Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Blaise Pascal

Roberto Rossellini, 1972, 128m

This ocher tinted biopic captures life in medieval France at an unhurried pace. We are familiarized with the life of the philosopher scientist, concluding with its melancholy end at an early age.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Man with a Movie Camera

Dziga Vertov, 1929, 66m, USSR

At 66 minutes and a new addition to the Sight and Sound 2012 Top Ten once in a decade list, I felt impelled to view this film, and it was by no means a disappointment. There is nothing of the stiltedness once associates with films of this period and it might have been made last year. Apart from the nostalgia of freezing a lost time, it is an exuberant portrayal of the perpetual motion that is our extraordinary mundane existence. One senses the hope and vitality of nascent Sovietism of this post Lenin early Stalin time. Whirling gears and spindles, men and women intent on their industrial tasks, crowds forming and dispersing in cityscapes that might have been in the US,--gigantically spacious as both countries are or were--horse carriages competing with tramcars, this is a visual breathtaking treat from end to end. The jazzy musical score matches the visuals in expressing the overflowing joy of ordinary things.
Click HERE for the whole film.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


117m, 1971, Rossellini, TV (It)
The drama of Socrates' trial, condemnation and death is movingly presented in this stark film. The sets are rudimentary, there is just the hint of a musical score and the script is extracted mainly from Apology and Crito. The great director, who turned to biopics in the latter part of his life, is successful in breathing life into this ancient philosophers' life and ideas. We see this gentle man of seventy, unperturbed by his imminent demise, refusing to avail the opportunity of escape devised by his friends. The portrayal of his wife, less of a philosopher but almost as courageous, grappling with the destiny of being married to Socrates, is particularly sensitive and poignant. The film maintains a cool detachment as it portrays the somber and uplifting events that concluded Socrates' life. His philosophy has the depth to address the ultimate issue of death. Socrates is a courageous man whose actions match his ideas. Rossellini has a feeling for the sublime.
"I do not want to make beautiful films, I want to make useful films." - Roberto Rossellini

Friday, July 6, 2012

Pikoo's Diary

26m, 1980, Ray, Aparna Sen, Victor Banerjee
This is an extraordinary, unforgettable film, all the more for its brevity. And not just for the boldness of its theme, for Indian cinema of 1980, (adultery, that too brazen, under the eyes of an alert child), but the poetic power. In the last few minutes, time comes to a fullstop, and the child's universe is transformed by elemental occurrences. Everything coincides: clouds gather, the woman falls, death creeps in, a game of cards, sleep, a lotus trembles on its stalk. Sexuality. death, sickness, aging, nature, time. Awesome Life.
Part 1          Part 2         Part 3

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Snake Pit

1948, 98m, Olivia de Havilland

A highly romanticized and sanitized depiction of mental illness, which does little justice to the depth of inner desolation it entails and the trail of destruction which it leaves. Virginia, the glamorous victim, suffers from an unspecified illness involving confusion and amnesia which lands her in an institution, where her fate is sandwiched between a callous and at times brutal establishment, and a handsome psychoanalyst. She is subjected to the painful treatments current at that period (electric shocks and hydropathy) but psychoanalysis has the day as her past traumas are pealed and all ends happily ever after, as she returns to the ministrations of a doting husband. The environment and conditions inside the hospital are more comical than horrifying, and conform more to the popular image than to any reality. As an early depiction of the subject, it is a very rudimentary and inadequate treatment which sugar coats the grim reality. Manifest behavior is the tip of the iceberg. The sea of experiential reality is invisible. Probably straight narration is an inadequate idiom. I am tempted to quote:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Loneliness of Long Distance Runner

Tony Richardson, 99m, 1962, UK

Long distance running, particularly in the absence of a cell phone, is certainly an activity, which provides solitude of a special kind. As Smith, the teenage boy who is the subject runs and runs, memories come tumbling and he relives his past. This b/w movie is set in a bleak autumnal British landscape in social conditions far from the affluence of subsequent period. Smith is a teenager from the underprivileged section who lands in a reformatory after getting caught for a petty robbery. We have glimpses of life at the institution.

The head of the school spots the boy's talent for running and, to add a feather to his own cap, goads him with enticements to win the prize for a five mile race in an inter school race competition. Smith leaves his nearest competitor far behind, but close to the finishing line, brings himself to a halt, gifting away the trophy. It is an enigmatic yet powerful act of self assertion, whereby his existence as an individual is established. Like the protagonist of 400 Blows, he now faces the pathless sea of the future. A somewhat rough shod film of substance.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


100m, Denmark, 2010

This documentary tells of the experience of the Afghan war, this time through the eyes of a company of soldiers from Denmark. The camera is very close to the site of action, and we see the casualties on either side as they occur. We see the gradual desensitization of the soldiers, and the increasing depersonalization of the enemy. The surprising thing is that having completed their period of deployment, most of the soldiers elect to return to the same arena of war a year later, as though war were an addictive substance. The movie has the texture of a feature, and one has the feel of watching fiction, not reality.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Super Size Me

 Morgan Spurlock, 2004, 89m

You should see this film for reasons of health. It accentuates my feeling of revulsion towards junk food, specially the multi layer types which have to be consumed in portions that fully occupy the mouth--hardly the thing you can talk things over over. Eating, and eating together, should be a sacred act of human communion and bonding. Taste is not on the taste buds alone. But here it is reduced to a physiological exercise of stimulating and eliminating hunger using products that are essentially synthetic. This is eating for the sake of eating.

