Saturday 30 May 2020

La Flor [2018]

A decade in the making and having a staggering runtime of 13 ½ hours, Argentine filmmaker Mariano Llinás’ playful, episodic, unpredictable, eccentric and wildly ambitious La Flor is a work of unbridled love and gargantuan audacity. Straddling across genres, formally adventurous, and comprising of a freewheeling structure – which the director explains with a deadpan demeanour – this was also a fascinating canvas for its four lead actresses (Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, Laura Paredes) who aged over the film’s duration while enacting diverse characters, including flummoxed researchers, jealous musicians, turncoat spies, medieval seductresses, irritable actresses and aimless wanderers. The narrative is split into six chapters of unequal lengths that either begin or end in medias res – the truncated 1st episode, made in the mould of a B-movie, is about a cursed mummy unearthed by archeologists; the 2nd episode, a boldly passionate melodrama, is part musical on an emotionally ravaged pop diva and part mystery involving scorpions, and comprises of stunning songs; the extraordinary 3rd episode and pièce de résistance, is a murky, melancholic, existentialist, multi-linear and breathtaking 5 ½ hour spy thriller concerning four triple agents on the run with a kidnapped scientist, interspersed with their ravishingly delineated backstories; the confounding and meta-infused 4th episode starts with a parody of the film itself, and evolves into a befuddling film and film within the film; the 5th episode, a silent B/W short, is a revisit of Renoir’s A Day in the Country; and the moody 6th episode, hauntingly shot using camera obscura, is a diary on a group of women who’ve just escaped captivity. And the final cheeky coup de grâce? – the 40 minute long end credits, accompanied with the lilting melody of an improvisational song.

Director: Mariano Llinas
Genre: Drama/Thriller/Spy Thriller/Musical/Avant-Garde Film
Language: Spanish/French/Catalan/German/Russian
Country: Argentina

Thursday 28 May 2020

The Kid with a Bike [2011]

The Dardenne brothers’ brand of social realist cinema is at once an expression of deep empathy and compassion for the working class and the underprivileged, simmering statements of defiance and anger aimed at the status quo, and layered portrayals of human relationships and frailties through a form that’s restrained and expressly unsentimental. The Kid with a Bike, with its theme of parental abandonment, disenchantment and social readjustments, is yet another fine elucidation of that. 12-year old Cyril (Thomas Doret) was taken into a Liège children's home upon being left in the lurch a month back by his irresponsible single father Guy (Jérémie Renier), a cook at a small restaurant struggling to make ends meet. Despite all indications suggesting that Guy has no intentions of taking him back – he’s in fact decided to sever all ties by making himself as unreachable to Cyril as possible – the young boy refuses to accept this harsh rejection, and keeps making one frantic attempt after another at establishing contact. Only when he’s befriended by Samantha (Cécile de France) – a lovely, patient and warmhearted coiffeuses, who even accepts him into her home – does this troubled, vulnerable and emotionally fraught kid finally start coming to terms with his painful rejection and new reality. Filmed in their quintessentially spare and rigorous cinema verité style, and comprising of naturalistic turns by both Doret and France, it’s a film that’s poignant yet hopeful, and dismal yet redemptive. Incidentally, in a choice laced with dark irony, Renier had played the pitiful dad in the Dardennes’ marvelous and tragic earlier film L’Enfant as well where he’d made the disastrous decision of ridding his baby as means to escape financial distress.

Director: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Urban Drama
Language: French
Country: Belgium

Monday 25 May 2020

The Look of Silence [2014]

