The Tree Of Life: Because Memory is Fractured

Has it ever occurred to you, sitting by the car window gazing at the open sky, you could almost conjure up your entire childhood in a timespan of a minute? Some elaborate details about the taste of warm milk in winters, the smell of kittens in the granary, or how it felt to take lashes on your hand with a wooden ruler, all of them occur to us in vivid detail. When you immediately trace back your momentary travel back in time, it seems hard to connect those dots to form anything perceptible out of it.  Memory seems so fractured and as we grow along we carry only those moments which our conscience allows us to. It is not chronological; it wavers like a kite in a windless endless sky, guided by strange force of nature beyond the space-time continuum of that moment. An old forgotten memory returns like the whiff of first rain on sand, giving birth to questions. Once of a while, these questions go on a cosmic quest of finding the meaning of how it all began, what was the mission we were sent here for, why did this particular memory pick this moment to resurface now in this car.

The Tree Of Life is Jack O’Brien’s fractured memory and his relentless pursuit to connect the dots, his quest to find the origin of this grand scheme that he was thrown into, his visions of an ideal future and of course, to decide between Nature and Grace.  A sum of all his moments like the one you could have had in a car, gazing at the open sky.  A series of circular meta-narratives envision Jack’s ( Sean Penn) memory of his childhood back in quite countryside of Texas in the 1950s. Much like how our memories are not chronological, the film shifts back in forth in time. Mr. Obrien ( Brad Pitt)  represents Nature and Mrs O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) represents Grace as the film’s angel-whispered voiceover explains a choice that must be made. Mr. O’Brien, the father, is a hard-as-nails disciplinarian who would stop at nothing to make his sons tough, cultured and much like himself.

At a philosophical level, The Tree Of Life is Jack O’Brien’s journey into accepting Grace as against Nature that his formative years have cultivated him into.  Avoiding any overt biblical references, the undercurrent of that theme is reflected throughout the film.  In that extended celestial celebration of the origin of life, we are shown a series of supernovas, life evolving from maggots to amoeba to fish, to the earth being an infinitesimal speck in this vast expanse of the cosmos and finally the birth of life.  The  long sequence about the origin of evolution is to trace the source of human emotion than just life in it’s biological form. Life is not just about the blood pumping the heart but also the mind which allows us to think and feel, experience positive and negative emotion. A lot of the images in the sequence connote the birth of emotions; a jellyfish dancing to the bliss of life or the angry molten lava lashing on the mountains or the searing pain that the plesiosaur feels with the gash on it’s stomach. We are incepted into the evolution of human behavior early on when a dinosaur about to prey on a smaller dinosaur retreats, showing the act of Grace taking over Nature.  This excerpt from Thomas Kempis : Imitation Of Christ, Chapter 91 will help understand the dichotomy that Grace and Nature are made of.

Nature is crafty, and seduces many, snaring and deceiving them, and always works for her own ends. But Grace moves in simplicity, avoiding every appearance of evil. She makes no attempt to deceive, and does all things purely for love of God, in whom she rests as her final goal.

Nature is unwilling to be mortified, checked or overcome, obedient or willingly subject. Grace mortifies herself, resists sensuality, submits to control, and seeks to be overcome. She does not aim at enjoying her own liberty, but loves to be under discipline; and does not wish to lord it over anyone

 Mr. O’Brien represents Nature, contained within the magnanimity of itself. He uses harsh ways of teaching his children the good life, his love is preceded by his oppressive discipline for them. Young Jack (a brilliant Hunter McCracken) is gradually learning his father’s way but still a mellow rebellion is humming beneath his cold eyes.  Mrs. O’Brien represents Grace, the ethereal saint like beauty, always bowing down to the fierce nature and feels the god within. She is forbearing of her children, silently screaming when her child is beaten at the dinner table.  She sees god in everything, god in the butterfly that perches on her shoulder or the peck to her children which tucks them into sleep. Young Jack explores the freedom from Nature when his father is away. Taking the usual course of life, he experiences adolescence while possibly coming off on a neighbor’s gown. He is smashing the windows, praying to have his father killed in a whisper, scaring his mother with animal abuse. He is torn between the two worlds his parents represent.  Years later, when we see a middle-aged Jack amidst tall skyscrapers and almost unnatural, surreal workplace, we find him to have accepted his mother’s way of life, Grace.  We cannot see the sky in his world intending to show a godless place, the white and blunt edges of objects underscoring the bleakness of his life and searching for that point of acceptance.  From Jack’s memoirs we see the father-son conflict that leads to an uncomfortable truth that both of them deal with, all their lives, seeking a point of absolution from no one in particular, seeking an acknowledgment and dealing with the returning guilt that builds in time.

Following the staggering achievement of a script, Malick has had some path breaking photography to compliment the scale. Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera literally glides through the narrative with poetic swerves, as though Yeats is tapping his shoulder, cuing him at shots.  Lubezki’slast triumph was seen in Cuarón‘s Children of Men where he even devised new equipment for the final seven and half single take climax (there were cuts that were blind to the eye).  In The Tree of Life rarely do you see any static shots and most of them are canned on a steadicam, essential to stay in every breath and every thought of the character, lending that hypnotic feel to the whole film.  Most commendable is having to match the eye level of the children and still have the camera move smoothly. Almost half of the film is with children and their thoughts. One fine example of Lubezki’s precision is the single take bicycle ride sequence where the kids ride bicycles, suddenly let go of them and start running in to the woods.

Swaying grass in the water ( Remember Solaris? Tarkovsky would have been proud), volcanoes erupting,  sun flare and the rays beaming behind faces, inverted shots of shadows and a myriad of path breaking imagery.  The editing pattern is unique in a way like a bird that flutters around and just when it comes closer, it flies away. Malick doesn’t hold a moment and lets it move on before it’s conclusion to leave a profound impact. He believes in fleeting reactions. Even when Mrs. O’Brien has received the news of her son’s death, she doesn’t speak a word and even her cry is cut abruptly.  A fast movement into a shot is almost ‘jump cut’ into to a close shot, giving that hypnotic closeness to characters.  Such an imagery and editing style is supported by one of the most astounding background music and sound design I have ever witnessed. This film required the scale that Alexandre Desplat has brought with his music accompanied by the likes of Holst, Respighi, Gorecki and others.

Malick’s craft is impeccable and his attention to detail, not just the accurate production design but the perfect pitching of an emotion. For instance, there is a scene where young Jack’s father is working on the car with just one lever keeping it above the ground. He comes and looks at it and without a single dialogue the scene conveys the essence of that emotion perfectly. You really know what’s on Jack’s mind full of hatred for his father.  In most of Malick’s films, localities are sparsely populated which is a rarity to find in a period film, and I think that helps a lot in delivering the emptiness and isolation people feel in those times. Sometimes you even feel for the characters from the wide landscapes he keeps inter-cutting into. The detail in creating the character graph of both Mr.O’Brien and young Jack is noteworthy.  Mr.O’Brien is obsessed about music because he could never become a musician; he admonishes his children for closing the door with a thud and as a rule asks them give him a goodnight kiss.  Young Jack’s sibling rivalry is shown when he has just started walking and he looks at his new born brother and cries. He flashes his torch when he can’t sleep and he shoots his brother’s thumb and then apologizes with a liitle game he invents on the fly. In Jack O’Brien, you will see your childhood and say to yourself “I used to do that too”. Childhood is so universal in it’s manifest. Finally when we see an adult Jack, he is a different person who has embraced Grace as a way of life unlike his upbringing. The climax is a form of acceptance of grief, guilt and unfulfilled redemption.  The Tree Of Life is a film that will stand the test of time to be a masterpiece. Its an astounding work of art. You may find it slow, or you may not see the point of the cosmological coda but one thing is for certain, you’ll be moved. You will question your existence, how you were brought up and what you will take forward, what is the meaning of life. You will never see it pointless to gaze into the sky from your car.

I am leaving you with one of Jim Morrison’s poems while I go watch The Tree Of Life for the second time.

Do you know the warm progress under the stars?
Do you know we exist?
Have you forgotten the keys to the Kingdom?
Have you been borne yet & are you alive?
Let’s reinvent the gods, all the myths of the ages
Celebrate symbols from deep elder forests
[Have you forgotten the lessons of the ancient war]
We need great golden copulations
The fathers are cackling in trees of the forest
Our mother is dead in the sea
Do you know we are being led to slaughters by placid admirals
& that fat slow generals are getting obscene on young blood
Do you know we are ruled by T.V.
The moon is a dry blood beast
Guerilla bands are rolling numbers in the next block of green vine
Amassing for warfare on innocent herdsmen who are just dying
O great creator of being grant us one more hour to perform our art & perfect our lives

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Bela Tarr’s Satantango: A Film Beyond Cinema

A dilapidated barnyard, sounds of distant church bells that knell in muffled melancholy, herd of cows languidly move in disharmonic patterns. Cows openly fornicate and graze in the morning light of freedom. The wide monochrome captures the herd ambling about in the town. Gently, the trail of cows passes through decrepit houses; teething walls, unnerving silence shrouds the vast stretch of emptiness in this town. The cattle are set free, a sense of freedom that the humans in this town will pursue unyieldingly. The ten minute opening sequence takes us into auteur Béla Tarr’s seven hour epic, Satantango , a story about post-communism Hungarian townspeople, utterly engulfed in an apocalyptic collapse through moral degradation. Irimiás, the wicked-piper of the story drives them to their peril aided by what one of the character calls “idle passivity that leaves them at the mercy of what they fear most”.

