Last week, Chandni Sheth and I watched what was a highly anticipated movie given that I first researched and added it to my queue 3 years ago.
It may seem ironic to some and natural to others that my favorite political films are all either children's films or child-centric story lines. A Russian classic, 'Burnt by The Sun' is no exception.
Its name indicates the idea that one who gives us light and in whose shadows we prosper, could very well end up burning us. Despite the heavy philosophical concept, this Oscar winner enthralls with its lightness of being; by opening a window into a happy family enjoying on its 'Dacha' in the countryside and by giving goosebumps with the loveliest, tenderest father-daughter moments while story of grand hopes of bright prosperous future for the GenX of an entire nation (which may or may not come to fruition) looming in the background.
If you like politics that impacts entire generation (Think New Deal, Year Zero etc) and like to see the most twinkling little star on screen, then don't miss it. Until then, enjoy short clip.
Uttarayan is a unique gem that succeeds in questioning social mores of our times while continuing to keep viewers entertained. Bipin Nadkarni positions himself as a thinking man’s director with his bold choice of unconventional subject and further solidifies his multi-disciplinary excellence with a screenplay that would make Jaywant Dalwi proud (based on play by Jaywant Dalwi)
Although the film primarily tackles the romance between two long lost friends in their 50s (Durgi played by Nina Kulkarni and Raghu played by Shivaji Satam, two performers at the prime of their art), it also wrestles issues of patriarchy, nostalgia, generation gap and unfulfilled aspirations in a subtle manner.
Nostalgia is captured through Raghu’s interactions with his friend (Baburao played by Viju Khote) and his daily routines in the lower middle class surroundings that he has returned to after a gap of several years. The backdrop of housing societies, wooden benches in little parks and quaint temple will fondly remind viewers of several Maharashtrian localities in Dadar or Pune (That India of the past is getting fast dismantled is another matter).
Cinematography is exceptional especially in one moment when camera takes a long, low angle sweep at the vast mansion lost by Durgi and her mother (Uttara Baokar in scintillating performance) as it moves toward the servant’s quarters where the two now reside.
The unforgettable quality of the film lies in its depiction of old age romance as primarily a profoundly simple and simply uncomplicated affection between the two protagonist. Romance in the modern parlance has taken such physical connotations that this disarming, platonic love story begs to be called something else. Whatever we brand it, the daily exchanges accompanying their burgeoning relationship are essentially beautiful and that alone is a reason enough to warrant a look at this soulful film.
If I were to recommend you to watch ‘Blame it on Fidel’ for a light, afternoon children’s fare, I would be spot on. Strangely, I would also be right if I were to claim that it is a subtle examination of political system and economic organization of our time. Yes, this contradiction and the film’s ability to pull it off with aplomb makes it a must-watch gem.
The film sets out to explore the turning of Anna and her brother, Francois’s life upside down in the midst of widespread political upheaval sweeping across continents and their very home. Their parents are liberals hauled into the swirling political winds of 1970s France in part due to guilt of having ignored their social belief in order to build a comfortable life of well-adorned home and manicured gardens. In an effort to right the wrong and embrace a new life of bohemian adventure and iconoclastic ideology, they start with gusto. But Anna is not so sure.
Francois provides the much needed comic relief in this adorable tussle between the elder child and her parents. In the aftermath of one such battle, Anna storms out of the house hauling Francois (perhaps to save him from her parents) onto the streets of Paris. The lilting melody of those moments becomes the troubling memory of the film. Audiences will, at once, find themselves smiling at the girl’s fiery temperament and profoundly touched by the love between siblings.
The movie is particularly effective by not answering the very questions it poses. Anna does not simply accept her parent’s theories at face value. She resists, she prods, she questions before she embraces. Essentially, what begins as a journey to educate Anna on a certain ideology also ends up being a lesson for parents themselves. In the process, audiences are left delving deeper into their own minds wondering if they can differentiate between group solidarity and sheep mentality, if they always know when they are sure, if it is ok to simply throw crumbs at poor farmers and workers in the name of charity or do we need to bring fundamental change to right the wrong of generations past.
