Sunday, January 23, 2011

Blue Valentine

“Let’s do this. Let’s be a family.” They exchanged their vows with more than just their eyes when they promised themselves a life filled with love. Neither could have been more earnest and sincere than the other, nor could they be more emotionally bonded together at that moment than what they had shared until then. And this tender moment being a result of an abortion they decided to cancel abruptly, deciding to have the child, would make you touch your heart and say ‘how sweet’. Thus they declared that their mutual love had a lot more meaning to it than just sex and simple-minded affection: a future, and a very promising one both for themselves and their unborn child.
Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) present to you a contemporary modern-day couple from two significant points of their lives, set six years apart, with such a drastic contrast in their character arcs, you can’t help but wonder (and wait for an explanation as to) what could’ve happened in between. In one, we see them nearly middle-aged, with a beautiful little daughter, a quiet home in Pennsylvania, employed and settled well as a ‘perfect family’. In another, we see them six years younger, madly in love, playing with their newfound-bliss with the eagerness and happiness a child could show in a new toy. As the older couple, we slowly discover an alarming distance between the two, a gap that rapidly dawns into light, showing a vapid void that yawns right at the heart of the family, sucking them in, pulling all their efforts into making their family, just that: a family. They dote on their daughter and vent out pent-up emotions that are more about their insecurities, than reasons apparent, even at the slightest chance, like when they get at the opening of the film, as their family dog is found dead. Cutting back across the years, they’ve just met in an old-age home. He’s a laborer in a packing company, and she’s still a student. They fall in love as quickly and as casually as the aged people in the old-age home wither and die. And very soon, we see that they’re quite perfect for each other. She loves his goofy ways, his romantic witticism, and his grand gestures of love. He is in love, simply struck by her beauty, and a staunch romantic, swearing by his love-at-first-sight theory. The two disproportionate parallels are somehow brought into greater clarity when we realize that there really could be no defining point when a relationship could turn for the worse. Little things that make you find a balance within a family might never really be what your partner would have wanted in a marriage at all. They might be as trivial as say.. not putting on a seat-belt when your partner insists, or when talking about a former boyfriend that you met in a liquor store after years, your goofy attitude continuing Into the realms of your parenthood, why even the way you asses your self-worth could make you appear different in the eyes of the person you had loved. In effect, you as a viewer end up filling in the details of the marriage that isn’t apparent, with reminisces of your own life. There’s a difference between considering marriage as the purpose of your life, and viewing it as a passing phase. You can sketch the perfect circle only with a compass-hole in the middle. Dean expected his marriage to be the circle, an end. Cindy on the other hand believed more in the hole that enables the drawing, a means to the end.
They say marriage is not exactly easy, while at the same time bringing in the one factor that would complete your life: companionship. Judging by what the younger Dean and Cindy thought of each other, you could lay down their thoughts, in poetry on a Valentine’s Day I Love You card, except that as an audience for this film, you’d be surprised to see them lost in each other, blinded by puppy-love, before you inter-cut to the future, or from a different perspective, the “future” inter-cutting to the present. Rather than view the two extremes of a relationship from a conjugal point-of-view, trying to link the two, I’d like to see them both as hypotheses of one another. Everything that we see, transpiring between the older couple, in beautiful detail, has an inverse effect on what they share, while they are six years younger. If either one of the timelines could be construed as a ‘what could happen’, or a ‘what could’ve happened’ scenario, then Blue Valentine could probably be an easier film to watch, than what the director wants it to be. I’m not demeaning what he had in mind, but from what I can infer, Derek Cianfrance himself is uncertain about what could’ve transpired between his two brilliantly crafted characters.
With a soundtrack that tugs at your tear-glands, and subliminally beautiful cinematography (even the kinky-“future” honeymoon suite looks fascinatingly imposing and real), Cianfrance brings out the best acting talents that 2010 had to offer. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are both adoringly quirky, while at the same time, puzzlingly detached in beautifully edited time-spans, interwoven tightly, yet not confusingly. It’s easy to make your actors swap between ages 24 and 84, while it’s not that simple when you need to show the difference between 24 and 34. Both these leads portray such stark contrasts in mental maturity, which is impossible to create with special effects and makeup. And to think that half the dialogues in this film were a result of spontaneous improvisation by the actors themselves could not be a surprise, considering the amount of work put in by the director, in preparing his carefully chosen actors for their roles in the script, passing through five dozen drafts and well over twelve years.
To think that this film would make you more wary of relationships is an understatement, yet still an exaggeration. It’s your point-of-view that matters in the end, giving you a biased outlook if you’re a generally sexist person, making you sympathize and take sides with the characters; knowingly acknowledge emotional conflicts and validate them with empathy if you’re in a committed relationship; as someone ‘in search of love’, make you a more wiser human being who has witnessed the worst part of a doomed marriage, or as it affected me, have your heart ripped out and broken into pieces.

