Tuesday, 27 December 2022

Mammo [1994]

 The scarring memories of Partition – displacement of millions; the macabre violence, irreparable loss and profound rootlessness that accompanied it; the absurdity of an imaginary line on the map and barbed wires permanently dividing people; the ensuing politics of prejudice – were hauntingly referenced in Mammo. The first film in Benegal’s ‘Trilogy of Muslim Women’ – which also comprised of Sardari Begum and Mammo’s pequel Zubeidaa, and all written by Khalid Mohamed based on incidents from his life – provided a powerful repudiation of the recently enacted citizenship law – alongside the right-wing populism, jingoism and otherization that catalysed its formulation – through a Muslim woman who’d been compelled to move to Pakistan but craves to return, as much because of the oppression that she faced there as a childless and dispossessed widow, as because she considers India her home. Riyaz (Rajit Kapoor), a writer who lives with his aged grandmother Fayyazi (the brilliant Surekha Sikri), chronicles this story from 20 years back when, as a moody 13-year-old kid – who, like Antoine Doinel, loves skipping school to watch movies in theatres – finds his and his grandma’s lives turned upside-down by the unannounced arrival of “Mammo Nani”. A person of extraordinary verve, vitality and exuberance, despite the gut-wrenching experiences she carries; fearlessly frank and opinionated; as well-read in Faiz’s poetry and Manto’s short stories as in the Quran; devout, while also harbouring stirringly progressive views; and played with extraordinary warmth, vivaciousness and delicacy by Faridah Jalal, Mammo Begum is ready to subvert political systems to be with her sister and nephew in Bombay. Alas, she can’t escape the vicious cycle of life and the devastating trauma of being forcibly evicted for a second time!







Director: Shyam Benegal

Genre: Drama/Political Drama

Language: Hindi/Urdu

Country: India

Sunday, 25 December 2022

Mandi [1983]

 Mandi, or physical marketplace, manifests market economy, interplay of demand and supply, and flow of capital; it’s a place, therefore, marked by bedlam, greed, jealousy, Machiavellian manoeuvrings, and even exploitation of labour, while also championing coexistence, camaraderie and community. Shyam Benegal’s bold, chaotic, satirical, mesmeric, compassionate, and, I daresay, Feliniesque film – set in a raucous and throbbing bordello in Hyderabad – triumphantly embodied and embraced all the afore-mentioned traits. That it so marvellously avoided male gaze, voyeuristic impulses and sensationalism despite a subject such as this, and didn’t whitewash anyone even while humanizing the intensely ostracized field of prostitution, underscored this maximalist tale with nuance, delicacy and seriousness. Rukmini Bai (played with commanding brilliance by Shabana Azmi in one of the finest performances of her career) is the madam and matriarch of the afore-mentioned brothel, which she runs with intelligence, grit, cunning and flair. She cares for the place and her girls, is fiercely protective of their agency, and is especially fond of Zeenat (Smita Patil) who’s getting trained in classical singing. Their seemingly harmonious co-existence within the neighbourhood’s ecosystem, however, comes under attack on account of wealthy businessman Gupta (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) who’d like to have the land cleared, and a shrill moral policing City Councillor (Gita Siddharth). The magnificent ensemble cast comprised of a slew of stalwarts of the then “parallel cinema” movement – Naseeruddin Shah in a terrific turn as Rukmini’s volatile factotum Tungrus, Om Puri as a leery photographer, Soni Razdan as Rukmini’s sharp-tongued colleague, Saeed Jaffrey as Gupta’s reluctant ally, Amrish Puri as a bombastic Sufi cleric, Satish Kaushik as Gupta’s unctuous assistant, Neena Gupta as one of Rukmini’s girls, Pankaj Kapoor as a phony activist, etc.







Director: Shyam Benegal

Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Social Satire/Ensemble Film

Language: Hindi

Country: India

Wednesday, 21 December 2022

New Delhi Times [1986]

