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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Spoiler-filled Analysis-

It was only in my last viewing of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick’s most controversial and polarizing film, at Cinema Rendezvous did I realize what the film-maker was really on about. I believe that Dr. Bill Harford’s journey here captures man’s first encounter with Helen, the second phase of the anima archetype. It is in this phase that man sees women to possess no virtue. Kubrick also addresses sexual incompatibility and the need for communication in a marriage in the film. Additionally, he talks of the necessity for a man to channelize the Warrior/Protector archetype to prevent his woman, his anima projection, from feeling defeminised, and inadvertently him from feeling emasculated, when she compensates by projecting her own animus elsewhere. The film released after Kubrick’s death, giving rise to several conspiracy theories surrounding the nature of his death. One of them suggested that he was killed by cult illuminati.

I always saw Eyes Wide Shut as a psychosexual thriller that revolved around Bill’s drive for sexual retribution. While that is partly true, it is hardly his sole motivation. Re-watching the film multiple times helped peel off the layers and see that there’s far more to it. I firmly believed that Eyes Wide Shut pointed to Bill and Alice remaining oblivious to a seemingly conspicuous distance that had crept in between the two of them. This time though, I felt it was only Bill who was oblivious to the distance. And the causes for this estrangement seem to bring him at fault. His inability to sexually satisfy his wife, his non-possessive nature and his non-confrontational nature would be three to name. He remains blind to the effect they have on his wife and their relationship. Eyes Wide Shut might also point to Bill being blind to the primal, animalistic nature of female sexuality. But, more on that later.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)


Jordan Belfort (Leo Dicaprio) likes to play. He plays with people, he plays with stocks, he plays with his clients, he plays with the law, he plays with his marriage, and more than anything...he plays with his life in the free world. What he finds most enjoyable is being put in a situation that he can, and must, turn to his advantage. Winning is something he doesn’t seem to ever get enough of. With every win, he feels less and less mortal, more and more invincible. Quitting seems like a slow kill to him, resigning to the life of a mere mortal in the normal world.  “But, who the fuck wanted to live there?” he asks bewildered. It’s only fun for Jordan when the stakes are continuously raised.

I would expect most people to characterize The Wolf of Wall Street as a dark crime-comedy, and while I agree with that categorization, I think the film is more a biopic than anything else. Jordan Belfort was a stockbroker convicted of stock manipulation, securities fraud and money laundering. Scorsese traverses his storyline while constantly evoking his inextinguishable spirit. And by the end of the film, I felt like I knew what made this guy tick.

The Great Beauty (2013)


The Great beauty revolves around the life of Jep Gamberdella (Toni Servillo), writer of his only novel and daily columnist. But instead of introducing us to him right away, film-maker Paulo Sorrentino first acquaints us with the world he lives in. He takes us through Jep’s 65th birthday party, infested with people who seem to have made conscious effort to distinguish themselves from one another, at face value. We learn later on that they back up their unique senses of identity by working hard to acquire cultured tastes and artistic sensibilities.

Then we meet our protagonist, Jep Gamberdella. Sorrentino slowly closes in on him, showing him as a man who doesn’t feel part of the happenings despite being involved. Jep talks to us, revealing that he’s proud to have made it into the highlife. He goes on to confess, “I didn’t just want to live the highlife. I wanted to be the king of the highlife. I didn’t want to just go to parties; I wanted to have the power to make them a failure.”

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Moeibus (2013)

Moebius is one of the most ludicrous films I’ve seen in quite a while. It features intentional overdoses of melodrama, violence, stupidity, incest, emasculation (both literal and metaphorical), rape, violation, masturbation and visual metaphors I won’t bother decoding; all while keeping the flick free of dialogue. Kim Ki Duk goes all-out here both enjoying and abusing his rank as a well-regarded auteur as he looks to score cringes from his viewers, both the Kim Ki Duk newbies that don’t expect the worst and the fan followers that anticipate it. And while it seems that he did succeed in his intentions (a viewer vomited on his way out at its Venice premiere) the film didn’t really irk me.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Counselor (2013)


Even with its compromises and overreaching philosophy, The Counselor is a pretty interesting film. It keeps you involved even when it's falling off the rails.

Michael Fassbender plays The Counselor who intends to make a big buck through a one-off drug trade with a Mexican drug cartel. He works with his friend Reiner and middle-man Westrey. Reiner (Javier Bardem) is playful, trusting and always in the present, reaping the benefits of the seeds he’s sown. He’s heard the worst of the party he’s in business with, but doesn’t seem keen on reconsidering the nature of their relationship. He doesn’t seem too interested in the ifs and coulds. All he knows is that things are fine as they are. Westray (Brad Pitt), on the other hand, is more aware of what he’s gotten himself into. He’s willing to take his chances as long as they come to him. But if things go awry, he has an immediate way out. He’s willing to leave everything behind if he has to. “It’s not that you’re going down. It’s what you’re taking down with you,” he echoes later in the film. The counselor pays heed to both men, who warn him repeatedly, but goes with the plan anyway, telling himself that this is only a one-time deal.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Adore (2013)

