Wednesday, March 24, 2010

LSD: Love, Sex aur Dhokha

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It actually makes sense. It really does. Less than two hours of video footage that could have been shot by you or me, with a digital camera, a bunch of unknown, but terrific acting talent, and a plausible plotline could've cumulatively turned out into L, S aur D, but for one small glitch. Neither of us is Dibakar Bannerjee.
I don't get cozy with Indian directors too well. In fact, I think they're overrated. Except for ppl like Anurag Kashyap, and maybe even Vishal Bhadardwaj, they all fall into a category where there isn't more than one to call them categories. This is different. This ain't blockbuster material. This ain't business. This is definitely not Filmfare. It's Rahul's film and the camera's started rolling long back, yaar. Cut!
That's the way the first of three inter-connected films in LSD begins: with a loverboy Rahul, a film-school student in his final year trying to piece together his diploma-film. His training has evidently made another über-stereotype director out of him, making him envision scenes of heroic splendour, song-action sequences, and what not. And then he enrols "simran", his heroine and the girl of his dreams. They both fall madly in filmy-love. And take things into their hands, the filmy way, and drive their filmy bandwagon straight into the bloody reality.
The second film switches on when a CCTV camera is installed by Adarsh, a jobless know-all who turns his expertise into his own voyeuristic tool. Four security cameras in a convenience store might not look too intimidating, even harmless. But throw in a pretty, sensible and wary girl and our debt-ridden Adarsh into a night-shift, and things ought to get passionate and tangly. This was the premise of the controversial sex-scene which was promptly blurred by big-daddy CBFC. But it isn't the nudity that shocks us, it's actually the reality of it which knocks us flat. I mean come on, how many times have we seen two actors simulating lovemaking? And I'm talkng of hindi films alone here. Everytime it's made to look like a glamourous cocktail onscreen. But this is where parents should be yelled at for bringing their kids to watch this film. It's the proper deal, if not the real deal. With all the humping the way it's meant to be, Dibakar makes it very clear that his camera attains a personality of its own.
Story three. You (yes, you) literally get beaten by a broomstick wielding lady as you run away from a failed sting operation. You're the sting. Rakesh is your reporter. And he's desperate. Enter Naina in a very hilarious suicide attempt. She's on a do-or-die vendetta against Loki Local, a popular bhangra popstar. A new sting is born.
All through these three films, characters are linked with one another, the third film being the weakest in connection with the other two. But that's not what sets apart LSD. It's the reason for the presence of a camera on the scene. In the first film, both the protagonists are film-school students, so a camera finds a natural presence. Second and third film, we don't see the story throug anything other than cctv or spycam footage. The director has effectively made a behind-the-scenes video on the same film which we see, thereby making the rest of the crew seem non-existent. The camera crew is actually the actors themselves. They set the cameras and carry the cameras with them. Now, how many films have attempted that?
Dibakar Bannerjee will certainly go places with this innovative experiment of the medium, and boy what a ride it's turned out!

By Fazil

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)

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The Secret in Their Eyes fell under my radar after watching the Oscar nominations for 2009. I had watched A Prophet and The White Ribbon and I was interested in seeing how this rather unknown movie competed with these two masterworks.

Juan José Campanella's movie follows Benjamín Esposito's investigation of the rape and murder of a 23-year-old schoolteacher. It's a case that haunts him for decades and comes to define his existence. The movie is temporally fragmented, so the narrative jumps from past to present constantly. I should commend the makeup department for its ability to portray the ageing of actors Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago and Javier Godino. Without good makeup, this movie would have fallen apart quickly.

Esposito's investigation takes many turns, meets opposition several times, comes to halts several times in the course of his life, ruins his personal life, and seems like it will never be solved. At the age of retirement he begins reminiscing about it and starts writing a novel based on the event.

This movie addresses many topics at the same time: first of all, the craft of fiction, as Esposito struggles to make sense of the events in order to write his novel. But through this inner journey, the movie also discusses the importance of memory. It also explores the danger of obsession, as Esposito comes to realise that decades working on the case has only left him with a lonely, empty life.

All these ruminations are disguised as a crime movie, a rather elegant one at that. The movie plays with genre a few times, the best one being that it reveals who the murderer is before the end of the first hour. By doing this the movie introduces a more interesting idea: what to do with a criminal who's politically untouchable? Is vigilantism ever justified? At times I reminded myself of Mystic River, which posed similar questions, although the stories are totally different.

