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Enter the Void (2009)
Enter The Void
ENTER THE VOID – 9.0/10
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer: Gaspar Noé, Lucile Hadzihalilovic (assisted)
At least once in a lifetime, an individual comes across an event or entity that leaves them simply bewildered. I believe Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void was my first such experience. This essay is not a review of the film. It is purely an attempt to reflect upon what has transpired. This is not the regular or for that matter even the art-house, alternate film. It is probably beyond those genres as well and does not fall within the realm of common filmmaking conventions.
The film is a sensory orgasm of strobe lights, psychedelics, nauseating yet mesmerizing camera work, depressing debauchery and all human behavior that reminds one of an abysmal darkness. While all other things barred, the film is a technical masterpiece and every shot in the film is worth its prolonged torment. The visual experience itself is enough to carry one through the significant run-time of 161 minutes. It cannot be stressed enough how Enter the Void is probably the only film of its kind and not because of its technical prowess, but likely because of the union of all things psychedelic: from the story, to cinematography, the edit, set designs, to character behavior and appearances, to conversations and even the actual location – Tokyo. Together, the film is one experimental, indulgent, dark trip into the void.
One reason the film is fascinating is because it challenges all notions and conventions of filmmaking and refutes the purpose of art as a whole. This is surely not Noe's intention, just an inevitable result of such madness. The absolute profanity and the sheer ghastly depiction with which Noe paints life will basically prod one towards questions of metaphysics and ontology. With nihilism at the soul of his ode to man, the obvious oxymoron is the subject matter of reincarnation the film deals with, or at least the concept of it. One one side, his denouement speaks of hope and on the other, his condemnation of this very hope through the hellish depiction of a grim reality.
If one could indulge in a little physiognomy, it may not seem so strange that Enter the Void is actually a French film, though Noe is Argentinian. A fascinating possibility proposes that visceral expressions are found in abundance where societal and traditional shackles are least prevalent. Does this explain consummate depictions of human behavior without defilement in Iranian cinema? While it does not explain poor quality filmmaking in India, does it partially address the clandestine voyeur artist in a traditional society and the pelvic thrusts among other innuendos of carnal catharsis? Films are naked depictions of societies; art is. And what conclusion can one draw of the French society since transgressive art has been a birthmark of this land? Only an intriguing side effect of this film.
Enter the Void is certainly not a film you can watch as regular viewing. It demands a mind-set, a setting, a form of conditioning, certain values and to a great degree, acceptance. It might prompt unlearning, which is often far more complicated than learning. While there is a good chance one might never want to see his film again – and like every other negative employed, this too is not pejorative – one might also never forget the imagery they are subjected to. This, I believe is the paradoxical nature of Noe's filmography and is what makes it markedly distinctive. I will end by calling what I hitherto called a film, an experience. Whether pleasant or not, you will have to decide for yourself.
Raising Victor Vargas (2002)
Raising Victor Vargas
RAISING VICTOR VARGAS – 9.3/10
Director: Peter Sollett
Writer: Peter Sollett
With an unknown cast and coming from a debut director, the film turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Raising Victor Vargas is a 'coming of age' film, if one might call it that, but in every sense of the word, extremely mature. With no special effects or dazzling visuals, Raising Victor Vargas is a must watch for sakes of storytelling and scriptwriting.
The film revolves around the story of a youngster Victor Vargas, a Dominican teenager, played exceptionally well by Victor Rasuk. Victor, who is out to regain his image after word of his affair with a 'fat' girl leaks to the neighborhood. To rise to his old glory, he must win over the pretty Judy Marte ('Juicy' Judy Gonzalez). For most parts, the story is just that. While detailing it any further would lead to spoilers, watch out for the most interesting aspects of the film, which in this case are precisely those parts which seem least relevant.
The film manages to charm, delight and appease with the smallest of details, ones that are almost always overlooked in films seeking to be larger than life. It is as though the writer/director has understood the simplest secret of storytelling. He deals with nuances of the youth, the teenagers and their daily lives in a very refined and mature manner. Not succumbing to obvious temptations of problems facing the youth, the director dodges all the clichés, from drugs to violence, from rape to vengeance.
There isn't really much to say about the film. It is shot in a few locations, with limited characters and resources. Yet the performances are fantastic, the script is simple and funny, the acting is outstanding. The film flows from one scene to the next and very soon without actually realizing it, we are living the lives of the characters, laughing and smiling with them, cheering and hooting for them. Sadly, we haven't seen a lot from Sollett since 2002; hope he makes an appearance soon.
SHANGHAI – 7.2/10
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Writer: Dibakar Banerjee, Urmi Juvekar
Yes, we know it's an adaptation and since there is a lot to write about, we shall get straight to the point. Shanghai, 2012's most sensational political film, whether liked or disliked, has managed to create enough waves to get everyone talking. While the critics have unanimously hailed it as a success, the film has not managed to impress.
Now, the concerns with the script:-
1) Abhay Deol (T.A Krishnan) is an IAS officer who is made to preside over a state government initiated inquiry of a murder of an activist. He is investigating a matter in which IBP, an infrastructure company, could be possibly involved. He also happens to be the Vice-Chairman of IBP. This doesn't make sense nor is it factually possible. While an IAS officer can be on the board of a company through government directives, it is legally not possible to conduct an inquiry if he is on the board of the firm whose conduct is in question.
