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Aug 212014
 



Each time I watch a Bollywood movie, an urgent need to rinse my mouth with two good foreign films overwhelms me.

Having recently inflicted upon myself the masochistic trauma of sitting through Ajay Devgan’s latest emetic Singham Returns, I was besides myself in agony.

How in Heaven’s name can this Rohit Shetty mis-directed turdpile Singham Returns even be called a movie except by a large pack of Neanderthals for whom the sight of one adult ape battering another’s skull is a trigger for screaming howls of ecstasy (yielding Rs 100-crore to the producers in five days).

So as a purgatory exercise, I fell back upon my routine of seeking solace in a couple of fine films.

This time I discovered Sergei Loznitsa, a little known maker of Russian films.

Loznitsa is, of course, a name familiar to discerning moviegoers in Europe and North America but in India he’s unknown material.

A documentary maker from Ukraine, Sergei Loznitsa is a relative newcomer to the feature film business.

Loznitsa toiled as a documentary filmmaker for 15 years before venturing into feature films.

His first feature film was Schaste moe (My Joy), which came out in 2010.

After a warm reception from critics, Loznitsa followed with V tumane (In the Fog) in 2012. This film too attracted accolades from connoiseurs of classy films.

Thanks to Netflix, I watched both Russian films (with English subtitles) recently.

Impressive Films

To say I was delighted with both films would be an understatement.

Set in different eras, the two films are united in their dark gaze on humanity and remarkable for the brilliant craftsmanship Loznitsa brings to the screen.

The stories, centering around everyday violence, corruption and callousness that place little value on human life, are powerful and a telling social commentary on Russia/Ukraine, and by extension on the world itself.

I sat back and delighted in the acting, photography and screenplay of both films.

Neither of the films is in a hurry (even the shots are drawn out).

They take their own sweet time to get to the end but not for one moment did I feel bored.

As I’ve said often, there are only good films and bad films. Not long or short films.

My Joy

Of the two movies, Schaste moe (My Joy) is the more complex and compelling one.

Unless you pay careful attention, you’re inclined to be quickly adrift with this film.

At first glance, it would appear as if the movie was merely a collection of different disconnected incidents.

Actually, No. Continue reading »

Jul 212014
 

Thanks to Brokeback Mountain (2005), depictions of sexual and romantic relationships between macho adult men is no longer a novelty on the big screen.

Or as some angry grandmas in America would complain, gay porn went mainstream in 2005. ;)

Ang Lee explored the doomed relationship between two cowboys so beautifully that no one was surprised when Brokeback Mountain picked up multiple Oscars and Golden Globes in 2006.

Since Freier Fall (German, 2013) has been touted as the “German answer to Brokeback Mountain,” comparisons between the two films are inevitable.

Freier Fall

While German film Freier Fall (English title: Free Fall) traipses down the same ‘gay’ road, this time the rugged, macho men are two young beefy police officers Marc Borgmann (Hanno Koffler) and Kay Engel (Max Riemelt).

Stephan Lacant directed the film based on the screenplay he co-wrote with Karsten Dahlem.

Brokeback Mountain was set in 1960s America while Freier Fall plays out in present day Germany.

Marc’s girlfriend is pregnant and the couple is expecting their first child when Kay initiates an initially reluctant Marc into a relationship that quickly turns sexual.

As the title of the movie suggests, Marc’s life soon starts to unravel, first at home and eventually at the police station as well, once he embarks on a secret liaison with Kay.

Several Issues

Freier Fall is not a bad movie overall but falls way short of Brokeback Mountain in several respects. Continue reading »

May 122014
 

Pulling myself out of the languorous stupor I had slipped into in recent months, I watched two French movies recently.

And what a delight the two turned out to be.

With a pleasing jab, they restored the joie de vivre in my life.

Avenue Montaigne

Directed by Danièle Thompson, Avenue Montaigne (2006) is less like a movie and more akin to a beautiful painting that casts a spell on you through its rich visual tapestry.

French director Danièle Thompson is a class act.

Besides directing the film, she co-wrote its screenplay with her son Christopher Thompson, who plays a key role in the film set in Paris’ theater district.

Avenue Montaigne has convinced me there are no bad actors in the movie business, only bad directors.

No Grand Plot

If you ask me, the absence of a grand, central plot in this 106-minute film should be no cause for concern for viewers.

A waitress (Cécile de France), who’s just arrived in Paris from the provinces, is the common thread in the lives of three highly stressed, disturbed people – A millionaire widower (Claude Brasseur) is auctioning off his vast art collection; an acclaimed pianist (Albert Dupontel) is tired of public performances and on the verge of collapse; and a popular TV actress (Valérie Lemercier) is sick of her silly TV soaps and desperately yearns to play Simone de Beauvoir in an upcoming movie about Sartre by American director Brian Sobinsky (Sydney Pollack).

The charming, naive guileless waitress with the bewitching smile seems to be the only normal, stable person amidst this neurotic gaggle.

In Avenue Montaigne, I found rich comedy, touching pathos and charming liveliness, an amalgam rare on the screen in any language.

The acting is top-notch, the photography remarkable and the direction superb in this realistic delight.

The French title of the film is Fauteuils d’orchestre.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

I am a big fan of Romain Duris, who’s made a name for himself as one of the best European actors.

So I picked this 2005 film from Netflix’ DVD collection.

