Monday, March 30, 2009

Departures (Okuribito)

Japan 2008

Details  departures-themovie

Seen 29 March 2009

A life affirming tale in the midst of the special job of preparing the dead for their next journey. The main character, Dai, is an out of work cellist who goes back to his hometown and manages to secure a job akin to the western concept of an embalmer. That is the only similarity between the two because in the Japanese tradition, the person entrusted with preparing the dead for their onward travels does it in such a way that it becomes a celebration of life rather than a morbid and foreboding task. And this is done in front of the deceased person's family members!

Dai himself is not without his own emotional baggage, having been brought up by his mother single-handedly after the father left the family when he was still a small child. Dai was hesitant about his new job after his first disastrous assignment but discovers himself through observing his employer and mentor.

The final realisation about the past and present was beautifully captured when Dai meets his father in the end.

A lesson in acceptance, letting go of the past and opening up to new discoveries.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Buddha collapsed out of shame

Iran 2007

Details  makhmalbaf

Seen 21 March 2009

A damning look at what has happened since the Talibans blew up the statue of Buddha at Bamiyan. The story follows a young girl's struggles to go to school. From the moment she heard a neighbour reading book, she was just mesmerised by the stories in the book that it triggered her unfailing effort to be like him, someone who can read.

Her journey towards that goal is the focus of the story. The children in the story mirror what is happening in their community, the beliefs, the misconceptions and the struggles. And a little girl soldiers on to achieve her ambitions.

The story gets more heart breaking as we go from scene to scene with an almost hopeless outlook for the main character. Poignant and sad, but hopefully there will be pockets of triumphs in the midst of all the gloom.

The children in the movie are superb.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cape No 7

Taiwan 2008

Details imdb

Seen 18 March 2009

A male lead who is sullen throughout the film paired with a female lead who sometimes screams her head off, might not be everyone's idea of a romantic story. But both leads are in character, a young man dejected by failure in the big city meets his match in the girl who feels cheated out of better opportunities in her own homeland. They seem to hate each other's guts, so how did that love bloom?

Play this against the backdrop of a small seaside town and another love story of at least two generations earlier, and we have a winner. Add some views on the role of the elderly and the respect that should be accorded to those in this group, development for small communities, diligence and hard work, and we have almost run the whole gamut of human emotions and what is to be expected in a civilised and caring society.

When the songs start playing, and you listen to the lyrics, then we realise how corny everything is, but it is a wonderful feeling, a tear or two might even make an appearance.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Los Placeres Ocultos

aka Hidden Pleasure

Spain 1977

Details  imdb

Seen 15 March 2009

Eduardo, as usual falls for a young boy, Miguel but does not treat him as he does his other tricks. Eduardo steels himself from corrupting Miguel and eventually confesses his love. Of course, at first Miguel is very upset and determined not to have anything anymore with Eduardo but made an about turn when Eduardo ran into a scrape with his previous conquests. The two of them and Miguel's girlfriend, Carmen came to an understanding and became good friends. But there is danger lurking, as Miguel's past catches up with all of them

This is reality as there are successful men who uses their money and power to buy favours irrespective of their preferences. The situation can become complicated when there are others who want that same person.

A film that looks at social mores and acceptance in Spain during the 1970s.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Kiss of the spider woman

Brazil/USA 1985

Details  imdb

Seen 14 March 2009

I am quite certain everyone involved in this movie had a good time during the film making process. A good script, cast and sure handed direction gives this story of two contrasting men forced to share a jail cell a head start in capturing the audience's attention.

This particular cell had Molina, a homosexual sharing that confined space with Valentin, a journalist who was imprisoned for helping the revolutionaries. At almost every opportunity, Molina will regale Valentin with his fantastical story of a movie he had seen when he was in the outside world. A story of love, devotion and loyalty. In truth, that is what Molina himself is going through, a dilemma, the choice between love and loyalty or freedom.

This movie will definitely stand the test of time.   

Friday, March 13, 2009

Prenom Carmen

aka First Name Carmen

France 1983

Details  imdb

Seen 12 March 2009

Carmen is the centre piece of this story. A strong woman per se but when it comes to love, the whole world crumbles. On the surface the film revolves around Carmen and her gang who rob a bank. The policeman at the bank falls for Carmen, inexplicably and we see the intricacies of love being played between the two.

Suspend your everyday perceptions if you want to enjoy this movie as the plot comes to the fore via images and scenes that might not make any sense if taken separately. The style is a homage to the film noir of the 1950s and we also get a quartet practicing in between the main story, which gives another dimension to the whole experience. The music and the story is inextricably woven together.

Mind boggling.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

L'homme blesse

aka The Wanted Man

France 1983

Details  imdb

Seen 11 March 2009

A fatal attraction perhaps? The first kiss, a forced kiss from another man in the washroom near the railway station of Paris starts the ball rolling for Henri. That encounter triggers an obsession with the man, Jean. A man who seems to be an enigma, and not exactly someone that would be a role model for youths who are on the brink of their adulthood.

Add into this equation, a benefactor, someone who tries to help but knows only too well that obsessions can change a person, for better or worse. In this case, worse seems to win the day. There are twists and turns along the way, but ultimately that obsession seems all too powerful and overwhelming

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Avant que j'oublie

aka Before I Foget

France 2007

Details  movies.nytimes

Seen 10 March 2009

The story focus is on a retired gigolo, who spends his ‘retirement’ reminiscing the good old days with his old friends, looking back at what could have been. As someone who uses his good looks and charms to earn his living, he continues to crave for that physical closeness with another human, exacerbated by the fact that he has no family of his own. Compared to his gang, he leads a lonely life but his character is such, that to him, it is not such a big issue. He still gets his physical satisfaction paying younger gigolos for their services. This is life in full circle, as if in a relay, each runner passing the baton to the next.