The director fed on nothing but what was available at McDonald's for thirty days, recording his own feelings as they vary between disgust, craving and fear. His medical parameters are monitored on a daily basis. The deterioration in health is even more drastic than anticipated. Among other things, the lipids and the weight shoot up. Most alarming and unexpected are the cirrhosis like signs which surface in the final days of the experiment, which could even be life threatening. Although framed in a breezy comic style, the topic is too serious to have any other effect than to set the alarm bells ringing.

Of course, arguments can be made about the drastic nature of the project, yet it is impossible to ignore the conclusions.  The results may be scaled down to the extent of one's own consumption, but it is hard to challenge the authenticity. One particularly gruesome animated sequence depicts the assembly line transformation of a chicken into golden deep fried nuggets. We also have the privilege of sharing the intimacy of the operation theater where an obesity surgery is being performed as swathes of lard are removed from an opened abdomen. Over-nutrition, like other addictions, is the result of an enfeebled mind. It is hardly less frightening than images of starvation, differing mainly in being self imposed.

Roger Ebert's review

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


2010, 87m, Junger and Hetherington dir

The directors spent two years around 2007 embedded in a group of American soldiers in a dangerous war theater of Taliban insurgency. In April 2011 the second of the two directors was killed on a similar assignment in Libya. This is an apolitical film and examines the ground realities of this war from the viewpoint of young American soldiers para dropped and transported into a hell within a Himalayan demi paradise. We can imagine the plight of the hapless mountain dwellers, viced between the grips of the insurgents on one side and on the other of foreigners with deadly weapons descending from the sky. We see people killed on both sides. In a revealing moment, an Afghan elder covers his mouth to unsuccessfully stifle a yawn as an American officer monotones the economic benefits expected to result from cooperation with the invaders rather than the insurgents. A worthwhile addition to one's cache of images of the world we share.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Morgan Spurlock, 2011, 88m, documentary

Half knowledge may be dangerous, but in our complex world, it is a better option to tunnel vision. Film documentaries seem a short route to the big fuzzy picture.This film is about the complex cut throat field of advertising and ruthless consumer manipulation and deception, even in America with all its laws. This funny film is not only about advertising but is itself an advertisement for various products which served to finance it. The director goes around meeting various business executives discussing the idea of sponsorship and in the process we gain insight into the way things are sold. Engrossing and educative.

Friday, May 18, 2012

No End in Sight

Ferguson, 2007, 102m

The decision making process behind the Iraq war is the subject of this dazzling documentary film. Even without grasp of the history of the period, the exposition is authentic, honest and focused enough to give one a perspective on how the gears of our world operate, and the kind of people  who deliberate the chess moves in which thousands of lives are at stake. Greed, vindictiveness and callousness worthy of the fading memories of fascist dictators are the forces that generated this war. The people at the helm seem to be as insulated as someone playing video games in the comfort of home. A highly illuminating film.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Visitor

2008, 105m

A delicately shaded humanistic drama set in post 911 US, involving characters from different nationalities. Some of them are illegal residents, living under the constant possibility of detection and deportation. While the romantic quadrangle has been nicely presented, what holds attention is the plight of the large floating population of undocumented aliens, whose bliss in paradise may be rudely interrupted by any small banana peel in the form of encounter with the authorities. There is a thriving profession of immigration lawyers. Manna from heaven is the proverbial green card. As the young Syrian drummer, having fallen foul with the police, says through the bars of his cage in a detention center, " you are outside and I am inside", as though speaking of alien species. I am left a bit puzzled by the contradiction between the juicy bunch of grapes America appears through the eyes of aspiring to be legalized residents, and the harrowing visions of Michael Moore. Maybe they are just the vastly different views of insiders and outsiders.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Inside Job