2) Krishnan is shown to be the CM's favored man. He is aware the state government is using the infrastructure project as an election agenda. Throughout the investigation, his work is hindered by the state government, either by direct reprimand through the secretary of CM Farooq Shaikh (Kaul) or sterner tacit directives, as when the CM's order halts the commission. Clearly, this is a paradox. One, because in reality or in a script, a CM would not put a man at the helm of an inquiry if his loyalty is in question or if he is extremely honest. Two, if a shrewd politician does commit this blunder as in the film, why does he go against the government? No possible motivations have been explored. Also, what keeps him from understanding the state government's motives and advantages in supporting IBP until the fag end? He is shown to be clever, but came across as rather naïve.
3) The biggest issue with the film was the turning point when Emraan Hashmi (Jogi Parmar) decides to help Kalki Koechlin (Shalini Sahay). Parmar is the man who determines the final outcome or climax of the film. He is emotionally compelled to do so because of the murder of his relative/guardian and business partner who possesses a tape that will bring down the government. This tape, by far, is the most important finding of evidence by any character in the film which implicates the murderers convincingly. Yet, Parmar's relative conveniently discusses this with the very people whom the tape implicates? This simply doesn't work; a square peg is being fit into a round hole.
4) Further, the result of this is the goon who would have likely killed Jogi Parmar's relative, asks Parmar if he has knowledge of the 'jackpot' tape in question? Again, this does not work for two reasons. It conveniently makes the script move forward as Parmar now has a motivation to avenge his uncle. Two, the goons who know these two men work together actually come and inquire instead of simply getting rid of Parmar, who would likely have knowledge of the tape but wouldn't disclose it under the given circumstances.
Problems with characterization:
1) Prasenjit Chatterjee (Dr.Ahmedi): why does he land in a chartered plane with an item girl who will subsequently perform at an IBP function? Since there is such specific focus on this, as a viewer, one would expect this information to be later introduced to discredit his character or just be used for that matter, instead it's just left open. He kisses Shalini passionately, throwing light on their past, but again not so much. A womanizing activist, how does this help the film or his character?
2) Shalini Sahay's: character is best described as a phantom. We don't know her past, why or what has she studied abroad, why is she an activist now, how she makes her living, where she comes from or where is she going? Her role primarily is restricted to crying for the half-dead activist and running around the city. A major detail about her father's involvement in a scam is again left as a lose end.
3) Tillotama Shome (Mrs.Ahmedi): who is she and what is her purpose? The most random ending I've seen to a film since Kashyap's Gulal, where Mrs.Ahemdi's picture appears on an IBP poster. All of a sudden, the viewer is expected to shift the entire focus from the story of government & administrative malpractice & failure to the interpersonal relation of the Ahmedi's or to the conniving nature of Mrs.Ahmedi. The film could have been exactly what it was without this detail or even this character.
Further, while I'm not against songs, the item number seems misplaced when it actually becomes a song. So does the song "Bharat Mata Ki" when Parmar magically bumps into the murderer Pitobash Tripati (Bhaggu) and a full-fledged sequence commences. It felt slightly out of tune with the film, as though one had succumbed to commercial pressures. The camera work too, was jarring and the close-crops were too close for comfort.
Banerjee, India's leading filmmaker, has not managed to make an impact or beat the standards his own films have set in the past. At the end though, we cannot forget the intent and effort behind such a film. It has no doubt raised standards of filmmaking in India and throws light on issues that otherwise mainstream cinema simply ignores. With brilliant all round performances, attention to detail and the sheer courage to take such a project to fruition, this films is definitely a must watch for all.
Zamani barayé masti asbha (2000)
A Time for Drunken Horses
A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES – 9.8/10
Director: Bahman Ghobadi
Another Iranian classic: a tale of love and unimaginable suffering, a tale so surreal that is hard to come to terms with the unfair nature of life and the stoic mannerism in which it is dealt with. When a director's first film wins Camera d'Or at Cannes, there is a good reason why you need to see it.
The film follows the standard Iranian formula of children being the central protagonists and driving force in the film. One might feel this is exploitation, and may be to some extent it is, but placing children in situations that they face in reality does not amount to tear jerking melodrama. The film is rather brute and unflinching in its approach. It quickly moves from character to story and continues to enhance both as it proceeds. Cinéma vérité, the style which has come to define Iranian cinema over the course of the last few decades once again brings to light the documentary treatment necessary for such a subject that would otherwise classify as queasy.
Border crossing and smuggling on the Kurdish-Iraqi-Iranian border, the populace suffering at the hands of the military appear in several other films. While in this case, the film deals with the dilemma of Ayoub, played by Ayoub Ahmadi, who has to find a way to garner the money necessary for his ailing spasticated brother Madi, convincingly portrayed by Madi Ekhtiar-dini, the backdrop nevertheless speaks of political turmoil affecting lives of innocent civilians on day to day basis. The indescribable state of people living in harsh conditions are best put forth by an objective narrative, without any attempts to milk the situation in an attempt to tug at the emotional chords of the viewers.
A Time for Drunken Horses is a must see, an indispensable gem to the list of many from Iranian directors. While it is not suited for the audience looking for a pop corn film, nor is it meant to appease or please, it does have moments that will stay with you. While I can hardly imagine why any mass audience would like to see stark realities, especially ones they wish and are thankful to have escaped, the film is an experience, one that makes it essential viewing.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
There Will Be Blood
There Will Be Blood – 9.8/10
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Ground-breaking, disturbing, distraught,frightening, unnerving, intimidating, and in every sense of the word –'a masterpiece'. There Will Be Blood is a character sketch so strong,so complex, that it might take an individual a lifetime of trials and tribulations to comprehend the forces of human nature at work.
