Before My Eyes | Mani Kaul, 1989, India
Far and away the best cinematic experience in Mumbai in the last three months is the two-day Mani Kaul retrospective on July 7th and 8th. Uski Roti and Duvidha, Siddheshwari and Dhrupad, great classics, were shown in 35mm prints. They’ve all been written about elsewhere (especially this issue, cf Devdutt Trivedi’s review of DVD releases of Mani Kaul’s films). But the real revelation is perhaps this rare short (20mns) commissioned for the sake of making a promotional short for Kashmiri tourism (Mani Kaul’s family is Kashmiri Pandit). The result is, to rework an old cliché, rich and strange. The film is surely one of the all-time great landscape films and yet, even here, Kaul’s incredibly formal impulse subverts expectations at every turn, focusing not so much on the powerful vistas of the Himalayas and the greens of the valley, as on subtle gradations of water ripples, the sound of the river flowing through a valley. Grains and textures is where Kaul’s interest rests. This adds to is a very telling glimpse of Kashmir itself, the most honest depiction I have ever seen on film. Far from being a natural wonderland, the landscape feels haunted. Because after all the feeling of belonging to a landscape as gorgeous as this can only belong to people who live there. Outsiders, for whom this film is commissioned, can only find the cold and indifferent beauty of the region. The few times when we see people in the film, such as a middle-class Indian family at a hotel, they come as intrusive elements with the lone, striking, exception of the presence of the cellist Nancy Sahgal in one of the most beautiful scenes of the film. When Kaul goes for “conventional images”, the view of the valleys as seen from a balloon ride offered for tourists, the patterns of the meadows and towns, flattened and stratified from above, suggests the distance of the rest of India from Kashmir; the irony of middle-class Indian tourists coming all the way to Kashmir only to gaze down upon it from above. - SR
The Artist | Michael Hazanavicius, 2011, France
Best Picture winners are an odd species. Theycome and they conquer and yet as soon as they win they are generally consignedto oblivion. The first decade of this century offers such “timeless” winners as A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire along with a few consolation prizes to Scorsese, Eastwood and the Coens. Take The Artist, every bit “the little film that could”, although it was supported by the justly notorious Harvey Weinstein. There have been film-makers who have attempted to channel the plastic qualities of silent films into the 21st Century, Guy Maddin in particular (my favorite is The Heart of the World), but none with the popular appeal of this film. I feel that I would have loved L’artiste, like I loved Cinema Paradiso when I first saw it, had I seen fewer films, fewer silent films, since that is its audience, the non-cinephile. Despite this, I liked the film, even M. Dujardin’s performance and despite my dislike for pets and animals, even I thought that dog could act. All this goodwill collapses as soon as Bernard Herrmann’s Scene d’amour from his score for Vertigo plays over the film’s melodramatic climax. If this is intended as homage to questionable silent film accompaniment, well then it’s quite lost to me since this represents an act of aesthetic suicide at once unparalleled and ridiculous and technically insipid since the music has precisely nothing to do with the action. The Artist is an anti-cinephilic film, the more you actually watch films from earlier periods, and especially the technically ambitious silent films of the late 20s, the lesser its efficacy. Still, maybe it’s the ultimate Hollywood joke, the first time a French film wins the Oscars and it’s a film without a word in French. - SR
J. Edgar | Clint Eastwood, 2011, USA
J. Edgar is a biopic of one of the most storied American figures of the 20th Century. J. Edgar Hoover, we learn in this film, was obsessed with his image; he tried to change the negative sentiment towards lawmen by sponsoring films like G-Men starring the great James Cagney (a film nobody cared about then and even less today). Leonardo DiCaprio might even have been Hoover’s preferred choice to play him in a film on his life, potentially making him attractive in a way that he never could be in real life. With all this baggage, it’s amazing how Eastwood subverts these expectations. Hoover’s ego is tethered to the confines of his workplace, his relationships with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and his secretary (Naomi Watts). In the film’s present day (of the late 60s, near his death), Hoover runs through a series of stenographers who are at hand to record “the story of his life”. So self-conscious is Hoover about his place in American history that the slightest question on the part of the stenographers, regarding the plausibility of a particular fact, leads to their immediate dismissal and replacement. Such moments invite comparisons with Robert Altman’s Secret Honor a stylized portrait of Richard Nixon’s self-reflection of his legacy. Where Altman’s film is focused on the mythical Nixon rather than the real Nixon, Eastwood’s film is a post-myth film. Hoover was a large figure in his lifetime but he’s almost forgotten today, his legacy as founder of the FBI and his personal sexual confusion transformed into a cultural joke. J. Edgar documents Hoover trying to create a myth that he himself cannot sustain, that cracks during its very construction. - SR
