Thursday 30 January 2020

If Beale Street Could Talk [2018]

If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ luminous adaptation of James Baldwin’s searing novel, is an affecting romantic drama, an elegiac coming-of-age film and a poignant family ode; but, these were overriden by, and added further meanings to, by an overarching theme that’s as universal as it’s local, viz. racial prejudice, discrimination, abuse and injustice. The noxious history of racism, the heroic civil rights struggle that attained fever pitch during the 60s and 70s, and the accompanying zeitgeist, formed the film’s dominant canvas and imbued it with a stirring sense of here-and-now; and this transformed the story of its protagonists into a microscopic representation of the times itself. The opening quote from Baldwin, viz. “Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street”, and the rousing B/W pictures that Jenkins sparingly used, emphatically underlined that point. Fonny (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne) are a young African-American couple belonging to working class New York families. He’s acutely aware of the systemic and collective racism surrounding them, but they love each other and hope to carve a future of their own when, after multiple unsuccessful attempts, they finally finds a deserted warehouse space which they can turn into an apartment so that they can marry and move in together. However, their lives come crashing when he’s accused of rape based on false evidences by a bigoted cop, while she’s pregnant with their child. Filmed with empathy, sensitivity and deep social concern, filled with soft visual textures and a melancholic score interspersed with jazz, and comprising of exquisite turns by all (including the terrific support cast), the film succeeded in counterpointing their personal tragedy with the broader context.

Director: Barry Jenkins
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Family Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday 26 January 2020

The Wild Pear Tree [2018]

Turkish maestro Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s magnificent The Wild Pear Tree is filled with intriguing contradictions – deep intimacy that belied its epic 3-hour length, a discursive and rambling narrative that was also curiously engrossing, and seamless interplay between seriousnes and wry, brittle humour. Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol), an aspiring writer who’s just finished college, returns to his hometown Çan where he hopes to publish his “quirky auto-fiction meta novel” that he’s completed. As he drifts in a state of suspension, he engages in a diverse mix of meandering conversations – with his father (Murat Cemcir), a kindly man and ageing teacher addicted to gambling; his mother (Bennu Yıldırımlar) who alternates between her weary and caring sides; the town mayor who he approaches to help publish his novel; a greasy “patron of arts” who prefers books trumpeting the town’s historical angles instead of a low-key chronicle of its people’s mundane existence; a couple of demogagues with their interpretations of religion, etc. His interactions with his misunderstood father, with whom he finds himself at odds, and his embittered mother, formed the film’s most powerful crux. And, while every conversation added enriching layers to the film’s thematic excursions and Sinai’s complex nature – which alternated between sober, melancholic, cynical, passive-aggressive, arrogant and even vitrolic – two stood out in their brilliance and seething volatility – with a striking former flame who craves for freedom from the rut around her, and a well-known writer with whom the conversation powerfully imploded from besumed banter to an increasingly lacerating, provocative and confrontational argument. Stunning overhead and panoramic landscape shots, and mininalist usage of a gently elegiac score, deftly laced the film’s quietly afecting undercurrents of disillusionment and reconciliation.

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Family Drama
Language: Turkish
Country: Turkey

Friday 24 January 2020

Right Now, Wrong Then [2015]

Hong Sang-soo, as is often joked, makes the same film over and over again; yet, interestingly, this seeming repititiveness has been the canvas for his subtle formalist explorations on the medium’s narrative and meta-narrative nuances, including the relative nature of truth. Right Now, Wrong Then, therefore, brilliantly served as an ingenuous, deadpan and disarmingly self-reflexive gag by the Korean auteur, along with being a cheeky subversion of cinematic possibilities, through staging the same eventflow twice, but with increasingly perceptive differences and divergences so that, by the end, the two versions couldn’t be more disparate and distinct despite the broad similaritites. An arthouse filmmaker (Jung Jae-young), who’s visiting Suwon to present his work, strikes conversation with a lonesome young woman (Kim Min-hee) – a paintern and former model – who’s caught his attention; over the course of the day, they chat about themselves at a café, visit her garret to see her attempts at painting, casually flirt while getting drunk at a tavern and attend an intimate get-together later in the evening. There was, evidently, a sense of fakery in the man in the 1st version which got stripped off to her eyes at the evening party; in the 2nd, on the contrary, he was blunt and unpredictable, which, ironically, also quietly enhanced their intimacy. The film’s formal playfulness was reminiscent of Virgin Stripped Bare by her Suitors – just that, while in the latter the narratives diverged based on the character’s POV, here it was the director’s own perspective at play. And yes, it had liberal usage of Hong’s trademark pan-zooms and a number of unobtrusive long single takes, including couple of enthralling ones capturing their rambling yet pivotal café conversation sequences.