Non-judgmental look at life, but as always, food for thought, with lots of philosophy and questions, in a very French mould.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Taiikukan Baby

aka Gymnasium Baby

Japan 2008

Details yesasia

Seen 9 March 2009

Teenage love or is that infatuation is strange, wonderful, frustrating, full of hope and despair, and we see them all in this movie. Do we blurt out our feelings for the other person and even manage to plant a kiss because of that overflowing feeling building up within ourselves? Or do we keep quiet and repress the innermost emotions as a guarantee that at least our friendship with the object of desire remain?

Different choices, but apt to each person. Eventually, we do come to an understanding. It may not be a perfect arrangement, but if nothing else, those involved know the status quo.

The teenage years, everyone went through them once.

O Thiasos

aka The Travelling Players

Greece 1975

Details  imdb

Seen 9 March 2009

I was lucky to stumble onto this film. It is not everyday that I manage to see a Greek film especially done in such a way that it recalls the ancient plays at the numerous venues at the foothills of Mount Olympia.

The premise might be simple, concentrating on events during the years after the Second World War when different factions try to gain the upper hand in the governance of the state. This is told through a group of travelling actors, and I was blown away by the minutiae. The camera lovingly records each step, shadow and gust of wind. For those brought up in the era of the three minute MTV sound bite, the more than three hours long, labour of love might be a tad too long, as this is not the usual packaged action packed formulaic film produced by Hollywood. Everything is based on the dialogue and sometimes the actors will face the audience and render a soliloquy.

I was spellbound.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


UK 2008

Details  incendiarymovie

Seen 7 March 2009

How do we come to terms with grief? How does a mother and wife cope with the loss of loved ones? Can we love someone and despise him at the same time? Questions galore and in abundance in this movie about lost loves, the slow process of trying to make sense of what happened and how to carry on with some semblance of normalcy. Just to add spice to the whole goings-on, we also have the dilemma of seeing our main suspect having someone they love too.

Besides the grief stricken main character, we also have the intrigue of the government machinery. Supposedly to protect, but sacrifices were made in the name of the better good. Sacrificial lambs, innocent people, children included are par for the course. Does it all add up?

Evocative of the present time, the world after 9/11.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Throne of Blood

Japan 1957

Details  imdb

Seen 6 March 2009

The Japanese version of Macbeth, is a testimony of our common characteristics as part of the human race irrespective of where our domicile is. Power, how intoxicating, the lengths some will go to gain it and to hold onto. In this case, a prediction comes true for an ambitious general as well as his ever scheming wife. They do get the throne, but it is of blood.

For most of us brought up in the western version of the play, this adaptation highlights the salient points of the story. The director succeeded in giving the story an eerie, ethereal feel, and the main characters are sufficiently flashed out by the actors to give an added personal dimension.



Friday, March 06, 2009

The World Unseen

South Africa 2007

Details  imdb

Seen 5 March 2009

South Africa in the 1950s where apartheid still rules the land sees the Indian community neither white nor black but grouped under coloureds. The story is centred on Miriam, a young wife with two young children and expecting her third. A chance encounter with a young woman who runs a restaurant sees the beginning of a different life path for Miriam.

There is discrimination based on your skin colour, prejudices against women, traditional community values that are being challenged and a budding relationship between two women. Miriam, the supposedly docile wife and mother finds her inner strength to move on with her life while the feisty woman restaurateur, Amina, gains a foothold in love.

The director manages to helm the film on an even keel and there are explosive moments, but the quieter parts leave a larger imprint.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Le Concile de Pierre

aka The Stone Council in English

France 2006

Details  amazon

Seen 3 March 2009

A thriller and mystery shrouded in intrigues and human greed. This might be an ordinary story of child adoption and how a single mother copes with bringing up her adopted son in the midst of a busy lifestyle as an interpreter. But we are served with the added twist of past events that seem to signal a closer relationship between mother and adopted son than we would have at first anticipated. An unlikely event as the mother and son are worlds apart in terms of geography and background. The only common denominator is that both are orphans.

The plot thickens as the story goes along, with key persons linked to the two found dead. Eventually, the mother and son had to face their adversary. This sees the culmination of folklore, and modern science coming head to head.


Monday, March 02, 2009

The boy in the striped pyjamas

UK 2008

Details  boyinthestripedpajamas

Seen 1 March 2009

Two eight year old boys strike a friendship despite trying circumstances. They are on different sides of the divide in war time Germany. Bit by bit we learn how thorough the programme to eliminate an unwanted people is perceived as just an ordinary event, done in the name of justice, to right a wrong. Being in the service of your country does not guarantee anyone anything. A slight omission of fact will get a ten fold punishment even if you have shown your loyalty to the country and leader unselfishly. In the meantime the propaganda machine does its job disseminating the approved facts but those in the inner circle know.

Wonderful performances from the two young actors give the story the added pathos.

A conundrum.


Singapore Dreaming

Singapore 2006

Details  singaporedreaming

Seen 1 March 2009

This story should strike a chord with the ordinary folks, the middle class who struggle for a better life. They are the backbone of any society, the nut and bolts in the engine of growth of a nation. Even if they could not reap the benefits of their toil at present, they will always have high hopes that the next generation will.

In this case, the hopes are heaped on the son. But, that is not meant to be. In a patriarchal society, males are always the favoured ones to the detriment of all, family and loved ones.

Even a lucky turn of events do not seem to change the attitude of the men. The story gives the run down on the still perceived notion that the men are king, whereas women are subservient appendages for the pleasure of the men to do as they please.

The ending itself shows how selfless women are and continue to be despite the undeserved treatment they get from men.

Seems like a mundane depiction of an average family life but actually shows the pulse of the society at large.