Film Review: L.I.E.

LIE_PosterHow often do we commit the mistake of putting things in an over simplified order, how often do we take things according to the prototype the society has set forth for us? The film L.I.E. begins with a premise somewhat similar to that, marking the territory of victim and perpetrator in a typical fashion, but as the film progressed it grew more and more evident that it will not take the usual route of typifying things in a convenient order and be another lot in the bunch.

L.I.E. is a film hard to characterize as belonging to a genre. It comprises elements of what is popularly referred to as dark comedy, teen movie, gay movie, film on pedophilia (actually there’s not enough film on this category to consider it to be a genre); but at the end this does not belong to any of them in particular.

L.I.E. is centered around the story of a sixteen year old boy Howie. His sexual ambivalence does not accept his own homosexuality and hence he does not make a move towards his best friend Gary with whom he infatuated. Little does he know that his best friend is not the macho boisterous figure, ransacking people’s homes, planning to get out to California as he appears on the outset; rather he has a shady secret. He is actually prostitute himself in order to procure the money to get out of the small town. How Gary leaves, leaving Howie entangled in a mess with the pedophile Big John, how Big John’s role is gradually revealed from an apparent sexual predator to a benevolent father figure almost with a divine presence as the Boo Radley of To Kill the mocking bird.

The film itself is not earth-shattering, nor is it an out of earth experience, but with its nuance and resolve not to fall in prototypes makes it worth watching.

Film Review: Jose and Pilar (A scetch on last years of Jose Saramago)

Jose e PilarWell-made documentaries can be broadly  categorized in two classes: the first genre comprises fact based hard-hitting stories on a controversial socio-political subject matter, the best example of which is the ones made by the world-renowned Michael Moore; while the second genre introduces the viewers to a dremscape like journey, putting the poetics in the camera work that ascends us to an out of the world experience. Searching for a Sugarman is the finest example of the second genre to which the documentary made on Nobel laureate Portuguese  novelist Jose Saramago belongs.

Now let me begin with a confession. I am not a huge fan of Jose Saramago’s work. I have read his very innovative novels like Blindness, Seeing and The double and appreciated the original style of story-telling. Yet I could not enjoy his style of grueling details, his obsessions with harrowing factoids and musings of the characters that sounded rather trite. The lack of use of punctuations and style of his stream of consciousness writing is somewhat lost in translation and all I could see was a writer whose craft seemed rather common-place; and I don’t know if I should blame the author or the translator for this.

Returning to the documentary made on the final days of Jose Saramago and his wife Pilar del rio I should say that I found a different Jose Saramago whom I could not find in the pages of his novels (translated in English). This Saramago, with his in depth insights on life and its tributaries, on his pondering over his impending death, his race against borrowed time to finish his novel, and his conclusion (and the conclusion of the film) not with his usual optimism but rather a devastating fatalism reminded me of another Portuguese master writer senior to Saramago: Fernando Pessoa.

Apart from the points I mentioned just now, Jose and Pilar touches the love between Sarmago and his wife, their mutual achievements, their struggle to change the world and keep pace with it. The fiery Pilar exhorting against war efforts in middle-east comes in sharp contrast with the brooding Saramago who, almost languidly, goes on with his life accepting that “a man’s writing cannot change the world”. In fact the political commitment of Saramago that I never found in his novels (which perhaps is a good thing) is present in the documentary without any nuances  and as searing truth.

In conclusion Jose and Pilar truly changed my outlook towards the writer and I believe it will do that to everyone who endeavoured to read him in English. In that sense it is highly recommended for the English speaking audience.

Film Review: Being Flynn

220px-Being_flynn_posterWhile some films ends up being epic, some only finishes flickering through the screen with a promise of reaching that iconic status. Being Flynn is of second category. It does not become a masterpiece even with the performance of a lifetime from one of the greatest actors Hollywood has ever seen: Robert de Niro. If Scent of a Woman can be seen only to experience the over-the-top performance of Al Pacino the same can be said about Being Flynn, a film that can be seen for three reasons: Robert de Niro, Robert de Niro, Robert de Niro.

The story told in the film is not the story of the New York commonly catered. It’s rather an aghast darkly look at the city’s soul, peeping into its underbelly. The two protagonists: the father and his estranged son played by de Niro and Paul Dano respectively are the representatives of a city living under the darkness in noon. Both of them are misfits in their own right, victims of substance abuse, struggling to find meaning in their lives: one through his blind faith and rants, other through grief and absolution.

Nick (Dano) is bewildered at the sudden arrival of his father in his life. The unannounced intrusion of the man whom he has not seen for 18 years does not seem arbitrary when he meets the man in person. The maniacal personality of his father, who considers himself “one of the three greatest writers America has ever produced”, who passes through life as if hunting for material for his next great American novel while in reality being but an ex-con, an awkward cab driver and someone whose biggest achievement is but rejection letters from big publishing houses. How they come in terms with their individual afflictions and proceed towards something meaningful is is what the film is about and yet it is not a melodrama full of gratuitous co-incidences.

