Film Review: Chop shop

215px-ChopShop_poster3Ramin Bahrani tells us the story of an America that is excluded and marginalised, an America that lives on the fringes of well-being barely surviving with its handful of resources, an America that does not ridicule the American dream but rather mournfully observes the affluence that pushed it away. Chop shop is the story of that Americatn underbelly, seedy, sordid and gritty.

The twelve year old Alejandro works at the repair shop of New York. Occasionally he has to work as a street hawker or in a ‘chop shop’ (Chop shop is a workshop where a vehicle, often stolen, is dismantled and sold in parts). His sister Izzy works on as a food supplier from a van while at night secretly sells her body in order to earn enough money to rid themselves off the poverty by trying to realize their mutual dream: to own a food supply van.

Eventually, through their hardship they manage to gather enough bucks tho buy a dilapidated van from Ale’s friend Carlos’ uncle only to be informed later that the van is not fit for the purpose and would cost too much to fix. Enraged, he attacks Carlos in public, only to understand the futility of the whole scheme: their endeavours and their dreams, their struggles and their vain attempt of escaping, all are meant to feed another chop shop where every part of their soul is to be broken, shattered, dismantled and sold cheaply as a part of an exorbitant dream.

The way Bahrani approaches the nude and rude realism frame by frame is immensely laudable. One cannot help but observe the effects of the neorealist movement of Iranian masters in the work of this promising film-maker who is, certainly, going to provide many more gems in days to come.

 

The absurdity and its victim: remembering Albert Camus

Whenever a sincere attempt to measure the depth of twentieth century will be made, there would be Camus and his thoughts. The greatness of Camus, the literary giant, may be inquired against the backdrop of Camus, the succinct philosopher, only to conclude the inescapable truth: they are inseparable. The world Camus builds in ‘The Plague‘, the world Camus hints in his short-stories such as “The renegade“, the world that shatters in his novels like “The Fall” or “The stranger” or in his play “The Just Assassins“: all of them are not dissociable from the hoarse outcry of “The rebel” or the morbid fatalism of “The myth of Sisyphus“. Why is it that Camus so close to our heart, my heart: I often ask myself. I wonder why, even after reading all the masters of Twentieth Century, in my mind Camus remain standing tall, hovering over everyone else. It is not simply because of his literary genius. His works were never amount to be as ambitious as Ulysses of Finnegan’s Wake. His oeuvre is not as magnanimous in its depth and premise as that of Sartre. Still Camus remains as the one and only: because, he holds in his head the duality of our generation, the dialectics that is tearing us apart: the dialectics between fatalistic ignominy and rebellious upsurge.

To write about someone like Camus, it is hard not to give away to the temptation of putting one quote after another, letting the words speak for themselves and keep observing the awe in the readers’ eyes. But I am not going to give in to that, because Camus for me is not one-liners; he is the totality. He is the Atlas holding the world of our thought upon his shoulder tirelessly. There is something within the premise of his novels and short-stories that advocates the in-depth analysis, a rereading of the text of apparent clarity. His characters are somewhat recurring, as if he is putting himself in the shoes of different persons in different circumstances. The perils of his characters are not varied since they are from a particular temporal space and afflicted by the same duality in between their dreams and actions. Sometimes he is dangerously close to solipsism, sometimes his absurdist point of view takes a deterministic aura, sometimes he destroys himself through a rebellious urge; yet for any Camus admirer he always presents the same genius: the indefatigable dichotomy.

To understand Camus one should read him in the context of his place and time, but still, like any great man of word, there’s a distinct flavour of universality in his writing. One may dip into a Camus novel without preparing himself to read him and still would emerge as someone else after going through the vicious world of the mastermind. And that is how Camus changed the world, not merely by describing its projections and attributes, but belonging and accommodating the change within himself and within the psyches of the readers. Camus has become an integral part of anyone who even dared to gloss over the pages of any of his books; never letting the reader rid himself off him, thus creating a world sombre, ineluctable and yet dulcetly fatalistic.

 

Film Review: The Quiet American (2002)

220px-Quiet_americanThe best way to capture a Graham Green novel on the silver screen is perhaps to remain true to the writer. Phillip Noyce does exactly that to produce this excellent political thriller that Hollywood has produced in last decade.

