Saturday, 13 December 2014

Vai e Vem (Come and Go) [2003]

Vai e Vem marked the culmination of aesthetics, politics, philosophy and well, audacity, of Portuguese “poet-provocateur” João César Monteiro who died shortly after completing the film. Made in the same vein as his masterful ‘Comedy of Deus (God)’ trilogy, this too was a rambling, languorous, idiosyncratic, whimsical, meditative, unapologetically confounding and deeply personal work, and had him playing the title role of Joao Vuvu (even though he was afflicted with cancer during its making), an ageing, soft-spoken, neurotic, amoral and libidinous character who’s simultaneously a philosopher and a prankster. The widowed man, whose son is in prison on charges of armed robbery and murder, leads a solitary existence in his sparse apartment in Lisbon surrounded with his huge stack of books. The film, which regularly alternated between deadpan satire, cheeky black comedy and full-blown surrealism, has him traveling in a city bus to particularly nowhere, recruiting a young lady for cleaning his apartment, reciting a baffling poem to a police-woman, having a difference of opinion with his prodigal son only to then push him into the river, being grievously injured by a giant phallus, and finally, as a ghost, brazenly disobeying the diktats of the priest performing rituals at his death – an unforgettable and gleeful invocation of his own fast-approaching demise. The wry tone was aptly complemented by the static, single-take sequences, soft lighting and lilting score – aspects that made the more outrageous moments, bizarre turn of events and mordant wit all the more hilarious and memorable in their irreverence and bravado. The afore-mentioned trilogy (Recollections of the Yellow House, A Comédia de Deus and As Bodas de Deus) is strongly recommended before venturing into this quirky summation of Monteiro’s life and career.

Director: Joao Cesar Monteiro
Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Religious Satire
Language: Portuguese
Country: Portugal

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Thirst for Love [1967]

Made right after his greatest work Black Sun, and adapted from Yukio Mishima’s novel of the same name, Kurahara’s final film for Nikkatsu, Thirst for Love, was a tense psychological drama with strong elements of noir. This dark exploration of love, lust and dysfunction was marvelously ensconced in brooding atmosphere, sensuality and moodiness, making this a fine elucidation of the Japanese New Wave’s fascination with societal and psychological underbelly. This was the tale of Etsuko (Ruriko Asaoka), a beautiful but lonely widow who’s the centre of attention of the three men around her – wealthy patriarch and her ageing father-in-law (Nobuo Nakamura) who she’s become a mistress to, her cuckolded brother-in-law who lives off his father’s money and fervently worships her, and the young but impoverished family gardener Saburo (Tetsuo Ishidate) who she starts getting drawn to. With her awareness of the effect she has on the men around her, her raging earthy desires and dripping sensuality, the constant sense of repression, male gaze and chauvinism she is subjected to, and the jealousy, anger, barely suppressed vindictiveness, and propensity for ruthless violence that she grapples with and finally loses out to, made Etsuko a complex, brilliantly developed character; Asaoka did full justice to it with her riveting performance that began on a simmering but calm note and rose to a fever pitch at the climax, hints to which, interestingly, had been provided in the disturbing first scene itself. The film comprised of varying narrative choices, including striking montages, inner monologues and inter-titles, and was brilliantly photographed in B/W through disorienting mix of chiaroscuro, canted camera angles, overhead shots, delicate close-ups and even some blazing colour images.

Director: Koreyoshi Kurahara
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Post-Noir
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Eyes Wide Shut [1999]