Anne Fontaine’s Adore is a piece of tripe. Not only is it the worst film I’ve seen from this year, it is hands down the worst film I’ve seen all year. The film opens with two girls running in the woods, as if they were the last two inhabitants of planet Utopia. Underscoring this scene sequence is a pleasant, playful music. The two girls find their way into a deserted beach and soak it up in the sea. They stare into each other’s eyes and smile. The scene transitions smoothly to the two of them about fifteen years later. They’re still staring at each other. This transition seems to say that their bond remains just as strong and isn’t bound by time. The women have their own sons now. Lil’s (Naomi Watts) husband dies in a car crash while Roz’s (Robin Wright) husband jokes about it with Lil’s fellow employee at the funeral.

As we’re taken through their lives, we find out that Roz’s husband Harold, who suspects a lesbian relationship shared between the two women, feels excluded from his own family, which, by now, includes Lil and her son. This reasonable fear sends the two women roaring with laughter while allowing them to bond with each other over deriding the male species. “Bloody men,” they conclude. Film-maker Fontaine’s characters share the same juvenile worldview as she demonstrates in Adore.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor directed by Peter Berg stars Mark Wahlberg in the lead role of real-life character Marcus Lutrell, to whom the title of the film alludes to. It also co-stars Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana. The film opens with a montage bearing a heroic, awe-inspiring quality that showcases the training regime of Navy SEAL officers. The physicality of their acts, of them pushing their bodies to its limits, pulls you in.

Film-maker Berg eventually zooms in on a certain bunch of officers. We’re shown these guys as belonging to something of a brotherhood with minimal power dynamics. Peter Berg believes he should induct the viewer into this fraternity. In order to achieve this, he paints the gang in positive light. Berg then introduces a comic foil to contrast how much ‘cooler’ the principal characters are against how much of a dud this foil is. And In a moment of crisis, this dud seems to have both difficulty and delay in recognizing the gravity of the situation. He is, unlike the main characters of the film, a misfit. This is as far as Berg is willing to go with characterization. His is a convenient way to get us to root for the principal characters, without actually developing them. They’re quickly established as courageous, gritty individuals who also have a boyish charm that’s likely to appeal to most people. If only Berg had been subtler.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Harmony Lessons (2013).

Review. Interpretation. Observations. Spoilers.-

The last film I saw at CIFF 2013 was a character study called Harmony Lessons written and directed by Kazakh film-maker Emir Baigazin. The film revolves entirely about a 13-year old boy named Aslan who lives with his grandmother in a crime-ridden village in Kazakhstan. His school is shown to be run by its students. They work with each other through a certain heirarchy. And in this social code, we find Aslan to be a complete misfit.

Some kids at school trick Aslan into degrading himself unknowingly, only to laugh at him later. He is humiliated and ostracized. But the quiet and detached Aslan lets it slide, comfortably withdrawing into his own internal world. You don’t ever get to know Aslan well enough to be able to root for or empathize with him, but you are always intrigued by him.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Omar (2013)

Walking out of Omar at CIFF 2013, I didn’t think for a second that the Palestinian film had the potential to be an Oscar contender. Overall, the film worked for me. But not very well, I must add. It was engaging, eventful, evenly paced, and cleverly plotted. However, it fails to entice, enthral or reward the viewer emotionally.

Omar is part-time baker, full-time revolutionary. He scales Israel-Palestine boundary walls every other day and almost gets shot. But Omar treats it like just another day at the office. He belongs to a rebellion that wants to take on armed forces and evict them out of the country despite being vastly outnumbered. They consider themselves freedom fighters, going as far as ambushing soldiers from a distance. But we never see what Omar gets from all of this. His ideological stance on the war or people around him remains unknown. All we know is that he belongs to a rebellion that provides him a sense of group identity. Apparently, that is all it takes for Omar to risk his life everyday and eventually go to war. Film-maker Hany Abu Assad doesn’t believe he needs to show us what motivates Omar to live this daredevil life. That Omar lives it stone-faced further confounds the viewer. He acts as if he has nothing to lose, when in fact he’s shown to share a strong bond with his ever-smiling naivete lover Nadia.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Walesa. Man of Hope (2013)

Andrez Wajda’s biopic film “Walesa. Man of Hope” revolves around Lech Walesa (Robert Wieckiewics), a libertarian and revolutionary, who brought the first trade union to Poland during its communist regime. The film takes us through his life, his deeds and the driving force behind the two.

