Saturday 30 October 2021

Seven Beauties [1975]

 Few filmmakers display the kind of gall or temerity that Lina Wertmüller did while making a film as unapologetically divisive, discomfiting, ferocious and provocative as Seven Beauties. Deliriously dripping with tar black humour that fluctuated between bawdy lowbrow comedy, outrageous farce, pungent satire and grotesque horror, its picaresque portrayal of a hustler – who nonchalantly plumbs the nadir of morality to survive – formed a grimy counterpoint to the unsurpassed savagery of fascism that engulfed Europe during the 1930s and 40s (and, in some cases, even beyond). The movie, as a result, was troubling and tour de force in equal measures, and thus a devious work of such stunning bravado that simultaneously astonished and appalled as its zany, achronologically structured narrative unfolded. Its protagonist/antagonist is Pasqualino (astoundingly played by Giancarlo Giannini), a smug, dandy and proudly patriarchal Neapolitan scoundrel who kills a pimp for having outraged his “family honour” by luring one of his sisters to what he construes as decadent; dismembers the corpse to hide the murder; gets into an asylum by pleading insanity; commits a hideous act there that lands him in Mussolini’s army (which he has no qualms in embracing); turns a deserter only to be captured by the Nazis and thrown into a concentration camp; and tries seducing the camp’s sadistic, obese commander and puts some of his comrades to their death to save his neck. Comprising of a terrific opening montage – wherein documentary footage is accompanied by jazz score and voiceover dripping with sarcasm towards proponents and apologists of fascism – flamboyant aesthetic palette, and wildly oscillating tones that build towards utter desolation, this felt like a film made by Fellini’s doppelgänger while drunk on Molotov Cocktail.






Director: Lina Wertmuller

Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Political Satire

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Monday 25 October 2021

Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle [1987]

 Delicate, enchanting, quirky, amusing, gently ironic, delightfully philosophic, disarmingly lightfooted and with subtly mordant undertones, Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle was a quintessential “Rohmeresque” gem. Made while he was concluding “Comédies et Proverbes”, it possessed most of the distinctive flavours of his marvelous 6-film series to even be considered an unofficial 7th entry. And, deftly ensconced within its witty, lighthearted edifice of four seriocomic episodes featuring an unlikely friendship between two young women with immensely contrasting background and nature – employing the classic trope of a jaded city person and an idealistic village person, and the inherent dichotomies that they must navigate through in order to know and understand each other – it was tenderly laced with observations on such topics as art versus commerce, rural idyll vis-à-vis urban cacophony, and perhaps most importantly when it comes to the French giant’s cinematic canon in general, viz. moral relativism (as opposed to dogmatic absolutism). The film begins with a chapter recounting the chance encounter between Reinette (Joëlle Miquel), an impetuous country girl and amateur painter with a rigorous moral code, and Mirabelle (Jessica Forde), a striking, self-assured and cynical Parisian girl with rather flexible beliefs of her own, at a tranquil village where the former lives, and how they start bonding despite being strangers and polar opposites. The narrative then switches to Paris where Reinette shifts to Mirabelle’s flat upon joining an art college in the city, and over the balance three chapters, we see them having eccentric “adventures” involving a hilariously rude café waiter, a kleptomaniac woman, a tragic hustler (Marie Rivière), and an impassive, canny art dealer (played with deadpan brilliance by Fabrice Luchini) who they plan to outfox.






Director: Eric Rohmer

Genre: Comedy/Comedy of Manners/Social Satire/Slice of Life/Buddy Film

Language: French

Country: France

Saturday 23 October 2021

Salaam Cinema [1995]