Deeol | Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni, 2011, India
Kulkarni is a very talented director of film, one of the few Indian filmmakers with a ‘style’ that one can think of as interchangeably with(and not as divorced from) a ‘voice’. That said, he is also a director of enigma, of mystery, of eternal inquiry. He is a director of films with answer-less questions, of profound dilemmas (and a dilemma cannot be resolved). Kulkarni is at his weakest when he becomes a director of answers, of conclusions and of implications – he is at his best, therefore, when he possesses a sense of wonder; at his worst, when he works with a sense of comprehension.
This is why his latest, that follows his unequivocal masterpiece Vihir, features an extended and a very problematic middle; but astounding first and the third thirds. It is because the first third of the film is essentially a belief-quandary for its lead character, Keshya (played by Girish Kullkarni, who also wrote the film) and through him, for us as the audience. In a crummy and therefore very effective special-effect, a local God manifests itself like a vision of the Holy Mary to Keshya on a sluggish afternoon in the village (epiphanies in a Kulkarni film always occur in the most banal of circumstances) – inciting, therefore, a variety of questions for him as a character: ‘what could the vision mean’, ‘what should I do now’ and the most essential inquiry in this circumstance – ‘why me’; but also for us an audience: ‘did he really see that’, ‘will he come across as an idiot’, ‘will he keep it to himself’. And it is in this compilation of interrogative burden where Kulkarni is at his most effective; as also in the final third, where a mysterious individual who claims to be a dacoit in a red turban (the recurring vessel of ‘answers’ in Kulkarni’s films; sorta like the white-clad guy in The Decalogue) ‘appears’ to Keshya as he wanders alone – resulting therefore in a completion of the full-morality-circle of apparitions in the film (first the God, then a dacoit) and helping Keshya, therefore, to arrive at an unspoken ‘realisation’, a ‘revelation’ that Kulkarni purposefully will not share with the audience, and one that will, in the end of the film, cause Keshya to symbolically let go of the interrogative burden deposited upon on him in the first third.
It is the conduct of these seemingly quiet, yet torrential internal upheavals that Kulkarni is a master at – and it is in the middle where he slips, and slips considerably, because he reduces Keshya’s discovery to a template for bleak satire. Local politicians, freeloaders, goons and everymen climb onto the fame–bandwagon that Keshya’s widely reported vision of the Lord has bought upon the village. A temple is built, a deity is setup, tourism flourishes, people establish an industry around it, politicians deliver speeches and win votes – the film becomes a center of socio-criticism in regards to the society’s larger hypocrisy about religion in general and begins asking ‘pertinent’ (as opposed to profound) questions about the differences between the notions of mass religion and individual faith – this is relevant, but relevant is not always important. Because Kulkarni’s film becomes a satire and as is the law of the satire, fingers must be pointed, villains must be revealed and two-bit irony must be peddled – as such, Kulkarni becomes a director of certain measures, of tedious accusations, of blame-game and of explicit announcements; in this extended second third of the film, therefore, when Kulkarni comprehends fully and wonders very little, Deool is a an almost-failure; in whatever remains of it, it is still the work of an important director. - AM
Café De Flore | Jean-Marc Vallée, 2012, France
Café De Flore structures its narrative in a manner that invites the viewer to put his judging cap on, asking us to consider two scenarios that later turn out to be mostly archetypical, and then proceeds to turn that judgment back on the viewer himself. There’s Rose, introduced as Antoine’s better half, and her characteristics include such things as – (a) a smooth lap Antoine can caress (b) a body that sways along in slow motion, and that beats rhythmically when they have photogenic sex, and (c) a dance so graceful and economic you wonder why Hindi films invest so much in acrobats. To summarize, she’s in tune. Mr. Vallée has enough visual chops to make that pretty apparent, more so considering the fact that the film’s title is not a reference to the famous café in Paris, but Doctor Rockit’s lovely piece, and that his protagonist Antoine is a disc jockey. And whose ex, a most dutiful wife as we get to learn a little later, is basically out of tune, so much so that Mr. Vallée has a dance sequence which starts off with Rose and draws us, and Antoine, in and ends with the blandness the ex, Carole, brings to the table, drawing us and Antoine out. Not much is spent in the how either, with a single glance in a party setting the flame, and a jump in time consolidating the directions on the triangle.