Much as the name suggests, like the tango, the narrative non-linearly moves six steps forward and six steps backward in episodic style ( Look for the linearized episodes at the bottom). Based on a novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, the film is an inclusive study on human condition, the bleakness of being, rather than merely remaining to the confines of cinema. The Schmidt and Kraner families have decided to flee the town with farm money that has been collected for the past year and a half. Futaki, their neighbor, finds out about the scheme and demands for a share. Irimiás, who was understood to be dead, has returned after two years. The narrative sees multiple points of views of how the town deals with the fear of this news, the ensuing machinations that they plot against each other. As more people join, news about Irimiás and Petrina coming to town engulfs the town in trepidation. Irimiás, following his return, schemes to con the townspeople into a grand plan when Estike, a supposedly demented girl, has died. He uses her death to bring out the guilt in people and gets them to agree to his plan as a way to their redemption.

At the periphery, we may see a coherent plot but Tarr’s is not entirely focused on narrative. He looks cinema from a cosmic dimension, a close study on human condition and it’s equation with nature and society. This differentiates him from every other filmmaker of his time. It took over six years to make this film. In one of his interviews, Tarr mentions that story is a secondary thing for him; he is interested in how close one gets to life.

The film has numerous long takes averaging around ten minutes, painstakingly choreographed and shot in black and white, which has now become his trademark style. Tarr uses a cut only as a logical break in chain of events. It would take away the realism if he had deployed the conventional edit pattern, understanding the importance of real time. In effect the viewer is transformed to the space-time of the narrative, vicariously replacing the camera. The first part of the film centers inside a house with the Schmidts and Futaki arguing over the money. The third part sees the same sequence from the window of the town doctor. The doctor is chronicling these events in his diary and meticulously makes drawings about it. Both sequences are long takes with almost no cuts. Had there been an intercut between the two scenes, it would have become the audience’s vision from a cinematic point of view as against the audience’s vision of being in the space-time of the character. When asked about his love for Long takes, Tarr had this to say

The people of this generation know information-cut, information-cut, information-cut. They can follow the logic of it, the logic of the story, but they don’t follow the logic of life. Because I see the story as only just a dimension of life, because we have a lot of other things. We have time, we have landscapes, we have meta-communications, all of which are not verbal information. If you watch the news it is just talking, cutting, maybe some action and afterwards talking, action, talking. For us, the film is a bit different.

Tarr’s long takes are not merely an exploration of stylistic art of life continuity but also adherence to realism in his atmosphere. He maintains the necessary character claustrophobia. The film deploys what I call as the beauty of the tedium in its favor. In traditional cinema we are used to cutting away swiftly, like from a character exiting the frame or some events that are trivial to the script or the narrative are cut off. Tarr explores the beauty of ordinary things, the little unimportant things we do in life, which filmmakers tend to ignore.

For instance, the same sequence of the old doctor chronicling the town in his diary is shot in a closed room that is dimly lit. We see him sipping his fruit brandy, filling the glass, taking a pee break, shifting through his notes, sketching, moving uncomfortably around the room, dozing off in the middle, injecting himself with medication, walking painfully in the rains to fetch a pail of fruit brandy and many such little details, all in a single long take, which seem grating to watch but they make you live the tedium that the character is going through, character claustrophobia as said before. You are transferred into the room, you watch the doctor passing out helplessly and wait till he returns to consciousness. Fantastic use of sound is also used to capture this realism. The squeaking door, the footsteps, panting, snoring and such diegetic sounds are more pronounced in the film to accentuate the ordinary in our lives. Tarr takes special care in non-diegetic sound which adds to the atmosphere of the premise. A recurring sound of a moving spaceship fused with church bells is heard in most of the scenes, lending an eerie apocalyptic vision to the narrative. And then again the same sound is juxtaposed with a cat’s purring making the end seem closer and scarier. One of the most smart sound techniques is the use of ticking clock in an extended scene preceding the final act (non-diegetic). The ticking clock almost obtrudes the conversation, adding to the discomforting wait for the demon to arrive and the fact that you can’t see the clock anywhere, adds to the discomfort.

Though I have appetite for gore and violence on screen but I was disturbed by a sequence in the film, so much so that I had to look away from the screen, however, it still is the best scene I have ever seen on cinema. A little girl, Estike is known by the village to have become insane. Her introductory scene has her digging the ground with her brother and planting all her savings in a cloth. He brother cons her into growing a “money plant” with this method only to discover her money being taken away by her brother. She is devastated. Soon after this, she is left in a loft outside the house with a cat. As she plays with the cat, she realizes the cat is weaker than her. She torments the cat to elicit some resistance. The little girl has shown brilliant restraint to hide her discomfort in torturing the cat. She feeds the cat with poison and watches it die gradually. This episode and what she does after this form the turning point in the film. Though Tarr has said in an interview that a vet was on the set during this scene and the cat is now his pet, because of this scene the film was withheld for a release in the UK. In its minimalist style this scene explores beyond the mise-en-scene; we can see the years of physical abuse that this little girl has seen in the house. She has lived with the memory of a father who hanged himself, sisters who have turned hookers for money. Towards the end of the film we realize the father hung himself by a rope in the same loft that the girl kills the cat. Though this is not shown but can be connected through the chain of events. Most haunting image of the girl is when she is peeping through the glass window while the townspeople engage in a long dance. You can almost see her questioning “what is sanity”, her angelic face glowing with the higher consciousness that she is about to witness out of this tragic act. I almost felt like this where Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon picks up from.

Satantango has one of the most interesting tracking shots in cinema. The opening sequence tracks the herd of cows for over 150 meters, panning languidly to the left for a long time. More than the usages of tracks the way they have been deployed are noticeable. My favorite shot in the film is this long tracking shot from behind where we see the debris on the road being blown away by the wind, never mind that you are aware of the wind machine all the while. Irimiás and Petrina are walking in the middle of all this. It’s visually stunning and is the best tracking shot in the film

Some circular tracks (or steadycam maybe) make you wonder how it would have been shot. In one sequence where Tarr attempts satire to show the conversation between two corrupt officers, the camera revolves around them for whole ten minutes and you don’t even notice the movement. There is great writing in this scene to expose the bourgeois interpretations of the farm life. Irimias has sent a report of each town person in tone which is rather steep and full of expletives. The officers manipulate the lines to make them part of the official records. Like Mrs Schmidt, according to Irimias’ report says “She went to bed with anyone and everyone, and if she didn’t that was only by accident”. They change the line to: “She’s a paragon of conjugal infidelity.” After the whole thing they leave and the voiceover tells us that they both were asked about the day’s proceedings, to which they replied “Nothing much, the usual, my dear.” In another circular track, from a top angle camera, we see the characters sleeping and the voice-over narrates their dreams. In most tracking shots we see characters are walking and the camera doesn’t let go. Even after a point when the camera holds back, it patiently waits for the character to walk away until they reach the horizon over the bog covered town.

Tarr is not particularly interested in making a political statement or a social comment through the film. After finishing the seven hours, you’d feel like you have lived with these characters, in this town, for almost a lifetime. That is the effect of his art and the process of filming life rather than cinema. In a way it’s Hungarian but universal in its theme. The sodden landscape, the incessant rain, the bog enclosed town, teething walls, leaking ceilings, windstorms are settings for the characters who are led by deceit, hunger, greed, suspicion, naiveté and unremitting poverty into their own moral cataclysm. Satantango is a work of exceptional art. It’s one of the greatest films of the last century, eschewing every single convention of cinema, innovating and reinstating the remodernist that Tarr has come to be known as. I wrote this review for two reasons; one that this film has not been seen by many because of its daunting length or it’s glacial pacing or largely because it has been unavailable for screenings around the world. This masterpiece is not known to many and it should be watched, for such an innovative work of art should get its due. Secondly, Tarr has made very few films in his life. He has uncompromisingly stuck to his style of filmmaking; one of the truest auteurs of our generation (closest heir to Tarkovsky and Bergman according to me, many may not concur), has decided to end his career as a filmmaker. His latest and last film, The Turin Horse, won the grand jury prize at Berlinale this year. Satantango is the best film of his career and it has to be seen, discussed, and debated by all. I am making one such attempt here to document what I felt about the film. I hope that he continues to make films and inspire generations.

PS: I have tried to write the 12 episodes of the film linearly here. [SPOILER ALERT]

1) A hír, hogy jönnek [The News Of Their Coming] : Opens with a long take of dawn arriving at a window, Futaki and Kraner family plotting to leave the town with the money. Futaki has slept with Schmidt’s wife the previous night.

2)Feltámadunk [We Will Rise from the dead]: Irmias and Petrina arrive and meet the law inspector who asks them to collaborate to survive. They come to the town to intimidate people at a pub.

3) Valamit tudni [To Know Something]: This takes one step backward from the first episode where the town doctor sees the whole scene from his dingy one room apartment. He then goes out of the house in search of fruit brandy.

4) A pók dolga I. [The Spider’s Work I]: People are at the pub and discussing about the unbearable rains and the wait. An old man comes and informs about the arrival of Irimiás and Petrina. Mrs Schmidt can smell the earth rotting but the bartender tells her it’s the coal and cobwebs that smell.

5) Felfeslők [Those Coming Unstitched]: The painful story of the little girl who is cheated by her own brother for money. In moment of displaced sense of power, torments and kills a cat. She later cannot consume the guilt and kills herself with the same rat poison she fed the cat with.

6)A pók dolga II (Ördögcsecs, sátántangó) [The Spider’s Work II (Devil’s Nipples, Satan’s Tango)]: People at the pub do the demonic tango waiting for the dreadful Irimiás to come. Estike, the little girl sees this from the window ( A succeeding part of the girls story). Episode ends with cobwebs gently forming all around the glasses.

