Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dance Me to My Song

I first heard of australian film director Rolf de Heer during the recently held Chennai International Film Festival and was curious as to how his movies are. This is one of six of his movies that were being screened during the festival. His themes as far as I can say are the widest. 'Dance me to my Song' was centered around a hopelessly cippled woman, 'The trapper' was around an enslaved aboriginal tribesman during the year 1922, et cetera.
'Dance me to my Song' came as a surprise to me, basically because of the levels of courage and simplicity it portrays and its sense of raw talent. You'll see why.
Julia, portrayed by Heather Rose looks like a twisted flower squeezed inside a book. For all that she can see, hear and feel, she is looked down as nothing but a mass of flesh that serves no purpose. The only way she can communicate is by using her vioce machine (whose mechanical voice which makes it sound all the more eerie!) and sometimes her eyes and some throaty noises too. Madelaine has been assigned as her caregiver, thus relieving Julia from the monotony of the nursing homes. Caregivers are rare to come by, as we learn later in this film, and Madelaine is paid well by the nursing homes for her services.
But right from the beginning of this story, the fact is established that Madelaine is a higly selfish person who gets easily irritated with Julia. There are reasons for her rudeness though: She has a very unsuccessful love life. She tries desperately to find a man and fall in love with him unconditionally. But all the romantic adventures turn out to be one-night-stands for her. She feels humiliated and cheated as often as she in turn becomes the devil to Julia. But the most heartening thing is Julia sees, hears and understands the turmoil inside her caretaker. She wants to help and tries her best, but with Madelaine becoming increasingly rude and nasty, she hates her all the same. Rix a previous caregiver for Julia who is every bit as good as Madeline is devilish towards her, meets Julia often much to Madeline's annoyance .
At this juncture, Julia meets Eddie in a very comical encounter where she blocks his path and speaks with her wheelchair, eyes and tongue asking him to help her with her toilet! Eddie in turn finds this company much to his liking, and thus begins a firm bonding between them. Julia's physical yearning for sex and love; and the way she desperately seeks for it speaks volumes about the world that's tied up inside her. Eddie understands this too.
Madeline sees this and immediately falls for the handsome Eddie. The thought of Julia having Eddie's attention all the time makes her go raving mad. It all ends up with Madeline being caught red handed by Rix and visiting officials from the nursing home while she was literally beating Julia and threatening to kill her after she found her and Eddie in bed together.

The scenes where Heather Rose is rough-handed and beaten up will make any sane person wince even if he's a terminator himself! Heather Rose is a real life example of extreme cerebral palsy, though this never deterred her from acting or scripting this movie. We see her completely undressed. Julia's nakedness conveys her vulnerability without being the least bit prurient or exploitive.
Rolf De Heer's movies are like this as I found the similarity while watching another of his masterpieces - The Trapper: One will never know how to react to any scene in the movie. Its both saddening/digusting to some while at the same time wanting to make some other frame of mind laugh ou loud. I thrice found myself laughing alone in the audience while watching The Trapper. All of his movies are a must-see.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Cidade de Deus

This is the first portugese movie that I've seen. And its certainly one of the best and finest I've seen in a very long time, probably the best in my collection. A movie achieves it's fullest impact on you especially when you see it without reading a single review, without seeing a single picture or screenshot of it, with no idea as to how the movie is going to turn out in the next 2.5 or so hours.. That's exactly the way I saw this film. Seeing the poster, i actually was under the impression that this is going to be a story centered on themes of love! I winced, yelled, became sober and winced again by the time I was through watching this movie.

Pandeyes42 from Australia writes:

It all starts with one of the most exhilarating and allegorical opening sequences is recent film history.A chicken caught between two opposing sides.One of those opening sequences,like Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting" (1996), that simply grabs the viewer by the throat and refuses to let them go until the film is done. One of the signs of a truly great film.

Thankfully, "City Of God" quickly proves itself to be equal substance and style. One of the aspects of this film that I love so much is the way that it is very raw,candid and intimate in the story that it tells. I have read that "City of God" has been compared to Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas"(1990). I can see the comparison in the way that both films basically put you, the viewer,smack bang in the middle of the story they tell.Both films also have that sense of edge in that they are based on true events.

Spanning three decades, the story of "City Of God" covers many aspects of a very negative type of life, that of living in one of the most dangerous slums(favelas) in Brazil. What I found so compelling about the film is the way that it's main character, Rocket, searches for a way out of his supposed predestined fate. Before he discovers photography as a career, his choices are either policeman or criminal, both about as corrupt and venal as each other.

Although confronting and disturbing, "City of God" tells its story with a very down to earth attitude and, at times, a wonderful sense of humour, never more evident when Rocket tells us about his attempt at a life of crime.There is some beautiful writing throughout the film which really makes the viewer give a damn about its characters.

"City of God" is that rare film where the visual style fits the material perfectly. Watch the way that the optimism and innocence of the first part of the film, particularly the depiction of 'the tender trio', is contrasted against events after Lil Dice shows his true colours during the hotel robbery.

The use of a largely non-professional cast also absolutely rammed home this story for me. As a viewer, the worldly wise experience and attitude of a great deal of the cast really shone through. An absolutely gut wrenching moment that illustrates this perfectly would have to be Benny's going away party and its abrupt, shocking ending.To me, Benny was one of the more sympathetic characters in the film.For his life to be taken just as he was finding a way out of the 'ghetto thug life' hits the viewer right between the eyes. It is symbolic of the point of change within the story's framework. In "Goodfellas", Tommy's death was very similarly used.

Like one of my other films that I would say is one of the best of the decade so far, Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem For A Dream" (2000), "City of God" shows how its characters are attracted to something so negative such as gang life and criminal behaviour, while at the same time showing what happens when attraction turns into repulsion; the dream becomes a nightmare.

The clarity with which this is shown in both "Requiem" and "City of God" is something I admired greatly in both films. The ability of both filmmakers concerned to be impartial and non-judgemental in the subject matter at the cores of their respective films impressed me in both "Requiem" and "City of God".The subjects of both films, drug use and gang life respectively, are subjects that,via their films, make filmmakers either glamorize or preach in regards to how they depict their stories.One of the greatest strengths of this film is its absolute refusal to compromise or sugar coat its depiction of life in the slums.At the same time,I found "City of God" a very positive and hopeful film. The just about prefect final scene shows this. Rocket finally finding a way out of the slums and moving forward with his life, contrasted with the 'runts' planning their death list and how they're going to run the favela. This shows how one can achieve positive things in their life if they choose to do so, or take the easy option and follow what has gone before in their lives, even if it is a very negative thing to do.A very haunting and moving way to end a truly remarkable film.

As someone who loves cinema, I wish more films were this forceful and impassioned. Films like this remind me why I love cinema as much as I do.


I first heard of L'Enfant through the TIFF website which contains a whole load of such movies. The Dardennes brothers have often been criticized for their Marxist views on the society. They have always been known to portray society in its stark utter realism, especially the part of the society that lies low, real low in its standard of living, below the poverty line. They are better known for their first masterpiece Rosetta that also won a lot of accolades, awards and brought them a lot of recognition.

Industrialized societies have created a phenomenon among the young people that drop out from their midst, an aimless class without direction. Most of these youths will go into crime as the only means to survive their meager existences. They will also enter into relationships with other young people and produce illegitimate children, which is the subject at the center of this magnificent film by Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

Sonia, the young mother, is seen as the film opens looking for Bruno, the father of her infant son. It is clear, by the way we see Sonia take care of the baby, she is a mother who loves her son. Bruno, on the other hand, a petty thief, couldn't care less about this son, who probably looks not real to him, or at least, he cannot relate to the child's presence in his life.

Bruno, and the young teen agers that he befriends, are partners in crime in stealing whatever come their way. Bruno, who obviously has no scruples, doesn't think anything when he learns about the lucrative market for selling babies to criminals that are willing to pay a lot of money in order to get them. Selling his own son means nothing to him.

What Bruno doesn't count on is on Sonia's reaction, as she collapses in front of his eyes when he informs her about what he has done. The shock alone sends Sonia into the hospital where she is inconsolable for the great loss she has suffered. Seeing her in the state she is triggers in Bruno a reaction into getting back the baby. He gets the infant back, but the criminals involved in the deal will make him pay dearly for the business he took away from them.