Director: Hong Sang-soo
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Avant-Garde
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea

Wednesday 22 January 2020

1917 [2019]

Sam Mendes’ flamboyantly mounted WW1 epic 1917 is packed with cinematic extravaganza, in its penchant for dramatic storytelling, operatic picturization of war and also befuddling viewers with technical wizardry. Consequently, the intent for immersive viewing experience got muddled with predictability and gimmickry. The narrative kicks off when Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are entrusted with delivering a message to another battalion to halt their planned attack against the Germans who’re mistakenly assumed to be on retreat, but essentially waiting to wreak massacre; the fact that Blake’s elder brother is in that battalion made this as much a personal mission for him as a patriotic duty (the premise was similar to Saving Private Ryan). This inanely absurd task, albeit one bound to end largely in success despite the outlandish challenges, was taken into the realms of a video game through deliberately placed hurdles, including a German bunker sitting on a ticking bomb, a dogfight ending at their footsteps, foot chase through a town straight out of Dante’s Inferno, and surviving a raging waterfall. And then there’re oodles of cloying sentimentality thrown in too, thus conveniently amplifying Blake’s humanist idealism and mellowing Schofield’s cynicism. Making use of stunning SFX wherein multiple shots weare artificially stitched into a seemingly unbroken single-take lasting the film’s 2-hour duration, it therefore turned out as a spectacularly shot war movie providing a typical rehash of “heroism” and “duty before self”, instead of one that delves into the madness, senselessness, moral ambiguities, ironies, banalities, and other gray complexities therein. That said, the initial part of their odyssey painted a visceral and disorienting vision of purgatory, which strikingly captured the urgliness and brutality of war.

Director: Sam Mendes
Genre: War/Epic
Language: English
Country: UK

Sunday 12 January 2020

Daguerréotypes [1975]

Agnès Varda had resided for many years in Rue Daguerre, a lively market street in Paris’ 14th Arrondisement and Montparnasse district named after the pioneering inventor of photographic process Louis Daguerre, since moving in here as a young photographer herself. Awash in nostalgia and amusing reflections, Daguerréotypes was her loving homage to this fascinating, chaotic, demographically diverse, working class neighbourhood, filled with gentle observations on the simple-natured, hard-working, blue-collared folks – middle-aged and ageing couples and immigrants from various parts of France and beyond –  who own and run the small shops, stores and establishments situated along its pavements. Selling everything from perfumes and haberdashery to bakery items and meat products, running salons for men and women, tailoring dresses, repairing old clocks, and providing music and driving lessons to the young and the old, this was the kind of closely-knit community where everyone knew everybody’s histories, the local sounds and smells were integral parts of their existences, and time flew at its own sweet speed – the kind of irresistible, albeit largely vanished, time capsule that Tati had immortalized in Mon Oncle. The documentary comprises of a collage of candid scenes of daily life – each day being almost like any other random day – with people buying home-made perfumes, baguettes, sirloin steaks and whatnot, partaking lessons in musical instruments and traffic rules, chatting with each other on the streets and within the shops, and going about in their quotidian tasks; it also has heartwarming interactions with these people and descriptions of them through voiceover by Varda herself, and a rather funny magic show too. Accompanied by the lilting tunes of accordion, this sepia-toned, warm-hearted mosaic portrayed the poetry and beauty within the banal.

Director: Agnes Varda
Genre: Documentary
Language: French
Country: France