White Terror, through anti-communist genocides by fascist governments and repressive military juntas, have happened across the globe over the 20th century, from Spain and Greece to Chile and Argentina to Korea and Taiwan, and elsewhere. However, Nazi Germany aside, few countries have perhaps experienced the kind of grisly mass killings that happened in Indonesia upon the Suharto military dictatorship’s 1965 coup d'état. With The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer had made an intensely disturbing and provocative documentary on the killing squads, who still roam the streets with elan, proudly reliving and even enacting their ghastly massacres. It formed a daring diptych with its powerful companion piece The Look of Silence in their eerily complementary themes, styles and tones – the focus here was on the victims as opposed to the perpetrators, and hence, in place of the lurid portrayals and narrative flamboyance of the former, this was restrained, brutally straightforward and exuded deep suffering. Therefore, while it might’ve been shadowed by the former’s formal ingenuity, it was ethically less troubling and more profoundly affecting for me. The docu’s principle subject is Adi Rukum, a proletarian optometrist in his 40s, whose elder brother Ramli was barbarously tortured and murdered by death squad members, many of whom were their neighbours and some have even become high-ranking officials. Hoping, albeit in futility, to sense a shred of guilt and regret in those men, and hence perhaps get some sort of closure, he engages in candid interactions with them and their families. The quiet power, silent courage and pained conviction that this mild-mannered man displays, along with the sobering reiteration of man’s infinite capacity for evil, is bound to leave one shaken and haunted.

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Genre: Documentary/Political Documentary
Language: Indonesian
Country: Denmark

Saturday 23 May 2020

Poetry [2010]

The most beguiling aspect of Lee Chang-dong’s delicately structured and profoundly evocative work Poetry is that it could’ve gone in diverse directions from its haunting opening sequence – darkly funny satire, somber crime drama, portrait of familial dysfunction, meditative character study, or quietly devastating exploration of ennui, loneliness and grief; it’s a proof of Lee’s prowess, therefore, that the film’s heartbreaking emotional core is laced with all these facets. It begins with the tranquil panoramic shot of a gently ebbing river, which seamlessly turns harrowing as the dead body of a girl is seen floating by. The narrative then shifts to the film’s protagonist Yang Mi-ja (Yoon Jeong-hee) – a 66-year old lady with a meagre income and diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s, who lives in a small town with her aloof and potentially delinquent teenage grandson Jong-wook (Lee David), and takes care of an aged and partially paralyzed wealthy man craving for his lost manhood. In order to escape her boredom and provide an outlet to her long suppressed creative side, she enrolls in a poetry course for adults, which opens a new vista for her dour existence. However, when the above mentioned girl’s tragic death – she was repeatedly raped and driven to suicide – is linked to her grandson and his batch-mates, and that the parents, in collusion with the school, are arranging funds to bury the case by paying the girl’s impoverished mother, this scathing depiction of gender violence, patriarchy and smug class bigotry formed a compelling and painful parallel strand to the Yang’s fleeting quest for freedom and self-expression. Yoon came back from retirement and gave a subtle yet magnificent turn in this richly layered and deeply melancholic film.

Director: Lee Chang-dong
Genre: Drama/Crime Drama
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea

Friday 22 May 2020

Frantz [2016]

Loss, grief and internal reconciliations formed the dominant themes in François Ozon’s meditative anti-war melodrama Frantz – loosely adapted from Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby and structured along the classical form of a three-act play. The themes, therefore, might remind one of his magnificent Under the Sand; however, in place of the gutting and implosive ferocity of the latter, what we have here is a sedate, gently affecting and heavily underplayed quietude – which, in fact, might even leave one tad underwhelmed despite the emotionally dense context. In the excellent first act which is set in the ancient German town of Quedlinburg just after the end of the Great War, Anna (Paula Beer), who’s in mourning for her fiancé Frantz who’s fallen on the battlefield, and Frantz’s grief-stricken parents – the seemingly gruff father (Ernst Stötzner) who despises war and hatred, and the warm and caring mother (Marie Gruber) – develop a deeply affecting relationship with Adrien (Pierre Niney), a mild-mannered Frenchman who was apparently Frantz’s friend when the latter was in Paris; meanwhile, rabid nationalism is brewing around them in a precursor to the eventual rise of Nazism. The desolate middle act portrayed Anna’s visit to war ravaged Paris in search for Adrien, despite a dark secret that he’d confided to her while leaving Germany. And, in the rather placid final act their brief reconnect ends on a dour anti-climactic note. Hence, as may be guessed, each act was stronger than the one following it; and, while the elegant B/W photography added a layer of melancholy to the proceedings, interjection of splashes of colour felt avoidable. Manet’s bleak painting Le Suicidé, by the way, served as a manifestation of the curtailed emotions.

Director: Francois Ozon
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/War Drama
Language: French/German
Country: France