Monday, 19 January 2015

Koyaanisqatsi [1982]

Godfrey Reggio spent 7 long years to make Koyanisqatsi, the first and the most famous chapter in his ‘Qatsi Trilogy’, and which translates to ‘life out of balance’ in Hopi language, with a paltry fund and sans any script. The deeply experimental and formally radical work reminiscent of Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, which became a sensation in the arthouse circuit upon its release, was a visually enthralling and emotionally disquieting commentary on the flip side of modernization. Though bereft of characters and dialogues, it had a distinguishable narrative structure that captured Regio’s leftist politics in no uncertain terms. It begins with shots of breathtaking environmental beauty, gradually progresses towards human interventions in the form of industrialization and technological advancement, and their jarring juxtapositions with natural landscapes, follows that with images of insatiable urbanization, and finally ends with vignettes of ageing, loneliness and impoverishment despite all the “progress” than humankind has made. The tonal shifts – from peace, lyricism and wide-eyed amazement, to moody ominousness, growing anxiety and palpable edginess, to finally quiet melancholy and weariness – were brilliantly evoked through the thematic underlining of the images, photographed using a plethora of techniques (overhead shots, close-ups, multiple film speeds, overlap of images, etc.) by Ron Fickle, and the haunting orchestral score by Philip Glass accompanying the proceedings. The fact that, despite the avant-garde nature of the film and the limited budget with which it was made, the audio-visual elements were so seamless integrated with the decidedly pro-environment agenda, is truly worth being mesmerized by irrespective of whether or not one agrees with Reggio’s socio-political stance.

Director: Godfrey Reggio
Genre: Documentary/Avant-Garde/Experimental Film
Language: Silent
Country: US

Friday, 16 January 2015

Birdman [2014]

Birdman is, primarily, a character study on a man’s fervent attempts to reclaim lost glory and a scathing media satire on the desperate attempts of showbiz stars to remain relevant; and, in its darkly humorous portrayal of an actor for whom the line between his silver screen persona and real self has been completely blurred, it managed to be a superhero film too, albeit on a subterranean level. Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who had once attained immense popularity for playing Birdman, is now a washed up actor perennially haunted by the superhero’s brooding presence. In real life, he’s a fumbling man who seems to be losing his sanity, while his alter-ego is an angry, venom-spewing person with telekinetic abilities. In a rather grotesque attempt to earn respectability, he’s decided to direct and act in a play for Broadway, and he’s joined in this endeavour, which borders between ambition and folly, by an acclaimed but egotistical actor (Edward Norton), a neurotic actress making her Broadway debut (Naomi Watts), his best friend and confidante (Zach Galifianakis) and his estranged, self-centered daughter (Emma Stone), among others, leading to both frictions and reconciliations. The film has been shot in a seemingly one continuous take, broken only by a montage sequence near the end, which was breathtaking in its audacity and technical virtuosity. Keaton gave a career defining performance as the complex-ridden protagonist – the fact that he’d starred in Batman and Batman Returns over 2 decades back, added a sharp self-reflexive touch bordering on wry self-parody to the film, heightened by Birdman’s close resemblance to the caped crusader and its gruff voice which provided a jab at Nolan’s reboot of the DC Comics franchise.

Director: Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu
Genre: Black Comedy/Media Satire
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Hidden Agenda [1990]

