Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sholay, A Camp Classic ?

Some things just can never travel across cultures! This is a capsule review of Sholay from Chicago Reader:

Voted the most popular Indian film ever in a British Film Institute poll, this 1975 revenge epic by Ramesh Sippy has been called a "curry western" for its hysterical visual style and Sergio Leone frontier setting, though various scenes also recall Stagecoach, The Great Dictator, and High Noon. A police inspector hires two happy-go-lucky con men to capture a vicious bandit, and much of the action--there are stunts and chases galore--takes place in a remote village menaced by the bandit and his gang. The tone alternates between slapstick and melodrama, and Sippy occasionally sneaks in some populist messages. The plot is formulaic, the camerawork is slapdash, the male bonding borders on camp. The saving grace is the singing and dancing, especially the imaginatively staged festival of colors. With Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, and Amjad Khan. In Hindi with subtitles. 204 min.

Male bonding borders on camp? So much for Jai aur Veeru ki dosti! I was laughing like crazy reading this. Thank God they didn't say the film had a gay subtext!

Also another one of Anand (by Hrishikesh Mukherjee):This 1970 feature by Hrishikesh Mukherjee (a protege of Bimal Roy) was part of a trend toward greater realism and exploration of middle-class life in Indian cinema, though its disease-of-the-week plot and melodramatic flourishes (copious tears, horrified trumpet blasts) will seem comical to Western viewers.

Full thing here.

Disease-of-the-week plot? Hmmm. :)

On a more serious note, much as I loathe the style and assumptions of popular hindi films, I find judging these by completely objective aesthetic standards, which is invariably inspired by the western mode of thought, harsh and completely unreasonable. That's how a reasonably authentic portrayal of male friendship in one context becomes camp in another.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Funny and Serious

Very funny.

One mistake though. Julien Sorel's head was cut off not because he slept with two women but because [SPOILER!] he shot at one of them! Also I didn't know that Tolstoy "slept with his serfs". Reportedly, he also felt bad about it. Ha ha!

And this is a serious article/book review about how valuable art is...

[...]doing art matters because it is in our very nature as homo faber to want to shape the ordinary into the special, that such activity can assuage the loneliness that is modern man's particular burden, and that art mystically helps us to feel that we matter as individuals -- that we, in effect, truly exist.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Werther Effect

This cover is fantastic but a little inappropriate for a book which is essentially about the sorrows and torments of unrequited love! I think the guys at modern library understood this and that's why they changed the cover for the paperback edition. While not perfect (it doesn't fit with the aritstocratic image of Werther), it is at least closer to the content of the book. Personally, I wouldn't like to get caught in public reading any of those two editions. For me, the rather staid penguin classics edition is the best.

Also, two discoveries: First, there is a technical term called Werther Effect, which is used to designate copycat suicides, specially among teenagers and youth. When the book was published in the late eighteenth century, there was a wave of similar copycat suicides among hundreds of young men, who were apparently "inspired" by this tragic tale of unrequited love. (In the book Werther shoots himself in the head after he is rejected by the object of his passions and thus dramatically ends his "sorrows").

Now the second discovery: the great English poet W.H. Auden called Werther "a horrid little monster", "incapable of love because he cares for nobody and nothing but himself". Hmmm. I remember getting very impressed by the book when I had read it. Though I did find the character of Werther a little foolish (aren't all over-sensitive, romantic people foolish?) but truthful and authentic. On the other hand I admired greatly the character of woman he lusts after. She is kind, intelligent, practical and totally down-to-earth. But "narcissist" and "monster" are definitely strong words to describe Werther. I think I will have to read the book again.

An excellent essay on the book here.

Friday, January 27, 2006


I hate Oprah and her TV show. I specially hate her book clubs. I hate the way she reduces literature to the "chicken soup for the soul" kitsch. And I hate all those people who buy books based on her recommendation and then look for "life affirming" messages inside those books.

I am following this controversy about James Frey with amused disgust. Now it seems Oprah has publicly rebuked Frey for telling lies in his memoir, as the new york times reports.

