Sunday 30 June 2019

Eraserhead [1977]

David Lynch made a groundbreaking debut in the context of indie and defiantly non-mainstream cinema – and, in turn, established himself as someone who’s committed to perennially operate outside conventional yardsticks – with the low-budget, surrealistic and nightmarish Eraserhead. Made over a period of 7 years, and shot in grainy and expressionistic B/W, the discomfiting, strangely hypnotic, darkly funny and heavily experimental body horror film presented a bleak and grimy vision of urban industrial grunge and dystopia. Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a blank-faced and mild-mannered man with an outrageous hairdo, lives with his girlfriend Mary (Charlotte Stewart) in a cramped, claustrophobic apartment located in the middle of an industrial wasteland. Upon returning home one day he’s informed by his sultry next door neighbor (Judith Anna Roberts) that Mary has gone to her parents’ and he’s invited there for dinner. There, in what was for me the film’s most deliriously memorable sequence, he meets Mary’s hilariously oddball parents over a bizarre dinner, and is informed in a rather awkward fashion that Mary has given birth to their child; as is eventually revealed, the child is an grotesque looking creature with a reptilian head and bandages serving as its skin. Despite its “unnatural” appearance – what is “natural” and conventional in a world obsessed with normalcy and conformism, possibly remains the film’s most incisive indication – Henry develops a surprising soft corner for the mutated baby; however, when Mary is driven out, in a moment of crazy fit, by the baby’s incessant wailing, and a possible tryst with his luscious neighbor remains unfulfilled, his fragile outer and chaotic inner worlds collapse into a miry, outlandish cesspool that made the film’s weirdness quotient crash through the ceiling.

Director: David Lynch
Genre: Body Horror/Surrealist Film/Experimental Film
Language: English
Country: US

Wednesday 26 June 2019

A Woman Is a Woman (Une Femme est une Femme) [1961]

A Woman is a Woman, Godard’s fabulous third feature following his seminal debut film Breathless and the politically ebullient The Little Soldier, had the Nouvelle Vague iconoclast at his most irreverent, cheeky, alive and buoyant – achieving, in the process, a delicate and delectable balance between modernism and accessibility. The delightful, infectious, experimental and freewheeling “neo-realist musical” – a deliberately self-contradictory description by the ever-mischievous provocateur – provided for an ingenuous deconstruction of the American musical genre; the highly improvisational film, which Godard made over just 5 weeks, including penning down the dialogues in between shots and filming in natural sound, therefore forms, for me, an interesting double-bill with Lars von Trier’s bleak and brilliant revisionist musical Dancer in the Dark. The teasing plot comprised of a ménage à trois between Angéla (Anna Karina), an exotic dancer in a strip joint, her live-in partner and lover Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy, bearing an eerie resemblance to Jean-Pierre Léaud) and his best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Angéla suddenly realizes that she wants a baby; but, when Émile continues to be hesitant and non-committal despite her ardent persistence, she starts providing coy invitations to Alfred who holds a candle for her. The film’s tonal exuberance and formal joie de vivre were complemented by its dazzling colour palettes, melodic choreography, and the series of hilarious gags, puns, wordplays and deadpan meta-humour that it was filled to brim with. The chemistry between the three leads was terrific, but the focal point, without doubt, was Karina’s sassy and enchanting turn. It also had brief but delectable appearances by the irresistible Jeanne Moreau and the affable Marie Dubois, while referencing to Truffaut’s Jules & Jim and Shoot the Piano Player.

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Genre: Comedy/Romantic Comedy/Musical
Language: French
Country: France

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Lost Highway [1997]

Maverick filmmaker David Lynch conjured a quintessential Lynchian universe – a deliriously and hypnotically mind-bending mix of alternate versions of reality, hellish dreams and repressed desires – with the masterful Mulholland Drive. Lost Highway presaged that with such an eerie sense of déjà vu through stylistic and thematic resemblances, even if it didn’t have the same richness, that the two ought to be clubbed as companion pieces. And hence, with its wildly unpredictable neo-noir plot which boldly traversed a surrealistic Möbius strip – accompanied with dramatic shifts in the character and narrative dynamics – it certainly had Lynch’s signature all over it. The film sedately started off with a wealthy LA couple – saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his coy wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) – in a polite but tenuous marriage; it’s obvious from the outset that Fred finds himself inadequate to his buxom wife, and, perhaps for that reason, also suspects her having extramarital affairs. The situation becomes trickier when it appears that someone is possibly spying on them, and things soon take a bloody turn with Renee’s murder and capital punishment for Fred. The narrative, then, took a startling turn as we see Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), a young auto-mechanic who still lives with his parents, falling crazily head over heels and being drawn into a torrid affair with a mysterious older lady – an irresistible platinum blond femme fatale (Arquette), and the mistress of a dangerous gangster (Robert Loggia) – who’s possibly using her brazen sexual power to make the naïve guy do her odious bidding. And, when the two divergent strands collide, one realizes that the latter might just have been a representation of the cuckolded Fred’s repressed fantasies and desires.

