For the Love of a Man [2015)

What a film!

Sometimes I end with that sentiment, but I want to make sure that you take away that message.

This fantastic documentary takes a look at the cult of personality surrounding the biggest star of Tamil cinema:  Rajinikanth.

To paraphrase from one of my favorite films (Genghis Blues), Rajinikanth is like Michael Jordan, Elvis, and John F. Kennedy rolled into one.

If you live in the state of Tamil Nadu.

India.

Yes, we recently touched on Rajasthan, but let’s find Tamil Nadu on a map.

Very southern tip of India.

On the east side.

And here’s where we find Chennai.

[Which seems to be pronounced Chin-ay]

And, of course, Chennai used to be called Madras.

Now that we are caught up on geography, let’s get back to this amazing figure known as Rajini (short for Rajinikanth).

If we are to compare him to other international cinema stars, we might look to Jean-Paul Belmondo.

That great lip-rubbing outlaw of À bout de souffle.

Definitely a smoker.

Smoking those thick-tar Boyards cigarettes.

[Or so I imagine]

And sunglasses.

Rajini must always have his sunglasses.

Cigarettes and sunglasses.

Sounds like a ZZ Top song.

But for Rajinikanth, you need a big, thick mustache.

And you need a certain finesse with those props (the smokes and the shades).

Like Michael Jackson in the “Smooth Criminal” video.

Yeah!

This is India, man!

There’s dancing in the films!

The stars dance!!

And sing!!!

[Of course, don’t tell the generations of voiceover singers that]

But it is well-known.

Mohammed Rafi.  Lata Mangeshkar.

But did Rafi ever sing in Tamil?  Not that I know of.

And Lata?  I have no idea.  But it wasn’t her main language.

So let’s take a step back here…

Tamil.

By “native speakers” (70 million), Tamil is the 20th most spoken language in the world.

That’s ahead of Turkish, Italian, and Thai (just to name a few).

By “total number of speakers” (74 million), Tamil is still the 20th most spoken language in the world.

That’s ahead of Korean, Turkish, and Vietnamese (to name just three).

But what about Tamil cinema?

I’m sure it goes without saying that this is my first venture into writing about this unique slice of the world pie.

Indeed, it’s my first time even really contemplating it to a serious degree.

But back to this Rajinikanth fellow…

He’s ostensibly been the biggest star in Tamil cinema…since the 1970s!

He debuted in 1975.

His first film was in Tamil.

In 1976, he was in four films (only one of which was in Tamil).

In 1977, he was in 15 (!) films (eight being in Tamil).

In 1978, he was in 21 (!!) films (16 in Tamil).

Funny enough, Rajinikanth was not born in Tamil Nadu.

No, rather, he was born in the state of Mysore.

However, this state no longer exists under that name.

And being born in the city of Bangalore (a.k.a. Bengaluru), Rajinikanth would have been born in what is now the state of Karnataka.

65% of Kannadigas (those who live in Karnataka) speak Kannada (not to be confused with Canada).

Oddly, Rajinikanth was born to a Marathi family.

As in, people who speak the Marathi language.

So how does he become the biggest star of the Tamil people?

He indeed spoke Marathi (and Kannada) as a child.

It was only when Rajinikanth came to the Madras Film Institute (well into life) that he finally learned Tamil.

He was 25 when he acted in his first film (a Tamil production).

But I must say, Rajinikanth is a very charismatic figure.

I never finished comparing him to other actors.

Part of me wants to say James Dean, but I think Bruce Lee might be even more apt.

Rajinikanth kicks butt.  But with style!

He has moxie!

And most importantly, he stands up for the little guys.

Having been a bus conductor himself, he has played roles such as that of an auto-rickshaw driver.

And by dint of his sheer magnetism (and an almost Soviet, Trotskyist atmosphere in Tamil Nadu), he has spawned a legion of fans who await his film premieres with what can only be compared to the manic thrall of Beatlemania.

His fans literally scream their lungs out on opening nights…so happy to see their hero in a new picture.

And Rajinikanth makes but one movie every three years now.

If all of this sounds remotely interesting to you, then you absolutely must see For the Love of a Man (which is currently on Netflix in the U.S.).

Director Rinku Kalsy proves herself worlds above many of her contemporaries with this penetrating documentary.

Producer Joyojeet Pal seems to have played a very “hands-on” role as well (as a researcher for this picture).

It’s not always clear where the action is occurring in our film, but it seems that some of it (at least) was filmed in Sholinghur (which is about 67 miles inland from the coastal Chennai).

