Talking Movies

Talking Movies
Talking movies

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Love in world cinema: How romance works in Kiarostami, Rohmer and Linklater’s films

“I like it.”
“What do you like about it?”
“I don’t see why I have to try and convince you.”
“I wonder how you can convince yourself.”
“You’re a real art expert, aren’t you?”
“I don’t see it as work of art. I like its subject.”
“Its subject?”
“I like the way she rests her head on his shoulder.”
“I can’t believe you’re so…sentimental.”
“I can’t believe you’re so…irresponsible.”
This is an argument that takes place between an art critic (William Shimell) and an unnamed French woman (Juliette Binoche) in the film Copie Conforme (Certified Copy), by celebrated Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami. In it, a mysterious French woman and the art critic talk about art and copies, while roaming around Tuscany.Gradually, the conversations become personal and intimate. Soon they’re sparring with each other like a married couple. One brilliantly written scene reflects how arguments can get bizarre to show years of suppressed emotions. Binoche has just been to the washroom, dabbed bright red lipstick on and put on long, pretty earrings. She sits at the table, looking at Shimell expectantly. He barely notices and grumbles about his drink.
She: “Look at your wife. She has made herself pretty for you. Open your eyes.”
He: “This is just not the moment. It is five o’clock. I’m hungry. I need a drink.”
[Crestfallen, she pulls off her earrings.]She: “When is the moment? It wasn’t last night either. When is the right moment?”
He: “Look darling, I was tired. Why couldn’t you just think my poor husband is exhausted, he has falling asleep.”
She: “Just say you don’t love me anymore.”
He: “You’d fallen asleep at the wheel going down the motorway. So I’ve a simple question for you."
She: “Simple answer.”
He: “Why did you fall asleep?”
She: “I was tired.”
He: “Did you fall asleep because you stopped loving our son?”
She: ”I dozed off, I didn’t sleep.”
He: “I dozed off too.”
She: “No, you were asleep.”
By the end of the movie, you don’t know if they met in the morning or have been married 15 years. Are they strangers play-acting – or copying – a marriage or are they a couple pretending to be strangers and moving into role-play?
Certified Copy is never really over. Long leisurely takes, still frames, ambiguous endings and talky scenes keep you engaged and engrossed. The tantalizing romance between this couple that you can’t pin down lingers in memory. The lines with which they provoke and woo each other are a seduction aimed at the audience. And it works.
Love is a shape-shifting thing. It’s usually a soaring ballad or a dance number in Bollywood. In Hollywood, it’s sealed with a kiss and some gasp-ridden lovemaking scene that offers flashes of naked skin. And then there’s the love we see in world cinema – a quietly intense thing that is filigreed with words and conceits.
There are only a few filmmakers who can indulge in this sort of love story without becoming annoyingly self-indulgent. French director Eric Rohmer is one of them. His films often follow a pattern. The central plot tends to be about a man who is attracted to one woman, distracted by a second and ultimately chooses to return to the first. It’s almost Biblical in its simplicity – the man chooses virtue over vice.
In Rohmer’s Ma Nuit Chez Maud (My night with Maud), a staunchly Catholic man spends a night with Maud, a single mom and divorcee. She challenges his religious values and he has to defend them while confronting the temptation she embodies. Each conversation in Ma Nuit Chez Maud is a little love story in itself. Intimacy is explored with ruthless honesty and a chaste yet cruel passion.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is a 20-minute conversation between Maud and the Catholic, shot using still frames. Maud lies under an exotic white fur blanket while the man strolls around the room, pontificating and arguing. Maud listens and also provokes him. “You are both a shamefaced Christian and a shamefaced Don Juan,” she tells him.
He tells Maud, “Women have taught me a lot, morally speaking. It would be idiotic to generalize, but each girl I met posed a new moral challenge.” As he bares his soul to Maud, he seems almost unaware of the next moral challenge lying in bed.In Oscar-nominated Richard Linklater’s beloved trilogy of love stories, the challenges are not moral as much as everyday banality. Based on languid conversations, Before SunriseBefore Sunset and Before Midnight goes deep into the viscera of a relationship: the courtship, the breakups, marriage and estrangement. In short: growing up.
The trilogy is a thesis on love, with each film following the lead couple over the span of a single day. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet, fall in love and age over the course of the three films. In Before Sunrise, they walk around in Vienna. In Before Sunset, they explore Paris and in Before Midnight, they’re a married couple on a holiday in Greece.
Their conversations range from the esoteric to the bizarre, like any couple’s. Or perhaps these are the conversations, with their artful mischief and poignant candour, that we wish we could have had.
CELINE: “All right? There could be a revolution any second...”
JESSE: “Don't.”
CELINE: “People eat a lot of feta and olive oil, they act all happy but they actually talk about how ‘angry’ they are... and it confuses me and I don't know what's going to happen in the next few weeks.”
JESSE: “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let me tell you what's going to happen alright. The same thing that always happens: Nothing.”
CELINE: “Alright. You know what? I have had absolutely zero time for myself, I have ten thousand emails I have to answer that I didn't answer... “
JESSE: “And you think I don't?”
CELINE:”I'm happy you have time to contemplate the universe and have existential problems because I don't - I barely have time to think. I work, I baby- sit, I work, I baby-sit. “
CELINE: ”I have realized I’ve just stopped loving you. This is it.”
Except of course, it isn’t. The love stories continue, as we replay scenes and remember moments in our memory, long after the films fade to black.

