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/Biopic

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

Thursday 14 April 2022

Summer of Soul [2021]

 American musician and writer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s Summer of Soul is a rousing and immersive celebration of black pride, music and culture, vividly interlaced with politics, history and the quintessential zeitgeist of 1969. Music promoter Tony Lawrence – “a hustler, in the best sense” – arranged the Harlem Cultural Festival – a free concert, featuring a stunning assemblage of black artists – at Mount Morris Park in Harlem, New York, over 6 weekends in the summer of ’69. The event, which covered an extraordinary range of genres – blues, jazz, soul, gospel, pop, rock, ballads – was attended by nearly 300,000 people, and with security by the Black Panther Party, was never televised as all attention was on Woodstock, held just a few kilometres away and which became the symbol of counterculture movement at the time; as a result, the priceless tapes containing 40+ hours of footage remained lost for 50 years. Questlove, while bringing this thrilling piece of history to life, also ensured that its context, impact and memories were eloquently captured too. Thus, he foregrounded this mosaic of exhilarating performances – by Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Nina Simone, Max Roach & Abbey Lincoln, The 5th Dimension, Mahalia Jackson et al, buoyed by an ecstatic crowd in glorious afros and colourful dresses – against the era’s volatile backdrop – assassination of Martin Luther King, Harlem riots, poverty and hostile racism – while also getting a few of the festival’s attendees to reminisce from so many years back. Two moments especially stood out – Simone’s electric rendition of her politically defiant song “Young, Gifted and Black”, and attendees brushing aside the Apollo 11 moon landing – which too happened while this was underway – vis-à-vis the importance and relevance of this festival.






Director: Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson

Genre: Documentary/Music Video/Political History

Language: English

Country: US

Saturday 9 April 2022

The Hand of God [2021]

 Naples, football, cinema and the tragicomic circus of life coalesced into a zany, colourful, bawdy, and elegiac spaghetti – with a zestful sauce thrown in – in Paolo Sorrentino’s delightful semi-autobiographical film The Hand of God. While Fellini’s magisterial La Dolce Vita had inspired his maximalist gem The Great Beauty, the Italian genius’ ribald and kaleidoscopic ciné-memoir Amarcord was the springboard for his funny and wistful reflections on his coming-of-age as a soft-spoken, rudderless and impressionable teenager – albeit, surrounded by chaos and carefree exuberance – in 80s Naples. And, as the title suggests, the mesmeric shadow of the supreme Argentinian wizard Diego Maradona played a pivotal role, as did the philosophic figure of Antonio Capuano (Ciro Capano), in whose film The Dust of Naples then 18-year-old Sorrentino received his first writing credit. Fabietto (Filippo Scotti), who lives surrounded by his Communist father Saverio (Tony Servillo), prankster mother Maria (Teresa Saponangelo) – they made for an indelible and hilariously idiosyncratic pair – his protective siblings, a headstrong Baroness as neighbour, and a riotously eccentric extended family comprising of a buxom but troubled aunt (Luisa Ranieri) who he lusts after, an expletive spewing grand-aunt, a leftist uncle who celebrates Maradona’s titular goal against England in 1986 World Cup – which he followed with a moment of sublime magic – by calling it an impudent middle-finger to the imperialist opposition, etc. These, in turn, were enmeshed with the euphoria of experiencing the patron saint of football donning the Naples jersey, his befriending a devilish cigarette smuggler, a debilitating tragedy that deeply marks his life, and discovering his future vocation, along with a gently evocative tone, lively visual compositions, distinctive flavour of the 80s, mythologization, and an array of emotions.






Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Genre: Drama/Comedy/Film a Clef

Language: Italian

Country: Italy