 With Salaam Cinema – celebrating the centenary of cinema, considering Lumière Brothers’ 1895 screening of Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory – Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf composed a droll, idiosyncratic and cheeky homage to the medium. This fiercely self-reflexive work – centered on a staged audition process – was filled with meta-textual commentary on cinema’s ability to blur realism and fantasy by freely blending the documentary form with performative elements. Hence, ironically, those vying for a place in the hypothetical film by striving to impress its director with their supposed acting chops – incidentally, and unbeknownst to them – end up featuring in the said film by doing just that. It begins with a memorable opening sequence wherein a car – with a cameraperson seated on its bonnet (shot and reverseshot alternately between his POV and front view of him filming) – glides past an unending throng of people, with Shahrdad Rohani’s ecsactic composition “Dance of Spring” playing in the background. As is soon revealed, an ad in a Tehran newspaper calling for an audition has led to five thousand people turning up for it, which nearly causes a stampede. The focus, thereafter, moves indoors where the director tests the prospectants – representing a staggering demographic spread – through a mix of questions, demands and manipulations. Thus, as they laugh, cry, sing, spray bullets and fly upon bomb explosions, we meet a genial father who was Makhmalbaf’s prison cellmate many years back, a young guy who thinks he resembles Paul Newman, a towering man who’s always cast as villain, a girl who hopes to travel to Cannes to meet her lover, a guy who pretends to be blind, and a couple of hugely determined girls who refuse to give in.





Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Genre: Documentary

Language: Persian

Country: Iran

Friday 15 October 2021

Klute [1971]

 Klute and Tout Va Bien, despite being such remarkably disparate films formally, aesthetically and thematically, possibly served as the two most striking roles for Jane Fonda’s magnetic offscreen activism from that period – ranging from her staunch feminist stance to her defiant anti-war protests – which surely separated her from many a “star” who’re trapped by their onscreen images. The first chapter in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy” – this was followed by The Parallax View and All the President’s Men wherein, like a concert that slowly boils to a crescendo, each movie was a notch better than its predecessor – operated as an intriguing overlap between psychological thriller, sexploitation, character study and feminist commentary. It qualifies as a “conspiracy theory” movie too for its paranoia-laden atmosphere and elements of surveillance, even if it lacked the stirring governmental/big business mistrust of the more thrilling examples of this sub-genre. Further, its self-conscious, overly stylized canvas at times dampened its edge and grit that could’ve made it a more gripping work. However, the captivating characterization of Bree Daniels – a self-assured high-end New York call girl who loves her work, is confident of her prowess and is in complete command while with her well-to-do clients, and yet with a sense of vulnerability that she rarely reveals to outsiders – and Fonda’s magnetic portrayal largely compensated for some of its clunkier elements. The storyline – one that’s been tried ad nauseum by Hollywood – involved a taciturn detective (Donald Sutherland) who makes contact with Bree while investigating into the mysterious disappearance of a company executive; however, he soon realizes that her life might be in danger and eventually starts falling in love with her while trying to elicit her cooperation.






Director: Alan J. Pakula

Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Conspiracy Thriller/Mystert

Language: English

Country: US

Wednesday 13 October 2021

True Detective [2014, 2015, 2019]

 True Detective has been an arresting TV series in the way each season was akin to self-contained miniseries, while the overall HBO series – created by former literature professor Nic Pizzolatto – was connected by genre/sub-genre (crime drama, police procedural), complex narrative structure (labyrinthine, multi-linear plotting), tonal palette (downbeat, moody, atmospheric, brutal, slow-burn) and themes (institutional corruption, abuse of power, perpetuation of violence, the need to subvert the system for solving crimes). The series begun on a brooding, electric note with the first season – fabulously led by Woody Harrelson as a sincere, philandering detective with Louisiana State PD and Matthew McConaughey as his disturbed, brilliant partner – which involved gruesome, religious cult homicides chronicled along two parallel strands 17 years apart. The grimy but tad bloated second season – with a cast comprising of Colin Farrell as a self-destructive cop with a murky past; Rachel McAdams as a promiscuous, self-hating detective; Vince Vaughn as a mobster trying to go legit – felt closer to a gangster film despite the elements of murder and mystery, and end on a fatalistic note. And the beautifully paced, ambitiously delineated third season, which arguably remains the best of the lot despite the relatively lower viewership – with a superb performance by Mahershala Ali as a tenacious, conflicted Arkansas State PD detective; ably supported by Stephen Dorff as his loner partner and Carmen Ejogo as the former’s wife who becomes a narrative fiction writer with a voice of her own – dealt with a gruesome investigation into two missing kids that audaciously unravels over three timelines across 35 years. From the first season’s stunning opening credits till the third’s deftly underplayed finale, this series definitely deserves the plaudits it has garnered.






Directors: Nic Pizzolatto, Cary Joji Fukunaga et al

Genre: Crime Drama, Anthology, Series, Miniseries, Police Procedural

Language: English

Country: US