World Cinema

The Counterfeiters directed by Stefan Ruzowitsky

Counterfeiters_ver3 A film in german, this is based on the true story of Operation Bernhard, a secret plan by the Nazis to destabilize the economies of United Kingdom (and later United States) by flooding them with counterfeit money. For this, they put together a team of forgers from the various prisoners in the concentration camps. The leading forger is Salomon ‘Sally’ Sorowitsch, around whom the film revolves.

I think the best part of the movie is the way Sally tries to keep together his men and tries to keep them alive in conditions where the prison guards dont think twice before putting a bullet through your head. A team that consists of a TB patient, a person who decides to rebel on an individual basis to deny the Nazis victory and other characters who compromise for various reasons…among all these, Sally tries to keep himself and his men alive.

What I liked about the character that is Sally is his deadpan expressions which hide a solid though quirky ideology. His main aim is stay alive, at all costs. He does not have an ideology as such nor does he indulge in analysis of the situation on any other basis except whether it keeps him and his men alive…

And as a background runs one of the biggest attempted frauds in history, a scam that could have turned the tide of the war. At the end, it is only Sally and his men who, risking their lives, did not allow this to happen.

It is a fast moving movie whose pace never slackens. The brutality of the camps are shown indirectly and perhaps because of that, the setting seems more terrifying because you realize that for all the ‘better’ treatment that the forgers are getting till the time they are useful, one Counterfeiters.2 failure can lead them straight to the gas chambers.

I think what I liked best about the movie was that it did not moralize or shed tears about the victims and the brutality (there have been too many movies about that – has almost become a template of sorts) but used it as an implicit background and showcased a thriller where the most unlikely men became heroes mostly simply by the defiant act of staying alive and denying their oppressors the final victory…

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World Cinema

Paradise Now directed by Hany Abu-Assad

paradise_nowThe controversy that this movie has generated is a testimony to how important this movie and what it says, is. The movie is about people about whom the world chooses to sympathize from a distance and claims to understand using a remote. The movie brings a human face to the people under one of the longest running and brutal occupation in modern history, an occupation that hasnt stopped being schizophrenic, ever since the start.

This movie is ultimately about the choices that people make, under a situation where there seems no way out, except one. It is a world where death and martyrdom is taken as a way of life, as a given, as the only dignified answer to a life of humiliation, the only defiant answer to a war machine that kills without mercy . It is a world where you go to dinner with your family at night and prepare to blow yourself  next morning and you would have a complete justification, without self pity as to why you must do it.

But is also a world of possible redemption and a choicePARADISE_NOW_dl_1 of a different kind. And I believe that it is in this, above all, that this movie excels.

The story is about two friends, Said and Khaled, who are selected for a  suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The story is about how they go about preparing – as a soldier of the cause and as a human being. The story is also about Suha, the daughter of a famous martyr, who believes in an alternate way to fight the Zionist enemy. The movie is ultimately about the choices each one makes, while giving us a glimpse into how they think, how they view the world and the enemy, and also why they think and act the way they do.

paradisenow483_001 The movie is short and extremely powerful with some searing poignant scenes (Like Said’s last visit). It does not glorify or take sides, something that would have been all too easy, unconsciously if not consciously. There are no heroes, neither are there villains. The ‘enemy’ – is that the child who got up on the bus at the bus-stand? Is it heroic to take lives? It does not attempt an answer but leaves the door wide open for thought.

It takes an almost dispassionate view of the human cost of a situation that the world is weary of. And it makes you look deep into the faces of the people who have been sidelined to a few  paragraphs in the daily newspapers, the people who have nothing left except their bodies to fight tanks and jets.

It is an important movie. For all of us…

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World Cinema

Zatoichi directed by Takeshi Kitano

zatoichi 2 A typical commercial samurai themed movie with expected elements – great fighters, rival gangs, revenge angle and a few dunderheads to give some comic moments…

The main draw for the movie would be Zatoichi – an enigmatic swordmaster who is blind and nearing old age, walking with a twaddle and almost looks like a person you would want to help across the street…but boy, the way he draws the sword and fights – its awe-inspiring. He fights almost as an afterthought, as if he is taking a stroll and slashing people charging at him absentmindedly. His face changes no expression other than a slight twitch, as if he is sniffing from cold. When he fights, its a treat to watch. Nothing comes close to him – even the bodyguard who can kill dozens of men without breaking a sweat. Their contest lasts one slash!!!

