DONA HERLINDA AND HER SON (1985)
After watching so many movies, you can instinctively segregate good acting from bad. And, I don’t have any patience for bad acting anymore. As a medium of artistic expression, cinema is an expensive business. So, if you are actually spending money, can’t you find someone who can at least act? And we had never short of acting talents, there are abundant of them, waiting to be exploited. Hence, I started watching Dona Herlinda and Her Son with a distrust, sure that in 10 minutes’ time, I am going to switch it off; the acting was that terrible. Then something happened, almost impossible. The two actors, playing clandestine gay lovers, displayed so much passion in an innocuous scene of one of them drying the other, that I had to sit up and take notice. For then on, I hated the movie and loved it. The bad acting persisted. But, what fun! It’s a inflated wish-fulfilment, which, I guess, even the writer and the director knows, near-impossible in real life. But the filmmaker braves the theme nonetheless and give us a sweet romance — the story of a doctor who loves a music student but marries a lawyer to make his mom happy. The mom, Dona Herlinda of the title, isn’t dominating in the traditional sense, but she will have her way nonetheless. So, the son gets married, but also invites his lover to stay with them, they have a big house, anyway. And everybody lives happily ever after. Sample this scene towards the end of the film: The wife is going though labour pain. The mother panics and calls for her son. He is nowhere. So she calls the friend. The shot: the good doctor is under his male lover, and he says, let’s finish this till the ambulance arrives. If this is not wish-fulfilment, nothing is.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009)
This is Blairwitch Project of the new millennia. This small film, short with a handheld camera and presented a ‘real’ horror film, captured in a handheld camera, was leapt up by fans and critics with such fervour that it would have been a sacrilege to say anything against it. So, I didn’t, won’t. Why to make so many fanboys upset. One thing is true. This film hinges on a gimmick, and in most part, it works. Here the digital camera is not a prop to induce suspense, it’s the movie’s POV. Remove it and the film won’t be half so scary, and scary the film is. I mustn’t say anything more. Hold your breath...
CENTRAL STATION (1998)
There are movies and movies about two unlikely people coming together in an unlikely situation and then bond and then part. In this sense, Walter Salles’s film is nothing much, but for the two lead characters, the old woman and the young brat. The sign of a great road movie is that there must be a goal, a treasure to be found at the end (Indiana Jones), and the journey itself should be such that you don’t want it to end. In this sense, Central Station achieves that greatness. Talking about journeys, Walter Salles will later go on to make The Motorcycle Diaries based on Che Guevera’s eponymous biography before he came El Che. Unlike The Motorcycle Diaries, where the journey itself is the focus of the narrative, here the narrative closely scrutinises the bond between the two lost souls, who are thrown together by unlikely circumstances where they must make the best of the situation. Imdb tells me Vinicius de Oliveira, a shoeshine boy, beat out more than 1,500 other young actors for the role of Josué, and he is a natural, but it’s Fernanda Montenegro as Dora, a practical, worldly-wise former school teacher, who finally gives in to her instincts, who makes the film worth-a-while.
DERSU UZALA (1975)
Japanese and Russian, a very unlikely combination. In 2005, Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov made a biopic on Japanese Emperor Hirohito during the time of Japan’s defeat in World War II, Solntse (The Sun). Considering it’s Sokurov, it’s an impressive film, but can you compare it with Dersu Uzala, the 1975 co-production between Japan and Russia, directed by the great Akira Kurosawa? Perhaps not. Unlike Solntse, Kurosawa’s theme is not grand, but the scope and the way Kurosawa tells the story of the friendship and mutual admiration between two men from very different backgrounds, makes for a sweeping cinema. It’s not about nations, it’s about nature and men, but mostly nature. It’s perhaps one of those rare films where the setting of the story becomes a character in itself. In this case, it’s Siberia, where a Russian army explorer meets a Mongol hunter, the Dersu Uzala of the title. As the friendship between the two men grows, despite the fact that they do not have much in common, Kurosawa takes us to a breathtaking journey to the wilderness, where the nature preserves you and kill you.
LOVES OF A BLONDE (1965)
He will later go on to direct masterpieces like the Czech The Fireman’s Ball and Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar-winners like Amadeus, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Goya’s Ghost. But this 1965 Czechoslovakian film by Milos Forman, which was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1967, is a sweet tale of a girl’s search for a lover of her choice. Granted, the film takes enormous amount of time till the girl meets the boy, but then the early adventure of Andula and her friends being seduced by a few armymen have their charms as well. There isn’t much of a story, but how the interactions are projected between Andula, the blonde in question, a bookishly romantic girl, and various people she meets, especially the piano player who says that her body is shaped like a guitar, but a guitar painted by Picasso. In the beginning, she resists him in an elaborate choreography of body language. After the piano player finally succeeds in seducing her, she is in love. For the poor piano player, it was just a one-night stand, little did he knew that a few weeks later, she would land up in his house because he never wrote to her. The lover in question is not a bad guy, but Andula would not live happily ever after with him. Yet, the experience taught her much, especially to hide the true feeling and tell a lie. Very emotional in a very funny way.
WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957)
Can memories of your own past make you a better man, at a point in life when no one actually cares about you? Probably, it cannot. But regret itself can be a redemption, as in the case of Eberhard Isak Borg in Wild Strawberries, Ingmer Bergman’s finest and most optimistic film, and probably his most accessible film (Though my favourite remains The Hour of the Wolf, with Liv Ullmann’s character asking: Is it true that if you love someone truly and deeply, you can even see that person’s dreams!). As someone said, Bergman is all about bad dreams; in this case bad memories. Borg remembers the girl he loved and could not marry as he tries to reconcile his relationship with his son. It’s not the tale but the telling that makes Wild Strawberries marvellous, especially how the flashback sequences were shot, with the old doctor physically being transported to the playing field of his memory, the wild strawberry patch. And did I mention the handless clock in the beginning of the film?
On the first glance, Yugoslav director Dušan Makavejev’s Montenegro looks like a depressing movie, but it’s not, unlike his other films, like WR: Mysteries of the Organism and Sweet Movie, both of which are politically-conscious satire on, well, everything. Montenegro, which at the first glance looks like a feminist commentary and ends with the heroine killing his entire family, the film is actually about the joys of living, and about appreciating life for what it is. That’s probably the reason why the film was also called Pigs and Pearls. The idiom: "Casting pearls before the swine." The film is a contrast between the two lifestyles - the conservative and the bohemian. Though Marilyn finds love and life in a bohemian setting, in a night club called Zanzi Bar, where she meets the titular Montenegro, a handsome young man (there is a beautiful scene when Marilyn regards him while he is having a bath), and they make love. But Marilyn is worldly-wise to appreciate that this idyll is not for her, she must go back to her husband and her children, even if they do not really need her. She returns, but she refuses to accept the things are they are. That leads to the film’s chilling conclusion.
TURK FRUIT/ BLACK BOOK
In Hollywood, he is known for the blockbusters RoboCop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct. Yet, Paul Verhoeven’s artistic genius finds true blooming in his native Dutch, for example, in his pre-Hollywood Turk Fruit and post-Hollywood Black Book. While the first one is an out and out romantic tragedy, the second one WW II drama presented as a love story. What’s most interesting about both the films is who Verhoeven narrates the story.
Truck Fruit has enough sex and nudity to even make the Showgirls blush. Showgirls was Verhoeven’s last Hollywood venture, which critics penned and is now known mostly for its erotic content. In fact, Fruit begins with the protagonist masturbating looking at the picture of his lost girlfriend. But, make no mistake, the film tells a passionate love story, between a down-and-out sculptor and a girl from a conservative family. Together, they bridge all obstacles to stay together, but how would they bridge each other, when both of them are strong and highly individualistic. Verhoeven draws a sympathetic picture of the lovers who cannot stay together, and who cannot live apart either. How do you reconcile with love when it starts to clash with your very being?
And, how do you reconcile with love when the person you love is your enemy? There was a huge possibility for Black Book to turn into another WW II war movie, to begin with Verhoeven is a first-rate director to film action sequence. There are several such sequences in Black Book, but the heart of the film is Rachel, a Jewish Dutch singer, now, part of a underground resistance group, and her almost inhuman zeal to survive at any cost, falling in love with her enemy and betrayed by friends. Dutch actress Carice van Houten, in her career-defining role etches Rachel as a person, who is at the same time exquisite and real, someone who bleaches her pubic hair to match the colour of her hair, and someone whose beauty cannot be diminished even when she is bathed in human excreta.
There are score and score of movies about underdog achievement. In this sense, Billy Eliot is nothing new. It’s a story of small boy from a mining town who wants to be a ballet dancer. Now, boys don't really dance, especially in mining towns, so, the father is against it. But Billy finds a kindred soul in the local ballet teacher, Julie Walters. The rest of the story is how Billy rises about the opposition to realise his dream. Bravo. The film is however is a beautiful experience, especially how intimately and lyrically the story is told by director Stephen David Daldry. A feel good film for a rainy day. (Just wondering why most gay male film directors are so interested in musical, case in point being Bill Condon of Dreamgirls, Rob Marshall of Chicago, Nine.)
BONNIE AND CLYDE
Imagine a Hollywood of Bonnie and Clyde. It will turn into a full throttle action fare. Oh, the potential of the story is enormous, even in the context of depression-era America. And, that probably the reason why the film is such a enduring classic, because it does not go all bang bang, but tries to underplay the reality. When they say, ‘we rob banks’, they are not boasting it, or glorifying it, but stating it as a matter of fact, as if it was just any other job. What they are doing is just trying to survive, and make sense about themselves and their surrounding.
Anthology films are boring and interesting at the same time. Boring because they are over so soon, and interesting because they are over so soon, so that you don’t have to suffer a bad movie and waste your time. In this context, Tokyo! begins brilliantly and ends with an whimper. I liked the first part of the three-part movie, directed by Michel Gondry of The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, called ‘Interior Design’. I had a mixed feeling about the other two segments directed by Leos Carax of Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, Bong Joon-ho of Memories of Murder and The Host. The thematic similarity of all the three segments is that all of them are based in Tokyo, Japan and all of them are directed by non-Japanese directors.