Although Baran is a love story at its heart, the movie is largely an intimate portrayal of daily routine of Afghan-Iranian workers at a construction site on the outskirts of Teheran. Although I am no connoisseur of cinema, I feel comfortable claiming that the film depicts, perhaps the most gorgeous shots of something as bland as a construction site. The success of eminent auteur, Majid Majidi lies in taking moments of natural, realistic candor between constructions workers and juxtaposing them with magical, lyrical moments of embryonic love. I hope art lovers don’t simply praise the film for its art form relegating the underlying immigrant stories and its social consequences to the back of their mind. That would be sheer waste of Majidi’s diligently crafted masterpiece. Migrant workers within India are in the millions, each with a unique story. Although few dedicated journalist have brought their emotions to the mainstream, it is rueful that their stories are only captured by a single Indian film maker in the largest and still burgeoning Indian film industry. Even if one were to consider only the angle of love story, it is sad that despite the deluge of films on love stories, hardly any Indian film weaves one with as much maturity as Baran does.
If you desire moments of ethereal beauty, go watch BARAN (Available on Netflix)
PS: The writer of this blog grew up in India and is writing with Indian audience in mind.
Do we fleetingly remember the first glimpses of rebellion from our childhood? Have we become too old to give up on our curiosity and wild ideas? If yes, Viva Cuba will take us right back to that time and gently nudges us out of slumber to elicit a quiet chuckle. With a running time of only 80 mins, the film’s biggest success is that it remains within itself.
On the flip side, it is not a landmark film mostly due to director’s reluctance to delve deeper into social issues and bring them to the forefront of a feel good film. Malu and Jorgito, two children on a road adventure allows us access to Cuba’s gorgeous landscape from hot and exhausting Havana to a coastal lighthouse at the far end of the tiny country. Both friends have a mutinous streak but on closer observation, one can also notice their class stereotypes demonstrated in various behaviors. Bourgeois lady and daughter more obsessed with vanity than books and industrious Proletariat father more preoccupied with thrashing his child. All in all, the film serves as a lovely introduction to cultural and economic fissures in Cuban society while going on a fun ride with two naughty children played superbly by both actors.
Saw Killing Fields again after 10 years and was quickly reminded of why I had fallen in love with the film. This is a hymn to the kind of love story I have come to love. There is no question of physical or platonic; it is a human love story (between Dith Pran and Sydney), a poignant reminder of the power of journalism. Salute to all sensitive and daring journalists who are more loyal to their journalistic principle – to give voice to the voiceless (Cambodia) – than to their nation or even their personal life.
The movie had changed me then and it certainly moved Chandni Sheth today, who is re-watching the film with Director’s commentary as I post this.
Highly recommended for cinema buffs and political junkies alike
Encounters at the end of the world (EAEW) is a hypnotic film. It is a philosopher’s delight with sublime cinematography and otherworldly music. Those features are apt companion to the incredulous stories of the Antarctica’s residents.
To paraphrase one of the residents – All those living on the edge get thrown off the margins at some point and fall into Antarctica. It’s a movie about rebels without guns, iconoclasts armed with ideas and theories that are either simply quirky or ahead of their time. But the true trump card is Werner Herzog, the legendary German peddler of dreams. Herzog articulates his thoughts lucidly and his accent adds that tad bit of edge to his ideas. He questions our desire for quest, the impact of race to the top and does it all with a touch of class and enigma. None of his comments are direct or offensive but a lot is said between the lines in that acerbic tone. Although there is a sense of kinetic energy to the film with ample dose of guitar playing, shots of flags waving wildly in the arid landscape and scientists partying in the desert, but the film is primarily a meditative experience. Many minutes are spent in a surreal ice cave and swimming with seals in water holes under ice with lovely fusion music by Henry Kaiser , another heretic from the main land.
Encounters is about Antarctica but not about Penguins. It is a film that you don’t ever want to end. And why should it end after all? There is no arc to it. There is no high point or low drama. It is simply a series of observations. Relax and immerse in this top notch art.
If you ever wanted to be one with the environment, this film offers you a chance. Aptly titled, it embraces all the elements of nature during its 4 segments spread between 5 holy calls to prayer (Azaan).