Then again, we do catch one glimpse of the actual Rajinikanth in the film…and it is in front of his residence in Chennai.

Which is to say, For the Love of a Man is very much about fandom.

And it reminds me of my own devotion to my heroes:  Jean-Luc Godard, Mercury Rev, Bob Dylan…

So I very much identified with the cross-section of Tamil society surveyed in this documentary.

Their devotion to their “leader” is very touching.

Not least, Rajinikanth seems like a very spiritual and magnanimous person.

A really generous human being.

And THAT is what really cements the devotion of his fans.

Any film publication that ripped this movie (Hollywood Reporter) must not have its head on straight.

Anyone in Venice who pooh-poohed this film needs a good spanking.

For the Love of a Man is a masterpiece.

-PD

Hudutların Kanunu [1966)

I could have sworn the titles said Hududların Kanunu, but there’s never any mistakes on Wikipedia, right? 

So we are going with Hudutların Kanunu.

The Law of the Border.

And it is such an honor to review another Turkish film.

I must say, this one really “spoke” to me.

Not only does Yılmaz Güney play the lead role of Hidir, but this same actor also wrote the screenplay.

As I watched Yılmaz Güney’s wonderful portrayal of the smuggler Hidir, I was reminded of Antonin Artaud’s acting in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

Güney’s penetrating eyes and stoic face are very similar to Artaud’s physical features.

But not only that.

It occurs to me that Güney bears a striking resemblance to a more contemporary figure:  Vladimir Putin.

This is all the more interesting when one considers that Güney was born Yılmaz Pütün.

Hmmm…

Güney was a Zaza Kurd who apparently got in trouble often with the Turkish government.

He died an early death at age 47 (in 1984).

Whether Hudutların Kanunu is propaganda is beside the point.

It certainly has traits of propaganda films, but it’s such a damn good movie that it doesn’t really matter.

Yes, there is a social justice angle to Güney’s story, but much credit should go to the wonderful directing job of Ömer Lütfi Akad.

Though Güney himself was a director as well, he did not direct this film.

Güney, by the way, had a fascinating life (including an escape from prison in 1981 and a subsequent Palme d’Or at Cannes for the film Yol).

[Sounds a bit like Timothy Leary’s prison-break and rendezvous in Switzerland with Ash Ra Tempel.]

If my numbers are correct, Güney acted in 14 films released in 1966 (!) [including this one] and also directed one as well.

Only one copy of Hudutların Kanunu survived Ahmet Kenan Evren’s 1980 coup in Turkey.

I would describe this wonderful film as being like a 1960s Turkish version of Sicario.

Though The Law of the Border is not a big-budget movie (a military officer comically says “let’s surround them” when he only has three soldiers [himself included]), the film is overall convincing.  It conveys a very powerful story.

As stated earlier, the principal activity at issue is smuggling.

What could be more timely to this day and age?

In the US it is drugs (from Mexico), and in Turkey it is perhaps other things (coming in and out of Syria).

And if the main character looks like Putin?!?

Well, it certainly confuses the meaning, but it still makes it like a Salvador Dalí dream.

It’s like a perfect storm of symbolism.

Furthermore, besides being a film set on a border, a main issue is education in Turkey.

This is, once again, a very timely issue.

As you might have heard last year, there were many protests by high school students in Turkey about the trend of religious schools replacing secular (or science) schools.

Incidentally, our director Ömer Lütfi Akad went to the oldest high school in Turkey:  Galatasaray Lisesi in Istanbul.  The school was started in 1481.

But let me tell you something important…

This film is very entertaining!!!

The gunfights!

Whizz!  Bing!  Pow!

It reminds me a bit of Howard Hawks’ Scarface from 1932.

Also at issue in this film is the concept of change.

Can a person change their beliefs?

Like me…

Can I change my beliefs?

I am 39.

Yılmaz Güney was 29 at the time of this film.

Can we change our beliefs?

And should we?

For Güney’s character Hidir, changing his beliefs is a Herculean effort.

And the moral of the somewhat-propagandistic story is that he’s a hero…JUST FOR TRYING.

He tried to change.

He makes a valiant effort.

A bit like Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.

This is the challenge for the world.

To look ourselves in our mirrors and make an effort.

Not physically (necessarily), but philosophically.

I’m not here to offer you propaganda.

But I am very concerned with the situation the real Vladimir Putin has been put in in Syria.

Why do we fight? [to echo the old series of American propaganda films from WWII]

We fight for the same reason anyone else does.