The film is dark and desolate, like much of Upton Sinclair's works, on whose book 'Oil' the film is loosely based on. Paul Thomas Anderson's (Magnolia) vision to convert this nature study of capitalism into a stunning film, revolving around an oil baron and a pastor has yielded starkly contrasting reactions. While audiences at large have not taken to the film particularly well, most critics unanimously agreed it was Anderson's best. Daniel Day-Lewis (Daniel Plainview), who plays the role of the oil prospector, has etched a new character in the history of world cinema and Paul Dano (Paul Sunday/Eli Sunday) who became a part of the film after the shooting started has played Day-Lewis' antagonist with perfection.
Anderson researched this film with all sincerity and it shows. Day-Lewis spend days understanding the character he was playing, to an extent that the actor who Paul Dano replaced alleged he was intimidated by Daniel's character, off-screen as well! The cinematography of the film is simple brilliance, and rightly earned Robert Elswit, Anderson's companion from Magnolia, an Oscar for best cinematography. While the music of the film did not earn much appreciation, I thought it perfectly complemented the film. In several instances, the music lays bare Day-Lewis' emotions, especially in the instance post the accident, when he has a conversation with his son HW, played by Dillion Freasier.
The film had a very strong script. This is almost true of all films made from successful and well written novels. But Day-Lewis has gone a step forward and owned the character. He commands every iota of attention in the film and for the first twenty minutes, where there is no dialogue, Lewis proceeds to build and delineate a character which will ultimately define what the film will be. I am not sure if I have seen a better character sketch in a film, a character so powerful, that it leaves one disturbed when the credits role in. What has amazed me is the magnitude with which the audience and critics alike have misunderstood the character narrative of the film.
Lewis' character has largely been interpreted as a heartless, cruel, capitalist for who even his adopted son is just a tool to achieve power and success. I believe this widespread misinterpretation is due to a shallow approach that capitalists are greedy and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. The character of the film is so complex, that I am not sure if there is enough space and time, and ability to explain the nuances and explore the depths. But I will make a brief attempt to do so.
Lewis' character is shown to be highly competitive. A man who trusts no one and loves nothing; he is lonely and believes there is no need to understand people as it would be a futile pursuit beyond that what is obvious. But he is not a man driven by pure greed, nor is he blinded by wealth and affluence as many viewers have believed. His relation with his son, and his inability to chart the course of his son's life, reveal his softer side while throwing light on his own superiority, godlessness and a form of megalomania. His character is extremely rational, but his hatred for everything that competes with him ultimately leads to his destruction. Not only is he aware of this (the last dialogue of the film tells us this), we see several moments where his loneliness breaks him; but the fundamental purpose of a human being shedding tears is undermined if there is no one to wipe them. He rises spiteful, harsher and harder after each trial, like a rock hardened by the incessant heat of a volcano. He seeks some solace, something to hold on to. Any trace of familial blood (There WILL Be BLOOD) which he can create by the virtue of his will or by the hand of destiny, he shall accept. The complexities of his character are so profound, that they only reveal themselves in small and quick passing dialogues and one has to live the character to truly see through him.
I dread to say there are common traits Daniel Plainview shares with all and everybody. We have either failed to realize it, even though our actions would speak, or we have managed to subvert, repress and bury them deep enough for acceptance in an unforgiving, conditional society. The film is like a streak of artistic lightening in a bleak sky. Whether this film speaks of perfection or not, we will never know, but one thing is certain, we will debate its mastery for years to come.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
ZINDAGI NA MILEGI DOBARA – 8.1/10
Director: Zoya Akhtar
Writer: Zoya Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar
I always wanted to visit Europe, especially Spain, though I never thought I would be able to do it for $3. That is the feat achieved by Zoya Akhtar, who has managed to impress in her second venture as a director, to make a visually stunning film that captures the nuances and emotions of a road trip/travel abroad experience.
The film is about the story of three friends who have decided to go on a road trip to Spain. From this simple premise, we have several stories and layers stitched together, with the backdrop of the road trip firmly moving the film forward. The dialogues have been written by the director's super multi-talented actor/singer/director/writer/producer brother Farhan Akhtar, who plays the role of Imraan, a peppy, mischievous romantic who manages to steal the show and maintain screen presence in face of star studded competition.
What won the game for me was once again, humour in simplicity. The film does not resort to cheap jokes, toilet humour, abusive language or flamboyance in urban or rural dialects. Jokes are simple everyday jokes you would expect to hear from men and boys, but the director manages to build up to them, avoiding the risk of falling into the cliché trap. Finer details of props and story backdrops have been kept in mind and introduced at the right time to great effect, enhancing the moment, light or somber.
The film is a visual treat. The shot taking does not act as a substitute to fill up weak moments or gaps and holes in the script and story. Shot selection was precise and cinematography complements the locales in every way. For the most part, the film spends considerable time romanticizing with the locations. Emotions are weaved into the beauty of Spain; the location is almost like a fourth character adding dimension and depth to the story.
The part which ultimately prevented the film from setting a benchmark for road trip films was the plastic relations of the three lead characters and the age old stereotypical characters struggling with problems in the most predictable way. Many would not agree, but the depth of interpersonal relations one shares in one's life are strong, if not the only determinants of what our perspectives on relationships are. For most part, the relation between the three friends seemed less of friendship and more of a façade. I'm not sure if it was unconvincing acting or the predictability of the story which made the relational dynamics between the leads seem like school kids talking, but sentences like "he is our friend, if we don't help/talk to him, who else will" made me flinch.