7) Irimiás beszédet mond [Irimiás Gives a Speech]: Irimiás uses the girl’s death to use it in his favor to convince the townspeople that they are cumulatively accountable for the loss. In his speech he cons them into his grand plan.

8)A távlat, ha szemből [The Perspective From the Front]: The villagers are convinced and leave the town with all their belongings.

9)Mennybe menni? Lázálmodni? [Going To Heaven, Having Nightmares]: Irmias is arranging for explosives in a bar. There is a sequence where the characters are sleeping in an abandoned building and we hear their dreams/nightmares being narrated in a recurring circular tracking shot.

10) A távlat, ha hátulról [The Perspective From Behind]” : The townspeople show some sense of rationale and rebel against Irimiás which is immediately put off. They again fall for the grand plan and are asked to scatter around the country.

11) Csak a gond, a munka [Just Trouble and Work]: This has two government officials typing out Irimiás’ report on the towns people. Here Tarr attempts satire through the funny improvisations used by the officials on Irimiás’ report.

12) A kör bezárul [The Circle Closes]: Final act of the doctor returning with fruit brandy. He closes himself in to the room, nails wooden planks on the windows and starts to narrate the initial opening lines of the film.

Haneke’s The White Ribbon: An allegory on terrorism

Languidly, the infernal dark screen lights up as an old man’s warm gruff voice sets the ominous tone I don’t know if the story I am about to tell you is entirely true.. But I must tell of the strange things that happened in our village. It could clarify some things that happened in this country. We are lead into the bucolic black and white landscape of Eichwald, a fictitious village set in Pre-World War I Germany. As the screen comes to life a horse moves fast with its taut reins, the subtle snort, and faint sound of the hooves on the ground. The village doctor riding the horse with a command as sharp as the whip is knocked off to the ground with a tripwire strewn obscure above the ground. The horse dies and the doctor hurts himself writhing in pain. Malice smothers the quite little town from that day on.  Mysterious deaths and torturous incidents disturb the tranquility of the village. The White Ribbon is not an easy film to watch. It’s not something you could watch over your afternoon Merlot on a Sunday. The film concludes the crescendo of Michael Haneke’s filmmaking craftsmanship.  It’s a film about inner demons unvanquished and flourishing from the pubescent times, a whodunit with no eventual catch, an ontological study on class consciousness of oppression without a lesson, a philosophical bastion that probably became the foundation of fascism and could now be interpreted as a socio-political allegory of our times plagued by Terrorism.

The White Ribbon takes place in a menacingly protestant society set in North Germany in the year 1913. It begins with the village doctor ( Rainer Block) stumbling over the tripwire. A woman dies in a saw mill accident. Her son blames the village baron ( Ulrich Tukur ) and in rage destroys the Baron’s cabbage crop. A child mysteriously gets his buttocks lashed to death and hung vertical in the barn. A barn is set on fire on a cold night.  A mongoloid kid is found in the woods with bleeding eyes. There is no common thread that weaves these incidents into a coherent source yet they all seem connected. The movie is narrated through a voice-over by the local teacher (Christian Friedel), now an old man who begins the film in a premonition narrated earlier.

As these incidents unfold we see the children of the village suffer from parental oppression, austere cynicism of the protestant protectionist society. The village pastor (Burghart Klaussner) inflicts severe punishments upon his children Klara and Martin for trivial reasons. As a disciplinary action, the pastor ties a white ribbon for sanctity and peace around them. The village doctor physically abuses his own daughter.  The baron’s son is growing restless of the bourgeois life as the baroness feels uncomfortable with his walk around her piano lessons. The children of the village are made to practice discipline and fanatic adherence to the protestant rules. Defying those would only mean cruel punishments. The children form a fraternity out of their co-existing oppression and tyranny leashed by the elderly of the village.

The White Ribbon creates the squirmy atmosphere through understated yet powerful performances. The director abstains from showing the children being lashed instead shows the white door behind which they are being punished for their trivial offense of coming home late. We are eager to find out and see what’s happening on the other side of the door but Haneke doesn’t let you in. He makes you wait, stifle you with a still camera gazing at the door. It’s like the feeling of being stabbed and the killer won’t let go of the knife just so you feel queasy in anticipation of death. All you hear are the loud lashes and the kids squealing in pain.  The children are led into psychological degradation by existential thoughts of death, as the little kid asks his sister “What is death?” only to discover his mother was not on a “long trip” but was long dead.  The tiny kid smashes his meal in rage. Martin, the pastor’s son is walking on a fence which is way above the ground only to test “if god wants him to live”. The protestant fundamentalism is cultivated in them by the village pastor and the elderly. Martin’s hands are tied to the bed in the night in order to let him understand that Masturbation is a sin. The scene where the pastor interrogates is acted out brilliantly by the kid where he has to hide his guilt and still show indifference to the horrid story the pastor is narrating about the death of a child because of masturbation.  Haneke doesn’t take the easy route of explicit abuse sequences as in his earlier films. You feel like you’re not watching a character but a mirror that is flipping images of your wicked alter egos. For instance , there is a  single shot sequence showing a small kid touring around the house searching for his sister in the middle of the night because he is afraid. We are consumed by the innocence of the child and immediately pounded by a visual of the child opening a door to his sister being physically abused by his father. The expressions are unimaginable, how the sister still shows fierce loyalty to her tormentor, her father and informs her tiny brother she is getting her nose ring fixed.  The father says “Beauty has to suffer”.  Deep inside you know what is happening to the psychology of the little kid yet what you see is the comfort that the kid probably doesn’t understand any of it. Haneke only exposes us to the circumstances that the village children go through. He never reveals the sinister plot that they are conspiring against the people. We are never lead to confirm, but to only deduce.

Natural light and light from Oil lamps used by Berger

The bleakness of the film is woven with switchblade sharp precision by Haneke’s long time cinematographer Christian Berger.  The film is in black and white monochrome (achieved by shooting in color, then draining it away) accentuating our memory of the era, now only in black and white corrugated pictures that make our history textbooks. Berger is also the famed inventor of an innovative illumination system by the name of Cine Reflekt Light. This special system of lighting uses reflectors in order to dramatically influence the shape and structure of light that actually reaches the scene being filmed on set ( From the official The White Ribbon press release).  The vast sun bathed fields, the snow fields that hurt the eye, to the rugged interiors of the farm life are carefully shot. Even the fences and houses are fleeced off the cement and the brick show in all their jagged honesty. Usage of light is natural and in most cases usage of artificial light is kept minimal. Carefully shot long sequences with a steady camera are used to make us become the house dwellers, to become one with the cultural microcosm.   Most of the scenes derive light from oil lamps and daylight. The double reflection from the lamps was corrected in post while the organic evolution of the shots is kept intact.

Michael Haneke

Haneke’s films are marked by the pleasure of cerebral catharsis that one goes through. He examines themes of violence, guilt and internalization of the debris of memory that one carries through. In his films The Piano TeacherCache, he creates claustrophobic breathlessness with scenes of extreme shock. They are not easy but many of us go through them and don’t express. The White Ribbon is similar in spirit to Cache. Haneke mocks at the viewer’s intelligence by not exposing the puppeteer of the story who is carefully handling the strands of the complex characters. Instead he hands those strands over to the viewer, completely stricken and hapless. The film then evolves within us in a quest to unravel the mystery. He is Hitchcock with a psychological penchant and his characters suffer from more than just death.  A popular critic quipped that The White Ribbon is a film that Manoj Knight Shyamalan always wanted to make. In its treatment I was reminded of  Bergman’s Jungfrukällan and  Luis Buñuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid. In the credits Jean-Claude Carrière is listed as giving dramaturgische beratung i.e. as being script consultant, a longtime collaborator with Buñuel. The film is a strong contender at the Oscars competing for the best foreign film 2010.  It had earlier won the Palme D’or at the Cannes festival.  Un Prophet is a strong competition and is a very good film. I want this film to win because films like these come in decades.  The White Ribbon has been in production for more than ten years.  Haneke had interviewed more than 7000 children to arrive at the cast of children working in the film. Here in this interview, Haneke is discussing the film with Darren Aronofsky. and

In a way Haneke’s The White Ribbon is a historical prologue on the evolution of Nazism in Germany but it has got a lot to do with terrorism that we see in contemporary times. Bit by bit the sporadic bouts of repressed anguish is what makes a terrorist right from childhood. The history of political and fundamentalism lead terrorism is replete with examples of repressed angst leading to menacing personalities. Adolf Hitler had a strained relationship with his father, who would beat him up. He wanted his son to follow in his footsteps as an Austrian customs official, and this became a huge source of conflict between the father and the son.  In his childhood years, his relation became even more rebellious. For young Hitler, German Nationalism became an obsession, and a way to rebel against his father, who proudly served the Austrian government. Coming to contemporary times, Ajamal Kasab had troubled relationship with his father and he left home as a revolt against his authoritarian father.  Terrorism is something that is cultivated in the formative years, from forced ideals, fierce fundamentalism, curbing freedom, abusing individual identity and consistent degradation of inner spirit.  To say that The White Ribbon scrapes the surface of the ominous origins of Fascism is merely being reductive.  A mongoloid child in the film has his eyes gouged and a white cloth is tied around. A metaphor of the village people  turning blind to what the village children will pass on in generations, what will bequeathed on to us at the  dawn of 21st century. Will it be the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo or the genocide of 6 million Jews or the 3000 people who died in the 9/11 series of attacks by Al Qaaeda or the 175 people killed in Mumbai on 26/11?

for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation

– Exodus 20:5, Also the note on the bruised mongoloid child in The White Ribbon

Homage Art Work on The White Ribbon

The Origin of Nazism: Martin from The White Ribbon sporting a Swastika on his white ribbon ( official emblem of the Nazi Party and the Third Reich)
A character from the film is mowing down cabbage fields. Shown here is the debris of dead bodies at the Auschwitz Nazi camp
Post originally appeared on Passion For Cinema.  Homage art is not available anymore. 


