Monday 31 May 2021

All Is Forgiven (Tout est Pardonné) [2007]

 All the distinctive aspects of Mia Hansen-Løve’s filmography – themes of fragile familial bonds, estrangement, loss, reconciliation, and passage of time; tonal palette laced with subtlety, understated storytelling and pathos; and a style devoid of expositions, bereft of manipulations and stripped of sentimentality, while still simmering with emotions – were vividly and exquisitely discernible in her sublime debut feature All Is Forgiven. Heartwarming, poignant, disarmingly real, affecting, sensitive, quietly existentialist, balancing the mundane with the poetic, and filled with moments of joy interspersed with pervading melancholy – it’s quite remarkable that she wrote and directed a work of such startling maturity and depth, and in the process also established her voice as an auteur, at the young age of 25! The narrative was roughly broken into two halves wherein the POV casually shifted from the father to the daughter; it therefore formed a lovely companion piece to her excellent next film Father of My Children where she’d switch the POV from the father to the mother to the daughter; notably, in all her subsequent films so far, the POV has broadly accompanied a single protagonist. The first half focussed on struggling Parisian poet Victor (Paul Blain) who’s suffering from terrible existential malaise and self-loathing, exacerbated by his addiction to drugs; thus, though he loves his wife Annette (Marie-Christine Friedrich) and young daughter Pamela, things inevitably rupture irrevocably. The second half, set eleven years later, shifted focus to Pamela (Constance Rousseau) – now a strikingly beautiful young woman – who reconnects with his dad after many years of living with vague memories of him. Deftly filled with delicate touches, naturalistic turns and bluesy folk songs, this was an achingly intimate work imbued with heartbreaking impermanence.






Director: Mia Hansen-Love

Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Existential Drama

Language: French

Country: France

Sunday 30 May 2021

The Little Drummer Girl [2018]

 Both BBC and Park Chan-wook were very well placed when it came to adapting John le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl – the former because of their track record of highly acclaimed adaptations of his books into the miniseries format; the latter because of his prowess in weaving visceral, deliberately paced and intricately designed tapestries. The collaboration perfectly encapsulated the thematic nuances, psychological one-upmanship and grimy moral ambiguities that’ve come to define le Carré’s works. That the tale – one of role-plays, manipulations, infiltration, duplicity, betrayals, and tussle between militant idealism and cynical realpolitik – was centered on the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the murky Cold War era, made it all the more arresting. An underground Palestinian revolutionary cell – led by the enigmatic Khalil (Charif Ghattas) and his siblings – are carrying out assassinations targeting the Jewish diaspora in Europe, with the help of radical left-wing European lawyers, activists and students. Martin Kurtz (Michael Shanon), a veteran, Machiavellian Mossad spymaster, in retaliation, forms a crack team of covert operatives for a clandestine, extra-judicial mission to hunt down the elusive leader and liquidate the group. Two members play vital parts in the “theatre of the real” that he stages – Gadi (Alexander Skarsgård), a weary Israeli intelligence officer who’s increasingly on the edge for the noxious things he’s done for a living, and Charlie (Florence Pugh), a young, headstrong and vulnerable English theatre actress who’s lured into playing a central role and starts falling for Gadi. Though its glossiness and few convenient plotting gaps were tad distracting, Park’s expert direction, lack of conventional heroes or villains, moody atmosphere, smoldering tone, stunning vistas and especially commendable turns by Pugh and Skarsgård made this a gripping watch.






Director: Park Chan-wook

Genre: Spy Drama/Miniseries

Language: English

Country: UK

Tuesday 25 May 2021

The Beaches of Agnès [2008]