The last straw that unravels Bruno is the street mugging with young Steve in which, unknown to him, people go after him in a chase that takes the duo into the river. Steve, who suffers a cold shock from the water, almost drowns from the experience. When Bruno confesses to the crime, he does the only decent thing he has done in his life. The final scene shows Sonia, who has come to visit him in prison with their son, and Bruno who finally understand the enormity of his crime and his guilt.

Jeremie Renier makes a good impression as Bruno. As the careless drifter, Mr. Renier does some of the best work of his career. He is totally believable as the petty criminal and predator. Deborah Francois captured Sonia and the love she felt for her son. Jeremie Segard is seen as Steve, Bruno's contact and partner in crime.

Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne are film makers that deal in real situations like the one they present us here. "L'Enfant" is one of the best films they have done because the intensity they bring to the story that shows that even a hardened criminal can redeem himself when he understand the enormity of his crime.

Frankly I was a bit disappionted at this movie's very predictable plot. The name itself L'Enfant i think is meant more towards the young couple shown in this movie, rather than the baby itself.. Jeremie Reiner does look stupid and a bit too desperate towards his wife, especially when the falls at her feet and refuses to let go of her ankles! But otherwise, this rather subtle movie is watchable once. Just for the dardennes.. Review courtesy of a guy called Jotix100 from New York.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Lucia y el Sexo

Lucia y el Sexo is one of those films that aims to confuse. Just when you go down a rabbit-hole of confusion... literally. As perceptions begin to form effortlessly about every movie I watch before I even get my hands on it, I promptly hesitated on the verge of seeing this movie especially when it comes with this -> NC-17, The reviews I read were anywhere but between the extremes- either they call it a blundering erotic rollercoaster (the anglais speaking world), or its the opposite: a timeless work of art and creativity (the cinema-loving world). Some call the director Julio Medem one of the most "earthiest" in a country noted for its hearty cinematic eroticism. But one thing was evident: there definetly is going to be a lot of disturbingly erotic sequences in this insanely layered story. My previous encounter with such levels of endless, unforgiving, graphic imagery was when I watched Michael Winterbottom's 9 songs that left me, say quite unbalanced. But that was for a reason- I never managed to follow any plot whatsoever in it. Not even till today. That's not the case when it comes to Lucia y el Sexo. In fact the story is what is more captivating and excellently executed than all those wild moments in this movie that can cause that oh so familiar rush of blood to.. Thats what I inferred from the reviews and believe me, I was correct! At the end of the day it's up to the viewer what to make of it all. I happened to see an english dubbed version on abc last week. I think i'll download it right away..

"I'm sorry for everything I said when I left," a pretty young waitress whispers into a pay phone at the back of her restaurant in the opening scene of "Lucia y el Sexo." Regret and apprehension resonate in her voice. Her body is both tense and tired, not from too little sleep (although that's probably a part of it) but from the fatigue of having strain she can't resolve in a relationship that has been the most important thing in her life.

All of this is evident within seconds of this girl's presence on screen, so it's no wonder the composed yet sensual and expressive Paz Vega won a Goya (Spain's Oscar) for this performance. She goes on to cover a remarkable range of emotion, strength and vulnerability as the lovely Lucia, who by the end of that phone call has sensed desperate despondency in her already deeply-troubled lover. She dashes home to find a disturbing farewell note just as the phone rings with a call from the police expressing regret about an horrible automobile accident....
Lucia hangs up in the middle of the call, hastily packs a backpack and runs away to the only place she can think of that might put her heart at rest -- an island off the coast that Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa), her lover, had always talked about but never taken her to visit.

Adept at plumping the depths of love and loss, "Lucia y el Sexo's" writer-director Julio Medem ("Lovers of the Arctic Circle") also has a talent for entrancing visuals and a penchant for extraordinary twist of fate. At the same time that Lucia is reaching the island -- a parched Mediterranean paradise of crystal blue seas and rocky cliff tops, photographed in transporting, heat-baked, sun-bleached colors -- Medem flashes back to six years before, when Lorenzo spent his 26th birthday on the island, making love in the ocean to a local girl with whom he didn't exchange names.

Completely unaware of the connection, on her solace-seeking trip in the present, Lucia befriends this same woman, a seemingly free spirit named Elena (Najwa Nimri from "Arctic Circle" and "Open Your Eyes") who is, in fact, also hiding from the memory of a personal catastrophe.
Medem then intertwines Lucia's emotional convalescence with the histories of all three characters in a heart-catching, hair-pin-curving narrative of circumstance, coincidence and destiny. Young Lucia's giddy, unorthodox seduction of Lorenzo -- a novelist she admired so much she resolved to make him fall in love with her -- is part of the story, as is their passionate, sexually adventurous love affair. Lorenzo's fortuitous discovery that he has a daughter -- a fact he withholds this from Lucia -- and a terrible tragedy that is an indirect result of this knowledge, sends the haunted writer into an emotional tailspin that begins to bring the film's themes full-circle.

Profound performances by Vega (who looks like a younger, fresher, more pithy Penelope Cruz), Ulloa and Nimri give the film such a compelling intimacy that it feels as if the emotions are wafting off the screen. This is especially true of the many carnal love scenes as if Lorenzo and Lucia. Bee-stung pixie Elena Anaya -- another Goya nominee for the film -- also makes an unforgettable impression as the little girl's babysitter, a sexual siren who ensnares Lorenzo as he tries to bond with his child surreptitiously.

At times Medem over-reaches in his quest for empathetic intensity. A character-establishing peripheral storyline about the babysitter being turned on by watching old porno movies starring her mom is excessive and ultimately unnecessary to the plot. The film is not well served by an on-camera birth scene that leaves nothing to the imagination. One more complaint: Because the audience is privy to connections that the characters are not, the last act drags a little while we wait for the other shoe to drop.

But the captivating psychological journeys in "Lucia y el Sexo" -- which contain far more intricacies and surprises than I've described here -- and Medem's remarkable, metaphorical filmmaking style make it possible to overlook such impediments and just let the picture's potency wash over you like the warm Mediterranean waters.

Courtesy of RB, whatever he/she is...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Samsara (2001)

Buddhism deals with birth, suffering and death and the unending life cycle is called Samsara. Buddha left his prince hood to seek an answer for the unending sufferings that he saw all around him. After the enlightenment, he said it is desire, the cause of all our miseries…so get rid of the desires…get rid of the world that you live in. Shut up in a cave and meditate. That's what we see first in this movie. Tashi, who was n a long meditation (for three years, three months, three weeks and three days) inside a cave in the Himalayas, is taken back to the monastery. After meeting with a village girl, he demands for a freedom to follow his carnal desires stating even Buddha had them until the age of 29. Seeing his lack of concentration in monastery duties and frequent wet dreams, the spiritual adviser grants him his freedom to find out life and make a decision on it. This makes up the first segment of the movie and it goes almost one hour.

The second segment is Tashi's marriage with Pema, and his life as a husband and father. This segment also runs for one hour and the final segment, which includes the conversation between Pema and Tashi, summarizes the whole point of the movie and lasts for about ten minutes. This is about the structure of Samsara. This is photographed in the high altitude locations in Ladakh in Kashmir and is very pleasant to watch. The narration is slow paced, which is apt for the spiritual content of the film. The love scenes were also photographed well and the music score was spiritual.

Samsara talks about the eternal conflict, the one between the flesh and spirit and at some point it grows to question the Buddha himself on a feminist perspective, by creating identical situations. At some point in the monastery segment, we hear a question, how do you keep a drop of water from ever drying up...? At the finishing of the movie, we get the answer, as carved on the back of a stone...By sending it into the sea. This can be read in two dimensions as well. How do you keep your carnal desires burning…? By indulging in them frequently. How do you keep your spirit alive? By immersing it into an ocean of spiritual activities. This is how I read Samsara. Samsara brings up some of the unanswered questions on whether Buddha was right to leave his family and impose the same sufferings onto the one who loved him. I think Buddha himself was confused after his enlightenment, and this confusion led to the great split among his followers towards Mahayana and Heenayana.