Charles Ferguson, 104m, 2010

An outstanding documentary. Panoramic cinematography and razor sharp editing give us a visually and mentally exhilarating presentation on a subject that is too abstruse for most of us to understand. Most of us have been victims of the global inflation and impaired employment following the recession starting in 2008, when some leading financial institutions and banks in the US went bankrupt. Life has certainly become harder, even as the symbols of homogenized development, different kinds of concrete structures, mushroom all around. The film examines this phenomenon in calm but merciless objectivity. What becomes clear is that the cause lies in the greed and selfishness prevailing among the rich, mighty and learned, people in positions of the highest social respectability, like professors and deans in the best known universities and the captains of the finance. It is a puzzle how a self respecting individual can guzzle packages running into hundreds of millions, even as ordinary folk are rendered homeless or jobless. The clear answer is that these are hi-tech crooks. These are the creatures who run the world, or are at least key players, engineering wars if their need be. One needs to make the mental effort to glean the corruption and decay that underlies the glitter of apparent progress and growth of knowledge. Indeed, to borrow Michael Moore's word, we are living in a fictional bubble. It ought to be scary. This is a low decibel more clinical version of Moore's Capitalism: a Love Story.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Better Life

2011, 97m
Carlos is a document-less immigrant Mexican gardener, single parent to his teenage son, laboring hard to provide his son with a future in the US. He adds his savings to money borrowed from his sister to invest in a truck which he hopes will be his gateway to prosperity and legalization. But in a trice the truck is stolen and he is plunged into problems with the authorities. A well made film which gives us glimpses of the fringes of immigration. The story has some resemblance to The Bicycle Thief. It is an engrossing, understated movie on a simple theme.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bowling for Columbine

Michael Moore, 118m, 2002

Going by Moore, the US must be one of the worst societies in the world. Its people live in fear and insecurity, their minds constantly manipulated by the rich and powerful. Two students of a school gunned down seven fellow students and a teacher in 1999. The film explores the high crime rate prevailing in the US, compared to neighboring Canada, as well as some European and Asian countries. He particularly focuses on the laws which provide easy availability of firearms and ammunition. An interesting sidelight is Charleston Heston, the famed film star, who played Moses in The Ten Commandments. Heston was an office bearer of the National Rifle Association, which enthusiastically encourages gun ownership. It is amusing and chilling to see  an erstwhile Moses vehemently espousing the cult of gun posession. On the whole, this first of Moore's films, which catapulted him to fame, is less focused than the subsequent ones. Its thesis is, "violence exists", rather than "why".

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Michael Moore, 2007, 122m

In this tragi-comic documentary, Moore again unloosens cannon fire on American society. He is a born clown and like the clown in Lear, he uses tears and laughter to lay bare the anomalies of our age. This time his target is the notorious American medical health care system, in which the profit motive appears the prime, and taking care of the old and sick, the least, of considerations. This is contrasted to the universal health care systems prevalent in Canada and Europe. In the final hilarious sequence of the film, Moore takes a boat load of sick citizens denied care in the US, landing up in Guantanamo Bay, where the incarcerated Al Qaeda suspects have access to state of the art treatment. Moore demands the same for his passengers, some of whom made heroic contributions during the 911 attack. Finally, they avail the excellent facilities in Cuba.

The term Sicko presumably applies to the greed which is the defining feature and driving force of American society. This is possibly the most scathing of Moore's films. Old age and sickness are primal human sufferings. To have access to timely, affordable and humane treatment, as is possible in many industrialised countries excepting the US, is a dream for most of us. Moore is an impassioned crusader as well as a gifted artist who cannot fail to have an impact on the ills he chooses to attack.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Fahrenheit 911

Michael Moore, 122m, 2004

This sledgehammer documentary starts by portraying the deceptions preceding Bush's assumption of the Presidency. Iraq was made the scapegoat for avenging 911, since it had no connection with 911, nor was it making WNDs. We learn of the astronomical business profits which could accrue from control of Iraqi oil, and this was a major consideration before and after the terrorist attack. The American people were apparently duped into supporting the unnecessary and unjustifiable conflict, so costly in human terms. Marshaling an array of startling information, Moore once again gives us a riveting glimpse into the workings of the modern world, as he perceives it. He is a propagandist before he is a documentarian, but his projections have the ring of authenticity, and he is certainly speaking on behalf of the common man. Moore's films definitely have considerable educational value for innocents, bias notwithstanding.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Capitalism: a Love Story

Michael Moore, 126m, 2009

This film gives a startling picture of the workings of the American economy, a picture which looks uncomfortably familiar at the other end of the globe, as the world transforms towards a homogenised McDonald's. 95% of the wealth we are told, gets siphoned to the upper 1% of the populace. The complexity of the system, in the hands of predatory corporations, inflicts suffering and heartbreak on the ordinary folk, or "peasants", as they are euphemistically referred. The banks are painted the chief villains, holding de facto control on the reins of governance, and the devilishly intricate engines of exploitation. This is an openly propagandist piece, and Moore, distinguished documentarian that he is, using every trick of satire and parody, lets loose this powerful onslaught on the injustices capitalism in general, and banking in particular, are alleged to represent. A must see movie.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Auschwitz 2011 and Auschwitz 2011

1. Uwe Boll (dir), 70m
2. Wudzki (dir), 58m
These are two quite two different films with the same name, year and topic. The first is a mixture of documentary and feature. It is a totally unnecessary film, giving a crude treatment which adds nothing to the discourse. The other is a well made documentary, sensitively narrated which revives the yet fresh memory of the unprecedented and unspeakable events.