Director: David Lynch
Genre:Neo-Noir/Crime Thriller/Surrealist Thriller
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday 16 June 2019

Chernobyl [2019]

The riveting HBO miniseries Chernobyl – which took off from Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl – had, at its core, a deeply haunting tenet that was not just relevant here, but is incredibly prescient across nations and eras – half-truths and lies that nation-states resort to in order to project a false veneer of itself to the world outside and to its gullible people within. And, in its gripping, multi-angled depiction of the Chernobyl disaster, the massive cleanup activities that followed in its aftermaths and, ultimately, its gargantuan human, environmental and economic costs, also makes this a frighteningly cautionary exercise on the ticking time bomb that nuclear energy is. The miniseries, comprising of five episodes, opened along the lines of a fatalistic Cold War thriller as we see the eminent Soviet chemist Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) – now a pariah of the State apparatus – performing his final act of dissent before hanging himself. The narrative then shifts 2 years back to 1986, starting with the catastrophic accident – which those in charge tried their best to downplay and even hide from the world outside – followed by the humongous job to first douse the meltdown and then limit its horrific impact. The task is led by the melancholic Legasov and the world-weary career politician Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård), and they’re joined by a dogged nuclear physicist (Emily Watson) hell-bent find out the truth. The moody, slow-burning and fabulously enacted show (the Harris- Skarsgård chemistry was especially memorable) compellingly portrayed the various players involved – the politicos, the KGB represented by its cynical Deputy Chairman (Alan Williams), the plant engineers helmed by the volatile Dyatlov (Paul Ritter), and the valiant aid provided by firemen, coal miners and countless other volunteers in this discomfiting endeavor.

Director: Johan Renck / Created by: Craig Mazin
Genre: TV Miniseries/Historical Drama/Political Drama/Docufiction
Language: English
Country: US / UK

Wednesday 12 June 2019

Open Tee Bioscope [2015]

The Bengali music band Chandrabindu wonderfully complements humour with nostalgic evocations that may be referred to as ‘Bangaliana’ (the pop-cultural equivalent of Americana, perhaps). The debut directorial venture of Anindya Chatterjee (one of the band’s prime vocalists and songwriters), Open Tee Bioscope, thus, as one may anticipate, is packed with flavours and memories of growing up in a milieu that’s distinctively ‘Old Calcutta’ – narrow meandering lanes, dilapidated colonial-era mansions, the co-existence of Karl Marx and lumpen proletariat, a love for football extending from “India’s Maradona” Krishanu Dey to Tele Santana’s Brazil, the ‘para’ (community) spirit, lamentations on ‘good ol’ days’ by the old-timers, and the act of growing up relived through tinted glasses. Understandably, it’s easy for a film like this to fall into the trap of sentimentality and clichés. While it does have these flaws, to the director’s credit he nevertheless managed to create ‘a simple tale simple told’ through a series of lovingly etched tableaus that made this enjoyable despite some of its unevenness. The coming-of-age tale’s protagonist is a troubled teenager (Riddhi Sen) haunted by memories of his dead footballer father and having a complicated relationship with his single mother (Sudipta Chakraborty) due to her potentially quid pro quo connection with a slimy local political leader (a top-notch Kaushik Sen). Three developments help in his transition – his friendship with a group of fun-loving street urchins; his falling in love with the girl who, unlike him, belongs to a ‘bhadralok’ bourgeois family; and his unlikely camaraderie with an ageing and volatile former football coach (Rajatava Dutta). The film comprises of quirky moments and characters, albeit tad forced at times, and an excellent soundtrack capturing both fun and melancholia.

Director: Anindya Chatterjee
Genre: Comedy-Drama/Buddy Film/Urban Drama/Coming-of-Age
Language: Bengali
Country: India