It annoys me to death when the inspirational power of a book (or for that matter a film) is used as the sole justification for its artistic merits. I have absolutely no time and no respect for a writer who doesn't value the intellectual autonomy of the reader and instead focuses on ploys to pull at reader's heartstrings.

More articles from Slate on the subject here and here

And column in Washington Post and another fine essay in the new york times

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Woody Allen's Match Point

Woody Allen's Match Point is being hailed all over as his return to form, a masterpiece. I have not seen many of Woody Allen's movies (four is what I can count apart from this) so I can't comment whether it is better than his recent films but it certainly is not a masterpiece and is definitely less than what the film aspires to be. Personally I am all for misanthropy and cynicism. The harsher the better. And any film which makes a mince-meat of the fairy tale ideas of romance, is ipso facto good enough. But on more objective standards the film fails and it fails on many fronts.

The story is about a young tennis coach and social climber who by luck befriends a rich family and marries the daughter of the house. Everything looks hunky-dory in the hero's life until lust and passion threaten the good life that he has find himself living and when the threat becomes too much he decides to take extreme action.

As is common in Woody Allen's films, there are references galore to the world of high-art--characters attend opera, visit art galleries and go to musicals and movies (although this time his choice looked reasonably middle-brow -- Andrew Llyod Webber, The Motorcycle Diaries!). There are also ubiquitous references to Crime and Punishment, which acts as philosophical guide book for the film. Allen even shows his hero reading the book in one of the initial scenes in the film. He also makes it clear that the book is not just a prop by making the hero put down the book and pick up The Cambridge Companion to Dostoevsky instead!

It is more a "movie of ideas" than a realistic study of characters or life in contemporary London (the film makes its thematic interests as explicit as it can), so it is unfair to complain but still the the drama is extremely schematic and totally artificial and the plot far fetched. The characters don't have any life of their own and it seems it is all Woody Allen or the writer pulling strings from behind. It was difficult for me to imagine how could a tennis coach, in a few months, become a successful executive in a financial company! Also the ironies are so heavy-handed that viewers shocked by it can easily take excuse behind the "it's only a movie" line and so nullifying the effect of the film.

Overall, the film will work only for those who are looking for a respite from all the mind numbing and sugary romantic movies and for those who relish a nice misanthropic evening, like me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I love films which treat sexuality as something dark, mysterious and threatening and hate when films treat it lightly. For this reason all romantic and sex comedies annoy me to death. If it comes to that, I would rather watch a (tasteful) pornography than see films like, say, American Pie. And it's the same reason why I love films like Blue Velvet, Cries and Whispers or The Piano Teacher. The French film Innocence, made by the debutante French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic, which I actually saw more than a month ago, belongs in the same category although its darkness is far more muted than those other films.

The film is about an all-girls boarding school situated deep inside a forest. What place or country it is, or what time period the story takes place in, is never specified, as if to augment the allegorical credentials of the story. The film starts ominously with a blank screen and soft yellow credits, like in some silent movies and low, rumbling noise of water gushing forth, as if in a stream. Then there are successive shots of a brick layered sub-terranean pathway. There is a feeling that we are perhaps watching through some point of view, but whose? We later realize that a coffin has arrived through that passage and a small girl (aged five or six perhaps, named Iris) is sleeping inside it. When she wakes up, she finds herself surrounded by a group of girls of different ages. She then slowly learns the rules of the boarding school. No boys allowed. Each girl separated into a separate age band distinguished by the colour of their hair ribbons (the red is the youngest and purple the oldest with blue, orange etc in between). They are attended to by old and kindly matrons. They go to school where the only thing they ever learn are Ballet and Biology, by two sad looking young women. One of them is even crippled.