 Serious and meaningful films on journalism in India are as rare and elusive as serious and meaningful journalism in India – which, of course, isn’t unsurprising given that what passes off as “journalism” in this country, barring a handful of exceptions that can be counted by the fingers of one hand, is a manifestation of the grotesquerie that Wilder presented in his trenchant media satire Ace in the Hole. Films like New Delhi Times and Writing with Fire, therefore, are exceptions that prove the damning rule. Directed with here-and-now gusto by Ramesh Sharma and eloquently written by the great Gulzar, it fearlessly focussed on the unholy love triangle which has become even more conspicuous now than it was then, viz. government-corporate-media nexus. The story is centred on Vikas Pande (Shashi Kapoor), a middle-aged, upright and respected executive editor at the eponymous newspaper, who’s immensely committed to his work and isn’t afraid to speak truth to power. A criminally negligent hooch tragedy and the murder of a politician at a town in Uttar Pradesh catch his attention. And, as he starts digging into these two seemingly unrelated incidents, he ends up uncovering a murky political conspiracy that goes all the way to the state’s Chief Minister who’s embroiled in a grimy power struggle with a brash and ambitious MLA (Om Puri). The dogged and potentially perilous investigative journalism that he conducts, strains his marriage to his lawyer-wife (Sharmila Tagore), earns him the acute displeasure of the politicos, and even sets him at loggerheads with the scion (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) of the ageing industrialist who owns newspaper. His friendship with Anwar, a cynical but fearless photo-journalist, added an interesting layer to the proceedings.







Director: Ramesh Sharma

Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller

Language: Hindi

Country: India

Friday, 16 December 2022

Coup de Torchon (Clean Slate) [1981]

 There’re two kinds of memorable cinematic adaptations of literary texts – those where the filmmaker imbues their vision and signature while retaining the book’s narrative details; and those where s/he radically supplants its location, context and period, and even laces it with politics specificities of its own, while retaining only its thematic essence and narrative barebones. Bertrand Tavernier’s caustic, unsettling and brilliant neo-noir Coup de Tronchon – like such other fabulous examples as Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, Godard’s Band of Outsiders, Kurosawa’s Ran, Bharadwaj’s Shakespeare Trilogy (Maqbool, Omkara and Haider), etc. – emphatically belongs to the latter category. In this fascinating rendering of Jim Thompson’s pulp novel Pop. 1280, Tavernier transplanted the tale from the American Deep South of 1960s to Senegal under French colonialism in 1938 with WW2 lurking round the corner. As may therefore be guessed, he added lashing commentaries on the horrors of colonialism, along with racism, moral rot and human corruption, into this story of violence and sociopathy. Lucian (Philippe Noiret) is a seemingly good-natured but simpleton cop in a dusty shantytown who’s cruelly humiliated by two local pimps, lampooned by his boss, scorned by his peers, pitied by the locals, and cuckolded by his sensuous wife (Stéphane Audran) who’s even kept a lover at home. However, upon being gradually pushed to the precipice, he finally snaps with stunning brutality. In parallel he starts a racy affair with a saucy, nubile widow (Isabelle Huppert) who he’d been lusting after for long. The sun-washed visuals, terrific jazz score, compelling use of single-takes and grimy atmosphere marvellously interplayed with pitch-perfect performances, tar-black humour and scalding political overtones in this work filled with macabre energy, hilarious absurdity and manic unpredictability.







Director: Bertrand Tavernier

Genre: Black Comedy/Crime Comedy/Neo-Noir

Language: French

Country: France

Sunday, 11 December 2022

The Son's Room [2001]

 Loss and grief, as subjects, can be both oppressive and liberating, and different directors, therefore, have tackled them in remarkably diverse ways. Nanni Moretti, in his Palm d’Or winning film The Son’s Room – which transformed his position from a maker of cult, idiosyncratic movies to more mainstream recognition – covered these with nuance, simplicity, and a delicate mix of levity and solemnity, while steadfastly side-stepping sentimentality. The film, interestingly, can be roughly broken into two very tonally divergent halves. It commenced with a charmingly joyous family – Giovanni (Moretti), a well-off psychotherapist, is happily married to the loving and lovely Paola (Laura Morante), and has two loving and lively teenage kids, son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice) and daughter Irene (Jasmine Trinca). The easy-going camaraderie that they share is immediately evidenced when we see the parents supporting Andrea – and even joking about it – upon his suspension for allegedly stealing a fossil from the school’s chemistry lab, and that’s accompanied by vignettes of Giovanni’s deadpan counselling of his neurotic patients. Their perfectly balanced world, however, collapses when a devastating tragedy strikes, and everything starts going recklessly haywire – Giovanni becomes beset with severe guilt, his calm deneanour starts crumbling, and he starts becoming disinterested in his job; the vivacious Paola becomes crushed and distant by grief; and the spunky Irene becomes angry and helpless. The disintegration of this perfect family, fortunately, gets a sliver of hope when they become aware of a girl (Sofia Vigliar) with whom Andrea had begun a platonic friendship. Moretti deftly donned dual hats – like he’s done throughout his filmography – in this superbly acted drama where a therapist and his family, ironically, end up in a bad need for therapy themselves.







