.

Director: John Patrick Shanley
Genre: Drama/Religious Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday 16 February 2014

Wake Up Love (Despabílate Amor) [1996]

Depiction of nostalgia and regret for all the things that could have been but never was, yet avoiding the pitfalls of cloying sentimentality, is a difficult job, and that’s what Argentine filmmaker Eliseo Subiela achieved in Wake Up Love which, at many levels, reminded me of the Sautet masterpiece Vincent, François, Paul & Others. And the strong political undercurrents that he added to this otherwise personal tale made this eulogy to a lost generation of men and women a powerful work. Ricardo (Juan Leyrado), known as Elvis for his love for the King’s music, has decided to hunt down his old buddies in order to celebrate 25 years of graduation. One of those he calls and meets, is Ernesto (Dario Grandinetti), once his closest buddy despite their contrasting natures. While Ricardo was always the happy-go-lucky kind who’s danced his way through life, Ernesto is a Leftist intellectual and an amateur poet who identified with the struggles of common men during the country’s political upheavals during 60s and 70s. More importantly, Ricardo is now married to Ana (Soledad Silveyra), Ernesto’s sweetheart during their college days, and has a 20-year old son who, ironically, wants to be a poet championing the oppressed around the world. As old memories, forgotten wounds, repressed flames and deep regrets surface, the characters try hopelessly reconciling with their present in their own personal ways – the scene featuring a former friend who is now employed at a small railway crossing was particularly memorable. The narrative kept alternating between the present, represented as drab and mundane, and the past, captured in vibrant colours, while the fine performances, poetry and score added deep melancholic layers to this beautiful film.

Director: Eliseo Subiela
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romance/Reunion Film
Language: Spanish
Country: Argentina

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Dedh Ishqiya [2014]

When a movie like Ishqiya that managed to be like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale industry gets remade, one can’t help but be concerned. To my utter delight, the cheekily named sequel Dedh Ishqiya (reminiscent of the titles of the Naked Gun series) managed to be a bigger, better and naughtier ride – a riotously funny, unapologetically ribald and gleefully serpentine crime caper that effortlessly fused elements of noir, gangster and black comedy. The lovable uncle-nephew duo of the cultured but scheming Khalujan (Naseeruddin Shah) and the libidinous and earthy Babban (Arshad Warsi) – petty criminals and thieves forever trying to out-maneuver others as well as each other – made a winning return with memorable effect. With the older Khalu slipping away with a prized necklace after a robbery, Babban gets a hilarious reprieve from the gaggling gangster Mushtaq (Salman Shahid) and traces his uncle to a lavish contest organized by the dazzlingly beautiful widow (Madhuri Dixit) of a former Nawab in order to choose a husband. Muniya (Huma Qureshi), the Begum’s voluptuous personal maid who might be her friend, her lover, a duplicitous femme fatale, or all, and Jaan Mohammed (Vijay Raaz), a wealthy, wily and antagonistic faux-poet with an incongruous mane competing against the love-struck Khalu to win Begum’s hands, played equally vital roles in this labyrinthine tale of love, lust and their myriad permutations. Beautiful Urdu poetry, marvelous cinematography, terrific performances by all, sizzling on-screen chemistries, easy alternations between soft and lilting on one hand, and sleazy and carnal on the other, and a number of superb set-pieces and sequences, made this a mischievous and devilish film a delectable watch.

Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Genre: Crime Thriller/Black Comedy/Post-Noir/Buddy Film
Language: Hindi/Urdu
Country: India

Monday 10 February 2014

12 Years a Slave [2013]

The theme of a relentless man against an insurmountable opposition has recurred in all the 3 films that McQueen has made so far – Hunger was about political struggle, while in Shame it was personal in nature; and now, in the historical biopic 12 Years A Slave, which is about an individual’s fight for survival against racial injustice, the 2 elements have been combined. Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a ‘free man’ working as a violin player who was falsely deceived into, as the title suggests, 12 years of bonded slavery. Lured to be part of a traveling group as a musician, he’s drugged, shipped to New Orleans and sold off in the most humiliating auction to a surprisingly benevolent plantation owner (Benedict Cumberbatch). However, when he earns the wrath of a psychotic carpenter (Paul Dano), he is sold off to Epps (Michael Fassbender), a ruthless and insecure cotton plantation owner with severe personality issues. Epps becomes lustful of a young female slave (Lupita Nyong'o) which earns severe displeasure of his sadist and racist wife (Sarah Paulson), and Solomon becomes an unwitting pawn in the unfortunate proceedings. Thus, not only must he play to the complex dynamics surrounding him, he also must ensure his past – the facts that he was a free man and educated too – remain under the wraps. Though the austere tones of his previous 2 films were replaced for a more sweeping and melodramatic approach, and the final product wasn’t as assured or tight a work (and possibly tad exploitative too), it still succeeded in being a deeply, affecting and excellently shot film. Top-notch performances abounded, with Ejiofor’s being the standout, and McQueen regular Fassbender brilliant as always. Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti, too, were part of the star-studded cast.

Director: Steve McQueen
Genre: Drama/Biopic/Historical Epic
Language: English
Country: UK