Michael Caine plays the British war correspondent Thomas Fowler placed in Saigon in French ruled Indo-china. The battle for independence against the French colonialism is tearing the nation apart while the colonialists and the Communist regime from the southern part of the country is battling it out in the hinterlands of the unfortunate country. Fowler, the reluctant observer and commentator, meets an idealist American health worker Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) who befriends him and seems to be holding the naive idea that instead of colonial power or communist regime Vietnam needs a third force to rule itself. While Fowler grows fond of Pyle, a rift appears in between their relation when Pyle falls for Fowler’s lover. Knowing that Fowler is married and his obstinate wife is not willing to grant a divorce, his lover realises that there’s no future with him and she leaves with Pyle. While this affects Fowler personally and professionally, he tries to cope by immersing himself into his work which leads him to see clearly through the murky water of politics, the bigger forces playing under the hood of small crooks and the true face of the familiar ones around him. The story is not only how the things are ugly and gruesome underneath, but also how the macabre world compels one to take side. The film perfectly depicts what Green novel intended: the end of nook for a dispassionate observer in the modern world where everyone must take a position.

Taking a note of the adaptation of the novel in silver screen in 1958 and in 2002, one can see the evolution of Hollywood. The first installment of 1958 was a thinning of political undertones of the novel, rendering it a rather trite patriotic war drama. On the contrary, Noyce’s adaptation was as sinister and as breathtaking as Green’s novel truly is.

Film Review: Heartbeats (Les Amours Imaginaires)

Xavier_Dolan_HeartbeatsXavier Dolan is one of the most promising film-makers of recent time. With his first film I killed my mother he showed the prospect of turning out sincere dramatist on the silver screen. With his second outing as director, in Heartbeats or Les Amours Imaginaires, Dolan depicts another emotion laden drama of friendship and love and other tributaries of the quasi-amorous relations.

Francis and Marie, two friends, meets Nicolas in a party and both of them felt attracted to the charming young man whose sexuality is not evident. The film goes on telling us the story where both of them pursue Nicolas as his and her lover, trying to build an image of him within their own mind according to one’s own convenience. They find other partners for sexual gratification, thus baring the emotional bankruptcy in the age of easy promiscuity. The generation to which Dolan himself belongs, is a generation fatigued by making love without loving and thus it is portrayed not with indifference or with hostility, but with care, how this generation flails for love all the same. Perhaps this is the strongest trait of the film.

While making a film on a subject somewhat hackneyed by overuse by all the other directors over the years, Dolan remains true to his own strength of story-telling with tinge of experimental form. His use of humour is restrained and hence effective. The use of background music especially in a scene where Bach’s cello song was playing on the back, it truly elevated the film in totality. So Heartbeat should be watched not only to observe the signatures of a young promising film-maker on the silver-screen, but also to watch a very fresh take on a subject we all thought we have left behind.

Film Review: Manic

220px-Manic_FilmPosterSomehow Gordon-Levitt ends up bagging roles in films that are wonderfully scripted and engaging as hell. Manic is no different. It is a film about a bunch of teenagers committed to a psychiatric facility by their families and while most are trying in vain to deal with their problems, the protagonist, portrayed by Levitt is in denial of his afflictions. His problem with impulse control disorder is depicted not only through the jerky camera work or the gritty sequences but by the virtuous performance by Levitt himself who, even in those early days, were showing distinct promise.

The film is more or less woven around the central character: how he befriends his inmates, how he finds hostility and love in the incarceration, how his problem with his father and his abandonment issue haunts him and finally how he accepts his problem as an integral part of himself, not in a bleak giving up sense, but with the silent pledge to work through this. The only occasions the story veers somewhere else is to show the predicaments of Dr. Monroe (portrayed by Don Cheadle), the resident psychiatrist of the facility. The seasoned under-rated actor curved out another good performance as the psychiatrist and friend and guardian of the troubled young kids.

So does the film presents us with something groundbreaking? An affirmative no. But is Manic worth watching? Definitely.

Film Review: Dogville

Dogville_posterWith Lars von Trier the boundary between the form and content disappears, With Lars von Trier the vivisection of human psyche and consciousness attains a new height, with Lars von Trier the onus of having an unprecedented film-watching experience shifts on the shoulders of the viewers trying to fathom the crafts of the master.

