World Cinema

Shoeshine directed by Vittorio De Sica

51zb4ZVLnYL._SL500_AA300_ This is one movie that I have been wanting to see for a long time. I had seen “Bicycle Thieves” before by Sica, which is one of the rare movies that haunt you even by the mere mention of the name…And one thing that I realized after seeing these two movies by Sica is that he gives the killer blow right at the end – the silent walk by the father and the son in “Bicycle Thieves” and in this case Pasquale’s shattered cries as the horse, the hope, trots away, almost in despair…


Sica has a special touch with children and this movie really brings it out…

The heart of this story is, I believe, about innocence and how fragile it is. Its post-war Italy, a society trying to find new meaning. Children, as is always the case, become the hidden victims. Giuseppe and Pasquale, 453777390_587229a337 are two gamins in our story, who are shoeshiners and fast friends. Their only ambition in life is to own a horse that they love, for which they saved for some time. They get involved in a crime without realizing it, but which enables them to buy the horse. Their dream is short-lived though, as they are soon caught and thrown into juvenile prison.

And so starts their slow dehumanization. They valiantly attempt to keep up their humour and their strands of friendship together but a system which bothers only with incarceration and not with justice just does not allow that.

a image shoeshine image  2906 In an almost Dickensian atmosphere, children are treated as adult criminals, which then makes them into one and in an ironical self-serving judgement, the authorities turn around and say – “I told you so”

It has its own elements of dark humour and there is a faint underlying theme of absurdity in the cinematography as if the story is telling you how absurd the world is that makes children end up in prison and how absurd it is that we are able to rationalize it somehow.
The end of this story is both visceral and darkly poetic at the same time and as I said, is a hallmark of Sica’s movies. And it is an end that would haunt the viewer for a long time.

You become so close to the two boys and to some other inmates of the PDVD_035 prison especially Raffaele that in the end you almost feel like crying at the utter waste of it all…

This is one classic that you miss at your own peril. This is a movie to cherish and pass on. No review is enough until you actually see it…


I cant wait to see the rest of Sica’s movies – “Umberto D” and “Children are watching us”, next on list…

World Cinema

Fateless (Sorstalanság) directed by Lajos Koltai

Fateless_poster_405x571 A Holocaust movie based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same title by the Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertész, who wrote the screenplay…

Before I started this, I felt that I have had enough of Holocaust movies . For anyone who has been fed on Hollywood fare for a long time, a natural impulse is to compare any concentration camp movie to Schlinder’s List, which, as I have realized in time to be melodramatic and a one-sided portrayal (Hollywood would make us feel that only Jews died in the camps). The overdoing of the topic has unfortunately given license to Israelites to claim the mantle of victims – so that they can do to Palestinians what Hitler did to them.

But a few minutes into the movie, you realize that it is different. It has a quietness to it, almost an indifference to it, as if you are watching it from a distance. There are no gunshots, hectic action or any bravado. It populated by people who don't really know what's going to happen next, who feel that nothing terrible can really happen, believing in their own luck and following the herd – something that is all too human and completely real. The father is called for labour camp and is given a farewell dinner. No one can really fathom where he is going, beyond a vague notion of dread.

This is a movie that is almost a quiet reflection of how people behavefateless during times of unimaginable horror – survival by any means for those who are caught in hell and denial by those on the outside.

For me, the most beautiful part of the movie is the last quarter, when our protagonist comes back to his homeland, a home that has changed and not only due to the bombed out buildings. The movie before this is about how different people try to survive – some by ruthlessly practical, some by having a dream (like walking on the streets he has left behind), some by turning to religion and some by compromising. Morality and ethics, construct of a peaceful society ceases to exist in the face of extermination at any moment. In the midst, flashes of humanity sometimes sparks, if only for a few moments…

fateless-6 The last part brings to mind the last part of “All quiet on the western front”. A person who has suffered something that is beyond understanding, realizes that outsiders can be curious, be in denial or be sympathetic, all without ever understanding. The outsider expects explanations in normal day-to-day terms, which the insider is incapable and ultimately unwilling to provide.