The rhetorical strategy here is to mirror Antoine’s profession, free-flowing through different periods, one the present and the other the past set in 1960s Paris where Jacqueline, a single mother, lives with and loves her son Laurent, who is affected by Down’s syndrome, and who in the entire film doesn’t have a moment of his own. Even a close-up is awarded only in relation to a dramatic moment unfolding with respect to the mother. That makes him an archetype too, an imbecile who needs to be taken care of, and if I try and bring Zoë Heller’s Notes on a Scandal on to the aforementioned table, Jacqueline with her possessiveness is of a similar character type as Barbara Covett. Mr. Vallée sets this association up by lending them an accommodation in a crummy little apartment structure, where the low-key yellow lighting often covering the faces in shadows screams of something sinister lurking in the not too distant future. A future that becomes the present when Laurent, a seven-year old, falls in love with Véro, another little one afflicted with the syndrome.
The narrative then becomes one long music piece, a refreshing take on the hyperlink film, with the individual periods not obliged to set the action in the other up. Unlike most films of this breed (consider Mr. Stephen Daldry’s The Hours), Café De Flore discourages historicity, and much like the waves of a DJ track cut and pasted from numerous individual tracks, it collapses the past and the present into one free-flowing unit. Taken that way, it’s a film that’s ideal for our hyperlink-driven flat hierarchyless information-age, where any motivation to be drawn is only through association, and where the present might as well be influencing the presence of the past, and which by definition makes our mind the DJ here. Let me be a little clearer: if the two periods were different films, one might have found little inspiration to link them into a cause-and-effect scenario. This makes the film’s rhetoric, which is very much present and which basically overrides ours, all the more aggravating. Much moralizing of the triangular situation, probably to both appease and tease, by Antoine’s father and elder daughter, is spent before a psychic is introduced to the proceedings, whom Carole meets to discuss her dreams where a little boy (on one occasion referred to as a little monster) hides behind her seat while she’s driving, and whose fingers cause the scary jump.
That makes the appearance of Down’s Syndrome just as specific to the narrative as having a penguin for a baby. In each of the cases the filmmaker doesn’t need to do anything other than to find different angles from where to capture the opacity so much so that they become the “other” within the frame. Which leaves the slow-mo sequence during the opening credits, and the dozen or so kids afflicted with the syndrome walking past us, a formal choice of really bad taste. I am aware of the trappings of having to include such an element where the mere mention might signal a guarded reception, lest we be affected by such easy sentimentality, but that is by no means a defense Mr. Vallée can put up, considering there’s a distinct lack of individuality within his frames, and Laurent for the most part is interchangeable with a cute dog. What his inclusion brings to the narrative is the leverage to use the inherent dependence to establish Jacqueline’s reason to get up in the morning, which basically reflects Carole’s reason (her husband Kevin and their two daughters), without which they both might as well end their lives. Which doesn’t sound that alarming when I put it that way, but which assumes a whole lot of ethical irresponsibility when it equates the binary helplessness of Laurent as an explanation for Antoine’s infidelity. And when Antoine winks at his wedding, it might as well have been Keyser Soze giving his lawyer a high-five at having getting away with so much of bullshit. At the end the young Antoine and Carole stand in front of a picture, with their heads flanking it, all of them in line, like a wave. It could’ve been a fascinating composition, had Mr. Vallée employed no zoom, and had the elements within the picture been in the same visual plane. But much like his strategy, where the free-flow is only an illusion, the zoom clearly defines the source and the destination. Which is a shame.
