Saturday 29 June 2024

The Lying Life of Adults [2023]

 The chaotic messiness of life, the anxiety-laden process of reconciling with that, and the complexities that people must often navigate through vis-à-vis familial and class backgrounds, are running strands in Elena Ferrante’s novels, and the same vividly held true in her captivating book The Lying Life of Adults. Edoardo De Angelis placed these at the forefront in his commendable adaptation – co-written by Ferrante herself – into the miniseries form. Giovanna (Giordana Marengo) is an intelligent, perceptive and soft-spoken, but inwardly obstinate, restless and emotionally muddled adolescent girl. Unsure of her footing, she finds herself drifting while growing up in a well-off nuclear family, comprising of erudite and left-leaning parents, in 1990s Naples. Upon overhearing her father’s offhand remark about her growing resemblance to her estranged Aunt Vittoria (Valeria Golino) – who her father had violently fallen out with many years back, turning her into persona non grata in their family – she develops a gnawing curiosity to meet her. And when that eventually happens – which necessitates a journey from the cloistered bourgeoisie world that she inhabits to the gritter and seedier side of the city, thus crossing irreconcilable societal borders in the process – the impact of that spins her out of her axis. As her relationship starts deepening with this brash, volatile and overly religious woman – alternately magnetic and repulsive – she finds herself noticing the fault-lines in her family and questioning her own identity, which brings forth a rebellious streak in her that pushes her towards forging a radical new path for herself. Though certain sections felt tad superfluously etched, striking turns by Marengo and Golino, strong political undercurrents, impressive visual designs, and eclectic electronic soundtrack made for a rollicking viewing experience.

Director: Edoardo De Angelis

Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Coming-of-Age/Miniseries

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

Sunday 23 June 2024

Pictures of Ghosts [2023]

 Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Pictures of Ghosts – a confluence of diary, essay, sociocultural document and city symphony – is an idiosyncratic mosaic and personal meditation on how the director’s journey as a cinephile and evolution as a filmmaker are inextricably tied to Recife, the ever-changing Brazilian coastal city which is his home. He made intricate use of memories, reflections, interactions, footage from his own canon – low-fi home videos, clippings from shorts he made as a budding amateur, sequences from his compelling first two features Neighbouring Sounds and Aquarius (the former, in fact, was filmed extensively in his own apartment) – and other historical artefacts while composing this playful convergence of autobiographical montage and personalized observations. It’s broken into three episodes where each expands and shifts the scope vis-à-vis the preceding one. In the first section, “The Setúbal Apartment”, which is confined to his flat and served as a miniature memoir, he speaks of the influence of his mother, and transition of his hobby into vocation. The second chapter, “The Cinemas of Downtown Recife”, focussed on the beautiful old theatres that he’d frequented as a teenager and were hallowed joints for the city’s cinephiles, and in turn chronicled how Racife was once a target for Nazi propaganda in the 1940s, and later a throbbing place for filmmakers and film lovers, until – as he ruefully muses – “capital moved elsewhere”. The final segment, “Churches and Holy Ghosts”, is an alternately satiric and melancholic examination of the famous theatres’ transmogrification into malls, crumbling relics, and even churches. This exploration of the demise of old single-screen theatres, incidentally, reminded me of two films on similar themes, viz. Tsai’s haunting masterpiece Goodbye Dragon Inn and Kaushik Ganguly’s Cinemawalla.

Director: Kleber Mendonca Filho

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Diary Film

Language: Portuguese

Country: Brazil

Saturday 22 June 2024

And, Towards Happy Alleys [2023]

 And, Towards Happy Alleys – to paraphrase its director Sreemoyee Singh’s cogent summation – is a political film, albeit made poetically. This delicate balance between its eloquent feminist voice and wistfully lyrical aesthetics, as well as defiant expression of solidarity and touchingly intimate diary form, both informed and shaped this remarkable documentary essay. Germinated during her doctoral thesis, and over six years in the making during which the Jadavpur University alumnus made frequent trips to Iran, stayed for stretches in Tehran, and even learnt Persian to enable better cultural appreciation and meaningful exchanges, this pean to Iranian cinema, poetry, and collective resistance by the country’s women, artists, activists and citizens – against patriarchy, repression and censorship – marked a stirring transition for her from Film Studies into filmmaking. It covered a surprisingly large ground for its brisk length – interviews with the great dissenting auteur Jafar Panahi, fearless human rights activist Nasrin Sotudeh, actor Mohammad Shirvani et al; paying heartfelt homages to the iconoclastic feminist poet Forough Farrokhzad and filmmaking giant Abbas Kiarostami; observing people and life through her empathetic lens; and cataloguing her lived experiences in this vibrant city. The film, interestingly, is filled with memorable moments that added ironic, self-reflexive and even metatextual touches – Panahi cheekily evoking Taxi Tehran; Aida Mohammadkhani’s emotionally charged reliving of The White Balloon by locking gaze with Panahi; director Mohammad Shirvani’s views on eroticism getting inadvertently “censored” by his neighbour’s drilling machine; Singh’s melodious crooning of Persian songs gaining rousing meanings given the ban on solo female singing; reimagining of Offside during the 2018 football World Cup; and foreshadowing the ‘Mahsa Amini Protests’ that would lead to 38 years’ imprisonment for Sotudeh subsequent to her interviews here.

