Film

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost: Catfish. 2010

I first came across Schulman and Joost’s ‘Catfish‘ a couple of years back, and on revisiting it, I was certainly in a position to appreciate it more. So, what does one have here? A title vaguely hinting at aquatic life of some sort, thrown in with a reluctant, cajoled into participation protagonist, and a Thomson and Thompson constantly urging the unrolling of events in a manner that is worthy of a documentary film. Not quite. Yaniv Schulman, a young Manhattan based photographer, becomes the subject of the cinéma vérité instincts of brother Ariel and friend Henry. What unfolds over the course of film time, and also real time of 8-9 months of the making of it, are concerns of common interest in debates around early 21st century usage of personal and social interactive media. Identity, deception, impersonation and orchestration in the ambit of social engineering on the one hand and loneliness, isolation, pain, love, longing, broken dreams, and friendship in the ambit of the human emotional spectrum, ‘Catfish’ indeed, resonates with a sincerity that is essential to the spirit of cinéma vérité. Like all of the better cinematic achievements of recent times, the film is much about the search for truth. The truth is out there? Maybe not. Watch.

Read More…

Xiaogang Feng: Ji jie hao. 2007 (China)

Feng Xiaogang‘s ‘Ji jie hao‘ is set around the mid 20th century, during the dying years of the long drawn civil war in China fought between the forces loyal to the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang. To Feng’s credit the film does not follow a straightforward triumphalist narrative about Communist war heroes, but instead builds a complex tale of an individual (Captain Guzidi, played remarkably by Zhang Hanyu) who struggles for the posthumous recognition of the men in his company who laid down their lives on the battlefront. These were soldiers who were terrified and sometimes balked at the clear and present dangers before them – as would anyone – but they made the ultimate sacrifice and, as the only survivor from his company, Captain Guzidi strives long and hard to have their efforts recognized as a unique contribution to the war effort. Like great combat films, ‘Ji jie hao’ ceases to be war porn, and rises above to make a stellar comment on the inhumanity of all wars, and the immorality of taking away lives, in the guise of war. It is also a severe indictment of post-war society and government in China. Watch.

Read More…

Sanjay Kak: माटी के लाल (Red Ant Dream). 2013

In interrogating the workings of Indian democracy, filmmaker Sanjay Kak‘s  माटी के लाल / Red Ant Dream (2013) traces and interweaves three distinct instances of a nation at war with itself: the Maoist movement in Bastar in Chhattisgarh, the Niyamgiri tribal resistance against industrial mining in Odisha, and the resurrection of the left movement in Punjab via the revolutionary spirit of the late Bhagat Singh. At two hours, it does call for your unwavering attention, for the stories that are told in this documentary film, will never find voice in the mainstream media vehicle. Ahistoric, and moving back and forth across the three instances mentioned earlier, Kak manages to wring out some striking voices and peoples who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, of laying down their lives, in resisting oppression that threaten their very lives and livelihoods. In unraveling these peoples and their spirit, (often dubbed by the Government of India as “internal security threats’), Kak incorporates raw ‘found footage’ as well, which puts the audience right into deadly zones of conflict. Some images and content are disturbing, so, mature audiences advised. Watch.

Read More…

Werner Herzog: Stroszek. 1977. (Germany)

The inimitable Werner Herzog is generally known to take on film projects that are more than challenging, both in terms of production and realization, and that also involves working with actors who are ‘difficult’ to say the least. Herzog’s ‘Stroszek‘ from 1977 is a meditative cinematic triumph and remains a prominent film moment from the last century. Putting together an accomplished actor (Eva Mattes) with a non actor (the unforgettable Bruno S.), Herzog weaves a tale in the mode of a grand existential tragedy, pitching in moments of raw pathos along with reflective soul searching for the truth. In telling the story of characters in the fringes of human society – an alcoholic, a prostitute, an elderly eccentric, and their earnest quest for a more respectable, happy life via the american dream, Herzog paints a USA, and a human condition we would rather not acknowledge. Therein lies his directorial brilliance. Watch.

Read More…

Jan Švankmajer: Lekce Faust. 1994

Czech animator Jan Švankmajer remains a rare and remarkable creative force in the motion pictures. For Lekce Faust (‘Faust’) his second feature length film, Švankmajer drew on his personal experience and familiarity with the Faust legend through his work on Czech director Emil Radok’s film ‘Doktor Faust’ in 1958. But, over and above that formative influence, his academic training in puppetry in the Academy of Performing Arts (Prague), coupled with his commitment to surrealist performing art via the Czech Surrealist Group, led him to craft one of the most intriguing films of the 20th century. Marrying his mastery of stop-motion cinematography to a volatile mix of puppetry, human theatre, German opera, Czech folk performance, and dark irreverence  Švankmajer’s ‘Lekce Faust’ is an absolute original. Of particular interest is the fact that he manages to loosely weave into the narrative two rather well known tragic plays –  Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus‘ (1604) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s ‘Faust‘ (1806), in a spirit of imagination and creative interpretation. In the end, one is left with the feeling, that in all of this, Švankmajer remains the original conjurer, the ‘black magician’. Watch.

