Friday, October 30, 2015

Murder on the Orient Express (1974).....Trains

One of the unputdownable films I have seen. One of it's attractions is the cinematography of a thirties steam locomotive in all it's moods as it wends across Europe. It brings to mind other train sequences in films. A train is an image of power, irreversible change, romance and tragedy. A favorite has been Dr Zhivago's train shooting through the snows of Siberia in the 1900s. There is The Bridge on the Kwai, as the armoured train unloads its baggage of prisoners. Casablanca has a scene of parting on a rainy station during WW2, as romantic, doomed and rending as they come. One can't forget the suicide scene in the 1935 Garbo version of Karenina, as the train silently dissapears into the beyond after the last flicker of Anna's life. Schindler's List has some magnificent sequences. On Vincent Canby suggestion I'm looking forward to The Lady Vanishes. Trains stand for doom, rebirth, change. A steaming engine scores in visual beauty with its billows of smoke and steam and shovelled coal. Journeys used to take a long time and places too had a romance which is gone with abbreviated travel. A steam engine is a living breathing animal.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Battle of Algiers 1966

This is about the liberation of Algeria from French colonial rule of 130 years. Independence finally happened in 1962. The film is made in documentary style and gives a vivid, realistic, blood soaked panoramic view of this social movement of the late fifties. The conflict is minutely etched by placing a couple of well fleshed characters under the lens. We see the rising tidal wave of a poorly armed population against the relative might of the French. It is considered a classic on urban guerrilla war. The movement starts out in a small way, a hand full of determined individuals, gathering momentum as a large populace is embraced in its unstoppable flow. The urban landscape is eloquently captured, the marketplaces, the crowds, calm or surging. A very authentic film about history in the process of making.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Piku 2015

This movie is a first of a kind, Bollywood wise,at least for me, a bit out of touch with its current incarnations.. It is not a comedy, since its humor erupts naturally out of situations and is free of inanities. It puts under the microscope the life and problems of daily life which we all face like domestic help and gastritis.The script scintillates with a heady mixture of languages. It sparkles with wit and creativity. The movie script is built around a trip from Delhi to Kolkatta on an SUV, in which the panorama of landscape attractively unrolls. A sensitive portrayal of the upper middle class. Amitabh has another chance to express his theatrical genius while Deepika Padukone gives a masterly performance. This is the maturing of Bollywood and great things will come.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Midnight's Children 2012

This is possibly the best of Deepa Mehta's movies. Rushdie's novel is an inspired flight in which he expresses his own enrapturement with with the country of his birth, through this magical portrayal of the post independence period up to the time of writing. Deepa Mehta does justice to the poetic novel, a kind of Indian Kipling. Rushdie is a man of fusion of cultures with overflowing zest for life, and a sentimentality which is only possible for those at a nostalgic remove.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Pixote: the Survival of the Weakest 1981

What is life through the eyes of one abandoned parent-less in the slum quarters dominated by violence  and crime? This Brazilian film is about the boy Pixote, his consignment to the concentration like reformation centre, escape therefrom, and subsequent descent into the world of drugs and pimping. In the final scene,he prances along a railway track, hopeful in the present as he faces futurelessness. In real life, we read, Pixote was killed at the age of 19. The film strikes an objective rather than a sorrowful one--life has its highs and lows, even in what we call the dregs.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Timbuktu 2014

Timbuktu is a town in Mali, a West African country jutting into the desert. The country experienced a brief interregnum of religious extremism in the very recent past. Music and football were banned,  women had to wear gloves and socks. Armed and hooded extremists blared orders as they moved around the streets on motorcycles. The life of a cattle herder and his wife and daughter is caught in the vice of this ludicrous fanatical dispensation, culminating in tragedy. The common people react with disgust and indignation to the ugliness of the period. People are much the same anywhere, and it is easy to identify with these inhabitants of an exotic country. It is fact that nobility, humanity and courage is more often to be found among common folk than those in high places. Not least of the charms is the graceful tempo of the film as it gently takes hold of our senses with its images of men, women, children, animals and the dust blown structures of the fringes of the Sahara desert. A highly informative film.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Salaam Bombay(92), Mississipi Masala(94), Monsoon Wedding(2001)

Mira Nair is a gifted auteur, rich in cinematic vision, the joy of life and natural empathy.  Of these three films I have seen in a row and the above mentioned sequence, the latest is the best, with a special appeal for a North Indian audience. She has captured to near perfection the cultural foibles, absurdities and mores which can no where better come into distillation than the vast canvas of a traditional wedding in a well to do Punjabi family. This being her own milieu, her ear and eye are microcopically attuned. This is a heady blend which reminds me, of all things, of Breughal's earthy and sublime painting of a peasant wedding in 16th century Holland. The rumbustious marathon celebration with much ribaldry presided by the throated voice of Sukhwinder's Punjabi pop (the ultimate spice of the setting) is fittingly and miraculously crowned with a monsoon downpour just as the groom's procession arrives, trooping and tripping (and whooping) into the tarpaulin's in a mood of  abandonment. This is a slice of life! Presciently, Mira Nair shares with Ray the honor as one of two Indian origin directors to win the Golden Lion. One looks forward to more.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Grapes of Wrath 1940 (John Ford)

Three quarters down the film, I recalled (disappointingly) having seen it before. The movie, set in a different place and time, and so acclaimed, did not move me half as much, its elemental force notwithstanding.