Director: Sreemoyee Singh

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Diary Film

Language: English/Persian

Country: India

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Against the Tide [2023]

 Watching Sarvnik Kaur’s poignant and poetic documentary Against the Tide, one’s immediately transfixed by the exacting chronicling of her deeply moving subject, given the long and arduous shooting conditions that it must’ve entailed. However, what enthralled me most was her fluid blending of narrative storytelling – and therefore fictive elements – into the nonfiction form, and the formal elasticity accorded by that. It draws particularly fascinating parallels with fellow Jamia Millia Islamia alumnus Shaunak Sen’s masterful docu All That Breathes. The nuanced and evolving portraiture – over the course of a year – of two friends belonging to the marginalized Koli community and tirelessly striving to sustain their piscine vocations, brings to mind the powerful delineation of avian passions of the two ghettoized Muslim brothers. The story of this indigenous fishing community – whose lives and livelihoods have been pushed to the edges on account of displacements due to Mumbai’s reconstructed cityscape, and rapid depletion of stock exacerbated by industrialized fishing, climate change and marine pollution – is evoked through two fiercely intimate friends, albeit separated by class and pursuing contrasting routes. Rakesh lives an impoverished existence with his wife and mother, having opted to continue pursuing traditional fishing in the shallow seas in his frayed old boat with a seasonal crew; Ganesh has moved up the socioeconomic ladder and lives in the city with his wife, but is stuck in the vicious loop of raising capital to go deeper into the sea using expensive crew and equipment, and drowning in debt as a consequence. The brilliantly shot work, with its underlying theme of tradition vis-à-vis modernization, is hauntingly bookended by two births and imbued with stirring echoes through recurrent use of a plaintive dirge.

Director: Sarvnik Kaur

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film

Language: Marathi/Hindi

Country: India

Saturday 15 June 2024

Godzilla Minus One [2023]

 If collective national trauma emanating from Japan’s dark martial past, especially pertaining to WW2 and its aftermaths, informed Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, these were in the foreground of Godzilla Minus One, the smashing new entrant in this long-running kaiju franchise featuring one of Japan’s biggest pop-culture icons. The narrative begins towards the end of the war when, facing certain defeat, Japan notoriously deployed kamikaze pilots for suicide attacks. Upon letting pragmatism and survival instincts trump over the dated concepts of honour and valour – inevitably construed as shameful cowardice by his countrymen – Kōichi (Kamiki Ryûnosuke) feigns technical snags to make an unannounced landing at a small island, where we have our first sighting of the angry reptilian monster. Plagued by immense survivor’s guilt upon his return to a ravaged Tokyo after the war, he tries settling down with his found-family comprising of a woman who’s lost her family (Minami Hamabe) and an orphaned kid, but eventually joins a ragtag crew of fellow vets tasked with diffusing naval mines which are dark remnants of the war. Meanwhile, relentless nuclear tests by the US at Bikini Atoll have brought about deadly mutations to Godzilla, making it not just infinitely more massive and ferocious, with an ability to produce devastating heat rays, but nearly indestructible too. Consequently, when it starts causing massive damages upon reaching the Japanese shores, former weapons engineer (Hidetaka Yoshioka) devises an ingenious, if enormously convoluted plan, to defeat this primordial beast. Buoyed by spectacular visual effects, the director delivered a commendable mix of scintillating sequences, deliberately melodramatic human story, and a dismal historical setting reminiscent of Japanese New Wave films that added vital meanings to the proceedings.

Director: Takashi Yamazaki

Genre: Sci-Fi/Action/Adventure/Family Drama/Creature Film

Language: Japanese

Country: Japan

Friday 14 June 2024

The Boy and the Heron [2023]

