Thursday 30 April 2015

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! [2015]

Dibakar Banerjee’s reimagining and reinterpretation of the iconic literary character in the cheekily titled Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, is a heady cocktail of the murky, cerebral world of Saradindu Bandopadhyay and the noirish pulpiness of hardboiled literature. The director went for ambitious stylistic deconstruction - the kind that would have the purists squirming - without supplanting the era. Set in 1940s war-torn Calcutta, with the city’s nationalistic fervour against British occupation seamlessly complementing its crime-ridden underbelly, and its multi-ethnic diaspora accentuating its flavour, and loosely adapted from the first Byomkesh novel Satyanweshi (aka “The Truth Seeker”), the film focused on the first case of the Bengali super sleuth. Byomkesh (Sushant Singh Rajput), an incredibly sharp and intelligent but asocial and arrogant university graduate, is approached by his fellow student Ajit (Anand Tiwari), who would eventually become his chronicler and life-long friend, in order to find the whereabouts of his missing father. Unaware of the violent world he’s stepping into, the strapping young man makes the acquaintance of, among others, Anguri Devi (Swastika Mukherjee), a sultry seductress with dubious motives, Dr. Anukil Guha (Neeraj Kabi), a brilliant physician who runs a small hostel, Kanai Dao (Meiyang Chang), a hostel resident with Chinese roots, and Satyawati (Divya Menon), the niece of a local politician, sister of a nationalist revolutionary and Byomkesh’s future wife, and is plunged into a world of opium traders, war-plotting, brazen lust, double crossers and vicious murderers. The dazzling cinematography made marvelous usage of colors and shadows to highlight the moody atmosphere and grotesque side of human nature, the startling art direction meticulously captured the period, and the new-age, esoteric score cemented Banerjee’s experimental intent.

Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Mystery/Post-Noir
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Sunday 26 April 2015

Witness [1985]

Witness, directed by Peter Weir, was an underplayed and modestly made film that succeeded in being a charged romantic drama, a quiet look at a child’s innocence, an amusing religious and cultural satire, and a subdued police thriller. Despite the formulaic and straightforward nature of the basic plot, its lyrical tone and elegant pacing added a reasonably affecting flavour to the proceedings. A young Amish boy Samuel (Lukas Haas), while on a short trip to a big city for the first time in his life, becomes an accidental witness of the murder of a cop, and Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) takes charge of solving the crime. Things, however, take a murky turn when it turns out that a powerful, notorious police officer (Danny Glover) is responsible for the act, and that corruption runs right to the top. Hence, in order to protect the kid Book is forced to go on the lam and take shelter at the residence of Samuel and his demure but ravishingly alluring widowed mother Rachel (Kelly McGills), with whom he becomes intimate to, much to the disapproval of the conservative Amish community. The policer and thrill quotient were unremarkable, and predictable too; but the cheeky peek at the cultural gap between an orthodox, peace-loving religious group and the condescending, insensitive world around them, along with the tentative yet scorching romantic angle managed in making this worth a watch. Ford, fresh from his act in the bravura sci-fi Blade Runner, established his abilities outside one-dimensional action flicks with this, while McGills was noteworthy as a lonely lady vacillating between conformance and desire.

Director: Peter Weir
Genre: Thriller/Police Thriller/Romantic Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday 18 April 2015

Naked Childhood [1969]

Maurice Pialat’s startling directorial debut, Naked Childhood, provided a clinical and subliminally devastating examination of the tragic social and psychological detachment of an orphaned kid exacerbated by an overburdened foster parenting process. As a stark yet affecting portrayal of troubled childhood and complicated relationship of a young boy with those around him, it is bound to evoke memories of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, and throw an effective light on the filmmaker’s frugal but mercurial career. The movie begins with François (Michel Tarrazon), under care of working-class parents (Linda Gutemberg and Raoul Billery), showing discomfiting glimpses of anti-social behavior like stealing money, taking peek at his sister suggesting his sexual awakening and killing their pet cat. These acts, coupled with his foster parents’ financial plight, force a change in his address. Despite the rather warm treatment he gets from his elderly new caretakers (Marie-Louisse Thierry and René Thierry), his behavior starts growing even more erratic, with recurrent flashes of violence, thus displaying his increasing disconnect and abandonment with accepted social norms, as a combination of his innate inability to form emotional bonds, deep identity crisis and the nature of his nurture on account of him being an “other” without a sense of belongingness. The film’s austere tone, further assisted by the excellent, unobtrusive photography that gave a “here and now” feel to the proceedings, and key asides to the central narrative, imbued a strong dose of poetic realism and a bleak sense of desolation. The mostly non-professional cast, led by the marvelous Tarrzon, was pitch-perfect in capturing the film’s blue-collar milieu, socio-political context and thematic essence.