The Stranger

Orson Welles, 1946, 90m

A straight suspense thriller which could easily be mistaken for Hitchcock, except for its lack of psychological depth, or Freudian overtones. Its about an escaped German war criminal, and the chase to pin him down. It is characteristic of Welles to chose the challenge of an outright villain. He was driven by the creative urge, never aiming at being an icon of any kind. The references to the chambers seem farcical, since so grim a topic seems unfit for box office fodder, and that too in 1946. A less than riveting movie in its genre. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Magnificent Ambersons

Orson Welles, 87m, 1942

Following close on the heels of the hallowed Citizen Kane, this is another miracle of compressed narration, flawless inter-cutting and explosive energy. Without losing a second or missing a beat, the history of the eminence and decline of an American family around 1900, is encapsulated in this gem of under an hour and a half. This is the era in which the automobile came into its own and with a wealth of period details a bygone time is resurrected. Powerful acting, a brilliant script--this is the prodigy in his heyday.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Orson Welles,1948, 103m 

This compressed and ethereal Macbeth serves well as a revision exercise which preserves the soul of the text without much directorial intervention. The magnificence of the drama lies in humanizing Macbeth, which may seem impossible for many contemporary tyrants. The complexity of characterization is missing and we do not participate in the thought processes of the couple before or after their project. The role is one after Orson Welles' own heart, since one can't imagine him stooping to enact a plain nice guy.The sets are minimal and seem to be sculpted from contorted masses of tar. It is a dark, steamy, rank underworld where light scarcely penetrates. He does a slick job of a forest on the move. Quite short of Welles' visually crystalline Othello. The film has a juvenile element, like a myth, missing the gravity and contemporaneous of the theme. But certainly not time wasted.

Thirteen among the best

Germany Year Zero; Bicycle Thief; Vertigo; Lawrence of Arabia; Otto e Mezzo; Wild Strawberries; Nobody Knows; Gandhi; The Exterminating Angel; Jalsaghar (The Music Room); The Mill and the Cross; Ikiru, The Stalker.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

True Grit

Coen brothers (dir), 2011, 111m

A teenage girl sets out to avenge her father's murder. In the hands of the expert directors, a genre stereotype becomes a beautifully shot and scripted treat. The larger than life characters, while retaining the mannerisms and style of the mythologized western, are real enough, and the shootouts are more than collapsing manikins.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Touch of Evil

Orson Welles, 1958, 105m
A couple is murdered on the US-Mexico border by means of a bomb planted in a car. The crime involves the police officials of the two countries (Welles and Charleston Heston) involved in a professional and ego war and we see a rapid fire convoluted plot which has one gripped and fascinated till the last gunshot, springing fresh surprises at each turn, not to mention the voluble, dazzling script. Welles as the American police officer elects to play a complex and larger than life persona as a committed, dissipated, overbearing and pathetic persona who is none too scrupulous about methods so long as he can put a noose around the person he intuits as guilty. The film concludes on a tragic note with the bewitching Marlene Dietrich, who is in a guest role, concluding with "He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?"

The whole point of the film is the dramatic/cinematic genius of Orson Welles, all too pervasive even in this, his period of creative and professional decline. Its somber black and whites depicts a seamy world of drugs, crime and enforcement. The script sparkles and dances saying something unexpected each time. Ultimately it is the the beauty which is uniquely celluloidal that lifts this film far above the ordinariness of its theme. This is cinema noire--whose hallmark is a kind of fatalistic melancholia--at its headiest.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We need to talk about Kevin

Lynne Ramsay (dir), 112m, 2011
A teenager commits a macabre crime. The film traces the relationship between the mother Eva (masterfully evoked by the charismatic Tilda Swinton) and Kevin. Had he not been so convincingly presented, Kevin could have been dubbed a demon, a creature not of this earth. But he is neither psychotic nor satanic, but a mind obsessed. The single minded hatred by the boy starting from his diapers, grows in focus and intensity, coupled with intelligence to plan and execute the horrific project. Eva watches the boy's growth with bewilderment and disbelief, but even the series of shocks as they succeed each other over the years could not have prepared her for the nightmare that explodes one fine day. The focus of the movie is neither mother nor son but the nameless stream of emotion that exists between them. They are mutual centers of each others worlds--such is the mother/child bond. Love/hate are obverses of the same coin. There is a terrifying triumphant grandeur as Kevin releases his shafts in quick succession with  concentrated fury. And yet there is redemption--at the end, the mask slightly cracks, and we glimpse a  human being. The film is built from shards of memory skillfully interposed for economy and impact. It is too authentic a film to be subjected to needless interpretation--suffice it that the mind rooms creatures as infinite as myth can conceive. Of a class with Silence of the Lambs and Exorcist.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tom Jones

1963, 128m
This is based on Henry Fielding's 18th century novel and gives a bawdy picture of English life at some period. A rounded film which seemed to hold no particular interest.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Dangerous Method

David Cronenberg, 2011, 94m

This biopic is about Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein, who was in turns Jung's patient, student, mistress and professional collaborator. We get a glimpse of the lives of the two researchers as well as of their ideas. Freud thought of himself as a man of rigorous science, whereas Jung's methods spilled into the paranormal and mystical. The movie does not succeed in bringing to life these epochal thinkers and one is left with a triangular drama garbed in much fancy psychoanalytic idioms and jargon. It simply does not do justice to its material and seems to be an amateurish representation of the demonic side of a human being's inner universe. It serves a purpose as a documentation of some bare historical facts.