By Fazil, for
To read the original article, click here

Friday, January 21, 2011

Looking For Eric

 How could football philosophy morph itself into alleviating the travails of an ageing postman's life, and influence him to asses and take control of a seriously messed-up household and set straight things for once and for good in his life? The answer, to Eric Bishop lies only in one name: Eric Cantona. The king of Manchester football. Eric, the champion from France who infused pride into the most famous football team in the world. Football and relationships work alike, in Cantona's line of vision. And when it does, even a well of despair could sound like fun.
I'm neither an avid follower of league football, nor am I familiar with this football legend known fanatically as simply "Eric". But the innumerable scenes of spectacular goals (and when I say spectacular, I mean REALLY spectacular) certainly would remove all doubts that this simple, honest man is one of football’s greatest legends. Eric Cantona acts himself in the movie with the same gust, passion and arrogance he spews on field while he is at his footballing best.
Eric, our non-footballing protagonist (Steve Evets) is an emotionally withdrawn person. He is a local post-man in Manchester, living with his rebellious step-sons who prefer to remain ensconced in their own, crime-filled, drugged out world. They bring home stuff nicked from somewhere, probably even confiscated by the local crime-boss. Their indifferent attitude towards Eric leave him emotionally dead and withdrawn, so much that even his friends in the post-office despair at his eroded nature, and try various methods to bring some humor into his life. One of them is a hilarious self-hypnosis session they hold when Eric invites them home. He still loves Lily, a beautiful woman he left thirty years ago, as soon as he found that he was a father, when his own father drove him crazy with fear, making him doubt his own parental responsibilities. He prefers to be withdrawn from his wife, even if she's willing for forgive and forget what he's done, and behave like matured people, at least for the sake of their daughter and granddaughter. How is he going to piece all of this together and turn all of this into bringing some happiness into his life?
The answer appears to him one evening as he is smoking weed that he nicks from under the floorboards of his son's bedroom. Eric Cantona comes into his life, as a filament of his imagination. They talk and talk, talk leads to more talk.. And slowly, Eric becomes his life-coach. It might sound contrived that a person can advise himself through something that he himself hallucinates, but what Ken Loach implies here is its not Eric's philosophy which brings him that rush of blood to the head. It's the raw spirit of football which works wonders. Football is the one thing that people passionately hold onto, during these times of political indifferences and cultural difference-of-opinions. For a film about a legendary and iconic footballer it doesn't ram football down the throats of the non-fans. What the film does do is bring up just how important football is for many people, the way it can unite and connect them in a way that has otherwise disappeared in Britain.
Ken Loach brings to you another little gem from the absurdities of the ordinary. He was rewarded with his ninth Golden Palm nomination during the Cannes Film Festival, 2009