What I really liked about this film also is the fact that it presented us with the female point of view in the final monologue of Tashi's wife Pema. She was given no choice from him when he decided to go back to the monastery. She had to stay behind and take care of their son. She was shown to us as the keeper of the traditions (not allowing her son to play with the modern toy his father bought him from Leh) but at the same time she had that free spirit to make love to the unknown Lama and afterward to even marry him. I liked the sensitivity of the writer / director who cared not only to show us the pain of Pema when realizing she's losing his husband, but also to make her an intelligent woman who thinks and who turns out be as wise and devoted as her Lama husband.

It's less important whether you get any answers...and Samsara is one of the finest movies in recent years.

Lora Traykova

Le Doux pays de mon enfance

Roger Joly is a very successful salesperson at a prestigious automobile showroom. He's married to a beautiful wife, has three adorable kids and takes his family for vacation every week. A fine life like this made everyone admire him for what he was - perfect husband, honourable man, sincere and dedicated to his job and oh yes, everything french.
Turning point. His car gets stopped by police, since he forgot to wear his seat-belt. He gets ticketed, apologises and goes home as usual. Nothing unusual. But the police who now have him in their records are unable to find any trace of his identity, anywhere. They start to get doubts.. Does Roger Joly really exist? Or is there something wrong? How was this man's details never to be found anywhere in any goverment database? A lawyer is called in and he begins to investigate...
Roger did in fact exist for 17 years. Before that he was Aziz Bensala, a young lad who lived in Tunisia, came to marseilles, fell in love with france and its people, its language and its culture.. He had decided to remain in France and start a new life... And he had found bliss in France.. Until the day everything went to pieces.. Roger refuses to submit himself to the truth. With every evidence against him, the court declares that Roger Joly was in fact Aziz Bensala. A judge sentences him to five years in prison for usurpation of identity, forgery and use of forgeries and swindling. So Roger hangs himself that very night with the bed sheets of his prison cell. It’s not the prison sentence that broke Aziz’s spirit. He was no stranger to prison. But this time, the court had rummaged through the life of this Roger he claimed to be. Piece by piece, the judge had analyzed the puzzle in minute detail, exposed the fraud and delivered his conclusions: Roger Joly was a fiction. The man was sent back to the illegal immigrant he didn’t want to be; to this Aziz Bensala, born near Gabès, Tunisia, who went to school barefoot and had a wretched childhood; who had arrived in Marseilles in the mid-70s, after his brother, to find work that didn’t exist back home; who wanted to become part of a country, a culture he admired, to the point of inventing a new identity.
What strikes me most is the fact how much a person can fall in love with a culture.. He raises his children till his death feeding them with the same passion and love for the country.. But still the idea seems far fetched and except for Daniel Russo, as Mr.Joly a.k.a Aziz, there is nothing but the script that carries you along.

L' Ange de goudron

The only reason why I looked forward to seeing "Tar Angel" was that it had Hiam Abbas in it.. Having seen her in four or five movies till now, she had become my favourite actress from the middle-east.. i think she's Israeli.. Well the movie turned out to be worth a watch, for a lot more than her alone.
The movie begins with a scene inside a canadian mosque, where a prayer is in session, and each person who is attending the prayer looks like anyone but a canadian. Each one of them is an immmigrant into this country and almost everyone are illegal.
The Kasmis are a quiet family living their newfound lives in Canada, making the most of the little earnings the father Ahmed gets paid for operating cranes and stuff.. According to him he's privileged to just have a job on his hands... The son, Hafid has just turned 19.. goes to finishing school, the daughter has started going to school too, Hiam Abbas as Naïma is pregnant, carrying her third baby.. So the father has a job, the kids go to school, the wife is pregnant, clean records on the family, etc.. Easy for such a family to avoid deportation by the government.
Things seem to getting better for the family, until the son misteriously disappears one night and never shows up.. A few days before getting their citizenships sanctioned, Hafis is seen on television in the news channels through a cctv camera in the goverment offices. The news is about a group of radicals who have erased all data in the government offices, regarding the deportation of immigrants.. Hafid however remains as 'unidentified' in the news.. But Ahmed instantly panicks. He finds that his son has been inducted into a terrorist organization which is bent on saving the illegal immigrants from being deported to their respective countries.. He finds Huguette, Hafid's girlfriend who decides to help him find his son.. In reality its Huguette who had previously introduced Hafid into the group recently.., but somehow she never knew that he was going to be used for a suicidal mission like this, so much the reason for her help.
The movie drags a little during the middle when Ahmed, a very religious person (hell he dosen't even take wine.. in Canada!) is never at ease with Huguette, who is actually a tatoo artist.. every religious person's worst nightmares all over her and her attitude.
But once the son is found, things start to quicken. Hafid, however manages to suceed in the mission, destroying all the papers just before the immigrants leave.. However, he's beaten to death by the police officers.. right in front of his father, before he could stop his son.
The reason why I watched this movie, Hiam Abbas ended in dissatisfaction. She hardly has a role to play in here, as just a crying mother.. But the impressive performance by Zinedine Soualem and Catherine Trudeau compensate.. Immigration in Canada and france is a problem that can be examined a lot through movies lie these.. I never knew the enormity of the problem untill i saw movies like these.. Almost one third of the movies telecast on TV5 are somehow bordering on this theme..

Train de Vie

"Train of life", which it literally is in this movie, is probably one of those rare, very rare stories that succeed in creating humour out of the holocaust. I usually associate movies with the war in the background as very emotional, gory, etc. Movies that i watched regularly have conditioned my mind so, i guess.. Well, the previous movies based on the world war that i saw were Der Untergang and The Pianist, masterpieces in their own domains of creativity, yet the of-course-you-gotta-be-sad feel in them.. This one defies all that.. And how! It was ar=ired on TV5 sometime during september.
The story is about a religious, peace-loving, merry little French shtetl (Jewish village) which comes to know about the onset of the Nazis in the formative years of the oncoming holocaust.. and how they manage to flee...
Shlomo is the vilage idiot who finds out by sheer chance about the newly established military government's move over the jews in the nazi empire. Upon his word, village is thrown into pandemonium and fear, because they knew not how bad the situation actually is. The village rabbi however listens to Shlomo and on holding a council, decides that the best way to escape is to flee the country to Jerusalem in a train, a creaking old dead-wagon which they refurnish to look like as though they are coming from a jewish evacuation and are being taken to their deaths.. The train is commanded by a SS look-alike, Mordechai from their own village, who is taught to speak german.
The entire journey is completed as comfortable as possible for the villagers, while outside that train in the darkening world around them, it started to rain jewish blood.. and jews suffered.
Soon the uncharted train raises suspicion as it passes along the various stations en route ("Stations?? What stations?", the villagers ask. They don't have the slightest clue about trains!). The military soon steps into action and deploys enquiry posts along.. Mordechai however manages to make the officers believe that these jews are "special" ones and are being transported under direct orders from the Fuhrer himself!. There obviously will be no schedules prescribed for such a secret mission..
The germans thus end up providing complete security and right of way to a train carrying jews in comfortable coaches to their safety out of the country.. to Jerusalem..
There are plenty of scenes where i just culdn't help falling off my couch, laughing.. like for example the scene where the SS look-alike soldiers from the village observe sabbath on the way, and a anti-nazi activist faints on seeing the "soldiers" bowing and praying along with their jews.. Others include a scared Mordechai who fumbles while performing the nazi salute and shows his palm to the SS officer!
The last scene however is both scary and jubiliant as they cross the border and get scared, mistaking the russian soldiers for german troops...

Mais qui a tué Pamela Rose

"Mais qui a tué Pamela Rose" is the natural product of two men who have been watching too many American "whodunit". Hey, come on, we all have seen so many of those... and we like it, don't we? What's better than a "film noir"? That's probably what Kad and Olivier thought too; so they made a parody of these movies for us - and a rather good one. The peculiar thing about this movie is that the authors went to the very end of their idea. Along with all the murder and inquiry plot, they took from American "whodunit"... America. Hey, what if we all were American? So, they took natural sets and landscape of France and pretended them to be some Middle West place called Borsnville. Of course, they transformed them a little, and some sets are actually convincing (I think of the restaurants scenes, and the Motel). The characters are American too. Americans from the depth of America, characters taken straight out of some dark road movie. (the strip-teaser, the sheriff, the radio guy...).

