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Kummatty (1979)
8/10
An Unassuming Fantasy
19 September 2016
What a lovely little film this turned out to be! Seeped in the rustic goodness of a Malayali village and the charmed music from God's own country, this mythical tale was a breath of fresh air. Dotted with songs that will have you humming along, the film follows a gang of children and their fate when an old man turns up in their village, and is labeled as Kummatty, or the Bogeyman.

The film stays honest to its setting - somehow managing to weave the peace and simplicity of the village into its characters, into its dialogue, and into its fluid song sequences. The relationship between the young and the old is beautifully captured, and when the film comes a full circle, Chinda, our main protagonist, realizes a thing or two about freedom and captivity.

This film may very well be India's own Pied Piper of Hamlin, and is a slice of folklore that is very unique to the country. Kummattikali is a dance form still practiced in Kerala during the Onam festival - and the legend seems to have arisen from the Mahabharata, where the Kummattis, or the ghost-companions of Lord Shiva, were called upon to dance and celebrate the virtue of Arjuna. And yes, masks have a huge role to play in this film, as they do in the dance form. A deliberate start but a great story in the end.
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Sambizanga (1972)
8/10
The Angolan Struggle
4 September 2014
This is a tragic, personal and political film – set in Angola (shot in Congo), and narrating the struggles and realities of the African Liberation Front. Dominguez, a soldier, a loving husband and a hard-working truck driver is arrested by the Portuguese secret police. What ensues is a story of inhuman cruelty and torture even as frail, oppressed and brave Africans try to resist and break free. The film could not have been shot in Angola, since the country was still fighting for its freedom – and thus the immense impact and significance of this film in 1973 can only be imagined. Both Domingos de Olivieira and Elisa Andrade are fantastic – but the entire cast does its job, be it the kids, the old or the Angolan fighters, also the Whites. Domingos, especially, is shot beautifully and he really comes to symbolize all of Angola's pain and injustice. The message and overall tone is deeply Marxist, with the 'rich' being marked as the enemy, and not the Whites. Angola's economy continues to suffer even today because of this huge divide between the rich and poor – and maybe there were/are reasons, but the vision of this film largely remains unrealized by the country. The quality of my print wasn't good, but the film was an absorbing one and somehow, the yellowish, haggard quality of the rip complemented the film. The film is fiction, yes, such stories are strewn across the history of African liberation, yes – but this cinematic account effectively drives home the helpless situation that many Africans dealt with. And like I said, its impact on Angolans in 1973 can only be imagined – and hence, it is immensely important. Not to take away a shred of credit from the filmmaking though – a great convergence of camera angles, acting and thematic treatment.
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10/10
Man + Nature: A Saga of Harshness
9 May 2014
A WWII movie set in the Carpathians and named after the Ukrainian version of Pandora's Box, this is a sheer masterpiece! Well, in these last few months I have seen quite a few films set in similar regions, depicting similar (in cases, the same) lifestyle, but I have to say this has been the most affecting till date. We see a very delicate episode of the Carpathian history played out here – starting from the Soviet reclamation of Carpathians through the Nazi-Romanian occupation to Soviet rescue again – and no, I have spoilt nothing. All of it is captured through the life of a family of musicians, comprised of five brothers and a struggling-to-provide father. The eldest brother joins the Soviets while a younger one joins the nationalists - in due course of time, through the promiscuity of love, one ends up being responsible for the other's life. The wide-eyed, typically Carpathian mountain beauty is present here in Dana, for whom three people get entangled in a twist of fate. The film has a very solid story, superb, rustic and lively music, great costumes and detailing and also some very good frames. The landscapes are shot brilliantly – the slippery rocks, the difficulty of warfare in the terrain, the monstrous rafts, and harshness of life in conjunction with shortage of food – everything is sketched beautifully. There are a few sequences that are unforgettable – the family playing as their house burns, the strange percussion that produces brilliant sounds, Giorgiy's (the youngest son) reaction to a broken illusion, the rowing of the raft through a mad river, the bride distributing the bread, and definitely, the final chase. A film that is stylized like others from this region, but makes a difference in the impact that it achieves – it goes beyond an ethnographic movie and tells us a universal story, which when set against the daunting Carpathians, becomes a devastating and magnificent poetry. Time very very well spent.