Independence: My first short film

Fellini’s 8 ½ : The Collective Unconscious

It’s dark and claustrophobic. The silence reeks of inexplicable discomfort below the underpass. An array of vehicles stranded languidly, with no intent of awaiting the road to be cleared. Passengers are poker faced with lustful eyes and sadistic glee of being audience to a man’s end. The man encircled by a sea of vehicles, passengers with strange expressions, wipes the steam off his car’s windshield. The steam creeps around the bourgeois glass shields, slowly filling up the entire car. He struggles to escape but is imprisoned. Sardonically, the images gently move to the passengers showing no apathy to the man’s asphyxiation, devouring every slam of the wrist on those steamy windshields, as though it is some kind of fetish. He suddenly levitates free from the car, and glides across the bevy of vehicles. He escapes in to the air out from the underpass into light, brushing past the clouds and experiences momentary bliss of weightlessness watching a huge unconstructed edifice. A caped man on a horse stops across the beach to announce “Counselor, I’ve got him”. The tormentors hold the reins of the rope that is tied across the ankles of the flying man, as though holding back a kite from touching the sky. He snaps the rope and has a free fall from the sky and plummets into the lashing sea. In a flash we see his hand raised for help, snapping out of his nightmare in to the realm of reality. The opening scene of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ is a grandiose depiction of the Jungian integration of unconscious with the waking consciousness.  It marks the subtext of the film from here on, the decent of man in to hopelessness, fighting from his bourgeois life of being a stagnated director and finding solace in his dreams.

8 ½ is a film about film-making stricken by artistic crisis of Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), who is about to make his next big film. Its title refers to the fact that, up to then, Fellini had made seven features and two episodes in composite films that added up to about a half.  8 ½ is clearly about Fellini and is autobiographical in Nature. Fellini was born in a middle class family in an Italian town called Rimini. He had a conventional catholic upbringing and later moved to Rome. The film which is being made is also partly about the Catholicism in post war Italy. Guido is struggling to complete the film for which he has lost all inspiration and motivation.  The entire film looks like a subject intoxicated on a psychoanalysis couch, answering questions about his life to a psychic shrink. Reality is interspersed with dreams about his past; his wine bathed pristine childhood, his sexual awakening by a prostitute called Saraghina, his inabilities in school, his fascination with women, the longing for family. All form archetypal constructs of his dream space, the “collective unconscious” as how Jung puts it.  He is haunted by his past and is suffering from psychological repression. In the midst of all this he has to finish the film which he envisages to be a portal, “ a simple film that would bury everything that is inside of us… no lies whatsoever” but strangely, he loses the intellectual inspiration for the film. The producer of the film has also invested on a giant edifice constructed to be a launching pad for a spaceship that would save humanity.  He announces a press conference to make Guido serious about completion of the film as he watches him gradually disowning it. At the gathering, Guido is swarmed by predatory journalists asking him questions about the film, his life, his beliefs and his inadequacies.  Unable to bear this torture he hides under the table and shoots himself.

The Popular Double Mirror construct: The double mirror sounds like a cinematographic constructbut it is actually about an art form in an art form. Like a photograph of a girl holding a photograph. 8 ½ is not just a film about filmmaking but it is also a film about a film that reflects upon cinema. Guido is almost the alter ego of Federico Fellini. Fellini recalls his travails during the film.

The glasses were emptied, everybody applauded, and I felt overwhelmed by shame. I felt myself the least of men, the captain who abandons his crew. . . . I told myself I was in a no exit situation. I was a director who wanted to make a film he no longer remembers. And lo and behold, at that very moment everything fell into place. I got straight to the heart of the film. I would narrate everything that had been happening to me. I would make a film telling the story of a director who no longer knows what film he wanted to make

Fellini used Guido to liberate himself from his cinematic contraptions by putting up his own life on celluloid. It was in a way what was happening on screen was in fact his own redemption from his absurdity.  There are particular sequences which are dramatized but most of them were part of Fellini’s childhood. These sequences are not shown as they would have occurred, but more in light of Fellini’s cinematic expression of his childhood.  The Saraghina sequence is exemplary in making us understand this. In his childhood, Guido ran around the streets wearing black cape along with his school friends. The kids once go to the beach to watch Saraghina, the prostitute perform a rumba for them. She looks evil with dark circled eyes, buxom, bare footed and her dress torn form sides. These smaller details of Saraghina are captured with extreme close-ups.  The church priests catch him on the beach, shown in a comic chaplinesque fashion. Guido is punished in school for this “heinous” act. He seeks the answers for his deeds from god. A subtle depiction of irony: Guido bows down to mother Mary just after the church dignitary told him that Saraghina is the devil and the subsequent scene we see a shot of Mother Mary  slowly fading, almost juxtaposing  in to Saraghina’s desolate home. The point is that even his childhood dream sequences are glorified and self referencing with cinematic emphasis , a double mirror of sorts.

 

The Carl Jung Construct of Guido’s dream world: Carl Jung who was Freud’s student disagreed with the stereotyping of the unconscious.  He maintained that the unconscious, which is the unperceivable contour of humans, is not merely a reference point for various projections of dreams. He argued that the unconscious is in fact a sum of the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. Fellini was very much inspired by Jung’s philosophy on dreams.  His childhood memories and his association with women are all part of his personal unconscious, now resurfacing through his personal crisis. The glamorized childhood, the harem that has him coexisting with his wife and all his love interests is a depiction of that collective unconscious constructed through the medium of cinema. One cannot be looked at as a disjoint entity from the other; both “compliment” each other’s existence.

The spacio-temporal alchemy: 8 ½ was a far cry from the narration of sequences in contiguous form. Some critics pointed out that the spacio-temporal space in 8 ½ was difficult to discern,  whether it is a dream sequence or if it is indeed reality that was shown. However, it is far from it.  Deft cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo and the director’s precision makes it easy to differentiate. The dream state is faded into the reality with masterful wizardry. For instance, the initial dream sequence of Guido falling down the sky is beautifully faded into his hand raised as a call for reality. Fellini gives considerable attention not to give visual friction of his mis-en-scene. Guido is sleeping beside his mistress in the room. We see Guido’s mother waving at the solid wall of the room. She appears out of nowhere but the viewer is aware of the real space and also the dream space at this point. Slowly the wall turns translucent and then finally turns into glass. As she moves away the glass wall, the scene is different and shifts to an abandoned area. We are gradually taken from the dream space to the real.

Another form of editing used is the use of visual irony. The dream sequence at the abandoned area where he meets his wife along with his parents ends with a long shot of vast open area in white color and his wife Luisa is standing in the centre. Immediately the scene is cut to Guido walking along a closed corridor with no doors open and the predominant dark color heightens the irony and thereby differentiating the two worlds. Many dream sequences in the film appear disjoint and forcefully altered to give an effect of confusion borne out of troubled childhood. Case in point is the altering of space and time in many of the shots in the Sarghina sequence.

 

Nina Rota’s music aids the narrative in creating layers of sound and music. Be it the operatic feel while showing the “existential inmates” of the fashionable spa or the nondiegtic sound in the background to which Saraghina dances which is contrasted by the understated diegtic hymn that she sings on the beach.  Sometimes the sound is completely digetic to heighten the effect of horror; the opening dream sequence only makes us hear the moaning, the sound of hands wiping the glass or the sound of air beneath the clouds.

Guido, the Sisyphus of Fellini: Outwardly, 8 ½ may be a film about a film that is waiting to be deconstructed, bit by bit by the protagonist’s philosophical blockage but the undercurrent is clearly about the absurdity of life. Guido is surrounded by the people who hold no meaning for him anymore. Fellini shows how every character is trying to exploit him of his intellectual attention. Fledgling actors quote rehearsed lines of being a thinking actor to impress him: “I need to coexist with my character for a while before shooting” or the pseudo intellectual conversations around Italian Catholicism, Marxism vs Catholicism, left or right centric political affiliations, about the greatest writer being Fitzgerald(“ and then his writing became all about pragmatism or brutal realism”)and “Americans thinking too much about cholesterol”. All this bourgeois conversation is intersected by Guido’s question to the fledgling actress “Is your ice-cream good? This sequence beautifully highlights his alienation from all the chaotic idealism around him. He finds liberation in his dreams from his stagnation, the pointlessness of everything. His futile labor of lies and procrastination is only leading him to his peril. His longing for a sweet family, or how his sister’s possessiveness hurts him, his wife walking out on him, all of these only take him to a point of realizing the absurdity of life. Guido and SisyphusThe climax is quite worthy of a debate.  Guido reaches his peak of frustration and the scavenging journalists hit the last nail in the coffin. He hides under the table and shoots himself. Fellini’s oeuvre gains meaning in what happens after this shot. Even the suicide shot is left as a puzzle in the viewers mind between reality and dream. Did he actually die or was it one more figment of his imagination. We see him leaving the premise while his collaborator is talking about how it was best not to have continued with the film anymore, which would have been a creative and financial disaster ( alluding that Guido had in fact called off on the film at the press meeting). He is then shown in the final dream sequence where he is the “ring master” and all the characters of the film and his dreams, circle around in white clothes, holding hands. He confesses to his wife that he has indeed changed. His creative crisis magically resolved. He picks up a megaphone and begins to direct everyone around the circle. He directs himself as a child (the source of his poetic inspiration as an adult) now dressed in a white cape as opposed to his earlier dreams where he was wearing a black cape, signifying the metamorphosis. The magnanimous launching pad, created for the spaceship that would save humanity, was actually a metaphor for Guido’s escape from internal conflicts through fantasy, into an evolved state of attaining togetherness with his “collective unconscious”

PS: This post was originally published on PassionforCinema

Kaminey: India’s Pulp Fiction

Kaminey : India's Pulp FictionA non-linear narrative meanders along a heady cocktail of inopportune satire and violence, noir seduces pastiche, genres go hand in glove yet celebrate their explicit irony, mafia machinations that fuel a redemption and then there is a chase for a mysterious object; either a briefcase or a guitar case. In any case, what have you here; India’s answer toPulp FictionKaminey opens with a greenish tinge caressing a speeding train while Charlie stands by the edge of the track unmoved. Only his hair brushes off with the wind but not his dogged spirit for money and power. Rail tracks, a superior metaphor for paths that life makes you choose. Kaminey opens the narrative’s harbinger; it’s not the path you take that makes the difference but the path you choose not to tread. So he follows the serpentine thousand rupee note, spotlighted in dark, alone and then suddenly with a whip, he is brought to light; power, fame and money blows up as confetti.  Everybody is mean here.