So yeah, I pronounce Mr. Vallée’s film as guilty of rationalizing unethical behavior with irrational mystification. - Satish
Oslo, 31st August | Joachim Trier, 2011, Norway
Mr. Trier’s film might make for a rather heart-wrenching double-bill with Mr. Guerin’s In the City of Sylvia. Here’s a film, at least I guess, that understands voyeurism not as a perverse emotion or a disconnected no-stakes erotic luxury, but as the very basic element of our needs, fuelling almost all of our moods and emotions and desires. If one were to describe Mr. Trier’s film as a plea for voyeurism, I might not find any reason to disagree.
At its center is a sequence that causes a rather magnificent riff, both geographically and thereby thematically, on the café setting in Mr. Guerin’s film, where the man is mostly an empty vessel of desire, sort of a stand-in for the archetypical male gaze, enjoying the aesthetics of bodies crossing each other as the ten o’clock sun bounces off them. I mean, for all we know, the scene and the film could very well be the ideal example Mr. Andrew Sarris’ when he sums it all up in three words – “Girls! Girls! Girls!” It is a multi-planar structure out there, with our man mostly indulging himself in a low-stakes obsession, sort of like the way most of us often find ourselves at the movies. Mr. Trier is considerably more serious, probably more respectful of the rigors of everyday life and the value they hold, and he probably doesn’t have much within him for otherwise bohemian soul of Mr. Guerin’s masterpiece, or Mr. Woody Allen silly little escapade in two-dimensional Paris, where the opening presents a depthless a-historical completely un-influential city, where it has been basically cut out of a postcard, and exists like a piece of dead furniture. Oslo here is a subjective place who geography and history is created out of personal memories, and where the city might cease to exist outside of them.
The café. Mr. Trier has Anders (Mr. Anders Danielsen Lie) sit near the edge of this rectangular café, whereby he begins as an outsider to all the chatter around him. The glass wall near him becomes a screen of sorts, to the “outside” Oslo, and what feeds his perspective of it is the inside of the café. There’s a magnificent display of transference, thereby pulling Anders into being the center of the circle, and which establishes the two-way communication here by influencing his (thereby ours) perspective of the inside by the outside. I would want to consider this the most respectful tribute to the medium, as opposed to the “referential” brand of filmmaking, because hey, we’re at the movies even when we aren’t at the movies. While watching movies, the frame of reference is life. While watching life, the frame of reference is movies. And our life, for the most part, is an indistinguishable muddle of the interaction between the exterior and the interior, between the imagination and reality.