In Ballet, along with dance, they are taught that "obedience is the only path to happiness" and in Biology all they are taught are theory of evolution, the life cycle of butterflies and menstruation (its not difficult to guess the thematic import of each of these). There are girls who want to escape but when they do they either meet their inevitable fate (death) or are never heard of again. The eldest of Iris's group, Bianca leaves every night for some mysterious destination. Where does she go? To meet boys? Iris asks but she never gets any answers and neither do we. There are also annual ballet performance based on which the headmistress selects one from the "blue band" to take her out of the school into the real world. But for what purpose? Then there is a theatrical performance for unseen visitors from where the school gets its finances from which creepily reminds of prostitution.

The girls are evidently being prepared for something. Perhaps for womanhood, or perhaps for prostitution or perhaps just for being reproductive machines, or perhaps it doesn't matter which one, because actually it's all the same. May be, that's what Hadzihalilovic's rhetorical point is. There is also a sense of deep, wistful melancholy in the way the girls grow up and prepare to leave the school--specially the eldest girl and how she reacts to the sexual knowledge which is an inevitable part of growing up. We physically feel the passage of time and with it, the loss of "innocence".

These questions about innocence, sexual awakening, gender roles etc. aside, the film is first and foremost a compelling aural and visual experience. Hadzihalilovic's use of heightened sound effect reminded me of David Lynch at his best and so was her use of expressionist set design and lighting. It all creates a sense of mysterious foreboding which grips the viewer's imagination and never lets it go right until the euphoric climax.

When the film was released it was criticised for sexualising young children (in the new york times review) and of course there is ample nudity and sexual imagery abounds in the film. But that's exactly what the subject matter of the film is! How else can a film about young girls growing into women can be made? I have no idea. Anyway, I didn't have any use for these criticisms. To me this was an extremely provocative and compelling film made by one of the most original and promising talents in world cinema. It was also one of the strangest films of the year, which alone will put it high on my list!

P.S Articles from Sight and Sound, here and here. Chicago Tribune review here.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Milan Kundera, Dostoevsky and Sentimentality

The New York Times Book Review archive is a treasure trove. They have made all of their book reviews since 1981 public and they are easily searchable online. So whenever I am getting bored I type in some name in the search bar and lo and behold, I get to read some very well written and informative review of authors and books I love. The reviews are also reasonably middle-brow, which suits amateurs like me.

So I think I was looking for some article on Tristram Shandy and I found this essay by Milan Kundera which he wrote as an introduction to his stage adaptation of the Eighteenth century French novel Jacques the Fatalist by Diderot, a book which I have not read. There are many insightful observations in it about the history of the novel and what the purpose of art should be but what intrigued me was what he had to say about Dostoevsky and sentimentality. He has written about the evils of kitsch and sentimentality eloquently in his novels The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Immortality and others. But here he makes even greater claims. He says:

"Man cannot do without feelings, but the moment they are considered values in themselves, criteria of truth, justifications for kinds of behavior, they become frightening. The noblest of national sentiments stand ready to justify the greatest of horrors, and man, his breast swelling with lyric fervor, commits atrocities in the sacred name of love. When feelings supplant rational thought, they become the basis for an absence of understanding, for intolerance."

He then, rather surprisingly, goes on to criticise Russians (Kundera had to flee from his country after the Russian invasion of Prague) and particularly Dostoevsky for living in the middle ages and being sentimental.
"What irritated me about Dostoevsky was the climate of his novels: a universe where everything turns into feeling; in other words, where feelings are promoted to the rank of value and of truth."

There are a few problems which I find with Kundera's assertions. First, while it is true that many of the Dostoevky's characters are sentimental, this is not specific to Dostoevky. The poor and miserable drunkards that we find in so many Russian novels are not artificial creatures created to manipulate readers into submission but rather, they are true Russian types. Perhaps it was Gogol who created the first in his classic short story The Overcoat.