Kaminey is a story of twin brothers separated by hatred towards each other. Charlie (Shahid Kapoor) wants to get rich by taking shortcuts and his delectable defect of saying the “f” letter for “s”. Guddu is the naïve stutterer who chalks out his career path from Polytechnic course to marriage in 2014. He is in love with Sweety ( Priyanka Chopra) , the gritty woman in his life. Guddu needs to save his hurried marriage with Sweety, thanks to an unplanned rubber accident.Sweety’s menacing mafia brother Bhope ( Amole Gupte) is out to get him. Charlie is on the run as he discovers a stash of cocaine in a guitar case.  He is chased by a bevy of Mafioso men out to make money out of the cache. Gudduand Charlie cross paths at the joints of time and there begins a story of redemption.

Chapter 1: Paradoxes of the narrative:Guddu works for an NGO that educates the use of condoms in order to avoid AIDS. His introduction has him dancing around brothels educating the usage of condoms and his scarf impeccably resembles the AIDS red ribbon symbol. While he is shown to preach about the usage of Condom; in haste he doesn’t wear a condom and impregnates Sweety. Comic irony forms a strong hold of the film. Bhope is reading his sister’s pregnancy certificate in fitting rage while a little boy yells at him “Mala chocolate paijee” ( I want a chocolate). The stutter and the lisp are accentuated when the viewer is craving for an explanation; it should create a sense of quest but is blatantly broken by comic tones. This is a technique used by Vishal to heighten the effect of the narrative.  Imagine the pregnancy scene without the kid interrupting him for a chocolate. This technique is used in Dev.D too with sudden quirky moments breaking the aggression of a powerful scene.

Chapter 2: Pastiche and postmodern referencing:A shootout in a hotel has Charlie shooting a gang while on the TV you can hear the famous R.D. Burman song “Do lafzon ki hai dil ki kahani”. Note that the song is echoed when the lines go: “Is zindagi ke din kitne kam hai” and in that exact instant, you see killings on the screen.  Likewise there are other songs by R.D. Burman that are used as a backdrop.  The film borrows from classic Bollywood clichés and then completely alters them to a taste of its own flavor: the twin brothers separated, the zero-defect hero or even the dramatic over-the-top entry of the heroine in our Bollywood films, all are completely contrasted in Kaminey;  both the heroes with speech impediments, Priyanka’s de-glam entry or even the subtle self-referencing: Bhope doing a version of Pankaj Kapoor’s Abbaji act from Vishal’s Maqbool.

The director also pays homage to Quentin Tarantino. Taking from his small “Saanp bill me ghus ke Kill Bill Kill Bill kar raha tha” in The blue umbrella, Vishal goes full throttle in his exploration of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction here. Kaminey has a non-linear narrative. Some scenes make sense only when you view the subsequent scenes in detail. Pulp Fictionhas seven primarily storylines which are deliberately not shown in chronology. A viewer appreciates when the narrative challenges the intelligence like a puzzle; you find satisfaction in solving it. So it is no casual viewing. You really need to concentrate. Pulp Fiction is about the redemption (Remember Samuel.L.Jackson’s Biblical monologue?; I will strike upon thee…”)of a man entangled in a bloody mafia brawl that involves a briefcase. Here you have Charlie caught in the same maze except that, it’s a guitar case this time. The most overt reference is Sweetyholding a rifle and shooting at people, reminds you of “Honey bunny” during the classic hold-up scene in Pulp Fiction.  And yes both films start and end at the same point.

There is homage to various cultures form Marathi, Lucknowi, Bengali to even Angolan cultures. Some pastiche lead impressions are prominent like the “Apna haath jagnaath” perched right above a Mallika Sherawat poster on a wash room. Fiderman fiderman and then faying alive, faying alive!

Chapter 3: Cinematography, music and the bitchesTassaduq Hussein deserves a bear hug for his camerawork. His clouds are perfect; dark, brooding and announce the oncoming hell. I was reminded of clouds from Nuri Blige Ceylan’sfilms immediately. The urban war set is made with astute detail that you will mistake it for real. The camera angles are innovative: extreme close shots to long shots, hand-held imagery with hand crafted magic of deliberate out-of-focus camerawork. Crisp editing aids the film immensely. In the start of the film, you see Charlie conversing with his friendMikhail about a loot that went kaput. In parallel, a scene is shown where Bengali mafia men are calibrating a gun’s aperture angle. Though there is  a shot of the lamp through the sniper’s view, we realize that both scenes are happening in the same room only when the lampshade is blown out by the gun. Simply outstanding! Vishal creates the best score, ranging from the garrulous Dhan Te Nan to the demure piano playing ironically at a killing scene. There is music from silence too. Some part of the film has no background score. The scene where Guddu is explaining his career path to Sweety,  is interspersed with sounds from kids playing in the street and there is no background score. I found the peculiar referencing to dogs quite innovative; taking the logical extension of Kaminey to kutte ( Thanks Dharam paaji). Charlie quips “life baddi kutti cheez hai” in the opening act, Guddu and Sweety are cuddling in love while a stray dog wags its tail around them, Bhau bhau is everywhere and last but not the least Tashi, the uber don says “I don’t like dogs, I like bitches”

Shahid Kapoor, Kaminey

Chapter 4: Breathtaking Ensemble cast: Honey Tehran is spot on with her casting and Vishal has churned out outstanding performances from all the actors. Shahid’Guddu and Charlie are pathbreaking, Priyanka’s fiestyMaharashtrian Sweety act; she is the revelation of the film, Amole’s Bhope is only seen to be believed, Tenzing Nima’s  Tashi is cool as cucumber; watch him say “Business is business” in darkness, power comes back on and he immediately appends his earlier line “And power is power” . The characters Lobo, Lele, Mikhail are perfectly cast and  even the little kid in his two scenes shows brilliance. Above all it’s a director’s film. Vishal Bhardwaj is without a doubt the biggest star of the film. Kaminey is India’s proud answer to Pulp Fiction

PS: This post was initially posted at PassionForCinema.

Emir Kusturica’s Underground: A nation that ceased to exist

Emir Kusturica UndergroundA quiet Balkan town wakes up to festive sound from a drunken stupor. The ominous brass composition is interspersed with gun shots and money is hurled in the air. The euphoria fades into the sound of war, bombs piercing the harmony of a nation. A man is seen to be having an insipid love making act in a whore house. The woman is hurriedly faking orgasm with moaning.  She escapes in horror but the man persists and jacks off to the sound of catastrophe as the town explodes.  Another man is seen to enjoy his meal while the chandelier lands on his plate with the shudder of air raids. He is clearly not moved but is worried that an elephant is swiping his shoes off the window. A retarded kid is running a zoo and is seen to be bottle feeding a baby monkey. As the commotion of war engulfs the zoo there is chaos and animals go berserk. The baby monkey’s mother is seen bleeding while the kid shuts her eyes in repulsion. Three epic wars are seen from the self-annihilating lives of three men while a nation ceases to exist. Once upon a time there was a country; Yugoslavia.

Emir Ksuturica’s Palme D’or winning epic film Underground is a poetic amalgamation of genres; socio-cultural and political satire, musicals, war-docu drama, apocalypse, comedy, surrealism and above all the human exploration of power, love and integrity.  Through the elaborate exploits of its war torn protagonists – aggressive yet naïve Blacky(Lazar Ristovski), the intellectual yet conspiring Marko (Miki Manojlovic) and the innocent Ivan, Kusturica has painted a delirious recreation of erstwhile Yugoslavia’s devastating history from being a Nazi-occupied territory during World War II, through Communist regime during Cold War, to the ugly Balkan Wars that resulted in the disintegration of the country along ethnic lines. The plot also involves the three timing Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic).

The film is shown in three episodes:  In part I, we are introduced to Belgrade at the behest of evil Nazi invasion.  Marko and Blacky are part of the anti-fascist resistance and they are minting profits from the war, and so they are able to make love and eat in peace while their country burns.  Natalija, an over the top actress at the theatre is a mistress to Blacky. Blacky is kidnapped by the Nazis during his attempt to get married to Natalija. Marko saves him but sends him underground hiding from the war while he seduces Natalija with power, poetry and alcohol.

In part II Marko and Natalija become an integral part of the communist movement under Tito. Marko convinces Blacky, his brother Ivan and others that the war is raging and makes them live underground in the basement for over 20 years. All through the while he makes them work on ammunition and weapons in order to profit from the sale.  In Part III, Yugoslavia no longer exists. Yet, Blacky is out in the world, fighting for his country and searching for his dead son; Marko and Natalija are in hiding but are still war profiteers.