Friday, 5 June 2015


(This has first published on Firstpost.
When a camera does an almost a single-take waltz, around a brilliantly choreographed song with an infectious rhythm, and Ranveer Singh, Farhan Akhtar and Anil Kapoor grooving with hardcore filmi desi gusto, it’s both a treat and a feat. In Dil Dhadakne Do, this is achieved by one of Bollywood’s best directors, Zoya Akhtar.
There are few directors who add meaning to feelgood cinema. Akhtar and Raj Kumar Hirani are the top contenders in that arena. Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara remains the finest in several aspects of filmmaking. There’s unusual casting; a screenplay as smooth as a BMW ride; grand visual imagery and above all, Farhan Akhtar’s witty one-liners, which leave you guffawing along with pranksters who add ‘bwoys’ to the dictionary.
Dil Dhadakne Do is the story of a family celebrating the parents’ 25th wedding anniversary on a luxury cruise around Europe, and it is an ambitious and well-intended attempt to sail around unspoken territories. It’s a sincere attempt to go deep, which in the entire first half ends up dragging under its serious tone and humourless weight. The film just about stays afloat with the help of three winsome actors: Farhan Akhtar, Anushka Sharma and Shefali Shah.
Ranveer Singh’s energy and chemistry with Sharma are welcome sparks and a lifeboat for the boredom that threatens to sink this lavishly-mounted film. His and Sharma’s self-choreographed dance, with its shades of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s wild moves in Silver Lining Playbook, is a joyous, invigorating break from the monotony of a squabbling family.The Mehras are a wealthy Punjabi family of five: Kamal (Anil Kapoor), Neelam (Shefali Shah), Ayesha (Priyanka), Kabir (Ranveer Singh) and Pluto. Pluto is not just a pet. He has a voice (Aamir Khan), he thinks and he gives us the lengthy lowdowns on how this family. The Mehras hide their true feelings and shy away from real communication. As Sharma’s Farah puts it, “Tum log baat nahin karte?” So it is left to Pluto to do all the talking and philosophising. Guess Khan is a pro after preaching his way through PK.
The one who makes brave attempts to talk is Kabir. But first he must fly aircrafts when depressed. And then lie cheerfully to make sure his plane isn’t sold by his dad. His sister, Ayesha, has been married off to the stuck-up Manav (Rahul Bose), so that she does not elope with a manager’s son. Boy and girl discrimination rules both households and Ayesha is the silent victim whose pouty lips are sealed despite her education and business acumen.
Meanwhile, Kamal is on the brink of a bankruptcy and secretly takes anti-anxiety pills. Neelam constantly swallows his insults by stuffing her face with cakes. (Watch out for each of their solo scenes in the privacy of the bathroom. Shah can evoke tears without shedding one herself.)
Kamal and Neelam, stereotyped to a fault, dominate the story with their controlling ways. On board with them are equally stereotype uncles and aunts who also rule over their own children. Except for a nice moment with the aunties sitting in a row at a kitchen table and one of the quipping, “But who will give us a job?”, they all serve as prettily dressed props with identical handbags, lining the deck.
With the middle-aged parents crowding the ensemble plot, Kabir and Ayesha are rendered puppets who entertain when they dance and swing; and engage when they eventually shout and scream. You are left wanting to see more of Akhtar and Sharma, the only outsiders to the rich and closed community. Unfortunately, they remain on the periphery. So does the humour surrounding the film’s issues, which don’t come across as real when flushed with the gloss in costumes, make-up and the locations.
Kapoor is in his full element as the cold and ruthless businessman, husband and dad. Shah takes the cake, literally, with her chin-up act. Singh many not be King but is quite charming as the sulking prince. Chopra tries so hard to be perfectly made up that her looks constantly distract you from her performance. She saves herself with the right submissive expressions of a long-suffering wife in bed. Bose as her husband is decent in his indecency. Zarina Wahab as his controlling mom has some great lines and she delivers them surprisingly well. Sharma sizzles and Akhtar shines in their cameos.
When Dil Dhadakne Do’s chaotic climax comes, the shift in characters and dynamics don’t matter. Not even the lifeboat used in the end can rescue Zoya Akhtar’s brave Titanic cruising on shallow waters. Perhaps Ranveer Singh put it best when he joked in an interview that was the making of Excel Travel and Tours. It’s exotic, but not rejuvenating.


