Tuesday 27 August 2019

Emergency Kisses (Les Baisers de Secours) [1989]

Philippe Garrel’s fascinating, intimate and masterful faux-auto-biographical movie Emergency Kisses – a continuation from L’Enfant Secret with which he’d formally begun his journey into blurring personal and cinematic realities, boundaries and spaces – can indeed be said to have put ‘meta’ into metafiction. How about considering this as the premise of this delightful and distinctively French work basking in deadpan irony – a filmmaker is making a film about his wife and himself; however, she gets intensely annoyed when, even though she’s an actress herself, he decides to cast another actress in her role in the film he’s making; and thus begins a period of separation between the couple as she construes his decision as a sign of infidelity, accuses him with following stinging words: “You don’t love me, you love my role”, and even beds a stranger. And here’s where things got darn interesting and a whole lot more ironic as all the key characters have been portrayed by the Garrel clan – the filmmaker within the film was played by Philippe, his onscreen wife was marvelously played by his then wife Brigette Sy; their then 7-year old son Louis Garrel played their onscreen son for whom they finally reconcile their cinematic marriage, even if their actual marriage didn’t ultimately survive; and Philippe’s actor-father Maurice Garrel also offers him sagacious advices to wade through his marital turmoil. Strikingly shot in grainy B/W filled with shadows and soft close-ups, and an irresistible and melancholic sax-based score imbuing it with poetic moodiness, this bewitching work ended with a reunion with filmmaker-couple friends – peppered with droll observations amidst a freewheeling conversation over a dinner at a café – that furthered its cool sensibilities and deftly self-reflexive touch.

Director: Philippe Garrel
Genre: Drama/Marital Drama
Language: French
Country: France

Saturday 24 August 2019

All About My Mother [1999]

Almodovar began an incredible creative run with the profoundly affecting, searing and multi-layered masterpiece All About My Mother (this was followed by Talk to Her, Bad Education, Volver, Broken Embraces). The lushly beautiful, visually sumptuous, emotionally ravishing and thematically rich film, with a mesmeric interplay between bawdy humour and heartbreaking melancholia, tackled complex subjects with disarming ease – gender identity, homosexuality, AIDS, prostitution, marital fidelity, familial estrangement, feminism, grief and regrets. Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a nurse and single mother, is struck by cataclysmic loss when her loving son Esteban (Eloy Azorin) is accidentally killed right after a memorable theatrical viewing of A Streetcar Named Desire – it starred stage actress Huma (Marisa Paredes) who her son admired, and she had herself played the protagonist during her younger days. Manuela severs ties with Madrid and shifts to Barcelona in search of Lola (Toni Cantó), a trans-woman who was her husband many years back, as neither Lola nor Esteban were aware of the other’s existence. In her journey back to a part of her life that she’d long left behind, she bonds with unforgettable women who, for varying reasons, are all outsiders – Huma, in an affair with fellow actress (Candela Peña) who’s a drug-addict; Rosa (Penélope Cruz), a vulnerable nun who helps sex workers and has become HIV+ after becoming pregnant with Lola; and Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a witty, vivacious transsexual prostitute. Packed with dazzling performances led by the riveting Roth, framed with vibrant colours, set to an intoxicating soundtrack, comprising of elaborate fade-ins and dissolves often leading to dream-like superimposition of images, and filled with infectious joie de vivre, this was a stunning triumph by a maestro at the pinnacle of his artistic prowess.

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Genre: Drama/Comedy/Ensemble Film
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain

Thursday 22 August 2019

Adoption [1975]

