Tuesday 10 September 2019

I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore [1991]

Philippe Garrel crafted a magnificent example of personal filmmaking – thematically and formally – with the haunting, introspective and intensely self-critical masterpiece I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore. This extraordinary chapter in his faux autobiographical series, which he’d begun with L’Enfant Secret and Emergency Kisses, touched upon diverse subtexts – impermanence, the veneer of marital bliss, reconciliations between past and present, how time often converts a bohemian into a bourgeois before one even realizes it. Melancholic and subtly affecting, yet avowedly unsentimental in its portrayal of complex transitions in relationships, it was lacerating in its self-infliction on incredibly personal memories. Dedicated to his former lover Nico, the German pop-icon with whom he had a decade-long affair, the film chronicled their turbulent journey filled with emotional upheavals and poignant intimacy, including trysts with reckless freedom, disregard for conventional mores, heroin addiction, moments of doubt and insecurity, falling apart, and futile attempts at moving on. Johanna ter Steege gave an unforgettable turn as the frizzy-haired, freckled, impulsive, self-destructive and tragically beautiful Marianne, with whom Gérard (Benoît Régent) has a doomed affair. When their relationship collapses, he gets married to Aline (in a courageous turn by Garrel’s then-wife Brigitte Sy) – but Marianne continues to haunt both even in her absence, and more so when she makes a fleeting reappearance into their lives that ends up putting in disarray the fragile equilibrium in their domestic bliss, ironically presaging Garrel and Sy’s real-life marital dissolution as well. Shot in muted, washed out colours, and set to a low-key, mournful score, I was almost expecting Leonard Cohen’s heartbreaking So Long Marianne to be played as the end credits rolled for this alternately blazing and poetic pièce de résistance.

Director: Philippe Garrel
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Marital Drama/Film a Clef
Language: French
Country: France

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Volver [2006]

Almodóvar crafted a gem suffused with intimacy, seductive beauty, melancholic pangs, heartbreaking moments, strong feminist undertones and a teasing hint of magic realism, with the charming and engrossing Volver. While it might not appear to have same degree of jaw-dropping bravura as All About My Mother had, it nevertheless formed a fabulous combo with the latter in the way it celebrated womanhood, in its assured use of melodrama to capture the characters’ neuroses and pathos, and in the string of difficult and discomfiting themes it covered, albeit cloaked with a delectable layer of joie de vivre – viz. sexual abuse, pedophilia, unreconciled memories, complex familial bonds, mortality, grief and loss. The intricately weaved tale is centered on its ensemble working-class women characters – Raimunda (Penélope Cruz), a striking, luscious, straight-talking and enterprising woman who, through a mix of smarts, allure, doggedness and culinary skills, must financially survive and also protect her daughter (Yohana Cobo) who’s accidentally committed a murder; her naïve, fidgety sister Sole (Lola Dueñas) who runs a beauty parlour in her tiny apartment; their gentle-natured mother Irene (the former Almodóvar regular Carmen Maura) who died 5 years back in a fire accident and whose ghost has returned to reconnect with her daughters; and Raimunda’s childhood friend Agustina (Blanca Portillo) who’s afflicted with cancer and is searching in futility for her hippie mother who’s been missing for years. Luminously photographed, comprising of a sumptuous score, and set in the La Mancha region where the Spanish giant was born, this sensual, infectious and warm-hearted film contains excellent turns by all, led by a magnificent performance by Cruz in the way she effortlessly complemented toughness of spirit with deep emotional vulnerabilities.

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

Monday 2 September 2019

Sacred Games (Season 2) [2019]

The moody, compelling Season 1 of the Netflix original Sacred Games had laid out a sprawling, operatic, politically provocative and immensely addictive double-narrative centered around its two protagonists – sidelined Mumbai cop Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) defiant on unraveling a potential terror threat; and the turbulent, spectacular journey of Bombay don Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). The 2nd season continued from where it left off as the two strands – the present and the past – gradually and inevitably merge. Sartaj, who’s now heading the against-the-clock investigation, starts connecting the murky dots which leads him to an enigmatic religious cult, a promiscuous pedagogue (Kalki Koechlin), a hyper-nationalist rabble rouser (Girish Kulkarni) and his deceased father. Gaitonde’s eventful saga, meanwhile, continues 1994 onwards as he’s banished to Mombasa where he becomes a mobster as well as a henchman on leash for dogged, poker-faced Intelligence Officer Kusum (Amruta Subhash), begins a strangely affecting telephonic affair with the sassy, foul-mouthed madam (Surveen Chawla) of a high-end brothel, and becomes drawn towards a sinister Hindutva “guru” (Pankaj Tripathi) who’s harbouring apocalyptic plans. While Nawaz continued to be arresting as the hilariously crude, eccentric and increasingly contemplative force of nature, Saif was excellent too in portraying Sartaj’s dilemmas, loneliness and grief over estrangement with his wife (Anupriya Goenka). And, while Tripathi, Kulkarni and Neeraj Kabi (as a corrupt cop) were good as always, Subhash and Chawla provided the standout performances this time around. Though still operatic, sprawling, politically provocative and addictive, the 2nd season lacked the wicked humour, gleeful unpredictability, frenetic energy and grimy pull of the 1st season. That, combined with the overused trope of a mastermind villain keen on nuking mankind for its own good, made this comparatively more formulaic and banal.

Director: Anurag Kashyap, Neeraj Ghaywan
Genre: Crime Thriller/Gangster/Political Thriller/Police Procedural/TV Series
Language: Hindi
Country: India