Friday, December 19, 2014

Korol Lir 1971...Kozintsev

This Soviet version of Lear is the finest of the several I have seen. It brings me closer to the heart of the drama. The great director brings to it a deep understanding of the play. The ambiance is a barbarous pre-medieval age, populated by cripples and destitutes, remiding one of Breughal. The mist blanketed Russian plain and a restless sea are captured in b/w. Multitudes appear with little justification except perhaps to palliate the censors and give it a socialistic stance by comparing it to the bad old days. Shakespeare in this play gives us nothing less than the grandeur and vastness of the inner world of human beings. His conception of Man is cosmic. Particularly well done are Lear's post abdication encounter with the two elder sisters, with Goneril giving an outstanding rendition of her part. Lear undergoes a spiritual transformation after the storm and his encounter with Cordelia as he opens his eyes to "fair daylight" is a literary tract to make us wonder. The climactic duel between the half brothers and the piling of bodies thereafter is something I grasped the first time. My words can hardly hope to suffice for this. This movie makes me want to read the play.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Even Godfather 2 was not as good as its predecessor. This second dystopian spoof lacks the plot novelty of the first part, and is essentially a technology flavored film wanting in human interest. Finally, it struck me as an action flick, with objects or people criss-crossing the screen at a high speed. The main attraction of the film for those who saw No 1 is the compulsion to know "What next?" And I may yet endure 3 and 4 for the same reason.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hunger Games 2012

This film draws you in and keeps you hooked for a good 2 1/2 hours. What accounts for the success of the film and what does that speak of us and those who made it? It is a well told story with an unusual plot. The viewers of the online life and death drama are brutish and dull, They watch it with perverse and exaggerated relish. The dialog has a bizarre humor, like Tarantino. I can imagine squeals of laughter and delight in the cinema theater, as one character after another appear, like a circus or a zoo. The violence is not really graphic,so the watchers can stay in a relaxed comfort zone as they consume their pop corn. The power of the film derives from its central character, Catniss, the hunted huntress, seamlessly combining male and female qualities.

From Shakespeare onward, story tellers have understood that people love to watch blood shed. The Greeks had gladiators. We have wars, gangsters, genocides, bull fights. The game gets ever deadlier.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Macbeth 1971

This is a magnificent rending of the play, which enhances its macabre grandeur by putting into play the full powers of a great director. The story has been translated into the idiom of cinema, with the beautiful setting of the Scottish highlands replacing the more customary claustrophobic interiors. Polanski is the right man to tell this gory tale, having been a victim of the holocaust. His gut wrenching Pianist which depicts his native Poland in the Nazi era is difficult to confront a second time. In Macbeth he spares no punches. This is indeed an unforgettable trans-creation, true to the essence.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Interstellar 2014

This is escapist fare, aimed at the box-office, a fairy tale based on science. The science behind it (black holes, worm holes , relativity) is professionally certified for correctness. It could be gleaned from Stephen Hawkings popular but difficult book. The story therefore has a fig leaf of plausibility, implausible as it is: a daughter ages past her parent, and inter galatial worm-hole travel. The movie itself, its scientific kite string notwithstanding, is a far fetched yarn designed to accompany a tub of pop corn, and keep the mind in tether for nearly three hours. Its a film without soul, purpose, or artistic merit; it could well be contrasted with Kubrick and Tarkovsky's ventures into the genre. The best part is the beginning on Earth itself, as environmental disaster closes in and a food crisis hits the race, necessitating immigration into space. From then onward it is more on the lines of Marvel Comics. The house was unusually full, and there was a round of applause from the audience! So obviously it is going down well with a section of people. It does have an educational aspect in terms of environmental concern and cutting edge scientific theory. I can imagine many an animated discussion taking place about it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hamlet (Kozintsev) 1964

This is the Soviet version of Hamlet and surprisingly, the best of all. It is in pristine b/w and instead of the usual claustrophobic settings, we have a magnificent medieval stone castle ringed by lapping sea waves, and the repeated image of a bird disappearing into the horizon, like destiny and time, like the brevity of life. The director has broken the shackles of stage and given us pure cinema, without losing the sublimity. The speech is restrained, far from loud rhetoric. Much of the dialog, including the greatest soliloquy happens in the characters mind. It gives the best of Ophelia's, done with conviction dignity and poise, truly haunting as a wraith like apparition . To present insanity is difficult, since it often turns comical. The gravedigger scene, a watershed in the story, mixes profound truth with levity. There is too much here to praise, the musical score not the least. The film has the Slavic stamp with its brooding beauty. Many other versions of Hamlet seem juvenile in comparison. I'm sure this would have delighted the bard himself. Kozintsev has come close to the heart of Hamlet. I look forward to his Lear.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Jobs 2013