One of the most significant metaphors of the film is the underground itself. It’s a sign of how people are kept ignorant, of the anarchy created by Marko in Tito’s Yugoslavia. There are interesting shots of how Marko comes to power; morphed historical footages show Marko meeting important personalities to influe

nce his carrier in the communist party.  In the underground people ride a bicycle in the air making the cycle bulb turn on and show light at a woman’s womb, waiting for the miracle of life. Babies become old enough to marry. Kids run around playing football. This is a world in itself. There is a fraternity formed by Tito’s revolution but is also orchestrated by Marko’s farce about the non-existent war.  While on metaphors, another poignant scene in the film shows a wounded tiger troubled by a bird. Finding the tiger helpless, the bird tries to poke its beak into the dying animal. The bird is finally killed by the tiger. This is an extremely complex scene which shows the fragility of corrupted power.  For me this scene is a premonition to Marko’s and Ivan’s end which the director has beautifully placed as subliminal construct.

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Kusturica’s hyperbolic cinematic construct is not an assembly on political polemics but is an aesthetic meditation on human behavior. Aided by an astounding score by Goran Bergovic, the film meanders from avant-garde cinema to the realm of commercial over the top fun. The brass band compositions throughout the film alleviate the irony of war and the ignorance of the people underground. It’s relentless, uniquely Balkan energy fuels the film, functioning as an endless shot of adrenalin for both the characters and the audience. The score is made so conspicuous that the band literally follows Marko and Blacky everywhere, even when they take a leak in the woods.  The music has even inspired Anurag Kashyap for Dev.D. The initial scene where Dev returns home while a brass band follows him is a actually a homage to the opening scene from Underground.

Satire is a strong element of Underground. In fact, it won’t be wrong to call it a film based on dark humor.  Blacky’s wife Vera is in labor pain and she cries out “Where are you now, you Blacky bastard?” Marko getting off to the sound of Belgrade burning (subtly reminds of Pedro Almodovar’s film Matador where the protagonist is jacking off to watching horror exploitation films). There is subtle humor too; Blacky is getting married to Natalija and he keeps asking throughout “where is the priest?” to everyone around. One man answers “The priest will arrive any moment now” and the Germans come at the exact instant and abduct Blacky.  The humor goes on to another level here; In the outside world a film is being made on Blacky’s life which has been falsely narrated by Marko to the world. Blacky escapes the underground and ends up seeing the crew of the film with Germans. He believes the war is continuing because of the actors. So he believes the unreal film to be reality which is actually based on unreal citations of his life.

Kusturica’s directorial virtuosity lies in his fine balance; calculated satire, outstanding images and cinematic tapestry of ingenuous characterization.  In the initial scenes, as the city burns, Ivan is roaming in the hopeless town with his zoo animals. The irony of these characters is immediately displayed with Blacky lighting up his cigar from the ashes that remain from the bombs and then polishing his shoe with the fur of a crying cat. Though he is shown that way, the director immediately cuts to Blacky offering milk to the baby monkey. It sums up his character; hard on emotions, aggressive but yet benevolent; like Robin Hood. He even comments that he steals from the rich for the poor. There are some pure cinematic moments that make this film a tour de force in world cinema history. Natalija in a red dress, soaked in guilt, does the Freudian dance in front of erect cannon. This shot is extremely layered; on one side it communicates the obvious Freudian pretext on the other side it actually emphasizes how the Balkan community is seduced by the war and Tito’s revolution. Natalija’s dance in a red dress conveys the frailty of a society drugged on the revolution and which is fooled by a fictitious war.

Emir Kusturica Underground Poster

The finale is what consumed me, the images that stayed with me for days; Tarkovsky on steroids. Ivan has finally broken free from the prison and lost his monkey that he grew up with underground for decades. His country exists no more, no home to go to. He realizes Marko, his own brother has planned this elaborate farce. He finds him in a weapon trafficking deal with a group ( Kusturica in a cameo).  Marko is now on a wheel chair fleeing from the civil war championed by Blacky . Ivan bludgeons Marko to death on his wheel chair. Natalija comes to rescue but is also killed on the chair in the ensuing battle. The civil war perpetrators set them on fire. The burning chair with Marko and Natalija revolves around a cross with Jesus strung inverted.  There are layers of meaning in this shot even beyond the contours of cinema.

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Ivan finally finds redemption by hanging himself to the abandoned church bell. A goose is shown escaping in slow motion from the church in the smoke drenched skies.  The last scene of the film shows a surreal land where all the characters of the film are celebrating a wedding in happiness.  The piece of land slows cuts off and ebbs away into the sea while Ivan speaks to the audience; “Once upon a time there was a country; Yugoslavia”

PS: I had initially submitted this post on PassionForCinema

Kieslwoski’s Three Colors trilogy: Blue

vlcsnap-12565441A camera mounted behind the wheel captures the hues of a journey, adorned in asphalt blue and embellished with the sound of raw tires rubbing against the road.  A little girl flags a blue candy wrapper from the car, celebrating freedom, announcing the dawn of awakened consciousness and the wind claims the wrapper. The car stops for a comfort break. Camera behind the dripping brake fluid, building up the uneasiness, and the signs of oncoming uncertainties. A rambler sitting by the road, arguing with chance, manages to place the cup on a stick while playing the bilboquet.  In that exact instant of momentary triumph the car crashes in to a tree, the ironic synchrony of paradoxical chances. Fumes from the car gently blend with fog, faintly showing the barren land and the odds of a smashed car at the mercy of a lone tree. A beach ball colored in red and white rolls out with the sound of a squealing woman. This forms the opening sequence of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors Blue, the first installment of the Three Colors trilogy. The trilogy superficially refers to the three colors of the Fench Flag: blue (liberty), white (equality), and red (friendship).

Bleu is a requiem to longing, the reincarnation of grief:, its nebulous fight with “now”, the unsettling  lull, the echoes, the fierce unpredictability, violent bouts and the sublime comfort of emptiness. Julie (Juliette Binoche) survives a fatal car crash but loses her daughter and husband Patrice de Courcy, a famous French composer. Julie is unable to contain the grief and flees from everything that is connected to the past.  She attempts suicide but fails to kill her unsettling grief along with her. She even tries to have sex with Olivier, the assistant to her husband, who is truly in love with her.  In the morning, dressed and ready to go, she wakes him, smiles sweetly and says, “I appreciate what you did for me. But you see. I’m like any other woman. I sweat. I cough. I have cavities. You won’t miss me. You understand that now…Shut the door when you leave.” She tries to sell off her belongings and moves to Paris. There she maintains a quiet solitary life but is haunted by her husband’s last unfinished work: a piece celebrating “the unity of Europe”, commissioned by the Council of Europe. During the process she realizes how she can never be free from the human connection.

The combination of virtuosic cinematography and searing music by Zbigniew Preisner becomes a central character in the narrative. In recent times Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister harmóniák had the extended long shots forming the character in the narrative. Especially the assault sequence in the hospital is the hallmark scene from that film. Zbigniew’s intoxicating music takes us under the skin of the characters, the emotions that you cannot see but feel through the music. Feeling the music with the touch of fingers on the music notes written on a paper or the visual feeling shown by the particular note in play clearly while the rest of the sheet is blurred, highlights the concerto that haunts Julie’s insides. There are four points in the film where we see a blackout; these are the points where she is graduating from temporal consciousness to her grieving consciousness. We hear the concerto in the backdrop.  Camera placements like in the opening sequence; mounted on the wheel, or even the masterstroke shot of showing a character’s entire frame in Julie’s iris is awe inspiring.vlcsnap-12566427 Palpable tension is built in the viewer’s mind through subtle sequences; the extremely long shot of the barren land and the car crashing into a silent tree, the extreme close-ups of Julie while she is watching the funeral on a phone tv, cocooned inside her bed sheet. The claustrophobic angles and close shots of shivering lips heighten the grief.  Light beams, glass and mirror images are also used in the film which is atypical to Kieslowskian form of film making.  A poignant scene in the film shows an old lady meandering her way through a recycle trash bin to throw a bottle. In many films Kieslowski has used this scene to convey the character’s relation to their surroundings. Fundamentally, I think it’s a metaphor for feelings that can never be recycled. Julie shuts her eyes at this scene,vlcsnap-12567966oblivious and immersed in the music from the past. The same scene is used in The double life of Veronique and the other films of the trilogy. The interpretations of this scene in these films convey their relation with their existence.

There are semiotic references to feelings that communicate and take the viewer in to Julie’s mind. We are shown small sequences of people jumping off the cliff or a free fall of skydivers. Both Julie and her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, are shown to be watching these clips on TV. This is a metaphor for freedom, in fact the irony of freedom; it gives an immediate connect with suicide but still connotes freewill, confidence and hope of survival. Both the characters are somewhere in the middle of these phases of freefall; an echo of metaphysical weightlessness.  Kieslowski uses ordinary sequences to highlight Julies abnegation of human bond and how she cocoons herself in to her own world.  The extreme close-up of the cup with the sunlight changing from dusk to dawn, camera focusing on the gentle blow of air on a dead insect’s fur, sugar cubes absorbing coffee, watching a spoon revolve sugarin a bottle, the flutists who haunts her, all are elements that subliminally show us her renunciation of the worldly things and finding meaning in triviality. The style of the film is diegetic (narration and implicit understanding of the mis-en-scene) in nature than being merely mimetic (Visual representation of mis-en-scene to covey actions). The trivial details all refer to the former representation of her inner emptiness.  Important actions in the scene happen off the camera and focus on reaction. The time when the car crashes, Antione’s face is shown than falling for the obvious graphic display of the crash. Julie witnesses a street fight and a person who is caught up in the brawl, runs straight in to her apartment, knocks every door. This entire scene is shown from Julie’s expression of fear on her face, her helplessness.