Writers and directors are not expected to come up with new characters for every film. So many personality and character types have been created till date that it is almost impossible to create a new one. But it is not the newness, rather the mannerisms and finer details that ultimately define and make or break a character. Too much emphasis on the grandeur of locations and capturing landscapes has lead to weak character definitions. The role of Hritik Roshan (Arjun) was almost so predictable, that even before the movie actually starts to move forward, his character introduction is enough for one to predict in which direction it is headed. Not to mention, stars in India need to be less self aware of their stardom when on screen. The inability to alienate their famous lives from on screen characters has over the years led to an overall deterioration in the quality of acting standards.
While the film is a welcome change from the typical nonsensical, mind garbage the industry has been producing lately at an unmatched pace, the trend of weak characters and predictable or stereotypical stories in Indian films is still maintained at the cost of exotic locations and star studded casts.
127 Hours (2010)
127 HOURS – 9.3/10
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy
The first film I saw of Danny Boyle's was Slumdog Millionaire and his third was 127 hours. From an ordinary, mainstream and clichéd director, he rose to the status of an extraordinary genius, ring master and a leader in his style of work. It was the brilliance of 127 hours and Trainspotting that led me to understand the master at work in Slumdog. It's a film worthy of discussion, and probably can teach you as much about direction as you would learn from a month long workshop.
The story deals with the real life incident of trekker Aron Ralston , played exceptionally well by James Franco, who fell into a crevice in a remote canyon in Utah as a lose boulder came off and trapped his hand in the process. In my opinion, the subject the film deals with is the hardest to recreate as you are dealing with almost one subject for the entire length of the film, and here is the hardest part – your subject is stuck in one place. Boyle manages to do what no other director has dared or achieved to do thus far. Many survival stories have been made, but I remember none being so enigmatic and captivating for the entire duration of the film.
Boyle uses several techniques from triptychs, zooming and split-screens to mash-ups and other beautiful original and inventive techniques. The challenge was to ensure that at no point, the film becomes static as the story had forced the subject to be. Audience attention span is limited and you can often lose them very quickly if nothing much transpires on screen for more than a few minutes. In this case, Boyle absolutely conscious of this fact, at all times, keeps the camera alive. There is almost a sense of desperation in the camera work, which in reality is actually conveying the trapped trekker's desperation.
The film reflects what one could call Boyle's vivid and childlike imagination. In the hands of a serious story teller, this film could become another survival tale meant to pluck at those emotional strings, more suited for a Discovery Channel documentary than an hour and a half commercial relay. Boyle paints the film colorful, capturing every little detail one could possibly capture in a cramped crevice. James Franco, who has managed to raise standards for acting in survival films to a new high, is as much part of the charisma that Boyle creates with his breath-taking camera work. It is to be observed how Franco switches from a tormented trapped trekker unsure of what will happen in the next few hours to a mature, controlled and calm individual in control of the situation. Franco jokes around as though he was on television, and you can see the pain and realization, and the hopefulness lingering on his face and in his voice. Boyle does an excellent job of using, memories, flash-backs and hallucinations to build character and move the film forward.
127 Hours is an achievement, a feat in itself. The very fact that such a difficult story was chosen shows extreme boldness and appetite for new challenges on part of the director. The film is arguably the best survival film I have seen. This proves so much that we don't need a lot of special effects and large budgets or exotic locations to make something worth your money. Three cheers for Danny Boyle!
The King's Speech (2010)
The King's Speech
THE KING'S SPEECH – 9.4/10
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: David Seidler
Most intelligent scripts are not written out of pure imagination. There must certainly be a mix of brute reality and concocted fantasy. The King's Speech is one of those films that balance the nuances of fictional storytelling with realism exceptionally well, to an extent where it provoked me to research the inspirations of the writer who came up with such brilliance in simplicity.
The film is a classic case of intelligent script writing. We frequently come across films where we are not sure what happened in the end. By this I don't mean films that have complicated plots, but instead films in which viewers are lost and rendered hopeless. If we being to explore the myriad elements the scriptwriter has used to produce this marvel, it might well serve as a little old school text book lesson. While I do believe that the purpose of art is to redefine definitions and break rules, this one almost seems to stick to archaic definitions but much to ones delight.
The film has a strong protagonist, the roscius Colin Firth (King George IV), with an even stronger antagonist, well . Mr.stammer. Every character that does anything in the film is impacting, affecting, and related to in some manner or the other to the protagonist and antagonist. Even the King's brother's character has so tidily been knit into the entire scheme of speech impairment, no matter how little on screen time he received. The writer never forgets his central plot and focus, and keeps every character, their individual stories coming back to the central theme of the film – The King's speech impairment.
He takes the film to a meaningful conclusion but first builds towards it systematically, craftily placing each stone, each brick in the right position to ensure the edifice of the film is flawless. What matters even more is the climax is not bigger than it should have been nor was it subdued or understated for sake of humility or otherwise. The achievement of the film was to make the viewer feel the joy of both, the King who just overcame his toughest hurdle, and the shrink who knew what he had achieved. Like the insignificant audience to the King's speech, we too are awed, enamored and pleased by what we are hearing. With a very weak premise – A King's Speech impairment to begin with, it is a mammoth task to build a film with so much dimension, several characters each carefully delineated, absolutely no lose ends or irrelevant sub-plots, a thick central plot and yet there was time to sprinkle ample humor. A point worthy of mention was the humor in the film. It does not rely on age old situational tactics or awkward everydayness inflated to extract laughs from a fatigued audience. The film has exceptional eloquence as though it was a book and not a film, and the humor is well integrated, flowing as smoothly as the prose with the rest of the film.
