Saturday, 11 July 2015

Husbands and Wives [1992]

Husbands and Wives, Woody’s fabulous take on his idol Bergman’s Scenes from A Marriage, might well be the last masterpiece in his prolific filmography thus far. Mordantly funny, incredibly penetrating, wryly ironic, deeply perceptive, and filled with elements of docu-drama, the film provided a darkly fascinating examination on marriage, fidelity and neurosis amongst Woody’s pet demography of intellectual, urban, upper middle-class. When their best friends Jack (Sydney Pollack) and his striking wife Sally (Judy Davis) casually announce during a dinner invitation that they have decided to split, the news do not just infuriate Gabe Roth (Woody) and his wife Judy (Mia Farrow), it literally rips apart the veneer of their seemingly happy married life by bringing to the surface rarely spoken discontents and dissatisfaction in their relationship. While Jack starts dating a pretty, dim-witted aerobics instructor (Lysette Anthony) and Sally plunges into a tentative affair with the dandy and younger Michael (Liam Neeson), it’s clear that neither relationships would last long. On the other hand, Gabe, a novelist who borrows freely from his own life, starts getting deeply besotted with his precocious student (Juliette Lewis) who hero-worships him, while Judy finds her infatuation towards Michael, who’s her colleague, turning into love, and one realizes that their lives have started taking divergent paths. Faux-interviews of the characters were slyly juxtaposed with the narrative, which added to the film’s brittle, pungent, self-deprecatory, bare-knuckled and at times disconcerting humour (given Woody and Mia’s scandalous break-up during the time of the film’s release) and underlying melancholia, aided in no small parts by the savage, witty and perceptive script, terrific character arcs, and fabulous performances by the ensemble cast.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here.

Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy Drama/Urban Comedy/Marriage Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Friday, 3 July 2015

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence [2014]

The beautifully titled A Pigeon Sat on the Branch Reflecting on Existence brought to close Roy Andersson’s droll, poignant, episodic and highly ambitious ‘Grandeur of Existence Trilogy’, which comprised of Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living, and made 7 years apart from each other. Mordant humour, deadpan observations on the perils of modern existence, melancholic undertones, stylized production designs, static camerawork, multiple tableaus stringed around a central narrative, and meditations on such themes as mortality, unemployment, loneliness, socio-economic oppression, and so forth, imbued the trilogy with the feel of one continuous show shot as three different films. The central tale dealt with the woes, frustrations and existential crises of Sam (Nils Westblom) and Jonathan (Holger Andersson), two travelling salesmen striving in futility to sell novelty items intended to make people laugh – ironically, sight of the two glum, ageing and down-on-luck men, with no companions but each other, and living in claustrophobic apartments, was anything but smile-inducing. Various vignettes were woven around this – the bitingly funny sequence where the sons of a dying lady try to get hold of valuables clutched by her as she’s convinced she can carry them to afterlife; an enthralling and deeply tragic musical interlude where a partially crippled waitress at a bar rouses emotions among a group of young, sad-faced war drafts many years back; Charles XII, the glibly callous Swedish king, making a stop at a diner in order to make a trip to the loo; et al. Despite the been-there-seen-that feel that is bound to emanate having watched the earlier two films, on its own this once again managed in being a simultaneously playful and bleak work filled with striking visual signatures and a running sense of pathos.

Director: Roy Andersson
Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Ensemble Film
Language: Swedish
Country: Sweden

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Peppermint Frappé [1967]

