Monday 27 November 2023

La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) [1969]

 Nearly a decade after Alain Delon’s character – triggered by fragile insecurity, repressed envy and spurned ego – took Maurice Ronet’s character to his watery grave in the dazzling thriller Plein Soleil, he did it again for similar underlying reasons in La Piscine. Sultry, sensuous and gloriously sun-drenched on one hand, while menacing, ominous and disquieting on the other – accentuated by rippling undercurrents of sexual tension and fervid jealousy – Jacques Deray’s luscious, languid, hypnotic, slow-burn smash hit served as the perfect companion piece to the earlier film. It also witnessed the ravishing pairing of former lovers Delon and Romy Schneider; she was roped in upon Delon’s insistence after Jeanne Moreau had turned down the role. Failed writer, recovering alcoholic and ad-man Jean-Paul (Delon), and his entrancing girlfriend Marianne (Schneider) with whom he’s in a passionate fling, are enjoying a lazy, carefree and steamy summer vacation at a luxurious Saint-Tropez villa in Côte d'Azur – basking in the sun, swimming in the open-air pool under the resplendent sky, and with the Mediterranean Sea discernible in the background – when their idyllic isolation is shattered by the sudden arrival of Marianne’s former boyfriend Harry (Ronet), a successful and insouciant music producer who’s still enamoured by her, along with his coy teenage daughter Pénélope (Jane Birkin). Marianne’s free chemistry with Harry, who’s an old buddy of Jean-Paul’s, provokes intense anxiety and turmoil under the latter’s disconcertingly placid demeanour, which in turn propels him towards seducing the wide-eyed teenager. This superbly performed ménage à quatre inevitably leads the increasingly tense narrative – photographed in lush visuals, with the camera often gazing at the roguishly attractive bourgeois characters, and accompanied by Michel Legrand’s jazz score – to a sinister finale.

Director: Jacques Deray

Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Marital Thriller/Neo-Noir

Language: French

Country: France

Sunday 26 November 2023

Eaux Profondes (Deep Water) [1981]

 Three decades before Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert, two giants of French cinema, played father and daughter in Haneke’s devastating masterwork Amour, they had their first onscreen collaboration – and the only one for many years – as a couple conjoined in a toxic marriage in Michel Deville’s saucy, pulpy and criminally under-watched Eaux Profondes. This striking rendition of Patricia Highsmith’s magnificent novel Deep Water mirrored the author’s deliciously warped portrayal of a noxious relationship and closet sociopathy, and consequently emerged as a terrific adaptation of Highsmith, nearly at par with Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Clément’s Plein Soleil and Wenders’ The American Friend. Middle-aged Vic (Trintignant) is a soft-spoken, well-to-do man of private passions – be it his vocation as a perfumier or his oddball hobby of petting snails in his garage – and lives a sedate life at a provincial French town. His friends, however, are concerned for him due to his placid demeanour despite his striking young wife Mélanie (Huppert) – with whom he has a doting daughter – openly taking young men as lovers. What they don’t know is that, he probably loves being cuckolded by his promiscuous wife who, in turn, teases him with her scorching sensuality and adulteries; what she, however, doesn’t know is that, there’s a violent streak under his sociable persona that’s about to snap. The vivid visuals, jazzy score, lurid carnality and seething violence boldly evoked a touch of giallo and B-movies. Trintignant was stunning in an atypical role, while Huppert was tantalizing as a coquettish seductress in the same year as her similarly sultry turn in Tavernier’s blazing tour de force Coup de Torchon, which too – incidentally – was a powerhouse adaptation of American crime literature.