How the story is enfolded into a drama that was meant to end as a tragedy but was thwarted to mediocrity by a happy ending is not really my point here. My point is the very innovative style of story telling, the voice – over of two actors taking turns as the role of the narrator, the wonderfully written script laden with poetic gems and a rapt binding. Why this film could not earn de Niro an oscar that I do not know, as I do not know the reason for receiving such lukewarm acceptance of this film. What I know is that it is a film truly memorable and would remain with someone like me who is often more appreciative of literary brilliance of a film than its cinematic brilliance. A very highly recommended watch for those who ever struggled with one’s writing.

Book Review: One Man’s Bible

One Man's Bible

“Freedom is not a human right conferred by Heaven. Nor does the freedom to dream come at birth: it is a capacity and an awareness that needs to be defended. Moreover, even dreams can be assailed by nightmares.”

– Gao Xinjihan (One Man’s Bible)

When you read a novel you half-expect a narrative these days. Narrative itself is becoming a thing of the days bygone; and linear narratives are, well, evaporated into oblivion. In his famous autobiographical novel One Man’s Bible Gao Xingjian does let us through not one but two parallel linear narratives.

One man’s bible is written in a fashion crafted especially by Gao. He has used the pronouns ‘YOU’ and ‘HE’ in alternate chapters, both to refer to himself, one to address his past self while the other to reminisce the self he left behind. Using He to refer oneself in one’s biography is not new. We have read Coetzee’s work built in similar fashion, referring oneself as ‘he’, taking the view of an objective almost uninterested witness and story-teller. Gao doesn’t follow suit to that known pathway; rather his ingenuity reminds us of his magnum opus ‘Soul Mountain‘ where he used different pronouns almost interchangeably to refer to himself. In many ways, One man’s bible is bound to remind one of Soul Mountain as I have read in my earlier article and since I read One man’s bible first, years before soul mountain, I would rather refrain from this comparative study.

In this epic tale of a personal journey from nowhere to nowhere, Gao sketches the world little known in the Western Hemisphere, the exotic world of China with all its struggle with tyranny and modernity. The political affliction of the nation, how it devours the aspirations of the multitude and the individual is truly depicted in this novel. While describing the horrors of cultural revolution Gao does not refrain from giving the account of the day to day ordeals, thus keeping in mind of his readership outside China, and at times the horrors and blood-baths are taken to the realm of magic-realism. In places the writer’s agony are acutely personal, while another moment he very much resembles an everyman smote by the autocratic regime. It is impossible to pin down when the parallel story  arc of the past self is merged into the story of present; how the asphyxiating want for freedom merged into today’s burden of rootlessness. At times like this, the world revolving around Gao seems so insignificant, that one might just forget of its struggles and outcries and try to find solace in the simple language of the master story-teller.

I don’t know if it was the work of the translator (Mabel Lee, who translated all the works of the author in English) or the author himself to use a very simple almost ascetic language, but it works. The author’s clinging to small short sentences, haunting in the aftertaste, reminds us of the semi-biographical work of another story-teller afflicted by a similar political regime and finding a way out at the finality: Herta Muller. For some unknown reason, I cannot dissociate One Man’s bible from The land of the green plums: both novels great in their own right and very dissimilar in story ark and otherwise. For me, both of them will be the tales of, not hoarse outcry of indignation, but the silent resistance of human condition in the face of utter in-discrimination.

Book Review: Soul Mountain

 

“You’ve slapped together travel notes, moralistic ramblings, feelings, notes, jottings, untheoretical discussions, unfable-like fables, copied out some folk songs, added some legend-like nonsense of your own invention, and are calling it fiction!”

 

GAO XINGJIAN (SOUL MOUNTAIN)

 

imagesThis is how Xingjian described his own novel: as a part of the novel. In the 72nd chapter of the book when an argument is broken out in between his conscious self and his dream-like projection of himself: this is how things transpire to him. And perhaps this is the place from where we should start to recount his novel as it is the lowest possible point of the estimation.

 

Gao Xingjian is a maverick. He takes his tale to the furthest corner imaginable especially for someone who is weaving a tale sitting in the Eastern corner of the world, almost forgotten, despised, ridiculed. And here lies his strength: in the collective assault of rejection that he had received. It is what enables him to walk away, to be the insurgent for individuality in a land under a regime where individual never existed. Being the part of a tradition somewhat similar to his, I often share or dare to share the agony of his lost soul.

 

Soul Mountain, the magnum opus novel of his creation, is the triumphant journey of an individual through the soul of a country trying hard to catch up to the world, to the illusion of progress and prosperity and in that effort obliterating its own history and tradition. The novel takes shape as a story told by an unnamed traveler while on his journey to the mysterious soul mountain or Lingshan. The author uses alternative pronouns as I and you at first in alternate chapters to follow two different narrative arks, evidently following the same person and same journey only in different stages of their journey. It obviously reminded me of his autobiographical work “One man’s bible” where almost through the entire book he used the pronouns You and He in alternate chapters. But later other pronouns are introduced; unlike One man’s bible, here, the story arks get muddled more and more; the dreamscape like scenes intervene into the mundane of the travelogue in a way that the boundary between fiction and memory and imagination does not remain clear. A ‘She’ is emanated from the acute loneliness and lust of the central character and yet she departs on a whim unnerving the story-teller as well as the readers, cultivating more doubt regarding her existence.