Ricardo Darín gives a good performance; in fact I have little to complain about the performances in the movie, but Darín stood out as the passionate, tireless investigator. Pablo Rago, who plays the victim's husband, also impressed me for his ability to portray loss so well.

Since I watched this movie because of A Prophet and The White Ribbon, I have to ask myself: is it as good as those two? No, not by a long chance. The Secret of Her Eyes has quality and good ideas, but I never felt I was watching more than a good movie, whereas I consider the other two masterworks. It's worth watching, but it's hardly the masterpiece everyone is saying it is.

On a final note, if this movie deserved another Oscar nomination, It should be for Federico Jusid's score, whose beauty will no doubt get him more exposure soon.

By Eumenides_0 from Portugal

XXY

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Adapted from a short story by Sergio Bizzio, XXY is the story of Alex (Inés Efron), a fifteen year old intersexual born with genitalia characteristic of both male and female. Argentine director Lucia Puenzo, daughter of Luis Puenzo who directed The Official Story, though tackling a delicate subject has avoided sensationalism while crafting a deeply touching and poignant coming of age story about the pain of growing up without truly knowing who you are. Though minimal amounts of dialog are used and there are long periods of silence, XXY does not come across as being pretentious or strained. Rather it captures the uncertainty and awkwardness of teens with authenticity and awareness.

Alex's father Kraken (Ricardo Darin) is a marine biologist who wants to protect his daughter/son from the stares and questions of society and moves the family to a remote seaside residence in Uruguay. Now that Alex has become a teen, he wants to give her the right to choose whether to lead her life as a man or a woman while emphasizing that he loves her unconditionally and thinks she is "perfect" exactly the way she is and the way she is not. Alex seems to have made her choice by stopping the hormones that have kept her female but her mother Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli) pressures her to decide about surgery by inviting friends Ramiro and Erika (German Palacios and Carolina Pelleritti) from Buenos Aires to stay with them, one of whom is a doctor who specializes in plastic surgery, her invitation being on the pretext that she wants Ramiro to get to know Alex.

Along for the ride is their shy teenage son Alvaro, brilliantly portrayed by Martin Piroyansky who knows nothing of Alex's condition and has some sexual issues of his own. What is not anticipated, however, is that Alex and Alvaro will form an immediate emotional connection, though neither will admit it to the other, and in a beautifully controlled scene, have a sexual encounter with Alex revealing herself by playing the male role. Though the encounter was witnessed by her father, he is not judgmental only perplexed about what his proper role should be in Alex's life, and discusses Alex with a gas station owner who had to make a similar choice in his teens.

Kraken's emotional support stands in sharp contrast with Ramiro. In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in a long time, Ramiro is unspeakably cruel to Alvaro, telling him that he lacks talent and that, with dripping irony, he is glad he is attracted to Alex since he was beginning to think he was gay. Water symbolism runs throughout the film – Kraken, who is named after a mythological sea monster, rescues turtles from poachers and removes their shell to discover their sex. Alex has an aquarium filled with hermaphroditic clownfish and a collection of dolls with attached penises attached. None of this symbolism, however, adds much to a story that is told with subtlety and great sensitivity.

Winner of the Critics Week Grand Circle Award at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, XXY features an extraordinary performance by Inés Efron who manages to build empathy for her character while making Alex a symbol of all adolescents' search for acceptance. Director Lucia Puenzo has said that after reading the short story by Bizzio that she "couldn't get it out of her head". A film of haunting beauty and compassion that says that every human being deserves to be loved for who they are regardless of gender, physical deformity, or sexual orientation, it will also be hard to get out of your head.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Funny Games

