From The Desk Of

IDA - the path we take

IDA…..the best work of cinema that I have seen this year. 

image source: shockya.com

Ida is the story of a young woman who is soon going to take her vows to become a nun. We find her in her journey at a convent, a few weeks before the taking of these vows. At this time her superior tells her to go meet and spend some time with her only living relative, her aunt. This, the nun tells Ida, is important for her, for only once she was ready to leave everything worldly behind, would she be in a position to take her vows.

Reluctantly Ida sets off on this brief worldly journey. She visits her somewhat depressed, prone to drinking and smoking aunt, who is surprised to see her niece. They connect reminiscing over shared memories. They both decide to take a road trip to visit the family cemetery, once the aunt tells Ida that she was jewish. The film shot in black and white and passionately, poignantly follows them through their journey. The narrative is told with minimal dialogue and more through the exploration of Ida’s state of mind. 

En route they decide to give a young musician a ride to the next town, who in turn invites them to his concert in the same town. The young artist is completely taken by Ida and her presence and confesses to Ida the impact she has on him.

After the visit at the family graves is done, Ida and the aunt head back to the convent so that Ida can continue with her life of devotion and spiritual practise. Now that Ida is back, so is doubtful and wants to go back.

A story told through a simple narrative, a few characters and a profound sensibility that explores the meaning of life and what decisions we make; this is Ida. 

Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski does brilliant work and Agata Trzebuchowska’s portrayal of Ida is top notch.

This is a must see for its very poignant expression of life and the life path we decide to follow. 

From The Desk Of

Besieged by Love!

           Its love stories as wild and unconventional as Besieged (1998) that one understands how love, the emotion, the feeling continues to evolve and remains so eternally alive. Shandurai (played brilliantly by Thandie Newton) escapes her home country when her husband is arrested by the military of the ruling dictator and takes refuge in Italy. She finds work at the home of an obsessive/eccentric English pianist. While doing all of the chores around his house, she is in school studying medicine and perfecting her Italian. 

           Bernado Bertolucci takes these two distinct characters and love happens. First Mr. Kinsky (the pianist) declares his love for Shandurai, offering to do anything for her, go anywhere for her and with her, only if she agreed to love him back. Then, Shandurai bares her life story to him, confronting him on what he even knows about where she came from, or who she was? She declares that if he really loves her, he must help her free her husband from the prison, where he waited to be sentenced or perhaps even hanged.

          Unbeknownst to her Mr. Kinsky begins to contact people to help find and free her husband. His sudden step back from her, respecting her limits and the fact she is married, makes him more endearing to her. She starts to feel connected to him and his art. 

          Finally the day before her husband is to show up at her door, liberated and ready to restart his life with her, she gives into her emotions and feelings for Kinsky. While the husband waits at the front door ringing the bell, Shandurai is staring at the ceiling, in bed with Kinsky, at cross-roads of what she should do.

          The film is one of the most subtle and quiet presentations of unattainable love, turning into unconventional love that I have seen in a long time. Newton is brilliant as a woman in exile, conscious of her beauty, yet totally oblivious of her impact on her surroundings. Kinsky is this eccentric artist who is completely consumed by his work, the cycle broken with Shandurai’s presence in his household. While Kinsky is drawn to Shandurai from the moment he sets his eyes on her, she takes the length of the film to finally be able to sit down and pen an ‘I love you’ message to him. 

           Another very interesting tool that Bertolucci uses in the film is the presence of this village man who sings snippets of these tales that is meant to comment on what is happening in the narrative. He sings following Shandurai in her hometown and then in her journey in Italy. This is common  use of oral traditions of story telling, across different cultures in Africa and Asia. It created a poetic commentary, distinct and poignant. 

image source: americancinema.com 

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Calvary is the perfect name for a film rising in overtones of religious decline, moral fragility, human weakness, and borderline depravity.

Brendon Gleason shoulders this poignant tale from the first to its last frame as Father James.  It is set in rural Ireland, where the landscape takes your breath away, no matter how often and repeatedly the filmmaker lets your eyes feast on nature in full glory. A small town good natured priest Father James, is hearing a confession one Sunday, when the confessor tells him that he was sexually abused by a priest. The priest in question is dead and there is little reparation that the man will ever get. To make a point about sexual abuse in the church and how there seems to be little real remorse for what happened to him, the man threatens to kill Father James in a weeks time. This is how the film begins and sets the ball rolling of Father James going from one member of the community to another, finding where the moral centre of his town lies. He finds that each and every member of his community is struggling, suffering through life and unsure of where to find comfort: a couple suffers from physical abuse in their relationship, the town police chief has a male concubine, who very blatantly flaunts servicing other men in the community, the doctor at the town hospital has his own dispassionate emotions towards his work and the patients in his care, the richest man around has no family or friends around him and knows not what to do with his wealth than piss on the expensive art work he buys, quite literally. 

While Father James finds his faith pushed and questioned and remains unwavering, its hard not to wonder how goodness does survive in the presence of a mammoth called human depravation. 