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Love and War
3 May 2014
My first film by the acclaimed Bulgarian director was an awesome experience, an amazingly shot story of doomed love set in the background of WWI. The wife of an army officer falls in love with a Serbian POW, and their relationship secretly grows under all the restrictions of the time. Navena Kokanova is gorgeous as the trapped wife and in some shots you cannot move your eyes from her. Yes I would say that the love story is a bit overdone and goes slightly overboard given the situation, but the making more than easily makes up for it. The B&W visuals are gorgeous, the images are crisp and the use of shadow and light is awesome. The times are depicted well in the film – it's the end of the Great War, Bulgaria is losing under the multi-pronged attack and the soldiers are on the verge of revolt, the Typhus plague is also in the air. The prisoner, Ivo, meets Lisa while he had sneaked into the garden to steal peaches – she listens to him and serves him food. They both find some sort of hope in each other and even under the overwhelming factors that weigh against them, their love ultimately finds expression - but under the shifting political scenario, it's soon put to test. The plot is quite simple and has been repeated over time, but the simple framing concepts and intelligent editing turns it into a great film. I fell in love with the couple of shots depicted beneath, and I absolutely admire the sequence where the Serb POWs break into a song – there are a number of beautiful shots in this visually elegant film. The effects of war are not explicit but implied, and the bleak ending that brings despair to all mirrors the crisis of the times. Through Rade Markovic, we feel Ivo's anguish and helplessness, and through Kokanova, we feel the dilemma between society and heart; and both of them come together to create a fatalistic and sensuous chemistry. Definitely worth a look.
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10/10
A 'Moving Theater': Brilliant
3 March 2014
If Theater is 1 and Cinema is 2, Joao Cesar Monteiro's directorial style is at 1.7 and from what I have seen so far, Straub/Huillet's is a magical 1.3. And even if on the other side of the spectrum, their films also invoke similar reactions as Monteiro's, that comes from witnessing Cinema that is unique and unlike that is commonly known of. Their(S/H) shooting style is always sparse, simple, and every frame is like a theater, they just borrow the flexibility of angles and the freedom of stage preparation from films, and create their own brand of 'moving theater'. Antigone is most definitely a Brechtian film, as is Dalla Nube…, and again, a recreation of the mythological play Antigone by Sophocles. The film retells the tragedy with moving lines, delivered with utter poignancy, acted out to his heart by Werner Rehm, as the tyrant Creon, and also by all other characters. In this film though, the elements for theater are in full glory, more than in Dalla Nube… and the stage is awesome - the entire film is set in an amphitheater on a mountain cliff, never moving out. The play captures its subjects beautifully, and the characters move in sync with their words and surroundings, creating an experience that thrives on choreography, and less on conventional paradigms of a movie. The content is well executed, as the play takes shape in all its paradoxes and futilities, and man, did I enjoy losing myself in the mesmeric power of words again! Straub/Huillet has certainly hit a soft spot, through two films that are not for the impatient, but in its fruition, richly rewarding. Amongst other tiny signs of mastery, it is tremendous how Straub/Huillet execute the 'stage-touch' by simply letting his characters exit the scope of camera before moving on. Gives you a moment to think about what just happened, another important aspect of the theater. If you are tired of films, watch this play.
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10/10
A Sheer Masterpiece
3 March 2014
For a considerable period of time now, I had been hearing the name Straub-Huillet in this forum, a name that was every bit as foreign to my ears as it could be. I had never heard the name(s) before, and even as I decided to start my Straub-Huillet journey yesterday, I was a bit apprehensive, already unsure if I was in shape to tackle the density of their art. Well, I stand stunned after Dalla Nube alla Resistenza, and this delightful petrification is different in nature, even if slightly so, than my normal reaction to masterpieces. No, there is NO question that this is one of the greatest films I have watched in my life, but most definitely this film was made for me, and for every person interested in mythology. But that's just half of it, as the second segment tells a very real story, far apart from the six mythological conversations that make up the first one. The first segment is quite focused or various mythic tales and could be a pain for the non-interested, but if you are familiar, it is an experience that you can never forget. An ode to the medium itself, shot via long takes of sublime beauty and excellent camera placement, it is also a fitting tribute to the power of words, devoid of all tonal variation, another factor that understandably has led reviewers to call it 'talky' but take my word, it's some great talk! The second segment is about a veteran – 'The Bastard' - how WWII had changed lives and relationships. This one, too is shot with great simplicity, and it's almost like we are watching real people, listening to real conversations, actually witnessing the lifelessness within life; the conversations themselves are very interesting if you follow them, but of more enjoyment is how magically, in one stroke, Straub/Huillet manage to tell a story that stretches from creation to demolition, even if it took me a while to get to it.