Director: Michel Deville

Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Neo-Noir/Marital Thriller

Language: French

Country: France

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Senso [1954]

 Luchino Visconti’s celebrated fourth feature Senso served as a pivotal milestone for the “Red Count”, as it marked his decisive turn from a pioneering neorealist filmmaker to a practitioner of grand and ambitious historical melodramas. This visually sumptuous, emotionally feverish, vividly operatic and lavishly mounted epic – that exultantly combined Visconti’s love of cinema, theatre, opera and the fine arts – formed a precursor to and therefore one half of a diptych with his gargantuan masterpiece The Leopard, in that both were extraordinarily lush, formally meticulous, and were set against the turbulent backdrop of the radical social and political transformations that swept through the country during the Risorgimento. At its heart is a torrid, outrageously reckless and thoroughly self-destructive love affair that Livia (Alida Valli), a beautiful countess unhappily married to an older aristocrat with a chameleonic ability to shift his allegiances in sync with changing landscapes, gets embroiled in with a much younger, roguish and self-serving Austrian Lieutenant (Farley Granger), which leads her to betray her patriotic principles – viz. the causes of Italian Nationalists who’re battling for independence from the Austrian Occupation – and takes her to complete moral and existential doom. The resplendently designed and crafted film magnificently evoked the arresting architectural and locational splendour of Venice, Rome, Veneto and Verona – rapturously amplified by luscious art décor, ornate costumes and actual artworks; ravishingly shot in muted, fading colours by three different cinematographers (G.R. Aldo died midway, upon which Robert Krasker came in, but conflicts with Visconti’s vision led to Giuseppe Rotunno being asked to step in); and accompanied by a classical score – comprised of a spectacularly orchestrated and filmed battle scenes at par with what Visconti staged in The Leopard.

Director: Luchino Visconti

Genre: Drama/Historical Drama/Romantic Drama/Epic

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Saturday 18 November 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon [2023]

 Martin Scorsese’s bravura adaptation of the acclaimed nonfiction book of the same name by David Grann – for the 44th feature-length film of his storied career – is a bleak, brooding, engrossing and sprawling meditation on evil, greed and the capitalist excesses. It simultaneously delved into the rotten core of settler-colonialism, and specifically, the genocidal “birth” of a nation-state at the bloody-soaked expense of indigenous populations. This ambitious work – that freely worked in equal measures as revisionist Western, slow-burn crime, black comedy, existential horror and historical epic – delivered a macabre retelling of the serial killings – bordering on extermination – of the Osage people, who’d discovered oil in Oklahoma and became incredibly wealthy upon their forced relocation there, by white supremacists who wanted to seize control of the massive oil money. That Native Americans were patronized as sub-humans, made it easier to carry out the massacre with impunity, braggadocio and untroubled conscience. In a remarkable reworking of the book, which had primarily chronicled the proto-FBI’s investigations into the crimes, Scorsese focused instead on the perpetrators – specifically, the calcified and slimy William Hale (Robert De Niro), an affluent cattle rancher whose seemingly genial attitude towards the Osage community masks his monstrous heart, and his dim-witted and easily manipulated nephew Ernest Bucharest (Leonardo DiCaprio) who enters into a “poisonous” marriage to Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone) as part of his uncle’s elaborate nefarious and murderous scheme. Both Scorsese regulars were outstanding in their embodiment of the grotesque underbelly of American history. In a formally blazing and politically audacious finale, the tragic saga is transformed into a lurid radio opera, thus providing a cutting commentary on how popular media cynically repurposes historical injustices into kitschy consumerist fodder.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre: Revisionist Western/Crime Drama/Docufiction/Historical Epic

Language: English

Country: US

Friday 17 November 2023

The Palestinians [1975]

 Dutch documentary filmmaker and photographer Johan van der Keuken, as an essay in Jump Cut appropriately observed about him, “works on the margins of the film industry and lets those on the margins of society whose voices are not usually heard speak through his films.” That statement is equally applicable to his stirring docu The Palestinians, which was, in parallel, deeply moving and filled with urgency. In this daring example of radical cinema – one that was so politically progressive that many of his fellow left-wing friends were perturbed by it – he boldly took the side of the forcibly displaced and infinitely persecuted Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, amidst squalor, desperation, despair, anger and incessant violence. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place – or, more specifically, the apartheid settler-colonialism of the Israeli occupation and the callous indifference of the Lebanese power structure – thus making them a tragically stateless people. Keuken punctuated the docu-essay with reflections on the industrialized massacre of the Jewish people by European fascism, which ironically segued into occupation, brutality, injustice and dislocation of the Palestinian people. With the context set and his political position clearly established, the guerilla work – shot on location in 1975, with grainy visuals manifesting the best of underground reportage and a startling sense of here-and-now – he trained his lens on individual and collective stories. We see women lamenting the destruction of their homes and the death of their kids; protesters defiantly displaying solidarity on the streets; old men pensively reminiscing their lost homes and lands; rebel fighters training by the day and breaking bread in the evening; and a schoolteacher cogently ensuring the kids know their history of oppression by heart.

