Sunday 31 January 2021

Far from Vietnam [1967]

 Far from Vietnam is unlike most omnibus films. For one, it’s stellar cast of directors comprised of firebrand Nouvelle Vague icons and rebels Marker (who held this audacious project together and also edited it), Godard, Resnais, Varda and Lelouch, along with photographer turned filmmaker William Klein and Dutch documentarian Joris Ivens; for another, the collaborators forsook individual authorship while contributing their sections (the ones by JLG, Resnais and Klein were discernible, though). The above aspects, along with a topic as bristling as this, were key to the film’s most striking facets – viz. its revolutionary fervour, dissent, anger, and staunchly anti-imperialist, anti-fascist and anti-war stance – and these were accompanied with formal flamboyance, unapologetic messiness, provocative agitprop, and crazy mashup of narrative content… stitching together segments made by spectacularly different artists, even if bound by their shared disdain for this dirty war, must’ve been one helluva task. And, given that raging anti-Vietnam War protests were still few years away, its release unsurprisingly evoked backlash from conservative, right-wing populace. Thus, over the course of its strangely captivating length, we witness the American war machine (the full nine yards); pompous lies by Gen. Westmoreland and others; speeches by Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh; fascinating footage of North Vietnamese street plays, rebels and war shelters; sombre interview with the wife of Norman Morrison who’d self-immolated in protest outside McNamara’s office in the Pentagon; defiant American peace marchers facing derision from reactionaries; metaphorical fictional interlude; irreverent comic strips; and well, a typically eccentric monologue by Godard on his decision to mention about Vietnam – the first war to be telecast “live” on TVs – in all his films, upon being denied permission to visit the country.






Directors: Chris Marker, Agnes Varda, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, Claude Lelouch, William Klein, Joris Ivens

Genre: Documentary/Anthology Film/Agitprop

Language: French/English

Country: France

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Sympathy for the Devil (One Plus One) [1968]

 Sympathy for the Devil (originally titled One Plus One, but changed by the producer without Godard’s consent) was lambasted, derided and summarily shot down by the conservative critics and viewers upon its release. That’s all good, of course (and I’m sure Godard wouldn’t have wanted it any other way), considering what a gleefully and gloriously provocative, subversive, mordantly funny, madcap and riotously impolitic film this was. Most pertinently, this was also such a fabulous time-capsule, encapsulating the period’s radicalism, rebelliousness and roguish audacity. And well, that the producer (who, ironically, played a neo-Nazi and snuff bookseller in it) was gifted with a well-deserved punch on his face by the French iconoclast for the title change and inclusion of the full titular song at the end despite Godard’s conscious avoidance of that, further underlined everything that the film and its maker so distinctively embodied. This one-of-a-kind movie was an exhilarating mashup of a behind-the-scenes music video – one worth its weight in gold for rock music aficionados – and bewitching political agitprop, polemics and formal experimentation in a continuation of his three remarkable previous films. Thus, in its key thread – shot at London’s Olympic Recording Studio, often using deceptively long single-takes – we see Rolling Stones’ iconic rock anthem evolving from a bluesy, acoustics-heavy song into its euphoric final version, and in the process also observe Mick, Keith, Watts and co. jamming up-close. And, this was constantly punctuated with zany vignettes – Black Panthers members reading revolutionary Marxist texts at a junkyard; a hilariously rambling and polemical interview with “Eve Democracy” (Anne Wiazemsky) answering questions with only “Yes” and “No”; and Wiazemsky spray-painting droll political portmanteau griffiti like “Cinemarx”, “Sovietnam” and “Feudemocracy” across London.

p.s. This is my 1500th review at Cinemascope, and glad to have reached this milestone with a Godard gem.






Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Music Video/Avant-Garde/Experimental/Political Satire

Language: English

Country: UK

Monday 25 January 2021

D'Est (From the East) [1993]

