Saturday, 7 May 2022

Titane [2021]

 Titane is lurid, provocative, violent and outrageous, requiring complete suspension of disbelief; it’s also a trippy, edgy, visceral and thrilling ride, with surprising infusions of tenderness and fragility. Julia Ducournau’s incendiary work reminded me of early Cronenberg’s nightmarish techno-body-horror – Crash in particular, and Videodrome too, in their erotically-charged human-machine interfacing – and early Verhoeven’s punk-sensuality, along with explorations of gender fluidity, sexual transgressions, hypermasculinity, male gaze, and boundary-bending inorganic relationships which were Ducournau’s own. The deliriously extreme first half is set off with the asynchronously folksy “Wayfaring Stranger” and a car accident that leaves young Alexia with a titanium plate in her cranium and alien-like scars around her ears. Flashforward few years later, and Alexia (Agathe Rousselle in a scintillating, chameleon-like and ferocious debut) – introduced through a hypnotic tracking shot, to the electrifying beats of “Doing It a Death” – is an exotic dancer at car shows, whose writhing performances leave cuckolded men salivating. She harbours a devilish murderous streak that gets triggered by human intimacy, and an auto-fetish that leads to what has become a cause célèbre and leaves her pregnant. When the trail of bodies becomes unmanageable upon a darkly comical spree, she shape-shifts into an alternate gender identity – through DIY facial reconfiguration and body strapping – and becomes the long-lost son of a heavily grief-stricken, steroid-pumping firefighter (Vincent Lindon) in the film’s brooding second half. The delicate bond that develops between the two lonely, lost individuals – trapped in their respective netherworlds – was interspersed with an affecting slow dance to “She’s Not There” and a stunningly liberating solo atop a car – where else? – to a sexier rendition of “Wayfaring Stranger”. Eclectic electronic soundtrack, therefore, was integral to this brash piledriver.

Director: Julia Ducournau

Genre: Thriller/Body Horror/Psychological Drama

Language: French

Country: France

Sunday, 1 May 2022

Mr. Bachmann and His Class [2021]

 Maria Speth, in her remarkably expansive, quietly radical and deeply intimate 3 ½ hour documentary Mr. Bachmann and His Class, covered serious and urgent topics that’ve become enormously relevant today in a world fraught with right-wing populism, nationalism, majoritarianism, parochialism and religious prejudices – viz. embracing of pluralism and multiculturalism through acceptance and assimilation of immigrants from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, along with transparent discourses on discomfiting historical memories. But – and such is the quiet beauty and warmth of this big-hearted work – these complex political themes were never at odds with its profoundly personal and enchantingly unassuming nature. This foregrounding of everyday stories – organically enmeshed with the above themes through an unhurried, observational form – reminded me of Wiseman’s magnificent In Jackson Heights (and City Hall too), even if the scope was significantly more compact vis-à-vis the latter films. The setting here is a public school in the town of Stadtallendorf – where Nazis used slave labour for their war industry, and thereafter West Germany brought in “guest workers”, a euphemism for low-wage labourers who can be easily exploited by the capitalist market – where the students belong to blue-collar immigrant families from different countries and are struggling to get integrated because of social, cultural and linguistic barriers. Dieter Banchmann – an extraordinary, bohemian and rockstar teacher approaching retirement – imparts a progressive form of pedagogy where inclusiveness of diverse cultural backgrounds and socio-economic hurdles through music, transparent conversations, empathy and humour are as important as math and language skills. Speth, who’s known Bachmann since many years, followed him and his students – each of whom we get to know closely – for around 2 years for this immersive work with an underlying streak of resistance.






Director: Maria Speth

Genre: Documentary

Language: German

Country: Germany

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Landscapes of Resistance [2021]

 There’s no single way to tap into individual or collective memories while remembering the past, and this was eloquently manifested through two 2021 documentaries – both foregrounded on chapters from Nazi occupations – viz. Sergei Loznitsa’s Babi Yar. Context and Marta Popivoda’s Landscapes of Resistance. While the former powerfully chronicled an episode – that of a gruesome genocide – through archival footage sans spoken words, the latter focussed on an individual’s resistance against tyranny, occupation and fascism through words and landscapes. Delicately composed as lyrical ode to Sonja Vujanović – former Yugoslav partisan, defiant anti-fascist, enduring Communist, and Holocaust survivor – we hear, in her gently lilting words, about her introduction to progressive literature during student days, her marriage to a Communist guy tragically ruptured by war, her daring participation in acts of resistance, her torture by Gestapo, and her time at Auschwitz. Her story was accompanied by striking dissolves between vibrantly shot landscapes – alternatively tranquil and dreary – covering the places in her journey, alongside warm images shot in the interiors of her home in company of her present husband and cat; and these, in turn, were juxtaposed with reflections on the ugly proliferation of neo-fascism. The political and the personal were intricately interlaced through the presence of Sonja’s granddaughter Ana Vujanović, who’s Popivoda’s partner and the film’s co-writer; Ana’s drawings, personal diaries, and active involvements with Popivoda in current day protest and solidarity movements by the left, therefore, underscored the continued relevance of resistance. The intimate essay began with a melancholic lamentation on the loss of freedom due to the advent of fascism and ended with a rousing antifa song which served as a battle cry by partisans who refuse to go down silently.






Director: Marta Popivoda

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film

Language: Serbo-Croatian

Country: Serbia

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Petrov's Flu [2021]

 Petrov’s Flu, Kirill Serebrennikov’s first production since his release from house arrest – ostensibly on charges of embezzlement, though allegedly as retaliation for his outspokenness – was at once grand and intimate, and in turn alternatively brash, flamboyant, nightmarish, anarchic, surreal, poignant and personal. And this staggering tonal breadth was accompanied by bravura filmmaking, formal audacity, freewheeling structure and thrilling fusion of a myriad political, historical, pop-culture and psychoanalytic symbols. Adapted from Alexey Salnikov's novel Petrovy v Grippe, this dizzying fever dream of a movie portrayed a day in the life of its titular protagonist – albeit one that stretched and twisted like a hyper-elastic rubber band – started on a chaotic note and became deliriously eccentric as the unpredictable narrative progressed, and switched between “real” and Freudian netherworld – a cesspool of paranoias, fantasies, desires, hallucinations, memories – at breathtaking frequency. Petrov (Semyon Serzin) is a comic book artist losing his sense of sanity while on the grip of a nasty flu in a volatile, pandemic-stricken Russian society. The frenzied night begins with him on a violently chaotic bus ride and joining an anarchist group eliminating wealthy oligarchs, and things kept going bonkers thereon. His librarian wife (Chulpan Khamatova), conversely, often transforms into a murderous superwoman. Meanwhile, as this otherwise struggling couple are arguing about taking their kid to a Christmas party, we’re taken into Petrov’s repressed memories – involving a striking, emotionally vulnerable woman (Yulia Peresild) with a sexually fertile mind – who he’s haunted by. Dazzling images of messy exteriors and sterile interiors, sepia-toned recollections, and muted B/W sections, coupled with an eclectic score – ranging from grungy heavy rock to mournful accordion-led folk tunes – made this unhinged work all the more visceral and fascinating.






Director: Kirill Serebrennikov

Genre: Black Comedy/Surreal Comedy/Social Satire/Existentialist Drama

Language: Russian

Country: Russia