Or rather, Putin fights because he has drawn a line.

No more American aggression.

Syria is his line.

It’s not a game.

It’s real blood and real tears.

Proxy wars are not like AGMs (annual general meetings).

They are more like air-to-ground missiles (AGMs).

War is not a strictly academic affair.

It’s messy.  It’s sad.  It’s unnecessary (most of the time).

And the US and Russia have painted themselves into a corner.

That corner is Syria.

Perhaps Hudutların Kanunu is the Sholay of Turkey.

Perhaps it is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Anatolia.

One thing is sure:  Yılmaz Güney, “the Ugly King” (Çirkin Kral), was a brilliant man.

 

-PD

Casque d’Or [1952)

This is one of my favorite films ever made.

Maybe Jacques Becker was just a minor auteur, but he holds a large place in my heart because of this film.

It’s what we can’t have in life.

Who.

Back that reification up.

The pretty blond.

The girl will pay us no mind.

Because we are just carpenters.

Workers.

No, even lower than that.

We are failed workers.

It makes you wonder whether Hitchcock felt most alienated from the objects of his desire while directing them?

There’s that reification again.  Thingification.

If we’re learned anything from Marxism, it’s that.

Humans are not “its”.

But our language is structured to make them so.

Blonde on blonde.

Perhaps a pickguard on a Telecaster.

Even in black and white we can tell that Simone Signoret is a blond.

Her beauty is flooring.

Serge Reggiani had to play the role of a traitor in Les Portes de la nuit, but here he is the hero.

The perfect friend.

Faithful.

Criminals stick together.

A code.

And it is touching.

Because the code can bite the big cheese in the ass.

Different systems of justice.

The criminals don’t call the police.

Justice is swift.

It’s all a bit savage.

But how else should we describe the heart in love?

Here we see Reggiani maddeningly in love.

Fatal beauty.

Simone Signoret.

With her hair helmet.

Completely lost in translation.

Everyone has a mustache here.

Maybe that’s why I can relate.

Reggiani plays a schmuck like me.

And it works.

Someone falls in love with him.

All he has to do is be himself.

But most of all this film shows the sadness of love.

All the many things that can go wrong.

The tunnel vision.

The heroic focus.

The jealousy of spectators.

Two in love.

Why can’t they be let alone?

To be happy.

Les Apaches.

“un dégueulasse”

Here it is again.

Just as À bout de soufflé passed on some fashion (garments) to C’est arrivé près de chez vous, so too Casque d’Or hurls that word at a key moment.

 dégueulasse…
Could have.  Should have.  Would have.
Métro, boulot, dodo.
As long as we try, we can rest our minds.
We have fought courageous battles of love.
Perhaps we have lived to fight another day.
The soldier must always retain optimism.
When faced with survival all alone.
In the middle of nowhere.
-PD

 

Viskningar och rop [1972)

Cris et Chuchotements.

…et Chuchotements.

This horribly powerful film.

No light reading.

From the lips.

Fumbling big-hand thoughts.

Like Brice Parain said, inseparable from language.

We can see this fount at which Godard drank.

We can see the borrowing of von Trier.

We can see the fealty of Wes Anderson.

It is Cries and Whispers of Ingmar Bergman.

Tired, aging Bergman.

Clear as a bell.

Static shots which must be achieved through moving pictures.

Just stop moving for a moment.

And be quiet.

That microphone.

Just out of sight.

No B-movie swoop-downs.

But absolute perfection throughout.

And yet the message is dark.

No hope.

Cathartic, maybe.

Always fade to red.

And reemerge through the color spectrum.

Yellow to white light.

Four women.

Three sisters and a zaftig maid.

Someone’s crying Lord…

Come by here.  In a dream.  See their lips move.

We should love the coquette.  The redhead.  Liv Ullmann.

She should dominate us like a Renoir painting.

A madder rose cinema has known not.

But is she not a fake, Maria?

Is she not just a color palette towards which we gravitate?

What worth in the façade when the heart is empty?

It had been a long time since Summer with Monika, but Harriet Andersson was here.

And yet, it is Liv Ullmann who gets the plastic surgeon insults of the doctor (Erland Josephson).

But Harriet Andersson has enough grief with which to deal.

No no, I have gotten mixed up with all these actresses of Bergman.  And don’t even mention Ingrid!

We will come back to poor, sweet Harriet.

But we must first deal with the witch:  Ingrid Thulin.

What kind of misery makes such a witch?

A tissue of lies (reads the subtitles).

I believe Thierry Meyssan had to deal with such proclamations (though I read them in translation).