Kad and Olivier have made what no one else has done before: on purpose, they have recreated a unique America, one made with heart by admirers who pretend they only know it from the outside, from movies. For instance, the name of the secondary characters are uncongruous common names, English words that just stick out from films when we see them over here: Mr Donuts, Dan Nuggets... and Riper has a recommendation from... Stevie Wonder! Another example of that is the "FBI University"... I really don't think such a thing exists!

In this extraordinary set evolve characters who want so badly to be American, who truly seem to believe they are. Jean-Pierre Rouve is great -and subtle- as this sheriff who feels that he might be homosexual... Darmont is impressive as a leather figure with santiag boots (I never thought I'd see him clad like that!). And, of course, Kad and Olivier -almost convincing in FBI agents!- are such as they always are: funny.

Well, time is to talk about the most important thing: the movie itself, its rhythm, its humour. If you like Kad and Olivier's sense of humour, you won't be disappointed. From the very first minute (a dedication to Christopher Colombus, the lad who "invented" America) to the last it is there, made of very seriously pronounced nonsense and silly drifts in classical situations -I like it because it is more of a language humour than a visual one. The first thirty minutes of the movie are hilarious, like this scene where Kad deals with Colombian drug dealers, or Olivier teaching in the FBI University. The second part of the movie is too slow with many punch lines just not up to our expectations. But overall, one has a very good time with this rather subtle parody: a good plot, good actors, and the precious feeling it's not been seen before.

By Aliqua salix

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Nathars from Ireland writes..

A work of cinematic brilliance. Will be difficult viewing for many, especially non-Irish I think. It is/will be controversial for political but not for cinematic reasons. It is beautifully crafted and the performances are straight out of the top drawer. Damien and the train driver are very powerfully played, Sinead is a typical young Irishwoman in the drama and is brilliantly portrayed in muted but vital terms. Ken Loach's direction is magnificent and though I do not share his political ideologies, I commend his insights and his talent.

There are huge factual truths behind this film in that it is based around typical events of that period but I do not accept the blatant "baddienss" of the English portrayed here. They were more subtle and humane in many cases and much worse in others. They were just an out of control paramilitary force in a so-called democracy.
For people who are not of my age (55) and not from Ireland, this film probes deep into the heart of the simple times (no running water, no electricity, no telephones, very few automobiles etc.). I felt memories of living in rural Ireland in my early youth in these circumstances, and the emotional memories of uncles and aunts and idyllic childhood summers came flooding through and are still with me as I write this piece.

I feel violated in a very good sense of that word by this film, it burrowed in under my skin and probed my mind like no other piece of cinema has ever done before. I could critique lots of little things but the greatest canvas has a few flaws because it was painted by a man.

This movie is simply the best and in its contrast to the standard Hollywood blockbuster it stands out as extraordinary. Cillian Murphy must be an Oscar contender if the US distributes this film. The jury at Cannes was not wrong, and if Denzel Washington was part of the unanimous vote for the Palm D'Or then maybe there is a market in the US for this one. It might be a slow burner instead of a box-office extravaganza. That is this film's tradegy and Hollywood's triumph of mediocrity over genius. Tinsel rubbish can sell if packaged properly, and greatness can languish for years before being recognised (a la Van Gough). Take your Palme D'Or Mr. Loach & Co. you deserve this much recognition and the grateful thanks of a "middle-class" Irishman who came from humble beginnings. I hope I have not forgotten.

An editorial from a Cork newspaper sums it up well:

This wind shakes more than barley

In Ireland we are in rare position internationally when it comes to our media. Most of what we read, listen to and watch is usually interpreted in two perspectives, through our own media and through that of our near neighbours across the Irish Sea. There are other instances of large and small neighbours with a common language (Germany and Austria; USA and Canada; Australia and New Zealand), but nowhere is the penetration of the larger nation's media into the neighbouring market as pronounced as it is in Ireland. Viewership of UK TV stations and readership of UK owned newspapers in Ireland is at a level that makes them as significant to our view of the world as our own media. This breeds a familiarity with our neighbours that can make us Irish assume the British know as much about us as we do about them. Nothing could be further from the truth however as has been graphically illustrated by the reception given in Britain to Ken Loach's Palme d'or winning movie The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

There is no question that this film makes the British forces look bad, but of course the reality as all Irish people know is that they were. In the UK normally reasonable and intelligent reviewers and commentators cannot cope with this depiction of occupying British forces as violent repressors of a largely defenceless native population. It has been described as unbalanced and portraying the valiant British soldiers in an unfair and unflattering light. The truth is that the vast majority of British citizens couldn't tell you where Galway is and why should they? They're ignorance of their own colonial past so close to home and denial of it shouldn't surprise us; it is not something to be proud of.

This is not to attack Britain, but to remind Irish readers of UK newspapers and viewers of UK television that Britain is indeed a foreign country. They view the world through an entirely different perspective than us, and in truth our views are inconsequential to them. That's why Loach's film, which tells essential truths, will not get a general release in the UK. Despite the fact that Anglo-Irish relations are probably better now than they have ever been the truth about Britain's history in Ireland is something that they just aren't ready for, and probably never will be.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Mar Adentro

When you can't escape, and you constantly rely on everyone else, you learn to cry by smiling, you know? -Ramón Sampedro

I had the privilege to watch Mar Adentro last Saturday, and I am still shocked by its beauty, the powerful work of every single actor and actress and Amenabar's unbelievable ability to narrate the story of Ramón Sampedro, who was well known in Spain for asking for a legal euthanasia, lost the court cause, and eventually died in front of a camera drinking a glass with poison, freezing all our hearts with his determination not to go on living forever immobilized because of an accident.
Before watching the movie I was already mesmerized by the strong symbology in its title, which I would translate as "Into the Sea" and which is taken from an original poem written by the man this story is about. Then I watched the movie. Oh my friends. This is Cinema with a capital C. The narration flows to take you to the heart of every single character: Sampedro, reincarnated in a Bardem that you forget from the very beginning, is in the center as a man full of sense of humour and full of hope, and his hope is to die, because for him, the life he is living is not worthy to be lived. The rest of the characters but one dance around him and respect his decision because they see him as a human independent being (forgetting he depends on the others for everything), even though they do love him so much. And this is what the movie is about: love. You can feel it, you can breathe it in the skin of every character. You witness the growing of the feeling within three women who meet him in the movie: Gené, the member of the association that defend his right to die with dignity, his friend, her story in the movie is the hope for us the lucky ones that can live a normal life in this world; Rosa, the woman who meets a good man in the middle of her list of broken relationships and pain in the hands of all the men who used her and despised her; Julia, the woman who shares a tragic destiny with Ramón, and eventually acts in a way we cannot but only understand.
However, before meeting these women Ramón knew what was love like, because you cannot meet him without loving him, and he is deeply loved by his abnegated family: Four characters unique in their humbleness and bravery, each with their own thoughts about his decision, each thought respectable in its own way, because the terrible thing about this story is that nobody is to blame for what happened. That, sadly, life sometimes is that terrible. From this familiar quartet I specially liked Mabel Rivera's work as Ramón's sister in law, Manuela: a terrific performance.
I would like to draw attention to three episodes that are for me the best climax points I have seen in a long time, and if you haven't seen the movie don't read this, pass over this paragraph and read again from the next one starting "Mar adentro", let the movie show its secrets to you. Three episodes I loved were: 3. The best love scene I have seen in a movie, when I really felt love invading the screen, is when Ramón dreams awake that he is flying to meet Julia in the beach and they kiss each other. 2. Gené speaking by phone with Ramón, the day before he is going to do it, and he tells her it is better they say goodbye at that very moment, not to put her in trouble with the authorities. And then she knows it is the last time they are going to talk, and she has fought for his right to die... but she does not want to lose him, because she loves him as a true friend, and even though she is respecting his decision at all cost. 1. The best. A young Ramón in the beach, looking at his girlfriend under the sun, jumping to the water from the rocks to a sea that is retreating. We see the crash, we hear his voice recalling what happened and claiming he should have died that very moment. The face of Bardem, face downward, shown to us from the bottom. And the hand of a friend who pulls him from the forehead and brings him back to a life that will be a hell for him in the next 30 years. There are many others, like the impressive ending, in spite of the fact that in Spain we know too well what Ramon did.
Mar adentro did not deceive me, but the director has to thank the actors that took part in the project, and who maybe took it personally, because this is not just a movie, it is an elegy to a man who died alone when he was asking to die "legally", which meant for him, as Bardem pointed out, dying with the people he loved and who loved him around.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


For once, some comedy based on the War.