Mr. Trier draws considerable leverage from stray bystanders and people passing by, and even a momentary shot of an anonymous walking past Anders on the street, or of a hunk having a conversation with his buddy whets our voyeuristic instincts. It makes us desire. The tragedy here isn’t that Anders cannot get rid of his drug-addiction. The tragedy here isn’t that everything is over between him and Iselin. The tragedy is that Anders cannot desire. The tragedy is that Anders might be the exact opposite of that man in Sylvia’s city, and the tragedy is Anders is aware of it. Oslo, 31st August is Anders journey through a day in Oslo to find desire, and he finds none. The final few shots are probably the only “objective” views of Oslo, and unhinged from any memories it’s just about as dead as Mr. Allen’s Paris. Feels just about right that it’s the only place where Mr. Trier feels the need for a classical picture-postcard composition. - SN
Vicky Donor | Shoojit Sarcar, 2012, India
The film finally attains blatancy in stating what Bollywood has only been faintly hinting at for the three decades past – that the ‘true worth’ of a leading man (or any man, a real man, a man’s man) lies in his sexual virility. Films in the past have been too shy to confess explicitly their utmost awe for this potent male-quality – they garb it therefore in numbers with sexually overcharged lyrics, or celebrate the man as the savior who employs visible physical strength (beat ‘em up, shoot ‘em up, scream ‘em down) as an easy and family-friendly alternative to direct sexual prowess or as the recent trend is, just show them belt-up naked; physiognomy as a stand-in for carnal talent. But Vicky Donor is not into suggestiveness – it is an ‘honest’ film, a ‘brave’ film – and therefore, it makes no bones about its awe for its male lead: a clear womanizing no-gooder who stalks the first woman in the film he finds attractive, confuses obnoxious behavior with charm, and plies no trade clear to the people around him for years at end; therefore, in the film’s vision, is an Indian everyboy. However, this is also a ‘happy’ film – therefore, he will still rise above the sterile, inert lump of desperate and pathetic middle-classers that surround him. How? The potency of his sexual-fluid, his sperm will negate all the other impotencies in his life – this quality is enough to fuel real masculinity, you see. And this film takes the topic of sperm-donation seriously . Not withstanding that most of the humour in the film is of the latter-day Leslie Nielson variety, or that it carves its jokes out of the very middle-class hypocrisy that it, in its grand ambition, thinks it is working to erode. It is a film without any particular fervor or rigour – it works like any good ol’ goofy murder-in-the-manor mannerist comedy supposedly, they were about a scandalous affair (in this case, the lead character’s sperm-donation), but in reality, they were only trying to ‘git some fun’ out of the scandal itself; basically the sort of film one watches on lazy holiday afternoons to pass-time, laughing all through at the entirely self-unconscious seriousness with which the film takes itself, and at the nice comfy end: the man they thought was murdered was only out in the woods to shoot partridges. So what if Vicky, the lead character is useless to everyone around him; in the end, his fertility, we are informed, has reeked happiness for so many childless couples – so what if all of his emotional, professional or social conflicts are still unresolved, at least he is a real man. - AM
Kahaani | Sujoy Ghosh, 2012, India
There is a consensus that a “new sophistication” is emerging in mainstream Hindi cinema. This is sophistication in marketing of story, theme, and characterization. One remembers well, the poster of Kahaani for placing Vidya Balan against a Durga idol, her pink belly pregnant and her many arms symbolically summoning the terrible power of Indian womanhood; a more memorable image than anything in the film itself. The presence of Durga already brings the film into dodgy territory, summoning as it does unsustainable comparisons with Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece Devi. The trailer made much of the film’s touristic appeal, Kolkata paraded as a series of exotic objects - its metro, its slums; it’s supposed “Old World Charm”. This brings two things to light; one, the general absence of real cities except for Mumbai and Delhi in mainstream cinema, and two, the cultural distance of one of India’s most densely populated cities from the flat landscape of general reference in popular Indian media. Visually, Sujay Ghosh’sKahaani channels the tone and feel of Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarittu’s films, its use of a fictional gas attack and counter-terrorism conspiracy falls into the Hollywood allegories of Tony Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 123, M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable and Alfonso Cauron’s Children of Man. Alas, much of these references are purely plastic, never sinking from the surface. Its core is a mystery worthy of Scooby Doo, with amateur sleuths and incompetent cops thrown in for good measure, with just a smidge of Christopher Nolan late-act-carpet-yank added for good measure. This is unfortunate since as a production, Kahaani clearly displays high ambition. Would it have been too much to ask to make a movie just about Vidya Balan, alone and pregnant in Kolkatta instead of having a goofy, Primary School plot tacked on to it? - SR
Ferrari ki Saawari | Rajesh Mapuskar, 2012, India
Certain portions of Ferrari ki Saawari recalls King Vidor’s 1931 film, The Champ, the story of a poor fatherand the son who worships him, as well as welcome resemblances to Preston Sturges’ Christmas in July, a satire on exploitation of working-class hopes and fears by a consumerist society. This part is nice. Other portions resemble any other Bollywood fantasy. This part is ghastly, complete with the requisite cache of needless subplots and boring contrivances operating a schema that is deeply conservative; geared to provide a top-down view of lower-middle class hopes and dreams.
