Saturday, 12 April 2014

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles [1975]

Chantal Akerman’s audacious magnum opus remains a cornerstone for world cinema for its astounding formalism in terms of cinematic time and space, and its feminist stance. At nearly 3 ½ hours long, it documented, with uncompromising rigour, 3 days in the life of a lady, and in turn explored, through subtle, minute and seemingly irrelevant quotidian details shot in real-time reminiscent of Tarr’s works, the possible reasons for her shocking meltdown in the end. It, in fact, heavily reminded me of Haneke’s The Seventh Continent and Chabrol’s La Cérémonie in terms of their stylistic and thematic choices. The titular Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) is a beautiful 40-something Brussels-based single-mother who also doubles up as a prostitute. The 1st day showed the incredible meticulousness with which she goes about her daily activities, and perhaps represented the last day in her machine-like organized life. From 2nd day onwards, however, almost imperceptibly minor things start going wrong – she inadvertently overcooks the potatoes, regularly forgets to switch off the lights while leaving a room, and so forth. In the 3rd day the frequency and magnitude of deviations increase further – she mistimes her visits to the local bank and her favourite coffee shop, prepares bad coffee at home, etc., until the final digression, and the most significant one at that, occurs while she’s with a client, and that serves as the tipping point. The film’s austere tone, lack of background score, and a remarkably minimalist visual style marked by long takes using a static camera, were brilliantly complemented by Seyrig’s performance which effortlessly captured her character’s monotony, loneliness, increasing detachment, and gradual disintegration, and the patriarchal society she resides in.

Director: Chantal Akerman
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Avant-Garde
Language: French
Country: Belgium

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Bullitt [1968]

Bullitt was a smash hit crime thriller, and comprised of one of the most scintillating car chase sequences ever filmed. That it also stressed on the dubious relationship between police investigation and political interference, had a cop as its lead who regularly challenges authority and due processes, and prefers ends over means, and was imbued with a gritty and grimy urban feel, ensured that it acted as a trend-setter for Hollywood in the years to come. Adapted from the Robert L. Fish novel Mute Witness by Yates for his first American movie, it had Steve McQueen, in one of his most famous screen roles, as its eponymous protagonist Frank Bullitt, a tough, taciturn and no-nonsense police detective. A seemingly routine job goes awry when a witness for the State against the Mafia who he’s asked to protect, is ambushed at his hide-out by professional assassins. Bullitt feels there’s something amiss at the turn of events, and using his hunch he decides to continue with his investigation on his own, and this earns him the wrath of an ambitious politician (Robert Vaughn) for whom the witness was a key political trump-card. That his detachment towards the dirt and violence around him is making his stunningly attractive fiancée (Jacqueline Bisset) increasingly wary, added a third, albeit minor, dimension to the storyline. Right from the stylish opening credits accompanied by a fine jazz score, it kept me glued to the screen. And that reached its feverish height during the near-10 minute chase sequence where Bullitt, in his Ford Mustang, is madly following the antagonists in a Dodge Charger all across San Francisco – the engine roar and screeching tires of the muscle cars made for the perfect score for the segment.

Director: Peter Yates
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller
Language: English
Country: US

Monday, 7 April 2014

Pearls of the Deep [1966]

Pearls of the Deep, on hindsight, was a watershed moment for the Czech New Wave movement, as 5 of its giants collaborated for this omnibus film. It can also be considered as an alumnus meet for FAMU, as all the 5 directors associated with this project, viz. Jiří Menzel, Jan Nemec, Evald Schorm, Věra Chytilová and Jaromil Jires, had studied at the legendary Prague institute. Further, all the shorts were adaptations of short stories by one of the most beloved Czech authors, Bohumil Hrabal. Though rarely as politically charged as Czech New Wave generally was, or like, say, the fabulous Romanian New Wave anthology film Tales from the Golden Age, it did bear some of the hallmarks that were representative the former movement – alternately bittersweet, darkly funny and whimsical humour, idiosyncratic characters, absurdism and oddities, breezy tone, and oftentimes experimental narrative styles. Menzel’s delectable Mr. Baltazar’s Death focused on a death and racing-bike obsessed husband-wife pair; Nemec’s The Imposters, the best and the most heartwarming of the lot, showed 2 aged patients in a hospital reminiscing about their pasts, using, as was later revealed, exaggerations to embellish their personal histories and memories of themselves; Schorm’s The House of Joy, the most politically charged of the lot and the only one shot in colour, concerned the futile attempts of 2 insurance salesmen to sell their product to an eccentric painter; Chytilova’s The Restaurant of the World, unsurprisingly the most surrealistic of the lot, was about the aftermaths of a suicide at a local café; and Jires’ Romance, chronicled the chance and fleeting romantic interlude between a shy apprentice plumber and a free-spirited Gypsey girl, and the associated social inequity.

