Friday, December 31, 2010

Certified Copy

 It's hard to classify and align an Abbas Kiarostami film under conventional epithets, even by art-film standards. His films would prove quite challenging and tedious to watch, if not for extensive dialogue and characterization. Here is an indie filmmaker who doesn't believe even in the usage of artificial lighting and expensive filming equipment. The Taste of Cherries and Ten were the two of his earlier movies that I had watched with baffled astonishment, for every next work of his usually involved a slow, but graceful revelation of the story behind his lead character(s), something that is almost compulsorily startling, and always revealed through the mode of dialogues, never with narratives. Pivotal facts in a story are left neatly phrased, but with a question mark, to be judged and responded by the audience. This is the simplest reason which demarcates those who like his films from those who don't.
For a veteran of film-making, Abbas Kiarostami has mostly stuck to filming within his homeland of Iran. Certified Copy marks his first foray outside his turtle-shell, and what better talent to have at your disposal, than the beautiful belle of France, Juliette Binoche..and what better place to do your filming than the seductive locales of Italy?
In a fashion so typical of all his movies, Kiarostami opens his film with such a passive perspective on his two main characters, that though being comfortable to watch from a bystander's point-of-view, it's more like eavesdropping on them. With a lecture that's purposefully boring, the story progresses just the way it started, like a work-in-progress, also ending with the same level of uncertainty and doubt.
Elle, a french antique-dealer and James (British opera-singer William Shimell in his first film-role) meet at a book-reading, where James is promoting his new book on the value of copies in art. Apparently, Elle is comfortable speaking French, English and Italian whenever she could, while James, who can understand these languages, still prefers to speak in his impeccably British-accented English. Elle has come to the reading along with her son, who immediately senses in her an urgent need to connect with James. This is revealed in a long, but witty and funny conversation between mother and son, which reveals that they're both living separately from the father at the moment. Through his agent/publicist, Elle obtains a private audience with James, which later evolves into a conversation-filled trip to the Italian countryside, one that winds in and out of their personal lives just like the road they travel, until they arrive at a quiet village in Tuscany. The conversation initially tends to stick to the topics relating to copies in art. But as we follow these two down the narrow lanes of the cobbled country-side, weaving in and out of museums, galleries, parks and around beautiful statues, we sense that each of the two are at complete ease in giving vent to emotions, even when one can sense that the other is trying to steer the conversation in a different direction, going with the flow with the same level of seriousness as the other.
After one particular scene in a coffee-house, the conversation and it's corresponding reactions and emotions get so personal and impassioned with formal tones taking a steep dip, you begin to look closer into the true nature of the bond between the Elle and James. Are the two, actually like-minded people who have just met and found themselves in each other? Are they in love? Have these two met previously? Are they role-playing each other? Do they share a history longer than we think? Or even worse, is James actually the father of Elle's child? Or do these questions even matter at all?
From a deeper perspective, the subtly beautiful locales of Tuscany and also the actors' respective appearances might seem distorting, while appearing to be distractingly beautiful. The sole focus of your attention is instead focused on deciphering the nature of a relationship, through merely overhearing what two people have to talk and share. And for a professional actress, Juliette Binoche is at ease in supplementing her dialogue with facial reactions that seem both genuine, while at the same time restrained and coy. She is certainly the most beautiful woman in the world. I can’t think of another actor, male or female, who can light up the screen like she can with a simple smile. It’s a radiant thing. She won the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her work here, and it’s not hard to see why. Shimell is brilliant as a man who is obviously smitten by love, while using his sternness to bring about the doubt as to how old his love really is. I'm actually happy the director chose an unknown actor over the great Robert DeNiro, who while being awesome, would have overshadowed the uncertain theme completely with his mere presence in the film. My guess is that the two really ARE a married couple and that the impassiveness we see at the beginning was the certified copy.
I will certainly be watching this a second time, simply to see if it would answer my questions, by showing some hint of recognition between the characters, something that I might have missed earlier, simply because I wasn't looking for it. This review was the result of a glorious week for movies in Chennai, which allowed the screening of this yet-unreleased film as a part of the 8th Chennai International Film Festival, last week. I doubt the U.S. release is even close to being conformed. And as far as our Indian cities are concerned, yes we pirate them as long as we don’t have a choice.

