Monday, 14 June 2021

The Girl [1968]

 Márta Mészáros, best known for her extraordinary, semi-autobiographical Diary Films – viz. Diary for My Children, Diary for My Lovers, Diary for My Mother and Father – made a deceptively assured and psychologically astute feature debut with The Girl, after spending many years making docu shorts. Incidentally, this was possibly the first feature-length movie to have been directed by a woman in Hungary. She once quipped, “I tell banal, commonplace stories, and then in them the leads are women—I portray things from a woman's angle”; this proclivity for blending politics and feminism into understated, quietly told, personal stories was immediately discernible in this tale of a young, disaffected, conflicted working-class woman in an existential flux. Szõnyi (played by Hungarian pop star Kati Kovács) has grown up in an orphanage and works in a factory in Budapest. She regularly posts ads in order to find her biological parents, and hence when she gets a letter from the woman who’d given her up two decades back, she promptly travels to a small village in order to finally meet her. However, to her disappointment, her mother expresses dissatisfaction upon her arrival, and even refuses to acknowledge Szõnyi as her daughter – possibly for having conceived her out of wedlock – to her domineering husband and teenaged son. Two other chance encounters defined the film – a young guy who she briefly relents to after being cold to his constant overtures, and an aged gregarious man who claims to have known her parents but might not be truthful about his own identity. Kovács’ cool, detached and enigmatic turn made Szõnyi such an intriguing character, and was backed by sparkling B/W photography and a spattering of jazz music.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Marta Meszaros

Genre: Drama/Existential Drama

Language: Hungarian

Country: Hungary

Sunday, 13 June 2021

The Time That Remains [2009]

 Palestinian auteur Elia Suleiman reached the apotheosis of his craft, voice, persona and formal bravado with his masterful third film The Time That Remains. Its deeply personal stories, with an ambitious historical tapestry as its backdrop, reminded me of Amoz Oz’ unforgettable memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness; its lively, ribald, irreverent, impressionistic evocations had glorious Felliniesque splashes from Amarcord; and these, along with its lacerating political satire, absurdist ironies, deadpan comic tableaux, existential melancholy, minimalist rigour, fierce dissent and heartbreaking reminiscences made it an enthralling work. Distilled from his father’s diaries, mother’s letters and his own memories, Suleiman structured the narrative arc along four timeframes spread across over half a century. It begins in 1948 with the fall of Palestine, leading to exodus, resignations, and ultimately arrest and torture of the resistance, including the dissident Fuad Suleiman. The setting then shifts to the 60s with Fuad leading a mundane life with his wife and 10-year old son Elia amidst neuroses, disillusionment and cultural impositions. The following segment finds Elia as a youth who must escape for subversive involvements while also grappling with his father’s mortality. And finally, in the present, he’s a lonely man who’s returned home from exile, silently observes his aged mother, reconnects with lost friends and witnesses the latest Infitada and stirring uprisings. The pointed political subversions aside, it was filled with hilarious, indelible moments – the Israeli military asking the same questions to Fuad everytime he’s out fishing; an eccentric, suicidal man sharing bawdy ideas for bringing down Israeli occupation; a young Elia reproached by the principal for calling the USA colonialist and imperialist; a tank’s gun barrel following a disinterested Palestinian guy; etc.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Elia Suleiman

Genre: Black Comedy/Political Satire/Film a Clef

Language: Arabic/Hebrew

Country: Palestine

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Divine Intervention [2002]

 Elia Suleiman’s second feature film Divine Intervention was as episodic, fragmentary, ironic, deadpan and riotously experimental as Chronicle of a Disappearance; it was also zanier, weirder, more fantastical and provocative, and had a comparatively more definitive central narrative strand too. They, along with his masterful It Must Be Heaven – with their disjointed form; mix of dry existential crisis with “theatre of the absurd”; and the director’s presence as a taciturn, befuddled observer in a world run amok in an endless cycle of uprootedness, oppression and alienation imposed by an intensely apartheid, discriminatory state – made them a unique, tantalizing trilogy. Further, its bold amalgamation of hilarious, surreal and exaggerated sight gags with bleak, discomfiting political overtones reminded me of Kusturica’s signature style. Like the magnificent Michel Khleifi documentary Fertile Memory, this too oscillated between Nazareth, where Suleiman lives, and Ramallah, where an enigmatic and striking Palestinian woman lives; they often meet – to silently spend long romantic moments together – at the military checkpoint manned by pompous Israeli security force. Their aimless love story is counterpointed with tableaux that were poignant, oddball and crazy – the director’s dad, upon becoming gravely ill, is admitted in a hospital where, at nightfall, all patients roam the corridors smoking; cars regularly stop at a café for a fight between the men travelling together; a man surreptitiously throws garbage inside his neighbour’s property every morning; Israeli army hypnotized by a Yasser Arafat balloon; a moment of wild fantasy where the target for shooting practice – representing Palestinian resistance – converts into a ninja-like wonder-woman who eliminates the dazed Israeli death squad, etc. The film’s eclectic soundtrack – comprising of tunes by artists from across the world – was darn irreverent too.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Elia Suleiman