Director: Johan van der Keuken

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Short Film

Language: Dutch/Arabic

Country: Netherlands/Palestine

Thursday 16 November 2023

Jenin, Jenin [2002]

Jenin, Jenin, as cinema of resistance, was at once powerful, defiant and lucid in how Palestinian actor and filmmaker Mohammed Bakri used a series of interviews – shorn of peripheral contexts and expositions; disquieting in its recording of blazing emotions; and providing rare agency to the voiceless – to craft a polyphonic memorialization of the oppressed, the dispossessed and the persecuted. The radical treatise, despite its brevity, exhibited a harrowing reminder of repressive settler colonialism being faced by the Palestinian people ever since the occupation, through the devastating crackdown and violence that the impoverished residents of Jenin’s refugee camp – located in West Bank – faced at the hands of Israel’s military during “Operation Defensive Shield” in 2002. It, therefore, emphatically evoked the broader picture through its intense specificity, and, in turn, fiercely chronicled the inseparability of the personal and the political for Palestinians, irrespective of whether they’re rebels, partisans, activists or regular civilians. Bakri’s camera unwaveringly captured the rage, despair and sorrow of the survivors – a broken aged man; a livid grandmother; a bitter middle-aged man; a feisty doctor; a helpless father; a heartbroken mother; a disoriented disabled guy; and an unforgettably furious adolescent girl representing the next generation of resistance – through their testimony of what unfolded. Their stirring refusal to capitulate, even at the face of apartheid and tyranny, powerfully stood out. This therefore served as one of many brutal examples of collective punishment that Palestine have faced in the past, thus making it especially pertinent to the gargantuan monstrosity that’s taking place today. Unsurprisingly, the documentary was censored and banned in Israel, while Bakri faced harassments and became a pariah for his courage and dissidence in challenging the mainstream narrative.

Director: Mohammed Bakri

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film

Language: Arabic

Country: Palestine

Sunday 12 November 2023

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One [1968]

 Pioneering documentarian William Greaves’ formally daring exercise – albeit one that remained undistributed for 23 years, until its stunning “discovery” during a Greaves retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, thanks to its bold curator – blazingly blurred the boundaries between verité and artifice. For this film-within-film-within-film made in NYC’s Central Park, he ostensibly decided to shoot the auditioning process of a short film on marital breakdown, for which he deployed four camera setups – one for the primary shoot focussed on a middle-aged couple; a second one to record the shooting process; a third to provide a peripheral context by capturing passers-by in the park; and finally, the director wielding a mobile camera himself. Meanwhile, the crew are seen growing dissatisfied and potentially mutinous against Greaves – or rather the incompetent, sexist and nonchalant version of himself that he enacts – for his lack of vision and method, and he edits their free-flowing discourses into it, even if it isn’t clear if this was off-screen friction or purposely staged. Alongside its subversion of the lines between nonfiction, direct action and contrivances – reminiscent of the dazzling Moroccan docu-fiction About Some Meaningless Events – and striking use of split screens, this freeform work – jauntily accompanied by Miles Davis’ music – was political too; it was, after all, the time of the New Left, anti-government protests, and Civil Rights and counterculture movements. That an African-American filmmaker was making something as wildly experimental as this, with a predominantly white crew, advocating the idea of dissenting against an authority figure, and openly covering the topics of abortion and closet homosexuality – and thus providing trailblazing manifestations of Black cinema, queer cinema and New Hollywood – made it eminently political, even if not overly so.