Also calling him "medieval" is definitely wrong. Perhaps no one understood the contradictions between the modernistic ideas of progress based on science and rationality and the essential nature of human soul, better than Dostoevky. At many places in his novels there are explicit references to Marx, Proudhon, Bakunin and the utilitarian economists like Bentham and Mill whose ideas form the basis of the modern conceptions of man and his place in society. Notes from Underground is actually a response to the Russian writer Chernyshevsky who popularized the utilitarian philosophy in Russia. Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Possessed (I haven't read it so far) and The Brothers Karamazov (specially the final court scenes) are prophetic critiques of the utopian experiments that resulted in most of the horrors of last century, which in fact also forced Kundera to live a life of exile. Dostoevsky's solutions ("return to the church, respect the patriarchal authority of Czar") were perhaps medievalistic, yes. But that's what makes his whole vision of human condition even more tragic.

Finally, in championing reason Kundera forgets that reason can also (in fact in most cases it does) act as a mask for the will and can lead to the same atrocities that he condemns sentimentality for. There can be no arguing with Kundera that we can never trust feelings as arbiters of ethical behavior but can we trust reason? Nietzsche thought otherwise and so did Dostoevsky. If Nietzsche is considered the most modern of all philosophers, there is no reason why Dostoevsky can not be considered anything but equally modern.

P.S. Found another article in the archives by the Nobel Prize winning Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky who responds to Kudera's arguments, much more eloquently and with far more authority than this humble post of mine. It is long and dense but worth battling through.

Also the "featured author" page of Milan Kundera.

Nabokov's opinions on Dostoevsky are also worth going through. They are funnier!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tristram Shandy

The prolific British film director Michael Winterbottom'’s latest film Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is ready for release. It was also shown at this year'’s New York Film festival where it got great reviews. I liked Winterbottom'’s 2001 quasi-documentary In This World a lot which is the only film by him that I have seen so far. And the fact that he is trying to adapt one of the singularly unique novels that I have ever read makes me even more excited about this film.

It'’s been almost three years now that I read Tristram Shandy, or as it is actually called, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and reading articles about the film on the internet reminded me of the hilarious characters and incidents from the novel, most of which I had almost forgotten. The Eighteenth century novel was written by an Anglican clergyman named Laurence Sterne and it tells the story of the eponymous narrator who is attempting to write his autobiography. The reader gets to know that he is in for something highly unusual in the first paragraph itself, when the narrator starts not with his birth but with his conception itself. Narrator'’s mother interrupts her husband at a crucial juncture by reminding him of winding the clock. Then follows a long rambling commentary on medicine, birth defects and "“homunculus". It is only after almost hundred pages that the narrator finally manages to bring himself into the world. In the meanwhile the great cast of the characters are introduced. Tristram'’s father Walter Shandy is a polymath with an almost maniacal knowledge of arcane theories about medicine, science, philosophy, logic and virtually everything else. He has, it seems, read all the books ever published in Latin and Greek and more importantly sees every minor problem as some intellectual puzzle to be solved by the application of his recondite theories.

Narrator'’s Uncle Toby, easily the most interesting character in the book, is obsessed with the science of fortification. He is nursing a groin injury that he sustained in one of his battles. Now housebound, his passion remains the enactment of the battle scenes in his garden through artificial models of defence and embankments. He is eagerly supported in all his pursuits by an even more enthusiastic servant Corporal Trim. His servant has a tendency of giving speeches just like every other character. The two are obviously modeled on the the great characters of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Then there is a fun loving parson names Yorik who rides a horse names Rocinate (one of the many references to Don Quixote in the novel). After the scene of his death, the narrator insists that the next page be black and blank as a mark of mourning! There are also many other typographical inventions. One page is left blank for the reader to draw the face of one of his characters (I think it is Widow Wadman). There are sentences full of asterisks and dashes to indicate things which should better be left unsaid! The preface and acknowledgements appear in the middle of the novel out of nowhere. And towards the end there are a few chapters about narrator's excursions to France written in a highly detached style parodying the travel writing. Then there is the final episode concerning the Widow Wadman who tries to seduce uncle Toby, oblivious to whatever happened to his groin, and how uncle Toby utilizes his knowledge of the science of fortification to protect his "“honour"”.