Sunday, January 16, 2011


 "Lantana" does not embody a story like most movies; it isn't about anything in particular. It's a movie about characters. Not larger-than-life heroes, but characters who succumb to temptation, cheat on their wives, doubt their spouses, make mistakes and suffer consequences. In other words, "Lantana" is about real people. Normal, imperfect people like all of us. Not that everyone behaves like the characters here, but few films capture transgression with such compassion and sympathy.
Jane (Rachel Blake) is the 'separated' adulterer and probably the stupidest character of this ensemble cast. For someone as middle aged as she is, she's almost embarrassingly inexperienced about men (who knows why she's 'separated'). She has the "one-night-stand that happened twice" with the married man because she appears to think that the man's wife is to blame.
Hahahahahaha! Unfortunately she also doesn't know how to keep female friends-certainly not in her current glow of "anything is possible" (yep, gross stupidity is very possible for her). The second powerhouse actor of Lantana (2001) is the fabulous Kerry Armstrong as Leon's wife Sonja. She still burns with the desire to be a passionate, capable, sexy wife, who is also raising two boys while holding down a job and trying to inject sensuality and fun back into her morose, resentful, uncommunicative, robotic (depressed) husband. She even suspects, as most wives sense, that he is having an affair, just from the abnormal way he reacts to everything. So she cracks open her emotional hope chest to a psychiatrist, Dr Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey).
To our surprise, the psychiatrist herself is on shaky ground. (Never envy anyone else. Chances are, they have their own insoluble problems, no matter who they are. Your problems are yours to keep, they are your own badges of courage. Talking them through is probably the only education or improvement we can hope for: learn from others -YES. Covet their lives? -NO.)
Dr Somers also, for some reason, chooses to waste her entirely non-evident education quizzing her husband about his very sensible attitude to the amount of sex they now have. OK, so they have drawn apart because of their differing personal reactions to the death of their teenage daughter-that much is at least believable. But how can a psychiatrist be so clearly at stage 0 with her own husband? If anything, married people know too much and import too much peripheral baggage with every nuance, every tilt of the head, every tone of voice, etc. They don't have almost teenage conversations like "Do you ever worry that we don't make love very often?" "-No. I mean I don't think about it that much." "Why not?"(in a tone of complete inability to imagine how that might be). "-I love you. Whether we make love three times a week or once a month doesn't really change that ... is this a test?" "No! I was just wondering what you were thinking..." Really? Even after he gave you the answer, you were still only just "wondering"? Pfft, and this woman is supposed to be a shrink! Do any married women out there think this was an intelligent conversation befitting ANY married couple, let alone when one of them is a psychiatrist?!?!
I gotta believe that this conversation really belonged to the other married couple, Paula (Daniela Farinacci) & Nik (Vince "the curls get the girls" Colosimo, from The Wog Boy (1999)), who are at least suitably young.
The psychiatrist and her husband John (Geoffrey Rush) recover their married maturity in the restaurant and in front of the bookshop window that displays her book about Eleanor, their deceased daughter. I don't even mind that they fight the following morning, after having some more of that much-sought-after sex (see? It wasn't worth it. That's called 'perfunctory'), and that their pall of disenchantment/alienation is not lifted. She does seem to be losing her grip in other ways. The ease with which she lets her gay adulterous patient rattle her confidence in herself is very indicative of her mental desperation. Of course her husband was correct that she should refer that pesky patient on, but she stupidly persists because she resents his dismissive tone, and because she paranoiacally imagines the gay patient to be having an affair with her own husband(!!), when all he is is just an immature, arrogant, shallow, offensive bastard. Patrick Phelan, Mr "sex unencumbered by need" (Peter Phelps), just plays her because he senses that she disapproves of his ethics (not his gayness), which, being shallow and arrogant, he doesn't want to give up. Patrick, mate, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. YOU MAY GET IT.
Claudia (Leah Purcell, Leon's female cop partner) is the most together person (because her life remains fairly uncomplicated'-anyone see a lesson in that?). She gives Leon the best advice of his life. It comes as a rhetorical question: "Why are you trying so hard to screw; your life up? You don't know how lucky you are to have the marriage you've got. And you're whizzing all over it." Too true.
What is rewarding is that each and every story arc gets an insightful resolution. Ironically, because of the murder mystery, life goes on. Almost every adult character gets a revelation of their likely future, to show some lessons to the audience. Patrick Phelan gets to suffer in his jocks (quoting Michael Caton from The Castle (1997) here). I don't mind "blowing" the ending to his arc: he gets to stare in envy in the rain at some "ENcumbered need" (there is no such thing as truly unencumbered sex, unless you are non compos mentis-zonked out of your skull at the time; and even then it's doubtful).
Just remember what John confessed, when you see Leon and Sonja dancing, that after you have been caught out in an affair, you are never quite trusted again. Something DOES get broken (watch Sonja's face). It's astonishing to me that people keep walking blindly into that. For what? "Sex unencumbered by need", perhaps? Well, how many affairs turn out that way?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Il Divo