This is a fairly good biopic about Steve jobs. With the right inborn mix of talent, imagination and drive, he was able to leave his imprint in the world. We also see the workings of thebusiness world in the top storeys. A mixture of stereotypes and the inspiratioal, this is a watchable film, if for no other reason than its contemporariness.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Maqbool 2003

This older film of Vishal Bhardwaj has patches of brilliance and gives clear evidence of his power as an artist and film-maker. Though cloaked in a vestigial plot of Macbeth, this is actually a movie about  Mumbai and its people. Its strength lies in its capture of the spirit of this great city. It borrows freely from other films, like Godfather and even the ink swallowing scene of The Last Emperor. The central figure turns out to be not the assassin Maqbool, but the assassinated Godfather, Abbaji, a charismatic tour de force by Pankaj Kapoor. This is what I could never forget since I saw it first a decade ago. Tabu also gives a solid portrayal as the seductive counterpart of Lady Macbeth. The film is brilliant in the first half, but falters from the assassination onward, which is past the middle. A qualified success, but unmissable for the parts that are good, which are really good. Mumbai is the true heroine, and Pankaj, as the Don, claims her for his mehbooba.

Monday, November 3, 2014


This is my third view. This happens to come close on the heels of Haider, the Indian Hamlet, which is a beautiful and powerful version, Bollywood in style. Haider barely qualifies as Hamlet, though it starkly projects many plot elements. The RSC was disappointing. Though it is a pleasure to re-encounter the exquisite use of language as well as the intellectual depth, the acting of most lead characters was distressingly inadequate. The en action of insanity of both Hamlet and Ophelia becomes almost clownish, if not puerile. Though Hamlet elocutes well, his facial expressions are almost juvenile. Claudius and Gertrude are redeeming features. This is very different from my earlier takes of the RSC film, but that is how it felt this time. Haider, for all its faults, is the work of a great director, and was a breeze of fresh air, all the more for the beauty and familiarity of its setting.

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.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Like Father, Like Son 2013 Kore-eda

Two children get interchanged after birth. The exchange becomes known to both sets of parents after six years. The conflict in the minds of both parents and the children and the attempt to re-exchange them form the subject of this delicately told film. In a film without dramatic peaks and so simple and domestic in setting, to handle the nuances of feeling with such delicacy is no mean feat. The drama is one that plays out in the hearts, and Koreada has plucked the emotional strings like a musical instrument. This is like a less verbose Bergman

Friday, September 19, 2014

Enemies of the People 2009

The Pol Pot era (1975-9) in Cambodia is recreated through a series of interviews. The killers at different levels, from poor peasants to the senior most living person of the ex hierarchy, are engaged in dialog by the film-maker, who lost his own family in the pogroms. Following the format and tradition of Lanzmann, this movie has the stamp of authenticity and immediacy.Such is the might of organisations that people can be made to perform the most hideous actions, as long as the command comes from above. The feature of the movie is mute understatement, coming from its aim of historical veracity: one has to remind oneself it really happened, while reconstructing the hell of the killing fields. The title, incidentally, refers to the victims.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Act of Killing 2013

In a less publicized genocide over two million communists were exterminated in Indonesia in 1965. The perpetrators remain in power, and are secure in their impunity. In this documentary, some of those who actually did the killings, at times sickeningly gruesome, tell the details in front of the movie camera in the form of a crude re-enaction. The film has a carnival atmosphere, with much joking, relish and pride and no contrition to speak of. At two and a half hours, I managed to finish it by skipping large chunks in the second half. The film is educative as an exploration of some regions of the human make up. To quote Roger Ebert, this is about "unremarkable men with dimly lit souls".