Director: Nanni Moretti

Genre: Drama/Family Drama

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Paris Belongs to Us [1961]

 Rivette’s exhilarating debut feature Paris Belongs to Us – the film’s emblematic title could serve as a slogan for the Nouvelle Vague in how the city played such an absorbing role in it, even if it ironically began with the quote “Paris belongs to no one” – should’ve been one of the first works of that extraordinary movement. However, chronic funding, postproduction and distribution challenges meant that by the time it saw the light of day, both Truffaut and Godard had made their legendary debuts, and as a result it was relegated to their shadows. At once expansive and close-knit, freewheeling and compact, and luminous and idiosyncratic, this fascinating co-existence of antithetical facets was mirrored by its arresting tonal diversities too – especially in the way bonhomie, melancholy, angst, idealistic fervour and paranoia were intermingled across its sprawling narrative. Anne (Betty Schneider) is a naïve and lonely literature student whose staid life is irrevocably disrupted upon becoming enraptured by a group of non-conformist and radical bohemians, thanks to a party she attends on her elder brother Pierre’s (François Maistre) invitation. There she learns about Juan, an anti-Frank rebel, who's mysteriously died; meets Philip (Daniel Crohem), a Pulitzer-winning journalist on the run from McCarthyism, who’s convinced of a sinister global conspiracy; befriends Gérard (Giani Esposito), a passionate theatre director struggling to stage Shakespeare’s Pericles; and becomes mystified by Terry (Françoise Prévost), a femme fatale who was earlier Juan’s fiancée and who the doomed Gérard is now bewitched by. The luscious B/W photography of Parisian cafés, hotels, streets, corners, desolate exteriors and cramped indoor spaces, and the jazz-based score, accentuated its ominous moodiness and evocative zeitgeist. The film also boasts of a sardonic cameo by Godard.







Director: Jacques Rivette

Genre: Drama/Urban Drama

Language: French

Country: France

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Lal Darja (The Red Door) [1997]

 Reality, dreams, memories, and fantasy coalesced quite freely in Lal Darja, with its mystifying title referring to the potential path to freedom, escape and happiness, as well as – ironically – something that's destined to remain hopelessly unattainable. However, despite what its intriguing premise might suggest, it was also a film seeped in bleak realism, existential crisis, and despair. In this seeming dissonance – between its subtly grand formal crux and downbeat lyricism – and the heavy use of allegories, lay its strength as well as relative blemish, especially the weightiness and tonal unevenness in this otherwise wry, understated and melancholic work. The movie’s protagonist is Nabin Dutta (Subhendu Chatterjee), a dreary and increasingly withdrawn middle-aged dentist who’s in a clear state of quandary – the relationship with his wife has collapsed irrevocably, his teenage son refuses to speak to him, and he’s even started making some rather silly errors at work. His gloom and acute loneliness are manifested by an inexplicable disease that’s causing impotency and plaguing his emotional stability – and for which he visits a gaggling doctor (Haradhan Bandopadhyay) who possibly doesn’t exist –; sardonically juxtaposed by the sense of perplexity he continually experiences on account of his  easy-going chauffeur who’s happily married to two women, including the coquettish and alluring Maloti (Indrani Haldar) – something that could just be a figment of his imagination as well, even if that isn’t explicitly established –; and alleviated to some extent by his regular falling back to his memories of growing up in the tranquil environs of Cherrapunji when he believed that he had the power to open the eponymous red door, on the other side of which lay the answers to all his wishes.







Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: Bengali

Country: India

Saturday, 19 November 2022

Tahader Katha (Their Story) [1992]

 The understated palette, languorous pacing, and moody poetic realism in Dasgupta’s haunting and eloquent film Tahader Katha, were strikingly counterpointed with its bristling undercurrents of fury. It formed a fitting companion piece to the director’s next work Charachar, in that the protagonists of both films were fragile and eccentric outsiders – a disillusioned and tormented former freedom fighter, and a passionate bird-lover, respectively – who’re at complete odds with the society for being square pegs in round holes. Shibnath (Mithun Chakraborty), finally released upon India’s independence after having spent eleven years in prison during the British Raj, has been left utterly broken both physically and psychologically – he even spent three years in a mental asylum and still carries the ravaging scars of PTSD – on account of relentless torture, harsh conditions and solitary confinement. Further, the horrors of partition – during which his wife (Anashua Mujumdar) and kids who were forced into becoming refugees from East Bengal – and the pervading human corruption that he witnesses as he’s finally reunited with his family – manifested in particular by his former comrade Bipin (Dipankar De) who trumpets himself as a great patriot in his efforts to become an elected politician, despite minimal contributions – leaves him angry, cynical and disenchanted… so much so, that he alienates everyone around him and withdraws into a melancholic shell. Buoyed by Mithun’s alternatively muted and ferocious turn, and the sublime portrayal of rural Bengal – through long takes, gentle pans, sublime vistas and disarming 360-degree camera turns – its circular arc reminded me of Angelopoulos’ devastating tour de force Voyage to Cythera, where too a former rebel finds himself stranded in an alien land upon returning home after many years in political exile.







Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Existential Drama

Language: Bengali

Country: India

Sunday, 13 November 2022

Charachar (Shelter of the Wings) [1993]

 Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Charachar – adapted from a Prafulla Roy novel, and made in a phase when he was crafting one acclaimed arthouse film after another – is a tender, understated and poignant parable on the existential crisis of an eccentric, misunderstood man – a misfit and an outsider, like most protagonists in his oeuvre – who’s finding himself unable to reconcile to his livelihood. Lakhinder (Rajit Kapoor), a young and simple guy residing in a tiny hamlet with his wife (Laboni Sarkar), earns his living as a bird-catcher. He spends his days with the middle-aged Bhushan (Sadhu Meher) – whose beautiful teenage daughter (Indrani Haldar) has a soft corner for the dreamy Lakhinder – in uninhabited fields and forests in order to cater to a local dealer. He, however, has developed such a deep love for birds, that he’s finding it increasingly difficult to accept them confined within cages, and hence keeps releasing them. As a result, his debt and therefore impoverishment are constantly on the rise, which in turn has taken his marriage to the brink of collapse, as his intensely frustrated wife has secretly started an affair with another man (Shankar Chakraborty) who bestows gifts on her. As he keeps sliding into an alternate world unencumbered by practical expectations and daily rigmarole, that transition gets permanently sealed upon a trip to Calcutta, in order to sell their birds to another dealer (Manoj Mitra) at a higher price, that ends on a devastating note for this sensitive guy who was already teetering on the edge. The film is filled with marvellously photographed vistas of rural Bengal and a lonesome, poetic atmosphere, thus ironically making it an incredibly benign counterpoint to Hitchcock’s The Birds.







Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Rural Drama

Language: Bengali

Country: India

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Grihajuddha (Crossroads) [1982]

 The sub-genre of paranoia/conspiracy thrillers – covering political corruption, institutional malfeasance, sordid machinations of large corporations, covering up of inconvenient truths using compromised agencies, and unravelling of the rut, amidst an atmosphere of secrecy, disillusionment and fatalism – was incredibly relevant to the political zeitgeist of the 50, 60s and in particular the 70s. Buddhadeb Dasgupta, rooted to the Bengal/Calcutta milieu, but surely well-aware of this genre trend, amalgamated its facets into the backdrop of Naxalite movement and its explosive face-off with the industry-government nexus, into his early film Grihajuddha. Quite atypical to his oeuvre, it was gritty, confrontational, discomfiting, and defiantly positioned to the left in its bristling critique of the state, big business, and complicity of those aspiring for class transition. When a senior labour union leader, who’s stumbled upon some murky information involving the steel giant where he’s employed, dies under mysterious circumstances – ostensibly in an accident, but possibly murdered by his powerful employer – and firebrand union leader Prabir gets beaten to death by lumpen elements thereafter, lives of three people get transformed irrevocably. Nirupama (Mamata Shankar), the latter’s soft-spoken but morally resolute sister, is arm-twisted into relocating and forced into taking a job in the same organization due to severe financial stress; Bijon (Anjan Dutt), once an idealistic guy who followed Prabir and had a relationship with Nirupama, is compelled to go into hiding, but returns completely changed into a cynical guy who’s decided to move on; and Sandipan (Goutam Ghose), a journalist who’s committed to uncovering the conspiracy despite his slimy boss’ stonewalling. The film’s production and post-production aspects were rough, even stilted, at times, but its political and moral compass were fierce, uninhibited, and unwavering.

Note: My earlier review of this film can be found here.







Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Genre: Thriller/Political Drama/Conspiracy Thriller

Language: Bengali

Country: India

Friday, 14 October 2022

Pierrot le Fou [1965]

