Sunday, November 15, 2009


Director: Amit Dutta

Country: India

Language: Hindi

A village sleeps in the wee hours of the morning. A half asleep, half awake boy has dreams about an ascetic in a black coat, hallucinatory images of his village touching upon the history of the place, his ancestors and his childhood.

At the first viewing, Dutta's film may come across as pure visuals. He uses a vast array of visual techniques like constant change in focus, oscillatory camera shots, frequent jump cuts, almost obscene bird's eye view shots and such. His camera meanders through the village, exploring historical sites, ruins and the greenery in search of untold stories, often using walls, pillars, windows and other such structures as lenses. The colors are so lush that one can almost feel them, smear their hands in them.

But on successive viewings, if one can manage to see beyond the images, only then does the film become totally comprehendible. After all what are only images without the sounds associated, without the stories behind them? History and images cannot exist without each other. As the boy's dreams go on from being weird to weirder, the narration helps us connect the history of the village to the numerous mythological and folklore references. The film's defining moment comes when camera moves up a building, overlooking dark windows, sterile walls, which look like hiding stories of their own, to the terrace where an old man sleeps and we hear the narrator saying "Father once told me about all this in detail. In my conscious state, I find all these tales nonsensical. Only in my dreams are their meanings truly understood." This film is all about the parallel between history and dreams. Because, as the narrator reallizes, all history is but a dream as we see it and put the pieces together in our subconscious.
This would be my most favorite Indian film for some time now.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Director: Anand Gandhi and Khushboo Ranka.

Country: India

Language: Hindi

This is a short film of 35 minutes duration that deals with the different aspects of human life. It comprises of five seemingly disjoint vignettes titled "hunger", "trade", "love", "death" and "enlightenment". And at the end every story gets connected as everything falls into their place in the greater schemes of the universe. All the incidents, all the characters become a part of the continuum. Not that of space, not that of time. But of life, in general. The camerawork is awesome, the music very fitting to the theme, the script is very witty and hilarious at times, touching at others. From the opening scene to the closing scene, every frame of this short film oozes brilliance. This just might be the best short I have seen till date. Even if its not, it is the most moving one for sure.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

301, 302(1995)

Director: Cheol-su Park

Language: Korean

Park's film centers around two women who live in apartments 301 and 302 of the same building. Both are single, obsessed with something or the other, and alone. One day 302 goes missing and a Police Detective comes looking for her. Thats about all that happens.

The central themes of the film are the two most basic necessities of human life, food and sex. As the film opens we see a little girl talking enthusiastically about all the vegetables, cereals, fruits in her mom's kitchen. She chops vegetables as she talks. And then another little girl who talks coldly about the cold meat in her mom's freezer. We immediately know who they are. The two women meet when they move into neighboring apartments. 301 is plump, happy, spends all her day cooking different delicacies. While 302 is anorexic, depressed, cannot eat a morsel to save her life. Its almost as if they are incomplete without each other. Both their lives revolve around food. For one food is life, for the other its hell. And for both, the obsessions have their roots back in their sexual experiences. So when one goes missing, the viewer can see the climax coming miles away. But still, Park's excellent direction, his to and fro jumping around in the timeline, makes the viewer wait. In anticipation. And at the end when they truly complete each other, the viewer cannot help feeling awestruck. Or even feel like vomitting. This film is almost "The double life of Veronique" made by Takashi Miike. One has to watch it to know that even a mundane activity like eating can be made so revolting, almost obscene. Like bad sex. And all the credit to the cinematography for achieving this. Very interesting film, definitely worth a watch. But not quite before a wholehearted meal, if you know what I mean.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

La Cienaga(2001)

English title: The swamp

Director: Lucrecia Martel

Language: Spanish

Two cousin sisters struggle with their respective families in the unbearable heat and humidity of an Argentinian summer. Children go hunting, people get drunk, people get hurt, the Virgin appears and still the two families get sucked into the swamp that is their life with each passing day.
From the very first shot till the last, this film is all about the visuals. As the credits roll, the film opens with one of the most amazing opening sequences ever. The camera hovers around a poolside. We see middle-aged people with wrinkled skin, on a drinking spree. Their hands tremble, their words muttered, the stealthy camera shows us a perfect picture of the typical bourgeoisie hedonism in the present Argentinian society and thus sets up the mood for the whole film. Throughout the entire film, the camera moves around with utmost stealth, almost like a voyeur. The children of the two family spend their days by the pool or hunting in the forest or sleeping with the maid or even each other. There's always an anticipation of sexual escapades but it is always overcome by violence. The children get into fights, accidents and hurt themselves. No one around seems to be normal except a little boy and the maid. Interestingly, both of them seem to be confined within abnormality. Every frame suggests that confinement, every shot prepares us for something bad to happen to the normal people. The director uses her camera to take us almost into the minds of the characters. Sometimes, the close up shots are so close that you might just hear the characters think. She makes use of the sounds in a regular household as well as the various silences to suggest the fate of the characters. Apart from the physicality of the whole scenario, we see no one answering the telephone throughout the film and the Virgin only appearing before the poor Indians, thus emphasizing the faithlessness and lack of communication amidst the class differences in the Argentinian society. The mostly amateur cast puts in a strong performance within a seemingly erratic but indeed very tightly bound screenplay. But what really makes this film work is the excellent cinematography. The director says almost everything through the empty spaces, the silences and the few recurring motifs. If not for anything else, this film should be a must watch for an extensive lesson in Mise-en-scène.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Charlotte et Véronique, ou Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick(1959)