A veritably gorgeous movie, it captures the doubts of childhood and images of splendid Anatolia all at once in several of its many resplendent moments. It unsettles you and leaves your hungry. Hungry for an arc, an ending, some sort of completion. But it offers none. It steadfastly remains a view into the early teen lives of 3 friends bustling with energy amidst adult brutality omnipresent all around them as they go about their daily chores and ends without a definitive confirmation. That absence of sermonizing is the magical, mystical aura of the film. It leaves things unsaid and open to interpretation. That does not mean it does not make a statement. In fact, it pack
s a punch on difficult social issues as varied as gender roles, generational gap and morality. Although it presents children’s hardships and troubles, it is not a pitiful sob story. Instead, it peppers the struggles with bewitching background score, enticing photography and light fun moments from the children’s daily sojourns around this remote mountain community.
The shots of children lying dispirited but in unison with their environment are haunting and the comprehensive 360 degree shot from and of the Minarat during Azaan will linger with audience forever.
Conservation is THE epic problem to tackle for our post modern industrial society. Virunga movie refers to one of the most crucial and stunningly gorgeous eponymous national parks in the world that is also one of the last 4 resorts for Mountain Gorillas (our closest cousins after Chimps). The beauty captured by the gradual camera movement in panoramic shots alone is worth dying for. This park is cursed by its location on the border of 3 countries marred by deep conflict – Rwanda, DRC and Sudan. Sudanese and DRC rebels have repeatedly sought to occupy the park. Caught in the middle of poachers and rebels are some of the most dedicated and heavily armed park rangers in the world. Having visited National Parks in Tanzania and interacted with rangers and locals, I could grasp and believe their deep affection for the park and importance of its conservation. Wait a second, its not over yet. Add to this fiery cocktail, a shady oil corporation with questionable past seeking to probe for oil and you have the makings of a Hollywood thriller. Only this time, its a moderate budget documentary. This time, its real and its apocalyptic predictions of our planet’s demise are not random conspiracy theories but result of scientific observations.Virunga is a rare gem that concerned citizens around the world should lap up wholeheartedly because it depicts what would have been impossible to access without generous helpings of luck. To begin with, the film maker gives a whole new meaning to the idea of being in the right place at the right time and secondly, persisting with the story in the middle of brutal conflict requires the sort of daredevilry that comes with extreme sports experience which this director had in his prior career. Some stories are just way too important for audience to ignore because they represent the essence of life, they question why we live and bring forth what we should die for. Virunga is one of those stories.
El Violin is a black and white musical treat with deep political implicationsEl Violin is not for the faint of heart. It’s a gem for those who love slow meditation on topics as varied as music and ambition.
A relative short length film imparting photo journalistic quality to its black and white frame, it packs a punch on conflict especially between haves and have-nots of Mexico. The lead actor is a hardy 80 year old musician first and an actor only by chance. His wrinkles are written with decades of experience that light up the screen with emotions. The narrative is primarily presented through interactions between 3 generations of peasant guerrillas and the army personnel with the beautiful Sierra Madre in the background. If you love any one subject from history, photography, music, peasant oppression, you will enjoy the film but if you love all these, the film is going to haunt you for a very long time. Look for a fine cinematic political statement when the old man explains to his grandson the source of conflict –
In the beginning of time , the ancient gods created the earth, the sky, fire, the wind and all the animals; Then they also created man and woman. They all lived in harmony, But one of those Gods was mischievous and he gave mankind envy and ambition. When the other gods found out, they punished the mischievous god.
Then they removed the ambitious people of the earth. But some of them were accident left behind. And then there were more and more and more, and they wanted to own everything. They deceived the good people and little by little, they took away what they owned, until they got everything. They drove them out of their forests. The good people felt that this was not fair. So they turned to the Gods for help. But the gods told them to fight on their own that their destiny was to fight. The ambitious people had become powerful so the good people decided to wait. and their land became dark and desolate.
Then, the good people returned to fight for their land and their forests because it belonged to them. Because their parents had made it for their children and the children of their children and that’s what we will do. We will go back.
When will better times come?
One day you will know.