Filmistaan [2013)

I consider it an auspicious sign that my survey of Indian cinema begins in earnest with the masterpiece Filmistaan.

Do not mistake this piece of cinema for a half-baked idea.

Do not even attempt to lower it by calling it a comedy.

And not least, do not think only of India.

I wanted to come up with a catchy pigeonhole.

Indian Subcontinent.

The Subcontinent.

But I have too much respect for the great traditions of Bollywood (and Lollywood) to do such a thing.

And so this is very much an Indian film.

India.

And it is very much a comedy.

So funny!

But it is touching in a way to which few films can ever aspire.

Filmistaan, like Roberto Benigni’s magnum opus La vita è bella, takes on a very serious subject with the best weapon of all:  humor.

But instead of the Holocaust, we get the Partition.

And yet, Filmistaan is not some laborious period piece.

[leave that to the artless Spielbergs]

No, our film addresses the tension between India and Pakistan in the most deft, feather-light manner imaginable.

And for this we have to thank a new auteur on the world stage:  Nitin Kakkar.

I say “new” because Mr. Kakkar has not been graced with the honor of his own Wikipedia page in English yet.

Well, he is wholly deserving of that honor (based on Filmistaan alone).

But Mr. Kakkar had to have magical actors to pull this off.

Luckily for him, he did!

Sharib Hashmi is undoubtedly the star of this picture.

His performance as Sunny goes from the highest highs of emotion to the lowest lows.

It is truly remarkable.

Mr. Hashmi is about one month older than me.

40 years old.

Perhaps that’s why I identified with his youthful optimism and passionate devotion to cinema.

But to understand our film, we must first locate Rajasthan on a map.

It is the biggest state in India.

It is northwest.

And it borders Pakistan.

To understand Rajasthan, we must comprehend the Thar Desert.

Most of the Thar Desert is in Rajasthan, but it extends somewhat into Pakistan.

These are all important details in understanding our film.

Rajasthan is arid.

Like the American Southwest, it’s a good place to get lost…or kidnapped.

But friends are to be found in the most unlikely places.

And the friendship of shared interest, such as two cinema devotees, knows no borders.

For Mr. Hashmi, the brilliance of his performance depends on the artful support he receives from fellow-actor Inaamulhaq.

But let’s examine the divide between India and Pakistan for a moment.

It is a fact that a man from Peshawar (if he speaks Urdu) can communicate with a man from Delhi (if he speaks Hindi).

Peshawar, of course, is in Pakistan.

Indeed, it’s so far into Pakistan that it’s almost in Afghanistan.

Delhi, of course, is in India.

It is in the north-central part of the country.

It is, further, not essential that the two talkers hypothesized above be men.

The salient detail is that Hindi and Urdu are essentially the same language (in their spoken forms).

This is vital to understanding Filmistaan.

But continuing, the two languages could not look more different once they are written down.

[Which is to say, the two hypothesized men might be at loggerheads were they forced to communicate with pen and paper]

Urdu looks similar to its written forebear Farsi (the language of Iran) [which is itself a descendent of Arabic script].

To put it quite simply, a neophyte like myself would probably have a difficult time telling the difference between Urdu, Persian (Farsi), and Arabic.

Hindi is in the wholly different Devanagari script.

You will not confuse written Urdu and Hindi.

It’s at least as obvious as Picasso to Pollock (if not Warhol to Rembrandt).

But enough analogies.

Why should you watch Filmistaan?

Well, for one…it’s currently on Netflix.

Yes, ever since I have joined the streaming service, I have ventured to be a more “worthwhile” film critic by giving you relatively-spoiler-free reviews of current titles to be found on the U.S. version of the site.

But that’s only the beginning.

Yes, there are wonderful performances from Kumud Mishra and Gopal Dutt (as well as a plethora of fine supporting actors).

But the real reason is that Filmistaan expresses the sublime.

The context is terrorism.

The context is border tension.

Indeed, on the Indian Subcontinent, the context is two nuclear states.

Pakistan and India.

But the context goes back.