This is one of those movies where you need to be up for active entertainment (read: awake and willing to process data and moments quickly). For the very same reason some people give this movie bad reviews as they are upset that the Director (Sorrentino) does not bother with explaining the history of Italian Politics after World War II and the influence Andreotti had on this. If he had to do such for an unknown to understand the story line, the movie would be one hour longer or it would become a pointless exercise and most likely a tiring one for most of the audience. This movie is made for an Italian speaking audience with knowledge of Italian Politics.
He has been in Italian government in some office or other since the late 1940's. After slipping out of repeated convictions for Mafia ties in the past decade he remains "senator for life" at the age of 90, and he's been credited with helping bring down governments even quite recently. Labelled as the ultimate political survivor, Andreotti was seven times prime minister from 1972 to 1992. He's had a seat in the Italian parliament without interruption since 1946, and has also been Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, and President. In Andreotti's own view (though he walked out on the film) his wife of 60 years Livia (Anna Bonaiuto) and his long-serving secretary Vincenza Enea (Piera Degli Esposti), are both sympathetically portrayed in Il Divo. He really didn't like being shown kissing Mafia boss Toto Riina, which he has said never happened. In the film, Andreotti is most haunted by the Red Brigades' murder of the kidnapped of Aldo Moro, which he might have prevented.
Though Sorrentino's film is in some ways a detailed chronicle of Anreotti's 60-plus years of political power and dubious dealings, with a focus on the seventh government and its aftermath, the film seems more an exercise in style than an impassioned study of politics. The self-consciousness of its frequent uses of loud contrasting music, ceremonial, almost Kabuuki-like set pieces, and slow-motion to muffle scenes of violence are further underlined by the performance of Toni Servillo, who accurately, perhaps too accuately, mimics Andreotti's look, his hunched posture, even his oddly turned-down ears, and his puppet-like mannerisms. Staring forward, neck rigid, he keeps his arms close to his body and his hands turned inward and peers expressionlessly out of his big eyeglasses. He walks across the floor in quick tiny steps like some 18th-century Japanese court lady. There is no attempt by director or principal actor to charm or to involve. It seems Sorrentino, with Servillo's diligent collaboration, is laughing not only at Andreotti and at Italian politics, but at us.
Il Divo is soulless and cynical, but it is so stylish that it's bound to be remembered. It's some kind of ultimate statement of the essence of the slick, heavily-guarded world of Italian political corruption. In its own special, magisterially mean-spirited and pessimistic way it's an instant classic.
In this film, Andreotti, who has been referred to as "Il divo Giulio" ("The God Giulio," referencing the Roman Empire's deification of Julius Caesar), and by monikers like "Beelzebub," "The Fox," "The Black Pope," "The Prince of Darkness," and "The Hunchback," is a queer, nerdy, mummified-looking creature who hardly ever changes expression or cracks a smile. His rigid gestures and the odd commentary of his group of primary supporters, themselves all provided with gangster-style nicknames, lead to a series of scenes that suggest politics as caricatural facade, as almost pure ritual, with time out on occasion for jokes, self-pity, and cruelty to others. You won't hear constituents mentioned in this movie, though when somebody says another politician prays to God but he prays to the priest, Andreotti answers: "Priests vote. God doesn't." Politics is everything to him, and politics means the pursuit of power.
For a non-Italian the details of various moments from the Aldo Moro kidnapping and all the terrorism of the Brigate Rosse of the 1970's to the 1990 Mafia trials may be pretty confusing. It's not that the filmmakers don't care; they're primarily talking to an Italian audience. But even for such an audience, they're keeping an ironic distance.
The facade never cracks. In one scene, typically staring straight forward, Andreotti delivers an impassioned speech of self-defense, raising his voice almost to a shout at the end, but without moving a muscle of his face. Servillo is a noted man of the theater in Italy and his whole performance is a chilly tour de force that inspires awe without giving much pleasure. Andreotti in this soliloquy--which highlights the film's often solipsistic feel--argues that a leader must manipulate evil in order to maintain good. This may fit in with the evidence that he collaborated with the Mafia, and yet at times was severe in repressing it.
In life as in this film Andreotti has compensated for what may be the lack of visible humanity by being a wit, and Il Divo crams as many of the famous battute or one-lineers into scenes as it can. One was "the trouble with the Pope is that he doesn't know the Vatican." Another: "They blame me for everything, except the Punic wars." "Signor Andreotti, how do you keep your conscience clean?" he was once asked. "I never use it," he replied. Other bons mots among many: "The trouble with the Red Brigades is they're too serious," and "Power is fatiguing only to those who don't have it." The world of Italian politics is baffling to the outsider. Andreotti's cool detachment and wit and this film's stylized cynicism may be the best approach to its deviousness and complexity.
Last year Servillo also played one of the main characters in Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah, where he's an out-and-out Mafia functionary. Gomorrah won Cannes' number-two award (just below the Golden Palm) the Grand Prize, last year, which given Il Divo's Jury Prize prompted declarations of a rebirth of Italian cinema in the making. Non-Italians like Mafia movies; Italians are sick of them, and might have wished for patriotic reasons that their best filmmakers had won applause by turning to some other subject matter. Both these films are cold, detached, and analytical. Maybe they mean Italians are getting serious about their own film industry and want to look the country's ugliest aspects right in the eye. But don't look for hope here. A great cinema requires more humanity than this.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How I Ended This Summer

