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

Vi är bäst! [2013)

IF you want to see a bogus, bollocks feminist film, watch Free the Nipple.

But if you want to see the real thing…a really empowering, touching story, then check out We Are the Best!

IT’s in Swedish.

So you’ll have to use your brain.

And your eyes.

Unless you speak Swedish.

But it will be well worth your time.

Vi är bäst! isn’t trite acting from a bunch of pseudo-provocateurs who just want to take their shirts off.

Nej.

This is the story of three 13-year-old girls.

None of them fit in.

Everyone tells them they’re ugly.

One of them is ostracized for being a Christian.

[now THAT’S punk!]

But it’s the story of three girls who come together and do the greatest thing possible:  form a band.

Music!!!

And let me just say this:  the acting is fucking fantastic!

Mira Barkhammer plays Bobo.

For me, she is the star of the film.

She is the outcast of the outcasts.

No make up.

No cool haircut.

She’s searching for her identity.

But she’s so smart.  So truly unique!

She wears these little wire-rim glasses.

From one perspective, this film is her search for what’s behind the mirror.

Director Lukas Moodysson made a masterpiece here.

Bobo…

The name…

I think of Boris Diaw.

The whole scenario is aw-kward.

But so beautifully so!

And yet Bobo is not perfect.

Far from it.

It’s a team effort.

And teams, especially when they are ad hoc and organic, are inherently dysfunctional.

The actress who puts the dys in dysfunction here is Mira Grosin.

But she too is so wonderful in this film!

She is the inspiration.

The first one out on the limb.

The rebel.

The loudmouth.

She inspires her other two bandmates to fly their freak flags high.

But the most enigmatic is Liv LeMoyne:  the Christian.

Director Moodysson is so deft in his handling of this dynamic.

LeMoyne’s character [Hedvig] has long, beautiful blond hair.

[At this point it is appropriate to address a strange form of class relations in Sweden:  hair color.]

When I used to think of Sweden (which I did rarely), I would imagine everyone as a blond.

Perhaps the American vision of Sweden is a socialist paradise of blond bikini models.

At the very least, blondness seems to be the defining characteristic in the American popular imagination regarding Sweden (as far as I can tell).

This isn’t a scientific study, you understand…

But it is important to point this out.

The snottiest (in the stuck up, snobbish sense) characters in this film are mostly blonds.

The little girls who call Bobo and Klara [Grosin] ugly.

It is really heartbreaking.

These two BRUNETTE girls endure such humiliation throughout this film.

And so it’s no wonder that they want to start a PUNK BAND!

But they can’t play.

Like, not at all…

Their first halting efforts are in the vein of The Shaggs.

No, worse.

And that’s where the Christian comes in.

Hedvig is an accomplished classical guitarist.

It is, indeed, much like the story of Garth Hudson’s joining The Band.

Lessons.

So to speak.

Bobo and Klara are astounded at Hedvig’s talent.

They lament that they’ll never be as good as their gifted new friend.

But Hedvig is all encouragement.

It is [pardon the expression] a match made in heaven.

And so three misfits (for different reasons) band together (literally) and take on the cock rock ridiculousness of bullies like youth-center-rehearsal-room-“stars” Iron Fist.

The message is astounding.

I haven’t seen a film which does such honor to the idea of feminism since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

But there’s no ulterior motive here.

This isn’t a George Soros production.

This is the real thing.

Just three young people (who happen to be female) wanting to make some noise in their world.

And we see how beautiful punk music is.

IT’s a catharsis.

Like Sonic Youth.

And we remember the true geniuses of the genre (like my hero, the late Alan Vega).

But we also remember the maxim:  “three chords and the truth”.

Hedvig’s got the chords.

[Ah…harmony!  What a concept!!!]

But Klara has the attitude.

And Bobo has the intellect.

They learn from each other.

“Here.  Stay on this note.  Good.  Now move to this note.”

“Punk is about rebellion.  It’s not about the school talent show.  We’ve got to keep going.  It’s a fight.”

“You really need to change your hair.  Do something fun!  Express yourself!  Cut loose!”

Those are my translations of action, not dialogue.

But I can’t stress enough how great these three actresses are in this film.

Mira Barkhammer in particular is a prodigy.

But, as in the story, the trio is inseparable.

And for this kind of cohesion, we have but one place to look in thanks:  the auteur.

-PD

Orphée [1950)

The philosopher has very little advantage.

Because the model and reality do not match up.

One-to-one.

And the oaf stands strictly no chance.

To understand mythology transposed onto plagiarism.

In the ancient world, it was the opposite of a crime.

Get the story right.  Same with medieval scribes.

There was no author.  There was only the story.  And perfect copies.

And perhaps the occasional illumination.

The glass of water that lights the world.

It’s Cary Grant.

Something about sitting in a bowl of milk.

Impossible to tune out the bourse.

Always the radio, but never the gloves.

Mirrors, or course.

Ravel.  Versailles.  Quite proximate.

But the erudition must lead somewhere.