The acting is top notch, and each individual more than outperforms the other. The characters are real and believable and are consistent throughout the film, never once showing signs of their true selves. It was acting that carried the film further than what it would have gone had the acting gone wrong or was not appropriate in the given circumstances. When you have several conversations between a shrink and his patient, it is the acting and the script that will keep you absorbed, and nothing less, if nothing more.
Camera techniques were interesting to watch. You had the use of wide angle in closed rooms, contrary to its purpose. The magnificent halls of the royalty palaces and grand architecture of yester year London have been captured and used to great effect. The rule of thirds, though I am not sure what purpose it served in context of the film, added a sense of dimension to the scene and character. Close crops were introduced strictly when needed. Use of empty space is to perfection; I wonder if it was added to increase the sense of restriction an individual with speech impairment feels, as it certainly played on my subconscious mind and was only noticed when I made an effort to.
David Seidler who suffered from the same problem himself has done justice to his cause by writing such a witty, emotional and simple yet a grand film. With whatever cues the makers could take from reality, the film certainly manages to deliver at all levels. All in all, The King's Speech is a perfect family drama, with several layers within it, and is an all weather, mood and season film.
GOMORRAH – 9.6/10
Director: Matteo Garrone
Writer: Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso
The film is not what the audience wants to see, it is not what the audience wants it to be and it is surely not the audiences' perception of the issue at hand; neither is it what the director wants it to be or thinks of the issue. Instead, the film is exactly what it is, it is exactly what it needs to be, what it should be. There are only two possible outcomes after watching this film; either you will love it, or you simply won't. I'm in the former basket.
The film is not manufactured in a studio or dreamt of in cozy bed rooms. It is an unflinching, unapologetic, documentary style narrative of the lives of people within and outside the Camorrah, a crime syndicate operating from Naples, Italy. The film deals with five stories, not necessarily directly connected to each other, and proceeds nonchalantly, along the way singeing all conventions of mafia filmmaking. The stories might appear unrelated, but are actually not and each has a connection with the Camorrah, though all the threads have independent climaxes, plots and characters. I am almost lost as to where one can start if one has to talk about the film, so bleak & wretched is the film, but wretchedness one would crave and die for.
It amazes me how directors and casting crews are able to pick actors form the hoards that are present, and manage to find just the perfect combination. The film with its realism and characters could make it pass as a documentary, and none of the actors who each is so brilliant in their roles, ever stand out as heroes or villains. They are simply there; existing on camera, telling us stories of lives we don't know. But by the end we are so absorbed that when it is over, we realize the nearness with which we lived the lives of the people we don't even know.
The film creates no heroes, it is not drawing attention to the people behind the cameras, nor does it for once intend to lionize the ones in front of it. The film remains so true to its cause that it fails to even sympathize with the victims. It does not look to create Hollywood style super mafia dons, these goons don't function from beautiful tropical islands nor are they the classy, suave characters meant to go down in history or become youth icons. For me the film is an expose, and it appears it was taken so by the mafia itself. Their threats have put the writer, Roberto Saviano, whose book the film is based on, under constant police protection.
Lives of the mafia are not glamorous or glorious for that matter and filmmakers need to understand that. The writers and directors of the film seem to have a profound understanding of the true consequences of corruption and organized crime. Hence, even though the viewer might struggle to follow the five different stories in the beginning, they culminate into a beautiful whole adding tremendous meaning and purpose to each story and the overall issue at large. If we could see such cinema only more frequently, I wonder what it would do to the art of filmmaking and public conscience and awareness on issues which impact their lives in ways far beyond their knowledge.
ISHQYIA – 6.8/10
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Writer: Vishal Bhardwaj,Sabrina Dhawan, Abhishek Chaubey
I call this the Bhradwaj-Kashyap Syndrome (more about this later in a separate article on Kashyap). Both these directors are very well reputed and have enough of an underground fan following to generate revenues with a low-budget film without excessive marketing. Nevertheless, what is this syndrome? It is the belief & obsession these two directors have created, predominantly among the youth, that anything dealing with thugs, ruffians, underworld, druggies or basically the scum of the society, is a good film. Darker subjects are superior to others, and drama means a whole lot of murder, gore, expletives, sex or sexual innuendos.
Ishqyia was a much awaited film, especially because of the name backing it – Vishal Bhardwaj; one of my favorite Bollywood director's. Ishqyia was not a run-away box office hit, yet it received a fair degree of critical acclaim and managed to delight the 'alternate' cinema bandwagon. What was it I found so wrong with Ishqyia? This is definitely going to earn me some serious ire.
Ishqyia had a severely flawed script, not something rare in India. The film is a partial take from a Spanish film (I am still in process to find the name of the film), other than the fact that it has technical and structural errors. The film starts with two small time bandits, both legendary actors – Arshad Warsi (Babban) & Naseruddin Shah (Khalujaan). They are running from another bandit, to whom they owe money. The chase leads them to the saucy Vidhya Balan (Krishna) who is in search of her husband. So what is the issue with the script? The three plots in the film are – Vidhya Balan trying to find the truth about her missing husband; the two bandits who have to repay their debt, after they realize they cannot run away (established early on in the film); and the conflict building between the two bandits, shown to be trusted companions and relatives, over the woman. The primary plot though is how Vidhya Balan wants to use the two bandits on the run to reach her husband, the truth about whom she knows. So instead of focusing on that, the script – for a better part of the film – spends serious time & effort building conflict between the two lead actors vis-à-vis the damsel in distress. The director and script is leaving no stone unturned to show how the woman is seducing the men for her ulterior motive which is not revealed till the end.
