Tuesday, August 27, 2013

King Lear

2008, RSC, Ian McKellan, Old Review
The delusions he fondly nourished are dispersed by a series of shocks. There is no going back from Lear's enlightenment. Cordelia returns but cannot last, not this side of the grave. Her reappearance can be only a patch of green in the relentless obliteration by time of good and ill ("you do me wrong to take me out of the grave"). The incomprehensible joy of reunion is soon displaced by the devastating pain of her sudden cruel death. The treachery of the sisters dwindles in the face of this act of nature. The "nevers" express an abyss of pain, born of a passionate philosophical conclusion as regards the finality of death. Strange that Lear could have forgotten that time must separate him from his daughter: later, if not too soon, as it turned out! His awakening is partial, after all. "Like two birds in a cage" is a naive fantasy: as if nothing happened, the blinding, the masks unpeeled. This is all about coming down in life: Kent, Edgar, Gloucester, Cordelia and of course Lear. Gloucester indeed falls lowest, because he actually "commits" the sin of "suicide", but is "miraculously" resurrected to work out his destiny to a logical conclusion. Each sees the globe dissolve, the dream evaporate. As Lear ventures into the storm, he is already a transformed man: the illusions whereby he lived have been swiftly dispersed and he has a more encompassing vision of life, which, in fact, he finds so refreshing that he will not be tempted by the offer of food and fire. He is a different man, and there is no return to the old self. The film gives us a masterly presentation, down to minute details of acting, like a lump in Kent's throat. It brings us closer to the heart of the matter.

Why must Cordelia die, as indeed she must? Lear, Gloucester? The answer must be in the scale of values we apply, and indeed to die is not the worst that can happen. We have to ask what is the purpose of life. For Lear to settle down cozily with his daughter after all that he has seen through, would hardly match the tenor of the play, even the transient reward of a kingdom being peanuts measured on the vastness of life's canvas, with the reality of death looming behind the cloud of our fecklessness. In fact in the plays conclusion, Lear takes yet another step in the awakening that started with the storm scene. Gloucester dies happy in his reunion, since life would have nothing more to offer. Even Edmund's eyes open to the shallowness of the life he lived. Oswald partakes of the illuminations of the drama in his sudden dispatch. To live happily ever after is a stasis incongruous to the scale of events depicted. Stasis is death, and progression life, even if it involves the stepping stone of dying. The four tragedies encompass an amplitude of life which can conclude with nothing short of the proverbial pile of corpses. The open spaces which are the stage of Lear symbolize the immensity of our inner space.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

5 Broken Cameras

94m, documentary, 2011, Arabic/Hebrew
A painfully slow watch. Part of the difficulty lies in the complexity of the Palestine conflict. The inhabitants of a small village valiantly resist the encroachment by Israeli builders over several years. The non violent agitation is brutally suppressed by tear gas, bullets and beatings and many are killed or injured. But the picture created is nuanced with the Israeli not quite unqualified devils. "The film should be taken for what it is, and the piece of reality that this film is showing should not be confused with the whole reality, such as part of the truth does not equal the whole truth."The story is filmed by a farmer turned documenteer of a reality surrounding him and engulfing his own family. In the process he loses a number of cameras to the violent suppression. This is a moving account of a community trapped in unending political strife and standing up with modest heroism to a powerful military force. The story is all the more poignant as we see growing children and women caught in the this ugly fray.
A O Scott:
"...a visual essay in autobiography and, as such, a modest, rigorous and moving work of art..."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Annie Hall

93m, 1977, Woody Allen
"I have a pessimistic view of life. I feel that life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable. Those are the two categories. The horrible would be like terminal cases, blind people, cripples. I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So when you go through life be thankful that you're miserable. You're very lucky to be miserable."...Annie Hall

This is a satire on people with intellectual pre-occupations. The conclusion is that they are human too. Sparkling with wit and gentle satire, taking on even smut in a civilized manner, and the ability to crack jokes at one's own expense, make this film, so like it's director, an enjoyable experience.

Vincent Canby:
"....the only American filmmaker who is able to work seriously in the comic mode without being the least bit ponderous....self-deprecating, funny, and sorrowful search for the truth about his on-again, off-again affair...."