As this movie ended – I found myself concluding that this was not for everyone but for the mythology nerds – but as I mulled over it, working my head, the magic of the film struck me – how it lazily forms a full circle – from the withdrawal of Gods from Earth, to the first accounts of superstition and bloodshed and then, finally, to the futility of the modern man's violence; it is absolutely brilliant. But yes, the amount of dialogue that flows in the 100 minutes could really put you off; I had to go back a lot of times, because in the maze of the excellent philosophical lines, I did lose a thread or two. But going back was a pleasure, and this is a fabulous must-watch, in my opinion.
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9/10
Of Love and War...
1 March 2014
One of Has' earliest films, and a fine companion piece to Rozstanie (even similarly named), 'Farewells' is another tale about the passage of time, with the WWII in focus. A wealthy youth, Pavel falls for Lydia, a dancer and elopes to a quaint B&B (bed and breakfast). The difference in their social strata causes them to part. War breaks out after that; Pavel goes to Auschwitz, and Lydia marries his cousin while he's away. Fate brings them together again, but the main question remains – has their love survived? Has' direction is remarkable once more, making his agenda clear, cutting so fast from pre-war to post-war that you will be wondering what happened before you realize that is exactly what he wanted to do. He films the same people, the same locations and simply creates an amazing study of how war touched everything. The people are captured with sparkling honesty - Pavel's innocence changes to cynicism, Lydia's dreamy guts changes to a bourgeois tartness, and yet the past attracts them irreversibly. The atmosphere is again correct on all measures, as the effects of war are never stressed but becomes easily apparent. The side characters are well established too - the owner of the Quo Vadis B&B and the butler laundering small money are quite memorable. Lydia's caged and guilty inner self is superbly sketched by the unconventionally ravishing Maria Wachowiak, and this is a great romantic drama, capturing a few lives on both side of the WWII. Though the topic is not new, Has' tremendous execution makes it an engaging watch, and the fine performances render it quite smooth. A director whose fine hold on understated drama and a strong grasp of the human psyche has made me an admirer, and I'm sure he'll have that effect on most cinephiles.
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9/10
Life as it Flows
1 March 2014
This one, made just before the above, is a great film too, set in a village in Senegal. I saw it with literally no subs, as the ones available don't even cover a fifth of the dialogue – and yet that was a minor issue, and I had no problems in enjoying the film. It helps that there is not much to understand, it is just a matter of losing yourself in the rhythmic life of Africa. Bonded with nature, the villagers give a natural and phenomenal show, imbuing even the most mundane of activities with an earthy charm. We observe their fishing, their eating, and again there is only a shadow of a story, it is more like a gradually unfolding fable. The sequence of the rains is a treasure and will engulf even the hardened cinephiles. But such peace cannot be immortal, and slowly, modernization disrupts their life. The forest around them disappears slowly but surely, and the natives are forced to relocate. The film captures their life with honesty, and thus, beauty, and the rituals are a treat for the eye. The director captures harsh reality in juxtaposition with an utopic lifestyle, and raises the age long question again – rural or urban? And as I always maintain about great people, he gives the issue his own touch, and it comes alive on screen. The visuals, as expected, are sparkling and the peaceful yet fulfilled lifestyle is something that one should not miss. The film ends in a strange note – a sarcastic jab at the urbane, probably.