Roger Ebert's Review

Friday, September 5, 2014

Day of Wrath 1943 Dreyer

A drama of human frailty set in Holland in the era when witch trials and burning at the stake was common. It is a fevered society in which individuals are hunted down for no causeto be subjected to torture and death. Interwoven is the story of a priests second wife and her affair with a stepson older than herself which ends in predictable disaster. Dreyer's style of painterly black and white, ponderous speech with an aura of panic and fear, join to create a hard to forget film.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Missing Picture 2013 Rithy Panh

The film maker escaped in his teens from Pol Pot Cambodia, having lost his parents and siblings to hunger and atrocities. As a witness and victim of the genocide, he records his experience in this eery and powerful movie. He uses the unusual device of clay figurines and dioramas, with a French commentary reminiscent of  Resnais, to reconstruct the memories. The combination of commentary, footage, figures and diorama is effective in conveying the events and feelings. The magic achieved by the film is the life breathing through the mute clay models, far more expressive than real people. They become a medium to portray yet another holocaust, witnessed by a boy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy 1961

This fine biopic drama is about the stormy relationship of Michelangelo and his patron, Pope Julius II. It focuses on the four year period when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the wars which constitute the background. The sparkling dialog as well as Rex Harrison's effortless portrayal of a warlike pope hold ones interest over the two and half hours of running time.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ordet (The Word) 1955 CF Dreyer

This is a stately, solemn, beautiful film about Christian faith, set in Holland. In essence, it is about the drift of religion from its roots in the course of time. We have the picture of splintering of religion into schools, and ritualism, when its original purpose, as well as power, is lost in a mist of oblivion. The movie maintains its grip through a solid plot as well as beautiful direction and photography of an erstwhile Dutch society in an orderly agrarian background: barns, horse carriages, corn fields, antiquated telephones, automobiles and medical practice. Revolving around weighty questions of life and death, it ends with a powerful, illuminating climax. To quote a review: It uncoils, when it moves at all, like a majestic snail.
Old Review

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Distant Thunder

The Bengal Famine of 1943 took a toll of 2 to 5 millions. It was caused by diversion of food supplies due to war needs in SE Asia. The present film is a masterpiece of understatement. The camera telescopes on the lives of a village and scrutinizes the lives of a few characters. Ray is incapable of losing the human focus and we see the schoolmaster and his beautiful wife sucked into desperation by the scarcities. Not only is it about a society in the grip of famine but the stranglehold of hunger and the sinking human spirit. To quote Vincent Canby, it is like seeing it all from a satellite, and observing both the curvature of the earth and the play of tiny insects.

Old Review


This is a drama of two women. Rudderless and tossed on the powerful waves of life, they struggle to find some mooring: the elder, an actress, takes on a decision of total silence; the younger, her nurse. manages from situation to situation. The film is a series of kaleidoscopic black and white images,of interiors, lamp-lit, or seascapes, stunning in their geometric simplicity. Sven Nyqvist has nowhere else been this good. A curtain wafting in the evening breeze, a bus departing on a deserted road fringing the sea, the grains of the skin. This is a short, satisfying film, and a thing of beauty doesn't need deciphering.
Old review

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sardar 1993

This riveting biopic portrays the events leading to independence and partition. Excellent direction, competent acting and the inherent interest in this historical drama make this a learning experience worth the investment of nearly three hours.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nishant 1975 Benegal

A schoolmaster's wife is abducted and  held captive by the sons of a feudal landlord, in Telangana countryside, in the earlier part of previous century. The story culminates in a small  uprising of the villagers leading to the destruction of the landlord's family.  Perhaps the strongest performance is by Amrish Puri, as the villainous landlord. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bose the Forgotten Hero Benegal 2004

This is atypical Benegal, though one senses the confident directorial touch through long patches. It is three and a half hours long, and one's patience is finally exhausted, specially in the battle scenes in the last hour: which is to say that ones curiosity to learn about this less told history sustains interest sufficiently to sail to the end. This may best be described as a Bollywood epic, and the initial two thirds is enjoyable, liberally peppered with ribaldry and humor, not to mention sentimentality of the tear jerking type. Romance also finds a niche. But I certainly come out with a clear outline picture of the events narrated as well as sketches of the personalities involved. It is no mean achievement to have conceived and made this movie. Rahman's beautiful score is a not the least of attractions.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Particle Fever 2013

The LHC (large hadron collides) is a monumental machine built over 20 years at a cost of five billion dollars to further results about the structure of matter. Though the subject is far too advanced for anyone but specialists, the movie conveys the excitement and passion of scientific research, as well as its collaborative nature at its present stage of development, involving thousands of people. The LHC is claimed to involve team work on a scale comparable to the pyramids.