Other than being a wildly funny romp through the life of very eccentric characters, the novel explores some very interesting and important themes. First, life is just too chaotic and complex to be straitjacketed into any sort of narrative. So Sterne's contention that any conventional novel, with a beginning, middle and end can never be true to life. Second is the philosophy of "“association of ideas" first postulated by John Locke (which later became the "“stream of consciousness" associated with Woolf, Joyce and other modernists), which says that human thought doesn'’t follow a logical and linear pattern but works more like hyper text, freely transcending space and time. Third is the idea that "we are what we are passionate about"”. In other words, the importance of our "“hobby-horses"” in defining our world-view and a sense of who we are to ourselves and to others.

The book is funny but it is not easy to read at all. Honestly, I had to skip many paragraphs just because I had no desire to look up every second word in the dictionary. And then there are Latin words galore. The edition I had didn't have good footnotes and index. I should have used the Penguin edition which I later found out has more than a hundred pages of index and footnotes and more importantly, it has a glossary of words used in the science of fortification which would significantly reduce the dictionary usage time while reading the book. I will keep that in mind the next time I pick up Tristram Shandy.

By the way, it was this article about A-Z of the book that prompted such a long post. And an interesting collection of photographs of the first edition of the book. And wikipedia entry on fortification, in case you are wondering what the fuss is all about. And finally the official film website which has a "meta" quality just like the book and the film!

Friday, January 20, 2006


It's been quite a nice day. After all the troubles of last few weeks, a deus ex machina solved most of the problems today morning. And then I find this essay on the New York Times. Made my day. Simply brilliant.

What mysterious cruelty in the human soul, to have invented despair as a sin! Like the seven deadly sins, despair is a mythical state. It has no quantifiable existence; it is merely part of an allegorical world view, yet no less lethal for that. Unlike other sins, however, despair is by tradition the sole sin that cannot be forgiven; it is the conviction that one is damned absolutely, thus a repudiation of the Christian Saviour and a challenge to God's infinite capacity for forgiveness. The sins for which one may be forgiven -- pride, anger, lust, sloth, avarice, gluttony, envy -- are all firmly attached to the objects of this world, but despair seems to bleed out beyond the confines of the immediate ego-centered self and to relate to no desire, to no thing. The alleged sinner has detached himself even from the possibility of sin, and this the Catholic Church, as the self-appointed voice of God on earth, cannot allow.

The full essay here.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Who Sent the Video Tapes?

As generally happens with mystery movies which are also "art movies" this question never gets answered in Cache, the latest film by the Austrian film director Michael Haneke. As viewers of his previous films know, there is hardly any other filmmaker currently working in world cinema who is more audience unfriendly. None of these facts will stop me in proclaiming that Cache is a masterpiece and perhaps the best film of the last year (I have still not seen many films of the last year, so this might be subject to revision).

The story is about an upper class intellectual couple living in Paris. Georges played by Daniel Auteiul is a host of some highbrow literary chat show on television (they discuss such esoteric literary subjects as the latest biography of Rimbaud's sister) and Anne, his wife, played by Juliette Binoche, works as an editor in a publishing firm. (Their apartment is full of books although it looks like that books are meant more for interior decoration than for reading.) They live a quiet, easygoing life until one day when they receive an anonymous video tape showing that they are under some kind of surveillance. More tapes follow, accompanied by childish drawings of faces squirting blood. Soon things start getting strange and difficult for the couple. They start bickering because Georges obviously is hiding something from his wife and is troubled and angry. A minor incident on street brings out the violent side of the supposedly civilised couple and finally, who is that boy with his face smeared in blood, whose image is flashed on the screen on more than one occasion? Is it Georges's dream?

Georges's investigation into the tapes leads him to his own past and to a rundown apartment which is now inhabited by an Algerian named Majid who is of the same age as Georges but looks so sad and heartbroken that the question of 'did he shoot the tapes?' doesn't arise at all. Not so for Georges who convinces himself that it is indeed Majid who is terrorizing his family and then goes on to threaten him. Majid, as it turns out, was betrayed by Georges in their childhood and this was when Majid's parents were killed in a protest by the French police (an actual historical event that happened). A couple of startlingly violent scenes follow which are sure the jolt anyone out of their seats and then the film ends with an extremely puzzling scene which made me dive right into the internet message boards as soon as I came out of the theatre.