To Jinnah and Nehru.

And the threads bind.

Cricket.  Cinema.  Music.

There is an excellent example in Filmistaan which illustrates the situation.

Dilip Kumar.

Now 94 years old.

Like my hypothetical man from earlier, born in Peshawar.

Then a part of “Pre-Independence India”.

Now a part of Pakistan.

Bordering Afghanistan.

In Filmistaan, Inaamulhaq knows him as Sir Yusuf.

Sunny knows him as Dilip.

Dilip Kumar was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in Peshawar in 1922.

Sir Yusuf.

Dilip Kumar.

Same person.

It’s like the World Wars.

fenêtre in French

das Fenster in German

window.

/\

fenêtre /\ Fenster

But when you look through a window (or a border), everything can look backwards.

You’re so close, in reality.

But you’re reading the word as if in a mirror.

Nitin Kakkar directed a masterpiece with Filmistaan because he put his heart and soul into evoking peace.

There are no winners in a nuclear war.

And peace is a rare commodity on the world stage.

Geopolitics…

But we must reach out that hand.

And shake it.

I congratulate Nitin Kakkar and Sharib Hashmi for their dedication.

It is evident.

Though I speak neither Hindi nor Urdu, I was able to watch.

And understand.

I needed the subtitles.

But sublime emotions may be mutually intelligible across cultures.

What a film!

-PD

Rozmarné léto [1968)

I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass.

This one starts out slowly.

Too long at the first location.

The river bathhouse.

The dread of boredom begins to creep in.

No girl.  No gun.

Until Jana Preissová makes her first appearance.

It was unbearable.

A rainy summer.

Every day the same as the last.

In a small town.

A closed circle.

But like Fellini, the circus comes to town.

Thank God for the circus.

Cotton candy.  شعر البنات

Is it girl’s hair?  Pink.  A one-piece pajama.

Or a pig.

It is like the sweet words of the beautiful Haneen Elhaj in Bethlehem.

Girl’s hair.

Running on the electricity of a car battery.

Spinning sugary magic.

Sandy stone (when the mirror of translate is turned upon itself).

We want to know literally what Heidegger Derrida was talking about.

And so it only took director Jiří Menzel two years to lose his voice.

It was perfection in ’66.

Ostře sledované vlaky.

That is the cynical view.

But we must realize that Menzel was literally walking a tightrope.

It’s not funny.

It’s not engaging.

It’s slow.

It’s effective.

By the end you see that Fellini is the right reference.

Capricious Summer (our film) bridges the gap between the antics of La Strada and the lovable freak show of local color that would be Amarcord (1973).

But this was 1968.

A very serious year.

The Czech and Slovak (respectively) socialist republics came into being the following year.

We know the legend.

Mai ’68.

All hell broke luce.

Even Cannes was cancelled.

[Cannescelled]

But what is a film festival compared to an invasion?

Before our Capricious Summer was the Prague Spring of 1968.

Lasting well into the summer.

And blooming well before winter had ended.

January 5 – August 21.

Then the invasion.  The Warsaw Pact countries.

Operation Danube.

Romania (and Albania), to their credit, refused to participate.

108 Czechoslovak civilians killed.

Liberalization.  Decentralization.  Democratization.

Like the beautiful Anna.  Fleeting.

Because the circus always has to pack up and leave town.

Our film.

Released May 24.  During the Prague Spring.

Pražské jaro (or jar).

Czech.  Slovak.

The only difference between my bank balance and Bill Gates’.

More zeros at the end.

Infinitely more.

Later these “Springs” would become manufactured (if they weren’t already).

Libya…

We all know about color revolutions…but the Czechs would have a textured revolution in 1989.

From velvet…we could have had the corduroy revolution (ribbed, for her pleasure), silk revolution, cotton (the revolution of our lives)…etc.

The “nonviolent” Prague Spring resulted in the deaths of 96 Soviet soldiers.

84 of them by “accident” (friendly fire?)

and the accidental/”suicide” deaths of 10 Poles.

Apparently none of the Poles died conventionally.

