Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Trial of Joan of Arc 1961

A Bresson film has the virtue of brevity (this one sums up the historic trial in just an hour), but they do not yield to a single or a casual view. This film has a hypnotic effect, even in its apparent monotone and absence of overt drama. The film begins and ends with a movement of feet; at the beginning, those of her mother, proceeding to the restoration proceeding, and the end, as Joan is hurried, pushed or goaded towards the steps of the pillory. Human speech is underplayed and eliminated to a limit in all his films. Some situations are impossible to enact--since Bresson frequently ventures into such territory, he simply avoids the acting and emoting. He uses sound and motion--he loves to show only the lower half of the human form, When someone is walking along or opening a door, what do we need the face or its expressions for? Serenity is achieved by such exclusions of the superfluous. Sound effects--a key turning in a lock, the sound made by a chain, a gun shot-- play an important part in his composition

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lust for Life

An excellent biopic about Van Gogh. More than his life, it's a film that captures to an extent the transcendence of his painting. It is liberally interspersed with the canvases and the camera's palette imitates that of the painter. These paintings along with the environments in which they were created as well as the joyful musical score lead you into the universe of the artist. The main events and people in his life are presented in a straight forward way, and the narrative and excitement never flag.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Money 1983

A good man is transformed into a brutal criminal. The film is pure crystal: all that can be sheared is excised. A truthful person need not act. The absence of acting and expressed emotion does not imply none is conveyed: the camera itself  becomes a beast of coiled fury. Objectivity is what Bresson aims at. In telling a powerful tale, Bresson gives a cold visual narrative. Speech is minimal and monotone. Finally he gives us an experience of taut power, a story that is as incomprehensible as reality itself. Could this happen to anyone?

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Devil, probably...1977

Bresson, at age 70. A young man contemplates suicide. He finds life a demeaning reality. What is life, he asks? Insurance, a nine to five job, raising children, credit cards, installments, taxes, children etc He sees nature being wasted to technology, nuclear radiation hazards, missiles. The "masterpiece" is the thermonuclear weapon, capable of killing twenty million at one stroke. Yet he is not able to do it, to drown or shoot himself. Suicide is difficult, a psychoanalyst tells him, and that is why the Romans asked a friend to do it. But, he says, death appals him no less than life. Loss of life-force, sight, hearing, thought. A chilling film, and Bresson brings on the ultimate dilemma with great force, in his usual style of expressionless actor-models. A great film.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Haider2014..semi Bollywood

This brave new made by India Hamlet is the third in Vishal Bhardwaj's trilogy of films based on the plays. The constraints due to  audience expectation as well as Vishal's own artistic powers show through. As a cinema craftsman he catches the snow blanketed valley as well as the nuances of speech and accent and depths of Kashmiri culture. As a dramatist he manages to transmute the great play in which the particulars are reshaped but nearly all the contours are clearly preserved in splendid refraction. The political backdrop is incidental in this essentially human revenge drama. The fratricide and maternal infidelity is captured with great power. But Haider is no introspective and complex Hamlet: he is boy who explodes into manhood in the quest for revenge. To paraphrase a reviewer " may be deficient in the Hamlet department but it gives good Gertrude." Tabu is indeed in complete command of her role. What remains most in my mind is the intoxicating snow enveloped landscape and what I can only call the soul of this place I once visited in the depth of winter.

The climactic "pile of corpses" sequence is wonderful; it takes place in a Muslim snow clad graveyard sprawling with some dozens of bodies, and with many a twist of plot we see Ghazala aka Gertrude self immolating, not for political reasons but as an act of penitence.

Chutzpah: the pleading for mercy by a person who has killed his parents on the grounds that he is an orphan.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fanny and Alexander 1982

The luxuriant richness of life is captured through this portrait of a not very extra-ordinary (yet extraordinary in the sense that nothing is ordinary) family set in a horse-carriage era at the previous turn of century. It stands apart from the genre which has earned the director the nick name of "gloomy Swede". This is an exuberant film filled with joy, pain and mystery, specially when it sees life through the eyes of Alexander, the teenage boy who occupies the most space in the film. Alexander may be a parody on Hamlet, with a full fledged father-ghost, and a mother who marries a loathsome priest, but the movie ends, not in a pile of dead bodies, but the birth of three babies, two of them twins. Bergman liberally sprinkles the supernatural specially representing the pain, wonder and mystery seen through Alexander's eyes. He perhaps is the Bergman autobiographical prototype. It could well be Bergman's best film, made in his sixties, a picture painted by a person who has sipped deeply and richly, and meant to be, but was not, his final movie. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gertrud 1964

Visually, it looks like Ozu. Both the character and appearance of Gertrud resemble Kim Novak in Vertigo. The film has the same miasma of eroticism as Hitchcock's film. Interestingly, this is Dreyer's last film, at age 75, and a departure from his previous religious themes. It is a visually arresting film, whether in the composition of interiors and gardens or the poses struck by the human figures, as they slowly declaim their lines to the audience, rather than each other. Love itself is the theme, and what distinguishes is the presentation, rather than the substance. Not the usual stuff, nor forgettable. That apart, the film is at best about the pathetic absurdity of life lived on shallow premises, which, the film maker, going by his previous work, must surely have known. Unworthy, perhaps, as a swan song, for so accomplished an artist. On the other hand, as cinema, in perfection of form, it could be the best. It has the austere luminescence of Persona, sans its volubility. Could Dreyer have intended satire?


Monday, October 6, 2014

The Last of the Unjust.Lanzmann.2013

A riveting film, 3 1/2 hours notwithstanding. Yet one more addendum to Shoah, it is based on interviews with Murmulstein, the Rabbi who functioned as a tool of the SS in administering the Theresienstadt. The interviews reveal an enormously forceful personality: intelligent, voluble, courageous and wily, capable of defending himself eloquently in a seemingly indefensible position. If he is a demon, he is a fascinating one. Having worked face to face with Eichmann over seven years he ridicules Arendt's conclusion about his "banality". "He was a demon", says Murmulstein. After the war, he was tried and exonerated by a Czech tribunal, spending the rest of his life in peaceful obscurity in Rome. He was ferreted out by the film-maker, and participated with great gusto in the week long interviews, expressing himself as a seasoned thespian to consolidate his position in history through the present film, which is no documentary of a season. Not only is it history, it pertains to the dark regions of human nature. "All martyrs are not saints", he observes, in reference to those who perished.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Passion of Joan of Arc(1927)

Returning to this silent masterpiece, I am more amazed than ever at the audacity of attempting so difficult a theme. This young Dreyer has been able to capture the essence of the well documented historical trial, and present it in minute detail in a succession of flawless images. It had me thinking of Welles. The story ascends--"passion" is so appropriate a word with its biblical resonance--right to the engulfing flames, very much like the procession to to the cross. Falconetti's powerful portrayal is rightfully lauded, but this is Dreyer's film, with his deep insight into human nature.