Fat City - An Overlooked Tale of Misery and Despair

                              John Huston -- Hollywood's maverick master -- is known for movies like "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" (1948), "The African Queen" (1951), "The Misfits"(1961) and for many other excellent films. His critical hit and come-back movie (he was 66 yrs old) "Fat City" (1972) is the rejuvenated director's contribution to the New Wave of Hollywood cinema. Fat City is a grim downbeat study of a fighter -- a disillusioned 29-year-old boxer Bill Tully. The movie was mainly notable for its terrific performance all around, especially from Stacy Keach as Tully. We also could see the "Big Lebowski" fame Jeff Bridges as a baby-faced, wide-eyed 18 year old kid.

                           The story is set in Stockton, California, which looks like a wasteland of smoky bars and sun-bleached streets. At the start, a washed-up, hard drinking boxer Billy Tully (Keach) briefly encounters a younger version of himself, Ernie (Jeff Bridges), in a gym. He immediately sponsors the boy and asks him to meet up with his former manager and gym owner Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto). It's been years since Tully has fought in the ring. His wife has left him after the loss in a championship match in Panama. From then on, he has become a full-time bum and drowns his sorrows in a local bar. 

                        Tully meets a alcoholic Oma (Susan Tyrrell), who is more messed up than him. He sees her as someone to whom, he can pour his frustrations into while emphasizing, both inwardly and outwardly, his ‘strong points’ (“I’ve never hit a woman in my life”). Tully is also glad that at least he is not in jail like Faye's most recent husband, Earl.

                        Meanwhile, Ernie's amateur boxing career is full of hits and misses. At a time when Ernie is looking to turn into a pro, his pregnant girlfriend Faye (Candy Clark) snares the nice guy into marrying her. Apart from the talk of future glories and past successes, these guys never know any other world than the back-street gymnasiums and cheap boxing-rings where battered managers exchange confidences about their disappointments and dreams, and where in a sad climax two sick men beat each other half to death for a few dollars and a temporary glory.

                       Director John Huston is said to be a professional fighter in his youth. So he has clearly invested all the fighting experience in his hungry young performers. Stacy Keach's Tully is similar to Brando's Terry Malloy in "On the Waterfront", where he all but gives the speech "I coulda been a contender." Keach, whether waltzing in the boxing ring or picking onions, he is very affecting. A viewer could feel his melancholic position, especially in the aftermath of a prolonged fistfight, where he wonders if he has been knocked out (even though he has won it).

                    Susan Tyrrell's drunken antics and shameless face-pulls as Oma gives the film a compelling subtext. She plays one of the most believable drunks I've ever seen on screen. Jeff Bridges gives a graceful performance as one of the skinniest boxer in movies. Huston has directed this movie with the same puritanical rigour he brought in his old classics. Stockton -- the go-getting modern American community is stunningly shot by Conrad L. Hall. Gardener's script (he also wrote the novel) defines time, place, mood, and character without great amount of dialogue.

                        "Fat City" is not a feel good, upbeat sports drama. If you are in a mood to appreciate a marvelous understated character study, then it's a must watch.


Fat City - IMDb

Movies of Kielsowski -- Three Colors : Blue

                                In Kieslowski's "The Double of Veronique", Veronique remains immature. She is fascinated by representations of reality that promise fantastically deep and rich experiences, which prevents herself from knowing or loving the actual source of these phenomena. In Kieslowski's "Three Colors: Blue", the reverse could be said of its main character, Julie (Juliette Binoche).

                             "Blue" is about Frenchwoman who loses her husband and daughter in an automobile crash and as result of this trauma tries to commit a kind of psychic suicide by obliterating her identity and her memories. She does this by selling off her possessions, closing up her house, tearing up a musical score on which she and her husband, Patrice, a famous composer, had been working, and moving to a Paris neighborhood where she hopes she can live in anonymity.

                           At a real-estate office where she is looking for an apartment, she replies to the agent's inquiry about her occupation that she does "Nothing -Nothing at all" (the agent is played by Philippe Volter -- Alexandre in "Veronique"). This refrain is repeated later to her mother whom she visits at a nursing home: "I'll only do what I want to know. Nothing. I don't want any belonging, any memories ...... no friends, no love."

                          For the narcissistic Veronique, the world was a mirror of her psychic need for a mother. For the traumatized Julie, the world is a representation divested of all significance and desire. This is shown brilliantly earlier in the film, as she lays in her hospital bed after the accident, through the use of an immense closeup of the eye that contains only the mirror images of her surroundings, including her attending doctor. Her eye is a twin of the miniature television her friend, Oliver brings her so that she can watch the funeral of her daughter and husband.

                         In a moment of intense pathos , as Julie touches the tiny television screen depicting the two coffins, the viewer experiences a powerful overlay of Kieslowski's cross references. The television monitor reminds us of the ending of "Decalogue I" where the image of Pawel after his death lingers, frozen onto a television screen, of Veronika's glass-topped coffin and her treasured glass ball, of the mirror in which Veronique and Alexandre spot each other, and now, in "Blue", of the cold mirroring eye of Julie herself. It is as though under the impact of traumatic losses the familiar reality of the world takes on an uncanny alien aspect, or deadness, making it unreal, nothing more than a phantom.

                        Julie cannot mourn her dead daughter and husband or cry. It is as though her eyes now are not real human eyes, but cold mirrors, like the icy surface of the fateful pond in "Decalogue I." The blue tints of the cinematography itself reinforce the tones of melancholy, coolness, and boundless nothing, evoking the collapse of Julie's world.  