I was initially suspecting a Lost Highway kind of resolution, thinking that it was indeed his own guilty conscience that was making Georges invent those tapes. In Lost Highway the guilty conscience gets personified into the spooky "mystery man" but Haneke, unlike David Lynch, leaves no room for metaphors or symbols to hide behind. It is all as naturalistic as it can be done. Shot on digital video, without camera movement and in long takes, the video or indeed the whole film, appears so detached, clinical and objective that it could only be the God's eye that is watching all of them. Okay, there goes my theory and I haven't stolen it from anywhere :)

Whoever sent the video tapes, the film remains a feast for the intellect, something that will challenge and provoke even the most laid back viewers to think about things that they wouldn't otherwise bother to think about. Haneke's two earlier films, The Piano Teacher and The Time of the Wolf, while undeniably brilliant, were very abstracted and almost theoretical works. Cache isn't like that. It is great psychology and great politics mixed with a genuine concern for the real world. A must, must see!

P.S. Don't leave the theatres before the end credits and don't forget to check out what is happening on the left bottom corner of the screen. This is if you are interested in contributing to the discussion on the message boards!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Elementary Particles: The Movie

The film adaptation of Michel Houellebecq's novel The Elementary Particles (also known as Atomised) is being screened in competition at the Berlin Film Festival which is starting next month. Here is the link to the trailer (its in German; translated, the tagline seems to be "Two Brothers, Two Lives, Thousand Worlds"). I had never heard of the director Oskar Roehler before but this news report says that, "he could be the most esteemed European director you've never heard of. But that's about to change." Hmmm. Also adding that Germans call him "the next Fassbinder". Well, if that is true, they have found the right man to adapt the book which is full of disgust and is relentlessly misanthropic. I am hoping the film is good. Anyway it will surely be long when I get to see it, which is if I get to see it at all!

Friday, January 13, 2006

What Time Is It There?

The films of Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang are often compared to those of Ozu and Antonioni. What Time is it there, which is the first film by him that I have seen, explains why. Like Ozu he is the master of long shots and static camera and his portrayal of urban alienation and dislocation harks back to the great films that Antonioni made in the sixties exploring the similar themes. Although Tsai is different from those two in the sense that he has a great sense of humour (although the jokes will not make you laugh, rather leave you sadder than before!).

The film is about a young pavement watchseller who lives with his parents in a dingy-looking apartment in the city of Taipei. After the death and funeral of his father, he is approached by a young girl who is leaving for Paris and looking for a dual-time watch. When she expresses an interest in buying the personal watch of the hero, he very reluctantly sells it to her. In the meanwhile his mother becomes extremely disconsolate and grief stricken and becomes obsessed with reincarnation of her husband's spirit. The film then cuts forth between the scenes of these three characters and their plight. The hero becomes obsessed with the girl and starts setting the time of all the clocks within his reach, and some outside his reach too, to Paris time zone. He starts renting French movies and grows particularly fascinated with The 400 Blows (Jean Pierre Leaud has a small cameo in the film too). Mother starts cooking for her husband's spirit in odd hours thinking that the time zone of the spirit must be different from the time zone of human beings and the girl experiences a severe sense of dislocation in Paris because of language and cultural problems.

As can be imagined most of the film is dialogueless showing how these three characters go through their daily lives battling with their alienation and loneliness. After all who can they talk to, and even if they get to talk to any stranger it is hardly one complete sentence. There are a few sexual situations but they change nothing. The characters remain in their melancholy private hells until the end. Hero meets a prostitute on the street, the girl takes another girl to her hotel room and hesitantly makes sexual advances while the mother masturbates with the photo of her husband placed on the bedside (it is not as creepy as it sounds, it is actually very very sad and slightly funny in a painful way). All three scenes are shown one after the other establishing the linked fate of all the characters.

