Tuesday, January 31, 2012

TAKE SHELTER (2011)


One of the brilliant independent film of the last year that doesn’t draw much attention compared to heavy weight nominees in the festive season of awards this year. This is just second film of writer-director Jeff Nichols collaborating with lesser popular but effing brilliant Michael Shannon. Here is a film with begins, continues and ends with apocalyptic thunderstorm and rain witnessed by it’s central protagonist Curtis. He is a working class man earning his bread and butter from drilling work for a company. He has nice little family of caring and loving wife and a sweet but a mute daughter. He starts having restless nightmares in form of hallucinatory dreams. The mental disorder soon turns into physical panic with constant delusional visions of thunderstorm and lightening. He consults a doctor and a counselor but it didn’t get much success. The man soon starts building a tornado shelter in his backyard by taking a risky loan. 

The film begins with slow pace, builds a kind of intrigue that you expect from well made psychological thriller but surprisingly ending up as a brilliant personal and psychological drama out of it. Nichols cleverly weaves the disturbing past of protagonist and his mother to seek the attention but it leads to altogether different trajectory in the second half. It has academy nomination worthy act by Shannon. With what a fine aplomb this man plays characters suffering from mental disorder one after another! Worthy to mention is fine supported act by Jessica Chastain, the actress of this year with other two well nuanced performances in ‘The Tree of Life’ and ‘The Help’.

I’m so desperate to catch hold of the director-actor’s earlier critically acclaimed collaboration ‘Shotgun Stories’ soon.

Ratings- 8/10 

Monday, January 30, 2012

KABULIWALA (1961)


Unfortunately or fortunately I haven’t read neither the original/translated timeless classic of Gurudev Rabindranth Tagore, nor seen the early Bengali version of the film prior to watching this Bimal Roy production. This Hindi version was inspired by the tremendous success of Tapan Sinha’s Bengali film by the same name, starring Bengali cinema’s thespian actor Chhabi Biswas. The Bengali film managed to grab National Best Film Award four years prior this one. A spark of thought clicks in mind for a moment to read the story prior to watch the film but than I don't want to ruin the surprising benefit as a poor reader and decided to read it once I finish the film. The result was a film that was as commercially and critically acclaimed. I leave further analysis, comments comparisons between the films to few Bengali cinephile buddies.

Director Hemen Gupta and Mr. Balraj Sahni as Kabuliwala (in one of the most moving performance of his career) successfully managed to brought the essence and soulful emotions of Tagore’s timeless humanitarian tale on screen with few changes in original story and adding one or two interpolations to highlight the key relationship. Both of them deserve applause and award. The first person narrative by Mini’s father in the story is replaced here with linear and straight narration showing us the homeland and Pathan’s tender relationship with his daughter Amina to cater then audience. But what is praiseworthy thing about direction and acting from almost all cast is that it never for single scene becomes unnatural or over sentimental melodrama. Thanks to doyen like Mr. Sahni and that sweet girl who played Mini. The film evokes and makes us felt even smaller details of the story on screen in so moving way.  

I said it many times and would love to repeat once again without an iota of change that if I have to choose a single genuine Hindi film actor devoid of any theatricality or camera consciousness seems so natural and realistic in his act on screen, it’s Mr. Balraj Sahni. Though he didn’t get more versatile roles and usually ended up playing melodramatic character roles in later part of his career, whatever he had done in ‘Do Bigha Zameen’, ‘Garm Hawa’ and ‘Anuradha’ is contribution unparalleled to Hindi cinema.

The film has a few glitches like Balraj's messy Pathan make up, stretching two songs towards the climax including Mini’s dream sequence and that added unwanted scene of Pathan’s saving the girl; the film is deeply moving experience that tugs at audience’s hearts making us felt the eternal worth of the visionary’s literature.

PS- Oh i just googled image of Biswas as Kabuliwala and he justs befits the Afghan compared to all so genuine gentleman look of Mr. Sahni! Eager to see the Bengali version, provided English subtitle :( 

Friday, January 27, 2012

THE HUMAN CONDITION TRILOGY (Japanese) (1959-61)


“True human beings always find kindred spirits.”

