Thursday, 23 October 2014

As Bodas de Deus (Spousals of God) [1999]

Monteiro’s provocative, personal and thoroughly brilliant ‘Comedy of Deus’ trilogy was brought to a marvelous closure with As Bodas de Deus. Even if it didn’t have the underlying personal melancholia of Recollections of the Yellow House or the gleeful perversity of A Comedia de Deus, in terms of sheer thematic scope and audacity, this was possibly the most ambitious of the lot. Joao de Deus (Monteiro), now a banished, broken and discarded sad old man post his disturbing meltdown with which the previous film ended, is eating a frugal lunch at a secluded park by the river when he’s visited by a mysterious man who identifies himself as a messenger of god and gifts him bags stashed with cash. And thus begins a strange journey, that smacks of déjà vu for those who’re familiar with the trilogy, wherein he reaches a stage of comfort and respectability – in this case someone for whom both luck and money are squarely on his side – only to once again touch nadir when fortune suddenly quits on him. Two parallel narrative strands played out – in an act of blind generosity, he saves a cherubic girl, installs her at a convent, and does acts of charity there even though he’s anything but a believer; meanwhile he makes the acquaintance of a wealthy Arab prince with whom he engages in an all-night game of high-stake poker, only to win everything that the suave gambling addict possesses, including his saucy and seductive wife in the final round. The film’s bone-dry humour, leisurely pacing and visual richness – it was dazzlingly photographed using exquisite single takes – provided the perfect accompaniment to its biting irreverence towards religion, authority and morality, and its deftly meditative tone.

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

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A Comédia de Deus (God's Comedy) [1995]

A Comédia de Deus, the dryly comic and delectably perverse second chapter in Monteiro’s ambitious, fabulously staged, and quietly personal ‘Comedy of Deus trilogy’, was thematically the most audacious of the lot in the way it pushed the boundaries of everyday morality. The title provided a cheeky interplay between the curiously named protagonist and a deliriously cosmic sense of humour that had its beginning in Recollections of the Yellow House and was further upped in As Bodas de Deus. Taking off where the last film ended, Joao de Deus is now employed as the manager of an ice-cream parlour in Lisbon courtesy the shop owner’s philanthropy. He’s become renowned for his closely guarded recipe, the profundity with which he trains the girls employed in the establishment for serving the customers, and his obsession with personal hygiene; off-work, he’s possibly the world’s greatest collector of a certain specimen that no one would ever think of inculcating as a hobby. During the course of his employment, this ageing, soft-spoken, kindly, lonely and glibly eccentric man charms a new recruit at the parlour into a tender relationship which traverses across various paradigms ranging from teacher-student to lovers. However, his fragile social order goes for a nose-dive when his barely managed self-control experiences a deeply disconcerting meltdown as he decides to seduce the pubescent daughter of the local butcher, leading to nasty consequences. The leisurely pace, aesthetics, exquisite single-takes and idiosyncratic tone were complemented by the film’s meticulous texture, degenerate world view, risque storyline and delightful sensuousness. The hilarious dance gig of the neurotic Joao as he, purportedly, teaches his fiancée to swim, made for an utterly memorable sequence and perfectly captured the film’s irreverent essence.

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

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Recollections of the Yellow House [1989]

Regarding characters created by directors and played by themselves on screen in multiple films, none match the enduring popularity and sheer brilliance of Chaplin’s The Tramp and Tati’s Monsieur Hulot. Portuguese filmmaker João César Monteiro’s ageing, gangly, chain-smoking, neurotic, soft-spoken, lascivious, kindly, amoral, fetishistic, pseudo-philosophical and self-destructive alter-ego, a quintessential ‘dirty old man’ persona, reminiscent of Woody’s self-deprecatory and semi-autobiographical portrayals, João de Deus, in his wry, quirky, darkly funny and deadpan ‘Trilogy of Deus (God)’, ought to be a contender for the above ranks despite its relative obscurity. Recollections of the Yellow House, the marvelous, dryly comedic and deliciously cheeky 1st chapter of the trilogy, which also comprised of A Comédia de Deus and As Bodas de Deus, chronicled the quirky travails of the penurious protagonist residing in the titular boarding house in Lisbon. He is thoroughly besotted with the beautiful clarinet-playing daughter of his puritanical landlady Dona Violeta (Manuelade Freiras) and surreptitiously fetishizes on her, his loins are constantly under attack by the bedbugs but Dona refuses to accept his complaints, he becomes engaged in an unemotional relationship with a sad prostitute looking for solace, and when the object of his desire dies while getting an abortion, he experiences a rather ludicrous psychological meltdown leading to incarceration. Monteiro resorted to very long takes, stretches of silence and the idiosyncratic interactions between the characters, to delectably capture the seedy physical environs and the lonely, vacillating and degenerate old man’s complex psyche with a deviant sense of aesthete; the end result, hence, was in equal measures mordant and poignant.