The Help

2011, 146m
This social comedy is set during the sixties civil rights movement in Southern US. The “helps”, black maidservants employed by wealthy whites, may not use the toilets of their employers and have separate utensils and cutlery, at least in some of the featured families. A central event of the tale is no doubt the consumption of a dish laced with the faeces of an aggrieved employee, and the subsequent publicity of the event through a book titled “The Help”--vendetta with a difference and which may make some here squirm. Careful what you say -they have the last weapon, your dinner. The film ends on a note of triumph for the persecuted class.  This is a well made engrossing film which adds little to our understanding of the world we live in, or the turbulent era in which it is set..

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Barry Lyndon

Stanley Kubrick, 1975, 184m

Based on Thackeray's novel, this is as close to literature that a movie can get.It is a panoramic view of a life and an age, portrayed with verisimilitude, plausibility and mild satire. The protagonist is an ordinary person, neither good nor bad, but enterprising and courageous who climbs the social staircase to climb down again. We have a detached portrait of the cultivated rogues responsible for the miracle of the empire over which the sun never set. Kubrick is in a different incarnation here, the satire being less bitter, but the touch of a master is visible throughout, as the painterly camera weaves a spell in its picture of Europe around 1800. A stunning film.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Harlan County

103m, 1976, documentary, Barbara Kopple (dir)

This Oscar winning film is the first of two documentaries made by this director about worker's struggle for better conditions in the US context. This one is about the coal mining industry. The coldness and exploitative greed of owners which extends to murder is graphically depicted. The simple lesson is that some people will do anything for money and the clash is almost Darwinian. The capacity of one group of people to treat another as things (in the Rwanda massacres one tribe was labelled as "cockroaches") seems inbuilt in human nature, alongside the better faculties. The film owes much of its power to the country music specifically related to coal miner's life. This film belongs to the era when socialism was alive enough to be kicked.


Sunday, April 1, 2012


2011, 103m, Israel

Both father and son are professors of Jewish studies and have devoted their lives to the same narrow chink of specialization. But whereas the son has become a celebrity, the father, more puritanical in his academic standards, and also a victim of bitter academic rivalries, remains obscure. His greatest achievement is being acknowledged in a footnote by a renowned scholar. His name has been proposed repeatedly for the coveted Israel prize, only to be vetoed each time by his arch academic ill wisher. But the day dawns when he is finally offered the prize, and the tragicomedy of errors takes off.

The film gives a delicately etched picture of the relationship between the aging father and his graying son. At the same time it gives us a glimpse of contemporary Israel, not to mention the pettiness and jealousies of the academic world. This gem of a film had me riveted till its ambiguous end. Does he accept the award? The movie concludes to the notes of what sounded like Chopin's Funeral March, which may be taken as a hint of sorts. A lovely film.

Review by A O Scott

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


2011, 118m, Ralph Fiennes (dir)

This is a superb film about a less performed Shakespeare play. The action has been transplanted to a fictitious modern city ("a place that calls itself Rome") with tanks and guns replacing sword and armor (short of planes, mercifully). Initially the anachronistic setting was slightly off putting, as though to frill up the substance of the drama, but finally it turns out to be a powerful and convincing character study, enacted flawlessly by Fiennes, who is also the director. Coriolanus seems much more than a man consumed by inordinate pride, as he is often simplistically described. He is a man driven by a single vision, at the cost of life, family, country, who remains consistent to himself till the end. His disdain for the people is a reflection of an inability to play politics or to indulge in any kind of dissimulation. He is an idealist, making valor his goddess for the sake of which he shows utter contempt for worldly riches and recognition and in fact life itself. He has a yardstick which is completely internal, an island of a man. Compared to him, even Macbeth is a conflicted ditherer. He is the perfect fruition of a species. Yet, thanks to the bard, he is completely plausible as flesh and blood. Whether that image conforms to social ethics or not is as futile as asking about the righteousness of revenge in Hamlet. At any rate this is a film with plenty of life in it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Titicut Follies