                         In her act of withdrawal, not only does Julie try to strip the luminous sheen off the everyday world -- highlighted by a scene where she angrily scrapes her knuckles along a stone wall -- so that for her it has no significance or desirability, she also tries to remove any of her features that may arouse around another subject's desire for her.

                      Julie own elderly mother spends her days in a nursing home gazing at the most insipid images television has at its disposal. Suffering from something like Alzheimer disease, she has lost her memory and misrecognizes her daughter, confusing her with her own sister. She is objectively what her daughter would need to become to succeed in her nihilistic retreat from reality, a blank eye peering at a meaningless screen. But there is a gap between mother and daughter that ensures that Julie will not be caught, like Veronique in nostalgic longing for her lost mother.

                       The mother is lost, but she is also embarrassingly present precisely as one who is lost, repelling rather than inviting a psychic union or doubling, offering thereby a kind of escape from narcissistic immaturity not available for Veronique. Whereas, Veronique was entranced by the dream that there was an other who bore her name (Veronika) to replace the mother who knew her name, Julie is compelled to accept the existence of a mother who misnames her. In this misrecognition lies hope for Julie's growth into a more complete human subject.

                       While Veronique was a presence haunted by the absence of her double, Julie throughout the film is an absence haunted by a presence of musical phrases that return from her unconsciousness like powerful waves. To take one example, while she is swimming in the blue waters of an indoor pool, musical fragments from her husband's unfinished concerto wash over her as the screen image fades away completely for a few seconds. Despite her conscious choice to retreat from human contact and to erase her past, there remains in Julie a powerful undercurrent of will and desire associated with the music her husband has composed.  

                       It is this periodic, resurgent life forces that saves her from the psychosis of a complete withdrawal from reality and actually moves her to finish the concerto herself. The music erupts with a energy, as though memory were an palpable thing, capable at any point of disrupting ordinary existence.

                       With Julie, the soul of a woman has truly grown from the primary narcissism and fantasies of Veronique to mature of acceptance of reality and of the other. It is a soul whose moral power and transcendental life we have been privileged to behold, in "Three Colors: Blue" and thanks to the genius of Kieslowski.

Kieslowski on Three Colors : Blue

The Illusionist - A Bittersweet Tale

                                 Jacques Tati was a French national treasure. He was known and loved by movie-goers all over the world for his comic alter ego, Monsieur Hulot. The legendary Tati's "Hulot" is considered to be a character, which succeeded Charles Chaplin and a predecessor to Mr. Bean. His universal classics like, "Mon Oncle", "Playtime", "Hulot's Holiday" has a poignant humor and exquisite images. Sylvain Chomet's animated feature "The Illusionist" (2010) was made from one of Tati's unproduced screenplay. The script was meant for live action (presumably for Tati himself), but Chomet turns it into a adorable appreciation of Tati and a bittersweet look at the end of the 1950s, before entertainers like the magicians and comedians were displaced by rock bands and other more visceral acts.
                               The movie is about a gradual professional decline of Tatischeff, a veteran magician in 1959 Paris. He is always in an odd magenta suit and moves from gig to gig with a rabbit, his top hat, three-legged table and wine glasses. He travels from Paris to London with no success, then travels north in search of a livelihood. In Scotland, Tatischeff captures the fancy of the establishment’s young maid, Alice. She tags along and they visit Edinburgh. They have a father-daughter relationship in a  boarding house for performing artist, where his gigs and stages get smaller and smaller until, finally, he's doing tricks in a store window. 

                         His talent is not in question, but around him there are signs of the approaching rock bands, most evident in the upstaging swaggering of a group of peacocks called Billy Boy and the Britoons. The post-war European society wants something different, something he's unable to provide. However, Tati buys Alice nice shoes and coats. And their relationship is chaste and mostly wordless. In the end, Tatischeff's deepening sadness prompts him to insist that "magicians do not exist."

                       Director Chomet is previously known for his astonishing Oscar-nominated debut "Triplets of Belleville." In his first animated film, he made gentle fun of the Tour de France cycling race, whereas "Illusionist" pays homage to the Scottish capital with dreamy, layered cityscape that drizzle rain and charm. Chomet and his animators' 2D animation style adds nostalgic, emotional chords between the gently funny bits that color the illusionist's offstage struggles. The tribute paid to Tati in "Illusionist" is mostly a bittersweet one. We don't get much of the real Tati -- his real gift for physical invention -- and yet the film's softly stylized caricature nabs his ungainly grace and wordless shades of emotion.
                       Chomet places the Illusionist in a magical bygone era of Europe that owes as much to Hayao Miyazaki as to Tati himself. He also fills the film with other comical caricatures, each with a clear-cut appearance and lively set of idiosyncrasies. Apart from few amusing sound effects and a bewitching piano score, the movie has hardly any dialogues. So, The Ilusionist rewards only the patient viewer. It offers long stretches where heedful viewers will notice the many amusing and absurd touches that Chomet and animation team have carefully sketched in. 
                      "The Illusionist" is a rare work of art that salutes and pays homage to old-time entertainers at a time of 3-D and digital dominance.