Father James’s daughter comes in from the city to spend sometime with him. Fionaa Lavelle is understated and emotionally static and plays the role of a daughter coming home to a father she lost to the hilt. They reconnect somewhat, while she opens her heart out to him. She tenderly confronts him on his abandoning her, after her mother’s death and how the loss of two parents, one living and one dead profoundly altered her life. They part having found each other again and give us some reason to want to continue to live on and not be overcome by despair. 

Writer director John Michael McDonagh isn’t just dabbling with the trauma of child abuse in the Catholic Church, he is talking about a child parent relationship, he is talking about fidelity, humanity, tolerance of the other no matter where we are and who we are, wealth and the trauma it brings.  

One of the most telling moments of the film is when James is walking towards the beach, enroute somewhere and he chances upon a young girl. He casually makes conversation and is speaking to her when suddenly, her father drives up to where they are, stops his car in a haste and begins to aggressively confront James with questions about his motives and what he was trying to do by talking to his daughter. 

James feels mortified at the suggestion that his intention was foul and this breaks him from within. How the actions of a few paints everyone with the same colour. 

Calvary is a difficult film. It lends a deep insight to us being human and us being extremely weak in every way. It is a harsh and detached critique of our everyday failings. The finality of the film merely underscores how goodness struggles every single moment to survive and stay afloat in the sea of human greed.

It doesn’t take more than a small Irish town with a few hundred people, going along their daily lives, to shine the light on the state of the entire human race. 

image source: cinematicfrontier.wordpress.com 

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Very interesting historical depiction of Marie Antoinette’s women love interests. The film Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux à la reine) explores the last few years before the first French revolution and the particular proximity that Marie Antoinette shared with a woman, she gave the title Duchess de Polognac. The film doesn’t go deep into her other liaisons, but this one is boldly depicted in this film, based on a French novel. 

The film is nothing to write home about, other than the brilliant acting of Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour fame) and the fact that cinema is beginning to explore stories that talk about same-sex love and relationships, both contemporary and historical. Watch it for the royal intrigue and Léa Seydoux’s subtle and soft emotional performance.

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From The Desk Of

Noah in the 21st century

How does a story from tenth century BC become so pertinent to our 21st century reality? The simple story of the world drowning in wickedness, which needs to be cleansed and rebooted as it were, so that it can start afresh and hope that the selfish, self-consumed human being will decide to follow the path of righteousness. I was amazed at how relevant this simple story can be to our modern reality. I wasn’t able to find a similar human to Noah, who would be tasked to save the world by building an arc. However, it didn’t take too much persuading to agree that the wickedness in the world needs some heavy duty cleaning. 

On the one side we have Noah, who has been chosen by creation to cleanse humanity’s sins and the other side we have Tubal-cain, the self-proclaimed king of humans, who believes in the right of human beings to subjugate all beasts, believing that the creator created humans in his image and thus meant to rule the world. These two men stand opposite to each other as the models of good and evil; very typical of most religious tales. Additionally Noah asks us our existential question pretty directly, what are we doing to this world and do we deserve to live on without any consequences? The obvious pitfalls with this story is the notion of a miniature world, where the earth (in its flat avatar) exists and nothing else. Where the creator created animals and plants and all that lives with the idea of a paradise, where all would be perfect and live in total harmony. While we may have more information of the ‘real’ world that we live in today, that the universe is indeed infinite and that the Earth is actually round, it doesn’t take away from the fact that we have done everything in our power to destroy the Earth (slowly extending our destruction to outer space) and we seem to be spiralling out of control with every passing decade/century.

While wickedness in Noah’s version of the world is greed, power, disrespect for human and other life, all of which caused the fall of man, It is extremely difficult to not see the conflict zones Syria, the Middle East, the Ukraine, Thailand, despotic rulers in Zimbabwe, Central Asia etc., basically begging for the fall of man. Simple answer: we really need an act of god! 

Visually the film is stunning, Aronofsky captures Iceland and its rawness masterfully on camera. The ark is grand and while the animals who made their way into the ark some few and far between, the film did create a visually engaging story. For someone not versed with Judaeo-Christian history and had some fleeting knowledge of the story of Noah, Aronofsky’s twist to the story was very interesting and extremely appropriate to make it relevant to our modernity. Had the film stuck to its original narrative and stayed true to its biblical version, I am not sure the film would have accomplished much. The mark of Aronofsky’s craft meant that Noah became a question that I asked myself. Both Russell Crowe as Noah and Jennifer Connelly as his wife Naameh play their parts perfectly, while Anthony Hopkins as Noah’s father Methuselah is simply brilliant. 

Outside the scope of the film, I don’t see Noah’s story as an answer to our ills. How many arks will we build, how many Noah’s will there need to be for us to just find some basic human commonality in all of us: our humanity? The embarrassing thing is that even a make believe, part religious, part fictional story from over thirty centuries ago makes me feel ashamed of the world we have created for ourselves. This goes to validate what Noah says in the film, 'Till the humans came, the world lived in complete harmony and it was paradise.' Sheer truth! 

Image source: collider.com 

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