Director: William Greaves

Genre: Documentary/Experimental Film/Avant-Garde

Language: English

Country: US

Saturday 4 November 2023

Monica, O My Darling [2022]

 Monica, O My Darling is a heady, devilish and deliriously entertaining joyride, and riotously lurid and pulpy at that. This crackling celebration of lowbrow crime genre was liberally peppered with references – Vasan Bala, who’s as much a cinephile as he’s a filmmaker, doffed his hats to pulpy hardboiled literature, neo-noir capers, cheesy B-movies, crime comics and old-school Bollywood – thus exuberantly underscoring its self-reflexive nature, even though that never came in the way of the enjoyment. Interestingly, amidst the stylistic flourishes, hyperbolic expressions of sensuality and violence, a labyrinthine plot packed with red herrings and outrageous twists, and darkly ironic interjections, Bala also craftily sprayed some pungent social observations into the mix – from ethics of AI and self-serving corporate governance to sharp class commentaries, nepotism and male gaze. Deliciously adapted from Keigo Higashino’s Burūtasu no Shinzō, the narrative hinges around a slew of gleefully saucy characters – the titular Monica (Huma Qureshi), an incredibly voluptuous and promiscuous femme fatale who has no qualms about her desires, wants and needs; Jayant (Rajkumar Rao), who’s made it big as much for his engineering chops as his relationship with his boss’ daughter, but which now hangs in balance thanks to Monica; the boss’ brash son Nishikant (Sikandar Kher) who hatches a preposterous plan to murder Monica, as she’s accused him – among others – of impregnating her; and ACP Naidu (Radhika Apte), a chatty and wisecracking cop. This rollicking tale of lust, greed, blackmail, double (and triple) crosses, and multiple grisly murders, was superbly complemented by a terrific retro soundtrack inspired by 1970s Hindi music – the film’s title is itself a gushing nod to an iconic R.D. Burman composition – created by Achint Thakkar and Varun Grover.

Director: Vasan Bala

Genre: Crime Thriller/Black Comedy/Neo-Noir/Mystery

Language: Hindi

Country: India

Wednesday 1 November 2023

You Have to Come and See It [ 2022]

 Spanish director Jonás Trueba’s deceptively conceived, structured and titled film You Have to Come and See It – a playful post-pandemic work – was laced with Rohmer’s enchanting influences with its lyrical, disarmingly intellectual depiction of two gentle-natured bourgeois couples. It also had a dash of Godard’s impish subversion with its meta, self-referential coda, and a touch of Woody’s deadpan neurosis too with its urban malaise and rambling conversations. I wonder how many filmmakers can speak of such eclectic references! It began with a rapturous opening montage – Chano Domínguez’s “live” performance of his intoxicating new composition Limbo at a jazz bar in Madrid, counterpointed by alternately lingering on the faces of the four protagonists through soft close-ups that provided observant introductions to them – that, with its leisurely evocation of a relaxing mood through the beguiling choice of devoting nearly 8 minutes in a slender runtime of an hour, was gloriously immersive. The strikingly lovely, bespectacled and erudite Elena (Itsaso Arana) and doodling, fidgety Daniel (Vitor Sanz) – who live in the city – and the pretty, friendly Susana (Irene Escolar) who’s expecting and the casual, carefree Guillermo (Francesco Carril) – who’ve recently moved to the countryside – are old friends meeting after a long gap, presumably on account of Covid and the latter couple’s decision to relocate. The former couple make a reluctant trip by train to the exurbs six months later – accompanied by Bill Callahan’s melodic “Let’s Move to the Country” – and the group have a lazy time catching up on their intimate personal developments, having an al fresco lunch, indulging in political/philosophical banter courtesy Elena’s passionate discourse on Peter Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life, playing ping pong, and exploring the surrounding environs.

Director: Jonas Trueba

Genre: Drama/Experimental Film

Language: Spanish

Country: Spain