Frederick Wiseman (dir), 1967, 84m, documentary
The film chronicles the conditions in an institution for the criminally insane in the US. It was a subject of prolonged litigation and its open exhibition suppressed for a long time. The litigation was ostensibly for alleged violation of privacy of the inmates and personnel of the institution but actually because it depicted the less than ideal conditions prevailing. I was expecting to see barbarism of medieval vintage. Actually, we have a fairly neutral and objective lens view, and the patients seem to be reasonably well tended. The desolation that comes across is more the inherent attribute of mental illness, and the no less taxing task of managing people with semi-vegetable minds. The not so well educated attendants and even doctors tend to treat their charges as objects, more so because the conditions shown are currently classed as incurable. Could it be that long years of exposure not only immunizes the caregivers to suffering and makes them partake to some extent of the condition of their charges. The behavior of the attendants is a mixture of mild bullying and indifference. This is a telling, if not startling, film about the world of mental illness and by extension the human condition, since the lines demarcating normalcy are necessarily hazy. The outstanding feature of the film is truthfulness, not being an enacted film.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


2011, 96m

The title of the film is the official language of Rwanda.This is the third film about the genocidal civil war (1994) in Rwanda fought between two tribal groups, which took a toll of around one million lives. Alrick Brown, the director is a Jamaican American. The other two films I have seen about the same subject are Hotel Rwanda and Munyurangabo. The present film is a panoramic view of the unfamiliar milieu. It is retrospectively redemptive since as the film conveys time seems to have brought about a reunion of hearts across ethnic and religious barriers. It lacks however a sharp focus or intent and often seems to verge on sentimentality and heroics. A less than outstanding film about an important topic which has its heart in the right place. Notably, it is an outsider's view, as was Munyurangabo, directed by a Korean American. Munyurangabo, however, is by far the most moving in terms of simple humanism, exquisite restraint and film craft.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The American President

1995, 114m

This warm and highly entertaining romantic comedy situated right in the White House relates to the affair of a fictional American President with an environmental activist. And as we enjoy the Cindrella like yarn we get to know even across the tints of fantasy the routines in the corridors of power. There is even a chilling moment when the good natured big man pronounces the "Attack!" word ordering the pin pointed bombardment of a civilian target.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Into the Abyss

Werner Herzog, 105m, 2011

A pair of teenagers commit three wanton murders in the process of stealing a car. After a decade long legal process, one of them (Perry) is to die by lethal injection ten days after the interview with Herzog we share in the film, while the other (Burkett) gets away with a sentence of forty years, partly due to the sympathy aroused by his father, another serving lifer. This riveting documentary paints a picture of waste, desolation and the grief of bereavement. We participate in actual interviews of relatives of the victims and criminals, a prison official who forsakes his pension and resigns after carrying out 125 executions and a priest who's job it is to be present at the last moment.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick, 1987, 116m

True to the genre with which his movies can be identified, this film is a mixture of parody, comedy and satire. The humor is always black, and one is left with a suspicion that a part of him is relishing what he sermonizes against. The topic is the Vietnam war, and the target of his satire is not just the absurdity of war, but also America, American culture and American stereotypes. It comes nowhere near his Paths of Glory, which was set in WW1. The first half of the film is about the training of soldiers, which has an electrifying climax, and is almost a film in its own right. The second half is set in the battlefield, and seems loose, incoherent and inconclusive.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Standard Operating Procedure

Errol Morris, 2008, 118m

This  indelible documentary captures through interviews and photographs a fraction of the events that must have occurred at the infamous Abu Ghraib detention and interrogation center during the Iraq war. The photographs relate mostly to the humiliation and degradation to an animal level of the detainees (dragged around on a dog leash, naked human pyramids, etc). The photographs were taken as a lark by female and male soldiers at the lowest rungs which got leaked, became evidence at a trial and led to terms of imprisonment for a few. The interviews express the views of the perpetrators: dim, passive minds at the bottom of the hierarchy in the juggernaut of war. The uncomfortable question that arises is that most people could have been at either end of the stick, but for the placements of chance. To quote Marlon Brando from a film of his: "It was you , Charlie." Perhaps more significant is the fact that such a courageous film could be made and exhibited and considered for awards. Neutrality and objectivity are the hallmarks of this documentarian.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Sun

Sokurov, 2004

This movie is a study of the life of the Japanese emperor around the period of Japan's defeat and surrender in WW2. He is a figure remote and cloistered, sheltered from the glare of publicity even as he exercises a hard to gauge influence in the framing of decisions. He emerges as a cultivated individual, who, while lacking in any particular charisma of his own, occupies a paramount position in the minds and emotions of the citizens, as a godlike head of state. It seems difficult for an outsider to understand the nature of the feelings he aroused. As an aftermath of the traumatic act of surrender, he renounces his supposed divine origin. The film is more about the individual and the institution of monarchy than the momentous events in which he played an important role. An absorbing if not riveting account of the enigmatic historical personage.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Midnight in Paris

2010, 90m, Woody Allen

The year is 2010. The Woody Allen proxy, a successful film script writer aspiring to be a novelist, catches a taxi which takes him on a time travel to the 1920s where he encounters the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Bunuel and others. It is quite diverting to encounter these luminaries in caricature even as the young man learns some necessary lessons about life. A light, enjoyable and forgettable comedy, informatively back-grounded by Paris and Cole Porter.

