films I saw

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rang e Huda (Colour of Paradise/God)

This is Iranian film-maker Majid Majidi's first outing since the glorious Oscar-nominated 'Children Of Heaven' in 1997, but it has been well worth the wait. This film too is about children and childhood but revolves slowly and somewhat mystically around a child who lives in a world that he cannot see, though he himself wanders through a world that other people cannot be bothered to hear. It is a visual and aural work of beauty, splendour and sadness, a tale of isolation and melancholy, of loving maternal embraces and paternal indifference, of simple needs set against the backdrop of complicated human frailty.

Eight-year-old Mohammed (Mohsen Ramezani) attends a school for the blind where he finds kindred spirits, love and the many wonders of learning. His father, Hashem (Hossein Mahjub) wants to marry a stunning young woman from a very strict Islamic family and it doesn't take long to realise that he feels his son's 'affliction' will ruin his chances. Having unsuccessfully tried to persuade the teachers at the blind school to keep Hashem there permanently, he apprentices him to a local blind carpenter against the wishes of the young boy, who only wants to go to the normal school and learn with everyone else.

Seen within the political and religious parameters of an Islamic country, it is not hard to appreciate why Mohammed receives so much love and care from the people at the blind school and the female members of his family, considering that they are as much disenfranchised and powerless as he is. But when it comes to the love that he truly yearns for, from his father, it is so wanting as to make the viewer angry and frustrated at his shallow and self-serving reasons. Mohammed knows this, but yet loses himself in a dark world that he allows to be filled with a blinding cacophony of sound and the wonderful sensuality and grounded reality of touch.

The whole movie floods us with visual imagery that he cannot see but of which we know he is so aware, letting us join his darkened world in a constant stream of accentuated sounds. Bird song, crickets, water, voices and the breeze have never sounded so distinct and emotive. Ramezani in the role of Muhammed, never once slips into American saccharin self-pity but instead, draws us into the duality of his world of beauty and sadness until his cries of frustration become ours too.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Kandahar - disturbing visuals

This film is an unblinking glimpse into the hardships of life in Afghanistan, and the difficult odyssey of one woman in particular. Inspired by a true story, "Kandahar" tells the story of Nafas (Nelofer Pazira) an Afghani woman who has been living in Canada and working as a journalist when she recieves a disturbing letter from her sister, who has remained in Afghanistan.

Her sister, who has been maimed by a land mine, writes of the oppressive treatment of women and says that she will commit suicide when the next eclipse happens. With only three days until the eclipse, Nafas attemps to travel to Kandahar, a difficult undertaking in a country where women are forbidden to travel alone and are forced to wear the head-to-toe burkha.

Nafas first travels with an Afghani family, posing as one of the several wives, until bandits leave her abandoned. Then she hires a boy expelled from a Koran school to be her guide, until she becomes sick after drinking tainted water and then meets a black American man working in a small village as a doctor. They travel on and Nafas' journey comes to an end on a somber note.

Makhmalbaf's film extracts a poetic lyricism from the meagerness of the setting. There are many moments of compositional grace, such as when Nafas lifts her burkha and answers an interrogator's questions, with light from the mesh creating a shadow pattern across her face, and when dozens of women in burkhas of various colors move forward in a bridal procession across the desert. There's even surreallism when prosthetic legs for land mine victims at a red cross camp parachute to the ground.

One truly feels for Nafas as she tries to reach her sister and there's also a strong poignancy in the scene depicting the closing of a school for girls, where the last lesson is in avoiding land mines.

Filmed under arduous conditions in a village on the Iran-Afghanistan border, "Kandahar" went on to win the Ecumenical Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. For a look at the country at the center of the news that provides far more information than a CNN soundbite, "Kandahar" should be seen.

Fahrenheit 9/11 - film by a man with a great spine

One of the most controversial and provocative films of the year, Fahrenheit 9/11 is Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore's searing examination of the Bush administration's actions in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11.

With his characteristic humor and dogged commitment to uncovering the facts, Moore considers the presidency of George W. Bush and where it has led us. He looks at how - and why - Bush and his inner circle avoided pursuing the Saudi connection to 9/11, despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis and Saudi money had funded Al Qaeda. Fahrenheit 9/11 shows us a nation kept in constant fear by FBI alerts and lulled into accepting a piece of legislation, the USA Patriot Act, that infringes on basic civil rights. It is in this atmosphere of confusion, suspicion and dread that the Bush Administration makes its headlong rush towards war in Iraq - and Fahrenheit 9/11 takes us inside that war to tell the stories we haven't heard, illustrating the awful human cost to U.S. soldiers and their families.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Pather Panchali - the song of the road

Pather Panchali is perhaps the greatest Indian film ever made and was the film that really put India on the international film map. The film, Satyajit Ray's directorial debut, was three years in the making due to unceasing financial burden. Finally the film was completed with the help of the West Bengal Government. The film went on to win a special prize at Cannes for 'Best Human Document.' To quote Lindsay Anderson in the Observer

"You cannot make films like this in a studio nor for money. Satyajit Ray has worked with humility and complete dedication; he has gone down on his knees in the dust. And his film has the quality of intimate, unforgettable experience."