And it does.

Heurtebise must look on.

He must spectate.

A strange sort of unrequited love.

Like the Watchers.  Breeding Nephilim.

It’s not all Elysian fields here.

It’s Nazi death.  and Death.

Stylometry squelches outliers only through aggregative loss of dimensionality.

Whew!

I need a drink after that one 🙂

But I don’t drink.

Death doesn’t drink.

Oh, to work for Death.

Taking orders.

Reporting.

Reprimanded.

The greatest transgression in this profession?  Love.

For love seeks to reverse the natural order.

Not even necessary to go as deep as Hell.

A mere gravedigger can get the picture.

Olfactory.  Not the new one.

Pre-Industrial Revolution.

You remember, right?

The English Revolution 🙂

Oh, wait…no, that never happened.

Not yet.

Happy Birthday Betty, you old hag!

We worship you down at MI6.

That’s not the royal “we” nor even a meaningful “we”.

It’s a disembodied imagination.

Remote viewing, if you must.

From beyond the dead.  Jean Cocteau.  One of the greatest film directors ever.

Because he was a complete creator.

Squiggle graphs like Miró.

Joan was a man.  Of ark.

And Georges is just one guy in France.  In America he is two fellows.  Two chaps in U.K.

George 1 and George 2, making Georges.

Georges Bizet.

And I must mention the composer of Orphée.  Georges Auric.

One of Les Six.  Satie’s bunch.

Not to be confused with The Five (Могучая кучка).  Cui’s quint.

Mere king to Balakirev’s ace.

And so you are condemned to extend metaphors throughout all eternity.

Long, ridiculous connections.

Until at last you are free.

And whether it is a table of Inquisitors or Nazis, you can do good and receive the ultimate punishment.

You might feel compelled to do good.

In that tiny particle is the answer which we seek.

Invisible, but tactile.

Almost a splinter.

A proof of a beyond.

 

-PD

Pépé le Moko [1937)

I was alive.

Really alive.

I thought about one way, but took another.

Because the unpredictable had become routine.

We write until we die.

Romantic outlaws.

My crime?

Thirst.

It is a masterpiece from Julien Duvivier.

Jean Gabin is trapped in the Casbah.

Like the digital ghetto known as Facebook.

I didn’t coin the phrase.

But it is not my primary impetus.

It comes secondary.

Pépé from Toulon.  It’s been too long.

Not long enough.

Just as Yves Montand dreamed of Pigalle in Le salaire de la peur.

Here Jean Gabin dreams of Le Métro.

Like Baudelaire’s “La Chevelure”…

Gabin inhales the perfume of freedom.

Sick of his life.

Running.

Hiding.

Sick of life.

But Fréhel teaches the most poignant lesson.

“Où est-il mon moulin de la Place Blanche?
Mon tabac et mon bistrot du coin?
Tous les jours pour moi c’était dimanche!
Où sont-ils les amis, les copains?”

 

Where’s my tobacco shop and my corner bistro?

I dreamt of France for ten years.  Finally I made it there.

And Paris?  I was there for an hour or two.  In the back of a van.  Gazing out the windows.

And like Fréhel I had my day of glory.

The very name of this website.  Pauly Deathwish.  My stage name.

And so, for us, a picture from our youth becomes a mirror.

And we wind the phonograph like the engine of a Ford Model T (pre-1919).

But I have my memories of Doc.

Of the thatched roof.

I thought only Debussy hung the moon.

But it was also dear Ravel who made the birds sing and the flowers bloom.

And so perhaps Ravel’s Piano Concerto…middle movement…in the hands of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.

Perhaps this is my “Où Estil Donc?”

Algiers.  Alger.  Algeria.  Kabyle.

ⵟⴰⴳⴷⵓⴷⴰ ⵜⴰⵎⴻⴳⴷⴰⵢⵜ ⵜⴰⵖⴻⵔⴼⴰⵏⵜ ⵜⴰⵣⵣⴰⵢⵔⵉⵜ

Berber or Tamazight in the Maghreb.

Yes, there are no English words to sum up the emotion I have for this film.

The secret of the world can be found in French films.

 

-PD

 

 

La Règle du jeu [1939)

I relate to Jean Renoir’s character.  Octave.  Fat, optimistic, and full of regrets.

Jean Renoir was, of course, the director of this film.

Likewise, he plays a very important dramatic role in the production.

I would argue that his role is the most essential of all.

In this film of rich, pithy characters, Octave sticks out like a polished stone.

Not a precious stone.

Simply a smooth, common rock.  A paperweight.  Our anchor.

And this is apparent on first viewing, yet La Règle du jeu necessitates multiple viewings to truly appreciate.

My language is not French.  Yes, perhaps it is my favorite language, but I am indebted to the subtitles.

And La Règle du jeu is replete with overlapping, symbolic dialogue.

But you don’t want to hear such boring play-by-play.

If you are reading, you want something special.

And I want something special when I watch a film.

Jean Renoir (son of the more well-known Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir) delivers a masterpiece here.