Friday, March 2, 2012


2011, 115m

A family drama framed in the windblown landscape of Hawaii. The about to be widowed Clooney discovers he has been cuckolded, even as his wife lies in a coma, awaiting withdrawal of the life support system. Clooney is a descendant of the earliest American settlers in Hawaii and the trustee of a huge estate which is about to be sold to developers who will convert the idyllic paradise to a commercial complex. The film is a well made soap opera which keeps you engrossed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Errol Morris, 2010, 90m, documentary

The film mainly consists of interviews of former beauty queen Joyce McKinney, who came into the limelight in what became famous as the case of the manacled Mormon. McKinney kidnapped the Mormon, a former boyfriend who disappeared to become a missionary, keeping him chained for three days to have her way with him. The case creates a journalistic storm in the less respectable sections of the British press and media. The different tabloids are shown in a ferocious battle to grab bits of the story first, going to all extents to doctor the news and photographs, to be ahead in circulation. The "accused" pleads innocent and finally disappears back into the US emerging decades later as she gets her deceased dog cloned by a Korean specialist. What makes the film interesting is the veracity of the persona which emerges from the hilarious interviews, testifying to the contrariness that constitutes a human being. Morris at his usual best on his familiar turf.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin

Spielberg, 2011, 107m

It is a delight to find the great little adventure seeker resurrected from the vaults of memory, this time as a three dimensional film, complete with his retinue of Haddock, Thompsons, Snowy. The backdrops of sea, desert and exotic lands are assembled with abandonment. Tintin, Haddock and the dog are the most convincingly human. The Thompsons are presented as charming marionettes. The character of Tintin has been assembled to add another dimension while preserving the earnest, upright and intrepid persona that we knew once upon a time.  The pace of the film is somewhat hectic compared to the leisurely adventures of the comic series. A highly enjoyable film.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


2011, Scorcese, 126m

Warm as a christmas carol, this  story about a pair of lovable children is a dickensian painting come to life. The film has a dreamlike, fairytale quality. Not least of the attractions is the wonderful acting. The liquid human face with its melting  expressions is another. The film features an automaton which is more human than humans.

An orphan boy with a genius for repairing clockwork gadgets is being  hounded by a wonderfully characterized policeman. The imagery of clockworks and rotating wheels and meshes of gears pervades the film pehaps as a metaphor for life. Scorcese is a renowned conservator of film and he esconces his own passion for the medium by narrating the history of cinema through the life of one of it's forgotten pioneers, Georges Melier.

The film itself is a complex piece of clockwork and is cinema for cinema's sake and certainly grabs your attention for its span. And surely 3D works fine here because if there is one thing in the universe that is three dimensional, it is a railway station!

A rich gourmet feast of cinema specially for sensitive children and adults.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Iron Lady

2011, 108m, Meryl Streep

The subject matter of a film is as important as how well it is made, and often determines the viewing decision. This is a biopic about Margaret Thatcher which thoroughly brings to life the persona of this evolved and charismatic individual of character. It gives us a glimpse of the events and tumultuous times when she was in office and also an insight into the system of governance and quality of leadership which has been responsible for the power, influence and achievements of this small country. Meryl Streep, with her monumental talent, has captred her subject in all dimensions, from spirit to mannerism. Cinematically, there may be elements of simplisticism, but cinema, like books, is a medium of education, as much as a pure art form, and this was time usefully spent.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


2011, 100m

This is a superbly crafted, tightly wound, mobster film replete with violence delivered with finesse and decorated with adequate amount of gore. As Francis Ford Cappola said with reference to his Godfather series, murder is such an unpleasant thing that it must be presented in an unusual form to make it interesting. This film may be an accelerated progeny of that illustrious and revered mother of the gangster genre. The cinematography is state of art, with the glittering panoramic spread of a nocturnal metropolis as the dazzling back drop. A roller coaster of a movie.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Rapture

1991, 100m

The term "Rapture" in Biblical terms refers to the predicted end of the world and the re-appearance of Christ. Sharon is an American woman trying to discover herself through a life of dissipation and pleasure. Then she becomes part of a cult group to whom the imminence of Rapture is being revealed through a shared dream. She is commanded to proceed to the desert along with her daughter where she is to encounter the maker en route to heaven. But things do not exactly turn out as per schedule. Stern questions about faith turn up and the swift momentum of the film sputters to an inconclusive end, neither raising nor answering any deep questions. The film ends on a note of bleak despair, supernatural intervention notwithstanding. Its more relevant in its depiction of the hazards of fundamentalism.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Artist

2011, Michel Hazanavicius, 96m

A silent film made in 2012! This is a multi-faceted gem of a black and white film. It is a beautifully crafted chronicle of the thirties when movies became talkies. At the same time it is a humane and sentimental drama which tugs at the strings of emotion. It even has tiny super dog. If one goes by the dictum that what matters is how a film goes about doing what its about, one would have to concede full marks. Perhaps it is about the pangs of change (in this case film technology) as the film triumphantly erupts into sound in the last scenes. The film is among the contenders for the best film Oscar which is what prompted me to see it. It is a made as though in a bygone era but with all the benefits of evolution of the state of the art. The film is a wonder, a curiosity, and if one may dare use the word, a masterpiece.

