Archive for August, 2007

The Death of Mr.Lazarescu

August 31, 2007

The style of Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr.Lazarescu is similar to Dardenne brothers – wavering long shots from a handheld camera, focusing almost entirely on Lazarescu in this case, which emboldens the human aspect of reality as he begins a downward spiral into the hospital nightlife of Bucharest on a stretcher accompanied by and tended to, at times with scorn for his irresponsible drinking, by strangers, people who know him only through his identity card which they routinely stamp. The Death of Mr.Lazarescu grows with time, cinematic time that is. Beginning slowly, the intimate acquaintance of the elderly with medicines, diseases and symptoms are revealed as an ill Lazarescu is helped by neighbours his age on a Saturday night amidst loud rock music.

There is a sly visible humor in the film, for example when the doors of Mr. Lazarescu’s apartment open and close repeatedly and the music is heard at intervals, or when the stairway light switches itself off after a few minutes, presumably to save electricity and so someone has to turn them on again. The film also reveals the hospital’s rigid complicity to regulation, the slightly harsh but not always unjust treatment of Mr. Lazarescu, the classed structure of doctors, specialists, nurses and ward staff, and ultimately the weathering of the human spirit as it becomes intimately familiar with the horrors of both life and death.

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Les Biches

August 31, 2007

cc2.jpgLes Biches starts off with immaculate compositions as the street-painter Why draws does on a pavement and Frederique (Stephane Audran) watches, leaning her body against the railings of the bridge. She slowly walks over, drops an expensive note and walks back, gracefully, haughtily, her head held high, her eyes cast low, mockingly. Divided into four chapters Prologue, Frederique, Why and Epilogue, the film tells the story of an eventually dirty menage a trois. Frederique, rich and bored, invites the barely acquainted Why to her country mansion retreat (and this is not the first she’s done something like this as is evident from the two “fairies” already staying there).

Her love life is careless and unhindered, in stark contrast to the principles of Why, who is self-conscious and in her own way, demanding. Soon, at a small party, Why engages with Paul Thomas apparently just to fuel Frederique’s curiosity, but has the opposite effect, leading to a subdued but haunting denouement between the film’s two principal characters. While Why is more emotional and meek (at least initially), Frederique is blatantly proud and highhanded.

As usual, throughout the film Chabrol leaves clues and hints for the viewer to dissect, and his compositions, his subtle transitions of the foreground and the background of a scene, his underplaying of the ‘criminal’ moments instead focusing more on the psychology of the crime and his enduring comment on Bourgeois immorality and suffocation (along with loneliness and boredom, in this case) make Les Biches an absolute delight to watch.

Gitai and Rohmer at Venice

August 26, 2007

european-films notes that Amos Gitai’s latest film (starring Juliette Binoche) Disengagement will show at Venice next week. The only Gitai film I’ve seen is the fabulous Esther, which not many people seem to have either seen or liked. There’s an unmistakable tone of contemporary familiarity to the film which is set during bibilical times. The film asks the narrator to judge the events of then and now, and decide for himself the fairness of the situation, whether Jews then were treated any more respectfully than now (which obviously they weren’t). It’s also heavily adorned visually with a sparkling brightness and a rich atmosphere. The colors remind me of some of the old Indian films based on kings and queens.

Also through european-films, the trailer for Rohmer’s latest film that’s in competition at Venice.

Hiroshima, Mon Amour

August 22, 2007

With Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour, I could not help but draw a parallel of its lyricism to Wings of Desire. While Wings of Desire achieved a stream of consciousness with its arching narrative thoughts, Resnais somehow falls short for me. There is a sense of detachment in both films because of the drawn-out and brooding delivery of the sentences, but at least I could identify that with the angelic presences in Wings of Desire while no such recline comes to me in Hiroshima, Mon Amour. I get confused thinking about its extremely lyrical effect that somehow seems to contradict its circumstances; and then the style of the film peels off, leaving just the emotional core, the pathos of it brutally exposed. I simply can’t say what it is that makes me feel uncomfortable, guess I just have to wait for another chance to watch it.

Yojimbo & Sanjuro

August 19, 2007
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I saw Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and its companion piece Sanjuro last week. When released, Yojimbo reaped huge profits for Kurosawa and subsequently spawned what for me is its superior underestimated successor, Sanjuro. While both films star Toshiro Mifune as a skilled but socially awkward samurai, their plot structure is a bit different. Yojimbo is more symmetrical; two rival factions, both equally matched (and weak) fight over the dominance of a village. The samurai (calling himself Sanjuro in both films) enters as the adjudicator and shifts the balance of power to the faction he is allied to, finally leading to the destruction of both. Kurosawa builds the symmetry slowly, establishing the weaknesses of both groups and consequently the strengths of the samurai, who if not social is definitely not immoral, as we see him help a family escape from this terror.