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Rozstanie (1961)
9/10
Drenched in Mood
1 March 2014
My fourth and fifth Has films were quite remarkable and it started with this, an elegant and reflective parable of time. The film starts as Magdalena reaches her grandfather's house for his funeral, a place she left many years back, a place from her youth. As she tries to relate the place to her imagination, she finds that the people have changed, realities no more correspond to her memories, and it is hard to return after leaving your roots. Coming from an urban life, Magdalena finds it hard to be comfortable under the constant attention. A cold war slowly develops around her, as people play games to satisfy their own goals. Meanwhile, Magdalena finds herself attracted to a handsome and carefree youth whom she had met on the train even as her relatives try to get her married to a boy of their choice. Misunderstandings slowly develop, and the conclusion is an understated masterwork. Has uses B&W to great effect as usual, the majestic house aiding him to create an antique atmosphere that invokes melancholy. But here, I was impressed with the content more than the technique, how perfectly Has manages to say a lot without actually saying it, in the way capturing the real pathos of farewells. Yes, the film justifies its name 'Partings' without a doubt, as Has beautifully rolls up various levels and forms of goodbyes in this mellow episode – leaving a house, leaving one's childhood, a man leaving a woman, a woman leaving a man, and last, but not the least, a train leaving a station. Drenching experience
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9/10
Excellent Camera and Story
27 February 2014
Another distinctly Japanese film about the common life in the countryside, this was one delightful watch! Denjirô Ôkôchi as the titular character puts in an understated yet dramatic performance, and the movie takes shape around him. Ohara Shosuke-san is a generous man who is rather addicted to sake and gambling. He cannot refuse a favor, and touches a lot of lives, but through his own laziness and alcoholism-plus-gambling, loses all his money and struggles to repay debts, morphing as a man and making a few realizations on his way. Shot with a breezy quality and a great soundtrack, the countryside comes alive on screen, a few frames are truly majestic. The camera-work is steady and mostly based on long takes, and it suits the film perfectly. I loved the way it captures the gradual breakdown of a carefree man, how effortlessly drama is mixed with emotional resonance, the scenes of Ohara Shosuke-san on the rain-drenched courtyard is unforgettable. Chôko Iida as Oseki, the housemaid, has a tremendous cameo and her conversation with Ohara is a perfect climax. The anti-climax is shot beautifully too, as the film ends on a bittersweet note, trying to tell us that a life of service is impervious to material sufferings. And it seriously rings so honest that you end up rooting for him - an alcoholic, an irresponsible man - yet more human than most others. Another thing worth mentioning is the way the Japanese houses of the time are shot, very much like Madadayo. A great watch, catch it if you can.
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9/10
Beauty of a History Lesson
22 February 2014
A priceless lesson in Montenegrin history, this film is a superb mixture of facts and dreamscapes. Shot in the usual majestic and harshly poetic style that this region is known for, the movie takes us through the trials and tribulations of Petar I Petrovic, the man who united Montenegro in the 18th century and led them in the Battle of Krusi against a huge Turkish army to return victorious and pave the first path towards economic development. The film opens with scenes of mourning, frustration and hunger as a land ravaged by famine and civil war looks into a bleak future of captivity under the Turks. The land and the madness all around is unforgivingly documented, as Petar goes on an apparently impossible mission, to unite the Montenegrins under one banner and do his soil proud. He is resolute and immovable in his approach, even if faced with numerous hurdles, selling off idols from the Church to get bread, setting fire to patient enclosures to stop an epidemic, taking up the sword to counter treachery and escaping death by stoning through a strike of luck. The Battle of Krusi remains iconic in the Montenegrin history and it is indeed monumental, what they achieved, and all through a relentless vision of a single man. The film itself is gorgeously shot, the landscapes providing perfect accompaniment, and the surreal sequences adding a tragic touch to the persona of Bishop Petar. The film, apart from giving a peek into obscure history, also drives home the predicament of the times, men faced with lack of basic resources, lack of leadership, threat of invasion, and gradually falling into blood revenge and treachery and inter-tribe animosity to keep themselves distracted. The war scenes towards the end are indulgent and chilling, and the dialog almost always shows a man disturbed by his own people yet a firm believer in his soil and the power of unity. A great watch, an inspiring story, of a world where men once overcome insurmountable odds, created both by nature and invasion.
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Pismak (1985)
7/10
Good, not excellent
22 February 2014
One of Has' later works, this one did not live up to the other two films that I have seen by him, but yet it is an interesting sketch of one man's journey through prison and typhus fever. Our man is the publisher of a satirical magazine called Devil, staying in the cell with a magical safecracker and a priest-turned-criminal. There's not much happening in the film, and it captures what you call the research that goes into writing a book, as our satirist takes notes about the people around him in order to build a novel. The characters are sketched in all diversity and to an extent, typicality; and as the delirium of typhoid begins to smudge the borders of reality and fiction, the movie much becomes a story of the man's psychological journey rather than the physical one. In parts, the movie really pulled me in, for example, his imaginary escapades, and I feel the dreams, rather than the reality, hold the key to what Has wants to tell us: an account of the insecurities, politics, medical uncertainties and oppression of rights that made up our world during the WWI phase and the daunting effect that it had on an individual.
