Saturday, March 22, 2014

LILITH (1964)



In a very critical scene of encounter between two characters loving the same woman exchanged the wonderful lines that sums up as the gist of the film.

‘Do you think insanity could be so simplest thing as unhappiness?’ asked the one.
‘Maybe it’s the other way around,’ replied the other.

Based on J R. Salamanca’s novel and screenplay, Robert Rossen’s ‘Lilith’ is certainly one under watched but surely a brilliant psychological thriller cum drama. In a slow and shocking way it unfolds to screen the puzzling thin dividing line between human sanity and insanity. A young and disillusioned ex army man returns to his home town after years and strangely chose to work as assisting therapist in insanitarium. The man is found sincere, controlled towards his job and impersonal towards his patients, until slowly he got drawn towards a beautiful, smart and enigmatic young blonde patient. I won’t spoil the show revealing it anything much further than this for those who haven’t watched it. 


According to Jewish mythology, ‘Lilith’ means female night evil. Lilith is regarded as the first wife of Adam. However I don’t found much direct biblical connection in the film, except in the form of its central female character. This is the kind of film which immediately reminds me of Polanski’s those awesome ‘Apartment Trilogy’, however made later. Like two irresistible blondes, Catherine Deneuve in ‘Repulsion’ and Mia Farrow in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, this film also brought to screen another beautiful blonde with harrowing psychological character study. Jean Seberg, perhaps played her career’s most vital role here after ‘Breathless’. She plays the seductive schizophrenic patient with many ambivalent strides. Seberg is strongly supported by refreshingly dashing Warren Beatty with performance fully absorbed in his character. The film has absolutely controlled and probably his career best direction by Robert Rossen, the man who made classic Paul Newman starrer ‘The Hustler’ prior to this. It’s so unfortunate that he died at 57 leaving this swansong.  

Shot beautifully in artistic B&W frames, the film from its very beginning set proper mood, setting and tone and give a room for space to unravel the characters and wonderfully maintain certain level of enigma about what’s happening in the minds of several of its characters, including the two lead ones. The film is surely a personal one, blending drama and thrill through passionate, mysterious and shocking images and narration. It has so many interesting scenes that demands re-observation for cinephiles.


Highly recommended one.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (1985)


I just ended up watching one of the grittiest thrillers of 80’s Hollywood mould with ample amount of action, twists and chase thrills to get you roll. Based on US secret service agent Gerald Petievich's novel, the film begins with an old and soon to retire American secret service agent's secret operation to nab the mastermind criminal counterfeiter who brutally shot him dead brutally and now his alive partner is turning the city upside down to legally nab that criminal known as Masters. What he didn’t know is the game, more lethal and dicey. William Friedkin, who gave us brilliant ‘The French Connection’, came back with another first rate, stylistic edge of your seat thriller is full of authentic action, on your face violence, perfect pace, fine performances and real moments of thrill and showdown.


William Peterson and Willem Dafoe played here the man on opposite sides and both of them done their job with fine control over their screen presence. It’s not exaggeration if I call Dafoe is Hollywood’s Kinski, especially after watching him here where he appears ditto to Kinski in look and his instinctive character playing. Where many well made thrillers falls flat and predictable in second half and cimax, this film works as real opposite. The highlight of the film is two brilliantly executed-shot sequences. The first one is whole printing process sequence of counterfeit US dollar. Friedkin achieved almost authentic feat here by involving a prisoner and the currency was so damn original that Friedkin and producer has to bear legal trouble from Treasury Department. The second one is one of the most chaotic and brilliantly executed car chase sequence I’ve ever seen in Hollywood film. Yes, for me it even outdid Friedkin’s earlier fantastic chase sequence of ‘The French Connection’. The sequence is eight minutes long with mind-blowing tactics of ground, superb camera angles, locations that ran from blind alley, under the bridge, over the bridge, riverbed basin, wrong side freeway with full traffic and above all railway tracks where the chase over cross even the running train! As per the available information that sequence took six weeks to shoot to make it real and authentic. Roby Muller’s camerawork surely deserves ovation!

This is a must watch material for all action-thrill fans.  


 
 

Monday, March 17, 2014

MONSIEUR GANGSTER (1963) (French)



‘When the lion dies, the jackals fight over the empire’. 

Monsieur Fernand, is declared a successor new mob boss by his dying old friend Louis, known as ‘Mexican’ in criminal circuit. Though not at his will, Fernand is supposed to look after the dead man’s prodigal and carefree young daughter and protect his business from wicked men hatching a plan at every nook and corner. The succession is not a smooth ride, as the old partners of the dead mobster are not happy seeing this sudden new entrant erasing their chance to be the successor and so they are planning to finish him as soon as possible.  Two loyal hands of old Master, a smart shooter named Pascal and notary named Folace.

What makes the film attention worthy is the screen presence is Lino Ventura. Though the role is tailor-made for him, this isn’t kind of script his fans expected him to be in. As after initial half an hour, the film moves in wry crime humor trajectory. It’s not high on edge gangster thriller but crime film with light fun, good action and mild thrill; it’s more suitably favors playful French taste than American hard boiled noir.

Friday, February 7, 2014

THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005) (French)



Balancing the elements of both mainstream and art house cinema, Jacques Audiard’s ‘The Beat That Skipped My Heart’ is brilliant and riveting character study of contrast. Inspired from James Toback’s ‘Fingers’, the film is intense thriller shifting between gangster genre thrill and European art house classic. It portrays one of the finest and personal take of its young protagonist Thomas Seyr, tossing his life between murky and brutal real estate hoodlum and his dream to be a concert pianist. It seems that the man is the ghost of his parents’ troubled relationship, on one hand he’s following the criminal career of his father and on the other he is pursuing the dream of her mother to be a piano player. Out of his routine messy world of crime, the chance of piano audition led him to a Chinese lady teacher. The time spent here is the only solace of his otherwise tense and vulnerable life. The love and hate relationship he shared with his cribbing father with his unhealthy connections, is also key player in its plot and theme. On the other hand, the soul and beauty of his life lies in the recognition he gets from his piano teacher.

Audiard maintained gripping pace and control, keeping the narrative fully focused on its protagonist. Thomas is the man of contrast; he practices Bach’s Toccata E minor on Piano for audition but listens Electro pop on his headphone. I haven’t seen Toback’s original, starring Harvey Keitel (I’m going to catch it next, if possible!) but I’m sure it can’t be any better than this topnotch and crackling performance of Romain Duris. He just brought to screen the emotional and psychological vulnerable nerve of his character in all expressive shades and energy. Be it tension, anger, nervousness, charm or uncontrolled emotion, he brings the volatile stature of the man to screen in all contrast and brightness. Both Audiard and Duris stamped strong impression here and I’m so desperate to catch other films of both of them. Unfortunately none of them worked together after or before this!