Directors: Jiri Menzel, Jan Nemec, Evald Schorm, Vera Chytilova, Jaromil Jires
Genre: Drama/Comedy/Black Comedy/Surrealistic Drama/Political Drama/Omnibus Film
Language: Czech
Country: Czech Republic (erstwhile Czechoslovakia)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A Tale of Springtime [1990]

A Tale of Springtime marked the beginning of Rohmer’s late-career ‘Tales of the Four Seasons’, his 3rd and final movie series, and his distinctively Rohmersque examination of the frailties and vagaries of the heart with the titular weather providing key tonal backdrops for the respective films. Jeanne (Anne Teyssedre) is a beautiful, intelligent and self-assured philosophy teacher at a Parisian school who’s looking for temporary accommodation as she’s lent her apartment to a friend. At a party she makes the chance acquaintance of Natacha (Florence Darel), an impulsive and childish young music student in her late teens who immediately likes Jeanne and invites her to stay at her place. As it turns out, Natacha’s divorced father, Igor (Hugues Quester), a 40-something bureaucrat, is having an affair with 20-year old Eve (Eloïse Bennett) who Natacha despises for various reasons, further fuelled by her conviction that Eve has stolen an expensive necklace that Igor was supposed to gift her. So, since Jeanne is ambiguous about her relationship, Natacha tries to get her linked with her father. The messy family details that Jeanne becomes unwittingly a witness to is compounded by the discomfort at Natacha playing the cupid, and these provided the driving forces for the character and interpersonal dynamics that the story focused on in order to reinforce its theme. As is common in Rohmer’s filmography, the dialogue-heavy plot had its share of coincidences, happy accidents and deux ex machina to both elevate and resolve tension, and the aesthetics were marked by a near-static camera and near lack of non-diegetic sounds. Though a lesser work in his canon, the charming set-up, controlled displays of emotions and the striking presence of the ravishing protagonist, made it noteworthy.

Director: Eric Rohmer
Genre: Drama/Romantic Comedy
Language: French
Country: France

Monday, 31 March 2014

Snowpiercer [2013]

Snowpiercer, gifted Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s adaptation of a French graphic novel and his English-language debut, is a dystopian and futuristic sci-fi thrillers. With the world made inhabitable due to freezing temperatures, the last surviving members of the human race have become passengers in a train driven by a perpetual engine. The elaborately designed train, which is a closed ecosystem, provided a stark but over-emphasized metaphor for society’s class system where the rich enjoy at the cost of the poor. Thus, as can be expected, the rich wants to ensure continuance of the status quo while the poor wants to challenge it, with use of violence being a necessary tool for both the sides. Despite the massive odds placed before him, Curtis (Chris Evans) isn’t deterred from sparking the latest armed revolt to take control of the train and reverse the scenario for residents of the rear section who are forever at the receiving end of oppression, injustice and punishments. It also stars John Hurt as a wise but old and crippled leader of the Tail Section, Tilda Swinton as the grotesque enforcer for the Front Section, Song Kang-ho as the man who’d designed the train’s lock system, and Ed Harris as the leader of the Front Section. The train’s interiors were marvelously designed, with the grimy, grungy and claustrophobic art décor of the tail section providing for striking visual juxtaposition to the front section. The fast-moving script, except for the rather stretched climax, ingenuity of plot and nicely choreographed action sequences, added to the thrills. However, this would possibly rank as Bong’s weakest work so far, with the plot-holes, ludicrosity of proceedings, and lack of characterizations restricting it to just a muscular genre exercise.

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Genre: Thriller/Sci-Fi Thriller
Language: English/Korean
Country: South Korea