 The anarchist, non-conformist, prankster, satirist, cynic, romantic and mad genius residing within Godard were all on dazzling display in Pierrot Le Fou – his exuberant, impudent, goofy and crazy gem. He took the template of outlaw lovers – or, in his words, the “the last romantic couple” – on crime spree, and deliriously punched into that pop-art aesthetics, wacky humour, comic-book violence, idiosyncratic genre subversion, sardonic class commentary, hilarious satire on consumerism, lacerating indictment on militarism, and a whole lot of manic fun, thus making this a dizzying mosaic packed with political, cultural, cinematic and literary references. That his marriage to Anna Karina was falling apart, added a poignant touch to their fifth and penultimate collaboration. Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) – a media exec leading an unfulfilled bourgeois existence filled with ennui, domesticity and shallow social circles, and married to a well-off wife (Graziella Galvani) who’s consumed by vacuous consumerism – takes off on a whim with Marianne (Karina), his ex-girlfriend and member of an underground racket on the run from OAS gangsters. They steal cars, commit murders, swindle, and engage in subterfuge as they ride drive Paris to Côte d’Azur in search of escape and idyll. Along the way they encounter dwarf criminals, perform a couple of infectious musical sequences, make buffoons of American GI’s through a parodic agitprop street theatre on the Vietnam War, etc. Belmondo as the deadpan and philosophical Ferdinand, and Karina as the enchanting and impulsive Marianne, made for an unforgettable pair in this zany work flamboyantly photographed by Coutard. American filmmaker Samuel Fuller, in an ironic cameo, mentions “cinema is like a battleground”… Godard emphatically espoused that maxim here, and made it his raison d'être over his radical career.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here.







Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Drama/Black Comedy/Satire/Road Movie/Musical/Avant-Garde

Language: French

Country: France

Wednesday, 12 October 2022

Vivre sa Vie (My Life to Live) [1962]

 Vivre Sa Vie – with its desolate realism, melancholy and pathos – possibly ranks among Godard’s most solemn, understated and restrained works. Yet, it was also splendidly suffused with wry ironies, socio-political jabs, Brechtian technique, metatextuality, detours and dazzling narrative ingenuity – and this interplay between aesthetics, form, structure, themes and political undercurrents made this a work of rare beauty, depth and bravado. Broken into twelve tableaux – each beginning with an intertitle reminiscent of pre-20th century literature – it chronicled the life of the lovely and lost Nana (anagram of Godard’s muse and the film’s effervescent heroine Anna Karina), who wishes to escape from her dreary existence. She therefore breaks off her marriage and quits her job in a record store, dreaming of becoming a movie actress, but ends up as a prostitute on the streets of Paris. Godard interspersed her poignant, edgy and doomed journey with sublime moments, droll interludes, rich literary allusions and bravura filmmaking. In an iconic scene Nana is captured in a heart-breaking close-up as she watches Falconetti in Dreyer’s The Passion ofJoan of Arc; in another unforgettable sequence, she lets herself loose through a carefree dance to a pulsating jazz score in a pool room; the murder of an Algerian protestor being shot at by the French police is juxtaposed with a bravura jump-cut montage; the film’s elegiac score is often stopped without a cue; French prostitution laws are detailed in a deadpan voice akin to an educational newsreel; Truffaut’s Jules and Jim is shown playing at a Paris cinema; Baudelaire’s translation of Poe’s writing being read out by Godard’s voiceover; a long sequence where renowned philosopher Brice Parain answers Nana’s questions on language, love and whatnot.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here.







Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama/Avant-Garde

Language: French

Country: France

Sunday, 9 October 2022

Le Mépris (Contempt) [1963]

 Godard’s breathtaking, sensuous and fierce masterpiece Le Mépris was packed with cinematic references and straddled multiple dichotomous facets. Adapted from Moravia’s commanding and ferocious novel Il Disprezzo, this smouldering examination of marital disintegration, artistic integrity, and filmmaking was simultaneously suffused with decadent classicism and blazing modernism – aesthetically, thematically and formally – while positing commentaries on modernist interpretations of classical texts, cinematic grammar – interlacing the lush, sensorial and opulent melodrama of Old Hollywood with deconstructive, subversive and radical avant-garde elements –, and overlaps between truth and artifice. Coutard’s resplendent cinematography – delineated with bold primary colours, interplays between intimate close-ups and sumptuous wide-angled frames, and glorious tracking shots –, Georges Delerue’s deeply elegiac score, and co-existence of immaculate mise-en-scène with montages, likened it to the Greek tragedy that formed here – as in the source novel – the focal point for both the plot and broader thematic explorations. Paul (Michel Piccoli), once an independent playwright, has been lured by easy money from writing movie screenplays – ostensibly to provide a luxurious life for his ravishing wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot), but essentially manifesting his self-delusion, hypocrisy and artistic decomposition. Things get dramatically complicated when he takes a job from vulgar, overbearing American producer Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rework the great Fritz Lang’s allegorical adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey into a mainstream costume drama. Meanwhile, the couple’s marriage unravels over the three-act structure, as the underlying malaise and disaffection reaches irreconcilable proportions during the brilliant mid-section staged within their apartment, and gets sealed during their trip to Capri where the filming is underway. This mesmeric work – right from the voyeuristic opening sequence drooling over Bardot’s body to the fatalistic climax – was therefore at once exultant, ponderous and disquieting.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here.







Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Drama/Marriage Drama/Showbiz Satire/Avant-Garde

Language: French/English

Country: France

Friday, 7 October 2022

Band of Outsiders (Bande à Part) [1964]

 Godard made a euphoric return to the world of B-movies – the palette for his seminal debut feature Breathless – with Band of Outsiders, his 6th film in 4 years. This quirky, funny, playful and irresistibly infectious work – filled with ingenious interludes and asides, and wry pastiche to American genre cinema – formed a lovely companion piece to Truffaut’s dazzling sophomore film Shoot the Piano Player, in that both were eccentric adaptations of pulpy hardboiled novels – Dolores Hitchens’ Fools’ Gold and David Goodis’ Down There, respectively –, and they effortlessly juxtaposed bleak and downbeat poetic realism with remarkable stylistic bravado and nonchalance. This slacker crime caper revolved around two guys – the sincere and straightforward Franz (Sami Frey), and his cynical and raffish buddy Arthur (Claude Brasseur) – vying for the same girl, viz. the vivacious, coquettish and doe-eyed Odile (Anna Karina), who they’re trying to have as a partner-in-crime in their plan to rob the large stash of cash which, as per her information, can be found in the building in a grimy Parisian suburb where she resides. Things, unsurprisingly, don’t go as planned, which was twice over here on account of its post-noir sensibilities and its maverick director. The latter aspect was especially noteworthy thanks to inspired sequences which’ve become part of cinematic folklore – Franz and Arthur’s faux recreation of Pat Garrett shooting Billy the Kid; the troika’s seductive and melancholic “Madison dance” in a nondescript café; their celebrated mad dash through the Louvre – and myriad other irreverent interjections, like the minute of silence, Karina breaking the fourth wall with the rhetorical question, “why a plot?”, etc. Michel Legrand’s terrific jazz score and Coutard’s melancholic B/W photography added to its roguish charm.

Note: My earlier review of this film can be found here.







Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Crime Thriller/Crime Comedy/Buddy Film/Avant-Garde

Language: French

Country: France

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Breathless (À Bout de Souffle) [1960]

 Like someone once eloquently surmised Godard’s scintillating debut – which became the Nouvelle Vague’s manifesto and, alongside The 400 Blows, its most influential work – “there was before Breathless, and there was after Breathless.” Free-form, improvisational, impudent, iconoclastic, exhilarating, and a stunning volte-face to conventions, it heralded its defiant and non-conformist auteur’s transition from theory to action. It was based on a story by his former Cashiers du Cinema comrades Truffaut and Chabrol, which he radically reworked and wrote the script on the fly, even feeding lines to his actors from behind the camera; this was his first of many unforgettable collaborations with Raoul Coutard who made extraordinary cinematographic innovations during its making, and shot a number of remarkable single takes, including an astonishing double full camera rotations in a cramped interior space while following two people from the streets to inside, and the famous climactic tracking shot; the film’s initial cut clocked two hours, prompting Godard to slice between scenes, thus leading to its legendary jump-cuts… anecdotes about the film remain as spellbinding as the film itself. Godard took French cinema to the streets of Paris, and displayed his love for American B-movies – gangsters and noirs – in this jazzy romantic noir with a fine score by Martial Solal, involving Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), an insouciant car thief who loves emulating Bogart and is on the lam after killing a cop, and Patricia (Jean Seberg), an alluring and enigmatic girl-woman whose introduction – hawking New York Herald Tribune on Champs-Élysées – remains one of the most recognizable sequences in cinema. Melville, in a deadpan cameo, ironically quipped that his greatest ambition was “to be immortal, and then die” … well, Godard achieved exactly that.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here.







Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Crime Drama/Post-Noir/Romantic Noir

Language: French

Country: France

Sunday, 2 October 2022

Crimes of the Future [2022]

 While watching Julia Ducournau’s gloriously seductive body-horror film Titane, one hoped for one last hurray from Cronenberg who’d once made this sub-genre his personal fiefdom and engendered the Cronenbergian grammar. Hence the Canadian auteur’s fabulous new film Crimes of the Future – albeit, conceived and written in the late-90s and was slated to go into production in early-2000s, before it got shelved for the next two decades – and his first in 8 years, felt especially exhilarating for its gleeful, provocative and ballsy evocation of his quintessential brand of outrageous, discomfiting, visceral and caustic social, cultural and biological commentaries in the veins of Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers and Crash. Bearing the same title as his sophomore film but without any resemblances otherwise, it captures a dystopian future when human bodily evolution has moved into uncharted territories where pain and infection are a thing of the past; new human organs are spouting out of nowhere and “surgery is the new sex”, leading to both edgy performance art and increased body control by the state; dietary habits have got radically altered – with an underground anarchist cult feeding on industrial plastic –; and the society has shaped into a battleground between the surveillance state and subversive non-conformists. In this disturbingly allegorical milieu, the story focussed on the tantalizing ménage à trois between a renowned performance artist couple – Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a brooding man having “accelerated evolution syndrome” and his sensual partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), who performs “live” surgeries on him – and saucy National Organ Registry bureaucrat Timlin (Kirsten Stewert) who’s secretly enamoured with Saul. The boldly grotesque visuals, hallucinatory atmosphere, and pulsating techno-classical score brilliantly complemented Cronenberg’s prescient, subversive and satirical vision.