At least the two Bulgar soldiers killed perished from intent.

The four Hungarians all slipped on banana peels in front of Škodas.

This is the tone.

Lola Montès.

Plucking the feathers from chickens.

The chubby wife returns.

Drench the nubile.

Menzel, then, was many months ahead.

Knowing that summer would really begin when autumn usually fell.

Another 20 years before the circus returned.

 

-PD

La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 [2013)

Sometimes we wonder whether the sadness is worth it.

In our epic lives which seem unbearable.

We only wanted a laugh for a second.

But we’ve felt too much.  Seen too much.  Too knowing.

All week long.

Misery.

And I have a letter in my heart.

But she won’t read it.

Won’t respond.

I am too sad to live.

Like Poe.  Like Baudelaire.  Especially.

Sitting for long hours in the café which really isn’t a café.

It’s a class struggle.

I can’t afford to be sad.

And I can’t afford not to love you.

This is Blue is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche.

He.

Takes his time unwinding this story.

So delicate.  As lovers with mangoes.

Nobody’s listening.

Praise be to God!

I can’t.

Reveal myself to the world like that.

For it is Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux who have made the perfect film.

Real blood and real tears.

Cinema demands it.

From under the shadows of Godard, Kechiche.

Don’t let it scare you away.

Persevere!

Because this film was wholly deserving of the Palme d’Or.

It’s not a lesbian love story.

It’s not even really a love story.

It’s loss.

Walking away.

Lonely like Anna Karina or Louise Brooks.

Heels clicking pavement.

She couldn’t get close to anybody.

And when she finally does?

It’s devastating.

Devastatingly beautiful.

But devastating.

So many tears in this orgy of Frenchness.

Like Verlaine and Rimbaud.

“You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go”

I’ve seen one actress do it (Anamaria Marinca).

But I’ve never seen two actresses do it.

Together.  Like Ginsberg and Corso.

Perhaps.

Ouroboros.

Really, it’s just Exarchopoulos.

I could say the name a million times.

Thank you.

Typically French.

Untypically thorough.

Kechiche.

Tunisia.

France.

Greece.

There’s joy in those tears.

Because acting doesn’t permit this.

Cinema doesn’t permit this.

It’s not The Brown Bunny blue.

Blue is the coldest color.

Timing.

Pacing.

Nothing.

And beingness.

What?

Exarchopoulos.  Exarchopoulos.  Exarchopoulos.

And [poof!] she appears 🙂

Teach me something I don’t know.

The birth of the world.

The middle movement Mozart clarinet concerto like Breathless.

I’m too tired and my French isn’t good.

I’m literally at the end of breath.

But don’t go…

Stay a moment longer.

And linger.

Stay with me with the damned.

What can I offer them?

When my troubles have been so mundane.

No.

Love vastly, hurt immensely.

Learn the real life.

Of Arabic and real estate and dreams destroyed.

I will never be a movie star.

God damn it.

We just want our spark in a bottle to be found.

Our quark.  Her quirk.

Hair all down in her face.

Don’t get me started…

It’s not the Bond girl who fascinates.

It’s the girl of the winding arcades…

Straight and narrow.

Zaftig.  Not the svelte punk.

Lots of spaghetti like Gummo and a chocolate bar through the tears.

My God…

What did I just witness?

Sex is the least important aspect of this film.

Titillation misses the point.

It’s that connection that she so dearly wanted.

This is the loneliest job.

 

-PD

 

 

Salvatore Giuliano [1962)

When we dig into history we must wade through many boring reams of paper.

If, for instance, your FOIA request is granted, you might be inundated with a fecundity of information which makes comprehension initially prohibitive.

But we dig anyway…because we are human.

Once in awhile, a decent man or woman will tell us we have the right to know the truth.

If we find their ethics convincing, we might respect them for such a statement.

And so such is the milieu surrounding the story conveyed in Francesco Rosi’s Salvatore Giuliano.

I was tired.

And so I watched and watched and watched…and things became slower.

Nothing seemed to be happening.