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10/10
A Masterpiece
22 February 2014
It is amazing how the Philippine directors have shaped their art of film-making. It is a striking mix of sensitivity and thrill, of poignancy and violence, of good and evil, and this film by Lav Diaz is no exception. A masterpiece in my opinion, and of the type that all audience will enjoy. It is no mind-bender or a film with symbolism, but in its portrayal of a simple story riddled with human vices, Naked Under the Moon can become a humbling lesson in life for each viewer. We follow 7-8 characters in their everyday life and struggles, as a family, recently bankrupt, tries to gather the pieces and move on. The story is psychologically brutal as circumstances pull them to a halt every time - mistakes slowly accumulate to overwhelm them in a relentless attack. Diaz narrates the episode beautifully, never wavering from his mission, never indulging in over-melodrama, but only relying on the natural anguish that certain truths can invoke, and watching it is painful at times. Screams seem natural, dreams make you moist and the pathos is inconsolable, but yet, there are rays of hope, as indeed you can recover from the tightest of corners. But Diaz does acknowledge that some traumas are indestructible and impossible to solve, and yes, that is true and very much a part of an average life. Diaz' depiction of adultery and physical relationships drip passion, and that is the ace feature of this film, it captures emotions at their most honest and irrational and thus it is able to give an awesome shape to the elusive concept of 'life'. Must watch, Philippines is the true powerhouse of melodrama, brilliantly juxtaposed in an economically unsure environment.
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Sarraounia (1986)
8/10
Great film!
22 February 2014
One of Hondo's later films, and probably a change in style, this is great filmmaking again. This one is a true epic, stretching the tyrannical and brutal advance of a French army through sub-Saharan Africa and their face-off with the fabled queen named Sarraounia, feared terribly as a powerful witch. The film is elegantly shot and under the cover of a war drama, Hondo leaves traces of his caustic take on colonization as well. In an entertaining, involving and medieval setting, the film provides us great insights into the diversity of Africa, the culture of its people and the bitter, bloody truth hidden behind westernization. The army commander leads his army on, destroying villages on the way using a black army from Sudan, finally halting before the unity and resilience of Sarraounia's people. Eventually, the soldiers declare mutiny, refuse to further kill their own brothers, and strike back in a vengeful way to teach the power drunk and insane commander a lesson. The music, again, is beautiful; it was soothing to the ears. In layers, this is a black comedy too, a take on the superstitions of Africa, a take on the power and glory addiction of the Frenchmen; but not as well done or striking as Oh, Sun. This film is beautiful to look at and a great lesson in history, but the acting pulls back what could have been much better.
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10/10
Spiritual and Doomed
10 February 2014
It seems that I have stumbled on one of Yuri Ilyenko's masterpieces at last, a beautiful and tragic adaptation of a play (written in 1912) based around folklore. Mavka, a water nymph is enticed by a young man's flute and falls in love with him, only to be betrayed as the man marries another. The forest spirit turns the man into a werewolf for his betrayal, but Mavka's devotion breaks the spell even as the man's wife curses Mavka. A fantasy from the priceless vaults of Cinema from USSR, this is a gorgeous film, and the use of color (as it was talked about a few posts back) is especially brilliant, attaining a symbolic tone through the elements of nature, like snow, fire, leaves, etc. The film is steeped in melancholy, the signature soundtrack both delirious and meditative, and the story dense with unfulfilled love. The land and the trees and the fields are shot with such subdued passion that it really transports you to a land of mystery and magic, and it is thus, even more striking how effortlessly Ilyenko merges humans and spiritual beings into an unconventional, touching and vengeful saga. It is as heartbreaking as love stories can be, and spiritually resonant too, with the long shots and the beautifully executed effects casting a divine aura on the film. In the later half the film gets darker, as love and loyalties are put to test and little escapes unscathed. The shots with Mavka in the frame scream out serenity and godly beauty, and the forest is tenderly filmed, the icy willows, the dark green water weed, the youthful shrubs, the yellow fields, the interplay of light and leaves, everything is shot with a tangible pathos. The movie is very atmospheric too, in some way echoing the intensity of the spiritual beings' consciousness. In conclusion, this is an elusive and poetic fantasy tale, drenched in mystery, music and love. Must watch!