The present film describes experiments to confirm the existence and mass of the Higgs Boson, a subatomic particle crucial for the advance of studies related to the nature of the universe (the elusive particle is also nick named "god particle" in the media, making professionals squirm). The film ends in the triumphant confirmation of its existence in 2012. Its mass, speculated between 115 and 140 proton masses, would determine which of two theories about the cosmos are tenable. A lighter mass would favor "super symmetry" whereas a higher one would favor "multiverses". The latter would spell a bleak future for the field, a roadblock dreaded by its practitioners. But then the LHC comes out with a joyful value of 125 or so, favoring neither theory, leaving the field of research wide open.

A highly informative, nicely filmed, documentary.

"The things which have absolutely no value for survival are the very things that make us human."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Making of the Mahatma 1996 Shyam Benegal

Between Attenborough's and Benegal's biopics there is little to choose: they are complementary. Both are excellent and very different. Attenborough's has an epic sweep through English eyes: Benegal's is more intimate and very human. It deals with the years in S Africa till he left for the larger canvas of India., The film gives an authentic portrayal of the many decisive turning points of the years in Africa. Rajit Kapur and Pallavi Joshi are outstanding in lead roles. Benegal is a director with a sure touch for the Indian psyche, and the expanse of vision to portray historical events. This is seen not only in his feature films but also in his miniseries.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis 1970

This authentic documentary based on raw footage shorn of commentary brings alive the the concluding decade of King's life. We see the surging demonstrators confronting the armed and rabidly racist authorities. The picture emerges of a morally inspired leader of great power of communication who is able to inspire peoples of diverse skin colors into action, even to the extent of risking life. This film is a great educational experience. An interesting feature was his mobilisation of the power of music in unifying people using some of the great voices that decorate this era.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Life Itself 2014

This is a documentary about famed movie critic and Pullitzer winning writer Roger Ebert, who finally succumbed to cancer last year, after a long admirable battle in which he continued his creative work till the penultimate day. It is an affectionate and admiring portrait by people close to him, including many who got their professional breaks through him. I also had a prolonged online interaction with him and remember him as an extremely intelligent and warm person, with strong and clear opinions about all things. Seeing this film was like connecting the dotted lines of the mental picture of him that I carry.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Silence 1963

Two sisters connected by bonds of love and hate are stranded in a country whose language they do not know. One of them is very ill and broods about dying: the second is equally consumed by desire. The multitude of hotel staff are a mute chorus, to better focus on the emotional drama of the sisters. Tanks rumble in the streets. This third of a so called trilogy is unclouded by philosophical musings, and is an unadorned study of human beings in a godless world. Sven Nyquist's photography captures the drama enacted on the canvas of the human face.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Through a Glass Darkly 1961

A family takes a vacation on a lonely island. The daughter, Karen, suffers from a mental illness, which  is predicted to lead to a slow and sure disintegration. Her younger brother, father and husband are the others in this drama. In this caricature of insanity, the question of meaning is raised. A kind of answer is also proposed in the final moments; love, he says, even if God is not there, can provide this meaning. Ebert in his Great Movie review, points out that it is in his power of portraying the human face that Bergman excels. A disadvantage of depending on subtitles is that things like this are relegated.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Winter Light 1962

A swiftly flowing stream, a train passing, are symbols of time passing. The film opens with an agonizingly prolonged church service, attended by half a dozen. All, including the priest, are doubters in their own way. A sailor shoots himself, unable to reconcile the reality of evil with god's existence. Even Christ, we are reminded, was assailed by doubt at his final moment. The black and white canvas of a frozen Scandinavian winter, bare trees and icy rivers, adorns this morose and beautiful film.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Straight Story 1999

Alvin Straight , somewhere in seventies, unable to drive, travels several hundred miles on a lawn mower to see his estranged brother, who has had a stroke. The journey takes him some months. This is a story of heroism, immediately reminiscent of Hemingway. On the way, we get to see endlessly sprawling corn fields, and some vivid encounters with good hearted people, who try to help the stubborn man in his eventful journey. A sensitive, uplifting, film, based on a true account.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

About Schmidt 2002

Schmidt (Nicolson) has just retired from an insurance company. Deprived of his lifelong routine, he is exposed to the desert of retirement, with all the time to complain and be miserable. This is an inconsequential film painting a bleak and depressing picture of life, of which the aging process is but a stage. Perhaps the truth is that he has long been senile. Schmidt evokes revulsion more than pity, to little purpose.