Side by Side - Digital Vs Celluloid

                             Chris Kenneally's "Side by Side" (2012), with the narration of Keanu Reeves (one of the producers) has such an impressive lineup of interview subjects for a documentary -- Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, Lana and Andy Wachowski. The documentary is an expertly assembled debate surrounding the movie industry's transition from celluloid to digital film-making. the question it poses to us : Is film dead? That is, is the photochemical film, the standard for 100 years, rapidly on its way to being replaced by digital technology? The answer, more or less at the end is a "yes." 

                               Before getting into a detailed review, the only problem i felt with this documentary is that, if as a movie-lover you have never grasped the differences between film and digital to know what’s what, then this movie muddles more than it clarifies. There's not a moment in "Side by Side" in which one format is juxtaposed with the other. It was also shot with a digital camera.

                             Kenneally and Reeves, though doesn't take any firm stand on these debates, they seem to accept that most of these changes are inevitable. James Cameron, Fincher, David Lynch, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, Richard Rodriguez, Danny Boyle and Anthony Dodd Mantle (Boyle’s current regular Cinematographer) -- all speak on behalf of digital side. They are arguing that the film is bad, they are just saying that these digital cameras are easy to maneuver. With the 35mm camera, the film-makers had to wait a whole day for footage to be processed in order to see what they have shot. 

                        Martin Scorsese makes a valid argument that the advancing amount of artificial world on screen (created by digital cameras) may cause viewers to process everything as fiction, without any appreciation for images captured organically. George Lucas and Cameron, the ingenious directors who have pushed the digital boundaries of storytelling makes the case for the new tools as an artistic necessity. “I wanted whatever we imagined to be something we could realize,”says Cameron. David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Social Network) notes that digital advancements will never get in the way of good storytelling. 

                           Nolan (Who vastly prefers film) and his cinematographer Wally Pfister talk about the warmth and depth film provides. They also fret that once it's gone, digital can never replace it.Whereas, Robert Rodriquez annotates that he never would have been able to make “Sin City” without digital capabilities.The Wachowski's, who embraces the changing medium, represents the movie-makers of style over substance.

                          We also get to know a lot about  new generation high-definition cameras -- from Panavision, Arriflex, Canon, to the recent array of Red cameras. The director also takes us inside the production facilities of these companies. It may seem surprising to hear someone as old-school as Scorsese to talk about his exhilaration on working in a digital age. Although he filmed "Hugo" in digital he doesn't give a testimonial for digital. We also get to know the views of some of the greatest cinematographers -- Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor), Michael Ballhaus (The Departed, Goodfellas), Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) -- excellent editor -- Anne V. Coates(Lawrence of Arabia) and  wizardly sound designer and editor Walter Murch.

                        "Side by Side" is a delight to watch because it brings us all onto the movie set, into the editing room and behind the camera. Watching these great film-makers talking about the art that they so obviously love is an indispensable treat for movie-lovers, all over the world.


Movies of Kieslowski : The Double Life of Veronique

                                 Mystery is always said to be lying below the surface of ordinary as a 'shadowy double.' It is treated in great depth in Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique." -- a film about emotions. It is about the unseen, unfathomable forces -- fate and chance -- that shape our lives even as we go about our banal everyday business. With a visual style, which can be called "luminous", it tells a complex story of two very young women, Veronika and Veronique (both played by Irene Jacob), living different but uncannily parallel lives, one in Poland and one in France.

                              The film opens with a voice-over announcing that these women were born on the same day in 1960 and shows each as a little girl being spoken to by a mother, who later dies. They both have gentle fathers to whom they are very close: both have beautiful singing voices, and both, incredibly, have a serious heart condition.

                           The first part of the film which is in Polish, concentrates on moments in the last days in the life of Veronika, a spontaneously joyful person whom we first meet singing ecstatically in a downpour while the rest of her chorus runs for cover. Veronika travels to Krakow from her hometown and wins a music competition allowing her to perform a celestially beautiful piece of music. During her debut concert, as she reaches for an impossibly high note, she perishes from a heart attack. Her story closes from the viewpoint of her glass-topped coffin; we watch, as though from the grave, dirt being shoveled from above onto the coffin until the screen becomes entirely black. In that moment we are brought to the bedroom of French-woman Veronique, who is making love with her boyfriend.

                      Veronique tells her boyfriend that she feels a deep sense of loss and sadness. Afterwards, she decides to give up her singing career, have her heart condition taken care of, and accept a job as a music teacher at a provincial elementary school. She visits her widowed father on occasion and seem resigned to a dull, but comfortable, life, until she attends a puppet performance at her school.

                         The performance is put in on the school auditorium, which is filled with excited children. The camera alternates shots of the children's faces with the puppet show conducted by a puppet master  named Alexandre Fabbri. Alexandre draws a ballerina from a black-box and sets it into a dance motion. The ballerina collapses, dies, and miraculously comes to life again as a angel-like being or a large winged butterfly, to the relief of the distressed school children. The beauty and psychological power of this scene is that, although the puppet is an automaton manipulated by a human master, we witness in its movements a grace and spirit that seem more soulful than those of a real human dancer.

The Puppet Show

                             During this performance, the camera catches Veronique looking into a backstage mirror and spotting the puppet master, Alexandre, absorbed in his work. He in turn sees her looking at him and seems disturbing by that fact. Beginning with this meeting in the mirror, a relationship develops between Veronique  and Alexandre. He begins to lure Veronique to him by sending her little mysterious items like a shoe-string, a phone call, and a tape with train station noises. In one shot of Veronique's apartment, an orange-yellow light dances around, like an angelic visitor, apparently cast by a mirror held by Alexandre in another apartment window.