Dogville is a masterpiece. Period. It is something that transcends the viewers to an experience so horrific, so sinister and yet so allegorically breath-taking that one has to take a bow after watching this film.

Dogville tells us about a small town where the indolent and seemingly indulgent inhabitants are deprived of any enthusiasm for larger compass of life. The small petty people living inside their small petty walls are content and conformed. In a situation like this a woman appears amid them, seemingly being hunted down by the gangsters and the authorities. The Protagonist of the film, the moral intellectual boy of the town Tom finds her and decides to give her shelter. He convinces the rest of the town’s people to allow her this little subsistence primarily without anything except for a small price of running some household chores. How the story unfolds from there, how the perfectly beatific situation spirals down from that point into the epitome of sheer evil and horror, how power arrives even among the most naive and primitives and how that power corrupts, disintegrates and degenerates the cores of human conscience is something must not be described but watched.

The ending is somewhat different from the general von Trier flicks. Rather it seemed that he had donned the hat of Tarrentino on this occasion. Watching the dreadful final sequence any film lover is bound to remember Tarrentino’s signature finishing moves.

The story itself is a moral tale so profound and so open-ended that it can be allusion of many things: be it America’s treatment of its illegal immigrants or capitalism’s abuse of the reserve army of labour. The dark saga of human suffering painted with minimal props, completely shot on a stage with very little settings are something that any cinema-lover would relish. The stripping down of cinema to a minimalist stage drama is something only von Trier is bold enough to experiment with and he succeeds with flying colours.

Film Review: Before Midnight

Before_Midnight_posterThe third installment of a movie trilogy with an interconnected story-line is invariably the worst one. From Godfather to Matrix, from Terminator to X-men film series: the result is unanimous (except may be Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy). Before Midnight, successfully breaks the chain, finishing as a film as dazzling, as engaging, as gorgeous as its two predecessors were. Both of its predecessors: Before sunrise and Before sunset were critically acclaimed sleeper hits, marking new territory of film making where the script does not have to be ‘dumbed down’ or made exotic or action packed to keep the viewers engrossed to the screen. In a way, Linklater did not have such a burden of delivering like this time since nobody expected anything out of the ordinary from those earlier films: almost made out of whim of a intellectual film-maker. But the positive reviews and critical acclaim that those two films accruing through the years rendered the job of Linklater harder, putting undue pressure upon him to make this third journey perfect: and to no one’s surprise he did deliver.

This time the story has progressed a  lot from the last time (in Before Sunset) where we were left in the apartment of Celine (Delpy) with Jesse (Hawke) missing his plane with the camera moving away leaving us in the plain of hope and uncertainty. This time we discovered that Jesse and Celine had been with each other more or less since that time, raising their twin daughters while at the same time trying to keep in touch with Jesse’s son from his earlier marriage. Celine and Jesse are not married but in a stable relation as a couple could be, currently spending their vacation in Greece. Unlike the other two films, here we are introduced to a lot of other characters at the initial part, most of them being fellow writers of Jesse and their family members who are also spending holiday at the house of an septuagenarian Greek writer and his grandson. The addition of these characters and their involvement in the random philosophizing of the couple that had been the forte of the entire film series is what broke the shackle of boredom and immediately reinforced the film on its own ground.

Later the film resorted to the form of its predecessor where two central characters are rambling through the streets of a small town, exchanging their views on life, self, love, existence, state of being and many other eternal subjects, enjoying the views around. Only these time they ended up spending their evening in a hotel room talking to each other. The conversations remained as engaging as ever but only became a bit more contesting and caustic owing to the friction of their living by each other constantly. The fear of Celine to be domesticated into an ordinary housewife and the concern of Jesse of failing as a father to his estranged son brought out in a magnificent way. The emotion between them are palpable even after all these years, reminding the viewers of the predecessor films on multiple occasions.

Two most critical junctures of the film: the emerging of Jesse from the airport after bidding his son goodbye and the finishing sequence where he is reading the fictitious letter to Celine from her future self are perhaps the ones that showed the indisputable strength of Linklater as a film maker. Watching the credits roll on, the audience cannot help but chant like Celine (while watching an ethereal sunset earlier): still there, still there, still there…. as if trying to hold on to the last pieces of profound impact the film series had left inside of them.