Saturday, 26 December 2009

La femme d'a cote

Francois Truffaut is one of the best directors of all times (yes, I remember Ray, Renoir, Kurosawa, Ozone and many others) and La femme d'a cote is his best. His best known films are Les quatre cents coups and Le dernier metro. However, this film that I am writing about now, appeals right from the beginning for its precision, economy, incisive insight, vividly sensitive portrayal of characters and after all a complete understanding of human emotions. The film is based on love, treachury, lust and blood - in short everything that life is made of. A classic and one of the ten best films that I have seen in my life.

I first saw this in the Hamsadhwani theatre at Pragati Maidan in Delhi. The hall is small and this intense film made the hall seem smaller. The film has Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant in the lead roles. Superb restrained performance from Depardieu. We all know he is a great actor. But this performance required more restraint than anything else and he excels in that. Fanny Ardant has the role of a sensitive woman whose love for Bernard (Depardieu) knows no bounds. They knew each other and Bernard dumped her. As luck would have it, they happen to be neighbours many years later. That unfolds the drama. La Femme d'a Cote literally means The Woman Next Door. By now of course Mathilde (Ardant) is married as is Bernard. What follows is a tumultuous affair.

I recently saw it again and all the things that I like about this film became apparent once more. A lot of the acting in this film is done with eyes. Of course, Depardieu and Ardant are the best in the trade. But the rest of the crew live up to the standard. The film is set in Grenoble. Bernard and Mathilde rent room number 18 in a hotel for their sexual escapades. One day, Mathilde arrives slightly after Bernard and asks the receptionist for the key. The receptionist, a middle aged woman, tells that Bernard is waiting for her in the room. As Mathilde starts climbing the stairs, the receptionist looks at her. A look containing a mixture of emotions.

A gripping tale of basic emotions, the film keeps you on the edge. When I saw the film for the first time, the end came as a shock. Now nearly twenty years later, I know that there could be only one natural ending - the one the director chose. I have hardly seen a more complete film apart from Rashomon and Charulata. I would love to go on and on about this film, but in this blog I try not to reveal the entire plot.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Azur et Asmar

Azur et Asmar is a 2006 animated French feature film, aimed mainly at children. Just as is the case with many such films, this film too holds an appeal for a much wider audience. The film is bilingual - partly in French and partly in Arabic. A neat storyline is what captivates the children. Very well crafted story, delivered with fantastic graphics. Disney makes the best of the animated films - if that is what you thought, you ought to see Azur et Asmar.

However, the extra edge this film has lies in its rich and vibrant use of colours. The colours of landscapes, of the sky, of the sea and of the people set up a different mood altogether. One clearly sees the difference when the plot shifts from cloudy and bleak France to a colourful mediterranean coast of north Africa. The sky is bright, the sun shines, the market place is full of colourful merchandise, people wear colour, trees are tropical and flowers are widespread. There is an unforgettable market scene which is a riot of colours.

The drawings are clearly influenced by old European and Islamic styles. Certain Islamic trends are easily discernible and enrich the film. The Arabic dialogue, which is interspersed with the French, does not come with a subtitle. That seems to be deliberately done.

As far as fairy tales go, it does not get better than this.

Sunday, 8 November 2009


It is somewhat pointless to write in such a blog about a classic. However, Charulata is different. It is surely one of the best five films I have ever seen, but that is not the reason. Charulata's presence on net is not as much as one would expect. This is arguably Satyajit Ray's best film. Immaculately crafted, everything planned in advance and superbly executed to give the viewer an ethereal experience.

It is the story of a young bored housewife, Charulata (or Charu), in Kolkata in the beginning of twentieth century. The story narrates how three people get together (or apart) in a relationship. The film is steeped in the coziness of affluence, and perhaps for this kind of relationships to prosper one had to be surrounded by affluence. This is very far cry from Ray's take on the famous Bengal famine in 'Ashani Sanket', for example.

The film is shot in black and white because this was still too early for colour in Bangla cinema. The quintessential charm of Kolkata's affluent elite forms the background. The women from such a family, however, had nothing much to do while the men were wondering about various social and political issues. And so if one of the womenfolk in the family had an extraordinary mind, she would be bored. Consequently, when Amal (pronounced Au-mol with 'Au' as in Author), a distant relative, comes to stay with them, Charu immediately has something to do. The bond that forms between them is the theme of the film. Also of course the effect this relationship has on Charu's husband Bhupati.

Ray once wrote that some of the new directors did not consider their job complete unless they had shown their protagonists' pubic hair. See his book Our films, their films, pages 13 and 14. Ray did not need any eroticism to portray the intimacy. He did not have the option either, being a filmmaker in the 1960s in Bengal. He loved to use the "power of suggestion which is inherent in all art". What is important is that in this case, he did not even need to suggest anything at all. The sublime beauty of the film Charulata lies in the fact that the intimacy between Charu and Amal was built on various mundane day to day things with one important exception - their common interest in literature. This was a common thread between them. One feels that intimacy between two human beings had never taken a greater shape than this. Various symbolism are spread in the film. A poignant moment occurs when Charu's husband, being cheated by the rest of the world, comes back to Charu for solace and discovers Charu's passion for Amal.

An altogether complete and enjoyable experience. The film is based on a story by Rabindranath Thakur. The story is good, but the film takes the story to a very different level.

Friday, 6 November 2009

La Double Vie de Veronique

La Double Vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronica, in English and Podwójne życie Weroniki in Polish) is Krzysztof Kieślowski's last film before he made the Three Colours trilogy. As far as I know, the last of the Three Colours trilogy - Three Colors: Red- is his last film, he died soon after. La Double Vie de Véronique is surprisingly his first film to be partially shot outside Poland - in France. This is the story of two women - Weroniki in Poland and Veronique in France. They are both talented in music - and their lives are very different. This is the ccentral theme of the film. The director has clearly put in a lot of fantasy in the film. I usually do not like a film with a lot of fantasy because it often becomes a tool in itself without an end. However, as we all know, there are glorious exceptions - Rashomon, for example, where fantasy has been used to take the film to an altogether different dimension. In the case of La Double Vie de Véronique, the fantasy is more or less in the background - the director never emphasizes it, although a supernatural element is vaguely present.

However, we are probably digressing from the main strength of the film - its music. The music of the film is almost a character, always present and almost has a personality. Tremendously soothing scores by Zbigniew Preisner has been used by the director as a central character. I must mention here that my own awareness of western music is elementary and hence I find it pleasantly surprising that the music in the film immediately touches a chord in the mind.

Some plain good acting and rich use of colours captivates the audience. Interesting use of symbols. Abundant use of filters - innovative and colourful cinematography.

Obviously, you can not miss the central message of the film. It is too grossly spelt out. This is the only drawback of the film, if one is intent on finding one. The message, delivered not too subtly, is that is there really any such thing as free will, or is destiny pre-determined or are we products of random chances.

Who knows?