Wednesday, 1 December 2021

A Moment of Innocence [1996]

 Mohsen Makhmalbaf had become involved, as a teenager, in a militant underground resistance against the Shah of Iran’s regime. As part of that he’d stabbed and wounded a policeman – in order to rob a bank, so that the loot could be pumped into the cause – but instead got caught and sentenced to death; fortunately, though, he was released after 5 years in prison during the Iranian Revolution. Two decades later he decided to make a faux-documentary relooking at this fateful incident that dramatically changed life’s courses for both men. A Moment of Innocence – considered his finest cinematic achievement – was made with wry irony, delicate touches and self-reflexive brilliance; infused with cheeky humour; and composed as an ingenious hybrid of documentary, performative elements, reinterpretation of one’s memories and meta commentary on the medium itself. He therefore revisited this pivotal episode, but in a fascinating creative choice, did so by reconstructing that in the form of a movie in production; and, if that weren’t enough, he partnered with Mirhadi Tayebi, the very person he’d attacked and a wannabe actor now who he got reconnected with during the mock auditions staged in his idiosyncratic previous film Salaam Cinema. As the two men pick their younger selves and – through dryly funny means – coach them in their perceived images of themselves from so many years back, the film also tenderly revealed the divergent motives that drove them then, viz. political idealism for Makhmalbaf vis-à-vis hopes for first love for Tayebi courtesy a girl who – unbeknownst to him – was the latter’s cousin (and well, first love too). And, lest one forgets, it ends with an unforgettable freeze frame that brilliantly subverted the proceedings thus far.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Genre: Documentary/Drama/Diary Film

Language: Persian

Country: Iran

Thursday, 25 November 2021

About Some Meaningless Events [1974]

 What role must Third World cinema play in a repressive sociopolitical construct? Should it aim for socially relevant inquiries or transition into direct action? Where does art dissolve into politics as part of this exercise? And, to paraphrase Godard, how does one make not just political films but politically too? These were some of the themes touched upon in the underground, independent, experimental, pulsating, audaciously improvisational, disarming, defiant, Marxist, formally dazzling and curiously titled work About Some Meaningless Events by pioneering Moroccan filmmaker Mostafa Derkaoui who’d studied in 2 iconic film institutes – viz. L'Institut des hautes études cinématographiques in Paris (whose alumni included the likes of Malle, Resnais, Angelopoulos, Schlöndorff, Sautet, Costa-Gavras, etc.) and Łódź Film School (whose alumni included the likes of Munk, Wajda, Kieslowski, Polanski, etc.). In an interesting anecdote, upon being banned by the authorities after a single screening, it was believed to be lost and faded into oblivion until its negatives resurfaced 4 decades later in Barcelona, post which it was stunningly restored. It started along the lines of Morin and Rouch’s influential documentary Chronicle of a Summer wherein Derkaoui’s crew roamed the streets, cafés and bars of Casablanca’s working class neighbourhoods, interviewing people on their views on cinema and Moroccan cinema in particular; and then, when a young dockworker with a flamboyant Afro hairdo accidentally kills his boss during a confrontation, they decide to follow his story with the intent to explore his background, motives and in turn class divides, social injustice and exploitation. Foregrounded in thrilling vérité photography, freeform jazz score, urgency and vitality, it marvelously blended elements of both drama and documentation, thus blurring the fluid, ambiguous space between truth and artifice.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Mostafa Derkaoui

Genre: Documentary/Crime Drama

Language: Arabic/French

Country: Morocco

Sunday, 21 November 2021

Regular Lovers [2005]