Saraband 2003

This is a 2003 sequel to the 1973 "Scenes from a Marriage". The same actors enact the same characters and everybody-the actors, the director and the story- have aged by 30 years. Much has happened--Johann and  Marian  have been separated for ages, Johann has inherited a fortune, Marian is visiting him after a long gap as the film opens. This is a look at old age, how much and how little people change. All of them are as rootless as they were: this is the human condition, having little to do with aging, social class or geography.. However personalities have hardened in their contours. Also featured is Johann;s tormented son, unable to emerge over the grief over the loss of his wife, feeding emotionally on his daughter, who vainly struggles to extricate from the emotional vice. Hatred would seem to be as common a mark of the parental bond as love, particularly in adulthood. Another emotionally gripping drama from the Gloomy Swede.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Scenes from a Marriage 1973

This is an intimate study of a marriage, and more a study of human relationships in general. Originally a TV series, the film is divided into six episodes separated by years. Even in affluence, people search for ever elusive happiness. What do people seek in a relationship and why do they fail even though everything is apparently there? This delightful movie is a picture of life as it is, ever mysterious and shifting like a kaleidoscope, far ahead of analysis.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wild Strawberries 1958

Isaak Borg is a 78 year ex-professor, driving along a seaside ringed by slopes dense with conifers. Accompanying him are his estranged daughter in law and three boisterous teenagers, who have hitched a hike. He is a successful man, and his destination is a nearby university, where he is to receive an honorary doctorate today, his professional crowning moment. Early this morning, he had a strange dream, foreboding his death, though he seems  in good health (clip below). His journey is a journey through his own past: an unhappy marriage. a bitter father son relation, losing his youthful love (in a double role by Bibi Andersson, who is also one of the three teenagers in his car) and a rewarding career. He also picks up a couple whose car has crashed into theirs in the process of a physical fight. They make no attempt to hide or suppress their mutual hatred, and have to be asked to leave. We have a picture of the hellish depth to which a relationship can descend, mirroring his own with his long deceased wife.  He visits some of the places marking events of his life and meets his 90+ mother, in this journey of dreams and reverie. This is in effect a biography of the aged professor, what was and what could not be, and his present anxieties about death. His present is of idyllic comfort, as we see him passing his days, writing in his book populated study, tended by his efficient housekeeper of 40 years standing.
This was the first Bergman film I saw, and perhaps the best. It is a picture of a bitter sweet journey of life, as the camera drinks in the sea, the hills and the human form. Bergman is a master in portraying human expressions, the fleeting variations of mood and emotion. Ebert once remarked he was a master in his studies of human faces. This is cinema of the finest vintage. Bergman is no mean literary talent either, and the script sparkles and dances.


Saturday, May 17, 2014


Seeing it for the third or fourth time over the years, it was revisiting a cherished and half forgotten place. It is a riveting drama that takes place on the stage of a glade hidden from the policing eyes of society, where primal human nature-lust, anger, greed, even goodness-have unrestrained play. It is a deep, timeless, human study.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Weekend 2013

Old age is the best of times. The body may show wear and tear, but the mind is steadier, and the experience and learning of a lifetime can be relished and savored. There is little left to lose. As the population grays, it is natural that there are more and more movies about old folk. In this melancholy-sweet film, both are professors, married for thirty years, celebrating a brief expensive holiday. The film dissects the portrait of a particular marriage, thread baring the intimate details with some restraint. The woman is the dominant partner, and contempt vies with affection.. Steering skillfully through a sequence of non events, this melancholy picture of old age ends on a buoyant note, with the couple set on to confront life together. There is no such thing as getting to know a person, however many years one may have spent.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Unknown Known

Errol Morris, 2014
A riveting documentary, worthy of its celebrated director. It is an interview with Rumsfeld,who was close to the helm of affairs from US side during the Middle East events in the first decade. Morris with great skill is able to snapshot from many angles the mental workings of this very intelligent decision maker, He is, of all things, a "dictionary addict", a person alive to the importance and power of words. We also learn the essential element of unpredictability of life, all calculation notwithstanding, which makes war, sport and even business, so endlessly fascinating. Another thing which appears is the absence of any significant ethical dimension in the thinking of even sophisticated intellectuals.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Citizen Kane****