I was reading about Tsai's other films and I came to know that his previous films like The River, The Hole and Vive L'amour are far darker and explore the similar themes of individuals struggling with the ennui and melancholy of their daily existence in big cities. I am quite excited about seeing his other films.

Link to an interview of Tsai Ming-Liang and a review in Salon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Just some plain vanilla links...

an interview with Lars von Trier in the latest film comment.

arguably one of the worst films ever made, Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls, which has now become a camp-classic is celebrating its tenth anniversary today. The film blogosphere is abuzz with all the excitement. I haven't seen the film yet but I think I should catch it soon :)

And just to make sure that I don't hate hindi movies, here is an interesting article on Amitabh Bachchan in the same magazine, although from an old edition. Nothing new here but interesting since it is written from an "outsider's" perspective.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Some Weird Films

I have seen lots of films in the past two months. A few on the big screen but mostly downloaded from the bit-torrent sites. I thought I would write about some less well known films which I liked (kind of!). I just love those films which bring in bizarre elements into the stories of normal people and their everyday lives and in the process unravel psychological mysteries. These films are not some ground breaking masterpieces but nevertheless interesting because of their bizarre quotient!

Possession: Finally a divorce drama for people who hate divorce dramas. Mark (played by Sam Neill) returns from some unnamed spy mission to his wife (played with remarkable courage by the beautiful Isabelle Adjani) in Berlin. There is a reason the film is set in Berlin. There are many shots of the Berlin Wall in the film perhaps implying some metaphorical significance. Anyway after his arrival Mark finds that his wife doesn't need him anymore and has grown hysterical and distant in his absence. He first suspects that she has taken a German lover but things take a bizarre turn when he finds that she isn't even seeing her supposed lover. So who is she spending her time with? And where did the detectives disappear who were trailing her? To reveal much will be to spoil the effect of the film. Suffice to say, there is nothing like this, anywhere in the films, at least in the mainstream ones. There is a sex scene which almost made my eye-balls drop from their sockets! There are a few scenes which reminded me of Roman Polanski's Repulsion but what keeps the film from reaching the heights of Polanski's masterpiece is director's attitude. Calling his style over-the-top would be a major understatement. Same goes with with the performances. They are so hysterically over the top that it is difficult to find out what those characters are really going through. It is as if they are all possessed by something...but what? Might be love but that will again be a heavy handed interpretation. What I liked best was the shots of Berlin with empty streets and apartments and the overall production design which give a feeling that it is all a rotting waste land. Strictly for the curious types or people with a taste in bizarre!! More about the film from a favourable review here.

Tetsuo:The Iron Man: I have no idea what to say about this film. But suffice to say, I had to avert my eyes from the laptop screen on more than single occasion. It is horror at the most visceral level. There is a sex scene here too but I can't tell you what really happens because I wasn't looking at the screen :) A brief article on the film here.

The Bird People in China:
The last two films are sure to leave a very bad taste in mouth. Fortunately this film is nothing like the other two. From the cult Japanese director Takashi Miike (the man behind Audition), this is a film about returning back to nature and our cultural roots. A young businessman is sent on an assignment to a remote Chinese village. On his way he finds that a threatening Yakuza is interested in his trip too. When they both reach the village however, the film enters the magic-realist territory. There is a school in the village which teaches children how to fly with artificial wings. But is this just a fantasy or can people really fly? Nice feel-good time-pass film with amazing on location cinematography.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Improving My LQ* In the New Year

Just a test post to see if it works exactly as it did in the last year! :)

Okay, now that it works....

The New York Times has published a nice selection of reviews of literary biographies from their recent archives.

I haven't read any of these yet but I plan to read about The Bronte Sisters, Dostoevsky, Byron, Kafka, Nietzsche and Wordsworth (I actually don't know much about other people in the list!). Nice mental exercise specially given that I am not going to read any of the books mentioned in the review. Okay, just a public bookmark.

*Literary Quotient