Frank Nugent Review
Roger Ebert Review

Friday, June 12, 2015

Aleksandr Nevsky 1938

This is a film made during the Stalin era in the USSR. It was a time when the Nazi threat was looming. The film relates to a historic 13th century battle in which invading Germans were defeated under the leadership of Prince Aleksandr, whose name has passed into national legend. The film has the epic style resembling David Lean, in its capture of the historic battle faught on a frozen river. The review linked below is a gem in its own genre. Director: Sergei Eisenstein.

Frank Nugent Review

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Don Kikhot 1957..Kozhintsev

This is a nostalgic gem from the Soviet Era. Don Quixote is a book I miss having read, but so beautifully has the knight been evoked, I feel familiar with this grand persona. The pathetically noble Don persists with great courage in his quest to right wrongs and help the downtrodden. The earthy story populated by rustic folk understandably finds resonance with the ideals of social justice which made the movement tick for nearly a century. The film in the hands of a great director evokes compassion, pathos and idealism, and sublime humor. Whether heroic or ridiculous, the Don is a one man brigade against the jeers of society. Perhaps more ridiculous are the ways of the court, in their coldheartedness and desire to extract amusement at the expense of an innocent old man, even if slightly demented. He is unfazed in confronting criticism: "What can you know, monk,of matters outside your chapel? Step out into the world and look about you.Those who seek power climb upover dead bodies,like over stairs.The greedy kill for a farthing.The slanderers sting their kindred like vipers. I wanted only one thing:To do good to everybody and wrong no one. And it is me whom you're reviling. For shame, monk!" Courage and compassion are two qualities the Don certainty possesses abundantly, in his actions that invariably entail great personal risk. It is not often one experiences this feeling of having come in contact with the sublime, in this film based on a novel I will never read.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Run, Melos! 1992

Melos, a Greek country lad, has to run against impossible odds to his place of execution, to save the life of the sculptor Celine, who has substituted in his stead, to enable Melos to attend his sister's wedding. If he fails to make it by the stipulated time, before the sun sets, Celine will lose his life. This is a beautiful Japanese animation, depicting a life and death drama where the stake is the fulfillment of a promise. The animation breathes the sunny Greek environment, and the characters are alive in this tale of simple heroism.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Last Days in Vietnam...2014

This engrossing documentary chronicles a less familiar part of Asian history. After the resignation of Nixon, the armies of the communist North advance southward like a tidal wave. Thousands of lives are in peril: the Americans and the Vietnamese who fought alongside them. The last minute "exodus" by land and sea, including hordes keen for a free ticket to the "promised land", is depicted in detail. It is a picture of tragedy and grandeur, as two populations, same in language, race and culture, separated only by different schools of political indoctrination, come into bloody conflict. War perhaps is part of our ancestral genes, inciting awe and adrenalin rush, sooner than pity.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Saraband 2002

Thirty years have passed. Johan and Marianne are in their eighties and sixties respectively, Bergman also is in his mid eighties when he makes this movie. Johan, having inherited a fotune, has escaped into a remote villa surrounded by a magnificence of landscape. He spends his time in the company of books. Age delights in old and worn out stuff--the villa in the pit of mountains is furnished with aged things--it has a beauty of sparsity and passage of and longevity which conveys something of Bergman's soul--indeed Johan must have the signature of the director's persona. Marianne, after a separation of decades, impulsively visits him. His neurotic widowed son and musically precocious and beautiful grand daughter live in the vicinity.

Time has creased their faces and enfeebled the body, but for the rest, they are the same individuals, with a shift of circumstances. Johan has become unpleasant, in a position to vent his negative side, particularly towards his relatively impecunious son. Death is a distant thought, a theoretical enigma, even as it approaches. It is rightly said that death creeps in from the rear, more than lying in ambush ahead. It is a fine movie, Bergman at his melancholy best in what happens to be his final work. If there is a message, it is about how little, rather than how much, people change.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Scenes from a Marriage 1974

A study of adult relations, with all their uncertainty. What distinguishes a dead relationship from a living one? The couple portrayed is socially and materially placed above survival and rat race, the better to focus on elemental issues. Happiness is tantalizingly close, yet elusive as a bird, People  are ever thirsty travelers. The machinery of the mind is inscrutable and complex.  This invisibility shapes our life, The movie is enjoyable to watch, comprising six short riveting episodes. It has a sequel, Saraband, made thirty years later, portraying the same couple played by the same actors.