The film opens with a lady and her assistant in her car. They pull up in front of Walesa’s apartment and she introduces herself a famous journalist from the West. The two of them sit beside Walesa about to begin their interview. Walesa brashly asks her, “Is this interview going to hurt me or help me?” “That depends entirely on what you say,” she says composed. Meanwhile, we see that someone else is monitoring and recording their conversations. We learn later that this person is an official of the country.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Priest's Children (2013)

The Priest’s Children directed by Vinko Bresan is one of the more mainstream films I saw at CIFF 2013. It was silly, comical, family-friendly and lacking in substance. However, I don’t feel strongly enough to trash it or dismiss it outright. A film experience like this doesn’t warrant such emotion. My feelings are mixed, somewhere between disappointment and annoyance. I’ll admit though, I was mildly amused.

The premise is plain as day. Set in futuristic Croatia, where the country’s death rate considerably outweighs its birth rate, a man confesses to a priest that he is a murderer. He kills people before they are born, that is, by working for a condom factory. Did that score a chuckle out of you? Then perhaps this is your kind of film. Petar goes on to state that he cannot afford to lose his job, but can’t help feeling guilty for sinning in this manner. The priest lets him in on an idea, one that allows him to eat his cake and have it too. He advises the man to prick a tiny hole in every condom before it is packaged. The two men conspire together on a quest- to reverse the death-rate-to-birth-rate ratio- with the help of an eccentric pharmacist who takes up the task of replacing contraceptives with vitamin pills.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fill the Void (2013)

Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void opens with a chirpy young lady, Shira, groom-shopping at a mall with her mother Revka. The women point to different men scattered around and discuss them like potential prospects. All of them sport the conventional-orthodox-Jewish look. Afterwards, we see her run up to her pregnant sister Esther and brace her excitedly telling her that they’ve found a suitor for her. Her brother-in-law smiles in approval, sharing her joy.

This family seems to have quite a bit going for it. And everything does go well in their favour. That is, until a tragedy befalls them. Esther dies in childbirth, only to be survived by her husband Yochay and new-born son. Instead of focusing on the immediate implications of the tragedy, Rama Burshtein skips the melodrama and fast-forwards to a point where they’ve moved on with their lives. The past is no longer a dwelling issue for the family. It's the future. Shira’s marriage is approaching while Yochay himself is considering remarriage. The question lingering in Burshtein’s mind here is whether the family fabric will remain intact after such an incident. This question also happens to prod Shira’s mother, Revka, who dreads the possibility of an empty house.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Salvo (2013)

One of the dullest films I saw in 2013 was a film called Salvo directed by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza. I looked it up before the screening, only to find that it received multiple awards at the Cannes film festival. This, I figured, was reason enough for me to choose it over the other five films playing simultaneously at CIFF 2013. However, this choice misfired terribly.

Salvo’s plot is wafer-thin. A gangster named Salvo and his boss go to another part of town to kill select people. Why they do it, what they have at stake, what this is in response to-- we are given none of these details. Instead, the film-maker chooses to focus on the more trivial details; like what time Salvo sets his alarm, what his servants think of him, whether his hostage girl is hungry and whether fish tastes better in a dog bowl.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Whirlpool (2013)

“Not for the faint-hearted” was all I had to see to choose a screening of The Whirlpool at CIFF 2013 over one of Oh Boy, a European Film Award winning black-and-white comedy. I am naturally drawn to boundary pushing films that can stick a wrench in my gut and effectively reinforce my bleak world-view.

The Serbian film directed by Bojan Vuk Kosovcevic failed to adequately satisfy my cinematic appetite. However, I still remain in praise of what it set out to do and how it attempts to accomplish just that, even though I found the ending quite inconclusive and ambiguous. I couldn’t dismiss away such an ambitious film that has so much going for it. But I wouldn’t deem it a success either.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Disciple (2013)

The Disciple is set on an island inhabited by a family of four. Vilhelm, the man of the house is in charge of a lighthouse situated here while receiving some assistance from his teenage son Gustaf (Patrik Kumpulainen), who works his days just to be able to prove to his father that he is indeed worthy of succeeding him. Vilhelm’s wife finds solace in music with the help of a piano while their daughter, the youngest member of the family, gets by playing with a dog in their barn. A boat approaches the island. Its only passenger is a young boy who introduces himself as Karl Berg (Erik Lonngren) . He becomes Vilhelm’s disciple.

At first, Vilhelm dismisses the boy as just another kid. But the boy proves time and again that he is young, strong, capable and a quick learner. Vilhelm slowly begins to see that Karl can be put to use and effectively does so. Karl has been sent from an abusive orphanage. He bears signs of whip lash on his bare back. Although critical by nature, Vilhelm eventually takes a liking for Karl. He sees Karl as everything his own son is unable to be. He decides to adopt the boy, welcoming him not just to his new job, but to his new family. While Gustaf doesn’t fare at his academics nearly as well as Karl, Finnish film-maker Ulrika Bengts resists the temptation to paint him as an easily replaceable entity. She shows us that Gustaf is actually more of an outdoor person. He’s an expert with the sextet, good at swimming and excellent at navigating the boat. He even lets these skills rub off on Karl. His father knows nothing of Gustaf’s hidden abilities and continues to find ways to reinforce his own belief, that his son is indeed useless.

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