György realizes that he has to come to terms with it himself and has to try to find a ‘future’, as he is advised by all those who keep saying that its ‘all over now’. Everyone wants him (and by reflection themselves) to forget what has happened and look ahead. The fate of the victims and survivors…

What you take away from this movie is the feeling that there is no point in pointing fingers at those who ran the camps. We are betrayed as much by our own people (the camp overseers, the policemen whofateless2 rounded up the Jews were all compatriots) as much by the invader. The greatest criminal is the art of forgetting that is perfected once the crisis is over.

The film is shot in beautiful chrome and has some stunning camera-work. There are not as much words spoken as emotions generated by the lights and shadows. You realize that sometimes words are truly insufficient to make the  mind grasp – we are left with only visuals that can penetrate.

A narrative that is a commentary on how we grapple with something we don't understand and which we are then unwilling to remember, unless we mythologize and glorify.

The drowned and the saved sometimes share similar fates…


ran kurosawa
World Cinema

Ran directed by Akira Kurosawa

ran01rv6 One is usually very careful when writing a review of a movie that you have heard of for years and which is generally considered a masterpiece. You are already prejudiced by what has been written and spoken of before by people who have supposed superiority on these matters…

I however, have tried to see this as objectively as possible, trying to drive out of my mind that it is a Kurosawa film i am seeing. Its not easy but i try anyway…

Its a film that is inspired by King Lear – in this case the story of the fall of a fearsome but ageing warlord (Hidetora Ichimonji) who gives up power and divides it among his sons. However he soon finds himself an outcast and at the receiving end of the ambitions of his two sons (he banishes the third, Saburo, when he opposes the plan of division). Humiliation and indignity follows…

He soon finds himself alone, defeated in treachery, his bodyguard killedcastleburnranev4 and is himself not killed because he is considered insane. Beset by horrors of the ghosts of his past actions, the fearsome warlord at the start of the movie becomes a helpless senile invalid, who regains his sanity at times only to fear the unseen ghosts around him and relapsing into the gibbering safety of insanity.

However the third son comes back to claim his father and take him back, thereby triggering a war of intrigue, which in the end results in the complete destruction of the Ichimonji family.

But what is a Kurosawa film if not constantly grey in its outlook. There are no black and white characters. The cruel becomes victims of cruelty, the betrayer is betrayed, the victim of yesterday mimics the oppressor. There is no moral absolute.

“Who is to be pitied?” is something that you wonder by the time the movie ends…the ones who are being carried to the pyre, the one who is ran2 left alone and helpless on the fort top or the one is who executed after her revenge is complete…and then you realize the answer is in the movie itself – this is the just the way it is or as the jester says – “Man is born to cry…when he has cried enough, he dies”…

There are some wonderfully complex characters – Lady Kaede, Kyoami and Hidetora himself, who gave flesh to the story, the theme of which is as old as ambition itself.

And what is a Kurosawa samurai film without the action? The film dwells on the increasing power of firearms, which in turn heralded the ran01 end of face to face combat and which foreshadowed the end of the Samurai as the  master of the field. As the climax showed, it doesn't matter who you are, as a peasant with a gun can kill you from afar. War, itself, as a force that destroys everything is something that is shown again and again – in action, in words and in parables…and the action sequences are incredible even by today’s computerized cinematic standards…



waltz with bashir
World Cinema

Waltz with Bashir directed by Ari Folman

thumb_waltz_with_bashir1-1 How do you show war – with all its lunacy, its waste, its human cost  both for the victors and the survivors? You can try to be visceral and make a heroic story of it – like “Saving Private Ryan”, but that leaves you feeling a bit hollow, as if the complete tale has not  been told. You can try to juxtapose grim action and dark poetic – like “Thin Red Line”, which leaves a deep impression but its too real and too visible. The best visual masterpiece that combines everything that can be said is to my mind “Apocalypse Now”.

But once you see “Waltz with Bashir”, you realize the handicaps and the restrictions that a purely human actor oriented war movie puts on the creative narrative. War is a hazy thing when it passes – for both sides and both make up memories to explain the events. War is too traumatic for objective storytelling. Those scarred by it would take refuge in their minds and colour the events so that they can move on.

This is why you need a medium of storytelling that allows you to bewaltz-with-bashir-2 (1) fluid and can give dimensions to a story that a camera focussed on a human being can’t.

“Waltz with Bashir” is the director Ari Folman’s attempt to come to terms with his own past, to exorcise his own ghosts. He served in the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) during the 1982 Lebanon War which saw the horrific massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The story begins with Ari’s colleague complaining to him about a recurring nightmare that he has which has to do with his experience in the war. To his surprise, Ari cant remember anything about his own experience. Its as if its completely been erased from his memory.

