Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Short Notes On Some Winners of Golden Palm

Last weekend the Collective Chaos film society had organized a mini-festival of five films which had won Golden Palms at the Cannes Film Festival in previous years. One of them was The Tin Drum, of which I wrote about here.

First, two really boring and rather uninteresting films. Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha was a disappointingly shallow epic story about Samurai warlords in medieval Japan. When a powerful warlord dies in one of his wars, a poor thief, who is his double, is asked to impersonate him. The thief finds it difficult in the beginning and clashes with the "spirit" of the warlord but eventually gets into his new role. Kurosawa attempts to give the narrative some depth by getting into the philosophical questions about what really constitutes human identity and things like that but his efforts in that direction remain essentially half-hearted. And at around three hours, it really tests your patience. Btw, I was surprised to see the names of Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas in the list of the executive producers of the film. Was this the Hollywood movie Kurosawa trying to make? Perhaps that would explain the shallow spectacle part.

Another boring film was the (former) Yugoslavian film Underground directed by Emir Kusturica. The film recreates the entire Balkan history, from the second world war to the eventual dissolution of Yugoslavia into small states, using really outlandish fantasy narrative. I had seen the film before and I had no desire to sit through all the childish sequences again. The film does make you feel at the end as if you have seen an entire life time of those bunch of characters but Kusturica is so busy creating those fantastical set-pieces that he neglects actual historical events which underpin the narrative. So after the film you are as clueless about the history of the Balkan states as you were before. There are a few funny moments but they never work as a part of the whole. I ran out in the middle of the film.

Now two interesting, if still boring, films. Lars von Trier plumbs new heights of melodrama and absurdity in his Golden Palm winning Dancer in the Dark. In my opinion this is von Trier's weakest film (of all that I have seen so far). Perhaps the Cannes jury were undoing the damage they did in previous years by awarding genuine masterpieces like Breaking the Waves and Europa second rung prizes. But still I liked the song sequences specially when Bjork croons, "I've seen it all"! At least the deconstruction of the musical genre, although childish and simplistic, was interesting. Anyway the film ends tragically, which redeems many of its shortcomings (at least to me)! That's what persuaded me to sit for the second time for the film :)

The best of the lot was undoubtedly Abbas Kiarostami's A Taste of Cherry. I was seeing it the second time too and I was just floored by its simplicity. This film manages to raise big metaphysical questions without sounding pretentious for a moment. For more check out this essay on the film.

This weekend it is the set of three Guru Dutt's films. I have seen them all, but never on the big screen. Should be good hopefully.

14 comments:

ventilatorblues said...

By the 70s, Kurosawa was unable to find financing for his films in Japan. Both Coppola and Lucas were big fans (Lucas' Star Wars was inspired by Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress) and pulled together to finance Kurosawa. Kagemusha is good but not great. My favorite Kurosawa film, the one which has stayed with me the longest (maybe it was the acid ;)), is his debut film, Sanshiro Sugata. Check it out. It is a film of unparalleled beauty.

Alok said...

Thanks V, I haven't seen that Kurosawa film. Will see if I can find it here. I have seen only a few of Kurosawa films so far...

I knew about Lucas's admiration for Kurosawa but I didn't know that he managed to get him financing too!

Cheshire Cat said...

Great to find another Kiarostami fan. Have you seen his other work?

Alok said...

Yes, I have seen a few. Close Up, Ten, The Wind Will Carry Us...

Taste of Cherry is pehaps my favourite of all. I really like his no-fuss style of filmmaking. He has certainly influnenced me a lot in the way I look at movies !!

Jabberwock said...

Damn, ventilatorblues beat me to the long explanation I had planned about Lucas, Coppola and Kurosawa.

And Alok, not another predictable cheap dig about Hollywood! You have such a beautiful mind, try opening it up a little ;)

Alok said...

"A Beautiful Mind"? Was that a provocation? Hahaha :)

anurag said...

Ran's finance was also helped by some Hollywood fimmakers including Spielberg. But that film is a real masterpiece with two devastatingly beautiful flute pieces and some excellent acting (may seem at bit theatrical, but it really works)

Alok said...

Okay okay. that comment about hollywood was unfair :)

Ran was great. And so was Dreams. I have seen the first two episodes of that film. It had some hollywood connection too.

Guptavati said...

Taste of cherry is a great movie.The minimalism+humanism combo is something I found in quite a few Iranian movies.I admit the first time I saw it I didn't undertstand what the blackout and the fuss about it was.The second time it appealed a little more.What are the guru dutt movies?

km said...

Grrr....Emperor Kurosawa's fan-army is coming out in droves, Alok, watch out :D

"Kagemusha" is by no means his best (or his worst!), it is simply the work of a great artist who was down and out (depression, suicide attempt etc etc.)

And next time I do a Kurosawa marathon at home, I am inviting VB for the "snacks" :D

Alok said...

Guptavati: Yes thats what I like best about Iranian cinema, specially Kiarostami. Actually his humanism is different from the conventional humanism of the social realist cinema, of say de Sica or Satyajit Ray. He is sceptical of cinema's ability to capture social reality in its totality and thats where that final fade to black and video image at the end of Taste of Cherry comes from... And also his refusal to be drawn into portraying complete narratives. Instead he focusses on fragments. "Ten" is another fantasic example.

Guru Dutt was a Hindi film actor and director of the 50's and 60's. He is mainly known for his portrayal of angst and alientation of sensitive romantic type people in a shallow and materialist society (goodness, I make it sound so cliched!). The film society is showing Kagaz ke Phool, Pyaasa and Sahib, Bibi Aut Ghulam this weekend.

KM: I wasn't bashing Kurosawa. I was bemoaning the Hollywoodian tendencies in his film ;) I know, I will refrain in future!

ventilatorblues said...

Those three Guru Dutt films are such great choices. Waheeda Rehman has never looked more ravishing.

Guptavati said...

ok ok I meant which not *what*
are the gurudutt movies.They once had a Gurudutt movie week on good old DD once upon a time.And from Mrs and Mr 55 to Pyaasa was quite an evolution.And he managed to avoid atleast the gaudiness in the song and dance sequences(Here's to some more bolly-bashing!)

Alok said...

okay, I was actually surprised because Guru Dutt is very well known :)

Yes, a very beautiful Waheeda Rehman, truly innovative song picturisations, expressionist lighting and those Rafi and Geeta Dutt solos...!! I like these three films lot.