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Rabi (1992)
10/10
Psychological drama set in African village. Wow.
31 January 2014
Definitely my most favorite Gaston Kabore film so far, who could believe it was possible to create a psychological drama in an African village! The man does just that, adapting the ideas and placing them with perfection in the gorgeous setting of a little Burkinabe village in one of the greener seasons. The story is about a child called Rabi gradually getting obsessed with tortoises. The case starts when his father brings home a small tortoise after almost running it over with his cycle. Rabi gradually starts thinking only about it and by the end of the movie a lot has happened. The film also has a beautiful subplot of Rabi's grandfather's lost romance with his tobacco vendor, and how ultimately Rabi helps them reconcile. Well beauty and Africa is inevitable but the genius of this film lies in the idea, in my opinion. What a stroke of thought it is to shoot obsession with wildlife in the heart of it all, the savannah plateaus; the idea itself is a winner. And Kabore's effortless, flowing technique makes it even more interesting, absorbing and touching. Joseph Nikiema has starred in all of Kabore's films and he has been great, and overall, this film is a gem that people need to watch. The end too, is really great in its subtle, reflective dialog. And the use of great aerial shots and complex frames, like three people doing three different things in perfect rhythm, is very well done here. It adds to the lyrical nature, another common feature of Kabore's filmmaking.
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Utopia (1983)
10/10
Amazing film.
30 January 2014
My first film by the Iranian great, this is one of his works after he shifted to German language. And its a harrowing film. It is more than 3 hours long and for its entire duration it is a devastating, bleak, crushing movie. No wonder this has been compared to Salo, but there is no physical violence here. The story is about a brothel run by a ruthless, cruel and disturbed Manfred Zapatka and the five girls under him who have nowhere to go, who work with him sacrificing themselves every day just for a distant future, that too getting increasingly lost by the day. It lacks the physical force of Salo but its depressing mood will get to any viewer. And the thing is the movie doesn't sag for even a minute, there is always an unseen tension hovering in the air. Manfred Zapatka's powerful, controlled and sculpted-in-stone performance is the only reason behind that. Saless' technique is very Fassbinder-ish, the movie looks like one too, and the way he slowly unveils his frames is great. The background score is seeped in melancholy and its expert use at important moments lend an universal appeal to the movie, making you writhe in pain for the fate of the characters. And the strangest thing is its all so real that you won't feel you are watching a movie, its all too vivid, too candid and the acting by all 6 is exactly to that tune. And what a conclusion, you got to watch this I say, because after 150 minutes of harrowing, great film-making, the conclusion takes this to a cathartic level, and again the acting, the sense of timing is what makes the sequence a poignant knockout. Awesome movie, heavily recommended.
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Balamos (1982)
8/10
Intriguing
29 January 2014
Here is a curious film, suggested to me as a 'gentler El Topo' and one that I watched two times back to back to fully absorb. This is an expansive story, in some manner the precursor of Cloud Atlas, and definitely it has elements common to El Topo. The film also has its own charm, the extremely personal way the film is shot and how the landscapes become an entity with the movie. The latter is achieved by strange way, he shoots both day and night as naturally close as possible. There are phases of darkness with only the moon and ambient noise, and nature becomes a breathing part of our protagonist's journey towards Olympus. In way this is the very same idea Inception is based on, but its used here with different connotations, very philosophical I believe. Our man wants to buy a horse, probably in reality probably not, and in his journey to do that he indulges into dreams that take him through his own past lives. He pictures himself as a slave in the middle ages, around Christ's resurrection, making his journey towards Olympus. The horse remains a recurrent motif throughout and somewhat elusive to our character. But this film is not much about the story as it is about symbolism and that is where similarities to El Topo come in. This is a quest of a man for the final truth, much like the Mahaprasthan undertaken by the Pandavas in Mahabharata, only that it remains ever elusive. The film is shot in low light and sub-par production values but it is transcendental in its core belief and sometimes stimulating, sometimes not. At places I found it to be a bit opaque and the story is easy to miss if you're not attentive because its really buried under the symbolic narrative, but the film does have some great moments of eternal truth. And through mostly simple, sometimes unreadable imagery. Probably I did not pick up all the Biblical references but the usage of the horse as a symbol of an illusive object of desire in reality as well as dream world was a very interesting element. I guess this is a movie that is actually 'obscure', considering the two reviews in IMDb are written by people who have put no effort into watching it. These are my thoughts on first sight, but I hope to understand this work better because it's indeed very interesting.