The losers of the success game are “wronged” and held back by conniving figures, the Eklavya-Arjuna myth (here embodied by Boman Irani and Paresh Rawal); a RTO officer lives solely for his son’s future happiness partly out of love and partly out of his own cricket hopes dashed by overbearing Dad. Both Grandfather and Father submit through rituals of “humbling” when they ask for money and both of them are in turn humiliated or diminished in front of their son. This material, of a commercial society’s values affecting family relationships, is the drama and pathos of Bicycle Thieves accurately described by André Bazin as the “greatest Marxist film”. The story of Ferrari ki Saawari could have been an amusing pirouette on this theme, and the portions that revolve on Sachin Tendulkar’s (yeah he’s not in the film but like God his Absence bears great weight) houseboy and security guard trying to reclaim the Ferrari before their boss finds out, bears witness to the fact that this “car of cars” holds no glamour for those whose livelihood depends on its security and maintenance. An exchange with a shady mechanic gives helpful insight on the problems of selling stolen supercars in a country like India, where such objects can’t blend in easily. Such class-specific wisdom, alas, can’t compete with the film’s lumpen-middle class glorification of “the impossible object”.
The organized mendacity of Bollywood works like an everlasting, eternally-oiled machine with a better track record than Scuderia Ferrari. Fun Fact – At one point in this film, the Ferrari is used as a prop in a wedding celebration, disguised underneath a covering of flowers. A character notes that under these flowers, one can no longer distinguish whether the car is a Ferrari or a Fiat Taxi. The Joke: Fiat owns Ferrari. - SR
The Avengers | Joss Whedon, 2012, USA
The Avengers comes from a golden period for Marvel comics, deriving from the creative visionof artist Jack Kirby. Much of the images of the film, the SHIELD Helicarrier, the power of the Hulk, the angst of a time-displaced Captain America, and two brother Gods, Thor and Loki, come from the famous tough, hard lines of his comic panels which are nowhere to be found in the film, whose vast revenues will give little to Kirby’s surviving estate. The plot of this film derives from the very first issue of The Avengers where Loki (not the guy from the real Norse myths, a much more interesting character) creates the team of heroes through his manipulation of the Hulk. The film adds an alien invasion army so as to provide wallpaper for the heroes to strike action poses. Mark Ruffalo is the latest in the line of talented actors whose presence in such films however entertaining does nothing but enable the pretensions of a genre that moulds flat characters into false metaphors for real world problems. Scarlett Johansson, however, manages to do credible work without succumbing to or dismissing altogether the constraints of the genre. Among the film’s cameos, the most pleasant hidden gem is that of Polish film-maker and painter Jerzy Skolimowski. The Avengers, like all superhero films, are bound by being “comic-book” films and yet desire to be more than “comic-book films”, this cognitive dissonance results in a host of confused films . - SR
The Amazing Spider-Man | Marc Webb, 2012, USA
The latest example of what Chris Fujiwara aptly identified as Hollywood’s “grand-scale repetition-compulsion machine” is a remake of a film just ten years old. The producers and the director insist on calling it a “reboot” but this film covers the same ground – adolescent angst, awkward teenage romance (not as many class issues as the original though), montage of adapting to super-powers and designing a costume, including a shot of sketching outfit on paper. The new film makes a few essential changes that cripple any original appeal the character held. We now have a classic Family Romance complete with genius father with dark secrets, making a supposed everyman hero who is “identifiable” (always enunciated in a ringing, bullying tone by producers and advertisers) part of a pre-anointed elite. Every superhero film casts well but wastes the talent of good actors. Emma Stone is especially charming, investing more weight in a love interest role than anything visible in her character’s boyfriend. Rhys Ifans is neither sympathetic nor terrifying as the film’s “tortured villain”, while Irrfan Khan does well in his minor role as corporate thug. The great Martin Sheen is always a joy to watch but he’s wasted in this film, though considerably less than poor Sally Field since a superhero film is essentially a world of father-figures with mothers and girlfriends relegated to the margins. The film, made by Sony in a bid to retain rights of the property (if they don’t keep making movies in regular intervals, they rescind rights back to the parent company Marvel), is better than it deserves to be, which is to say that its diverting and unsatisfying as a film but given the material is the best that it could be. - SR