This is my third or fourth view, and difficult as it may be to be objective about so lauded a movie, what came out clear was that it is a simple and enjoyable film, brimming with energy and the joy of life, it's tragi-comic and somewhat philosophical conclusion notwithstanding. 'Rosebud' is a mere ploy of narration, a prankish device of story telling by a young director. One may say it is the aspect of life, "if only I'd chosen a different path", a regret filled feeling as the curtain lowers. The film lunges through time with momentum and speed, managing to compress a dense biography within two hours. There is not a dull moment, starting from the obituarial newsreel which opens the movie.The film is visually poetic, not least the "no trespassing" which opens and closes the film, or the billows of sooty smoke which seem to symbolize the net worth of Kane. No less than the cinematic element, is the continuous verbal creativity of the script, and one could pullout any number of quotes. In essence, it is more funny than sad. It is unpretentious. Welles is too much the genius to draw conclusions.
Old Review

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Taurus 2001***

Aleksandr Sokurov
The last days of Lenin (early 1920s), as he sinks into physical helplessness and mental decline. Lenin and his close family, living in the misty Soviet countryside, are evoked in poetically muted sounds and colors as the great man awaits the end. Stalin visits him twice and seems affable in a slimy way. He is crude in his behavior, as when he pinches the cheek of Lenin's wife in unwelcome familiarity, as if awaiting what is to follow. Lenin longs for death, the means for which have been removed, even as he implores his successor for poison. The portrayal of the decrepit and near imbecile Lenin is a fluent and convincing performance. If one were to draw a conclusion, even iron men have clay feet when confronted with their end. And Sokurov is eminent as a director.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Powder 1995***

Amateurish in direction and acting; lame in emoting; this film never the less touches the heart, and alongside a dose of paranormal gimmickry, intuits on larger issues of existence as few movies, if any, have done.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Square****

Jehane Noujaim, 2013
A graphic portrayal of society in the midst of bloody political turmoil. Egypt in the last few years has been engulfed in popular movements where people by the millions have taken to the streets and been mowed down on occasions by bullets and tanks. The film paints a vivid picture of the world as it is: the primitiveness of political organisation, in which exploitation is a running thread; the rigidity of power structures, which seldom yield without blood shed. The director is Egyptian-American. This also brings home the power of cinema to shape people's thinking--how the world wide screening of this excellent film would have made the powerful squirm. Of course, egos are made of sterner stuff. Incidentally, Egypt continues to seethe.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Russian Ark ****

He is involved in a train accident and wakes up in the Hermitage Museum, in a previous century. The film is known for its single long shot of 90 minutes. The time traveler or ghost is conducted  by a scruffy gentleman, who alone can see and talk to him, through the museum and finally a palace where he mingles with the nobility, as he admires the splendors of royalty. The film has the rhythms of a dream and is a journey beyond the grave, giving a subtle poetic conjuration about the nature of life, death and the unknown country; the process of dissolution of the old and the emergence of the new. A beautiful film, deserving a revisit.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Moloch 1999 ***

A fictitious story about Hitler depicted as part of a small inner circle including his mistress. The group relaxes in a building in glorious alpine beauty. Hitler is shown as quite a gallant, courteous and considerate even to the domestic staff. We see Adi (as Eva Braun affectionately alludes to him) gamboling with his aides in the Bavarian sun, playing the fool, war forgotten or afar, very much a fuehrer in the tomfoolery and pranks. The companions maintain a carefully orchestrated deference, giving way to pent up feelings of tension behind his back. In spirit it is not far from Chaplin's film. This is a macabre film: funny, beautiful as cinema, scary because of the associations, ringing true to the complexities and paradoxes which is human nature, disturbing because of the history to which the film is a never recounted background. Even human monsters are human beings.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Kahaani 2012 *

Seeing a Hindi mainstream film after a long time. Seeing international cinema for many years to a point of satiation, one may feel feel something like nostalgia for the environs one lives in. It was relaxing to indulge in this slightly pretentious entertainer, which indicates that Bollywood remains Bollywood (where can we find another). Technical values have possibly changed for the modern. The pay off is in the sudden metamorphosis of Vidya Balan towards the end. What does remain is the camera man's capture of the aromas and sounds of an Indian city ( Kolkatta for a welcome change), one's own habitat. I felt glad not to have forsaken these, for where else can you get cut chai? Another high point is the beautiful Tagore song adaptation, fused in three languages, accompanying the end titles. In fact, this is what drew me to the film.
Ekla Cholo Re