                         It becomes clear later that this puppet master has somehow acquired knowledge of Veronique's double, Veronika, and is using this knowledge both to seduce Veronique and to fabricate a story for another of his puppet dramas. Once Veronique herself recognizes this, her relationship with Alexandre crumbles, and she returns in tears to her father's home.

                        How are we to understand these incidents? Although the age of Veronika-Veronique in this movie appears to be about twenty two, Kieslowski shows Veronique only as a 'girl, who has lost her mother but who is still attached to and haunted by this absent mother. Until she can in someway cut herself from her mother, she cannot develop a mature subjectivity that would allow her to act as an independent ego and, among other things, have a healthy relationship with a male. Both the death of Veronika and Veronique's encounter with Alexandre's puppets, represents phases of a young woman's psychological and spiritual development that provides clues to Kieslowski's understanding of the importance of the soul.

                      The Polish Veronika lives as a pure voice disconnected from her body -- a voice without a bearer, without an assignable place, floating in an intermediate space. So, Veronika' devotion to her voice is a symptom of her unwillingness or inability to give up her mother. We have a girl who is pure voice because she is not yet a subject. To become a subject, she would have to renounce the object which vouches for the fantasmatic link (with the mother).

Veronika Singing in the Concert

                     Unlike Veronika, Veronique does have an encounter with a male, Alexandre, which restimulates the kind of self-reflection and sense of emptiness that the death of Veronika first awakened in her. She says to her father, "I am in love. I just don't know with what." What fascinates her from the start about Alexandre is that she is the object of his gaze first mirrored during the puppet performance.What becomes clear as their relationship develops, however, is that what she loves in him is herself as she looks at her, not what he is in himself. Each time he sends mysterious objects, she is entranced by dreamy, shapeless possibilities in her soul to which he seems to hold the key and to which these items seems to be objective correlatives. 

                     Veronique remains immature. Unable to become a couple, she remains ultimately in the shadow of her double until she experiences a loss of her intimate fantasy. A young woman, who is fascinated by representations of reality that promise fantastically deep and rich experiences, prevents herself from knowing or loving the actual source of these phenomena.  

Conversation with Kieslowski 

The Double Life of Veronique - IMDb

Movies of Krzysztof Kieslowski: "Decalogue I"

                              Polish director Kieslowski (1941-1996) is a master at shaping the screen image to probe a reality underlying ordinary, mundane existence. His films are not known for their plot or action. Instead, they use artful cinematography, sparse dialog, subtle acting and haunting musical scores to gesture toward a mysterious order of being. A good introduction of Kieslowski's cinema is "The Decalogue." It consists of ten one-hour films made for Polish television in 1988 and represents an attempt to translate the meaning of the 'Ten Commandments' for modern society.

                             All ten films of 'The Decalogue' are set in the same massive apartment complex in Warsaw at a time when Polish society was still suffering from the spiritual and economic deprivations of communist rule. Kieslowski says, the Polish world, at the time was "terrible and dull" -- full of pitiless people, moving in a gray, robotic atmosphere alone, isolated and lonely. Although Kieslowski's earlier films, both in the documentary and narrative genre, engaged political events in Poland, The Decalogue focuses more on the psychological and moral life of individuals, using the depressing political climate of martial law in the 1980s only as a backdrop for exploring the inner state of his characters. 

                            Decalogue I explicitly poses a philosophical question about the reality and nature of the soul. It is a meditation on what for Kieslowski would be the first of the Ten Commandments: "Thou shall not worship false Gods." This film tells of a close relation a father, Krzystof and his young son, Pawel (the mother is away). The plot turns on Pawel's desire to use his new Christmas ice skates on a local pond and his father's caution about making sure that the ice is thick enough. Krzystof is a professor of computer science, engaged in a project to develop software for a computer to construct poems and stories.

                           As he explains to his university class, with his son watching from the back of the room, a properly programmed computer may have a will, aesthetic preferences, and a personality of its own. Tragically and ironically, however, his computer fails to gauge correctly the thickness of pond's ice, which thaws because of unexplained events causing his son to drown while trying out his new skates. Early in the film, Pawel comes across the corpse of a dog lying in the street and then, shortly thereafter, reads about a man's death in the obituary section of the newspaper. These experiences disturb him, prompting him to ask his father about why people die. 

                       In response, his father, Krzystof, offers an account of death in which the human being is described as a machine. Death occurs, he says, "when the heart stops pumping blood ...... movement ceases, everything stops." Pawel, not quite satisfied with this, asks about some words he saw in the paper, "the deceased's peace of soul", to which his father replies: "It's a form of words of farewell. There is no soul." At the end of the film, of course, these words that the human being to an automaton will come back to torment him, as the encounter with the reality of his son's drowning shatters the precious mathematical certainties by which he has structured his life. 

                     In one beautiful and haunting scene, Kieslowski suggests the dissolution of such certainties by filming a splotch of blue ink mysteriously seeping through some paper of Krzystof's desk. There is a perfectly rational explanation for the appearance of this stain -- the bottom of an ink bottle has cracked -- but in this context the viewer is allowed to discern an elemental, disruptive reality lurking beneath and behind our solid, phenomenal reality. We learn as the film unfolds that at the very moment the blue ink washed over Krzystof's desk, the ice on which Pawel was skating gave way, causing his death. The question Kieslowski elicits in this film how we ever know this deeper reality that eludes our modern machines and scientific calculations. What in us fails when the computer, our contemporary "etched image" of the gods, fails? 