The Dark Knight Rises | Christopher Nolan, 2012, USA
Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are prized for their greater degree of realism, befitting the only major super hero without super powers. “Realism”, however, tends to excuse a lack of imagination. That is the case here since while the film works hard to create striking images of the collapse of an entire urbanity it’s unable to sustain this sense of dread to create the epic resonance it craves for. The film’s best part is the first hour or so, dealing with a dormant Batman (Christian Bale) coming out of his slumber as a result of mysterious happenings in the sewers of Gotham City (an amalgam of Chicago, Pittsburgh and obviously New York) and more immediately, his attraction to cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) who tellingly steals the pearl necklace of the hero’s dead mother, a nice sentimental touch. Had the film remained here, where the concerns are local (corporate espionage, dodgy construction barons, attacks on the Stock Exchange), The Dark Knight Rises would not be lacking in any legroom to create the elegiac finale it aims to give “the fans”. Instead of going deep, it stretches wide and flat, digressing towards a ridiculous prison in some vaguely Middle-Eastern country and a concoction of explosives with cement which levels half the city, cuts off all access from the rest of America (shades of Hurricane Katrina) and then as if this itself wasn’t sufficient, it adds a nuclear weapon as a cherry just to up the ante for those who are desensitized to “smaller threats”. To anyone familiar with Batman as a figure from childhood, the film retains traces of old-fashioned charm, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s personable role as a fellow orphan who looks at Bruce Wayne as a big brother figure as well as Anne Hathaway’s channeling of heroines from 40s American films. The rest of the cast varies from self-effacingly modest in size of performance (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine) to completely wasted (Marion Cotillard). Tom Hardy is impressive as the villain Bane though I honestly hoped that Liam Neeson’s character Ra’s Al Ghul, who appears briefly in the film, would return from the dead (which is the character’s party trick in the comics) but Nolan banishes the supernatural from his films, which is sad since the rational, scientific world he depicts in the film is, for all its self-denial and evasion, a fairy tale right down to its ending. - SR
Gangs of Wasseypur, Part I | Anurag Kashyap, 2012, India
In terms of scale and scope of story alone, Gangs of Wasseypur is an unprecedented undertaking, opening up a territory and world of storytelling that is as untouched in Indian cinema as the coal mines in this film are overrun by prospectors. It is perhaps a reflection on our history that the most vital and interesting part of the film is the flashback that shows the life of the patriarch Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) during the 40s, his feud with Sultana Daku and his early friendship with future Union overlord, Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia, director of Paan Singh Tomar). This is the part of the film that is the most purposeful and clear in direction, while the rest of the film is an extended family saga-inside-a-family saga, featuring Shahid Khan’s son, Sardar (Manoj Bajpai), who forgoes, or more disturbingly forgets his attempt to gain the revenge he dedicated himself to in his boyhood. He moves from one business to the next, complicates his family life with a mistress, amidst which he indulges in gang violence with the brio of a man-child rather than a gangster-patriarch. Many of the interesting threads established in the prologue fades away, including, lamentably, the exploitation of coal and the lives of the miners reduced only to period newsreels, voiceover explanations and brief expository montages, mere wallpaper and window dressing. The film comes across a bit too much of “having-your-cake-and-eating-it” to suggest a genuine subversive spirit, being openly celebratory and largely uncritical of the characters machismo, being interested, solely in their function as rival gangsters with no hint of the landscape and greater social life of the characters. One must, presumably, suspend judgment on this offering, until the Second Part comes our way. Perhaps it will make the film the great mythical summation that it aspires to be. Great mythical summation of what, you might ask? Well the film allows itself options: India, violence, Bollywood, politics and even the escape hatch of “all-of-the-above”, which excuses them, apparently, from achieving any one single thing completely. - SR