Read More…

Hiroshi Teshigahara: Suna no onna. Japan. 1964

Adapted from Kōbō Abe’s 1962 novel of the same name, ‘Suna no onna’ (translated as ‘The Woman in the Dunes’) is the piercing vision of a remarkable film artist, Hiroshi Teshigahara. Trained in the Japanese traditions of ‘Ikebana’ and classical painting, his turn to cinema was distinctly an aesthetic choice. In ‘Suna no onna’, he translates cinematic frames into canvases for his expression, while telling a story resonating with the myth of Sisyphus, within the existential paradigm set up by authors like Albert Camus, whose work Teshigahara was familiar with. ‘Suna no onna’ is both a brooding and scathing critique of human reasoned argumentation (the man-of-science, the urban man, the man governed by explanations for everything), and an emphatic tribute to the intuitive knowledge of nature, that which is instinctive and intrinsic, that which has not undergone the distortions imposed by human reason. Ultimately, ‘Suna no onna’ transcends itself as a cultural product of early 1960s Japan, to make a universal and specific statement about the human condition. Watch.

Read More…

Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Uzak

Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s ‘Uzak‘ (translated as ‘Distant’) from 2002 adds on to the growing pool of cinema of this century which is distinctly and necessarily in opposition to the mainstream commercial cinematic idiom, typified by the ‘stylized-pop-marketized’ fare out of the Los Angeles area in the USA. Ceylan’s cinema is a cinema of sounds and silences, of doors and windows (our separators from what lies outside, what stays in – who can walk through, who closes, who opens, for what). It is also a remarkably restrained cinema, especially when considering the cinematic excesses that one encounters in the everyday, in the there here and the now. But perhaps more importantly, Ceylan articulates the inevitability of human isolation, the ‘ephemerality’ of relationships (both desired and destructive at the same time), and the potential for urban dehumanization. Watch. (Update: Unfortunately, the full length film upload was taken down by the Tube. This is a trailer, and the ending scene, for you to have a glimpse. I will share the full length film as soon as it is available again.)

Read More…

Jonathan auf der Heide: Van Diemen’s Land. 2009. Australia

Probably one of the most under-rated and misjudged films from the last few years. In retelling the true story of the escape of eight convicts in 1822 from the isolated Macquarie Harbour Penal Station on Sarah Island in Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land), Jonathan auf der Heide engages in what cine-scholars would dub as ‘Tasmanian Gothic’. Nature and landscape forms a very vital part of this narrative, assuming qualities of malevolence and menace. What auf der Heide does, to his credit, is to shy away from creating spectacle, but rather dwell on ‘strange silences’ to craft a meditative, relentless film in exploring the heart of darkness of desperate men in an extraordinary situation. The incorporation of the ancient Irish Gaelic language casts a melancholic brooding net over this atmospheric piece. Watch.

Read More…

Faiza Ahmad Khan: Supermen of Malegaon. 2008

Probably one of the best tributes to ‘cinephilia’ emerging out of India this century. Set in the industrial power loom town of Malegaon in Maharashtra, India, Faiza Khan weaves an engaging narrative crafted around very special and spirited people, unified by their endearing zeal and love for cinema. An elaborate behind the scenes, as it were, fortunately does not descend into dull trivia. What remains is the love, spirit, passion, and the unforgettable loom worker turned superhero, the late Shaikh Shafique. And, if you generally want to know why film-making is no laughing matter, see this.

Read More…

Thomas Balmès: Bébé(s) [Babies] 2010

In ‘Babies‘ non-fiction filmmaker Thomas Balmès weaves an engaging narrative chronicling a year in the lives of four infants from four countries. Simple enough premise, but executed with great mastery, and it really feels like he did not have to try very hard. What gave me pleasure was the fact that this is a ‘silent film’, unencumbered by cinematic excesses of lensing, hyper-cutting, voice-overs and what not. Accompanied by an understated yet effective musical score by Bruno Coulais, get ready to welcome little Bayar, Hattie, Mari and Ponijao into your lives. Watch. Read More…

1 2 3  Scroll to top