 It's hard to put an adjective to madness when you're stuck in the Arctic Circle in almost near-nihilistic isolation. It's even worse when the only company you have under such circumstances is that of a colleague in the form of an imaginary demon. And when the nightmare leads you into inadvertent carelessness, and panic-stricken madness, your imagination tends to manifest it's own series of consequences, something that only intense isolation could create. And to make a movie that purposefully make you feel for the characters and think like them, it is essential that the viewer experiences at-least a fraction of that ennui and numbness of two men isolated at a meteorological station on an Arctic island.
Aleksei Popogrebsky somehow doesn't delve into details, refraining from intricacies where the only details visible are as little as the specks of vegetation amidst a sea of rock, snow and ice. Pavel, a radiologist has been assigned for some seasonal work on at a polar station, where Sergei, a veteran at his job immediately sees the foolish, immature carelessness in the new recruit. Stuck with each other, this unlikely duo amble along days and weeks together, with nothing but curt, but polite conversation, mostly official stuff. Days and nights don't have visual cues in this environment. It's sunny all throughout, for six months of the year, and dark for another six. The men seem to be monitoring radioactivity on the island. What lies buried there and what they are meant to do should these readings spike is never disclosed. The only other "person" they correspond to is a curt, tingy voice, at the other end of a frequency wave. Sergei, being older and experienced, involves himself deeply in his hobby of catching and drying trout whenever he can, while Pavel, understandably bored out of his mind only has his secret stash of chocolates, video games and his mp3 player for company. Somehow for Pavel, these past-time activities turn into distractions at work, allowing him to screw up even the most simplest tasks.
The movie's great puzzlement though is its dramatic raison d'etre, a decision Pavel makes seemingly without purpose or motivation. While Sergei goes fishing, somewhat foolishly leaving Pavel in charge, an urgent message comes through that Sergei's wife and child have been in a terrible accident. They may even be dead. But Pavel never tells Sergei about this message when he returns. Let's repeat this: Pavel never tells Sergei.
Maybe it has something to do with Pavel oversleeping, missing a regular reading, then falsifying the logs. Or maybe Pavel is just scared of Sergei. Whatever the case, he soon has reason to be scared since one lie compounds another to keep the cover-up going.

But where is the drama here? One character is terrified of his own shadow while the other is completely oblivious to the situation. When Sergei does learn the truth -- with the movie nearly two-thirds complete -- tension finally enters the scene as Pavel flees the station but knows he won't last long in that hostile environment without food, warmth or shelter.
Maybe the whole film is an expose of video games and how they cause the young to view the world as one of hunter and prey.Dobrygin never is able to make sense of his nervous character, but Puskepalis' even-keeled performance could have anchored the drama were he not absent for long stretches.
Pavel Kostomarov's cinematography is the movie's one triumph. He doesn't just capture the desolation and weird beauty of the frozen landscape, he makes it play visual tricks on the eye, like mirages in the desert, that fool you into thinking the place is a living, breathing menace.

Visually and stylistically film is flawless. Cinematography with it's slow-pacing, static long shots and scenic wild nature shots is adorable. Atmosphere, when time seems ticking slower and cold wind awaits for you from another side of the door, is on the good level too. And as a native-speaker, I can say that dialogue-lines are also pretty decent. Polar station as a place is just a cause for examination of human communication (so-called "chemistry") in isolated space. Subject deals with responsibility, instinct of self-preservation, influence of isolated space to human psychics and importance of experience.