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

Thursday, 9 October 2014

What Time Is It There? [2001]

With What Time Is It There? Tsai provided a ravishingly beautiful, deeply haunting, richly moody and quietly affecting meditation on temporal and spatial interconnectedness, or lack thereof. Sterile concrete jungles, claustrophobic apartments, incessant increase in distances between people and resultant loss of connection, and ensuing ennui, loneliness, urban alienation and existential crisis, formed the key thematic elements in this marvelously composed and meticulously crafted gem. The film’s parallel strands focused on two lonely, idiosyncratic and affectionately etched characters residing on the fringes of the society – Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng), a street vendor who sells watches, and Shiang-chyi (Chen Shiang-chyi), a young woman who’s travelling to Paris. Shiang coaxing Hsiao to sell her the dual-time watch he’s wearing kicks off the storylines of these two characters grappling for human contact, albeit in vain. Hsaio’s recently widowed mother (Lu Yi-ching), unable to accept her husband’s death, is convinced of the presence of the deceased man’s ghost and reincarnation in her grief-stricken infatuation, while he becomes obsessed with setting all clocks and watches, including a massive clock attached to a skyscraper, to Paris time; meanwhile Shiang, unable to speak French, finds herself increasingly isolated in a strange world. Dark humour, irony, ambiguities and absurdist developments played fascinating roles in this delightfully concocted, profoundly melancholic and ultimately tragic exploration. In one bravura sequence, intercuts are used for showing socially deviant sexual situations of the 3 characters – the mother pleasuring herself through fantasy bordering on necrophilia, Hsiao with a prostitute in his cramped car, and Shiang tentatively kissing a lady she’s just met. Jean-Pierre Léaud made a cameo appearance in the film as did his 14 year-old avatar in a clip from The 400 Blows.

Director: Tsai Ming-Liang
Genre: Drama/Social Satire/Black Comedy/Psychological Drama
Language: Taiwanese/Mandarin/French
Country: Taiwan

Monday, 6 October 2014

Haider [2014]

Vishal Bharadwaj wrapped up ‘Shakespeare Trilogy’, his laudable and ambitious adaptation of the Bard’s plays to Indian settings and contexts, which also comprised Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello), with Haider. Based on Hamlet and set in the violent political turbulence of Kashmir which had reached a bristling crescendo during the 90s, this dark, brooding, edgy, nihilistic and gripping film very well traversed the political and the personal threads of the tragic tale while emphasizing upon a number of key elements like revenge, jealousy, lust and a complex mother-son relationship with subterranean guilt arising out of Oedipus Complex. When his doctor father (Narendra Jha) gets arrested by the army on charges of sedition for housing a separatist leader, and is made to disappear without trial, his son Haider (Shahid Kapoor), a university student, returns to Kashmir in search of him. Upon returning he realizes that his mother Ghazala (Tabu), instead of grieving for her missing husband as he’d anticipated, is embroiled in a relationship with his paternal uncle Khurram (Kay Kay Menon), a sly and unctuous wannabe politician who’s hand in glove with his journalist fiancée Arshia’s (Shraddha Kapoor) father who’s in the army. Meanwhile Roohdar (Irrfan Khan), a wanted man involved in the freedom struggle, reveals Khurram's role in getting his father caught, which sparks obsessive desire for revenge in him, and propels his mental disintegration and the eventual carnage. Hauntingly scored, atmospherically photographed and brilliantly enacted, the film expertly portrayed the violence and political quagmire the war ravaged Valley is entrapped in, and showed the nefarious and draconian means employed by state machinery for subverting the popular uprising, while chronicling a compelling personal story in the process.

Director: Vishal Bharadwaj
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: Hindi
Country: India