(This has first appeared in Firstpost)
Take the best elements of the delightful 2006 film, Little Miss Sunshine – children, grandfather, warring parents – remove its dark depth and churn it into a larger, crowd-pleasing, feel-good film with a clich├ęd dash of humour, and you get What We Did On Our Holiday.
This passable summer-holiday watch has Gone Girl’s Oscar-nominated star Rosamund Pike as the everyday wife and mom. Her presence and performance are just as average. The same is true of David Tennant, who plays Pike’s husband.
As it happens with any family in life, the children take centrestage in What We Did… . They are not cute little darlings, but brats who are capable of driving their parents crazy. In the backseat, they’re an annoyance. Put them in the front seat and no parent will survive their antics. Their intrepid and adorable grandfather (Billy Connolly), with his dangerous sense of humour, does exactly that on his supposedly last birthday.
What follows is a Hollywood ride that gives two BBC writers – the writer-director duo of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin – a chance to poke fun at the British. The children’s behaviour is explained to strangers with one line: ”They are from London.”
A London based couple, Aby (Pike) and Doug (David Tennant), drive down to the scenic Scotland Highlands with their three brats. They’ve gone to visit their cancer struck father, Gordie (Connolly) on his 75th birthday. The constantly arguing couple is about to split and decide to keep it a secret for the sake of the ailing dad.
However, Aby and Doug’s brats are the sort who would be more than happy to spill more beans than you can count. And there are many. Like, the parents live in separate houses now. Oh, and pop is having an affair.
The writing goes out of its way to make it clear that this is a dysfunctional family. And if this wasn’t evident to the presumably dimwitted audiences in the course of the film, then Aby gives a last key speech on how its all about loving your family, functional or otherwise. You’d be forgiven for thinking it belongs in the climax of a Karan Johar film. It’s another matter that this speech is one of What We Did…’s big failures since it’s used to breezily wrap up a hasty and lazy third act.
Fortunately, What We Did… has the brats. Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge), 6, worships the Vikings. Ten-year-old Lottie (Emilia Jones) has mastered the art of serious, mature expressions while she jots down every family secret in her notebook. Aby and Doug’s youngest, Jess (Harriet Turnbull), is the cutest and the scene-stealer. She has rocks for pets and shamelessly steals her uncle’s keys.
The uncle is Doug’s elder brother, Gavin (Ben Miller) who is as much a kid as Jess. Keep an eye out for the clapping scene (after a boring violin performance by Gavin’s son) with Gavin and Jess, which is quite chuckle worthy. Gavin’s wife, Margaret (a delightful Amelia Bullmore) is a depressed nutcase in private but utterly composed in drawing rooms. Her character is a stroke of fine writing, in its subtle and funny exploration of the pressure that intensifies from keeping up family appearances.
Between the three little monsters and the two family comedians, there is much fun to be had at grandpa’s birthday.
One thing is guaranteed after watching What We Did On Our Holiday: you may not be keen on brats, but you will be sold on the idea of a holiday in Scotland.