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The Last Dive (1992)
8/10
Lasting but Slow
28 January 2014
Another exceptional experience from the Portuguese auteur, this one is a strange tale of life and death, yes the simple topics presented in his oblique manner. As always his language remains a little elusive, just out of reach in its context/implication and honestly speaking this guy has a strange but sparkling way of narrating stories. Here, a young man called Samuel is about to jump in the bay when saved by an old guy who also plans do to the same, they go for a tour around the city together, one finds meaning and the other does not, and the several layers in the story is cleverly done. Well it is lesser than his other works I have seen so far but then again even if it is pseudo-philosophical, Monteiro's execution of certain long sequences is technically and aesthetically a delight to watch. It will not be of much meaning but his images have a trance like hold on you. And he is the master of lighting and depth. He shoots his film in such a fantastical tone, and that comes from his lighting, that his stories invariably take epic proportions, also helped by the dialog. This movie too bears his dark take on sexuality and his sharp sense of humor, and except the dance sequence (which I found very strange and inexplicable but filmed powerfully and emotionally) the movie is quite accessible and a tragicomic tale of all that goes on. The women are really beautiful and the city is filmed with elegance. Overall, the visuals are as always brilliant, and the story has its fair share of moments, but the film is probably a bit too slow for its own good.
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Jovita (1967)
9/10
Sports and Noir and Violin and Romance
28 January 2014
What shall I call this film, the closest I can perhaps get is sports noir, and trust me, I am not kidding. The movie has a great story, combining sports and mystery beautifully, and the style and atmosphere deeply resonate with elements of film noir. Yes, there is no crime or money, at least not perceptibly, but this definitely has an overtone of moral crimes that lies at the center of the drama. The story follows Marek Arens' (an ace runner) quest and his slow demystification of an enigma named Jowita, an illusive girl he meets fleetingly at a party. Slowly his search consumes him, and gradually, in his restlessness, Marek starts sacrificing himself. He is caught between reality and illusion(?) and this exact feeling is captured by the director perfectly. Various closeups of ladies never lets you relax, you can never ignore the omnipresence of Jowita; several characters are introduced who create doubts in your mind; the music has a tense quality (btw, I think the Skyfall theme has been ripped from this theme) and the orchestra (and the superb violinist) adds to the gripping atmosphere. In between all the tension, and love, sometimes solicited sometimes not, Marek starts to lose himself and tries to draw away from racing. Enter Zbigniew Cybulski with a powerhouse cameo that I absolutely loved. Actually I found a distinct flavor in how the behaviors, conversations and attitudes of sports people is captured and how that becomes an intricate part of Marek's journey. "Life is an Olympics" alright! The film is also very much about the nature of romance and it actually outlines the diverse nature of love and how, sometimes, it can be torturous to choose between fantasy and reality.
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9/10
Beauty, Poem and Death
28 January 2014
Yuri Ilyenko's feature film debut is a powerful and harrowing piece of filmmaking. Shot in the obvious magic of black and white, the movie starts as a chain of sequences that could be hard to understand, but once the viewer slowly relaxes and invests in the film, the story becomes pretty clear and absorbing. This is a little parable about life in harshness, and what old age does, after you've seen so many pass you by. It is about an old man, spending his last days and waiting for his death in a desolate house all alone, surrounded only by his memories and photographs from a bygone era. In his spare time, he makes a coffin for himself and then starts sleeping in it, hoping that way Death will come to him sooner. The film is a mix of the past and present, capturing beauty, war, politics and regrets, in other words, 'life' itself through another eye as it trickles to stagnation and decay. The old man stays on a deserted piece of land with only a well for company (and occasionally an old lady, probably symbolizing his conscience), a well that has comforted travelers and soldiers alike for many years. Somehow, the well becomes the man's alter ego; the clear water gradually becoming vile, even as our old guy wanes away in the corner. In time his family comes to visit, bringing with them the old man's pregnant daughter in law who gives birth as the film ends, probably referring to our man's death (my personal assumption) in a cyclic manner. Symbolisms are etched on the expansive landscapes beautifully, and this is honestly a rousing film in the last 40 minutes, but to experience that the viewer needs to be patient for the first twenty five minutes or so. Seemingly arty and incoherent at the start, the pieces slowly fall together, building up a moving and poetic ode to the journey of life towards absolution. Excellent visuals too. Great start with Ilyenko.