Kieślowski has used a lot of science in the usage of colors, to map the viewer’s liminal and subliminal space. The road in the beginning is shown in blue, the girls candy wrapper, the blue beaded chandelier, the blue walls, the blue pool, there are blue filters used throughout the film. The blue here connotes the freedom, free-will to abandon everything and yet not be free.  Sometimes the usage of color is done subliminally so that only the sub-conscious mind gets affected. For instances: the Red and white ball that rolls out of the car soon after the crash or the little girls who jump in the pool wearing red and white swimsuits when Julie is drowning her misery with a swim, all these allude to the Red and White films that follow.  The sequence where Julie accidentally barges in to a court room trial is actually a scene from White. That probably is not that subliminal in nature as much as Karol (the character from White) walking hurriedly and brushing past Julie near the pillars of the court, the sequence is momentary and lasts little over a second. Karolcan be seen in the picture vlcsnap-12573180

Blind chance also plays an important part of the film; the realm of the impossible coincidences that form the soul of the film. Off all the human bonds that Julie has distanced herself away from, maternal love is the one that becomes ominous and haunts her existence. Her friend Lucille, who is a stripper in a club, reminds her of her daughter in the scene when Lucille touches the blue beaded chandelier and tells her as a kid she had the same blue chandelier at her place and how it reminded her of those days. Julie is awestruck and her face conveys her inner rage to talk about her daughter with her but she holds back.  In another episode, the discovery of mice in the flat transfixes Julie with fear. She is unable to kill them herself because the nest holds a mother with its newborn litter. She is trying to run away from these feelings and still they return to haunt her.  There is also the inexplicable occurrence of chance of two people doing or thinking the same thing at the same time. The flutist with tunes that remind her of husband’s work; the flutist says “these are his inventions”. Julie asks Olivier if she had not looked at the file she would not have discovered that her husband Patrice, had a mistress who is carrying his child.

Zbigniew’s aural assault reaches a crescendo in the last sequence showing how each character had a transformed life because of Juliet’s deeds. In the final sequence, the Unity of Europe piece is played (which features 1 Corinthians 13 in Greek), and we see images of all the people Julie has affected by her actions. Out of a dark frame Antione is shown to be awakened through an alarm clock (metaphor of moral awakening by the touch of the cross; redemption of regretful theft and the vivid memory of an accident). Again the same dark frame and then we see triple reflection of Julie’svlcsnap-12574895mother awaiting death in tranquility. There follows a glimpse of Lucille in the strip club where she gazes into the dark. The camera pans once again out of blackness onto Patrice’s lover and an ultrasound picture of her baby. After the next black frame we see extreme close shot of Julie’s pupil and a glint of light brightens it up. Last frame shows Julie sitting by the window and her face is slowly being filled with morning light as her grief melts in to tears.

PS: I had posted this post initially on PassionForCinema.

Lesser known Bollywood clichés of yore

I am bored of my posts. Verbosity, forced philosophical innuendos, too much reading into things and the same dour themes. Hell, I needed a break. So I went back in time and read those dog-eared cinema diaries from my childhood. Back in those days, I had no choice but to sit with my family and watch those films of the 70s/80s and the early 90s. It’s only now that I am this pseudo-intellectual avant-garde cinema snob. Anyway, in this post I thought I’d write about the clichés of yore that are not much talked about, that we all probably grew up watching. We all know about the flowers that cover up the kisses, the kaali mata ka mandir-howling-ghantis or the rich heroine and poor hero clichés. So I thought I’ll write about the clichés that have not been talked about much. However, I can’t promise complete novelty here nor can I promise LMAO stuff that would make Chaplin turn in his grave and fart in appreciation. Okay, here goes:

Damsel in distress jumps diagonally: When our heroine has to cry because the hero cheated on her, she would run wearing a flaring white “nightie”. She would climb up the circuitous stairs. After this short effortless run she jumps diagonally on the bed and buries her head in the pillow, her hair is let lose in this scene. Then she would cry by stroking the pillow with her head. The pace of stroking the pillow is directly proportional to her misery (stop reading between the lines).

The Kodak finale: A parivarik saaf suthri film ends with all the leads of the movie standing in a line just about covering the camera eye. The salt-and-pepper hair maaji, her husband with a black stick and rimmed glasses, the heroine with red wrists after the rope was undone, the hero all bruised fighting out the baddies, the villainous relative who becomes a good guy and the house servants, all of them stand together in a line. At this, the standard comedian would crack a joke to which everyone laughs in perfect synchronization and immediately the credits roll. Sometimes it says” This is not the end, it’s the beginning” (Tip: Raja Babu; Shakti Kapur does the honors here at the end)

Hawas, tapish aur sulagte jism: When a hero and heroine are making out this would most likely be in slow mo with some soothing music so that it doesn’t seem vulgar ( Tip: Dor; Both the couples are making out in separate locations and it is shown in slow mo).

Next is a special category in kinds of makeouts; rape scene. Now when our dear villain is making out with our damsel in a rape scene, it would most likely be raining, villain pouring down a whisky bottle and in all likelihood the damsel will act naïve. The damsel wears a special rape dress for this momentous occasion. Usually white in color, this special dress is such that the left sleeve, the right sleeve, the back is detachable and the villain detaches them in that order. Watch how the camera pans around not to show the actual rape. So you’d see a stuffed tiger head on the wall that is zoomed in and zoomed out (you get the metaphor here, don’t you), thunder and lightning, a squeaky fan going round and round, windows shattering. Watch carefully our damsel here shows the amazing act of irony; she needs to fight back but yet willfully submit to the villain’s force. So she would sway her head left-to-right in harmony with a nahhiiinn but will never kick him in his balls which should be lot easier. In the end, when it’s all over, the damsel will definitely have spread out red sindoor ( even if she did not have a proper one in the start) and she’d walk around like a zombie.

Another kind of make-out is when the lead protagonist is indulging into territories he/she should not have. Like when the hero is accidentally sleeping with the heroine’s friend. There will definitely be a sax playing in the background; highlighting the oncoming guilt trip and also balancing the act of keeping the protagonist’s image clean ( It was all circumstantial, that’s the message).

Wait, how can I forget the make-outs in the semi-porno flicks with names like Adh-nangi-nagan-ka-inteqaam. In every make-out session the lady will be a buxom aunty and she would never let the poor lean guy smooch. 70% of the time you will see lip biting and scratching one feet to another; that should make for a good mosquito repellant viral ( Tip: watch any south Indian masala flick and you’ll know what I mean).

It’s all in the name: Rich people are mostly likely to have last names like; Singhania, Malhotra, Bajaj, Kapadia, etc. Working class people are most likely to have names like: Deenu kaka, Ramu Kaka, Shanti bai, Ramu, Gangu Bai, Phoolwanti, Saku Bai. Don’t get me started on Rahul and Raj.

Professional and cultural stereotypes:

Doctor: Patients are never expected to go to hospitals, doctors do home delivery (well literally). They usually wear a black suit, stethoscope around their necks and a black suitcase that god only knows what’s in there. The host carries the suitcase and the patient is never told what happened to him/her even if it is common cold. Every doctor has some standard lines in every movie: “ Injection de diya hai, subah tak hosh aa jayega”, “Ab inhe dawan nahin, dua ki zaroorat hai” , “ Ab who khatre se bahar hai”, “Mubarakho aap baap ban gaye”

The Law: The cop is always sporting the line “Kanoon ko apne haath mein mat lo”, “chup chap apne aap ko kaanoon ke hawale kar do warna…”, “Kanoon ke haath bahut lambien hote hain” . Stereotype supercop award definitely goes to Iftekhar. He has played a police wala 18 times in his career. Yes I actually googled up this trivia. By the way, Iftekhar has also played the judge in many movies. The judge has one motherhood line “Tamaam sabooton aur gawahon ko madde nazar rakhte huye, mujhrim ko taaze rate hind, dafa 302 ke tahat sazae maut di jaati hai…” . As soon as the judge announces this, some of the stock scenes show up; like the poor pigeons outside the court will fly out and then freeze, waves are shown to smash the shore and then freeze, the affected person will have his image halved or the best is, the insaaf ka tarazu is shown and it evens out.

Catholics: Women are wearing a skirt, usually widows and every sentence ends with “man”. Men are alcoholics and have names like Peter, John, Tony etc. Catholics are shown quite god fearing so much so that they keep uttering god in every statement followed by a “man” of course. Sab rasta god ki taraf jaata hai man.

Goldie Hawn once said “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood – Babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy”. Now we have a Bollywood version too: There are only three ages for women in Bollywood: Maaji, Mamta aur Mallika. “Maaji” is a woman in her late 60s; she will either be a shrew or a very naïve old woman. If she is a widow then she gets more screen time so her husband is usually killed in a plane crash or by the goons ( the hero is obliviously taking revenge) There will be a mid 30s-40s Mamta who will be a wife or a mother to two kids. She is a homemaker too like our Maaji but the problem is that she is usually given a small screen time. Either she is shown back in those days when she was a gal or she ages fast to become Maaji. And then there is Mallika, the hot siren, the heroine, the temptress, the babe. Mallika would be wearing cool clothes in college, won’t talk to random boys but would spew venom at the hero and eventually fall for him. Mallika is dumb; beautiful, rape-prone and has no opinion of hers. Just when we were enjoying these women stereotypes Anurag came and ruined it. He killed the concept of Maaji, Mamta aur Mallika with his liberated women in his movies :-(

The fight chase props: It’s either a water filled pot, fruit cart or a vegetable cart that invariably comes in the way of a fight chase. The villain’s sidekicks will be thrown on the fruit cart in slow mo. When the fruits and the villains have fallen off the cart, the hero gets on top of it to continue his chase. In a car chase, there will be a mother who is carrying her baby and crossing the road. In case the car hits the mother the baby will take a parabolic flight and so will our hero, just in time to catch the baby. It may also involve a blind man or a man on wheel chair. Hordes of people either running or on bicycles form the speed breakers in a chase. Even the gang shooting in the middle of all this won’t deter them from crowding the road.