                    We do not sense from Kieslowski that the father did not attend to his own vague intuitions of unease about the ice, intuitions that could not be translated into a computer program. Even though his measurements presumably calculated the safety of ice sheet, Krzystof nevertheless at one point ventures out to the pond to feel it for himself. There he observes a young man huddled by fire on the side of the pond. The man says nothing but gazes directly at Krzystof with an intense, questioning look. As we watch this we have an ominous sense of something wrong and know that Krzystof does as well. Viewers of the entire Decalogue will recognize this silent, watchful character as one who appears briefly in other films of the series.

                     Various interpretations have been given for this character's appearance. He has been described as an angel, a witness, and and embodiment of conscience. His appearance by the pond in Decalogue I suggests that there is a gap between what the protagonist knows and what he is about to do, a gap that can only be closed by an adjustment to something other than what can be gauged by a machine. Failing to heed feelings, intuitions, and presentiments, he misses a kind of truth about the fragile nature of the human reality he has attempted to reduce to computer codes -- with terrible consequences. 

                     Film is an enchanting illusion that “tricks” us into thinking that the characters and scenery are real when they are mere appearances, and no doubt that the film is a simplistic way to approach the human psyche in comparison to philosophy. In this way, Kieslowski succeeded through his explorations of the mysterious depths of the human personality in offering to his audience an intriguing and serious philosophy of the soul. 

             I will briefly examine, a lot of Kieslowski's movies in the future blog posts. 

Roger Ebert  on "The Decalogue"

Dekalog, Jeden - IMDb

Amour - A Portrait of True Love

                             In the movie, "The Straight Story", protagonist Alvin Straight remarks that the "The worst part of being old is remembering when you was young.” Austrian director Michael Haneke's "Amour" (Love) talks about another kind of reality in old age: watching helplessly as a loved one slowly succumbs to the ravages of old age. The film can be termed as "soul-shattering". It elegantly portrays the long-living fulfilled marriage as well as the march to oblivion -- a ghastly look at the future none of us wants to consider.

                              Amour is 2012's multiple Oscar nominee, Golden Globe and Palme d'Or (Cannes) award winner. This film is not your vehicle for escapist entertainment. It doesn't frees oneself from worldly concerns and considerations. This is another kind of movie, which we can call as "human experience." Haneke, the guy behind twisted films like "Funny Games", "The White Ribbon", "Cache" has once again plunges deep into the crevices of the human condition and putting his characters through living hell. 

                           Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are in their 80s -- both are retired music teachers -- and still very much connected with love. The movie opens with Georges and Anne attending a piano recital and ending the evening in their well-found apartment. Over the next few days, Anne simply starts slipping away. She suffers from a mild stroke and doctors recommend her to undergo an operation to prevent a recurrence that could be more damaging. The operation ends in disaster and Anna is completely paralyzed on her right side. Their daughter (Isabelle Huppert) occasionally visits, but mostly Georges waves off her support. It is made clear from first that the octogenarian couple have built their own tender, civilized wall that serves not only as a source of strength against the outside world, but also one of solitude and, eventually, quiet desperation.

                             Trintignant (The Conformist, Z) and Riva (Hiroshima, Mon Amour) are one of the giants of international cinema. They have been acting in movies for 50 years. If you are a movie buff you can feel the theirs history and can remember them when they were young, which enriches the illusion of a life-long marriage. Trintignant gives a unsentimental, sensitive performance as Georges. The way he shows emotion with only his eyes is haunting as well as a master class in acting. The scene, where Georges tells Anne the story of his trip to camp as a child, his battle with diphtheria, and his mother's strange visit to him in the hospital and the act that follows the story may well be one of the most shattering moment in cinematic history. Riva is physically and emotionally courageous as she portrays perfectly her character's slow deterioration. Riva's subtle reaction to Georges, who is giving her a drink of water encapsulates all her anger at dying. Isabelle Huppert -- a Haneke regular -- is effective in the supporting role of Eva (Anne and Georges' daughter).

                            Through long, static shots, director Haneke stares straight into the indignities of old age and the curse of a slow death. His carefully shot images cuts no corners and stings with the authenticity of life’s fragility. His movies are never the cheery kind but Amour is something entirely different and it still hurts more. May be because the director is not working within a genre as he usually does but writing from a deeper, more personal perspective (Haneke is 70). Amour could have been overly melodramatic, but Haneke has approached the subject matter with great restraint. He perfectly paints a picture, which shows that the ultimate test of a lifelong passion may come not in its first flourish, but in the compassion of its very last days.

Director Haneke with Riva and Trintingnant
                          Rubbing on creams to prevent bedsores, cleaning bedpans and changing diapers. Trying to make decisions about the future when there really isn't one -- this may sound depressing but the movie also makes a profound statement about what constitutes true love. Death is something everyone of us has in common. It scares us and makes us ask, Will it hurt?, How will it come, and when? In the end, we can't take control of those things, but love and compassion are always within our reach. So, despite its grueling nature "Amour's" resonant themes looks strangely optimistic. 

                         "Amour" (2012) is a heartbreaking film that is sure to bring tears -- a lot of tears -- to your eyes. "Who's going to watch a movies to get depressed... " Right? Yeah, may not be a reality you wish to confront, but it is worthy of its all-encompassing title. 