There is a Great Gatsby effect which may put off modern audiences of modest means (like myself).

To wit, who wants to hear about rich people problems?

All I can do is urge patience when watching this film.

It may not immediately come off as riveting, but it is well worth it if you stick it out till the end.

What should be pointed out is that Renoir was apparently making a statement about the upper classes which paints them in a not altogether flattering light.

More directly, this film takes aim at the elite and lets ’em have it (but in a very sneaky way).

And yet, it is not all about class warfare.

Far from it.

It embraces and repudiates.

Actions can be deplorable.  But those who commit deplorable actions are still humans.

We all have the capacity within us for unspeakable error.

Few among us truly stand out as regards vice.

But we are all touched by the world.

I estimate it quite unlikely than a truly monastic monk or nun is reading this post.

And if they are, I hope they are brewing up a nice batch of beer in Belgium.

The rules of the game.

The beaters.

Hired lackeys who whack the trunks of trees to drive the animal life out of the forest.

Moving like a line of riot police.

All for the rich to have their fun.

The hunt.

But Renoir is the true artist.

He makes it clear.

The rich aren’t all bad.

The poor aren’t all saints.

Both classes lean to the middle.

There are admirable actions from both sides.

Perhaps the class structure itself is suspect.

Perhaps it is a vestige whose time has come.

But reality is that rich and poor will wake up on the globe tomorrow.

Staggered in times.  Zones.

Rich at their leisure (we imagine).

Poor at the more brutal hours (no doubt).

The poor run around like rabbits chased out of the forest.

The rich sit in their hunting blinds and preach gun control.

The true hunt now is the techno hunt.  The bio hunt.

But a girl and a gun can still carry a movie.

And so, I have rambled enough about La Règle du jeu.  It is truly an indispensable film.

Something about it is almost impenetrable for an English speaker (monoglot) in the 21st century.

And so we hope the French haven’t forgotten their fondateurs like Jean Renoir.

Lessons.  Lessons.

It’s up to all of us to preserve these slices of history.

Yes, it is fiction.  Yet, real life was employed (implored) in the making of this fiction (which seeks to be lifelike).

An endless reflection.

In the hall of mirrors at Versailles.

-PD

Week-end [1967)

You will not learn much on Wikipedia.  In this case.  It is a common problem.  The length of an entry indicates its importance to the English-speaking world.  You will not get a true sense of what this film is about.  To the English-speaking world, this film is apparently insignificant.

And so we turn to images.  Language has betrayed us.  Our mother tongue.

There we immediately find a better representation.  The Hermès handbag.

Yet still the film remains elusive.

Some might say barbaric.  Others, a film about nothing.

They are both right…and wrong.

It is Mozart who proves them wrong.  I will not give you a Köchel number.  We can’t be experts about everything.

This is not academic writing.  I take my leisure seriously.

Taken out of context, it is the rage of a spurned Hitchcock.

It is the red stub of Blandine Jeanson (c’est-à-dire Emily Brontë).

Perhaps it is the groovy sounds of Jean-Claude Vannier?

As Paul Gégauff plays (?), the man with the shovel shuffles away.  He is our stable element…briefly.

You see the trouble.

Is it barbarism to cradle the contrasting beauty?  Is it nothing to show that everything is something?

Not easy being cheesy…

This is why it is better not to attempt…to explain.

It has been done.  What’s the point?

Each tenured prophet will find his/her own signs.

The important thing is to give the immediate impression.  Do not go for a snack.  Attack the film, but not to analyze.  Attack your own feelings and emotions…and wrest them from oblivion to perhaps live a life of their own.  This is what we do.

From the first words, we cannot start like the rest.

The great folly would be to make Godard into God.  The greater folly to ignore the breathtaking precedence.

In art as war, pity the one to go first…running from the secure positions.

And so we embrace the greatest uncertainty.

The varieties of human experience people…have not visited my corner for census.

Nor Jean-Luc’s…here.  We can celebrate the hulking awkwardness of a master who is perfectly describing chaos.

It is not sloppy.  It is calculated.  But it is a non-terminating number.  An infinite precision.

Balance on one finger and eat banana cream pie.

Perfectly upside-down.

It is not clean and crisp.  Not easily digestible.

We look longingly for personality, but none is found…

And then a film like Week-end…all personality.  Character.  Eccentricity.  Color.  Vigor.

Buried in the footnotes of civilization is a question about civilization itself.

This.

It explains why we never succeeded in life.  Had we done so, it would have been a fluke.

We were not meant to succeed.  Search your heart and then regard the world…

There is an intrinsic disharmony.

Language is a popularity contest…gang-raped by technology.

Thus the survival of mankind depends on code:  poetry.

Poetry does not discard words.  Poetry constantly expands…like entropy.

No one predicted the end.  Google will fail.

When we stop mirroring our mirror.  It is too boring to relate.

Salvation is buried deep.  Takes some digging.

We have forgotten how to be properly disgusted.

-PD