Director Masaki Kobayashi made two brilliant and unlikely Samurai cinema that pushed less on samurai sword action and more on dark chapters of Japanese social history and his humanitarian approach. In both ‘Hara Kiri’ and ‘Samurai Rebellion’, the protagonist is the helpless victim against the forces of corrupt power ending up facing the sacrifice of self and family. But much before he made these two films and brilliant supernatural ‘Kwaidan’ which won him many fame and laurels, he made one of the most ambitious epic of lifetime. With duration of more than nine and half hours consists of three films, each consists of two parts, Kobayashi ended up making one of the greatest monumental anti-war epic and a personal transformative journey of a soldier ever made from the land of rising sun.

The Human Condition is tale and journey of one man’s unflinching and unconditional humanity confronting the unquestionable oppressive authority parallel to his existential despair and personal conflict in the time of Second World War. Though three separate films, it narrates the autobiographical account of its protagonist Kaji guided by his moral conscience, showing us the different transformational phases of his life making and breaking him into the man. The condition of Kaji is humanity in general; he’s an idealist struggling for the better world beyond the man made border. Before noting my individual observations about the film I must mention two men who contributed something as extraordinary as its filmmaker. As one can’t imagine Toshiro Mifune without Master Akira Kurosawa, Tatsuya Nakadai without Masaki Kobayashi seems so incomplete. And like other two films aforementioned the director-actor combo works so brilliantly for this one. This is undoubtedly Nakadai at his best but for me his act in ‘The Sword of Doom’ remains just irreplaceable one for bringing on screen the meanest Samurai villain I’ve ever seen in Japanese cinema. Apart of Nakadai, the other strong reason to watch the epic is the camerawork by Yoshio Miyajima. There are ample scenes and frames which deserve standing applause from all B&W cinematography lovers. 

I

“It’s not my fault that I’m Japanese…yet it’s my worst crime that I am!”

‘The men should be treated as men’ believes Kaji in the time when humanity is the last word heard. Against his wish, he’s appointed as the labor supervisor in a colonial territory. The place is small Manchurian village with iron ore and labour camps full of Chinese POW. The man is dangling between two unlikely choices- following his duty governed by ruthless men at power and his inner voice. His confrontation with one of the labour group leader draws him into tussle with senior officers. To achieve higher production goal, the company enforced 20% increase in production. The condition are worst and  the 600 sick and half dead laborers are unfit to work and yet a brute officer Okazaki exploits harsher ways to achieve the goal. Kaji is a man who listens to his conscience and yet he’s helpless to keep his promise and trust for Chinese workers. On one hand he has to follow the enforcement of authority on power and on the other hand he has to maintain his humanitarian concern. And amid all this, one of the trusted Chinese laborer tried to escape drawing Kaji into a big mess. It’s walking on the razor’s edge and still he manages to keep his sanity and conscience clean at the cost of personal sacrifice.  

There are many moving scenes to witness here- the one where we see the train full stuffed and baked POW in the most inhuman and uncivilized way. POW getting out of train and rushing to the food is one of the moving scenes of the film. Another one is beheading scene and there are many more to follow. Usually in the epic, we see moments that stretch the melodrama unnecessarily but Kobayashi maintained absolutely gripping and tight narrative with flawless editing. The B&W camera work is striking one with some of the brilliant extreme long shots, low angles, and canted shots and close ups showing POW marching ahead or working in mine and pits on Steep Mountain.

 II

“Our real enemy is army.”

The drama and humanitarian journey of Kaji in second part shifted from iron mines to Imperial army’s basic training camp for newly recruited privates. Kaji proves himself acute leaner in barracks with his sharp shooting ability and discipline and win favors of senior officers but at the same time also witness the military oppression that turns two of his fellow privates victimized. A weakling named Obara commits suicide. It’s not his inadequacy of infirmity or inflicted punishment that guides him to commit it but one of his senior’s intolerable personal humiliations. Kaji’s attempt to justice is denied by the senior officers. Though a junior private Kaji is promoted as trainer to his seniors and few other new recruits and he applied his own radical ways to maintain his humanity and pacifist approach intact but veterans tried their level best to disobey and insult Kaji on the face testing his patience to the limit. Towards brilliant climax we see the advancing Soviet army’s tank invasion destroying trenches and killing soldiers. Kaji survives but with a big guilt where he by mistake kills one of his fellow soldier. It’s big satire pointing us that even so upright and conscience driven man draws insane and out of control in the madness and horror of war. The film ends with Kaji’s contemplation of guilt- ‘I’m a monster but I’m going to stay alive!’