Amour - IMDb 

The Counterfeiters - Harrowing Moral Dilemma

                                 "The Counterfeiters" -- The title of the movie may sound like the tale of a bank robber. Actually, it is a world war II tale. But this is not a war movie. This drama based on true historical events shines a light onto yet another darkness of the Holocaust. It is controversial, since the film is concerned about Jewish collaboration with the Nazis. The Counterfeiters/Die Falscher (Austrian film) won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2007. Although this isn't Schindler's List, it is sensitively acted, crisply directed and written with not an ounce of sentimentality. 

                               Tim Blake Nelson's 2001 movie "The Grey Zone" explored about the Sonderkommandos in Auschwitz. They were forced on threat of their own deaths, to aid at the grisly task of burning of the corpses of those already murdered by Nazi's. Based upon the book "The Devil's Workshop", The Counterfeiters raises the same moral question like Grey Zone from a slightly different perspective. 

                           The movie starts with the protagonist, Sally Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) arriving in post-war Monte Carlo carrying a briefcase stacked with crisp banknotes. Yet something looks amiss in his life, as he is silent and distant, flagging where there should be swagger. The key for his silence -- we come to know -- is a set of numbers tattooed on his forearm. The flash-back takes us to mid-1930s, where Sorowitsch, a Russian Jew forger, is considered as the world's best counterfeiter. Even though he operates out of Berlin, his weakness for women makes him a captive for Freidrich Herzog (Devid Striesow). He is transported a labor camp and gains a little though painting family portraits (for Nazis). 

                          Later, in 1944, he is recruited by his old nemesis, Herzog for the counterfeiting project, where the skilled professionals slept on soft mattresses, played table tennis while the unlucky masses were marched and shot. At this time, World War II was not going well for the Nazis. Their aim for this counterfeiting contrive is to forge hundred of millions of British pounds, and then go after the U.S. dollar in an attempt to destabilize Allied economies while financing the Nazi war effort. This was a kind of metal torture for the counterfeiting Jews -- a chance to survive, but only if they helped the Reich survive as well. And so, the toughest pragmatist sets to work, doing what he does best without betraying his fellows: Adolf Burger (August Diehl) the communist typographer, Karloff (Sebastian Urzendowsky) the dreamy Russian youth.

                           Although the book adapted is Burger's autobiography,  it is more about Sally than Burger. That's because, the director Ruzowitzky wants us to consider the much more troubling complicity of Sally. He never invests Sally with much of redemptive features and gives no clue to how his attitude might shift at the end, but through Sally he forces to look inwards. What would be our mentality if placed under the same circumstances? Ruzowitzky takes up the moral debate of what's worth dying and living for. He paces the action swiftly - with a few of hand-held realism. He’s also careful to respect the harsh reality in which his thoughtful movie is firmly rooted (the attention to detail that went into the operation is perfect). 

                         Markovics as Sally is quiet riveting. You won't even be sure how Markovics conveys a full spectrum of emotion without ever seeming to move his face. He deftly balances his own instinct for survival with the moral conundrum of the forgers’ situation. Striesow as the officer in charge of the project -- a guy who makes an opportunity even in the mass murders -- is equally powerful.

                       Watch "The Counterfeiters" because it sheds light on another facet of Nazi history, and does it with an attention to the complexity of human nature. An cinematic experience which is haunting -- both emotionally and intellectually.


The Counterfeiters - IMDb

Lore - Memories of Incredible Turmoil

                              Cate Shortland's "Lore" (2012) is a picture from Holocaust's other side. We might have seen countless movies and documentaries, read books about the Nazis who were rounded up and tried as war criminals after World War II. But, what happened to the children of the Third Reich who survived? It took a quiet a bit of time for film-makers to consider the Holocaust narrative in fictional format, and an even longer time, for considering the fate of "Hitler's children" -- or ordinary Germans during and after World War II. "Lore" adapted from novel "Dark Room" imagines what it felt like to be the inheritors of the worst that humans can do to other humans.

                            For Oscar purposes, the movie is classified as an Australian (made by Aussie director), but it was made entirely in Germany, and the fragments of English come from the American soldiers. If you think, you don’t have the psychological and emotional space for yet another film about childhood in wartime or the legacy of the Holocaust, then you can miss it. But, I can assure you that “Lore” offers a unique vision of the costs of war at an individual level, along with a intriguing moral parable, that’s not like anything you’ve seen before. 


                   The movie starts in the post-world war Gernamy (in 1945). Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is a  beautiful, blue-eyed adolescent, who lives with her mother, Mutti (Ursina Lardi) and four younger siblings in a prominent country home. Lore's father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) is a S.S. officer. He realizes that the end of the Nazi dream is near. Panic sets in the household -- the father shoots his family dog, burns the paper. The loyal enthusiasts and servants of Hitler now find themselves victims of their own toxic arrogance. Later, he is arrested by the allied forces and his wife, after weeping over the death of Hitler, decides to leave for the prison camp. Mutti, before leaving her five children, calls for Lore and gives the family's silver and jewelry along with orders to take her sister, twin brothers, and infant brother to her grandmother's home in Hamburg.

                     They had to walk nearly 500 kilometers across Germany (which is divided into American, British and Russian zones) to get to their grandmother's house. Across a war-ravaged country, they encounter many dead bodies and the film doesn’t spare the wrenching details. On One of the town, Lore  sees her first photos of concentration camp atrocities. The locals inform her that the photos are pure American propaganda and the skeletal people in camp uniforms are really paid actors. The children have a stroke of good luck when Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina) accompanies them on their journey. He seems like a young Jewish guy with identity papers and has learned many survival skills, such as how to get through border passages and find food.