The problem though is, if I remove the third plot, which is not primary or secondary in context of the overall story, the story is not affected at all. And this problem is glaring since more than half the film is dealing with the tertiary plot. For that matter, the entire film could have been made with exactly the same details, without having the entire nonsensical chemistry-animosity building between the three characters. The two bandits would have kidnapped and stolen in any case, with or without the lady sucking on their fingers since their lives were on the line; further, since the tertiary plot on which so much of the film is based wasn't really of consequence, the director ends it abruptly with a street fight: the scene where Warsi & Shah fight on the road post which, all of a sudden, the entire tension between the three characters the film spends almost an hour creating, is resolved in a flash without a meaningful or consequential resolution. Further, I'll point out just two cases, you can look for the rest if you think it is worth your time. The biggest goof up is the kidnap: the trio monitor and survey the entire schedule of a notoriously rich man, who they know will surely have connections, only to kidnap him in the least effective way. They know he walks from the temple to the house of his mistress, which is his biggest secret that no one knows about. So they decide to kidnap him not during the isolated walk, not when he is just about to get into the house of his mistress, or get out of the room and is about to get into the car, but instead when he has already taken possession of a vehicle, is on road, can easily run away if needed. I don't call this creative liberty. This is just the director buying time with the audience. Secondly, the last scene is a pure technical blunder. At the end of the scene, the house blows-up, the trio walks away with Salman Shahid (Mushtaq) looking through a gun. But the police simply disappear, the trio is transported to wonderland via the bridge adjacent to the house, Mushtaq drives through a posse of cops (we don't know where they are) with guns and . what just happened? Over dramatized, preconceived attempt to make the ending grandiose resulted in an unrealistic end; hence it abruptly folds at the convenience of the director.
I am not sure what was the point of the film, and I am certain neither do the writers. Which is why there are several minor plots that are of no importance, take too much time to unfold and end abruptly without consequence or purpose, and it is precisely this reason the film had to be given artificial content with the use of verbose scenes with excessive expletives & rural twangs. Good films will always have clearly defined central plots, characters and stories that will be complemented and augmented at all times throughout the film. At no point is the viewer lost. Please note, if the viewer is lost, it is not a sign of intellect on part of the writer & director. So much for Ishqyia.
Cast Away (2000)
CAST AWAY – 9.3/10
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: William Broyles Jr.
The greatness of a film is normally traced to the director; there are no two ways about that. We seldom know who the writer is and are even less curious as to who it might be. Cast Away is a case-in-point; it made me shout half way through the film – "who the hell wrote this" ? One of the finest stories of the 21st century, there is much more this film talks about than what it was given credit for. The director, Robert Zemeckis (Forest Gump fame) needless to say has done a brilliant job, but what needs serious mention is the writer – William Broyles Jr.
The writer marooned himself for a week on an island to understand what people do in survival situations and consulted several survival experts. Cast Away deals with the very basics of human life; it pokes the viewer with questions we never ask ourselves. Or maybe the need to ask these questions never arise - Why are we here? The film has a strong existential undertone and Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland, a FedEx employee marooned on an island after a plane crash, has given one of the finest performances of his career. The film deals with the struggle of a man who must survive, for the sake of surviving. Chuck, after repeated attempts, has given up hope of returning to the civilized world, and after realizing he has no control even over the way he wishes to die, he simply lives on with the memory of his would-be-wife – Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt).
During the period when Broyles had marooned himself on an island, a ball came in with the tide and pop came the idea of the inanimate character – Wilson. Broyles highlights how a man is so helpless and no better than a rock, if his existence is not recognized by another. The character of Wilson has given the writer some creative liberty to make the film something not close to a silent film, and this stroke of genius mixed with some luck has been craftily used. The cinematography is commendable and the almost one sided conversations throughout the film are interwoven with hidden philosophies and memorable humor.
An emotional poetry of love, fate and belonging, Cast Away is a milestone in Hollywood cinema. To breathe so much life, meaning and humor into a subject so dark and tragic, needs pure genius. Chuck's longing for Kelly and his ultimate acceptance of his fate in the final scene between them is a timeless poem that will outlive the film's critics and lovers. Man needs to belong; that is the very crux of him. Don't forget this. This film won't let you.
KITES – 7.0/10
Director: Anurag Basu
Writer: Anurag Basu, Robin Bhatt,Sanjeev Dutta, Akarsh Khurana, Rakesh Roshan
So what was so wrong with Kites that critics bashed it thoroughly while the same ones went on to praise other seemingly "wanabe" pseudo intellectual films like New York and My Name is Khan? Were they not paid enough by the producers this time or was it something else? This is a phenomenon that occurs quite frequently in the Bollywood industry, let's explore it without giving it anymore importance than the subject deserves.
The issue here is less as to why Kites was slammed but rather why similar films were highly rated. Kites was a very typical, average Bollywood masala film. So which films do we praise and which ones do we slam? Especially if there is no international opinion we can read on it? This is a dilemma I have frequently seen the Indian critics facing. More often than not, the decision is predetermined. So what happened in case of Kites? The film was big budget, it had an international face: Barbara Mori, Hritik Roshan had adopted a supposedly new chic look for it and everyone was eagerly awaiting its release. The critics found the golden opportunity they were looking for. The chance to prove they are really critics – "phew".