Made after over a decade after Full Metal Jacket and loosely adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, Eyes Wide Shut was American giant Stanley Kubrick’s final film – he died after completing its final edit, and hence didn’t get to witness the sharply divided opinions it generated upon release. The film painted a dark, grotesque and unsettling picture of the underlying ennui, fissures, sexual tension and dysfunction within a seemingly happy marriage in an upper class context, along with the kind of debauchery and decadence that easily permeates among the rich. It was also replete with quintessential Kubrickian touches like distancing tone and technical virtuosity – glorious photography juxtaposing the misanthropic theme reminiscent of Barry Lyndon and single-take tracking shots reminiscent of The Shining. Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), a dandy physician, and his sultry wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) are invited to a lavish party thrown by one of Bill’s wealthy patients (Sidney Pollack); this forms the springboard for the revelation of certain hidden closets and suppressed desires for the couple. They respond to open flirtations from strangers during the party, and later, when Alice reveals in graphic details about a fantasy of hers, it pushes Bill into a bizarre, nightmarish and paranoia-laden odyssey that culminates at a secret netherworld hosting a massive orgy of masked individuals. Cruise and Kidman – they were ironically a real-life married couple during that time – were possibly chosen for their movie-star looks, thus making them an idealized representation of success and happiness, aspects that would be clinically ripped apart during the baffling film’s languidly-paced 2 ½ hour length. On hindsight, this was possibly Kubrick’s one final joke on his audience before his demise.

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Drama/Psychological Thriller/Marriage Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Point Blank [1967]

British filmmaker John Boorman created a work of pop-cultural significance with Point Blank – it went on to have a high impact on the action/thriller genre, even though it was largely ignored upon its release. He infused art-house sensibilities into it, thus making this gritty, brutal and high-voltage thriller a stylish film with existential undercurrents. That the principal protagonist was anything but a conventional good guy, rather a cold-blooded anti-hero with sociopathic tendencies, placed this alongside such influential action thrillers as Get Carter and Dirty Harry, among others. Based on Donald E. Westlake’s pulp crime novel The Hunter, it tells a gripping tale of revenge and personal justice taken to a violent climax with unrelenting ferocity. Walker (Lee Mervin), a professional criminal, gets a severely raw deal after a robbery at Alcatraz when he's shot and left for dead by his friend Mal (John Vernon), who takes off with his share of loot along with his wife (Sharon Acker). Now, having recovered, he’s back with the sole objective of getting back his 93 grand, and he’s ready to take down LA’s powerful underworld organization if need be. Along the way he gets unlikely help from Chris (Angie Dickinson), his now dead wife’s beautiful sister and Mal’s mistress, and a mysterious man (Keenan Wynn) who seems to know the whereabouts of all key players. The storyline was too outrageous to be believable, but Boorman sure made it a compelling ride. Mervin was perfect as Walker, whose icy and menacing demeanour, and complete lack of any attachments or emotions, seemed closer to a cyborg than a person. Usage of jump cuts and freeze frames might have bordered on pretentiousness, but worked in this case. Mel Gibson reprised Mervin’s role in the 1999 film Payback.

Director: John Boorman
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Gangster Film
Language: English
Country: US

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Boyhood [2014]

Boyhood is that rare film that has succeeded in being deceptively simple and yet incredibly ambitious. The coming-of-age tale of a guy through his boyhood days – from childhood through adolescence to adulthood – was refreshing in its simplicity and ordinariness. But what made this a jaw-dropping work was in its making – though shot in only 39 days, Linklater spaced them over an unbelievable span of 12 years! The fact that the same set of key actors kept reprising their respective roles over that humongous period ensured that we do not just see their characters grow and change psychologically, we also witness their actual ageing process in sync with their physical (and cinematic) temporal journey. The focus was on a broken, but otherwise close-knit family, comprising of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), his elder sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), their divorced mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) who has custody of the children, and their estranged but loving father Mason (Ethan Hawke). Over the next 12 years we see Olivia going through 2 more failed marriages and finally coming to terms with her poor luck with men, Mason’s gradual shift from a wannabe musician who moves against the tide to a conservative family-man, Samantha’s growing up from a bratty elder sister to a precocious young lady, and most importantly, Mason Jr.’s fascinating journey from a wide-eyed 6 year-old kid to a matured, introspective, slightly detached 18-year old who’s possibly found his calling as a photographer. The bittersweet tone deftly underscored their changing lives, and the making aspect imbued it with a quiet profundity and emotional exuberance. Coltrane’s performance was particularly breathtaking in illuminating his reel and real journeys.

Director: Richard Linklater
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Coming-of-Age Film
Language: English
Country: US