To my delight, Jacques Audiard turned out to be the director of The Beat That My Heart Skipped.

I’m no stranger to Jacques Audiard having delighted in his A Prophet, See How They Fall and Rust and Bone.

Romain Duris plays Tom, a thug involved in evicting people from homes.

One day Tom chances upon his late pianist mother’s old manager who invites him for an auditioning and reignites in our hero a dormant passion for the piano.

Between work as a real estate thug and training hard for a concert audition lies an enormous chasm that some would say is unbridgeable.

Here again, we see evidence of the great talent underpinning Romain Duris’ rise to the top.

Duris’ piano lessons from Chinese immigrant Miao Lin (Linh Dan Pham) and his relationship with his father make for some of the finest moments in this highly engaging film.

Niels Arestrup as Tom’s father and Linh Dan Pham in the role of his piano teacher are picture perfect.

I was surprised by the ending. Neatly done!

Avenue Montaigne  and The Beat That My Heart Skipped are both available on Netflix should you care to see them.

Apr 032014
 

While you schmucks are deep-throating crappy Tamil trash like Jilla and reveling in stolen Bollywood bilge like Highway, here I’m watching The Past (French, 2013) from acclaimed Iranian director Asghar Farhadi.

You know why I picked up The Past from the RedBox kiosk a short while ago?

Simple, kiddo!

Because I loved Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar winner A Separation. A gem of a movie!

Farhadi wrote and directed The Past!

I have started watching The Past and will update this review once I finish the movie ($1.22 at RedBox and available at Netflix on monthly subscription in the U.S.).

In the meantime you can feast your eyes on the trailer of The Past.

The Past – Divine

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest work Le Passé (English: The Past) is a riveting film with highly realistic performances by the three lead characters.

Like Farhadi’s previous film (the Oscar winning A Separation), The Past too is an intense family drama.

The present serves as the stage for the brilliant Farhadi to build a dramatic scaffolding on the unshakeable foundation of past conflicts and relationships.

All the key events that serve as foundation for the Past – breakdown of the two marriages, the suicide, and the affair – are firmly rooted in the past and are never shown, not even in flashback. Merely discussed to support the ‘present’ narrative.

When Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to France to finalize his divorce with Marie Brisson (Bérénice Bejo of The Artist fame), the stage is set for tensions to rise to the surface within the family. Continue reading »

Mar 142014
 

Those who don’t know how to make love make war.
– The suffering wife in Patience Stone (Dari language, 2012)

My months-long patient wait for The Patience Stone yielded a bountiful harvest of joy when I finally got to see the film last night (via Amazon Instant, $3.99).

To hail Patience Stone as a tour de force would not do adequate justice to the film.

Directed by French-Afghan writer Atiq Rahimi based on his eponymous 2008 novel, the Dari language movie is a glorious triumph of an unusual story garnished with superb acting by the gorgeous Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani.

In an age when many directors rehash plots with minor embellishments, Patience Stone’s theme is so unique it left me in a trance.

Set in war-plagued Afghanistan (?), the movie starts off with a nameless woman (Golshifteh Farahani) tending to her severely injured husband during a time of daily violent clashes outside.

The woman, mother of two young daughters, is 27 while the injured husband, a former Mujaheddin fighter, looks much older.

Shot in the neck, you see her husband in a speechless, comatose state with a saline drip over him.

Women in Islamic Lands

But Patience Stone is not just about a Muslim woman tending to a seriously injured spouse.

That is merely a peg, a starting point for a moving tale about a woman’s place in male-dominated Islamic societies.

To walk us through the past and present of this young woman, and all women, in Islamic societies, director Atiq Rahimi resorts to a novel technique – He has the wife soliloquize her life story to an unmoving, unresponsive husband.

From the cruel experiences of her childhood to the insensitive boorish husband and her recent rape by a young Mujaheddin fighter, she leaves nothing out in her soliloquy to her husband. Continue reading »

Mar 102014
 

One reason and one reason alone prompted me to watch The Big Picture (2010, director Eric Lartigau) when I stumbled upon the French movie in the Netflix Instant cornucopia.

After I spotted Romain Duris’s name in the cast, the decision about seeing the film was no longer “Should I?”

My mouse cursor hit the “Play” button of its own accord and the movie started streaming.

Duris is a first class actor whose work I’ve enjoyed in movies like Paris, Heartbreaker etc.

In The Big Picture, Duris is again in tremendous form carrying the film almost entirely on his shoulders.

Thriller? – Partly

Now no man (yes, not even a French guy) likes to be made a cuckold of, particularly when he’s a devoted husband dearly in love with his wife.

So it’s easy to grasp Paul’s intense distress and anger when he discovers his wife Sarah has been unfaithful to him through her adulterous fling with a less than successful photographer.

When his wife leaves home with the kids and her lover Grégoire Kremer keeps taunting him, Paul (Romain Duris) snaps.

As the taunts and mocking get unbearable, Paul flies into a wild rage and, mon dieu, ends up accidentally killing the man.

At this point, you think, aha, the movie is going to be a fine thriller.

Greg’s body has to be taken care of and then there’s the crucial task of keeping the dead man’s friends from getting suspicious over his absence.

You also wonder if Paul can get away with the killing?

To my great surprise and eventual delight, the movie headed off in a most unexpected direction, returning to the ‘action’ phase only in the last 10-minutes. Continue reading »