English title: Charlotte and Veronica or All the boys are called Patrick

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Language: French

JLG's first film as a director is a delightful comic short about two girls who set up a date with the same guy on two different days and later find him going out on a date with a third girl. Its perhaps the only JLG film that has a story written by someone else. And when that someone is none other than Eric Rohmer, it shows in every frame of the film. There are no typical JLG trickeries in the film, except maybe for the music and the Chaplinesque portrayal of the protagonists. Instead, the charm, the wit, its all Rohmer. Nevertheless, a very enjoyable film.

Friday, May 1, 2009

La double vie de Veronique(1991)

English Title: The double life of Veronique

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Language: Polish, French

The much famed director of the Three colors trilogy, in this film, takes us on a peculiar journey that constantly shifts between the erotic and the melancholy. It is really one of those films that hands over a puzzle to the viewer. How he solves it is how he sees the film.
This is essentially the story of Weronicka, a Polish girl and Veronique, a French girl, who seems to have much more than physical appearance in common. But Kieslowski, from the opening scene makes it clear that the surface hides many a haunting images. As the film opens, little Weronicka looks at the sky and sees the beautiful stars while the little Veronique only sees the falling leaves. Then we see a grown up Weronicka waking up from a deep sleep just because she feels someone is out there, with her, always. She is almost an ascetic, almost renouncing everything material. Her relation with her father, her aunt or her lover is almost superficially loving. Her only passion seems to be music which she takes up inspite of a heart condition and dies on stage. And at the same time, Veronique feels an urge to let go of her musical aspirations as she feels something has gone amiss from her life. As the story shifts to her, we understand she is a very earthy human, very much tied in the bonds of humane life. She cares for her father, falls in love with strangers. But whatever she does, the very passion of her nature is imminent. In other words, she completes Weronicka.
Kieslowski's use of music at times gives the film the feel of a haunted supernatural story, at other times the music transforms the film into sheer poetry. He successfully draws parallels between the simultaneous lives of the two girls. The shot where Veronique rushes into a bus, clicking pictures of Weronicka standing, marooned, on a crowded square or the shot where Veronique plays with a puppet, while another lies silently on the table, makes up the mood of the entire film. A huge part of the film is almost a puppet show with Kieslowski playing around with Veronique as the dead Weronicka lies in her grave. And his show becomes all the more interesting due to the puppet he finds in Irene Jacob. She, with her wide array of ever changing expressions, dreamy and almost lost eyes, make Weronicka and Veronique who they were supposed to be. She is quiet for most of the part yet so vocal. Kieslowski is a clever director. He never brings his story to any conclusion. He just leaves it hanging in there, waiting for the viewers to grasp it. Watching this beautiful piece of work is almost like becoming a part of it, where the cinema and the viewer lead a double life, where they make each other complete.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mon Oncle Antoine(1971)

English title: My uncle Antoine.

Country: Canada

Language: French

Its a chilly and snow filled december in Quebec. A father leaves his children and wife behind to find work. An undertaker raises a child as his own. An employee has secret liaisons with the wife of his employer. A mother sees her son die. A whole town basks in the joys of christmas and fights the hardships of daily life. And a little boy watches with his big, blue, innocent eyes. We watch through him. We watch with him. And we watch him as he struggles to become a man, in every possible way. Jutra's film about the coming of age of Benoit is so simplistic, so real and so heart wrenching, it reminds us of Apu in "Aparajito". Benoit learns to take on the world, he gets a taste of death, love, betrayal and sex. And at the end, he gazes innocently at the life out there, the real life where there's no uncle Antoine to protect him, no Carmen to love him. This film is a wondeful journey through two fateful days in Christmas time. But a journey that changes lives forever. And one that will change the way you look at life too.