Film

Sylvain Chomet: Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003)

I come back to Sylvain Chomet and Evgeni Tomov‘s ‘Les Triplettes de Belleville‘ every once a while to participate in and relive a cinematic experience that is quite unlike any other. Dark, idiosyncratic, powered by memorable flights of imagination, while reveling in it’s oddly humourous, grotesque and irreverent universe. It is also a lesson in the possibilities of the animation film, that, when technical brilliance weds inventive storytelling, you leave behind a cultural artifact that attains significance on it’s own strengths. A visual style of part graphic novella meets comic strip, and part European caricature brilliance, the cinematic space becomes uniquely ‘mythicaly’ evocative, and the remarkable characters of Madame Souza, Champion, Bruno and the Triplets themselves, linger in memory long past the final credit roll. Read More…

Louie Psihoyos: The Cove | 2009

The idyllic Pacific coastal whaling town of Taiji, in the Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, with its community of fisher-folk, long held a terrible secret, a secret that was uncovered and put to global critical scrutiny (and subsequent outrage) by a team of concerned animal and environmental activists led by National Geographic photographer and later film director, Louie Psihoyos. Psihoyos’s ‘The Cove‘ was largely triggered by the work of former dolphin trainer and now long term dolphin welfare activist Richard O’Barry, who, along with Psihoyos and friends, undertook the investigation and documentation that led to the uncovering of the brutal mass slaughter of bottle nosed dolphins in the Taiji cove. Given the real dangers of undertaking such a project (threat to life, suspicious Japanese government officials, non-cooperative and tailing policemen, angry and potentially violent fishermen,) Psihoyos, O’Barry and team had to roll out a covert military style operation, keeping a low profile, using camouflaged gear and cameras, night vision apparatus, and discreet diving. Read More…

Oliver Hirschbiegel: Das Experiment (2001)

German director Hirschbiegel‘s debut feature ‘Das Experiment‘ does not quite shine as an accomplished cinematic piece (it is plenty rough around the edges,) but what it does is that it brings ample material to the table for engaging in debates surrounding the psychological ramifications of incarceration, confinement and captivity. The distribution and struggle for power is thematically anything but novel, but in choosing to adapt Mario Giordano’s novel titled ‘Black Box‘, Hirschbiegel does manage to orchestrate (however imperfectly) a taut and bleak look at the ‘discipliners’ and the punished, housed in modern prison systems. Read More…

Damon Gameau: That Sugar Film (2014)

What you eat and drink is what you are, and what you become. In the broader tradition of diet/food/health awareness documentaries like Morgan Spurlock’s ‘Super Size Me‘ (2004,) Australian actor-director Damon Gameau, in ‘That Sugar Film‘ (2014,) inflicts a food and drink experiment on himself – of consuming the Australian ‘average’ of about 40 teaspoons of sugar a day for two months. What unfolds is a quirky, and at times, humourous look at the far reaching damage caused by the hidden sugars in our everyday, supposedly ‘healthy’ store brought food and drink. Read More…

Majid Majidi: آواز گنجشک‌ها (The Song of Sparrows) | 2008

In a ‘cinemascape’ of lyricism and allegory, Majid Majidi inhabits a space that is uniquely his own, where, with a flourish of quiet sentimentality and poetic poise, he unfurls for us a spiritual fable of a righteous man placed in the pastoral rural and the materialistic urban. Majidi is a relatively later figure in Iranian cinema, but to my mind, certainly not a lesser figure. In a telling moment in آواز گنجشک‌ها (The Song of Sparrows,) the protagonist Karim (played convincingly by the inimitable Reza Naji) breaks into a nostalgia soaked song that brings smiles to the saddened young boys surrounding him – “Our flowers have withered, our eyes are crying, I remember the good old days….The world is a lie, the world is a dream ….I’ve passed my youth in pain in this world.” The pastoral rural marked by close family ties, community living, and proximity to the ‘living world’ lies in stark contrast to the transactional, corrupting and materialistic core of the urban, and in straddling these seemingly incompatible universes, Karim has to be committed to his essential righteousness, to his faith. Read More…

Jeff Nichols: Take Shelter. 2011

“There is a storm coming…like nothing you have ever seen, and not one of you is prepared for it” screams Curtis (played by the very talented Michael Shannon) in American director Jeff Nichols‘ film ‘Take Shelter‘ (2011). I would say nothing quite prepares one for a film like ‘Take Shelter’ as strands of the real and the non-real interweave to create this tapestry of a brooding, melancholic and menacing exploration of notions of anxiety, marriage and commitment, and communication in interpersonal relationships. This is probably one of the few films from that year that made me sit up and take notice of the classic independent cinema. A theme of a married couple with a young child going through difficult and intense times is a theme that has played on screens in darkened halls over decades now, and therein lies Nichols’ genius, for he takes this familiar as a doorbell universal theme, and retells it with a mastery and a quiet restraint far beyond his years. Read More…