Three Idiots, My Name is Khan, New York, Ishqyia and several others, all were trying desperately to be something different. The critics need exactly that: a film which basically has enough junk to convince the audience it's worth their time but in reality is hollow in terms of its script, story, structure and its representation of the actual issue at hand. So they pick it up and run with it, pretending the industry has struck gold. In reality, if they genuinely wrote honest reviews (or if they were capable of doing so), all the films would end up in the bin. Kites wasn't trying to do anything of that sort. It set out as a flashy, pop-corn flick and ended exactly that way. As a matter of fact, the cinematography and camera work was far superior to any of the other films I have mentioned above. It didn't have fake, incomplete and ill-informed attempts at making the film socially relevant. Once in a while, it is necessary to pang a mainstream film to maintain credibility. You can't risk doing that with Amir Khan (3 Idiots) or Sharukh Khan (My Name is Khan); it will only ensure that less people will listen to you the next time you open your worthless mouth. Mainstream Indian critics are the worst of the lot I have seen and it is a pity we don't have bold independent people willing to put their necks on the line. To some extent, it is difficult to blame them since it is their bread and butter; but I wonder what is the difference between a sell-off critic and a 'bad' film that they criticize, both are ultimately selling themselves for earning bread and recognition.
Kites is a very typical Bollywood film. The audience is expected to do what they are expected to do almost always, leave their brains at home. Go watch it without prior reservations and you might just find your money's worth.
Cidade de Deus (2002)
City Of God
CITY OF GOD – 9.8/10
Director: Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund(co-director)
Writer: Bráulio Mantovani
I can get into the technical aspects of the film and destroy it or I can just leave you to do the hard work. I think I'll go with the latter. An ensemble cast with only one trained professional actor, the film is the finest I have scene when it comes to depicting lives of those living in situations so unfortunate, that most of us forget to be remotely thankful or remorseful. The screenplay though, needs special mention; we constantly but seamlessly cut back and forth in time throughout the film – a special thanks to Daniel Rezende for the razor sharp editing – but never is the viewer lost, so refined is the choice of sequences and finessed the flow of the film. There is also a reason why the film is cyclical, the point of which I am hoping to get across by the end of review (enough of technicality).
The story progresses from the point of view of Alexandre Rodrigues (Buscape – Rocket), the only individual to escape the violence but not the favela. Through his camera and narration, we see the lives of several children/individuals, who grow up in the City of God, a housing project in Rio de Janeiro quite notorious for its criminal activity. The film casually depicts how children get absorbed into mindless violence and are perpetually condemned to it, their lives spiraling towards an endless state of human tragedy. The plot is too lengthy to narrate and it wouldn't serve a purpose to serve up spoilers either. There is something this film evokes within me, which I feel is worthy of a mention.
There is a prevalent belief that if a film is nominated for Oscars, it must be good. That is a dangerous belief. What is even more dangerous is the belief that if a film did not win an Oscar, it must have not been "that" good. To understand the complexities of a film like City of God, there is no given formula; but if you are from a third world country and have had first hand knowledge or even worst, experience of such a life, there is a good chance you might not relegate such films to award ceremonies.
Social structures are complex. We take what we get (at birth) as a given and live with it for the rest of our lives. The marginalization, is a given. Wealth disparities, cultural and behavioral differences across strata are all a given; it is what we use to separate "us" from "them". The "them" & "us" & "us" & "them" perpetuates. We never imagine what our lives would be if we were not born to the fortunes we were. Instead of our parents, if our guides were our peers who were gun wielding, drug churning maniacs, whose lust for power leads to failed societies and absolute chaos, the very same power the civilized societies so tacitly condones.
The director wants us to ruminate, to ponder, to reflect. Take the directors intent too seriously and all coffee table discussions about poverty, crime, brutality and the children who are victims and perpetrators of such intent, might seize into oblivion. The "us" & "them" might fade and disappear, the same "us" & "them" which gives us our superior identity and allows us to take pride and reason in what we do. Well if you dare to fathom the film City of God, all the superiority complexes, the fragile mirages and concocted illusions might just get shattered and the unreal reality – debunked. You have been warned. That is the power of City of God.
THE RETURN – 9.9/10
Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev
Writer: Vladimir Moiseyenko, Aleksandr Novototsky
There is something peculiar about the film, something which has its own splendor, glamour and an aura – eerie, unnerving and soothing at the same time, a feeling that will linger ceaselessly. There is maybe only one possible reason why this film does not deserve a perfect score; I'll bring this to light later. What was prophetic though was the revelation that this was Andrei Zvyagintsev's first film. Let's talk about that.
The Return deals with the relationship that builds between a father – Konstantin Lavronenko, who returns after several years of being absent from the lives of his two sons – Vladimir Garin (Andrey) & Ivan Dobronravov (Ivan), after they set out on a supposed joy trip. I don't like revealing plots in my reviews/opinions so that's about all you need to know about the film. As a viewer, or a critic, one might have a hard time or even find it impossible to categorize or precisely define what this film deals with. Is it a coming of age film, is it about some greater truth, is it a suspense-thriller, a mystery I would suggest you stop there.
The film is frustratingly selective and ambiguous in its choice of details that it wishes to reveal and ones it keeps obscured from the viewer. My hunt began soon after the film ended, as I was convinced there was more to what I had seen or understood. You might find yourself screaming after – or maybe even during the film in some cases – out of pure dissatisfaction. Once I set out to search for answers, other than biblical references the director injects, nothing else came to light. As my search intensified, I began to see what hitherto I was blind to: the sheer masterpiece that was before me.