A charming tragicomedy about a young man's tireless efforts to spare his ailing mother some unfortunate news about the Berlin Wall, Good Bye, Lenin! was more than a hit movie when released in its native Germany last year. Instead, it snowballed into a cultural phenomenon. Germany's reunification was popularly perceived as a triumph of vibrant Western capitalism over feeble Eastern socialism. But the psychological impact on the former citizens of the German Democratic Republic went largely overlooked. These people were expected to forget 40 years of dogma overnight and do so with a Coke and a smile. As director Wolfgang Becker says, "Just imagine your life changing completely from one day to the next and nobody asks if it is okay for you."

Alex (Daniel Brühl) and Ariane (Maria Simon) live with their mother, Christiane (Katrin Sass), in East Berlin. Single since her husband defected a decade before, Christiane is a passionate socialist who ardently believes in the GDR's promises of equality. A heart attack puts Christiane in a coma days before the Wall comes down. As she sleeps for eight months, her kids adapt to the new economy: Alex begins selling satellite dishes while Ariane trades in her drab lifestyle for a Burger King uniform and a West Berliner boyfriend. Though her children are relieved when Christiane wakes up, the doctor tells them that a sudden shock could provoke another heart attack. Alex essentially recreates the GDR for his mother, going so far as to create fake news broadcasts that continue to trumpet capitalism's imminent collapse.

Good Bye, Lenin!'s often hilarious but essentially melancholy tale of a family getting trampled by the march of history struck a chord with German viewers and commentators, most of whom are just beginning to get some perspective on the shotgun wedding that occurred between the two Germanys 14 years ago. "For some reason, it became a big media thing in Germany," says Becker in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. "There was a big wave of what they called 'Ostalgia' -- the word is a combination of nostalgia and 'Ost,' which means east. Every television station now has a retro show about the GDR and things like this."

A veteran television and film director who co-founded Berlin's X-Filme production company with Tom Tykwer, Becker is understandably pleased that Good Bye, Lenin! has been so successful in countries where it has not sparked social debates. It won six awards at the European Film Awards and has outgrossed Tykwer's Run Lola Run to become the most internationally successful German film ever. Healthy per-screen averages in the first weeks of its US release suggest that Good Bye, Lenin!'s success will be repeated over here.

With a sparkling score by Yann Tiersen (Amélie) and a careful balance of whimsy and pathos, Becker's film is very engaging. Though lightweight as a political satire, Good Bye, Lenin! manages the tricky task of generating sympathy for the citizens while ridiculing the state. "The people who had to live in the GDR are something completely different than the system of the GDR," says Becker. "I think it was right that the GDR broke down because it was a perversion of the socialist ideal. For the word 'democratic' to be in GDR was just ridiculous. They took it seriously in the beginning but forgot it very fast. But people like Christiane always remembered the good intentions and were hoping the politics would come back. And the government kept telling people, 'Socialism is the superior system, even if you can't see that right now. Just wait another 10 years.' It's like the Catholic church saying, 'It's very bad on Earth but if you come to Heaven, everything will improve... as long as you do what we say.'"

What Good Bye, Lenin! mocks is not Christiane's faith but the system that demanded it. Alex's well-intentioned but absurd conspiracy to dupe his mother reveals how deeply he was influenced by that system as well. An equal-opportunity satirist, Becker -- a West German native who has lived in Berlin since 1974 -- also pokes fun at the inane consumerism of his half of the country.

Nevertheless, the director insists that his film "is not a matter of systems. It's just that there were a lot of interesting, intelligent people and good characters living in the GDR. And they have a right to have their positive memories, even if these memories come from a country and a time of dictatorship. It's not good to tell people they lived their lives in vain only because they had the bad luck to live under the wrong circumstances."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Au Sud des Nuages

Adrien (Bernard Verley) embarks on a trip of his life after spending a full seventy years in the cold, comfortable lonliness of the swiss alps. This follows his adieu to his cows after his wife, Marie died too. He is initially accompanied by some of his village friends - Leon, Willy and Lucien Prolong. Things look set for a wonderful trip, when Roger, Leon's nephew - a nit-wit who is more of an irritation than company and a know-all busybody, with a whole array of travelling aids with him - joins them. Slowly the other three leave Adrien and Roger and go back home. Adrien, inspite of his fits of anger at Roger slowly learns to manage with him. The trip is by now, almost over from the swiss alps, to germany, to russia, china, and now mongolia. Roger encounters a young woman ,Odma (a mongoilan) who needs help and protection in the train from someone who had tried to harm her. Ultimately, he falls in love with her. Truly, madly, deeply in love, Roger dosen't let go of his love even after she disembarks from the train and follows her without Adrien's knowledge. Disgusted and worried at the same time, Adrien tracks him down (with the help of Odma's photograph which she had given him), only to find that Roger has given himself so completely to Odma that he had decided to marry her and live in the small hamlet in Mongolia. Thus we are left with the only member of the initial group of five who completes the trip by reaching the chinese bull-fight festival. Adrien also keeps remembering his wife at times, in his effort to forget her on the trip. Only at the end does he speak out about the pain he suffers. How you feel about this story and about its main character will probably depend on where you come from. While some of the background and people are uniquely Swiss, the stoicism of the hero is known in many other parts of the world, mountains as well as prairies; any place where men (and women)live alone, in rural isolation, proud of their independence yet suffering from a deep loneliness that they can't even articulate to themselves. I would like to add that this is neither a depressing film nor a slow one -- the journey moves swiftly, there are many humorous and poignant moments, and at 85 minutes, you find yourself getting to China almost too soon. And if the end is more allegorical than realistic, it has a poetic quality that I found touching and memorable.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


"She's gone. And the present is trivia, which I scribble down as f@$#*ng notes"
If I told you the entire plot of this film it really wouldn't matter as it is an exquisite paean to the subjectivity of memory and therefore is in itself ambiguous; the ‘truth' of it is up to you. You come out of the cinema questioning yourself, your memories, your truths. Nothing in this film is as it seems, and yet paradoxically everything is as it seems. We see everything through Guy Pearce's characters' (Lenny) eyes, unfortunately he has no short-term memory so cannot form new memories. He would have already forgotten the first sentence of this review. He lives in snapshots of life; his only form of memory is his Polaroid camera, just like in the excellent German film Wintersleepers; also (partly) about a short-term memory disorder.

In this film Lenny takes snapshots to remember who people are, where he now lives, his car, everything. As you can imagine this is perfect for paranoia, suspicion, uncertainty, confusion, and betrayal. And that's exactly what you get in extreme doses. The difference between this film and Wintersleepers however is that Memento is entirely from Lenny's perspective. This therefore creates an imaginative, creatively unsurpassable film. The film begins where it should end, so far so trite, but here's the beauty, we, like Guy Pearce, learn in fragments what's going on. It is therefore perfect for those who love to second guess what's going to happen, who did what, who's doing what and why. The beauty of this film though is that my interpretation could be so different from yours, and neither of us could be sure whose interpretation is the right one; if there is a right one at all. Nothing is certain, nothing is clear. Another beauty of this film is the way it is filmed and edited. Pieces are shown a number of times with no real linear link between them, just like it would be if we ourselves had a memory disorder, and then they are cut up and edited next to things that happen either before or after it. It's just like holding ten different and linearly distinct Polaroids in your hand and having a short-term memory disorder. Excellent.