Peppermint Frappe, Saura’s first of 9 films with his muse Geraldine Chaplin and the brilliant first chapter in his Bourgeois Trilogy (which also comprised of Stress is Three and Honeycomb), was highly reminiscent of the Bunuel and Hitchcock masterpieces El and Vertigo, respectively. The film, through delightful concoction of dark, brooding character study, and an alternately playful and pungent tone, provided a striking critique on Franco-era bourgeois morality and shallowness, and a lacerating examination on obsession and repression. The seemingly discordant opening sequence, showing a pair of male hands meticulously cutting images of models from fashion magazines purportedly for his personal scrap-book, exquisitely set the thematic context for what followed. The hands, as it turned out, belong to Julián (José Luis López Vázquez), a middle-aged physician who runs a clinic with the aid of his shy, introverted assistant Ana (Chaplin). When a long-time friend (Alfredo Mayo) introduces his much younger, newly-wed wife Elena (also played by Chaplin) to him, he immediately becomes enraptured by the carefree, liberated and outgoing lady as she reawakens a memory and also titillates his suppressed desires; he starts pursuing her with increasing vigour, albeit in futility, with his brazen obsession further fuelled by her casual flirtations and deliberate teasing, and he even starts moulding Ana, through a mix of cajoling and coercion, in Elena’s image. Understandably, these increasingly sordid and desperate attempts lead the tale to a disturbing climax. Loaded with socio-politico-religious imagery and commentaries, this gleefully perverse, subversive and captivating film boasted of an arresting central performance by Vázquez and an equally fascinating dual-turn in diametrically opposite roles (a reverse of what Bunuel did in That Obscure Object of Desire) by Chaplin.

Director: Carlos Saura
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romantic Drama
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Tales from the Crypt [1972]

During its short lived history Amicus Productions became the only serious rival to Hammer Films in the domain of British horror B-films, and Tales from the Crypt, based on stories from the cult EC Comics, remains the most well-known among the seven portmanteau horror films that it produced, thanks in no small measures to the popular 7-season HBO TV series. Connected by a framing story about a group of 5 tourists stuck in an underground catacomb and made to face their futures by a robed man (Ralph Richardson), it comprised of 5 shorts that were deliciously misanthropic in their portrayal of the grotesque side of human nature and in their espousal of the tenet that human society is basically rotten to the core. In the gleefully bloody …And Through the House, a scheming lady (Joan Collins), after murdering her doting husband, finds herself running from a homicidal lunatic on the loose; in Reflections on Death, a businessman (Ian Hendry) coolly abandons his wife, only to be left disfigured by an accident while eloping with his mistress; in the deeply melancholic Poetic Justice, a wealthy snob (Robin Phillips) decides to get rid of his neighbor, an aged garbage man (Peter Cushing), but faces a horrible comeuppance in return; in Wish You Were Here, a rendition of the renowned W.W. Jacobs short story The Monkey’s Paw, a business man (Richard Greene) close to bankruptcy faces a horrendous future thanks to an ancient statuette; and in Blind Alleys, the residents of a home for the blinds exact a clinical revenge on their callous director (Nigel Patrick). Despite the weak framing device and a forgettable climax, the demented episodes made this a rather enjoyable ride.

Director: Freddie Francis
Genre: Horror/Thriller/Omnibus Film
Language: English
Country: UK

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Banishment [2007]

Influences of Tarkovsky (stylistically) and Bergman (thematically) are immediately discernible in Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev’s brooding psychological drama The Banishment. While in his next film Leviathan he focused on a man’s losing battle against the societal corruption surrounding him, here he dealt with the protagonist’s struggle within, with familial fissures and ruptures, along with an alienating landscape, forming the key linkage. The gripping sequence that the film begins with – a seemingly wounded man driving through a desolate urban-industrial landscape shot in blue-gray shades – set the tone for what was to follow. The man, Mark (Aleksandr Baluyev), has connections with the underworld and is having a gunshot wound, as is revealed, is racing to the house of his brother Alex (Konstantin Lavronenko), the film’s protagonist, in order to have the slug removed. Soon after, Alex relocates with his family, comprising of his wife Vera (Maria Bonnevie) and two young kids, to a cottage he grew up in the countryside, possibly in order to escape from his past and rebuild his life. However, when his wife informs him that she’s pregnant and that he’s not the father, it inevitably leads them all towards disarray and doom. The delicate heteronormative threads that hold a family together, along with the protagonist’s tussles with his masculinity and his barely suppressed existential crisis, thus, formed the dominant threads around which this ominous and leisurely paced movie was woven. The dazzling photography magnificently captured the empty spaces – both physical and emotional, and along with the minimalist score and sparse narrative, brilliantly captured the characters’ inner voids, while the performances, particularly Lavronenko’s restrained turn as the troubled protagonist, added fuel to its simmering tragedy.

Director: Andrey Zvygintsev
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Marriage Drama
Language: Russian
Country: Russia