Other than this, there is nothing to watch in this movie. It will never be a samurai classic. There is no depth in the characters even though thezatoichi director tries his hardest to run some parallel stories in a an attempt to tweak at some hearts. The threads of the stories never come into full formation. The only thing remotely interesting is the background of Zatoichi – whom we understand is a mysterious master, a legend whom people know only by name. Other than that, there is nothing revealed, especially why he is also interested in killing off the gang of criminals. The revenge angle held promise but more or less falls flat as we move on in the movie…

A movie to be watched when one is bored and wants to see some fantastic swordplay, samurai style…especially from Zatoichi

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World Cinema

No Man’s Land directed by Danis Tanovic

 6a00c2252b54078e1d00fa9695d2110002-500pi Sometimes a movie, if described as an anti-war movie, becomes too clichéd; if described as a drama, becomes too general and if described as a movie of relationships becomes too narrow…

This is a movie that is all that and transcends them. This is almost a black comedy about the absurdities of war. It brings out about a surreal unreality to the whole situation and forces you to almost laugh out nervously at what unfolds on the screen. And the most successful aspect that the movie brings out is the brutal farce that war is, the harsh artificiality and casualness that it brings out in people who are ‘observers’ or ‘reporters’ and it does all this without ever becoming preachy. The war becomes a ‘thing’ to be discussed and analysed for people other than who are directly affected by it. Thats what hits you most by the time the movie ends. Its tragic ending seems almost diabolic in its black humour.

Nino and Ciki are ‘enemies’ in that Nino is Serbian and Ciki is Bosnian. They might have been neighbours in peacetime, the usual irony of war and the fact is brought about almost subtly. They are caught in a no-man’s land between their two sides. Along with them is Cera, Ciki’s comrade who is injured and due to unfortunate circumstances placed on a mine that would explode if he gets up. And the whole drama is played out from there.

What is most refreshing about the movie is that there is no melodrama, no ‘heroism’ and no extended reflective dialogues on the evils of war or anything abstract. The three men are played as the absolutely normal people they are, who are just caught up in the circumstances to play their roles. They are not political and each is thinking that the other is to blame for the war when each is fighting for survival at the end. TheNo-Mans-Land2 incredible distances that people can drift apart and become enemies out of mere fear for each other in the abstract is shown implicitly. That this is one of the biggest tragedy in war is what dawns upon you when you are through the movie.

The role of the venerable UN and its deliberate impotence in the face of a humanitarian crisis is also shown with refreshing candour. The difference in the human consciousness between Marchand and his superior officers (who consider the whole situation as a mere irritant) will be familiar to anyone who has dealt with military bureaucracy. The peacekeepers are shown to be distant and almost callous and escapist with the exception of Marchand.

The role of the media and its inherent hypocricy is also shown well, exemplified by the anguished cry of Ciki at the end – “And you vultures film it? You get good money? Does our misery pay well?” and afterwards, when the woman reporter asks the cameraman – “did you get it?” – which just about sums it up. People become mere sound-bytes and fleeting images.

This movie leaves you shaken not with anything special except the depiction of the mere almost everyday atmosphere and its depiction of an impossible, land unnecessary, useless tragedy that only war can bring about. And this movie leaves you thinking for long afterwards. While not being a ‘heavy’ movie, this brings out every facet of human nature and the senselessness of war – civil or otherwise.

This movie has won numerous awards and the reason is not far to see. Lagaan simply was too pedestrian to even try and give a fight to this one..

 

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World Cinema

Distant directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

 

1129104 If ever a movie was forged out of silence, this is it. There are only a handful of dialogues in the whole of the movie and it conveys much more than a verbose movie ever can. The testimony of the movie’s genius is that even when there is seemingly ‘nothing happening’, you are still gripped by the movie. You realize that it is the atmosphere in the scene that grips you and holds you and that the seemingly nothingness is a medley of light, colours, facial expressions, sound and silence that speaks more than words ever can.

The story is about Mahmut and Yusuf, both of whom hail from the same village. Mahmut is a middle aged photographer who came out a long time back from the village and who has ‘made it’ in Istanbul. Yusuf is a 20 something lad who has been forced to move out of the village due to closure of a factory and looks to Mahmut to give him some support in the job hunt due to the same-village affinity. The story starts with Yusuf trudging upto Mahmut’s place where he is greeted with polite condescension as one would greet a poor country cousin. The story evolves as both try to adjust in the same home with each other’s presence.

We are slowly given a glimpse into both of their lives – not directly but by almost wordless encounters with each other and with other people, their expressions when they are alone, and their behaviour with each other. The complexity of the two men’s their lives and the how their proximity affects each of them is something that needs to be seen and cannot be explained in words. 

The title ‘Distant’ comes into its own as the movie explores the 155758__distant_l contradictions and the weakness and their own little failures in life. Mahmut is shown to be a washed out photographer who has lost the fire to enjoy the work and who is essentially alone without the strength to maintain a relationship. His encounter with his ex-wife who is leaving forever is especially poignant. Yusuf is shown to be a person who while typifying a country bum at times is sensitive and shy. He implicitly understands his position in Mahmut’s house but keeps on trying to become better friends with him which Mahmut shrugs off as he feels that such a gesture is just opportunistic.

uzaksd6 ‘Distant’ suffuses everything in the movie – distances become unbridgeable and words become inadequate, relationship become strained and then the tenuous link snaps and there is nothing that can be done to repair it. The movie is a testimony to the fact that it is not language or culture that makes people and their lives distant but our lack of understanding and living in our own cocoon. The movie is about distances that become a part of our lives and between people around us without us getting to know about it.