 What immediately arrests one about The Boy and the Heron – the first film in a decade by legendary octogenarian Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, who came out of his retirement to make this, and the 25th feature production by Studio Ghibli – are its dazzling, painstakingly handcrafted and decidedly anachronistic 2D artwork. Miyazaki was heavily inspired by the 1937 Japanese novel How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshino (the film’s original title is, in fact, a direct nod to the book); he also self-consciously looked back at his own childhood days and filmography while conceiving this story, which made it semi-autobiographical and self-reflexive. It begun against the harrowing backdrop of WW2 as young Hisako loses his mother to a tragic fire accident. As the war rages on, he finds himself displaced to tranquil rural environs when his father, an ecstatic manufacturer of fighter planes for the military, marries his sister-in-law and relocates to her large estate. There, haunted by his memories and engulfed in debilitating grief, Hisako finds himself lost amidst his new mom and a group of eccentric old ladies, and becomes even more withdrawn upon facing bullying at the local school. That’s when he encounters a speaking, anthropomorphic Heron who mocks him out of his stupor and provokes him into a parallel world – filled with blazing phantasmagoria and outlandish creatures – where he must overcome fantastical obstacles to save his old and new moms. Wildly imaginative and heavily metaphorical – especially around its underlying evocations of past, present and future – the film took an uninhibited turn after having begun on a low-key note, which made it seem messy and overdone on occasions, its affecting mix of loss, melancholy and hope notwithstanding.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Animation/Fantasy/Adventure/Coming of Age

Language: Japanese

Country: Japan

Tuesday 11 June 2024

In Our Day [2023]

 Hong Sang-soo’s chatty yet deadpan In Our Day – made in his characteristically unadorned visual language, unassuming aesthetic grammar and the kind of radical cinematic purity that he’s obsessively internalized – comprises of two parallel threads with such a fleeting link that they might as well be happening at different points in time rather than simultaneously. However, the way these two mirrored each other – in their succinct structures, trio of characters that includes a weary former artist and a visiting young admirer, being steadfastly confined in an apartment, rambling conversations that hint at dwelling on the larger questions of life only to impishly pull back, and the way they ambled along – gave it the form of a wistful diptych. The first thread is centred around a retired movie actress (Kim Min-hee) who has put up at the apartment of an old friend (Song Sunmi) where she’s visited by a naïve cousin aspiring to become an actress. The second thread is set in the flat of an ageing former poet (Ki Joo-bong) – who’s been asked by his doctor to stay off alcohol and cigarettes and has suddenly attained cult following among young readers – is the subject of a documentary being made by a young film student (Park Miso) as part of her coursework, while a callow young guy visits him for insights into art and life. The film, typical of Hong’s love for locating existential truths within his miniature cavasses – oftentimes through wry digressions and ambling drifts – includes a lazy cat, a forgotten guitar, playing “rock paper scissors”, trying non-alcoholic beers, and most memorably, savouring ramen with chili paste. The poet, by the way, does eventually fall back on soju and smoke.

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Genre: Drama/Comedy/Slice of Life

Language: Korean

Country: South Korea

Sunday 9 June 2024

La Chimera [2023]

 Time and history are fluid, elusive and mysterious in Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, an oddball mix of whimsy, irony and melancholy, with burlesque splashes reminiscent of Fellini and Pasolini thrown in. The film’s roguish and eccentric anti-hero Arthur (Josh O'Connor) – an alternately disreputable and righteous British archaeologist of unknown backstory who’s involved with a group of boisterous tombaroli (grave robbers) who’re into scavenging antique artefacts that the Italian lands teem with, while being haunted by memories of a lost love – formed a sardonic embodiment of its seriocomic tone and temporal themes, as he’s continually switching between ancient and near pasts. As the film starts, he’s just been released from prison, and despite moral pangs, he rejoins the colourful gang and leads them using his preternatural abilities in locating the right spots to dig, while dodging the suspicious cops on their tails and scandalizing the locals through their sacrilegious defiling of sacred traditions. Shot by Hélène Louvart – who sumptuously captured the landscapes’ rough beauty, and made playful use of multiple formats and speeds – and accompanied by an earthy and bawdy texture that complemented the script’s sensuous undercurrents and magic realism, the film served as irreverent satire and elegiac meditation on human’s insatiable lust and profane greed. The arresting O’Connor spearheaded a fine cast comprising of Carol Duarte as the alluring Italia who’s drawn towards Arthur and hilariously teaches him Italian hand signals, Isabella Rossellini as the tough yet sentimental mother of Arthur’s lost lover, Vincenzo Nemolato as a gangly scoundrel, and Alba Rohrwacher as a smooth-talking shark. One of the film’s most captivating treasures was a rueful folkloric ballad that added wispy, offbeat and metatextual layers to the quixotic proceedings.