Compared to first part, this one is bit slow and dramatic one but it never falters for a moment to capture the worthlessness and absurdity of war where ruthless  military training psychologically and physically torment and break men to commit suicide or pushes them to be victims on front. The film also finely represents the ambiguity and disillusionment of an upright soldier. On one hand the protagonist Kaji detests army life while longing company of his beloved and on the other he wants to stay there accompanying his fellows keeping his humanitarian flame intact amid all odds.

The stunning camera work and brilliantly choreographed war action in the climax is the highlight of the film. The memorable scenes of this part are the one where Kaji’s wife came to meet him in forbidden training camp. They spare a night together and it’s one of the most intense love scene, one has to watch Nakadai’s expressions here.


III

‘When it’s kill or be killed, you change.’

Kaji’s journey continues with guilt and scars that never healed. The Japanese military unit was wiped out by Soviet troops but Kaji and two soldiers survived in enemy territory. Unwillingly Kaji has to kill a Russian man to survive. Along the journey he meets other refugees starving for food and we witness the struggle of existence for mouthful of rice. The miserable condition, death and dead bodies of soldiers scattered around indifferent forest. What is more inhuman to know for Kaji is that few of his own men raped the young Chinese refugee. ‘Nothing is more pitiful than the women of defeated nation,’ said an old lady to Kaji once and words keep ringing the hard reality. In order to save other refugees Kaji and troop finally surrender to Russians but his noble deed again puts him in a jeopardy hard to overcome. He’s declared war criminal for speaking the truth leading him to freezing Siberia with a wish which becomes a pipedream like O’Neill’s ‘The Iceman Cometh’.

Compared to gripping first part and bit melodramatic second, drama here is more stretching one but Kobayashi managed to bring some moving brilliant moments. The awesome canted shots, natural locations add something to the disillusionment of the war. And Kaji is a paragon of virtue; so rare to maintain for a soldier, his frequent monologues addressed to his beloved Michiko in dire conditions is something like prayer to the soul…his grace…his redemption. 



Thursday, January 26, 2012

OUR HOSPITALITY (1923)


‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’
(written on a wall frame hanging on Canfield home)

My fourth Buster Keaton film and ‘the great stone face’ again made me bow my head for his unique spirit and unparalleled contribution to silent cinema.  With moments of fun, romance, action, adventure and thrill it spreads so genuine entertainment even after almost century of its making. The film is Keaton’s satire with a plot of family feud that ran from generation to generation. Men of one family grew up killing men of another family simply because their forefathers had done so. The Canfield and McKay family killed the key members of each other’s family as film begins. After death of his father in feudal tussle, the baby Willie McKay grew up at his aunt’s home, unaware about family feud. Twenty years later a full grown Willie returns to indulge in a romance only to ignite the spark of old vengeance with loads of action, adventure and fun bringing moments of ‘the real motion picture’.

Perhaps in the history of cinema none of the professional actor performed adventurous stunts with such a sense of timing and daring caliber as Keaton. If you feel ‘The General’ is brilliant example of Keaton’s talent, watch this one which is almost a never-to-miss net practice of it. What’s another adorable quality apart of his self performed awesome stunts is the way he brought authenticity of machines in his cinema used as brilliant props. Whether it’s 1830’s first pedleless bicycle or the model of first locomotive 'Stephenson's Rocket' here, he represented curious inventions and rare artifacts of last century’ on screen from the their still confinement of museum and gave them motion like none other.

For all those Keaton fans, here is load of brilliant moments to witness. If the journey of train with adjustable tracks, bumps and curves followed by pet dog is just fun odyssey than his climactic stunt around waterfall saving his girlfriend is something as historical to the motion pictures.One of the best Keaton film. 

A cinema beyond ratings.    

