Saturday 26 January 2019

Playtime [1967]

With Playtime – the 3rd in his 4-film series, following Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle, and preceding Trafic – the mercurial French maverick Jacques Tati created his grandest masterpiece while also jeopardizing his filmmaking career in the process. In this dazzling and insanely uncompromising existential and cinematic, Tati concocted a trenchant, darkly funny and subtly lamenting satire on the absurdist extent of the irrepressible invasion of technology, urbanization and modernity into our lives. The resulting work, achieved through elaborately conceived and exorbitantly expensive sets known as ‘Tativille’ (which caused severe budget overruns and production delays), painted a dystopian picture of a near-future Paris. The ravishingly photographed film – shot in muted color palettes and making exquisite use of reflections and visual deceptions – begins with an extraordinary low-key section with Tati’s indelible and bemused protagonist, Hulot, trapped in a maze-like, hyper-modernist all-glass office space trying, in futility, to get in touch with the man (Georges Montant) he’s come to meet. However that, and a couple of subsequent idiosyncratic sections apart – wandering across a bizarre Trade Exhibition, and getting invited into a ludicrously impersonal studio apartment of an old friend – Hulot became almost a side-character in the fabulous restaurant sequence that comprised nearly the entire second half. An upscale restaurant, which isn’t really ready for its opening night, formed the melting pot for all the key characters introduced in prior sequences – including a wide-eyed tourist (Barbara Dennek) who wants to capture the real joys of Paris and who Hulot develops a soft spot for – as it spectacularly falls apart, albeit oblivious to the gregarious and intoxicated patrons swirling in mad anarchy, and provided for an array of hilarious and ingenious gags.

p.s. This is a revisit. My earlier review of the film can be found here.

Director: Jacques Tati
Genre: Comedy/Satire/Avant-Garde Film
Language: French
Country: France

Saturday 19 January 2019

Mon Oncle [1958]

The French visual stylist, satirist and comic genius Jacques Tati’s memorable film persona Monsieur Hulot – a gentle, eccentric, gauche, flummoxed, bumbling, perpetually distracted and anachronistic man with an overcoat, pipe, bent posture and distinctive walk – made his first appearance in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, though its seeds were already there in Jour de Fête. However, it was in Mon Oncle that Tati’s signature satirizing of an increasingly modernized and impersonal urban milieu, and associated existential incongruities, reached its most fabulous expression – in terms of hilarious and undeniably ingenuous gags and set-pieces, as well as sharp jabs at our getting irrevocably trapped by fancy gadgets, automations, connected homes and in turn not just being stripped of the little pleasures, but also, ironically, losing one’s freedom too. Hulot is the titular uncle of Gérard (Alain Bécourt), a mischievous kid, who lives with his parents – the father (Jean-Pierre Zola) is a senior executive at a huge firm manufacturing plastic pipes, while the mother (Adrienne Servantie) is obsessed with their “smart home” – in Villa Arpel, a hyper-modern, outrageously pretentious and surreal-looking rectangular concrete-and-glass edifice. The Arpels and their idiosyncratic neighbours’ outlandish lives formed droll contradictions to the crumbling, absurd-looking house where Hulot resides and the adjoining chaotic, messy and overcrowded neighbourhood peopled with quirky, carefree folks – a street sweeper who does everything but that, an obese grocer whose decrepit car if over-filled with old instruments, street brawls being settled over drinks in the local tavern, kids having fun by distracting passers-by, etc. The neurotic irreverence of Hulot, who shares a heartwarming relation with Gérard, starts putting into disarray the Arpels’ absurdly meticulous existence, which formed a key tenet of this farcical, colourful and whimsical gem.

p.s. This is a revisit. My earlier review of this film can be found here.

Director: Jacques Tati
Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Slapstick
Language: French
Country: France

Saturday 12 January 2019

Roma [2018]

Alfonso Cuarón, who’s made films on diverse genres – saucy sex comedies (Y Tu Mama Tambien), grim sci-fi dramas (Children of Men), extravagant space thrillers (Gravity), etc., had followed similar paths as his famous compadres Del Toro and Iñárritu, who’d started fabulously in Mexico before being lured by Hollywood. Hence it was quite delightful to see him go back to his point of origin – as a filmmaker and as a person – in the ravishingly beautiful and deeply personal semi-autobiographical film Roma. Shot with exquisite finesse in visually spellbinding monochrome, the Golden Lion-winning movie takes us back to the filmmaker’s memories of growing up in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood in Mexico City during the politically turbulent early-1970s, and paints a heartwarming love-letter to the housemaid who took care of him and his siblings during their childhood. The film’s central protagonist is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a soft-spoken and gentle-natured maid, who, apart from her domestic responsibilities, also takes care of the 4 boisterous kids of Sofia (Marina de Tavira), who’s on severe psychological stress on account of her crumbling marriage. Cleo’s mundane existence, however, faces a jolt when she becomes pregnant, but her fiancé doesn’t just run out on her, he might even be training as a member of Los Halcones (The Falcons), a notorious paramilitary group tasked with the job of repressing protests and demonstrations. The bloody Corpus Christi massacre – a dark episode in the country’s recent past which occurred during the Mexican Dirty War – breathtakingly captured in perhaps the movie’s most memorable set-piece – provided a terrific counterpoint to the storyline’s muted domesticity. Spectacular long-takes through gently roving cameras, lack of non-diagetic sounds and naturalistic acting added undeniable technical virtuosity to this observant, meditative, quietly affecting and atypical Cuarón gem.

Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Genre: Semi-Autobiographical Drama/Family Drama
Language: Spanish
Country: Mexico