 By Fazil, for
To read the original article, click here

This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by and

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Year

 If you are familiar with Mike Leigh's body of works, you'll be familiar with the themes and the setting of this film. In fact, for the first few minutes you might even be thinking "Oh dear... Another Year, another Mike's Leigh's movie". Then slowly this becomes something that somehow stays with you, especially, I suppose, if you are a slightly older person than I am. This is not only a film about relationships, but it's a film about growing old and what relationship mean to a person who's growing old. You've got the old happy perfect couple on one side of the spectrum, the old man who starts his day and ends his day by drinking a can of beer (and obviously has many of them in between), the ageing 40 something woman, who suffers form depression and her to drinks herself to the point of embarrassing herself all the time, you've got the recently widowed man whose life seems to have stop making sense since the death of the wife. Anyway, in other words, this isn't a happy depiction of life: it is after all a Mike's Leigh's film. It's a film about real life, about little moments, silences, gestures, little things. There are so big resolutions, no big twists, not a lot of character development, because after all in life we don't really change much and the biggest twist one may have in his life over the course of one year, is that his or her car might have broken down.
A lot has been made about how Mike Leigh like to shoot his films (rehearsing for 6 months with the actors, letting them improvise and basically writing down the script as he goes along). In this one he ended up dividing his film into 4 season and he gave each of them a different look and feel. Well, to be honest, there's absolutely nothing new or original in that: summer looks shining and warm, winter is obviously grey, foggy and with muted colours, perfectly in keeping with the last chapter which is mainly about death.
The film is pretty slow and yet quite mesmerising. The wonderful performances have a lot to do with the success of this film and I wouldn't be surprise if I ended up seeing some of those names getting some sort of nomination at the Oscars next year (and of course the BAFTA... You know those Brits, are so patriotic).
However I did find some of the dialogue a bit fake and forced (especially the scenes at the dinner table with the new girlfriend). Everybody is always waiting for somebody else to finish their sentence before speaking again during the busiest dialogue scenes. On the other hand, during the slower and more quiet scenes silences and awkward moments are stretched a bit too far. It didn't quite feel right to me.
At the end of the day I couldn't really help feeling that the film is a bit too indulgent in a few places and some of those scenes could have been trimmed a lot more in the editing (I suppose, that's the danger of filming sequences in one very long take: there's probably not a lot of coverage to shorten things with).
Critics have loved it, of course, and I can see why. This is the kind of film that stays with you... But really, in a few years time will we go back to "Another Year" and watch it again? I don't think so.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Aura

The Aura (El Aura) is Bielinsky's second feature. Two will be all we'll have from him, because he died this year of a heart attack at forty-six. The first is Nine Queens, which is rather famous and suffered an American remake. Nine Queens is an exceptionally inventive teaser and puzzler about con games. The Aura is a teaser and puzzler too, but a moodier noir, focused on a 'existential" loser hero (like Meursault in Camus' Stranger), with a slower pace and a more beautiful look. It meanders and winds up more or less where it started – plus a shaggy dog. Maybe it goes on too long, but Bielinsky has used the noir format – a heist, actually several, that go wrong; a naive man who falls in with dangerous company – to develop a rich and mysterious character who's got all the ambitions and defects of the noir hero, and then some. No one respects him and his larcenous ambitions are absurd, but when things get going he holds his own against some pretty rough characters. He goes through many emotions, while remaining fascinatingly unreadable and strange.

This unnamed hero (the exceptional Ricardo Darin, who also starred in Nine Queens), a taxidermist in Buenos Aires with epilepsy, first appears on the floor in front of an ATM machine after a seizure. He gets up and pushes the button and the cash comes out—his life is like that. Next, he's in his workshop assembling a fox. While he's delivering it to a museum he meets Sontag (Alejandro Awada), a condescending friend (strangers look down on him too) to whom he explains how easy it would be to rob the guards bringing the employees' pay. To show how much the taxidermist believes his own fantasy, we see the imaginary robbery rapidly enacted around them. Sontag has heard all this before, and seen his friend show off his photographic memory, and has little use for any of this. But since his first choice for the weekend was unavailable, he invites the taxidermist to come hunting. He refuses. But then, going home and finding his wife has left him, he changes his mind.

Out in the woods of Patagonia he accidentally kills a man called Dietrich (Manuel Rodal) who owns a seedy hunting lodge, and after Sontag leaves in a huff knowing nothing about this, the taxidermist falls heir to his victim's plans for robbing a casino. A pair of vicious hoods (Pablo Ceyrón, Walter Reyno) turn up, hired long distance to take part in the heist but not yet knowing all the details of it. The taxidermist improvises, as he's always done, about a robbery, based on what he's seen in the dead man's shack, foolishly pretending that he's been in on the plan all along. He also gets involved with Dietrich's young wife Diana (Dolores Fonzi) and her surly teenage brother Julio (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). Finding neckties, chips, and notebooks with betting schemes, he goes to the casino and is immediately spotted by a security man-cum-loan shark (Jorge D'Elia) who picks his pocket and turns out to be the man who planned the caper with Dietrich. The taxidermist's larcenous ambitious are absurd, in his hands the plans for the heist get ever more complicated and confused, but he nonetheless bluffs his way through. There's another heist too that he gets to peek at as a result of listening to messages on Dietrich's cell phone. They all go wrong, Reservoir Dogs style.

"The Aura" is the word doctors give the moment before an epileptic attack, he tells Diana, a magic moment when he feels safe and free, but is helpless to resist the seizure. Apart from the striking widescreen photography of cinematographer Checco Varese, we can almost see the sound track, created by Jose Luis Diaz Ouzande and Carlos Abbate, which creates the epileptic attacks as aural environments, and brings in sputterings of guns and twitterings of birds; this is further enhanced by the music, never obtrusive, of Lucio Godoy.

The beauty of Bielensky's pacing is that the rush of action is interrupted by peaceful pauses, and the story, which is far more complex than we can suggest here, is sequenced in days to give it structure. Writers have alluded to a zombie movie or a Beckett story as hiding somewhere here. The torturous suspense of Coens' Blood Simple comes to mind, and also many previous noirs, but The Aura, with its Patagonian atmosphere and striking images and sound and its careful pacing, is distinctive. Darin's character is central to the film. Never was a noir more about character and never was that character so unique. Yet the taxidermist, like Dietrich's wolf-like dog with burning eyes who adopts him, remains a cinematic enigma. Bielinsky was an original and a meticulous craftsman who gives you lots to chew on. With this second feature, Bielinsky's demise seems tragic. The world has lost someone who was already becoming a master.