Hungarian filmmaker Márta Mészáros, who’s best known for her profound, haunting, politically powerful and intensely personal masterwork ‘Diary Tetralogy’ – comprising of Diary for My Children, Diary for My Lovers, Diary for My Father and Mother and Little Vilma – achieved a key landmark by becoming the first woman filmmaker to win the prestigious Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival with her movie Adoption. Unlike the ‘Diary’-series, which had an absorbing scope both thematically and temporally, this was a tightly focused tale set over a few days and centered around 2 women – Kata (Katalin Berek), a 43-year old widowed working-class woman who’s employed in a state-owned factory, lives alone in a small cottage in the countryside, is in a clandestine relationship with a married man, and is keen to become a mother; and Anna (Gyöngyvér Vigh), a disaffected girl in her late teens who lives in a state orphanage as she has been abandoned by her parents, and hopes to run away from it in order to marry the guy she’s in love with, but, ironically, needs her parents’ consent to do so. The two forms a bond, as the latter needs help for her affair to proceed, while the lonely middle-aged Katya finds her fading hopes for motherhood, and perhaps friendship too, kindled. The seeming contrasts aside, this too was filled with, like the afore-mentioned series, affecting and intimate portrayals on deftly developed female characters, and had a stirring feminist subtext. Filled with candid close-ups in soft B/W captured through a gently roving camera, and interspersed with a beautiful, melancholic score, this contemplative exercise in social realism remains a matured and naturalistic exploration of social emancipation and womanhood.

Director: Marta Meszaros
Genre: Drama/Social Drama
Language: Hungarian
Country: Hungary

Saturday 17 August 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood [2019]

Quentin Tarantino’s 10th film (or 9th, depending on how one considers the delirious Kill Bill volumes), Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, had the maverick provocateur’s signature all over it – digressions, narrative pyrotechnics, gradual build-up to gleeful mayhem, and using cinema to explore myths and deconstruct history (something he started with the enormously entertaining Inglourious Basterds). And, it also formed a troika of sorts with the revisionist Django Unchained and the fabulous The Hateful Eight in his continued fascination with the Western framework. The film’s two central protagonists – Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a former Western star whose on a perceptible decline, and his stunt-double, odd-job man and buddy Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) – are increasingly moving towards obsolescence with the changing sociocultural order; their anachronism is also reflected in their casual disdain for the here-and-now – be it Spaghetti Westerns or the then bristling political climate. Meanwhile, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), upcoming actress and Roman Polanski’s wife, has moved in as Rick’s neighbour – and, as one would anticipate, the sprawling narrative, despite its incredibly broad canvas, ultimately builds to the notorious murders by the Manson Family… only that, things don’t turn out exactly the way history unfolded. While the intricate structure, meditative pacing, terrific chemistry between the film’s two heavy-duty stars, free-flowing metatextuality, and self-reflexive wit, made this a superb piece of craftsmanship, I was also disturbed by its political subtexts – the infectious portrayal of “Pussycat” (Margaret Qualley) apart, the muscular disparaging of the counterculture movement reeked of regressive conservatism. However, one could argue that this was a double subversion – a slap to neocon fantasy fulfilment reflective of the Old-New divide during the turbulent 60s – and that added to the text’s ambiguity.

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Genre: Drama/Social Satire/Showbiz Comedy/Ensemble Film
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday 15 August 2019

L'Enfant Secret (The Secret Child) [1979]

L’Enfant Secret marked a momentous turning point in Philippe Garrel’s filmography, as he transitioned towards personal, memoirist filmmaking, and went on to make a series of deeply autobiographical works culled out of his relationships, craft and politics. Garrel had a decade-long love affair with German singer, actress and pop icon Nico – she acted in 7 of his films during this period – and memories of this turbulent, transformative relationship formed the central tenet of this intimate and melancholic film. The circular narrative covers the affecting, tumultuous and ultimately doomed affair between Jean-Baptiste (Henri de Maublanc), a pensive filmmaker, and Elie (Anne Wiazemsky – the unforgettable girl from Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar), an intermittent actress and fragile single mom – they meet at a countryside retreat and move in together to his tiny flat in Paris; his foray into politics, involvement with drugs, and tryst with psychological breakdown and shock therapy; her tussle between her son (the title was a reference to Nico’s child with Alain Delon – who, apparently, had refused to recognize him) and her desire to be free; the emotional impact of her mother’s death, and her growing dependency on drugs to cope with her existential crisis. Despite the emotional upheavals, this tone poem was laced with a brittle tranquility through Garrel’s poetic imbuing of it with the form of a diary film – ravishing, moody, shadowy, grainy B/W photography; preponderance of dialogue-free sequences and inaction; and a haunting, cathartic score based on piano and violin. The movie’s brilliant final scene – where, in a bravura single take, the glass wall of a café provides us, alternately, a peek into the interiors and views behind the camera through reflection – was a moment of cinematic virtuosity.

Director: Philippe Garrel
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Diary Film/Experimental Film
Language: French
Country: France