It was like a particularly painful silent film.

But the sound eventually makes itself indispensable.

It is the sound of strange relationships.

Like the Mafia and the CIA.

Like the Cubans and the CIA.

Like the Mafia and the Vatican.

Like the P2 Masonic lodge and Operation Gladio.

These strange relationships.

What can we prove?

Should we cower forever beneath the hulking torts of libel and slander?

What balance of justice is there between the free speech of the impoverished and defamation?

I have nothing worth taking.

There’s a reason Palsgraf sued the Long Island Railroad Co. and not the man with the newspaper-wrapped box of fireworks.

Money.

Seeking a remedy at law (as opposed to a remedy in equity).

Such a strange language.

We don’t speak this way other than in legal circumstances.

Today, when Scalia strangely bites the dust…we remember his own supposed connection to the Propaganda Due lodge.

Strange bedfellows.

Blowback.

And Salvatore Giuliano.  A real personage.

It all seems so reminiscent of the “strategy of tension”…Operation Gladio…the “anni di piombo” (Years of Lead)…

And I’m sorry to say that Wikipedia seems pruned and poised to mislead on these subjects.  While the contributors have made certain that Daniele Ganser is profusely maligned, I find Mr. Ganser’s research and writing on the above subjects far superior to the damage-control tone of Wikipedia.

It is the same sort of failure (this damage-control tone) which pervades the potentially groundbreaking Wikipedia page on “9/11 conspiracy theories”.  Some very important (rich) people have much at stake in keeping the (false) narrative constrained to a very tight frame.

Compare, for instance, the Wikipedia articles on “9/11 conspiracy theories” (don’t even bother reading the whitewashed main article on 9/11) and “flat earth”.  There is no urgency to conceal in the flat earth article. The same, sadly, cannot be said for the “9/11 conspiracy theories” travesty.

And what does all of this have to do with Salvatore Giuliano?

Well, my friends, sometimes our enemies have very colorful histories.

Consider, for instance, Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. Republican presidential candidates (particularly the deplorably daft Marco Rubio) are (while no worse than their opposing party) willfully ignorant concerning 9/11.

Rubio and company (the six remaining Republican presidential candidates) have bought hook-line-and-sinker every bit of repugnant narrative which has emanated from the U.S. federal government since day one:  9/11/01.

How closely did we work with Osama during Operation Cyclone?

Charlie Wilson’s War doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

And what was the nature of the relationship between the CIA and the Pakistani ISI?

The much-maligned Michael Ruppert seems to have been right on the money in describing a confluence of oil, drugs (opium), and geopolitical chess when tracing the cui bono of 9/11 to the bonanza of Afghanistan.  Of course, Iraq would soon follow.

And so what of Thierry Meyssan’s claims regarding the translation of the words al-Qaeda from the Arabic to the English as “the base” or “the database”?  Such a translation seems entirely plausible when considering Osama’s coursework of business administration at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia.  It is, therefore, a strange mesh of false jihad (for show) and organizational acumen.  It seems that the billions (before adjusting for inflation) which flowed from the CIA to the mujahideen were, at least to some significant extent, used to fund Osama’s organization in Afghanistan during the Soviet war (1979-1989).

This is usually the place at which the spin doctors attempt to interpolate the concept of blowback.  The idea that we “abandoned” Osama after we were done with him.  But I don’t buy that for a second.  He was too valuable.  He was, literally, an investment.

Michael Ruppert said in his excellent tome Crossing the Rubicon that (to paraphrase) “the CIA is Wall Street”.

Ah, but I keep leaving Salvatore Giuliano in the dust.

Mostly because I don’t want to spoil it.

This is an essential film, but it is a lot of work for the piece of meat.

I can’t say on first viewing that it is little.

To truly appreciate this film one would need a significant knowledge of Italian history in the 20th century.  I barely caught the Garibaldi reference (and he died in 1882).

Strange alliances.  Corruption.  Italy.  Sicily.

And the Communists who peacefully organized on May Day to petition the government for assistance with running water and electricity (in 1947).  (!)