I'm not even sure if watching it again will make things any less ambiguous, but then who cares? The ambiguity is what makes this a great film, if it wasn't so cut up, or from Lenny's perspective it would be both very short and trite; and lacking in tension, suspense and interest. But as it stands it has all three, isn't trite and says so much about humanity. Oh, and the plot? It really doesn't matter, all you need to know is that everything about this film is indicative of the subjectivity of memory, of our experiences and interpretations of all that happens to us. Nothing will seem as black and white as it did beforehand. It will make you question every memory you have, almost as much as possessing a psychology degree, as I do! So, go and see it: be confused, acknowledge the frailty of all you know to be true, and then imagine the freedom of actually being Lenny, and then the horror of having nothing, nothing but the reliance of a pen and a Polaroid camera to know who you are.

Incredible, riveting and powerful. What else could I say? This movie has all of the qualities of classic film noir as well as the magnitude of an original, unique concept that has been tried and tired before but works here.
Guy Pearce has been underrated for years (just think back now to Priscilla and can you believe this is the same guy) and finally might get the recognition here that was at least well-deserved of him back for LA Confidential. Powerful perfomances, well developed story with suspensful buildup of what our main character pieces together little by little makes this a must see.


Young Edgar, called Sweetie by his mother, lives on a beautiful French estate with extensive gardens. His father is a successful film producer, his mother is at a bit of a loose end. Edgar is not very interested in his parents, only in the garden. With Lucas, the estate's gardener, he tends the flowers that bloom abundantly, disguising the aridity of the family's relationships.

Lili, Sweetie's mother, has decided to adopt a third-world child. She tells Edgar this the day before she and husband Hughes depart to Peru to pick up the infant. Hughes is hoping that a five year old Incan will behave more like a son than the garden-obsessed, hot-headed Edgar. Unable to understand his son, Hughes has fallen into the habit of beating him mercilessly, leaving Sweetie with the garden, his doctor, Lucas, occasionally his mother, and Roger Hannin, the famous French actor and long-time ally.

When Lili and Hughes arrive home with Anibal, Sweetie is less than impressed at 'the Incan' as he refers to him. But Anibal has hidden strengths and weaknesses, both of which will form bonds between the boys.

Anibal is filled with the sort of moments that Oprah would approve of, from the growing relationship between the two boys to the positive (although not always ethical) older role models provided by Lucas, the doctor and Roger. Set mostly at the family's beautifully designed home, the brittle interaction between plant-loving Sweetie and money-loving Hughes is played out in the set. Hughes and his film friends stay close to the house and pool, looking at the natural world's beauty, but distant from it. More interested in money and prestige than his children, Hughes cannot understand the need for nurturing that comes instinctively to Sweetie. His inability to relate to his children leads to rejection, and near-tragedy.

The child actors are very well chosen, playing children as children, without the post-modern dialogue often put into the mouths of babes by American film makers. Edgar is as bratty as a 10 year old should be. Little Anibal's asthma attacks are even more terrifying since he is portrayed by a child so small that he looks as though the ragged breaths might break him in two. The adults too fit their roles with grace and aplomb, Roger Hannin seems to be on the edge of fulfilling every Gallic stereotype out of a sense of fun before becoming a person as well as a famous actor.

It's not the deepest of films, but there is a great charm that extends well beyond the scenery. I was about to go to bed when I happened to see the opening credits, by the end I was happy to have missed the sleep.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Quynh Anh ft. Marc Lavoine - J'espère

A really awesome video i saw recently. Of course es ist auf französisch. Allez-y, regardez-le et signalez vos commentaires!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Motorcycle Diaries

One of my first insights into spanish cinema, I dunno how i missed out on writing a review for this! There is none to compare this movie with. Certainly one of the the best i've seen.

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES is certainly one of the finest films of the year - a daring, compassionate re-creation of the journey of two young, well-to-do Argentinean lads who leave their privileged positions of biochemist and fourth year Medical student to follow their idea of traveling by motorcycle from their native Buenos Aires down to Patagonia, up through Chile, Peru, Colombia to Venezuela. Sounds like a light hearted Trip Movie, but instead this journey, factually made by one Ernesto (aka 'Che' and 'Fuser') Guevara de la Serna and his close friend Alberto Granado ('Chubby'), is one of the most touching and sensitive passages into self acceptance and awareness of the world as a place where equality of people is a microscopic speck of illusion that is revealed by a carefully constructed script by Jose Rivera based on the diaries of both of these men made during and after their journey. Walter Salles ("Behind the Sun", "Central Station") once again proves himself a director who can infuse his vision of a story with uncomplicated directness of approach, having the sensitivity to allow his well-chosen actors to create wholly believable, three-dimensional characters, whether the actors are the leads or simply minor roles that hold the camera's eye for seconds.
Taken as simply a movie to enjoy, THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES is as beautiful as a National Geographic Magazine feature on the Amazon and the deserted and populated lands of South America. But given his re-creation of Che Guevara's and Alberto Granado's meaningful excursion into manhood this movie goes far beyond entertainment and enters that rarefied arena of psycho biography. Traveling on an old motorcycle, the two lads encounter hunger, accidents, lusting after women at every stop, ingratiating panhandling, and the gradual revelation of the quality of life of the indigenous peoples of South America. They are touched by the plights of the people, the people in turn love the boys, and they eventually spend three weeks living and working in a leprosarium run by the nuns, adding their knowledge of medicine to helping not only the physical needs of the lepers but finding ways to break the psychosocial ostracism that historically curses the 'unclean'. Breaking down these barriers, forming strong relationships with those tending the lepers as well as the lepers themselves, lays the seeds of 'revolution' or Change in the minds of the lads, especially Ernesto or 'Che'. The lepers in this movie, I think are the most emotional and moving characters ever, EVER shown on film. The film does not begin to preach or to make the Che Guevara of Cuban militancy fame a hero: it doesn't have to, as the transformation in the mind of Che is so beautifully subtle. The journey has given him the insight that he must devote himself to changing the inequality and poverty of his America. The events that followed this Motorcycle journey are provided in voice over, black and white footage of people's faces, and a final scene in Havana at the ending of the film. No more need be said. Gael Garcia Bernal gives an incredibly thoughtful, stunning portrayal of Che, saying so much more with his eyes, his body language (especially as he suffers through his own physical demon of asthma attacks), and his perfect embodiment of the spirit of a man who becomes enlightened by the peasants he comes to love. Bernal is already a brilliant actor and a magnetic screen presence, and if he is not nominated for an Oscar for this unique, artful role it will be a major surprise. His is a career to watch! Likewise Rodrigo de la Serna is completely immersed in his role as Alberto and shows the same quality of quiet growth as a character as the movie progresses. ALL of the many extras in this huge cast are memorable: the leper colony abounds with some of the most touching human beings ever captured on film. The camera work, the musical scoring, the obvious commitment on the part of everyone involved in this glorious picture - every aspect of THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES is exactly right. In Spanish with English subtitles

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Motion Pictures are not one, but many genres. There are films poised solely to entertain, others to politicize, and yet others are art.

FREE ZONE is art in a film format. Just as most art, it relies more on senses, feelings, aesthetics, and perceptions. Unfortunately, for the unimaginative and unengaged, it can sometimes be unintelligible.

The film begins with a very long close-up shot of a beautiful young woman (Natalie Portman) copiously crying in the back seat of a car, to the Jewish children's rhyme "Had Gadia". The powerful arrangement in crescendos adds pathos to the girl's exteriorization of heart-felt anguish, and the seamlessly-never-ending stories of increasing consequences and characters (sung in Hebrew but appropriately subtitled) add confusion and exasperation. The sense of utter discomfiture is only compounded by the audience's utmost ignorance of the character, her surroundings, and her motivations. Her despair is our despair, but we, much as she also seems, are lost.

Slowly we learn she is parked by the Kotel, or Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem. We also learn she has just fought with her would-be mother-in-law and broken off her engagement to her Spanish-Israeli fiancé. Thus her personal loss becomes the middle-eastern mourning, and her very personal suffering symbolizes the tears and hopelessness of whole peoples and an entire land.

Immediately one is faced with a choice. To watch the rest of the movie as a narrative, or to perceive the allegory it propounds. To choose the first is to misunderstand it entirely, and miss on the powerful images and senses.