So begins his quest for finding the truth – what really happened. And piece by piece he begins to unravel the facts until finally he comes face to face with the horrific realization of what his recurring vision means. Its a journey that lets the viewer go along with Ari as he goes around the world to dig inside his own mind. It never lets you get ahead, with the result that you find out at the same time as Ari…

waltz-with-bashir4 I started this post by talking about the dynamism of the medium. I don’t think story would have the same impact if it had human actors and shot on camera. It would have seemed too real. The magic of this movie is that it could move seamlessly between visions and reality thus giving a surreal feel to the story. The violence and the madness depicted in animation gives a deceptive look of lesser intensity until the scene explodes with savage intensity. Seeing an animated scene that has its roots in reality can be quite disconcerting, hence the magic. The scene where the soldier dances a mad waltz to the tune of his gun firing in front of the fresco of Bashir could not have been replicated so effectively by a human actor. It would have seemed too fantastic. Here it fit the pattern. The last devastating truth, the wails has the danger of being clichéd in a normal cinema. Here they tear at you…

The final minutes of actual footage of the massacre gives a jolt to the viewer. It was the best ending that could have been given to the movie. In the end, reality does matter. And the people actually died, whether we show with human actors or whether on the computer.

I liked the honesty of the movie. Some people have called it simplistic waltzbashir_450x250 and even propagandist in its politics. The first part is true, to the extent that it did not look into the politics and confined itself to the human cost. It is after all, a man’s search for meaning. As for the latter accusation, perhaps they didnt hear the reference to the SS in the movie. Its good to see an Israeli movie referring to Israeli action akin to that of an SS. The candour is refreshing.

There are many reasons to watch this movie – for its brilliant storytelling, for the innovative medium, for its exquisite imagery and for a great journey into the mind of those who get stuck in war. But maybe you would want to watch it for the what it tries to tell…


World Cinema

Gloomy Sunday — A Song of Love and Death/ Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod directed by Rolf Schübel

gloomy_sunday_front As someone might have guessed, the title takes from the most infamous suicide song in history – “Gloomy Sunday”, which was composed in Hungary in the 1930s; a composition that supposedly drove many to suicide.

This movie is a fictionalized account of the time of composition of the song. The song is central to the narrative – right down to the last twist in the tale. Two men – one rich and worldly restaurant owner, the other a young and struggling pianist fall in love with the same woman and she incredibly falls for both. This gives rise to a somewhat troubled threesome relationship united by the irresistible love that the two men have. Eventually the two men grow to respect and admire each other. In the meantime, the pianist composes “Gloomy Sunday”, an instant hit that propels both the composer and the restaurant to fame; but which starts to trigger the suicides as well. This troubles the composer who tries to understand the message that the song is trying to convey, almost as of it has become an independent identity of its own. That message is something that the viewer interprets in different ways at different times in the story.

But this is exactly when the Germans invade Hungary and the ‘Finalgloomysunday Solution’ begins to start its roll call. The three get caught in a game that ultimately proves beyond them. The story ends in a tragedy and ultimately in a revenge plot many decades in the making.

The movie is brought alive by some great acting. The plot never sags in its ability to deliver sudden twists and turns and it has romance, friendship, heroism, betrayals and tragedies mixed together. The characters are given enough flesh to make them well-rounded and believable. The two very different characters of the men is brought out well, as is the reason why she loves them both in different ways. Erika Marozsán as llona is fairly delectable her looks are enough to assure you that men can and will live and die for her. The last fifteen minutes or so in the movie, were for me, had some of the best moments, not to mention the surprise at the end.

This, incidentally holds the record for being the longest running movies of all times. I now know why!!

World Cinema

Black Book/ Zwartboek directed by Paul Verhoeven

1774342580 The movie works great because it is densely populated by people whose characters are never in black and white, always in grey. This is something that makes the movie and the characters so believable. Because you understand that in an extraordinary situation such as war all that matters is survival. Its just your luck how you end up – least of all whether you end up on the winning side or the losing side.