A O Scott's review

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Apostle

1997, Robert Duvall (dir), 128m

An apostle by definition is an envoy, an ambassador. His job is to speak out on behalf of his master, not to hold his tongue. Robert Duvall in this movie is the irrepressible messenger, who seems born for the profession of a pastor. Garrulous, poetic, passionate, above all a peerless showman, he also has a violent streak, which at times gets the better of him. This is a character study, reminiscent of Zorba the Greek. Incidentally, it gives us a vivid picture of the swinging Christendom that is certain quarters of the US.

Duvall, of Godfather and Apocalypse Now fame, gives an unforgettable performance, in this film which smells of the earth that is the common people, the heady mixture of black and white that is America, and Christian faith, shorn of theology or dogma, in rural pristine vigor.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Higher Ground

2011, 2 hours, Vera Varmiga (dir)

This is a lucid film about the life of an American family steeped in the Christian faith. The family is embedded in a community which mutually sustains and encourages the belief system. The beliefs they hold seem to make their lives more meaningful, bearable and satisfying by being moored in something. On the other hand they invite obvious ridicule and revulsion from another section of the community as "predatory religious nuts". Another viewpoint sees the life of faith as here portrayed as being sterile and bereft of aesthetic and human dimensions. The whole portrait is of a lukewarm and fossilized approach, which can only be sustained by huge contortions of logic, with the mere fruit of a nice feeling. Corrine, the heroine, is torn between different viewpoints, whereas her chance acquaintance Liam represents the viewpoint of a sensitive secular person who has no powerful compulsions to belief. A vivid picture of Christianity in the modern world in quarters where it is taken seriously. At least it manages to express a human being's inherent spiritual and philosophical needs. It is a fair multi-dimensional and ambivalent portrait, swinging between satire and admiration, with faith scoring the last word as a primary human need.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


2009, 90m, France, Jessica Hausner (dir), Sylvia Testud (as Christine)

Lourdes, a town of picturesque beauty on the mountainous French Spanish border, is the site of the attributed repeated visitations by the Virgin Mary to a peasant girl, in the nineteenth century. Sixty miraculous cures have been officially recognized by the Church among the millions who visit this place of pilgrimage and tourism. This film involves us in the Lourdes experience through young Christine, afflicted with incurable multiple sclerosis. She does miraculously rise from her wheelchair, but will it last? Or maybe it is one of the documented rare cases of temporary remission? The phenomenon is examined from the faith, skeptical, medical and clergical viewpoints, giving us a cross section of views, wisely avoiding conclusions.

The term Lourdes Effect has been coined by a philosopher, which states that the powers that be reveal themselves if at all in less than unambiguous terms. If they did, faith would be unnecessary, putting the cart in front of the horse. The precious commodity of faith is not served platter full by God. The film repeatedly states the religious viewpoint that after all its the spirit that primarily needs to be healed, and it is this healing if it occurs which is the true miracle. (Not to speak of psycho-somatic phenomenon).

Meanwhile this is a restrained film which weaves a slow spell with its lavish visuals, musical score (which uses Schubert's Ave Maria and the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor), the mournful procession of wheelchairs, people who have come with different or no expectations, for rest or for recreation. It is an intelligent if not profound movie, inclining, quite naturally, towards skepticism. The lead role has been performed with exquisite delicacy. Christine is courageous, intelligent and skeptical who only seeks the joys of normal life: work, friendship, health, a family. The cure barely touches the core of her life, beyond child like joy, and a nagging apprehension.

Toccata and Fugue 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Four Times (Le Quattro Volte)

Michaelangelo Frammertino, 84m

A tree is felled, chopped into logs and transported to a kiln where it is turned into charcoal. The movie opens with a smoldering soil covered heap and for quite a while one is in suspense what exactly is going on. When we learn that it's all about charcoal, it comes like the resolution of a mystery. The film is set in a primitive European mountain village and the rhythms of life are beautifully depicts in this film in three parts, of which the story about the tree is the last. The second part depicts the life of a lamb from the moment of birth onto its journey of life in the world. The first is about the death of an aging goatherd.

There is no dialog or musical score. The sounds and visuals combine to take us through a slow absorbing journey through this event-less hamlet in the lap of nature. The film is just the right length.

To think there could be such drama and beauty in the manufacture of charcoal!