Rebecca (Natalie Portman) is an American who struggles aimlessly through life without a clear sense of identity. Her father is Jewish, but she carries little or no pride in her heritage, ignorant even of her status as a Jew (or not). She feels uneasy in her American home, and in a search for an identity that suits her, she acquires (and loses) a fiancé and a home in Israel. How she reacts to the landscape (so extensively shot, in exquisite details) and to the people (diverse, albeit through quick and superficial contacts) symbolizes the author's perception of the American (as in people or nation) own sense of identity and appreciation of the Middle East.

She joins Hannah (Hanna Laslo), a Russian-Israeli middle-aged woman whose life stories unfold piecemeal as a symbolical-historical window on the Israeli nation, on a trip to the Jordanian free trade zone on a mission for personal and familial financial salvation. Her determination and her biases (often even callousness) are obviously shaped by her pressing needs and her clear life trajectory, as evidenced by the unusually thorough (as opposed to the other characters) exposition of her past. Her reactions to her American travel mate, the obstacles in her quest, and the eventual Palestinian they meet clearly embody the Israeli national persona, dreams, fears, and strengths.

The Palestinian our heroes meet is Leila (Hiam Abbass), whose family present as Hannah's possible salvation (as in the money her husband owes her) or damnation (as in the fall-out from the misguided actions of her rebellious and contentious son). Torn between her loyalties to her own family and her duties toward this Jewish woman, she joins the other women in their quest for redemption.

The women allegorize their respective nations. And yet, their struggles are very personal and transcend national identities and interests. The combination of the three, and how they interact amongst themselves to work out their individual travails, masterfully conveys the powerful emotions in the confluence of tribes, nations, countries, and religions in this most convoluted region. The attention to the national frontiers (what role they play in segregating these peoples) juxtaposed to the more promiscuous exchange amongst the actual peoples (their representational counterparts in the characters) is quite fascinating.

The narrative is non linear, relying mostly on feelings and emotions. The filmography is untraditional (a lot of hand-held camera movements, as if the audience is privy to the story, watching a family road trip video) and experimental (long and confusing, yet dramatic, layering of images and back-plots, creating familiarity with back stories, yet maintaining distance thru the lack of clear focus or images). The plot is mostly allegorical, therefore characters are not really introduced and developed as they are thrust upon the audience (with the implication that one already knows them, or who they represent), played out in short pericopes and less of an overarching story.

The film is beautiful and insightful. If you prefer mass produced Hollywoodean one-size-fit-all entertainment, this is not the movie for you.

Der Untergang (Downfall)

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A truly haunting WWII movie that will remain a classic for years to come. The movie is gonna come up at Sathyam, I heard. The seats shall tremble with this bomber.

"I've got the feeling that I should be angry with this child, this young and oblivious girl. Or that I'm not allowed to forgive her for not seeing the nature of that monster. That she didn't realise what she was doing. And mostly because I've gone so obliviously. Because I wasn't a fanatic Nazi. I could have said in Berlin, "No, I'm not doing that. I don't want to go the Führer's headquarters." But I didn't do that. I was too curious. I didn't realise that fate would lead me somewhere I didn't want to be. But still, I find it hard to forgive myself." -Traudl Junge.

is the third major filmed account of Hitler's final ten days, following in the distant wake of 1973's Hitler: The Last Ten Days and 1981's The Bunker. A superior production to both of the earlier movies, Downfall is a windfall for anyone who, like me, is fascinated by stories from World War II. The first internationally released German production to feature Hitler as a central figure, Oliver Hirschbiegel's film has been criticized in some circles as presenting a portrait of the Fuhrer that is "too sympathetic." In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As portrayed in a powerhouse performance by Bruno Ganz, Hitler comes across as a petty, demented figure who spews bile as he rants and raves. The lone exception is an establishing scene in 1942 (when Hitler chooses a secretary), where he appears almost grandfatherly. Other than that, he is shown to be a conscienceless, hateful madman who believes his people deserve to die because they are no longer fit to live.

Based on the memoirs of Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), and Joachim Fest's Inside Hitler's Bunker, Downfall goes for rigorous historical accuracy. The recreations of a bombed-out Berlin are especially impressive. Like in Stalingrad and the recent The Pianist, Downfall takes us into a realistic replica of a city that has been devastated by countless days of bombings. Small dramas are played out in the streets as the larger one unfolds beneath. Hitler, completely out of control, rants about betrayals by his henchmen (Himmler has gone to the Allies to sue for peace), and tries to place troops that no longer exist. By the end of his life, it's clear that Hitler is no longer in command of anything - neither the country he raised to glory then smashed to ruins nor his own mind.

The most sobering scene in the movie, however, does not feature the Fuhrer. Instead, it centers on the wife of Joseph Goebbels. In a scene lifted out of the history books, she doses her children with a sleeping draught, then, when they are unconscious, she crushes cyanide pills between their teeth. She does this coldly, almost robotically. It's a chilling scene, and, despite its bloodlessness, is difficult to watch. This kind of blind devotion offers evidence of why Hitler was so dangerous at the height of his power. What kind of charisma would it take to convince a mother to murder her children rather than let them live in a world where the Nazi party was dead?

By the time the Russians arrive, the film is essentially over. We see the fates of most of the major players, including Hitler, Goebbels (and his wife), Eva Braun, Junge, and a number of top generals and aides. The life-stories of others (those who survived beyond the fall of the bunker) are related through captions. Downfall never loses its focus by seeking to broaden its scope. This allows us to absorb this one aspect of a humongous tragedy, rather than being bombarded by too much information in a movie whose reach exceeds its grasp.

Sixty years after his death, with nearly all of his confidants and confederates in the grave, Hitler still fascinates students of history. The most malevolent and important man of the 20th century, the likes of the Furher have not been seen since he blew his brains out in the guts of his bunker. Next to Hitler, Osama Bin Laden and Sadaam Hussein are in nursery school. Movies about the late dictator often disappoint because directors are wary of the subject matter; Hirschbiegel pushes forward, telling his story without varnish. The result is a movie whose forcefulness kept me thinking about the subject and its treatment long after the lights had returned to the theater. Downfall and Bruno Ganz are deserving of Oscars they will not get (although Downfall was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film). However, the limited U.S. release by Newmarket Films will allow anyone with an interest to have an opportunity to see one of the most finely-crafted World War II films ever made.


1633. Galileo is a recognized and supported scientist. But at the same time the princes and the men of the church, of which the pope Urbain VIII himself are impassioned like so many others by the works of the scientist. But it is precisely this work and the theories which it defends, judged the heretics of the Church, who summon Galileo to appear before the Enquiry. Vis-a-vis his indicters, Galileo will have, against the danger of his own life, to expose his theories, by proving that his discoveries are not incompatible with the idea of God, without disavowto his convictions of man and science.

The Dialogues, Galileo's masterpiece, were published in 1632 with the approval of Catholic censors. It was applauded by intellectuals but nevertheless aroused the Church's ire. Despite his continued insistence that his work in the area was purely theoretical, despite his strict following of the church protocol for publication of works (which required prior examination by church censors and subsequent permission), and despite his close friendship with the Pope (who presided throughout the ordeal), Galileo was summoned to trial before the Roman Inquisition in 1633. During this interrogation Galileo stated that he did not defend the Copernican theory. A scientific and theologic fight began between Galileo and his three prosecutors. Galileo had the bigest difficulties to hide he deeply considered the Copernic model could be the good one. The church, leaded by dogma, went on arguing about his convictions. The trial lasted several monthes. The Inquisition held the final hearing on Galileo, who was then 69 years old and pleaded for mercy, pointing to his "regrettable state of physical unwellness". Threatening him with torture, imprisonment, and death on the stake, the show trial forced Galileo to "abjure, curse and detest" his work and to promise to denounce others who held his prior viewpoint. Galileo was sentenced to prison, but because of his advanced age and Church politics the sentence was commuted to house arrest at his villas in Arcetri and Florence. Leaving the trial, Galileo, old and exhausted, whispered the famous sentence: "Eppur si muove" (But it does move!).

John and Jane

I've recently developed a sense of pity for many of my friends who work in call centers. As far as I can see, this one is the most sickening jobs in the world. You get paid a nice lump, but underneath that, you get a suction needle stuck right into your nerves, your mind, your psyche. Everything about the job reeks of an unhappy career, starting with a new name, an alias for you, well in this case:John and Jane. Directed by Ashim Ahluwalia.