Director: Maurice Pialat
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Childhood Drama
Language: French
Country: France

Sunday 12 April 2015

Children of Heaven [1997]

Irrespective of where one stands with regards to appraising the film, there’s little denying the fact that Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven possibly remains as Iran’s single-most well-known movie export. A charming, poignant and tragi-comic children’s film, it chronicled a simple but tender tale of innocence, heartbreak and triumph, apart from being an affecting account of an impoverished but closely knit family living in the socio-economic fringes of the society. Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian), a young wide-eyed kid, while fetching grocery for his family, inadvertently loses the recently mended shoes of his little sister Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi). Fearing the anger of his gruff but loving father (Reza Naji) and the potential effects on his ailing mother (Fereshte Sarabandi), Ali devises a cumbersome way to keep the loss a secret, even though he’s aware that such a scheme can’t go on for long, and not to mention Zahra’s embarrassment for having to wear his brother’s shoes to school. Hence, when an inter-school marathon competition is announced at his school, he decides to grab the opportunity and help get a new pair of shoes for his sister. The simplicity of the film’s premise and plotting is bound to strike an immediate chord with its viewers, along with the portrayal of the deep bond that the family members in general, and the young siblings in particular, share. A number of deftly devised sequences – the mad pursuit by Zahra to recover Ali’s shoes after it accidentally falls into a running sewer, Ali trip with his father to the posh and upscale section of Tehran looking for gardening jobs – lovingly captured the otherwise morose existences of its empathetically etched characters.

Director: Majid Majidi
Genre: Drama/Childhood Drama/Family Drama
Language: Persian
Country: Iran

Sunday 5 April 2015

Man of Marble [1976]

Man of Marble, the 1st of 2 ‘Solidarity Films’ made by Wajda in support of the burgeoning trade union movement in Poland, would rank as one of the most important works in his oeuvre, for both political and aesthetic reasons. On one hand, it provided a compelling indictment on the kind of political exploitation, opportunism, manipulation and corruption that the Soviet Bloc was a witness to, while on the other, it projected “reality” through multiple view points, akin to ‘Rashomon Effect’, as a means for deconstructing history. The premise concerns Agnieszka (Krystyna Janda), a brash, young film student, making a controversial documentary as her graduation project on Mateusz Birkut (Jerzy Radziwiłowicz), a once famous bricklayer who had become a Stakhanovite symbol of an over-achieving worker but, somewhere along the line, has fallen into complete obscurity and anonymity. As she watches archived film clips, and, with the help of her tiny team, records the versions of a successful director (Tadeusz Łomnicki) who had shot Mateusz’s superlative feat of laying 30,000 bricks in one shift, a state agent (Piotr Cieślak) who had witnessed Mateusz’ transition from a celebrity to a provocateur, his close comrade (Michał Tarkowski) who’s now been “reformed” into a businessman, and his wife (Krystyna Zachwatowicz) who’d denounced him after his political incarceration, what emerged was a fascinating but bleak and troubling account filled with wry humour and irony. The film’s documentary realism and stance as an agitprop, through potent narrative mix of pseudo-newsreel footages (in grainy B/W), on-camera interviews in present (shot using hand-held camera) and recreation of the past (in subdued colour palettes) added to its bravura formalism.

Director: Andrzej Wajda
Genre: Drama/Political Satire
Language: Polish
Country: Poland