 D’Est, which Chantal Akerman made just after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, was a work of beguiling bleakness, beauty and brevity. With its loosely structured, wryly observational and essayistic form, and defiant refusal to imbue the proceedings with any exposition or overt contextualization, this was a film that worked in and of itself as a hypnotic photo montage; that she captured the images, moments and atmosphere during her trips cutting across erstwhile Communist countries (Russia, East Germany, Poland, etc.) during a very precise political backdrop, laced the travelogue’s moodiness and melancholy with richness, prescience, meanings and existential inquiries. Made 16 years after her astonishing essay montage News from Home – which was set on the other side of the globe in New York – the two films formed a magnificent diptych thanks to their shared formal rigour and sparseness, kaleidoscopic structures, and impressionistic evocations of time, place, memory and zeitgeist. Akin to the earlier film, this too was shot using either static or gently traveling cameras and mostly using ambient sounds; however, where the latter also had a flavour of diary courtesy readings from letters from her mom, this was steadfastly sans any off-camera dialogues. Shot over the course of changing seasons – with the vivid buoyancy of the summer gradually giving way to gray, wintry desolation – we see people, streets, beaches, homes, kiosks, buildings and landscapes. The film’s single-take tracking shots – solitary aged woman walking along a sidewalk, group of travelers sauntering in the snow, people sitting in a station and standing outside, journey through the city – were especially engrossing, as were the myriad candid expressions on the people’s faces, ranging from bemused to belligerent to boredom to indifference.






Director: Chantal Akerman

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Experimental/Silent Film

Language: Silent

Country: Belgium

Saturday 23 January 2021

News from Home [1977]

 In 1971, 21-year old Chantal Akerman briefly moved to New York, and that period had a lasting influence for her; “living like a vagabond” on minimal finances and working multiple odd-jobs, it compelled her to experience a complex mix of longing and alienation, and introduced her to different schools of experimental cinema. These transformative aspects were magnificently manifested in her sublime, transfixing, melancholic and silently wrenching essay film News from Home, which she made upon a revisit to NYC right after her extraordinary masterpiece Jeanne Dielman. The way she combined formal rigour with profoundly personal touch, and spare style with a haunting tone, made this a work of rare beauty. Comprising of roughly 60 shots photographed in grainy colours, largely using a static camera and in ambient sounds – she’d revisit this approach 16 years later in the equally stunning D’Est – it comprised of edgy, gritty, visceral vignettes of the city, viz. subways, underground stations, pavements, alleys, diners, shops, buildings, walls, waterfront, etc. The subway sections were especially arresting, as was a 10-minute sequence taken from a moving car capturing the city’s imposing skyscrapers, and the 10-minute finale of a receding Manhattan skyline shot aboard a ferry bound for Staten Island. This gripping mosaic was accompanied by intensely personal letters from her mother (read out by Akerman) – filled with mundane details and immense yearning for her daughter, with the tone ranging from affectionate to petulant – written from Brussels during that period. That her mom (who we’d get to know very closely in her touching swansong No Home Movie) was a Holocaust survivor, laced additional layers of meaning and pathos to the underlying neurosis, loneliness, fears and desperation in her letters.






Director: Chantal Akerman

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Avant-Garde/Experimental

Language: French

Country: Belgium

Monday 18 January 2021

Night and Fog [1956]

 Numerous films, both fictions and non-fictions, have tried portraying, analyzing and interpreting the grotesque monstrosity and primordial barbarism – borne out of xenophobia, right-wing bigotry, religious hatred, racial supremacism, ultra-nationalism and war hysteria – that Nazism represented and manifested through the Holocaust; unfortunately very few have truly been able to penetrate into its heart of darkness. Resnais’ extraordinarily powerful, haunting and gut-wrenching documentary Night and Fog remains an indelible example of the latter; that he did that through a surprisingly concise 30-minute length – perhaps representing the other side of the spectrum vis-à-vis Claude Lanzmann’s gargantuan Shoah (which, unfortunately, I’m yet to watch) – speaks further volumes about it. And, made a decade after the end of WWII and therefore liberation of German concentration and death camps thet were littered all across Europe, it was also perhaps among the earliest confrontations of this topic. Resnais, interestingly, took an arresting dual narrative approach which made it all the more atmospheric, viz. pairing eerily desolate and tranquil present of now deserted remnants of Auschwitz and Majdanek – which’ve ironically become tourist destinations – shot in Eastman colour; with harrowing war-time B/W footage and newsreels – of the ghastly camps, the watchtowers and barbed wires, the skeletal and dehumanized internees, their transportation in cattle cars, medical experimentation and tortures, executions and massacres, gas chambers and heaped corpses, turning men and women into mattresses and soaps, the remorseless perpetrators supervising the camps and later during war crime trials – from just ten years back. Couple of important footnotes – the script was written by Holocaust survivor Jean Cayrol, and aided by Chris Marker; and French censors forced Resnais to blot out the shot of a French guard which subtly revealed French complicity.






Director: Alain Resnais

Genre: Documentary/Political History/Short Film

Language: French

Country: France