Director: David Cronenberg

Genre: Thriller/Science Fiction/Body Horror

Language: English

Country: Canada

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Better Call Saul [2015-2022]

 Breaking Bad, which earned immense fandom, plaudits and awards, was undeniably gripping; however, its spin-off prequel Better Call Saul – to let the cat out of the bag at the very outset – was even better. The creators, in an excellent creative decision, focussed here on the backstories of two secondary characters from the previous show – the hustling, loquacious and amoral lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) in particular, and to a lesser degree the taciturn ex-cop turned enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) – and dramatically reworked the mood and scope while retaining elements which were at the forefront there. The resultant work was more psychologically nuanced, morally ambiguous, stylistically ambitious, and sprawling in its narrative arc. Odenkirk gave a truly outstanding performance as Jimmy McGill, former con-man and struggling lawyer who, over 6 marvellous seasons, transforms into a wealthy, crafty and flourishing lawyer through a mix of sheer will, ingenuity, impudence, street-smartness and willingness to cut corners. Banks evoked a droll persona, juxtaposing fierce loyalty, albeit for Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) – the ruthless Chilean drug distributor for the cartel – with an indeterminate moral compass. Kim Wexler (magnificently played by the stunning Rhea Seehorn) – a virtuoso lawyer and a complex, enigmatic woman – formed a fascinating counterpoint to Saul. Among other memorable characters, Saul’s elder brother Chuck (Michael McKean), a renowned lawyer with psychological troubles; Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton), a conniving and charismatic Mexican drug lord; and Nacho (Michael Mando), a foot-soldier in the Salamanca gang, stood out. The series became darker, murkier and more engrossing as it progressed, reaching its apotheosis in the final season – set “after” Breaking Bad’s events and shot in bleak monochromes – which portrayed a lonely, broken and hunted Saul struggling to contain his natural instincts.







Creators: Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould

Genre: Drama/Crime Drama/Legal Drama/Black Comedy

Language: English

Country: US

Friday, 23 September 2022

The Meetings of Anna [1978]

 Disaffection, displacement, loneliness, rootlessness, and emotional ambivalence were the defining attributes of Chantal Akerman’s autofiction film The Meetings of Anna. Made right after her monumental masterpiece Jeanne Dielman and during a phase when she was crafting one sublime, muted, nuanced, decidedly political and profoundly personal work after another, it formed a compelling companion piece to Je Tu Il Elle in particular and so much of her cinema in general, given her striking explorations of feminism, identity, queerness, memories, existential crises and living in a state of flux. Made with customary formal rigour – narrative minimalism, sparseness, empty spaces, melancholic hues, and bold use of silences – it presaged her magnificent mosaic film Toute Une Nuit, in the way they were both foregrounded on fragmented and momentary relationships.  Anna (Aurore Clément) – striking stand-in for Akerman herself – is a Belgian filmmaker who’s on a movie screening tour through various cities across Europe – Cologne, Brussels, Paris, etc. And, while putting up at different cold, impersonal hotels – small and shabby, big and elegant, discreet and modernist – she engages with diverse people and for a myriad reason, viz. impersonal one-night-stands with strangers, clandestine sleep-over with an old lover (Jean-Pierre Cassel), attempts at reconciliation with a bitter former friend, candid reconnect with her mother (Lea Massari) with whom she can easily shed all her physical and emotional inhibitions. Alongside these, she’s continuously trying to get in touch with a woman with whom she had a brief but intense affair. The cyclicity of her existence was brilliantly underscored when, finally on her own bed in her apartment, she listens to a series of telephonic messages which end with plans being spelled out for her next move screening tour.







