Thursday, 24 June 2010

12:08 East of Bucharest

I am thankful to Alita and Anindya for initiating me into this film.

A fost sau n-a fost? is a 2006 Romanian film by the director Corneliu Porumboiu. 12:08 East of Bucharest  is its English name. 12:08 refers to that hour on 22 December 1989. The Romanian revolution started in Timisoara in the west of Romania on 17 December 1989 and was short lived before ending on the 22nd. The film shows the happenings of one day - 22 December 2004. A local TV channel in a small town organizes a talk show on the revolution in their town. As usual, the reporter will take anything that would raise the rating of his channel.

The talk show has a certain local school teacher who is a thorough drunkard and like many drunkards is a good man. He is coaxed into saying, by the host, that he, along with three other teachers of his school, all of who are now either dead or abroad, protested at the town square shortly before noon on the eventful day of 22 December 1989. This sparks a row of comments from viewers. The host seizes the opportunity and discussion veers to whether or not he really did that. The poor guy tries to tell many times that whether he was there or not is not important. It was the revolution that was. Who cares? By then, several members of the society had decided to become judgemental and had taken the responsibility on themselves to correct a grave mistake (in their opinion). Of course, vested interests are at play as well.

Wry humour and perfect depiction of life. This is usually what happens in life. There is an important issue which everyone thinks, has a right to comment on. Then there are all kinds of people - some know that the issue and the stakeholders are most important and hence restraint and humility need to be exercised. Completely at the other extreme are some people who manage to extract some mileage out of the issue - could be financial, could be sexual, could be settling an old score, could simply be ego enhancement. Most are in between - often confused and always judgemental.

Seeing the honest school teacher who becomes a favourite punching bag of everyone, one is reminded of Enemy of The People. The character of the host of the show is reminiscent of Adam Pietryk in the film The Conductor, directed by Andrzej Wajda.

There are many telling moments in the film which I can not describe without spoiler alerts. This is a truly remarkable film. Very unassuming and straightforward. No statements, no slogans, no hints, no forced artistry. Just life.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Cinq fois deux

Francois Ozon is a well known name. He is prolific. His films are mostly in French, except Swimming Pool which has a good amount of English. He has a nearly undefinable quality that makes him a very French director if you know what I mean. His work is akin to that of Francois Truffaut's. The 2005 film Le temps qui reste also known as "Time to Leave" is touching.

However, Cinq fois deux which in English will literally mean Five times two defies adjectives. In this film, he delves deep into the difficult theme of collapse of the marriage of a young couple with a small child. No judgements if you were looking for one. Two very normal, healthy, jovial, successful persons. And their marriage does not work. This is a phenomenon that is now haunting the western society for at least half a century. In India, this social phenomenon is at its beginning.

Brilliantly scripted, experiments with format. The story is told in reverse, beginning with the divorce. Then one sees the glimpses of the happy family that once was. A happy family with a son. Then the wedding and so on. Stéphane Freiss plays the role of the husband. To begin with, he does seem to be a scoundrel. That fades later. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is beautiful, vulnerable, upright. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that she has equal hand in shaping the future. Freiss seems to be lesser and lesser of an evil that he seemed at first. That is when the audience understands (or may be, I should only talk about myself) that the issue at hand is not about who is good or who is bad. It is just that everyone is human. People act according to their nature, ego, perceived threats, innate goodness and so on. And consequences follow.

The film is rich in sensual physical content. Reminds me of how Ray used the day to day mundane activity of eating in his films. Many of his films are full of scenes of eating during which insightful conversations take place. Cinq fois deus has many bed scenes many of which reveal the characters to a large extent. Ozon is known to use physical intimacy to bring out mental equations. And he does it so very well. We learn a lot both about Gilles (Freiss) and Marion (Tedeschi) from these scenes. Extraordinary direction.

The film leaves you asking whether marriage is a doomed institution (at least in France, and in India, going by the recent trends in big cities). Or is there hope?

Who knows.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Jaane bhi do yaron

I have been told that the blogs I post about my favourite films are too short. Followers would have liked a more detailed account. Of course, my reason was that if I went into more detail, I might divulge the story. It is easily noticeable that these films are rich in narrative. In each of these films, the story plays a very important role. And after all, the aim is that you read the blog, get excited about the film and then try to see it if you have not already seen it.  From now on, I shall try to write in somewhat more detail though. I shall expand the blog on Terra Fria.
The first Hindi film that I want to blog about is Jaane Bhi do Yaron. I do not think there is any even moderately interested Hindi film goer in India who has missed this film. A hilarious comedy by Kundan Shah. Every minute is a treat. Two friends start a photography shop. Their simple effort to earn a livelihood for themselves runs into several complicated hurdles. Initially, it is just the corruption. Of private builders and colluding government officials. Our photographers, played by Nasseruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani, get unwittingly entangled in the maze. Then there is murder which they accidentally chance upon. The way they stumble upon the murder in Antonioni Park is fantastically done. Then of course, all kinds of things happen.
The film has many good actors, like Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor and others. But the attraction of the film is not that. It is the way sequences are constructed. Some of them are unreal, but you do not even notice because you are busy laughing your heart out. In one scene, Naseeruddin Shah is talking over phone with one of the villains and they are in the same room. It takes courage to plan and execute such a scene.
This film is of course sarcastic as well. In the end, everybody makes merry for themselves, except the two photographers. They are the only ones who were innocent. They thought truth would prevail. They tried to expose the corrupt. Apart from them, everyone else was playing some kind of game or other. Finally, they are the ones who are screwed up.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Terra Fria

Terra Fria, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, is  a monotonous sequence of rolling hills and dry plateaus in the north west corner of Portugal where grains (especially rye) are extensively cultivated and livestock are raised. It means cold land. It is part of a bigger region Trás-os-Montes i.e., across the mountains. Amidst these mountains and rough terrain, the director sets up a gripping tale.  Leonardo and his wife Ermelinda live in the village. Leonardo tries to survive by buying and selling marten and fox furs. Ermelinda, the prettiest girl in the village, starts working as a maid in a rich man's (the only one in the vicinity) house. They form a relationship. How and why Ermelinda did it, is a matter of artistic depiction. What lured her - may be his charm, may be his wealth. The man, a bit of a Casanova, just needed a woman. The ensuing tale of treachury and pain is the meat of the story.

I have seen it only once - in 1992 in Delhi, where every year there used to be (may be still is) a retrospective of award wining European films of that year. In spite of several efforts, I have not been able to get the film in any form. The director Antonio Campo uses the rugged terrain very well. Superlative performance by  Joaquim de Almeida as Leonardo and Cristina Marcos as Ermelinda. The film is set in 1940s, but the issues are time independent. The question that haunts you after you come out of the hall is why do human beings forsake a safe, secure life for risk and treachury? For materialistic gain, for some intangible psychological satisfaction - who knows? Ultimately the destruction is all round.