Losers Inc. they all die: Hero Heroine finally coming together at the climax involves many sacrifices. One of them involves the second heroine who sacrifices her love for our hero. So she will have no purpose in life after discovering hero and lead heroine are in love, she is madly in love with the hero. So when the hero is being shot at, she will take the bullet in her chest and following her dying (unending) speech she will put the hero and heroine’ s hands together. Men are in a more bad shape here. Usually if the hero’s best friend is not seeing anyone, he must die after taking the bullet for the hero. The price you pay for being single I tell you. Another kind of sacrifice is by the scheming saas, the rich capitalistic dad, or the vamp. Now throughout the film they will be against our hero/heroine but at the end when they turn good people (this usually happens with one line utterance of “Tumne meri aankhein khol di”) they will take the bullet. All the losers who die in these scenarios get a 3 word climax for them too, an obituary of sorts. It goes something like this. Let’s say Sita, the other woman, died in the hero’s arms. The hero would show his grief in the exact 3 steps: Sita! (Gently as though he is trying to confirm her death), again Sittaa!! (this time there is minor shock) and then with an orgasm like cry he would go Sssssiiiiiitttttaaaaa!!!.

So it would go something like; sita, sittaa, sssssiiiiiiiiittttaaa!

PS: I had initially published this post on PassionForCinema

Existentialism, the Absurd and Pyaasa

 

A silver lining in the sky forms shadows on an unkempt man’s face. A bird meanders, treading no path in particular bathed in the bliss of nothingness. Flowers sway to the man’s poetry strewn in ailing emptiness while a bee relishes the sweet life and gently perches on the ground.The bee oblivious to reality is squished to death by a passerby. In an unfathomable instant, the utopian world of momentary happiness is broken; the man shrugs and embraces the absurd of life. This masterful act forms the epoch of a young man’s story in which he is wandering to know the purpose of life but only finds himself battered by the brutal absurdity of our existence.

Vijay (Guru Dutt) is a poet who abdicates romanticism as a form of art. He is on a narcissistic exploration to find acceptance of his oeuvre, depicting hopelessness of mankind.His art is only remained by his poetry screaming from dog eared manuscripts, lying in dustbins and being sold for dus anna in scrap. His brothers detest his presence at home as he is an expense to an already impoverished family. He takes refuge at a friend’s house; a friend who is willing to do anything for money and has just returned from giving a false testimonial for a car accident. His publishers consider his nihilistic works inappropriate in a time when a woman’s beauty seemed to be the only topic of poetry. He stumbles upon Meena ( Mala Sinha), his love from the times of bourgeois education. She had walked out on him to marry a rich man.Vijay alienates from this society that is seduced by the stupor of money, greed and materialism.He is finding the meaning of life through a moral teleological exploration, the absurd of life.He is Albert Camus’ Sisyphus who is led in this world to carry a huge rock atop a mountain, all along he is aware of the futility of this labor, the meaning is the bait and that eludes him perpetually. He is gradually discovering the hopelessness of life. The absurd is a juxtaposition of man’s pursuit to find significance, reason and essence of life and the cold, hopeless world he is pitted against.

His art is understood and appreciated by the most unlikely person, a courtesan, Gulabo ( Waheeda Rehman) who buys his poetry off the scrap market. She falls for him and confesses that there is nothing more to know about him after having read his works as though his art speaks more than his ontological frame of existence. Vijay’s mother hides food from his vicious brothers, in the hope that her son would return someday but he drifts in the hope of recognition. Meanwhile Meena’s rich husband hires him as his servant and tries to humiliate him, a reaction to the suspicion of Meena’s alleged affair. Meena’s arrogance is displayed in the elevator when she confronts Vijay and explains her side of the story and at the end of this fleeting conversation says “Mujhe to upar jaana tha” and takes the elevator to the top floor while letting Vijay leave. His unbecoming comes in the death of his mother, when his brothers deprive him of the ceremony of her departure. This scene of final dissent into absurdity is shot magnificently. Through an arch we see the river glistening with light and Vijay’s dark silhouette fills up the space gradually. He gives into drinking, witnesses the tragic dance of survival by a prostitute who has to intentionally ignore her baby crying for food. He meanders in the by lanes of prostitute areas whose world he earlier considered immoral. He finds meaning in their lives and spends a night at Gulabo’s attic, a la Devdas.His existence wallows and pursues the elusive essence.

Camus argues; suicide is a confession that life is not worth living; it is a choice implicitly declaring that life is “too much”. Suicide offers the most basic “way out” of absurdity: the immediate termination of the self and its place in the universe. This is the realization that dawns on Vijay, that sums up the culmination of Vijay’s attempt to end everything. He flees from Gulabo’s attic convoluted by his internal reflections. He attempts to get run over by a train.On his way, he confronts a tramp trembling in cold. He takes off his jacket and puts it around him. This is his philanthropic deed to bring hope, to see life in everything but himself. The tramp realizes his intentions and stalks him to his dissent only to get caught in the tracks himself. Vijay, in his attempt to save the tramp, is pushed off the track. The tramp dies wearing Vijay’s jacket and the world thus knows the end of Vijay. Purists would argue that it is destiny that sends the tramp as messiah. The question then would be, was the tramp ever destined to die wearing a poet’s jacket caught in a train track? It is the existence and the unintelligible truth of life that we are born to experience, born to suffer. We are merely led by our choices and what we make out of them. We are what we can become. This defines the underlying principle of existentialism: existence precedes essence(Jean Paul Sartre).

Gulabo is devastated yet determined to resurrect Vijay’s art which was more crucial than his own existence. She is in contrast to Meena who in her pursuit of money and fame walks out on him while Gulabo begs with all her life’s income to publish Vijay’s works. They are finally published posthumously. His poetry is flying off the racks and he becomes a literary legend. While recuperating in a hospital, he is woken up from a coma by the recital of his works. He claims his poetry and is understood to have gone insane. Here he is again witnessed by the absurdity of his being. He flees the asylum where he has been trapped only to end up at his own death anniversary, a ceremony to felicitate him. He witness the horrifying deed of all his adversaries feasting on his fame, squeezing every penny of his dead worth. His publishers, brothers and friends, all conspire to prove him dead even after discovering him alive. As he is struggling to prove himself alive, in an ironic turn they all turn to become his closestconfidantsand start to own up to their relation with him, hoping for a better royalty off his poetry. This profoundly changes Vijay’s belief in the system that corrupts our morality.

His belief in absurdity peaks at this point which lyrically explodes on the screen with the legendary “ Jaala do ise, phoonk daalo, tumari liye hai, tum hi sambahlo yeh duniya”. The song is shot with brilliant usage of light, as he walks among mortal plebs with spiritual gusto. He realizes he is not the person who was the poet, who was struggling to make his voice heard. He audaciously confesses he is not “Vijay” ( the celebrated poet). He is beaten up and is called an impostor. He gives up his identity which is the futile labor of carrying the burden of being. He renounces the world, is convinced by Meena to own this fame, this new found identity that he yearned for. He finds it meaningless and returns to Gulabo, the only person who truly understood him. He escapes the world with her and an artist turns into a man and existence finds its essence.

Popularly, this film is hailed as a romantic masterpiece and which for me is to brutally disrespect the art and philosophy behind it. If life is so meaningless and absurd as shown in the film, the logical reasoning then would be suicide. Camus’ ideology negates this argument. On the contrary, he suggests, accepting the absurd is a matter of living life to its fullest, remaining aware that we are reasonable human beings damned to live a short time in an unreasonable world and then to die. We remain aware of the conflict between our desire and reality, and so living the absurd is living in a constant state of unceasing conflict. It is a revolt against the meaninglessness of our life and the conclusiveness of the death that awaits us. Suicide, like hope, is just another possible way out of this conflict. Living the absurd is more analogous to the predicament faced by the man condemned to death yet who, with every breath, revolts against the notion that he must die. We may take Vijay to be contemplating suicide as his interpretation of the meaning of life. However, he doesn’t make a conscious choice to live but is saved from a suicide. The confrontation at the town hall felicitation following his death, changes his interpretation of existence altogether. The meaning of life that he comes to know is of higher dimension and he decides to abdicate everything and start with nothingness, as though on a quest of newer absurdities.

Many instances in the film show Vijay spending his time on a bench overseeing ships that are ready to leave the shore. Those who have known the absurdity of life will know what Vijay was waiting for at the harbor in discreet points of his life. You can hear him scream for freedom. You will probably know what went through Guru Dutt’s mind at the last hours of eternal sleep.

PS: On October 10, 1964, Guru Dutt was found dead in his bed after an alcohol and drug overdose. He was scheduled next day to meet Mala Sinha for his ironically titled film, Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi, and Raj Kapoor to discuss making color films. Pyaasa was a black and white film. I can’t wait to see how Anurag Kashyap adds color to this film. I hear he calls it Gulaal.

I had initially posted this blog on PassionForCinema