Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets [2020]

 Ross brothers’ lilting, mellow and intoxicating docu-fiction Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets – evoking memories of the boozy atmosphere, bohemian spirit and laidback charm of a James Crumley and a Charles Buchowski – brilliantly blurred the lines between documentary authenticity and performative narrative. The film is ostensibly set in a Las Vegas bar called The Roaring 20s – an engrossing, smoke-filled, nostalgia-laden sanctuary, escape, and even home, for its regulars who’re a mix of laidback old-timers, gutsy youngsters, misfits, eccentrics, outsiders, loners, rebels and romantics – which is closing down for reasons alluded to but unspecified. Hence, on its final day of existence, the barflies gather for one last hurrah – hanging out, reliving old memories, basking in the infectious ambiance, and indulging in a spectacular bout of binge drinking through the day and night – before bidding a desolate adieu to the joint. However, ironically, this bar’s actually in New Orleans and is still very much open. Further, the cast was an assorted assemblage of everyday folks – a wise but jaded former actor, a scarred Black war veteran, a shy Australian, a bear-like bartender who loves crooning on his guitar, a tough single-mom bartender, an Einstein lookalike, a bon vivant who’s proud of her “60-year old tities”, a vivacious trans-woman, etc. – who play themselves without a script, and in the process unreservedly reveal their vulnerabilities, bitterness, dashed hopes, lost youth and existential pangs; and this startling candidness, albeit in a staged setting, further obscured the porous boundaries between “truth” and “artifice”. The rambling, booze-fueled, and freely improvisational conversations, accompanied by pop-rock soundtracks, provided understated commentary on a wide range of topics – both political and mundane – but delightfully laced with little epiphanies, bittersweet revelry and melancholy.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross

Genre: Documentary/Drama

Language: English

Country: US

Monday, 12 April 2021

Corporate Accountability [2020]

 The right-wing military dictatorship that was established in Argentina through the 1976 coup d'état, wasn’t just a macabre period filled with human rights violations and brutal repressions, it was also marked by brazen collaborations by private and civil sectors with the junta; no wonder, it’s called a “civic-military dictatorship”. Directed by Jonathan Perel – who’s steadily building a body of work documenting the “Dirty War”, reminiscent of how Guzmán steadfastly devoted his entire filmmaking life or Saura for a significant stretch to the Pinochet and Franco dictatorships, respectively – the ironically titled Corporate Responsibility is a telling mix of formal rigour, guerilla filmmaking, investigative journalism and defiant political activism. Based on the excerpts of a report which was never allowed into circulation, it unequivocally covered the above subject – viz. the nefarious collusion and irrefutable culpability of various organizations, including a few renowned global ones – through 25 “case studies” across the country. Each chapter opens with the company logo, followed by long static shot of the industrial site’s entrance secretly filmed from inside a car – with the colour palette’s brilliance accentuated by shooting them at dawns and dusk – and accompanied by Perel’s deadpan voiceover detailing the multiple accounts of grotesque misdeeds carried out against dissident workers and dissenting voices. Thus, by perpetuating the regime’s ugly agenda – through abductions, forced disappearances, murders and even tortures conducted in detention centers built within their campuses – it formed a microcosm of the state itself, while in turn conveniently reaping rewards through statization of debts, reduction in wages and increase in productivity. The film, by the way, quietly reminded me of Patricio Pron’s melancholic memoir My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain, through their shared political memories.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Jonathan Perel

Genre: Documentary/Political History

Language: Spanish

Country: Argentina

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Another Round [2020]

 Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round – alternately dreary, poignant, mellifluous and uplifting – remains as much a bittersweet ode to existential predicaments borne out of mid-life crisis as a wryly humorous commentary on alcoholism. Hence, despite its central tenet of gradually and inevitably sliding into the wrong end of the bottle – albeit, initially under the ironic and self-deluding guise of academic experimentation – and facing health, familial and professional repercussions thereof, it essentially was a tragicomic portrayal of ageing, marriage, friendship and challenging social conformity. Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a middle-aged history teacher at a Copenhagen high school, is literally sleep-walking through his life – his marriage to his childhood sweetheart (Maria Bonnevie) has grown stale, his kids rarely interact with him anymore, and his students are bored by his lackadaisical pedagogy. Hence, when, during a celebration with his three closest buddies and fellow colleagues – English teacher Peter (Magnus Millang), music tutor Peter (Lars Ranthe) and sports instructor Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) – an offhand remark is made about an oddball research theory arguing that human blood is 0.05% alcohol deficient, he becomes the first person to literally take it up and surreptitiously starts taking a swig of vodka at work. However, surprisingly, the other friends too decide to undertake this hilariously absurd but melancholic experiment… things, therefore, are bound to go downhill soon even if they seem darn funny to start with, and that’s what made the film emotionally absorbing on one hand, and decidedly old-fashioned on the other. The grimy realism added an unconventional flavour to the drama which ended with a euphoric finale, and the cheeky but straightforward narrative was bolstered by terrific turns by all and an especially standout one by Mikkelsen.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Genre: Drama/Comedy/Buddy Film/Marriage Drama

Language: Danish

Country: Denmark

Friday, 9 April 2021

I'm Thinking of Ending Things [2020]

 I’m Thinking of Ending Things – though adapted from a Iain Reid novel – is a through and through Charlie Kaufman movie; multiple versions of an individual’s self-awareness, identity crisis, meta references, solipsism and game of one-upmanship within one’s mind are all there, along with abundance of gleeful weirdness and neurotic characters. And yet, like the startling bravado but messy over-ambitiousness of Synecdoche, New York, this too provided another underhanded indication that a Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) or a Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is essential to provide a canvas for his sheer ingenuity while also tampering his unbridled idiosyncracy and self-indulgence. The film, therefore, reconfirms Kaufman’s zany brilliance as a daring writer as well as his self-combustibility as a director. It starts off with a striking, intelligent and self-assured woman (Jessie Buckley) – whose name and vocation keep fluctuating – going on a road with her impassive, dour and infuriatingly knowledgeable boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to visit his hilariously unhinged parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) who live in an isolated house in the middle of nowhere, while all along contemplating her unspoken wish to end their sagging relationship. The proceedings, as anticipated, become increasingly more eerie, wacky and ultimately bizarre, with time, space, perceptions and memory forming Kafkaesque knots which were darkly funny, viscerally nightmarish and deliriously compelling at certain parts and exasperating, cold, outlandish and overly self-conscious in its plethora of pop-cultural allusions at others. That said, Kaufman extracted excellent turns from all, with Buckley and Collette’s being the standouts of the lot, the art design was sumptuous and the bleak, wintry atmosphere was positively ominous for most parts until Kaufman decided to go bonkers.

 

 



 

 

Director: Charlie Kaufman

Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Surrealist Thriller

Language: English

Country: US

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Days [2020]

 Veteran Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang forayed back to feature filmmaking after 7 years – he’d vaguely indicated retirement plans upon completing the bleak and edgy Straw Dogs, post which he’d fallen back on shorts – with Days, arguably one of his sparest and most intimate movies. Continuing his exploration of urban alienation, disenchantment and isolation, he stripped the film to its bare bones by composing it as a series of observant, fragmentary, seemingly disjointed sequences; the narrative sparseness and aesthetic austerity were made intensely minimalist through not just his customary long takes – though, quite atypically, he once briefly resorted to jerky hand-held cams – but more so by making it sans dialogues except for ambient sounds and stray remarks, thus making subtitles redundant and hence unavailable. It was also a deeply personal work with its frank sexual intimacy. It’s centered on the parallel lives of two men – middle-aged, well-off Kang (Lee Kang-sheng), afflicted with a physical malaise, that takes him from Taipei to Bangkok for acupuncture treatments; and the much younger Non (Anong Houngheuangsy), a Laotian immigrant in Bangkok – who, despite their divergent social classes, were bound by their lonely, spartan lives. Hence, when their paths eventually cross – upon Kang hiring Non for a massage – their liaison was physically charged, but also with subtle emotional undercurrents. The touching reference, therefore, to Chaplin’s late-career gem Limelight – in the form of a parting gift that plays its lilting score – added a rare sentimental touch. As an interesting aside, Lee was actually suffering from pains, which added underlying authenticity to his magnificently controlled expressions; and Tsai’s discovery of Anong – a younger version of Lee – was as fortuitous as his meeting Lee over three decades back.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Tsai Ming-liang

Genre: Drama/Existential Drama/Urban Drama

Language: Silent

Country: Taiwan