 The May’68 student and trade union protests in and around Paris – which were spearheaded by radical dreamers, rebels and idealists, and had ballooned into a near-revolution – was such a dizzying, tumultuous and gloriously defiant period, that various filmmakers have delved into it over the years. While Godard (La Chinoise, Week-end, A Film Like Any Other, Tout Va Bien) has explored this period extensively, others – from Marker (A Grin Without A Cat) and Malle (May Fools) to Bertolucci (The Dreamers), Assayas (Something in the Air) and João Moreira Salles (In the Intense Now) – have covered it too. Garrel, who’d dived into it then as a young experimental filmmaker, took recourse to his lived experiences and memories for the sublimely tender, haunting, novelistic, meditative and achingly intimate Regular Lovers. The austere yet ravishing B/W photography, sumptuous but sparingly used piano score, and delicately understated tone underscored the brief moments of epiphany, stretches of bitter nostalgia and pervading melancholy. Set during the peak unrest and its immediate aftermaths, it follows François (Louis Garrel) – student and poet – who’s an active participant in the struggle against overbearing French authorities and willful draft dodger, on account of which he takes refuge at his anarchist friend’s flat. There, while discussing politics and smoking opium with fellow left-wing comrades, he enters into a doomed, passionate romance with Lilie (Clotilde Hesme), a beautiful and sexually liberated sculptor, that ends in devastating heartbreak. Louis – who played the filmmaker’s younger version with a deft touch, in his first proper collaboration with his father (he’d earlier featured as a kid in the stunning Emergency Kisses) – had ironically starred in the same year in the more popular The Dreamers which Garrel had disliked.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Philippe Garrel

Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Political Drama/Coming-of-Age

Language: French

Country: France

Friday, 19 November 2021

Buena Vista Social Club [1999]

 American guitarist and “roots music” exponent Ry Cooder, backed by World Circuits Radio, came to Havana in 1996 with the intent to cut a collaborative album between Cuban and Malian musicians. The latter, unfortunately, didn’t get a visa. Hence Cooder instead hunted down renowned Cuban old-timers – some of them retired, most at advanced ages, and nearly all completely forgotten from public memory – and made an exuberant son cubano, bolero and mambo album named after the titular long defunct club – that was once a haunt for black and brown artists – in what became a smashing, Grammy-winning international phenomenon. The eponymous Wim Wenders documentary, made couple of years after the album’s euphoric release that’d turned its performers into globetrotting stars at the twilight of their lives, is a work suffused with joy, nostalgia, zest, warmth, hints of melancholy and an abundance of musical effervescence. Wenders largely employed a conventional approach by alternating “live” musical performances – mix of jamming sessions and concerts – with talking head interviews edited into monologues. It was, however, bereft of expositional voiceovers and additional contexts beyond the interviewees’ stories, and that creative choice – along with the the sense of intimacy evoked through the candid, funny, lively monologues; the enthralling vitality of the performances at Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall; and Havana’s absorbing, laidback, crumbling, cigar-chomping atmosphere – made it an infectious ode to Cuban culture. The individual stories were especially arresting, covering silken crooner Ibrahim Ferrer who’d been reduced to shining shoes, legendary octogenarian pianist Rubén González who didn’t have a proper piano in a decade, nonagenarian vocalist and composer Company Segundo who wishes to father another child, vivacious prima donna Omara Portuondo, trumpeter Manuel "Guajiro" Mirabal,  et al.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Wim Wenders

Genre: Documentary

Language: Spanish/English

Country: Germany/Cuba

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Visit, or Memories and Confessions [1982]

 Aesthetically beautiful, architecturally elegant, resplendent, sprawling and with lovely views, while also warm, cosy, inviting and filled with ghosts of past and present, Portuguese maestro Manoel de Oliveira’s erstwhile Porto villa – where he’d lived for four decades but had to sell due to mounting debts – was something worth prowling about and soaking in. He’d made this at the age of 73 – perhaps contemplating mortality – and had instructed that it be publicly screened only after his death; but, as it turned out, he’d live till the grand old age of 106 – making a plethora of movies right till the end – and hence it remained hidden for 33 long years. The film, therefore, ironically served as a double farewell – one by the man reminiscing about the place he’d called home, and another by the world of cinema to this towering giant who passed away a month before its release. As this enigmatically titled work alludes to, it captures a mystical visit to this place, and explores the memories that it houses through candid personal, familial, cinematic, philosophical and political confessions. These facets, in turn, made it a beguiling, elegiac, lyrical and meditative tone poem, and cine-memoir which fluidly alternated between diary and essay film. It begins with two amorphous visitors – whose voices we hear offscreen but never see – strolling around the deserted, luxurious house while musing on it. Thereafter, while they keep interjecting in short intervals, we hear Oliveira speaking directly to the camera about his childhood, his wife Maria, his children, his father’s business, his infinite love for the medium, his arrest during the Salazar dictatorship, and a lot more, and which he interspersed with his collection of home movies.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Manoel de Oliveira

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film

Language: Portuguese

Country: Portugal