Director: Chantal Akerman

Genre: Drama/Semi-Autobiographical Film

Language: French

Country: Belgium

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Down There (Là-bas) [2006]

 Chantal Akerman made an intensely personal exploration of her fragile mind – filled with existential dilemmas, psychological ambivalence and political inquiries – in her spare, solemn and minimalist diary film Down There. Its formally rigorous focus on constricted physical spaces, expressions of displacements, and melancholic silences remind one of her fearlessly naked early work Je Tu Il Elle, albeit with the bold foregrounding of her body in that film replaced with her monologues here. Her reflections on the Holocaust, her family and her Jewishness, in turn, presaged her final work No Home Movie where she discussed these topics with her mother who was a Holocaust survivor. It was made during the month that she spent in Tel Aviv as a guest lecturer in a university there, during which she stayed in an apartment lent by a friend. Set almost completely indoors and in a manner that was disarmingly voyeuristic, we see long stretches capturing an ageing couple residing in a house opposite to hers – he’s seen spending his time either tending to his plants or having coffee along with his wife in their balcony – captured through a static camera and shot in grainy visuals through the blinds on her windows. And these sparse, extended and strangely hypnotic long-takes were sparingly accompanied with Akerman’s distinctive voice covering a mix of thoughts, memories and musings on such aspects as suicide – her aunt who was once a very gregarious woman had killed herself as did Amos Oz’s mother –, if it would’ve been better to settle in Israel vis-à-vis Belgium after the WW2, and the troubling present day realities of Israel’s settler colonialism that’s manifested by a bombing that takes place in the neighbourhood.







Director: Chantal Akerman

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Diary Film

Language: French

Country: French

Sunday, 18 September 2022

Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 60s in Brussels [1994]

 Made as part of Arte’s influential “Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge…” series where French filmmakers were asked to contribute recollections from their adolescence days, this might well place among Chantal Akerman’s most tender and playful films despite its aesthetic sparseness… and, alongside The Meetings of Anna, among her most autobiographical fictional works. This delightfully understated and freewheeling film portrayed a day in the life of the 15-year-old Michelle (Circe Lethem) who’s rebelling against her bourgeoise upbringing and experiencing deep existential crisis. It begins with her decision to quit school – she writes fake letters of absence where the reason ranges from an uncle’s illness to her own death, thereafter followed by dramatically tearing off her report card – which she shares with her bosom friend Danielle (Joelle Marlier); she then goes to the cinema where she meets Paul (Julien Rassam) – a young army deserter from Paris – and the two lost souls aimlessly amble along the city before getting into the vacant apartment of her cousin who’s on a holiday; and she ends the day by going to a dance party with Danielle that continues till dawn. Over the course of this lovely, leisurely day she becomes intimate with Paul – as a mix of teenage curiosity and defiance – while also expressing palpable signals of her deep attachment with Danielle, thus making this such an evocative coming-of-age movie. It had two memorable uses of music – Michelle dancing with Paul to Leonard Cohen’s mellifluous Suzanne and later with Danielle to the lively La Bamba – while the proceedings, in a cheeky disregard for temporal conventions, were anachronistically filmed with artefacts indicating the 90s even if the title pointed to the 60s.







Director: Chantal Akerman

Genre: Drama/Coming-of-Age

Language: French

Country: France

Tuesday, 13 September 2022

Dis-Moi [1980]

 The Holocaust had formed an integral part of Chantal Akerman’s lived experience, artistic voice, and being, and it was with Dis-Moi – also referred to as Aujourd’hui, Dis-Moi – that she confronted this devastating subject for the first time in her cinema. Made as part of a series on “Grandmothers” commissioned by French TV, this delicate, nuanced, melancholic, profoundly affecting and surprisingly powerful work – alternately heart-warming and heart-breaking, winsome and bleak, unassuming and eloquent – reiterated her prowess at capturing closed spaces (which she’d displayed in her marvellous silent docu Hotel Monterey) and her propensity for extracting broader personal meanings, feminist subtexts and political contexts through conversational voices (which she’d so magnificently evoked in her masterful essay film News from Home). She met and interviewed three elderly Jewish women in their Paris flats – packed with charming curios amidst an air of loneliness – who faced horrors, irreparable personal loss and forced exiles on account of Nazi occupations during the “Shoah”. And yet – perhaps on account of the passage of time – they shared their memories of their families and days of growing up with a mix of longing, tenderness, equanimity and poignant reconciliation, while coaxing Akerman with grandmotherly love to have the cakes, cookies and coffees if she wants hear their stories. Their digressive oral histories were juxtaposed with the lilting voice of Akerman’s mother Natalia – her letters formed a key strand in the aforementioned essay film and she’d be the central subject in her final film No Home Movie – who, like these women, was a Holocaust survivor (nearly everyone in her family was murdered in the Auschwitz death camps), and was trapped in memories of her idyllic closely-knit world before the Final Solution.







Director: Chantal Akerman

Genre: Documentary/Holocaust Film

Language: French

Country: France