Genre: Black Comedy/Political Satire/Social Satire

Language: Arabic/Hebrew

Country: Palestine

Monday, 7 June 2021

Chronicle of a Disappearance [1996]

 Elia Suleiman’s experimental debut feature Chronicle of a Disappearance – made 2 years after moving back to Palestine after a decade long exile in New York – operated somewhere between fantasy and reality, absurd and mundane, memory and impressions, autobiography and meditations. Through a mosaic of short, fragmentary vignettes – hilarious, zany, wry, mordant, ironic, deadpan, weary and surrealistic – he crafted an intriguing portrayal of life in Israel occupied Palestine, and the ensuing police state, with its motly hues covering alienation, iniquity, inanities and ennui. The film’s absurdist, existentialist and kaleidoscopic form presaged the similar form that Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson adopted in his extraordinary Songs from the Second Floor onward; however, unlike Andersson’s works, Suleiman often opts for repetitions – foregrounding the bleak political scenario in Palestine which has fallen off the maps for the indifferent world around – along with the director’s own presence reminding one of Keaton and Tati with his bulging eyes, impassive demeanour and laconic observations. Roughly broken into two halves – viz. “Nazareth: A Personal Diary” and “Jerusalem: A Political Diary” –, accompanied by catchy tunes, and made on a shoe-string budget, the episodes established Suleiman’s fascinating ability to mesh seriousness with levity – a shop selling imitation holy water for glib tourists; four old men perpetually fishing; a man continually recounting a rather drab experience as something unforgettable; a Palestinian woman apartment-hunting in futility despite her fluency in Hebrew; she later taking Israeli cops on a wild goose chase using a wireless transmitter; pompous military men taking pompous military leak; folks trying their hands in trying to defeat an old man in arm-wrestling; Suleiman, invited for a guest lecture, unable to utter a syllable courtesy an impertinent microphone, etc.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Elia Suleiman

Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Political Satire/Experimental Film

Language: Arabic/Hebrew

Country: Palestine

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Fertile Memory [1980]

 Émigré Palestinian filmmaker Michel Khleifi achieved something rich, radical and remarkable with his disarmingly brilliant debut film Fertile Memory. It was a trailblazing work, being the first feature-length Palestinian film made within the West Bank “Green Line”. However, it was more than just that. Haunting, heartwarming, profoundly intimate, incisive and filled with understated yet electrifying political defiance and dissent, Khleifi infused narrative elements within the documentary form in his meditative portrayal of the Israeli colonial state’s occupation, oppression, dispossession and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people. And, interestingly, he complemented that through a stirring feminist angle by capturing the voice of two incredibly different women – separated by their age and social positions, but united by their complex personal experiences and shared refusal to bow down or resign – within the broader patriarchal setup. Farah Hatoum – a stoic family matriarch in her 50s who works at a far-off garment factory and the director’s maternal aunt – lives with her son, daughter-in-law and grandson in Nazareth; she became widowed at a young age during the 1948 war and her siblings got spread across the globe; and, she doesn’t want to let go of her land that Zionist occupiers took possession of. Sahar Khalifeh – a divorced single mother in her 30s, an articulate and fiercely independent-minded intellectual, college lecturer and writer – stays alone with her daughters in Ramallah, organizes feminist collectives and reminisces how she discovered her identity post her marital dissolution. Through the juxtaposition of their stories – laced with empathy, observations and quietude, and complemented with lonely shots of the roads and neighbourhoods – Khleifi composed a complex, powerful and poignant testament on dignity, freedom and resistance at the face of injustice, tyranny and pain.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Michel Khleifi

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film

Language: Arabic

Country: Palestine