 Varda’s long, fascinating and richly lived life was filled with beguiling layers and contradictions; defiant and radical in her themes, and yet disarming and understated in her form; dabbling in a dizzying variety of genres and styles; constantly reinventing herself; and regularly blurring the lines – in all her creative pursuits, ranging from photography to cinema to installation art – between her artistic voice, political beliefs and personal space. As she approached her 80th birthday, she captured these diverse facets, endeavours, associations, episodes and moments from her life in her warm, witty, self-effacing, irreverent and enchanting ciné-memoir The Beaches of Agnès. Thus, over the course of this essay, she recounts her transition into cinema, the films she made thereafter – features and shorts, narrative fiction and documentaries – in France and beyond, and various memorable anecdotes from their making. Along with her vocational involvements, she speaks about the important people from her life, especially her dear husband Jacques Demy who, she finally reveals, had actually died of AIDS. And finally, she also shares many of her intimate experiences – growing up during the war, emigration from Belgium to France, etc. – as well as her stirring life-long associations with left-wing politics and feminism. She covered this massive temporal and thematic arc with an infectious mix of impish humour, whimsical reflections, and quirky set-pieces that made her stories even more personal, subjective and delectably oddball, while also underscoring the melancholy on account of having lost people she loved and nearing the end of her own. Interestingly, she’d tentatively planned this to be her final film, but ended up making three more – an ambitious 5-part tele-film and 2 more wonderful docus – before her demise 11 years later.






Director: Agnes Varda

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Biopic

Language: French

Country: France

Friday 21 May 2021

Lions Love (... and Lies) [1969]

 During her first sojourn to California, Varda had discussions with Columbia Pictures for a project, but it fell through when they denied her the final cut. She made a feature anyway, and the way she unapologetically cut loose in it – thumbing her nose at the puritanical studio bosses through a deadpan sequence within the film – made this a zany display of her creative self-expression and an unhinged portrayal of the then rebellious spirit. Loopy, playful, cheeky, pungently satiric, self-consciously modernist, staged and theatrical – and operating somewhere between artsy fiction, elliptic meta-narrative and wry mockumentary – this was unlike anything she made before or since. And hence, while it was a decidedly bold, intriguing manifestation of its time and place – bearing Uncle Yanco’s self-reflexivity, free-form style and counterculture spirit, and having elements of Black Panthers’ political stance, albeit more caustic and underhanded in comparison –, it was also incoherent, messy and weird; in short, a film that’s bound to amuse and captivate, while also leave one flummoxed and exasperated. Set in a dazzling, sun-washed LA, it revolves around a hippie trio – doe-eyed former Andy Warhol muse Viva, flanked by Hair creators James Rado and Gerome Ragni with their silky manes – who lead a lethargic, carefree, perennially naked and yet strangely infantile existence in a villa filled with plastic props mirroring Hollywood’s artifice. The troika is joined by underground filmmaker Shirley Clarke who, ironically, plays herself while also serving as Varda’s stand-in. Though Varda missed being in Paris during the epochal May’68 protests – which she shared in her fabulous ciné-memoir The Beaches of Agnès – she nevertheless encountered an equally momentous period in the US, filled with politics, protests and cry for freedom.






Director: Agnes Varda

Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Experimental Film

Language: English

Country: US/France

Wednesday 19 May 2021

Uncle Yanco [1967]

 In 1967 Agnès Varda came to stay in California for a couple of years along with her husband and fellow director Jacques Demy, as he was beckoned by Hollywood upon the smashing international success of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. While he was busy working on the studio-produced Model Shop, Varda – in her first of two trysts here (she’d return 12 years later under very different circumstances) – immediately immersed herself outside the studio system. The two shorts that she made during her stay – which she capped with a feature, viz. Lions Love – couldn’t be more diametrically apart despite both being documentaries capturing the absorbing zeitgeist of the place and period. The compelling 2nd short, Black Panthers, was flat-out political filmmaking that covered – via the BPP and Huey Newton’s incarceration – the stirring ongoing protest movement combating systemic racism, oppression and trampling of civil rights. The zany, jaunty and free-form 1st short, Uncle Yanco, on the other hand, touched upon California’s counterculture of free love, non-conformism and irreverence, using – as a springboard – a relative she met for the first time. The docu’s protagonist was the director’s uncle Jean Varda, a seventy-something happy-go-lucky, kindred, eccentric and bohemian painter who lived on a boat and was lovingly called Uncle Yanco by young hippies for his Greek origin. Though it felt relatively slight compared to some of her others outputs on account of its lighthearted whimsy, it was nevertheless filled with disarming, joyous and freewheeling exuberance that made it not just enjoyable, but also one of her most distinctive works. Suffice it to say, Varda was visibly fond of this quirky short and one that she would keep reminiscing on in all her cinematic memoirs.






Director: Agnes Varda

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Short Film

Language: French

Country: France/US