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9/10
Romantic Bliss
24 January 2014
By now, I have almost turned stoic under the stream of excellent films, but this was a magical one! At once a mesmerizing ode to the emotion of 'love', a subtle critique on the Japanese society of the time and a thing of gorgeous beauty in every frame, this movie is a really fulfilling one. It is rich in emotional intensity, in the typically subdued manner that fits Japan, yet reaching out and effecting you. The story is of a girl and a boy who fall in love and all that ensues around them, including pressures from family, society, demands of life, etc. and with a denouement that is heartrending, to say the least. The camera drenched in mood is amazing, and the soundtrack at places is really marvelous, beautifully supplementing the film's sombre tone. Kinoshita brings romance into perspective, putting stress on the journey and not the results, and this along with Dvoje has to be two of the most complete explorations of 'love' I have seen. At minor phases, the movie might be a little stagnant or melodramatic but otherwise, its entire body sparkles with technical brilliance and innocent poignancy. Contrasted with the social behaviors that other character's exhibit, Masao and Tamiko's saga assumes an aura of purity, and ironically, also of a battle. All of the movie is narrated through the memories of an old man who returns to his home land, and the effect used on the film actually gives us a feeling that we are taking a trip down somebody's inner mind; and this is just another example of the well done technical aspects that come together to serve up a stirring, deep and 'cinematographic-ally' magnificent tale of transcendental romance. The last few moments and lines are lovely to experience, sure to touch everybody at some place.
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Olho por Olho (1966)
6/10
Not extraordinary, but interesting.
23 January 2014
A 20 minute short that focuses on the disillusioned youth of Brazil under the military dictatorship, and features the femme fatale Daniele Gaudin, this was Tonacci's first work, a short film that is not very remarkable, but interesting for observing his trademarks of cars and shaving, that will come back in his magnum opus, his next feature Bang Bang. The short follows a group of righteous friends out to punish unsuspecting citizens who play into their hands. A good understanding of camera and symmetry is evident, which would be reaffirmed convincingly in Bang Bang. Tonacci comes from the world of Cinema Marginal, that attempted to walk opposite to Cinema Novo, and create something norm-breaking, logic-defying.
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Blablablá (1968)
8/10
Very good.
23 January 2014
Political sarcasm at it very best, this short film focuses on the doubts and tensions faced by the Brazilians under the military dictatorship. The director captures three or four characters; a politician defending his government, a soldier expressing apparent disillusionment, a girl living through the civil unrest and a revolutionary trying to find his answers. I say 'three or four' because the soldier has very little screen time, and all he does is say 'Bla bla bla' even as the politician continues his campaign, lending an element of dark humor to the short. A film true to its times, true to its citizens, extremely political in nature and even if it doesn't give a solution, it raises sensible questions and leaves the viewers to their thoughts. Probably didn't reach the mass but the expression rings true even now.
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8/10
Simple and Complex
23 January 2014
My first film by Gosho, and I was expecting a soft social drama but this one ended up as a dark psychological tragedy. A very good film on formal levels and has an interesting story too. Ayako Oshima is a girl driven to prostitution by poverty and at her brothel, she gets involved in a dangerous death-web of fate with a father and his sons, and that slowly leads to an even greater tragedy. The film is melodramatic but fervently so, bringing into picture the extreme emotions raging within Ayako. The north Japan landscapes are beautifully shot and the confines of the brothel are well used to capture Ayako's self-discovery and eventful journey. The haunting soundtrack adds the correct flavor to the movie and the ending, even if it feels a bit staged, is intense and liberating. In fact, Jitsuko Yoshimura as Ayako is really good, effortlessly portraying the pain and despair of an accursed soul, and that factor really holds the movie together and makes the viewers feel her caged emotions. The movie overall has a classic Japanese feel, simple and universal, yet layered, and more of a witness to life than a judge.
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