Friday, February 7, 2014

Faust 2011 ***

Aleksandre Sokurov
This is different from Goethe's drama, though it freely draws on the basic plot, with remnants of the dialog. What is most appealing is the monochrome depiction of some sixteenth or seventeenth century urban Europe, giving a painterly feeling, not too different from Breughal's time and style. It creates nostalgia for primitive times, as they might have been. Narrow labyrinthine streets, bustling ill clad crowds, untouched woods, mean unshaven faces, weird laboratories. The devil is a senile misbegotten clown, (body parts in the wrong places), not the urbane man of the world created by Goethe. Hamlet is clear about everything, except where clarity cannot be. Faust lives in a hazy world, delving, unlike the Dane, without instead of within. Hamlet searches for the well springs of action. Faust only seeks enlightenment, a flash from above. Margaret loses her brother, Laertes a sister and father. A grave digging scene too, invaded by a pack of stray dogs. Hamlet is a genius in life, Faust a scholar. Hamlet consummates his life, Faust is merely admitted by grace. Goethe is no match for the Bard. A dismal, disturbing film.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Goethe's Faust

After many years, I finally read Part 1. It is simple and easy reading, if you are tuned to the stuff. It is a cosmic in scope and intent, as far as is given to mortal genius. The verse is scintillating and conversational, the devil himself a guy like someone down street, peppered with many sharp observations on daily life. The drama winds around the tragic travails of a young couple, in which the writer weaves the tapestry of the human life condition: grim, pathetic, unsparing as Lear. Hopefully, I may read the second part too. On my shelf is the 2011 Sakarov film as well as the older Mephisto. Also, a chance to revisit the twenties silent version. Life is short, art mere luxury.

The Wolf of Wall Street *

A far more shocking depiction of degradation and perversity was Salo (Pasolini). The differece is that salo was appropriate as a metaphor for the unspeakable horrors of totalitarianism WW2, which go beyond any boundaries of decorous restraint. The present movie seems a pointless depiction of men falling into the world of animals, using greed for money as an excuse. It merely panders to our lowest instincts, making an unnecessary song and dance about them

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

American Hustle 2013**

As its name suggests, this acclaimed film is too culture specific for others to relate to and ends up being passably watchable. On the other hand, "hustling", (conman ship), in the shrinking globe, seems to be the universal strategy, unifying prince and pauper, whether countries or persons: corporates, politicians, mobsters. Survival is the problem and priority, in the complex jungle which we inhabit, as it has always been. It resembles the Coen brothers' "A Serious Man" in its' description of people trapped in the chaos of life, repeatedly bumping into the unexpected unforeseen. A depressingly enjoyable ribald comedy, punctuated with four letter dialog, presumably the current currency, never losing the straw of hope, and ending happily ever after.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Captain Phillips 2013 **

A modern piracy adventure set in the Indian Ocean. An American cargo ship is commandeered by Somalians. The courageous outlaws with limited resources hold the ship and its crew at bay till they are overpowered by the modern might of aeroplanes, machinery and trained men, closely co-ordinated by communication devices. A tense drama which holds your attention, more so since it represents a recent real life episode.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Gravity 2013 ****

This is documentary like space fiction. Most enthralling is to get the feel of being in a space station, seeing the planet in full spherical splendor and the vastness of which we are a part, and which is a part of us. It is mingled with a human adventure, with the fear of death a close companion. It builds up to an explosive suspense, as the astronaut joyfully joins feet with firm ground. This is a great true film about the new frontier--the grandeur of space. We do not need aliens or faraway fantasia--the first step beyond the atmosphere is sufficiently astounding.

Friday, January 17, 2014

12 years a Slave **

A film about slavery based on the autobiographical account of a person who was kidnapped to be sold into slavery. It shows features resembling the European holocaust. It is worse in some ways, it's perpetuity over long spans of time with no end in sight, inheritance from birth onward, continuing into the next generation. The film is notable in the absence of  the paternalism of other accounts, which almost glossed over the brutality, even making a virtue and a way of life of this institution. The lush verdure of the setting is captured in beautiful sepias.