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Sanjuro’s balance of power is lopsided and hence makes for a more interesting plot which Kurosawa uses to comment on human behavior and its flaws and in the process to redeem Sanjuro, who willfully joins nine inexperienced (both in skills of the sword and in human judgment) samurai against a powerful tyrant. We learn that Sanjuro’s weakness is his undomesticated strength and his realization of this leads to a restraint in his merciless flamboyance. His final tamed aggression makes him a far superior samurai than he ever was in Yojimbo. I also noticed his compositions this time were fantastic, especially the scenes involving the nine samurai (who’re either clustered towards one side of the frame or span it) and Sanjuro (usually framed away from them) and humor is the common equivalent of both films, usually originating from the observant Sanjuro. I’d recommend watching them both in the chronological order of their release.

Uzak

August 15, 2007

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“Curved street in winter” by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Uzak is so completely detached from narrative that I’m not sure if the absence of any purpose in it is a good thing or not. I’ll first set aside my only qualm – that it doesn’t tell me anything, doesn’t reveal something new or different about the world or the people or the society or anything else “real” for that matter. It is purely trivial and banal and it is absolute genius. Visually, Uzak is brilliant, achieving that interconnection between moments with a kind of unabashed and subdued quality that the connection itself registers faintly. Everything, and I mean everything in Uzak is visual. The humor, the vastness, the emptiness; it’s all in there, in exquisite statically composed shots that harks a reminder to Tsai Ming Liang. It is extremely funny in a way I never thought I could enjoy humor. Be it the juxtaposition of sequences to deliberately induce a malformed thought or the off-screen action that is so elegantly (and truthfully) conveyed or the subtle undertones of comfort it gains in familiarizing us with its characters, not one moment is without something learned unconsciously. In fact, it is this unconscious that Uzak relies upon and which it triggers at consistent intervals.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan started out as a photographer (his site has some excellent panoramas of Turkey). This reflects also in his choice of minimalism. Each shot seems composed and laid out before the scene even starts. There are no unnecessary or deliberate cuts and the “action” usually tends to arrive into the frame instead of the other way round. His use of camera focus is very interesting to watch and sometimes it can even predict the action. Consider this: A man watches a woman at a shop and the camera after showing the man’s interest in her picks up on the woman as she slowly walks across the shop and finally off into a corridor. As she walks away, everything in the frame recedes out of focus and we wonder why Ceylan still keeps lingering on the shot. But then, suddenly, the man comes into the frame, completely in focus and looks at her walking off into the distance. Moments like this are planted in almost every scene of the film and I’m sure I’ve missed many others. Uzak is a carefully constructed and judiciously shot film that, in some ways, tends to access our memory as a temporal locality [i.e. the same thoughts are triggered more than once; albeit each time in a different way].

Dead Souls

August 8, 2007

I just finished reading Gogol’s fantastic Dead Souls – an incomplete, but in no way less accomplished work, the structure of which Gogol is said to have constructed according to Dante’s Divine Comedy – namely, Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Along with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it’s one of the funniest books I’ve read and the witty sarcasm of Gogol is contained within an outrageous plot – that of purchasing dead souls. Apparently, in Russia, then, serfs could be bought or mortgaged along with the land.

The book is actually a road-trip of sorts, along the paths of which we encounter all kinds of people – the meek, the shrewd, the cunning, the violent, the helpless, the beautiful, the powerful, the saint, the pragmatic, and so on, every one of which Chichikov (our protagonist) deftly handles with immaculate skill and charm. Dead Souls is also Gogol’s tribute to Russia, but his sad comment being that the Russian culture is slowly being transgressed under the influence of German and French cultures. He acknowledges the weakness of then-Russia (1800’s), but also has hopes of its abilities to surpass every other nation in the world through the dedication and quality of its working class.

His critique is more on the corruption that is prevalent among the higher classes of its lacklustre and jejune society, and its ill-effects on the serfs. And his delightful prose with its Russian adages is simultaneously light but penetrating. Addressing the reader in a preface, Gogol asks him to annotate the book and add to it his own experiences. “Of style or beauty of expression he would need to take no account, for the value of a book lies in its truth and its actuality rather than in its wording.” Here are a couple of excerpts:

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Persons of this kind – persons to whose designing nature has devoted not much thought, and in the fashioning of whose frames she has used no instruments so delicate as a file or a gimlet and so forth – are not uncommon. Such persons she merely roughhews. One cut with a hatchet, and there results a nose; another such cut with a hatchet, and there materialises a pair of lips; two thrusts with a drill, and there issues a pair of eyes. Lastly, scorning to plane down the roughness, she sends out that person into the world, saying: “Here is another live creature.”

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In time there opened out to Chichikov a still wider field, for a Commission was appointed to supervise the erection of a Government building, and, on his being nominated to that body, he proved himself one of its most active members. The Commission got to work without delay, but for a space of six years had some trouble with the building in question. Either the climate hindered operations or the materials used were of the kind which prevents official edifices from ever rising higher than the basement. But, meanwhile, other quarters of the town saw arise, for each member of the Commission, a handsome house of the non-official style of architecture. Clearly the foundation afforded by the soil of those parts was better than that where the Government building was still engaged in hanging fire!

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An excellent review of the book (and Gogol) can be found here. Particularly insightful is the observation that the condition of the landlords and the Russian landscape in the first part is similar to hell while those in the second part are akin to purgatory.

89 & 94

August 1, 2007

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(photo: Steve Pyke)
Antonioni follows Bergman….such a morose week….