Chances are that if you live in the West and you call an airline or credit card company your call will be routed to a call centre in India. The agents who work there are the subjects of a new film called 'John & Jane'.

This film profiles six agents working in a Mumbai call centre whom we see at home and at work, where they spend hours on the phone talking to customers in America.

The film is an observational study of a new breed of workers and it looks at their lives, not the facts and figures that detail call centre costs and productivity

The idea of John and Jane is based on the aliases these characters have to have. Everyone has to have an American name that an American caller would feel comfortable with, so when you first join a call centre you get asked to pick an alias and that becomes your American identity.

The film is divided into three parts - the first two characters don't really like the job and Sidney actually wants to be a Bollywood dancer. He doesn't really want to be working the call centre; his English isn't really very good, so he's perpetually getting the phone slammed down on him. He's just disgusted with the job and he wants to be doing something very different, whereas the second set of characters and the last set of characters are actually getting more and more into the American universe.

Some of the workers profiled in the film feel used and abused, and call centres have been called modern day sweatshops. The productivity of the workers is aggressively monitored and the workers also have to tolerate racial abuse from American and British callers. The film shows lifts the veil on some of these less pleasant aspects of the job.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Bocelli, Andrea - Amore

Hey, this ain't any kinda movie, well for a change i thought why not...
If ever you ask me who has got the most beautiful voice in the world, well the answer would be Bocelli straight away. He ranks very high among the most sought after professional opera singers, writers and music producers in the world alongside legends like that of Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland. Born on the 22nd of September, 1958, Bocelli is basically Italian, but how many languages he sings in, i never really managed to find out! Bocelli was born with congenital glaucoma, and was blinded at the age of 12 by a cerebral hemorrhage, which he suffered when hit on the head playing football.
The first time I listened to his voice was over a cheap audio casette which i played in my car, some four years back. Lemme see, it was a Grammy nominees compilation. Some nice songs were playin. Then came Sogno, and thats it - I was so stunned by the quality of his voice over all that static hiss and the traffic at Usman road, T.Nagar that i couldn't drive properly and my car went into fits, well atleast until the voice ebbed away finally - I never dared to turn it off!
His albums include
  • Romanza (1996)
  • Aria - The Opera Album (1997)
  • Hymn for the World (1997)
  • II Mare Calmo Della Sera (1998)
  • Viaggo Italiano (1998)
  • Bocelli (1998)
  • Hymn for the World 2 (1998)
  • Sogno (1999)
  • Sacred Arias (1999)
  • Verdi (2000)
  • La bohème (2000)
  • Cieli di Toscana (2001)
  • Sentimento (2002)
  • Tosca (2003)
  • Il trovatore (2004)
  • Andrea (2004)
  • Werther (2005)
His most recent album, Amore has been released and to any one who buys a copy, i can easily bet he/she would fall in love with his voice, 30 seconds into the very first song itself!
Do get hold of his CD, or if you are thrifty enough like me, get the torrent from here and download it. Its a healthy torrent, enjoy!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Zi Hudie (Chinese)

Most non-Chinese people know Zhang Ziyi from her appearances in the martial-arts movies “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Hero”, and “House of Flying Daggers”. However, Zhang Ziyi is not just an action star. In fact, she doesn’t know any martial arts; she relies on her training as a ballet dancer in order to perform martial-arts choreography. Zhang Ziyi has also appeared in serious dramatic pieces such as “The Road Home” and “Purple Butterfly”. Although she appeared in “Rush Hour 2”, Zhang’s first lead role in an English-language production was in “Memoirs of a Geisha”.

Director Lou Ye received widespread praise for “Suzhou River”, so “Purple Butterfly” was accepted as a Cannes entry. However, “Purple Butterfly” was widely despised, so its chances of getting a decent theatrical release in the U.S. were slim. In fact, even though I wanted to see it, I wasn’t even aware that the DVD had been released until I saw it on a shelf at my local Blockbuster video store. (“Purple Butterfly” is a direct translation of the movie’s Chinese title, “Zi Hudie”.)

Yes, I admit that I wanted to see “Purple Butterfly” because of Zhang Ziyi and not because of the director or what I knew of the story. However, Zhang doesn’t look like she does in her martial-arts efforts. Since martial-arts movies are fantasies, heroines always look very pretty, even after they’ve been in fights. In “Purple Butterfly”, Zhang doesn’t seem to wear any make-up, and her completely de-glamorized appearance will be a shock to viewers expecting another camera-in-love-with-the-actress’s-face fest.

The movie begins in Manchuria during the 1920s. The Chinese Ding Hui (Zhang Ziyi) dates the Japanese Itami (Toru Nakamura). During this period, the Japanese occupied much of northern China. Ding Hui’s brother doesn’t really object to her dating a Japanese man, but after a Japanese fanatic kills her brother, Ding Hui heads to Shanghai to join an anti-Japanese faction. The title refers to a purple butterfly pin on a suit jacket. A lot of reviewers call Ding Hui’s anti-Japanese group as the Purple Butterfly faction, though I don’t recall the anti-Japanese activists referring to themselves with that term.

Ding Hui and Itami run into each other in Shanghai after he is dispatched there as a spy. They use each other to achieve their objectives, though Itami hopes that Ding Hui will go to Japan with him. However, Ding Hui no longer loves Itami. The movie ends with a montage of newsreel footage that shows what the Japanese did in Shanghai and in Nanjing during World War II.

The script introduces secondary characters that are affected by Ding Hui and Itami’s activities. Szeto (Liu Ye) and his girlfriend (Li Bingbing), a telephone switchboard operator, happen to be at a train station when anti-Japanese and Japanese operatives engage in a gunfight. Szeto’s girlfriend is killed in the crossfire, which causes Szeto much emotional anguish. Since the Japanese think that Szeto is an anti-Japanese activist, he gets tortured for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, too. The movie’s focus on Szeto and his girlfriend echoes Krzysztof Kieslowski’s obsession with coincidence in “The Double Life of Veronique” and the “Three Colors” trilogy. By the movie’s climax, however, Szeto decides to take matters into his own hands rather than letting others victimize him over and over again.

In post-production, the director crafted a movie that doubles back upon itself a few times. However, despite the non-linearity of some sequences, you actually know what happens to each character. What could confuse a viewer is trying to figure out the character’s motivations. A lot of people think that Ding Hui still loves Itami when they’re in Shanghai. I, on the other hand, think that Ding Hui hates Itami after her brother’s murder. In the geopolitical scheme of things, this is really the only acceptable conclusion.

On a technical level, the movie is assembled with much care and artistry. You’ll need to adjust to the jittery camerawork and rapid editing, though the visual style is a big part of what makes the movie so satisfying to watch. In fact, the cinematography is first-rate; the image compositions and generally moody atmosphere reminded most viewers of Wong Kar-wai. Since it’s fashionable to praise Wong Kar-wai, comparisons between “Purple Butterfly” and “In the Mood for Love” tend to paint Lou Ye’s movie as inferior. Really, though, “Purple Butterfly” is as good as most of Wong’s movies.

The use of slow-motion cinematography coupled with mournful music has become a standard fixture in contemporary Chinese-language cinema. (See Tony Leung at the end of “Infernal Affairs”.) “Purple Butterfly” has these moments, too. This sort of moviemaking is undeniably affecting, but one has to wonder if directors should be encouraged in this direction. After all, do we really want slo-mo death accompanied by mellifluous melodies to inspire creativity?

“Purple Butterfly” is not at all the confusing mess that so many reviewers have said it is. In fact, it has a rather simple story. That being said, the storytelling methods are fanciful and atmospheric. Oddly, the movie has a Romantic (as in the art movement and not love) view of the world even though the director ultimately wants to condemn Japan’s imperialist past. This makes the movie feel elegiac for two reasons, one of them unnecessary. The first--the necessary--reason is feeling sad about characters caught in the middle of others’ violence. The second--the unnecessary--reason is feeling sad that two people can’t love each other because they’re from opposite sides in a war. Still, Zhang Ziyi’s character got it right when she realized that fighting the Japanese was more important than her personal happiness.