The movie tells us all this and much more by the act of silence. Evenmcy7tz the dialogues that are present are strained and pointed. Much more is expressed by the silence and the expressions. It is a masterpiece in the way all the visual and auditory elements are synchronized throughout the movie. The scenes sometimes leave you almost breathless with your own indefinable emotions chocking you. The movie is almost like a symphony with large tracts of silences that cut deep into your heart.

Having said all that, this movie is not for everybody. I have seen some people crib about the fact that the movie is a drag. You need a different temperament to appreciate this movie. If you would rather be somewhere else, you would be wasting the beauty that is being played out in front of you.

I believe that this is a movie which can be watched at different times in life and we would feel different emotions. This is a kind of a movie that grows with you (or do you grow with it?).

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World Cinema

The Devil’s Backbone directed by Guillermo del Toro

6a00c11414cf6d5af500f48ce101390003-500pi Some people would just call it a horror movie and that it is – quite a good one at that. But classifying it in the horror genre would be stifling the whole concept of the movie

This movie is about ghosts – ghosts that we commonly know as ghosts, ie the paranormal ones and more importantly its about ghosts of events and betrayed hopes. The setting is in the Spanish Civil war in a town that is Republican but which is under siege by the forces of Franco. An orphanage run by Carmen and Casares, both ardent believers in the revolution, takes care of orphaned children of republican comrades. Both are shown to be brave in the face of mounting despair. We also witness their human fallibilities in their personal lives as we go on in the movie. That makes them very believable and makes them much more brave and heroic in our eyes.

The movie has a fabric that seems to be bordering on tension. There seems to be a feeling that something terrible has happened and is going to happen. There is an air of a mystery that is waiting to be unravelled. Side by side, the lives of the various characters are explored. Each person’s character has a link to the external political scenario – each of them is a product of it one way or the other.

Enter Carlos, who is brought by his republican tutors who have had to flee the area. He soon realizes that there is a mysterious character that haunts the school and discovers slowly that it is a child called Santi who disappeared mysteriously when a bomb fell in the courtyard of the orphanage and embedded itself without exploding. As events progress, Carlos discovers that Santi was murdered.

While Carlos is discovering the mystery one step at a time,devilsbackbone1 the political scenario takes a turn for the worse and the inhabitants prepare to flee but is betrayed and their vehicle sabotaged. Amidst the death and carnage, the boys decide to take revenge. They fight back and also help Santi take revenge on his killer in a dramatic anti-climax.

The movie, when seen beyond the horror/mystery element is multi-layered. It explores human nature under duress, both in personal and external spheres. It explores relationships (Dr Casares-Carmen, the boys, Jacinto-Conchita) and in this this movie is very strong. Every character’s relationship with others is explored and given thought to. Every character is shown in the grey, quite unlike most horror flicks. This gives the movie much more depth and gives it many memorable moments.

One of the most poignant moments is when this poem is read out by Dr  Casares to Carmen at the end -  “Stay by my side as my light grows dim /as my blood slows down and my nerves shatter with stabbing pain / as my heart grows weak / and the wheels of my being turn slowly / Stay by my side /as my fragile body is racked by pain /which verges on truth / and manic time continues scattering dust / and furious life bursts out in flames. Stay by my side / as I fade / so you can point to the end of my struggle /and the twilight of eternal days / at the low, dark edge of life.” It is these moments that makes the movie truly unforgettable.

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World Cinema

Infernal Affairs – Mou Gaan Dou

infernalaffairs pster This is the Hong Kong thriller from which Departed took its inspiration from…hence there is no need of an explanation required as to the content. The tag line in Imbd.com is enough to give the gist – Loyalty. Honor. Betrayal…

And after watching this one, I am liable to give this movie a higher rating than its English counterpart, not only because of the acting bit but because this movie has more nail-biting sequences. De Caprio is the only exception to the acting rule – he was equal to the performance shown here by Tony Leung in terms of depth and range.

What also compels me to give a higher rating to this movie is that soinfernalaffairs many sequences in this movie is a shameless rip-off from the original. There was a strong sense of Deja-vu in many of the sequences. Only the ending is different.

All in all, its a masterful crime thriller that grips you right from the opening sequence and does not let go…its cinematography is a fabric of tautness and its fast-tracked.

And in the end, unlike Departed, you end up relating to both the characters in the movie. Everyone is a victim – of circumstances. That itself gives it an edge of the english version.

There have been sequels to this – two more. I am not sure I would watch them. Too many times, they go the way of ‘The Matrix’ or ‘Pirates of Caribbean’. This movie is complete in itself.

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