What kind of lies here, though…specifically?

Loveless marriage.

Probably even more empty than simply.

Loveless.

No creative punctuation.  No flirtatious commas or semicolons.

But simply poetry written like a telegraph dispatch.

Full stop.

Desperate.

Depression unto madness.  That is Ingrid Thulin here as Karin.

But then we must come back to our sickness.

A true physical ailment.

A patient.

Bedridden.

Patience.

It is Agnes.  Painful.  Wheezing.  Horrible.  Ghastly.

A high-water mark of art films.

Top that, motherfucker.

Jerry Lee to Chuck Berry.  Worse than an expletive.

But what brings this whole film together?  Who holds this house against her bosom?

It is none other than Kari Sylwan.

Yes, there are no important male characters within.

Georg Årlin chews his fish like someone in the diplomatic service should.

And expects “a little consensual rape in the evening” (to quote the Nick Cave of Grinderman).

But such petty existence boils the madness.

The glass.

Shards of light.

Smeared with lunacy.

Against all this is Kari Sylwan as Anna.

The maid.

The help.

Priceless.

Humanist.

A believer.  As the sick believed more than the priest.

No real important male characters here.

But Anders Ek is the voice of reason.  The voice of poetry.  For a moment.  Touching.

Don’t touch me.

Don’t touch me.

Such damage in the world.

And Anna bears it all.

The only true hero.

Meek.

Equally tormented.

But strong.

Annas make the world go round.  Deliver the medicine.  Keep the world from splitting open.  Make sure the trains are on time.  Hugs.

The history of cinema is littered with sad brilliance.

Strewn with fictional corpses.

Troubled directors trying to come to terms with their own fears of death.

And in the end, such creations loom large because they closest resemble the art of the ancient world and the itch of the Renaissance.

Storm on!  And write all night long!!

Someone has stolen my beard, but my mustache is plenty weird.

We shall live to see Nietzsche bitch-slap Hitler.

And Tarantino will again work at a video store.  Where he belongs.  A very able clerk.  Like me.

 

-PD

The Ring [1927)

In the movies.  What happens?  Life is lived for us.  We live vicariously.  And so, does this art/entertainment mirror life?  Yes and no.  It is a continuum.

With Alfred Hitchcock we know to expect the unexpected.  His career was built on bold stories and breakthrough storytelling.  Yet, this is a silent film.  1927.  Early Hitchcock.

This was not the mature filmmaker who would subvert expectations to thrill audiences by sneaking up on them.  This is a much more traditional film.

Indeed, it is (believe it or not) a sports film.  The sport?  Boxing.  Hence the title.  But Hitchcock was ever the astute bringer of details so we might well expect that the title will have, at the least, a double meaning.

What is truly Hitchcockean is the psychological thriller aspect of this film.  This is mostly embodied in the character of “One Round” Jack Sanders (Carl Brisson).

The plot then is driven by motives of redemption, revenge (of a sort), and vindication.  It would make sense that a sporting story should have as its ostensible goal a victory for the hero.

It should be noted that, despite the relatively mundane silent film trappings, this is actually an incredibly odd story.  The elevator pitch would go something like this…boxer’s wife obsessed with another boxer.  Yes, obsessed.  Like, pictures on the piano…staring dreamily at glossy portraits.  A very weird premise.  You’ll have to see the film to know just how Lillian Hall-Davis becomes enthralled with Bob Corby (Ian Hunter).  It should also be noted that Hitchcock (or some clueless front-office dork) managed to credit Lillian Hall-Davis as playing the character of (wait for it) Lillian Hall-Davis.

It is a weird birth-of-film aspect.  In fact, the copy of the film I have is off center to the left…such that the character names at the beginning of the film (not what we are used to nowadays with end credits) are cut off by the encroaching margin of a misaligned aspect ratio.  But the point is that when Ms. Hall-Davis makes her entrance in the film, there is an intertitle (and it was this to which I referred) which explicitly says “The Girl” and lower “Lillian Hall-Davis.”  It is as if Brecht (or Artaud) somehow got a hold of the film and decided to engage in a bit of narrative fuckery.

As for Ian Hunter (who actually has a full character name:  Bob Corby), we must remember the date (1927) and do our best to put Mott the Hoople out of our heads.  Likewise, I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t mention the immense talents of Gordon Harker (who plays Jack’s trainer).

While this film seems hundred of years removed from North by Northwest (for example), it is another integral glimpse into the mind of perhaps the greatest director of them all.

-PD