                    It was risky/controversial to think Nazi as a lead character, but it works. Lore as the member of 'Hitler Youth' is never afraid to display her disgust for the Jewish people. Saskia Rosendahl gives an astonishing performance as Lore, who is forced to confront the darkness within and the barbarity of a world where trust and love have been obliterated. She deftly portrays her character’s heaving sexuality, which is particularly evident after the children meet up Thomas. The most powerful scene in the movie is, when Lore has the sudden revelation, accepting the truth that she was sheltered from all those atrocities and the way she denounces her misplaced patriotism is emotionally overwhelming. The whole cast of children never give a performance that is calculated or less than believable.

                       Shortland's directing style observational and quietly measured, without great reliance on dialogues. She creates a world that's shockingly fractured, shot at weird angles and filled with quiet dread. Shortland's collaboration with the writer Robin Mukherjee on the adaptation of the book has depth, nuance and balance. "Lore" was one of the most beautifully photographed movies. Adam Arkapaw's cinematography ("Animal Kingdom", Snowtown") shifts focus from nature scenes to close-ups of ordinary objects and back again, which helps in the creation of mood and atmosphere while allowing us to feel that we are looking on very real private lives.    

                          "Lore" can be considered as the companion of Michael Haneke's 2009 “The White Ribbon,” an allegorical black-and-white mystery that sought to identify the roots of Nazism in the rural Germany of the early 20th century. Haneke showed us a generation of young children that is incubated with the virus called "Fascism", whereas Shortland shows us a generation that was forced to face its consequences.  

                          "Lore" is an disturbing and upsetting film set in a morally bleak landscape, but in the end  it also offers a guardedly optimistic vision of the possibility of human change. This is an challenging and provocative film, which offers an eminent perspective on Germany's traumatic transition from conqueror nation to occupied state.


Lore - IMDb 

The Master - A Grim Emotional Trip of the Soul

                            Paul Thomas Anderson's sixth film "The Master" (2012) is a majestic work of fiction, something which leaves us with a hard time in grasping the themes in these days of comic book adaptations and remakes. You might have a plenty of questions, regarding what the film, exactly, is about. Whether it is an essay on human conflict? An interplay of troubled souls desperate to find their footing? A burning depiction of postwar uneasiness? A sharp-edged character study of charismatic quackery? May be it's about all the above. And may be there are more hidden themes -- enigmatic up to the conclusion.

                             Anderson's hard-hitting dramas are not for everyone. Even his eight Oscars nominated "There Will be Blood" didn't had any success at the box-office. But if you have eyes for enigma, you can see, his latest, The Master is unmistakably some kind of wonder. At the least, it is an exalting demonstration of movie-making. "Boogie Nights" and "Punch Drunk Love" explored strong and compelling personal conflicts, whereas "The Master" is the strongest of all Anderson's in portraying conflicts, which is between a man completely sure of himself and another who is completely not. Beyond all these, the movie should be watched for two reasons: Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.


                     Similar to the structure of "There will be Blood", the film starts with Freddie Quell (the most ferocious Joaquin Phoenix), a troubled and tortured World War II veteran whose contrived offensive boldness can't mask the torment he lives with. He loses a series of jobs due to his erratic, violent behavior. On the run from one of his problems, he stows away on a yacht that’s hosting a wedding party. The yacht is commandeered by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who introduces himself as a self-styled “writer, doctor, nuclear physicist, and theoretical philosopher. He is on a wedding cruise for his daughter, Elizabeth (Ambyr Childers) and son-in-law Clark (Rami Malek). His steely wife, Peggy (Amy Adams) and son Val (Jesse Plemons) are also accompanying him in the yacht.

                          Dodd is "The Master", who has founded a new movement called the 'Cause' with which he claims to help and cure people through mental time travel produced by a hypnosis-like procedure known as “processing.” Master uses Freddie as a guinea pig in his bizarre behavioral experiments. Freddie sees Doddas a friend and soon becomes his disciple. He even practices his own crude style of persuasion by beating the naysayer's. Dodd thinks if his experiments or treatment could work on Quell, they can work on anyone.The the heart of the movie are the scenes, where Dodd and Quell have at each other, especially the situations where Dodd applies his psychological techniques. The struggle that results in those scenes are so intimate that it’s hard to describe in terms of plot development. Slowly, Freddie Quell and Master become ensnarled in an ambivalent, frequently hostile relationship.


                          Though we see Angelic Amy Adams as Dodd's wife, this is essentially two persons movie. Phoenix, who has been missing in movies for some times is back with a vengeance as Quell. He wanders as a baffled prize fighter; His words slur and his face is often a map of lines and worry; and he also seems on the verge of tears. Sometimes he looks so worried that I thought he might kill himself for this role. On the other hand, there is Dodd, portrayed with mesmerizing intensity by Hoffman (in his fifth collaboration with P.T. Anderson). Hoffman's Dodd is a perfect showman and an idiosyncratic thinker, with a gift for language. His character is said to be inspired from the life and times of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. One of the best scene -- showcasing the pairs electric intensity -- happens in the middle part in an incredible single shot of the two in side-by-side jail cells: One man is a frenzy of rage (Quell); the other (Dodd) remains fixed and contained, yet both master and servant are ultimately reduced to screaming children.