 

If we try to read the novel in an earnestly literal way, initially what it speaks of is a semi-autobiographical tale of a Beijing based writer who had a near-death experience in the form of being misdiagnosed to have terminal lung cancer. After he was informed off his not being in danger, he sets out for a journey through the mountains of Sezwan province of China, partially to evade the Communist authority hunting him as a righting element needed to be ‘cured’ by reform through labour and partially out of his yearning for the past of his nation that he never encountered, that remained hidden for his generation for years past. While on his way, he encounters that history of the traditionally sumptuous nation through mythologies and folk-lores, through religious traditions of Buddhist and Daoist (Taoist), through the simple unaggravated lives of the people living at the fringe of the modernity, through a journey towards his own past, to search the grave of his long-forgotten grand-mother. The linear story ark is lost after a while as both the writer and the reader loses interest in keeping account of the day to day realism. The reader enmeshed in stories and anecdotes told through carefree yet captivating manner remains true to the writer till the final page of the long novel.

 

In a way, Gao Xinjian’s novel is not afflicted by the absurdism as is expected from the “Beckett of the East”. Rather he concentrates on revealing an obscure history of what the world know very little. In that sense he can be paralleled to Orhan Pamuk.

 

 

 

Unlike Pamuk or Murakami, he is not impaired with the choice between two world: eastern or western. Rather Gao’s world is a world torn apart by different projection of self, a world very private and very universal at the same time. Sitting in a part of the world where the annihilation of self is mandatory both politically and traditionally, Gao’s endeavour to embrace his kaleidoscopic self image is not only laudable; it also transpires us to a world we seldom experience.

 

Book Review: “Disgrace” by John Maxwell Coetzee

DisgraceCoverThere are novels that remain cocooned under the robe of simplicity and yet is not a simple one. Under the veil of apparent simpleness, it weaves a story so intricate, so dark, so sinister that it cannot fail to touch the frailties and hegemonies of the world both esoteric and mundane. If I am to choose a few novels falling in this category: Disgrace will be the first one.

The novel starts with a setting of an academic environment, something not very frequent in Coetzee’s work (in fact the only other novel I can remember with academic settings is Elizabeth Costello). Aged professor David Lurie is ‘disgraced’ when found to be in violation of the university’s law of being sexually involved with a student. He loses his job, the purpose of life and moves back to his daughter Lucy’s home set in the rural landscape of post-apartheid South Africa. The hegemony of fairer skin colour and well-equipped economic station of life comes in sharp contrast with the country searing in anger of maltreatment. From here on the story could have been another tale of the central versus the marginals: like the stories Coetzee has written earlier, in Waiting for the Barbarians or Age of iron. But Coetzee refrained from flowing through another formula-fed narrative and went on to add intricacies into the heart of an already intricate tale. The idyllic life  Lucy is shattered with a violent attack that ends up ravaging and impregnating her. David’s incapability of being the saviour of his child, his future generation’s ‘purity’ is paralleled with his attempt of writing a play on the decadent life of Byron’s final years. Lucy, who was earlier hinted to be lesbian, loses the dream-like world she woven around herself: a farm life of mutual assistance beyond the private ownership of the man’s world; and yet it does not seem to the typical onslought upon the sexual minority from the point of view of the mainstream. Neither was it an attack on the single white female living on the fringe of the society almost encroaching upon the Black man’s territory. In fact, Disgrace is full of actions that are not prototype of any form we used to know. The characters are not representational; neither do they carry any sense of onus to take the story or their lives to a certain destiny. The fatelessness pervading through the entire novel reminds us of work of Fernando Pessoa or Imre Kertész.

While writing the novel, I think Coetzee was aware of the fact that David Lurie is destined to be read as the representative of white Afrikaner fast losing his power and authority and feeling emasculated. And thus Coetzee did everything in his power not to enable Lurie to fall under such pretext. Coetzee’s sincere concern over animal rights also found its way into the novel at the finality, putting both the central character and the readers into a precarious position. The more the slim novel approaches its final bell, the more evident it gets that Disgrace, almost resolutely would not be a tale that can be labelled sealed and forgotten. To paraphrase Soren Kierkegaard, when you label me, you deny me. Disgrace can neither be labelled, nor denied of its unique position in the map of twentieth century literature.

Extirpation

Everything has ended
Everything.

The words have left me
With my benumbing solitude
Can you sense the despair in the air?
As if the last train has departed?
There’s a shame, an ingrowth of disgrace
An ignominy gnawing through me.

The dimming heavens stared
Through the eyes of constellation
I gleam like the last star of the universe
Waiting to be engulfed
Into the concluding darkness
Descending towards the end of time.