Director: Alice Rohrwacher

Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Adventure/Romance/Magic Realism

Language: Italian/English

Country: Italy

Friday 7 June 2024

Close Your Eyes [2023]

 What could be more meta and self-reflexive than a filmmaker directing a feature-length work after three decades, centred on a filmmaker who abruptly stopped making movies three decades back! Victor Erice, best remembered for his celebrated debut film The Spirit of the Beehives – an allegorical anti-Francoist parable that’s attained mythic position in the annals of Spanish cinema – directed one feature per decade for the next two decades, but hadn’t made any since 1992’s Dream of Light. Understandably, the anticipation for Close Your Eyes, ever since it was announced, was massive among cinephiles, and fortunately one isn’t left disappointed. It begins with the muted footage of a film within film from early-90s, titled The Farewell Gaze, around a wealthy old man hiring a former anti-fascist partisan to find his lost daughter. The leading actor, Julio Arenas (José Coronado), mysteriously disappeared midway – it was assumed that he’d committed suicide, but his body was never found – which led to its director Miguel Garay (Manolo Solo) – also a close friend of Julio’s – abandoning the film, quitting filmmaking, and retiring to a reclusive existence at a fishing village. However, when a TV show revives this old mystery by deciding to make an episode on it, Miguel is forced to revive faded impressions, old acquaintances and his lost love for cinema. Blended with melancholic meditations on memories and mortality, this solemn and decidedly personal work comprised of languorous storytelling, intriguing visual palettes, wry cinematic musings, and an absorbing reunion with Ana Torrent after half a century. As a then 6-year-old, she’d unforgettably starred in the director’s debut movie; incidentally, her screen name was Ana in both films, as well as in Saura’s devastating Cría Cuervos.

Director: Victor Erice

Genre: Drama/Showbiz Drama/Mystery

Language: Spanish

Country: Spain

Sunday 2 June 2024

About Dry Grasses [2023]

 Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s smouldering new epic About Dry Grasses was, at once, expansive and focused. On one hand, its grand vistas, runtime of nearly 3 ½ hours, and a slow-burn narrative with a temporal arc of few months imbued it with the touches of a Dostoevskian novel that gradually unravels, thus allowing unhurried evocations of a brooding atmosphere and undercurrents; on the other, with just four key characters, remote Anatolian outpost setting, and fiercely tense and ominous crux, it had the air of a moody and mysterious Chekhovian tale. Samet (Deniz Celiloğlu), the film’s rivetingly etched protagonist – an art teacher at a primary school who loves photography and is craving to relocate to Istanbul – is a quintessential protagonist in the Turkish maestro’s oeuvre in how he’s a bitter, petulant, complicated, misfit, borderline misanthrope with an artistic bent. Two intersecting strands define his last few months in this village that he deplores, even while capturing its harsh beauty and weather-beaten residents, which are demonstrated via stunning tableaux vivant. He has developed a close bond with fourteen-year-old female student Sevim (Ece Bağcı) – Ceylan avoids interpreting the relationship beyond what we see – that leads to charges of inappropriate behaviour being levelled against him. Meanwhile, he befriends Nuray (Merve Dizdar), a captivating art teacher at another school and Marxist activist who lost a leg in a bomb attack, who he becomes infatuated with when she starts getting close to his colleague and roommate Kenan (Musab Ekici). This magnificently shot and brilliantly enacted film – simmering with weariness and desolation – comprised of striking verbal encounters and a bravura single-take sequence where Sevim makes a temporary Brechtian detour from the movie frame into the adjoining sets.

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Genre: Drama/Rural Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: Turkish

Country: Turkey

Saturday 1 June 2024

Kaathal (The Core) [2023]

 Jeo Baby, with Kaathal, took a diametric turn from his magnificent previous film The Great Indian Kitchen, while also complementing it in interesting ways. Though lacking in the latter’s crushing power – replacing that, instead, with a palette that was low-key and perhaps even too subdued at times – it too touched upon a crucial yet underrepresented topic through marital collapse. The title attained significance in how the director peeled the outward layers to reveal an intensely intimate and socially uncomfortable core. His biggest coup was roping in Mammootty, the veteran superstar of Malayalam film industry, in the role of a married man, who’s been socially conditioned to suppress and deny his homosexuality, finally coming out, and Jyothika as his wife trapped in such a marriage. Mathew, the middle-aged husband and respected member of the community where he resides – along with his wife Omana, their teenage daughter, and his aged father – is chosen by the Communist Party for a local election. His campaign, however, starts on an awkward note as Omana decides, in parallel, to file for divorce. While the political parties try to use this development to their advantage – the Left to demonstrate their progressive intentions and the opposition to spew regressive sentiments – the primary focus here was the couple’s journey through their divorce proceedings. Baby, preferring nuance over theatre, portrayed their separation in an understated manner, and therefore bereft of any dramatic flareups or malice between the couple; that, however, made things appear too downplayed in how everything was so peacefully tied up, considering the complex emotions and repercussions that were at stake. These, fortunately, were partially addressed by the affecting moment of reconciliation, elevated by Mammootty’s restrained performance.

Director: Jeo Baby

Genre: Drama/Marital Drama/Social Drama

Language: Malayalam

Country: India