The century would go badly for socialists in Italy.  And that was no accident.  They have NATO to thank for many problems.  But they also have their own security services to blame as well.

Such a fear of communism.  Like today.  Such a fear of Islam.

And sadly, covert operations done in the coldly-utilitarian spirit of “the ends justify the means”…

But pay particular attention to the effort needed by the police (or was it the carbinieri?) to place the body (habeas corpus) in a convincing sprawl for a chalk outline.  Yeah…whoops!  Once again, the “death” of bin Laden is instructive.

It takes great lengths to hold no one accountable for internal weaknesses in such massive crimes.

And so perhaps with Salvatore Giuliano, the more apt metaphor is Lee Harvey Oswald (or, closer still, Jack Ruby).

 

-PD

 

Death Defying Acts [2007)

It is shameful.  No, she says.  Who taught you that?  My first review of a film by a female director.  A director who happens to be female.  A nearly perfect film.

Silly me.  Gillian Armstrong is a very different person from Kathryn Bigelow.  Born almost exactly a year apart.  One making art films.  The other shilling for the cocksuckers known as the New World Order.

Zero Dark Thirty.  It is shameful.  9/11 Commission Report.  Shameful.  War on Terror.  Shame.  Shame.

The last words of the mother of Western civilization.  What were they?  Maybe Oswald Spengler was there by her bedside.  What did she whisper?  What were her worries?  Her aspirations for us?  Will she forgive us for throwing away our gifts in an endless magic show?

To be forgiven, perhaps one must repent.  Western civilization is balls-deep into a fabricated war against Islam.

Forgive me.  I have gone off track.  Good films bring the sediment to the surface.

And thus I close the window on Kathryn Bigelow.  She’s made her buck on a story.  Fanciful.  Opportunist.  More likely spawn of Satan than complete moron.

But Gillian Armstrong has no such agenda in Death Defying Acts.  We get a Welsh lady (Catherine Zeta-Jones) playing a Scot.  We get an Irish girl born in the Bronx (Saoirse Ronan) playing a Scot.  And finally we get an English-born Aussie (Guy Pearce) portraying a Hungarian-American escapologist from Appleton, Wisconsin.

Ahh, Appleton…  It was not so long ago that I spoke of thee.  Terry Zwigoff.  Ghost World.  Trying to make sense out of the final scene, I imagined Thora Birch journeying back to Zwigoff’s hometown.  Houdini’s hometown.

It’s all a trick.  Until it isn’t.  Es tut mir leid.  Wo bist du?  Kaddish.  Yes, Leonard Bernstein famously noted that God was/is in this [pointing] glass of orange juice.  Kaddish.

This is truly the age of anxiety.  Auden.  May His great name be blessed forever, and to all eternity.

It is Thanksgiving with soaked acorns.  bon appétit!

When there is seemingly nothing to praise, and then we realize how much we have.  And we do not begrudge the loss.  We give thanks for all the times of presence.

Ah, but we must face Montreal.  Yanqui U.X.O.  Leonard Cohen.  Philip Guston.

Maybe it was a famous blue raincoat draped over his shoulders.  There in the graveyard.  Where they have been living a bit prematurely.

No, I think rather it is a bird on a wire.  Harry had saved all his ribbons…for thee.  He was the partisan battling himself.  Push.  Push.  Harder.  Be perfect.  Be superhuman.  And then let his guard down for a moment…

“I was cautioned to surrender.  This I could not do.”

No.  Fuck you.

“I’ve lost my wife and children.”  You stole my country, he says.  Your country stole my youth.  I chose poorly.

“She died without a whisper.”  Tarantino is the worst filmmaker working today.  For that he deserves some credit.

“There were three of us this morning.  I’m the only one this evening.”  Double suicide on the Left Bank.  Guy Debord.  And who?  And who else?

An old man in the attic.  Hid us for the night.  […]  He died without surprise.

Thank you.  ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד

طيب الله اسمه العظيم إلى الأبد، وإلى الأبد.

J’ai la France entière

-PD