                         Even though the cult leader is clearly modeled on the founder of Scientology, the movie is not a veiled depiction of that much-disputed quasi-religious movement. Instead, Anderson’s movie is challenging in its depiction of how leaders and followers feed and feed off each other. In an era, where celebrities are prized above virtually all else, The Master holds a disturbing mirror up to our desire for easy answers and charismatic (but possibly vacuous) leaders. Anderson's direction, once again give us  a dreamlike aura -- much like previous film, There Will Be Blood (2007), which also shares a fascination with interpersonal conflict taken to almost metaphysical levels and obsessive characters who dominate the spaces around them. He often throws you for a loop and jumps in time and perspective, such as a party scene in which all of the women are suddenly naked (a fantasy projection of Freddie’s).

                         Anderson's dedication to immaculate film-making extends to all areas, including the broody music, cinematography, costumes and the editing. If you have appreciated Anderson's elusive style of film-making then you will be more than grateful that it's happened again. "The Master" is a movie of breathtaking cinematic romanticism and an abnegation of conventional catharsis. As a viewer, you might think that it could have given more in terms of comfort, but that's not what Anderson intends to give. We have seen plenty of movies for comfort, where the violent mess of a guy break down at some convenient third-act, assuring that order will be restored. This film never does that. Up to its ambiguous ending, it  forces the question of whether personality change is possible—or even advisable. 

                        PT Anderson's "The Master" uses Freddie/Dodd as a springboard for bringing out larger issues of faith, power, free will, and belief. Despite being transfixed for its 137 minute running time, I haven't fully grasped the movie. I have an urge to return to it and see how it might unfold differently during multiple viewings. Really a compelling, puzzle of a film. 


Vishwaroopam - Awesomely Acted and Dandily Directed

                                Before getting into the movie, have you watched the trailer of "Vishwaroopam"? I thought the trailer was made on-par with international standards. Somehow you know the flick is about terrorism and you can guess that it is going to be a commercial cinema which doesn't overly insults our intelligence. The film-maker Kamal was very heedful there not to give away the full story  through trailers. Later some fundamentalists saw the movie -- got everything wrong -- newspapers, magazines and even national news media printed and said everything about the movie. It said, what's the story, about the multifaceted character of Kamal and even discussed all about the 'so-called' controversial scenes. So, basically I have watched the movie knowing fully about the plot and about the muted dialogues. Somehow they --intentionally or unintentionally -- have spoiled all the little twists. Still, the visual language created by Kamal demands to be cherished on-screen.

                               If you are one of the guy who hasn't followed anything about the controversy or the film's story, then keep it that way and enjoy an excellent cinematic journey. So, keeping aside the story and controversies, "Vishwaroopam", technically, is a great achievement for Tamil/Indian cinema. From Kamal's elusive direction to Sanu Varghese's exemplary cinematography, the film has 'Hollywood standards' written all over it. 

                         Kamal Hassan never lets down a viewer when it comes to acting department. He may try a new look and experiment with different kind of characters, but it's hard for a reviewer to find new words to praise this gifted-actor. He enacts as the Kathak dancer with aplomb and elegance ease. The transformation from an effeminate dancer (excellent body language and eye control) to an dashing and brain-basing action hero is one of the rip-roaring sequences of the movie. 

                         Rahul Bose as the venomous villain, Omar stand out. Omar is not a stereotyped villain, shouting angrily at the hero. Even the way he mockingly shoots his son for learning English shows up the character's devilry. Pooja Kumar and Shekar Kapur are perfect for their brief roles. I don't know what's the purpose of Andrea and Nasser in this film. May be they could have a substantial role in the sequel. 

                           Art director Ilayaraja is one of the key element for Kamal's technical team. He has perfectly etched out the Tora Bora caves of Afghan. Varghese' cinematography is top-notch, especially the awesomely framed landscape shots of Afghanistan. Shankar-Eshaan-Loy's background score remains mostly lull in the second-half, but their musical score for the songs are great and never distracts or overpowers the visuals. 

                            Kamal as an director and writer was always under-rated than as an actor. I don't think he will get huge accolades here too, but there are plenty of nice director touches: the child-like young jehadi asking Wasim Kashmiri (Kamal) to push the swing --- an excellent subtext (a tragic poem), where the boy holding his lost innocence and cherishing his last days; the grim-faced Nigerian suicide bomber shaving his body; vibrating mobile in the thickened blood. All these sequences remains as a good example for the subtle direction of Kamal. 

                           The non-linear screenplay lacks a bit of clarity. Kamal has also kind of experimented with the script. It doesn't belong to a particular genre. The movie starts as a mystery, then switches to a docu-drama and finally to a spy-thriller. Commercial movie-lovers may find the afghan part totally boring and long, but passionate movie-goers may find it as one of its kind cinematic experience. Apart from the few glitches in narration and erroneous body-doubles, the ending also seems abrupt. It kind of finished like Tarantino's "Kill Bill". I hope the sequel will provide explanations and some background for the character of Kamal.

                      The controversy has raised the interests among audiences in TN. You might see families flocking theaters with kids. Seriously, the amount of graphic violence shown in this movie are very high for Indian movie standards and its better to keep the kids away from this movie. Even a message is flashed on-screen before the commencement of the movie regarding violence. Vishwaroopam is a hard-hitting portrayal about the Taliban-terrorists and I thank Kamal for not toning down the violence to get a pathetic "U" certificate.

                      Kamal Hassan's "Vishwaroopam" -- technically -- sets a bench-mark for Indian cinema, and --narratively -- provokes our thoughts.


Vishwaroopam - IMDb