Monday, January 9, 2012

KOSMOS (Turkish) (2010)


‘I turned my heart and despaired of all the labour. I did that to stop my heart expecting any reward for my labour. For what has man for all his labour and for striving of his heart? I could not find the answer.’ 

Amid wild blizzard, a strange man came running from snow-clad mountain to the town and by chance saves the life of a drowning boy. The man soon becomes a queer unexpected guest for the harmonious small Turkish town called Kars. He is bizarre and loner and doesn’t speak much but when he does occasionally, he utters something so prophetic. The only thing he does is roaming, observing and healing the men from their trauma with some unearthly powers. The father of the saved boy gives him shelter and helps him to find the job for survival. But the man is belong to different dust, he’s no more concerned or inclined to labour; as he’s the outsider who listens to his heart than head or hands. The town is transition in volatile political and military border shift and amid all this a strange break in robberies in the town becomes a talk of the town.

Here is a remarkable cinema which is existentially introspective, spiritually rich and visually so poetic that probes deeper into the spirit of humanity. I won’t waste my words since after a long time I find a kind of an elusive and weird protagonist who’s as internally enigmatic and as externally mythical and yet deeply moving. Kosmos is maybe a angelic messiah, distant star or enigmatic riddle of humanity but an experience to feel on screen. The symbolic density in the frames and soothing background score are high point of the film.Rarely do we see the blizzard and natural snowfall captured in the entire film so elegantly juxtaposing and suffusing with the protagonist of the film. The film is visually so poetic and it’s so beautifully shot with classy long shots and frames with high contrasts. One may fall in love with snow-clad city of Kars with its old ruined buildings, mountain, river, bridge and rail tracks. The natural elegance of frames reminds me of visual auteur Terence Mallick and its enigmatic existential protagonist reminds me the cinema of Werner Herzog especially the two brilliant films he made with enigma called Bruno S.

This is my first film of Director Reza Erdim and the man is equally impressive as his other contemporary fellow country filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The only weakness of the film is editing and narration which seems so complex in one and so spoon feeding one in another. But than it would be cynical if you won’t appreciate the higher points over the lost and missed ones!

Ratings-7.5/10  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

CARNAGE (2011)


Roman Polanski’s this latest offering is surprising deal for all of his fans. It is satirical, mockingly funny as comedy of manners and lacks many of his usual traits. It is an adaptation of successful drama penned by Yasmina Reza based on shared conversation between four characters from beginning to the end. Perhaps it’s the shortest full length film Polanski has ever made and shot on single set from start to finish. But what is special is that the film reminds me a brilliant film made by one of the most stimulant filmmaker. It was Luis Bunuel’s ‘The Exterminating Angel’ where one fine evening the invited guests of high society gathered at host’s party and than all of them are unable to leave the venue for reasons best known to surreal Master. The night, morning and days follow and gradually they start dropping their bourgeois sophisticated pretentious masks one by one showing us the irrational and animalistic behavior surmounting the unstoppable chaos.   

Polanski’s this part comic and satiric drama has two couples as lead and they meet to resolve their children’s quarrel. The meeting slowly degenerates into irrational silly arguments. The whole drama lies in a conversation of all four characters played by fine ensemble cast consists of Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christopher Waltz and John C. Reilly. It’s talkative from beginning to its very end and so some may find it a bore. But than the key part of the film is communication where subjective reactions and personal remarks leading what is agreeable to disagreeable making us think hard whether they’re decent people acting out of temper or superficially fair minded ones? And than what happens in that conversation room is miniaturization of whole human society, isn’t it?

Out of all four leading cast, I just loved performance of Kate Winslet and Chrisopher Waltz, the man is purely a catalyst in the whole drama with his interrupting cell phone conversation breaking the civilized fa├žade  and pushing enough satirical humor with his lines and expressions. As Polanski fan, will consider this film quite an average show compared to most of his brilliant works. Hope he will come back with something as striking as some of them! We don’t want Polanski, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood to retire but then neither do they!    