Hidden Agenda, Loach’s incredibly gripping, blistering and politically charged denouement of the British Right-Wing in the murky backdrop of the country’s ugly war against IRA, was one hell of a conspiracy thriller. Loach’s preference for naturalistic filmmaking added a strong dose of bleak realism to the proceedings, imbuing the intense and thrilling ride with streaks of believability, thus adding to the impact. When an American human rights lawyer and activist (Brad Dourif), in Northern Ireland to investigate charges of draconian measures regularly employed by the British military to crush separatist movement, is assassinated by unknown assailants while in the company of an IRA sympathizer, Ingrid (Frances McDormand), his fiancée cum colleague in the fact-finding mission, and Kerrigan (Brian Cox), a veteran police officer appointed to investigate the case, start going to the root of the affair, much to the establishment’s discomfiture and consternation. As they delve deep, they decipher uncomfortable truths about the government’s complicity in the rotten affairs and how a few powerful men pompously subverted the system to their preferred end. Suffice it to say, their nosing around is accompanied with its share of physical and psychological threats so that status quo about the public’s perception of the government and the separatists remain shrouded forever. The film garnered fair share of controversy for not towing the official line and its decidedly socialist political stance. The fine cast was led by a brilliant Cox, while the excellent photography placed us right into the pubs, alleys and the paranoia-laden atmosphere of 80s Belfast when “The Troubles” was at its fever pitch.

Director: Ken Loach
Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller
Language: English
Country: UK

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion [1970]

Italian filmmaker Elio Petri’s lauded but controversial Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion reminded me of such diverse films as Costa-Gavras’ Z and Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove in the way this politically charged film tore into socio-political corruption, arrogance and high-handedness among the powers that be in pulsating fashion. This bitingly satirical black comedy provided a scathing indictment on the brazenness with which power is abused and how truth is what the ruling class choses it to be. The film begins with the nameless Chief of Police (Gian Maria Volonté), who’s slated to be in charge of expunging the country of Communists, political dissidents and basically anyone who doesn’t conform to his fascist and hetero-normative ideology, murdering his sultry and liberated mistress (Florinda Bolkan) at her apartment, rumpling up potential evidences and then pompously walking out, confident that he’s beyond reach of the law’s arms. As the investigation proceeds, he diverts suspicion towards people – first her cuckolded husband and then her Leftist boyfriend – and subverts the system at his free will. In its lacerating and ironic climax, when he’s finally overpowered by his conscience, everyone around him conspire to prove him of his innocence. Volonté was frightening as the tale’s outrageously slimy, authoritarian and literally bullying anti-hero, albeit with deep-set guilt complexes and sexual insecurities. The sparkling photography (with a host of close-ups), Morricone’s idiosyncratic score (reminiscent of The Sicilian Clan) and excellent support cast (portraying the quirky characters) made this acerbic, intensely anti-establishmentarian and Left-sympathizing critique all the more compelling.

Director: Elio Petri
Genre: Crime Drama/Black Comedy/Political Satire
Language: Italian
Country: Italy

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Happy Together [1997]

Happy Together, a ravishing and bittersweet elucidation of Wong Kar-Wai’s love and penchant for doomed romances, melancholia, loneliness, unhurried pacing and stylized visuals, and having a title that couldn’t be more ironic, would certainly rank amongst his best works, alongside the likes of Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love and 2046. Lai (Tony Leung), reserved and deep, and Ho (Leslie Cheung), impulsive and self-destructive, have fled from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires with the intent of giving a fresh start to their tumultuous and on-and-off relationship. They also want to visit the Iguaza Falls, which formed a constant leitmotif in its representation of longing, dream and freedom and jarring juxtaposition to their dismal, confused, emotionally torn and penurious existences. The haunting tone, and the pervading sense of loss and heartbreak, was very well complemented by the film’s freewheeling form. Doyle’s breathtaking cinematography – muted black-and-whites, washed out colors, tinted visuals, varying film speeds – made it ravishing for the eyes, while also deftly adding to the tale’s moody atmosphere, edginess and emotional power, revelation of the lost protagonists’ inner longings and emptiness, and portrayal of the city’s apartments, alleys and bars. The rather underdeveloped character of the friendly Taiwanese Chang (Chang Chen) seemed tad superfluous, more so when placed alongside Leung’s enthralling performance and Leung’s bristling supporting act; the 3-hour version of the film which never got released (Wong had himself cut it down to its 97 minutes length), hence, makes one all the more curious.

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Urban Drama
Language: Cantonese/Mandarin/Spanish
Country: China (Hong Kong)