Such extreme mastery of filmmaking, few have depicted at such early stages in their careers, set aside the fact that this was Zvyagintsev's first film. The film is not about the details that are obscured from the viewer, though they add so much tension, anxiety and apprehension to the film that I have never found myself so edgy even in a suspense-thriller or a horror film. What makes it so edgy, captivating and enthralling is something I'll let you figure (it would also lead to plot spoilers); but things you must keep a keen eye for are: the performances by the three actors, especially the teenagers – they would put generations of mainstream actors to shame (especially from the Bollywood industry); the cinematography which is so dark, almost monotone in its shade of beautifully blended blue and grey, complemented by the choice of techniques which are so honest and original - like when the titles role in or the use of still photography at the end; and finally, the choice of locations. The script is perfection personified, absorbing and is a must for any individual aiming to understand and I must say FATHOM, the art and not just the craft of screen writing. Films like these defy all the paradigms and creativity choking tips in scriptwriting bibles.
So the next thing you must do is watch the film. Don't worry about the details you don't know, because the truth is you are not suppose to know them. The film is actually self explanatory. Knowing facts like the arrival & departure day of Christ, the adjacent page and the book where the father's picture was kept when the children first refer to it, the apparent similarity between their first meal and The Last Supper, and even the position in which he is asleep can add some significant and crucial depth to the film, but nothing that will deprive you of the joy and greatness of this masterpiece if you do not know the bible. May be this is the only true reason I am not giving this film a perfect 10. But one cannot ignore the colossal significance of writing a script like this without a reference. Several great films like Battle of Algiers, The Godfather, City of God, KAPO and many other classics of the same caliber had a reference point, a frame-work, some model to work with whether it was a novel or a real life incident about military occupation or a holocaust. Snatching a script out of thin air, and one as divinely perfect, watertight and educating as The Return, can only be the work of a true genius.
I have never been this perturbed by a film before; emotions that require all complexities of the human mind for interpretation, but still cannot be comprehended or explained by words have been dealt with in this film. The characters of the film speak very little, and very little can be spoken about the film too. It is a film that creates its own audience; it chooses them and leaves them feeling privileged, wondering and awestruck by its sheer grandeur.
No One Killed Jessica (2011)
No One Killed Jessica
NO ONE KILLED JESSICA – 5.1/10
Director: Raj Kumar Gupta
Writer: Raj Kumar Gupta
Last time I was this disappointed was post watching New York (2009), though the disappointment sank in after I witnessed the public hysteria and the critic reviews of a film which was no better than what I have just seen. Arguably and possibly, No One Killed Jessica will go on to be the most over-rated film of the year to come.
The film is about the famous or rather infamous Jessica Lal murder case. My reviews/opinions are not meant to serve spoilers, so no time will be wasted discussing or running through the story. I am struggling to find any positives other than the music by the extremely talented Mr.Amit Trivedi. To start with, the film has the worst shot taking I have witnessed in decades: there were more close-up shots than there are in a late evening Indian mother-in-law-daughter-in-law television soap. And this isn't one. Not that I am against close crops, but certain scenes or instances demand them; it is not a magic wand that sets all wrongs right. Several sequences were rendered lifeless by poor shot taking.
The script is hollow, mundane and clearly written with absolute contempt for serious or real conversations. Odd reactionary dialogues by the parents of the victim, peculiar exchanges between the police and the victim's family, old and hackneyed jokes, basically everything functioned exactly the way you would expect it to. The court cases were flimsy and ridiculous at best. Depiction of political and media figures were lethally stereotypical. Since characters were mono-dimensional and the acting was basically mockery of anything quantifiable as acting, the script achieved new heights for clichés.
I am perplexed as to why there is much hullabaloo about Rani Mukherjee's (Meera) acting? If you throw in a sexually explicit scene (by Indian on screen standards), make the character loud, sprinkle a few expletives for cheap public thrills and of course, dress him or her up nicely, does it work as a substitute for good acting? Acting nevertheless is the subject most open for subjective interpretation. But industry standards have surely touched a new low. Most places, the need for any actor was simply annihilated with the overbearing background score. Finally, Ram Gopal Verma has competition. Music, the blind man's stick, was guiding public emotions since most have no idea what they should be feeling or how they should react to a given situation. Vidya Balan (Sabrina Lal), who otherwise has several respectable performances, has confused a bland, expressionless face that conveys nothing, for solitude, grief and painful visages; unconfident acting and in some instances over animated expressions are not able to save her skin. Characters are placed in settings that resemble amateur college short-films.
The film in itself is unsure of its intent and who or what does it stand for? It starts with a different agenda and ends with another. It renders one protagonist inconsequential as it creates another and in the process loses the very crux of the issue. The director himself seems to have forgotten what he was dealing with as one reporter tells the other in the middle of the film, paraphrasing: "you are about to get famous". Does she? Is the film about the reporters getting famous? What image about the media is to be taken home? We are suppose to believe that: the country functions with only one media, if one reporter doesn't cover a given story then nothing can happen, the mainstream media is actually moral (CNN cares about what is happening in Iraq for instance), the judiciary system in India really works (don't debate, just test it if you doubt it) and many more projected hallucinations that basically reinforce and feed common and ignorant mass public opinion.
It is depressing that a director who started his career with a promising film which spoke of a mature understanding of filmmaking as an art, should churn out this exaggerated cliché with such a poor predictable script, disappointing performances by the entire cast and a highly amateurish approach to a very serious subject. May be the next film – No One Killed Aarushi should be directed by Dev Anand.