Ratings-7/10

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A SEPARATION (Iranian) (2011)


One of the most talk about Asian film of last year that created ripples all around the globe winning many prestigious awards including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actors in more than one Festivals and going to compete in upcoming Golden Globe and Oscar this season. Well, the film deserves all that for more than one reason. First it comes from politically-culturally oppressive and socially repressive country where making cinema with individual artistic freedom means full stop to your personal and professional career. Some of the most humanitarian filmmakers of current world cinema have to bear the ire of Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for bringing output of their independent voices. Finest directors like Jafar Panahi and Mohsen Makhmalbaf faced imprisonment and exile for making films; so and so even director of this film Asghar Farhadi was banned from making this film. Though he managed to make such a refined film with his all saved money of his earlier successful film and with financial support of APSA, a cultural promotional initiative to support cinema of Asia-Pacific.

Sorry for being carried away by history but I feel that it’s crucial to point out how amid all such religious-cultural-moral Gestapo of the country, the individual artistic voices of cinema keep making finest humanitarian documents. As the film opens, we notice an urban middle class couple’s reaction while arguing and unwillingly signing the legal papers of separation. The reason for separation is explained too and it seems quite surprising but not improbable. We come to know from their arguments that both of them earlier decided moving to another country for better education of their only daughter and now when they got the Visa that going to expire within forty days, the husband refused to move as there’s no one to look after his old father’s deteriorating condition under Alzheimers disease. The wife is adamant to go even though the daughter and his father want to stay with the old man. As wife packs her bags leaving the home to move her maternal home, the husband has to take the responsibility of eleven year old daughter and the suffering father. For daily house chores and to look after his father the husband hires a young lady at home under his absence. Managing the old man suffering from dementia is damn difficult task for that hired lady under her pregnant condition and her kid daughter. An unwanted accident occurs that spurs the moments to multiply more. What happens next is drama interwoven with hide and seek of truth and lie that puts almost all of the characters in volatile emotions and morality.

The film is so simple and sublime and yet so complex and introspective meddling with subject of mutual relationship like marriage in its beginning followed by engrossing drama between characters. It shares human expressions and reactions to certain subtle and unwanted situations and captures the simple story in its entire complexity of cultural and religious milieu. Though I feel certain emotional manipulation in the middle where director boiled up conflict through much repetition of confrontational drama between two husbands engaging audience from the cause and than revealing the secret fact as surprise near climax. The open ending of the film is again scores on emotional hypothesis of the unwanted aftermath.

I wonder how so naturally the Iranian actors performed! Whether the husband, wife, daughter, the hired lady and her husband or small kid…each and every character immaterial of small or lead role exude natural and realistic expressions and resonance without being dramatically loud or over the top. And no cinema of the world challenge the way Iranian filmmakers use children in their story, point of view and characterization. Child actors seem so mature and adult while adults behave like children! Worth to mention the beautiful camera work and fine editing adding more feel and touch to the film like this.  

Surely one of the best of  last year.

Ratings-8.5/10 

Monday, January 2, 2012

THE IDES OF MARCH (2011)


The worth watching political drama of the year that will bag its nominations in more than one category in upcoming celebrated award season of the year. This time more than actor, George Clooney delivered as a director and screenplay writer and he deserved words of appreciation for bringing an engaging political drama with performances to notice. The film is inside story of an election campaign for presidential post. The rivals of prime candidature are Pullman and Morris. We see the shifting loyalty of politics ruled by selfish interest and number games. Here is a dedicated man named Steven taking his campaign duty and job with utmost sincerity and pulling it hard from every corners to let his side of man win the election. And the film is more about struggle of Steven, played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling than his side of presidential man Morris played by George Clooney. Steven did a silly mistake that sparks a controversy and misunderstanding about his loyalty. He’s the trustworthy idealist trapped between his conscience and dirty politics.

Though the film has tout ensemble cast consists of actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood and Clooney himself; it’s Ryan Gosling who steals the show from all. He is an absolutely promising actor to watch from last two years; so consistent and intense in his performances and versatile on characters. Once again he nailed a well controlled act that surely deserves Oscar nomination this year. the film is more on shifting drama than political thriller which could turn boring if not handled well, thanks to its taut editing, it surely an engaging affair.

Recommended watch of the year.

Ratings-7.5/10