Old Review

Friday, August 16, 2013


2007, 83m
Although it does manage to get some bursts of low grade laughter, the film is more designed to make one squirm by its vulgarity.
Ebert, to my discomfiture, thought otherwise. To each his own :
"Very nice. I like "Borat" very much. I think it is, as everybody has been saying, the funniest movie in years. And not because it is dumb (although it's very dumb), but because it is smart (and it is very smart). The full title is "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." Every single word in that title (including "for" and both "of's") is, in its context, really funny. If you have to ask why, then you probably won't understand why "Borat" is funny, either. But that doesn't seem likely."
Manohla Dargis is more nuanced:
".....the jackass has landed...gets better or worse, sometimes at the same time......a gun clerk’s suggestion of what kind of gun to use to hunt Jews will freeze your blood....the brilliance of “Borat” is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy..... comic energy and timing informs every scene.....they also clear room for two hairy men to wrestle nude in a gaspingly raw interlude of physical slapstick that nearly blasts a hole in the film....clenched in unspeakably crude formation, those hairy bodies inspire enormous laughs......with loads of smut and acres of body hair, relieving you of the burden of having to juggle your laughter with your increasingly abused conscience.....just when you’re ready to cry, you howl."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Streetcar Named Desire

Kazan, Leigh, Brando, 117m, 1953, Tennessee Williams
This drama of explosive emotions provides an ideal canvas to showcase the precocious acting gifts of the lead stars. Vivien Leigh's portrays the tormented and foredoomed Blanche as her life begins its journey of decline. Brando oozes masculine animality, yet tempered with a feline grace which makes him unforgettable. It is a movie about loss, the frustration of possibilities, about people who come down in life. With leashed power the story portrays the tragic aspect which is the reality of human existence. The themes are universal, transcending time and place.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Man for all Seasons

120m, 1966, Robert Bolt, Paul Scofield
A riveting drama about moral choice based on the life of Thomas More, who was executed for antagonizing Henry VIII by not acquiescing to the dissolution of his one marriage and blessing of the next. The movie more than any other feature stands out for the density and richness of the script, full of reason, thought and philosophy. Robert Bolt also wrote the scripts for two of David Lean's best known films.
Bosley Crowther:
"...the solid substance of "A Man for All Seasons"... presents us with an awesome view of a sturdy conscience and a steadfast heart...within such magnificent settings as only England itself could provide to convey the resplendence and color of the play's 16th-century mise en scène... crystallized the essence of this drama in such pictorial terms as to render even its abstractions vibrant...the play is essentially a showing of just one prolonged conflict of wills, one extended exposition of a man's refusal to swerve from his spiritual and intellectual convictions..."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Importance of being Ernest

97m, 2002
This is a brilliant and enjoyable introduction to Oscar Wilde's frothing and witty comedy set in high Victorian society. The camera gives us beautiful and intimate view of their sumptuous and leisurely ways. We see where the fat of the Empire went. It is another side of the Gunga Din saga. This of course is incidental to the deadpan brand of British humor to which Wilde made his unique contribution.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On the Waterfront

1954, 103m, Elia Kazan(dir), Marlon Brando
Revisiting after many years this riveting drama of moral heroism, I observed the amazing fluidity of Brando's expressions and masterly projection of the persona of a dim witted ex boxer who resurrects as a human being when a storm of life breaks out. His face is a rippling canvas on which the drama is written. The eyes and brows contort crookedly in anguish or soften in gentleness, compassion, hurt. One wonders how it comes about. It is not acting, but immersion. The look in his eyes as he pushes away the gun his brother points at him is an unforgettable moment. To quote the director: “ ... what was extraordinary about his performance, I feel, is the contrast of the tough-guy front and the extreme delicacy and gentle cast of his behavior. What other actor, when his brother draws a pistol to force him to do something shameful, would put his hand on the gun and push it away with the gentleness of a caress? Who else could read `Oh, Charley!' in a tone of reproach that is so loving and so melancholy and suggests the terrific depth of pain?”

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.

Claude Lanzmann, 100m, 2001
The eponymous date marks the largely successful uprising at the Sobibor concentration camp. Claude Lanzmann has carved a unique place in the annals of cinema through his documentaries on the most hellish chapter in history. These films, more than any monument, chronicle the events through first person video narratives. The present film, apart from the narrative of Yehuda Lerner, mainly comprises images of trains moving in the environs where these things happened, as they appear in 2001. Trains are eminent symbols of the transportation of human cargo which occurred in the silence of night, shrouded in secrecy, even the hapless sheep unaware of the slaughter which waited. The indirectness and restraint of Lanzmann's films accounts for their power and truthfulness. However, for those not from the effected community, this austere documentary populated by trains, trams and a single speaking torso could be tedious.