Andrew Levine: The Day My God Died (2003)

“The day that I was sold, was the day that my God died” said the child. I first encountered Andrew Levine‘s ‘The Day My God Died‘ in a film festival in Mumbai, India in 2003-04, and it continues to stay with me to this day. Four years in the making, and against all odds, this independent documentary film remains a vital and important work in talking about the tragedy of the child sex trade, of girls sold into sexual slavery – human trafficking that engages in the worst forms of human rights violations. A film graduate of the University of Utah, USA, Levine first visited India and Nepal as a tourist, but came back again, to tell a story of a multi-billion dollar industry with children as a commodity being brought and sold, recruiters who scout them, traffickers who deceive them, the pimps and the brothel keepers who buy them, and the police and custodians of the law with their hands outstretched and their eyes closed. Justice indeed is blind. At the same breath, the film profiles motivated and outstanding activists and abolitionists like Anuradha Koirala (founder director of Maiti Nepal) and her incredible work in the rescue and rehabilitation of the girls sold into sexual slavery. Finally, it is a film about the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable pain, betrayal, torture, imprisonment, disease, death and loss. Watch.  Read More…

Mikio Naruse: Tabi Yakusha (1940)

With a film directing and writing career spanning over four decades (1930-1968), Mikio Naruse, is certainly one of the lesser known figures of the classical Japanese cinema. An unassuming and socially somewhat withdrawn individual, Naruse’s prolific film output from early to mid twentieth century, saw him engage with a diverse range of themes, while consciously remaining rooted in telling stories of the ‘bleak’ everyday. As Japanese film scholar Donald Richie notes “…given Naruse’s skill, devotion, and honesty, the world he creates through film remains both profoundly troubling and deeply moving.” In ‘Tabi Yakusha‘ (Travelling Actors,1940), Naruse places his protagonists (a pair of artists / actors / ‘clowns’ of a travelling theatre group), Hyoroku (Kamatari Fujiwara) and Senpei (Kan Yanagiya), within the context of a performance in a rural area by the ‘distinguished’ visiting kabuki troupe of ‘Kikugoro VI’. In what is apparently a light comedy, Naruse, manages to engage in existential, absurdist queries (in some ways, Hyoroku and Senpei predates Vladimir and Estragon‘s ‘wait’), while tackling issues of the role of the artist in society, of truth/reality and imitation, of human and animal. Watch.

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Jafar Panahi: Badkonake Sefid (The White Balloon). 1995

Emerging out of the shadows of the much venerated Abbas Kiarostami, Iranian director Jafar Panahi‘s emphatic debut feature won him many accolades over the years, and deservedly so. A collaboration of scriptwriter Kiarostami and writer-director Panahi, ‘Badkonake Sefid‘ (The White Balloon, 1995) holds on dearly to the cinematic realism of Panahi’s larger oeuvre, along with the mise-en-scene sensibilities central to a certain tendency in the Iranian ‘new wave’ cinema. In telling the story of a 7 year old girl’s (Razieh) longing for ownership of a chubby gold fish around the Iranian New Year, Panahi masterfully controls his material, absorbing the audience entirely into his heroine’s delicate, innocent, enquiring world, playing it out on the often unkind streets of Tehran. With the narrative hinged around the loss (and subsequent regaining) of the means of purchase of an object of desire, Panahi chooses to bring a cinematic style of subtlety and remarkable human detail. Watch.  Read More…

Anand Patwardhan: Jai Bhim Comrade. 2011

I first saw and heard Dalit poet and activist, the late Mr. Vilas Ghogre in Patwardhan‘s early ‘cityscape’ “Mumbai, Hamara Shahar / Bombay, Our City” (1985), many years back. The power of Vilas Ghogre’s words and melody stayed with me for a long time only to be rekindled by Patwardhan’s latest ‘Jai Bhim Comrade‘, an elaborate three hour ‘docu-treatise’ of the caste question in contemporary India, ‘narratively’ hinged around the singular brutal instance of state oppression as experienced via the mass slaying of Dalit residents of Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar colony by police forces in Mumbai, India, on the 11th of July, 1997. Crafted over a decade, ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’ is an important addition to Patwardhan’s complete oeuvre of conscientious cinema, where he traces the meandering, complex intermixes of opportunistic politics, resistance and activism, subaltern rationalism, identity and religiosity, movements for humanitarianism and justice in thwarting divisive, violent, repressive social tendencies. In mapping the narrative through Vilas Ghogre’s martyrdom; Bhai Sangare, the outspoken, fiery Dalit leader, succumbing to burns while burning copies of the Manu Smruti; and the new and emerging cultural activism of Dalit consciousness as exemplified by groups like the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’ elaborates an India that never finds voice in the dominant, vaccuous pop-commercialism of the mainstream media. Watch.

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