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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usAt the onset, I must say that while I watched Funny Games, I found myself victim of two lousy habits I’ve developed while watching films over the years. One, never reading on a movie before watching it. And this means a clean zilch that makes me vulnerable to what is to come, often lending to the clubbed-on-the-head effects that leave me reeling for some time. Secondly, failing to distinguish between cinematic realism and fiction, especially at times when a really good movie drains me of all emotional energy to rollback and clarify the pain and agony that goes through me simply out of timid submission to a storyteller’s magic, into a movie-lover’s cinematic orgasm.
Both these habits have proved helpful in the past, especially at times when movies get so affecting, you’re impassioned by it, ready to tear down any cynicism that is brought before it. Not this time, Michael Haneke  caught me with my pants down in this original 1997 German production. (remade by the man himself in 2008). I do agree that I should have taken precautions and seen the fine print in the wiki page that says “experimental film”, “sadistic violence”. To be truthful, I was lured by the title of the movie thinking that it is what the title literally means, call me stupid.
This was what awaited me: I shall refrain from providing any details about the simple plot, as that is precisely where the movie is at it’s frailest best:
Funny Games; to clarify, is a movie that’s as powerfully affecting as Gaspar Nòe’s Irreversible and maybe even Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. It spurns your spirit, by defeating your conscience, and questioning your emotional stamina. Though what I write here might sound negatively of the movie and especially it’s director it’s not because I hate him now, it’s because I’m genuinely scared of his potential after this. Having watched only The White Ribbon and Cachè before, I was indeed expecting some spooky moments, but not a whole different Genre-altering piece of film-making, one that transcends mere horror and adds extra dollops of terror in heart-pounding proportions, making us feel oppressed but not repulsed.
Haneke spits venom right at the very first opening aerial shot, where beautiful chamber music flowing through Cavalleri, Handel and Mozart in the background mercilessly cut into blast-beat grindcore metal while the credits roll, while all that we see is a happy family heading for a truly relaxing vacation. We’re shown scenes that seem ordinary at first: scenes that speak volumes of horror in our recollections later on. The late Urlich Mühe  and Susanne Lothar are possibly the most terrified-looking on-screen couple that I’ve ever seen. Frank Giering plays a tubby, but dangerous young man, his appearance belying every bit of the twisted freak his character morphs into. And there’s 22 year old Arno Frisch who chills your jaw bone, and produces bowel movements with his calm demeanor. Haneke toys with his viewers by breaking the fourth wall several times and making Frisch address the audience, acknowledging us, even challenging us. He scoffs at us and even bets with us! Rewinding scenes with a remote control to change outcomes, stressing the need for a “feature-film” time-length and disproving the viewer’s predictions…Wow!
Based on my two previous experiences with Haneke, I must say he’s been developing his own style all along. Though his might be seen as similar to Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man) and Béla Tarr (Satantango), the Haneke difference occurs in the viewer’s mind usually after several tens of seconds into every frame. You’re looking at something ordinary, something that shouldn’t BE ordinary; something is seriously wrong with the static movement (or non-movement) that shouldn’t be this ordinary. And you conceive a whole scene that’s happening off screen without even looking at what is happening! That’s precisely when your imagination turns into the devil and creates a custom-made horror enactment out of thin air, one that could be yours and yours exclusively, to freak you out. It could be easy (I daresay) for some filmmakers to try and give the audience a dozen characters, a situation, a plot and let them figure out what it could look like. But Haneke goes further. He cooly leaves even the most defining moments of the plot in our hands and leaves us guessing (the kitchen scene where Paul calmly continues spreading jam and butter on a piece of bread, while the silence is broken with deafening gunshots, shouts and screams in the background literally tore me apart in frustration) Later when we know what has actually happened, it’s feels almost as if the silky-haired, bespectacled Vienna college professor apparates in front of us and smirks “I bet you never came up with THAT, eh!”. Sicko!
I’m really in half a mind to not watch the 2008 U.S remake starring Naomi Watts, Michael Pitt and Tim Roth. Somehow, I love Naomi too much to see her in such a vulnerable character that sweats out so much desperation. (Susanne Lothar had to cry so much, sometimes for more than 20 minutes before Haneke decides to start shooting. This being done in several takes, sometimes more than twenty-five) Someone here needs to prove me wrong. Sadist as it may seem, Haneke explains his true intentions in this interview
Haneke’s nomination this year seems quite overdue. His golden palm winning The White Ribbon focused more on his strength as a picture-perfect cinematographer, while still not leaving us short of breath on the spooky side too. Cannes finally had to bestow the honor that’s eluded him four times before, a journey that began with Funny Games in 1997. If Haneke wins the oscar this year, I think this would be the first time a film would win the Golden Globes, Golden Palm and the Oscar together. No hard feelings to Jacques Audiard (Un Prophete) and the rest of the nominees, but I think the old man deserves an honor worthy of his brilliance. It came as a big surprise when I found a classic such as this one left un-reviewed here on PFC.

By Fazil (at PassionForCinema.com)
To read the original article, click here.

This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by wogma.com and reviewgang.com