Monday, April 20, 2015

American Beauty 1999

This is a sad, philosophical, poetic, brilliant comedy capturing life in suburban US. It sympathetically satires with wistful relish the concerns and dreams of our daily life; jobs, money, property, automobiles,the desire to escape the treadmill, the starvation of interhumaness. The hero does break out of it, entering, so to say, one more groove till finally the curtains pull apart, revealing the make believe, and he flies up to a vaster view of reality. Even his death mask is a sardonic grin. It can be enjoyed more than once, so light is the touch, so sparkling and witty the lines,  the episodes deft and so skillfully woven.
To quote the concluding lines:
I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die, First of all......that one second isn't a second at all. It stretches on forever, like an ocean of time For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp watching falling stars. And yellow leaves from th maple trees that lined our street……I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me but it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to rela and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitudefor every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure But don't worry.You will someday

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Selma 2014

Selma has got the movie it deserves. This is a film with energy, momentum and exuberance as it captures one of the rare slices of history in which the flame of the spirit burns, when right confronts might. The central image is of police batons raining blows and cracking skulls, as the people march.  It is a naked face of brutality, power at it's most corrupt. Its hard to watch, and inevitably brings to mind a similar sequence from Attenborough's film. This is a riveting movie--a must see.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Au Hasard Balthasar 1966

This film enters the soul of an animal, in this case an unfortunate beast of burden. This reminds me of Rembrandt's Balaam's Ass or even Guernica. What would a donkey have to say, its life one of harsh labor and punishment. Some of the other characters in the film share an element of the animal experience, being trapped in a cruel destiny. We have much in common with animals, we live in the same space, more so in times of war, famine, poverty and despotism. Not least among the attractions is the blending with the music of Schubert.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mouchette 1961

Someone says "Our hearts have been bombed out." Mouchette, for a variety of reasons, is outcasted from the people around her. She cannot even voice her feelings, her throttled tears breaking through to pour soundlessly. People don't care, like Breughal's picture of Calvary. Society is a cruel place. The dying mother, a wailing infant, an abusive father, not a friend, rejection, isolation. This is about the the disconnect, the gulf, the chasm, the spiritual void, the fractured heart, which is the reality of life. Finally, what a wrenching disengagement from the world, rolling down the slope, still reluctant, success after three times, The style is terse and the movie moves swiftly through it's 77 minutes.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Boyhood 2014

This beautiful and humane film examines life in contemporary US through the experience of Mason, a boy, tracing his life from early boyhood to late teens. The milieu is the ever changing present: the re-definition of family structures, sexual behaviors, livelihood and education. I gleened incidentl;y that the US must be one of the most favorable environments for the young to grow up in, with its patches of unrolling greenery, and vast educational opportunities. Nevertheless, economic hardship is a prime challenge faced by the characters, and happiness is as elusive as elsewhere.The strength of the movie is in the eternal unchanged aspects of existence, the transience of things, the failure to discover meaning, and finally, the enigma of looming death. By all means, outstanding.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mr Turner 2014

Director: Mike Leigh; As Turner: Timothy Spall. The film has the qualities of a painting. In some cases, the cinematography resembling the moist and chilly seascapes of Turner. This visually exhilarating biopic is an interesting account of a very human human being blessed by nature with an exceptional talent, without the quirks and eccentricities one associates with it. Timothy Spall's portrayal is dynamic and charismatic. The character of the artist and the men and women in his life are well fleshed. It brings to life the  Dickens like era, the onset of industrialization, in which it is set. A film to relish and savor.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

My Country My Country 2006

Laura Poitras. A documentary portraying life in Iraq during months preceding elections under American occupation of Iraq. This is a fine film which is educative about ground realities of that country.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Oath 2010

Director: Laura Poitras. This is a gripping documentary, about the minds of the people behind the hoods. The middle-east houses much fear, hatred and passion. Religion is the powerful brew which hooks and welds large numbers of people on a sub-continent. Ofcourse, it is mixed with oil, power and geo-politics--a holy mess, indeed. It tapers into a drab story narrated by an eloquent taxi driver. Needs to be seen.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Theory of Everything 2014

This is a romantic biopic about Stephen Hawking. It succeeds in present the iconic scientist as a human being courageously confronting a crippling disease. Even more than the very human portraiture, it is nice to see British society at its civilized best. The locale is the green verdure of a hallowed academic institution, with manicured time weathered stone architecture and lush greenery.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Director: Laura Poitras. This is a documentary about Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who exposed the widespread surveillance of the online activity of millions of citizens. The film raises the question of the limits of the power the state does or should exercise over citizens. If one has the fear that everything one does or says is being observed, it obviously puts limits on discussion, which is a limitation on freedom and democracy. Extremely terse and gripping as a spy thriller, this is a necessary watch for the sake of things one needs to be aware of, if not paranoid about.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ida 2014

This film is shot in gloomy b/w. Ida, now in her twenties, a Polish Jew by birth, raised in a convent, is about to be formally inducted as a nun. She sets out to discover her past with help from her sole surviving relative, Her family was murdered, apparently for their house., She locates the burial site, digs out the bones, to inter them with some respect, a symbolic act of love for her parents she never saw. She has no taste for a normal life, and walks back to the convent. The film has an autumnal beauty, resonating with the memory of the terrible past. The tall tree trunks, mute witnesses, are shrouded in mist, the houses squalid and the restaurants swept by gloomy jazz. How quickly the world changes! The dream of the holocaust followed by Stalin has receded, like past plagues.