Saturday, March 20, 2010


What qualifies as a gay film? Is it because the lead characters are gay or it’s something else? Korean film No Regrets is a gay film not because it tell the tumultuous relationship between two men, but also how it depicts the gay subculture running beneath the conservative Korean society. Queer cinema has come of age. Coming out is not longer an issue. The issue is finding love, as anywehre else. But while dealing with the love strory between two very unlikely younsters, how they fall in love, fall out of love, fall in love again, fall out again, director Leesong Hee-il, himself an open gay man, captures the eseense of the thriving gay subculture in modern Korea with such finesse that the love story becomes incidental, what’s become more apparent is the class struggle, and ghettoism, and the moral that the gay sensibility can overcome the heterosexist barriers. The film may be a little longer than it should be, better never boring.

South Korean auteur Kim Ki-Duk is a difficult person to pigeon-holed in a category. His movies are not overtly esoteric, arthouse, but they are. Ki-Duk was a trained artist before he became a director, and this is evident from the fact that most of his film focuses more on visuals than other forms of film narrative. Most of his films have very less dialogues, the bare minimum, it’s the moving pictures that talk, and how. And, there’s his world view, despiring and overtly misogynist. Yet, his pictures are hypotonic, at least most of them. The best among them is Spring, Summer... deals with the Buddhist philosophy of the circle of life. The entire film takes place in the interiors of Korea, where in a lake there’s a floating house where lives an old monk and his young disciple. And the seasons here refer to the cycle of life, from childhood to old age. Half of the film is without dialogues, yet, how it affects the viewers! Crocodile, his debut, is an odd fish. It’s not an easy task to understand the protagonist, the crocodile of the title, who makes a living the robbing people who commit suicide by jumping off the bridge on a Seoul river. Yet, the underwater scenes, complete with a sofa and a framed picture, are a marvel in cinematography. Ki-Duk obsession with water continues in The Isle, the story of sexual powerplay and jealousy. The film is also famous for its Visceral scenes of self-mutilation, involving a bunch of fish-hooks. I don’t think I can describe the tension and goriness of the scenes. The issues of sexual powerplay continues in Bad Guy, set in a Seoul red light district.

Roger Ebert called him the future of American cinema. Future I don’t know, but the present is exciting and very surprising, considering the fact that he had made three films so far, that too being in the land of Hollywood, America, where his sensibilities conform to Italian neo-realism. Ramin Bahrani, an American of Iranian descent, and raised in the land of plenty, focuses his meticulous lenses on the havenots, in America. His first film, Man Push Cart, focuses on a Pakistani man who sells fast food on a wheeler. There’s not much of a story there, the usual, the unrealised American Dream, and the Diaspora conflict... What Bahrani does instead is meticulously records the man’s daily activity as he goes through the grind. What emerges is an unfliching portrait; you draw your own conclusion. His next Chop Shop carries that dream, this time with teen-ager Alejandro, who lives with his sister in a junkyard and dreams of owner a burger cart, for which he would go to any length, even stealing. But what happens when the dreams shatter? You carry on with your life, and try again. The same theme reoccurs in his third feature, Goodbye Solo. Solo is a Senegalese cab driver who wants to be a flight assistant. He is married to a spanish woman and shares a special bond with his step daughter. One day he gets an offer from one of his passengers, to carrying him to the nearby hill in a week’s time, for a substantial amount of money. The stranger does not mention about a return journey. Solo knows what this means. Now, the good cabbie, despite the fact that he has thousand and one thing in his mind, tries to change the stranger’s mind. Here begins the study in contrast. While Solo, representing the new multicultural America tries to connect, William, representing the old world, has already lost all hopes. There is no Hollywood Ending here. Yet, at the end, there’s hope which will outsurvive any tragedy.

No, not the Warner Herzog, Nicolas Cage blockbuster, which is good, but the original Abel Ferrara, Harvey Keitel picture. It does not have the Herzog razzmatazz, and frankly, it’s a very difficult film to watch with Keitel’s doped out cop descending from one personal hell to another, looking for a redemption. As the title suggests, the protagonist is a bad cop and the film goes all the way out to explain how and why. There’s where the problem starts. Cinema must find a redemptive quality in its hero. Otherwise, what’s the point? So, Keitel’s cop is assigned to investigate the case of a nun’s rape. It’s all well, till the victim in question refuse to help the cop, saying that she has already forgiven the men who outraged her modesty. This comes as a shocker to the bad cop. Now, will he able to find his redemption?

Pier Paolo Pasolini is not only an important figure in Italian cinema, he is important to the cultural history of the world, for the simple reason that he had the ability to see things beyond the constrains of the existing culture. Most of his films are based on mythology; but it’s not an anthropological, but an idealistic mythology, the depiction of the world he wanted it to be, not the depiction of the world as it was. We know about his Marxist idealism, his homosexuality, his love for the downtrodden, but what comes to the fore in his films is his humanism, his love for mankind as it is, warts and all. Agreed. None of his actors can act, well mostly, except probably for Maria Callas in Medea. He is one director who can make bad acting look like good human drama.

When he won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival this year for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, it was a sort of personal victory for me. For, I have discovered and started to like the works of Apichatpong Weerasethakul by accident, and I think his films are marvellous, especially Tropical Malady. There is a misconception that art film must be slow. Not necessarily. I mean, all slow movies cannot hold your interest. There must be a connecting thread why we must follow the camera faithfully. Weerasethakul, on the other hand, transport you to the location. In Tropical Malady, you are not watching the two guy trying to express their love, you are sitting them, there, listening to then, and later, travel with them to a underground shrine. If nothing else, this ability to tranport your audience to the celluloid world you have created is skill in itself. Many people can shoot beautiful pictures, but only few can make them come alive. Apichatpong Weerasethakul is one of them...

... Caroline Link is another. You have seen Africa in numerous film, from Tarzan-like adventure films to Blood Diamond to District 9, but you have never seen the sight and sound of Kenya come alive as it does in Nowhere in Africa, especially the sound, the haunting soundtrack. The film won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2001, and rightly so, if nothing else for the very fact that it created a character like Owuor, the Kenyan Man Friday to the Redlich family, who lands in Africa while fleeing from Nazi Germany. The bond between Owuor and Regina has all the element of a melodramatic plot, but how the film charts the progress of the relation, and how Owuor is played by Sidede Onyulo is just extraordinary. You feel like reach up to the screen and hug him.

Today, after the successes of Spike Lee and Danzel Washington, Melvin Van Peebles’ film may look very raw — an exercise in idealism. But consider the time when the film was released — 1971. The film boasts of several firsts. It’s one of the early examples of American independent cinema. Peebles proved that a director can be the sole arbitrator of a film, not the financiers or the studio system. It was one of the earliest film that proved that black cinema is possible. In one sense, it paved the way for the genre of blaxploitation. But Peebles film is not blaxploitation, it’s not cheap thrills, the film wants to tell you something. But it does have the voice and resources; so Peebles tells the story with the cheap thrills, sex, and the story of a man on the run. While narrating the story of a black vicitim, Peebles opens up the whole gamut of black and while dichotomy, the master and slave paradigm. But Peebles hero, Sweet Sweetback, played by the director himself, won’t face the injustice lying down. He will have his revenge.

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