Its a world war II movie and its about many things. It’s about atrocities, love, betrayals, partisans and a whodunit. And yes, its about survival, by any means necessary. What is refreshing about the movie is that it paints both sides with the same brush. Sometimes you forget that the allies have been ingrained in our psyches as the ‘good guys’ and the Germans as the incorrigible ‘baddies’. You find the same characteristics on both sides and as one of the end scenes showed (in a particularly disgusting and for the same reason intensely powerful scene), the sadism generally attributed to Nazis flows equally well in the veins of the historical victors.

The story revolves around Rachel Stein, a Jew in hiding in Netherlands, who witnesses the betrayal and killing of her parents and brother during an escape attempt. She then joins a resistance group and is given the task of infiltrating the SD (Sicherheitsdienst – a part of the SS) by seducing the SD commander Ludwig Müntze. But things soon go awry, from a tactical point of view as well as from an emotional point of view. It is here that the movie is masterful. The shift in perception is subtle but visible. The grey shade of the character in everyone becomes evident – for better or for worse. The script never lets you perform easy categorization. And this becomes stronger and stronger as we near the end.

The best part of the movie, according to me, is the very end scene. AsBlack Book 3 the camera pans out to the sky, you see men, this time, Israeli colonists taking aim behind barricades to confront what we can assume are displaced Palestinians. It’s a delicious irony shown brilliantly – how easily the oppressed become oppressors. As Rachel says as she breaks down near the end of the movie – “Will it never stop, then!”, the movie subtly lets you know how it never stops.

A richly complex movie that says a lot of things that may not be apparent by a casual view. Its emotionally complex plot is a welcome one – a sign that we re successfully moving away from the “Rambo” image of World War II


Fantasy, Satire, World Cinema

District 9 directed by Neill Blomkamp

district9 One of the best science fiction movies that I have seen. The reason I loved it was because it had the same philosophy as the best tales of science fiction. Peel away the surface and you find a story that speaks not of tomorrow, but of today. The science fiction genre is just a tool to tell an attention grabbing, engaging story.

The movie is told partly in the form of a documentary that seems to talk about some event in the near past (something extraordinary happened, we understand, something not ‘approved’). And partly, the movie is told in real time. The premise is that an alien mother ship got stranded over the top of Johannesburg. The human expectations of finding something exciting (either salvation or doom) in the event (haven’t we all hoped for witnessing contact with extra-terrestrials?) is soon dashed when they find malnourished and ETs, decidedly disgusting in appearance on the ship who seem to be disoriented and directionless. They are ‘rehabilitated’ in refugee camps that soon becomes a cordoned off area, an apartheid zone – as clashes increase between humans and ETs. Zones become earmarked as ‘ETs not allowed’ or ‘humans only’ that does not take too much of an imagination to realize as being a spin off from the apartheid signs of ‘Whites only’ and so on.

As the ETs begin to try and get rights for themselves, protests are triggered all over the city with calls for removing the settlement. That is when a private MNC (MNU) comes to the scene to ostensibly help in removal of the ETs and plan their rehabilitation on the outskirts. However they have an ulterior motive, which soon becomes apparent and forms the core of the story. As the rehabilitation drive begins, our district_ninestory begins…

It’s a rollercoaster of a movie that can be seen as a action thriller at one level. For me, it never flagged in its pace. Till the end, you keep on guessing how it can end and if it can end happily. I loved the ending by the way. Lets the movie end with a yearning.

But what is really great about this movie is that it raises a lot of issues –  political and social without ever becoming in the least bit preachy. There are no speeches or highly aware individual. That most of are really pawns and can only do and understand so much is what the movie brings out. Small things shown in the movie make a big difference in the whole viewing experience – like the discrimination against the ETs that comes so naturally, the derogatory nicknaming of the ETs by the humans as ‘prawns’ based on their appearance, the involvement of private armies of large corporations (makes you think of Iraq), the dilemma of acceptance of people (in this case – species) who look and act differently, the unlikely brotherhood that can develop between people when they finally understand each other. All things that you can relate to easily.

district9-440x486 And because the ETs and the humans differ so markedly in appearance and language makes the ‘message’ of the movie even more apparent. And when the ETs show traits like love, sorrow and loyalty, which ironically ‘humanizes’ them, well, you understand what the movie is all about

It’s a movie that people who love a good story told differently will enjoy. It has a certain grim humour about it that goes with the mood of the movie. I love the movie for what it said but I loved it more for the way it said it.