Friday 30 June 2023

Aftersun [2022]

 Scottish director Charlotte Wells’ assured debut film Aftersun is an achingly tender portrayal of memories – which can be alternately wistful, melancholic and slippery – along with gaps, overlapping recollections, ambiguities and haziness that either become more gaping with time or attain new clarity through a mix of realizations and reimagining. Interestingly, unlike filmmakers who’ve dealt on this subject with complex thematic explorations, ambitious structures, formal bravura and powerful political contexts – Tarkovsky, Fellini, Ghatak, Angelopoulos, Marker, Resnais, Akerman, Mekas, Hou, Lynch, Guzmán, etc. – Wells’ approach was disarmingly simple, her canvas decidedly small and her touch delicately low-key. It portrayed a short summer vacation to Turkey, as part of a budget tour package, taken by eleven-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) – shy, vivacious, and surprisingly matured and perceptive for her age – with her genial and oddball 30-year-old dad Calum (Paul Mescal), who’s divorced from her mother even though they continue to maintain cordial relations, whose boyish looks lead some to assume that he’s Sophie’s elder brother, and has an easy-going camaraderie with her. As we gradually decipher – through fragmentary impressions, and Wells’ gentle brushstrokes and quiet observational style – Calum has a history of drug abuse, he’s grappling with depression, he’s carrying a crushing guilt which he’s unable to figure out, and he’s struggling with existential anguish that’s barely cloaked by his placid demeanour. Their seemingly uneventful time together – making home videos using a camcorder, having light-hearted fun, lazing around, playing arcade games, etc., and beautifully brought to life by Corio and Mescal – achieved additional depths through the prism of memories as Sophie, who’s now in her thirties herself, with a wife and kid, is essentially trying to gain fresh understandings on her “lost” father.

Director: Charlotte Wells

Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Coming-of-Age

Language: English

Country: UK

Monday 26 June 2023

Esterno Notte [2022]

 In March 1978, former Italian PM and Christian Democracy party leader Aldo Moro was kidnapped, held hostage for 55 days and eventually assassinated by the revolutionary guerilla outfit Red Brigades. The centre-left politician was an influential statesman and popular leader whose sway cut across the political spectrum; “Caso Moro”, as a result, remains one of the most dramatic and defining moments in post-War Italy. Bellocchio, who’d made the acclaimed film Buongiorno, Notte on the same event – albeit from the perspective of an RB member – returned to this subject 20 years later with Esterno Notte, where he significantly expanded the scope by focusing on all key protagonists and therefore resorting to the miniseries form which allows for more expansive treatments while retaining the narrative elements and cinematic appeal of feature-length films. The resultant work, split over 6 Parts, was ambitious, kaleidoscopic and oftentimes compelling. The first 5 episodes spotlighted on each of the key players – Part 1 on Moro (Fabrizio Gifuni) himself; Part 2 on conflicted Minister of the Interior Cossiga (Fausto Russo Alesi); Part 3 on Pope Paul VI (Toni Servillo) who launched a parallel plan to get Moro freed upon realizing the government’s unwillingness to negotiate; Part 4 on RB and, in particular, Adriana Faranda (Daniela Marra), a single mother and committed revolutionary who was part of the core team and expressed disagreements with their pig-headed tactical choices; Part 5 on Moro’s wife Eleonora (Margherita Buy) who becomes increasingly furious at the CD leadership for their wilful inaction – while the final episode wrapped things up. Gifuni, as Moro, and Buy, as his devastated wife, gave superlative turns in this brooding docufiction on political conflicts, cover-ups, violence and aftermaths.

Director: Mario Bellocchio

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Docufiction/TV Miniseries

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Wednesday 7 June 2023

Trenque Lauquen [2022]

 There’s something inherently haunting and melancholic about films, books and songs – Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, Mohiner Ghoraguli’s Sei Fuler Daal, Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart, Chang-dong’s Burning – in which a girl disappears for no discernible reasons and is never found again. Trenque Lauquen – directed by Laura Citarella, who’d produced Llinás staggering masterwork La Flor, and part of the Argentine filmmaking collective El Pampero Cine which Llinás, as well as actress and co-writer Laura Paredes, are also members of – is a bewitching addition to that list. This shape-shifting work – clocking at a staggering 4 ½ hours, cheekily structured in the form of nested flashbacks like Matryoshka dolls, and filled with playful red herrings and tantalizing MacGuffins – both tests and rewards patience. Three investigations were at its core, all of which began in media res and faded off enigmatically. The search for Laura (Laura Paredes) – botanist, amateur historian, part-time radio jockey – by her older boyfriend Rafael (Rafael Spregelburd), and Ezequiel (Ezequiel Pierri), with whom she’d developed an intimate friendship, upon her sudden disappearance, formed this episodic yarn’s central focus. Two curious quests that Laura was drawn into before she fell off the grid, were thereafter chronicled through intricate flashbacks. The first one involved piecing together a racy, intercontinental, epistolary affair; the way she locates old letters using teasing clues reminded me a lot of the gorgeous novel The Tango Singer – another sublime Borgesian work – where the narrator hopes to locate an obscure, evasive tango singer. The second one featured a strange woman (Verónica Llinás) who’s trying to find a rare flower and potentially hiding a fantastical boy. The futile quest for answers, therefore, formed an alluring motif in this delightful postmodernist opus.

Director: Laura Citarella

Genre: Drama/Mystery

Language: Spanish

Country: Argentina

Sunday 4 June 2023

Tori and Lokita [2022]

 Stark tales of illegal refugees – who suffer harrowing conditions, exploitation and apathy as the going rate for hopes of a marginally better life – have been a recurring motif in the Dardenne brothers’ canon. In La Promesse and The Unknown Girl the immigrants existed on the edges, even if their experiences and stories were eloquently and powerfully evoked. In Lorna’s Silence, however, they took the centre-stage, thus amplifying the associated desperation, dehumanization and despair. Tori and Lokita had strong parallels with the latter film in that sense, despite the outward differences – focus on an African kid and adolescent, instead of adults from a “lesser” Europe, and replacement of marital relationship with a found family which, in-sync with the Dardennes’ universe, demonstrated a deep and heart-warming bond. The titular characters are eleven-year-old Tori (Pablo Schils) and sixteen-year-old Lokita (Mbundu Joely) who’ve made the arduous journey from Benin to Belgium only to find themselves ghettoized in a vicious quagmire thanks to jaded immigration authorities that’re reluctant to extend residence permit to Lokita – the two, having developed profound attachment to each other, have positioned themselves as siblings to the cynical authorities – which, in turn, has made them tragically vulnerable to the traffickers chasing them for payments, and a drug racket run by a chef (Alban Ukaj) – in order to pay their mounting debts – who uses them as mules and sexually abuses Lokita. The film’s rare moments of levity – the inseparable duo practicing ways of cracking the immigration interviews or performing a Sicilian song for tourists – were fleeting asides in an otherwise relentlessly bleak, suffocating and downbeat work that, despite being a relatively lesser Dardenne, was undeniable in its painful cry and social urgency.

Directors: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: French

Country: Belgium